He remembered the first time he saw her. She was bent over a book in the library, her dark hair falling like a curtain around her face. He was mesmerized. He had never seen anyone reading that intently. She seemed oblivious to the boys at the table behind her, talking so loudly that he could hear every word. It was the first time since high school that he’d really noticed any girl that wasn’t Sharon Porter.
He was hooked immediately.
It took him two months to finally talk to her. In those two months, he began seeing her everywhere. He saw her in the library, always deep into her studies. She never seemed to notice him watching her. He was glad. He didn’t want her to think that he was a stalker or anything.
He noticed her around campus. One day in particular stuck out in his mind. She was sitting on a bench while several boys played Frisbee in the grass behind her. She was reading – she was always reading. From his position, he could even make out the title of the book she was reading: Lolita. (He later read the book, after he’d gotten to know her. It surprised him that she would read a book like that.) She was so far into the novel that she didn’t notice when the Frisbee brushed over the top of her head, barely missing her. She didn’t notice when the boy came to retrieve it or apologized. She just sat there reading.
A small part of him thought that she was perhaps Deaf.
In the two months, he learned her name. It was Alma Baker. She was from Maryland originally, but she moved to Iowa when she was very young. He learned this from a girl he’d befriended. It turned out that she was Alma’s best friend. The girl’s name was Mary Nolan. It was Mary who eventually introduced him to Alma.
It was a movie night in Mary’s room. She invited Richard, saying that Alma was sure to come. He was hesitant. He hadn’t even spoken to Alma and it was unlikely that a movie would facilitate conversations. After all, you weren’t supposed to talk through movies. Still, on that fateful Friday night he went to Mary’s dorm at eight o’clock. He was careful with how he dressed. He didn’t want to make Alma think he was a slob, but he didn’t want to overdress.
That was something that Sharon had always teased him about in high school. He always seemed to overdress for the occasion. He tried to keep Sharon in mind when he dressed in a simple pair of jeans and a nice button-down. He could almost hear her saying that he was overdressed. To compensate, he added one of his school sweaters.
Alma was in the room when Richard entered. It was the first time that he’d seen her without a book, without the curtain of dark hair shielding her from the rest of the world. Richard was almost breathless from her beauty. She had the deepest brown eyes that he had ever seen. Her lips were a pale pink, each one full. He imagined what it would be like to kiss those lips and then blushed at the thought. He barely knew her but he was thinking about kissing her. He had never been that forward.
He had to force himself to look away from her lips.
He sat down without saying much, forcing himself to look away from her. It was one of the hardest things he had to do. It was harder than arguing for the legalization of abortion in his debate class. They sat there awkwardly until Mary started the movie. It was worse during the movie. The silence lasted between them until the movie ended.
When the movie was over, Richard finally found his voice. He looked over at Alma and smiled a shy smile. “May I walk you back to your dorm?” he asked.
He could see Mary giving him an approving nod. He wasn’t quite sure what he thought of that. Still, he kept his eyes trained on Alma until she opened her mouth to speak.
“I was thinking you’d never actually speak to me,” she said in a quiet voice. It was the first time he’d ever heard her speak. Her voice was light and teasing. A smile lit up her face, illuminating her brown eyes and making her all the more beautiful.
Richard didn’t know what to say. He just stared at her, opening and shutting his mouth like a fish out of water. His cheeks burned red in embarrassment.
“You do like me,” Alma stated. “Or did Mary misinform me?”
Richard shot his friend a glare. Mary just shrugged. Richard looked back to Alma. “You speak your mind, don’t you?” he finally asked.
“Not frequently,” she confessed. “I just figured that if one of us didn’t break the ice, you’d continue watching me around campus and never say anything.”
Richard was shocked at the girl’s words. He thought that she hadn’t noticed. How would she notice when she never seemed to notice anything else around her? It made him question how much she actually did see through the curtain of hair. How deep did she actually delve into the books that she was always seen carrying? He wanted to know, but he could think of no good way to ask.
Instead he stood and offered Alma his hand. “Shall we?”
Alma smiled and nodded. She took his hand and together they walked out of Mary’s room. They walked to Alma’s dorm in silence. She was about to go inside when Richard cleared his throat. “Would you –“ he started before the words caught in his throat. He hadn’t done anything like this since Sharon in high school. He took a deep breath and tried to calm his nerves. “Would you like to go to dinner with me tomorrow?”
Alma smiled her sweet smile and looked at him. “I wish I could,” she replied. “But I already have plans.”
Richard nodded. He wondered if those plans included a boyfriend or just a really good book. He wasn’t about to ask. He had already been turned down once. He just turned and started down the path to his own residence hall.
“Richard!” He heard Alma’s voice cut through the night air after him. He turned to face the girl. “Are you really going to give up after only one attempt?”
Richard let out a laugh and walked back over to her. “Would you care to go out another evening?”
“I’m busy most evenings,” Alma told him with a smile. “However, I’d love to have lunch with you tomorrow. I get out of class at one.”
“Would you like to meet in front of the library?”
“No,” Alma said. “I’d like you to pick me up here at 1:30. If that fits in your schedule.”
“It does,” Richard agreed.
“I’ll see you tomorrow then,” Alma told him. Richard only nodded before turning away. His mind was racing. He had a date with Alma Porter, one of the most beautiful women he’d ever seen. He wondered what tied up her evenings but didn’t ask.
He figured he would discover that in due time. He never was one to rush anything.