Even after handing in her paper, Marie found herself going straight to the library after classes were over. She tried to tell herself that she was getting a head start on the next assignment, but she knew the truth: she was really going to see Sam. She was encouraged by their conversation yesterday and thought maybe they could at least be friends. Of course, she knew she was interested in more than that.
It turned out that Sam was off for the day. At first, she was disappointed that Sam wasn’t around, but when she saw his friend Dean was there, she took it as an opportunity. She was eager to have a chance to ask Dean a few questions that had been burning in her mind.
She waited until close to closing time, so things wouldn’t be too busy. Dean seemed amused as he checked out her books, “So have you moved in here yet?”
He grinned, “You seem to be here an awful lot, that’s all.”
“Just busy, I guess,” Marie said with an apologetic smile. “Hey, can I ask you something?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
Marie took a deep breath. “I was just wondering…” she bit her lip. “You’ve known Sam a while, right?”
“Oh yeah,” Dean confirmed. “Years and years. Is he giving you trouble again?”
“No, no!” she said quickly. “It’s just… I saw his photo from when he was a member of the physics department. I was just wondering what happened. Why he quit.”
Dean looked around. “Sam would kill me for talking to you about this. He doesn’t like anyone to know.”
Marie leaned in closer, “I won’t tell him. I swear.”
Dean seemed to consider this for a second, then leaned forward and spoke in a low voice: “Sammy used to be, like, a real genius. One of the best students in the physics department. But there was this explosion in the physics lab where he was working about five years ago. Nobody was ever sure what happened, but he broke his back and he also took a bad blow to the head. You wouldn’t know it from talking to him, but when he tried to go back to school, he couldn’t do it anymore.”
“Oh my god,” Marie breathed.
“So I got him the job here,” Dean said. “Took getting his head bashed in for him to be able to do my job.”
“God, no wonder he’s so…”
“Is ‘pleasant’ the word you’re looking for?” Dean smiled. He winked at her, “What’s with the questions, anyway? You interested in Sammy?”
Marie blushed. “I, uh…”
“He’s a good guy, you know,” Dean assured her. “Just had some shit luck.”
“I… uh, I’m not sure…” Marie said. She could still feel her face burning. She didn’t want to admit her feelings for Sam until she knew how he felt about her. She didn’t want him to think she was pining after him. And so far, he had shown no sign of being at all attracted to her.
“Well, if you’re not interested, maybe you know someone who is,” Dean said. “Between you and me, he hasn’t had any girls in the picture since his accident.”
“Oh,” Marie murmured.
“Not that he was any Casanova before,” Dean laughed. “Actually, he was always pretty pathetic when it came to girls, now that I think of it. But now… it’s different.”
“I think he’s lonely,” Dean admitted. “He doesn’t talk about it much, but I’ve known him for a long time and I can tell.”
Marie felt her heart go out to Sam. She suddenly forgave him for all the times he had been rude to her. She could tell when she talked to him that he was a good person deep inside and he didn’t deserve to be unhappy.
As Sam scanned in the thousandth book of the day, he couldn’t help but let out a little sigh. He had never enjoyed working in the library, even from day one, but he wondered when he had started to loathe it. The only reason he didn’t quit right now was that he didn’t want to face the indignity of living off disability at age 29. At least now he felt like he was supporting himself.
“When is this book due back?” a tall, gawky freshman asked.
Sam sighed and pointed to the date he had stamped in bright red ink. If he had a nickel for every time he got asked that question, he wouldn’t have had to work at all.
The next person in line was an attractive blonde who was returning a book nearly a week late. He could tell even before he tallied up the dollar fifty late fee on his calculator that she was going to attempt to charm her way out of this meager penalty. “I’m sorry, I don’t have any change on me,” she said, batting her long eyelashes.
“I can make change for you,” Sam said coolly. “Or I can put a hold on your card until you come up with the money. Your choice.”
The blonde blinked at him, astonished by his nerve. At that moment, his left leg inconveniently decided to go into a spasm, jumping up and down on the footplate, and he grabbed his knee with his hand in an effort to relax his denervated muscles. He wasn’t sure what had brought on the spasm and tried to remember if he had taken his medication this morning. The blonde noticed what he was doing and realized that he was sitting in a wheelchair. Her eyes softened, “Oh, I’m sorry. I… let me get the money.”
Sam waited while she counted out a dollar fifty in mostly nickels and dimes, as well as a handful of pennies. As he tapped his fingers impatiently against his desk, she said cheerfully, “I think it is so great that the library has work for people like you.”
He snatched the change off the desk, trying to ignore her comment. If he responded to every patronizing remark, his blood pressure would have been through the roof. Better to let the blonde feel good about the fact that her tax dollars were going to employ a useless cripple like him.
Marie was the next person on line. As he looked up at her smiling face, he felt his tension and anger melt away. He also couldn’t help but notice her full breasts straining against the fabric of her blouse and his pulse quickened. You’ve got it bad, Ziegler.
“Leaving so early?” he joked. It was ten minutes from closing time.
“Actually,” she said, “I was wondering if I could stick around for a little bit, while you’re closing up? There are a few reference books I still need to look at.”
Sam hesitated. He would have said yes immediately, but Dean was the one closing tonight.
“Pretty please?” Marie asked.
“Uh, sure,” he agreed. He couldn’t say no to her. Maybe Dean would switch with him. He figured Dean would be okay with Marie staying late, but he wasn’t sure if he wanted the two of them to be alone.
After the last person was done checking out their books, Sam found Dean in the romance section, already starting to put away books. “Hey,” Sam said, “you can go. I’ll close tonight.”
“Really?” Dean raised his eyebrows. “You hate closing. Why are you being so nice?”
“What? I’m always nice.”
Dean tilted his head to the side and grinned, “Oh, I get it. Your darling Marie wanted to stay late and you’re hoping to get some alone time.”
“No, that’s not…”
“Look, I’m not interested in—”
“Sam, just ask her out already,” Dean shook his head. “Jesus Christ. You’re such a wuss. It’s so obvious you two are retarded for each other.”
Sam furrowed his brow. “You… you think she’s interested?”
He looked back over to where Marie was sitting. He smoothed out his pants over his legs and looked down at his feet to make sure they weren’t crooked or anything. He looked down at his lap and noticed that his flaccid abdomen bulging, to the point where his shirt was slightly stretched. He grabbed the wheels of his chair and made an effort to sit up straighter—he hated how much his posture sucked due to his lack of trunk control. Finally, he made a momentous decision. “Okay, maybe I’ll do it.”
“Fucking do it, man!”
Except it took nearly thirty minutes for Sam to work up the nerve to even contemplate it further. He watched Marie turning the pages of her book, wondering if it was possible that she (or any other woman, for that matter) could have any romantic interest in him. What if she laughed at him? What if she said yes just out of pity? He didn’t want to come off as pathetic.
“You’re awfully quiet,” Marie said.
She smiled, “You always grumble about all the idiots who come into the library. But today you’re quiet.”
He swallowed, “Do I really always complain?”
He guessed she was right. He complained a lot. He probably made himself pretty unpleasant to be around most of the time. “Sorry,” he said.
“That’s all right, I don’t mind.” She smiled at him, a cute little smile.
“Let me make it up to you,” he said. “I’ll take you out to dinner.”
Marie froze. He watched her eyebrows shoot up. “Are you asking me out on a date?”
Sam’s cheeks felt like they were on fire. Suddenly he felt very aware of the fact that he was crippled and confined to a wheelchair and she was an able-bodied, attractive woman. He felt humiliated that he had even hinted at the possibility of a date. He had to remember to see himself the way the rest of the world saw him. “No,” he said quickly.
“Oh,” she said. Was that disappointment in her voice?
He could hear Dean’s voice in his ear: Be a man, Sammy! “Well, if you want it to be a date, I mean…”
“Do you want it to be a date?”
She wasn’t letting him off the hook. He took a deep breath. “Um, yeah,” he admitted. “Yeah, I do.”
“Okay….” He was trying not to smile, but he couldn’t help himself.
To be continued...