Contest entry for the Dirty Talkin' Edward Contest
Title: Good in the Stacks
Summary: Six-foot-two, disheveled hair, and screen-printed t-shirt likely wouldn't be most people's idea of a sexy librarian fantasy. Their loss.
Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended.
.* * *
The backdrop hum of buzzing fluorescents. A dingy, navy blue ocean of carpet with stains like watermark islands. Rainbow rows of cracked spines hugging yellow-edged, dog-eared pages. The contents of the world, all indexed by the Dewey decimal system. This is my nirvana.
I was raised on books. Actually, that's a lie. It would be far more accurate to say that books raised me. When I wanted to pretend my mother hadn't left me without a backward glance, I read Beverly Cleary and silently coveted Ramona Quimby's relationship with her attentive, doting mother. When my own mother reappeared and dragged me off on a cross-country trek to "reconnect," I silently fumed and escaped into the adventures of Nancy Drew. After Renee once again dumped me into Charlie's lap and laid rubber along the pavement outside our house on her way out of town, and I began wondering about periods and sex and why the hell the body I was only just starting to notice had begun losing its freaking mind, I sought the counsel of Judy Blume, imparter of sexual wisdom upon the hormone-ridden masses. Everything that was lacking in my own life I found on yellowed, well-thumbed pages.
The Forks Public Library was a pathetic excuse for a public library, but it was beneath those very fluorescents, amid those cracked spines, sitting cross-legged on that disgusting carpet in that tiny town that I first was able to fly. It was from that insignificant little ramshackle building in a town that barely warranted a map dot that I saw the cities beyond my boundaries, not to mention all of the made-up worlds beyond this one.
The FPL held every dream I ever had, mapped every escape route I could want, brought to life every character that was sadly missing from the plotline of my own life: parents, friends, siblings, boyfriends, grandparents. Amid those shelves, between those pages, I wasn't a fend-for-herself kid who cooked dinners for her well-meaning but decidedly reserved father, nor an outcast with only surface friendships who identified more with literary characters than with any of her in-the-flesh peers. I reimagined myself using other people's words and dreamed about the day when I'd come into some of my own.
The library in Port Angeles is certainly a step up from the decrepit little book-hut I grew up worshipping. A row of computer monitors glow along the wall to the right like an army: my generation's card catalog. I admit to being largely nostalgic for the tiny little drawers and their off-white index cards that used to be the compass of any library; there was something to be said for the glimmer of triumph I felt any time I successfully located the paperback of my desire, as if I'd won a private scavenger hunt. The carpet in the Port Angeles Public Library is a virtually stain-free neutral gray, the overhead fluorescents are energy-savers that don't buzz with quite the same gusto, and the clear plastic sleeves on the hardcovers are, on the whole, in far better condition than the ones in the FPL, which were more often than not held on by strips of discolored tape in various strategic places.
All of these undeniable upgrades, however, pale in comparison to the one true advantage that the PAPL holds over the FPL: Hot Librarian Boy.
Ah, Hot Librarian Boy. Likely the reason that the PAPL is as popular as it is. The weekly Saturday story hour is largely frequented by the children of single (and a few not-single) mothers whose focus, it's worth noting, is rarely on their children and more often on the young man at the front of the circle. There are more than a few extracurricular groups that choose to congregate amid the library's sea of tables: among them, Red Hat Ladies, a new-mother's support group, and more than one college study group that – for a rather obvious reason, if you ask me – opt for the public library over the university library. I sound scornful, but really, I can't blame them; "Hot Librarian Boy" is, if anything, an understatement.
Everyone's heard of the "sexy librarian fantasy," but Hot Librarian Boy is likely not the image that springs to most people's minds. Their loss. Granted, I don't swing that way, but I can't imagine that even a chick with a swimsuit-issue body hidden beneath a demure pencil skirt, blouse-plus-cardigan, black-framed reading glasses and six-inch stilettos has anything on Hot Librarian Boy. (That said, Hot Librarian Boy does wear black-framed reading glasses. Because of course he does. But only sometimes, which makes me wonder if he also wears contacts or if he only needs glasses for certain things or if I'll ever have a social life and therefore not need to ogle some poor unsuspecting male librarian and hypothesize about his optometric needs.)
Hot Librarian Boy is also, it has to be said, a flirt. Not in an overly obvious, disgusting, skin-crawl-inducing way, but in a genuinely friendly, easygoing, knows-his-smile-can-brighten-a-day sort of way that only makes him more appealing. The frustrating thing is that the number of women who flirt with him is unknowable, and he flirts right back with every last one of them. Given that my own methods of flirting are essentially nonexistent, I have no idea if his friendliness toward me is genuine, or if I'm yet another notch on his…well, bookshelf.
.* * *
"Really?" His heavy brows are visible behind the frames of his glasses, and I glance up in surprise, pausing in my search for my wallet in my behemoth bag.
He taps the cover of the book between us with a fingertip, his eyes on my face. "This?"
I feel my hackles rise; one of the most surefire ways to get me to rise to a fight is to critique my taste in books. "What's your point?"
"I'm just surprised, is all. I wouldn't think the girl who recently read The Night Circus, Cutting for Stone, and The Portrait of a Lady would go in for something so…mainstream."
My own eyebrows climb. "Since when is BDSM erotica considered 'mainstream'?" I'm sort of proud of the fact that I managed to say "BDSM erotica" aloud without tripping over my tongue or turning some vague shade of purple.
"Since it managed to stumble its way onto the New York Times bestseller list."
He's got me there. Finally, I roll my eyes. "I'm curious." Then, his words truly take root. "Wait a minute. How do you know what I've read recently?"
The tips of his ears turn faintly pink, but he gestures at the computer screen before him. "It's in your checkout history."
"Oh." Great. Now I feel stupid. Well, stupider. I break his gaze to extract my card from my wallet and hand it over. "Well. Anyway. I guess I want to see what all of the fuss is about."
His lips twitch as he scans both the card and book and slides my selection back across the counter. "I'll be interested to hear your thoughts."
Slipping the book with the now-famous cover into my bag, I give him a pointed look. "So he of the literary t-shirts has read the book he so unapologetically disparages?"
He glances quickly down at his t-shirt – "Viva Satire!" Mark Twain's yellow profile is exclaiming against burgundy cotton – and back up. He grins, and I think I might be blind. "It's in the job description," he says with an easy shrug, his eyes sparkling behind his lenses. "Have a nice day, Ms. Swan."
It doesn't occur to me until I'm in the parking lot that when he was ostensibly reading my recent checkout history off the screen before him, he hadn't yet swiped my card.
.* * *
"Can I help you?" the voice asks as I'm scanning the numbers on the small white tabs at the bases of the book spines before me.
I look up to see Hot Librarian Boy looking at me, a small smile curling his lips. Today he's wearing faded jeans and an equally faded blue t-shirt with "Good in the Stacks" screen printed across the chest. His wardrobe is just one more thing that makes me want to grab him by the pen-lanyard around his neck, drag him into the resource section in the back corner of the library, and sink to my knees. I can't decide if I'd want him entirely naked or with his pants around his ankles, t-shirt and black-framed glasses still in place. I'm really digging the shirt, so today I'd probably leave it on.
Of course, I won't. Leave it on or take it off or even begin to reach for that confusingly sexy pen dangling from his neck. I'm a bookworm; words are my thing. I can talk the talk, pitch a big game, picture in my overactive imagination all of the dirty, depraved, wicked, sinful things I would do to Hot Librarian Boy given half the chance, but that's all it is: imagination. Internal monologue. A match without a striking surface.
Because that's what book nerds do: we dream. We imagine. We fantasize. Build castles in the air. Occasionally, we up the ante to actual speech: words, after all, are our weapons of choice. I can sling the snark, bring the banter, brandish the wit like a weapon, but that's where it ends. I'm all bark, no bite. Even if the curve of his neck just above the neckline of his t-shirt does look like it would be a hell of a place to bite.
"I'm looking for Literature Censored on Sexual Grounds. Your card catalog says it's in, but I can't find it."
Five years ago, the word "sexual" falling from my lips would have been enough to make teenage Bella's face flush redder than a fire truck; thankfully, an entire semester of human sexuality last spring and this semester's lit class – "Masculinity and Femininity in Literature" – is enough to at least make my former propensity to resemble a well-cooked lobster upon utterance of such a word a rare affliction.
"Hm," he says, scanning the row of titles before us for a beat before tipping his head back toward the end of the aisle. "Let me just check in the system. It may have been mis-shelved." I nod my thanks and watch for a moment as he walks away – because, duh – before following him up the walkway between the angled aisles that split off on either side of the path like a chevron.
Walking a few steps behind him, I take in the rear view: the faded t-shirt hugs his narrow but defined shoulders before falling uninterrupted to his waist, hinting at the lean torso that must span the gap in between. A tiny, recognizable red label juts out from the left side of his back right pocket, and a Vans logo is visible on the rubber soles of his sneakers. The slight sag in the seat of his jeans precludes me from being able to ogle his ass, but the sag itself hints that, if he were to lift the hem of his t-shirt, I'd likely be gifted to a glimpse of the waistband of his boxers. Or boxer-briefs. I fleetingly hope that the book I'm seeking is on a high shelf somewhere. For some reason I can't quite identify, I'm oddly intrigued by the back of his neck, and the small mole that just peeks out from behind the line of his hair.
And, bringing us full circle, I'm back to wanting to bite his neck.
We reach the circulation desk and he cants his hips to one side as he maneuvers deftly around it, fingers wiggling the mouse beside a keyboard to bring the screen to life. "Okay," he says, leaning forward slightly as his right hand drags the mouse gently over the blue mouse pad before double-clicking with two fingers. My throat goes dry. "Literature Censored on Sexual Grounds?" He double-checks, and the combination of sibilant sounds and the word "sexual" on his lips make the dryness worse.
"Yes," I croak, hoping he doesn't notice the slightly hoarse quality of my voice. He nods, fingers – which, of course, are long and dexterous – dancing over the keys before he clicks the mouse again and his eyes scan the screen, a small crease appearing just above the bridge of his glasses. I take advantage of his intent focus on the monitor to assess his features, the first time I've ever really done so from such close proximity.
Hair: a hot mess. Not sure whether it's more hot or more mess.
Eyes: decidedly greenish. With a sort of blue-grayishness. Fringed by lashes that I covet.
Jawline: sharper than a hatchet blade and clean-shaven. Good thing, because stubble might have launched me into spontaneous orgasm, right here on this pristine gray carpet.
Nose: ever so slightly crooked.
The mouth I'm peering at parts and he speaks, eyes still scanning the screen before him. "Well, it says we have it, but it must have been mis-shelved. There are a few other places I can check, but the Clallam Bay branch has a copy, if you'd like me to request it on inter-library loan."
I nod. "That'd be great. Thank you."
He nods. Clicks. "Do you have your card?"
I pull out my wallet and slide the shabby-looking piece of plastic from the pocket it shares with my creased, torn, tattered paper card from the Forks library. I hand it over and am just losing myself once more in my rather guileless appraisal when he speaks again. "Is this for research purposes?" he asks, squinting at the screen from behind his thin lenses.
"Just looking for some more good smut recommendations," I say, still half-distracted and therefore not entirely attentive to the words coming out of my mouth, and those lips – pink, soft-looking, not at all chapped – part momentarily before twitching at the corners. I tear my focus from his mouth to find that his eyes are staring at me in surprised amusement, one eyebrow just visible above the black frames.
I blink, debating the merits of backtracking, when he loses the battle with his smile and returns his focus to the computer. "We have a list, you know. You could just ask."
"I'll keep that in mind," I reply, trying briefly to envision what that particular request would sound like coming from my lips. "No, actually. Yes, I mean. It's for a class. A paper."
"What's the thesis?"
I shift my weight. "My lit professor was bemoaning the downward spiral of modern fiction into degradation and, as he put it, 'borderline pornography.' My thesis is based upon the supposition that the so-called 'great writers' of yore were just as big a bunch of hornballs as the writer of the modern bodice-ripper."
"Excellent hypothesis," he says, jotting something down on a seafoam-green rectangle of scrap paper beside the keyboard. He's a leftie. "Need a hand?" He peeks up at me. Smirks. "So to speak."
I grin at the possibility: I'm not the only bookworm who talks the talk. "I'd love one." Match his smirk. "So to speak."
.* * *
"Hello, Miss Swan, this is the Port Angeles Public Library calling to inform you that the materials you requested are available and may be picked up during normal library hours. Thank you."
The message draws to a close with a beep, and I end the call before sliding my phone back into the outer pocket of my bag and glancing at my watch. I have thirty minutes before I'm supposed to meet Alice for Friday happy hour at an oyster bar on the harbor, and the library is on the way. Technically, I could swing by en route and pick it up. Technically. However, it's nearly five o'clock on a Friday, and I know for a fact that Hot Librarian Boy doesn't work on Fridays.
I'm not going to write a paper on a Friday night, I tell myself. I may be a borderline-loser bookworm, but I'm not THAT pathetic.
Saturday morning. That seems an ideal time to hit the public library. Marginally less pathetic. And if I happen to arrive just as story hour is ending, coincidence might mean that a certain librarian will be available to give me a hand.
So to speak.
.* * *
Twenty-seven minutes. That's how long the almost-cougar women keep Hot Librarian Boy talking after story hour is over. My frustration is shared by their various children, who are tugging on their mothers' hands and urging them to depart the library for greener pastures. Or, in the case of one particularly loud little boy whose mother is too distracted – or too horny – to silence him, the ice cream parlor a few blocks over.
I have commandeered a table near the circulation desk and am scrolling through my phone when the aforementioned kid with the dessert craving finally drags his reluctant mother through the sliding glass doors at the front of the building, effectively setting Hot Librarian Boy free.
"Hey!" he greets me as he passes my table, drawing to a pause. "Your book's in."
I nod. "That's why I'm here." I opt not to mention the other Saturday mornings on which I'd also ventured to the library, ostensibly to check out the library's selection but also in part to check out its sole male employee. He nods and winds his way around the counter – again with the hip-swing as he avoids the corner – and begins clicking.
Oh, the clicking. My mind flashes to Alice and her favorite euphemism – "double-clicking the mouse" – and I realize, once again, that I'm a closet pervert.
Today his t-shirt is heather gray and has "Live deliberately" scrawled across the chest in white ink. He spins and crosses the small space to the tiny shelf against the back wall; he squats, and the hem of his t-shirt slides up just enough to show me the waistband of his jeans. If he would just bend a few inches forward, the boxer/boxer-brief mystery could be solved. I patently refuse to entertain the notion of briefs, because…no. Just, no. Sadly, he spots my book and grabs it with no bending required, then rises and turns back to the desk. "Did you want to go ahead and check it out?"
I glance down at the cover. "Um, maybe I'll just look through it first? I was planning on doing some work for a bit anyway, so can I just hang on to it until I leave?"
"Of course," he says, handing it over. As I take it, he gives me the cocked eyebrow again. "Let me know if you need a hand."
I bite the inside of my cheek against the stupid smile that threatens. "You bet."
Oh, Hot Librarian Boy. I'll take them both.
.* * *
"How's it going?"
I look up from the page I've been considering to see him gazing down at me expectantly. "You're not wearing your glasses," I say in lieu of an actual answer, and surprise registers on his face. Inwardly, I roll my eyes at my lack of tact, but I can't pretend I'm all that surprised. Even when it's a considerably dry reference text, I get lost in books; when I'm rather unceremoniously jolted out of my reading, it sometimes takes me a few seconds to get my bearings. Where Hot Librarian Boy is concerned, it apparently takes a bit longer.
"No," he replies. "I, uh, decided to put my contacts in."
"Oh." Well, that answers that question. "It's going okay," I say finally, glancing down at the book in front of me. "This is…sort of helpful."
He eyeballs the spiral notebook beside my elbow, opened to a relatively blank page. "Not overly so, though?"
I shrug. "A lot of what I expected, I guess. I'm not entirely sure how I want to word my thesis, and I was hoping to gain a little inspiration, but I'm still stuck on 'Sylvia Day has nothing on the Marquis de Sade.'"
He nods in commiseration. "Not exactly rife with potential subtheses," he agrees, and to my surprise those long fingers grip the plastic back of the vacant chair beside me. "Do you mind?"
I feel my eyebrows crawl up my forehead. "No, not at all." Flicking a glance toward the abandoned circulation desk, I frown. "Don't you need to…"
He notes where I'm looking and shrugs. "If someone needs help, I'll be able to see them from here. But all the re-shelving is done, and there are only so many times I can straighten the tape dispenser, stapler, and pen cup before I get desperate for a distraction."
"And my mission to drag the writers of erotically charged classics through the proverbial mud is an appealing distraction for you?"
"It's got potential," he confirms, sinking into the chair. "So, where do we start?"
I glance back down at the tome I have propped against my stomach and the uncapped pen on the table between us. "I guess I'm going to compile a collection of snippets from a variety of novels from different time periods and go from there. Hope something catches my eye." Although if Hot Librarian Boy is going to be sitting next to me when I'm reading smut, my eye isn't going to be the part of me that's the most…titillated. Speaking of which. "What's your name, by the way?"
He smirks. "Guess."
I frown. "Guess what your name is?"
"What the hell?"
"I get bored easily."
"I'll give you clues." I'm so confused by this unorthodox answer to what I thought was a relatively routine question that I'm sure I must look not unlike a guppy. He leans toward me. "Come on, Isabella."
And there's my footing. "Wrong."
He leans back in surprise. "Wrong?"
"See, you thought you could cheat and get the upper hand because you have access to my library records, but you got a little too cocky a little too quick there. I don't go by Isabella."
He purses his lips and taps a single finger against them in bemusement. "Bella, I take it? Or Belle? You don't strike me as the Izzie type." I pretend to glare at him, and he shrugs. "Okay. Bella-Belle it is."
"Bella," I correct him immediately. Bella-Belle makes me sound like I'm channeling a Disney princess with a stutter.
He shakes his head. "Too late, Bella-Belle. It's gonna stick. I can tell already."
"Be careful. I can come up with nicknames with the best of them."
"Ooh. I'm intrigued." He arches an eyebrow in expectation, and I'm more likely to tattoo "Bella-Belle" on my forehead than admit aloud that I ever referred to him – even silently – as "Hot Librarian Boy."
"What are my clues?" I demand in an attempt at deflection, and he smirks.
"The Martyr, The Confessor, The Elder."
"There's no way your name is Edward," I interrupt, and he frowns.
The surprise, I'm sure, is evident on my face. He's far too hot to have such an antiquated, old-man name. "Nobody's been named Edward since, like, 1950."
"Ouch. Though I must say, I'm impressed albeit disappointed; I hadn't even gotten to my literary clues, yet. You nailed it just on the historical ones."
I roll my eyes. "'The Elder' gave you away." Still, he's flirting with one of my erogenous zones, and I'm powerless to resist the bait. "What were your literary clues?"
Immediately, from the knowing half-smile, I can see that he's got my number, identified me as a fellow bibliophile. "Ferrars. Rochester."
Speaking of titillated.
"Don't forget Edward Bear," I remind him, and when his forehead creases, I feel a surge of triumphant glee shoot through me that helps me at least bank the sudden blaze of my book-nerd horniness.
"Bear?" he echoes, and I nod solemnly.
"The other name for Winnie-the-Pooh," I tell him. "Which shall be the source of your nickname. So do you prefer 'Pooh' or 'Bear'? I'm happy to call you either."
He laughs, and as his head tips back, I add two more features to my Hot Librarian Boy Card Catalog: straight white teeth, prominent (and bitable) Adam's apple. "Okay, okay. Fine. Bella it is."
"And you really go by Edward? Not Eddie, or some combination of initials?"
He shakes his head. "Nope. Just boring, old-man Edward."
"Noted," I say, even though I already know that his name is likely the only boring thing about him.
"Okay," he says, rubbing his palms together. "So. We pick through the stacks and see what sexually depraved classics we have in circulation and go from there?"
I nod. "Sounds like a plan. Give me a few more minutes and I can make a list based on what I've read in here so far." I look up and note the library patron approaching the circulation desk, tipping my chin toward her to get Edward's attention. "You help her out and I'll be ready."
Following my gaze, he nods and rises, approaching the fifty-something woman who's clutching a paperback and whose eyes light up as he nears. Tell me about it, I think, dropping my gaze back to the book before me. Five minutes later, I have a piece of paper in hand; as Edward approaches, I tear the sheet carefully in half and hold one strip out to him. He eyeballs it and gives a nod before following me to the card catalog computers on the opposite wall.. "Start your engines," he fake-announces, wiggling the mouse beside his keyboard to bring the computer to life. I force my focus back to my own screen and begin keying in titles.
Ten minutes later, I'm walking at a slightly quicker clip than normal toward the table I deserted with a pair of books cradled in the crook of my arm; turning the corner, I see that Edward has beat me there and is sitting with two paperbacks on the table in front of him. "Trying to do that faster than a librarian is like trying to beat a cowboy at quick-draw," he teases, and I arch an eyebrow as I dump the two books I was able to track down on the tabletop.
"Is that your way of telling me you have a hair trigger?" I ask, and his mouth pops open as he eyeballs me. I lower myself into my chair, very aware of the way his eyes track my movements.
"Absolutely not," he replies finally, and his voice is a maddening combination of promise and indignation.
I force a laugh to my lips as I settle in my seat. "Okay. You only had two off my list in: Lady Chatterley's Lover and Lolita."
He nods. "We only had two off mine: The Story of O and Fanny Hill."
"Okay. Well, good place to start."
Picking up Lady Chatterley's Lover, I flick a glance toward him; he picks up The Story of O and opens it. "Are you sure you want to help me with this? I mean, you must have something better to do than to waste time searching for random smutty passages in old books."
He appears to be turning this over in his head before he leans forward slightly in his chair, "Live deliberately" cut in half by the table's edge. "Don't judge me."
I feel my eyebrows hitch. "For wanting to read smut?"
He laughs and shakes his head once. "I, uh, like research. I mean I like…doing this type of thing. I used to help my sister with all of her English papers because I actually like this part of it. She still calls me for help, and she's graduating from Princeton in May."
"Oh." I say stupidly. "Well. That's really nice. And…this is really nice. Okay. Thank you. If you're sure."
He nods. "I'm sure." I force myself to look away from his fingers fanning the pages of The Story of O and concentrate on the paperback in my own hands. For a time, the only sound besides the barely-there hum of computers and lights from the library around us is the turn of pages, and I think suddenly that the makers of adult films are missing out on the understated sexiness of a library scene. I'm not one to buy porn, but if someone out there made an adult film in which someone who looked like Hot Librarian Boy bent some co-ed over a reference desk, I'd be first in line. Well, online, because I'm as secure in my sexuality as the next girl, but even I don't know that I'm up to the task of standing at a register with something like Hard Catalog in hand.
Or maybe Papercock Writer.
The Do-Her Decimal System?
I snort, and Edward peeks up from his book. "Find something good?"
I peer at the page I'd been studying before my mind wandered to library porn and clear my throat. "Maybe."
"Let's hear it."
I look up. "What?"
He marks his place with a finger. "Read it aloud."
Oh, sweet baby Christmas Jesus. "Oh. Okay. Um." I clear my throat again as my eyes scan the page and I find my starting point. "'For a moment he was still inside her, turgid there and quivering,'" I read. "'Then, as he began to move, in the sudden helpless orgasm, there awoke in her strange new thrills rippling inside her. Rippling, rippling, rippling, like a flapping overlapping of soft flames, soft as feathers, running to points of brilliance, exquisite, exquisite, and melting her all molten inside.'"
I take a breath before looking up; when I do, Edward's eyes are fixed on my certainly flaming face. "I know that's smut, but it's poetic smut," he says finally, and I feel something in my spine relax.
"It is," I agree, eyeballing the passage once more. "Rhythmic."
"Maybe that's why it's not unilaterally discarded as smut." When I look up, he shrugs. "Sex is about rhythm. If you can get the rhythm of the language to parallel the rhythm of the act, maybe that's what makes it so…alluring."
Well, shit. He's hot, he's a book-nerd, and he's smart. Hello, Bella's sex-trifecta. "That's really good," I say, scrabbling for my pen. "Do you mind if I write it down?"
"Of course not," he says easily. "I'm here to help." He dips his head toward the book I'm still holding. "Mark that passage, too – that's a good one to illustrate."
I do as instructed, and he opens his paperback once again, reading as I make a note of his observation.
"How about this?" I hear a few minutes later, just as I'm drawing to the end of my notes.
"Hit me," I reply, bringing my focus to his face as his eyes track text and he begins to read aloud.
"'The blonde girl helped her into the corset which buckled to one side and toward the rear. Also at the rear, as with the Roissy bodices, were laces to adjust the fit. O hooked her stockings in front and at the side by four garter-snaps, then the girl set to lacing her up as tightly as possible. O felt her waist and belly dug into by the pressure of the battens which, in front, reached down almost to her pubis, leaving it free however, as it left free the entirety of her buttocks. "She'll be much better," said Anne-Marie, addressing Sir Stephen, "when her waist is entirely reduced. Moreover, if you haven't the time to get her undressed, you'll not find the corset an inconvenience."'" Edward looks up at me. "Basically, she's saying, 'There. She's wearing undergarments that will facilitate your desire to bend her over anything, anytime, and take her as you please."
Fuck. Me. "That's…yeah," I say, dipping my head in a pathetic attempt to hide the effect his words are having on me. "That's definitely a good one." I lick my lips as I grip my pen, a buzz of something familiar but also somewhat foreign thanks to its infrequent appearances spread through me. Titillation, thy name is Hot Librarian Boy. "What page is that on?"
I make the note he gives as he reaches across the table and grabs Lady Chatterley's Lover and places The Story of O atop it, sliding both to the far edge of the table before grabbing Fanny Hill. Following his lead, I pick up Lolita.
Ten minutes later, it's share time again.
I find the passage I've flagged in Nabokov's classic and begin reading.
"'She sat a little higher than I, and whenever in her solitary ecstasy she was led to kiss me her head would bend with a sleepy, soft, drooping movement that was almost woeful, and her bare knees caught and compressed my wrist, and slackened again; and her quivering mouth, distorted by the acridity of some mysterious potion, with a sibilant intake of breath came near to my face. She would try to relieve the pain of love by first roughly rubbing her dry lips against mine; then my darling would draw away with a nervous toss of her hair, and then again come darkly near and let me feed on her open mouth, while with a generosity that was ready to offer her everything, my heart, my throat, my entrails, I gave her to hold in her awkward fist the scepter of my passion.'"
I look up, and he's chewing his lip. When he realizes I'm done, his eyebrows lift. "Perverse, and morally bereft, but well-written."
I laugh. "Maybe you should be writing this paper."
He grins. "I like the research. The reading. The writing was never my thing. But you've got to respect a guy who coins a phrase like 'scepter of my passion'." I laugh, and he flips pages backward to one he's marked with a small scrap of paper. "Ready?" he asks.
He licks his lips and drops his gaze to Fanny Hill, and when his voice comes again, it's low and intimate, smoothing over my skin like a physical caress. "'Whilst they were in the heat of the action, guided by nature only, I stole my hand up my petticoats, and with fingers all on fire, seized, and yet more inflamed that center of all my senses: my heart palpitated, as if it would force its way through my bosom; I breath'd with pain; I twisted my thighs, squeezed, and compressed the lips of that virgin slit, and following mechanically the example of Phoebe's manual operation on it, as far as I could find admission, brought on at last the critical ecstasy, the melting flow, into which nature, spent with excess of pleasure, dissolves and dies away.'" As his voice fades, he looks up at me. "She's a, um, voyeur." His eyes twinkle. "A masturbating voyeur."
I nod, willing the effects of hearing him say things like "virgin slit" and "masturbating voyeur" away from my face. Trying to ignore the fact that his come-hither voice painting the image of said masturbating voyeur has turned me on more than anything else in recent memory. Trying to ignore my very physical response to his very verbal stimulus. "Very kinky." He chuckles, holding out the book to show me the page number before letting it fall closed and adding it to the top of the pile. "You know," I say, capping my pen and attempting to reclaim my earlier levity. "I know these books are old, but I can't help noticing that they're somewhat more well-thumbed than your average paperback."
His smile is positively wicked, and does little to bank the flame flickering low in my belly. "Even bookworms who fancy themselves too highbrow for common day erotica have to get off on something." His voice lowers as if he's confessing a secret. "And where do you think teenagers who aren't brave enough to buy porn and whose parents put controls on their Internet browsers go?"
I choke out a laugh. "I bet your Judy Blume books are losing their pages."
He leans back in his chair. "Oh, God. I haven't thought about Judy Blume in years."
I can feel surprise stealing across my face; that he even knows who Judy Blume is comes as a surprise. I can't picture even the most well-read of men having perused the pages of Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. "You know Judy Blume?"
"Bella, I work in a library. Of course I know Judy Blume. And she didn't just write for girls, you know."
I don't even try to mask my surprise; it never even occurred to me that there were boy-equivalents of Blubber. "Seriously?"
He grins, and suddenly he's standing. "Follow me."
I do as I'm told, tracking him through the library and toward the back corner, where the children's and young adult books are shelved. Leading us to the farthest one, Edward scans the spines before plucking a book from the row and holding it up.
"Then Again, Maybe I Won't," I read, then meet his eye. "I've never heard of it." He smirks and begins flipping pages. With nothing better to do but a sneaking suspicion of where this is headed, I spot a familiar spine on the shelf between us and slide it free. Unsurprisingly, I only have to let the book fall open twice before it hits the page on which it's been creased so many times that it's created its own bookmark. Holding my place, I peek up to see Edward watching me intently.
He quirks a teasing brow. "Ready?"
He holds the book up between us with one hand, and I can just see his face above it; suddenly, I'm treated to an imagined image of a younger Hot Librarian Boy holding the very same book with the very same hand. In my imagination, however, his free hand is doing something decidedly dirtier than casually leaning against the bookshelf beside him. "'He calls them nocturnal emissions,'" he reads. "'I'm not sure if I'll ever have one. When I read Joel's paperbacks I can feel myself get hard. But other times when I'm not even thinking about anything it goes up too. I think that part of me has a mind of its own. Suppose it decides to go up…and everybody notices…what will I do to get it down?'" When he lowers the book, I'm rather stupidly glancing at the crotch of his jeans; immediately, my eyes slam back to his, but the wry grin twisting his lips tells me that I wasn't fast enough. "A valid concern for any boy between the ages of twelve and about seventeen," he says smoothly, closing the book and re-shelving it before crossing his arms over his chest and leaning his hip against the chest-level shelf. "There are also sections where he's peeping on the older sister of his best friend, who has the unfortunate – or fortunate, for our horny young narrator – habit of undressing with the blinds open." His grin turns faintly wicked. "I know of at least one teenage boy who was eternally disappointed that his best friend lacked a hot older sister with an exhibitionist streak." He nods toward the book in my hand. "Your turn."
Licking my lips as I glance down, I find the passage that I must have read time and time again when I was a fourteen-year-old, flat-chested, essentially motherless virgin.
"'He led my hand to his penis. "Katherine, I'd like you to meet Ralph. Ralph, this is Katherine. She's a very good friend of mine."
"Does every penis have a name?"
"I can only speak for my own." In books penises are always described as hot and throbbing but Ralph felt like ordinary skin. Just his shape was different – that and that fact that he wasn't smooth, exactly – as if there was a lot going on under the skin. I don't know why I'd been so nervous about touching Michael. Once I got over being scared I let my hands go everywhere. I wanted to feel every part of him.'"
I stop and hold the book open for a second before closing it and gently returning it to its shelf, feeling as if I've been momentarily transported back to that teenage girl whose only details about sex, about boys, came from yellowed pages. I remember the illicit thrill every time I read something that I'd die if Charlie knew about, the feeling of being so exposed and so vulnerable but at the same time knowing I was within the safe world of books, where I was anonymous and it was just me and the story. I was free to be curious, and no one had to know.
"Ah, Judy Blume," Edward muses, bringing me to the jarring realization that this time, I'm not alone. "Teaching an entire generation about sex."
I laugh as I attempt to regain my footing; today is the first time I've ever read aloud to someone, the first time I've ever had someone read aloud to me who wasn't a teacher or a parent, and it would feel intimate if we were reading about agriculture. That we're not only adds to the strange sensation oscillating in my stomach. "Although she did occasionally lead us astray," I contend, and when I meet his eye to see him frowning, I shrug. "I never did meet a guy with a penis named Ralph." I cross my arms, my momentary unease melting away as I once again find my way back to sass.
"It is unique," Edward agrees, folding his lean arms across his chest. They're pale, lanky arms with only the faintest hint of a discernible bicep; they're geek arms, and they're so totally my type that I have to force myself not to stare at them. "It's also a rather formal introduction, given that they're in bed together."
I laugh. "An excellent point. It does seem a little…dry."
"That said, they are teenagers. We should probably cut them some slack."
"Probably. But I still maintain that Ralph was an odd choice."
"Then again, I've never known a man who named his penis at all."
Edward's lips twist and he gazes at me steadily, saying nothing. Off my expectant look and prolonged silence, his eyebrows lift. "What?"
"Is that something that went out of style in the – when did she write that book – the 70s? Or is that still in practice today?"
He considers me for a moment, his eyes slightly wider than normal. "Are you actually asking me if I've named my dick?"
Oh. He said "dick." My favorite term for one of my favorite parts. "Um. Maybe?" Off his obvious amusement, my hands find my hips. "I'm doing research!" I defend, and his amusement comes out on a laugh.
"Research on erotica in classic literature," he contests. "Not research on my anatomy."
I'll research your anatomy.
I pretend to huff. "Fine."
"You know how I am with names," he says quickly, and there's still laughter in his eyes.
"Yes," I say. "You're considerably…secretive."
He nods, schooling his features into something that could be solemnity if his eyes weren't so obviously still laughing. "So you're going to have to work for this one."
Okay. This can go one of two ways. I can backtrack the way I always do, hide behind some well-timed words and retreat to my research bubble. Or, for once, I can step out from behind the book.
"I'll be needing clues," I say, feeling something in my chest take flight. Or perhaps it just jumped off a cliff.
He considers me for a moment before we hear a faint "Hello?" coming from the direction of the circulation desk. Edward straightens, his shoulder parting ways with the metal shelving unit.
"And you shall have them," he says, checking his watch. "Now, however, I have to scan the last of the returns before my shift ends. And if I put these requests for loans in before I go, chances are they'll be here Monday." I follow him back to our table, where he hesitates after he pushes his chair back beneath it. "I, um. Don't work Monday, though. So you'll have to ask Mrs. Weaver for them if you come in." His lips twist. "She's a bit traditional, so don't take it too personally if she eyeballs you over her bifocals when she realizes that all of your books are of the…amorous persuasion."
I tuck a piece of hair behind my ear and stack the four books on the table into a pile, spines lined up perfectly. "When do you work again?"
A small smile tugs at his mouth. "Tuesday. All day."
"I have class until three on Tuesdays, but I could come by after that."
The smile becomes a grin. "I'll be here." He runs a hand through his hair as the middle-aged woman waiting impatiently near the front desk drops a small stack of books on the counter with an audible plop. "Is the, um, number on your account your home number?" He shifts his weight, ignorant of or oblivious to the woman's irritation. "Just in case I have any epiphanies between now and Tuesday that might help you?"
I wage a valiant battle against the pleased flush that wants to flood my face. "That's actually my cell. I don't have a home number." I bend over the table and snag my pen, scribbling on the corner of a page in my notebook; something about actually giving him my number instead of making him look it up feels meaningful. When I tear it off and hand it to him, he glances at it and nods before folding it carefully and tucking it into the pocket of his jeans.
"Okay," he says, exhaling as if he's just placed a big bet and seen his horse cross the finish line first. Then he grins and makes his way to the circulation desk; as he approaches, the woman's annoyance melts from her face and she beams at him.
Get in line, lady, I think, stashing my notebook and pen in my bag and gathering the books into my arms. I take my place behind the woman, watching as Edward scans her card and books. Because I'm nosy or perhaps because I'm always looking for something good to read, I eyeball her choices: a Maeve Binchy, an Anita Shreve, and – I cough to hide my sudden bubble of laughter – an erotic bestseller that has graced the "recommended" tables at Bookmarks for weeks. Edward must hear my almost-laugh, because the corners of his mouth twitch as he slides the books across the counter, placing the woman's card on top of them. "Due back in three weeks," he reminds her with a smile, and I swoon right along with her.
"Okay," she says, grabbing the books by the edges and – either purposely or by fortuitous accident – brushing her hand over his. Edward doesn't lose his easy smile, and she slips the three paperbacks into the canvas tote bag dangling from her forearm.
"Have a nice day," he says, and she gives him a little wave before making her way to the sliding glass doors and disappearing. I step up to the counter and he grins at me; it might be wishful thinking, but his smile seems slightly brighter than the friendly one he gave cougar-lady. "Find everything you needed?" he asks, smile turning wry, and I slide my card across the desk.
I grin as he takes it and scans it. "And then some."
.* * *
Sunday night, my phone rings as I'm folding a pile of clean laundry on my bed; glancing to where it sits on my nightstand, the number is unfamiliar but has a local area code. Normally I would let it go to voicemail, but I'm hyperaware of the fact that I gave my number to a certain attractive bookish type a day ago, and I'm lying to myself if I pretend that I'm indifferent to the fact that it might be him.
"Hello?" I say, placing a neatly folded shirt on the top of a pile; the stack leans rather precariously to one side, and I scoop it up and carry it to the dresser against the opposite wall, depositing it in a drawer and crossing back to the bed to pick up a pair of jeans.
"Did you know that the first reference to female ejaculatory orgasms in Western Literature is attributed to Moses in a Hebrew translation of Leviticus 12:2?"
I recognize the voice, and the subject matter is a dead giveaway, and yet my knees go weak as I plop down on the edge of my mattress, staring unseeingly at my open bedroom door.
"Okay, I don't know who you are, but I think you're looking for Love Line. That number starts with a 1-800."
"Not the phone sex type, then?" I can hear the smile in his voice, and I know that he knows that I know who he is.
I drop my pants. Well, not my pants. The pants I'm folding. "That would be some pretty sexy foreplay," I manage, and the conversation stalls for the span of a few breaths until I hear a faint popping noise that sounds like he snapped his fingers.
"There's another book we should look up."
"Vox. By Nicholson Baker?"
"I don't think I know that one," I say hesitantly, even as something deep in the recesses of my brain is pinging.
"I don't know if we have it in the system, but I can check in the morning. The entire book is a phone conversation between two people who have never even met face-to-face; they talk about all of their sexual fantasies."
"Wait…the book Monica Lewinsky gave President Clinton?"
"The very one," he says, and his voice sounds like he's smiling. "As if a book needed any other endorsement to label it as kinky."
I laugh. "So true."
"So, um. I didn't even ask you – are you an English major?"
"English minor," I reply, folding my black slacks. "Business major."
"That seems like a very diplomatic way of saying 'unemployable,'" I tease.
"No, no," he rushes to clarify. "Not at all. Just…why English?"
"I like to read," I say simply, sliding my pants and skirts into a drawer. "I've always liked to read. Freshman English was a requirement, and I took another course my second semester, and there was just always something in the course catalog that sounded interesting, and by the time I decided on business as a major, I was well on my way to having enough English credits for a minor." I shrug, even though he's not here to see it. "I guess I just…enjoy it."
"My parents thought I was crazy when I told them I wanted to study Library Science," he admits. "They're convinced it's a dying profession."
"I hope they're wrong," I say, thinking of little girls in tiny towns with no other way to escape.
His laugh brings me back to the present moment. "Yeah, obviously I hope so, too."
The silence stretches between us, the only audible thing the faint hum of the telephone connection, until he speaks again. "Well, anyway. I just remembered the little Leviticus tidbit, so I thought I'd put it on your radar."
"Thank you," I say, wanting to thank him for spending his downtime thinking about my class assignment, but not wanting to embarrass him or read too much into it. "That was really nice of you."
"See you Tuesday?"
.* * *
"So I had an epiphany," Edward says in lieu of a greeting as I approach the circulation desk Tuesday afternoon.
"Okay," I say, dumping my bag on the small ledge between us as he swivels and bends to retrieve my requested materials from the small shelf behind him. As he does, the hem of his forest green t-shirt hikes up just enough.
He straightens and spins, and I try desperately not to look like I was just staring at his ass.
"I didn't know if you wanted to stick strictly to literature; if so, you've sort of exhausted our resources," he says, dumping the small stack of paperbacks on the counter. "But I was thinking that if you wanted to include poetry in your research, there's no shortage of, um, suggestive verse to be found."
I chew on the inside of my lower lip, embarrassment niggling at me. "I have to confess, I'm not really much for poetry." Off his look of mild surprise, I hasten to clarify. "I mean, I like poetry well enough. I just don't know it very well. There are just…so many poems and I can never keep the poets straight and as much as I love words, sometimes they lose me. And they're so short." I'm an idiot. "I guess…I just wouldn't know where to start," I admit finally, feeling immediately amateurish and dim-witted. Not my favorite things.
"Hey, poetry's tough. It's not for everyone. And you're right – who can keep them all straight?" He's being nice; I can only imagine the poetry knowledge he's amassed in his years of study and work. "I'd be happy to pull some if you like…" he offers, and I feel my eyes widen. I can see him replaying his words over in his mind before his cheeks turn faintly pink. "Um, books. I'd be happy to pull some books for you. From the…shelves."
I turn it over in my mind for a moment, but then try to imagine incorporating it into the paper that's starting to take shape in my mind. "Actually, I think I'd rather stick to what I know, you know? I'm pretty sure my professor is going to hate my thesis right off the bat, so I'd at least like to limit myself to writing about what I'm comfortable with, and I'm much better with literature than poetry."
Edward nods easily. "Makes sense. Okay. Well, I was able to get Delta of Venus and Little Birds."
He nods, scanning the books and my card. "Were you going to, um, do some work here again today?"
"I was planning to," I reply, hoping that I'm correctly interpreting his tone as hopeful. "If I go home and try to work there, I get distracted." I casually omit the truth: that I can't think of a single distraction in my own apartment – Internet, DVR list, housework, books – that in any way compares with the distraction of Hot Librarian Boy.
"Cool," he replies, ducking his head to slide my card back toward me and, I hope, to hide a smile. "Well, let me know if you need any help."
I nod, gathering my meager book selection and returning to the table I'm coming to think of as mine. It can't be more than twenty minutes before he appears, hands braced on the back of the empty chair across from me. "How's it going?"
I shrug. "It's going."
He seems to waver for a moment before pulling the chair out and lowering himself into it. "Anything worth sharing today?"
I bite the inside of my cheek against the smile that threatens and flip Little Birds open to one of the many pages I bookmarked in my quick scan.
"'As he was pinned under her, she was the one to move within reach of his mouth, which had not touched her yet. Louis saw the man's sex rise and lengthen, and he tried with an embrace to bring her down upon him. But she remained at a short distance, looking, enjoying the spectacle of her own beautiful stomach and hair and sex so near to his mouth. Then slowly, slowly she moved towards him and, with her head bowed, watched the melting of his mouth between her legs.'"
"Not bad," he allows, but when I look up, there's a faint flush in his cheeks. Suddenly, something in me wants to push the envelope.
"Or there's this one."
"'Her eyes – it is impossible to describe her eyes except by saying that they were the eyes of an orgasm. What constantly happened in her eyes was something so feverish, so incendiary, so intense that at times when I looked straight at her and felt my penis rising and palpitating, I also felt as if something were palpitating in her eyes. With her eyes alone she could give this response, this absolutely erotic response, as if febrile waves were trembling there, pools of madness...something devouring that could lick a man all over like a flame, annihilate him, with a pleasure never known before.'"
He doesn't respond verbally, and when I pick my head up, he's gazing at me intently. Finally, he licks his lips. "I'm going to want to read this paper when you've written it," he says, and I nod. After a few more beats of not quite awkward but not entirely comfortable silence, he snaps his fingers. "Cat and Mouse."
"It's by Gunter Grass. There's a part with a bunch of teenagers doing a circle-jerk."
I feel my eyes widen. "Shut up."
He grins. "Seriously."
He springs up from the table, making his way toward the circulation desk, and I cram my books and notebook into my bag as I follow him. By the time I reach him, he's frowning at the screen. "We don't actually carry it," he says, eyes scanning the monitor. "None of our branches do."
I chuckle. "Still on the banned book list?"
He grins. "Hey, there's an idea. We should have just pulled up that list; no doubt it would have been the quickest guide to smut we could have found."
"I don't know; did you know that Harry Potter has been on that list?"
"Nope." I take a moment to enjoy the thrill of telling him something he didn't already know.
"Well, anyway." He straightens, pushing the mouse away from him before pointing a long finger at me. "No circle-jerk for you."
"Well, that's disappointing." I let the double entendre hang between us, and he stares at me for a moment.
"I'd be willing to bet that Bookmarks has a copy."
"I'd be willing to bet you're probably right."
He fiddles absently with the credential around his neck. "Are you free tomorrow night?"
"I was thinking…maybe we could extend our search. I feel like I've been in the game so far; I'd hate to be benched now."
"You seriously want to spend your downtime doing this?"
He considers me for a moment before leaning forward slightly, propping his hands on the desk on either side of the keyboard. His t-shirt today – black, with white typewriter-style lettering – reads, "So it goes." Vonnegut. Not my favorite, but I don't dislike his books nearly as much as I dislike Kerouac's. When I look back up into his face, he smiles, that charming, flirtatious smile I've seen from afar and which I'm now seeing up close. "I want to spend my downtime with you."
Game. Set. Match.
.* * *
The following evening, the city settled in darkness and the air cool, I make my way toward Bookmarks. When I spot Edward leaning against the stop sign at the intersection at which we agreed to meet, I feel something in my chest flip: his hair is damp, and whatever t-shirt he's selected is covered by a lightweight jacket. Upon my approach, he straightens, a smile stretching his lips.
I smile at his enthusiasm. "Hi."
We fall into step beside each other, awareness that this is the first time we're seeing each other outside the familiar confines of the library settling over us like a smothering blanket. It seems entirely fitting that I'm yearning for the comfort that the library always brings me. "Thanks for letting me tag along," he says after a few beats, and I sneak a sideways peek at his profile.
"Thanks for asking."
"I hope I'm not making you feel awkward."
"I was just about to say the same thing to you."
He's grinning now, and a spark of mischief alights in his eyes. "For two people who have spent the past week reading porn to each other, we're alarmingly bad at the small talk."
I mirror his grin. "Okay, well, in that case: the dirtiest thing you've ever read. Go."
Immediately, he looks away, a faint flush staining his cheeks. "I, uh…I'm not really sure."
"Oh, come on. No judgment." He stuffs his hands in his pockets, kicking a pebble so that it skirts along the sidewalk before disappearing into the gutter. "I'll show you mine," I offer, and he meets my eye again, a suggestive quirk to his brow before he sighs and scratches his nose.
I frown. "James Joyce? Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man James Joyce?"
"The very same."
I'm racking my brains for the text to which he's referring; I haven't read a lot of Joyce, but I have Portrait and Ulysses under my belt, as well as at least half of Finnegans Wake, and I don't recall anything in any of them that even comes close to honest-to-God filth that would make him blush like that. "What was it?"
He's still not looking at me. "His letters," he admits finally.
"To his wife. He wrote them when they were in their twenties."
"I haven't read them," I say unnecessarily, and he clears his throat.
"They were very…base. They were separated by distance, and…well. You know. The equivalent of phone sex, I guess."
I'm provoked by the mere implication of something raunchy enough to reduce him to this uncomfortable, fidgeting version of himself. He read borderline porn aloud without batting an eye, for crying out loud. "Do you have them?"
He shakes his head. "I've only read them online."
"Oh," I say, knowing as we halt at a corner to wait to cross that I'll be Googling them pretty much the minute I get home.
"What about you?"
I rack my brain. Despite my reflexive indignation at my rather narrow-minded professor's sweeping dismissal of modern erotic romance writing, I haven't really read that much smut. I read the ones that people talk about, I've read a few that caught my eye, but never has anything seemed so outrageously kinky, so outlandishly perverse that I'd have the same type of immediate reaction that Edward had to these letters. "I'm not sure," I say finally. "I mean, I've read some stuff, but nothing insanely dirty." I feel like that's the most boring answer on the planet, but Edward rolls with it.
"Okay, then: first wickedly dirty thing you ever read."
"Besides Judy Blume, you mean?"
He grins. "Besides Ralph."
I feel a faint flush stealing across my face, the visceral memory of sneaking peeks at a book as a preteen making my spine tingle with equal parts fear and thrill. "The Joy of Sex," I say finally, and Edward nods.
"Ohhhh, yes. The go-to for every kid who didn't have a father or an older sibling with a stash of Playboy magazines beneath the bed."
"I found it in a trunk of books my mom left when she moved out," I say. "I doubt my dad even remembered it was there."
"So, what…you sneaked it into your bedroom and read it beneath the covers with a flashlight?" He's teasing, but he's nailed it.
"Until I heard a girl at school talking about it who said the guy in it looked like Jesus."
Edward barks out a laugh as we reach the bookstore, and his long arm reaches for the door. "Yeah, that would probably ruin it for anyone," he agrees, gesturing for me to enter ahead of him.
"Why don't you find us a table in the café, and I'll go pull some books."
"I can pull books, too," I argue. When I chance a glance at his face, he looks amused.
"I know you can," he says. "But this is sort of my thing. If you went out with a financial whiz, he wouldn't expect you to tally the tip, right?" He gestures toward the café before reaching around to the back pocket of his jeans. "Grab a table," he says, extracting his wallet and opening it to slide out a bill, which he hands to me. "And something to drink."
"What do you want?" I ask, and he smiles.
"Just black coffee. Thanks. See you in a sec."
The line is long, and by the time our drinks appear at the end of the counter, Edward is making his way toward our table, a small stack of books in his arms.
"Wow," I say when he plops them down. "You're like a superhero."
He strikes a Superman-esque pose, fists on his hips and chest thrust out, face turned to one side. "I am BookBoy, defender of bibliophiles everywhere."
He looks so fucking adorable, messy-haired and bespectacled, and with his arms spread, his now-unzipped jacket hangs open, baring the chest of the brown t-shirt beneath.
"'Though she be but little, she is fierce,'" I read, and his hands drop from his hips as all semblance of power melts from his posture and he looks down. "You just don't get enough Shakespeare references on t-shirts these days."
He's shrugging out of his coat. "It, uh…reminded me of you."
It's the first time I've ever seen him look like this: bashful, uncertain, mildly embarrassed, the cocksure flirt from the library all but vanished. He recovers quickly though, draping his coat over the back of the chair and sinking into it, and as I push his coffee across the table toward him, I take a risk. "Then that one's my favorite so far." The grin that breaks across his face makes me want to forget the books and take him home and write some filthy things in sweat on our bare skin, but I force myself to redirect my gaze to the stack of paperbacks at his elbow. "So…what do we have?"
"I, um…I know you said you didn't want to include poetry. And that's totally fine. I just…I was thinking about a couple after I mentioned it and…I'd like to read one to you. If that's okay."
"That's absolutely okay," I reply without hesitation, leaning back slightly in my chair. I watch as he slips a thin book from the middle of the small stack, and I can't read the tiny lettering on the spine; when he opens it, I see e.e. cummings' name on the cover. He flips a few pages before settling on one, peeking up at me over the book, and I can't quite place the intense look in his eyes before he lowers his gaze to the page and clears his throat. His voice, when it comes, is at once soft and rough, like coarse bed sheets over sleep-warmed skin.
"'i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite a new thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows. i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones, and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which I will
again and again and again
kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
i like, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz
of your electric fur, and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh...And eyes big love-crumbs,
and possibly i like the thrill
of under me you quite so new.'"
He glances up at me, the uncertainty from earlier making a reappearance, and it takes me a minute to find my voice amid the sea of stimulation washing over me. "Wow. That…yeah, I can see why that would…work."
Edward lets the book fall closed and slides it to the bottom of the stack. "I couldn't get it out of my head," he says simply.
I nod. "Definitely…appropriate." I wince at the insufficient word. We sit in silence for a few moments before I lean forward, picking inattentively at the lid of my cup. "Did you study much poetry?"
"Yeah," he says, and I'm relieved when the cocky smile slides back into place on his face. "I tried to make it a point to hit all of the unemployable academic tracks: literature, poetry, library science. My parents were thrilled."
I laugh. "Where did you go to school?"
We fall into get-to-know-you conversation, which gradually morphs into first-date conversation, and by the time a voice comes over the loudspeaker to announce that the store will be closing in fifteen minutes, we haven't cracked a single book. "Whoops," I say, gazing at the stack, and Edward chuckles.
"Sorry. I distracted you."
He has no idea. "Good distraction," I say, forcing myself to meet his eye. "Definitely worth it."
He beams. "Are you going to get any of these?"
I tilt my head to one side to survey the titles. "Maybe I'll just come back if I need any of them. I have a pretty good collection of excerpts so far; I should probably start focusing on fleshing out the thesis."
I meet his eye, and he's grinning. "Fleshing out! Porn-pun!"
I laugh, even as warmth creeps into my cheeks. He echoes my laugh, rising from the table and scooping the books back into his arms. "Let me just put these back."
"Okay." I stand, dumping our empty cups in the garbage can and wiping the table over with a napkin; when he reappears at my side, he's holding a small plastic bag in one hand.
"Did you buy something?"
He holds it out. "I bought you something. To begin your poetic education."
I know before peeking into the bag that he's bought me the cummings book. "Thank you," I reply, grinning up at him. "You really didn't have to do that."
"I know," he says simply, pushing our chairs back beneath the table. "I wanted to."
.* * *
Just as I'm slipping into bed an hour later, the xylophonic sound of my phone's ringtone comes from my nightstand. Glancing at the screen, I'm powerless against the goofy grin that takes over my face.
"Hi," I say.
"Hi," Edward replies. "I didn't wake you, did I?"
"Not at all."
"Okay. I was just calling because I felt badly that I couldn't get Vox for you, but it occurred to me when I got home that I could have sworn I bought a copy years ago off a street vendor selling used books, and when I went digging through some boxes in my basement, I found it."
"You really didn't have to go to all that trouble," I say, despite the pleasure that suffuses me at the knowledge that he did.
He ignores me. "You know the interesting thing about this book?"
"It's really…kind of sweet, in the end."
"Sweet? Isn't it about people who call a phone-sex line?"
"Initially. But ultimately it becomes about something more like a union of souls than a mutual masturbation session. It's like…by the end of the conversation, they really know each other. Maybe better than some people who actually have sex ever do." The thought almost makes me sad, especially when I think back to some of the less desirable and thankfully brief flings in my own admittedly pathetic romantic history. He clears his throat. "Anyway. I guess…it's interesting. A book that's ostensibly about sex turns out to be more about personal intimacy. Usually, in books anyway, it's the other way around."
"That is interesting," I agree, thinking that, despite the fact that I once referred to him as "Hot Librarian Boy," over the course of the past few days, I've come to feel like I know Edward better than some people I've been so-called "friends" with for years.
"Yeah," he murmurs, and I can't help wondering if there's even the slightest chance his thoughts are somewhere along the same path as mine. He clears his throat again. "Anyway. Do you want me to, um, read a part of it to you?"
"Oh," I say. "Um. Okay. Sure."
The faint rustling of pages is somehow sexier than the sound of a belt undoing. I wonder if this is normal or if it makes me some kind of fetishist. "Ready?"
"Ready," I reply.
"What are you wearing?"
"Um. A t-shirt and underwear?"
It sounds vaguely like he's choking. "Sorry. That's the first line of the book."
"Oh." Shit. "Sorry."
"Oh, do not apologize." He pauses. "A t-shirt and underwear? Really?"
"I'm in bed."
"Oh. Jesus." His voice is barely more than breath.
"Sorry," I say again, though I can't deny the thrill that surges through me at his reaction.
"Okay. I was going to read the first few lines to just set the scene. But, um, perhaps I'll just summarize. They're talking on the phone, having been put in touch after both calling a phone-sex line. Okay?"
"Scene set," I reply, feeling as though we're on much more equal footing. I genuinely like Hot Librarian Boy, and I'm pretty freaking sure he likes me, too.
There's a long pause before he speaks again; this time, his voice is an octave lower and uncharacteristically hesitant. "Okay, maybe this wasn't a good idea."
My momentary swell of triumph crashes, and my ego is somewhere in the vicinity of my toes. "What?" I hope I sound indifferent, or at the very least neutral.
"This book isn't quite…like the others."
"There isn't exactly…there aren't really specifically erotic passages. This is sort of like…well, one big long stretch of foreplay."
"I'm in," I half-joke, relieved to hear the faint sound of his chuckle.
"I mean…okay. Have you ever been dating someone, and it's new and exciting, and it feels like you're hovering on that precipice of is it going to happen and when is it going to happen and is tonight the night and it's all sort of…exhilarating? Like you're constantly just on the edge of falling in love, waiting for the moment where you finally tip?"
"Yes," I whisper.
He's quiet for a moment before I hear him blow out a breath. "Yeah. That's sort of…this book. But, y'know. Less romantic. Because the guy talks about trying to jerk off while on the phone to a lingerie catalog sales rep."
I laugh. "Yeah, that'll suck the romance right out of it."
There's a brief pause before I hear him sigh. "Sorry. I shouldn't have called you this late."
"It's okay," I say, debating briefly before deciding to tip my hand. "I was actually reading the book you bought me."
"Oh yeah?" he says, his voice decidedly brighter. "Something you like?"
"Well, there's another one that fits my research goals," I say, reaching for the thin tome on my nightstand.
I lick my lips as I find the now dog-eared page.
"'devil crept in eden wood
(grope me wonderful grope me good)
and he saw two humans roaming
-hear that tree agroaning
woman chewed and man he chewed
(open beautiful open good)
and their eyes were wet and shining
-feel that snake aclimbing
lord he called and angel stood
(poke me darling o poke me good)
with a big thick sword all flaming
-o my god i'm coming.'"
When I finish, I'm pretty sure I'm holding my breath; on the other end of the phone, it sounds like Edward is, too, until I hear him blow it all out in one big gush of air. "I always liked that one." His voice sounds rough, and immediately I wish he was lying in my bed next to me.
"I like it, too," I say, my own voice uncharacteristically low, and the line between us is heavy with unspoken words.
"Come to the library tomorrow. Near the end of my shift."
.* * *
There's something about being inside the confines of the library outside normal hours that adds an altogether different air to what we're doing. The lights in the resource room are softer than the fluorescents in the rest of the building, a warm yellow glow rather than a harsh blue-white gleam, and the table is tiny, meant primarily for individual study.
Edward's knees brush mine beneath the tabletop every time he shifts, and I can smell detergent and male deodorant wafting from his direction with every move he makes. I'm aware of his long fingers as they turn pages and the way the tip of his tongue darts out to wet his lips every so often. I notice for the first time the way he hunches down over the book he's reading, elbows propped on his thighs between his body and the table, and the way he absently pinches his lower lip between his thumb and his index finger so that it creases in the middle and folds in on itself. There's a small furrow between his eyebrows – no glasses tonight – and the hand that's not pinching his lip absently flicks the corners of the book's pages as he reads.
"'The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it'," says his t-shirt, and I want him.
I'm still staring at him when he parts his mouth and murmurs, "'Only the united beat of sex and heart together can create ecstasy.'"
"I like that," I reply, my voice soft, when what I'm really thinking is, "I like YOU."
His eyes lift from the page and pin me for a moment, and just as the air between us begins to feel like a live wire, he drops his gaze again. A few moments later, "'She was remembering the penny movies she had seen once in Paris, of figures rolling on the grass, hands fumbling, white pants being opened by eager hands, caresses, caresses, and pleasure making the bodies curl and undulate, pleasure running over their skins like water, causing them to undulate as the wave of pleasure caught their bellies or hips, or as it ran up their spine or down their legs.'"
He looks up at me, and I swallow. Then, without looking back down, "'Didn't the old man know how words carry colors and sounds into the flesh?'"
I meet his eye. "Something tells me he knew." I see him swallow, and I attempt to gather more courage than I've ever been able to muster before. "Want to get out of here?"
His eyes flash. "I, uh…can't stand up just yet," he says softly, and something inside me ignites. I'm staring at him, my mouth slightly parted, and he chuckles nervously. "That look isn't helping," he says, his voice low and rough.
"Sorry," I whisper breathily, but I don't know how to keep my feelings from showing on my face. Neither does Edward, apparently, because he's looking at me like he wants to lay me out on this table and spread me open and lose himself in me for a few hours. His eyes fall to my mouth, and I fight every temptation I have to lick my suddenly dry lips. But his eyes stay where they are, and with every labored breath that escapes my parted mouth, my lips get drier and drier, and the urge to lick them grows greater and greater until I feel like they're going to crack if I don't moisten them. Before I can stop it, the tip of my tongue darts out and swipes over my bottom lip; as if I've fired a starting gun, Edward's eyes shoot to mine and his hand darts out and wraps around my wrist and he pulls me from the table. I don't even have a chance to check out the front of his pants; he's dragging me up against his body, his mouth lowering over mine. And he kisses like he reads: soft, slow, sexy, consuming. I feel things I've read about: all my nerves firing, all my skin pebbling, every hair on my body straining toward him.
Our mouths move together, and I'm dimly aware of the path of his hands: bracketing my hips, sliding up my back, tangling in my hair, gripping the back of my neck. Innocuous places, but what they do to me is anything but. He pulls back, heated eyes fierce, and I'm suddenly beyond glad they're not hidden behind glasses. I break his stare, needing a moment to find my wits.
"I really like your t-shirts," I say, running my fingertips over the blue legal scales and the letters that spell out "Atticus Finch, Attorney at Law." I think he shudders.
"I really like yours," he replies, and when I peek up at him, he's staring at my chest. While the slight v-neck of my t-shirt isn't anywhere near obscene or even suggestive, our closeness and his considerable height means he's coming about as close to looking down my top as he can get.
He pulls back slightly to look down at me, his green eyes hungry. "I'd really like it if you took it off."
Heat, instant and scorching, surges through me. "I'd really like it if you took it off me."
He grabs the hem at the same time he recaptures my mouth with his, and we're a jumbled mess of limbs and half-muttered apologies as we try to kiss and strip and press ourselves together even as we need space between us to shed layers. I feel the edge of the table against the backs of my bare thighs, and I lean against it slightly as I work the button and the zipper on his jeans, letting them fall from his hips as I reach into his boxers. He hisses as my hand curls around him, and I nip at the soft skin on the side of his neck before pulling the elastic waistband down and letting the plaid cotton fall to the floor where it joins the puddle of denim.
Glancing down, I see him, thick and sexy and straining toward my touch. I ghost my fingers over the paper-thin skin of his shaft and he groans, his head tipping back and eyes falling closed. I take a beat to watch his slackened face before returning my gaze to where my hand strokes him gently, enjoying the hard, heavy weight of him in my palm, the silk of his skin beneath my fingers, the heat of him against my touch. "You're killing me," he mumbles, his hips moving faintly forward and back in time with my deliberately slow caresses.
"But what a way to go, right?" I taunt, and the barest hint of a smile pulls at the corners of his mouth before his lips go slack again as my thumb finds the tip of him and a gush of breath escapes his mouth. I watch as the thin skin covering him moves with my touch, the veins visible beneath it. It's a different color from the rest of his skin, all of his need, want, desire pooled in this part of his body.
"God," he breathes, eyes still closed, utterly lost in sensation. Until they're open, boring into mine, watching my face as I watch his, my hand still sliding softly over the smooth, hot length of him. He gazes at me, spots of color high on his cheeks, eyes more green than blue-gray under these soft yellow lights, and almost as if there was some silent signal, we both drop our gazes to where my hand grips him. "God," he says again, and I trace the slit under his head with the pad of my thumb. His hips push forward slightly in response, so I do it again; as he moves, the tip of him comes into contact with the satin of my underwear, and he moans. His hands find the waistband, and after giving me a brief moment to protest, he slides them down my legs. He steps forward again, so that the bare length of him is pressing against the bare skin of me, and we both exhale heavily into the barely-there space between us.
As if we were awaiting a signal, we lose ourselves again in a flurry of kisses, hands roaming everywhere, up, down, around, and when he hoists me onto the table behind me, I hear books cascading to the floor. The librarian in him and the bibliophile in me have surrendered to hormones, because we don't falter in our movements, me leaning back against the cool surface of the tabletop and him leaning over me, his bare chest pressed to mine, his erection slip-sliding against the wetness between my legs. He gasps, his eyes dropping to watch.
I lick my lips. "Talk to me."
Hot flesh slides along wet, silky skin, and he looks up at me from hooded green eyes. "What?"
"Tell me what it feels like." I lift up slightly, brushing my lips against his earlobe as I whisper into the shell of his ear. "Read it to me."
"Oh, God," he moans, and I pull back, looking into his face. "I want this." His fingers find the center of me.
"Want what?" I urge him.
His cheeks are flushed pink, in arousal or embarrassment I can't be sure. "Pretty pink pussy," he murmurs, one finger sliding into me as I moan at the combined sensations of penetration and his low, husky voice. "Wet. Wanton," he breathes, watching my face as his finger glides achingly slowly back out. "Slick, soft, succulent." My hips rise into his touch.
"What do you want to do?" I breathe.
"Lick you. Suck you. Fuck you."
"Yes," I whimper as he adds another finger.
"Fuck you, screw you. Have you, take you."
"Touch you, taste you." He slides his fingers out and makes a move to slide down my body, but I grab him by the hair at the nape of his neck.
"No?" His eyebrows arch in surprise.
"I like what you're doing with your tongue right now." I lean up and kiss him, sliding my tongue against his. "Keep talking to me," I add against his lips, leaning back onto the forgotten books once again. I wrap my hand back around him and he grunts softly, his eyes leaving my face and trailing down to where I'm slowly stroking him.
"I want to take you home and tie you up. I want you to take me home and tie me up. I want to fuck you outside, under the stars. I want to bend you over the hood of my car, and I want to slide my tongue between your legs while you're driving yours. I want to slip my fingers inside you in a darkened movie theater and make you come on an airplane. I want to get you off somewhere you have to be quiet."
"I want to come inside you with nothing between us, and I want you to feel me running down your legs when you walk to your car."
"I want to still be leaking out of your body when you're sitting in class, acting like a good little student."
"I want you on your knees behind the circulation desk with my dick in your mouth."
"I want to be inside you when you're on the phone with someone, trying to pretend like I'm not fucking you senseless."
"I want to wake you up with my tongue inside you."
He groans as he slides into me, and his eyes glaze over. "Heart, heat."
"Tongue, tits, tight, so tight." With every word, his hips shift forward, unwritten punctuation. "Wet, warm, wanting."
His voice is a moan, breathless and rough, his thrusts speeding up. "Melting, moaning, slipping, sliding, pulling, pushing."
"More," I murmur, lifting my hips to meet his, ignoring the sharp contact of my tailbone against the unforgiving table beneath me.
"Desirous and desperate," he gasps as he pulls back slightly to watch himself sliding in and out.
"More," I whisper, his hips pistoning in and out.
"Frantic, frenetic, fuck, fuck, fuck me."
"I want to come in you. Fill you. Feel you."
"Coat you, paint you, mark you."
"Fuck, Bella. Fuck. I want to fuck you hard."
"I want you to fuck me hard."
"Fuck," he breathes, and inside me, I feel everything let go.
.* * *
I can feel his pounding heart gradually slowing where our bare chests are plastered together with sweat, and his warm breaths have gone from gasps to deep, almost-even exhalations in the crook of my neck. My body is still humming, my nipples tight and the muscles of my thighs trembling, and I can feel the evidence of him seeping out of my body.
"So where do you think we fall on the smut-to-prose scale?" I ask, still breathless.
He chuckles, and I feel his softening body quiver within me. "Somewhere in the middle," he murmurs, soft, loose lips pressing to the curve of my shoulder.
"I can't say I've ever had a man use the words 'frenetic' or 'succulent' while inside me."
"Tragic. Though I'm sure I could come up with more." He pulls back slightly to peer down at me, and Hot Librarian Boy has never looked nearly as hot as he does when he's been freshly fucked. "After all, we still have an entire card catalog worth of erotic poetry to explore."
"We do," I agree, and he leans in again, closing his lips around my nipple before speaking into the flesh of my breast.
"'Pillowed upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever – or else swoon in death.'"
I grin at the ceiling. "I look forward to it."
.* * *
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Public voting: August 13 2013 to 27 August 2013.