The lower levels of the library were his favorite place to study. Fewer people ventured down into the basement. It smelled of mildew and you were dependent on florescent lighting to read by. However, after hours of study a dull ache would develop in the back of your eyes. He could make himself endure this a long as it meant that he didn’t have to share his study space with hoards of loud co-eds.
Orson was an eccentric by anyone’s terms, even his own. Spending much of his life on the road with his hippy mother as she spoke at rallies helped Orson avoid people. Although he was incredibly intelligent he never really learned the purpose and effective use of social skills. He never saw much need for them; he rarely had anything in common with most people.
Eyes trained on the newest issue of Scientific American he reached across the table fumbling to find his coffee cup. His eyes lifted only for a moment as he brought it up to his mouth. That’s when he saw her. She was sitting at a desk even more solitary than his. It took a split second for his mind to register just how beautiful she was and to question why a girl like that was hiding out in the library basement.
To this day he was unsure if his lips had forgotten to slurp or his throat had forgotten to swallow but as he tilted the cup the hot liquid it poured between the lid and his chin. A blistering pain spread across his chest as it soaked through his shirt. Shock caused him to drop the cup and leap from his chair shouting. Now it was everywhere. The rest of his coffee was dripping from the desk and began soaking into the carpet beneath him.
Staring into the mess he’d made he was surprised to hear a soft voice ask, “Are you alright?!”
To his surprise there in front of his desk stood the girl. Her black hair was pulled into a tight bun at the base of her neck. She stood at the ready, poised to make a quick decision. Her posture said that she was prepared for anything but her steady blue eyes tried desperately to hide a sincere concern.
“Ye-yeah,” he managed to cough out, “I, uh, I just had a bit of a disagreement with my coffee. I thought it needed to meet my stomach. Apparently, it thought it needed to meet the floor.”
The space between her brows tensed in confusion. Her eyes darting around the scene she took in what had happened. Realizing his humor she let a single unguarded chuckle escape. If it was possible, in that moment he became even more enamored. People rarely noticed his humor not to mention acknowledge it.
“Well, let me go find a Janitor. You go clean yourself up.”
Confused by her generosity he sheepishly replied, “That’s very nice, thank you.” He walked in bewildered haze to the nearest bathroom.
Considering all that had happened Orson turned at the bathroom door to check she wasn’t a hallucination. The idea that a girl such as her had not only spoken to him but had offered to help him, and even laughed at his joke seemed unlikely. Despite his disbelief there she was on hands and knees at his desk sopping up coffee sodden carpet as the janitor wiped it from the desk.
While hot water pressed out the foamed soap to run over his hands it struck him that he hadn’t asked for her name. Afraid she would be gone as soon as she had arrived. He hurriedly finished and rushed back out the door. To his surprise her books and papers were no longer at her desk. She had relocated… to his desk.
He slowly passed her to cross over to his seat. Eyes still focused on her paper she announced, “ I hope you don’t mind the company. I thought you might need more immediate assistance the next time a disagreement arises between you and another inanimate object. This time is was just a liquid. Who knows, next time it might be something more nefarious. You know… like your pen.”
Beautiful, kind, gracious and now he knew she was funny. When this story would be told (probably only to Tony, his roommate and unlikely friend) he thought he would declare this to be the moment he’d found “her,” that elusive entity only a few found in a life time. And that the moment was as mesmerizing as it was glum. Because in addition to his near-certainty she was the one (even thinking it now he sighed with the soppy romanticism of it all) he was also entirely certain she’d never choose him. That pain didn’t diminish his desire to be near her, even by the smallest increment. No matter the outcome he could feel it in his gut, he was a magnet and she was due north.
With a deep breath and an certain step forward into the unknown, whatever it may hold. “Well, I think I can manage the inconvenience if you’re here to keep me safe from the inevitable harm my clumsiness causes,” he paused. “I’m sorry, I didn’t tell you my name. I’m Hendrix but I go by Orson.” He lifted his hand toward her.
Her eyes rose from her work and she extended her hand to shake his. “Danielle but everyone in my unit calls me Dani.”
“Yeah.. I’m here on the government’s dime. In another setting you might call me Private Danielle Kowalski..”
It all started to add up. How quickly and quietly she had come to his aid. How prepared for anything she had seemed, even the tight uniform bun of hair. It all seemed to be pieces that fit together to form her military intensity he now saw in her mannerisms.
“So if your Army what are they paying for you to study here?” he asked as he finally sat down.
Add smart to the list. “Really!”
“Yeah. My mother made me promise I’d go to college after I enlisted. I didn’t want her to have the satisfaction of knowing she’d won by choosing something dainty. And…Since I was little my dad had me the garage working on cars and such. I’m good with machines… their easier than people at least. And what is it that you study Hendrix Orson, boy who looses fights with coffee cups?”
“Astronomy with a minor in Physics.”
She looked him over for a moment, “Yeah, I can see that.”
Orson understood. Long unkempt hair, a disregard for ironing, and loaded book bag gave him away immediately. He was the picture of an introverted dweeb. He should have known better than to think a girl like this would think any differently of him.
When his thoughts surfaced to his expression Dani changed the subject, “Well, Orson, I don’t know what you put in your coffee but I can still smell it. Now I’m craving coffee myself. If you promise to resolve this issue you have between yourself and hot liquids before you drink them, how about we go get another cup? I need a break from the fluorescents anyway.”
There it was. A miracle right wafting before his ears. Regrettable social skills, awkward tendencies, societally inadequate looks (the list could go on), he thought there was nothing else to explain the exchange that just occurred other than heavenly intervention. There was nothing else he could have done, no other choice to be made. He quickly stiffened his posture and positioned his hands like he was swearing on a Bible, “I swear.”