the physics of magnetism

Submitted into Contest #91 in response to: Set your story in a library, after hours.... view prompt


Fiction Romance

With a long-suffering sigh, Leila put her pencil down next to her open notebook, closed her eyes, and began the arduous process of massaging out the cramp at the base of her right thumb. Taking a moment to breathe, her mind, which was already exhausted from a day full of demanding lectures, struggled to catch up with all the material she’d written down for her upcoming project.  

The library was about to close. Luckily for her, working part time as an aide in the library did come with a few perks. She promised the on-duty librarian that she’d turn off all the remaining lights and lock up on her way out. He’d taken one long look at her desperate face and full to bursting bookbag and reluctantly agreed. 

Checking her watch and noticing the time, she realized her partner would be locked out if she didn’t arrive in the next 10 minutes. 

Where was Sam anyway? She’d texted her that morning with instructions to meet her at 6:00 in the private room along the east wall. Granted, she didn’t receive a text back, but that was hardly a surprise. 

Her partner in this endeavor was an effervescent young woman whose inherent intelligence in the sciences, while incredible, belied her curiously apathetic study habits. Sam could probably teach the professors a few things if she wasn’t so unorthodox in her approach to academic methods. 

Come to think of it, did she even have a cell phone?

Wait. Who did she text??

Scrambling for her cell phone, trying to ignore the knot of dread pooling in her stomach, she heard a tapping on the door before it slid open.


Oh no.

“By the look on your face, I’m guessing this isn’t a clandestine meeting between two old coworkers in the library after hours…”

Why. Why is this my life.

Leaning cool and casual against the door frame, arms folded across his chest, Sam stood grinning at her with genuine mirth and a hint of teasing in his eyes. 


“Well, if it was an attempt at a surreptitious rendezvous, you’d be late. I’m surprised they even let you in so near to closing,” I countered back at him while trying to regain my composure. 

“I simply mentioned your name and was whisked away to your private chambers here like royalty,” he winked, while walking through the entrance and closing the door behind him. He took a seat and leaned forward onto the table. 

Had it always been this confined in here? The small table and two chairs hardly seemed cramped when she had pictured the other Sam in his stead. 

But now, with him here, elbows on the table, bright eyes gently teasing, and lips curved up in a good-natured smirk, there was no longer any actual space to feign disinterest. How could she possibly control her own physical response to his proximity?

“On a scale of yes to no, how amenable might you be to just like…leaving and never mentioning this brief lapse of insanity that I’ve created for myself,” I asked him with a nervous laugh, not quite joking. 

“Ahh, but I’ve missed this banter,” he grinned. “I’m afraid the dial on your scale of possible outcomes is pointing to my favor.”

He took my pencil from its place beside me and spun it in a circle on the only available area on the table, mimicking the hands of a clock. It pointed somewhere to the left of me. He looked up, meeting my eyes with a sincere smile.

I couldn’t help but smile back at him. 

“So…whose seat am I currently stealing right now?” he enquired.

“My project partner, coincidentally also named Sam. I can’t believe I got the two of you mixed up in my phone. Honestly, I’m usually much more observant and competent when making plans for something as important as this. Sorry for the misunderstanding,” I trailed off, nervously tapping my fingers against my leg. 

“See, you say misunderstanding, but I’m choosing to hear kismet. Divine providence, a fated encounter, desti—”, I cut him off with a laugh and a playful smack to his arm.   

“Alright alright you can stay, no need to wax poetic. I have no need for your longwinded sarcasm this evening, but I would appreciate your assistance in helping me narrow down a topic for this assignment,” I say, flipping to a blank page in my notebook.

A sudden thought strikes me. 

“Oh, unless of course you actually have somewhere else to be. Sorry. I didn’t even think. Are you just passing by on your way to somewhere else?” God, how embarrassing. How much audacity do I even have today?

His eyebrows furrow at me like I’ve said something idiotic. I suppose I have. Which part?

“Leila will you please stop apologizing? My fragile masculinity can only survive so much of your unreasonable modesty without feeling the need to humble myself too. And I simply shan’t do it,” he says grandly, leaning back on the back two legs of the chair and recrossing his arms. The picture of unaffected cool.

His admittedly charming attempts at trying to put me at ease are unfairly provocative.

“Anyway,” he continues, “I just got off shift at the restaurant and came over. That’s why I’m late. You remember how it is there, it’s impractical to predict, with any reasonable degree of certainty, when you’ll actually get off. It’s wholly dependent on making sure your guests are completely satisfied once finished. Know what I mean?”

Um. What is it we’re talking about?

Oh, right. 

“That’s precisely why I quit, Sam. My course load this semester is an unmitigated disaster. I’m not as proficient at that work/study balancing act as you are,” I answer seriously, before remembering that I needed to parry his hinted innuendo with one of my own.   

“Although,” I continue casually, “I’ve always been able to ascertain whether my guests were…satisfied.”

I chance a look up at him in time to catch him swallowing hard. I’m certain we’re both wearing a matching pink tint high on our cheeks. He clears his throat and drops his eyes to my notebook after a moment of charged silence.

“Where’s your computer?” He asks, his expression changing to puzzlement.

“Oh. I don’t like to use one in the library. I can’t stand the clacking of keys when I’m trying to concentrate. It’s why I typically reserve these private rooms. Plus, who doesn’t love the feel of a hard pencil and the sense of fulfillment every time you turn a handwritten page full of ideas over?” I release a gentle sigh and look lovingly at my pencil, still pointing somewhere to the left of me, to complete the effect. 

“Now whose waxing poetic,” he jokes. “I didn’t realize I was so rudely interrupting a romantic tryst.”

I’ve missed this, his sense of humor and earnest charm. I wasn’t kidding when I told him I’d quit a few months back based on my course load. What I didn’t mention was that the devastating crush I had on him was driving me to distraction. Just like now.

“So,” I venture, “what do you know about physics?”

“Ahh,” he leans back in contemplation a moment, “physics. Literally ‘natural science’ or ‘natural things’ is the study of interactions of matter and energy, yeah? A way to try and grasp meaning from the universe. This is your major?”

“It is,” I reply with a beleaguered sigh. “And I’m working on narrowing down a topic for this group project. Do you know anything about magnetism? I’ve got some clever ideas, but I’d really like to talk them out before committing.”

He scrunches his nose in contemplation before answering. “Apart from playing with magnets as a child, the only knowledge I can bestow upon you is that I believe the word itself derives from ‘magnesia’, which was a province in ancient Greece. Something about lodestones. Hm. I need to consult some texts to be sure…”

“Oh, that’s right. You’re studying language and etymology! Thanks for the history lesson, but I meant more from a practical understanding of how they work,” I reply, trying not to swoon in response.

“Afraid that’s all I’ve got. Why don’t you tell me? What is magnetism? I’m certainly no stranger to it,” he declares as his overtones become more obvious.

“I’m sure you’re well acquainted. However, in physics, magnetism is like, the physical phenomena created from the force caused by magnets; objects that produce fields that repel or attract other like objects. A magnetic field exerts a force on the particles and it’s this motion of electrically charged particles that gives rise to magnetism.”

I look up at him to make sure he’s paying attention. That was a mistake. His eyes are boring directly into me. I clear my throat softly and continue.

“So, the force that’s acting on the electrically charged particle depends on several variables. The magnitude of the charge, its velocity, the strength of the magnetic field and so forth. All things experience magnetism to some degree, some more strongly than others…”

I trail off. I have to. He’s staring at me with something akin to hunger and it’s making me burn

The logical part of my mind that isn’t being consumed in a confusing spark of anticipation clicks the connecting pieces together.

This is what we’ve been doing for months now. Orbiting around each other, creating our own cyclone of electrically charged particles. What did I think would happen? 

It’s a matter of practicality, really. It was inevitable that the magnetic field we created while revolving around the other would increase our desire to surrender to the physical pull eventually. 

Somehow, acknowledging our reciprocal attraction simultaneously renders us both immediately shy in the face of it. 

I bite my bottom lip to stifle the smile that’s already making my cheeks ache and tuck my hair behind my ear. I’m unreasonably giddy and savoring the dizzying feeling of being pulled into Sam’s cosmic gravity. The air has changed now that we’ve stopped forcing ourselves to resist what had been there all along.

“Yeah,” I try for casual. It doesn’t work. “There’s something there for sure. I’d like to pursue that. You know. As a topic? For my research project.”

His matching grin validates me in a way that makes my spine tingle. There’s too much energy in this cramped space.

“Totally sounds like the right move for you and…Sam. I think that’s a brilliant choice, honestly. How could you go wrong with that?” he replies. This natural sync is destroying my resolve to stay and work on this stupid project.

“Wanna grab a bite to eat? I mean, the library is closed now,” he asks. “Now that you’ve made a choice, what else is there to do?”

“I confess I haven’t eaten since lunch. I’m quite famished,” I reply, gathering my pencil and notebook and hastily shoving them in my overstuffed bookbag.   

“Ah, famished. Middle English. To ‘starve’. Or, additionally, ‘needy’ or ‘being in want’. Trying to tell me something Leila?”

Oh, this cheeky rascal. 

“I suppose that depends on what you’re offering?” I volley back as he takes my bookbag and slings it over his shoulders.

As we step out of the room into the dimly lit library, he deftly snatches up my hand and interlaces our fingers. 

“Did I ever tell you,” he probes, as he searches my eyes for permission that I’ve already given, “about our names?”

“Our names?” I answer back. Puzzled at the direction this conversation is taking.

I walk over to the main desk to turn off the remaining lights. Reluctantly, I let go of his hand to make sure all the closing tasks are complete. 

“Yeah,” he pauses, watching me work. “Don’t you ever wonder about the nature of a name? You could probably liken it to one of your physics theorems or equations. But for me, there’s just something so satisfying about finding the root of all things. So simple and yet wholly profound to be able to discover laid bare meanings in the formation of letters in a word.”

I find his eyes again, the lure irresistible. 

“And what is it about our names that has you so contemplative?” I ask, honestly curious as to his somewhat pensive manner.

“It’s just…Leila. It’s Hebrew, meaning ‘night’ or ‘dark’. A ‘daughter of the night’ in some translations,” he’s practically whispering, even though we’re alone.

“I think I knew that somewhere in the recesses of my mind,” I smile. He totally looked that up beforehand. The thought alone kindles the flames I’ve been working so hard to dampen down. “And yours? Samuel? What’s it mean?”

“Actually, Sam is short for Samson,” he takes my hand as I come back around, more boldly than before. He draws me closer to him, hands suddenly around my waist. The force of our magnetism at this point is completely overpowering. 

“It’s also Hebrew. It means ‘sun’.  How appropriate. Is that physics? Opposites attract? The sun always chasing the night?” he murmurs, barely audible as the distance between us starts to close.

“Something like that,” I whisper in kind, surging up the last few inches to meet his lips. The current carrying our electricity erupts into an incendiary gravity and nothing exists but the feel of his pull.  

April 26, 2021 22:32

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Jade Young
08:32 May 01, 2021

This is such a beautiful story❤ I don't know how you do it, but your writing is so descriptive that I felt as if I was right there, feeling everything Leila felt. And omigosh Sam's charisma just ooses of the screen from his very first appearance. As I was reading, I even felt myself developing a crush on him😜 I love how you used magnetism as a parallel for the force of attraction between them, I thought it was really clever and fitting and I absolutely love this lighthearted romance story. It's going down as one of my favourite Reedsy storie...


22:22 May 01, 2021

Wow!! Incredibly high praise!! Thank you so so much!! 😭❤️ I’m so glad you liked it 🥰🥰


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Christine Kopp
14:15 Apr 30, 2021

This is adorable! The etymology of their names is such a meaningful addition to their connection -- I love it!


15:35 Apr 30, 2021

Ahhh thank you so much!! That's my fave part :)


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Asha Pillay
11:37 Apr 29, 2021

I like your choice of words, which shows your command over the language Good work.


14:37 Apr 29, 2021

Thank you!! High praise :) I appreciate that!!


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Cole Lane
23:21 May 01, 2021

Kelly, you write so much emotion and color into a short story space! I'm always impressed with how your characters have their own voice, their movements even convey their personality. I am tempted to push a character into an extreme scene to elicit emotion, you just have two people sitting in a room and the tension (the good kind) is palpable. I think I would have skipped dinner and needed a drink after that encounter. lol!


02:09 May 02, 2021

Wow...thank you so much for the unbelievably kind comments... I always wonder what they’d do IF I put my characters through an extreme scene...could I even handle that!? Thank you again :) 🥰


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Scott Chadwick
20:58 Apr 29, 2021

A play on Samson and Delila from the old testament?


21:23 Apr 29, 2021

Not intentionally, no! I just had to work it out where two names translated to opposing meanings; objects orbiting one another :) ;)


Scott Chadwick
01:06 Apr 30, 2021

Thank you. I thought you used a clever build up of tension throughout. Cool and edgy story.


01:15 Apr 30, 2021

Ahhh thank you!!!! 😊


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Scott Chadwick
01:06 Apr 30, 2021

Thank you. I thought you used a clever build up of tension throughout. Cool and edgy story.


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Scott Chadwick
01:06 Apr 30, 2021

Thank you. I thought you used a clever build up of tension throughout. Cool and edgy story.


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