Authors: Michelle Knudsen
“It’s okay. You were just —” I have to search for a word here.
comes to mind, but that doesn’t seem like the most diplomatic choice. “You were just excited. I mean, he’s super cute, and smart, and I guess he just kind of dazzled you, huh?”
“Yeah.” She smiles weakly. “Yeah, I guess that’s what happened. It’s still weird, though. I wouldn’t have thought . . .” She shakes her head. “Oh, well. Whatever, right? No real harm done, I guess.”
We start walking again. I’m still feeling a little freaked out.
The bell rings for third period; we’re both going to be late.
We hurry around the corner and suddenly Mr. Gabriel is standing there in front of us. I almost scream. Right there in the hallway. For a second I am filled with terror like I was on Friday when I first heard the sound of his shoes on the library floor. But then it passes, again, and he’s just the attractive new librarian.
“Oh, hi, J — Mr. Gabriel,” Annie says.
“Now, Annie,” he says mock-sternly, “I thought I asked you to call me John.”
“Yes, you did, but —” She looks at me and I try to radiate encouragement. “It just feels weird. I’m sorry.”
He nods. Glances at me. Looks back at Annie. “I see. Of course. Well, I certainly don’t want you to feel uncomfortable, Annie.” He reaches out and touches her arm.
The hallway shifts suddenly beneath me. At least, that’s what it seems like. I’m dizzy and there’s that church / nightclub feeling again, and I feel like invisible people are shoving me from twenty different directions. And then it’s gone, and everything is normal again.
Except that Annie’s face has gone all strange and slack and dreamy. Again.
“Why don’t you come by at the end of the day and we’ll talk more about the library monitor position,” Mr. Gabriel says, like nothing crazy just happened.
“Sure. Okay,” Annie says in that breathless voice from Friday. She turns toward her chem class without looking at me. “Bye, Cyn.” And then she is gone.
I stand there, in the hallway, staring after her. Then I turn and look at Mr. Gabriel.
He is looking at me, too.
“Why don’t you come along, too, Cynthia?”
I feel like a mouse locking eyes with a snake. My legs are itching to move, my brain is shrieking at me:
Run! Run away!
But I don’t. Can’t.
“No, thanks,” I say. “I don’t think so.”
We stand there another few seconds looking at each other. And then he reaches out to touch my arm like he did Annie’s. I see his hand extending and I want to shrink back from it but I seem to be frozen in place. It comes closer and I feel as I might if a very large spider were reaching out to touch me instead of a cute twenty-something high-school librarian. Like I might scream. Or faint. Or die.
His fingers brush my flesh and there’s that weird spark feeling again and I wait for something else to happen, but then — nothing.
We both look at his hand for a minute.
“Hm,” he says. “Well. Good-bye, Cynthia.”
He turns and walks back down the hall.
“What the hell?” I say out loud to myself, staring at his retreating back. “I mean, seriously, what the hell?”
A late student jogs by and gives me a very strange look.
I can’t even bring myself to feel embarrassed.
Something is seriously messed up here.
I walk the rest of the way down the hall and turn into AP Physics. Mr. Levy is already talking at the board; he gives me a squinty look and a “Nice of you to join us, Cynthia,” but I barely notice. I mutter an apology and slide into my seat. Then I sit there, staring at my desk, Mr. Levy’s voice a meaningless drone in the background.
What exactly do I think is happening?
If I try to think objectively about this, not trying to rationalize it or explain it away or pretend I did not witness that extreme weirdness in the hallway just now, what is going on seems to be that the new hottie librarian has worked some kind of freaky mojo on my nice best friend. She is normal Annie, and then she sees him and she becomes psycho Annie.
No — not when she sees him. When she touches him.
He touched me, too, though, and nothing happened. Or almost nothing. I didn’t get weird, anyway.
got kind of weird, though, didn’t he? Like it was weird that I didn’t get weird. Or something.
I hear the crazy sound of my own thoughts and shake my head in disgust.
So . . . what, he’s hypnotizing her or something? With his hands? Putting some kind of magic spell on her? Turning her into his zombie minion, only without the whole undead thing?
If I were saying this to Annie right now, she would be laughing her head off at me. As would only be appropriate. Because it is ridiculous.
Snap out of it, crazy brain.
Are you even listening to yourself?
“Hey,” someone whispers, interrupting my silent conversation with my own head. I look up. Lisa Rinaldi, who sits next to me, is trying to hand me a stack of papers. Out of habit, I take one and pass the rest. Then I look down at it stupidly.
I shake my head again to try to clear some of the insanity from my brain, and I take out a pen. I am obviously being ridiculous. I will stop thinking about crazy theories. I will think about linear momentum and whatever else is on this quiz that I forgot to study for. And then the bell will ring, and I will go to lunch, and I will talk to Annie. And we will . . . we will figure out what is really going on. Somehow. Right? Right. Okay.
But when I get to lunch, Annie is nowhere to be seen.
I text her a quick
WHERE ARE YOU?
and then stare at my phone for several minutes while she does not respond. Leticia and Diane (our most-of-the-week lunch companions, whom we have both known since first grade) are off doing their usual Monday lunch thing with the yearbook crew, so there’s no one here to tell me I’m being stupid and worrying over nothing. We’re allowed to text but not to make phone calls in the cafeteria (school rules are dumb), so I have to wait until I can slip into the yard to try to call. And when I do: voice mail. Of course.
If she’s in the building she wouldn’t be able to pick up even if she wanted to,
I remind myself. But she would see that I called
texted and so she would guess that it was important and text me back, wouldn’t she? But she doesn’t.
I get more and more worried as the day crawls on. Annie does not appear at any of our usual pass-in-the-hall-between-classes spots. I linger outside her history class until the bell rings, but she doesn’t show up there either, and my own teacher is beckoning to me from across the hall.
Reluctantly, I go to my class.
I take out my notebook, look at the cover, and sit there frowning at it.
It is becoming clear to me that I will have to go to the library after all.
This is no fun at all.
History takes forever. I feel the centuries turning as I sit there, ready to bolt. I couldn’t think of a good enough reason to ask to leave early, and I’m not ready to take drastic measures, like leaving early without permission. I am ninety-nine percent sure that I am totally overreacting. I have had a great deal of time to think about this while waiting for history class to go by. Eons.
Annie has a crush on the new librarian. This is not a big deal. This is not anything to worry about. She’s acting like a goofball, but that is what happens when one has a crush. I am an expert on that particular subject.
And he — maybe he is aware of it and is being a jerk and having a little fun with her, touching her arm and asking her to call him by his first name. For someone like Annie, who’s never had anything close to a boyfriend, it wouldn’t necessarily take hypnotism or magic powers to send her a little off the deep end. The focused attention of those mesmerizing dark eyes and Mr. Gabriel’s overall intelligent, attractive, younger-older-man package would be more than enough to make her swoon. Sure it would. Especially if he’s turning on the charm on purpose, enjoying her obvious (and no doubt flattering) reaction.
Or maybe he has no idea and is just trying to be all cool and laid-back so that kids will spend more time in the library. Maybe librarians get points or something for all the books that get checked out, points that can be redeemed for valuable goods and services, like fancy date stamps or maybe those reading posters with the celebrities on them holding books, and he has a master plan to get all the points he can by charming all the charmable kids in the school and getting them to read a lot. Maybe it’s not even
master plan; maybe it’s, like, the American Library Association’s master plan, and they are stocking high schools across the country with hot young librarians as part of a massive literacy initiative.
These are all more reasonable ideas than the other ones. The ones I cannot allow myself to really think about. The ones that involve scary creepiness totally beyond anything that is remotely possible.
I’m waiting so hard that I’m not ready for it when the bell finally rings, tearing through the air like an ambulance siren. I yelp and everyone laughs but I don’t care, because I’m already halfway out the door and racing down the hall.
I fly around the corner, so ready to be relieved, ready to see Annie and have her ask me what the heck is wrong with me, that I’m practically there already in my head, which is why I don’t pay quite enough attention to where my feet are taking me. I slam full force into a large, solid obstacle of fellow student and knock us both sprawling to the ground.
I blink and look to see whom I’ve accidentally pinned to the floor beneath me, and the apology dies on my lips.
It’s Ryan Halsey. Of course it is.
I stare, unable to move. It’s my earlier fantasy come to life but in some twisted clumsy version that loses all the sexiness and ends up just being awkward.
He looks up at me, seeming a little dazed. “You okay?”
God, he has the sexiest voice. I remain atop him, still paralyzed by his proximity.
“Nice tackle,” someone snickers nearby.
That breaks the spell. I feel my face go fiery as I try to scramble off of him. “Oh, God,” I say. “I’m so sorry.”
I am the epitome of gracelessness as I try to get both feet under me without landing a knee in his groin. My jeans cling to my legs like evil blue vines, stiff and twiny and apparently determined to slow my extraction from Ryan’s accidental embrace. His own jeans are darker, more manly, less twiny. I realize suddenly that for those long awkward moments before the even more awkward moment when I began trying to get up, our jeans were flush against each other, pant leg to pant leg, denim sliding on denim. What if I had been wearing a skirt today, I wonder helplessly. What if I had been wearing a skirt and he was in his gym shorts for some reason and instead of thin layers of denim between our limbs it was only skin, warm and smooth. Well, my skin would be smooth; his legs might be a little furry, I suppose. I realize I have stopped to stare again and quickly move my gaze up to his face instead of his pants.
Ryan waits patiently on the ground below me, a slight smile on his full and tasty-looking lips.
I apologize again, stepping free at last from the confusing tangle of our bodies and my thoughts.
“It’s okay,” he says. “I’m a pretty tough guy. I think I’ll recover.”
Oh, God. He’s joking with me. He’s making the effort to be funny. To me.
Then I notice everyone in the hall staring at us, and I realize he is probably being funny for them.
Well, whatever. He still said it to me. I still got to hear it.
I reach down a hand to help him up and he is nice enough to take it, even though, of course, he does not need my assistance. The touch of his fingers, his hand grasping mine, sucks all the blood from my brain and again I stare wordlessly at him as he gets to his feet.
Don’t let go!
my body pleads with me. I begin to worry that I won’t be able to. My cells are practically singing with joy at his touch. I’m so ridiculous I can hardly stand myself, but knowing that does nothing to change it. Ryan Halsey turns me into a helpless, mindless zombie girl.
Like Annie around Mr. Gabriel.
I tell myself firmly. She is fine. Just crushing. Like me.
I shake my head —
Out! Out, insanity!—
and release his hand.
“Really, I’m so sorry,” I say once more, mainly just to be saying something.
“Don’t worry about it, Cyn,” he says, already stepping forward to move past me, to walk on to whatever happy place is his intended destination. He touches my shoulder as he passes, and it’s almost enough to make me sink right back down to the floor.
And also: he said my name. He knows what my name is. He spoke it out loud and used it in a sentence.
I pull myself together and continue toward the library at a normal-person pace, willing the flush I can still feel in my face to cool back down. My sense of urgency has been partially knocked out of me by the impact of my collision with Ryan. And partially eclipsed by my amazement that he does know who I am.