Fox Mulder is in love with the library girl.
Or, well, enamored with, at least. Smitten with. Big-time crushin’ on.
He sees her for the first time in the fiction section, kicking along a step stool and dragging a re-shelving cart, putting Dickens and Dostoevsky back where they belong. Her messy red bob is bright against the classic lit beige, and her little blue jeans make his palms itch. She’s about five-foot-nothing, has to tip-toe even with the step stool, and her thin white t-shirt tugs out of her waistband a little more each time she stretches. It’s entrancing.
So entrancing that he stands there for longer than he should, Vonnegut clutched in his fist, forgotten. Long enough for her to notice, balanced up on her stool, a book halfway to the shelf. She glances at him briefly over her shoulder, then slides the book home and looks back at him again. A slim eyebrow arches.
“Can I help you?”
Her voice is deeper than he expected, but soft. She blinks at him, eyes big behind gold wire-rims. Her face waits somewhere between expectant and impatient.
“No, uh—no,” he says, shaking his head, backing away.
She stares at him a moment longer before returning to her cart.
Boys, he says when he gets home, boys, you aren’t going to believe it. He says, I think I might be in love.
A week later, it’s the circulation desk.
It’s late, not quite ten. He has a history exam tomorrow, and the guys have their Dungeons & Dragons buddies over. Seven dudes shouting about wizards and dexterity checks in his living room means he can’t focus at all. So he goes to the library.
He’s not thinking about that girl—really, he’s not. Not about her fluffy bangs or her slim hips or her soft, rich voice. Not at all. He’s just looking for a place to study, that’s it. Just somewhere quiet to blow through the Renaissance and call it a night.
But she’s right there, perched on a chair behind the counter, when he walks through the door. Her sweater is dark blue and speckled, like she’s taken a bit of the night sky and wrapped it around her for warmth. She bows over a book, chin resting in her sleeve-covered palms, coppery hair falling in waves around her face.
For a moment, he considers heading straight to the third-floor reading nook, the one in the religion section that the freshmen haven’t discovered yet. If he gets started now, maybe he can be in bed by midnight.
But then he looks at the girl again. She nibbles on her bottom lip while she reads, and—well. Da Vinci’s been dead for four hundred years. He can wait a little longer.
Mulder hitches his backpack higher on his shoulder, crosses to the counter, and leans forward on his elbows. The girl looks up, chin still in her hands, that same expectant-impatient look on her face, and Jesus, this close, she has a whole sky map of freckles on her cheeks.
Whatever suave cool-guy thing he was going to say gasps and drowns in her Bora Bora-blue eyes. What comes out instead is: “Desk duty tonight. Easier to reach, huh?”
Real smooth. Real fuckin’ smooth. Foot, meet mouth. Earth? Feel free to open up anytime now.
The girl’s eyebrows shoot into her bangs. Then she sighs the sigh of someone who deals with dumbasses like him all the time.
“Are you ready to check out?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t—”
She straightens in her chair, customer service-polite. “Your card, please.”
“No, I’m not—”
“Help you find something, then?”
“No, I don’t need—”
“Then what can I do for you?”
Rewind time? Let me start over?
“I just wanted—that is, I—uh. What are you reading?”
A beat. The girl stares at him. Her eyes really are breathtakingly beautiful, even when they’re sizing him up like he’s a bug that has just crawled into her soup.
“What am I reading?” she echoes, flat.
“Yeah, your, uh, your book there. Is it good?”
He can hear the clock on the wall behind her. Tick, tick, tick. Her silence stretches for so long that he starts to wonder if he wasn’t just speaking in his head.
Finally, she nods once. Curt. Up, down. “It’s fine.”
Cut your losses, kid. Walk away. But his mouth’s already off and running, the last to get the memo.
“Fine? Oh, well, fine—fine’s better than bad, right? What is it?”
She sighs again. Slides a thumb between the pages to mark her place and flips the cover shut. He reads the title upside down.
“The Principle of Relativity?” He whistles low. “Just a little light reading, huh? That’s cool. Physics is…cool.”
She blinks like a cat, slow and bored. Says, “Yeah.”
He shoves a hand through his hair and tries to smile. “I’m, uh, I’m Mulder. Fox. My first name’s…Fox. I’m just Mulder, though.”
Her strawberry mouth puckers and she nods again.
Okay, buddy. Move along.
She tosses her book open. The cover makes a little thwap as it hits the counter. She taps the page.
The next day, after his exam (which, after staying up until two in the morning replaying easier to reach, huh?, he’s certain he did not pass), he goes to the library.
She’s reading at the desk again, hair up in a little fountain ponytail. He thinks—though he’s not sure—that she might be trying to kill him.
“Ready to ch—oh.” Her face actually falls when she realizes it’s him. He’d laugh if she wasn’t so pretty. “You’re back.”
She has two tiny gold hoops in each ear, and he is overcome with the urge to touch them, to see if the metal is warm from her skin. He shoves his fists deep into his pockets instead.
“I wanted to apologize,” he says, “for last night. We got off on the wrong foot.”
She nods. She says, “Fine. Okay. Are you checking out this time?”
He laughs now; he can’t help it. She’s so serious. This little librarian. He doubts if she’s even twenty yet, but the prim line of her mouth is Ph.D.-stern.
“No, uh, I wanted to make it up to you.”
She folds her arms and her lips twitch into the barest hint of a smirk. “Make it up to me?”
“Yeah.” He shrugs. “I was an ass last night, but I’d like to make it up to you. What do you say? Coffee tonight, my treat?”
She cocks her head to the side, and he almost has her smiling now, he’s sure of it.
“I have class tonight.”
She shakes her head. “Work.”
“Okay.” He rests his elbows on the counter, gives her his most winning smile. “When are you free?”
A real smirk. Just a little one, but there. “I’m not.”
“Not for coffee.”
“Dinner, then. A movie?”
She bends forward, mimicking his position from the other side of the counter, her nose only inches from his. She smells like cinnamon. He can’t breathe.
“Sorry, Fox-Just-Mulder. I’m not interested.”
“Because I was an ass?”
“I was an ass.” He nods, smiling. “I get it. Okay. A name, then. Just tell me your name.”
She taps a finger to her lips in thought and he really wishes she wouldn’t. He’s having a hard enough time keeping his eyes above sea level as it is.
“I thought you were supposed to be making it up to me. How’s me giving you something you making it up to me?”
Oh, but the library girl is fun.
“Well, I’m trying, but you won’t let me. Figure the least I can do is call you by your name.”
She sits back again, picks some fuzz off her cardigan (green today; she’s like a little Christmas elf). Her eyes cut up to his through her lashes and dart away. She straightens a stack of paper.
At last, she says, “Dana.”
“Dana.” He grins. Dana. It’s the prettiest name he’s ever heard.
He learns her schedule fast. He should; he’s there every day, leaning over the counter, cataloging her various sweaters and sighs.
He learns other things, too: she only wears glasses when she reads, she likes peanut M&Ms, she blasts through books faster than any person he’s ever seen. Carl Sagan on Monday, Susan Sontag on Tuesday, Toni Morrison on Wednesday, and he starts to suspect this girl might have been a child prodigy way back when. Maybe still is.
A week into this, he asks her—Dana, are you a genius?—and she doesn’t even look at him. Just flips the page, her mouth twisted into something trying not to be a smirk.
“You know,” he continues. It’s easier to talk when she’s not looking directly at him, her eyes like hypnotists’ perfect blue gems. “If you are a genius, you should tell me your last name. For when I hear it on the radio someday, I mean. ‘Dana So-and-So wins Nobel Prize.’ So I know it’s you.”
“Why would I want you to know it’s me?”
“Why wouldn’t you?”
Her jaw twitches, but she still doesn’t look up.
“I’m just saying,” he says. “It’d be nice one day, when you cure cancer or whatever, to be able to say ‘I knew her when.’” He leans down, crowding into her space, and lowers his voice. “And to satisfy everyone’s curiosity. Why, yes, she was always that beautiful.”
She looks up then, a sharp cut through her lashes, a stern glare belied by the soft flush on her cheeks.
“Mulder,” she warns, and he likes the way she says it. Mul-der.
She holds his gaze for a moment, and he can see himself reflected in her glasses. His ridiculous grin. The flop of hair he forgot to comb this morning, too concerned with making it to the library before class.
Then she looks away, eyes down, little pink tongue darting out to wet her bottom lip. When she meets his eyes again, she is Professional Dana, all calm and poise.
“I have work to do,” she says and reaches for a stack of bookmarks on the edge of the desk. She taps them straight like a deck of cards.
He grins. “So you’re telling me I should go, then?”
She doesn’t look at him. She’s arranging pens in a cup by color now. “Mm-hmm.”
“And you won’t tell me your last name?”
Black pen, black pen, blue pen, red pen.
“You don’t need it.”
His grin widens and he leans in just a little farther. She doesn’t retreat. He likes that about her.
“If you say so,” he whispers.
She nods, curt. “I do.”
He straightens and hitches his backpack up on one shoulder.
“You’re a cruel woman, Dana,” he says. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She rolls her eyes and he almost—almost—misses the way she smiles when he turns away: small, private, like she doesn’t even mean to be smiling at all.