The library was redbrick, and located just a block away from my apartment. As I pushed open the glass swing door, I let my eyes wander around, especially in the area of rows upon rows of bookshelves. It has been two days since I called Jay. I knew that he works here only on Mondays and Wednesdays; however, I still tried to spot a tall guy with ash blonde hair. Good thing he was not here. I couldn't have him nagging me about the game again.
According to him, it was already a torture to make him wait for three agonizing days before he could have his game. When he annoyingly persuaded me to give it to him, I gave him a two choices— wait for three days, or have it the next day but I’ll make it available for anyone to purchase it in the internet first. He hated it when someone buys the software first other than himself. So he kindly picked the first choice. When I say ‘kindly’, I mean minus the rants and whines.
I contentedly absorbed my surrounding. I really like being in peaceful places like this one. It made me think as though all is well in the world when evidently it’s not. I could hear nothing except for the quiet turning of pages and the soft, muffled voices of the readers. I turned to the circulation section of the library and I saw Mrs. Worth talking to a young woman, who had too many books that her hands could handle.
The good librarian has her back turned to me so she didn’t see me standing on the other side of her desk. I patiently waited for her to finish her conversation. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long. As soon as the woman scurried off to a nearby table, Mrs. Worth finally turned to my direction. Her face that was etched with gentle lines that reveal more wisdom than age brightened in recognition.
“Hi, Mrs. Worth. How are you?” I smiled.
“I’m great! You look beautiful as always, Sophia. Ah, your brown curls are much better than thestylistic hair of those young women I see in beauty magazines,” she nodded appreciatively.
My eyebrows raised, and I blinked several times in disbelief. I can’t imagine Mrs. Worth sitting on a corner, reading fashion and beauty magazines. An image of her reading a book that contains all the facts in the universe or at least a newspaper always came up to mind every time I remember her. I thought I knew her quite well, but this revelation made me grin.
“Thanks, Mrs. Worth. You’re quite beautiful yourself.”
“Thank you, dear. Oh, I nearly forgot,” she said, reaching her arm to the bottom of the desk. “I saw an interesting book about computers and I thought you would be interested,” she raised her arm and placed a familiar book on the desk, “in this. I put this aside for you.”
I warmly smiled, touched by her kind act. However, I have already borrowed and returned the same book few weeks before. “Thank you for being thoughtful, Mrs. Worth. But I have read that book a couple of weeks ago. I’m sorry.”
“Oh, is that so? Ah, I forgot that you borrowed it already. Don’t be sorry, my dear. I’ll return this to its proper place.”
“Let me do that. I was going to find some books anyway. I will just put it in its bookshelf.”
She gave me the book, thanking me. At that moment, another woman approached the desk, and Mrs. Worth smiled to me before answering the woman’s inquiries. I sauntered to the bookshelves that were in the back portion of the library. The books in those shelves were all about computers and programming. Just then I remembered what has happened two days ago, when I unintentionally wandered around the erotica section and a guy saw the book I was holding. I sighed and made a mental note to avoid the shelf on the third row.
I reached the intended bookshelf but skidded to an abrupt halt. I inched my eyeglasses upward and squinted my eyes to confirm that I was not hallucinating. The image in front of me didn’t change. There, on the back corner of the library, where an elevated bench-like wood was situated, was a guy sleeping peacefully. His body was leaning against the wall, his jean-clad legs were stretched out along the seat.
He was the guy who served as Jay’s shift’s substitute. The same guy who commented on the adult book that I was caught holding two days ago. The same guy who smiled knowingly at me before I left. What was his name again? Oh, right. I have no idea.
I was still frozen on the ground while my eyes lingered on his face. His head was slightly resting on the wall on his left side. His eyes closed, lips slightly parted. The contours of his face was gentle, now that he was sleeping. Then my sinful eyes traveled down to his chest, down to his body. He was wearing a brown sweatshirt that lowly contrasts his chestnut hair. My gaze eased back to his hair, noticing the faint streaks of blonde highlights. I really think those highlights are cool. Some guys colour their hair, put trendy highlights in it and would eventually regret it because it looked ridiculous. But this guy is different. He could pull off any colour.
An open sketchbook, lying on his lap, caught my attention. At first glance, maybe because of my distance from him, I thought the things that were written on the pad were just scribbles. I narrowed my eyes, straining to see the scrawl. It has elegant strokes from the middle of the page, and waves and curls dominate the lower portion. It wasn’t just simple scribbles. It was an undone sketch. But I couldn’t determine what the sketch was about.
Apparently, my eyes didn’t want to stay on his sketchbook so they stared again at his sweatshirt. Perhaps if I didn’t let them, I wouldn’t have involuntarily swallowed at the sight. Underneath his sweatshirt— not that I want to look under it— was his well-defined muscles, outlining against the fabric. How old was he? Twenty? Twenty two? He could possibly be working out to get those toned muscles. Well, that’s a lot of working out.
Here I am, motionless, ogling a guy like an idiot. Good thing I was standing between two shelves full of books, so hopefully no one will notice me. I gripped the book I was holding, forcing my eyes to look away. But he really has a nice—
“It’s really rude to stare, you know.”
My eyes finally snapped back to the guy’s face. His eyes were still closed, but a small smile was evident. He caught me staring. My heart started to beat frantically against my chest. I licked my lips nervously, trying to formulate a good defence statement. Darn it, my reasoning ability wasn’t reliable right now.
He opened his eyes, and blue orbs stared directly at me. Then he asked, “Enjoying the view?”
The smile on his lips began to form to a mischievous grin. My heart stopped beating. He was handsome enough, but seeing him grin made me think that if all men in the world were as good-looking as this guy, the entire female species would rejoice. And oh, good Lord, the guy has dimples. Plural. Two dimples.
Despite of my embarrassment, I snorted and a small chuckle emanated from me. I managed to say, “There is no view to enjoy here.”
“Then why are you just standing there?” He swung his legs off the bench-like thing he was seating on. He stood, reminding me of how tall was. In my tennis shoes, his lean physique towered over me. As he stretched his whole body, his sweatshirt climbed up his torso, causing a hint of abdominal muscle to show up. Higher… and higher… and…
I cleared my throat and replied to his question earlier. “Why are you sleeping here?”
“Answering my question with another question?” He smirked. “Anyway, I was sketching some stuff and I fell asleep. I woke up because I felt someone is staring at me.”
“I wasn’t staring.”
“Then why are you in this part of the library, specifically six feet away from me?”
“I was going to return this book in its shelf,” I interjected defensively, raising the book in my hand as a physical evidence. “I better put this back.”
“Wait,” he called, stopping me from browsing the books in the shelf. He took several steps to my direction, his gaze fixed on me. “But that’s a computer book, isn’t it? Its shelf is not on this area.”
I grimaced and raised my head to read the genre that was pinned above the bookshelf. Fantasy. Uh, wrong shelf... again. I looked back to the guy in front of me, the corner of his lips twitched in amusement. Great. He found me amusing. Just like a carnival clown.
“May I see that?” he requested, indicating to the book I was holding.
“Um, yeah. Sure.” I gave it to him, making sure my fingers were on the other end of the book, away from him.
He read the front cover then the spine, where the book’s call number was located. Then he muttered, “Third shelf from the other side of the library. C’mon. I’ll show it to you.”
Danger, danger. Get away from the stranger. A song from my childhood, accompanied by my mother’s voice, replayed in the corner of my mind.
I breathed deeply and said, “Thanks. But I can go there by myself.”
He stared at me with after-going-to-wrong-shelves-twice-I’m-sure-you’ll-be-on-the-wrong-one-again look. He waited for me to take back my words. On the contrary, I won’t give him his satisfaction. So I wheeled around and marched to the left section of the library. I heard him chuckle, once again amused by my reaction. Then suddenly, the book I was holding a second ago disappeared.
“So, you’re into computers?” The guy was instantly beside me, flipping through the pages of the book that was previously in my hands.
“Hey!” I glanced around, wondering if my voice was too loud. Fortunately, everyone was too busy in their own bubble to notice me. I continued walking, keeping up with this guy’s long strides.
“I’m going to help you in putting this back. I can’t risk another man seeing you reading in the erotica section.”
I felt my face heat and I kept silent, walking beside him.
Danger, danger. Get away from the stranger...
But this time, I ignored my mother’s singing voice in my head. This was a mere memory, it couldn’t harm me in any way.
I followed the guy until he turned to the right, and this time I read the genre above the shelf. Non-fiction. The guy was new here; nevertheless, he seemed to memorize all the locations of the genres and books. A week ago, when the library has not yet started the renovation, I knew which genre is located in every portion of the place. It may not sound believable but I used to properly return the books in the shelves while reading, not looking up whether I was on the right area.
The guy abruptly stopped, causing me to nearly bump into him. There was a good couple of inches between his back and my body. I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Here it is,” he said, placing the book on a small space between two other books.
He nodded his head once, and I took that nod as an indirect way of saying ‘you’re welcome’.
An awkward silence filled the area around us. Well, it was awkward for me. I was waiting for him to walk away, now that he was done helping me. But he just stood there, studying me like a chemistry reaction. I can feel the intensity of his stare so I turned my back to him, deciding to start finding a good book. I leisurely walked step by step along the shelf, my eyes glued to the books. Most of the books here were about basic programming, but there were a few that are convenient for my game programs. Now that I was much closer, the strong smell of new paper and ink wafted around me. The books in this part of the library were newer compared to others.
I was really thankful that we, humans, have peripheral visions. Otherwise, I would not have seen the guy approach the shelf that I was inspecting. He leaned his body into it and his left hand, the one that held the sketchpad, was tucked behind his back. As he leaned, the muscles in his arm stretched, making it more outlined against his sleeves. Then he gave me an unrelenting stare.
Why was he not leaving? And why on earth does he keep on staring at me? Did I forget to wear a part of my clothing? I hope not. To make sure, I imperceptibly scanned my clothes. My nice long sleeved-shirt didn’t display my midriff nor have a plunging neckline. The jeans I was wearing was not provocative, either. The good thing was this guy was not looking at my body but he seemed interested on my face. I didn’t have any smear of dirt on my face, did I?
“You’re the one who’s making those games that Jay is crazy about.” He suddenly spoke in a matter-of-factly tone. It wasn’t a question at all. It was though he was the all-knowing guy.
A smile escaped from my lips, but I remained on browsing through the books. “There’s no point denying it.”
“Jay won’t tell me who it is but I knew when I saw you with the computer book.”
“Good for you. Congratulations.”
I glanced back at his direction briefly, but that short moment was enough to make my heart flutter. He was wearing a lopsided smile, his eyes were tender… almost affectionate. And those dimples again. I pulled myself out of trance and I returned to my work, skimming on the books’ titles.
“You can sit on the chair if you like.” I stupidly suggested, indicating to the seat at least three metres away. “I mean, except if you prefer standing.”
“A while ago you were staring at me and now you’re driving me away. Well that’s an improvement.”
“I just thought that you might be uncomfortable standing there,” I argued, without looking in his eyes and focusing on the books instead.
“And now you’re worried about me.” He was barely containing his smile.
I inwardly groan. This guy was either good at using my own words against me or… I was just agitated by his presence.
To change the topic, I pondered nonchalantly, “I thought Jay’s shifts were only on Mondays and Wednesdays.”
“Yeah. I’m here to take a break from… some things…”
My brows knitted together in thought, and I tried to decipher what he said. I stopped from what I was doing and turned to him. Eyes glazed over, he seemed consumed by his own thoughts.
He noticed that I was watching him. The fog from his gaze vanished, replaced by a stoic emotion. It was as if he constructed an indestructible barrier from the outside world in seconds. Its sole purpose is to defend a person from being attached to someone. Cold, emotionless expression. That emotion… it’s familiar. Too familiar.
I witnessed that same emotion every time I look in the mirror.
As quickly as I’ve seen them, his expression changed again. He smiled casually at me. A smile that was different; nevertheless, it was the same smile I used to conceal certain things. He prolonged his stare, his icy blue stare seemed to spark the air between us. I could almost feel it tingling on my skin. As I’ve noticed before, the color of his eyes were vibrant, but now that I continued to look at it, it appeared to have an unfathomable hole and darkness within.
Danger, danger. Get away from the stranger…
He was not dangerous. He was a guy that was kind enough to volunteer and cover up for Jay. An ordinary guy who happened to be in the same library at the same time that I was. He was not dangerous, was he?
There was an instinct to run, to run far away from this man. However, there was also an inexplicable pull that keeps me frozen on the ground. Maybe even a connection. Wait. A connection? That was not possible. I just met him two days ago. I didn’t even know his name. The ‘connection’ idea, now that I’ve thought about it, was really absurd. But I wouldn’t run away. Not this time.
I’ve been known to recklessly dive into trouble so why ruin the reputation?
So I asked, “I saw you were sketching. May I know what do you draw?”
“I knew it. You were staring while I was sleeping.” He smirked. “I was just sketching some random stuff. Stuff that…” he paused, “catches my attention.”
“Do you mind if I see it? Your sketches, I mean.”
He appeared to contemplate it for a second. He stroked the nape of his neck and mumbled, “I’m warning you, my drawings may not meet your expectations.”
He eventually handed the sketchbook over to me. I abandoned my book search and looked down to the sketchpad in my hands. I opened it, and the first thing I noticed was a stray paper that was not attached to the whole thing. It has a drawing in it.
A childlike drawing of a man sitting and leaning on the wall. I'm not sure if it’s really a man because it was just a stick figure leaning on a vertical line which I assumed as a wall. And there was even a rectangular thing on his back, which was also drawn the same way as the stick figure. Seriously.
I stared wide-eyed at the guy in front of me. "Uh... you drew this? That’s… nice."
I bit my lower lip to prevent myself from saying anything more. His eyes dangerously flew to my lips. His eyes narrowed and he visibly swallowed. Noticing his stare, I stopped biting my lip and cleared my throat.
"I’m not the one who drew that," he answered, slightly smiling. "A boy came to me earlier and said he drew me because I look like a superhero,” he shrugged, “As much as I can remember, I never wore a cape or lifted an airplane.”
"Really? Now that you mentioned it..." I took a step forward and angled myself sideways. I was now facing him. "You look like Batman… or maybe Superman."
He laughed quietly. “Batman’s cool. He’s a badass.” He shifted his gaze to his sketch pad. "Do you mind if I take it back?"
"I haven’t seen your drawings yet. What’s the rush?” I grinned. “Wait. Don’t tell me you’re drawing some nude chick.”
“First, I have no interest on chicks or chickens, nude or otherwise. And I haven’t seen a chick wearing a shirt or even a Hawaiian dress.” His grin was infectious.
I controlled my laughter as much as I can. Now my laugh sound like a restricted hiccup. I heard someone shushed us, and I covered my mouth, still giggling.
I turned my attention to sketchbook. Flipping the blank first page over, I saw a scenery that really looks alive. I stopped laughing. Every stroke and line in the paper was magnificent.Near the center of the page was a woman with long flowing hair, and there were children around her. He even made the birds in the tree look like they were going to fly out of the page. It was really breathtaking, even without colors. I flipped to the next page. It was a different scene, a little boy looking up in the sky. This drawing, unlike the first one, focused mainly on the person, not the whole scene. It was as beautiful nonetheless.
I continued to look at the drawings, amazed and in trance. Page by page he didn’t fail to amaze me. Just when I thought it couldn’t be any better, I turned to the next page and my breathing stopped.
I didn't expect the next one. Most of his sketches were about some place or children. What I saw was a sketch of a girl that filled the whole page. The girl was in the middle of putting her hair behind her ear. Her hair that seemed to dance graciously with the wind. She was looking down to something, a warm smile painted on her lips.
I inhaled a deep breath, still in awe. Eyes never leaving the page, I said, "It's... beautiful."
"Because it’s you."
My eyes flew to his, surprised at what he said. His expression was dead serious, so there was no way he was kidding. I stared back to the sketch, and found the striking resemblance. The long dark hair that flows halfway through her back, the warm expression in her face yet a touch of mischief tinted her eyes. The girl in this drawing was... me. Well, at least it has the same hair, nose and lips. The eyes? I have the same but not the knowing look like the one on the sketch.
“Wait, I don’t have this kind of look in my eyes.” I complained without taking my gaze out of the paper.
“Yes, you do.” There it was again. The all-knowing, matter-of-factly tone.
He straightened, leaning away from the shelf. Then in a low, husky voice, he stated, “I don’t know how to explain it, but there’s… something about you…” He momentarily closed his eyes and sighed.
I blinked several times, trying to understand what he said. “That’s a comprehensible explanation,” I remarked, my voice full of sarcasm.
His shoulders lifted in a shrug. “Just an observation.”
He observed all too well.
“Here,” I handed the sketchbook over to him. “You’re really good. You can earn a lot of money just by drawing stuff. You’ll be rich.”
A laugh escaped from him then he covered it up with a cough, trying to make the coughing inconspicuous. He found my suggestion funny. He laughed when I said ‘you’ll be rich’. Though I can’t find any humour in it.
“I’m not that funny, am I?” I crossed my arms over my chest and looked at him with a mock warning look.
“Sorry. Please don’t mind me.” A smile dangled on the corner of his lips. Oh good gracious deity of men with dimples. It was so unfair to have those dimples and have those perfect features. There must be some kind of flaw in him, anything that would make him less beautiful.
He glanced at his left arm and pulled up the sleeve of his sweatshirt. There, wrapped around his wrist, was a watch. A chronograph watch encased in white gold metal, to be exact. I discreetly pushed my glasses up my nose. He placed the sleeve back to cover his arm. But in that brief moment, I saw the kind of watch he has. I was close enough to have a glimpse of the brand imprinted inside it.
It was a Piaget watch. I couldn’t be mistaken.
I immediately shifted my gaze back to his face. This guy is… something. I inwardly kicked myself when I realized that I sounded just like him. What’s with the word ‘something’?
“Much as I want to be here, I gotta go,” he addressed and jerked his thumb to the front area.
“Yeah, sure. I have to find some books in other bookshelves, so… yeah. Thanks for helping me. Bye.” I gave him a small wave and stepped back. I started to turn to the opposite direction.
I slowly faced him again. I wanted to see his smile again, because maybe, this would be the last time that I would. And indeed, when I looked at him again, he was smiling. I have an inexplicable intuition that he was smiling because he was amused that I never asked his name. Well, he didn’t ask mine, either.
“Will you okay finding the book by yourself? You may be wandering around in the wrong section again,” he teased.
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. “I’ll be fine. If I accidentally be in that section, I’ll call 911.”
He grinned, making his dimples emerge again. “You sure you’ll be fine?”
I sighed, getting impatient. “Yes. Stop treating me like a child.”
“So you like a little bit more adult?” He smirked and gave me a smoldering stare.
My eyes widened, realizing what he’d said. I felt my face heat, blood rushing up to my face. After regaining my composure, I protested, “That’s not what I mean.”
“Ah, behold, your face’s too red. Anyway, try to refrain the one on the third row, ‘kay? But if you really want to read some stuff there, then go ahead. I’ll read them aloud to you, if you want.”
I ignored him and tried to calm my racing heart instead. He was looking at me intently, as if memorizing every inch of my face. Finally, he nodded his head once and flashed a smile.
"I gotta go. See you around, Sophia."
And with that, he turned his back and started to walk with his hands stuffed in his pockets, the sketch pad tucked between his right arm and body.
See you around? What did he mean by that?
Still dumbfounded, I kept on staring at his back until he exited the library. He was not here anymore, but many questions were making a chaos in my mind. Then there was the question that bothered me the most.
How the hell did he know my name?