Marie’s least favorite professor was Jennifer Mitchell. Dr. Mitchell was a renowned poet who loved to hand out complicated assignments with short deadlines on Friday nights. Marie had almost been looking forward to the weekend—going out with Anise and maybe meeting a cute guy at some party, but then bam: Dr. Mitchell assigned them a ten page paper due Monday. Weekend effectively ruined. She felt like she was in high school again with all these ridiculous writing assignments to do.
Well, at least there’s no math involved.
The weekend assignment involved the analysis of the poems of an eighteenth century poet that was relevant to their thesis. The poet William Blake was only eighteenth century figure that she had been planning to include in her thesis and she recalled she had seen one of his books at the Caldwell Library earlier in the week. She had to run over to the library, and god willing, the book would still be there. She had another five books in her bag that she needed to return anyway.
Marie raced out of class and was dismayed to find that it was raining. Not just raining, pouring. She wished that she could just go home, but she knew that if she didn’t get that book tonight, she’d never get the paper done by Monday. Even with the book, it was going to be tight. Damn Dr. Mitchell. She took a deep breath and raced across campus, trying to ignore the huge droplets of rain drenching her clothes.
As soon as she got to the library, she spent a moment at the door, shaking herself out. She ran a hand through her wet hair and felt her palm fill with water. Damn, it was raining hard out.
When she decided she was as dry as she was going to get, she raced across the library to the poetry section. After a moment of panic, she spotted the Blake book on the top shelf. She grabbed it with a sigh of relief. It was here. Thank god.
She brought the book with her to the checkout line. She could feel the fabric of her blouse clinging to her chest and she shifted uncomfortably. She wasn’t looking forward to trying to get home in this mess.
It was Sam again at the head of the line again, checking out books. He still had that bored look in his slightly slanted eyes again. She wondered again how he ended up quitting grad school to work in a library, especially since he clearly hated the job so much. Unlike last time, she had no interest in trying to talk to him. He had made it very clear that he didn’t want to be cordial with her and that was fine. It would have been nice to make a friend in the place she spent half her time, but she guessed it wasn’t meant to be. She had to admit that she still thought he was cute, but that was as far as it was going to go.
When it was her turn, Marie shoved the books she brought to return across the counter as she handed Sam her library card. She held the Blake book under her arm protectively. “I want to return these,” she said, “and I have one book I’d like to check out.”
Sam’s eyes rested on the pile of five books. He pulled the top one off the pile and flipped through the damp pages. “Five ruined books,” he muttered. “Okay, that’ll be twenty five bucks.”
Marie’s eyes widened. “What?”
“You heard me,” he said in an irritated voice. He held up one of the five books, which was so wet that the pages were curved. “Look at these books. Permanent rain damage. We charge five bucks for a ruined book.”
Marie didn’t know what to say, but she could see he wasn’t kidding around. “I… I didn’t mean to…”
Sam reached into the top drawer and casually pulled out a pair of scissors. He held her library card in one hand and the scissors in the other. “Are you going to pay? Or should I cut up your card?”
“No, please don’t!” she cried. “I… I need this book for a paper due Monday.”
He raised his eyebrows at her.
“I… I just don’t have the money. I mean, it’s unfair that—”
“Look, you can’t—”
Sam wasn’t listening anymore. She watched as he snipped her card in half and tossed the pieces in the trash next to him. Her mouth fell open. She couldn’t believe he had done that.
“Please, I need this book,” Marie pleaded. “Is there any way that I could…?”
“Twenty five dollars,” Sam repeated. “Pay for the books, then we’ll talk.”
She bit her lip. “Is there, like… a library manager?”
“Oh, you want to go over my head?” Sam looked amused. For a second, she noticed his eyes flitted down to her breasts, covered by her sopping wet blouse. She pulled at her blouse self-consciously. “Well, I’m the fucking manager today. And I say you pay for the books you ruined or else you’re not getting your card back. Got it?”
Marie nodded, not trusting herself to speak.
“Now give me that book under your arm.”
Marie reluctantly handed over the book. She felt like crying, and she knew as soon as she was out of the library, that was exactly what she would do. But she wasn’t going to cry in front of this asshole. It wouldn’t have done her any good and she didn’t want him to have the satisfaction.
Marie hurried out the door and she felt the tears coming before the door had even swung shut behind her. She sat down on the steps of the library and buried her face in her palms. Sam hadn’t been her favorite person before, but now she felt like she hated him.
She didn’t know how long she had been sobbing when she felt a hand on her back. She looked up and saw another familiar face from the library. It was the other guy who worked behind the counter with Sam, who was tripping over himself to help Anise check out some books. She had seen him a few times before and had always found him particularly attractive, in a much more obvious way than Sam was.
“You okay?” he asked.
Marie shook her head and sniffled loudly.
“I’m Dean,” the guy said. “I work with Sam, you know, behind the counter?”
She nodded, “Yeah, I… I’ve seen you. I’m Marie.”
“Look, Sam is kind of having a bad day,” Dean said. “He didn’t mean to be such an asshole to you and cut up your card.”
“He seemed to mean it,” Marie snorted.
“Look,” Dean said, “Sam’s not working tomorrow morning. I can check that book out for you if you can wait that long.”
Marie’s heart leaped, “Really?”
“Of course,” he assured her. “First thing tomorrow morning, I’ll meet you right here and I’ll get you that book.”
Marie could have hugged him.
“What the hell is wrong with you, dude?”
Sam didn’t take his eyes off the computer screen as Dean scolded him. He shrugged.
“Seriously, are you on your period or something?”
“Ha ha,” Sam said, still not bothering to look up.
“You made that girl cry.”
That made him pause. He frowned. “Really?”
“Well, that’s too bad,” he said. “But come on, look at these books! She destroyed them.”
“They’re just books, man.”
That was the last thing Dean said before he wandered off. He made a good point. He wasn’t sure what prompted him to be such an asshole to Marie. The truth was, he liked Marie. Maybe a little too much. Maybe that’s why he kept acting like a jerk around her, kind of like the eight year old boy who teases the girl he has a crush on. Or maybe it was the brain injury’s effect on his personality—he noticed he was decidedly more irritable than he had been back before he got hurt.
Sam glanced at his watch and hoped it wasn’t raining too hard, but guessed it was based on the soggy books everyone had been bringing back. Tonight he was taking an adult education class that was specifically aimed at individuals with brain injuries. He was discharged from speech therapy about a year after his injury, with the warning that he probably wasn’t going to improve much more than he already had. The class he was taking was more about learning to work with what brain function he already had, rather than getting anything back.
Of the students in the class, Sam was not the only one who used a wheelchair, but he was the only paraplegic. The other wheelchair users were all hemiplegics from the brain injury. He felt comfortable among the other students in that class, knowing they had many of the same problems as he did, although he was resentful of the more functional students. Most of them looked completely normal and were able to hold down a decent job. Whereas Sam was clearly disabled and had to what he considered menial work.
“Hey, Dean,” Sam called out to his friend, who was stacking books across the room. “Can you cover for me now? I’ve got to go to my class.”
Dean hurried over. “Yeah sure, man. How’s that going?”
“All right, I guess.”
“You making any progress?”
Sam shrugged. He was making a little progress. He had developed some tricks to improve his memory and he was finding it easier to concentrate in a crowded environment. But he was light years away being able to handle a particle physics course. He knew that was probably permanently out of his grasp.
“Look, I know you’re not going to end up working here forever,” Dean said. “It’s going to take time, but I know you’ll get back into physics again. I’m sure of it.”
There were very few things that Sam knew for sure, but he knew that he was never going to be able to do physics again.
Marie showed up at the library bright and early the next morning, just like Dean had told her to. If she worked all day and night today, she’d just barely manage to finish her paper on time. Maybe. She cursed Sam for putting her in the position where she had to rush like this. Thank god for Dean.
A breeze blew past her and she hugged herself tightly, shivering, and wished she had brought a sweater. Where was Dean, anyway? The library was supposed to open at 7AM and it was a quarter after now.
She heard a noise from around the side of the building. She huddled closer to the glass doors, but craned her neck to see who was coming. Strangely enough, it sounded like wheels on pavement. And as it turned out, she was right.
“Oh, uh… hi,” Marie stammered.
She hadn’t expected to see Sam here at this time. And she especially hadn’t expected to see him sitting in a chrome-colored wheelchair. How had she not realized that he used a wheelchair during all her interactions with him? She wracked her brain, wondering if she had ever seen him stand up before. She realized that she probably hadn’t.
Sam barely looked at her. “Let me guess,” he said. “Dean told you to show up early when I wouldn’t be here so you could get that book.”
Marie bit her lip. “Well…”
He snorted, “Yeah, I know. It’s not like this is the first time he’s tried to trade books for sex.”
“Unfortunately for you,” Sam went on, “this also isn’t the first time he’s forgotten his promise to a girl and called in sick, forcing me to wake up early on a Saturday morning to open the fucking library.” Sam pushed the door open and held it for her, raising his eyebrows. “You coming in?”
Marie followed, wordlessly.
Sam flashed a lopsided smile. “Turns out he still screwed you, but not the way he intended, huh?”
Marie didn’t know what to say to that. Somehow all thoughts of the book had flown out of her head. She saw the muscles in Sam’s arms strain as he pushed himself across the carpeted floor. There was a strap across his abdomen, which was larger than it should have been based on the rest of his body habitus. His legs bounced slightly on a defect in the carpet and she realized he must have been paralyzed.
He wheeled himself behind his desk and she saw him taking something out of a drawer. She approached the desk. “Uh, what are you doing?” she asked.
“You want a new library card, right?” he shrugged. “I’m making it for you.”
“Oh,” Marie murmured. “Um, thank you.”
She watched him typing at his keyboard. She had noticed how rough and calloused his hands were before, but hadn’t realized why. She looked down and noticed her own hands were shaking. “I… um, I still don’t have the money,” she pointed out.
“Yeah, I’ll let you off the hook this once,” Sam said, holding out the new maroon-colored card for her. “But don’t ruin any more of my books, okay?”
She didn’t understand why he was suddenly being nice to her, but she was afraid to question it. She took the card, checked out her book, and hurried home to work on her paper. But for some reason, she found it difficult to concentrate with thoughts of Sam invading her mind.
To be continued...