Chapter Four: Monday
Libraries open at a civilized hour. That was one of the reasons Livvy quickly decided that her new job was a good thing, despite the looming menace of Miss Henatis. Everything about the head librarian was intimidating, right down to when she corrected Livvy for pronouncing her name wrong. With a half-sneer, the tall, severe woman had explained her name was pronounced Terezza, not Teresa, like the unwashed masses, but Livvy was to address her only as Miss Henatis, since the library was a professional atmosphere and not some wild scene of casual familiarity.
So, at 9:55 in the dull, overcast morning, Livvy sat at her desk after taking several breaks to catch her breath following the long walk into the building, past the lower floor, and out of the elevator, where she suffered a tense, cloistered ride with several people who never looked up from their phones except to grimace at the lack of a good signal. Once she reached her desk, she quickly assessed the condition of her workspace before sitting down on her chair with a muffled whoosh. The cushion was welcoming, her pens were in order, and Livvy Foster began her second day as the assistant Answer Desk Librarian (2nd Floor).
The light smell of hand sanitizer wafted toward her as she turned to see a slender young man in a perfectly crisp blue shirt drop into the seat next to her. He wiped his hands in a practiced motion, flicking his fingers with a final gesture of satisfaction. Apparently, germs were a sworn enemy. His smile was brilliant, and she found herself responding in kind with something more like a dopey grin.
“Dozer. Nice to meetcha.” Before she could react, he was plucking at her shirt with busy fingers, smoothing an imaginary wrinkle with a light touch. “Before you say anything, we’re totally gonna be besties, and yes, I know what you’re thinking.”
“You do?” Livvy asked, overwhelmed with his onslaught of charm. She shook her head to clear it, but he just grinned even more.
“Yes. It’s part of my job as your New Best Friend. You’re asking a lot of things right now, but in your head, so let me help.” He held up a finger and winked. “Item one. How am I so good looking?”
Livvy burst out laughing, then had to place a hand over her heart as the stitch began to build in her side. She didn’t care. It felt good to laugh that way, and she took little sips of air while waving that he should continue. He didn’t pay her breathing any mind, so neither did she, reveling in the normalcy of a shared joke with someone new. It felt good to forget, if only for a moment. That was a good start if they were going to be friends. Besties, according to Dozer.
“You don’t look like a Dozer.”
He was impeccably dressed in blue, and his dark blonde hair was styled to sweep up off his forehead. Cheerful blue eyes crinkled at her as he smiled, and his teeth were small, white, and even. She held out a hand, and he took it. His grip was delicate and caring, like he sensed her condition but was too kind to mention it. It was a small thing, but it made tears threaten the corners of her eyes. She smiled harder to blink them away.
“Well, don’t let this flawless appearance confuse you.” His sniff was so perfectly arrogant that she felt like cheering. He smiled at her again, then slid his own chair so that he faced her at a ninety-degree angle. “Item two, and this is important, so pay attention.” When he saw her nod, he pointed out at the rows of desks, and books, and all the things that made the library into a sort of living thing. “I know all about this place, and more importantly, I know everyone who comes in here. I can tell you who’s happy, or sad, or drunk, or homeless, or fighting with their wife or husband. I know why they’re here, and I know if they’re leaving and never coming back.”
Livvy made appropriate cooing noises at this declaration, but they weren’t polite. She meant it.
Dozer cocked his head and raised a brow, looking like the picture of a screen idol from a time long ago. “Stick with me and I’ll show you the ropes, kid.”
Her laugh bubbled again, free and easy. “We are going to be besties, I think.” A blush colored her cheeks at her brashness; it wasn’t like her to be that direct and open. She was steady, and loyal, and a lot of other things that people said when they didn’t want to call you only sort of pretty, but Dozer was so gallant that she had to respond in kind.
He leaned in, conspiracy on his mind. “See the big guy over there?” Pointing with his chin, he directed her eyes over to one of the tables where the regulars sat. There were a stalwart few who came in every day. Their pecking order was written in stone, as if the chairs were ordained by a higher power.
“The man with the mustache?” she asked.
He was a big, solid guy with a shock of white hair and deeply tanned skin. His shoulders bulged with muscle, even though he had to be pushing sixty years of age. There were dark blue tattoos on both forearms, and his smile was lopsided and kind.
“Mmm-hmm. That’s Sailor Mark. He’s a good one. Sort of worked as a plumber all his life, and now he spends his days here. He’s a really nice guy, tells a lot of great stories. You’ll meet him, I’m sure.” Dozer selected his next target—a slender, harried looking woman with frizzy hair pulled back in a bun. She had sad brown eyes and coffee-colored skin, and she moved between the tables to her seat with an economy of motion and certainty that Livvy found fascinating.
“What does she like to read?” Lizzy looked thoughtful, watching the woman flit about like a hummingbird. The question surprised her new friend, who put a hand on his chin to think before answering. She liked that he gave her words consideration. It was a sign that she was being seen and valued. Her blush returned, but hidden from his sight due to his concentration on the scene before them.
“Miss Willie?” He watched the woman settle at a table, but only after a great deal of fuss in which she adjusted her chair, her book, her feet, and then her chair once again in a series of tiny scooting motions until she had everything just so. “Mostly adventure novels, and some old-fashioned romances. She’s kind of sappy that way. I asked her about, like, a billion new books and she said she didn’t have time for them. She just likes to relax, I think, but she doesn’t really know how. Sometimes I see her going over the same boring old things over and over. But she’s quiet and friendly, so—” He shrugged to indicate his powerlessness over such plodding book choices.
“What about, umm, the guy with the ponytail?” She watched the man tapping his fingers to an unknown beat as he flipped listlessly through a magazine about science and cars, but from Livvy’s standpoint it seemed to have an awful lot of women in bikinis.
“Oh! Right, that’s Drum Circle Danny, or just Danny.” Dozer’s eyes glimmered with mischief. “He can’t help drumming on stuff, so don’t tease him about it.”
“I wouldn’t dare.” Livvy meant it. He looked kind of crunchy and harmless, like an intellectual who’d gone back to nature.
“He comes in first, usually. Sometimes he’s here up to an hour before the others show up. Gets his stuff set up, but always quietly. I like him. He loves books about the ocean. I think he has a lot of stress in his life, and reading about whales or whatever lets him calm down.” Dozer’s one shoulder shrug was just enough; Danny was okay, too. That was the message Livvy got.
“How many are there? Regulars, I mean?” She counted the table and booths. There was room for at least two dozen people in this little nook alone.
Dozer thought it over, then started counting on his fingers. “Depends on what’s happening. We have special events here, sometimes. On a busy day we might get ten or twelve of them. It’s always a moving group, sort of like a school of fish. I can count them when they’re still, but they move around. . .” He brightened. “What are you doing for lunch?”
“Nothing, why?” She hadn’t thought that far ahead.
“You are now. I’m going to introduce you to the wonder of Frankly, Frank’s. He’s down on the plaza, right by all those benches.” At her hesitation, Dozer added, “My treat. And honey, I know.”
Tears pricked her eyes. He was so nice, and she didn’t want to ruin the feeling of having someone think about her kindly. “I want to, I mean, I do, but—”
“Don’t worry.” Dozer took her hand gently, but not like she might break. Even sitting down, he was taller than Livvy. “And I mean: Do. Not. Worry. I know all about your, ahh—” He pointed at her chest, and spots of color bloomed on her cheeks again, but this time it was something like shame. “Anyway, I know all about it, and we can go nice and slow down to the plaza, okay?”
Livvy knew right there and then; Dozer, the exotic, funny boy sitting next to her was going to be a true friend.