Between the Stacks

Discussion in 'Fictitious Stories' started by Crataegus, May 23, 2011.

  1. Crataegus

    Crataegus Member

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    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

    Chapter One:

    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.
     
  2. Bigadmirer323

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    nice beginning dude. keep it going!
     
  3. Q12

    Q12 Member

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    Like where this is headed! Continue!
     
  4. Crataegus

    Crataegus Member

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    I hope to get the next section of this up tonight or tomorrow. I've been busy writing my stupid concerto, but I got an idea to continue this. Not long before another chapter! :p
     
  5. curioustxboy

    curioustxboy New Member

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    I like it alot so far!
     
  6. Crataegus

    Crataegus Member

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    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

    Chapter Two:

    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.'

    'That's ri—'

    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!'
     
  7. Crataegus

    Crataegus Member

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    So, before I work on the next chapter tomorrow (hopefully, I'll get it done then too!), are there any comments, questions, suggestions, criticisms, &c.? If not, I'll just keep writing into a vacuum. :p
     
  8. Dal2AR

    Dal2AR Member

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    Just keep up the detail...
     
  9. Crataegus

    Crataegus Member

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    Right, so I realise this has been months in coming, but I just wanted to give a heads-up that I should have the next chapter posted tomorrow morning.

    If there's any suggestions on the continuation, you'll have to get them in before then, or after I put it up tomorrow! :)
     
  10. Gr8F8

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    I'm eager to read the new installment, it is very interesting so far :)
     
  11. gayisch1

    gayisch1 Active Member

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    I'm ready for the next one!!
     
  12. Crataegus

    Crataegus Member

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    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


    Chapter Three:

    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.
     
  13. Crataegus

    Crataegus Member

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    Well, I've been trying to write the next part for the past week, but I can't think of what direction I should go.

    So, I'd like to know what thoughts you all have for my little group of characters? I'm not going to promise to give you exactly what you ask for, but I really need some input to get over a block. That is, of course, assuming you all want me to continue. :p
     
  14. Q12

    Q12 Member

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    PLEASE continue! You have a great attention to detail, and its a great read!

    Obviously some action would be nice (soon as well, haha) but Im not sure how you would get there either, maybe Niels upfront asks Malcolm if he wants to hang out or something, or Malcolm delivers a book Niels wanted to his house as a favor, and it goes from there!

    Im sure you'll think of something, but dont stop!
     
  15. Crataegus

    Crataegus Member

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    This is just a quick update: Chapter Four is written, and will be up within week! No spoilers though, because I'm excited about this one!

    Chapter Five is also half written, so that one should also be up soon. It turns out that vacation is good for the creative juices. :)
     
  16. phasor11

    phasor11 New Member

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    Can't wait for the next installments - great writing!
     
  17. Q12

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    I cant wait either! Looking forward to them!!!! :D
     
  18. Crataegus

    Crataegus Member

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    The day finally arrives! The place I'm vacationing finally has internet, and Chapter Four is done, so here we go! I hope you enjoy! Chapter Five may be up later today, to give you a two f'r.

    Chapter Four:

    I searched for days. I searched every single back-of-the-shelf book I could find. It was poetry, that I was sure (the rough iambic meter gave that much away at least), but who was it, and what did it mean? Of course, I could have gone to the internet and found the answer in under a minute; but that was cheating. This little puzzle was something he had given to me in some small way: It wasn't something to be casually thrown aside just to get at the cheap bauble of an answer. No, as Elaine would say about her cheap romance novels, it was the hunt that gave thrill, not the ending.

    I found the answer, in the end. It was a week later, I'd seen no sign of him, so I spent all my free time pouring over books of verse. First I would check through their tables of contents which listed the book's contents by title and first line. The little snippet of verse I had didn't sound like a beginning, but it was worth a shot anyway. Then I would sit down and quickly skim page after page after bloody page of poetry. There were a massive number of poems that I really wouldn't mind never reading again. Poetry is one of the things I'm passionate about, so I tend to be a bit of a snob about it. I prefer to think of it as me knowing what I like and liking it thoroughly.

    And so, finally, at three in the morning, a week after I first heard the line, I found it. In a battered old copy of Dickenson's poetry, near the back, stanza three, line four, I found it: If you were coming in the fall. I knew what it meant.

    It meant that I needed to find him.

    I put on my favourite jeans (I thought they made my bottom look its top, if you'll pardon the pun), favourite shirt (simple white; I'm a plain sort of man, after all), and lucky necklace. The last might seem silly to you, after all, no one seriously believes in lucky totems any more; and you're right. I don't believe it's lucky, but my mother did. And it was she who gave me the simple gold chain. It had been passed down through the generations of her family, along with a story that goes with it.

    The story goes like this: The chain originally had had a number of charms on it, each one having been added by either the wearer or the wearer's spouse when they wed. By the time it got to my grandmother, it was full-to-bursting with little charms of all shapes and sizes. It was then that things changed. My grandmother divorced from her husband; something her highly conservative father didn't approve of. So my grandmother was never given the necklace while her father was alive. She was the only child my great-grandparents had, so she was willed the necklace when her parents passed on. But when she got to it, not a single shining charm was left on it. Many would have seen this final slight as reason enough to get rid of it; get rid of the bad memories which followed it around. Not my grandmother. She wore it from that day with pride. Pride at having done something which no one else in her family thought possible: She decided her own fate in matters of the heart. It is for that reason that it has always been my good luck charm when going on a date.

    And so, with my best outfit on, I left my little flat and began my walk to the library. I had a good feeling about today. He had come by roughly every week, today was a week after he'd last come by. Everything was fitting in place.

    The day went by both with horrific slowness and terrifying speed. I was watching every moment for his blonde head to appear at the doors, and yet I never noticed as the clock's hand moved first from twelve to one, then on to two, three, four, until finally I—running mostly on autopilot—started turning out the lights at quarter-to-nine o'clock.

    He didn't show up. I was disappointed, but I suppose I had no reason to be. He wasn't scheduled in any many to be there, I had just decided that that day was the day he'd be there. I began walking home, trying to convince myself that it was my own fault for getting my hopes up. It wasn't working terribly well, but it never really does, does it?

    My thoughts were interrupted by a man suddenly stepped out in front of me. It was dark out (a penalty of working the closing shift), and he was wearing a black outfit which covered his face. He was there for one thing: To take what was mine.

    I won't go through the details blow-by-blow, both because I don't remember large portions of it and because I don't want to talk about it, quite frankly. Suffice it to say that while I managed to get a blow or two in myself, I took the brunt of the injury from it. I was left with my shirt bloodied, my wallet missing, and my mother's necklace torn from my neck.

    After, I walked through the streets, not wanting to go home, but still starting at every noise. A spell went by that I can't remember. I remember finally seeing the shining lights of the bar me and Anna went to. It was a beacon of light amongst the newly unfamiliar darkened streets.

    Thinking back now, it's a good thing that Dave, Anna's friend, was covering the door that night. Most doormen at bars I.D. me on sight, and without my wallet, I would have been turned away by anyone else to wander the streets further.

    With a recognising, but slightly worried nod, I was let in the bar. I guess he just thought I needed a drink after some incident. I entered, swaying my way over to an open stool by the bar. I sat with a groan, clutching my side—I remember wondering at the time whether that slight crunching I remember hearing was something to worry about.

    The bartender looked at me, concerned, 'You all right, bud?'

    I shook my head, 'No no, I'm fine. Just give me...oh...' I felt my back pocket, remembering my wallet's absence. 'G-give me a water.'

    Thankfully, the bartender didn't quarrel, only put a large glass of ice water in front of me and slid the little dish of peanuts over. I drank in earnest, quickly emptying the glass. The cold hit my empty stomach like a weight. I put my head down on my arms, leaning against the bar. Finally, the gentle wings of sleep began to fold around me, a gossamer veil dropped down over the world.

    A heavy hand fell on my shoulder, jerking me back to the world. 'No. You're not going to sleep. Not yet at least. Come on, we're going to get you checked out.'

    At that suggestion, I began to weakly struggle. I didn't know who was talking, but I knew that I wasn't going anywhere, especially to see a doctor. I didn't need that. Not now.

    The hand stayed steady as a rock on my shoulder. 'If you won't see a doctor, we should at least get you resting. Come on, you can borrow my sofa.' Another hand found its way under my armpit, lifting gently.

    I turned, ready to give what little I had left fighting against this assault. 'Now look, I said I'm—Niels?' My world collapsed at that moment. You know when you first meet one of your old school-teachers after graduation—say at a grocery store—and it's an unsettling realisation that they exist as people outside of what you know of them? Think of that feeling, on top of the rest of what had happened that evening.

    He nodded, the hand on my shoulder dropping and taking hold of my hand. 'Come on, we'll get you cleaned up and you can sleep at my place.' He lead me gently with one hand on my back, the other holding my hand.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not the kind to go to a stranger's house after only a short evening at the bar. Perhaps if I'd had more capacity to think, I would have decided more carefully. After all, I didn't know...well...anything about him. I knew his name, and if I thought about it I might be able to remember his address. But he cared, or at least seemed to, and that was enough at that particular moment. I don't remember too much about the next half-hour. There was a car, and I know I didn't fall asleep—Niels talked to me, or rather, talked at me, and it was enough to keep my attentions away from dreams.

    I remember when we arrived at an apartment. It was made of yellow stone. The steps were carpeted with navy-blue carpets. The small details are always the ones we remember in times like these. Like the way the light fixture over the second-floor landing had one of its two bulbs out; or the way Niels stayed only ever at my pace, never pushing, never lagging.

    He only let my hand go when we reached the door. He left one hand on my shoulder, the other fetched his keys from inside his coat—black wool; heavy; with silver buttons in two shining rows—and let us in.

    He led me through the kitchen—it was clean, only a coffee cup and a cereal bowl were in the sink; they were brown and robin's egg blue stoneware—and into the livingroom. I collapsed down onto a chesterfield—it was soft; leather; and it would be very easy to fall asleep in this exact spot—laying on my back, using the armrest as a cushion.

    He shook his head, carefully moving me up into a sitting position. 'Nope. Not yet, you have to stay up for at least another hour. Make sure you check out.' He sat on his haunches in front of me, looking into my eyes—his were blue; piercing; they saw more than eyes could see. After a moment, he spoke again, 'You're not to go to sleep while I'm in the other room, okay?'

    I nodded and he waited another moment, looking at me searchingly before he stood up and went around the corner. I'm sure he didn't take more than a couple of minutes, but I couldn't tell you for certain either way.

    When he returned, I was sitting as I had been. He sat on his haunches again, a handful of cloths and clothes in his hands. 'Okay, Malcolm. I'm going to take a look at your injuries, all right?' I nodded. 'Can you take off your shirt? I want to check for bruises, and I can't through that.' I nodded and fumbled at the buttons; they fought me every step of the way. I got the bottom one undone before I couldn't do any more. He must have seen me getting frustrated with the second one, because he gently pushed my hands aside and started doing them for me. 'This is a nice shirt. I'll put it in a basin to soak when we're done checking you out. I'll see that it's as good as new by morning.'

    When all the buttons were done, he stopped, 'I'm going to take this off now, okay? I don't want to do anything you aren't comfortable with, so tell me if...' he hesitated, frowning slightly, as if he was waiting for my assent. 'Tell me if you want me to stop doing something.' He paused again and I nodded. With gentle hands he spread the stained cloth, shrugging it off me when I couldn't shrug it off myself.

    The air was chill, but not cold. The cool air settled against my chest like a soft compress. I closed my eyes. Suddenly, I felt a warm hand touch my naked arm—rough; strong, but gentle—and move over my shoulder. He lightly brushed over my chest and down my ribs. I winced as he lightly prodded my ribs. 'It looks like you at least bruised these. Now, I want to check this cut on your head. I'll need to wipe away some of this blood.' I only realised then that there was blood on my forehead.

    He patted the cloth on my head, clearing things up enough for him to see. He was tender in his ministrations. 'Malcolm?' I opened my eyes and looked up at him. He smiled. 'Hey there, Malcolm. It looks like you're a sturdy man; you're going to be fine.' He held a tshirt out to me. I took it and tried to put it on. When I raised my arms to put it on, my chest became a mass of fire. That was the last straw. That evening had many things going wrong for me, but not being able to dress myself was the thing. For the first time since that man had popped out of that alley, I wept. Not because I was in pain; not because I had been robbed; but because the last bit of control I had was stripped away from me: I had lost the control over myself.

    Without a word, Niels stood, sat next to me, and pulled me against him. In that moment, all I knew was that he was there and he was steady. I don't know how long I cried, but he held me close until I had no more tears to give. And so, sleep finally was allowed its due, and I slept.
     
  19. Q12

    Q12 Member

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    Beautifully written! I cant wait for chapter five and what awaits Malcolm!
     
  20. Crataegus

    Crataegus Member

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    I'm a bit late, but at least you only had to wait an extra few hours for this one. Enjoy! And if you have anything that you want me to include at some point, please let me know. I'm mostly just writing into the aether at the moment, so any comments or criticism are more than welcome.

    Also, Q12, I want to thank you for your wonderful comments. They positively inflate my head :p . I don't often get to share my works with others, and the fact that you've been kind (perhaps too kind :p ) has made my day many times over. Thank you.

    And so, with that soppy business out of the way, on to the main event!


    Chapter Five:

    When I awoke the following morning, my eyes did not stay closed for a few minutes while my mind kicked itself into gear, as is usually the case. This morning, I awoke quickly, and with a small jerk; I didn't move. Wait...I didn't move. Why not? I moved myself again; again I stayed steady. When I moved, the only result was a series of racking pains in my ribs and head. I turned my head—slowly—and looked down. I was barechested, but...why did I have two pairs of arms? Right, only one was mine. So who owned the other set? I stared at the arms dumbly, trying to piece the world back together. With my brain still sleep-addled, this was no easy task. They were a man's arms—they were strong—they wore a watch on the right wrist. There we go. Proof they weren't mine. But that still didn't answer the question at hand—if you'll pardon the pun.

    After a few moment's more thought, a word drifted through my mind in search of something to connect with: Denmark. It didn't find a connexion. I looked around a bit more, seeing if I could find something informative around me. I was laying on someone, and that someone was long. Their feet stuck out a ways beyond mine, and my head was resting on their torso. Denmark. Nope, still nothing to connect with. I tried another tack. There was a coffee table beside the couch. A washbasin. I looked closer. A washbasin with bloody rags in it. Denmark.

    I knew where I was, and I knew why I couldn't move: I was being held close by a large Dane by the name of Niels Østergård. I didn't remember much of the night before, but I remembered enough to know that I owed him. A lot. I laid my head back down on Niels' chest, closing my eyes. While I had wanted to get closer too him, this isn't quite what I had in mind. Denmark indeed.

    I must have dozed off at this point, as the next I can recall is being awoken by an earthquake. Okay, it turned out not to be an earthquake, just the cushion I'd been using waking up. I groaned, displeased by this sudden unsteadiness in the ground. A chuckle came from my pillow, along with a gentle squeeze. I groaned again. 'Dammit, are you all right? I didn't even think.'

    I nodded slowly. 'Just...sore.' I replied. I snuggled back into him, not thinking about how nervous the prospect of having dinner with him had made me, mere days ago. Things had changed—at least, things had changed in my life.

    As I woke proper, I was startled to notice that while we were laying there, I could feel his thumb absently stroking one of my hands as it lay on my chest. We lay there for quite a while. I had closed my eyes again—not to sleep, but just because I was content—when I felt his deep voice reverberating through me, 'Malcolm? Could you sit up? We should make sure you don't need to see a doctor.'

    Why did I need a doctor? I sat up—too fast, as it turned out, as another spasm racked my head. Oh. That's why I need to be checked out. I sat still as he sat too, pulling himself to standing for a moment to stretch. He sat down next to me, yawned widely—one more stretch, of course, and turned over to me. 'I just need to check to see how that head is, and how those ribs are. So just sit back, relax, and enjoy. As much as possible, at any rate.'

    Once again, he prodded my sides with a surprising efficiency and gentleness. It hurt, of course, but it was quick and he was kind. He checked my head with a similar manner, using one of the clean cloths by the basin to clean me up a bit. The water had gone cold, but it was a bit soothing, I suppose.

    When he was done, he wordlessly stood and took the basin away. While he was gone, I suddenly realised that I was in a stranger's home shirtless. I looked about frantically, trying to find something to cover myself up with. Just as I was trying in vain to pull on the tshirt left from the night before, Niels walked back in, carrying two large mugs. I covered myself up as best as I could, clutching the shirt to my body.

    'I brought you a cup of coffee. I wasn't sure what you took in it though, so it's just black...' he raised an eyebrow at me as he put the mugs down on the table in front of me. 'So, you're going to get shy on me now, are you?'

    I nodded, blushing. I don't know if you've ever seen a very pale person blush; we don't just blush on our cheeks. We tend to blush from the base of the neck to the tips of our ears. It's amusing to other people; not usually so amusing to the person being smirked at.

    'Well that just won't do! After all, you're a guest in my home. My mother would be appalled if she knew that a guest didn't feel comfortable with my hostmanship.' I continued to blush, which made his warm smile broader and showed the tips of his white teeth. I returned his smile in spite of myself. 'There you go, that's better. Let me find you a buttoned shirt, if the tshirt won't work.' I nodded at him thankfully. As he went into the other room he continued, almost as though he weren't talking to me but instead letting his internal monologue leak out, 'I mean, you don't need to; it doesn't bother me at all. I often go without a shirt myself.'

    I looked down at my hands, trying in vain to hide my still-raging blush. He returned, shirt in hand, and sat next to me, 'Malcolm?' he asked, voice suddenly taking on a different quality.

    I turned to him, blush draining from my face, 'Y-yes?'

    His arm wrapped itself around my shoulders, pulling me slightly closer. 'Whatever happened—and I'm not saying that I want you to talk about it with me—you should talk to the police.'

    I paled. I've been through this whole dog and pony show before—highschool was a bitch—and if it turned out anything like last time, nothing would be done and all that would come of it was hours spent filling out forms, reliving it, and being questioned about every detail of my existence. 'It...won't do any good. All I lost was my wallet and...'

    Oh god...I'd lost my necklace. I didn't have many reminders from my mother, and that had been the one with the most memories attached. I began to cry again. Not tears of shock, as the night before; tears of sorrow.

    Niels held me close, hand rubbing my back to comfort. We stayed that way for a while. He didn't say anything, only let my tears drain themselves out. I sniffled at him, and looked up. He...cared. It was written on his face as clearly as these words are written on this page. 'Come on. I'll go with you. We'll talk to them now.' he smiled and held out the button-up shirt to me.

    I put on the shirt—Niels, the gentleman I was discovering he was, turned away while I dressed. It came down to my knees, but it was soft, warm, and clean. 'Okay. We should get this done before I change my mind.'

    I won't go into the details of the next couple of hours—after all, it's not terribly interesting, and it's not terribly important to the story. Like my old English teacher said about creative writing, 'When in doubt, leave it out.' So suffice it to say that we went down to the police station, I told what happened as best as I could remember—which wasn't terribly well—and filled out a form or two. It wasn't a fun experience, to say the least. But a few times, at just the right moment, Niels gave me a warming smile, and it got done. We return to my little story as the two of us were walking out of the station.

    He turned to me as we walked towards his car, 'You like eggs and sausages, right?' he said cheerily.

    If I was some confident bugger, I'd probably have made some cheesy innuendo along the lines of 'Usually I get bought a drink first, but sure!' So of course I just said 'Breakfast would be pretty cool.'

    We went back to his apartment. It was in a nice building; a lot nicer than mine was. After all, his mailbox even had a lock that you couldn't open with a firm hit.

    Walking into his apartment, I followed him back into the living room. I sat with a small groan on the couch we'd spent the night snuggling on. Bloody hell. Did I seriously snuggle with this amazing man all night? I know I'm usually the kind of guy to see the black lining to every silver cloud, but this time I think things may have worked out the other way. After all, sure I had lost some important things, been beaten, and wandered the streets downtown bloodied and dazed. Don't get me wrong, I was still not in a happy place at that moment; but being here—being in this man's home and under his care—was making things brighter in the darkness that seemed to be pressing close.

    I didn't notice the time going by as Niels was busy cooking. I heard the clatter of pans, plates, and the stove; I smelled the frying food; I saw him occasionally darting out into the dining area half of the living room to grab something from the pan try; but I didn't pay these things any mind. I was busy with other things. Foremost amongst those was me trying to sort out my own head.

    It was if someone had taken the nice orderly boxes of thoughts stored in my head and tossed them about, tearing a box here and an idea there asunder. I won't tell you all that went through my head in that time—both because it would bore you silly and I don't know all of what I thought anyway, but also because it was a very...difficult place to be, and I don't want to share that, to be honest—but by the time he poked his head around the corner from the kitchen and said a cheery 'It'll be done in five minutes! I hope you're hungry, as I may have gone overboard with the food....' I had decided what I was going to do. Maybe it was a terrible idea, maybe not, but that was for time to tell.

    When he came back into the room next, he was carrying two large plates, piled with food. I'll be honest, it smelled amazing, and I was famished. 'I hope you enjoy it. It's nothing special, just some eggs, bacon, sausage, hashbr—' he had looked up at the sound of me unceremoniously shovelling food into my mouth. He chuckled. A deep, joyous sound. A laugh with no malice in it. I couldn't wait to have him make that sound again.

    I swallowed exaggeratedly, daintily dabbing my mouth with a napkin, 'Yes? Is there a problem?' I asked, mock-offended.

    He shook his head, the chuckle intoning again. Hah! Success! It felt like more than a simple small victory at that; it felt like I'd worked some small miracle.

    We ate the rest of breakfast quickly, not stopping too long to speak, and when we did, not saying much. It was as though we both knew something that neither of us was saying. The world was paused while we ate, and neither he nor myself made a move to change that. Many silences between two people are uncomfortable, and force one of the people to break the fragile state with hollow words. This was not the way with our silence. We ate, we looked at our plates and occasionally stole a glance to one another, and it was good. There was no discomfort in his presence.

    When I had finished, I carefully put my knife and fork on my plate and pushed it slightly away from myself on the coffee table. I was busy psyching myself up for what I was going to do. I just needed the right opportunity. I looked out the window, out across the livingroom. It was a bright day, and the tree outside was quivering slightly, almost as if in anticipation for what we might make of the day.

    He finished his breakfast in due course, arranging his cutlery in the time-honoured manner. He looked to me. I looked back, but only for a moment. I avoided his full gaze. Did he know that I had pursued him, in my small way?

    I stood gingerly, rubbing my elbow. It was all I could do to avoid blushing again. He looked at me, tilting his head as if to say 'What are you getting up for?' I shrugged a little, looking out the window again. 'Just stretching.... Don't mind me.'

    He smiled in reply. Now? Was it time now? I hesitated. He didn't seem to notice as he stood, grabbed the plates and took them out of the room.

    I had missed my chance. I'd have to wait. I took to counting the windows on an apartment building a few blocks away. I knew that if I dwelt on the situation, I'd never do it.

    I got to thirty-seven before I heard movement behind me. Forty-three, and music started playing softly. It was a piano playing against an orchestra in a slow, stately dance. It was not sad, but the melodies floating across one another held a certain longing; a keening sort of dance. Perhaps it was the dance of someone longing for a lover far away; or perhaps it a man, slowly having one last dance with his wife before his illness takes him away from her. It was beautiful. I know it's not popular to talk about classical music nowadays, but I love it. I know very little about it (after all, I'm an English major with no inherent musical talent whatsoever), but that doesn't mean I can't love whatever I hear.

    I had stopped counting for a moment to pay attention to the music, so at forty-five, I felt a hand on my shoulder. 'Don't dwell on it, Malcolm, it won't do any good.' I smiled slightly—merely a little upward inflexion of the corner of my lips.

    I turned to face him, though he still looked out the window. 'Let go the wings of your goblin bee; it will goad you never more.'

    He turned to me, a slightly astonished look on his face. Before I could second-guess myself, or he could register what I said fully, I took my chance.

    I went up on my tiptoes, put a hand lightly on the back of his neck, pulled him close, and met our lips in ecstasy.
     
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