Caldwell Library was an intimidating large gray stone building, with gray stone columns lining the entrance. A long flight of stairs led to the doorway and Marie Rosen found herself getting out of breath after the fifth step. It was another sign that she should have spent less time studying and more time exercising this summer.
Marie’s roommate and fellow graduate student in English poetry Anise Jameson bounded up the steps with more energy than Marie could recall ever having mustered in her entire life. Marie had only known Anise for a week, but was already intimidated by her blonde hair, blue eyes, and trim figure. Marie was the opposite: mousy brown hair framing a forgettable face, with too many pounds packed into her 5’2” frame. Whenever they went anywhere together, Marie felt like Anise’s ugly friend.
Half an hour earlier, the girls had been assigned their first paper to complete, so they took off in the direction of the library. Anise had been there once before and assured Marie that it was “awesome” and would have everything they needed. Of course, Marie didn’t know how they’d manage to find anything in this gigantic place.
As soon as she walked in, Marie was overcome by the rows and rows of books. It was almost dizzying. She nudged Anise, “Where do you think the poetry section is?”
Anise bit her lip and looked around helplessly, “I found it last week…”
Marie sighed and self-consciously tugged on the collar of her black blouse. Most of her clothes were black due to the color’s thinning qualities, but no amount of black would make up for the fact that she had gained five pounds this week due to nervous eating. Her shirts were already a little bit snug, but now they were bordering on tight. In all the wrong places, of course. Anise, on the other hand, appeared to have been poured into her sky blue sweater.
“Let’s ask the guy,” Anise said.
“The guy?” Marie asked.
Anise gestured to the desk where people were checking out books. There was a guy with shaggy brown hair in his late twenties sitting behind the desk, looking extremely bored as he scanned in book after book and tossed them on the counter next to him. Marie read his name off the tag pinned to his chest: Sam.
The two girls approached the desk. Marie offered a smile: “Uh, excuse me…”
“Get in line,” the guy, Sam, muttered.
“No, we just want to know—”
“Get in line,” Sam repeated, more irritably this time. He pointed to the three people who were waiting to check out their stacks of books.
“Look, you’ve got to wait your turn.” He briefly lifted his eyes to meet hers and she couldn’t help but notice they were very nice brown eyes. With their slightly slanted alignment and the shape of his nose, she guessed that he had part Asian heritage. He quickly looked back down at the books he was scanning.
“Excuse me,” Anise broke in, pushing her perfect breasts practically into Sam’s face, “but we just want to know where the English poetry section is.”
Sam lifted his eyes again and looked like he was getting ready to tell her off, but his eyes widened when he caught sight of Anise’s breasts. He promptly replied, “Twenty-one A.”
“Thank you,” Anise said sweetly.
Marie’s face burned. It must have been great to be her and be able to get anything you want from a guy. Even if she dropped the fifty pounds (at least) that she badly needed to get rid of, she’d never look like Anise. That kind of beauty was genetic.
As they walked toward the poetry section, Anise linked arms with Marie and whispered in her ear, “He was kind of cute, wasn’t he? I love half-Asian guys.”
“Ugh,” Marie muttered. As far as she could tell, Anise loved every kind of guys. And they loved her back. “Aren’t you, like, dating that guy who came over last night?”
“Among others,” she murmured, looking back over her shoulder to take one last look at Sam. “Okay, what about you? Do you have any guys you’re interested in?”
“I’m interested in getting my degree.”
“Oh, bullshit,” Anise said good-naturedly. “Tell me, what’s your type?”
Marie didn’t think she especially had a “type” but she decided to play along with Anise’s little game. “I like smart guys, I guess,” she said. “And guys who aren’t all full of themselves. I don’t want someone who’s going to spend more time at the gym than he does with me.”
“Oh, Marie honey,” Anise sighed, “if you could say that, you haven’t felt a really great six pack.”
Marie couldn’t help but laugh to herself. This was going to be a very interesting year.
Sam Ziegler was busy scanning a large stack of texts on comparative literature when he felt an elbow nudging him in the ribs. He coughed and looked back irritably to see his friend and coworker Dean Cameron grinning at him. “Did you get a load of those tits?” Dean said.
Sam glared at Dean and quickly pushed the stack of scanned books back to the student with an apologetic look on his face. He turned to Dean, “Will you shut the fuck up? I’m working.”
“I’ve never seen anyone take their job so seriously,” Dean sighed.
Sam reached for the next pile of books and thought bitterly that he wouldn’t have as much work to do if Dean lent a hand every once in a while. Then again, Dean was the one who got him this job two years ago, so he had to be grateful for that much. It was the only kind of job he could hold down these days.
He didn’t have to work. The disability payments were enough to just barely pay the bills, but it was nice to have a little extra cash. And he knew himself; if he wasn’t working, he’d never leave the house ever. It was good to get a little sunlight. Stave off the rickets.
Checking out books at the library was about the most mindless job he could have. The most exciting part of his day was if a book was overdue and he had to tally up the late fees. So yes, it wasn’t a terrible thing if a pretty girl stuck her tits in his face in order to get his attention. He wasn’t about to complain.
As Sam stamped the due date on the last of the next person’s large stack of books, he noticed that he was running out of ink. “Hey, Dean,” he called. “We got more red ink?”
“Sure thing,” Dean said.
While Sam was checking out the books, Dean was his legs. It worked well that way, considering Sam had lost use of his legs five years ago. Most of the supplies were in the basement, which was off limits to him in a wheelchair. He generally parked himself in front of his computer, with his wheels under the desk. He guessed nobody but the regulars at the library knew he even used a chair.
It had happened in an explosion. It sounded dramatic, but it was true. Sam had been in the physics lab and something had gone wrong. He never quite found out what it was, because he could remember nothing from several days prior to the explosion to an entire month after. From what he was told, he was lucky to be alive. But most days he didn’t feel that way.
His first memory from the hospital was of sitting in a wheelchair, a nurse trying to coax him into taking a bite of mashed potatoes. He remembered feeling confused but opening his mouth for the food… and nearly choking on it. Swallowing was one of the things he had to relearn, along with speaking normally. Having been on the brink of completing a graduate degree in physics, it was especially mortifying to have to struggle just to form a simple sentence. He tried to ask the doctors and therapists what the chances were that he’d get back to normal, but he couldn’t put together the words. And even if he could, he was sure he’d have trouble understanding their reply.
His brain recovered slowly but surely. By the time he was discharged, he was able to speak almost normally again. He could hear a difference—he felt like his words came out slower than they used to, but Dean was his oldest friend and swore he sounded the same as before. His spinal cord didn’t recover though. He sustained a complete T1 injury, which left him paralyzed from the chest down. He could move his hands, although he realized he didn’t have quite the same dexterity that he used to.
Ultimately, he knew he could have suffered a much worse fate. He remembered those early weeks in rehab, when he would sit in his wheelchair, drooling as he stared blankly at the walls, struggling to hold onto a thought. He could easily have stayed that way. He supposed he was greedy, fixating on what used to be, rather than what could have been.
“Your red ink, sir,” Dean said, handing Sam the fresh container.
Sam looked at the line of people waiting to check out books and saw that the blonde girl with the nice boobs was nearly at the front of the line. She was definitely very attractive—way out of his league, even without the wheelchair. He had never been great at talking to girls and his few relationships in his life had only taken place because the girls had approached him first. That sort of thing didn’t happen anymore.
“Hello, Sam,” the blonde said, like she was his buddy rather than having just read his name off his nametag. “Do you think you could make a new library card for my friend Marie?”
The pudgy dark-haired girl (Marie, he guessed) nudged her friend, “I could have asked him.”
“Yeah, I can make you a card,” Sam said. He glanced at the stack of books that Marie was holding and shook his head. Poetry books. Christ, what a waste. “But you can’t use it till tomorrow. Approval takes 24 hours.”
“Oh, come on, Sam,” the blonde said, leaning forward to give him a better view of her cleavage. “You can speed this up, can’t you?”
“Actually, I can’t,” Sam said.
The blonde pouted, “Are you sure? There’s absolutely no way?”
What did she expect him to say? Yeah, get down on your knees and give me a blow job and I’ll let you take out the books.
“It’s okay, Anise,” the brunette, Marie, whispered, her face slightly pink. Sam couldn’t help but notice that Marie had awfully nice breasts as well. “I’ll come back tomorrow.”
Sam didn’t know where Dean had gone off to, but he had apparently heard the blonde, Anise, all the way across the library and came racing over. He was practically panting. Sam and Dean had become good friends during their freshman year of college, when they were assigned to be roommates and they had a blast that year, but sometimes Sam wondered if they had anything in common.
“We can absolutely help you,” Dean assured the girls. “There is always a way.”
Sam wanted to reach out and strangle his friend. “The system won’t recognize the card until—”
“They can use my card,” Dean said.
Sam shrugged. He wasn’t about to fight this. It was true—when it came to Dean and girls, there was always a way.
Within two weeks of starting classes, Marie was already overwhelmed with work. Every class required a huge amount of reading and papers to write. She felt like she barely had time to sleep anymore. Although she noticed that she did still have time to eat. The amount of work and anxiety had caused Marie to go into her nervous eating mode and she had already packed on yet another five pounds. Luckily, almost everyone in her classes was female, so there wasn’t anyone around to impress.
The only man that she had any regular contact with was Sam, the guy from the library. The more she saw him, the more she thought that Anise had been right—he was very attractive in a kind of exotic way. But so far, he had barely spoken a word to her and she was too shy to initiate any sort of conversation herself.
However, her interest in Sam was further piqued when she happened upon his photo in the graduate student lounge. There were pictures of all the grad students from every department from the last ten years and Marie was shocked to find Sam’s face on the roster of physics students from five years ago. He should have graduated years ago, which clearly wasn’t the case, considering he was working in a library. She wondered what had happened to him. Why had he given up?
She pointed out Sam’s photo to Anise, the next time they were in the lounge together. “Look,” she said to Anise. “It’s that guy Sam from the library.”
“Oh wow,” Anise said. “Well, you said you were into geeks, so that’s perfect.”
“I said I liked smart guys.”
“How do you think he ended up leaving physics?” Marie mused aloud.
“I don’t know,” Anise replied. “Can you please just stop salivating over him and ask the geek out.”
Marie blushed, “I can’t ask a guy out…”
Anise sighed and shook her head. “If you don’t learn to ask guys out, you’re stuck with the ones who ask you. Why should the choice be in their hands?”
Marie just stared.
“At least learn to flirt,” Anise said. “Let him know you’re interested.”
Marie kept Anise’s words in mind the next time she took a trip to the library, which was becoming a more and more frequent occurrence these days. As she walked through the glass doors to the library, she immediately caught sight of Sam sitting at the checkout desk. She felt her heart speed up a second as she approached him.
They made eye contact, but he didn’t wave to her or acknowledge her in any way. Even though she’d been to the library what felt like a dozen times in the last two weeks, he probably saw hundreds of students there every day. Maybe he remembered Anise, but she guessed he wouldn’t remember her. She was going to need to borrow some books to get any acknowledgement.
There was a poetry book Marie needed for her latest paper, so she figured she’d take his opportunity to get the book and start a conversation with Sam. She was encouraged by the fact that the library was fairly empty and there was no one else waiting on line.
Sam didn’t even glance at her as he pulled the book towards him and ran the scanner over the barcode. “Hi,” she said meekly.
Sam didn’t reply. He put a return card in her book and held it out to her, “Here.”
“Thanks,” she said.
He went back to his computer and seemed very focused on something on the screen. Marie nearly walked away, but she remembered Anise’s words and stuck to her guns. She didn’t need to ask him out, but at least they could exchange a few words. After all, she saw him nearly every day.
“So how long have you been working here?” Marie asked.
Sam slowly lifted his eyes from the computer screen. “What?”
She coughed and cleared her throat, “I just said, how long have you been working here?”
“Too fucking long,” Sam muttered.
“Do… do you like it?”
This time he turned away from the monitor completely and stared at her. “Yeah, it’s great,” he said. “I love checking out ten million books a day. It’s an awesome job.”
Marie blushed. She wanted to apologize but she didn’t think she should have to. The question she asked wasn’t so unreasonable. Sam was being a dick on purpose. He clearly had no interest in being friendly with her and she wasn’t interested in throwing herself at a jerk.
“Have a nice day,” she told him and marched out the door.
Sam couldn’t be nice to the patrons of the library. It was impossible. Even when they tried to make polite conversation, especially when they tried to make polite conversation, he just wanted to rip his hair out. The worst thing about this job was the people.
Sam felt guilty for brushing off the cute chubby brunette Marie who came in with the busty blonde two weeks ago. Marie was here nearly every day, studying her little poems, and she was obviously trying to make friends. It just seemed like too damn much effort. He could talk to Marie, sure. Then maybe they’d end up talking every day. And then what? They’d have lunch?
He wondered if part of his hesitation wasn’t related to the fact that he wasn’t sure if Marie had noticed that he was disabled. He knew that from the position he was seated, the wheelchair wasn’t obvious. In fact, he was pretty sure that she hadn’t noticed the wheelchair, otherwise he didn’t think she’d have been quite so friendly. He kind of dreaded that first moment when she’d see him wheel out from behind the counter. It was inevitable considering how much time she spent in the library.
The truth of the matter was that Sam did think Marie was attractive and he thought about girls all the freaking time. Dean always seemed to have a different girl coming to meet him after work, but Sam hadn’t had a hint of a date since the explosion. Any time the possibility arose, he shied away. He was embarrassed, not just about the fact that he couldn’t walk and the lack of muscles in his abdomen, but also he was worried that the girl would notice his brain injury the first time they had an extended conversation. Even if Dean was telling the truth that his speech sounded the same as it did before, he had difficulty paying attention and focusing on a topic.
For that reason, most of Sam’s interaction with women was limited to porn on the web. Not especially fulfilling, but it got the job done. And there was no pressure to perform well or maintain an erection, which he knew was a problem since his spinal cord injury.
Dean overheard Sam’s interaction with Marie and already knew his friend was going to give him shit for it. “I don’t understand how they let you talk to real people,” Dean said.
“Whatever,” Sam muttered.
“Hey, can you cover for me at closing tonight?” Dean asked. “I’ve got a hot date.”
“When are you going to pay me back for the hundred times I’ve closed for you in the last two years?”
Dean grinned, “Next time you get a hot date.”
“Great. So, never.”
“You need to have more confidence in yourself, Sammy,” Dean shook his head. “Much as you try, you’re still not the most undesirable guy I’ve ever met. It may require being civil though.”
“Forget it then. I’ll just stay single forever.”
Dean frowned. “I know we’re just joking around, but I mean it, Sam. It’s been long enough. You need to start dating again. I know you want to.”
Sam hated that he was so transparent. “It’s not that easy.”
Dean gave Sam a long look, but thankfully dropped it. Sam was relieved. The last thing he wanted to do was explain his lack of a love life.
To be continued...