“No,” she said, more easily now. “I think we all imagine that. I visited Paris as a young girl, went back to France when I was forty, and was outraged that no one had waited, buildings had vanished, and all the hotel staff where I had once lived had died, retired, or traveled.”
He nodded at this, but could not seem to go on.
“Did anyone know you were coming?” she asked.
“I wrote a few, but no answers. I figured, hell, they’re busy, but they’ll be there. They weren’t.”
She felt the next words come off her lips and was faintly surprised. “I’m still here,” she said.
“You are,” he said with a quick smile. “And I can’t tell you how glad I am.”
He was gazing at her now with such intensity that she had to look away. “You know,” she said, “I must confess you look familiar, but I don’t quite fit your face with the boy who came here-“
“Twenty years ago! And as for what he looked like, that other one, me, well-“
He brought out a smallish wallet which held a dozen pictures and handed over a photograph of a boy perhaps twelve years old, with an impish smile and wild blond hair, looking as if he might catapult out of the frame.
“Ah, yes.” Miss Adams adjusted her pince-nez and closed her eyes to remember. “That one. Spaulding. William Henry Spaulding?”
He nodded and peered at the picture in her hands anxiously.
“Was I a lot of trouble?”
“Yes.” She nodded and held the picture closer and glanced up at him. “A fiend.” She handed the picture back. “But I loved you.”
“Did you?” he said and smiled more broadly.
“In spite of you, yes.”
He waited a moment and then said, “Do you still love me?”
She looked to left and right as if the dark stacks held the answer.
“It’s a little early to know, isn’t it?”
“No, no, a good question. Time will tell. Let’s not stand like your frozen friends who didn’t move. Come along. I’ve just had some late-night coffee. There may be some left. Give me your cap. Take off that coat. The file index is there. Go look up your old library cards for the hell-heck-of it.”
“Are they still there?” In amaze.
“Librarians save everything. You never know who’s coming in on the next train. Go.”
When she came back with the coffee, he stood staring down into the index file like a bird fixing its gaze on a half-empty nest. He handed her one of the old purple-stamped cards.
“Migawd,” he said, “I took out a lot of books.”
“Ten at a time. I said no, but you took them. And,” she added, “read them! Here.” She put his cup on top of the file and waited while he drew out canceled card after card and laughed quietly.
“I can’t believe. I must not have lived anywhere else but here. May I take this with me, to sit?” He showed the cards. She nodded. “Can you show me around? I mean, maybe I’ve forgotten something.”
She shook her head and took his elbow. “I doubt that. Come on. Over here, of course, is the adult section.”
“I begged you to let me cross over when I was thirteen. ‘You’re not ready,’ you said. But-“
“I let you cross over anyway?”
“You did. And much thanks.”
Another thought came to him as he looked down at her.
“You used to be taller than me,” he said.
She looked up at him, amused.
“I’ve noticed that happens quite often in my life, but I can still do this.”
Before he could move, she grabbed his chin in her thumb and forefinger and held tight. His eyes rolled.
“I remember. When I was really bad you’d hold on and put your face down close and scowl. The scowl did it. After ten seconds of your holding my chin very tight, I behaved for days.”
She nodded, released his chin. He rubbed it and as they moved on he ducked his head, not looking at her.
“Forgive, I hope you won’t be upset, but when I was a boy I used to look up and see you behind your desk, so near but far away, and, how can I say this, I used to think that you were Mrs. God, and that the library was a whole world, and that no matter what part of the world or what people or thing I wanted to see and read, you’d find and give it to me.” He stopped, his face coloring. “You did, too. You had the world ready for me every time I asked. There was always a place I hadn’t seen, a country I hadn’t visited where you took me. I’ve never forgotten.”