Short Loan.

When essays are due, all the books that are needed disappear from the library. Desk space is swallowed under mounds of paper and the photocopiers zap fluorescent bars back and forth in an endless cycle, swallowing over-drafts in single pound coin bites.

First time I saw him we exchanged pleasantries, introduced at Bill's party because we were on the same course. Bill knows everyone, you see. He's a year below, so I had to do the experienced student bit until that topic ground itself into the floor like a used cigarette and nothing else replaced it. The eyebrow raise was awkward, so was the rising crescendo of total silence while we both stared at the bottom of our empty plastic cups and shuffled, hoping for a third person to take away the agony and knowing that no one was going to come.

Excuses were made, necks were rubbed in embarrassment but hooded eyes kept looking back as soon as we were apart. Static electricity buzzed across the space, but get any closer and something fused it out like an overactive circuit breaker looking for trouble.

But nothing happened. He left while I was drunkenly flirting with a guy I didn't fancy because conversation was easier to deal with than burning, silent eyes. I always wished I had more guts.

I only ever see him in that week-long panic involving a scramble to find page references and relevant quotes when I've forgotten what natural light looks like and the orange toned flicker starts to look normal. He's always pasty-skinned and unshaven, and slobbishly, I'll usually have the t-shirt I slept in on under my coat, because when I have to work I don't do much else. We'll both be stressed-out and distracted, wishing we weren't there.

It'll be a quick 'hello' as we rush past each other, rattling off excuses about things that need doing and maybe a passing joke about this lecturer or that, avoiding eye-contact and stumbling over words when it does come. One of us will mention Bill – our only other link, though he doesn't really know him because he was a friend of someone else, and then there will be an echo of that first horrific silence that's enough to send us both scampering for different exits, bookless and frustrated, eyes meeting on the glance back.

Come essay time, I almost look out for him. Over the past year or more, these nearly meetings have become regular. He's so familiar to me that I know his silhouette and posture, and the pattern of his voice and his not quite place-able accent, though sometimes I clean forget his name. It's Malcolm he told me when I asked, admitting he'd forgotten mine.

Our meetings are tense, but there's always a sparkle in his eye as I walk towards him, and there's always a smile on my face and a generally relieved feeling as he doesn't look the other way or avoid me. There's a sense of understanding and something shared with our now standard repertoire of, "What are you here for?" as he leans a fraction closer and my pulse speeds up.

The answer is always a single word because nothing more is needed. "Bramante," or "Hepworth,", "Kandinsky," or "Klimt," slips out, while my body angles in to his. My answer will always earn a deep nod, a shrug, a thumb jerk towards his chest and a similar reply, "Courbet," or "Goya,", "Foster," or "Reynolds." Then I'll catch his eyes to stop mine roving down his chest and the silence walls us in, until my nerve breaks and I splutter something about a friend's exhibition that I know he won't come to because his social circles are different and the way I phrase it is not an invite. But he'll smile anyway and say he saw Picasso at the National or something that misses the vital mark as much as I just did.

And I'll want to ask for his number, but just like getting the book I need, I never do. So I'll leave the short loan section, frustrated, heading for the dusty stacks upstairs to numb myself searching for a book that inevitably won't be on the shelf.

Now it's winter again and the work has piled up. The library is brimful as usual, but I'm more organised for once. I have a list. I know the books I need. The shelves downstairs are practically empty, so I head straight for the older volumes still shelved by dewy-decimals.

Numbers list in hundreds and thousands and I move along the aisles – dark until I switch the row lights on. I start in the wrong one and round the corner to the next. Malcolm is recognizable with his off-balance stance, even in the dark. He's leaning a book against the shelf, peering at it in the gloom. I flick the light on and he looks up, confused at the intrusion before a crooked smile rises and breaks out when he sees me. He should have had braces, but I like that he didn't. Crooked teeth work better than a Hollywood smile would in his mouth.

We're next to the large music anthologies that nobody really reads. They know the aisles here don't need to be wide; simultaneously I curse and rejoice that minor interest subjects don't create heavy people traffic.

I haven't seen him in weeks. My body reacts to him even without close proximity, but the aisle is forcing it.

"What are you here for?" he whispers as we shuffle round, pulling his book close to his chest and kicking his bag out of the way to make room. Our eyes connect as he looks up and my ability to move expires in front of him. His eyes have a green tinge and his breath is mint and spice. I want to say 'you', but I don't. Instead, I blush, staring at the title on the spine of his book - Homoeroticism in Renaissance Art - and my breathing stumbles.


He tilts his head slightly, trying to pick my eyes up again, his grin creeping out. "Which ones?"

I blink and fumble for my list, rattling off a few titles without looking up, still unable to move away.

He nods. "The Clarke one is dull."

I rub at my neck awkwardly. "Clarke is always dull."

"Yeah," the nod comes again. His nervous eyes linger and his ragged breathing seems to draw me near. The stare seems to build until I can barely stand it. We both know. I know we both know, but neither of us can quite take that leap.

Abruptly, he closes the book folded open against his chest and leans forwards to slip it onto the shelf, one hand spread above my left shoulder, the other slotting it into a gap above my right ear, brushing tantalisingly close and watching me all the while, not daring to do anything more, but begging me to take the lead. The circuit breaker isn't working to day. Sparks are flying and proximity does me in. The brush of fabric on fabric is more than I can take. Tensed nipples seem to cut through cloth.

I'm the one who pulls him forwards. I'm the one whose breathing scatters into tight little gasps as my lips tug hungrily at his, pausing briefly for permission. And he's the one who gives it. He's the one that holds me so fiercely it hurts, pulling himself closer as if trying to break out of his own skin and into mine. He's the one whose hands tangle in my hair while mine scratch and tug under his t-shirt to wet-hot skin. Both of us are trembling and his kisses are the end of the known world. Oxygen is less important. He's pushed into me completely, cursing me for taking so long. As my teeth bite down as gently as I can make them, I bitch back at him as well.

"Such a fucking coward, Malcolm."

His eyes are all pupil, filled with want and need and daring to hint at mellow satisfaction. He shakes his head.

"Stop talking."

Hands that roam his chest coax kisses onto my skin that break free from his lips as if he has no control. It's a beautiful cycle of causation. Panting, he eases away again, pushing back with his arms though they almost fight to keep me close. He grabs his bag, shouldering it and his other hand slots firmly into mine with fingers so tight that mine go numb. I squeeze back and he relaxes briefly, looking up. Lips tangle again and he's tugging me towards the stairs, face-flushed and pupils dilated. Looking at him makes my stomach jolt.

I don't know how we get down those steps. I don't know how my ankle doesn't twist when I stumble half a flight backwards, too busy kissing him to walk properly. I don't know how long we spend pushed to the nearest wall as he made sure I'm ok, with hands that won't let go and lips that live for my surface, breathing so frantic it melts my mind. I don't know how many people we offend, because he's the only thing I'm looking at. With the heat in my stomach it's near impossible to stop our bodies grinding against each other.

For the first time since I've been here, I leave the library without frustration, bookless as usual, but with something a little better clasped in my hand. His fingers squeeze mine, rushing physical urgency through me all over again, making my lips beg for contact with his neck. My last coherent thought as I watch him un-tether his bicycle from the racks to side of the building is that I hope I don't have to give him back in the morning. If he's on Short Loan, then I'll gladly pay the fine because I need him for longer than that.

Malcolm winds my scarf around my neck tucking the ends inside my coat, pulling the zip high, standing so close our hips bump together and my brain shorts. In tantalizing agony, I try to tug him close, but his fingers intercept my hand, kissing at my palm as he turns away with evident difficulty to mount his bike. He stares at me with eyes that are all pupil and pats the cross-bar that extends out between his legs. My eyes fix on his swollen crotch, causing a throb in mine. "Get on then," he mutters and I don't argue.

Arms either side of me hem me in as I perch on the bar, both knees one side, trying to centre my weight as he pushes off, wobbling us along the cobbled road.

"I think I'm going to fail my essay," he murmurs into my ear as he steers us round the corner across the park.

I smile, pushing lips against his skin until he has to stop the bike because I'm turned into his arms and his hands are no longer on the handlebars, but map over my back, lips jut as frantic as mine.

"They never have the books you need anyway," I pant, dribbling away into pure sensation as his hand slips firmly up my thigh and I see sparks.

He kisses me firmly and I wonder whether we're going to manage to reach his house at all. I would strip him naked right now if he'd let me, despite the cold.

"Short Loan is so gay," he whispers into my mouth, words collapsing against my toothy grin before I kiss him back.

"Couldn't agree more," I breathe, letting his tongue slip into my waiting mouth, tangling his with mine.

That's where we are now – halfway to his house, making-out on his hybrid road bike in the dimming evening light, wondering why the hell this didn't happen one and a half years ago. I think I'm going to put it down to the library, because when you're not allowed to talk other things take over and even if that usually includes stress and frustration, for the first time, I'm very glad they do. If it wasn't for the failings of the Short Loan system and the width of the aisles in the stacks of old stock, I'd still be waiting, worrying about footnotes and quotes.

Tomorrow, I'll have to thank Bill.