A biblio-graphic romance
The first thing she was to him was knees. They were revealed to him in the angular gaps above the PS 3527 A15s, staring at him with eyeless constancy. Their owner seemed transfixed by something in the upper shelves on the opposite side of the stack, leaving Alex time to study the attractive interlopers. At first he was attracted by the smooth, lightly tanned olive skin covering the irregular roundness of the kneecaps. Well, not quite completely smooth--semi-circular wrinkles atop the kneecaps beamed an inverted smile at him and enticed his gaze up the widening flare of two exquisite thighs, which demurely disappeared behind the PS 3525s on the shelf above.
Alex carefully separated two books on the shelf before him and inserted a well-worn L6. As he did so, he imagined his hand caressing those two knobby delights, fingering the sinews and tendons, and gently exploring the irregular shapes of the bones. Alex ran his fingers sensuously down the spine of the book he had just re-shelved as he pictured running his hand up the inside of those delicious thighs, up and up and up. . .
"Those books won't reshelve themselves, you know."
The intrusion startled Alex, who jerked back involuntarily, spilling about half the shelf he had been working on.
"Shit!" he exclaimed. "Don't sneak up on a guy like that!"
"I wasn't sneaking. I just walked up to you. You, however, seemed to be somewhere else entirely."
"Just daydreaming, I guess," said Alex, furtively peeking back through the stacks to see if his daydream was there laughing at him. Nothing. She'd disappeared.
Alex began gathering and organizing the books he had spilled.
His companion knelt down to help him. Observing a call number he remarked, "A whole shelf of Nabokov, down the tubes. At this rate the stacks won't be ready 'till halfway through the fall term."
"Oh, c'mon. Give me a break, Corey!" Alex protested. "I'm the fastest and most accurate shelver you've got, and you know it."
"Yeah, I know, I know!" Corey conceded. "I just don't understand why you don't give in and go back to school to get your MLS. You're a natural librarian! You love organizing and categorizing things, you've got a freakish memory for numbers, and you even have a quiet speaking voice. I don't know what you think you're going to do with that MA in literature of yours, and you're certainly going nowhere fast working as a grunt shelver in a small college library."
Alex avoided Corey's eyes as he continued gathering up books and putting them in place on the shelf.
"Look," he finally said. "I just don't know what I want to do right now and this job suits me just fine. If you don't want me, I can look for something else."
"No, no!" Corey exclaimed, placing the last few of the scattered volumes on the shelf. "If you want to waste your talents in this dead-end job, I'm good with it. You're the best worker I've got. And if we're going to get this library in shape for the fall semester, I'm going to have to drive you harder than ever. So try putting the books on the shelves instead of the other way 'round, and that'll be a step in the right direction. But what I actually came to tell you is that the schedule for today has changed and you'll need to take your lunch break an hour early."
Corey stood, turned and walked back up the aisle the way he had come.
"Don't forget that lunch break!" he threw back over his shoulder.
"Yeah, okay," Alex sighed as he put into their correct places the books Corey had misshelved.
Once it was clear that Corey was out of the area, Alex rose and hurried to the end of the aisle and around to the other side where the kneecaps had been. He did some quick estimating: "Her knees were just at the top of the second shelf (he shuffled up to the shelf and observed where his knees came to) so she's maybe about my height, perhaps a little taller. If she was eye level with the books she was looking at, that would be here, or maybe the shelf below. . ." Alex ran his fingers across the call numbers at the base of the spine of the two rows of books. "All PS3525 I5454s. Hmm, interesting," he thought to himself. He hurried down the end of the aisle and made a quick survey of the area. Pretty dead. Summer term was nearly over and not many students were enrolled in the summer. The weeks between summer finals and the beginning of the fall term would be even more desolate. But it made it easy to keep track of anyone that was around. He wondered if he would cross paths with kneecaps again. Alex didn't know why, but he hoped so.
The second thing she was to him was calves. They came to him while he was reorganizing the PR 3720s, necessitated by the library's acquisition of a new edition of Jonathan Swift. Alex had cleared a number of shelves to accommodate the new volumes and was sitting cross-legged filling a bottom shelf when the calves approach from the other side. They stopped one shelving unit down from where he was working. Alex stuck his head into the empty bottom shelf to try to get a better view. By craning his neck he could just see one calf over the tops of the books on the opposite side. One slender, shapely, olive-skinned calf. It had to be the kneecap girl. He tried to extract his head from its cramped quarters, but bumped it on the shelf above, causing several books to come cascading down on his neck and back.
He cursed under his breath as he sat straight. The calves moved down their aisle until they were directly across from him. Alex hunched down to hide, as if he had been engaged in some nefarious activity. He peered across the bottom shelf. Miraculously, half the bottom shelf on the opposite side was empty, as was his side still, and he had an unobstructed view of the two calves. They turned slightly, appearing to him in profile, the far leg slightly bent. The skin was smooth, almost glistening. No, not almost, it was glistening--with sweat. And so was he, he now noticed. It was far too hot in here. Could they, the calves, be responsible? Alex admired them a moment longer before he heard footsteps approaching. He looked up to see Corey striding down the aisle.
"Alex, I'm glad I found you. We've got a big problem. The air conditioning has gone out. The grease monkeys say they have to order parts to get it working and it will be several days, maybe over a week before they come in. In the meantime, we have to pull out the emergency fans to minimize any heat and humidity build up. Just drop what you're doing and follow me."
As Alex stood up to follow Corey, he tried to look through the stacks for his olive-skinned calves. Gone.
Only after spending the next two hours hauling out the bulky, dusty, antiquated old box fans and positioning them as best they could to cover the two floors of the library did Alex have time to return to his earlier project. On the way, he stopped by the shelves where he saw the calves. Finding the books she had been interested in was easy: There was an obvious gap on the third shelf where a book had been removed. Alex examined the call numbers on either side of the empty spot: PR 3669 R2. This was getting more and more interesting.
The next thing she was to him was teeth. It was about 10 days before the beginning of fall term, the calm before the storm. The worst heat wave of the summer was in full force and the AC parts still weren't in. Alex was finishing up the last of the re-shelving. The heat and humidity in the library were oppressive, the big noisy fans notwithstanding. All dress codes were suspended and most employees were in shorts and t-shirts, Alex included. His sandy-brown hair was dripping with sweat and his shirt was stuck to his back. Alex's loaded cart was in the middle of the aisle and he was focused on getting the books back on the shelves as fast as possible when he heard, "Excuse me, can I squeeze past?" He grabbed the cart to clear the aisle before even looking up. When he did, he was treated with the biggest, most radiant smile imaginable. Her sensuous lips framed white, perfectly aligned teeth. But then in a flash she was past and rounding the corner, dark hair pulled into a pony tail that reached between her shoulder blades, slender hips swaying slightly in bright green nylon shorts. Long, slender, olive-toned legs. It was the kneecap/calf girl! But it was the image of the teeth that was etched in his mind now.
His eyes followed her through the spaces in the stacks. She was two rows over now, about a third of the way up the aisle. He could see her scanning the shelves, parsing call numbers. Alex glanced at a nearby call number to remind himself where he was, then pictured in his mind's eye the section where the teeth were. He was near the end of the PRs, English literature. Then came PS's, American literature, a big category. Where she was now would be about the 3527s, maybe starting with the E's at the end of the row, and as far down as she was now would be. . .
It was then that he recognized the shelving unit she was scrutinizing. It was one he knew well, indeed, intimately. Its familiar number: PS 3527 I865. Could the teeth, the calves, and the kneecaps be interested in the same thing?
Alex was normally a shy person, and quiet spoken. For this reason, despite natural good looks, an athletic build, and an earnest fascination with women, he rarely dated and had had few relationships in his 25 years. Those that he had never lasted long, because, as much as he enjoyed sex, which was quite a bit, he became quite bored if there was no intellectual stimulation between them. Sadly, that never seemed to occur.
But now, here was someone who, if the clues were leading him in the right direction, shared not just an intellectual interest, but his deepest and most passionate interest, one that he held as his deepest, most closely held secret. This possibility emboldened him and, acting against his lifelong habits, he developed a plan. Who knew if she might return again. This might be his last chance.
Glancing at his cart, he quickly noted the books that needed re-shelving near where the teeth were now looking. He quickly shoved his cart down the isle, over two rows, and towards his target. Alex stopped about 10 feet short of the teeth and began scanning the shelves in front of him. He grabbed a few books from the cart and quickly found their places on the shelves. He glanced over at her. She was squatting, one hand braced on a shelf for balance, the other with index finger extended moving along the volumes guiding her eyes to each successive call number.
Alex had opportunity now to survey the whole woman, not just a few tantalizing parts. She was wearing a white t-shirt, the untucked hem covering about half of the green nylon athletic shorts he had observed earlier. On her feet, light sandals. Her long dark hair was pulled back into a pony tail. Her forehead, arms and legs glistened with a light sheen of sweat, highlighting the beautiful smoothness of her skin. Her limbs were slender, but since she was squatting, he couldn't tell how tall she was. He somehow didn't notice when she walked past earlier.
Alex took a deep breath, steeled his will and turned to her.
"Can I help you find something?" he asked, barely suppressing the tremor of excitement and fear in his voice.
She looked over at him with a surprised expression. She apparently hadn't even noticed that he was there, but once it registered she smiled at him and said, "Thanks. Maybe you can help. I'm looking for this. The online catalog says it's on the shelf, but I can't find it." She held out a scrap of paper with several call numbers scrawled on it.
"It's the one on the bottom," she said, handing Alex the list.
He recognized the number immediately: PS3527.I865 D4.
Alex feigned scanning the shelves. In fact, he knew exactly where the book was and why it wasn't where it should be. After looking around for a few seconds he stood on tiptoes, reached behind the neat row of books and produced a rather slim paperback with a flourish.
"Is this what you're looking for?" he asked, handing it to her.
"It must have gotten pushed behind the others," he added, knowing full well it was he who had put it there to keep unworthy prying eyes away from it. But he had no qualms letting this slender beauty take it from his hands. Nor did he want that to be the last contact he had with her. He decided to push his luck.
"Delta of Venus. Quite a remarkable book."
"Um, I guess," she said, blushing and flashing an embarrassed smile as she added the book to a small pile she had stacked on an open section of nearby shelving.
Alex tilted his head slightly in an attempt to read the spines, but when she noticed this, she moved to obscure his view.
Alex proffered his hand. "I'm Alex."
A slender hand reached out tentatively at first, but finally grasped his firmly.
"Hi, I'm Liliana. Thanks for helping me," she added, with a warmer, more relaxed smile now.
"Liliana," Alex said leisurely, letting the liquid sounds roll off his tongue.
"Liliana," he said again more quietly, then added under his breath," Love of my life, fire of my loins."
"What was that?" Liliana asked with a startled expression on her face.
Now it was Alex's turn to blush and look embarrassed.
"Oh, uh, nothing. Just something your name reminded me of."
"Say it again," she commanded.
"Say it again," she insisted. "Tell me what you just said."
Alex was taken aback by Liliana's sudden assertiveness.
"Uh, well, I just said, 'Love of my life, fire of my loins,'" Alex replied hesitantly.
She narrowed her eyes with suspicion and craned her head forward slightly.
"How did you know I was reading Nabakov?" she demanded.
"What?" Alex exclaimed. "I didn't. I mean, I don't. Your name, all those L's. It just reminded me of it, that's all."
Liliana regarded him severely for a few seconds, until an odd smile softened her expression.
"So, do you think I'm some sort of Lolita?" she asked.
"What?" Alex was completely off balance now.
"Do you think I'm a precocious temptress preying on older men's fantasies?"
Alex was feeling uncomfortably warm now. He could feel the sweat dripping down the back of his neck and his shirt felt clammy. As he looked at his adversary in this unexpected game of literary chicken, he could see the sweat on her brow and observed her shirt clinging to her to her lithe frame. He became painfully aware how sexy she was: the curve of her hips, the graceful line of her neck, and the modest mounds of her breasts. He thought he detected the lines of a bra under her shirt, but it must have been very thin because firm nipples poked up through the two layers of fabric.
His eyes returned to her playfully determined face as he mentally gathered his defenses.
"Well, first of all, unless you are improbably precocious, I think you're at least a few years past 12," Alex parried.
Gaining his footing, he ventured on. "Heck, I'd even hazard a guess that you're legal. Second, if I'm any judge of character, I'd say you're not the 'preying' type. Your eyes give it away. Windows to the soul, and all that, you know. So if I had to compare you to a notable world-wise vixen, judging from the sensuous lips, the alluring smile, and the knowing glance with just that hint of vulnerability," and here he paused dramatically to cock his head and peer critically into her eyes, "I'd peg you as more of an Emmanuelle."
"Emmanuelle?!" Liliana cried in mock dismay.
"What could some stranger such as yourself possibly detect in me that would lead you to presume I was ripe to lead a series of erotically sensuous adventures?" Liliana demanded, hands placed dramatically on hips.
"Well," Alex scratched his chin thoughtfully. "I think your reading list is a dead giveaway."
"So, you have been spying on me!" she exclaimed, her expression and tone indicating that this was no longer play.
"No, no," Alex said waving his hands in front of him. "I just mean what you've got here." Out of the pocket of his shorts he pulled the scrap of paper she had given him earlier and presented it to her.
"That's just call numbers, you don't know what those books are."
"Oh yeah? Try me," he commanded.
Liliana snatched the scrap from Alex's hand and examined it intently.
Looking up defiantly at Alex she said, "OK, you're on. One you know: Anais Nin's Delta of Venus. So, what's PR3348 C65 M45?"
Alex considered for just a few seconds before answering. "That's easy. Fanny Hill. John Cleland."
Liliana's eyes widened in disbelief. She glanced behind her at the stack of 4 books on the shelf. Delta of Venus sat on top, where she had placed it a few minutes earlier. At the bottom was Fanny Hill. The title was discernible on the spine, but not easily so. Perhaps he saw it before she stepped in front of it, but even if that was so, there was no way he could have read (and remembered!) the call number. Maybe it was a lucky guess. She looked at the two books sandwiched in the middle. Those titles were faded and very difficult to read. She turned back to him.
"PA4408 E5 P69," she said in a challenging tone.
Alex hesitated. The PA's were Greek and Latin authors. Not an area he often perused. He didn't recognize E5. He ran some of the ancients through his mind. Homer--no, that wouldn't fit; Ovid--could be; Virgil--no; Catullus--that would fit, but seemed pretty obscure; Sappho--bingo!
"Sappho. Collected Poems." The second part was just a guess, but what else it could it be?
Liliana's shoulders slumped. "Shit! You actually know this stuff!"
She looked down at her slip of paper and read off the last call number with resignation.
"PQ4272 E5 A36."
Alex pondered. He didn't recognize this one immediately either. PQ would make it French, Italian or Spanish. Could be a Don Juan novel. There were several to choose from, but the only one he really knew was Byron's poem, and that would be a PR. Poetry maybe? Who wrote erotic poetry in those countries? He made a guess.
"Boccaccio. Don't know the work though."
Liliana just looked at him for a moment.
"Okay, that's scary."
Alex shrugged. "I can't help it if I have a good head for numbers."
They faced each other silently for a few seconds. Then Alex decided to press his temporary advantage.
"So, does this impressive stack of provocative literature herald Emmanuelle's sensual awakening?"
Liliana hesitated before answering, "Nothing so dramatic, I'm afraid. Come on, I'll show you."
With that she gathered her stack of books, turned, and headed down the aisle. Alex followed, abandoning his book cart in the aisle.
Liliana walked briskly to a remote section of the library that held study desks and research carrels. To Alex's surprise, Liliana fished a key from her shorts and opened a door to one of the carrels. A research carrel was not easy to come by. Most were reserved by faculty and the few remaining ones by privileged doctoral students. Liliana, though no Lolita, did not look old enough to be researching a dissertation.
Liliana beckoned Alex in with a ceremonial wave of her arm and a "tada!" The closet-sized room had just enough space for a desk and a small bookcase. There was a small window that overlooked the quad from the second story room. Alex squeezed past her into the room and she shut the door to reveal an open laptop running a word processing program. Beside the laptop was an open copy of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer. Other books were strewn about on the desk and bookshelf. Alex examined a few of the volumes. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover was there, as was Arsan's Emmanuelle, the collected poems of John Wilmot and Li Yu's The Carnal Prayer Mat.
"Wow, I'm impressed!" Alex said sincerely. "If I had known you could get a research carrel for reading this stuff, I would have had one of these years ago."