Why Him? Chapter One – Ali Parker

Why Him? Chapter One

Chapter One

Mary Ellen

I never got tired of the smell of old books. The community library I worked for was filled with them, and every day I got the chance to walk through the stacks, admiring the neat shelves. 

The volumes didn’t reorder themselves, of course. No little elves appeared in the night to make quick work of it. The only little elf was me. I was meticulously taking books from my cart and sliding them back onto their designated shelves, gently coaxing them into place as if they were fragile creatures needing my tender care. 

I wanted to hold them in my hands and fall into their stories. When I walked through the library, I was like a kid. I had to reach out and run my fingertips over the spines. I did not obey. I did not keep my hands to myself. I introduced my fingertips to every spine, regardless of how time-worn and creased they were. 

A cell phone rang, shattering the peace with a goofy marimba sound that made my teeth grind. I quickly popped my head around the end of the shelf, shooting a scowl at two young ladies fumbling with a phone. I thought of them as young ladies, but in all honesty they were probably only a couple of years younger than me. I just lived like a seventy-year-old spinster, like so many librarians before me. I had a legacy to uphold, after all.

The girls managed to silence the ringer. They had the decency to look embarrassed, and they whispered they were sorry before going back to their books. I gave them a nod

I went back to my soothing work, making sure each spine aligned perfectly with the book next to it. It was like drawing lines in the sand in the little Zen garden on my desk. The thing was tiny, more of a novelty probably, but whenever I had a problem to chew on, I found myself carving random flowing patterns with the little rake.

My biggest problem was always the same thing. I was tired of being alone.

My roommates in the house would drop whatever they were doing to listen to me vent about being forever single, but they had consoled me enough over the last few years. I was at risk of becoming a real bummer to hang out with, and the last thing I wanted was another pity party.

Two of them had fallen in love recently, finding their princes against all odds, and they had left the house. Sure, they came to visit for our traditional taco nights, but it was really just down to three of us most of the time. On the occasions we could all get together, I wanted margaritas and laughter, not wine and tears.

I pulled a shiny blue book from the cart and gave it a quick onceover. With the sleeve of my cardigan, I wiped some dust off the cover. Then I flipped through the pages, just in case someone forgot their notes inside. It was a routine I’d mastered over the years, ensuring that every returned book found its home in our library with the same love and attention it deserved.

I heard footsteps and checked to see if there was anyone needing assistance at the front counter. It was just a guy, probably a student, walking to a table and putting down his backpack.

I went back to my duties, pushing the cart to the self-help aisle. Once again, I started with the process of replacing books on the shelves. Just a little elf bringing order to chaos, vibing in my zone. It wasn’t long before I heard the sound of heels striding in my direction. 

The library technically had carpet, but it was so threadbare, it was like walking on concrete. If they could ever afford to replace it, it wouldn’t sound so obnoxious.

A woman wearing a fitted navy pant suit suit and shiny white heels approached me. She was the most striking woman I’d ever seen. Her presence commanded attention, and I wasn’t sure if it was due to her rigid posture, angular features, or no-nonsense glare. I quickly walked out to greet her, getting the feeling she was in a hurry. I didn’t know why, but she just seemed like one of those women that was always in a rush.

I smiled. “Hi, can I help you with something?”

 The woman’s piercing gaze felt like she was staring directly into my soul. It was a little unnerving and unsettling. I managed a polite smile, though inwardly, I felt as though I was shrinking under her scrutiny. 

I’m a cockroach to her. She’s the goddess and I’m, well, I’m me. I’m me with my lame cardigan and boring black skirt.

I pushed up my glasses and tried not to notice the way her suit cinched her waist and accentuated her figure. Her cleavage practically spilled out of a low-cut lace top underneath the suit jacket. There was no way those things were real. Not that it was any of my business. But her boobs were as firm as the rest of her, her make up was immaculate, and she had the most perfectly shaped lips I’d ever seen.

How long does it take her to get ready in the morning? 

The woman shifted her weight to her right foot while letting her hand bag, which looked like a designer purse of some sort, slid to the crease of her left elbow. A manila folder vomiting a stack of paperwork stuck out of the top of the bag. Her hawk-like eyes settled on me. “Do you work here?” 

I shrugged. “Well, they say, do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

“Is that a yes?” she asked, glacier cold.
I nodded. “Yes, I’m the librarian.”

She looked me up and down. My skirt, which I had always been fond of, suddenly felt like a trash bag, and the curls in my hair were definitely unmanageable and ruthless, not voluminous and soft. I resisted the urge to wrap my arms around my waist and make myself as tiny as possible.

“Alright, then,” she said with a sharp smile that sent a shiver down my spine. “I was told to leave these with the librarian.” She pulled the folder out of her purse and handed it to me expectantly. 

I took them and fingered through the top pages. “What are these?”

“Blueprints.”

“I’m sorry, did you say blueprints?” I stammered. This woman did not look like an architect, and even if she was, I had no idea how to build anything. What was I supposed to do with them? 

She sighed like she had reached her wit’s end. “They’re for the library rezoning project. It’s the project by Hunt Properties. Someone should have notified you about this.”

My heart sank as I realized what I was holding. It felt like I’d been given a poisonous snake, and I wanted to throw them back at her. Even better, I would love to take a can of gas and a lighter to the damn things.

“I’ve been notified,” I muttered.

The woman didn’t look pleased by my lack of enthusiasm. “They’re the mock-ups Hunt Properties is proposing,” she explained, speaking slowly. “There’s a website with a virtual walkthrough if that makes it easier for you to understand. You have wi-fi in this dump, right?”

“Only for people with a library card.” 

The woman looked around with her lip curled and her nose scrunched up. She looked like she smelled a fart. “How do you stand it here?” 

It was a lot easier before you showed up. “Excuse me?” I asked, mostly buying myself time to breathe and relax—before I rolled up these blueprints and swatted her like a bad puppy right on her perfectly upturned nose.

“The stench of old books,” she said while cringing. “It’s just so musty.”

“I take it this is your first time in a library?” I asked politely. 

She glared at me like she wasn’t sure if I was making fun of her. “This place needs help,” she said. “No wonder they want to tear it down. This carpet alone is a biohazard.”

She turned to walk away, but I followed her. I had questions. “Do you know if the project has been approved?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

I had to do a little hop step to match her long, elegant strides. “Is there any hope we can save our beloved library?”

She stopped walking and looked at me again. “Beloved? Are you kidding?”

“No, I’m not.” I stood up straighter. “Now answer the question.”

“Why would you want to save this place? It stinks. I mean literally. Maybe you can’t smell it because you’re used to it, but it’s not just the books. It’s everything. I would suggest air fresheners but don’t bother. It’s not going to help.”

“Do they have a date for demolition?” I asked.

“It’s all on a need-to-know basis,” she said haughtily. “And if you don’t know already, I guess you don’t need to know.” 

With a final glance, she left the library like she couldn’t wait to escape. 

“What a piece of work,” I muttered under my breath and walked back to my desk to drop off the blueprints. Why even drop them off with me if I don’t need to know what’s going on?

I couldn’t believe someone wanted to tear down my precious library. What was happening to my life? I sank into my chair, staring at the blueprints on the desk. The future of our library, my sanctuary, hung in the balance, and there was little I could do to influence its fate.

I looked at the blueprints and shook my head. Our little library was being replaced by a monstrosity of luxury apartments and extravagant amenities. I flipped through the pages and almost gagged. It was clearly a building meant to appeal to wealthy people that wanted to live, work, and play in one small area. And of course, it had to be beautiful.

The plans outlined a fountain in the lobby, easily the size of a swimming pool, but the actual pool would be on the rooftop, along with a communal area complete with a bar and barbecues. It would also boast a gym, steam room, sauna, and hot tub—all the trappings of excess and indulgence. 

It was a far cry from the quiet haven I found myself in. It was so unfair. Why did everyone prefer shiny and new? What was wrong with old and beautiful? I loved history. I loved to think about being surrounded by ties to our past.

I glanced around at the sun-stained shelves, the balding carpet, and the cozy reading nooks that had become a second home to me. Who would choose a sterile, soulless condo over the warmth and charm of our library?

The answer came too easily—plenty of people. 

Those drawn to the allure of modernity and convenience, blind to the beauty of tradition and community. But not me. I would choose this place a thousand times over, with all its quirks and imperfections. 

And I happened to like the smell. It was the smell of books and knowledge. Although to be fair, in one corner, the smell was from a kid who had puked up chocolate milk and Cheetos. He had painted those walls with an unnatural color, and the stink had never properly come out.

But the rest of the place smelled great, as far as I was concerned.

With a heavy heart, I rolled up the blueprints and stuck a sticky note on it for the library director. It’s over my paygrade. I’m just putting away books.  

I didn’t know what I could do to stop the inevitable march of so-called “progress.” I was just little old me. 

The battle to save the library had only just begun. I feared the odds were not in our favor, but as long as there was breath in my body, I would fight tooth and nail to preserve this sacred space, no matter the cost. For me, for my community, and for the love of books. Libraries were going to be extinct soon, just like bookstores, if people didn’t stand up and do something. 

I just didn’t understand why the apartments had to be on my library. There was land everywhere. Why here? Why did they have to destroy my little library? 

Lost in my melancholy, I barely noticed the faint sound of heavy footsteps echoing through the library. I glanced up and jerked with a start when I saw him.

Tall. Dark hair. Hooded brow. Flexed jaw. Broad shoulders drawn forward as if warning the world not to come too close. Every inch of him contrasted the polished woman who had just left; where she dripped with disdain and vanity, he oozed danger and, for lack of a better expression, zero-fuck energy.

He did not belong in my bookish oasis, that was for sure, and I couldn’t think of a single reason why he would be walking right towards me.I swallowed hard. 

 

His leather jacket creaked with each step of his black motorcycle boots that were loose around his ankles. A chunk of dark hair fell over his piercing gray eyes. The black V-neck he wore revealed a hint of a tattoo peeking out on his muscled chest. 

Bikers didn’t typically visit my library. Homeless guys, yes, but not bikers. Maybe he was lost?

Please, ask anyone else but me for directions.

His eyes locked on mine, and it was like he had some wizard powers that kept me from moving. I was torn between the instinct to flee and the determination to stand my ground. Two intimidating visitors in one morning—what were the odds? What could this man possibly want from me? 

I licked my lips like a nervous prey animal. “Can I help you?” I asked. At least I tried to ask. My voice sounded like a squeak.  

His approach never slowed as he reached into his pocket. My heart raced with anticipation. What was he reaching for? A weapon? A threat? More damning paperwork that would crush my spirit?

No. Not likely.

 The possibilities raced through my mind, each one more terrifying than the last. Maybe I should have held up my hands and begged for mercy right then and there. Show him I’m not a threat—not that he’d think little old me was a threat in the slightest. What was I going to do to stop him? Stomp my foot and ask nicely?

Get a grip, Mary Ellen.

He was only a few feet away now. I could practically smell the bad boy musk clinging to him. Motor oil. Leather. Exhaust. Sandalwood.

I didn’t want any trouble with a Hell’s Angel or whatever gang this stranger belonged too, regardless of how good he looked or smelled. Whoever he was, he didn’t belong here, and for now, this library was still mine to protect, so I lifted my chin and gathered my fraying nerves around me like a cloak and prayed he didn’t have bad intentions.

Whatever happened next?

Well, it was out of my hands.

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