This short story was inspired by a writing prompt: “One person has been on the waiting list to check out a library book for months. The other person has the long-overdue book. The two coincidentally meet one day at the library.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Julian grumbled. “Still?”
“I’m afraid so,” the librarian behind the desk answered with a heavy sigh.
“Microbiology One: Immunology, Parasitology-”
“Urology and Mycology. Yes. By Swanson. Still out.”
“Ugh,” Julian leaned forward. He rested his elbows on the counter and massaged his temples. “I’ve been waiting all semester! How can this person seriously still need that book?”
“You could try interlibrary loan.”
“I don’t have time for that. I need the book now. I needed it last month!” Julian ran his hands through his hair in frustration.
“You could put it on hold.”
“I’ve done that. Twice.” He tried to come up with another possible solution. “Could you tell me who it is? Maybe I could track them down.”
“The library frowns upon sharing patron personal information.”
“Is that a firm no, then?”
“Again, I’m afraid so.”
“You could always just buy it on Amazon,” a voice piped up from behind him.
“Oh, sorry,” Julian apologized over his shoulder. “I didn’t know anyone else was in line.” He gave a sympathetic nod toward the librarian who was clearly disgruntled by the Amazon comment.
“Dude, no worries. Don’t rush on my account.”
Julian tucked his library card back in his wallet and then turned to look at the seemingly stress free student behind him. He took in her long hair, her February footwear choice of flip flops and the stack of magazines in her hands. He stepped aside, and used his arm to usher her forward.
“Hi,” she said plopping her materials on the counter.
“Library card,” the librarian said with an outstretched hand.
“Yeah, about that. I accidentally forgot it in my other purse. Can you look me up by name?”
The librarian gave another heavy sigh, which the girl misinterpreted as a yes.
“Oh thank you. My name is Mila. Mila Skarsgaard.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” the librarian mumbled.
Julian turned around and stared at the librarian as a crack in her customer service face began to show. It was not strange for her to use such a tone. Her patience was tried on a daily basis by numerous undergraduates as well as by frantic, over-caffeinated and deadline pressed grad-students. If you asked him later, Julian would have been unable to say what stopped him in his slow defeated lumber away from the circulation desk, but nevertheless he stopped.
The librarian locked eyes with him and then swooped her gaze back to the bubble gum popping young lady in front of her. Mila stood there, aimlessly scrolling through her phone, while waiting for her materials to be checked out.
“Her?” he mouthed.
The librarian nodded.
Emotion, equal parts extreme joy and rage, surged up in Julian. His hands, electric with desire to reach out and touch her, shook. He had been waiting for this particular volume, the one necessary to complete his capstone project research, for weeks. Months! While he processed his range of cycling emotions the librarian moved on with the criminal borrower before her.
“You have had a specific item checked out for six months now, which makes it five months overdue, and another patron has requested it. Twice. Additionally, patrons with fines are not allowed to check out new materials,” the librarian quipped.
“Yikes. Good call on that,” Mila agreed. “How much do I owe?” She started digging in her sans-library card purse.
“Fifty-seven dollars and eighty two cents.” Julian winced. Mila ceased digging.
“Hmm. Guess I’m not gonna be able to get these today after all. Sorry ‘bout that.” Mila reached over the counter to take the magazines back. Despite the librarian’s vicious look at having her personal space so offensively invaded Mila managed to respond, “I’ll just put these back for ya and stop in another day. Thanks for your help.”
She was moving away from the checkout station before the librarian could respond. She was halfway back to the magazine rack before Julian un-thawed from his emotion induced stupor and chased after her.
“Hey!” he said in a voice louder than he had ever used in a library. “Hey, I need to talk to you.”
Mila plopped the magazines haphazardly on the rack and then turned to look at him.
“The book,” Julian said. “The one you have check out on plant cell proteins. I need it. Can you return it so I can check it out? Please?”
His desperate request was met with a blank stare and a solid silence.
“It’s big. Red. About plant cells. Seriously, this is a memorable book.” He pantomimed the epic size of the volume he was searching for, waving his hands back and forth in movements much too large and fast to communicate anything practically.
After a moment, understanding struck Mila like a lightning bolt.
“Oh, that book. Yes. I have it. Although I love it a little less right now, thanks to that fifty seven dollar annoyance she just told me about.” Mila stuck her tongue out at the librarian.
“What? Did you really just-” Julian asked. “Nevermind. The book. Can I have it?”
“Sure, it’s back at my room. Do you want to wait for me here or walk with me?”
“Lead the way.”
As they walked across the campus their differences piled up like dirty laundry. Mila’s aimless wanderer pace nearly pushed Julian to the brink of explosion. He couldn’t ever remember having enough time to walk this slow.
“Are you a biology major too?” he asked to break the silence.
“No. I’m undecided.”
Julian scoffed unkindly.
“There’s just so much to learn, ya know? It seems foolish to box myself in and study only one thing.”
“Well, what are you, a freshman? You’ve got time,” Julian said, forcing himself to reappraise the creature that walked next to him.
“You’re funny. What’s your name book boy?”
“Well Julian, time I have, but not because I’m a freshman. This is my…” Mila counted on her fingers. “This is my eleventh semester.”
“You’re lying!” Julian blurted.
“I’m not!” Mila said laughing at his reaction, although she couldn’t tell if he was more surprised by her response or his own. “I graduated high school at 15. My dad is a professor here, so I can take classes for free. Unlimited. I could be a student forever if I wanted. Isn’t that amazing?”
“It is,” Julian breathed.
“Yeah. I worked my way through the philosophy department first. Then English. I’m on Astronomy now. Not sure what I’m going to do next.”
“Graduate?” Julian offered.
“Heck no. What a waste. But no worries, I’ll figure it out. Here we are,” she said as she walked up to the dorm. “Sorry about the book. I was using it to press leaves earlier this fall and forgot I had it. I’ll be right back down.”
She bounded up the front steps and through the door leaving Julian dumbfounded. He’d experienced a full range of emotions within the last half hour and began to wonder, if this was what it felt like to fall in love. By the time Mila returned back with the book he has decided the answer was yes and asked her out for coffee.
“I’ve got to volunteer in the Planetarium. Pick me up afterward?” Mila asked.
“I, ah don’t have anywhere I need to be right now,” Julian said. “Mind if I tag along?”
As he and Mila walked to the Planetarium Julian didn’t even feel guilty about the blemish he had just consciously placed on his previously perfect attendance record. If you asked him later, he would have been unable to tell you what class he skipped the day he met the love of his life.