"It's a god-awful sight."
I ran my fingers delicately along the worn and weathered spines as I walk. I look over at my cat, Frost Man, sitting perfectly perched next to a display of a collection of poems by Emily Brontë. His amber eyes stared at me, listless and uninterested. He brought a gray paw up to his mouth and then turned his attention to that. I smiled, more to myself I suppose, and continued talking.
"No one reads books anymore."
My parents ran a small secondhand bookstore, while our living area was placed on the floor above it. The building was nothing fancy, nothing large. We owned a corner spot an a bustling city street. It wasn't the prettiest and most modern place to be, like the local library that opened up a few minutes away. There were no barcodes, no solid-colored chairs, and crisp white furniture.
"No one reads books anymore..." My voice took a softer tone.
This place seemed aged and musky. Furniture was mismatched and the books that lined every inch of wall and floor made the store feel too cramped. Lighting was dim, my parents had invested their money only in incandescents. It was completely unethical, but they said that fluorescents ruined the mood of the reader. They hung down from the ceiling, a detail people might find as stylish, but it was simply for practical reasons. It was easier for us to reach them if they were lower. On clear days, I often relied on the sunlight streaming through the windows.
"Just the thought saddens my heart."
Regardless of the bad light and feeling of claustrophobia, I always enjoyed this place. I found comfort in the yellowed pages and faded covers around me. During summers I'd sit on the floor with a fan beside me, reading through pages of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. In the winter I'd fix myself a large cup of tea in the back room and curl up in one of the armchairs, engrossed in Ernest Hemingway and Victor Hugo. And on rainy nights like tonight, I wanted to fall asleep to the sound of my mother's voice reading me Aesop's Fables.
"They prefer to read stories of fifteen year old girls in high school romances."
I pursed my lips in disapproval and leaned against the register counter.
"Or even so, stories like that are often written by fifteen year old girls. Stories about boys various boys falling in love with a single female lead and her falling in love with the arrogant and handsome athlete simply for the fact he toys with her emotions and has a great outward appearance."
I lightly crossed my arms and stared pensively at the wooden floor.
"It really is a god-awful sight, Frost Man."
"How would you fall in love with a guy then?"
The voice started me and I jumped from the counter, standing straight with my muscles tensed. I had thought I was here all alone, I felt myself blush at the thought of someone hearing every word I had said. A boy with wet black hair matted against his face and a damp jacket walked out from one of the higher bookshelves. His mossy green eyes looked at me in apology and then looked at the floor. He stammered.
"I-I didn't mean to scare you. I just wanted to get out of the r-rain and—"
"—Do you want a towel?" My offer cut him off. I couldn't stand stammering, I never enjoyed listening to people read in class with stuttered words and bad annunciation. Yes, it was rude and malicious of me, but it was a personal belief that words spoken should be delivered confidently. As his head rose I watched a droplet of water glide down is cheek and against his perfect jawline before falling onto the floor. I had never seen someone so attractive stand in the store before.
"I-If you wouldn't mind, that would be nice—"
"—Take your jacket off, too. I'll hang it up by the heater in the back."
He quickly un zipped his jacket, revealing a simple white long-sleeved shirt. He handed it to me and I made my way to the back room, returning with a towel. I tossed it to him, in a swift motion he grasped it. I rose an eyebrow, but decided not to ask about it. He quickly rubbed it against his head and then held it out to me. His hair was going every which way, but it was hardly near the point of being considered dry. I kept my eyebrow raised.
"What?" He stared at me entirely confused. I let out a sigh and took the towel in my hands.
"Sit," I pointed to the dark blue arm chair placed in the corner of the store. He stared at me, so I said it again. "Sit."
He quickly made his way over to the chair and sat down. I made my way behind it. He looked up at me quizzically, but I lightly pushed his head back down and faced it forward.
"If you don't dry your hair properly you're going to catch a cold," I said softly.
I began drying his hair for him, rubbing the towel against his damp, black locks. At times, my fingers would brush in between them and I found that his hair was incredibly soft. His shoulders drooped in relaxation. I watched as Frost Man gracefully leapt from his bookcase and made his way over to where we were. He rubbed up against the boy's leg and let out a soft meow.
"See? Frost Man's trying to dry you off, too. He doesn't want you catching a cold either."
The boy chuckled and ran the back of his hand against Frost Man's fur. I felt him tilt his head slightly upwards in my direction.
"D-Do you always dry the hair of your customers?" His voice was soft and his words were warm. I liked the sound of them. I noticed that the tips of his ears were warm, I felt myself smile.
"Do do you always go into the rain without an umbrella?"
His ears got redder. His flustering and embarrassment was rather adorable. His innocence was refreshing, like opening the pages of a new book. He got quiet and he relaxed once more into my touch.
"I was wondering if you had a book I was looking for." His voice was in a whisper.
"The Picture of Dorian Gray."
"Ah, that's one of my favorites," I was smiling at the memory of reading it for the first time. "I'll find it for you."
I removed the towel from his hair and draped it over the arm of the chair. He rose from the seat, Frost Man moved away from his legs. I turned to go up the staircase that led to the books that were shelved on our upper level-balcony area. The boy quietly followed me. With every step up, the stairs creaked and I ran my fingers against the spines that lined the wall opposite of the railing. The smell of old paper and ink was always stronger up here, I always found it a welcoming scent that enveloped me like a warm blanket. Most of the popular classic literature was shelved up here, I had spent countless nights curled up with many of these books. It was a perfect place to read because you couldn't see much of the space from the main floor.
"You never answered my question," he said from behind me.
"Which question was that?" I asked him as we came to the stop of the staircase. I turned a corner and slowly started scanning titles and author's.
"The question from before... how would you fall in love with a guy?"
I blushed at the remembrance of him interrupting what I thought was a discussion with myself. I focused on my sights on the books in front of me. I silence settled itself between us; he was waiting for my answer. I stopped. My hand rested on a copy of Catcher in the Rye.
"If I fall in love with a guy... I think it'll be his words," My voice was quieter than I expected it to be. In truth, I had never truly fallen in love with someone. I had stared enviously at the empty sides of certain boys in my life, but I had never really experienced what it was like to love someone in their entirety.
"It'll be the words he says, the way he says them..." I slowly moved my eyes towards a section of Shakespeare.
"It'll be how he eloquently stitches them together. It's words above anything else." I moved my fingers across the spines of works by Tolkien.
"Yes," I whispered more to myself than it was to him, "if I fall in love, it's surely for his words.
I found myself looked down at the wood beneath my feet. I thought of the countless Disney movies I had watched as a child, the fairytale books I read under my blanket by flashlight, and the romantic moments my friends shared with their own partners.
"Or even if he was at a loss for words. They way they don't know what to say... it's so cute and life-affirming..."
My heart started to throb gently. Thinking about this hurt my chest. I was so envious of all of them, the way they had someone to hold, someone to call their own. Meanwhile I was cooped up surrounded by fantasies written simply in ink on paper. I was surrounded in fiction because I had no power to make it reality. I wasn't the girl people wanted in reality.
"Because of all the phrases in every language there's no just comparison they can find to their feelings towards you."
I looked back up and my eyes caught the work of Oscar Wilde.
"Yes, if I were to fall in love, I think it'll be his words." I pulled the book off the shelf and turned to him with it in my hands.
The way his gaze fell on me was something I had never experienced before. His mossy eyes were glowing softly and his lips were tipped upward in the shadow of a smile. He looked awestruck and entranced. My cheeks grew warm under his sight, I glanced away.
"That was beautiful," he murmured. "And the most poetic explanation I've ever heard."
My face grew warmer. "Here, I'll check this out for you." I moved passed him.
As I did our shoulders brushed and I felt a warmth seep it's way into me and spread through the rest of my body. I had never felt something like this before. I stopped in my tracks and looked back at him from the top of the stairs. He was gazing at me in the same surprise I was looking back at him. There was a rosy pink dusted across his cheeks. I broke my gaze away and returned down to the register. His footsteps soon followed after mine.
We exchanged no words over the counter as I rung up the price and he handed me the bills in his pocket. We said nothing as I headed to the back room and returned with his jacket that had mostly dried. We barely looked at each other as I handed him the small plastic bag that held his Oscar Wilde novel.
"A-Ah, thanks," he mumbled, putting his jacket on and taking hold of the bag. I could only bring myself to nod in reply. I pulled an umbrella out from behind the counter and held it out to him.
"Here," I glanced out at the rain beyond the windows. "You're going to need it."
As he took hold of that as well our fingers brushed against each other and I felt another surge of warmth slip into me. My heart jolted into a quicker pace. He fumbled and almost dropped it. His face was crimson. He didn't look at me as stammered another 'thank you' and began walking towards the door. I watched his back and glanced at the empty air that stood beside him. As he reached the door I felt something in me push my voice out.
My stuttered farewell resonated through the air of the store and the air around me suddenly felt too warm. But I watched as he stopped moving and turned around to look at me. A grin blossomed on his face.
Winter had now settled in and I began to notice how often he came in through the door. Granted, I realized that I was always watching for him, waiting for his arrival. His visits became like clockwork, every day at the same time. But as soon as I would see him enter, I would lose him among the stacks of literature and I would never see him leave. The times I relished were the times when he was buying a book. We barely exchanged conversation, but occasionally he would ask me for recommendations. I would always point him in the direction of the balcony, in response a smile would always creep onto his face before he would go. That was the extent of our talks now, it was nothing compared to that rainy night, but I was okay with it.
Lately, he hadn't been coming in. I assumed that it was because the holidays were soon approaching and he had familial things to take care of. He didn't have time to come here. Regardless, his absence made me a bit sad. I had hoped to see him before the holidays.
"Darling, did you already make some more hot chocolate?" My mother asked as she stepped behind the counter while I leaned on the front of it.
"Yeah, there should be plenty for everyone now."
I looked back out to the middle area of the store where people had gathered and were sitting in various chairs, their attention pointed to a single person sitting on a stool. It was the monthly readings the bookstore held to support young writers in the area, most of them from local high schools. Writers, young and old, were always encouraged to share their works—poetry, prose, essays, whatever it was. Teachers often came with recommended students. Over the course of the evening, I recognized as few faces from school.
"Looks like a good crowd tonight," my dad walked up beside me and leaned onto the counter as well. "Lots of people are buying books, too. Business is looking good."
My mother and I smiled at him. She went into conversation while I simply looked back at the crowd of people. Suddenly, a familiar dark-haired boy rose from a seat and took his place on the stool. With my interest peaked, I tuned in my ears to listen to him.
"A-Ah, what I wrote isn't as fancy as everyone else's," his voice shook. "I'm no good at this sort of thing, but I hope you like it anyway."
He looked down at the piece of paper in his hands.
"Words, she says. I'll fall in love with his words, she says."
Every moving organism in my body froze and felt colder than the frigid air that tumbled outside. He continued on.
"At first, I don't understand it. How can you fall in love with someone's words? Words are just letters put together. Words are just meaningless things on paper. I don't understand it."
I found myself leaning forward.
"Because... I don't know words. I don't like words. I like math. I like numbers. I like the feeling of catching a baseball in your glove and the opening presents on my birthday and I like getting an A on a physics test I didn't study for. Those are the things I know."
There was a small murmur of laughter. I was smiling.
"I don't know words. But I want to know them. I want to know the words she's talking about."
I stared at him.
"I want to know the words she's read. The words she's talking about. The words that she indulges herself in every day. The words that make her laugh. The words that make her smile. The words that make her heart beat fast. The words that surround her. Because when she walks she runs her hands along the spines soaking in all the words through her finger tips. I want to know the words she knows."
My heart was beating uncontrollably.
"So I spent days on days throwing myself into these words. These words she's come to love. His words, her words, their words, new words, old words. Words, words, words. But I still don't understand. I don't get it. These words go over my head and I'm drowning and drowning because I just don't understand. I don't know words."
He no longer stared at the paper in his hands. His fingers had stopped fidgeting. He was staring straight at me.
"But I do know her. I know that she likes to talk to her cat. I know that when she dusts she hums to herself. I know that after she sneezes she taps her nose twice. I know that she smiles when she reads Shakespeare. I know that she likes to stand in the sunlight. I know that she's not tall enough to reach the top shelf. I know that she likes to dry hair. Those are the things I know."
I brought my hand up to my mouth. My heart felt like it was going to burst.
"Eloquently, she says. I know that I like how she says it. El-lo-quent-ly. I know that I like how it rolls off her tongue. I know that I like her eyes. I know that I like her smile. I know that I like how she moves so gracefully between bookcases. I know that I like her voice. I know that I like her voice when she says words. Any words."
I had started moving away from the counter and walked through the bookcases. My hand still covered my mouth. I wanted to cry I was so moved. I could still hear his voice between the shelves, my heart beating rhythmically in time with it.
"I'll fall in love with his words, she says. Even though I don't know words, even though I don't understand words, I think for her sake I can still try. Yes, for her sake, I want to fall in love with words, too."
The audience gave him a loud round of applause as I made my way up the staircase to the upper level. I turned the corner and pressed my back against the spines of Orwell and Twain, my breathing was heavy and I felt tears brimming my eyes. This wasn't happening. This wasn't real. I heard footsteps racing up the stairs and when I turned my head I saw him standing there, staring at me, slightly out of breath and blushing. I looked away from him.
"Were you really watching me this whole time?" My voice was a whisper.
"I always came here to study," he said. "And you were always working, you were always so interesting. The way you held the books, the way you turned pages, you loved every single word you saw and every word that was around you. Before I knew it, I was watching you from afar. I was entranced by everything you did. I wanted to talk to you, but I didn't know how. What the hell would I say?"
I stayed quiet and he took a step towards me.
"Would I have anything in common with you? What was there for us to talk about?"
He took another step.
"That rainy night I decided I wanted to start reading all the books you read. But all I really wanted to do was talk to you. Your voice..."
He was standing right in front of me now. I kept my gaze on the floor.
His hand lifted my chin up slowly.
"They were so much better up close."
His eyes glinted in the dim light. His face was so close to mine. His warm breath fell onto my lips like a soft fog.
"Shh," I whispered, barely audible. My eyes locked with his. "Enough words."
He pressed his lips against mine.
Among the spines of fiction I had engrossed myself in since a child, I felt the ink of my own words and letters, the ink of these figments of my own imagination, tumble into reality.
They tumbled ever so eloquently.
This was based off a poem I wrote, in regards to a conversation I had with my friend. I enjoyed writing this, I really did. I've always loved the world "eloquently," it just sounds amazingly graceful. I apologize for any mistakes you came across, it's been a long night. I hope you all enjoyed this!
Happy reading and happy writing everyone!