I make sure to work downstairs, in the adult section, on Monday, because I know Colin’s coming today to get his books. I’ve got them tucked away for him so they don’t get misplaced. I imagine the look on his face when I show the books to him. Well, maybe not show them, but… make him aware of their existence. I want to coax another smile out of him.
That thought of it makes me smile.
I feel a twinge of disappointment when three o’clock hits and he still hasn’t shown up. Maybe he forgot. Maybe he didn’t realize today is Monday. How do blind people keep track of what day of the week it is? Or maybe his mother told him what the librarian he was flirting with really looked like, and he got freaked out.
My God, where did that thought come from? Why am I worrying about that? So what if his mother spilled the beans? I hope she did. And if Colin doesn’t show up today, he’ll get the books another day. It’s not a big deal. At all.
At ten past three, the door to the library swings open, and my heart leaps in my chest. The excitement in the pit of my stomach surprises me. What’s wrong with me? Colin’s just another customer. Sure, he’s a nice guy, but I don’t usually react this way to men. I’m not usually a pushover for a hot guy. Correction: I’m never a pushover for a hot guy. That’s my superpower.
And worst of all, it isn’t Colin who walks through the doors. It’s the worst possible alternative to him:
It’s Dawn Sheehan, the woman who was filming me reading to children.
I duck my head down, hoping she’s going upstairs to the Children’s Floor. But no such luck. She makes a beeline for the desk, her high blond ponytail swinging behind her. She’s not wearing much makeup today but she’s still very pretty. Effortlessly pretty. She was effortlessly pretty when she was nine and she still is now.
She stops in front of the desk, a phony smile plastered on her face. “Hi, Sophie,” she says. “How’s it going?”
“Fine,” I murmur. I don’t want to pretend to have a friendly conversation with her after I know she complained about me.
“You’re down on the adult floor today, I see,” she says.
I shrug. “It varies.”
We just stare at each other for a moment. Finally, Dawn says, “I was just curious how long you’ve worked here.”
I want to tell her to get lost, but I can’t give her any more ammunition to come after me. “Three years.”
“Wow, that’s so cool,” Dawn says in a voice that makes it clear she doesn’t think it’s all that cool. I wonder what she does with her days. I assumed her main responsibility was as a stay-at-home mother, but I’ve seen her here multiple times without her son. So if she’s not watching him, what does she do with her time? Aside from harassing me, that is.
“Yeah,” I say. “I like it.”
“I was just wondering,” she goes on. “What sort of education do you get to work at a library?”
“I have a master’s degree in library science,” I say. Steve and I are actually the only librarians working here who have that degree, even though it’s a necessity for any sort of advancement as a librarian.
“Really?” She raises her eyebrows at me. “And how long does it take to get a degree like that?”
“I see. And did you have any areas of special training, such as in children’s librarian sciences?”
I narrow my eyes at her. “Why are you asking me this?”
“Oh.” Dawn waves her hand. “I’m just curious. You know?”
I try not to roll my eyes. “I see.”
“So you don’t have any special training in children’s library sciences?”
I grit my teeth. “No.”
“Interesting,” she murmurs. “Also, do you ever work in the reference section?”
“You mean in the basement?”
She smiles and shrugs. “Well, yes. I bet it’s a great place for someone who has an advanced degree like you do. People do a lot of research down there.”
Is she kidding me? Is she really suggesting I hide down in the basement so normal people don’t have to look at me? I feel like the hunchback of Notre Dame, confined to the bell tower. (Incidentally, a great book.)
“Thanks for the tip,” I say tightly.
I’m not sure if it’s perfect or terrible timing that Colin chooses this moment to walk through the doors. Despite how furious I am with Dawn Sheehan right now, I feel a surge of happiness at the sight of him.
Why do I react this way to Colin? It’s embarrassing. God, he’s not that hot. (Well, he is. But still.)
Colin shuffles toward my desk with more confidence this time, although he’s still using his cane to feel his way. And he again looks relieved when his cane taps against the base of the desk. He stands in front of the desk, waiting for someone to acknowledge him.
Dawn looks at him, and the expression on her face is priceless. Her cheeks turn pink, and she mumbles, “Well, we can talk another time, Sophie.”
“That would be great,” I say brightly, pretending I don’t want to reach across the desk and strangle her.
Once Dawn is gone, I focus my attention on Colin. He’s still waiting patiently, uncertain if someone is ahead of him in the line. But he knows my voice, so he’s aware I’m here. “Hi, Colin,” I say to let him know I see him.
“Hi, Sophie.” His face breaks into a smile. “How are you?”
“I’m fine.” I return his smile, even though I know he can’t see it. I just feel like smiling. “How was your weekend?”
His smile falters. “Um. It was fine. How about yours?”
I hesitate. “Also, fine.”
He chews on his lip and I start to reach for the books I have under the desk, assuming that’s what he wants, but instead he blurts out, “So what book would you take on the desert island?”
I blink a few times, surprised he remembered our conversation from last week. “Oh… um…”
“Sorry…” He looks to either side of himself, his brow creased. “Is there someone waiting?”
“No, there’s no one waiting,” I assure him. “I just… I didn’t think you remembered.”
“Of course I remembered,” he says. “I’ve been waiting to hear your answer all week.”
And then that Irish boy’s cheeks turn pink. He is adorable. He doesn’t have any clue how sexy he is.
“I’ll tell you,” I say, “but you might make fun of me.”
He grins. “What is it? The Devil Wears Prada?”
I laugh. “Oh no. You really think that could be my desert island book?”
“Well, maybe,” he says. “You seem like you might be a Prada type of girl.”
I stare up at those tinted purple glasses, wondering again if he has any vision at all. If he does, it’s clearly minimal. I’m certain he can’t see my face. And I’m also certain his mother didn’t clue him in to what I look like.
“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” I say. “Betty Smith. It’s a long, multigenerational story… much like The World According to Garp. I love that book. I read it for the first time when I was ten, and I wanted to be friends with Francie Nolan.”
“I never read it.”
“I’m not surprised. It’s more of a book for girls.” I study his face. “But you might enjoy it. It’s about an Irish family growing up in Brooklyn.”
“Oh yeah?” He smiles. “I’m Irish, you know.”
“You’re kidding, Mr. Kelly.”
He laughs. “Well, me and everyone else around here. Are you?”
“No. Russian and Polish. My last name is Pasternak.”
“Pasternak.” He runs the name over his tongue. I never particularly loved my last name, but somehow he makes it sound sexy. “Russian and Polish—I like that.”
I wonder if he’s picturing some blond East European model.
“Anyway.” He scratches at the back of his neck. “Did you get those books?”
“I absolutely did,” I say, and his smile broadens again. I look under the desk, where I hid the pile of four books I set aside for Colin. “I’ve got four choices for you. They’re actually all short stories, but in book form.”
“That sounds great,” he says gratefully.
I pull out the four hardcover books, which are far thicker than they would be if the same story were printed in regular font on normal paper. I spread out the books on the desk, not sure if he wants to figure out the titles on his own. I see him feeling the cover of the first one, his brow furrowed. After a few moments, his face lights up. “Stephen King! I love Stephen King.”
I have to agree. Stephen King often gets filed away as a horror writer, but I think he’s incredibly talented. He wrote The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me—both novellas under slightly different names in his book Different Seasons. The fact that he can write both “unputdownable” horror novels and literary fiction is a testament to his skill.
“‘Mile 81’ is supposed to be an incredible story,” I say. “Have you ever read it?”
He shakes his head no. He then moves his hands to the next book, which is a story called “Second Variety” by Philip K. Dick. The other two books are “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Ernest Hemingway and “The Case of the Caretaker” by Agatha Christie. He seems pleased with other choices, but most excited about the Stephen King book. His face is almost glowing with pleasure.
“How long can I keep these for?” he asks.
“Well, braille books need to be returned after a week,” I say. “Because they’re considered special, like the DVDs. But you can renew anything you don’t finish.”
“And if I do manage to finish them,” he says, “you’ll get more for me?”
“I’ll order them now,” I say. “They only have a limited selection, but do you have any preferences?”
He grins at me. “You know what? Surprise me.”
It’s on the tip of my tongue to ask if he’d ever want to come with me to the main branch library. But no, I can’t ask him that. It would be weird.
There’s just something about Colin Kelly that makes me want to spend more time with him.
My mother is still furious with me for last night.
Okay, I get it. She expected me to come home and I didn’t. I didn’t answer my phone because I left it in my bag in Dan’s car. Dan didn’t answer his phone because he had it on silent (and also, he was boning Debbie). So my mom was worried.
But also, it was somewhat unwarranted. I was with Dan, so if anything were wrong, he would have called her. Also, I’m thirty-one fucking years old. I’m too old to have a curfew. If I want to stay out all night, I should be able to do it without having to call my mommy.
“I was up all night, Colin!” she yells at me as I sit on the couch and take her abuse. “All night, worrying you were lost or… or hurt… or dead!”
She’s really good at the Catholic guilt thing.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I meant to come home last night. I just… I fell asleep at Dan’s place.”
I don’t know why I couldn’t manage to tell her I was with a woman. Maybe because I was worried she’d be excited I met someone, and then I’d have to admit there’s no chance I will ever see Ashlynn again ever.
“I can’t believe you,” she says. “Honestly.”
“Sorry,” I say for the tenth time. I tug at the hem of my T-shirt. “Hey, is there any chance you could take me to the library today?”
Sophie told me she’d be at the library today. If I don’t show up, I don’t know the next time she’ll be there. And all weekend, I’ve been looking forward to talking to her again.
Ma pauses in the middle of berating me. “You… you want to go to the library?”
I shrug, trying to act like I don’t care as much as I actually do. “Well, yeah. Sophie said she put aside some new books for me.”
Another pause. “Sophie?”
“You mean that one who was there the first day we came?”
“Yeah,” I say. “She was awesome. We were talking about braille books and she said she could get me some better ones from the main branch. She’s putting them aside for me.”
And also, she has a really pretty voice. And she smells like flowers.
Okay, there’s a chance I might be getting infatuated here.
“Oh.” Her voice softens. “Well, that’s really nice of her. She’s very thoughtful.”
There’s something in my mother’s voice that unsettles me. I don’t know exactly what it is though. It doesn’t sound like she dislikes Sophie. It’s something else I can’t put my finger on.
Well, who cares?
“So can you take me?” I press her.
“Maybe in the afternoon.”
I bite my lip. “I could take the bus there myself…”
The thought of doing this is terrifying to me, but at the same time, I really need to figure out ways to get places without relying on other people. I would have learned it in rehab if I hadn’t ditched, but I never did—that means I’ve got to do it now. There’s a bus right near the corner store I already know how to walk to. I think there’s also a stop near the library. I could do it.
“The bus?” Ma sounds horrified. “On your own? Colin, don’t be ridiculous. I’ll take you.”
I feel a surge of resentment that she doesn’t think I’m capable of taking a bus myself. But at the same time, I breathe a sigh of relief. I wasn’t too excited about the possibility of getting lost on the bus.
Starting at around one o’clock, I get antsy. I’m worried Ma isn’t really going to take me to the library, because she’s too tired. But at two-thirty, when I ask my phone for bus directions to the library right in front of her, she quickly says, “Okay, let’s go.”
Sophie’s got four books waiting for me when I get to the library. I’m excited to read all of them, but not nearly as excited as I am to talk to her. The whole time I’m worried someone is standing next to me, and everyone is too polite to tell me to shut up so they can have their turn. But Sophie seems genuinely happy to talk to me. Not just faking it or being nice to me because I’m blind. And I manage to have my library card this time, instead of, I don’t know, my credit card.
Her favorite book is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I’ve got to find a way to read it. Maybe I’ll go the audiobook route because it will probably take me half my life to read it in braille at this rate.
I make my way to a table carefully and feel for the chair before I sit down. Just as I’m putting my shoulder bag next to me on the table, I hear a loud, angry woman’s voice say, “Excuse me! I’m sitting here!”
Apparently, there was someone sitting in the seat right next to the one I selected.
“Sorry,” I say quickly. I feel my ears growing hot as I stand up. “I didn’t realize. I’ll just…”
“I’ll move,” the woman snips at me.
Jesus Christ. It’s pretty obvious I didn’t do it intentionally. I tapped my way over here with a white cane—it’s not like I’m trying to hide my vision problems (right now). Yes, I should have asked if someone was sitting there before I sat down. That was really dumb. But the library was so quiet, I just assumed the table was empty—my mistake. Most people seem only too anxious to accommodate me, but there’s a small segment of the population that seems angry at me when I make mistakes like that. Don’t they realize it’s more awkward for me than it is for them?
I’m sure Sophie saw the whole thing too. Fantastic.
I sit for a moment, trying to get my bearings. I want to start on the Stephen King book right away. I have to feel each of the covers, trying to locate which one is the right book. It’s the third one. I put the others aside and open it.
It’s only when I’ve read a few pages that I realize I forgot to use the bathroom before I left the house. After last night, you’d think I would have learned my lesson. And I have absolutely no clue where the bathroom is in this library. It could be on another floor for all I know.
But I drank a bunch of coffee before I left, and the urge is growing more and more urgent. I have to find a bathroom. And there’s zero chance of finding it on my own. I need help.
I’m going to have to ask Sophie.
I’ve been idly keeping an eye on Colin since he sat down. I saw how he accidentally sat next to Mrs. Horan, the crabbiest lady in the library. Almost anyone else would have been nice to him, but she wasn’t. I’ve argued with her on numerous occasions. The most recent was last week, on a rainy day, when she came up to the desk and complained about all the noise in the library. Everyone in the library was silent, and it took me a good several minutes to realize she was angry about the thunder from outside. I told her as nicely as I could that I couldn’t control the weather, but she was still angry with me. It’s not surprising this woman took it as a personal affront when Colin didn’t realize she was sitting there.
After about half an hour, he stands up hesitantly. He picks up his cane, puts his shades back on, and walks carefully over to the desk. I stand up quickly, and before he can even get to me, I say, “Hi, Colin.”
Again, he gets that relieved look on his face. “Hi, Sophie.”
“Is there something you need?”
“Yeah, um…” He takes a deep breath. “I, uh…” His cheeks color. “Where’s the bathroom?”
I point to the back. “Oh, it’s right over there.”
It takes a few seconds of him gazing at me blankly before I realize my mistake.
“It’s sort of…” I bite my lip. “If you turn left and go straight, then make another left…” I hesitate. “Do you want me to take you?”
His cheeks color, but he nods. “That would be great. Thanks.”
I step out from behind the desk, but I’m not sure exactly what to do. I’ve never led a blind person somewhere before. Colin seems to sense I don’t know what to do.
“I can hold your arm,” he says. “If you touch my hand, I’ll know where your arm is.”
I touch his right hand with my left. His hand is warm to touch. He lifts his hand and gently grips my arm right above the elbow. Obviously, he’s only touching me because I’m guiding him to the toilet (possibly the least sexy thing ever)—why am I getting tingly all over from his touch?
Okay, this isn’t entirely my fault. The problem is that men don’t touch me very often. Or ever, really. So it’s not something I’m used to. This is just my body reacting to something unfamiliar.
Unfamiliar and quite nice.
I lead him to the back of the library, being careful not to steer him into a bookcase or something. He’s got his cane out too, but he’s not using it—he’s trusting me to lead him. It’s a lot of pressure. We don’t talk, and he seems more than a little embarrassed about the whole thing.
When we get to the bathroom, I stop. “We’re here. The door is right in front of you.”
“Thanks,” he says.
“Do you want me to wait for you to be finished?”
“Jesus.” He rakes a hand through his short reddish brown hair. “No, I think I can figure out how to get back to the table. But if you see me wandering somewhere I shouldn’t be, feel free to rescue me.”
“I will,” I promise.
I do keep an eye out for him. A few people check out books while he’s inside, and I’m working my way through a large pile of novels when I see him emerge from the bathroom. I watch him out of the corner of my eye, sliding his cane along the carpeted floor. I’m impressed that he seems to remember how to get back to the table—he was clearly paying close attention. I let out a silent cheer when he clears the rows of bookshelves and shuffles his way carefully to the tables.
And then he sits down at the wrong table.
I want to rush over and help him, but I’ve got an elderly man with a big gray beard in front of me, who is pushing a book insistently across the desk.
“Library card,” I say impatiently, hoping to finish this up quickly.
“No,” the man says, “I want to buy it.”
I shake my head at him. “We don’t sell books here. You need a library card and you can check it out.”
“Yes, but I’d like to buy it.”
“You can’t buy it.”
“I understand you lend books if people don’t want to buy them,” the man says, “but I have money and I’d like to buy this one.”
Seriously? “I’m sorry, I just can’t do that,” I say as patiently as I can muster. “I’d be happy to give you an application for a library card…”
I start rifling around under the desk for an application, but the man just shakes his head in disgust. “You just lost yourself a sale, lady.”
There’s another person behind him, but by this point, Colin is feeling around for his books, but can’t seem to locate them. My heart aches for him. I have to get over there.
“Hang on a minute,” I say to the next person in line.
I hurry over to the table, where Colin seems to have realized something is wrong. He looks up immediately at the sound of my footsteps. “Sophie?”
“It’s the wrong table,” I say breathlessly. “You’re right over there.”
Over there. Damn, I did it again.
He drops his head. “Shit.”
“Don’t worry about it.” I put my hand on his shoulder, which makes him jolt slightly, but then he relaxes. I pull my hand away, but notice it still feels all tingly. Why is my hand tingly just from touching him? I can’t believe a guy could be making me feel this way—it must be a stroke or nerve injury. “I’ll show you to your table.”
Colin stands up and takes my arm like he did before. It’s only one table over, but he seems grateful for the help. The relief on his face is palpable when he drops into the chair he’d been in before.
“Thanks,” he mumbles. He offers me a thin smile.
“No problem,” I say.
I know he’s embarrassed about what just happened. There’s part of me that wants to sit down with him and share my secret, so he knows I know what it means to feel different from everyone else. But there’s a long line of people waiting to check out books.
And the truth is, I really don’t want him to know.
To be continued.....