The smell of old book paper and well-used carpet rested on the library like a warm hand. Patrons wandered the aisles one shelf at a time as if searching for a lost piece to a puzzle. At a table near the librarian’s desk, Marie sat reading the same page of The Wind in the Willows over and over again, her mind dulled by the tragedies of the last month, both small and large. From time to time, she nuzzled her nose into the thick knit fabric of her mother’s green cardigan which was draped on the back of the chair.
She was entirely unaware of the admiring eyes at the checkout desk. Connor’s eyes flitted across the neatly arranged tables and computer desks at Marie, gathering the courage to speak to her. He’d admired her this way for weeks and he was resolved to approach her today. He just needed an excuse.
Marie felt as if the weight of her mother’s death was crushing her heart. And she felt so alone. Although she’d wept many times while lying in her bed waiting for sleep, she’d managed to retrain her feelings in public, but she could now feel the ache in her throat and the salty taste of tears welling up from inside her. She covered her face and let them fall silently into her hands.
Connor, seeing his opportunity, took a deep breath, grabbed a box of tissues, and walked straight to her table. She did not see him at first.
“Um. Marie?” he said, his voice catching in his throat.
She wiped her eyes and looked up to see the young man standing across from her.
“I thought you could use a tissue,” he said, extending the box to her.
She nodded and sniffed and took a tissue, embarrassed.
“Soooo, I’m not sure if I’ve ever really introduced myself or whatever. I’m Connor.”
She took a moment to gather herself and answered, “Nice to meet you, Connor. I’m sorry for getting so upset, this has just been such a difficult month. I lost my mother.”
He searched for the right words to say. He wanted to say something wise and eloquent and comforting, but all he could come up with was “I’m sorry.”
“Thank you. She was a librarian here for twenty-eight years before she retired. I like to come here because it makes me feel close to her.”
“That was before I worked here. I wish I could have met her.”
“She was a such a lovely woman. And very kind. Everyone here loved her.”
Uhhhh,” he said, faltering. “Would you like to get a cup of coffee with me at the Grey Owl? They have this really good organic espresso. Maybe you could tell me more about your mother?”
She had not expected this. She folded her lips up under her teeth for a moment. Although she thought he was cute, he was also much younger than her.
“Hello Marie,” a voice interrupted, “I hope you’ve recovered from your adverse reaction to my smells.”
She hadn’t noticed him approaching, but there stood Jim Bronson with his book cart.
“What?!” she explained. “Jim, I told you that I never wanted you near me again! My adverse reaction was not to your smell collection. It was to you!”
Furious, she got up from the table and headed for the exit. Connor hurried after her.
“Wait! Marie,” he whispered as loud as he could. “What about coffee?”
She stopped and turned to face him. “I’m sorry to leave this way, Connor, but I can’t be around that man. He’s super creepy. He’s been smelling me for months.”
“I’ll explain later. Is tomorrow at eight ok? I’ll just meet you there.”
“Um. Yeah. That would be great. Thank you,” he said, awkwardly, “I’ll see you there”
Then she left. Connor returned to the table where Jim still stood, utterly confused.
“Dude! That’s it. You’re freaking people out. She’s probably like gonna get a restraining order on you or something. I’m talking to Allen.” Then he noticed the sweater. She’d left it on the chair. He grabbed it and headed for the parking lot, hoping to catch her. But she was gone. He stood in the cold outside the library entrance for a moment before returning to tell his boss what had happened.