Tim sighed deeply as he shut down his computer for the day. Ms Gaines—who was working the library's checkout desk with him—smiled slightly, saying, "Sounds like you're ready to get out of here and have a relaxing day off."
He shrugged. "I guess." Then he waited for her to ask if he had any plans. He knew she wouldn't. She had just been making a polite comment.
Story of my life. Morosely, he gathered up his coffee mug and the two books he had stashed on the shelf under the desk to take home with him. No one gives a damn. Not really.
Hurrying away, he stopped just long enough at his locker in the employee's room to get his coat before exiting the library into the early evening gloom.
It'll be snowing before long. He grimaced. When it did, he might have to start taking the bus home to his lonely apartment. For now, though, he'd walk. It wasn't all that far from the library, just a mile and a bit. Pulling his coat tightly around him to ward off a sudden cold burst of wind, he set out.
Noise from one of the local bars assailed his ears when someone entered, just as he was walking past. For a moment he considered stopping in for a beer.
But why bother? I'll only end up sitting by myself watching everyone else having fun.
So he trudged the rest of the way home. When he got there, he tossed his coat on the sofa and went into the kitchen.
What do I feel like eating? Nothing, but I guess I should. After checking the contents of his refrigerator, he settled on chicken and mushrooms with couscous. Gathering together what he needed for the chicken—garlic, cumin, cinnamon, and ground pepper—he set to work. Ten minutes later, the chicken and mushrooms were baking in the oven. While they were cooking, he made the couscous with dried apricots. When the chicken was finished, he put it on a plate, tossed the mushrooms with lemon juice and dill, and added them and the couscous beside the chicken.
Taking his plate into the living room, he sat down at the round oak table in one corner to eat while watching the news and then some game show. Afterwards, he washed the dishes, cleaned the kitchen, and settled down on the sofa to read.
The book was a fantasy novel he'd seen great reviews about, so he was looking forward to seeing if it lived up to them. He soon realized that, while it was well written, he had little empathy for the beleaguered hero. He had been cast out into the world to make his own way, with only—Tim snorted softly—a penchant for magic and his great skill as a swordsman to help him save the kingdom. How successful would he be if he wasn't tall, dark and handsome? If he was like me?
Tim was the antithesis of the hero, being of average height and not at all handsome—in his own estimation—with short mousy-brown hair and pale blue eyes. The only thing they had in common was being forced to be on their own. Tim had never known his father. Although his mother did her best to take care of Tim at first, by the time he was five, she began abusing both alcohol and drugs. When he was ten, a social worker had stepped in and placed him in a group home. A shy, withdrawn child, he spent as much of his time as possible with his nose buried in books to escape the tormenting of his peers.
One of the workers at the group home had taken him under her wing, suggesting that with his love of books, he volunteer at the local library after school. He did. Later, since he was of above average intelligence, he was able to get a scholarship to the community college in the city and earned his library science degree. When there was an opening at the library where he had volunteered, he applied for the job and was hired. He'd been there ever since.
And look where it got me. He closed the book, staring moodily off into space. Five years of working at the library and I really know maybe five people there. I wouldn't call them friends. Just people I have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. They're no more interested in me as a person than… than the baristas at my local coffee shop are.
He knew it was his own fault. He wasn't outgoing. He didn't interact well with people. Not that I'm rude or anything. I just… why bother? I'm the weird guy who can't hold up my end of a conversation without making a fool of myself. Well, unless it has to do with books. He smiled slightly. Then I can talk a blue streak and bore the other guy out of his mind.
That thought brought him to the next problem in his life. Guys. He liked men, had known that since he'd reached puberty. Not that it did him any good.
"How do I meet someone who might be interested in me when I can't even strike up a conversation in a bar?" he asked out loud. "Not there, not… anywhere."
He buried his face in his hands, his depression deepening as it always did when he considered his life—or lack thereof. "I'm… useless. If I died tomorrow, the only person who'd care would be the head librarian and that would be because she'd have to find someone to replace me."
Raising his head again, he looked around the apartment. He realized, as he often had, that other than the shelves of books along one wall, it was devoid of anything personal. The only pieces of furniture were things he'd found at thrift shops when he'd first moved in. The one picture, hanging above the sofa, he had bought at a yard sale. It was a framed print of Picasso's 'Don Quixote', slightly yellowed with age. It had suited his lonely mood when he'd seen it and it still did.
Getting up, he turned off the light and went to look out the front window. He'd been right earlier that evening when he thought it would be snowing soon. Flakes drifted down, their shapes caught in the light from the streetlamps. He had to admit it was pretty, but he shivered at the idea that winter was arriving. Dark, lonely winter. It suited his mood.
Turning away, he headed to his bedroom, wondering how he was going to survive another day, to say the least of the rest of his life.