Alicia froze as she realized she had touched Barry’s arm. She imagined her cheeks as rosy as the petals of the orchid print covering the page facing him.
Running his fingers along the edge the thick tome, Barry shrugged.
“It is pretty,” he agreed.
Sitting back into the wooden chair, Alicia retrieved her errant fingers from his fleece sleeve.
“Um,” said Barry, peering down at the fine italics beneath the image. “That’s right.”
Alicia felt the blush returning as he glanced up with a dopey but genuine smile.
“You really know your orchids.”
Twirling her highlighter to keep her hand from playing with her hair, Alicia shrugged. “Everyone has their little secrets.”
“That’s impressive though. All I could do is quote you baseball stats.” He offered over the book with a gentle shove. “Enjoy.”
“Don’t be a tease. I’ve got to get through this.” She jabbed her neon marker at the stack of printed articles strewn before her like spilt milk.
“And I’m supposed to be evaluating the different pollen counts of medicinal flowers.” He hefted the tome and placed the book in front of her. “Take five minutes.”
She glared at him, unsure whether she wanted to slap or kiss his playful grin.
“Come on,” he prodded, “Life is too short.”
She sighed and gazed down while her hand decided to set aside her highlighter. She traced her finger along the raised frame of the print, careful not to touch the water colored image. Turning the thick page with a rustle of protective rice paper, Alicia drew in a soft inhale.
The artist had decided to gain a close up image of the next orchid. Two heart shaped petals fanned out to either side, alternating with the three sepals, each slim with rounded tips. Violet faded to dark maroon while stripes and a delicate edge of white laced every rim. The rostem and anthea cap, tinged blood red, peeked out from the center.
“Which one’s that?”
Jolting as if on a spring, Alicia struggled to collect her thoughts as she found Barry sitting right at her elbow. She felt his gaze however lingering on her face instead of the picture. Searching for a breath, she tumbled into his earthy eyes.
“Orchidaceae phalaenopsis,” she replied without needing to reference the caption.
A speaker above their heads crackled. “The Library will close in 5 minutes.”
Alicia dropped out of the stare as the announcement continued, encouraging those wishing to check out items to do so now.
“I guess we should be going,” she said, her throat suddenly dry and voice husky.
She gave the tropical flower a last glance, and then closed the book. A bit of dust puffed off the leather cover and embossed letters. Sliding the book back over to him, she kept her eyes on the table.
He laid his hand on the book, his fingers brushing against hers. Again, Alicia froze.
“Keep it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to help me with my paper.”
Alicia chewed on her lip.
“No,” she said, pushing the book out from beneath his hand as she stowed away the title. “Not tonight.”
“I guess it’ll still be here,” reasoned Barry. He began shutting down his laptop and stashing his binder.
Alicia stood and gathered her articles. Wincing at the thick bundle of work yet to be read, she shoved the stack into her bag.
“Same time tomorrow?”
Closing the zipper to her pack, Alicia glanced up. “You’re not done with your research?”
“Not at all.”
“Alright then. I’ll be here at eight.”
She slipped her bag on to her shoulder as he did the same. Walking out of the library along with the other dawdling students, Alicia deposited the floral print tome onto the to-be-shelved cart.
Outside, a speckled campus met them, bright lamps warding off the deep night. Parting ways, Alicia set off to try reading through one more article before morning.
By the time she headed toward the library again at the appointed hour, Alicia had whittled down the stack by another third. Marching through the lobby and up to the study tables in the corner of the fifth floor, she already felt weary.
She set her bag down slowly as she arrived at their regular spot.
“What in the world,” she whispered, the tiredness draining from her in the wake of fluttering butterflies.
Plucking the small white orchid laying on top of a thick, dusty book, she found the same tome from the night before waiting for her.