The Library, Learning How to Play Life

The following short story is from English 113, Creative Writing. I took the class to both learn more about the writing process and gain some insight outside of the journalistic style. I feel I gained a lot that will no doubt help me later on in my journey. 

For most college students, the library is a place tucked far away in some dark corner. A place full of mystery, and to many more, nothing more than a reminder of how awful the decision to attend college was. Gilbert was considered by many as an odd one, a loner that loved this place with all his heart. Gilbert wandered in and simply couldn’t stop coming for more. To Gilbert the library was a museum waiting to be explored, every day, with his backpack full of gear to hunt and collect knowledge.

Why is this place not open on the weekends? Gilbert asked himself as he entered the large double doors that led to the two-story library.

His name was Jose, a regular to the library nowadays. Jose visited the library for what he called “research.” The former graduate of the school took advantage of the school offering the use of facilities to alumni, coming from a poor home of Mexican heritage where the internet was still never heard of.

“Who would want to spend their time here?” Jose mumbled under his breath. The big man looked as if he could have moved the whole library from one end of campus to the other, with his bare hands. “This chick better appreciate what I go through for her,” he said as he walked through the oversized double doors leading to the library.

“Sure is different in here,” he said to the familiar librarian sitting behind the large desk where an overhead sign read ‘ASK ME.’ The desk was there to help students navigate the physical area of the library.

Mary, the librarian seated directly under the ‘ASK ME’ sign responded as if she were expecting him to say that, “Actually, not much has changed, the carpet was the last thing changed and that was during our freshman year,” Mary said as she attempted to multi-task between Jose and those students that actually required her assistance.

“Oh come on, coach made us sign-in and the only thing I saw in here was the back of my eyelids,” Jose reminded Mary as he directed her attention back onto him. Never one to accept being outcast from his own conversation. Jose always liked to consider himself, the star of the show.

“Always too cool for the room, huh Jose?” Mary responded in a way that ensured Jose got her point of being busy with other tasks.

“Well, Mary, I have to go announce my return in the cafeteria, I just wanted to announce my presence before feeding the machine,” Jose said as he turned away in slow motion as if the cameras were directing him.

***

Jose would make his way to the cafeteria with an obvious appreciation for the hard work he had put in to obtain his muscular figure. His broad shoulders would swing side-to-side like a weightlifter posing in front of a wall full of mirrors. The cafeteria provided a long line of sight for what Jose thought would allow for his admirers appreciative of his return to campus. The walkway leading to the kitchen provided a runway for Jose to show-off his chiseled figure to all of those looking to catch up with friends and grab a quick cup of Joe before venturing off to class.

Noticing very few heads turn to follow him into the kitchen, Jose mumbled to himself. “These people are so inconsiderate, acting like they don’t recognize what gave this place its name.”

Jose headed for the flat grill where “Mrs. Bee” had come to call home for her fifth year. “An extremely friendly lady,” all those who crossed the grill line would no doubt say.

“Give me the goods… lady,” Jose demanded of Mrs. Bee.

“Exxxxxcuse me!” she said as she looked at Jose with a fierce stare that hit its mark. The sound of the spatula slapping across the hot iron grill grew louder as the obvious frustration mounted.

Taken back with the direct response, lowering his tone Jose responded, “Sorry. . . Ma’am, it’s just that I’m super hungry and as you can tell- I need your best to meet my needs,” he said.

Kids! She thought to herself as she cracked eggs over the grill and the sizzle of the egg frying seemed to have also sizzled any tension that had previously existed.

***

Every day before, after, and in-between class, Gilbert occupied the same spot in the school library. Today was no different.

“Hello Gilbert,” Mary quietly said to the young boy as he gracefully walked past her work station. Mary was familiar with the young boy who spent so much time in the library.

“Good morning Mrs. Stone,” the always cheerfully Gilbert responded. “Hope you have great day!” he finished.

So much to do, so little time, Gilbert thought to himself as he sat at the oversized table imagining he was expecting to be joined at any moment. He carefully unpacked the contents of his backpack.

***

Ensuring his presence was acknowledged as he returned to the library, Jose said. “Did you miss me?” to the occupants behind the library’s help desk.

“Absolutely, I was beginning to think of how I would adjust to life without the presence of the GREAT Jose Rodriguez,” Mary responded.

“Were you gone, I hadn’t noticed,” another lady responded as she peered over the lenses of her glasses that sat on the tip of her nose.

“Well, I have work to do, but don’t worry- I’ll never be more than shouting distance away,” he replied to the two ladies and headed off for enough room to sit his oversized stature which was larger than normal from the protein packed breakfast.

***

This is absolutely uncalled for, so many people just wasting their life away. Jose glanced across the library as he continued to look for a place to take up residence for the day.

Finding a table large enough for a group only being occupied by a young skinny man, Jose had found a seat.

“I’m going to sit here, if that is a problem there is plenty of seats in the cafeteria,’ he said as he sat down at the table.

“No problem, sir.” Gilbert looked up at Jose to be sure he knew that there was no problem at all. “Plenty of room on this big table.”

“SIR! Boy are you implying that I look old?” Jose replied with a seriousness that frightened the skinny kid enjoying his early western civilization reading.

“NO, NO . . . please- I… I… I… was just being polite, I don’t want any trouble. Please accept my apologies.” Gilbert appeared to be quite frightened.

“Take it easy, I guess you couldn’t sense my sarcasm?” Maybe it was his stature, but Jose’s humor seemed to fall flat more than he would like.

“Sure. . . I understand. I never would intend to imply that you look old. Implying that someone looks old would be disrespectful. Not only that, it could hurt feelings.” Gilbert’s eyes wandered back to the page on his book that had previously consumed his attention.

The sense of discomfort was obvious as Gilbert quickly stared back into his book hoping to avoid any further awkwardness.

“I guess you’re right! Maybe I came off kind of brash…” Jose said to Gilbert. Did I just scare this poor kid he wondered? “So, what are you studying for?” he asked as his shoulders raised and took control over the table that the two were occupying.

“Never mind, it looks boring.” He said quickly to not allow the slightest of response from Gilbert. Let’s talk about your T-shirt. You know I pitched for the Redbirds only a couple of years ago?”

“Oh… Oh… Oh…, I thought you looked familiar.” Gilbert’s attention was now shifted from his book and onto Jose. “You are Jose Rodriguez, I was so excited when the Reds drafted you. My grandpa always loved them and was super excited about all the high praise and expectations placed on you.”

“Sure was it wasn’t the team I wanted to play for, but hey- they paid well!” Jose responded with an ‘of course’ tone.

“My grandpa used to take me to Riverfront Stadium every summer. He left me a Johnny Bench signed baseball when he passed this past summer. He loved your delivery and always went on-and-on about how they finally made a good pick.” The tension grew as Gilbert settled into his seat and hoped to avoid the tears that talking about his grandpa were bringing.

“Well, way to make me feel bad kid.” Jose partially interrupted Gilbert to make sure Gilbert wasn’t able to let a tear fall. Not that Jose cared whether or not Gilbert let a tear fall. He looked into Gilbert’s eyes interested in what the boy would say next.

The interruption calmed Gilbert enough to him, with the help of a large swallow, respond without any obvious discomfort.

“No… no… no…, it’s not like that. It’s just hard to think of the Reds and not think about . . . about Pops.” Gilbert swallowed again to catch his breath. “You are right, I am completely sorry, you were talking about you. Please accept my apologies for interrupting! So, what are you doing here- you went to school here, right?”

“Its fine, kid. No need to always be apologizing, I’m not a professor here, but yes, I played here before pitching for the Redbirds.”

Thinking to himself, Gilbert let out a slight mumble… “What are you doing here? I mean in the library. Last I heard, you were taking a recruiting job in Texas.” Gilbert was sure if his grandpa was still alive and heard of this encounter he would have to answer the question of What was Jose doing back home in the library!

“I am, did. What I mean is yes, I took the job. I’m back home to tie-up some loose ends before heading down. Let me let you in on a secret. You see that hot mama behind the desk?”

Looking up and alarmed at the question, Gilbert responded “I don’t look at women that way.”

“Come on kid, give me a break. You some kind of Amish priest? Where’s your beard?” Once again, Jose’s sense of humor missed its target.

The obvious confusion was taking over Gilbert. Gilbert had never been referred to as a priest and hoped that he wasn’t offending Jose. Totally out of is element here and attempting to not offend someone who he looked up to and that ‘Pops’ admired. Gilbert knew there was no way this conversation was heading anywhere good. Wondering how he could ensure Jose knew how much he admired and applauded his playing experience he attempted to shift the focus.

“Well, actually I am not all that much of a people person. My mom and dad are teachers and I just never chatted much about a woman’s appearance. But, sure, you must be talking about Mary?”

“You’re damn right bud. That’s my girl. Taking her to Texas with me to start a family.” Jose and Mary had dated ever since Jose asked Mary to wear his jersey on the Friday of Homecoming week during the two’s junior year of high school. Jose was the star athlete and Mary couldn’t refuse.

“I surely hope this doesn’t come across as rude or me invading in personal affairs that are none of my business, but isn’t Mar…..? Gilbert stopped himself, thinking O boy I did it now.

“You mean Coach Stone? That bum wishes he was me . . . obviously. I leave for one year and he steals my girl. Thinks he is a coach. Ha! Couldn’t hold my jockstrap. That’s why I got drafted and he didn’t, never had the strength to throw above community college. Matter of fact, I am the reason he even played here.”

“I’m sorry, didn’t mean to intrude. Just that you said you were taking her to Texas and. . .and I just wonder how that is possible?” Gilbert’s parents had been married since years before his birth. In fact, Gilbert didn’t know anybody to ever divorce.

“Boy, I thought you said you were a fan? You should know that, well, besides Tommy John and his stupid surgery, nobody can hold Jose Rodriguez from getting what he wants. I suppose you don’t think I can do it? I’ll go up there right now and you just watch the way she looks at me. She obviously wants me back.”

“I… I… I… better get back to my homework. I have a big test coming up this week.” Gilbert eyes wandered back into his book.

“You doubt me, don’t you?” Jose never backed down from a challenge and wasn’t going to start now.

“Absolutely not, sir. . . I… I… I… better not talk about their marriage. It is not my place. The bible says “” Thou shall not commit adultery,””.

“SIR… kid. I told you already not to call me SIR! You are an Amish Priest, aren’t you- quoting the bible. She isn’t committing no crime against your bible. They won’t be married when I take her to Texas.”

“Please excuse me, I do really need to study.” Again Gilbert looked back into his book this time hoping he wouldn’t have to answer any more questions about marriage or be considered a priest.

“So, tell me. What would your bible do if it were me?’

“The bible is not a person, more of a way of life. If you were to accept the bible, then you would have no thoughts of another man’s wife. You are famous, you can have any women you would like.”

“O, sparked a nerve I see!” Jose said to Gilbert.

“Please sir . . . that is not what I meant.” Gilbert’s face was turning red and sweat began to flow.

“Okay, so what would you do if someone stole your girl? Let me guess, you never had a girl? You are a nerd- as they say.”

“Well, if that is what they say, yes. Yes I am a nerd. I enjoy studying. I really need to get back to studying.” Gilbert’s voice cracked and he sunk back into the book on the table. His hands shielded his eyes in hopes that he would be unseen.

“Kid, I am sorry. Maybe you are right. I am a prick. And, Well, Mary is married. Jose showed a new sense of concern for the conversation and the young man he had sat down with.

So tell me, “Why do you wear the Redbirds gear?” Jose wasn’t one to appear on his heels. Not even late in the game with the win on the line. Jose was always confident and clearly in charge of every situation.

“I plan to transfer there and become a teacher like my mom and dad. Except I want to be a Physical Education teacher and they both teach math.” Gilbert again appeared slightly cheerful, what little bit of confidence that remained was keeping Gilbert from running out and finding a hiding place where nobody would ever find him.

“Well, kid. I totally look like some arrogant prick, don’t I?” Jose had lowered his tone and for once had a feeling of loneliness come over him. Man, I really have no grasp on reality- this poor kid looked up to me and here I am acting like some macho man.

“Absolutely not. I am in no place to judge another. You were a great pitcher and for that, I will always look up to.” Jose’s thoughts drifted to growing up and traveling to visit his grandparents and Mexico. His Abuelita would have had Jose apologize to store clerks if he left without saying thank you, she would be devastated at how he was acting to both this poor kid and married women.

“Well, I better get to acting like a role model then, huh? Excuse me, I have to go.” Jose got up to leave, as he walked out his shoulders were less bowed out and he walked much slower with his head slightly down.

Stopping at the desk Jose said to Mary, “I just wanted to say, congratulations on the wedding. Tell coach Stone congrats also. I just needed to return here to gather myself before heading down to Texas for work. I guess after all these years, the library finally taught me something.” Jose was gone just as fast as he had shown up.

***

“Good Morning Mrs. Stone,” Gilbert said as he made his way to his favorite study area. “Have a great day.”

“Morning Gilbert. Hey . . . someone dropped this off for you.” Mary handed Gilbert a box inside a bag from the school’s bookstore.

“Thank you,” he said as he accepted the box and headed off to study.

Must be the notepad that I misplaced, he thought to himself as he began to open the small box. First he pulled out the sheet of paper that covered the contents of the box.

Dear Gilbert (It is Gilbert right?) The kid wearing the Redbird gear… I just wanted to thank you for the conversation you shared with me. You really opened my eyes to what life is really about. And, it’s not only about me. I applaud your focus and determination. So much so that after I left I realized how much I had taken for granted. I actually was about to ruin a marriage without ever thinking about everybody involved. I get it now kid. I am going to be the role model you look at me as- that others look at me as. This journey isn’t about me; it’s about using my talent to help others. So as you read this, no doubt at your table trying to study, please accept my apologies and the enclosed gifts as my way of thanking you for the kind words and supporting me.

Opening the contents Gilbert found a brand new authentic Hall of Fame Johnny Bench jersey and a baseball signed; Dream Big Kid. Jose Rodriguez.

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Author: Justin L. Brown

Non-traditional college student.

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