Spending three afternoons a week in the library for the entirety of last school year had not been my idea of fun but, after hours of debating and research, I had discovered that it was exactly the kind of extracurricular activity that colleges were looking for when choosing to accept someone like me.
This resulted in my having a less than thriving social life in hopes that any college would think that the kind of person who spent their afternoon volunteering was worth giving some kind of scholarship to. It was my last shot at standing out, given that I had never been good at sports and was already running behind in comparison to my classmates when it came to submitting my applications.
Basically, if someone doesn’t find me a big enough charity case to accept, I am at a serious risk of becoming the kind of person who never leaves their small town.
“Evangeline?” Miss Langston, the practically ancient librarian, calls to me as she pops her head out behind the checkout counter.
I wave, taking in the sight of the familiar dim room.
“I thought that was you. You look different, did you get get a new shirt or something?”
“Yes, that and I did something with my hair.”
“Mr. Caulder told me that you would be returning this week to finish up the hours you missed during the summer. So nice to see you again.”
“You too, and it’s Eveline,” I remind her.
This is the same reminder I had to give her multiple times last year in order to prevent her from reporting my work hours as being incomplete. One might think it was a pointless chore, but I didn’t need to be dragged into the principle’s office again to explain how I was actually there but she had accidentally reported my hours under a different person’s name.
“Hmmmm,” she muses, looking as if she is struggling to remember the thousands upon thousands of times that we have done this very thing. “Evelyn?”
“Ev-ill-lean,” I sound out for her. “Eveline Peak.”
Why did my mother have to curse me which such an odd name? Better question, why did she have to spend the majority of her pregnancy reading so many romance novels that she felt the urge to name me after a character in her favorite series? It is as if she was hoping that I would up to become the kind of damsel in distress that can only be saved by a man with flowing blonde hair who arrives to rescue me on a large white horse while wearing an unbuttoned shirt.
Some image, right?
Sadly, instead of a damsel in distress, she ended up with a surly teenager who she is certain has some kind of latent mental issues.
Miss Langston smiles proudly. “Oh, Eveline! That’s right, I remember now. Well, I hope that summer hasn’t dampened your memory on what is required of you during your time here. This is a library, not a personal meeting space in which you may spend your time gossiping with your friends or checking your social media. This may be your last week here but I still expect real work from you. Now, there is a cart full of books in the back that need re-shelving. They are clearly labeled, so figuring out where to place them shouldn’t be an issue. I will be taking my break within the hour so, if I have not returned by the time you have finished, just leave me a note with your departure time so that I can log it.”
I nod, watching the small framed woman slide back into her seat. She leans forward, squinting the monitor in front of her, and I wonder if she can actually see the large words in front of her.
The cart she pointed me towards looks like it hasn’t been touched all summer, a fine layer of dust covering the books. I groan at the sight, happy that this is only a three-day thing versus the all year hell I dealt with last year.
The library is the last place that people come to in this place, especially since you can locate pretty much anything on the internet if you search hard enough, but somehow there always seems to be a stack of things that need re-shelving.
“Are you avoiding me? Because it is starting to feel a whole lot like you are avoiding me,” someone questions and I jump, knocking a few books off of the cart and onto the floor.
I whip around, letting out a sigh at the familiar face standing behind me. “Curtis! Jesus, you scared the hell out of me. I haven’t been avoiding you. Before I let I said we needed to take a break and that is what I was doing, taking a break. Besides, the cell service out at my dad’s was shit.”
“Oh, yeah.” His eyes drop, the defensive look on his face warping into pity. “How was all of that? Is he doing any better?”
Curtis and I have been friends since the first day of the sixth grade and, in all of our time as friends, not once did he judge my constantly fluctuating weight, the stash of junk I used to keep under my bed, or the fact that I spent the entire fifth grade year eating lunch in the bathroom to avoid getting picked on.
He is also the only person in this entire school who knows about my father.
I shake my head. “It was, well, a mess and, honestly, I don’t think he has much longer left. I was hoping to get in some bonding time but he is just too far gone at this point. Talking to him was impossible and, most of the time, he’d just end up going on this insane rants about nothing. I spoke with Rosalia and she said that his doctors have no idea what is going on with him or way things got so out of hand so quickly. You should have seen him, it was unreal. If he wasn’t sedated then he would be pacing the halls mumbling about how ‘they’ were coming to get him.”
“I’m sorry, Ev, that couldn’t have been easy on you. I shouldn’t have accused you of avoiding me, either. It’s just, we left things in such a weird way that I thought that maybe you had made your decision on the whole ‘us’ thing and that was your way of letting me know.”
Oh yeah, the ‘us’ thing.
I let my gaze drop to my shoes, focusing on the dried mud on them as I debate on how exactly I plan on letting him know I have definitely made a decision about the future of our relationship and that decision is not something that is going to make him happy.
Am I hesitating because I don’t like confrontation? Or is this hesitation stemming from the fact that I spent so much damn time wishing that there was an ‘us’ and now I can’t decide if I still have legitimate feelings for him or not?
All throughout middle school my mother would drop hints that Curtis liked me and, even though I had argued with her every time, I wanted nothing more but for it to be true. I had spent our entire friendship with the biggest crush on him and, because I never had the guts to tell him how I felt, I never blamed him for not giving me a chance.
Then, sometime between middle and high school, Curtis hit puberty and grew into his looks. He sprouted from an underweight nerd to someone whose muscle mass rivaled that of some of our most successful rugby players. He ditched his standard issue low-buzzed haircut and allowed his mousy brown hair to grow out around his thinned face, the golden color making his blue eyes pop even more than they already did.
I had always found him good looking but, almost overnight, he became someone that other girls looked at.
With freshman year and his vastly improved looks, came a slew of scantily dressed chicks all wanting to date my best friend. This caused issues on multiple levels because, in my mind, I couldn’t compare to them, and this made confessing my feelings impossible.
I mean, what did I have over them? I was at least thirty pounds overweight and those chicks looked like they ate, slept, and breathed fashion advice.
Something about watching him bounce from girl to girl, knowing that those were the same ones who spent their free time cornering me in the hall and mocking me, made it easy to see that the guy I had been crushing on for years was slowly being replaced by someone else.
We started dating halfway through last year, shortly after Curtis decided to surprise me with a confession that he had been interested in me for years but never knew I felt the same. I was elated at first, finally getting to walk the halls with the ‘guy of my dreams’, but then that feeling faded and things began to feel out of place. The stress of being in a high school relationship set in and things began to go downhill.
The girls he was with in the past would have and often did do whatever it took to keep him interested, including sleeping with him, but I wasn’t ready for that. He was the first guy I had ever done more than kiss and, even though I wanted to be ready, I would pull back whenever he broached the subject.
This resulted in a rather nasty argument where Curtis brought up how many people he could be screwing if he hadn’t chosen to date me and, in response, I put our relationship on hold.
One of the many perks of going to California meant getting to avoid the fact that maybe, just maybe, my feelings for him weren’t even close to as strong as I had thought they were.
“Mr. Ohern!” Miss Langston shouts from the front of the library, shattering all illusions that this is a place of peace and silence. “I think it is safe to assume that, by now, you have located the book you were in search for and are not back there keeping my assistant from her job?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Curtis pulls a random book from the cart, coughing loudly as a cloud of dust assaults him. “Call me later so we can talk?”
I opt to nod my head in response instead of lying out loud.
He hesitates like he might say something, possibly push the issue some more, before heading to the check out counter. I let out a sigh of relief as I watch him disappear through the large metal doors.
I was hoping to get through this day without any drama but, of course, it has been full of it instead.
A half hour later, the entire cart is organized and ready to be put away.
I turn the corner and roll my cart onto the Biology aisle, letting out a sigh and a groan at the sight in front of me. Sitting cross-legged in the middle of said aisle, surrounded by a wide circle of books, is none other than Axel Browning.
The world is out to get me, I swear it is.
He is so engrossed by whatever he is reading that he doesn’t even notice that I am standing right above him.
I clear my throats loudly. “You do realize that this is a library, right? That means that you can check out as many of those as you’d like, therefore preventing you from taking up space in the middle of an aisle.”
“You’re making a mess,” I point out, motioning to the books in front of him even though he is still not looking at me. “A mess that I am going to have to clean up, by the way. What are you even doing? You can’t just fold the pages back like that, you’ll crack the spine; some of these are very fragile.”
“Are you deaf or just annoying?”
He laughs. “Looks like both. Or is the problem deeper than just the two options that I gave you? Maybe the problem is actually that your brain has stopped working. Maybe spending so much time with that poorly educated, sorry excuse for a boyfriend has begun to rot away the little bit of brain you have left in that air-filled head of yours.”
I grip angrily at the handles on the cart. “Screw you.”
“You could never be that lucky.” He pulls himself to his feet, dog-earing the ancient book he has been reading. He eyes me up and down, lingering a bit longer on me then makes me comfortable, before shaking his head. “I prefer someone with a hint of intelligence.”
I throw my hands up in surrender, unsure of what I’ve done to constantly be on the receiving end of his hostility. “You know what? Screw it, go ahead and make a mess. I don’t care. I am not dealing with this, especially not from you of all people. I don’t know what the hell your problem is, Axel, but maybe try finding a book in here that will help you fine tune your people skills.”
“Why?” He leans casually against one of the shelves, tilting his head to the side. “So that I can fit in with the rest of the dimwits occupying this place? So that you and your friends will stop gossiping me like I am not twenty feet away from you? I’ll take a hard pass on that.”
Guilt slams into me. Even though I have made it a point not to involve myself in any of the Browning related gossip that has occurred today, something about having him bring it up right now makes me feel like maybe I should have done more to put a stop to it.
“That’s what I thought.” He lets the book slide from his fingers, its pages crumpling loudly as it hits the floor. “New look, same empty-headed girl who doesn’t know how to stay where she belongs.”
So he does remember me! I figured that, between his suicide attempt and changing schools, he might have forgotten all about our run-in.
He turns, heading down the aisle and away from me. Anger charges through my veins and I grab one of the books from off the floor, throwing it at him. It hits him square in the back of the, right between the shoulders, the force enough to send him stumbling forward.
A giggle escapes my lips, a wave of confusion following as I struggle to figure out where that fury and energy came from. I might be a bit mouthy at times but I have never been the violent type.
Axel whips around and I can’t tell if he is more pissed or confused about what just happened. “Did you just throw a book at my head?”
“No, the damn thing fell from the sky all on its own.” I place both hands on my hips. “All of this better be cleaned up by the time I get back or, next time, I am going to do more than throw a book at you.”