To fully appreciate this story, please read from part 1. As always, your comments are very welcome, and I hope you all enjoy! -SS
Kairi turned up the volume on the CD player next to her bed as she ruffled her hair within a towel, drying the proof of her recent shower. Even at seven in the morning, the August air was warm as it swept through her open window, throwing papers around on her desk. She rocked steadily to the familiar music, having had no other disc in the player for three months, and scanned her shallow closet for something to wear on the first day back to classes. There wasn't much to choose from, but she rarely complained.
The chorus of the song started, and she sang along, pushing her legs into simple bootcut jeans and pulling a blue, loose tank top over her head. Even in the simplicity, the clothing was nicer than she would normally wear. Raising the volume even more, Kairi slipped into the hallway-sized kitchen and dropped a slice of bread into her toaster, still singing along with the music. It took only half an hour, and a quick comb through her hair, before she was ready to go.
For her fourth first day after summer vacation, nothing was out of the ordinary. While Kairi was friendly and always helpful, she did not have a large expanse of friends, and always seemed to be days behind on gossip. So as she walked into the library, her second job during the school year, after spending half a day around people gossiping about the newest students, she was oblivious.
“Hey, Kairi. How's the first day going?” A librarian greeted her as she walked in. “ Wait, don't tell me you're working today?”
Kairi returned a smile and shook her head. “Not as far as I know, just dropping in to say hi and grab a book from upstairs. I'll probably see you tomorrow, though.” With another smile, she turned and worked her way over to the stairs, opening the glass doors and traveling up the five flights to the top floor and slipping behind the empty employee desk.
“Hank, this isn't funny!” Jasen flipped behind a door with his friend. “Why are there girls everywhere we go?”
Hank shook with laughter, throwing his head back. “Most of them are cute, what's the big deal?”
“Alright, man. If it's no big deal, you fend them off, and I will go into the library and grab my book. Unlike some people, I'm at school to study, not be stalked by crazy girls.” Giving Hank a push, he turned to the door of the library and walked inside. “Excuse me,” he approached the woman sitting behind the information desk, “could you tell me where I can find this call number?”
The same woman who had greeted Kairi just minutes earlier, gave Jasen a smile. “If you go through those glass doors there, you can take the elevator or the stairs up to the top floor. There should be someone at the desk up there who can point you in the right direction.” He nodded and followed the path she pointed.
“Jasen!” Before even looking, he understood by the tone of the girly shriek that this was not something he wanted to deal with. A quick glance over his shoulder confirmed this. “Hey, Jasen! Hi, I'm Kaela. I wanted to welcome you to campus.” Although the girl was cute, with light brown hair and a pleasant smile, he didn't find himself interested. “Maybe I could treat you to lunch, or a drink tonight... or maybe you could treat me?” Her suggestive tone spoke volumes for her intentions.
Already moving away, he shook his head. “Sorry, I can't.” He moved swiftly up the last three steps and threw open the glass door at the top.
“Jasen, wait.” He wished he could just hide from all of the girls who had called his name during the day. Flipping around the desk just inside the doorway, he considered going into the staff room to avoid this new one.
Just as he slipped to the other side, Kairi stepped out from the staff room and nearly walked in to the body shifting toward her. Looking up, she caught his eye and her mouth dropped. “Oh.”
“Jasen!” The brunette caught up to him and placed a hand on his arm, trying to turn him to face her. “Come on, I won't take no for an answer.” She peered around him, saw Kairi standing just inches away and made a face. “Who's that?”
“Kairi?” She could think of nothing to say, but couldn't help the tiny quiver of her lip as she fought the conflicted feelings raging through her. “This is...” at the same time, Jasen fought a similar confusion, but was completely aware of the unwanted hand that rested on him. “...my girlfriend.” The words were hardly convincing, but as he spoke them again, they were more solid. “This is my girlfriend, Kairi.” Slipping his arm around her, he glanced downward, hoping she didn't give away his lie, and hoping even more than she would not be upset by it.
The brunette certainly was. “Girlfriend?”
“I was wondering where you got off to! Breaking more hearts, are you sweetie?” Though Kairi didn't understand what was going on, she recognized that he needed help. Her smile was more than convincing, and if he had not been so lost in it the first time they'd met, he would have taken it as real. “Hi,” she held her hand out, “I'm Kairi.”
“Yeah. Maybe we'll talk some other time, Jasen.” With a dissatisfied, forced smile, the girl turned on her heel and marched away.
Giving a heavy sigh, he pulled his arm back and looked down at the girl who had invaded his thoughts for the past three months. “Th-thank you.” Hesitantly, he took a step back. “Wow... I uh... how are you?” The thought of running into her occurred to him when he got the long awaited acceptance letter into the school, but he wasn't ready for it yet.
Kairi hadn't expected to run into him at all. Her mind flashed to the CD she had listened to just a few hours before, despite how hard she tried to push the thought away. “I'm... good. Great. How have you been?” His perfect eyes drilled into her.
“Good... good.” Unlike the hundreds of times he had imagined this moment, he could think of nothing to say. A million questions had come to him through the months, but all of them fell flat when he looked into her eyes. His heart raced as silence enveloped them. His mouth fell open as he tried to speak and found himself unable to form a complete thought. “You... It's really good to s...”
“I better go. I have to work tonight, so...” She turned and started to go back into the staff room, but turned back around, wanting to say something more. “The library is open until 2 a.m.. If you want to avoid a repeat, you might want to become a bit more naucternal until the crazy girls on this campus get used to you."
Unable to believe she was already walking away, he tried desperately to think of something to hold her there, “are you here at two?” Or at least ensure he could see her again.
With a small, nervous bite to the inside of her bottom lip, she shook her head. "No. Most students workers are done by midnight. After that the only ones left in here are security and the circulation supervisors, who are all a bunch of middle aged men. I doubt they'd put quite as much effort into trying to get you to go out with them as other people seem to." Giving an awkward smile, she turned again and started away.
"Kairi,” hesitantly, she stopped and looked back at him one last time. “Thank you for playing along just now, and... do you think maybe we could go out sometime and... catch up, hang out?”
Images of the night she spent with him flashed through her head, but she shook them away as best she could. She did not want him to think he would be able to get the same thing out of her again. “Sorry, I can't.”
They were the same words he had spoken to the brunette while trying to blow her off, striking him as painful. He refused to push, though, already accepting that this wouldn't be the last time he tried. “Okay. Well... it's really good to see you again. I mean that." No words came to her, nothing good enough, so she settled for nodding before walking away.
“Oh my God, Kairi! Have you heard?”
“Heard what, Jules?” Hours later, Kairi stood behind the counter at work, wrapping silverware in napkins while the other waitress, who had ditched out on giving her a ride at least twenty times during the summer months, jumped around next to her, not quite working. During those hours, Kairi found herself unable to press play on her CD player, not sure how she would feel hearing the song again after seeing Jasen's face.
She had thought about him, a lot, every time she played the song he'd played for her, and just about every other waking second. The thoughts were always conflicted, having felt more passion that night than she ever would have imagined possible with another person, yet knowing that that person left first thing in the morning. “...listening, are you?”
Julie was shaking her head in annoyance, as if it were impossible for her to believe anyone would tune her out. “I knew it. You didn't listen to a thing I just said. Way to go all glassy eyed on me, there.”
“I'm sorry, Julie.” Beginning to load the wrapped utensils into a bin, she gave a weary smile. “What were you saying? I'm listening this time, honest.”
“Those guys who played here at the beginning of the summer, you know there was the one with that cute crooked smile and his friend with that body to die for? They totally both go to school here now! Everyone's talking about it. I haven't seen them yet, but I will!” Kairi gave a light chuckle, but showed no further interest, seeming to annoy Julie even more. “Of course you don't care. You probably didn't even notice how hot those boy were.”
Before Kairi could respond, Mark swung out of his office. “What are you going on about this time, Julie? It better be important if you're leaving Kairi to do all the work while you just stand there jabbering.”
The subtlety was a bit too much for the over zealous girl to comprehend, leaving Kairi and Mark to exchange a look as she babbled on. “You must remember them, Mark! Those YouTube guys or whatever that you had here in like May? They totally go to school here now.”
“You mean the boys Kairi went home with?” Her eyes instantly widened, not having realized anyone knew about that.
Heat had just begun to rise to her cheeks as Julie rounded on her, “You what?!”
“Well, not both of them. The more boyish looking one, right? He talked to you after the show and then followed you out back. His car was parked outside my office window, so I saw you get in with him.” His words were nonchalant, as if he gave no significance to them.
Accusation was deep in Julie's eyes. “Come on, it's not what you're thinking. Mark couldn't give me a ride, so one of the guys offered. He just took me home, that's all.”
“So you weren't interested in him at all?”
“Would you stop being ridiculous?” Kairi was all but throwing the silverware into the bin now.
Mark chuckled heartily at them. “Something must have gone right, Kairi, if he came looking for you the next day.”
More than shock found its way into Kairi's eyes as she stared at her boss, almost unable, or unwilling, to believe what he had just said. Jasen had left her lying in his bed alone after that night. That, in no way, added up to what he had just said. “He did what?”
“Remember, you were supposed to work the next night, but you called in? Normally, I wouldn't remember things like that, but that's the one and only time you've ever said you couldn't work. That boy came by to talk to you, though. Left his number with Zeke. Surely Zeke told you; he said he would pass along the message.” Anger welled inside of her that would have made sense to no one else, all but shaking her to the core.
More images attempted to flood her senses, but she denied them with a forced breath. Dropping everything she had left in her hands into the bin, she picked up the entire container and walked away. After fifteen minutes of walking in circles and getting nothing accomplished, but making plenty of noise doing it, Kairi gave up on being productive and walked over to the office of Mark's nephew, throwing the door open without knocking. “Kairi, I was wondering when you would finally come in here.”
Even more anger worked through her, making it difficult to even look at him. “You're a pig.”
This seemed to amuse him as he stood and worked his way over toward her, making her lose some of the conviction she had entered with. “I thought you liked me that way.”
She shrank back against the doorway, but lifted her head up to face him. “Fuck you, Zeke.”
“Funny you should say that since you already...”
“Go. To. Hell. And while you're at it, give me the message you should have given me three months ago.” She had to cross her arms solidly across her chest to steady her shaking, a mix of fear and rising rage.
“What do you care? You wouldn't know what to do with a boy's number anyway. Wouldn't want the poor guy to be as disappointed with you as I was.” He was sickening close, and she resisted the urge to shove him away.
Despite the pounding pain and warning sirens going off in her head, she kept her voice low. “You're sick.”
Zeke twisted his fingers through her hair. If done by anyone else, it may have been caressing, but from him was wrong in every way. “If I remember correctly, that didn't stop you from screaming my name did it?”
“With the words 'get off of me' following shortly after.” She shook her head to wane off the incoming thoughts. “Doesn't matter. I got the answer I was looking for.” Regardless of how extremely he had risen the anger inside of her, regardless of how badly she wished to scream vile, hateful things at him until her throat was raw, she felt something else within her as well. Her heart felt light with a tingling that threatened to overcome her. The greatest, most confused feeling she had experienced in a long time.
Over a week had gone by since the first day of classes, and while Jasen had experienced many similar incidents of female admirers, none of them took place within the library again. He went as far as to avoid the building completely just to prevent it. The thought presented itself, quite often, of going to see her at work but, he was concerned at the possibility of annoying Kairi, and even more so at putting her off by acting stalker-ish. After dealing with the number of determined girls as he had, he knew what it was like.
The other thing that came to mind was that she had been right. Getting errands done at night proved to be much simpler, and on this night, it was almost one in the morning when he decided to try the library again to retrieve his book.
Very few people were scattered throughout the five floors of the building, but he saw them only through windows and no one looked up at him. Still, he kept the hood of his sweatshirt up, hoping he didn't look like he was causing trouble.
Once he was done, he went down to the main floor toward the circulation desk. As Kairi had said, there seemed to only be middle aged male workers around. The man scanned his ID and the book, stamping a date inside the front cover. Just as Jasen was about to turn and leave, he noticed someone else sitting a few yards away on the curved circulation desk. "Hey."
She looked up from the textbook positioned under her elbows, one covered with complicated looking mathematical equations. Next to her was a copy of The Interview with the Vampire: It was paperback and well worn, showing it was often used. It was also Jasen's favorite book. Something about this fact made his heart jump. "Oh hi, Jasen." Hearing his name come from her lips made it jump even more. Much to his relief, the tone in her voice was pleasant, showing she was not overtly annoyed by his presence.
"I thought students didn't work past midnight. That's what you said, wasn't it?" As the words came out, he desperately hoped that it didn't sound as though he were trying too hard to prove he had been listening.
To his relief, she smiled. "Yeah, that's right. I'm not actually working right now. I covered someone else's shift, so I worked until midnight. Usually, I would just walk home, but I didn't want to do that by myself this late since I live so far off campus. Doug lives in the same area, though, and he said he'd give me a ride when he gets off, which isn't until 2, so I've just been hanging out, doing homework and reading and such." She nodded to the book next to her and tapped the math text with her pencil, further expressing her statement.
Jasen glanced up at the clock on the opposite wall. "So you'll just sit here for another hour?" She nodded, and through her ever-persistent smile he could see the droop in her eyes. She was tired, very tired. "I could give you a ride home if you wanted. I mean, I'd have to go get my car from my apartment, but it's only a few blocks away." Once again, the desire to help her overcame him, but there was more to it with this encounter. He craved the conversation they'd shared, the kind he hadn't found so purely with anyone else.
"Oh no. Thank you, but it's alright. I don't mind waiting for Doug to get off. Don't inconvenience yourself." The words rang quite similar to the last time he had offered.
His response came in a similar fashion as well. "It's no inconvenience. Besides, I definitely owe you for helping me out with that girl the other day."
"I appreciate the offer; it's really nice of you. Another hour won't kill me, though." From the bags under her eyes, it looked like it just might.
"You look exhausted." Many other girls would have been very insulted by such a comment, but, of course, she wasn't. Instead she gave a weary smile, accepting of the truth.
"She is exhausted." The man, Doug, who had checked out his books entered into their conversation. "K, you get enough of staying up until 2 a.m. on the nights you're waiting tables. Let the boy give you a ride."
Kairi was torn. As much as she had thought about Jasen since they had met, and as much as that had been amplified after running into him again, she wasn't looking for a repeat. To have that happen would mean ruining what small amount of reason she could give to that night. It would mean he had truly only been looking to get laid, and offered a ride because he thought she would give it again. Her heart beat rose to her ear drums as she stared at him, only patience on his face while he waited for her answer.
“Kairi,” leaning down, he seemed to try to exclude Doug from their conversation. “I promise you, I will just take you straight home. Hands left of center counsel the entire time. You can open your own door, and I won't even get out of the car. I pull away the second I see you get inside. I promise.”
How many girls had tried chasing after him during the week? It was a thought she pushed away every time it rose up, the same that she had done with the thought of why he had turned down all of the girls who had been pining for his attention, in order to follow her outside. She could never bring herself to understand why he chose to spend time with her. Then again, the situation she found herself in could have been just what he said; he owed her for playing along to help get rid of that girl. For an instant, her thoughts slipped to Jasen handing his phone number to Zeke, handing it to him so he would give it to her. "Okay," she finally said, giving into the slow haze beginning to fill her groggy mind, not to mention the curiosity which had long since invaded it. "I would very much appreciate a ride."
Jasen smiled, wide enough to give Kairi a glimpse of that crooked grin. "Give me ten minutes to get back to my apartment and get my car. Should I come back in here or..."
"The back parking lot, that way you don't have to come up the stairs again."
Unexplained concern rose to his chest. "You sure you want to walk all the way around there by yourself this late?"
"Hoodlums don't hang around the library at night. I'll be fine.”
Doug re-inserted herself into their conversation. “She'll take the back stairs out to there anyway.”
Putting down her pencil she shook her head at the suggestion. “Students aren't allowed to go out through the back door.”
"You're right, they're not," The older man shifted his attention to Jasen, explaining to him. "But everyone loves Kairi and there isn't a dishonest bone in her body, so she gets some extra privileges... not that she ever takes advantage of them."
Kairi gave him a look that was amused and light. Even the slight smile that was on her face caused an onset flutters in Jasen's stomach. "I'll see you in a few, then." He said, wanting to get away before he said something stupid.
True to his word, he was outside and waiting in exactly ten minutes. “I really appreciate this.” She gave him her warm, waitress smile – as he had come to think of it – as she settled herself into his front seat. Both to her embarrassment and amusement, she noticed the plastic piece from the heater vent was still missing. The Bruce Banner conversation danced through her mind.
“Don't even mention it. You looked too tired for words. And, if I can be honest, you also looked like that nerdy girl who only studies, works and sleeps.”
“Strike that last part, and you about have me down.” Grogginess muted the inhibitions which had controlled her mind just minutes before when she had told herself to talk as little as possible during the ride.
This was the girl who had admitted to not owning a TV, a girl who worked two jobs and could not afford even a pathetic excuse for a television. “All work and no play...”
Her laughter cut off his sentiment, causing his eyes to leave the road for the smallest second as he attempted to engraine each tiny detail about her laugh into his memory, wishing he had paid more attention to it before. “This Jack is already dull, so no harm there. Promise.”
“Reading Marvel comics and protecting prosperity from the impending zombie apocalypse is hardly dull.”
Even before the words began to spill from her lips, she wondered how they came so easily. Nothing seemed as though it should be easy when she was nervous beyond belief and afraid of what this boy's intentions were, but he made them simple. She trusted him. “No one actually knows those things about me. You're only as credible as your audience perceives you to be, so I guess I'm dull. But I'm content with that. I like to learn, and I'm a good worker.”
“I make up some of that audience, and I don't find you dull.” In the name of better judgment, he avoided the desire to ask why he had been allowed to know such things when 'no one' was to know them.
Through the waitress smile, the glint of something more genuine crossed into her features. “Well, thanks.” Her heart was beginning to feel light again. A block passed by in silence while both attempted to make sense of their thoughts, sense enough to not say something stupid. Kairi was the first to try. “So, you go to school here now?”
He nodded. “Yeah, Hank and I both took some time off of school, like a moratorium I guess. When we decided we wanted to go back, this was the one we wanted. He applied early and has known since January that he got in. I thought I'd applied early, but it turned out that I didn't actually submit my application correctly.” To his delight, she gave a light chuckle, one that showed amusement but not ridicule. “It was Hank's fault really.” His playful tone made her laugh even more, giving a jolt to his gut.
“But you got in, that's the important thing right?” There was very little he could do to keep his thoughts from traveling down the path that said she was happy he got in; she was happy to see him again.
“Yeah, second best thing that's happened to me all year.”As soon as the words slipped out, he wished he could pull them back. A quick glance at her expression told him nothing as to how she took the statement.
The ride was only a few minutes, taking less than a quarter of the time it would have for her to walk. As he pulled up in front of the building, he saw what he hadn't paid attention to the previous time. It looked dirty and run down, as if it came straight out of a movie about the inner city. He hated the thought of dropping her off there, but figured she was there alone every night. "Thanks for the ride." Her fingers were already slipping around the door handle.
"Anytime. Actually, here," Grabbing a napkin that was stuffed in the cup holder and pulling a pen from his pocket, he scribbled his number down. "If you ever need a ride or you know, anything, I'd be more than happy to pick you up."
She took the napkin from him, already knowing she would never call him for a ride. Asking for favors or causing people to go out of their way was something she avoided doing at all costs. As she smiled and pulled open the door, he realized that this was exactly how she'd think. "Hey, do you think..." The words needed to come out just right. "Could I take you to dinner tomorrow night?"
All at once, she was nervous, wanting to get away but never wanting to leave. "Uh... sorry. I can't.” The speed with which his face fell left her apologetic. “I have to work tomorrow night," she amended.
"At the library?"
"No. I'll be at the bar, closing shift, so I'm there from 5 until like 2. Sorry." Standing, she began to close the car door behind her. Just as she was about to give it a final push, she replayed his words in her head. 'Could I take you to dinner'. Not 'would you like to go to dinner with me' but 'could I take you to dinner', as if she would be doing something nice by accepting rather than it being an honor for her that he asked. Is that how he meant it, or was her brain over thinking it.
The second she decided she was over thinking it, the realization hit her that she had not given him directions this time. He remembered where she lived. She leaned back down into the car. "Are you usually still up this late?"
"Most nights, yeah, why?"
"Well, the bar actually closes around 1, but I usually have to stick around until 2 or so for the manager to finish closing up so that he can give me a ride."
It took everything he had to contain the excitement coursing through him. "I could go pick you up and give you a ride back here, if you wanted." The excitement was infinitely harder to hide when she smiled. It wasn't her waitress smile, but the same one she had given the first time he caught her eyes from the stage, light and gentle. Pure.
“I would really like that. Thank you.” Something held her where she was, leaning down through his window, nibbling on the inner part of her lower lip. She looked down at the napkin in her hand. With a deep breath, she looked back to him. “Just...just so you know, I uh...” She held up his number shyly. “This is the first time I've gotten this. Some of the people I work with apparently aren't too good at passing along messages. Thanks again.” With a final smile, she stood and walked away. As much as he had thought he had been honest when saying he would pull away the second she got inside, he couldn't help but stare after her toward the empty doorway. She hadn't called because she hadn't gotten his number. She had agreed to seeing him again. She smiled and laughed. It was almost a full minute, the longest of his life, before he shifted the car back into drive and pulled away.