“Back again already?” asked Mary, the young librarian at the front desk. Sprigs of her hair had fallen loose from the clip she used to hold it up. “Yeah, I’m afraid so,” I responded, dropping the three books I carried in on the desk. “You’re not smiling,” she said as she stood. She took the three books and started scanning them back into the library’s collection. “Let’s see—what was it we were working on this week?” She skimmed the titles as she restacked the books. “Sense and Sensibility, One Day, and Of Fear and Faith. That’s right—you were doing the ‘lady-killer in love’ this week.” “Right—I even watched too many episodes of How I Met Your Mother, but she wasn’t buying it.” ~~~ We were talking about this girl I met at the bus stop a few weeks earlier. I was absolutely struck by her—not entirely the way one might get struck by a car, but also not entirely not like that either. She was exactly what I think of when I hear the word ‘beauty,’ but it won’t do you any favors for me to describe her, so you just imagine what you think of when you hear the word. It had been raining and I was waiting on the bus to take me home after work. She walked under the little shelter at the bus stop and shook out her umbrella. She smiled at me and said ‘hi’ and…I don’t know. It probably sounds silly. It even sounds silly to me at this point. I’m sorry. I’m getting distracted. On that first day, she sat on the bench across from me reading a book while she was waiting for the bus. “What are you reading?” I asked her. “Oh, this is The Time Traveler’s Wife,” she said. “It’s supposed to be good…some kind of romance novel, I think. I’m really just starting it.” “You read a lot of romance?” She laughed. “Yeah, I guess I do. I have to get my fill somehow, right? Until Mr. Right rides up on his white horse.” I laughed, but in those moments, I realized how I could approach her—the bus stop girl, the sudden and irrational object of my affections, the—uh—her— “What’s your name?” I asked. And she told me her name as her bus pulled up and she boarded the metal box, her hair soaking in the rain, her umbrella still wrapped around itself, tucked under her arm. ~~~ “And she didn’t like hearing about all of your past conquests?” Mary smiled through her messy bangs and thick-rimmed glasses. “No. Not at all. And I only talked about them for a little while before I switched to talking about how much I was just ‘looking for the right one’ and ‘even lady-killers can be tamed.’” “Oh god, no. Please tell me you didn’t say ‘even lady-killers can be tamed.’” She was laughing now. “Tim—you’re supposed to be making her feel like a character in a romance by subtly working through the common tropes. You’re not supposed to broadcast the trope at her.” “I know,” I said. “But I guess it doesn’t matter. We’ve already tried the ‘he-man woman hater,’ the ‘broken bird,’ and the ‘lovable rogue.’ I spent a week in a kilt and another week in a cowboy hat. This woman doesn’t even know who I am at this point.” “Well, she should. I mean, I know who you are.” Her fingers paused over the keyboard and she looked up at me. “Come on,” she said. “Walk with me.” I followed her back through the library into the stacks. “There is only one trope you have left to work with, but it’s a good one, so I think it might work.” She was pulling a couple of books down and handing them to me: A Civil Campaign and some others. “What is this?” I asked, hopeful I might be nearing the end of what had increasingly felt like a creepy and strange endeavor. I was feeling embarrassed, to be honest. “It’s ‘the grovel,’” Mary replied, leading me to the section of the library where they keep movies on DVD. “The ‘grovel?’” “Yeah—so, in a bunch of romance, the guy fucks up, right? So, he has to make this grand romantic gesture in order to win back the heart of the lady.” She slid a DVD copy of Say Anything onto the stack of books I was holding. “But I’ve never had the heart of the lady.” What a weird sentence. Do the people who write and read this stuff hear themselves? “Right—but you’ve probably made her feel pretty uncomfortable, based on what you’ve told me, so you make one grand romantic gesture, declare your feelings for her, and ride off into the sunset.” “And if it doesn’t work?” We arrived back at the front desk. “It’ll work. The grand gesture always means you’re close to the end of the story.” Mary winked. She scanned the books and DVD out and handed them over to me. “I’ll see you next week.” ~~~ I read the books and watched the movie. And I thought about a lot of the other books and movies I had watched over the weeks. Mary was right. The grovel was always near the end. The man messed up, realized the error of his ways, made the gesture and groveled, and soon, everything was right. I thought back on that first conversation at the bus stop, and as I watched John Cusack hold that boombox over his head while Phil Collins gave voice to his feelings, I knew what the gesture would be. ~~~ I rented the white horse for the afternoon, but I only needed him for about an hour. I met the horse guy in a parking lot nearby at 2:00. I had the horse until 6:00. The horse guy wouldn’t let me rent the horse for just an hour. But the white horse was important to the gesture. At 4:30 PM, she would be at the bus stop, and she would be waiting until at least 5:00 PM for the bus. At 4:30 PM, I slung my bag across my shoulder and crawled up on the horse’s back and pointed him in the right direction. The white horse carried me down the street in front of the bus stop. I pulled back on the reigns in front of the little shelter. I could see her, face down in a book, reading. I sat there, stopped on a white horse in the middle of the street waiting for her to look up. Finally, she must have sensed something, and she looked up. “Tim?” “Hey—I know I’ve been weird lately, or, since you first met me. But I just saw you and I think you’re so beautiful and when you talked about your books you would smile and your eyes would light up and I just wanted to impress you and show you I care about your interests, so I’ve been working through all of the most common tropes in romance to impress you. Because I think you’re really something. The first day we met, you said you were reading those books until Mr. Right showed up on his white horse. So…I was wondering if maybe—uh—if maybe you wanted a ride home.” The bus stop was quiet. There weren’t many people, but the few who were there were all watching in silence. I looked down at her on the ground from my perch high atop the horse. “Tim—please leave me alone. You have to know this is really weird. You don’t even know me, and I don’t know anything about you. One week you’re Scottish, the next you’re a cowboy. One day you’re talking about how important waiting for the right person is and the next day you’re talking about what a lady-killer you are.” I sat silently. She went on for a while. The truth is, I felt foolish. The truth is, I didn’t know anything about her, and I had grown disillusioned with the entire exercise at some point, but I am a stubborn man—one of the worst tropes of all, be it in fiction or life. ~~~ I rode the white horse to the library in silence. I needed to return the books and movie. I approached the front doors, and as I was trying to decide where to park my ride, I heard a familiar voice. “Tim?” It was Mary. “What are you doing?” “It was grand gesture day,” I said. “You’re not smiling,” she said. “It didn’t work.” “No, but it still feels like the end.” “Almost the end,” she said. She grabbed the reigns and helped me tie the white horse to the bicycle rack near the door. I grabbed my bag and followed her inside. “Follow me,” she said. We walked back through the shelves of the library to the stacks. I wasn’t sad, really. It was nice to be around Mary—someone whose presence I had really grown accustomed to. “I realized after you left last week that there is one trope we haven’t tried,” she said. “Mary, I think I’m done—” “No—don’t be silly. Like I said, the grand gesture is always near the end. It’s not always the end.” She pulled a book off the shelf and handed it to me. “So, what’s this week’s trope?” I asked. “This week, the hero realizes that he’s been looking for love in the wrong place. This week, he realizes that love has been staring back at him during the entire ordeal. This week, the hero realizes that the person he’s meant to be with has been there the whole time. She just wasn’t who he thought it would be.” She smiled and walked past me. I followed her to the front desk. “Mary?” “Yeah, Tim?” “Last week, you said that you knew who I was.” She nodded. “Who am I?” “You’re Tim. You’re a loving and empathetic person who wants to find common interests. You’re someone who is willing to look foolish in front of the world for the person you care about. You’re an idiot who doesn’t realize why he keeps coming back to the library.” She smiled at me and handed the book to me. “But you’ll figure all of that out. You’re a smart guy.” “An idiot who is a smart guy?” I laughed. “Thanks,” I said. I started walking toward the exit, and then I remembered. “Hey—you didn’t scan this one out.” “It doesn’t need to come back,” she said with a wink. I looked down at the book. Its cover read, simply, Our Story, and on the inside, all of the pages were blank. I looked back at her over my shoulder. “I’ll see you next week,” she said.
Beeper Peddle is a writer and healer living on the East Coast. She lives with her partner and their beloved soul puppy. Beeper writes about sorrows, lies, and deep loves. When you read her work, you will dip down into her heart and end up in all manner of body parts. Should you find yourself reflected in these words, it is merely coincidence; however, it does not surprise her you share the same heart. Find her at bethpeddle.com and @beeperpeddle on Twitter and Instagram
Shane Wilson is a storyteller. No matter the medium, the emphasis of his work is on the magical act of the story, and how the stories we tell immortalize us and give voice to the abstractions of human experience. Shane lives, writes, teaches, and makes music in North Carolina. He is currently at work on a new novel. :Facebook: www.facebook.com/thatshanewilson. Twitter: @ThatShaneWilson. Instagram: @ThatShaneWilsonWebsite: www.shanewilsonauthor.com.