Renee

byms72vt©

Kyle Grayson had never believed in love at first sight. It was a silly romantic fairy tale, nothing else. For the birds, really. And yet, when he saw her . . . when she got closer to him . . . How else to explain the rapid beating of his heart? The nervousness he felt? The longing, like a hunger, a desire, a need to know her?

Lust, maybe? Maybe. But he didn't think so. God knew he'd lusted after countless women, but it had never felt like this.

She wore glasses, the lenses thick, which gave her the look of a reference librarian. Fitting, then, to see her here, at the library. She was petite, maybe 5'3" or 5'4," with straight blonde hair that spilled over her shoulders and halfway down her back. It was mid-November, and she wore a winter coat, so it was hard to make out her figure. But from what he could tell, and from the delicate features of her face, he guessed she was slim. She appeared to be thirtyish, a few years older than him, and he couldn't help but notice the diamond ring and matching wedding band she wore on her left hand.

He was browsing through the Renaissance literature section. He never imagined anyone else would join him in this usually forsaken corner of the library. But the woman inched closer, closer, close enough where she gave him a shy smile. His heart felt like it would climb straight up to his throat. She was so beautiful.

"Pardon me," she said. She must have been wearing perfume; she smelled like flowers in the springtime, redolent from the morning dew. He nearly swooned. He still didn't understand. Why did she have such an effect on him? She was beautiful, yes, but so were many other women. He had never been so overwhelmed by any of them.

"I never thought anyone else cared about Renaissance literature other than me these days," he managed to say. "Except maybe balding college professors with clipped British accents."

She laughed. "Do I look that old?" she said. "I just turned thirty-five last month, and . . ." She paused, blushed. On her fair skin, the red on her cheeks stood out like a bruise. "I'm sorry. I don't know why I just said that!"

He laughed with her, though inwardly he was amazed she was thirty-five. If that's what thirty-five looked like, where could he sign up? "It's okay. I mean, I just turned twenty-five myself."

She blew a few rogue bangs out of her eyes. "And that's supposed to make me feel better?" She smiled, then moved past him, stopping in front of the Shakespeare section.

"You like Shakespeare?" he asked.

She nodded. "Weird, huh? My husband can't get through a page of the stuff. But I've always loved it."

Kyle groaned on the inside. Her husband. The bastard. He wondered if the guy knew how lucky he was.

"I keep meaning to buy his complete works on Amazon," she went on. "But I usually don't have the time to read, so I just come here when I get a chance. And this week . . ." She paused again. "Guess I must be in a talkative mood tonight," she said. "I'm telling you my life story!"

"I don't mind," he said. "It isn't every day I meet a fellow Shakespeare buff. If you're not in a hurry, maybe we could sit down over there?" He pointed to a black oval table a few feet away. Four chairs, cushioned, comfortable, were spaced around it, none of them occupied.

She eyed the table, then him. He could sense the wheels spinning in her head, the pros and cons. He was amazed at his boldness. Usually he was shy around women. Tongue-tied. Especially attractive ones. And never had he been more drawn to a woman than he was to . . . to . . .

"Um, if it's okay to ask," he said, "what's your name?"

She was still looking at the table, cradling a large, hard-backed volume in her hands: "The Complete Works of Shakespeare." She looked at him, offered a smile. He nearly swooned again. "It's perfectly okay to ask," she said. "And it's Renee."

He extended a hand, and she took it. Was that another blush that came to her cheeks when they touched? How could he have such an effect on a beautiful woman like this? "Kyle," he said. "Resident nerd of The Mill Apartments on River Street, technical writer extraordinaire."

She laughed, freely. They went to the table, sat across from each other. But before she sat down, she took off her coat, revealing a black, short-sleeved top that hugged her curves. He'd been right. She was slim . . . perfect, really. And her breasts looked full. C-cups, he guessed. But then he caught himself, worrying that he might be ogling, and looked up at her face. He loved her glasses, the scholarly mien they gave her.

They talked about Shakespeare, the plays they liked the most—her favorite was "King Lear," his "Othello." They talked about iambic pentameter and sonnets and rhymes. And then, slowly, inexorably, their conversation began to turn personal.

"My husband's out of town for the week, with the kids," she said. "I was upset when he told me about that last month, but now . . ." She shrugged . . . "I guess I look forward to some alone time. Besides, the kids haven't seen his parents in forever. They live out West. They . . ." She paused, blushed again. "Well, there I go again. Telling you my life story. We were supposed to be talking about Shakespeare, right?"

He'd hardly heard that last part. His mind had latched onto the stream of information that came before it. Her husband out of town, with the kids. For a week. She was all alone. They could . . . He stopped himself. How outrageous! She was a married woman! Whether her husband was out of town or not was beside the point. Also, and just as important, there was no way she'd possibly be interested in a guy like him. Women never were. He didn't know why, exactly. He wasn't great-looking, but he wasn't pug-ugly either. He had a pleasant enough face, a head full of thick, curly black hair. He was kind of skinny, but hey, at least he wasn't fat. He'd always been on the shy side around women, maybe that was it. Or maybe it was something simpler. . . .

He had a small dick. God, he wished it weren't so, but it was. He was five inches, fully erect. He'd taken natural supplements to increase length and girth. All they did was give him heartburn. But the thing was, women didn't normally get to know about his lack of . . . manhood. He didn't usually get that far with them. He'd gone all the way only once, back in high school. It had been a disaster. It lasted two minutes, and the girl, a nerdy sort, like him, went home crying, saying they couldn't be friends anymore because of what they'd just done. Since then, he hadn't even got to second base with anyone, let alone third or home. So what did his dick size matter? You needed to get naked with someone before something like that mattered.

"Kyle?"

He shook his head, snapping himself out of it. "Sorry," he said. "My mind kind of drifted there for a second."

"Oh, that's okay," she said, looking at her watch. That was never a good sign. Almost as bad as when your date checked her cell phone messages before the waiter even brings your order to the table. "I should be heading home anyway."

Crap. Pure, unadulterated crap. What did she need to do at home? If her husband and kids were away . . .

"Okay," he said. "I really loved talking to you, though, Renee. I come here a lot. After working at the office all day, surrounded by computer programmers, I like to come to a place where there are books on things that really matter, you know?"

"Do I ever," she said, and his heart began to race again. That connection he'd felt with her, the connection that had started to dissipate because of his daydreaming, felt like it was coming back. "I usually don't have time to read my grocery list, let alone Shakespeare."

"What do you do, by the way?" he wanted to know. "I mean, other than being a mother, wife, chauffeur, doctor, psychologist, check-book keeper . . ."

She laughed at his humor. "Smart man," she said. "I'm an administrative assistant. Answer phones all day. Deal with complaints, and attitude. Lots and lots of attitude!" She blew on her bangs again, then sighed.

"I can imagine," he said. "Will you . . . do you think you'll be back here tomorrow? After work?"

She tilted her head, clearly thinking it over. "Well . . . I'll be taking this book out tonight, so . . .." She tapped the cover of the Shakespeare tome. "But then again, there are so many books to browse through here, and it's nice to have a chance to go out in the evening for a change. . . . Sure, why not. I'll be here."

He nearly leaped out of his seat. His head felt light all of a sudden. "Great!" he said. "I'll be here, too, same section as we're in now, all right?"

"It's a date," she said laughing, and reached out to shake his hand again. Was it his imagination, or did she let her hand linger in his, just for a moment?

"A date," he said, smiling.

When she walked away, waving good-bye, he nearly gave in to his impulse of doing a cartwheel, right then and there. But all he did was wave back, a smile plastered on his face.



Later, in his apartment, sitting beside the window, at his cheap folding table, eating a frozen entrée he'd thrown into the microwave, he glanced out into the darkness. Below him, maybe thirty feet, the night-darkened river flowed past. The Mill Apartments hadn't always provided lodging. More than a hundred years ago, before the birth of automobiles and radios and television, and nearly everything else 21st-centruy humankind took for granted, The Mill had, in fact, been a mill. A paper mill. Even today, with the building's long, narrow shape, the old-fashioned construction, the odd angles in the corners—it was easy to imagine the place as a working mill. Sometimes, at night, Kyle could almost hear the hum of the ancient machinery, or the ghost of it, echoing through the halls, the voices of the long-dead workmen shouting, calling out instructions. He had moved to this city, this complex, just last year from out of state. He wanted to experience New England, a place he'd always been drawn to. And The Mill, he thought, was quintessentially New England. Also, and very important, the apartment came cheap.

He didn't regret leaving home. He needed to get out on his own. His mom had cried when he told her he'd move away, a thousand miles away . . . but she got over it. He was twenty-five, after all. Time to grow up. Time to explore life a little.

But he missed his folks, his brother, his sister. Sometimes, for no reason, really, he'd pick up the phone and call one of them, just to say hello, just to hear a friendly and familiar voice. Someone who cared about him, thought about him, wanted what was best for him. That was the hardest part about being here. It was a large city, especially to a small-town boy like him. Full of people; and yet, who really gave a damn about him? Here, in The Mill, for instance, there were hundreds of people surrounding him, tucked away in their rooms. What were they doing? Eating, like him? Having sex? Arguing? (The walls were not well insulated, and when the people near him argued, he heard nearly every word they said.) Was there anyone else missing home? Did anyone else feel alone, surrounded by people who didn't care, and didn't want to? Or was it only him?

He took a bite of the entrée—awful stuff, but cheap, easy, and convenient. And he thought of Renee, with her thick glasses, her ready smile, her perfect figure, her long blonde hair that flowed down her back like gold-coated straw. He couldn't get her out of his mind. What was she doing now? Curled up in a love seat at home, in her nightgown, reading Shakespeare? Was she thinking of him? Did the thought cross her mind, for a moment, a second, that maybe, just maybe, she and Kyle could perhaps share something magical while her husband and children were away? Was she even one-quarter as attracted to him as he was to her? She had given subtle hints at the library, he was sure of it. She—

"Oh, just shut up," he told himself. "There's no way, Kyle. No fucking way. Since when would a woman like that ever think about a guy like you?"

He finished eating, then went to bed, even though it was just ten past eight. As he lay there, staring up at the ceiling, he kept seeing Renee in his mind's eye, her smile lighting up the room like a flare in the dark. . . .



"Hey, Kyle, how's that User's Guide coming?"

He swiveled around on his chair. Trista was standing there, at the entrance of his cubicle, hands on her hips, her 36DD breasts jutting forward like mountain peaks. (She had told him, his first week on the job, that her breasts were all-natural 36DDs. She told him all the guys wanted to know, so why should she keep them guessing?)

"Old Man Hayward is really at it today," she went on. "Jesus. He nearly bit my head off just because I said good morning to him! The old asshole." She glanced around, making sure that no office ass-kissers eager to report her to the boss were surreptitiously lurking nearby.

Kyle smiled. Trista never was one to beat around the bush. ""I should finish the chapter on offline POS by lunch," he said. "It's a bitch, but I'm almost done."

She smiled back; then, whispering, "Hey, by the way, I just met someone I think you'll really like." Kyle groaned. For months now, Trista had been trying to play matchmaker for him. She joked that, being married, she was unfortunately off the market, so she needed to find someone else for him. That was unfortunate, too. She was close to forty, but with her voluptuous figure, incredible butt, and flaming red hair, she was sexy as hell. And she knew it, too, evidenced by her low-cut tops and tight skirts. Still, for some reason, he'd never truly felt drawn to her in any sort of romantic way. It always struck him as mysterious, this thing called chemistry. Sometimes, for some undefinable reason, you looked at a certain woman, even a hot one, as nothing more than a friend.

"Her name's Jennifer," Trista went on. "You know my girlfriend Tina? Well, I met Jennifer through her last night. Kyle, she is adorable! Young, though. Even younger than you. She just finished undergraduate school last year. Tina was her professor, and they just hit it off and now they're friends. She's really smart, Kyle, and I know how you like the nerdy types."

"What was her major?" he asked. Bro-ther. What a stupid question.

"Sociology," Trista said. "And yes, Kyle, she does like to read. I know that's important to you."

Probably not Shakespeare, though, he thought. And besides, he didn't need Trista, or anyone else, playing matchmaker on his behalf.

"Well, thanks, Trista," he said, "but I—"

"What? You meet someone else?"

He thought about Renee, about last night at the library, the electricity he was sure he'd felt when they shook hands just before she left.

"Yeah," he said, feeling like a liar. Renee was not interested in him. She couldn't be, no matter what he thought he felt last night. "I . . . I guess I just want to give it a chance for a while before I meet anyone else."

Trista gave him a wide smile. "Good for you! Why didn't you just say so? But if it doesn't work out, just let me know, k? 'Cause I'm sure you'll love Jennifer."

He nodded, she smiled again, and then went to her cubicle.

As he worked, his mind kept drifting, to last night, to Renee, the way she smelled, the way she moved, the way she blushed. By lunchtime, the chapter he thought he'd have finished was still a long way from being done. . . .



He arrived at the library right after work, and went straight for the Renaissance Lit section. Arriving there, he found it barren as it usually was, the books, like forlorn orphans, collecting dust on the shelves.

"Figures," he said. "I guess she was just being nice last night." It had happened to him before, that was for sure. He'd met a few women from Internet dating sites, talked a good game with them through e-mail for a bit, then met face-to-face. In his mind, things generally went well, and the women seemed interested. But afterwards, when he tried to contact them again, they never responded. In this case, with Renee, he couldn't even do that. They hadn't exchanged e-mails or cell numbers. All he could do was wait here for a while, and hope.

He went to the book shelf, pulled out "Othello." He had read the play dozens of times. It was like an old friend to him—a depressing friend, but a true one. "Othello" never jilted him, never made promises he didn't intend to keep, never stood him up. No. The Moor of Venice was always there, always jealous, always ready to blame his wife for an affair she didn't commit. Always ready to kill her.

He allowed himself to get lost in Act 1, Scene 1, hoping that would make the time go faster, but the words, usually so comforting, merely served to mock him. This was pointless. Renee wasn't going to show up. Why not just put the book back and get the heck out of here? Why not—

"Hi."

He turned around, nearly stumbling to the floor as he did so.

"I hope you haven't been waiting too long," Renee said. "I wasn't sure what time to meet you here. We just said 'tomorrow evening,' but not what time."

"Oh, I haven't been here very long," he said. His heart was racing again, in her presence, her nearness. He had remembered every aspect of her face from yesterday. Yet here, now, she seemed even more radiant, more lovely.

She smiled, took off her coat, went to the black table, and draped it over a chair-back. She was wearing a T-shirt again, this time red. God, she looked good.

"So, care to join me?" she said, and sat down.

He sat across from her, "Othello" still in his hand. "Did you read any Shakespeare last night?" he wanted to know.

She blew on her bangs. Obviously that was something she did often. Which was fine with him—it was cute. "I started. But then . . . well, my husband called, and we . . . let's just say the call didn't go so great." She offered a half-smile. "After that, I wasn't in the mood to read."

"Oh," he said. What was he supposed to say? Hey, too bad, but if you're in a fight with hubby, why not spend the night at my place? No. That probably wouldn't go over so well. But also, she deserved better than a line like that. Oh, he wanted her. Like he'd never wanted anyone. But she was special. He knew that about her. He could tell. He wouldn't insult her, wouldn't act like a jerk with her.

"Don't worry about it," she said, clearly sensing the awkwardness of the moment. "It's nothing, really." But he didn't believe that. It had been something, all right. "So . . . I see you picked up your favorite play." She pointed at the book he held.

"Yeah. I can probably recite half the lines in the play," he said. "Guess that makes me a nerd."

She smiled. "No you're not. And anyway, I used to be able to recite a ton of 'King Lear' and 'Merchant of Venice.' But, y'know, a few years have passed since I've read them, so . . ."

He nodded. The conversation didn't have the same energy as it had last night. He started to worry, his brain searching for things to say.

"So . . . do you mind if I ask you something?" she said then, looking at him intently.

"No, go right ahead." What did she want to know? What??

"Well, being such a fan of 'Othello,' doesn't it make you a little nervous, talking like this? To a married woman?"

He didn't know how to respond. Was she toying with him, setting him up to say the wrong thing? He hated when women did that! He always fell for the bait.

But then she laughed, and he joined her.

"Sorry," she said. "Just a bad joke."

Still, what prompted her to ask? Did she look at their conversation as a prelude to something more? He was always so shy with women, had such a hard time saying what he wanted to. This time, it would be different. He didn't want to have regrets with Renee. She was too beautiful, too rare. The impact she had on him was unbelievable, almost scary. Was he falling in love? Could such a thing possibly be, one day after meeting someone?

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