I walked into the university library and was immediately swallowed up by a heavy layer of silence.
It had been a long time since I'd spent an evening here. At one time I'd hoped to become an art teacher, but when Mom passed away I 'postponed' getting my degree so I could help in the family’s hardware store and take care of Dad. It was just supposed to be for a few months, but it turned into a few years and a deep rut. When my fiancé got a new job and moved away without even asking me to come with him, I knew it was time for a change. I signed up for an art history class. A baby step, but still a step.
My class required a term paper, and I needed to get started. I found a table, settled my things, and took out the sheet explaining the requirements for my paper. Where to start? I needed...how many sources? Books, articles, internet...? I was in over my head. Way over.
“Do you need any help?”
Did I? I looked up and...
The librarian was not a frumpy older lady in sensible shoes. It was a tall, lean man with shaggy brown hair and broad shoulders. He wore glasses which seemed to highlight rather than hide a pair of expressive brown eyes.
“Can I help you?” he repeated while I attempted to untie my tongue.
I did need help, lots of help. And to receive such help from this gorgeous man was...
“No, I'm fine,” I squeaked like a cartoon chipmunk.
“If you need anything I'll be at the reference desk. My name is Mark.”
“I'm Annabel,” I said and then winced. He didn't care who I was.
But surprisingly Mark smiled, a warm and at the same time, sexy smile. “Nice to meet you.”
He turned to go and my stalled mind suddenly kicked into gear. “I do have one question.”
Mark looked back and raised an eyebrow. “Yes?”
Question. I needed a question. Fast. I blurted “Where's the reference desk?”
He turned that smile on me again and I wanted to bask in it as he delivered his answer. “Right over here.”
As in not twenty feet from where I sat.
All right, so that first interaction did not go well. Normally I would have said that a guy like Mark was out of my league and left it at that. Girls like me, with "nothing special" features and an unfashionably curvy figure did not catch guys like Mark. At least my glasses couldn't count against me this time. But for some reason, I wasn't satisfied to give up without even trying. I wasn't giving up on my paper and I wasn't giving up on...just what did I want from Mark?
I made it my goal to find out if he were as nice as his smile. When I went back to the library, I had a list of questions, starting with "where are the art books shelved?" Plus I remembered to comb my hair this time before I left the house.
Mark was warm and friendly and…totally professional.
I found more questions and went back to the library. Again and again. By the end of the semester I had Mark's work schedule memorized.
Plus I'd sort of given myself a makeover. I went from just combing my hair to actually getting it highlighted. I got new glasses that seemed to me to show off my eyes like Mark's did.
One day we were paging through an enormous art book, looking for some obscure reference when Mark pointed to one of the pictures and said he thought that shade of blue would look good on me. Then he quickly moved on. This gave me hope. I bought a sweater in that color the next day. Then, fearing I was being obvious, I bought a couple of sweaters in other colors. And new jeans, too. Just to balance things out.
The result of all this was an 'A' on my paper, a newfound confidence and the knowledge that Mark really was nice – plus smart, funny, patient and persistent. No matter how odd my question was or how obscure the information I sought, he never gave up until he'd found the answer.
But my class was finished and I'd decided to transfer to the home design course at the tech school. Home design would come in handy in my current job as well as give me a chance for a better job in the future. But I'd have no more reason to visit Mark.
I decided to see him one last time.
He looked up as I approached the reference desk. His smile still made my knees go weak. “Hi,” I said. My voice came out all breathy when I was around him, but it was an improvement over the chipmunk squeak.
“Don't tell me you need to research something else? Haven't you finished that paper yet?”
“Yes, finished and got an 'A.' I stopped by to thank you for all your help.”
He seemed pleased. “You're welcome. It's my job, but I don't actually hear a 'thank you' very often.”
“Then I'm doubly glad I stopped to tell you.”
“Got any big research projects next semester?”
I explained to him about transferring. Was I just seeing what I wanted to see or did Mark actually look disappointed?
“That makes sense," he admitted. "You're a creative person and that will give you an outlet for your talent.”
Mark thought I was creative? Maybe I should ask him out? What did I have to lose? If he turned me down I'd never have to see him again.
I opened my mouth to ask the question.
But all that came out was “Well, I really did appreciate all your help. Bye.”
After asking him so many questions, you'd think I'd have no problem with one more.
Miserable at my failure, I turned to go.
I froze, then looked back. “Yes?”
“I have a question.”
I raised an eyebrow in surprise. “You do?”
"What is it?"
“Would you...would you...”
The confident professional I knew had disappeared. Was Mark actually stammering?
“Would you meet me for coffee after I finish my shift?”
“Yes, I’d love to.” Excitement caused my voice to squeak again, but I didn’t care.
“I've wanted to ask you out all semester.”
I laughed. “And all this time...Well, let's just say I wouldn't have been such an eager student if you were an old lady in sensible shoes.”
We both stared at each other with what I'm sure were the goofiest looks ever on our faces.
“This just proves that old saying ‘Never be afraid to ask questions,’” he said.
I was glad I'd found the courage.
About the Author: Kara Lynn Russell is the mother of four (and still mostly sane) and is married to the man who put the happy in her ever after. They live in a small Wisconsin town in the heart of dairy country where she currently works at the local public library. Check out her website at http://karalynnrussell.googlepages.com/home .