It had been the sound of her step that had drawn his attention. A tapping of hard sole across the courtyard, lighter than most of his peers, and holding a feminine balance necessary for carrying the weight of her clothing. Yet unlike his mother, or even the Dean's wife who was occasionally seen on campus, these footfalls had a sense of urgency, a swiftness that drew attention.
He had only managed to catch a flash of blue linen escaping around a corner but it was enough to enthral him. Black academic dress over functional day suits were the usual attire around campus – he'd certainly never seen anything of that hue around here.
Following her path to the library, he blinked at the sudden lack of light, losing sight of her in the process. If he were to be honest, he had expected to see her in the foyer, waiting for someone – a beau perhaps – or maybe at the reference desk, asking for directions. If it was rare to see a woman on campus, it was rarer still to see one studying.
The carrels were dotted with his peers, men who, at this time of the morning, were suffering from a night spent hunched over volumes under the limited light of their carrel. There were several, however, whose face held a dazed expression not brought on by sleeplessness. The odd Tesla boy he could understand, he always had an eye for the ladies, but anyone who had his man Watson distracted from his studies must be a sight to behold indeed.
It was down the third stack that he found her, eyes so intent on the volumes before her that she didn't notice the attention she had drawn. Her shoulder sporting a leather satchel and her long pale fingers were stained with ink; she was clearly a student, though he had never before seen a woman alongside his peers in any of his lecture halls.
Her fingers ran over the book spines with a graceful reverence, tracing the gold lettering just as the lace of her cuff whispered over the leather. He imaged that it was the first time these cracked medical journals had ever been touched by such delicate fabrics.
He knew he was seconds from being discovered, but he couldn't help himself. She was an unexpected brightness in the dankness of the library, the overhead lamp lighting her form, outstretched as it was to reach the higher shelf. If ever a woman looked like an angel it was her.
His friend Watson liked to consider him overly sentimental – but John had his own eye for detail. The linen of her gown laid heavy and straight, as though she had taken great care to select an outfit that would not crinkle or crease. The pearls buttons of her dress formed a straight line down her back. Everything about her gown showed a great care to present an impeccable image. And yet despite this, the petticoat peeking from her hem was dotted with mud, holes of lace caked with dust from her day's travel, the powdering of shoe and hem he knew so well from his own rushing from class to class.
Her hair, a mass of curls, was immaculately swept up and restrained, her long locks tightly pinned at the back of her head; he was not to know just how much of her life was constrained as such. Turning her head slowly from side to side as she conducted her research, the soft gold caught the light, casting a gentle glint around her temples.
The image of an angel was not one to be quickly removed from his mind, and it was quite clear to him, that even though he knew not her name, the purity of this moment – of her – would be forever into him stamped. No woman, he was sure, would ever look, would ever be, as beautiful and as wonderful as this stranger softly uttering Latin under her breath as her long slim fingers danced across the pages of a book.
Unknown to his conscious mind, he stepped forward, trying to get closer to her. Closer to the warmth he imagined, closer to the soft strains of a floral scent that registered with her every moment. But in doing so he pressed up against the stack in front of him, the barrier of books and knowledge that was keeping him from her side. In doing so, he alerted her to his presence, and signalled his own downfall when her attention shifted from what she was reading, to himself.
Her eyes were wide and bright, and keenly intelligent. The locked onto him through the shelves and he felt himself locked into place. He could not slip away now even if he had wanted to. As she looked at him, he could help but feel as though she were measuring him in some way – but for what he wasn't quite sure. Finally – hopefully – finding something of worth within his own startled eyes, she took her own step forward. She slipped her hand through the empty space between the books, her sleeve brushing along their leaves, to take his hand.
She smiled and he felt his world change.
"I'm Helen. Helen Magnus."