He’s late again, she thinks to herself as her gaze unconsciously moves towards the library door. She’s lost count of how many times her eyes have flitted away from her responsibilities and towards the entrance instead; half expecting, half hoping to see a familiar face.
She doesn’t want to say, but she wants to see him.
Even if it’s for only a short while, she wants to see him.
As if on cue, the door slides open.
She tries to look nonchalant.
“You’re late,” she says matter-of-factly as he strides across the room, his backpack casually slung over his shoulder. He sets it on the ground in the corner of the room before approaching her. She continues, “And I was thinking you were getting better at being more punctual.”
“Oh, but I am getting better,” he replies. “I hate to admit it, but ‘library duty’ is getting ingrained in my mind now.”
She raises a single brow. “Yet you were still late.”
“Okay, I was already on my way home but something felt a little off, like I was forgetting something,” he explains to her. He stops himself for a second.
“Thought I left something behind for a moment, but then I remembered the library committee. And then I remembered you were also glaring at me earlier today.” He fakes a shudder. “So it must’ve been library duty.”
She feels her cheeks flush. “I was not glaring.”
But she can’t deny that maybe she did steal a glance or two at him during class.
“Well, even if I’m a little late, at least I’m here now,” he proclaims. “So, what’re we doing today?”
“I’ve been working on putting away the shipment of new books,” she states, pointing at her cart of books. She gestures towards another cart next to hers. “This is the ‘Return’ pile. Would you?”
He rolls up his sleeves and starts thumbing over book spines. “Sure, sure.”
They fall into a surprisingly comfortable silence as they begin their work. She puts away several non-fiction books, making a mental note in her mind of the ones that seemed useful. A first peek into new arrivals was the primary benefit of library duty, really. She suspects he may feel similarly.
It’s a comfortable silence, yet she unabashedly wants more.
“I was reading Duma Key the other day,” she brings herself to say, gaze moving towards him.
He looks up at her, prompted by the sound of her voice, and she sees his eyes brighten. “For real? You? The one by Stephen King?”
She lets out a quiet huff in response. “Yes, the one by Stephen King. I thought I would give it a try. It is… different from a lot of the other novels I’ve read, but it’s good. Terrifying, yet gripping.”
“Right? He really is the king of suspense,” he concurs. “So hard to put one of his books down once you start.”
She finds herself nodding in agreement. “I stayed up longer than I was planning to last night because of it.”
He laughs then, and she tries not to let the sound distract her too much from their conversation. “His writing does that to you. Ah, yeah, Ikezawa—kind of related, I mentioned to you before that I read A Tale of Two Cities recently, right?”
Suddenly, she feels warm. “Yes, you did.”
“Uh, since classic literature is more your thing, I was wondering if you had any recommendations for something similar?” he asks. His right hand moves to scratch the back of his neck. “I mean, it’s usually not what I read but A Tale of Two Cities was actually pretty good. Maybe there’s more out there that I’m missing.”
She doesn’t disagree with that sentiment—it’s part of the reason why she chose to read Duma Key herself. She doesn’t necessarily want to say the other part.
With his request in mind, she brings a hand to her chin and takes a moment to ponder.
“Maybe Great Expectations or Bleak House. They are both also written by Charles Dickens. Crime and Punishment might be another one you’ll like. The author is…” She pauses. “I’ve forgotten his name; it was something Russian.”
“Oh,” he hums. “Crime and Punishment sounds interesting.”
“Ah, it’s a really fascinating character study that pulls you deep into the mind of the main character. I actually saw it earlier in the ‘Return’ pile if you’re interested in it.” She points towards his trolley of books.
“Yeah, it sounds like it’d be a good read,” he readily agrees, his attention turning to the stack of books.
As he says those words, she reaches forwards, trying to help him find the novel. She notices his own hands moving through the pile, so close to hers.
What if, she thinks, our hands touched?
It will be something straight out of a shoujo manga, she supposes. Not that she’s read many, but the few she’s flipped through at the recommendation of her classmates had similar such scenes.
Fingers touching, cheeks flushed, stolen glances…
Then they would sneak a whispered kiss, hidden away behind bookshelves, away from the prying eyes of fellow library committee members.
It would be their secret—soft and sweet and heart-wrenching.
“Hey, are you okay?” he asks suddenly, face turned towards her.
His voice breaks her out of her thoughts and she’s nothing short of scandalized at how overactive her imagination has become.
She clears her throat and attempts to sound unperturbed as she answers, “Yes, I’m fine.”
I’m not fine.
He cocks an eyebrow at her and she tries not to think too much about the genuine concern that crosses his features, or how their fingers never actually touched. She quietly wishes they had. “You sure? You just kinda froze for a bit; had a funny look on your face, to be honest.”
“That’s just my face,” she instinctively snaps. He startles slightly and she bites her tongue. He has no ill intent, she knows.
“Yes, I’m sure; I’m fine,” she says again, consciously changing her tone. “But thank you for your concern, Aihara.”
I’m not fine, not normal. Not when he looks at her like that. Not when her heart beats so fast there’s no way that it’s natural. Not when her mind drifts so easily towards thoughts of him, of him and her.
“Well, anyway, I found the book.” He holds it up to show her and starts leafing through the pages. “Thanks for the recommendation!”
She watches as he flips to the beginning of the novel and skims through the text. He mouths the words to himself silently as he reads; she especially likes the way his teeth catch on his lower lip as he does so.
“Solid start,” he says eventually, before closing the book and setting it aside. “Thanks a ton, Ikezawa.”
He looks up then, and their eyes meet. She abruptly turns her head away.
I was staring at him again, she realizes. But it’s hard not to.
“… I hope you’ll enjoy it,” she responds, her voice softer than she intended it to be. He gives her a crooked smile in return and looks back towards the mountain of books that still need to be sorted. Quietly, she follows suit.
It’s hard not to stare when he gives her those smiles.
It’s hard not to stare when she doesn’t know what to do with the rapid beating of her heart.
It’s hard not to stare when she wants him to look at her too.
And maybe he’s not suited for love after all, as he says, but she’ll wait. She’ll wait because not too long ago, she wasn’t either. Now, she lets the feeling slowly bloom in her chest, cherishes the warmth that spreads throughout her body at the sight of him, and the bursts of happiness that erupt whenever he smiles in her direction.
But, she doesn’t know what to do or how to act around him.
She hasn’t felt this confused about something since she first read Ulysses and found herself grappling against the literary behemoth.
If only she could read him like a book, she thinks. Sometimes, she feels like she still hasn’t got past the cover.
She wonders instead if she is easy to read—if her face betrays every emotion, spoils every hidden plot twist within her heart.
She wonders how her story will unfold.
“You know, Aihara,” she speaks up, “there’s another story that I’m interested in.”
They both look up at each other while their hands continue to fumble through their book sorting duty.
“Oh yeah? What is it?” he asks, sincerely.
It’s cute. She finds herself inwardly cursing her small crush on Hugh Jackman.
“Is it another Charles Dickens?” he guesses.
She shakes her head. “No, this story hasn’t started yet.”
“Huh? What do you mean?” he questions with a slight tilt of his head.
She feels an uncharacteristically soft, girlish giggle bubble to her lips. “I’ll tell you, but not today. Some other day.”
He crosses his arms to his chest and a contemplative frown forms on his lips. It’s quiet for a moment as she watches him, wondering what he’ll say to her, then he flashes her a lopsided grin. “Okay. I’ll hold you to that, Ikezawa.”
“And I’ll let you,” she says without missing a beat.
Then, he beams, “I’m looking forward to it!”
She finds herself smiling back naturally, because—
It will be the beginning of their story.