I was shelving books in the juvenile paperbacks section when I looked up and saw Mike walking down the aisle toward me. He had a big smile on his face. In spite of myself, I smiled back.
"Hi! I’m surprised to see you in the children’s section."
"I hope you don't mind me stopping by like this. I was hoping that you would be working today. The librarian at the desk said I could find you back here."
"No, it's no problem! What can I do for you? Did you need help finding a specific title?"
"Oh, no, nothing like that. I came by to give you a copy of that book I was telling you about. He held out the well-worn book in his hand. "I had an extra copy at home and thought that you might be able to make use of it."
"Oh, wow, that is really thoughtful of you," I said as I took the copy of the book. "You didn't need to make a special trip just for that."
"No, but I wanted to. It really wasn't any trouble."
"Well, thank you."
"Hey, can you take a break? Do you want to grab a coffee or something?" he asked.
"No, I'm sorry. I just got here a few minutes ago," I lied.
"Oh, OK, then. Have you decided if you are going to come to the party Thursday night? I really hope you will."
"You know, I don't think that I am going to be able to make it."
"Oh, that's too bad," he said disappointedly. "Well, I guess I'll see you around then. I still hope you'll do the writing project."
"I'm still thinking about it," I said. "Thanks again for the book."
I watched him walk away.
I had noticed that my boss Rachel had conveniently made her way over to my section of the library so she could casually eavesdrop on the conversation.
"And who was that beautiful specimen of a man?" she asked after Mike was out of earshot.
"Oh, that's Mike. He is the head of that novel-writing group I was telling you about," I said. "Is he good looking? I hadn't noticed."
"Yeah, right. You hadn't noticed. You'd have to be blind not to notice," Rachel said. "So, what was that party he was talking about?"
"It's a kick-off party for the novel writing month. Everybody is supposed to come dressed as their favorite literary character in order to 'get them in the mood' for writing."
"And Mike is going to be there. He's obviously sweet on you, so why, exactly, aren't you going to this party?"
"I don’t think he is interested – he is just friendly. Anyway, I'm just not looking for a relationship right now."
"And why on earth not? In the six months you have been working here, you haven't talked about going on a single date, or any men at all. Now an amazing-looking man comes in here and invites you to a party and you don't want to go? I just don't understand."
"I can't really explain it. I just don't want my life to be complicated. I'm still trying to get settled in around here," I said.
"Well, if you ask me, your life could use some complication. I think you should go to the party. Having a good time certainly wouldn't kill you," she said as she returned to the desk to help a patron who was waiting there.
Rachel means well. I know that. She is the closest thing I have to a good friend in these parts. She's a few years older than me, married for ten years with two little girls. Her life is crazy busy, but good. Every time she talks about her daughters, her eyes just light up. I have to admit, I'm a little jealous. I would really like her life, but mine just didn't turn out that way. Some people are just lucky, I guess.
Maybe she's right. Maybe I should go to that party. There will probably be enough people there so that Mike won't even notice I'm there. Maybe I could make some new friends. Maybe I would actually have a good time. When was the last time I actually had a good time? To be honest, I couldn't remember. It had been quite a while. Of course, that also meant I had to come up with a costume.
I arrived at the library a few minutes before the party was about to begin. I sat in my car seriously questioning my sanity. I considered putting the key back into the ignition and turning right around. But I told Rachel I was coming and I knew if I backed out, I would never hear the end of it. So, I gathered up my courage, and my carpet bag, and stepped out of the car.
There were several people at the party, but I saw Mike as soon as I stepped into the room. He had a straw hat, a torn shirt, and patched overalls with a paint brush in his hand. And he looked just as handsome as he had the other night in his pullover and tweed coat. He was talking to a woman dressed like Cleopatra. I should have turned and ran, but a woman dressed as Hester Prynne from "The Scarlet Letter" came over and offered me some punch. "Thank you," I said.
"You look nervous," she said.
"I'm a little out of my element."
"Well, you look great!"
"I'm Chelsea. Is this your first time here?"
"Hi! I'm Lucy," I said, shaking her hand. "Yes, this is my first time. Is it that obvious?"
"Yes! I had the same terrified look on my face last year when I came for the first time. I wasn't sure what I was doing with this group either, but they are a great group of people, and the writing is fun. You never know what stories are lurking inside of you until you actually try to get them out on paper.
"Look, here comes Mike now. He heads up our group. Have you met him?"
Before I even had the chance to answer, she was yelling over to him.
"Hey, Mike, come over here! There's someone here that you should meet!"
I could feel my cheeks turning red with embarrassment. If I could have, I think I would have sunk into the floor.
"Hi Chelsea! Hi Lucy! I'm so glad that you decided to come after all!" Mike said warmly.
"Oh, so you two do know each other," Chelsea said.
"Yes, we had the pleasure the other night at the meeting," Mike replied.
"Great! Well I can see that there are other people I should be handing out punch to. It was nice to meet you, Lucy, but duty calls!" and off she went.
Mike turned to me. "Wait – don't tell me who you are. Let me guess! ‘Anne of Green Gables’ – right?"
"Wow, I'm impressed! Not many men would recognize 'Anne!’"
"Well my sister absolutely loved her. She had all the books and the movies and an 'Anne' doll. My parents even took us on a family vacation up to Prince Edward Island just so Sara could see all the places talked about in the books. Have you ever been there?" he asked.
"No. I've always wanted to, though."
"You should. Not just because of Anne either. It is just an absolutely beautiful place."
"Hopefully, I'll get there someday."
"Well, you look great as ‘Anne,’" he said.
"Thanks! I figured with the red hair and all. . . I hated my red hair when I was young, just like ‘Anne.’ Somehow, being like her made it a little easier to take."
"I've always been rather fond of red hair myself. It makes a woman stand out in a crowd."
My cheeks were starting to match my hair.
"Thank you. I've always been fond of Tom Sawyer." Did I actually just say that?
"Yeah, it's a great book - one of my favorites when I was kid. Do you want to help me paint a fence?" he asked, holding up his paintbrush.
"No," I laughed. "I think I'll pass. I don't want to get my outfit dirty!"
"Oh, that's too bad . . .Well," he said, looking around. "I suppose I should go mingle with the other guests. I'll talk to you later. OK?"
He turned away, then turned back. "Did you get a chance to look at that book I gave you?"
"Yes, actually I read the whole thing. I brought it with me tonight to return it to you," I reached into my carpet bag.
"Wow! You read fast. You don't need to return the book. I told you, I had an extra copy. If you don't want it, you can pass it along to someone else sometime."
"OK, thanks." I placed the book back into my bag as I watched him walk away. He greeted a few other people and then returned to his place next to Cleopatra.
Chelsea came back over to talk. "Mike is something, isn't he? I couldn't help but notice how you were flirting with him."
"Oh, really, was I? I really wasn't trying to."
"You wouldn't be a woman if you didn't! Every woman flirts with Mike, and he flirts with every woman! But he's spoken for. Cleopatra over there, also known as Jennifer, has claimed him."
"I didn't realize that."
"Oh yeah, they've been together for a while."
"Hey, don't feel bad," she said. "Mike's so friendly. He's really easy to misread."
"No, it's OK. I'm just getting tired. It's been a long day. I think that I'm going to go home and go to bed."
"Are you sure you don't want to stick around and meet some more of the people in the group?"
"No, thanks. I'm just going to get going."
"Well, I'll be hanging around the library during the coming month. I hope I get to see you!"
"I'm sure you will. I often feel like I live here!"
"Alright, have a good night," she said.
When I got home, I took off my costume, put on my comfy sweats and curled up with my dog. I love my dog. No matter how bad a day I've had, she's always thrilled to see me. She comes running over the second she hears me turn the doorknob with her tail wagging a mile a minute. I got Lady from the local animal shelter as soon as I moved here, both for companionship and protection, although admittedly she is not very scary. She's all black – half Lab, half Terrier. She basically looks like a miniature Black Lab. Unfortunately, she also suffers from illusions of grandeur. She's only fifteen pounds, but she thinks that she is a big, bad dog, especially if she encounters a cat, or a squirrel, or, heaven forbid, another dog, on our daily walks. She turns into her alter-ego, Ms. Barky. Mostly, though, she's very quiet and sweet and unassuming, and she loves to be near me. She sleeps right next to me in bed at night. I have a dog who loves me. Why on earth would I want a man? No man I had ever met has ever been so loyal or faithful.
I was a bit relieved that Mike was involved with someone. However, I was a little disappointed, too. Despite what I had told Rachel, I had thought he might be interested in me. It had been a long time since anyone had looked at me like that. But, if what Chelsea said was true, and I had no reason to believe that it wasn't, that was just how Mike looked at women. He was a natural-born flirt and I was just another woman to flirt with. Ugh! I knew I had no reason to be upset, but I buried my head in my pillow and went to sleep.
The next day was Halloween. My task for the day was to help out with the children's Halloween party. I had traded in my "Anne" outfit for a more traditional witch's costume. The library was having a costume contest and giving out candy. I was reading age-appropriate scary stories and singing songs - "Five Little Pumpkins" anyone? It really was a lot of fun. Surprisingly, Mike showed up with two young boys dressed as "Yoda" and "Anakin Skywalker" from "Star Wars." They both looked to be about six or seven years old. Were they his children? I wondered. He hadn't said anything about children, but that didn't mean anything. After all, it wasn't like we had gotten into each other's life stories. I was too busy to talk to him at the party. He waved and I smiled and that was all. He and the boys must have left when I wasn't looking, because at the end of the party I looked around and they were gone.
Halloween night was quiet at my house. I bought tons of candy because I had no idea how many trick-or-treaters might show up at my door. In the end, I only ended up with eight. I suppose that's not surprising considering I live at the end of a dead-end street. It was just as well. Lady barks like she is possessed whenever anyone rings the doorbell anyway. Of course, now I had an obscene amount of candy left with no one to eat it but me. Not a good plan; at least not if I wanted to retain any semblance of a waistline. I'd have to figure out something to do with the candy – maybe I would donate it to the library – we could give it out there for prizes or something. In the meantime, there were some Tootsie Rolls just calling my name. It was Halloween, after all, and what's Halloween without at least a little candy?
I sat down with a notebook and pen. If I was going to do this novel experiment, I needed to come up with a plan. It had been a long time since I had written anything. I had loved writing as a child. I would make up stories with my dolls and then write them out. They led such interesting lives, at least in my nine-year-old imagination. When I was in sixth grade, I actually began work on a children's book called "Fairyland." It was about a girl who discovered an underwater world inhabited by fairies. I was convinced it was going to be the next Alice in Wonderland! I would work on it in school when I had free time. After about a month, however, my teacher said that I couldn't work on it anymore at school. That was the end of that particular project.
As a teenager, I had filled up notebooks with romantic stories and teenage angst. My favorite birthday gift when I was fifteen was a beautiful journal full of blank pages. It had seemed so full of potential. I couldn't wait to start pouring out my heart. That journal had been followed by several others. I had a whole box of them buried in the back of my closet. From time to time, I had considered burning them – one big giant bonfire of my past. But, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I hadn't written in my journal since the day of the fire. In a lot of ways, I felt like my life ended that day. The darkness fell. That young woman with the fanciful stories was officially gone forever. Life would never be the same, but I was trying to start over.
I had hoped the move would be what I needed to rejoin the living. It had helped in some ways. I mostly kept to myself, though. I lived alone with Lady. I went to work. In my free time, which I had way too much of, I would go for a walk, lose myself in a book, or work on my quilting - anything to keep from thinking. It didn't work. I called my parents every once and a while. I knew my mom missed me. She kept asking me to come home. She didn't understand why I had left – not really. How could she? I had never told her the truth. I thought that maybe if I could start writing again, maybe I could bring back some of the person that I used to be. Maybe some of the pain could start to heal.
So, what could I write about? Could I even find 50,000 words to put down on paper? The book Mike had given me said to make a list of the things you liked in stories and a list of things that you didn't like. I suppose I could safely rule out science fiction. I was never the create-a-fantasy-world-on-the-fifth –moon-of-a-planet-to-be-named-later kind of girl. Maybe I could write a mystery. I liked mysteries. I wasn’t sure if I could figure out how to make the clues, however. Anybody with half a brain would probably solve my mystery on the first five pages. I also liked medical stories. I could go for a good hospital drama anytime. Of course, I don't know the first thing about medicine other than what I've seen on TV or read in a book. I suppose that would lend a certain lack of authenticity to my tale. I also loved romances. I loved stories with happy ever after endings, where the man and the woman are madly in love and go riding off into the sunset. There is a reason that they are considered fiction. I never understood why someone would write a book with an unhappy ending. Life is full of enough unhappy endings. I read books to escape, not to be reminded of pain and suffering. I don't know whether I could write a "happy ever after" story. I certainly didn't have much experience in that department. Oh man, this was getting me nowhere. I was supposed to start writing the next day, and I didn't even have an idea. This was going to be a losing effort if there ever was one. What on earth was I thinking?
And then, it came to me. I knew what I had to write about. So what if it wasn't going to be exactly what one might call fiction. I would change the names. Who would know? No one was going to read it anyway. This was just for me and my heart. I went to bed. For the first time in a long time, I was looking forward to the next day.
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