Anna Karenina

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“Do you think he’ll be there?”

“Trust me, he’s always there.”

“Who like goes to a library anymore? Especially on Christmas break? Does he like have to go or something?”

“Alex. That’s who. And no, he doesn’t have to go. He says he enjoys the solitude.”

“But it’s all like totally quiet in there.”

“You know what? You could benefit from some time in the library yourself.” Her new friend completely missed the dig and kept right on going.

“Well, if he’s as hot as you say, then yeah, for sure! I could like read a magazine or something.”

Lydia loved her new best friend who was more fun than anyone she’d ever known, but she was by no means the brightest bulb in the shed. Teresa, or Tesi (pronounced TEE-see) as she’d been called since the age of two, was not only fun, but some said she was almost as attractive as Lydia, and Lydia had dated Alex Voss for over a year, and she was therefore Tesi’s inroad to meeting the best-looking guy in school who happened to something of a recluse.

Alex Voss was an almost 19-year old senior who’d been held back a year when he was six because he was so far behind his peers when it came to reading. He was not only a very good looking guy but a shoe-in to be the class valedictorian. Since his setback, he’d learned to read well and then learned to love to read. He’d been a very good student since, but when his mother passed away during his 8th-grade year, he became withdrawn and turned to books not only for enjoyment, but for solace.

He quit playing sports and spent his time at home reading and mostly books. Lots of books. By the time he was a sophomore he’d read most of the top 100 classic books of literature as well as many novels written by modern writers like Tom Clancy, Dale Brown, James Patterson, and Michael Crichton. He loved adventure novels, science fiction, and just about anything related to science.

But more than anything he loved romance novels. No one but his dad had known his secret until he confessed it to Lydia some six months after they started dating, and so far, she’d kept her promise never to tell anyone. She wasn’t sure why it was so important to Alex, but a promise was a promise, and if she ever hoped to win him back, she wouldn’t do it by betraying his confidence.

Today she hoped that introducing him to someone cute might win her some points for being magnanimous. She also knew it couldn’t hurt as there was no chance in hell Alex Voss would ever go out with someone as vacuous as Tesi Robertson.

Alex had once tried his best to explain to Lydia how books made him feel, but it so far over her head (or in reality, her experience base) that she simply couldn’t understand him. He’d tried using one example he thought was very simple, a book called Love Story by Erich Segal. Lydia’s eyes had glazed over the moment he started discussing the rich vs poor dynamic and was totally lost by the time he summed it up with, “So that’s why she told him again near the end that love means never having to say your sorry.”

She’d responded by smiling seductively and saying, “So…you wanna fuck?”

He’d been so turned off by her response he never again shared any of his deepest feelings with her. From then on, he kept things on her level and enjoyed the relationship as much as he could with sex being the best part. But no matter how good Lydia had been in bed, he yearned for someone who could understand him in a way she couldn’t.

He had a teacher his junior year who could, and he’d spent as much time with her as she’d allow, but she was a happily married woman, and the time she could give him was far too little.

What he wanted, what he craved, was to find someone who shared his passion for love. If she loved literature, too, that would be the proverbial icing on the cake, as literature was his pathway to love and romance. But were she able to actually feel what he felt when the words on a page became reality; or if she could just clearly express that without the aid of books, he would do anything for her.

Implied in that kind of love, of course, was the same level of physical passion he’d shared with Lydia. Sadly, it had been an empty passion fueled only by raw desire, but somewhere out there was a woman who was a melding of Lydia and his teacher, and one day he would find her. For now, he had his books.

“Oh…my…God! He is SO hot!” Tesi said when Lydia pointed him out.

“Shhh! We’re in the library. Keep it down, okay?”

“You so have to introduce me!” Tesi said gushing with excitement. “He could do me right there on that table in front of him!”

Lydia smiled but didn’t tell her she and Alex had done something very similar one day not that many months ago. Instead, she said, “Come on. I’ll introduce you. Just remember, keep it low key. He’s a really great guy, but he’s well…intense. And…he doesn’t like ditzes.”

“I’m not a ditz. Du-uh! I’m…hot!” she said going on ahead.

Two minutes later they were on their way back out having been told to go to hell in such a magnificent way, Tesi had casino siteleri no idea she’d even been shot down. Lydia, however, knew full well what he’d meant in spite of his warm smile and assurance it was good to meet Tesi and see Lydia again.

“I think he’s like totally into me,” Tesi said still clueless. “Did you see the way he kept checking out my boobs? Oh, yeah. He wants himself some of this,” Tesi said turning around, smiling, and waving goodbye. “See! He smiled and waved back. I told you!”

Lydia knew better. Alex Voss was not only the hottest but the nicest guy she knew. He was polite to everyone—even her—and she’d blown it with him big time. If only she knew then what she knew now they might well still be together. She sighed deeper as Tesi continued blathering on and on about how awesome he was and how she just knew he was going to call and ask her out. Again, Lydia knew better.

Two hours later on his way out, the librarian said, “Alex? You know we close tomorrow at noon and won’t be open again until noon the day after Christmas, right?”

“I did, but thank you for reminding me,” he told her politely. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow at 9am then.”

“It’s none of my business, but wasn’t that girl the one you used to go steady with?” she asked. “The brunette?”

Alex didn’t even smile at her use of the term ‘going steady’. It was a product of her generation and making fun of it would only show ignorance and disrespect on his part. “Yes, ma’am. We dated for about a year.”

“She’s a very pretty girl,” she said with a sweet smile. “You know…I would love for my daughter to have met someone like you, Alex. She’s married now but I just don’t think she’s happy. Had she found the right man…someone like you…well, who knows?”

Not knowing how to respond he simply said, “Thank you for saying that. That’s very kind.”

With that, he checked out a classic he’d had on his list for sometime but never gotten around to—Anna Karenina, a romantic novel by Russian author, Leo Tolstoy. Anna Karenina was the wife of a Russian imperial minister who created a high-society scandal by having an affair with a man known as Count Vronsky, a dashing cavalry officer in 19th-century St. Petersburg. Anna’s husband, Alexei, offers her a difficult choice: Go into exile with Vronsky but never see her young son again, or remain with her family and abide by the rules of discretion.

In a way, he was glad he’d saved it as it promised to be filled with the intrigue of passion, romance, betrayal and heartache he so dearly loved. Its 864 pages would be a marathon read, but a pleasant one Alex couldn’t wait to begin. Then again, he’d slogged through all 1,225 pages of Tolstoy’s War and Peace so this would be a ‘piece’ of cake by comparison. By the time he lay down to go to sleep that night, he’d finished just over 200 pages and couldn’t wait to start in on it again the next day.

Alex was at the library five minutes early, cradling the copy of the thick book in his hands. Not surprisingly, he was the only one there standing out in the cold waiting for the public library to open up the day before Christmas. As he waited, he stood with his back against the wall and opened the book to page 204 where he’d left off. He glanced at the clock just inside the door as he finished the next page and saw it was now 8:58. He buried his nose back in the back after turning the page and continued reading.

“That may just be my favorite tragic romance novel of all time,” Alex heard a voice say.

He looked up and saw a woman he didn’t recognize and smiled at her.

“I’m thoroughly enjoying it,” he said smiling back at her.

“Is this your first time?” she asked. “If so, I won’t spoil the ending for you.”

“It is,” he replied. “Unfortunately, I read a synopsis a couple of years ago, so I basically know what’s going to happen, but the devil…or the pleasure in this case…is in the details.”

“You know…were you a little older, you would be almost exactly the way I’ve always envisioned the dashing Alexei. Tall, handsome, dark hair. Great smile. Oh to be young and in love!” she said just as the librarian unlocked the door.

“Sorry. I just walked up and started talking. I’m Karen. Not Karenina, though. Just Karen.”

“Well, I just happen to be Alex but not Alexei,” he said enjoying the intellectual play on words.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Alex,” she told him. “I trust you won’t attempt to seduce me and cause an, um…low-society scandal of sorts.”

Her smile was unbelievably warm and inviting, and she was quite possibly the most attractive woman her age he’d ever seen. He guessed to be over 30 but had no idea exactly how old she might be. His first thought was 33 as her skin was soft and smooth and there still wasn’t so much of a hint of a laugh line or even those faint wrinkles that inevitably form around the eyes. She wore her hair below her chin and above her shoulders; hair which was very dark and thick with a shine so bright he thought he might be able to see his reflection were he to get canlı casino close enough to look.

She was dressed very nicely for such a cold day. Underneath her heavy, black, wool coat he saw a maroon-colored sweater and a pair of black pants. Her lips and nails were painted the same color as the sweater and he it was obvious she took very good care of more than just her very pretty face.

“Please,” she said as the door opened. “You were here first.”

“I can’t do that,” he said taking the door and holding it for her. “Ladies first.”

“Well, thank you. That’s so kind and so unexpected,” she said still smiling.

He followed her in and decided to try and engage her in conversation.

“I’m curious to know what brings you to the public library of all places on Christmas Eve day,” he said as they walked in together.

“I was going to ask you the same thing,” she replied. “Not to stereotype, but people your age tend not to spend much time in places like this.”

“This is kind of my home away from home,” he told her.

The librarian overhead and told the woman, “Alex spends so much time here we’re getting ready to rename the library after him. In fact, he has his own table in that far corner over there.” She pointed to the place and the woman smiled after noting where it was.

“Then shame on me for stereotyping,” she said.

“So now that you know my secret, what brings you to my favorite hangout?”

The woman’s smile faded as she said, “Necessity?”

“Necessity?” Alex repeated.

“Our house burned down last year. My husband’s and mine,” she said quietly. Then even more quietly she said, “I…I lost him in the fire.”

Alex was deeply touched and felt a strong sense of empathy for her loss. “I’m so sorry, Karen. I lost my mom a few years ago. I can’t say I know exactly what you’re going through, but I do know what it’s like to lose someone you love. Please accept my deepest condolences.”

“Thank you, Alex. And please accept mine. I, too, am very sorry for your loss.”

“I’m well… still at a loss to see the connection with that and the library,” he said very kindly.

“Oh, right. Well, along with the most important thing in my life, I also lost shelves full of books. Classics, first editions. So many wonderful and important books. The insurance company is still holding off on payment—’abnormalities’ with the investigation or something like that is what they say… Anyway, even once they finally do pay off, I’ll never be able to replace those books. To be honest, I haven’t felt much like reading since, but lately I’ve doing much better and I thought I’d get a library card and check some out to read over the holidays.”

“Okay, now it makes sense. Any idea what you’re looking for? I probably know right where every book in this place is located,” he told her with a sincere smile.

“Several, actually. Let me get my card and I’ll take you up on your very kind offer.”

Ten minutes later she was all set. She walked over to ‘his’ table then said, “Do you come her alone or with friends or…?” She removed her coat revealing a very nice-looking body which Alex tried not to look at more than once. She took a seat across from him and waited for him to reply.

“Alone,” he told her. “Having someone with me would be distracting and defeat the purpose of coming her. I really enjoy the quiet and the solitude.”

“Ah! A man after my own heart,” she said. “We had a den and a study in our home. My husband…my late husband, Glen, spent his quiet time in the study—mostly on the computer—and I enjoyed curling up with a book in the den. I loved hearing nothing but the sound of my own breathing and the turning of the pages.” She had a wistful look in her eyes and Alex heard the unmistakable sound of melancholy in her voice.

“That sounds heavenly,” he told her sincerely.

“So after having botched it so badly by stereotyping you for your age, I hope I won’t be making the same mistake by assuming there must be a young lady in your life because…well, frankly, because you are a very handsome young man. I was thinking she must either be very lonely or resentful of this place for taking up so much of your time. How far off am I this time?”

He loved her smile and her pleasant, easy-going manner. The fact that she also loved to read made her just that much more appealing and interesting to him.

“To tell you the truth, I had been dating someone but we broke up just before Thanksgiving. We didn’t have as much in common as I’d like…” He held up his book and turned it back and forth indicating he meant his love of books.

“Ah! I see. You’re looking for a fellow intellectual,” she said trying to understand him.

“Oh, well, I can’t call myself an intellectual, but I do love to read.” He set the book down then told her, “I guess I’m also a hopeless romantic.” He smiled at her then added, “So until I can find someone who sees the world more like me, I can at least dream about it through the written word.”

She sat there and stared at him for several kaçak casino seconds before speaking again.

“You are a very unusual—and interesting young man, Alex.”

“Thank you, Karen. Unusual and interesting beats ‘dull’ and ‘boring’, the way most girls my age tend to describe me.” He smiled when he said it, but she knew how girls could be at that age, especially when they wanted something they couldn’t have.

“Girls your age can be…dare I say…clueless?” She saw him smile again and she couldn’t help but laugh. “I believe I just stereotyped all females your age. You’d think I’d learn after being so wrong twice in a row. I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule for both males and females. Exceptions like yourself.”

“I’d like to think so,” he told her. “It’s what keeps me motivated to continue believing there really are. Exceptions, I mean.”

“Forgive me for asking, but have you graduated from high school yet?” she asked.

Alex smiled broadly and told her, “I should have. Ironically, I was a terrible reader early on and my parents had me held back in first grade. As it turns out, that may have been the best thing that ever happened to me.” He picked up the book again then said, “Or if not the best thing, at least a very good one.”

“I’ve always loved to read,” she said. “I was a very plain, unattractive girl so reading was my solace. It was my friend. It took me everywhere in my mind without having to leave my room. I must have fallen in love a hundred times with the handsome leading men in the novels I read growing up.” She had that same wistful look in her eyes again and it wasn’t lost on Alex.

“I’m not doubting you, Karen, but it’s very difficult imagining you as unattractive or even plain. I’m probably stepping way outside my bounds, but you are a very beautiful woman.”

“And you are a very charming young man, Alex. Thank you for making me feel good. That was very sweet of you.”

“It was the truth,” he told her in a way that made her realize he hadn’t said those things to flatter her. Rather, it was obvious he’d meant them.

She caught herself staring again then shook her head slightly before smiling and saying, “Is is still possible to get that guided tour?”

“It is,” he told her as he stood up. “And you’re in luck. There’s no charge the day before any federal holiday.”

He extended his arm as he spoke and Karen, who tried to laugh quietly at his silliness, nodded her head and took it. “Why, thank you, kind sir!” she said.

“My pleasure, madame,” he said nodding back. “What’s at the top of your list?”

After a half hour of ‘guided wandering’ Karen had four books, the maximum she could check out as a new cardholder. Well, more accurately, Alex had four books as he refused to let her carry them. He set them down at the front desk, and as he turned to head back to his seat, Karen said, “Would it disturb you if I sat and read at your table? I promise not say another word.”

Alex laughed quietly and told her, “I would appreciate the company very much.”

When he was out of earshot Karen said to the librarian, “He is a very mature young man.”

She was checking out her second book when she replied, “I’ve known Alex since his mother passed away. That’s when he started coming in here. I’ve seen hundreds of kids over the years, but I’ve never met anyone as mature, thoughtful, and intelligent as Alex Voss.” The matronly-looking woman glanced over at him and said, “Were I 40 years younger…”

Karen smiled when the older woman laughed. “He is rather handsome, isn’t he?”

“The kids nowadays say ‘hot’ so I suppose that would mean Alex is on fire, huh?” She handed Karen her fourth book as she chuckled softly one more time. “Those are due on January 14th, dear,” she said as Karen picked up the stack. Karen thanked her then headed toward the table where Alex was now buried behind the pages of the thick novel he was holding in both hands.

She laid the books on the table, selected Madame Bovary, and without saying a word began reading.

It was just before noon when the librarian came over and said, “Just a reminder. We’ll be closing in ten minutes.”

As she walked away Karen glanced at the tiny, thin, silver watch on her wrist and said, “Oh, my. That time just flew by!”

Alex finished the page he was reading, then stuck the bookmark in its place. “I know. It seems like we just sat down. Looks like I’ll be holed up in my room for a couple of days until my fortress reopens.”

He picked up his book then looked at Karen and said, “It was a real pleasure meeting you, Karen. I would love to have the same pleasure again one day. Oh, um…Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas, to you, too.” She smiled and before he’d taken a second step, she said, “Alex? Would you like to maybe get a cup of coffee? I’m not sure how else to thank you for the um…guided tour.”

“Oh, there’s no need. Just being able to meet you was thanks enough.” Again, she knew he was genuinely being sincere.

“Oh, okay,” she said. “I guess maybe I was hoping we could spend a little more time together. I can’t remember the last time I found someone…anyone…who loves to read as much as I do. But I understand. It’s not exactly ‘cool’ to hang out with someone my age so…”

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