“Mommy, how many books can I get?” My five-year-old daughter, Leah, butted the back of my leg. She was weighed down by a dozen picture books, all in danger of toppling over onto the floor.
“Let’s start out with six, honey,” I said, taking that amount from the top of her stack and stabilizing the rest in her arms. “We can always come back next week.”
Leah launched a protest, but I didn’t really hear her. I’d hit upon a great idea. I needed a job, and I’d always loved libraries. Maybe I could work here.
After I convinced Leah to put the rest of her books back, we waited in line to register for a card. I took the opportunity to reacquaint myself with my surroundings. The library looked much the same as it had twelve years ago, when I was here last. The children’s section was decorated with a mural of Alice in Wonderland, and oversized stuffed animals slumped on chairs and benches. Picture books littered the floor. Magazines were fanned out on a table in the periodicals room, and newspapers hung on turning dowels nearby.
It was in periodicals that a boy from high school had asked me out when I was seventeen, and I’d literally sprinted out the door in response. I was incredibly shy back then. I didn’t date until my last year of college, and even then I married the first guy I went out with. Bad idea. The marriage didn’t last seven years. Now I was back in my hometown, ready to make a fresh start. Luckily, Leah saw the move as a grand adventure, not to mention an opportunity to con her nearby grandparents into regularly giving her presents.
I browsed through the leaflets on the counter as Leah labored to sign her name on her new card--she’d insisted on getting her own. I was delighted to find a job announcement for the position of library clerk. I picked up an application, and we left for the car, both feeling proud of ourselves.
Within just a couple of months, I’d taken and passed a hiring test, aced an interview, and survived my training period. I was now officially a library clerk. I was still somewhat hesitant with the computer system, but my supervisor said I was doing fine.
On a late Wednesday afternoon, I was working alone at the circulation desk. Several co-workers were out sick, so I’d had to pick up the slack. I’d had a line for an hour, and it showed no signs of abating. I’d been using every aspect of my training; checking out books, taking payments for fines, and registering for library cards.
“Beth? Beth Williams?”
My newest customer looked faintly familiar. With a start I realized he was Brian Marx, the very boy--now a man--who’d asked me out twelve years ago.
I blushed furiously and nodded. “Hi, Brian. How are you?”
“I’m good. I haven’t seen you in years. Have you been living out of town?”
I nodded again and reached for his stack of books and his library card. “I went to college out of state and was living there. I moved back to Springfield about three months ago. I started working here just recently.”
“It’s great to see you. Good to have you back in town.”
“It’s nice to see you, too. So you’re still living here?”
“Yep. I teach science over at the high school. Freshmen and sophomores. It sure brings back memories. Remember the smell of formaldehyde? I swear it’s in my pores now.”
I smiled at him.
I’d been checking out his books this whole time--mostly science-related--and I was now finished and had printed his receipt. There wasn’t anything left to do. I peeked behind him at my line.
“I should let you get back to work.” Brian gathered up his books and turned away.
I watched him go with regret. He’d been cute in high school, but now he was downright handsome. And he seemed as nice as I remembered. Why hadn’t I gone out with him back then? He was probably married now, and I’d missed my chance. But I didn’t have much time to ruminate about it. My next customer wasn’t happy about the fines she owed, and I had to delicately negotiate the situation.
Exactly a week later, I was shelving books in the biographies section when Brian came in. He caught sight of me and walked over. I was so nervous that I knocked several books off my cart. They fell to the floor and made an impressive noise.
Brian helped me pick up the books. I noted the absence of a wedding ring on his left hand. My heart pounded. Was he going to ask me out?
“Thank you,” I said, feeling my face get hot. “Sometimes I’m just so clumsy.”
“At least you haven’t sprinted out the door yet.” He gave me a wicked grin.
I gulped. “You remembered.”
“How could I forget? I’d been gathering my nerve to ask you out for months. Something about the neutral location of the public library helped me finally do it.”
“I’m sorry. I was really shy back then.” I looked down at my cart to hide my flushed face.
“I’m glad to see you’ve gotten over that.” He laughed softly, and I couldn’t help but laugh, too.
“Look, Beth. If you’re available, I’d like to take you out.” He put up his hands. “Uh…please don’t run away.”
I giggled. “I won’t. I would love to go out with you.”
“Saturday night? I promise I’ll do my best to rid myself of the smell of formaldehyde.”
I nodded. “Saturday night. And I promise to leave my running shoes at home.”
Brian gave me a huge smile, and suddenly I didn’t feel the least bit shy.
About the Author: Carol Ayer's romantic short fiction has appeared in Woman's World, Spotlight on Pahrump, and The Prairie Times. "Storybook Love," a romantic novella, is coming soon from "Wild Child Publishing." Website: http://www.seaaircarol.com