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Once Upon A Library
Once upon a time there was a girl who didn’t know how to start a story without the phrase, “Once upon a time.” But, without any further rambling...
This story takes place in a library. No one really knows where it was or when it took place, only that Mabel Bennet was in a library browsing through the shelves and shelves of books trying to find just the right one. In Mabel’s case, this was rather hard. She had, after all, read almost every book there. One might think she had no life or friends. Well, One was right. Mabel knew she was odd and had long since stopped trying to become anything close to normal. . .
Enter William Carlson. Will was new in town and new to the library. All he saw when he noticed Mabel flipping through pages and humming to herself was a pretty girl he might like to get to know.
Mabel had noticed Will the moment he walked into the library. It would have been hard not to notice his brown eyes and dark curly hair or his broad shoulders and lean torso. Mabel did not like to do hard things. . . And he was walking towards her right now! Mabel grabbed the closest book and pretended to bury herself in it.
“Hey.” Said a deep, confidant voice.
It was him. Just ignore him and maybe he will go away.
“Ahem. Hi, My name is William Carlson”
He introduced himself. Crap. Now I have to say something. “M-Mabel. Mabel B-Bennet.”
“Hello Mabel Bennet.”
Glance up. Glance back down.
Will leaned against the bookshelf and smiled. “So, come here often?”
“Almost everyday.” Why did I say that? Now he is going to think I am a nerd who spends all her time in the library. Wait, what am I thinking? Why do I care?
“Oh! Well, then you must know where all the good books are.”
“Of course.” Know one knew the library like Mabel did. She could find any book faster than even the librarian. Not that anyone asked Mabel to find them a book.
“Then maybe you could help me. I am trying to find the perfect story. So far, I haven’t had any luck.”
“I have lots of stories in my head. Some of them are silly, some scary.” Mabel whispered. If he didn’t think I was weird before, he certainly does now. I have lots of stories in my head?! Stupid! Just once! Couldn’t I say something normal just once? Mabel waited for the “Look” to appear on his face. He would make an excuse, leave, and avoid Mabel for the rest of his life in this tiny town. Well good. She didn’t care.
But Will didn’t look at her strangely, nor did he stammer out any excuses and leave. He simply quirked an eyebrow and chuckled . “Why don’t you tell me a story then?”
Mabel looked at him skeptically. “Y-you want me to tell you one of my stories?”
Will shrugged. “Why not? We could sit on the library couch and you could tell me a story. I have enough time.”
Mabel followed him to the couch slowly, like she still wasn’t sure he believed him. Everyone avoided Mabel like the plague and suddenly a not unattractive man wants her to tell him a story?
“What kind of story?” She asked as she sat down, bringing her knees to chin.
Will thought for a moment. “Tell me a story that starts with a rose and ends with a kiss.”
How sweet. . . And corny. Mabel laughed. “You mean like Beauty and the Beast?”
Will shrugged. “Sure.”
“I don’t think so. Though I will tell you a story that starts with a rose and ends with a kiss. It’s a sad story, but a good one. It is made of friendship, charity, and true love. I think you will like it.”
“Alright. Tell me.” He said, getting comfortable on his end of the couch.
Mabel took a deep breath. Her gray-blue eyes brightened and her face became animated as she began her story... “Once upon a time there was a girl who didn’t know how to start a story without the cliche, “Once upon a time”. This girl, with whom you only just met, was asked by a very nice boy to tell him a story. So without any further rambling… This story takes place in an old, crumbly apartment building. No one really knows where this apartment building was or when it took place. Only that this particular apartment was on the 2nd floor and the neighborhood was loud and busy...
I fingered the dried up rose as I sat in my usual place by the window, waiting for the sun to come up. The rose had come from my Mother’s wedding bouquet. I held it every morning as I watched the sunrise, wondering what she might have been like. Beautiful for sure, kind, and happy. Was her laugh like tinkling bells or a braying donkey? No matter how I picture her I know that I would have loved her. I would never have let her go.
People walk up and down my street all day long. It is interesting to watch them from my window. it’s a busy city street with many cart vendors, little shops and people. I have memorized the faces of the regulars and the times they walk this street, so when I see someone I haven't before I focus my attention on them.
This is what I do all day. This is my life and it is very lonely. Both of my parents died before leaving me any siblings to play with and I certainly couldn’t leave the apartment to play with someone else. I watch a group of children playing soccer near the street with envy. What I would give to go down and play with them… Not that it mattered. The doctors said I didn’t have much longer anyway.
Hours passed as I watch kids buy ice cream, sweethearts holding hands, and family’s walking together. It was just a few minutes past noon when I noticed a tall man with a mop of blond hair wearing a brown jacket. He seemed to be in his late 20’s or so and he didn’t look to be in a hurry like all the others. He walked slowly, taking in the scenery as though he were seeing it for the last time. I watched him with interest. Everyone on the street was always in a hurry, going from one place to the next.
As he passed under my window he looked up...Straight at me. My first thought was to close the curtains and cover my face. But his gaze held mine and I dared not look away.
Though I knew it only lasted a second, it felt like an eternity before his eyes tore away from mine. I let out the breath I hadn't known I was holding in.
For that one moment, when this stranger looked at me, I felt as though I was more than just existing. For one moment, someone noticed me.
The next day I sat at the window again as usual, but this time I felt anticipation and hope. I hoped the man walked down the street again, and I even dared to hope that he would look up at me again.
Finally, just a few minutes past noon, I saw the man in the same brown jacket making his slow progress down the street. My breathing became shallower and my heart began to race. (When the bulk of your life is spent staring at people out of your window, anything different is exciting).
The man looked! He looked at my window and saw me! I couldn't stop myself from smiling at him. He mimed taking off a hat and bowed. After his bow he turned and continued down the street. I was excited! I couldn’t wait for noon tomorrow to see if he would do it again. Someone had noticed me. I wasn’t completely nothing now.
The next day, just after noon, the same man walked down the street, stopped at my window, and bowed. I awarded him with my biggest smile and he went on his way.
And the next day, and the next, every day I saw the man walk down the street and everyday he would take off his invisible top hat and bow, the highlight of my day.
After two weeks of this routine I eagerly looked out my window and once again, I saw him coming just after noon. But he didn’t stop under my window and bow. My breath caught in my throat as I saw him walk to the door of the apartment building and walk in.
Not a minute later Grandma walked into my bedroom with the man just behind her.
"Anna dear? This gentlemen says he needs to see you."
"Hello." And just as always he mimed taking off a hat and bowed. "It’s Anna right?" He asked holding out his hand.
Slowly I raise my hand to his and he gently shakes it.
"My name is Mr. Collins, but you can call me Dan."
"Hi, Dan." I croak.
"Well, Anna, I uh, always see you looking out this window, watching, and today I just wondered if perhaps you would like to walk with me and watch from a new perspective."
Panic rises and I looked to Grandma to save me.
She noticed and said, "Oh, Mr. Collins, She cannot. Her legs are paralyzed and we haven't the money for a wheelchair."
Dan doesn't skip a beat. "Well that's alright, I can carry you."
Surprised Grandma says, “Carry a 10 year old girl down the street?”
“Why not? It’s something different for you and some company for me.”
Grandma didn’t look convinced. “Mr. Collins, she is a very sick girl and she can’t walk, I just don’t think-”
“YES!” I shout, finally able to speak. “I mean, I would love to go Dan. Grandma, can I go please?”
Grandma looks from me to Mr. Collins and back to me. “Well, I don’t know, if something were to happen...”
“I will take very good care of her.” Dan assures Grandma.
I looked pleadingly at Grandma. “Please Grandma? I never get to go anywhere!”
She sighs, “Oh alright. Go on. “ She shoos Dan towards me.
I laugh and clap my hands. Something I haven’t done since I was a small child. Dan gently lifts me into his arms and carries me out side. I take a huge breath of air, savoring the freshness. I revel in the smells, people and food. Looking over Dan’s shoulder I wave to Grandma. She waves back after dotting her eyes with a tissue. I feel like crying myself, instead I laugh.
Dan laughs too. “This is great. I have been lonely for so long it’s nice to finally go on a walk with someone.”
“I’m lonely too. Thank you for carrying me Dan.”
The next day Dan came for me again. This time he took me to the ice cream shop. I met the owner and we chatted while eating a delicious banana split. My first one.
“Never had a banana split?!” The owner gasped. “That is absolutely awful!” He said as though I had just told him I stole money from a bank. “Have another then. This one is on me.” So, at least once a week we made sure to go to the ice cream shop where I would still get a free banana split. The owner and I became good friends.
Every single day Dan would come just before noon and carry me down the street. Some days we would talk about everything and never run out of things to say, other days we would be silent, but comfortable. I still watched the people and sometimes Dan would stop and we would introduce ourselves to someone, striking conversation. Soon enough I was friends with many of the people who walked my street. That was how we met Christine. I had noticed Dan noticing her. She worked at the bakery across the street from the ice cream shop.
“Come on Dan! You promised you would introduce yourself today!” We sat the tables next to the window looking out at the bakery.
“I know! But, what if she thinks I am weird? What if I say something stupid? No. I can’t do it.”
I groaned. We had been fighting about this for nearly a week. “Dan, you aren’t doing this just because you are ashamed of me are you? Because you don’t want to be embarrassed by me?” I knew that was low. I knew I was manipulating him. But, I wouldn’t push him so much if I didn’t know how badly he wanted to talk to her. Besides, something had to be done about all those disgustingly love sick looks sent in her direction.
“What? No! Of course not! I just- no.”
I bowed my head and pushed around the ice cream with my spoon.
“Okay, I’ll do it. I’m going to go talk to her and I’m bringing you with me.”
He carried me across the street, all the while rehearsing to himself over and over what he would say. I kissed his cheek and smiled. Boys are so silly.
“H-hi.” Dan said to the girl he had been crushing on for weeks.
“Hello, my name is Christine. How can I help you?”
“Christine.” He whispered her name.
All of the words Dan had been memorizing must have fled his mind as he stood there. Staring. Saying nothing at all.
“Can I help you?” Christine asked again, a little unsure.
Dan still said nothing.
I could see that if he was ever going to talk to Christine he would need my help. “We will take a blueberry bagel please.” I spoke up for him.
“Alright. That will be 2.50 please.” She said, relieved that someone was saying something.
I thanked her as she handed me the bagel. Dan handed me his wallet and I paid. (We had gotten pretty good at doing things while he was holding me).
Dan started to carry me out but I whispered to him to wait. Turning to Christine I said, “My name is Anna and this here is Dan. I left my ice cream unfinished at the shop across the street. I love having ice cream with Dan but I would also love to have a girls company as well. Would you like to join us?”
Dan gulped and held me tighter.
Surprised she said, “I have a break in just a few minutes so, I guess that would be alright.”
Dan quickly became talkative again and we laughed together as Dan told some jokes. I was glad to see him talking, even if the disgusting love sick looks never went away. I liked her and I know Dan liked her even more. Once, I caught them holding hands under the table!
I had come to life, I even got progressively better. I was social, happy and for the first time in my life I felt like I was somebody. I wasn’t just existing for my Grandma. I had friends, walks, and I had Dan. I was happy.
My visits with Anna meant everything to me. It was my favorite part of the day. She was so sweet and happy. It also meant I got to talk to the beautiful Christine. Christine never noticed me before I started taking Anna on walks. I walked up to Anna’s door just before noon and knocked loudly. After a moment Delia, Anna’s grandmother, opened the door.
“Hi Delia, Is Anna ready? I came yesterday but no one seemed to be home...Delia? What’s wrong?”
“Hello Dan. Thank you for coming.” She sniffed and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “I’m sorry Dan, Anna died last night. The leukemia finally got her.”
I reeled back onto my heels. “Dead?! Anna is dead?! No, this can’t be! I thought she was getting better!”
“Dan, please listen to me.” Delia swallowed back tears and squared her shoulders. “Anna loved you, you know? You brought her back to life. Before you came all she ever did, ever could do, was sit at the window and dream she had lives like all of the people she would watch. You did that for her. You made her dream come true and I will never forget that the last bit of her life was happy, because of you, Dan.”
“No.” I sobbed. “She did so much more for me than I ever did for her. I had a lonely life and had planned to kill myself that day I saw her face in the window. She changed my life and I gained more friends than I ever imagined. She made me feel like someone and now I will never be able to thank her.”
Delia came closer and we cried in each others arms.
Many years later I rocked mine and Christine’s darling newborn girl as she slept. As I watched her I thought of Anna. I looked back and remembered what chain reactions could come from a single soul. Without Anna I would be long dead, unmarried, and this beautiful little girl would not exist. Many lives were changed because of her. The lives of those we met on the street, Christine, even the ice cream shop owner. Anna even got me to believe that there was a heaven, because there is no other place that beautiful young girl could be.
Christine walked in the room and stood by me as we looked at our daughter. I put my arms around her and kissed her cheek.
Smiling prettily she said, “You know, we still need to name her.”
“Anna.” I bent down and kissed her tiny head. “We will name her Anna.”
Will discreetly wiped his eyes. “You were right. That was a sad story, but a good one.”
Mabel wiped her own eyes and thanked him.
“You know, you are a really good story teller. I have to leave now, but, well, maybe you could tell me another one tomorrow.”
“You want me to tell you another story?” Mabel gasped.
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to. I don’t want to waste your time.”
“No!” Mabel nearly shouted. “I would love to tell you another story!” She smiled bigger than she had in years. She stopped hugging her knees and instead hugged him. “I would love to tell you any story you want to hear.”
Will felt his heart flutter when she hugged him. He slowly wrapped his arms around her and hugged her back. “I don’t suppose you are doing anything tonight are you?”
Confused she said, “No.”
“Because I know this lovely little restaurant not too far from here.”
A date? is he asking me on a date?! She didn’t answer. She couldn’t get the words to come out. She gave him my biggest grin hoping he would take it for a yes.