Mrs. Banks — Debbie to her friends — walked up the steps of the library, and before she opened the door, she turned around and looked across the town square at the coffee shop. As always, it was busy. People walked in, and came out with a cup of coffee — or tea, she supposed — in their hands. Some didn’t appear again, staying inside to drink and eat whatever they had ordered.
There was a time when the library was the hub of the town, the place where people enquired about the other’s wellbeing, or where you met the new people who had just moved in down the street, or on the other side of town. Nowadays, that happened at the coffee shop. Up to a couple of months before, the fact had upset her, but not anymore.
She smiled, opened the heavy wooden door and entered the library. Inside, she stood still for a moment, and breathed in the air, which was a mixture of the thick, high walls, the worn carpets and books, old and new. Debbie loved this smell, as much as she loved reading.
“Good morning, Mrs. Banks,” the young librarian greeted her.
“Good morning, Lydia, are you well? How’s your mother doing? Still recovering from that operation?”
After a short, polite conversation, Debbie turned on her heels. The moment she did, her heart jumped to her throat. She took two steps, then looked first to the left, then the right, at the racks full of books. To anyone watching — no one was, but she felt all eyes on her — it looked like she was deciding what to read next. Then she walked down the middle corridor, each step deliberately taken in the rapid rhythm of her heartbeat.
She entered the aisle carrying books by authors with surnames starting with ‘M’.
“Good morning, Mr. Lewis,” she greeted the man who intently stared at the books, “how are you today?”
“Good morning, Mrs. Banks. Better now you’re here,” he whispered, without turning his head towards her.
Debbie turned to the books too, her head slightly cocked and her finger running from book to book as she read the titles.
A warm blanket of silence enveloped them, as they moved along the titles, taking small steps sideward, until they lightly bumped into each other. Their hands touched. She slipped hers in his, and he lightly squeezed it.
A shiver ran down Debbie’s spine. A delicious shiver — one that dampened her panties a bit, for the first time in many years. Or maybe not the first time, but definitely, one of the first times, as it might, or might not have happened in the weeks prior.
It had been so long since the last time a man held her hand, the last time someone held her heart in his hands, even though they were nowhere to the point of a romantic relationship just yet.
It had been six years since her husband passed way at the age of fifty-three. She was only fifty-one then, and just a year before their youngest had left to go to uni. Suddenly, she was alone in the big house. Alone in their bed. No one to talk to. No one to share breakfast with, to laugh with, to cry with. The first two years she were filled with grief, then slowly acceptance set in. It was when she accidentally bumped into Larry — Mr. Lewis — twenty-six weeks ago, that long forgotten feelings had stirred in her.
In his eyes, during that brief moment he stared at her, she had seen those same feelings reflected. They stood next to each other then, in the A-aisle of the library, and each chose one book.
She was surprised to find him in the B-aisle two weeks later. Another two weeks later, she understood it wasn’t a coincidence finding him in the C-aisle. Now, the thirteenth time they met like this, they each chose a book from the M-aisle.
They were halfway through the alphabet — it had taken them six months to get here — and Debbie didn’t want to wait for them to reach the end of the alphabet.
These thoughts all rushed through her mind the moment she entwined her fingers with his. After which felt only like a second, but lasted much longer, they let go again. Each chose a book, then turned towards the other and exchanged the books they have chosen. A ritual which had started that day in the A-aisle.
Debbie watched as the librarian took the loan card from the pocket in the front of the book, wrote her name in the next open slot and stamped the date she had to return it. She loved that the library still worked the old-fashioned way, despite digitalizing their entire collection.
“Have a nice day, Lydia,” she said, took the book from the counter, turned, nodded politely at Mr. Lewis and walked out of the library. Debbie crossed the street, then the town square and entered the coffee shop.
“Good morning, Dennis, all well?” she asked, and continued when he nodded, “a tall flat white, please.”
While waiting for her order, she heard the bell as the door opened and closed again.
“A medium cappuccino, please.”
Her heart took a tiny leap of joy at hearing his voice, and her breathing caught in her throat when he came to stand next to her after paying for his coffee. Her coffee was ready, but instead of finding a place to sit like she did in the previous weeks, she waited for him to get his coffee too. It was, after all, the thirteenth time they met like this. Debbie was ready to move forward, if only a tiny step.
They found an empty spot in the back of the coffee shop, and sat next to each other on a bench. With their books and coffee on the table in front of them, Larry turned to Debbie.
“Yes, Larry, I did.”
He took her hand in his.
“Does this mean…”
“Yes, Larry, it does,” she interrupted him.
He leaned forward, and gently rested his lips on hers. Every fiber in her body ignited. His lips were soft, but firm, his kiss gentle, and full of promise. For the first time since her husband had died, Debbie wanted to be with a man again. Larry had been ready since they were in that C-aisle, but it took ten times more for Debbie to catch up with him.
Life was made to be lived, and she had many good years ahead of her. Why not share it with someone who adored her the way Larry did? When he pulled away, she lay her hand on his cheek, looked in his eyes for a few brief moments, then moved in for another kiss. A passionate kiss. One that put meaning to her words. She was ready. Ready to be with him, the way he wanted her.
That day, for the first time since they had accidentally met in the A-aisle, Mrs. Banks and Mr. Lewis left the coffee shop together, hand in hand. Two weeks later they brought their M-books back to the library, and laughed at the librarian’s surprise seeing them enter and leave together.
By the time they reached the T-aisle, they were engaged, and to bring the circle round, on their wedding day, they stood together in the Z-aisle, repeating the ritual that had brought them together. After their usual cup of coffee, they passed by the library, turned into the next street, and entered the church where family and friends waited to witness them becoming husband and wife.
Years later, they told their story to their grandchildren — children of children they never had together — and Larry always ended the story, wagging his finger to the little ones: “Never underestimate the power of books!”
© Rebel’s Notes
Image from Pixabay