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Funny Story: Chapter 36

I STEP UP in front of the reference desk.

I’ve never heard the library like this, so raucous, humming with energy—and this is just our volunteers.

Ashleigh cups her hands around her mouth. “Listen up, people! This is our children’s librarian, Daphne, and she’s going to walk us through protocol before the kids get here.”

The room quiets. I can only see the first several rows of volunteers, Huma and her husband among them.

I steady my office chair and climb onto it. “First of all, thank you all for being here.”

Rowdy applause erupts from the back of the room, along with a high-pitched whoop!

I recognize Julia’s voice before I spot her, standing just beyond the Story Nook, with a handful of other last-minute volunteers.

Elda, the cheesemonger Miles introduced me to at the prom, once again dressed like an eighties fairy godmother.

Barb and Lenore, in matching tracksuits (tiny Barb’s pink, tall Lenore’s lavender).

Katya, with the baby bangs, from Cherry Hill, and a person with a shaved head and septum ring who I recognize but haven’t met.

And just behind them, a head of messy dark hair, soft brown eyes.

My heart seems to unzip.

Miles smiles tentatively, an apology of a smile: Should I be here right now?

You should always be here, my heart answers.

My nervous system agrees, a feeling like some stovetop-warmed caramel drizzled over me.

I wish I could take back everything I said to him.

I spent so much time accustoming myself to one kind of surprise—the kind hinging on disappointments, hurts, small abandonments, and emotional bartering—that I’d stopped considering there might be any other.

A surprise, it turns out, is different when it comes from someone who knows and loves you.

Beside me, Ashleigh coughs. I have no idea how long I’ve been staring at him, feeling like I might burst into confetti or tears.

“It means so much to me,” I say, voice already hoarse. I tear my gaze from him and sweep it over the audience. “To be part of a community like this. To me, libraries have always represented the best of humanity. The way we all share knowledge and space, and . . . and how we find ways to look after each other. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s powerful. I know there are a lot of other places you could be on a Saturday night.”

My throat constricts. “There aren’t words for how special this is. That you’ve shown up for the kids, and Waning Bay, and me.”

I let myself look at Miles, just for an instant. “It matters. So much.”

His lips part, his brow smoothing out.

For a moment, it’s just the two of us.

I clear my throat and pivot. “So, everyone signed up to work in registration, you’ll be over here with Ashleigh . . .”

THIS IS HOW time works.

The things you wait months for blink past, like the flash of a strobe, huge swaths lost in the dark beats between.

Elda runs our refreshments room, which—thanks to her last-minute donations—has moved from sleepover fare to a bizarre mix of cupcakes, potato chips, Mountain Dew, and top-tier charcuterie. The parents are thrilled.

The cheesemonger is thrilled.

But no one’s more thrilled than Harvey.

At first I think it’s a purely cheese-based joy Elda’s inspired in him, but even as her supplies dwindle, he keeps doubling back to the community room. I watch them laughing together through the windows, and think again that sometimes the unexpected is better than what you plan.

The same universe that dispassionately takes things away can bring you things you weren’t imaginative enough to dream up.

Every hour, on the hour, the kids line up for prizes, then skip and run and tumble back to their reading spots of choice, or else to the nook to watch a virtual author visit. In Landon’s absence, Katya’s friend Banks, the person with the shaved head and septum ring—who, it turns out, works part-time at Fika—runs tech.

Miles is ostensibly on trash-and-cleanup duty, though at one point I catch him in the Sci-Fi area, the Fontana triplets dangling off him like he’s the rotating pillar at the center of a high-flying swing-set carousel.

Julia and another volunteer run the Picture Book circle for the not-yet-readers, and Huma helps kids in the Contemporary section choose their next reads.

Then there’s Maya.

Tucked back in the Fantasy corner, on side-by-side beanbags with Ethan from the YA Backlist book club. They aren’t speaking, just silently reading the same Alice Hoffman book, The Rules of Magic, while, over by the study tables, Maya’s mom chats with Ethan’s dads.

Maya’s and my two-person book club might be coming to an end soon, I realize, and I’m tempted to feel a bit sad, but I’m also so proud of her, for stepping outside of her comfort zone.

And I’m proud of myself too, feel like I’ve honored the twelve-year-old girl I was. Like in a very small way, maybe I’ve made this already wonderful place just a tiny bit better. It’s made me better.

The hum and din settle to the quiet contentment I most associate with the library, and most of the younger kids and their guardians siphon off by midnight. The soda and chocolate cherries keep the preteens going strong until three.

At that point, I duck back into the office to power-nap under the desk, but the adrenaline won’t let me sleep.

Occasional shrieks and giggles make their way to me, and I catch myself grinning at the underside of the desk.

I pull my phone out and open my messages with my mom. She sent one this morning—yesterday morning now, technically—that I haven’t replied to yet.

Woke up thinking about you, she writes. Proud of you, my brave girl.

I feel even more sure about my decision than I did last night.

I love this library.

I love my coworkers, and I love the patrons. I love the lake and the farm stands and BARn and Ashleigh and Julia and Miles.

love Miles.

And I also love my mother. A part of me will always be just a little bit homesick for her when we’re apart. She’s my constant, and I don’t take that lightly.

I love you, I tell her.

Love you more, she says.

After tonight, I’ll tell the others. For now I don’t want to think about the future. I want to be wholly present.

I dust myself off and leave the office.

Take in the soft musk of books and the hint of pine and something I can’t name but recognize like an old friend.

I feel a bittersweetness that this moment can’t last, that time will pull us along soon. But for the first time in a while, I’m excited about the unknown.

I’m looking forward to the surprises.

We’ve stayed busy enough that Miles and I haven’t had a chance to exchange more than a cursory How are you and Good, how are you and Thank you for being here. I’ve been putting out small fires and, in one tragic situation, unclogging toilets, for long enough to become famished.

When I pop my head into the refreshment room, it looks like a powerful clan of Vikings with nut allergies has rolled through.

Elda the cheesemonger and Harvey don’t even seem to notice me, just keep chatting in the far corner of the room, their uncomfortable wooden seats angled together.

I grab a brownie and cram it into my mouth as I leave the community room.

“Keep it PG, Vincent,” Ashleigh teases. “Some of the kids are still awake.” At my baffled look, she says, “You were doing your good-food moan.”

“Sorry,” I say, mouth full.

She and the rest of the cleanup crew have started gathering the final wave of flotsam and jetsam from the night. Over by the front doors, Miles is sorting the recycling, trash, and compost into bags.

“They’re divine, aren’t they?” she says, jutting her chin toward the brownie.

“Really, really good.”

Ashleigh smiles. “Miles brought them. Did you know he bakes?”

I sneak another glance at him. He’s turned away, stretching his arms over his head sleepily, a band of skin visible along his waist until his arms fall back to his sides.

Ashleigh cackles. “Now, that sound was definitely not PG.”

I face her, cheeks burning. “I didn’t make a sound.”

From her smirk, I realize she’s joking with me. She bumps her elbow against mine and jerks her chin toward Miles. “Go on.”

“It’s not over yet,” I say.

She rolls her eyes. “Daphne. Look around. You’re welcome to stick around for ten more minutes if you’re dying to, but when the timer’s up, I’m going to sweep you off the stage like an amateur-night executioner, while the three remaining kids here boo and hurl chocolate cherries at your head.”

I’m still hesitant. “Shouldn’t I see this through to the end?”

She drops her trash bag at my feet and grabs my hands in hers. “You did. You made it through the summer. We pulled off the event of the year. The hard part’s over.”

A huge weight lifts from my chest. The knot beneath it loosens and unwinds. “We did it.”

I made it through.

We both laugh, slaphappy from lack of sleep.

She pulls me into a hug, and I squeeze her back, the trash bag now sitting at our feet like a puppy. “Not sure what the rules are about saying this at work,” I say, “but I love you.”

“I fucking love you too,” she says. “Now, go get your man.”


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