Eve Baird and Cassandra Cillian-Jenkins were sitting in the workroom, each woman at her own desk, each absorbed her own work. It was a dark, dreary spring day, inside and outside. Outside, thunder grumbled quietly while rain pattered against the roof of the Annex. Inside the dimly-lit Annex, the slightly stale air was thick with the odor of old varnished oak, dry leather and ancient paper.
Flynn Carsen stood at one of the short bookcases on the mezzanine level and idly flipped through the thick pages of a huge goatskin-bound book, searching for information regarding possible ties between ancient mythologies and alien visitations—though he was careful not to let Jenkins know of his researches. The Caretaker was adamant that there was no such thing as aliens and always launched into a prolonged and sarcasm-soaked rant every time someone mentioned them.
Flynn glanced over the railing and did a double-take as he caught sight of Eve. She had a sad expression on her face, and he felt a twinge of guilt. He was the one who had started the argument between them yesterday. He was the one who had suggested to her that, now that she was Tethered to the Library and for all practical purposes the new "Charlene", maybe she should step aside and let the Library choose a younger Guardian for the Librarians. He visibly cringed as he recalled Eve's unexpectedly vehement reaction to that proposal.
Jenkins suddenly strode around the corner and headed directly for the top of the curving staircase. He passed by Flynn on the way, and without even turning his head, he startled the younger man by reaching out one hand and silently dropping a lush, freshly-clipped, blood-red rose onto the pages of the open book in Flynn's hands. The Librarian's nose instantly caught the sweet scent of the gorgeous bloom as it wafted up from the book, its thick velvety petals absolutely flawless. Confused, Flynn looked up and noticed that the Caretaker had a second, identical rose in his other hand, hidden behind his back. Flynn opened his mouth to call out to the immortal, but at that exact moment Jenkins glanced back. He locked eyes with Flynn and tilted his head, giving him a look that clearly communicated to the Librarian that he needed to remain quiet. Flynn closed his mouth with soft snap and curiously watched Jenkins descend the staircase.
The Caretaker reached the floor of the workroom and made a beeline for Cassandra's desk. A brilliant smile lit up his normally serious face as she looked up and spotted him, retuning his smile with a gentle one of her own.
"Jenkins! There you are!" she greeted him warmly. "I've been thinking about you all morning!" His smile only brightened further as he gave her a small formal bow in reply and, with a flourish, brought the hand holding the rose forward to present it to her.
"For you, my love!" he announced, his low voice full of adulation. "The best that the Library's rose gardens have to offer in apology for being snappish with you over breakfast today!" Cassandra softly squealed with delight as she reached out to gently pluck the rose from his fingers, lifting it to her nose and breathing in its fragrance deeply.
"Oh, Jenkins! Thank you! It's beautiful!" she gushed, then cocked her head to one side as she looked up at him. "You really didn't have to do this; I know you didn't mean to be so grumpy. You didn't get much sleep last night and..."
"That's no excuse!" he countered stubbornly. "That's not how a knight speaks to his lady!" Cassandra slumped for a moment in her chair as she gazed up at him adoringly.
"You're forgiven, Sir Knight!" Cassandra jumped up and leaned across the desk to give him a soft peck on the lips, the immortal happily leaning down to meet her halfway.
"If only the rose was even half as beautiful as you, my dear!" he answered, genuinely adoring. He turned his body sideways to offer her his crooked elbow.
"Would you care to join me for a cup of tea?"
"Yes, I would!" Cassandra answered, and hurried out from behind her desk.
Eve watched the whole exchange in silence. As Jenkins offered Cassandra his arm and invited her to join him in the kitchen for tea, the Guardian sighed and rolled her eyes. It was a fairly regular occurrence with those two; Jenkins was always bringing Cassandra some small gift or token of his affection or as an apology for some silly slight. Sometimes he brought for no reason at all. And every single time, Cassandra squealed and fussed over his gifts as if it was the very first time he'd ever done such a thing. She would gush over the gift, heaping praise on Jenkins and telling him how awesome he was. It was nauseatingly sweet and disgusting at the same time, and while most days the little ritual brightened Eve's day, at other times—like today—it was just utterly depressing.
That's what I get for not marrying a suave European medieval knight of my own! she thought sourly.
Because Flynn never did things like that for Eve. Just yesterday they'd had a disagreement; Flynn dropped a not-so-subtle suggestion that perhaps she should step down as the Guardian now that she was Tethered—and let the Library choose a younger Guardian for the Librarians. Angry words were exchanged, dramatic exits were made with loud, huffing sighs. But no apologies. No roses. Nothing. Of course, Eve could've apologized first, but why should she? Flynn started it! Baird snatched up a pencil and then tapped it angrily as she remembered the argument. He was in the wrong, why should she apologize to him?
Eve sighed and threw the pencil back onto her desk. Who knows what stupid argument Jenkins and Cassandra had had this morning—probably something dumb like what was the proper way to scramble their eggs for breakfast. Yet here the old man was, apologizing to his wife, bringing her a rose. Eve loved Flynn dearly, of course, and she didn't regret for a single moment being with him or tethering with him. But sometimes—sometimes she wished he could be a little more attentive. A little more romantic, like Jenkins was with Cass. Flynn was good at coming up with big, showy, jaw-dropping displays of his love for her on yearly occasions like their anniversary. When he actually remembered their anniversary, that is, or wasn't off on some mysterious errand for the Library over their anniversary. Eve sighed heavily. Flynn was a good man, a genius and a wonderful Librarian, a good husband—smart, funny, brave, generous. But he was also somewhat…scatter-brained.
There, she'd said it! As much as she appreciated his flamboyant professions of his affection, she also wished Flynn could be just a little less scatter-brained and a little more organized, a little more focused on the little things in a relationship, that he would bring her flowers or write a poem and leave it where he knew she would find it, leave her little tokens of his affection the way Jenkins did for Cassandra. Not every day, not even every week; just...every once in a while. Was that so much to ask?
Flynn watched everything from the mezzanine railing. He saw Eve roll her eyes at Jenkins's presentation of his rose to Cassandra, heard his wife heave a heartfelt sigh and sadly, quietly close the accounts ledger she had been working on as Jenkins and Cassandra walked giddily past her desk on their way to the kitchen. The Librarian felt a stab of guilt, suddenly felt his wife's sadness and frustration and knew it was aimed at him. He could feel Eve's envy of Cassandra and her adoring husband, understood it all as clearly as though he could hear Eve's very thoughts inside of his own head. He knew she wanted him to be more romantic and chivalrous, but Flynn just didn't know how. He just wasn't very good at that sort of thing. Anniversaries and birthdays and big events like that—no problem. But little day to day type things like Jenkins did for Cassandra? Not so much. He was terrible with the little things—he just never thought of them!
Just before they passed into the corridor leading to the kitchen, the Caretaker looked up and directly into Flynn's eyes. When he was sure Carsen was paying attention, Jenkins gently jerked his head ever so slightly and flicked his eyes back in Eve's direction, then turned his white head away to give his full attention to the chattering Cassandra as they passed through the doorway and out of his view.
Flynn then understood why Jenkins had inexplicably dropped the rose onto his book and why the immortal had made such a display with Cassandra—he'd been giving Flynn a lesson on how to do the same with Eve. Carsen smiled and shook his head. The sly old goat must've overheard his fight with Eve yesterday.
Flynn picked the blossom up and snapped the book closed, then shoved it back onto its shelf. He scrunched his eyes tightly shut and held his breath while he slowly counted to seventeen. When he was finished, he opened his eyes, took one deep, final breath, then headed for the top of the stairs. He raced down the steps, nearly tripping over his own feet on the steep incline and falling the rest of the way down. He caught himself with his free hand and steadied himself before continuing down the steps. He was nearly at the bottom before he remembered the rose and hastily thrust his hand behind his back as he'd seen Jenkins do. A broad grin came to his face as he landed on the floor and all but bounced toward Eve's desk. She looked up and smiled faintly. He halted next to her desk and bowed comically low, pulling his hand from behind his back and holding out the rose.
"For you, m'lady!" he announced, still bent over nearly double.
Taken completely by surprise, Eve stared at Flynn and then at the gorgeous, nearly full-blown rose—identical to the one Jenkins had just given to Cassandra. Recovering quickly, she slowly reached out and took the rose from his outstretched hand, its heady scent almost too much for her. As soon as she had it in her hands, he stood upright and leaned forward to kiss her forehead.
"I'm sorry for what I said yesterday, Eve," he said contritely. "You're still plenty young enough to be the Guardian! I was just worried that you were being overburdened with too many responsibilities…"
"Oh, Flynn!" she breathed, gingerly holding the large blossom in her hands and lowering her head to breathe in its perfume. "It's beautiful!"
"Almost as beautiful as my best girl!" he said grandly. "Jenkins and I were in the rose garden—he was showing me some of the rarer varieties he's come up with over the years—and I saw this rose and I said to myself 'Eve needs to have that!' and so I clipped it from off of the bush and voila! Here we are!" Eve smiled, her eyes shining.
"Thank you, Flynn. I love it!" she answered, grinning. "I'm sorry about what I said yesterday, too!"
"I was wondering," he continued, encouraged by her reaction to "his" gift, "if you would like to go out for dinner tonight, maybe take in a movie, maybe a little karaoke as a night cap...?" He leaned on her desk and waggled his eyebrows suggestively. Eve laughed and took another whiff of the rose.
"I'd love that!" she accepted happily.
The next morning, Jenkins climbed up onto the stool at his high desk and made himself comfortable. He hummed softly to himself as he plucked the turkey-quill pen from its holder and checked its nib for sharpness. Satisfied that he could get away another day without having to re-sharpen it, he reached out to pull the inkwell closer to himself and opened its lid.
He pulled open the top drawer of his desk to retrieve some sheets of paper as he prepared to start the day's work. His hand froze in place on the drawer-pull and he stopped humming: Inside the drawer, on top of his stash of paper, was a package of six full-sized Snicker's bars and a small, plain white envelope with nothing written on its face.
Frowning and puzzled, he glanced quickly around the workroom, but he was alone. He reached into the drawer and picked up the unsealed envelope. Inside was a small sheet of white paper. He pulled it out and opened it. It contained only one short sentence written in a clear, strong hand.
Thanks, Jenkins—You're a good teacher, and an even better friend!
Jenkins snorted and smiled softly to himself as he slipped the note back into the envelope, then tucked the envelope into the back of the drawer. He picked up the package of candy bars and cut it open with a pair of scissors, took one of them out. He tore the wrapper off and took a large bite of the candy, then leaned back a bit as he chewed, enjoying the treat immensely as his smiled broadened. As he chewed, he looked down at the note and its familiar handwriting.
He should've known that he couldn't slip anything by a woman as clever and perceptive as Eve Baird.