LGBTQ+ Romance Urban Fantasy

Work-study in the library wasn’t supposed to change how I saw the universe. It was just supposed to pay for the things that my “women in STEM” scholarship didn’t cover. Then my entire life was turned upside down because I caught some girl trying to leave a book that wasn’t ours on the shelves. Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Most of our security at the library is aimed at students trying to take things out that they shouldn’t. Things they haven’t checked out, or can’t because they’ve got overdue fines on their accounts. Magazines and reference books that aren’t supposed to be in circulation. Furniture, lots of furniture. I understand frat boys don’t have a tremendous budget for refurbishing their houses but I don’t understand how they think they can get out with a couch and not get caught. This was the first time I saw someone smuggle something in, though.

“Miss,” I try to catch the attention of the athletic brunette who’s hurrying away. “You left this on the shelf. It isn’t ours.”

She looks over her shoulder and shakes her head, trying to walk away.

“Excuse me, miss, you really can’t leave this here.” I pick up the worn volume from where she shoved it into the stacks. “The ASPCA Hamster Care for Kids doesn’t belong in a college library. If it did, it wouldn’t be shelved in the legal section.”

“Sorry,” she hangs her head and turns around. “It was a library book, just not from this library. They closed the town branch a few years back, though. I just felt bad with it in my room.”

A little spacy, but not the strangest thing I’ve heard from one of my fellow students. This is a serious conservatory art school with the best AI focused computer science department in the state. You never know what sort of quirky behavior you’re going to run into.

“We’re actually taking donations for a book sale at the end of the semester, I’ll put it in the bin. Just don’t try to sneak anything else on my shelves.” I shake my head at her. “Tina, by the way,” sticking my hand out to shake.

“Ally,” her smile is infectious. “Thanks!”

I catch myself staring as she walks away and have to laugh at myself. Down girl! She’s probably straight, anyway. The cute ones always are. We aren’t actually taking donations; I don’t know why I said that. Now I have a book about hamsters, I guess.

It’s slow on the late shift, only one couple to chase out of the study carols which is a record low. With nothing else to do at my desk I start absentmindedly flipping through the book Ally was so determined to leave. Someone’s drawn all over the pages about hamster habitats, wrapping them up and putting locks on them. Some notes about keeping the hamsters safe from… Packmates? What? This girl seems to be as crazy as she is cute.

Weeks later, I’ve almost forgotten about crazy-hamster-book-girl when I walk into my art appreciation elective and see her sitting in the front row. Crazy, cute, and eager to pay attention to a throw away elective class? Don’t ask me why this seems like a good idea, but before I can change my mind, I take the seat next to her.

“Ally, right?” I’d only almost forgotten her. “Is this seat taken?”

“It is now,” she grins back at me, “I was saving it, I can’t sit by just anybody.”

Somehow, we manage to pay attention to class. Between writing notes to each other on the corner of our notebooks like 6th graders. Most of the grade will be on the final project. There’s a choice of assignments, an art project of our own (if I could paint, I wouldn’t be taking an “appreciation” class) or visiting several of the galleries in town and writing a comparison paper.

“We should go to galleries together,” she leans over to whisper in my ear, abandoning our notes and setting my heart fluttering in my chest. “My Uncle Richard works in one downtown; we can start there.”

Of course, I said yes. Then spent three hours throwing everything in my closet onto my bed looking for the prefect outfit. I don’t’ know why I’m bothering, really, this isn’t a date. Is it? It’s so hard to tell straight girls looking for a friend from flirts, I’ve been burnt before.

I settle on a slightly nicer than usual version of standard broke college student chick. Jeans and my worn in converse, but a nice shirt that could go from a restaurant to a job interview if I put a blazer over it, and an actual handbag instead of my backpack. I don’t know why I’m so nervous, it’s just a class project. Except… a boy from our class had tried to invite himself along and she brushed him off. So maybe not?

Ally hugs me hello and links arms with me walking down the street, as if we’ve known each other our whole lives. She’s chatting away about her other classes between bites of a donut she had in her handbag. She brought two, actually, offering to share. I was too nervous to eat mine. Now that I think about it, she had at least 3, and she ate them all. Apparently, she volunteers at an animal shelter – I resist the urge to ask her why she didn’t just leave the book there – but took this afternoon off so we have the whole day.

We walk arm in arm into “Impressions”, a new gallery that recently opened downtown. Something catches my eye and I stumble, glad that Ally still has my arm or I would have fallen. Is that man leaning against the counter wearing a gossamer cape? No, it must have just been a trick of the light.

“Uncle Richard!” Ally disentangles our arms and skips over to the desk, leaning across it to kiss the attendant on both cheeks. “I’m glad you’re working today. Oh,” cutting a glance at the gentleman who was here first, “hi Victor.”

“Ally, aren’t you supposed to be in class?” He smiled and shakes his head at her. “No sense going to college if you’re going to cut to hang out downtown every day.”

“I’m here for class, we have to do a comparison paper on local galleries.” She waves me forward. “This is my Uncle Richard, well he’s not really my… anyway. Tina, Richard.”

I shake hands with the bemused attendant, and the other gentleman clears his throat.

“Oh, and this is Victor.” She includes him in the introduction somewhat warily.

Looking over to shake his hand, my breath catches in my throat. I don’t even like men, but he’s somehow gorgeous in a way that transcends that and…

“Victor…” Richard all but growls. “Behave.”

Just like that the world shimmers back into focus and I can simply shake his hand, although I have to stifle some absurd impulse to curtsy.

Victor looks bored and wanders off while Ally chats with her Uncle Richard for a few moments, and then we’re in the gallery, ticket price forgotten. It really is a great gallery, and I somehow took enough notes to write my paper in the end, but I can’t tell you much about it beyond that. Between being enthralled with my companion’s company and wondering what the hell was so distracting about Victor I can’t pay much attention to the art.

One painting really drew Ally’s attention, though, we must have stood in front of it for twenty minutes. It was the full moon over the forest that’s just outside town, but rendered in a sort of fairy tale soft focus. If you looked at it long enough, you could see the silhouette of a woman in a long flowing robe rendered in the craters of the moon. It was a forest scene, of course there were animals in it. Somehow, I didn’t immediately notice that most of them were wolves.

“This artist must be local,” we’ve been standing here long enough that I feel like I need to say something. “That really feels like our forest.”

“She is,” Ally replies. “She’s one of my packmate, er, cousins actually. I really like how she rendered the Moon Goddess.”

“I always thought it was a man in the moon.” I’m trying to make a joke but she looks alarmed.

“Oh no, never, She would never allow that.” Ally shakes her head, and we move on.

None of the other galleries were quite as interesting, and definitely not as interestingly staffed, but we dutifully toured three more so that we could make some comparisons. We had dinner at some confused but awesome place that had Indian and Thai tapas, having a little bit of this and two bites of that – Ally eating most of it, honestly – and lost track of time discussing our findings on the day. It’s pretty late when we head back towards campus. Ally offered to walk me home, even though she lives with her family just outside town, and I didn’t turn her down. I’m starting to think this might be a date, after all.

Date or not, it’s a good thing Ally came with me. Just off campus, cutting down a side street, we run into the boy from our class. He’s drunk, and more than a bit disorderly. I’m looking down into my handbag trying to remember if I put my mace in it so I miss whatever the hell it was Ally did to him. Some kind of judo, maybe. All I know is he slammed into the side of the building pretty hard before she grabbed my hand, laughing, and took off at a run that I had trouble keeping up with.

When we arrive outside my dorm, I’m breathless, but Ally is as cool as a cucumber. We may as well have strolled here, as far as she’s concerned. I ask her if she wants me to walk her home now, since she’ll have to go back past the asshole. She just grins. Now, I know it was fangs I saw flashing in her smile. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I saw, but I was suddenly less worried about her getting home in one piece.

I spent a lot of time with Ally that semester. At first, we made the excuse that we had to see more galleries to write better papers. This excuse got a little threadbare by the time I was 20 pages into what wasn’t actually supposed to be more than 5,000 words, though. Then she felt bad she’d been neglecting her volunteer work, so I offered to come with her to help make up some of the missing (wo)man hours. The cats didn’t like her very much, they seemed wary, but watching her work with the dogs was a joy. It was like she spoke their language; they always just fell in line and were perfectly behaved when she took them for walks. I would get dragged around by one little bulldog until I picked him up out of sheer exasperation. She’d have a St. Bernard, some Shepherd mix, and a Rottweiler just trotting along nicely on their leads behind her.

I never noticed, or never let myself notice, the strange things about her. The animals at the shelter weren't even the half of it. How she was always hungry. How not matter what we did, she was never tired even when I was completely shattered. How she lived with a sprawling collection of family in some mansion just outside town and one of her “cousins” often accompanied us like some combination chaperone and body guard. (Adrian was nice enough that it wasn’t awkward, somehow.) Smaller things, too, like crossing the street when we went past a certain funeral home. Insisting she could smell a better restaurant than the one we’d paused in front of, then dragging me five blocks away to somewhere spectacular. Refusing to set foot in one particular brook when we went camping. That all her jewelry was brass or gold, when silver would have looked striking on her, should have been a red flag. But I was too busy falling head over heels to notice or care about any of it.

Summer classes are really the only time I have left that I can shove some less serious electives in. As the Spring semester winds down, I look for something that I can take with Ally. A liberal arts student doesn’t get much overlap with someone in STEM, and I’m looking for excuses to stay in touch. There’s an interesting looking class co-taught by an Anthropology professor and a Literature one about Fairytales, it doesn’t take much convincing for me to get her to sign up as well.

“Ally,” I tell her over dinner after a particularly spirited debate in class, “I thought you were actually going to deck the professor today.”

“More like bite him,” she replies between mouthfuls. “He wouldn’t recognize supranatural creatures as real even if one bit him in the ass, though. I’d get suspended, and he’d still be blind.”

I start to laugh at what I assume is a joke, and she just looks at me. I don’t realize I’ve started to panic, staring into those golden-brown eyes of hers, until it registers that she’s reached across the table to hold my hand. My mind is going a million miles a minute, putting together all the little pieces I’ve willfully ignored. My friend – maybe more – is a fairy tale monster? Werewolves are real? They can’t be. If they’re real, what else is? Fairies? That mesmerizing guy from the gallery, those could have been wings I saw! Vampires? That thought has me nearly choking on a sip of water.

“Hey. I’m still me.” She says, with quiet urgency, almost pleading. “I’m still your Ally.”

It shouldn’t be comforting that I can feel the shadow of a paw through Ally’s hand in mine, that it might be fur instead of skin against my own. It is, somehow, though. Staring into her golden-brown eyes I realize there is more to the universe than I ever thought was possible. I realize I can’t wait to see it, as long as that means she’s here with me.

April 30, 2021 15:35

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RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

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