Jess believes she's stumbled upon her soulmate in the library - for Quotation Inspiration.
|Previously entered into Quotation Inspiration Official Contest, February 2017. It didn't place. |
by Robert Edward Baker
Jessica Anderson took a calming breath and glanced around the archaeology department library. Since exams had finished and the summer vacation commenced, only research students like herself, or the occasional academic, had any reason to use these facilities. Good — the fewer witnesses the better. A journal lay open on her desk, but she hadn't read one word. She'd ask her today. What had she to lose?
A chair scraped across the floorboards. “Hey, Jess. What are you doing here so early?”
She faced her best friend. “Hi, Imran.” She patted the copy of Antiquity. “You know… research.”
He leaned close and sniffed. “Obsession?” He ruffled her blonde bob. “And you washed your hair.” His brown eyes glimmered. “That denim jacket isn't exactly haute couture, but you made an effort. Who are you trying to impress?”
She glanced at the checkout desk, and her cheeks warmed.
“Jeez! Ask her out already.”
“What if she says no?”
“Have some freaking confidence, Jess.”
“But there's something about her that bugs me.”
“You're telling me. A hot babe, and she's a lesbian.”
She swatted him playfully. “Hey, quit the homophobia.”
Imran pulled a notepad from his bag. “Let's sort this.” He flipped it open and wrote “PROS” and “CONS”.
“What are you doing?”
“What's it look like?”
“Embarrassing me in a public place.”
“You don't understand what I've had to put up with in the month since she started work here.” He affected a squeaky voice. “Alice wore a new dress today. Alice smiled at me today. Alice—”
She punched his shoulder. “I don't sound like that.”
“You do when you're talking about her.”
She slumped back in her chair and sighed. “I'm not even sure she's a lesbian.”
“You haven't asked?”
“Normally, when someone interests me, I start a conversation and kinda sneak in the question. With Alice, I'm too nervous.”
“Wow. You've got it bad. What about that button she wears?”
Jessica fingered the Pride pin on her lapel. “Doesn't necessarily mean she's a lesbian.”
“You're usually so confident. What's wrong with you?”
She knew exactly what was wrong with her: a five feet four inches beauty squeezed into a size four dress. She peeked at the checkout. Alice sat with her head dipped over a book, spectacles slightly askew in that cute way she had, auburn hair cascading across her shoulders. Jessica had attempted to sketch that cute button nose and dimpled chin a hundred times, and every time she'd scrunched up her failed efforts.
Imran patted her forearm. “I feel you, sister. She's like a Renoir lady and a Degas ballerina combined. Who wouldn't want her in their bed?”
“Ugh! Why do you always reduce everything to sex?”
“I'm a Paleolithic specialist. If cavemen hadn't got jiggy with it, we wouldn't be sitting here today talking about your hot girlfriend.”
“I wish she was my girlfriend.”
“Less wishing, more doing.” He scribbled in his notepad. “Pros: she's cute, she's single, she likes the same stuff you do—”
“How do you know?”
His eyes narrowed. “Not sure I should tell…”
“Tell me what?”
“Last week she cornered me in the stacks.”
Jessica gripped the desk. “She made a pass?”
“Hush!” He glanced at the checkout then returned his attention to Jessica. “No.”
“Then what did she want?”
“She asked about you: what you like to eat, what kind of music you listen to…”
“Why ask you?”
“Probably heard we share an apartment.”
“What did you tell her?”
“Here's where it gets interesting.” He leaned closer. “When I mentioned you sketch portraits, her eyes lit up like it was Saint Patrick's Day in Dublin.”
“Yes. You should ask her out.”
“But what about the cons?”
Imran grinned. “You start dating her, I won't see my best friend for months.”
She suppressed a chuckle. “Be serious.”
“I am. If she wasn't interested, why would she ask about you?”
“Maybe my supervisor's worried about my progress and got her to check around.”
“Yeah, right.” Imran crossed his arms. “Or maybe she's a CIA agent investigating your extreme, left-wing activities.”
“Greenpeace is hardly extremist.”
“Tell the French Secret Service that.” He snorted. “I'm just pointing out how stupid you sound. Anyway, haven't you noticed her watching you?”
“Jeez, are you really that unobservant? She's always staring at you.”
Jessica glanced at Alice and bit her lip.
“You know you want to,” urged Imran.
“Oh, for God's sake!” She stood.
“That's the spirit.”
She approached the checkout, her arms trembling, and forced a smile. “Hello.”
Alice put down her book. “Can I help?”
Why was this so difficult? “Er… has The Singing Neanderthals come in yet?” That so wasn't the question she'd meant to ask.
“If anybody started singing in here, I'm sure you'd notice.”
“The book I ordered, I mean.”
“That was a joke.” Alice grinned. “A bad one, obviously. We'll text you when your book's arrived.”
She fiddled with a button on her jacket, wishing she'd planned this better, but Alice's warm expression kindled hope. “I wondered if you'd like, maybe, to grab coffee with me… sometime.”
“Oh!” Alice straightened. “Like a date?”
Alice avoided Jessica's gaze. “Sorry, I'm not attracted to girls. I suppose you noticed the Pride pin I wear in support of my sister.”
“Right.” The back of Jessica's neck heated. “I see.”
“Actually, since you're here, I've been meaning to speak with you about something…”
Jessica blinked back tears, wishing she were anywhere but here. Alice continued talking, but Jessica wasn't listening. She spun and stormed through the nearby double-doors into the blinding sunshine. Why was she so upset? She'd suffered rejection before. Hell, there were ten straight girls to every one lesbian; she should be used to this.
“Wait!” Imran shouted behind her.
She increased her pace along the sidewalk, passing a bus stop where everyone in the queue was laughing.
Catching up, Imran jogged alongside. “Jess, I'm sorry.”
“Not your fault. Should have trusted my gaydar.”
“No, I misread the situation.” He pushed her backpack into her hands. “This is weird. I'm absolutely sure she was watching you, and she did ask loads of questions.”
She halted and gazed into the heavens. “I'm so stupid. I should have checked she was a lesbian before making a move. How can I ever show my face in that library again?”
Jessica staggered into the kitchen in a daze. Bright morning sunshine flooded through the open window, and the delicious aroma of coffee filled the air. She shuffled to the counter and poured a cup.
Imran glanced up from his cereal. “You okay?”
“Hardly slept. Can't believe what an idiot I was yesterday.”
He grinned. “I'm an idiot every day, but it's never done me any harm.”
As she sipped the bitter liquid, the phone in her jacket pocket vibrated. She checked her new text: “Mithen, S. The Singing Neanderthals. Ready for collection.”
“Great!” she muttered.
“If that's an invitation to a wild party, can I be your plus one?”
Imran straightened, concern in his eyes. “What's wrong?”
“That book's arrived.”
“The one you need to finish your thesis?”
She nodded and slumped onto a stool.
“Do you want me to go collect it for you?”
She pondered a moment. It was kind of Imran to offer, and she really didn't fancy facing Alice this morning, but another consideration spoiled the perfection of that plan. “Aren't you meeting your brother?”
“We can meet another day. That book's important to you, and I shouldn't have pressurized you into asking Alice out.”
“You haven't seen him in months.” She shook her head. “I can't do that to you.”
Imran didn't argue, and Jessica decided it was pointless delaying the inevitable. After downing her coffee, she skipped breakfast and returned to her bedroom. There was no way she'd return to the library dressed in yesterday's crumpled outfit looking like some pathetic wretch who'd had her heart ripped out and trampled into the ground.
She flung open her wardrobe and rummaged through the choices. The threadbare rags she wore on excavations were useless, and her interview-cum-funeral dress was too formal. However, she had a new Timberland lumberjack jacket in purple and pink tartan, a nice blue T-shirt and a matching hair ribbon. After donning this fresh outfit, she checked herself in the mirror. Yeah! She looked as good as Cynthia Rose in Pitch Perfect. She could strut onto that stage and sing Give Me Everything Pitbull style. Nobody was going to keep this girl down. She clenched her fists. She owned that library.
Half an hour later, she marched into the library with her back straight and emotions in check. Alice sat behind the checkout typing something into the computer, apparently oblivious to her arrival. Jessica approached and coughed.
Alice glanced up.
“I'm here to collect my order.”
“Actually, your book hasn't come in yet.”
Alice stood and stepped out from behind the counter. “I hope you'll forgive me, but that text was a pretense to get you here quick.”
“I don't understand.”
“Yesterday, you never allowed me to explain.”
Jessica shook her head. “There's nothing more to say. I get it. You're not interested in girls.”
“That's true, but I did want to introduce you to someone.” She turned. “Rose, she's here.”
A person who'd been sitting at a nearby desk stood and walked over. Jessica blinked in confusion. This gorgeous girl looked the spitting image of Alice. As she drew closer, subtle differences became clear. Her snub nose and dimpled chin were the same ones Jessica had failed to immortalize on paper, but this girl's left eyebrow had a cute piercing, and as she shook Jessica's hand she exposed a rose tattoo on her forearm in the place where Alice had a white rabbit. The tantalizing fragrance of Britney Spears Fantasy teased Jessica's nostrils.
“Jessica, this is my sister,” said Alice. “Rose transferred here to do a PhD in the art department, and she doesn't know her way around. If you have time, maybe you could show her the sights. From what I've heard, you have lots in common.”
“Art and history and things.” Alice sighed. “Well, I've got to get back to work, so I'll leave you two to get acquainted.” Whistling, she pushed the returned books trolley toward the back of the library, leaving Jessica alone with Rose.
“Y-you're Alice's sister?”
“Twin sister.” Rose ran a hand through her voluminous, auburn locks and looked Jessica up and down. “Nice jacket.”
“Thanks.” Jessica edged away. She didn't know this stranger, but her emotions clouded her judgment because Rose resembled Alice so much.
Rose smiled. “I've just returned from a year in the Dordogne.”
“Really?” In spite of her instinctive caution around strangers, she was intrigued. “I've always wanted to go. The prehistoric cave art in that region is exquisite.”
“That's why I went. My proposed thesis will explore what the emergence of art says about the earliest developments in human consciousness.”
Jessica blinked; this was exactly the kind of question that interested her. “Cool.”
“Because Alice works with archaeologists, I asked if she knew anyone who could help.” She tugged on Jessica's jacket collar. “Your name came up.”
“Er…” Jessica swallowed. “My thesis examines how changing tool shapes during the Paleolithic provide an insight into evolving cognition.”
“Sounds like our interests overlap.” She ran her fingers along Jessica's sleeve. “Perhaps we should exchange information… over coffee?”
“That would be nice.”
Rose's eyes sparkled. “I think so, too.”
WORD COUNT: 2000
Inspired by the quotation: “If you fell down yesterday, stand up today.” — H.G. Wells
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