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An Air of Books

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Therese walked into a whirlwind. Carol exclaimed, "You want to start today? Great! These three crates are the surviving inventory of a small library in Waterloo, Alabama. They had a fire. The community of three hundred has voted not to rebuild. They love our bookmobile and had not been able to afford many new additions to their brick-and-mortar library.

Therese saw that Mildred's purse was under the check-out counter, so she placed her bag beside it. Pushing her sweater cuffs up her arms, Therese asked, "What can I do?"

Carol smiled, "Well, Mildred is taking books over to the card catalog and seeing if we already have a copy or copies. If we don't have a book, she's putting it on this cart. When we fill it up, we'll roll it to the workroom. The boys can properly in-process those when they come in tomorrow."

"Your college kids?"

"Exactly."

"And if we do have a copy?"

"Place it by section on the other cart."

"Then we can compare the incoming books to their in-house twin and see which one is best."

"Correct. I trust you. Use your best judgment. Only come to me in very close calls. And, ask Mildred when you think we might need to keep multiple copies. She's been here longer than me and knows what gets borrowed and what gathers dust."

"What's the drill if the incoming book is the better copy?"

"Take them both and put them on the bottom of your cart. Later, roll 'em to the workroom. Place the book being replaced on our Friends of the library's table. Those volunteers will out-process them and try to sell them in their lobby store or on the bookmobile."

"And put the better copy on the boy's cart."

"Very good."

"Mildred asked, Hey, boss, are you sure you want to cover the desk?"

"Absolutely. It will do me a world of good to get out of that office for an afternoon. By the way, ladies, I called Tony. He jumped on my offer for extra hours; he's coming in shortly to help."

Mildred chortled, "Oh, Therese, you'll like Tony. He's cute and so funny. He'll have us in stitches."

Carol headed for her desk, then turned to announce, "Hey, lunch is on me, y'all. I told Tony to pick up chicken salad sandwiches and chips on his way. I called Dottie May's and placed the order; they'll put it on my tab."

Mildred smiled, "Thanks, Carol. That's really sweet."

"Well, it can be a welcome-on-board celebration for Therese, as well."

Therese's eyes glistened, "Thank you."

"No, thank you, young lady. I'm happy you are here."

Carol hurried to the desk to help Dr. Sanchez with her armload of selections. 

Therese asked, "Mildred, which task do you prefer ... I'll take the other."

"Bless you, sweetie. I'll do these crates as it's mostly a sit-down job; you know these old legs ain't what they used to be. Are you sure about walking all these aisles and shelves?"

"I've got it, sweet lady; it will help me get the lay of the land."

At the counter, Carol asked the Sally State Dean of Foreign Languages if she was all finished with the fall semester.

"I am, Carol. I turned in my grades yesterday and met with my faculty members this morning. We are off until January 2nd."

Carol teased, "Hoy, Stuart, MacLeod ... I love your escapist holiday reading."

"Don't start, Carol Aird; I love my romance."

"No, I understand entirely, Consuela. Any travel plans?"

"Not this Christmas. Cynthia's bunch are coming to Sally this year. Bernado is beside himself."

"How exciting! Please tell her to drop by and say hello."

"I will." Dr. Sanchez noticed Therese heading for the elevator with her weighty cart. The professor leaned in and whispered, "Who is that, Carol?"

"Oh, the board recently approved my request to hire an assistant librarian. She's fresh off the bus from Birmingham-Southern. Her name is Therese Belivet."

"And how does she spell that?"

"T-H-E-R-E-S-E and B-E-L-I-V-E-T"

"'Therese Belivet' ... lovely, and what an attractive young woman."

"I know ... beautiful."

Dr. Sanchez paused, noting Carol's melty expression. The educator began filling her book bag as Carol slid the romances across one at a time. 

*****

The five-foot-tall Coca-Cola machine in the library basement's breakroom offered one choice, the ubiquitous eight-ounce Coke. Tony Avaratti had decided that carbonated beverages were detrimental to one's health, so he enjoyed his sandwich and chips with a paper cup of water from the Bubbler. Therese luxuriated in the intensity of her sugary beverage. Tony cautioned, "Those things will kill ya."

Tony was delighted when the seemingly reserved new librarian retorted, "But what a way to go."

He chuckled with a nod then asked, "When did you get into town?"

"This morning. I rode up here on a bus from Birmingham."

"You don't have a car?"

"No."

"Me neither, but my family is huge, and we own three. There seems always to be a vehicle to drive or somebody headed in the right direction to drop me off."

"Oh, that must be nice ... uh, having a large family."

"I guess ... well, most of the time."

Therese chuckled, "Bathroom queue?"

Tony laughed. "Well, that is a challenge, but I was referring more to simply finding a spot for some peace and quiet."

Therese nodded with understanding, but she imagined the joy of a houseful of eclectic siblings and two loving parents. "How many siblings do you have, Tony?"

"'I'm in the middle of three younger sisters and three older brothers. Daddy works at Union Carbide, and Momma works at us."

Therese laughed, repeating, "At us."

Tony grinned, and his brown eyes sparkled. Therese reminded herself to tread lightly. The young man said he was a sophomore at Sally State, so she guessed he was twenty, almost her age. She did not want a suitor that worked under her, and frankly, she didn't want a male suitor, period. Therese had no doubts about her sexual orientation.  

Therese was reminded of her two sexual experiences. The first time was with her dormitory roommate halfway through their sophomore year. The roomie was transferring after the fall semester. They had become close over the past year and a half, very close. Sylvia made a pass at Therese the night before she was to head home for Christmas. Therese had been longing for the kiss, but they did much more than kiss that night. Sylvia departed the next day with a promise to call or write, providing her new address and phone number. But she never did. Therese had no family or any other place to go. She always stayed in the dorm between semesters with a handful of international students. That Christmas was even more lonely than usual.

Sondra Tharpe was her second lover. Last winter, Therese's basketball team was competing in a Mississippi tournament. Sondra and Therese had been assigned a hotel room with two other girls. The other two snuck out to meet some boys they'd met at the tournament that day. Sondra and Therese's eye contact foreplay had been going on all season. Therese boldly kissed Sondra and they were soon throbbing under the covers. 

"Hey, where did you go, Therese?"  

"Oh, I'm sorry, Tony. Forgive me; it's been a long day."

"I bet. You're not working until closing, are you?"

"No, Mrs. Aird is giving me a ride home at five. I'm renting her garage apartment."

"Oh, cool. I forgot about that project of hers. I started to ask where you were going to live; now I know."

"Yes, you do."

Carol entered the breakroom and asked, "Tony, if you've finished eating, can you take the counter? I'm starving." 

"Yes, ma'am!" He stood gathering his cup, wax paper, and empty Lay's bag. As he tossed them, he smiled, "It was nice visiting with you Therese, welcome to Sally."

"You, too, Tony."

Carol sat down and then huffed, "Dang, I forgot to get a Coke."

"Keep your seat. I'll get it."

"No—"

Therese had already popped up and fired a dime in the slot. She used the machine's opener to remove the bottle's cap then handed the ice-cold drink to Carol. 

"Thanks."

"Your welcome."

"I'll buy you one next time."

Therese coyly smiled as she sat back down to finish her chips. 

After a bite of her sandwich and swig of Coke, Carol glanced at Therese.

Therese perked, "Thank you for lunch. That was one of the tastiest chicken salad sandwiches I've ever had."

"Dottie May's is a honey of a cafe, and they've got the best soda fountain in town."

"Are they far from here?"

"No, just two blocks west. They are on Court. We're on Wood, and Seminary runs between."

"Oh, where is Lone Cedar Baptist Church?"

"That's out near where I ... uh,  we  ... live at Seven Points. Are you Baptist?"

"No, it's just that Mildred invited me to go to church with her and her husband on Sunday—"

"And that would be Lone Cedar," Carol grinned.

"Tony told me all about St. Joseph's Catholic Church, too."

"Of course."

Therese sighed as she lifted her Coke.

Carol caught the expression. "There's a church on every corner, Therese. Going to Birmingham-Southern, I thought you might be Methodist."

"I am."

"You don't seem to certain of that."

"Well, I ... oh, I don't know." Therese plucked the last whole chip from her bag and stared at it.

Carol felt the girl's religious insecurity. "Honestly, Therese, I'd rather take a drive on the Trace or read a good novel on Sunday mornings, but the community expects its librarian to attend church. So, I go to the Methodist Church across the street from my house."

"I noticed that church when John took me by the apartment. It's a beautiful building."

"Yes, it is, and I must say, the minister delivers an intelligent sermon and usually adds an amusing story or joke. The organist and choir are top-notch. I don't do Sunday school and dodge all but one committee. Come with me on Sunday?"

Therese chuckled, "What's the committee?"

Carol laughed, "The annual church bazaar."

"I love those."

"I know. I make one quilt a year and help with the setup and takedown. Note or caution, we all help make the chicken stew, so our hands smell like onions for a week."

"Y'all sell the stew?"

"Heck, yeah. It's legendary. Even the occasional Church of Christ member sneaks in to buy a jar."

Therese laughed, then asked, "What time is the service?"

"Eleven ... and the preacher gets us out promptly at noon. He is a firm believer in the Three-Bs."

Therese's eyebrow shot up. "The Three-Bs?"

"Beat the Baptists to Britlings."

"Oh, we have those in Birmingham; they're good."

"A top-five choice for Sunday dinner in Sally."

"What are the four others?"

Carol raised a finger to buy time while she chewed and swallowed. 

Therese finished her Coke. 

Carol listed, "There's the Shanty for the best ever chicken and dressing, Boon Town Family Restaurant across the river, Oakley's in Riverton if you want a drive in the country, and the Chicken Shack for a picnic."

"I see. So much for my girlish figure."

"Now, that would be a crime." Carol winced; she'd said it before she thought it through. She blushed.

Therese was not offended in the least. She rescued, "Maybe, just maybe, if I watch the calories during the week, I can hit each one of those for Sunday dinners over the next month or two."

Carol noted, "But, you'd need a car for the outliers. Perhaps you might like to ride with me to Riverton or south of the river to Boon Town. Would you?"

"Yes. Yes, I would."

*****

Carol turned the Lincoln into her driveway and pulled up into the garage. Therese exited the passenger side and met her at the rear of the car. The apartment's stairs ran up the north side of the structure.

Carol said, "If you don't mind, I'll come up and raise the thermostat. I set it at 50° just to keep the pipes from freezing. I don't want you to freeze. As they walked up the stairs, Therese had the angle to observe Carol's trousered bottom under her blazer. Mesmerized to distraction, Therese caught her toe on a step's leading edge. She faltered. Carol stopped and glanced down. "Are you okay, dear?"

"Yes, I'm fine ... clumsy me."

In the apartment, Carol flipped on the lights and gestured to the thermostat on the far wall. Therese joined her at the device. Carol showed her how to adjust it. "Simple enough, but I just wanted to make sure you got it."

Therese heard the unit's burners kick in, and a few seconds later, the fan. They grinned. Carol lowed, "Such a lovely sound."

Therese chuckled. 

Carol forced her eyes to break from the killer-greens and stepped back to open the bathroom door. "It's small but all new. I have that same showerhead and love it, so I put one out here. Oh, my, there's only one roll of toilet paper."

"That's fine. I'll walk down to the grocery on the corner or that pharmacy and go shopping tomorrow. By the way, do you recommend that bank next to them?"

"First National? Yes, that's my bank, and they have the library's accounts."

"Good. I'll move my Birmingham Trust account there next week."

 Carol glanced at the twin bed with its brand new box springs and mattress. "Do you have bedding?"

"Yes, ma'am ... in my trunk. What about a quilt or blanket? It's supposed to dip into the thirties tonight."

"I have a big blanket. I'll be fine."

"Oh, my God! We never discussed a schedule. I take Sunday and Monday off. What two days would you prefer?"

"Oh, I guess I should cover Sunday and Monday."

"Don't worry about Sunday, dear. We're only open from one until five, and Mildred and Connie love to work Sunday."

"Is Connie the other clerk?" 

"Yes, Constance Haygood; you'll meet her in the morning. I tell you what, Therese. I need you tomorrow because these Waterloo books require all hands on deck. But after this Saturday, you should work Monday through Friday each week. That will provide a traditional weekend to engage in the pursuits of a twenty-one-year-old single woman."

"Okay, but are you sure?"

"Quite sure. Now, let me help you make your bed."

Therese opened her trunk and selected the nicer of her two sets of sheets. They were from her dorm room; thus, they were twin-size. Carol helped her make the bed, but she frowned a bit at the blanket on completion. 

Carol said good night and exited for her house. Therese watched Carol until the blonde entered the back porch door of the two-story Victorian. 

Later, Therese stepped from the shower, toweled off, and donned her flannel pajamas. The tiny apartment was toasty warm now. Therese lowered the thermostat a few degrees. A knock at her door startled her. 

"Therese, it's me, Carol."

Therese rushed to the door and opened it. Carol stood in a beautiful chanel robe; its light blue color made the librarian's green rubber yard boots even more comical. Carol handed Therese a heartstoppingly colorful hand-made quilt and a roll of toilet paper.

Therese stammered, "Carol, I can't. Did you make this?"

"I insist, and yes, I did," Carol laughed. It was one that I went wild with a few years ago. I thought it would brighten your new nest and give you a little extra warmth."

"It's gorgeous. I'll return it as soon as I can buy a comforter."

"No rush. I know it's in good hands."

A furry brown snout poked around the doorframe. Therese's eyes grew big, and she knelt to caress the soft head.

Carol's heart soared at Therese's reaction. She smiled, "Therese, meet Joe."

"Oh, he's so soft! Hey, Joe. It's nice to make your acquaintance." He licked her chin, and she cackled. 

Carol's eyes glistened. "He's an inside dog, but we like our early and late constitutions."

Therese asked, "He's a mixed breed, right?"

"Yep, a little of everything ... forty pounds of fun. I got him at the pound a couple of summers ago. You should have seen him as a puppy."

"I can only imagine."

"Well, let's leave Miss Therese in peace, Joe. Sorry to disturb you."

"None in the least. Nice to meet you, Joe."

"Night night, Therese."

"Good night, Carol."

After watching her landlady and the hound descend the steps and prance out onto the lawn, Therese closed her door and turned the deadbolt. As she walked to her bed, Therese buried her face in the quilt; it had the fragrance of Carol's perfume. She collapsed onto the bed, nuzzling the patchwork. Her young loins yearned for Carol Aird.