“Hello everyone!” I exuberantly greet the children as I sit down in front of them with my legs crossed. “I’m so sorry I’m late, but I promise I have a great story for all of you today!”
Every month, the crowd gets smaller and smaller. There are only eight children here today, and one of the boys is playing a game on his cell phone. Here I am counting myself as lucky that my ancient cell phone can actually send text messages while a five-year-old has a data plan. Why does a five-year-old even need a smart-phone when he can barely even read? At least the rest of the children look excited.
“Hmm… I think today’s story needs something special,” I tell the children with a wink, and I pull a long, blond costume wig out of my backpack and put it on my head.
“Anyone know who I am?”
“Rapunzel!” squeal several of the little girls in the front row, and they all crowd around me to look at the illustrations as I read. I’m glad that at least someone is still interested in books; techno-boy still hasn’t looked up from his phone.
“Once upon a time, there were a man and a woman who had long desired a child,” I begin.
Reading hour at the Groton library is always the high point of my week. I get to watch the children’s faces glow as I read to them, and I get to forget about everything but the story. My overdue bills don’t matter when the three little pigs are dealing with the wolf. A handsome prince is trying to wake up Sleeping Beauty, not a disgusting, overweight cafeteria manager with more hair on his neck than his head. Nothing matters except giving the children something special.
I can’t help but smile at the enraptured looks of wonder on the children’s faces as I read. This is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. My degree says I’m a voice actress, but my student loan bill says I’m whatever the hell I can get. Right now, I’m the girl at the sandwich station at the Verta Pharmaceuticals cafeteria.
One of these days, I’ll get my big break. I just know it.
“The witch locked Rapunzel away in a tall tower in the woods,” I tell my wide-eyed audience. “No doors! No stairs! Just a tiny window at the very tippy-top of the tower, and whenever the witch wanted to come in, she’d stand at the base of the tower and call out…”
Just as I’m about to put on my witch voice, I see him walk into the library.
The sexiest man I’ve ever seen just walked into the library, and I’m doing my witch impression while wearing a long, ratty wig and a mustard-stained cafeteria uniform. I always give great first impressions.
“Rapunzel, Rapunzel! Let down your long hair!” I cry out in an embarrassingly nasal voice, and the red-haired toddler leaning against my knee giggles.
The man is tall and trim, and he has disheveled blond hair that probably hasn’t seen a comb in days. No… I take that back. It’s completely intentional. He’s combed his hair straight back and just let it go ‘poof’ and fly off to wherever it’s going to go. It’s the most orderly-looking haystack ever to grace a guy’s head. I’d never have imagined the haystack look could actually work for someone, but it totally does on him—he’s projecting a mixed aura of “too busy to care” and “too gorgeous to care,” but that second one might just be my infatuation.
Standing beside him is an older man, completely bald and wearing a long white coat, and… and he’s hooking elbows with Mister Sexy. Well shit. It’s practically cradle robbery and, more importantly, completely unfair.
The young man leans over the counter in the lobby, talking quietly with Susan, and a brief pang of jealousy hits me. This is ridiculous. What am I jealous of? It’s not like Susan’s getting him or anything—his arm is firmly entwined with his septuagenarian sugar daddy’s. It’s one hell of an arm, too. He’s struck the perfect balance between toothpick and gym meathead, and I’m a little envious of his physique. There’s no way in hell my shift manager would screw with me if I had arms like that.
“Then Rapunzel let down the braids of her hair, and the witch climbed up to her.”
You’re not being fair, I chide myself, now telling the story completely by memory and staring at the handsome man instead of the book. What if that’s his father and he’s just helping him walk?
The elderly man wanders off to the new releases shelf, leaving his delicious young companion leaning over the counter and spoiling my attempt to give them the benefit of the doubt.
The little redhead sitting beside me jabs me in the thigh with her elbow, drawing my attention back to the children and away from my eye candy before I started drooling. Children always have the sharpest elbows.
Right… the kids. Reading. That stuff. I force myself to look away from Mister Sexy up at the counter and return to Rapunzel’s story.
“And then on the same day that she cast out Rapunzel, the wicked witch took the girl’s chopped- off braid and waited for the prince to visit. When he arrived, he cried up to the tiny window in the tower…”
I gesture to the children with a smile, and they shout out Grimm’s trademark line.
God, they’re so adorable, I think. The kids are so cute while they bounce around excitedly that I can’t help but start laughing.
The young man’s head snaps up at the sound my laughter and he catches himself against the counter with both hands as if to stop himself from falling. He’s staring at me—his bright green eyes drilling into me—and… and all my words are gone. His eyes are so green that I can see the color from all the way across the library.
They’re so familiar.
Oh God, they’re just like Isaac’s.
My face is suddenly hot and I can feel myself begin to sweat. No, it can’t be Isaac. He’s long gone and I’m never going to see him again. I tried to find him two years ago and it was hopeless. All I could find out was that he severed ties with his family after high school and then disappeared into thin air. He just vanished.
He’s still staring right at me, his gaze so intense that it’s almost overpowering. I feel as if I can’t look away. No… it can’t be him. There’s no way he’s Isaac. Isaac was handsome, but even as gorgeous as my memory’s built him up to be, he was nothing like this guy. They may have the same eyes, but this guy is built like a Greek god and Isaac was so thin that you could mistake him for a talking string bean.
“Are you okay, Mister Radcliffe?” asks Susan, her voice drifting into the children’s section as she stares at the young man in alarm.
Isaac’s last name was Preston. It’s not him.
Even though I knew it couldn’t have been him, my heart sinks all the same. I can’t keep doing this to myself every time I see a man who reminds me of him.
You need to grow up, Irene, I tell myself. He’s gone forever…