A thunderous bang shocked Michael Donovan from his light doze. Heart thudding in his chest, he scanned the area and spotted a large brown tome, open face up on the floor. The darn thing must have been sloppily placed on its shelf. He picked it up—nineteenth-century courthouses, many of them still in use. He was fond of sharing such tidbits of information with anyone interested. Not many were these days.
The library of the Blake County Historical Society was otherwise utterly silent. There had been no visitors that day, or the day before, or the day before that. The small museum on the lower level occasionally still received visitors, but scarcely anyone ever made it up to the archives and library department.
Michael glanced at the clock on the wall: twenty minutes before closing time—finally! On his timeworn desk, a book he had been reading to pass the time, something about the unsung heroes of World War II, lobbied for his attention. He put it in the top drawer. In another instant, he would have turned off the lights, but he heard the distinctive sound of the door chime announcing that someone had come in.
He turned around to see a blond woman in her mid-twenties, very attractive, with green, catlike eyes, and a captivating aura of sophistication and grace.
The woman stood by the door with the weightless poise of a magical creature whose feet barely touched the ground. She wore a faint and apologetic smile. “I’m sorry to come in at such a late hour. I can see that you’re about to close for the day. I could come back tomorrow.” Her voice was soft and velvety, yet also rich and powerful.
Thrown into a daze, Michael barely recovered before it got awkward. “Oh no, it’s fine. It’s great to finally have a guest here today. I’m Michael Donovan, director of the archives and library.” He immediately hated the way he dropped his absurd, inflated title on her like that. “How may I be of assistance?” he added with a slight nod.
“You’re very kind, Michael. My name is Anna Goddard. My grandfather was Charles Goddard. He passed away about three years ago. You may have known him, as he was prominent in our town as a businessman and philanthropist.”
Name dropping within two minutes—must be a new record! Michael sounded the spoiled-rich-girl alert. “Charles Goddard, yes, I met him once at one of our galas years ago, though only briefly. I’m sorry to hear that he’s no longer with us. Your grandfather was a generous contributor to this institution.” He could vomit right now. How he had despised that conceited old man!
“Yes, thank you for your…thoughtful words. He did care a great deal about protecting our heritage. Actually, that is what brings me here. You see, I believe my grandfather donated a small collection of family photographs, deeming them of interest to local historians. I understand a few were from the inauguration ceremony of the St. Mary’s School in the 1960s and some from the school’s basketball championship in 1984.”
Anna stepped closer to him. “My father played on that championship team, and he has never stopped talking about it.” She smiled roguishly. “So, anyway, I would very much like to see some of those pictures, if you really have the time to help me find them. It’s just a matter of curiosity, really,” she added graciously, as if she felt the need to explain herself. Her charm was undeniable.
“It will be my pleasure. If you don’t mind my asking, is your father Rick Goddard, the football coach?” Michael had never really met the guy but had heard he was an arrogant jerk. Like father, like son.
“Actually, that’s my uncle. He doesn’t coach anymore, though. Haven’t seen him in a long while, not since he remarried and moved to California. My father is Victor Goddard. I can’t imagine that you’d know him.”
She paused briefly and seemed to inspect her new acquaintance, in the subtlest manner, as if collecting her thoughts. “He’s in the real estate business, just as my grandfather was, but he’s not as well known, gregarious, or interested in cultural and philanthropic endeavors.” Her tone held a slight hint of contempt for her father.
“I see. Well, why don’t we go ahead and look up those photos for you?”
“If it won’t take too long, of course. I don’t want to keep you hostage here—you probably have plans, somewhere you have to get to.”
“Nowhere I must get to in a hurry,” Michael said. “So time is on our side.”
“Is it ever?” She flashed a cute little smirk.
“What, time? No, I guess it never is. You’re right about that.” He couldn’t agree more.
He sat in front of a tarnished, clunky desktop computer, probably over ten years old, and started typing search queries. “A lot of these pictures have been digitized and kept in our online repository. Some of the older ones we haven’t got to yet, and we keep them in hard-copy collections or even in boxes in the backroom.”
Anna scanned her surroundings inquisitively. “So you’re the boss here then?”
“Boss? Well, I’d say I’m more like the sheriff of a ghost town. There’s nobody to order around here, not that I would want that anyway. Here, I found something.” He beckoned to her to come over and take a look.
Anna came around and stood behind him. Her movements were smooth and delicate. Was she being deliberately provocative? Nah, it was probably all in his head.
The computer slowed to a crawl, but Michael was in no hurry. “These pictures are from St. Mary’s inauguration ceremony in 1963. It says right here that they were donated by your grandfather. I take it that you went to St. Mary’s?”
“Yes, I did. There wasn’t much of a choice, with my grandfather being one of the school’s original board members. My father went there; so did my brother. If I didn’t want my kids to go to St. Mary’s, I’d probably have to get away from here.”
“Oh, you have kids?” Michael blurted out, feeling embarrassed before the words had even come out. He turned slowly toward Anna and faced her.
Her face took on a curious expression, like she was studying him. “No, no, I mean in the future, if and when I have kids of my own.” She paused, the corners of her mouth beginning to curve slightly up. “I don’t even have a boyfriend.”
“Right, right…I’m sorry.” Michael promptly ended his intrusion trying hard not to blush, his heart racing in his chest, warm all over.
“It’s quite all right.”
Moving back to the task at hand, he sensed her close proximity behind him, leaning down over his shoulder so that he could see her delicate face and long neck out of the corner of his eye. A few golden strands of hair brushed on his shoulder and neck, and he could smell her perfume, with sweet notes of jasmine and vanilla—his mind drifted for a moment, intoxicated, feeling an irrepressible pull toward her.
“Here, could you open this one?” she asked, pointing to a thumbnail on the computer screen, rushing Michael back to his body.
He opened the low-quality picture. Five men and two women were standing in front of the St. Mary’s school building, with its original facade. Two of the people, Michael could recognize—Father Patrick Thompson, a young priest at the time, who had retired a few years back; and Robert Mason, the town’s mayor back then, who went on to become a representative in Congress.
Anna pointed to a tall, heavy built man in the middle of the lineup. He was wearing a gray suit and tie with a matching hat. “This here is my grandfather.”
Michael would have never recognized Charles Goddard in that photograph. He had met him as an old man, and time had certainly not been kind to him.
“I’m probably older now than your grandfather was in this picture.” He faced Anna and got lost in those stunning eyes of hers only inches away.
“Well, let’s see.” She sat up on the corner of his desk. “This was 1963, so he must have been, um,”—she thought about it for a moment, making a cute thinking face while she did the math—“about thirty years old. Yes, that’s about right. And how old are you?” She casually blurted out the question, then laughed, rolling her eyes. “That’s so inappropriate. You don’t have to answer that.”
“Oh, I don’t mind. I just turned thirty-three last week, actually.” Certainly not something he felt like celebrating. An empty, dimly lit station in transit to the next depressing milestone; sprinting to middle age while not having accomplished one damn thing he really cared about. Time only marches forward, his mother used to say—a precious gem meant as encouragement to seize the day that now seemed brutal and merciless.
“Well, happy birthday, then. You look younger. Like twenty-nine, I’d say. The thirties are the new twenties anyway, right?”
“Wouldn’t that make you a teenager?” Michael joked.
“But, Mr. Donovan, I haven’t even told you my age,” Anna teased.
“And I’m not going to ask, but you look young.”
“That’s kind of you, and so very gracious. But I’m not too young.”
“Too young for what?” Michael’s pulse revved with excitement.
“I just mean that I have lived, that I am not some naive, immature girl.”
“Fair enough.” He chuckled to mask his jitters. “I’m still not going to ask your age.”
“Well, I won’t tell you then. I’ll keep it a mystery for a little longer.”
“I love a good mystery.” Michael could high-five himself right now.
Anna squinted her eyes slightly and fixed them on him with a mischievous spark, then jumped off the desk, and turned her attention back to the computer screen. “It’s getting late. Let’s see if there’s anything else worth looking at here.”
Rushing things with women had not worked well for Michael before. No sense in risking coming on too strong.
He opened up a few more pictures from the school’s inauguration ceremony—they all showed the same people. None elicited a reaction from Anna.
What was she really after? Was this trip down memory lane solely curiosity as she said? She didn’t seem very curious anymore. Perhaps, these were not the pictures she had hoped to find. They were, admittedly, rather boring.
“Would you like to see more recent ones?” Michael asked. “Earlier, you mentioned St. Mary’s basketball championship in 1984; you know, the one your father won’t stop talking about? I bet those would be more interesting. Should we search for them?”
“Sounds like a good idea.” Anna glanced at the clock on the wall and stepped back around the desk. “But it’s already twenty minutes past closing time. I should go.”
“Oh, don’t worry about the time. It’s really no trouble.”
“Well, the thing is, I’m free tomorrow.” She ran a finger through the back edge of his desk. “So, how about I come back around eleven in the morning and we look at them then, if you’re not too busy?”
Ah, his luck hadn’t run out just yet. Au contraire, my dear comrade! The prospect of seeing her again was an unexpected treat.
Michael rose to his feet. “Yes, that will be perfect. I could look up those pictures before you come. With a bit of luck, we’ll find your dad doing a slam dunk or something.”
“Yes, wouldn’t that be something?”
“It would sure make a great gift for him.”
“Yes. Well, it’s a date, then. It’s been a pleasure meeting you.”
A date, she said. Michael struggled to restrain the wayward little muscles in his face which desperately wanted to broadcast his elation. “The pleasure has been all mine. Until tomorrow then.”
As Anna stepped out, she peeked back at Michael before she went downstairs toward the exit. Michael stayed a few minutes longer, daydreaming about tomorrow.
When he left the building, the sun was setting, and the clouds over the horizon were alight with hues of red, orange, and yellow, a spectacular sight that he might have ignored many times before, as one does when staring at the ground; but on this day, he had come out gazing up at the sky. Michael opened up his car’s convertible top, put on some classic rock, and drove away under a perfect summer night.