At the entrance, I loiter five full minutes, preparing for my mission. Early in the fall semester, only a handful of students -- most of them foreigners -- visit the university library on a Saturday night. I noticed my first month here.
Across from the circulation desk, I spot the perfect chair. Brand new. Three times I walk around it -- retracing my steps on thick blue carpeting -- before forcing myself to sit. Three is always a magic number.
On my lap, I rest two heavy books. One for each leg, parallel. Each text is filled with self-stick notes. These are my notes. Crucial notes. The tiny pastel squares decorate every page. No, they don't decorate. They annotate.
When I look up, I see the circulation clerk has a red goatee and thick blonde hair. A possibly serious mismatch. It's very attractive. But two shades of hair could mean trouble. Perhaps a difference of opinion between he and I. Him and me.
Still, I like the way his golden hair fans across his eyes. They're large brown eyes. Some people would call them cow eyes. But I don't care for that image. When he thinks my attention wanders elsewhere, I can see the boy staring. As if I'm not used to being looked at. I know my behavior attracts attention.
So, I'm pulling another shift at the circ desk -- all fucked up on some weed -- when this tall, skinny kid with curly black hair comes in. He sits right across from me. But only after circling his chair for fuckin' ever. I mean forwards and backwards.
Bet he thinks he's being subtle or something. But I know he's watching me with those blue eyes of his. They kind of blaze at me like flashlights.
The kid's dressed all in black. His long raincoat's way too warm for the weather. But sexy. Like a Goth. And he's got a couple books in his hands stuffed with different colored notes.
I watch the kid take two more books from his bag. Plain books. He hoofs it to my desk, his long legs hissing against the black raincoat. The closer he gets, the bluer his eyes become.
At the circulation desk, I hand the clerk my library card, avoiding his eyes. But I can see his smile.
"Hey there, Josh." The clerk greets me as if he knows me. As if we were friends. His words sound lazy, stumbling past his lips. And then he says: "My name's Gus." From the corner of my eye, I see he's about to extend his hand. But he pulls back fast and keys my name into his computer instead.
"So. How can I help you, Josh?" he asks.
"Here's what I'd like to do," I say. "It's very simple: I want to exchange these two library books -- with all the self-stick notes -- for the same exact books I bought on the Internet. They're brand new books."
On his desk, I place my two books next to the library's copies. "This way, I don't have to transfer all my notes," I explain, so the trade makes perfect sense.
Now that I've delivered my speech, I can look at him -- at Gus -- directly. His large brown eyes and small nose appear juvenile above his dense, rust-colored goatee. Thick blonde hair -- tousled every which way -- seems to grab at the air. Play in the air. When I get a strong impulse to lick the bronze freckles on his nose and cheeks, I take a cautionary step back. Still, I can't help wondering if his freckles taste different from his amber skin. Like fresh toast crumbs, perhaps.
"Uh huh," is all Gus says to my carefully detailed proposition. It hardly sounds like an okay. He tries to make eye contact with me. But I'm upset and won't let him.
"Why don't you just check the books out again?" he asks me. His lazy, open smile shows small white teeth. Then he tells me I can check out the books all semester long, until I don't need them. As if I didn't know that already.
"You're missing my point." I explain. "I want to keep the books. Make them mine. Just as they are -- with all my notes edging the pages." Gus keeps tapping his pencil on the desk. It weakens my focus. "So, like -- why don't you just transfer the notes?" he says in a twangy, resonant voice.
The question stalls me. Not that I didn't expect it, haven't prepared for it. Still, I don't answer. Instead, I look at him -- at Gus -- as if he said something ridiculous. But why can't I answer?
Something about this kid Josh makes me feel totally reckless. Something more than his pale skin, his long nose that points down a little at the end. I watch his jaw muscles go all aerobic. Two moles sit on his chin dark as chocolate chips. His puffy chapped lips keep rubbing against each other like they're chewing on words.
"Hey man. Smile back at me," I say, thinking -- Fuck, I'm too fried.So big deal. I only wanna see the kid smile. "Come on man," I coax him, showing him my own big, Texas-size ear-to-ear. "Won't cost you nothin'."
Josh looks confused. "Smile?" he says, like I asked him to jump off a cliff or something. But he gives in, smiles in spite of himself. A real shy one. But definitely in shooting range.
"That's a little better," I razz him. Josh has a wicked crooked grin -- double dimples on each cheek. But those cute swirls don't last long. "About the books," Josh says, getting all serious, tapping on the hard covers.
"Yeah. The books." I know I'm gonna bum him out. "My supervisor's gone for the night. But I'm like ninety-nine percent sure you can't make the switch."
"Why not?" he says.
I can see the kid's starting to lose it. He grabs my desk as if a strong wind might blow him over or something. So I let him down easy: I tell him it would be really difficult if students could trade books with the library whenever they wanted. The trade-ins would have to get labeled for cataloguing. And then magnetized for security. That's a lot of work for the same books, I say. "I mean, it's not like you're donating new stuff the library doesn't have."
Wow! Josh's eyes. Fuckin' amazing. They turn violet on me -- like a pair of mood rings or something. Now he goes all hangdog. He bites his lower lip so hard, I can feel it. To show my concern, I stand up, lean forward. Josh's mouth kind of drops when he looks up cause I'm six-seven or something.
"You could come back tomorrow," I say. "When a supervisor's on duty. I might be wrong." I smile, sure I'm right.
Josh goes all quiet, stands real stiff with his big, curly head drooping. I wanna lift him over the desk, sit him on my lap. You know, just to comfort him. Instead I say: "Can I take a look, man?" I point to the note-crammed books. When he shrugs an okay, I accidentally on purpose overreach, touching his long, bony fingers.
At first, he flinches. But when Josh looks up, it seems like my smile makes him simmer down. Before taking the books, I cover Josh's hands, slide my fingertips across his smooth skin. It's all mapped out with juicy blue veins. Gently, I press down before letting go. Then I hold my breath, hoping the kid won't go all ballistic on me.
Like sunlight, I feel Gus's warmth heat my hands. I want to reach out, take them back. But I'm in control -- taking measured, deep breaths. Now I have to avoid his intelligent eyes, in case he can read my thoughts. His brown irises have some gray. Like floating clouds. The whites are bloodshot. Still, they sparkle.
Stop Complicating things, I tell myself, staring at Gus's wild blonde hair. I get the urge to bury my face in the golden strands, capture their yellow smell.
Instead, I retreat a half-step.
"The books," I say after clearing my throat.
Pursing his lips, Gus examines my texts. "This don't look like such a major job," he tells me. And then he says that the library's really dead now, and that he can help me transfer the notes from the library books to my own brand new ones.
"Not exactly what you want," he admits. "But it's almost perfect."
"Almost?" I say, unable to restrain myself. I hate that word. Almost means something is left hanging -- incomplete. Forever there to bother me if I cannot let the thought go.
"I don't know," I answer, confused by the way Gus makes me feel. My stomach and chest fill with warm, floating sensations. My skin draws me toward him as if it had a mind of its own.
"So easy," I say, too flustered to keep my thoughts to myself. "It would be so easy if life were only ideas. Nothing physical to deal with." I look down at my hands clenching the books. I know how ridiculous I sound.
Fuck. I can't stand it. Josh's even more of a babe when he's all geeked out. Ungluing my eyes from his face, I glance around the floor. At the far end of the room, some students work at their computer stations. Over at the research desk, the night librarian's AWOL as per usual.
Just do it, I think, taking hold of Josh's smooth hands again. Really holding them. I can feel his cool skin warming. "Maybe we should start now," he mumbles, looking all startled. "On the books." He kind of chokes on the words.
"Sure. In a minute" I say, working his knuckles with my thumbs.
"I -- . I don't know." The poor kid stutters. And then he nods down at my hands covering his, not letting him move them away. I'm sure he doesn't want to. My grip's nowhere that tight.
"What?" I say, grinning, stroking my fingers around his palms. And then I spot a student hoofing it to my desk and let go quick.
Josh's basement apartment's in Georgetown. It's got lots of tall windows. Fancy drapes. Everything in the living room's blonde wood, buffed metal -- with fat, red leather chairs. Totally expensive stuff. More than ever, I wish Josh'd agreed to finish his book thing in my dorm room.
"Real nice," I say, glancing around all casual. I feel like I'm in another world. Specially when I think of the dumpy apartments I grew up in; chairs that sagged so much I sat on the floor to get comfortable.
"It's all my mother's," Josh says. "She lives upstairs; this is her house."
Josh's hot for me to transfer his notes. I can tell. Me smiling at him makes him nervous, like he thinks I want something from him. Which I do. But still.
Never seen anyone drink so much water. I'll bet Josh has dry mouth. Bet I know why too. Me, I'm good with the coke I ask for. The caffeine'll keep my buzz mellow. As I settle down to work at the kitchen table, Josh stands at a counter. A far counter.
"Aren't you gonna do the other book?" I ask. We're supposed to share in transferring the notes.
"Not now," Josh answers, looking all sheepish. He claims his eyes are tired, but he can't fool me. He wants to keep his distance.
"Suit yourself." I feel lonely sitting at the long, white table. "What's the story with these books anyway?" I ask, transferring a turquoise note. "Why so important?"
"I'm interested in different schools of thought on psychology," Josh says, pulling lint from his black shirt like the subject isn't major. "One book gives an American perspective. The other, European."
"So, the books aren't for a course?" I ask.
"No." Josh says. And then he tells me the subject matter is too difficult to talk about. Is that a subtle hint to mind my own business or what? But I give him this deadpan look, show him I'm insulted. Which I am. And he gives in, tells me: "I'm working on a self-help project. I should say -- a self-improvement project," he changes his mind. Maybe cause self-help sounds kind of lame.
Gus peels a turquoise note from one page. He sticks it evenly beside the twin text in the other book as I showed him. With his handsome face focused on the work, he seems eager to please. I want to say, "Great Job!" when he looks up at me. I can taste the words like a piece of rich cake. But I know better. And I'm in control, can feel the pills working. They turn my mouth into a desert.
Since I started school, I 've only spoken with other students when I couldn't avoid it. Until Gus. I keep thinking about how he held my hands back in the library -- with feeling. With concern, perhaps. Looking at him now, I'd like to have Gus hold me. His arms look strong, but safe. Perhaps lying down. I'm sure Gus would like that -- at least to start.
Have to stop thinking about him; shouldn't have brought him here.
"Sometimes, I'd like to be a library book," The words embarrass me. They race from my mouth into the air.
"Why would ya want that?" Gus asks.
I can only shrug, make for the water cooler -- my oasis -- with my glass.
"Come on," Gus says. "You can't say something like 'I wanna be a library book' and not explain." I like the way he imitates my voice, lowering his own by half a register. Over-enunciating.
Twirling his golden hair, Gus gets that pleading look in his eyes again. It's hard to disappoint -- resist. So I go ahead and make a fool of myself: "If I were a book," I say in a low voice that draws Gus forward. "I'd be responsible only for the words inside me. People would have to understand me instead of always the other way around. See?" I motion from my chest outward. "One-way communication. Not like with two people. Or worse, more.
"And I'd be useful too," I continue, unable to stop now that I imagine feeling like a book, brand new, filled with that inky smell. "People could use me. Hold me. And yet it would be very impersonal. Even if someone got careless. I wouldn't feel a thing -- just be alive in the book's ideas. But most times, people would leave me alone. On my shelf. Now that would be perfect. Except for the dust."
"Is this like, a metaphor?" I ask, when Josh finishes. "Are you telling me you don't wanna be touched? As a person, I mean. Not a book."
"In theory," Josh answers -- which does not surprise me. "I like getting touched in theory." And then he points at the book I'm working on, says I missed a note. Trying to bail the subject again.
"Thanks," I say. "But I would've caught it eventually." I give Josh a big smile, the kind you gotta return. He won't throw me a bone. So I figure: might as well ask sooner than later. "When I comforted you -- back in the library. Did that bother you?"
"You mean holding my hands?" Josh asks, getting all specific. "It was awkward. Right where someone could see." Then he tells me it's beside the point whether it bothered him or not. Or even if he liked it or not. I mean, it's impossible to pin the kid down.
"Look, I'm not arguing with you, Josh." I try and keep cool. "But you didn't answer my question. I'm just curious is all. Did you mind me comforting you or not?"
I say this a little rougher than I want. Out of frustration, sort of. Josh looks upset. Now I'm angry with myself cause the last thing I want to do is upset him. So I quit working on the notes. Then I amble over to Josh, just so he'll get used to the idea that we'll be face to face -- or more like neck to face, since Josh's shorter. He still leans against that goddamn counter like he's glued to it. The marble glares white, along with everything else in the room.
Without touching Josh, I slip my arm behind him. He slides against a wall next to the counter, even more fuckin' gorgeous when he's a little scared. His blue eyes turn violet again. His wide mouth hangs open. Just a little. Enough for my tongue to fit -- and damn I want to. But only when I think Josh can deal.
Close up, he smells like graham crackers, right when you peel away the waxy wrapper. I can feel him all warm, catch a whiff of his breath.
"Your breath smells like ginger ale," I say. "Makes my mouth water. And your skin. It's all smooth and powdery, like the undercoating on a car. Except undercoating is gray. Or brown mostly. Bet you didn't know that."
My hand runs along Josh's cheek. It is smooth -- his dark beard barely showing itself around his mouth, along his chin. I rake my fingers through Josh's black, curly hair. It frills up around his long neck like small shells. The graham cracker smell's strong around his nape. I'd like to bite him there, real gentle. But I know better.
My face. Gus is touching it. Along my cheek. I feel warm from there down to my chest to my -- . I feel it everywhere! I don't want to breathe, afraid the feeling will pass. That I'll lose it. Gus is so tall up close. His boyish, friendly face looks down at me, his long blonde hair spiked every which way. I want to touch him back. But I can't move.
So I look some more. Stare into his eyes -- deep brown caves I could enter. They're shaped like arches. The way eyes are drawn in comic books, with straight bottom lids that barely touch his irises. And Gus's nose -- hardly big enough to hold glasses. If he wore them.
It's all I can do to keep from tasting his amber skin -- those toasty freckles -- feel his red goatee against my lips. I know he'd let me. But what then?
Breathe. I really have to breathe. Must've stopped. When I inhale, I smell Gus for the first time. His lanky body wafts through his red shirt -- his black dungarees -- in waves. "You smell like sand. When it's wet and salty." My face burns when I say it.
"A good thing?" Gus asks. He smells his armpits as a joke, gets close enough for his breath to glance against my cheek.
"Yes. It's nice." I answer, wedging myself between the kitchen counter and the wall. And then I start biting my lip and bobbing my head. Only a little but -- . I can't stop.
Seeing I have to seriously ease up on Josh, I back off a step. Talk to him, I think. Let him know he can trust you.
"Back in the library," I say, real quiet. "I got a little excited; came on kinda strong. But, you know, I don't try and pick up guys at work all the time. You're the only one."
Josh stops his head-nodding trip and looks at me. I can see him fighting hard to amp down -- rolling his shoulders, breathing like he's on some kind of timer. I make to touch him, then hold back when his eyes go all cloudy. But now I gotta do something. "Come on Josh. Even you must get tired of words sometimes?"
When he doesn't answer, my patience slips like a worn clutch. "Sometimes, don't you wanna really do what you're thinking instead of just talking about it?" I wrap my arms around Josh, pinning him gently to the wall. He fights me a little -- which I kind of like. Then he gives in. Lets me hold his big, curly head in my hand.
"I wouldn't do -- ." I whisper close to Josh's cheek. "I only want -- ." But I quit talking cause I really don't want to lie to him. Instead, I press my open mouth on his skin kind of hard. He tastes like buttery rice, warm and creamy, as I slide my tongue down his long neck, bury my face in his graham cracker smell.
Gus nuzzles me like an eager puppy. My skin tingles from his beard rubbing against my cheek and neck. His hair smells like caramel. Some golden shafts glide across my dry tongue. They're bittersweet and oily. I want to taste more, travel along Gus's freckled face, his red goatee.
His touch unravels me -- like it did back in the library -- before I took a deep breath and exhaled, counting fast to twenty-eight. A perfect number since Pythagoras.
I count again now. But the number -- despite its mathematical perfection -- loses its power. I like Gus too much, so I'm afraid of him. Afraid to disappoint. If I only knew how to start without failing.
"I have an issue," I say in the same flat tone I use when I have something important to talk about with my therapist. I have to see him twice a week.
Gus pulls away from me, studies my face. I start tugging and twirling my hair, careful not to pull strands out as I used to. Even more carefully, I avoid his eyes.
Oh great. I have to pace now. It's the only way to generate the difficult words. Easing away from Gus, I walk the white floor tiles, evading any grout.
"So tell me." Gus says, his voice a dreamy whisper. "When you're all ready."
Time goes by. I listen to the fluorescent lights buzz. The refrigerator moans in auto defrost. Finally, I manage to stop pacing.
"When I meet someone interested in me," I say. "More than as a friend." I grab my water tumbler, take a long drink. "Never mind." I place the empty glass on the counter.
"No way man; you gotta finish," Gus says. He moves closer, but I signal him to stop. "Sit down," I say. "You look uncomfortable." He doesn't, but it's necessary to lie now.
"I'm good." he says. But he's too close.
"Please. Just sit down, all right?" Reluctantly, Gus complies.
Grabbing my glass, I head for the water cooler, press the blue tap hard. "I can't focus," I say quickly. The gurgling sound from the cooler competes with my words.
"It's okay," Gus says. "Take your time."
"No, Gus. That's my answer. I can't focus. When I'm with someone. No matter how hard I try."
"You mean, like, in bed?" he asks.
With my back turned I nod. But I don't tell Gus I've only been with one person. And not in a bed. Instead, I stare into my water glass, see it happen again -- as I've done until losing count. That first week of class. Late at night. In the library's basement bathroom. The tall blond is insistent. But friendly, reassuring. He keeps walking around me in slow, ever tighter concentric circles -- as if he's playing a game. His smile grows more confident the closer he gets. Slowly, he backs me into a cramped, smelly cubicle, has my pants down before I know it, whispering about how good I'll feel.
He keeps trying. The guy. But he only makes things worse. Makes me feel awful -- my vision clouds, my limbs freeze. Then he stops kneeling. He's careful not to look at me, except in the wall mirror across the room. Disappointment marks his handsome face. I don't want to see that disappointment again. My very first time. The blueprint for my sex life. Unless I don't have one.
"Maybe you just haven't hooked up with the right guy yet," I tell Josh. The words sound dumb -- totally lame. But I don't know what else to say. Josh gives me this look like I'm full of shit. "Maybe it's the drugs," I say real casual. "I'm thinking you're on some kind of medication, right?" His major lip-biting I take for a yes.
"You know, Josh, this focus thing that's jamming you. With other guys. It's no big deal -- not for everyone."
"What if it's a big deal for me?" he says.
"It's all in how you look at it," I tell him. "You can enjoy yourself -- a lot. Get off on plenty other stuff."
"You mean like hang gliding?" Josh says. A real smart-ass answer. I'm glad he can joke. No way could I ever see Josh on a hang glider.
"I mean different kinds of fooling around," I say, walking over to him, ignoring the shaky look that makes his eyes go violet again. "You'd be surprised what can make you feel great if you keep an open mind," I tell him, resting one arm on the tall water cooler. "Your whole body, man -- its like all for gettin' off, one way or another. And I mean all of it.
"Like your skin." I slide my hand across his smooth cheek, hold his long neck in a gentle grip. "Amazing how good it feels when someone touches you, doesn't it? A guy who really wants you. Just as you are. And that's only for starters. I mean, you'd be surprised." Holding Josh like this, pressed against him, I'm so ready to show him I know what I'm talking about.
Gus's warm, wet breath moves across my face in steady, invisible waves. His tall body seems to absorb me. I float in his amber heat. My skin draws me closer. But my thoughts -- pull me away. I've never been held this way before. And I do like it. But only because it's Gus holding me. Gus. Gus. Gus. Three times I think his name as his grip tightens and I sink into him.
I want to believe him. But part of me holds back -- keeps replaying that awful night in the library bathroom. That guy had the same look in his eyes as Gus. That guy kept saying I'd feel great too.
"I think we have to stop now" I say, pulling away when he doesn't let go. I sound harsh, as if I told him to get out. Then I hear a long sigh. Gus's hand falls from my neck, leaves it feeling cold, exposed.
"Suit yourself," he says.
Josh's words -- the way he says them sometimes. They fuckin' hurt. Kind of wear me down. Cutting us both some space, I back way off. "I'm thirsty," I say, rapping on the water cooler. "Got an extra glass?"
Josh walks over to a tall cabinet. I slouch back to my chair and the book notes I so totally don't wanna do anymore. When he turns around, Josh looks surprised to find himself standing alone.
"I'll keep you company," he says, sounding much friendlier. Which gets me all confused.
After filling my glass, Josh brings it over and sits facing me. He looks me straight in the eyes. I'm kind of pissed with him now, so I transfer a note for something to do. I know he wants to talk. His eyes tell me. And his breathing -- sounds like he's gonna bust. So why doesn't he say something?
We go on like this a half hour maybe. Seems like for fuckin' ever. I'm starting to feel wasted -- too wiped to be neat. Not Josh's idea of neat. If I get sloppy, he might say something I really don't wanna hear right now. Maybe make me stop trying to reach him. "These notes. I can't do them anymore," I say, closing the books hard. "I'm gettin' careless. Maybe I should go. Maybe." I stack the books, holding the pile tight with one hand. But I don't move. Can't fuckin' move.
I think Gus is pouting. Pressed tightly together, his lips disappear in his red beard.
But I can tell he doesn't want to leave. Not really. And I don't want him to go. Most of me at least. Not when I think of being alone without him. He makes me feel like someone.
He makes me feel.
I'd try almost anything to make him stay, to see if what he says is really true. About the things that can happen between two people. About my focus issue not mattering.
"If you'd like, you can spend the night here," I say. The words are out before I think them.
But Gus doesn't answer. He keeps playing with my book notes. A few pastel squares fall off. I don't care at all.
"I've got a new toothbrush," I say to encourage him. "And some underwear that's still in plastic."
Josh catches me totally by surprise. I spray all over his books when I laugh. "Christ, Josh. The things you say sometimes." I shake my head fast, like someone sucker punched me or something. But I'm really glad he's talking to me. Blown away he's asking me to stay.
Still smiling -- his eyes all warm blue again -- Josh walks over to me, sits his slim, sexy ass on the table. His long legs dangle over the edge. With a hissing sound, one leg brushes against me. I wrap my arm around his swinging calf and he takes me for a ride.
"What's so funny?" Josh asks. "About what I said?" He really is puzzled -- but happy. I think he's pretty happy.
"'Underwear that's still in plastic'," I say, goofing on his deep voice. "As if that kind of stuff matters." When I reach up to kiss Josh on the mouth for the first time, I can feel him kiss me right back.