If you haven't read part 13, do so here. Or you can start from the beginning.I revel in my quiet rebellion. It had begun inadvertently; my morning tutor had recently moved to Ohio, and Mr. Hale had indulgently asked me what I wanted to study next. Ordinarily I would have continued with English literature, but what I told him was, "I would like to resume French, please, in order to read L'Histoire d'O in its original form."
A student from the local university, a French girl from the Loire Valley, was hired to teach me to read, speak, and write in French. Though my reading and writing skills progressed rather slowly, my speaking ability is, as Elodie claims, "almost adequate." I learned that she was rather homesick, and was eager to converse with anyone in her native tongue. On my way to the new coffee shop I practice on my own: "Salut, mon ami. Ça gaze? Tu me manques."
Hey, friend. How's it going? I miss you.
A branch of the public library was nestled in a set of remodeled brownstones. I passed it every day on my way to get a cup of tea at the new coffee shop. I imagined I could smell the paper and ink of the thousands of books in there, so many of which whose subjects had nothing to do with sex and submission. After a week and a half of debate I mustered my courage and went inside, using unspent coffee money to purchase a library card. After two months of daily visits to the library the employees there know me by name, so it is not as difficult for me to request employment as it would have been for me in any other situation. Initially the librarian was hesitant, I could only work for one hour and forty-five minutes per day, but in a rather uncharacteristic, brash move I convinced her to give me a trial period.
She told me that she was only hiring me because it would give her something to stare at during the day. I blushed profusely, which delighted her to no end, which in turn cause me to blush even more. She pinched my cheek; after all, she was more than old enough to be my grandmother.
It was almost too easy. I nearly resigned as soon as the librarian acquiesced, Mr. Hale's conviction of my "unmarketable skills" bandying about in my head. I am not good at anything but sex, I wanted to say, but felt that I should keep such information private.
Not a week after I have begun my official paid duties of shelving books, in late April, Brandon walks into the library. At first I don't see him. I am intent on proving to the librarian that hiring me was a prudent decision, and so make every effort to be fervent in my duties. I am unsure of how long he as been leaning against the shelf, watching me. I do not realize he is there until he shifts and softly exhales, "Hey, Tucker."
My eyes, I know, must be wide as my heart drops into my stomach and my pulse begins to race. It takes every modicum of control in my body to force a casual response. "Hey."
Brandon grins lopsidedly, clearly uncomfortable, and pulls his hat from his head. "Sorry, was that creepy? It felt kind of creepy, but you looked pretty involved, so I didn't want to—" He halts his speech, twisting the knit cap in his hands. "You work here?"
Breathe, Tucker. "I only started a week ago." It's hard to look at him without feeling terribly ashamed of myself, so I fiddle with the books on my shelving cart. "Mr. Hale doesn't know, but my boss is going to show me how to set up a bank account." I don't know exactly why I reveal this bit of information. Maybe I want to prove that I am indeed on the road to normalcy, or not as pathetic as I seemed when I followed Mr. Hale home.
"Yeah, she's really nice to let me work here since it's not for a significant time period."
"It's just during the coffee-shop-slash-book time?"
A pregnant pause swells between us, my brain tripping over everything that I want to say to him. I sneak a glance at him. I wish we could go back to when neither of us really knew better than to think that we could never work. My lips and my hands are trembling.
"How is school going?" I finally ask if only to have something to say, just so he'll talk to me instead of staring morosely at his shoes.
"Pretty good so far. I magically ended up with a four-point last semester, so my parents were really pleased."
I nod vigorously. "That's formidable. Congratulations."
"Thanks." His gaze drops again, and he shifts his weight from foot to foot.
Oh god, but it hurts to see him when I know I can't have him. It's too soon for me to have pulled myself together, before the wounds from our last exchange have healed.
"Hey, Tuck," Brandon finally says, slowly and carefully. "I did some calculating, and I asked the manager at the coffee shop, and if you..." he trails off, rubs a hand through his hair and looks at his feet again. I want to touch him so badly that I have to shove my hands into my pockets. Brandon takes a deep breath and everything seems to tumble from his mouth.
"I know that you're still with Mr. Hale because you think you don't have any other options, but my roommate Derek moved out, since he graduated last semester, and we could use someone else to help out with the rent, and if you worked full time at the coffee shop you could pay for rent and a couple of night classes here and there, and they'd totally hire you even if you don't have a high school diploma, and are really good about raises plus you get some tips." He takes a breath, "And so if you want a place to stay and a job you could come live at my place, and if you wanted you could work full-time here, since they'd probably let you, and even if you don't I have enough money saved and invested, you know, to support myself and, well, someone else, you know, for a while until you get settled, or started, or whatever."
He falls silent, twisting his cap again.
I'm dumbfounded. My fevered brain processes and reprocesses his offer in stunned disbelief. The urge to say yes, to allow Brandon to shoulder my troubles for me is so powerful that I cannot speak for a few moments. I'm floored and overwhelmed by his generosity, his thoughtfulness, and a bubble of something like hope swells so fast that I feel lightheaded. I want to throw myself upon his mercy, to beg for him to rescue me from the shambles I have made of my life. The niggling voice in the back of my head reminds me that if I do, I'll never learn to stand on my own. I want never again to be anyone's burden.
"I can't," I burst out, and the heads of several library patrons turn curiously in my direction. I blush, lower my voice, and feel my heart twisting at the dejection clear on Brandon's face. "What I mean to say is that I would love to, more than anything, but it isn't fair for me to do that to you when I'm still..." Still what? I resist the urge to flap my arms in wordless demonstration of my inner distress. Why am I worth your time? I wish I could ask.
"Wow," Brandon says quietly, a sad smile on his face, "he really did a number on you, didn't he?"
I nod miserably. Brandon's expression says that I should have known better than to let myself become trapped in such a tangled web. My head agrees.
"Well," Brandon says sadly, "if you ever change your mind, you know where I live."
"Hey," I call before he turns around. "If you want, you can stay for a little bit and help me put these books back." It's hard to say, but I do it. "I've really missed you."
His woebegone grin would be comical on anyone else. "You make it damn hard to get over you, Tucker Jones."
Brandon picks up a book, glances at the spine, and shelves it. He grabs another, puts his book bag on my cart, and wanders over to the next aisle.
Though my stomach is in knots for the rest of the day, I also can feel a small smile lingering at the corners of my mouth.