Between the Stacks
Hello, all! This is my first attempt at writing a story of this sort, so I hope you enjoy! It's only just started, and there's not much 'action' yet, but hopefully in the next couple chapters I can get to 'the good bit'.
Between the Stacks
My best friend has a saying: The only people who become librarians are old women, pædophiles, and nerds. It's probably not true (after all, I know at least one person who works at the library who's a year younger than I, dumb as a brick, and happily-married-thank-you-very-much), but I know that in my case, unfortunately, it's true. Not the first two, obviously (I'm neither old, nor a woman, and I'm certainly not a pædophile!); I'm rather a nerd. I admit it, I read Proust and Joyce for fun, think that the state of literature these days is disgusting, and rue the day that I ever decided that an English degree was going to be too expensive and too useless to continue with.
It's probably not the most interesting story, that of a university drop-out who takes evening-courses to get a certiﬁcation to be a librarian. Which is why I won't tell you more than the need-to-know things. It's important to know, for instance, that I'm from a middle-class Scottish family, was terrible at sports, and only achieved a satisfactory physique after I decided that being mistaken for a short fat highschool student wasn't exactly my cup of tea. You should also know that I'm especially fond of being looked down on by men who decide that, just because I happen to be shorter than average—at a proud, if not desirable 5'3”—I also should be given the same level of respect as a petulant teen.
And it's for that very reason that I was rather snappy on the day in question. I had been told earlier by no less than three people that it was 'Surprising that they let students be the manager-on-duty', and was more than fed up with the day. And so, here begins my tale.
I hated this part of my job: Sticker replacement and repair. You probably wouldn't ever think that all those labels on books telling you the code number need to be replaced with some regularity. What you probably also wouldn't ever think, is that they all have to be printed and stuck on by hand by a person. It's a tedious business, finding the book's code, inputting it into the label template, printing them oﬀ, and carefully removing and replacing the old stickers. It's enough to drive the sanest among us positively batty.
It was something along this line of thinking that my internal monologue was ranting when a voice with a slightly foreign inﬂexion interrupted my angry train of thought.
'Hi there, I was wondering where I could find the newest Stephen Ki—'
I interrupted him in my flattest, most uninterested voice, 'The newest Stephen King book is currently all booked out, and will only be available on hold after a period of two to four weeks. If you want to place a hold, you can go online and place one there, or if you can't use a computer, you can get me to do it, in which case I'll need your library card and about two minutes of your time.'
'Oh..... I guess I'll just do it online then.... Sorry to bother you.'
I looked up for the first time, the strangely dejected tone of voice catching me oﬀ guard. I looked up. And looked up a bit more. The voice had a body with it, and that body happened to have the bluest eyes I'd ever seen. I realise you're expecting a long exposition about how his muscles rippled through the too-tight-to-be-legal-or-even-real shirt, and how his pants bulged in a way that would oﬀend even the most liberal and welcoming of people. That well may have been the case, but I didn't notice. I've always been a sucker for beautiful eyes, and by god these fit the bill. Blue-grey, with a slightly darker outer ring, and shining--
'If you happened to have any of his other things available, I'd be grateful.'
Damn him, and his bursting into my internal rants! 'Oh, well we have a lot by him. He writes at an inhuman rate. Is there anything speciﬁc you were looking for?' I pause awkwardly for a moment, 'A-apart from the newest one that we don't have, of course.' I try to smile my way out of my awkwardness.
He returned my somewhat-strained smile with an easy-going smile of his own, 'To be honest, I don't know. I was told by a friend that I absolutely must read his works, so here I am. Give me your favourite.'
'Well.... He has short stories, novels, and he spans a couple of genres, so let's start with...' I pause, humming-and-hawing while I think, 'Why don't we start you oﬀ with a book of short stories and a novel. Get a taste of each.' I work my way out of the traﬃc-jam of trolleys blocking the way out of my kiosk. 'Just this way, if you will?'
We head over to the right shelf, weaving our way through the dozens of aisles between us and our goal. Once I find the right shelf, I turn, expecting him to be a ways behind—the annoying side-eﬀect of being a fast walker—only to find him but feet away. I jump slightly, eliciting a deep chuckle from the man. It's a nice sound. Not too gravelly, but deﬁnitely a man's laugh.
'Sorry about that. It's not often that I don't have to slow down when walking.' he chuckles a bit more.
I eye him, trying to feign comic suspicion. I get a smile! 'Well. Let's start you oﬀ with.... This one here, and....' I scan the shelf quickly, 'This one—' I quickly deke around him, '—right here.' I hold the two books out for him. 'The novel is about the end of the world, and the short-stories are mainly about death and destruction. Fairly typical for his books.'
He takes them—wait, did he linger? No, I was just imagining it...too bad—and looks them over. 'That's great, thank you very much! Now I just need to get a library card, and I can take them out. You can do that for me, right?'
I nodded, only just now giving him a quick once over. After all, I was double-checking that I had given him the right books. Or...something.... A poor excuse, I realise, but attraction is great for fucking up your brain. 'Sure, I'll just need a piece of I.D. and five dollars to pay for your card.'
We walked back to the desk and I dodged my way through the low shelves and throng of trolleys. It only took a couple of minutes to get the required information—Niels! his name!—and sign out the books for him. He smiled, shoving the still-warm library card back in his pocket, 'Thank you for your help...' he leant down melodramatically to look at my nametag, '...Malcolm. If I need anything else I'll know who to come to now.'
I watched him as he left, momentarily silhouetted in the door—he must have been at least 6'3” to have filled the door like that—before he left, and I was left to my duties again. It wasn't a minute after he left that I was forced to help a pair of very angry seniors find the book they'd put on hold. My moment with Niels faded from the present and into the past.
A week or two later I was having a pint with my best friend, Anna—a spunky Dutch lesbian who may have only been 5' tall, but who could make over-eager straight men regret it faster than...well...something that takes about 45 seconds to do. I was having my usual pint, she having her usual screwdriver.
'Lafaard! Jij stomme trut! Ik zou je slaan tot je kan niet zo dom!' she barked at me, her black hair flying around her head as she gestured angrily with her glass.
'What? It's not my fault that I didn't ask him out!' I replied, my own voice raised. I was probably the only one who would dare yell at her, but even I only did so in some jest.
She glared at me, her expression telling me exactly how little she thought that my excuses were worth.
'Fine, may it is partially my fault. It's not like I really had much of a chance though! I was working, you know. My boss doesn't usually like the customers to be frightened off by nervous people asking them out on a date.
Anna shook her head, downed the last of her drink, and leant forward. 'Come here.'
I looked at her, warily. She wasn't afraid of using percussive maintenance: Especially on her friends. I leant in slowly, my eyes squeezing shut in anticipation of the blow. I waited.... Wait.... She didn't hit me.... I opened one eye to look at her. SMACK! 'And next time, don't argue with me when I tell you you're being stupid!' she slumped back in her chair, a look of smug satisfaction on her face.
I must have been dazed by the blow, as I quite clearly saw Niels through the crowd surrounding the pool tables. He was fairly hard to miss, to be honest. I perked up, craning to get a better look. No way he would be here....
Anna turned quickly, head moving slowly across the crowd. 'What do you see, Malcolm?'
I tried to look over the throng, having lost him. Maybe I didn't see him at all. After all, Anna has been known to cause damage with her maintenance-hits before. No, he wouldn't be in a hole-in-the-wall place like this. 'Hmm? Oh...nothing.... I thought I saw someone, but I didn't. You owe me at least a beer now because you made me fucking hallucinate.' I waved my empty pinter at her. She sighed, grabbed it from me, and took it up to the bar.
In the end, I decided that I must have just been wishing I'd seen him. Anna went home with the bartender, I went home without my last beer, and Niels, where ever he was, went on with his life, not, I imagine, thinking of me at all.
I'm really sorry about the horrifically long wait, but here it is, the second chapter. It's a bit of another set-up chapter, and not terribly long, but the next one will be better. At least, that's the plan! :P
You meet a lot of strange people at a library. Sure, there are the people just looking for a new best-seller or an old classic for school, but ultimately, there are more strange people at a library than most anywhere. They're a bit strange, in fact, for using a library in the first place. After all, in this age of hyperconsumerism and a book store on every block, it's a surprise to see people going to a place where they pay a small fee to be allowed to borrow a book. A book they can't keep, and which they have to take care of. Add to that the new influx of e-readers, and you have the perfect storm of strangeness. It's the strangeness of a type of institution on its way out.
It's for that reason that I love my job. You meet people of all kinds. Hell, I met Anna in my library! She wanted an obscure book by a medieval Dutch author, and I was the only one in the building who knew how to work the inter-library exchange properly. She stuck like glue after that. It was slightly terrifying at first, in fact. She was one of those people who decides immediately that Yes. You're my friend. Forever.
Of course, as should be evident from my continued friendship with her, she's not actually a psychotic stalker. She can, on occasion, be a bit maddeningly over-protective, but she means well...at least, I think she does. I've heard Anna described by another friend as being like Marmite flavoured ice cream. Almost no one likes it, those who do are weird, and it's better if they don't think too hard about why they like it.
You might—rightfully so—be asking now 'Why are you talking so much about Anna? We want to get to the good bit!' Ah, well hush and pipple. We'll get there when we get there. Besides, you need to understand more about her before I continue my tale, as she ends up being rather important....
So there I was, standing in-between shelves MT 25.980-500.665 (we don't use Dewie in my library for some bizarre reason), reshelving some books about brass ensembles (there was even a book titled 'You Bet Your Brass!') when I hear a sound that strikes fear in the hearts of many people: The rapid-fire rat-a-tatta-tat! of a woman running full-tilt in high heels. I barely had time to bend slightly at the knees and cock my feet to gain better support before I was knocked over anyway by Anna jumping on me. 'Hi!' she said, as if it were normal pouncing people in their work-places and sitting on their newly-prone selves.
'Anna, what have I told you about doing that while I'm working?'
She ignored me, speaking more forcefully, 'Hello, Malcolm.'
I sighed, 'Yes. Fine. Hi, Anna. Now, what have I told you about doing that?'
She bounced slightly, making me groan, 'That it's rude and best left to when you're not dealing with possibly rare and expensive books.'
She continued, not letting me reply, 'But really, Malcolm, you're such a fuddy-duddy. Honestly, how do you expect to catch a manthing for yourself if you don't lighten up a little? Men don't like dower old women trapped in little men's bodies.'
'I'm not an old woman, you pernicious tart.'
She dug her heels into my sides like spurs, 'What was that? Did you say something?'
'Ow! What the hell, Anna?'
With a petulant toss of her hair, Anna stood up, made a show of brushing the wrinkles out of her shirt, and strode over to the window near-by. 'You know, you've been unbearably grumpy lately. I want you to stop. It's boring, and frankly, unattractive. You're grumpy because you didn't have the balls to talk to that guy, and now you're just making every other guy dislike you. So. Stop.'
I sat up, not responding. After all, how could I respond? She was probably right. Damn it, she saw that I knew she was right. That damned grin of hers. She started laughing, which only made me frown more. 'Malcolm, you look like a grumpy hamster!' That was it, now she had me laughing. She was good at that.
And so, there I sat on the floor, she by the window, laughing like school girls, surrounded by books about brass and woodwind instruments. It was a bit surreal, but that's not unusual for time spent with Anna. I didn't notice for a few moments that Anna had stopped laughing. 'Anna...?'
'Get up. I think I found your mythical Dane.' She said as she hopped off the chair she had seated herself at, her heels once again making a loud click-clacking on the floor.
I was confused; What Dane? Did she mean Niels? I jumped to my feet, nearly overbalancing myself in my eagerness. 'Who are you talki—' I was interrupted by a swift shove to my back, pushing me towards my usual desk at the front.
I walked quickly, mind going too fast to really know what it was even thinking about. All that stopped when I was able to see my desk. There he was, standing tall, wearing a light pair of jeans and a white collared shirt. Was he...no, he wouldn't be looking for me, would he? He turned, and my brain froze. 'Hey, Malcolm! I finished those books you lent to me! I'm back for more!'
Finally this is ready to go. I haven't proofed this thoroughly, so pardon any mistakes. It should make sense at the least.
If you have any comments or suggestions, I absolutely welcome them. If you want this to go in any specific direction, of course you're welcome to suggest it. I make no promises as to whether I'll go that way though! :P
And then he rose, his voice roaring through my small flat, and it rained down on me like a manna from heaven. My god was there a lot of it! And I lapped it up like honeydew and paradisical milk.
Hah. You took me seriously for a minute there, didn't you? Of course I wouldn't just jump in to the action like that! And who uses words like 'manna' and 'paradisical' to describe sex? Certainly not me. Don't get me wrong, I love words; but seriously. I'm offended.
No, this is what happened next:
'Hey, Malcolm! I finished those books you lent to me! I'm back for more!'
I heard Anna snigger to herself quietly, jabbing me with the pointy end of her shoe. Her shoddy attempt at restarting my brain didn't really work. All it did was start the engine without waking the driver.
That's right: My feet started moving, but I wasn't thinking or asking them to do so.
I got over to my desk, somehow managing to get through the obstacle course of trolleys without falling and breaking my neck. As I sat at my computer, the little hamster's wheel in my brain spun down enough for the poor guy to dizzily start running again. Coherent thought! Finally!
'So, Mr Niels, how did you find—that is—what did you think of the books?'
He frowned sarcastically and tilted his head in a way that could only mean 'Really? Did you honestly just call me “Mr”? Come on.'.
Behind him, I could see Anna 'browsing' as she called it. A svelte hispanic man was the subject of her attentions. It looked like I wasn't going to get any help from her.
I tried again. 'Sorry, it's just an—erm—habit. But really, did you like the books?'
He smiled. It wasn't a model's smile—no, it was a bit too lopsided for that, and one of his teeth was just a little bit crooked—but it was a smile that made you smile back in spite of yourself. He had one of those manners that just made you forget (at least partially forget) about how just a minute ago you were feeling awkward and ill prepared to speak to someone of his calibre. 'I very much did. I was going to return them yesterday, but I wanted to get your suggestion as to what I should try next, and—'
'And I wasn't working yesterday.' I nodded in sympathy, 'I'm really sorry that you wasted a trip....' I trailed the sentence off, adding a bit in my head about how I was actually glad that he had.
He shrugged 'I just went to the mall across the street and shopped a while.' He next did something I really, really didn't expect. With a sly grin on his face, he turned slightly, patted his backside lightly, and said 'What do you think? I got them while you were failing to be at work.'
I'm pretty sure that if life had a cartoon-style soundtrack, mine at that moment would have been the sound of my derailed train of thought. 'Oh, well, they...they look good...?'
Now, don't get me wrong: I'm not shy about being gay. I spent the first six years of my gay 'career' hiding and getting nowhere; I'm not about to go back into gay unemployment—if you'll pardon the already overstretched metaphor. But this guy.... He disarmed me in some manner I can't quite explain.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand.
He didn't seem to care about my inarticulateness at that moment, instead continuing on as if he hadn't just shown off his arse to me. 'I thought that the short-stories were all right, but the novel was better, I thought.'
I stared at him for a moment or two, confused. Short-stories? Novel? What was he talki—oh. He has the two books I leant him in his hand, looking over the covers. 'Right, well, as it happens, I have—' I quickly duck through a few of the low shelves (Who puts a shelf at head height for me, let alone an average person? They don't make things like they used to. Or something like that.) and come out near our large black-board on which I've written a large chalk advert for the 'New! Kids' reading circle! For only the cost of a library card, we now offer a daily reading circle! Children under 5 are only permitted with parental supervision.'.
Like all public venues where a chalk-board stands in arm's reach, someone has gone and drawn a large pair of bollocks and adjoining membrum virile. I blush a bit, knowing that only a few minutes ago, I'd laughed as Anna had drawn it.
He follows me on his side of the counter, raising an eyebrow in melodramatic curiosity, 'Yes? You have something squirrelled away back there?'
I nod, crouching down to spelunk through the low ankle-cupboards where staff keep books they want for themselves. After tossing a few trashy bodice-rippers that Elaine has saved (nice enough woman, but she wasn't the brightest knife in the shed) I find the book I've saved.
I stand up, brush myself off, and look up—that stubble he's got really does look nice...not too prickly, but not a beard yet—to find him hamming up his curious look. 'I have this for a certain customer.' I hold out the new King novel I'd been saving for myself to him.
He beams at me for a moment, the surprised happiness fading into a pleased, thankful smile. 'I knew that you were the right person to come to!' he takes the book, reads over the front and back covers before looking back up at me. 'I guess I don't need to go hunting through the shelves today after all! I found what I need right here.'
If only that were true, you beautiful Danish hunk.... Of course, he's probably got a girlfriend—no ring at least, so I can at least hope without feeling that pinch of adultery that vain fantasies give—and is quite happy with her. She better be happy with him, that's all I have to say!
I scan through his book, catching sight of Anna making crude gestures to me and grinning smugly as she watched the object of my attentions. He takes back his card—dammit, now I know I'm just imagining it; I could have sworn he lingered again—and shoves it into his back pocket. Those jeans really did things for him. Good curves in the back, curves in the fro—
'Well, I suppose I'll see you in a few days then, Malcolm?' he smiles, holding out his hand to be shaken.
I nod and smile, shaking his hand. His grip is strong, but not crushing. 'Sure. Whenever you're ready for more. You can take as long as you want with that one; special offer.'
His smiles changes for a moment. It seems...less happy. Perhaps it's just that he wasn't as joyous as before because I wasn't being amusing. The little part of me that held out hope for a romance (and don't tell me that you don't have one of those parts; we all do) was telling me that it was because he wanted to see me soon.
Then, perhaps the strangest thing of the day happened.
He muttered quietly under his breath, still looking at me, hand frozen on the book still on the counter. 'Subtracting till my fingers dropped, into Van Diemen's Land....'
His smile brightened again after another moment, and he left with a cheery wave, and one last glance.
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