Chapter One

I

December 10th

Nora Evans was nobody special. She didn't have many talents to speak of, she wasn't extremely pretty, nor was she extremely ugly. She wasn't incredibly witty but she wasn't stupid. In fact, the only word Nora felt ever really described her accurately was 'boring'. Simple, maybe. Plain, perhaps. But 'boring' seemed to cover everything well enough. She had never entertained the thought that maybe she wanted more, because she honestly didn't. She lived comfortably in a one-room apartment, with a small, gray tabby cat named Button, whom she had just adopted a month ago. She worked at a library, perhaps cliché for the "boring, plain bookworm" Nora so often saw in romantic comedies (which usually ended up with the boring, plain bookworm being coaxed out of her shell by a new, exciting man who swept her off her feet and brought out the wild, exciting woman that she'd never known she was). However, Nora enjoyed working around books, and the "regulars" who came to borrow them.

The library Nora worked at was relatively small. The ground level was children's books and non-fiction, and up a small flight of stairs was the loft, which was fiction and classic literature. Nora usually worked in the loft area, out of luck, as she was most interested in fiction and classic literature, and the other librarian, Theresa Jacobs, had a love for sea creatures, and often flipped through the marine biology books of the non-fiction section. Nora and Theresa seemed to be complete opposites when it came to their reading interests. While Nora loved to curl up on a squishy sofa with a thick, epic novel – whether it be science-fiction, fantasy, horror, classic, or any other genre she could find, Nora didn't have any real preference – Theresa preferred smaller books that she could read quickly, usually to pass time on her hour-long bus ride home. Theresa was also very particular about her genre of books. She either read books about marine biology, or she read simple horror books that were easy to flip through, generally avoiding the more thought-provoking authors. And yet, despite the fact they were so different in their literary choices, they were incredibly similar in everything else, both having similar tastes in movies, music, food, and practically anything but books.

Despite all this, Nora and Theresa had never really done anything together outside of work. Nora wasn't an especially social person, but she couldn't remember the last time she'd ever gone out with anyone, even just for a coffee and a chat. All her high school friends had scattered. The one she had considered her best friend, Bennie, had gone on a trip to South America one summer and fallen in love. She still wrote, but Nora knew that there was no chance she'd ever see Bennie again unless she somehow got herself over to South America. All throughout college, Nora was anti-social and kept to herself. There was no one there she would even consider to call an acquaintance, let alone a friend. Lately, Theresa was the only person Nora might call a friend, yet the fact that they'd never even talked outside of work made Nora hesitate to use the word 'friend' and so she stuck to co-worker, instead. She had thought that one day she might ask Theresa if they should plan to see a movie together, since they both generally enjoyed the same movies, but being as shy as she was, she doubted she'd ever actually do it.

Today, the library was almost empty. Nora wasn't surprised, honestly. It had snowed heavily last night, and it was a Monday. The kids were all outside making snowmen and snow angels, enjoying their snow day, while the parents looked nervously at the icy roads. No one would really risk driving out there unless they had to, and very rarely was a trip to the library a "must" trip, unless any of the university students had a paper due the next morning, which Nora found unlikely. There was one man sitting in the reading corner of the fiction-section, leaning forward into his book – a thick Stephen King novel Nora was sure she'd read just last month – the light shining off his bald spot. He'd been here nearly an hour now, and Nora, having nothing else to do, had been watching him. He looked in his late forties, maybe early fifties. His hair was black, and slowly graying, looking peppery, but his dark tan – unusually dark, considering the time of the year – and high cheekbones made him look almost handsome. He was restless, and changed positions often in the arm chair he'd chosen to read in. Nora had suppressed giggles and looked away to calm herself at some of the positions, and she was suspicious that the man was aware of her staring and had been trying to amuse her.

Already the man was half-way through the book, and Nora was sure that if he decided to stay another hour, the man would easily be finished with it. Nora decided that watching the man for the next hour, however, was in no way as entertaining as she needed it to be, so she left her post to find herself a book to read. She decided to reread Victor Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris even though she must have read it ten times already. As she opened the dusty book – no one ever borrowed her favorites, for some reason – she smiled at the familiar first words, and found herself quickly involved all over again. By the time she'd reached a point where she needed to stand and stretch, she noticed it had been forty-five minutes. She peeked over at the reading corner to see how the man was doing with the Stephen King novel, but he was gone. The Stephen King novel was set carefully in the middle of the arm chair, closed. Nora picked up the book, put it back in its place, and went back to her own book.

II

December 11th

If there was one thing that bothered Nora more than losing a sock in the wash, it was whiny children in the library. She had taken for granted the silence and emptiness of the library yesterday. She'd let herself think that boredom was worse than a busy day. Today she knew how wrong she was. A mother with a baby and twin girls, who looked about three or four, had decided to grace the library with her and her family's presence. The mother sat, exhausted, in one of the chairs in the children's section with her baby and softly read to it, while her daughters had free reign of the rest of the library. Sure enough, they decided to settle in the fiction section, in the reading corner in front of the fake fireplace. They sat with their dolls, babbling loudly to each other, sometimes screeching, only to be loudly shushed by their mother from downstairs. Their names, Nora had heard the mother yell, were Sherry and Shirley. Which one was which, Nora had no idea, but she didn't think she'd be able to tell them apart even if she did know their names. Admittedly, they were adorable looking girls, with glossy, golden curls and large, blue eyes, but their clothes were slightly dirty – one had a drool stain on the front of her shirt – and they often set their toys on the dirty ground only to shove the toy back in their mouth seconds later.

Nora knew they were only little kids, and things like this didn't phase them one bit, but she couldn't help but feel slightly disgusted when one of the girls dragged her toy along the carpet, stuck it in her sister's mouth, and then in her own. Why do they do that? Nora couldn't help but wonder. What is the point of shoving your own toy in your mouth? Or in your sister's mouth for that matter? Why not play with it? She refused to even think that she might have done the same thing when she was their age. After awhile, Sherry and Shirley grew bored of the reading corner and both stumbled out of it, giggling and squealing as they went. Nora heard them both stampede downstairs and she let out a huge sigh of relief. Even though she knew that she shouldn't, she felt a strange feeling of responsibility when children came upstairs unaccompanied. Technically, children that young weren't supposed to wander around the library unattended, but Nora took pity on the mother, and Theresa, no doubt, felt the same way, and let the girls wander, as long as they didn't touch the books. Nora shuddered, imagining the girls running their drool-covered fingers along the spines of all the books, books that Nora and Theresa would later pick up to read, that people would borrow and take home and lay on their counter, their bed, their table.

Nora sighed again, this time out of boredom, not relief. She could hear the mother downstairs scolding Sherry and Shirley for being so loud, reminding them that this was a library and little girls must always be quiet in libraries. Sherry and Shirley took their mother's advice to heart and for the next half hour, Nora was driven nearly insane by the sound of the girls giggling and shushing each other downstairs. Finally the family left and the library was, once again, silent. Nora looked around the fiction section and found it completely empty, so she wandered downstairs to chat with Theresa. Theresa was leaning back in her chair, reading a book about orcas, and grinned when she saw Nora. Nora took a quick glance around the library and saw that there was no one else in it but herself and Theresa.

"Glad that family's finally gone?" Theresa asked, giggling. She was a rather chubby young woman, and Nora noticed when she giggled, she also jiggled.

"Yes," Nora said, chuckling softly. "Those girls were something else…"

"Shh!" Theresa shushed loudly and giggled again. Nora was used to how giggly Theresa was. She wasn't sure if it was just that she found herself hilarious, or if Theresa just felt giggling was appropriate for any and every subject the two ever talked about, which had included nervous giggles when Nora's uncle died three months ago.

Nora smiled at Theresa and shook her head. She looked around, not sure what to talk about, and eyed Theresa's book. "Is that any good?" she asked, regretting it almost immediately.

"Oh it's amazing!" Theresa gushed enthusiastically, her eyes sparkling with excitement as she launched into a cover-to-cover review. She was finally interrupted when the library doors opened and a young man with short, dark hair and an almost too-big coat came in, his head down. Nora smiled apologetically at Theresa.

"Well, I'd better resume my post," she said, trying to sound as though she didn't want to leave, and gave a quick wave before she went back upstairs. The young man didn't follow, and stayed downstairs, but Nora always thought it best to look professional and stay in "her" section of the library whenever there were visitors. The man shuffled around the library for about fifteen minutes, and Nora watched as he approached Theresa with a small stack of books on marine biology.

"Oh! You like marine biology?" Theresa asked, grinning from ear to ear. The man must have muttered a reply, but Nora didn't hear it. "Me too!" Theresa giggled. "Do you like orcas?"

For the next ten minutes or so, Nora read in the reading corner, listening to Theresa and the young man talk excitedly back and forth about marine biology, until finally he left with Theresa promising to call him as soon as possible. She heard the soft thumping of Theresa bounding up the stairs and lowered her book when Theresa rounded the corner and sat in the couch across from Nora.

"He's so cute!" Theresa exclaimed. "Did you see him? Isn't he so cute?"

Nora grinned back encouragingly. "He's definitely cute." She agreed, even though she had no idea what he looked like. "You got his number?"

"Yup!" Theresa squealed. "His name's Mike. That's a great name, isn't it? Ohh! We're going out Friday night. You have to come over; we'll get me looking all pretty and dolled up for him! Say you will!"

Nora blinked, taken aback by the sudden invitation. "Oh! Uh, yeah, sure." She smiled, trying to cover up her surprise. "Of course I will," she said more firmly, more for herself than for Theresa.

III

That evening, Nora already found herself regretting her agreement to go to Theresa's. She considered canceling, but somehow Button's soft purrs and reassuring warmth on her stomach as she lay in bed reading changed her mind. Why would Theresa have invited her of all people, though? Nora wondered, at first, if the decision had been made too rashly on Theresa's part to invite Nora, but she remembered the look of delight on Theresa's face when Nora had said yes, and she decided that couldn't be it. Could it be, she wondered, that Theresa was really just as lonely as Nora was? It seemed strange to her, imagining that someone else could be in the same, lonely situation she was. Everyone else seemed to have their own group of friends, plans for the weekend, someone else they were on the phone with whenever Nora tried to call. But when she thought about it, she'd never heard Theresa mention any other friends. She never had big plans for the weekend, unless she was going to the movies, but even then, she never mentioned seeing the movie with anyone else. Theresa's date was a wonderful excuse, to Nora, to get to know Theresa better, outside of their work environment.

The regret she'd felt only moments ago had suddenly evolved into a fluttery nervous feeling that Nora hadn't felt since her first date in her sophomore year of high school. She laughed softly to herself and put her book on her nightstand, petting Button's small head gently. "Your mummy's a weird lady, isn't she, Button?" Nora cooed. The tabby cat's ears perked at the sound of her name, and she cocked her head curiously to the side. "Yep, she is," Nora answered for Button, and made a soft kissing sound, then gently pushed Button off of her and rolled over to turn off her light. As she rolled onto her back again, Button burrowed her way under Nora's covers and purred loudly against Nora's waist. "I think…" Nora said sleepily to Button as she stroked the cat's back softly, "I think…that I'm more nervous than Theresa…and I'm not even the one going on a date." Button let out a quiet meow of agreement and Nora fell asleep with a smile on her face.

IV

December 12th

Someone had left a journal in the reading corner. Nora left it on her counter for about three hours before deciding no one was going to come and retrieve it for now. She figured if she heard anyone coming, she'd just put the journal back on the counter. She opened the journal and read, guiltily. It belonged to a teenage girl named Melissa. Judging by the quality of the poetry and drawings – razor blades, distorted eyes with long lashes and heavy eyeliner, girls in corsets with fairy wings – Nora put Melissa at about age fifteen or sixteen. The poetry was unbearably cliché, but Nora bit her tongue and read on, giving Melissa a chance. Finally she put the journal down, deciding she could only stand so much when it came to poetry about black roses, razors, and other such cheap teenage poetry symbolism. Nora couldn't help but laugh. That was one phase she could prove she'd never gone through, and one she was thankful for not having gone through. She left the small, black leather bound journal on her counter and sure enough, a young girl, probably closer to thirteen or fourteen, actually, came by to pick it up a few hours later.

The girl had red eyebrows, yet her hair was black. She was small and skinny, her arms covered in bracelets and wristbands, and she'd smudged kohl under her green eyes. She took the journal off of Nora's desk counter wordlessly and walked away. A moment later, she came back and stared at Nora. Nora stared back and finally the girl spoke up.

"Did you read this?" she asked bluntly.

"No," Nora lied in a genuinely bored tone.

"Liar." The girl turned and walked away again. Nora rolled her eyes after her and smiled to herself. The girl probably thought she was making a statement of sorts. Most likely, she didn't really think that Nora had read her precious journal. Or even if she did, Nora was sure the girl thought Nora had been impressed by her writing and drawings.

For a moment, Nora chewed over her thoughts, and suddenly one came to her mind that made her furrow her brows and frown. When did I become so bitter? For a moment, Nora tried to convince herself she was being silly. She wasn't bitter, that girl had just bugged her, somehow. But as much as she tried to push the thought away, it kept coming back to her. She didn't remember being so negative all the time. When had this sudden change occurred? When had she suddenly become so cold and unhappy? Was it around the time she realized she had no real friends? Did loneliness make everyone so mean? She had been denying the fact she was lonely for years, but Nora had never really thought about it beyond the basic thought of, "Yeah, you're lonely, find some friends and stop being lonely." Perhaps she didn't have friends because she'd been without them so long, that she forgot how to make them, and even how to keep them. The fact was, she was twenty-four and she hadn't had someone she could honestly call a friend for the past six years. Six years. The number had never seemed so big to Nora.

No wonder I'm such a bitch, Nora thought sadly.

The slap of a book on her desk counter tore Nora away from her thoughts. She looked up in surprise and found herself looking at a slightly good-looking man, probably in his late forties or early fifties. His peppery hair was beginning to bald at the top of his head, but somehow it suited him, and gave him a classic, handsome, almost George Clooney look. Nora smiled at the man, her heart still pounding from being startled by the slam of the book. The man smiled back, flashing a set of straight, white teeth.

"Mornin'," he said with a charming, Southern drawl.

"Morning," Nora replied automatically. "Can I help you?"

"Just wanted to check this out," the man said, sliding a thick book toward Nora. Nora picked it up and smiled. It was a Stephen King novel.

"This is a good one," Nora commented as she checked it out.

"I've read it," the man said. "I want to read it again, but I don't have time to sit in here for an hour and a half to get through it all over again."

"You sat here for an hour and a half to read this?" Nora asked, amused.

"Pretty sure you noticed me," the man said, grinning. "On Monday. You kept lookin' at me and laughing."

Nora thought back, and the scene suddenly became familiar to her. "Oh! You're right, I was!" She laughed and nodded. "You're pretty restless," she added playfully.

"Those are some uncomfortable chairs, you got there," the man said, shaking his head. "Anybody sittin' there for more 'n five minutes woulda gotten restless too."

Nora laughed again. "I don't know what you're talking about," she said, smiling warmly. "I love those chairs; picked them out myself, thank you very much."

"All due respect, miss, you got bad taste." The man winked and grinned playfully.

"You watch yourself," Nora said, smirking as she handed him the Stephen King novel. "Enjoy your book, sir."

"I'm sure I will."

The man slinked off, looking over his shoulder and grinning at Nora before he went downstairs and left. Nora smirked to herself for the rest of the day, feeling a strange sort of satisfaction at her encounter with the man. Somehow the fact that Nora was almost positive the man was old enough to be her father and had been obviously flirting with her didn't bother her in the slightest. Theresa hadn't seen him when he left, so Nora decided to let out the small detail that he was quite a bit older than her when she gave Theresa the full story on the charming Southerner. Theresa was thrilled.

"Oh! Can you imagine?" she squealed excitedly. "You and that guy and Mike and me! On a double date, maybe? Ohh! How cool would that be?"

Even though the thought didn't sound entirely appealing to Nora, she grinned and agreed enthusiastically. While they were on the subject of Mike, Theresa gave Nora a full account of her phone conversation with Mike last night, and how they had talked for over two hours without even realizing it. Nora smiled and nodded in all the right places, meanwhile imagining her night last night, snuggled up with Button, fighting with herself over whether or not to cancel her plans with Theresa on Friday.

Nora was suddenly very grateful for Mike's visit to the library on Tuesday. Were it not for him, she wouldn't feel as she did now – like she had a friend. Since his visit, Theresa had suddenly brought the more girlish side out of Nora – girlie giggles and squeals and all. Nora used to hate girls like that, who thought it was appropriate to giggle at everything, but suddenly Nora decided that laughing wasn't such a bad thing. Maybe being the 24/7 Scrooge wasn't what Nora wanted anymore. Being happy had suddenly become something that Nora wanted all the time, not just in small doses. Somehow, Nora felt that the happiness had something to do with her Southerner friend.