He is a drop of sunlight in a clear glass bottle.
A photoshoot in a field of lavender.
As I sit at my weatherworn desk, I poke a hole in my dam of emotions.
He is a friendly phantom, existing only in the quiet space between.
He is a heated blanket in the dead of winter.
He is a song that lingers at the edge of memory until you listen to it.
It leaks out little by little as my pen moves across the page.
I was only there for a book. Courtney Stevens demanded my attention and I wilfully agreed to give it to her. I know I should have graduated to harder books, but these were my comfort food. As I browsed the YA section, a plain looking book caught my eye. I pulled it out and looked at it. Eleanor and Park. The title stung my head with familiarity. I shook it away and put the book back on the shelf. I found the small cluster of Court’s books near the end and picked one out. My fingers itched to grab a couple of others too. The librarians added to the graphic novel section biweekly. It couldn’t hurt to take just one. Or two. No, I must restrain myself. There will be time.
The checkout desk was empty. I looked around, trying to peer into the backroom.
Should I just leave?
No, you came for a book, and, by god, you’re going to get one.
I rang the little silver bell, hesitantly at first. A few ticks passed, so I rang it again, louder this time. I was gearing up to ring it again when a boy came dashing from the backroom, trailing a string of construction paper leaves behind him.
He swung into the chair saying, “I’m so sorry. I was cutting out the new decorations for this month.”
He looked almost as frazzled as his mane of curly hair that framed his face. It reminded me of River Song, but I didn’t know if he would understand the reference. Or if he’d be offended by me comparing him to a girl. I gave him a slight smile as I handed him my library card. He handed it and the book back with the reminder to return it in two weeks or renew it.
That night I had once again made the mistake of staying up all night to read a book.
* * *
Having reread the book three times over a two-day period, I was growing increasingly bored with it. After finishing my morning classes, I went back to the library. They had some of their decorations up already. Strung across the front desk were the self-same leaves the boy had. I slid my book into the drop box and set off to find my next choice of prey.
I passed by the boy reshelving some graphic novels. He waved at me, knocking his hand into the bookshelf beside him. I winced inwardly but kept walking anyway. I grabbed the next book in my Court binge and walked back to the front, taking a small detour to see what other decorations they might have put up.
The curly haired boy was already at the desk, spinning lazily in his chair. When he noticed me, he sat up quick enough to give anyone whiplash and scooted his chair up to the desk.
Putting on a smile that lit up his eyes behind his glasses, he asked, “Hi again. How can I help you?”
I handed him my book and my card with a grateful smile as he chattered on about fall and the things that come with it. I only half listened, staring at his mess of curls that bounced as he bobbed his head. I had the irresistible urge to pat his head, wondering faintly if his hair could act as a pillow. I was drawn out of my speculation by him sliding the book back over to me.
He waved me out saying, “I hope to see you back soon.”
* * *
I started going to the library as often as I could, only taking one book each time. The decorations were all up within another week and tiny pumpkins and construction paper cut-outs greeted you around every corner. I finished my row of Courtney Stevens’ books the same week and decided to check out Eleanor and Park. At the front desk, the boy sat with a steaming mug of tea that fogged up his glasses with every sip. I held out my book for him, and he took it with a puzzled glance.
“Ran out of books from that other author?” he asked, handing it back.
Nodding, I put the book in my bag and walked out, looking back to see him staring back at me.
Reading the book that night I realized why it felt so familiar. It was one I had started in high school but never finished. I did that a lot. I tore through it this time, however. It sank into my stomach with every character transition. By the end I was nearly in tears at the frustration of a love cut short.
I went to the library the next day with a heavy heart. It would be exceedingly hard to find a new book that could make me feel the same way. I was greeted by the boy upon entering, and he waved me over. I put the book in the drop box and walked over to him.
“So,” he said with a signature smile, “Didja like the book?”
I nodded vigorously.
“Wow, that’s crazy,” he said with a laugh.
I gave him a puzzled look.
“Well, you see, Eleanor and Park happens to be one of my favourite books.”
My disbelief must have shown because he laughed again, a chuckle deep in his throat, “Yeah, I know, it doesn’t seem like it, but at the core, I’m just a hopeless romantic.”
He placed a hand over his heart, heaving a well timed sigh.
Hopelessly dramatic more like it.
With a purposely blank look I walked away, leaving him to call out after me, “If you need any help, just ask.”
I perused the many shelves, but nothing seemed appealing. I decided to change genres and picked out a Steven King book at random.
“Ah, Mr. Mercedes. Nice choice. But wait,” he said as he saw me reach for it.
He pulled a small whiteboard out from under the desk and placed it down.
“I want to know your name.”
I glanced over at the computer where the information was surely still on. He followed my gaze and slapped a hand over the screen.
He pushed the whiteboard closer to me with his other hand, “I want you to tell me.”
With a shaking hand I uncapped the marker and squeaked out a name in bold, black ink. I pushed it over to him, avoiding his eyes. I could still hear his smile, though. It creaked with my name.
“Lanie,” he said my name in a way I hadn’t heard before.
I kept my gaze firmly glued to my beat-up trainers, feeling my face start to burn.
“Hey,” he said softly, “look at me.”
I brought my eyes up to meet his stormy grey ones.
My lips twitched with a smirk. I picked the marker back up.
Full name? I scrawled upside down.
He read it.
“Well, if you must know,” he sniffed, “it is Melanthios Robin Eros Harrison.”
I let out a snort which I promptly covered with my hands.
“Excuse me, it’s a family name.”
This made me laugh harder.
“Alright, alright, you can leave now, if you’re going to make fun of my name,” he huffed.
“Go on.” he shooed me with his hands.
I turned around with a mock salute and strode out. It was only when I got home that I realized I had forgotten my book. Strangely, as I fell asleep that night, it didn’t seem to matter.
* * *
I went back the next day with a sheepish smile. Theo smirked at my entrance.
“Forget something?” he held out the book.
I tried to grab it, but he pulled it back.
“Hm, I don’t know if I can hand it over that easy. You did make fun of me.”
I made a face as if to say fine keep it and walked purposely to a section at random, acting like I knew where I was going. I found myself amidst poetry, wedged between Poe and Whitman with a smattering of names between. Theo followed behind me. I pretended to examine a book of Shakespeare sonnets, as he looked over my shoulder, towering over me. I tried to ignore him looming over my right side, casting a faint shadow. I paraded up and down the aisle. Wait. My hand shot out towards a book. Emily Dickenson. I remember an old girlfriend of mine reading her works, talking about her being one of the most prominent female poets of her era, or something like that. With her book tucked under my arm, I strode back to the front desk, and set my book down with a feeling of triumph. I waited for him to go around the back and plop down in his chair. He looked at the poetry collection with a mix of disgust and disappointment. I didn’t understand it. He picked it up, looking between it and me.
“Are you actually going to read this?”
I nodded, knowing very well it could be a lie.
“I didn’t peg you as the type to read poetry.”
I was definitely going to read it now. No one can tell me whether I seemed like a cottage core lesbian or not.
“I mean,” he continued, unaware of my inner-monologue self flipping him off, “it’s cute.”
He stared at me like he says that to everyone. For all I knew of him, maybe he did.
What makes me special?
Yeah, that’s just how he must be.
I swung my backpack around to dig in it for my card, trying my hardest to not look as dejected as I felt. I heard a sudden gasp from him that caused me to jerk my head up in alarm. He pointed one long finger at my bag.
“You like Hellsing, too?” he asked in the most serious voice.
I nodded, a small smile overtaking the surprise in my face. I watched his eyes dart around, figuring out what fandoms my assortment of pins and buttons were from.
“We’re definitely going to have to talk about these later,” he said in reference to my dappling of Doctor Who pins.
My face fell again.
Talk? Does he expect me to?
Of course, he does. Everyone else does. Don’t you know there’s something wrong with you? He's not going to like you much longer if you don’t start talking. He’ll find out you’re just a freak.
He saw my look of dawning dread and backpedaled, “Or we can maybe just let me do all the talking because I really do love the sound of my own voice.”
He looked sincere.
Can I trust you?
My thoughts tugged at each other, pulling me in two directions.
It couldn't hurt to become friends with the guy you’ll see every other day for the next year or so.
You don’t need any friends. That’s what the books are for.
He seems like fun. You have so much in common.
All people do is hurt you.
You’re just standing there like a freak.
My head snapped up to meet his gaze boring through me. He smiled crookedly at me.
“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.” He ran a hand through his hair. “You just seem fun to talk to. And I’ve been told I need more friends.”
He tangled his fingers together, fidgeting in his chair. A mass of curls fell in front of his face.
Who is this boy?
I wanted to brush his hair away from his face and tell him I would love to be his friend. This boy that was a romance loving dramatic nerd full of smiles for a girl he barely knew. How long could that smile hold for? How long before the warmth in those stormy eyes went out, replaced by cold indifference?
What do you have to lose?
I looked at him again, tracing his face with my eyes, searching for any falsities. He stared back at me.
Trusting him could hurt.
It's been so long since I had a friend.
I nodded, slow and small, pushing away all my anxieties.
His face broke into a wide grin, “Really?” He laughed. “No take backs, then. You’re stuck with me now.”
The unbridled joy in his face was all I needed to fill me up, full to bursting. His smile that showed his teeth and lit up his eyes like a lighthouse in a storm.
Thank you, Theo.
I set my pen down with a shaking hand and bury my face in my hands.
He was a clear sky above woven branches.
A smile for a crying child.
I still wasn’t done with our story, but I couldn’t will myself to finish it.
He was a chance I took.
He was everything amazing in my life.
He was gone.
I stand up and walk away from my desk before my tears can smudge the paper.