All the book titles, poems and Dewey decimal numbers are real. Alas, Elijah and Sean are not! *wistful sigh*
The library didn’t open on Sundays until 1 p.m., according to the message when he called to check the hours, but Elijah got there at 11:30 anyway, and paced around the parking lot in the January cold, biting at his disgraceful nails and giving himself pep talks. He hadn’t been in the library in years, preferring to do his school research online, like any accomplished geek, but sometimes a guy had to do what he had to do.
By the time the building’s front doors were finally unlocked by the maintenance man, a crowd of about fifty people had gathered, anxious to get in out of the cold, but though Elijah had been the first to arrive, he was the last of the group to enter. His goal, the information desk, lay straight ahead of him. It loomed large and intimidating in the center of the vast room, although there was nothing at all intimidating about it to outward appearances. It was just a wooden counter with computers on either end, and two women, one blonde, one brunette, both middle-aged, stationed behind it. They were the reference librarians, the people he needed to see, and they loomed even larger and more intimidating to Elijah’s paranoid eyes than the desk they worked behind.
He drew a deep breath and headed for the ‘Wait here for the next available librarian’ sign, where a few people had queued to await their turn for assistance. At the last moment, he veered to the left and took refuge in the video section. He scrutinized the shelves as if intent on choosing a DVD to take home, but in truth he had no idea what he was looking at; he was simply trying to work up the nerve to approach the information desk and ask for help.
About ten minutes later, a surreptitious look showed that there was no longer a line, and one of the librarians, the dark-haired one, was free to help him.
It was now or never.
Elijah sidled up and stood nervously a few feet away. The corner of his right eye was twitching, and although the building was by no means hot, sweat was trickling down the back of his neck and his palms were uncomfortably damp. Maybe she wouldn’t notice him, he thought hopefully. Then he could pretend to be pissed off at being ignored and leave in a huff. It would be the perfect excuse to turn tail and run.
“Do you need some help?” A friendly-sounding voice asked.
Uh-oh. It was the dark-haired librarian, and she was speaking to him. Looking straight at him, in fact. His eye twitch doubled in speed and intensity.
“Um, yeah, I do,” Elijah mumbled, taking a tentative step closer. He could feel a warm flush rising up his neck, spreading to his cheeks and forehead until his entire face was aflame. Oh shit, how embarrassing. “Um, this is a little difficult,” he blurted, and felt like the world’s biggest idiot.
But the librarian was giving him an encouraging smile, not looking at him as if he were the world’s biggest idiot. But then maybe in her line of work idiots were a dime a dozen.
“Just take your time,” she said. “There’s no rush.”
Only Elijah knew that if he didn’t jump right in and start talking, he’d be doomed, and probably turn into a pillar of salt like the wife of that guy, old whatsisname, in the Bible.
“You’ve probably never had a question like this,” he began inanely.
Her smile deepened. “Actually, I probably have—you’d be surprised. But try me.”
Elijah briefly shut his eyes, gathering his nerve. “I’m looking for some poetry,” he said in a rush. His entire body was on fire now. “To recite. To this guy. That I like. A lot. HisnameisSean.” There, it was out. Miraculously, he was still alive. Maybe he would survive this experience after all. “Believe me,” he added with feeling, “that was probably harder for me to say than it was for you to listen to.”
“It wasn’t hard to listen to at all,” she said reassuringly, and weirdly, Elijah kinda believed her. She looked thoughtful and engaged, not freaked out. “So, what kind of poetry are you looking for?”
Elijah hadn’t given it a single thought. Getting his question out without passing out had been his only goal. “Fu-, I mean, geez, I don’t know exactly,” he said hesitantly. “I just want to let him know that I like him and, well, that I’m interested in him. He’s a big reader, so I thought… um… you know...”
“I think that’s a wonderful idea,” the librarian said with enthusiasm, and Elijah suddenly felt much better about the whole embarrassing scenario. That is, until she added, “We have a number of excellent collections of love poems I can show you.”
“Oh no, nononononono,” Elijah said, recoiling in instinctive horror. “Not love poetry.”
He had a feeling she was trying not to smile. He would have been if he were her. “Well then, what kind of books does Sean like to read? We can look for something similar.”
Her fingers were poised over the keyboard of her computer, ready to start typing and looking up those weird numbers that Elijah could never quite figure out, but were supposed to be some kind of system to help you find the books on the shelf. He wished now that he’d paid better attention in grade school when they’d done that library research module.
“Shakespeare. He definitely likes Shakespeare. That sonnet, um, you know, Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?”
Elijah would never forget a few weeks ago in English class when Sean had recited the sonnet—number 6547 or whatever the fuck it had been.
Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate
His deep voice had thrilled right through Elijah, ending up inevitably at his dick. He’d tugged his tee shirt down to disguise the growing bulge, and maybe, just maybe, he’d have avoided the Erection of Doom, if not for the fact that when Sean reached the lines,
But thy eternal Summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest
he’d looked straight at Elijah. It might have been coincidence (in fact, in his moments of despair, Elijah felt certain it had been), but it didn’t matter. Elijah had had to bolt to the restroom the instant the dismissal bell rang, lock himself in the farthest stall, and jerk off with his fist stuffed in his mouth to stifle his moans and a wad of toilet paper in his other hand to catch the evidence.
But that was not a particularly wise thing to be thinking about at the moment, not when he was asking for help from a woman old enough to be his mom, and he could barely look her in the eyes at it was. Good thing he was already as red as it was possible for a human being to be without actually becoming a lobster, Elijah thought.
“Shakespeare,” she repeated. “Anything else?”
Elijah looked helplessly at her. Sean always had his nose in a book, but Elijah was too distracted by his form-fitting jeans and protruding upper lip to pay attention to what he was reading. So maybe that meant he was shallow, but fuck it all, he was only 17. Wasn’t he supposed to be obsessed with sex?
“I have no idea,” he confessed.
The librarian lifted her fingers from the keyboard and got up from her chair. “Tell you what, why don’t we go to the poetry section and take a look at what’s there. I’m sure we can find something suitable.”
“Okay,” Elijah said, relieved. He’d been afraid she’d just scribble some of those obscure numbers on a piece of scrap paper, shove it at him and tell him to get lost. He wasn’t exactly covering himself in glory here.
He trailed after her as she walked with unerring footsteps toward the stacks at the back of the room, threading through large wooden tables crowded with people reading or working on laptops. Shelves upon shelves upon shelves of books lay in wait, and Elijah began to feel kind of excited at the prospect of conquering them, of proving that he wasn’t simply a computer geek after all. Fuck, this could be fun, he thought.
Provided, of course, that he didn’t allow himself to visualize the moment when he actually started reciting one of the poems in those books to Sean—because he didn’t want to toss his cookies all over the carpet, and possibly the helpful librarian, too.
They turned down an aisle with a small white sign on the end that said ‘818.54 to 822.33’, and the librarian stopped about halfway down, in the 821 section. She smiled at Elijah again. “This is the section for British poetry,” she said. “Shakespeare’s poems are here, along with other a lot of other great poets.” She knelt and studied the second shelf up for a moment. Then she selected a book. “Take a look at this,” she said, handing it to him.
The Oxford Book of English Verse. Elijah opened the book to a random page, and nearly died when the first words he saw were ‘Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day? He slammed it shut again. “I dunno if this will do,” he said sheepishly, returning it to her. “Maybe you can find something else?”
“Try these.” She handed him a couple more collections, and Elijah cautiously flipped through them. He could see right away that he was in over his head, big time. Most of the poems were too long, too full of archaic words and would do nothing whatsoever to aid his cause. After all, what the fuck was Sean going to make out of a poem that began:
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Yeah, that would sure send Sean the right message—if they were both interested in joining the military, that is.
“Still no good?” The librarian said, reading his expression, which was no doubt a dead giveaway. God, he was such a lamewad. *headdesk headdesk headdesk* was what he’d be typing if he were on his MacBook right now. Geek life was so much easier.
“I’m afraid not,” Elijah replied. “The truth is, I’m more of a graphic novel reader—you know, stuff like Sin City. I guess what I’m really looking for is something short, easy to memorize and…” He blushed again, and wondered if colleges had majors in blushing. If so, he was all set for a kickass career as a professional Blusher.
“Romantic?” she supplied gently.
The librarian pursed her lips. “All right, let’s try over here.” They moved down the aisle a little ways, and Elijah could see that nearly every book on the shelf here had the word ‘Love’ in the title. Not to mention that the covers were all pink or red or… oh fuck, lavender? The librarian retrieved a slender paperback book from the top shelf. It did indeed have a lavender colored cover, and Elijah nearly groaned aloud when he read the title: The 100 Best Love Poems of All Time.
“I dunno,” he said, sweat trickling down his neck again, “maybe I should just forget the whole thing.”
“What can it hurt to take a look?” she asked reasonably, holding out the book to him. “Maybe you’ll see something that appeals.”
Fat chance, Elijah thought, but he took the book anyway. After all, she’d gone to so much trouble. It would be pretty rude to diss her now. Cautiously, as if the book might be ensorcelled and drag him inside or some such shit, Elijah paged through it. He was reluctantly forced to admit that there were some kick ass poems here, and he even managed a smile when he got to Howard Moss’s version of Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day that started:
Who says you're like one of the dog days?
You're nicer. And better.
But nothing really grabbed him, until suddenly, he turned a page, and there it was. The perfect poem: short, easy to memorize, and beautiful as fuck. He’d never really ‘got’ poetry, but this poem sure got him, and he thought, he hoped, it would get Sean, too, not to mention get him Sean.
“I found something,” he said, hugely relieved.
“That’s terrific. Is it all right if I take a look?”
“Sure.” A little shyly, Elijah held the book out to her. “It’s this one.”
He watched her anxiously as she read it. “Do you think it will be okay?”
“I think it’s perfect,” she replied, and he could tell that she meant it. She returned the book to him and said, “Your Sean is a very lucky guy.”
“He’s not my Sean,” Elijah protested, blushing again. “Not yet anyway. But I just remembered something. I can’t take the book out. I don’t have a library card.”
“Not a problem,” she said, and he decided that imperturbability must be the main qualification for becoming a librarian. “You can sign up for a card right now. It’ll only take a few minutes.”
She was as good as her word, and next thing Elijah knew, he was outside in the cold air again, with his new library card tucked into his back pocket and The 100 Best Love Poems of All Time tucked under his arm. He took with him a whole new respect for reference librarians, too, and he smiled as he recalled her last words to him: “Good luck, Elijah, and if you have a chance, stop by and let me know how things went with Sean.”
“I’ll do that,” Elijah had promised, and he meant to keep his promise. Not only that, but he meant to make good use of his new library card, too. Libraries were pretty cool places, he decided, and so were the people who worked there.
“Hey Sean, wait up,” Elijah called, and broke into a jog across the school parking lot—a parking lot that was totally deserted except for him and Sean. The relief he felt at finding Sean alone overrode, momentarily at least, the terror he felt at finding Sean alone. But it was better to face up to your fears, his mom always told him, and it seemed there was some truth to what she said. Assuming your fears didn’t kill you first, that is.
Elijah had been waiting his chance all week to get Sean alone, but every time he’d worked up the nerve to approach him, someone else had butted in or gotten there first and cut him out. It was frustrating as hell, especially as he thought (possibly he was delusional) that Sean was as disappointed by the interruptions as he was.
But finally fortune seemed to be smiling on him, and a good thing, too. It hadn’t taken long to memorize the poem, and now it was burning up his brain, wanting, no demanding, to be spoken, and not to his reflection in the bathroom mirror, while he scrutinized his face for any hint of a beard finally forming, but to Sean.
Sean had stopped when he heard Elijah calling him and turned around, and he was now patiently waiting for him to catch up.
Ohfuckohfuckohfuck, the moment of truth was nearly at hand. The terror escalated, adding disappearing gonads and a psychotic heart rate of about 100,000 beats per minute to the dry mouth and nausea that had been more or less permanent ever since Elijah had gotten his poetry reciting inspiration. Oh mom, I’m not sure you were right after all, he thought in a panic.
Sean looked totally edible in those faded, form-fitting jeans with the intriguing worn spot just to the left of the crotch that showed plainly how he carried himself, a brown leather bomber jacket, and a wool scarf tied around his neck. The wind had ruffled his normally neatly combed hair, hair that was almost the same caramel shade as his scarf, into messy curls, and he was smiling so that his green eyes creased at the corners and his upper lip protruded even more than usual. Oh god, he was way, way out of Elijah’s league. Was he insane, thinking that the student body president and football team captain would want anything to do with a lowly computer geek?
Well, insane or not, he had to go through with it, because the fucking poem had now moved from his brain to his mouth, where it waited, trembling on his lips, eager to be set free.
“Hey Elijah,” Sean said when Elijah came to a halt in front of him. Then he tipped his head to the side and gave Elijah a puzzled look. Elijah could only imagine what Sean saw in his face to generate such a reaction. “You okay?” he asked, sounding concerned
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Elijah replied almost at random, for the poem, thepoemthepoemthefuckingpoem, was all he could think about. “Sean, there’s something I want to say to you.”
Sean stared at him for what seemed like an eternity. Then he said very quietly and very seriously, “I’m listening.”
This was it. The moment of truth. A preternatural sense of calm descended over Elijah. He raised his chin a notch, held Sean’s eyes with his own, and started speaking. He’d agonized over how to recite the poem, rehearsed a dozen different tempos and volumes, but in the end it came from his heart, simple and true.
I want to breathe
you in I'm not talking about
perfume or even the sweet odour
of your skin but of the
air itself I want to share
your air inhaling what you
exhale I'd like to be that
close two of us breathing
each other as one as that.
Before Elijah had finished reciting the first three lines, delighted recognition lit up Sean’s face, and Elijah could tell that he not only recognized the poem, but that it spoke to him, too, as it had spoken to Elijah the first time he read it. In fact, it felt as if the words went straight from his heart into Sean’s, and exultation filled his soul.
When Elijah was finished, silence settled between them, but their eyes held a private, intimate conversation in which every important confidence was exchanged and accepted. The poem had opened the door, as Elijah had hoped, and Sean had walked through it.
Sean was the first to break the silence. “I like your taste in poetry very much, Elijah,” he said.
“Thanks. James Laughlin kicks ass, doesn't he?”
“He does. Listen, I was about to go get a bite to eat. You want to join me?”
Elijah was floating on air. “Sure, I’d love to.” Then he hesitated. “But would you mind if we stopped by the library on the way?” he asked, thinking of promises made. “There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”