When Carrie tells me we need to have a “little talk” in our boss Steve’s office, I feel ill. This is not good.
My stomach is filled with butterflies while I take the stairs two at a time down to Steve’s office. I hit up the bathroom first, because being nervous always makes me have to pee. After I relieve myself, I take a moment to give myself a once-over in the mirror. My dark hair isn’t sticking up straight. I don’t have a spinach leaf in my teeth. The tag isn’t sticking out of my blouse. My face…
Well, it is what it is.
I head over to Steve’s office, walking through the first floor of the library in that way I developed when I was a teenager—my head hanging forward so that my hair falls in front of my face. I know I should be past that, given I’m closing in on thirty, but I still do it when I’m in a room full of people I don’t know. It’s almost reflexive.
Carrie is already seated in front of Steve’s desk when I arrive. Steve’s been the director of this library for fifteen years now, since he was right out of school, and I think he does a great job. Carrie obviously feels the same way. I can hear the flirtation in their voices when they talk to each other. I know she likes him, but I’ve never been certain how Steve feels about her. He got divorced around the time I started working here, but I haven’t heard many rumors about him dating much. He’s prematurely all gray, but he’s got a strong jaw and his eyes crinkle in an attractive way when he smiles.
“Hi, Sophie,” he says as I enter the room. Usually Steve gives me a big smile when he sees me, but today the smile is forced. “Please have a seat.”
Please have a seat. Oh no. I’m being fired.
At least he offered me the opportunity to sit down. Because my legs are about to give out from under me.
Steve looks me straight in the eyes. For the first several months after he hired me, Steve had trouble looking at me directly. I can’t blame him because he’s far from the only person to have that problem. He would always avert his eyes so that he was looking at the ceiling or a wall when we were having a conversation. But he’s over it by now.
“We have a little problem,” he begins.
“A complaint,” Carrie says.
My heart thuds in my chest. “A complaint?”
“It’s not your fault,” Steve says quickly. “At all. It’s just that…”
“One of the mothers who attended Storytime feels you may be frightening to the children,” Carrie finishes.
Storytime. Someone complained about Storytime. Immediately, the name that pops into my head is Dawn. The woman who was filming me the other day, whose child didn’t want to participate in Storytime because of me.
It must have been her.
I turn away from Carrie, who looks far too gleeful. Instead, I address Steve. “You asked me to do Storytime,” I croak.
He nods. “Yes, and…”
“That was a mistake,” Carrie says.
This time Steve whips his head around and glares at Carrie. “Look, I told you that you could be here if you let me do the talking.”
“Mrs. Sheehan made the complaint to me,” Carrie says. Sheehan—that was Dawn’s married name. I was right. “I am the director of the Children’s Department. I took your suggestion to let Sophie do Storytime, and it’s clearly not working out.”
“One parent complaining doesn’t mean—”
“There have been other complaints.”
I frown at Carrie. “There have? I didn’t hear about… I mean, you never told me…”
Carrie folds one of her slender legs over the other. If her skirt were a few inches shorter, it might be a sexy gesture. “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings, Sophie.”
I have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I want to believe Carrie is making all this up, but somehow I know she isn’t. I’ve seen the looks some of the mothers give me when I’m working on the Children’s Floor. They don’t want to scare their children. It’s not only conceivable that there have been other complaints, but it’s impossible to think there haven’t been.
“Mrs. Sheehan was just so upset,” Carrie continues. “And her husband… well, he’s some sort of big deal. He’s a big shot investment banker. They know the mayor.”
Steve leans forward in his seat and rubs his eyes with the balls of his hands. When he looks up, his eyes are slightly bloodshot.
“I have nothing against Sophie,” Carrie says with a quick glance in my direction. “She does a good job. But we have to think of the children.”
“Are you saying you don’t want me to work on the Children’s Floor anymore?” I say. “Because I’m the one who… I mean, I organized the entire place…”
It’s true. Last summer, I made it my project to renovate the Children’s Floor. I solicited some donations from local parents, and used them to buy fresh new toys, like the train set and a little puppet theater. I created an area on the wall dedicated to our “Author of the Month” (currently Maurice Sendak). And all those posters of baby animals on the wall were my idea. Because kids? They love baby animals.
“Of course that’s not what we’re saying,” Steve says quickly.
“But what about Storytime?” Carrie says.
I hold my breath, wanting to protest, but waiting to see what Steve has to say. He sits up straight in his seat, his brow furrowed. He focuses his blue eyes directly on my face. “No,” he says firmly. “Sophie, I want you to keep doing Storytime. The kids love you. This… Mrs. Sheehan… friend of the mayor… she can go suck it. I didn’t vote for that guy anyway.”
I smile at him. I hope to God he recognizes it as a smile.
“Mrs. Sheehan didn’t want you to get rid of Sophie,” Carrie says stiffly. “She simply asked for another option.”
I can see Steve ready to go to bat again on my behalf, but I don’t want to do that to him. If this woman really is important, I don’t want him to risk his job over this. He might be divorced, but he’s still got kids to support.
“I could do Storytime once a week,” I offer. “And Carrie can do the other day.”
Steve considers this option. He scratches at his gray five o’clock shadow. “Would you be willing to do Storytime once a week, Carrie?”
She touches her fingers to her chest, as if startled and flattered by his offer. “Well, if you’d like me to, Steve.”
It takes all my self-restraint to keep from rolling my eyes.
I can’t sleep.
It’s one in the morning, but it might as well be one in the afternoon because I’m wide awake. My brain seems unable to shut down. I’ve had this problem ever since my injury, and I wonder if it’s part of the concussion I had. The doctors told me all the symptoms of the concussion should resolve after a few months, but the insomnia hasn’t. If anything, it’s gotten worse.
I tried to read my braille book for about twenty minutes. I got through a page, before frustration made me put it down. On the plus side, I didn’t throw it at the wall, as I’d been tempted to do more than once in the last few days.
I want to take a walk. I could do it. I could get my cane and shuffle around the block a few times. I’d rather do it at night, when the neighbors won’t be gawking at me and whispering about how sad it is what happened to the Kelly kid. On the other hand, if I were to take a wrong turn like I did that night in rehab, I could easily wander into a bad neighborhood. At one in the morning, it’ll be just me and the muggers out there. Yes, I’m six feet tall and two-hundred pounds of mostly muscle, but I’m also blind. I know I’d be an easy target.
No, I’m not going for a walk.
I roll out of bed and walk to the bathroom. I’ll take a sleeping pill. I try not to do that too often because I hate pills, but I’m sick of lying awake in bed. One pill. Then I’ll drift off to sleep.
The sleeping pills are the third bottle on the bottom shelf. I feel the first bottle—my useless Lexapro. The second bottle—Tylenol. And then the third bottle…
I run my hand along the length of the shelf, feeling only dust. I check the next shelf and then the one after that. I feel only my dental floss (also useless) and a bottle of something liquid that doesn’t have a braille label. I open it, and it has a medicine-y smell. Cough syrup? Who knows? It’s not my sleeping pills.
Where the hell are they?
I didn’t run out. I shake the bottle after each time I take one, just to make sure I don’t need a refill. In fact, we only recently refilled my prescription. There should be nearly thirty pills in that bottle.
Even though it’s one in the morning, I go straight to my parents’ bedroom. I rap on the door twice, not bothering to listen for the sounds of their television signifying they’re still awake. There’s shuffling inside the room after I knock, and a minute later, the door creaks on its hinges.
“Colin?” My mother yawns loudly. “Honey, what’s wrong? It’s one in the morning.”
“Where are my sleeping pills?”
In the long silence that follows, I infer she knows exactly where the bottle of pills is.
“You need a sleeping pill?” she finally says.
“No, I just woke you up at one in the morning because I’m wondering where they are.” She doesn’t respond to my attempt at sarcasm. “Yes, I want one.”
“Okay, I…” I hear more shuffling. “I’ll get one for you.”
I wait. I don’t know where she put my bottle of pills, but obviously not somewhere readily available. After a good minute, she lifts my left hand and places a single pill inside.
“Okay?” she says.
I close my fist around the pill. “Can you put the bottle back in the bathroom so I don’t have to wake you up again?”
“Colin, listen…” She sighs. “Your dad and I just thought… Well, I think it’s better if you don’t have the whole bottle. Not right now.”
How was I this dumb? I figured she was worried about me spilling the medications or getting them confused with another bottle. But it’s obvious now that’s not what she’s scared about.
“You think I’m going to try to kill myself,” I murmur.
She doesn’t answer. And that’s an answer in itself.
My mother thinks I’m going to try to kill myself. She thinks she has to keep pills away from me so I don’t get tempted. Jesus Christ.
“Ma, I’m not…” I swallow hard. “I’m not going to do that. I… I wouldn’t…”
“I’d just feel better if you’d see that psychiatrist,” she murmurs. “Your father and I both think so. Major Floyd thinks so too.”
There’s a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Everyone who cares about me is worried I’m going to off myself. But I wouldn’t do that. I’ve never seriously considered it.
Well, not really.
I grab the frame of the door, steadying myself. Even with the pill, I don’t know how I’ll ever find sleep. She’s right about one thing—I can’t go on like this much longer. Something has to change.
There’s always a lull at the Children’s Floor shortly after lunch.
By that point, all the young children who came in for the morning have left to have their lunches followed by naptime. And the older children aren’t yet out of school. The quiet is blissful.
I’m taking advantage of the time to read a book of my own. I’ve got the latest from John Grisham. His books, in my personal opinion, are hit or miss. Some of them are absolutely incredible (my favorite is The Rainmaker), but some are nearly unreadable. I’m only ten pages into this one—too soon to tell which way it will go.
I lift my eyes from the book and notice Carrie is lingering by the doorway. Moreover, I notice she’s talking to Dawn Sheehan, who is here without her son. It’s been nearly a week since I suspected Dawn was recording me during Storytime, and I’d hoped it was a good sign she hasn’t shown up again. But here she is on the Children’s Floor without a child. That can’t be good.
I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. What are they talking about?
I get out my phone and text my friend Natalie: I think Carrie and Dawn are plotting against me.
She knows everything there is to know about Carrie, even though they’ve never met. Natalie is convinced Carrie is jealous of me because I have a master’s in library sciences while she just has a bachelor’s in communication (whatever that is), so she’s worried Steve will promote me to a higher position than hers.
Natalie texts back: Do we need to set up a sting operation?
I smile at the phone. The great thing about Natalie is if I said “yes,” she would totally help me set up a sting operation.
I’m serious, I text back. They’re conspiring together right now. And I think they pointed at me.
There. Dawn did it again. She’s definitely pointing at me.
So point right back at them, Natalie writes.
I shake my head and shove my phone back in my pocket. I don’t know how to deal with this situation or even exactly what I’m dealing with. But Steve has my back. This will be fine.
Carrie waves goodbye to Dawn, then strides purposefully toward the checkout desk, her sensible shoes squeaking against the carpeting, her lenses perched down the edge of her nose. The way she’s smiling at me makes me nervous. Carrie’s smiles have never resulted in anything positive for me.
“Sophie,” she says, “would you go clean up the train set? It’s quite a mess.”
I glance across the room at the brand new train set I acquired last summer for the little kids to play with. Carrie was staunchly against having any toys whatsoever on the floor, but I pointed out that it would keep the smaller children quiet and happy while their older siblings are looking at books. She finally gave in, but she’s become beyond anal when it comes to keeping the train area tidy. If she sees any child abandon the train set for even a moment without putting it back exactly how they found it, she will go over to the parents and shame them until they clean it up themselves. It doesn’t matter if they’re just running to use the toilet emergently—the trains must be cleaned first. Train cleanliness supersedes bladder needs.
“There are two kids playing with the train set,” I point out to Carrie. “How am I supposed to clean it?”
Carrie shakes her head. “Those kids have been there for close to an hour. Tell them their turn is up.”
I frown at her. Their turn is up? They shouldn’t be a time limit to how long kids can play with the train set if there’s no one else waiting. This is ridiculous. I open my mouth to tell her so, but before I can get the words out, she says, “And when you’re done, please go down to the adult floor.”
“But…” I look down at my watch. “The kids will be getting out from school soon. Don’t you want my help here?”
Carrie shakes her head. “No, I’d prefer if you go downstairs.”
“But Steve told me I’m here today.”
She lifts a finger, which she almost points in my face but not quite. I want to smack it out of the way, but I keep my anger under control. “Listen, Sophie, I’m the director of the Children’s Floor. I’ve asked Jean from downstairs to come help here, and I’d like you to go downstairs.”
My heart is thudding in my chest. She’s actively trying to get rid of me. I’d hoped I was being paranoid over nothing, but that’s clearly not the case.
Still, what can I do? As Carrie pointed out, she’s the director of the Children’s Floor. I have to go where she tells me.
“Fine,” I say shortly. I stand up so quickly that my chair teeters on the brink of falling over, but at the last minute, stays put. I round the desk and push past Carrie, wanting to get off the floor before I say something I’ll regret. But I’m not cleaning up those trains—that’s for damn sure. If Carrie wants it done, she can do it herself.
The adult section of the library is just as quiet as the children’s section. Jean, a sweet woman who’s the spitting image of my grandmother, is supposed to be manning the desk right now, but instead, she’s busying herself by shelving some books. I take a seat behind the desk, debating if I should try to read more of my John Grisham book or if I should text Natalie about everything that just happened. Better yet, I can call her. Natalie never seems to be busy during the day. She’s a caterer, so her busy time is in the evening.
Just as I’m reaching for my phone, I notice someone pushing through the entrance to the library. I lift my eyes and my mouth falls open. It’s that hot blind guy with the US Army tattoo. He’s wearing his tinted shades again, but this time he’s alone. He’s got that white cane out in front of him, tapping on the carpeting as he shuffles in the general direction of our desk.
After he was a jerk to me the other day, I should have put Colin Kelly out of my head. But I didn’t. A few days ago, I made a call on his behalf.
Call me a sucker for a hot guy with a bunch of sexy tattoos. Or maybe I’m just an amazing librarian. But I’m determined to help him.
I spend nearly five minutes in the car with my mother outside the library, arguing over whether she should go inside with me. She wants to come in with me, obviously. Before the incident with the sleeping pills, I would have thought it was because she was worried I’d get lost or hurt myself, but now I think it’s because she’s worried I’ll intentionally do something to myself. It’s a sobering thought.
“I should start doing more things myself,” I say. “I mean, what am I going to do when I’m living alone someday?”
Ma is quiet, probably because nothing in the last several months of my sulking in the bedroom has demonstrated any readiness or ability to live alone someday. On my better days, I recognize I’ve got to get off my ass and start doing more on my own if I don’t want to be living with my parents when I’m forty. On my worse days, of course, I don’t give a shit about anything.
Today is a better day though.
“Go shopping,” I tell her. “Then come get me in an hour.”
“An hour?” she gasps.
“I’ll be fine,” I say. “Really. It’s a library, Ma. Not a fucking landmine.”
I can hear her itching to yell at me for cursing. It’s at the tip of her tongue.
I finally take pity on her and say, “Sorry, Ma. I mean, it’s not a blessed landmine.”
She’s smiling. Even though I can’t see it, I can tell.
So she finally agrees. I make it out of the car, feeling for the top of the door to avoid bashing my forehead, and then I carefully walk to the front entrance, which she assures me is straight ahead. It’s still not a place I feel confident about though, so my steps are even more slow and uncertain than usual.
But it’s fine. I find the front door without a problem. And then I remember the main desk is straight ahead and a tiny bit to the right. I try to maintain a straight path, using my cane as my guide. When the tip hits what I’m fairly certain is the desk, I breathe a sigh of relief.
“Hello,” a voice says. I recognize that cute voice instantly—it’s that librarian, Sophie. The one I was an asshole to last week.
I’m not entirely sure she’s talking to me. I don’t want to respond to her hello if she was addressing someone else—I don’t want to look like an idiot. So I just stand there a minute, waiting for another cue.
“Colin, right?” she says.
My shoulders relax. “Yeah, hi.”
“It’s Sophie,” she says. And now I can smell that flowery shampoo or perfume or whatever it is. “We met last week.”
“Yeah,” I mutter, pretending I hadn’t recognized her instantly. Pretending I didn’t have a Sophie the Sexy Librarian fantasy while jacking off a few days ago. She’d probably be horrified if she knew. “Um, I think I’ve got another book reserved. And I want to return the book I borrowed last week.”
I hear Sophie’s shuffling through the reserved books while I fumble around in my shoulder bag for the hardcover I want to return. It’s a book for a child, but it took me the entire week to read it. And more than once, I got so frustrated, I nearly threw it at the wall. But I got through it, and I’m ready to try again.
“Okay, I’ve got your new book,” she says. “Do you have your library card?”
“Yeah.” I reach into my pocket and pull out my wallet. I keep the library card in the first card slot, knowing it’s something I’ll be accessing with some frequency.
I slide the card across the table for Sophie to pick up. There’s a long silence.
“Colin,” she says quietly. I know instantly I’ve screwed up. “Um, this is a health insurance card.”
Shit. What the hell? I was sure it was in the first slot. How did I get that mixed up?
“Sorry,” I mutter. My ears are getting really hot. Worse, at this point, I know I’m never going to figure out which card is the right one without handing her each one successfully. Wincing, I slide my wallet across the table. “Could you take out the card for me?”
Another long silence. “I don’t see it.”
Well, that’s just great. Where the hell did my library card go? Did I drop it in the toilet with my toothbrush?
I can’t even imagine what Sophie must be thinking. I’m sure the words “pathetic” and “loser” are going through her head. Or if not that, at the very least, “poor blind guy.”
“Listen,” I mumble, “my mother will be here later, so… can I have the book now and she’ll check it out for me later?”
“Sure. Of course.”
Glossy cardboard brushes against my fingers and I realize she’s slid it across the desk to me. This girl is wicked nice. I should apologize to her for how I acted last week. That would be the decent thing to do. I should say I’m sorry.
But after the humiliation of not being able to find my library card, I can’t bring myself to do it. So I just grab my book and head to a table to read.
To be continued....