A Girl in the LibrarybyMaxSebastian©
I didn't mean to be locked up in the library that night.
It was the night before a major essay was due to be handed in, and the only books available to provide the answers were the kind you couldn't check out of the building.
Fair enough, I shouldn't have left it so late, but I was fairly confident I could dash off the 1,000 words required within a few hours. So when I turned up at seven-ish, fresh from a post-football practice shower, I wasn't even rushed.
And okay, call me a sports jock if you like, I admit I wasn't exactly a familiar face around the library, and not well informed about its opening hours.
The problem was, half my class was in there, sitting round that same wide table in the humanities section, and there were only so many copies of the key texts available. That meant I had to wait.
The minutes and the hours ticked away, and I did everything I could to persuade my classmates to allow me some time with the books I needed -- I'd look over people's shoulders, I'd grab a few moments when they were in the bathroom, I even told one guy his car was about to be towed.
By the time I got hold of the information I needed, I had little more than an hour remaining before the library would close. Now I was rushed.
One thing that gave me a little comfort was that some of my fellow classmates seemed to be in more of a panic than I was -- and a few of them even turned up there later than I did.
By the time the fateful hour approached, when the lights would flash and the announcement came around that it was time to vacate the building, I was writing so fast my fingers were numb -- but I was still nowhere close to being finished.
As most of the others packed up and headed home -- incidentally, leaving all those invaluable books just lying around on our table -- I was left considering my options. Could I smuggle some of these books out with me? They were pretty huge tomes, pretty heavy.
Could I persuade Mr Hill to give me an extension without a valid reason? I doubted it. We didn't call him "Mentally" Hill for nothing -- and I really had absolutely no excuse for being late with my assignment.
However, at that stage, I honestly believed I could finish enough notes to complete my assignment within about 15 to 20 minutes. If I could survive being thrown out of the building for that long, I might just about escape with my academic record intact.
I assumed the library staff would check the building to ensure it was empty, and that if I headed up to the top floor, it would take them the longest time to discover me. So, I headed up there, to a fairly dark floor taken up mostly by Modern Languages, where I wove my way through the aisles to the furthest point I could from the central staircase.
There was a small desk there, poorly lit, where I could crash and wait for the inevitable angry librarian.
I was writing like a man possessed, my fingers scrabbling frantically over the pages to scribble down as many quotes and references as I could muster. I actually felt better and better with every passing minute, thinking that I was getting closer and closer to survival. I even relaxed a little, and forgot about the threat of the library hunter-gatherers.
And then the lights went out.
It was pretty spooky in there with the lights extinguished, it has to be said.
Partly, I'd have to blame Ghostbusters for putting the image of an undead librarian firmly in my head. It was mainly that which made me scrabble to stuff my precious notes into my pack and rush out of there -- I didn't really worry about what the librarians would say. What could they do? Give me detention? Not in college!
There was some illumination in the central stairway -- coming from a set of lights that were clearly meant to guide the way in an emergency -- so I slowed to a leisurely pace on the way down the steps towards the ground level.
The thought that I might arrive at the front desk to find nobody there did not even cross my mind until I arrived.
Turning the lights off must have been the very last thing the library staff did before vacating the building. The doors at the front of the building were very firmly locked. I tried shaking them, in that pointless way that never works with locked doors.
I was trapped.
Even the main controls for the lights were out there in the lobby, sealed off just beyond reach. It was going to have to remain dark in here.
After a moment or two flexing my curse muscles, I pulled out my cell phone. Naturally, it being the modern digital age and all that, there was no reception. Typical.
With a moan and a sigh, I traipsed back up the steps, hoping that there might be some way that cell phone signals might penetrate all these books to reach my little lump of plastic -- maybe I'd have better chances if I climber higher up in the building.
A couple of flights up, and I nearly had a heart attack -- a pale figure was approaching.
I've never really believed in ghosts, but when you're on your own in a big empty building like that, such scepticism can fade.
After an initial shock, however, I saw that it wasn't a phantom. It was one of my classmates -- a very pretty brunette by the name of Kayla.
She was wearing white sneakers, sweatpants and a jacket in the pale blue and white colors of the college gymnastics squad, her long, chocolate brown hair tied back in a ponytail. She was hugging her books in front like some kind of shield, and looking back at me as though I might be some kind of ghost myself.
I didn't really know Kayla at all -- we both recognised each other from various classes, of course, but I can't say we'd ever shared even a word during college. The place was big -- our social circles just never crossed.
"Hey," she said a little breathlessly.
"Hey," I returned. "Looks like we're locked in."
"They just left?" she said, wrinkling her brow with a touch of outrage. "They didn't check anyone was still here?"
"If they did, they didn't do it very well. I'm heading upstairs, there's no signal down there," I waggled my phone by way of explanation.
She nodded, and stepped aside to let me through, before following closely behind as I continued the climb back up towards the top floor.
"Where were you?" I asked as we progressed up the seemingly endless steps. "When the lights went out, I mean."
"I was kind of hiding," she admitted.
"Trying to get the essay done before we got thrown out?"
"You too?" she flashed a heart-stopping smile -- damn, she was really pretty.
I nodded, trying not to seem like I was staring at her. It was difficult not to, though -- she was really beautiful. I was a little surprised I hadn't taken more notice of her in class.
She explained: "I had to come here straight after practice tonight -- our coach kept us late. Only had an hour to work on the essay before the lights went out."
"Trying to squeeze in an extra few minutes, huh?"
"Yeah -- you'd think they would've found me, though, maybe told me to leave before they went all Alcatraz."
I was checking my phone all the way up, but by the time we got to the top floor, I still wasn't having any luck.
"Lets try over by the windows," I suggested, and she was happy enough to come along. By now, she'd dug her own cell out of a pocket, but it appeared she was unable to get a signal either.
The windows ran round three sides of the floor, and at least allowed a little light in from the streetlamps outside. It splashed everything over there in a dull orange tint that made my new companion seem more like a redhead than a brunette.
There was to be no joy with either phone -- and Kayla pointed out a laminated print-out tacked to a column support that stated firmly: "No cell phones".
"Maybe they have some kind of blocking system so people can't use their phones," she suggested. "I heard they use those in movie theaters."
I nodded dejectedly, but then suggested: "There must be a landline or two down at the front desk."
"What about the computers?" she said. "We could email for help."
"You need to get a password before they'll work," I said.
"Oh that's right."
And, as it turned out, it seemed like you needed some kind of password or code to use the phones down at the front desk. It wasn't as simple as dial nine to get an outside line, at any rate.
"Nine-one-one?" Kayla suggested.
"Lets see if there's another way out before we try that one," I said. To be honest, I felt a little too guilty to opt for the emergency number -- we weren't in any immediate danger, after all, and to dial 911 might deprive someone else from a call out that might be a little more urgent.
"I was supposed to meet up with my friends later," she said. "Maybe they'll wonder where I am and send a search party."
For the next twenty minutes or so, we formed a search party and scoured the ground-level, searching from some kind of secret back door or a device to communicate with the outside.
There was nothing except a couple of fire doors -- those kind that have bars on that you can push to open, but then sets off a fire alarm.
"Should we?" Kayla asked.
The issue was the notice plastered all over the door warning of $2,000 fines if the alarm was activated when it wasn't an emergency.
"It is a kind of emergency," I said.
"I'm not sure I really want to risk a $2,000 fine."
We looked at each other a moment. She had really pretty eyes, even in the dull glow of the fire door's emergency light. Just looking at her made me catch my breath a little. I was thinking it would be safer to spend the night in the library, that the threat of a $2,000 fine was too much, even with the possibility of us arguing our way out of it.
And I was also thinking it wouldn't be so bad to spend a few hours with this girl.
"My friends will call for help eventually," Kayla said as our pause got just that little bit too long. "I'm sure of it."
I suggested, "Maybe a security guard or someone will poke their head in the door some time soon."
She smiled again, melting my insides. "Maybe. So, should we go find somewhere comfortable to sit?"
"Sure. I think the best place is probably the English Lit section -- there's beanbags and armchairs and so on."
We went up to the second floor, and sure enough found some relatively comfortable armchairs, where ordinarily the English majors could read their fiction and pretend it was work. There was even a carpeted floor, which made things seem a little warmer, although I was aware that the temperature was already beginning to drop -- the heating was no longer on.
We found an area close to the windows, where at least there was a little light, although the orange glow hardly enough to read anything by.
There was nothing but conversation to help us pass the time, and although it seemed to flow pretty freely between us, I was a little worried we'd run out of things to say at some point, and enter some kind of awkward zone.
"It's kind of funny how we've never spoken before," she was saying. "I mean it's not such a big college or anything."
"Yeah, I've been kind of immersed in the world of football. Those guys kind of keep to a certain crowd -- "
"I hear you guys are pretty good. I don't get to any of the games because we usually have some competition or other -- "
"Well, we're okay. We won't win any championships this year, but we're winning more than we're losing. I seem to spend most of my time on the bench anyway. How've your competitions been going?"
"Oh, not bad. I have a desk drawer full of various medals -- I don't think any of us will make the nationals, but there's a chance at the state finals for a few of us."
She sat quite close -- there might have been some light from the windows, but the rest of the library was fairly intimidating, and it seemed safer to be closer together. I think, if I leaned over, I could have touched her at that point.
At any rate, we were close enough for me to detect the faint air of her sweet perfume, and that seemed to lull me into a dreamy state as we talked.
We discussed our sports, a little about class and our classmates. We basically had no friends -- even distant friends -- in common.
And the theme we came back to was our complete shortage of time for things like dating. Both of us had strenuous training schedules for our sports, and there was little time to get out and meet new people.
Then at one point, she said: "I'm glad I was locked in with you."
Something ignited inside me at that, but she corrected herself quickly: "I mean, I don't think I could have dealt with being on my own in here."
I smiled, but underneath the surface, I think I preferred to ignore her correction. Still, brushing over her mistake -- if that's what it was -- I said: "I think anyone would be pretty intimidated by this place in the dark if they were on their own."
"I think if I'd been on my own, I would have been straight out those fire doors -- to hell with the consequences," she said.
"Maybe we should," I suggested. "I mean, we've got to be able to say this is an emergency, right?"
"I don't know. Maybe. But if they do hit us with a fine like that, that would probably be it for me -- I'd have to move home, go to night school or something."
"That would be a shame," I said, then it was my turn to correct myself: "I mean, you'd have to quit the gymnastics squad and so on."
She smiled, and then tilted her head a little, like she was suddenly thinking about me in a new way.
There was a brief pause, perhaps a little too long, for while I was thinking about breaking the silence, she said: "It's simpler this way. Why risk it?"
"It won't be so bad waiting, I'm sure," I said, trying to be reassuring.
"It would be like going on a date," she said brightly, but then again seemed to feel she'd gone too far, amending herself: "I mean, you know, except it isn't."
I think if there'd been enough light, I'd probably have seen her blush right then.
"We can tell people we were on a date," I suggested, trying to defuse the tension that seemed to have crept in a little. "Less embarrassing than 'I got stuck in the library'."
"Yeah, a lot less embarrassing," she laughed. "So what happens at the end of the night? I mean, if we don't get rescued. I don't usually sleep with guys on the first date."
"We'll just have to try and stay awake," I said. "It's getting a little cold -- do you want my jacket?"
She smiled, "I have a jacket. And that would leave you cold, so what good would that be?"
She had a point, but I did see her shiver a little. Maybe she'd get cold enough to move towards the decision to make a run for it through the fire door downstairs. Or, as I was beginning to hope, maybe she'd prefer to stay, and to snuggle up for warmth.
Hey, though. Maybe one of her friends would raise the alarm before then.
"Why don't we go for another wander around?" she asked. "That'll keep us warm."
So we did another tour of the library, a little less rushed than before, when we were looking for a quick exit.
As we wandered, from aisle to aisle, section to section and floor to floor, I found out more about Kayla's relatively sheltered upbringing in rural Pennsylvania, while I told her a little about my early days in Boston.
We were heading back down towards the English Lit section, since there was really nowhere else as comfortable to settle down for long periods at a time, when we stumbled upon a janitor's closet in the central stairwell.
We had been checking out every door we came across by this point, every nook and cranny, so I'm sure we would have found this closet eventually. It wasn't particularly exciting, you might say, except that there was a flashlight in there.
That got both of us quite excited.
"We'll be able to signal people on the outside!" I said.
"Oh, yeah, that's a great idea!" she said, as though she hadn't been thinking about the obvious use for the flashlight, as I had.
"What were you thinking we'd do with it?" I asked.
"I... uh... just thought it would be nice to have some light," she said, and as I turned the flashlight on to bathe her pretty face in light, her expression told me she agreed her idea was a little on the lame side.
"Maybe if I'm going to tell my friends I was on a date," she said instead, "I might need to tell them what you look like?"
She playfully grabbed the flashlight off me, and put the light right back into my face, dazzling me.
"Come on," she said, "lets go try out your signalling plan."
We went back to the windows in the English Lit section, figuring it was close enough to the ground to catch people's attentions, but we were a little tired of walking around by then, so crashing there seemed like a good long-term strategy.
The windows ran all the way along the wall, but had a nice wide sill that could be -- and usually was -- used by students to sit on. It even had cushions lining it. So, naturally enough, we found ourselves sitting there, Kayla leaning back against a column with her legs outstretched, and me kneeling by her feet, facing the glass itself, flickering the flashlight at the outside world.
I was pleased that the flashlight made a clear circle of light on the pavement below the building -- if anyone walked by, they would have to see it.
The trouble was, nobody walked by.
"How long do you think the battery will last?" she asked after a while, disappointment in her voice.
"It's pretty bright," I replied. "Should last a fair while."
"Can you see anybody?"
"It's not your fault nobody's around."
"I'm sorry our date sucks."
She giggled. "It's not the worst date I've ever been on," she said. "Not by a long shot."
"I guess it could be a lot worse than this," I conceded.
"A lot of my friends would be jealous, if they knew I was on a date with a hot football player," she said, seeming less afraid to make such a forward remark now.
"When I take someone out on a real date, I'd at least make sure there was some drink available -- maybe even something to eat."
"There's a vending machine over there?"
"You want something?"
"No," she said, and in the streetlight I could see that broad smile of hers again, so beautiful it made my heart sing. "Maybe you'll just have to take me out on a proper date some time," she added.
"I'd love to," I said, feeling like the last remaining ice between us was now well and truly thawing. "Would we call that the first date or the second?"
"I don't know."
"'Cause I've heard you don't sleep with a guy on the first date."
She threw a book at me after that comment, and we both laughed at that, and I thought I caught her looking at me with something of a twinkle in her eye.
There was really nobody around -- the libarary wasn't on the way to anywhere, but that night it seemed like people were making a particular effort to stay away. Didn't campus security do any patrols?
After a while, there seemed no point in carrying on with the spotlight efforts and I switched the flashlight off.
I suggested getting some drinks, but as we got to the vending machine over by the entrance to the stairwell, I didn't have much change on me and the machine didn't seem to be accepting bills.
"Here," Kayla said, retrieving some coins from a pocket.
Our hands touched as she handed them to me, and it was hard not to notice how cold she felt.
"You're really cold," I said, concerned.
"I'm okay," she said, but I thought I even noticed her shivering a little.
I put out my hands in request for hers, which she offered somewhat meekly, her little fib revealed. Her skin was like ice, so cold she could have been one of those vampires from Forks, Washington -- well, her complexion was fairly pale aside from her lustrous brown hair. As I held them in mine, however, her hands did warm up a little.