She was crouched down, placing a book gingerly in the bottom shelf. She was still. It was weird to see her still, actually, her face so serious and intent on each book in its correct slot, her face eerily peaceful, her presence smaller than it used to be. Her back was arched, dirty blonde hair cascading down, that infamous body looking even curvier than it used to, her sex appeal even more pronounced, as if it were mocking me yet again.
“Hi,” I said, because I was raised right. I even offered her a smile. I was polite. I was a good guy.
“Hello,” she said. Her voice was formal, her jaw clenched, her posture rigid. She held herself close to her body. Her moment of peace was stolen, and now she had contracted back into herself, “Can I help you?”
As if I was just a patron, and she was just a librarian.
“No.” Awkward jamming of hands in pockets. “Just saying hi. How are you?”
She smirked, but her eyes registered fear. Her hands were shaking. As if it would happen again. Right here in the nonfiction section.
“I’m good,” she nodded. “Just you know. Working.” She held up the book she was shelving as if I needed proof of this. Her voice was tripping over words. God, she was terrified. She looked like a little doll, standing there, arms hugging herself, trying to make herself as small as possible, as if she could just disappear entirely.
“I didn’t know you worked at a library.”
Foggy July morning.
“You don’t know a lot of things.”
Empty house, silk sheets, white walls.
“Do you need help shelving?”
Her, with no makeup and the white sweater she knitted herself, bloodshot eyes and a sleepy smile.
“Here, let me help you.”
Her tiny wrists in my hand. How could a girl be so tiny, be so fragile, be so helpless.
“I said no, Josh.”
Her warm, soft body sobbing underneath me. Did she say no?
I forgot why I was at the library, why I was in the nonfiction section, why I had to face this living, breathing girl who reminded me of who I was, underneath all my volunteer work, all my church involvement, all my sports, all that…stuff I did to make everyone happy. I built my life specifically to cut her out of it, refuse her existence, deny that day, keep on letting everyone think how I’m such a nice guy, such a good guy.
I took steps backward, away from her, away from her sad grey eyes, away from the books that she was shelving, away from who she was and what she represented and the way she looked at me, as if I was a monster. I’m not a monster.
“I stayed quiet, you know that?” she stammered, blinking, “I didn’t say a word to anyone.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I told her, even though I did, and she knew I did. But I walked away, escaping the library and that quiet, dirty blonde girl.
I would forgot about that encounter, go home, do chores even though my mom didn’t ask me to, finish all my homework, call my sweet, safe girlfriend who lacked all sex appeal, and tomorrow I would get up and go to church.
Because I’m a good guy.
I saw him before he could see me. But like that day, and like every time I thought about him, I froze. My body was paralyzed in dread, trying to shelve that book with trembling hands, hate creeping into my body. No, not hate. I couldn’t hate a boy like that. He was a good boy, the kind my mother said I should marry.
“Comes from a good family,” she told me. “Church family. I wish you hadn’t broke up with him. You just don’t find boys like that nowadays. Such a good guy.”
He told me “hi”, and I said hello and I had to make eye contact. I asked him if he needed help finding anything, because that’s what I was supposed to do. There was so much to say to him, yet I decided to ask him if I could help him find anything.
“I didn’t know you worked at a library,” he said, bright smile, white teeth, so friendly, so polite, the kind of guy I should marry.
“There’s a lot of things you don’t know about me,” I told him, biting my lip to keep from screaming at me all the things he didn’t know. He didn’t know what he did. He didn’t know what he stole, what he ripped, what he destroyed, in my bedroom, of all places, surrounded by my childhood stuffed animals and the framed, smiling pictures of the two of us. He didn’t know how I bit my lip so hard it bled along with the rest of me. He didn’t know how much I loved him, how much I trusted him. Because he was a good guy.
He said something, and I said something. I wanted my words to be cutting, rip him apart the way he ripped me. Instead, I just sounded weak and small and scared, which I was.
“I should go.”
“I stayed quiet, you know that? I didn’t say a word to anyone.”
Because I loved him. Because I was scared of him. Because I was ashamed and confused and dirty. Because who would believe a slut when he’s just so perfect. Because he had created a life that was so perfect and charming and lovely that I didn’t want to mess it up for him. I loved him THAT much.
Because he was the kind of guy I should marry. Because he was a good guy.
Haley — 17 years old, restless spirit.