Chapter 1: I'm sorry, how many scones was that?
I've loved this library since I was young. When I wasn't at Watford with my mum I was here amongst the shelves. I could tell you where any book was, even the ones in the nonfiction section where they were sorted by obscure numbers rather than author. I stopped coming once she died. It was too much to be here with the smell of parchment and the echo of laughter long forgotten. Now it's become my home, my sanctuary.
I started working here during uni as a way to get by, and I never expected to drop out to stay full time. But the library was going to close and I couldn't lose what I had left of my mother, so here I sit.
I remember the day Simon Snow walked through the doors to this library. A frazzled boy, clearly overwhelmed, whose only purpose was to purchase a dozen scones from Penny's bakery.
Penny and I met in uni. She's a PoliSci major, and absolutely infuriating at times. She helped me get through two years of uni and supported my decision to drop out altogether. Now she works in the bakery.
She'll talk about this Simon Snow every now and then, how he's forgotten to water the plants or buy the eggs or lock the door. They share a flat together. I told her he sounds like a right numpty, but she laughed and shook her head.
"He's really quite sweet once you get to know him. An utter disaster, but still wonderfully sweet."
I honestly don't know what Penny sees in Simon. I could never live with a bloke like that. Then (of course) the most beautiful boy I’d ever laid my eyes on walked through the doors, with his flushed cheeks and messy golden hair and sweaty forehead (he had to have ran here) (definitely ran, he was panting like a dog on the sun) (how would one put a dog on the sun?)
"Morning, Pen! A dozen scones and a black coffee, extra cream and sugar, please and thank you!” Penny shook her head and laughed under her breath.
A dozen scones, really? And yet his ribs appeared to be poking out ever so slightly.
“Oh, Simon. What am I ever going to do with you?” Simon grinned and handed her the money for the scones and stuffed the change into his pockets. He must’ve heard me ‘tsk’ at him because he turned around and locked eyes with me (a lovely shade of blue) (not cornflower or teal or cerulean, just plain blue) (I could stare into those eyes forever), and before I could help it I felt a slight blush tint my cheeks. I flashed him a glare to cover up my embarrassment and looked down at my computer.
“Don’t mind Baz, he’s just a grump.” Pen handed him the scones and coffee. “Remember to get milk before you get home,” she added.
“Alright mum ,” he teased, biting into a scone. “I’ll get more butter too, yeah?” I could see the slight crinkle in Pen’s nose and brow as a few crumbs flew from his mouth, and I couldn’t help but frown as well. I wasn’t surprised that this was the Simon Snow that Penny had spoken of, but I never expected him to be quite so lovely. That certainly changed things.
Simon comes in more often now. It’s always a show when he does. Last week, he spilt coffee all down his front. On Monday he dropped his scone on the floor, and yesterday he knocked over the carousel of featured novels. He never comes in twice in a row, and seeing as Pen’s not here, it’s even more surprising to see him stumble in around noon.
“Good afternoon, Basilton!” Simon smiles brightly, and it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to scowl in return.
“Snow,” I reply coolly in return. “Why have you decided to bother me today?” You aren’t fazed by him , I remind myself . You are not going to kiss the mole on his cheek. This is merely a casual drop-in.
“I, ah, came to set up a library card, actually.” He grins sheepishly and rubs the back of his neck. “Campus library is a bit distracting.”
I roll my eyes and duck behind my desk for a moment, emerging with a little plastic rectangle. “You’ll have to register in the database but then your card will activate,” I explain, turning my computer around and placing the keyboard in front of him. “Just fill out the form.”
Simon nods and taps away silently (as silently as one can, anyhow) (it’s a rather dated keyboard, I must admit) (I prefer the thick buttons over the small ones on newer models) (the clicking noise is similar to the clicks of the typewriter in my flat). I allow myself exactly ten seconds to let my eyes roam his face while he’s so close. As usual he’s gorgeous, the twat. He’s doing this thing with his teeth and his lip and it’s infuriatingly attractive. Before I can even realize I’m still staring, Snow clears his throat gently and turns the monitor back around. “Is that all?” he asks, and I nod.
“Your card is registered. If you need help finding a book I can look it up in the catalog. Books are due two weeks after checkout, and there’s a computer lab in the back of the nonfiction section.”
Simon nods and smiles again, then shuffles away from my desk with his new card. I already know he’s going to get lost or break something. He has yet to trip over anything and that worries me. He’s making his way to the lab and any damage done in there will be catastrophic. Merlin and Morgana, he’s going to give me an ulcer.
He’s giving me this look again. Not quite disgust, not quite utter distaste, not quite anything really, but almost something. But he wasn’t giving me that look when I was registering. That was something softer, gentler, kinder even, until he saw me anyway. He seemed so apathetic and disdainful then. But now that he knows I’ve seen him he doesn’t bother being discreet. I can feel his eyes boring a hole through my head as I walk away, and there’s something sinister in the way he looks at me now. Something predatory that makes me hunch into myself like he’s going to attack, even though I know he wouldn’t (right?). It’s a strange feeling that sends goose pimples rippling along my spine.
I wind up checking out a novel about this Harry Potter bloke and a series of research papers on the medical benefits of learning music theory. Basilton reminds me that the books are due in two weeks (“Not three, two. Two weeks. No more.”) and sends me on my way with another of his stares.
Penny’s sat at the island in the kitchen with her glasses perched low on her nose when I get back to the flat. She’s poring over a research paper in front of her like it’s a mission from the Queen. I don’t think she’s heard me come in until, without looking up, she clears her throat and greets me with a tired “Hi, Simon. Did you have a nice time at the library?”
I set my books on the counter and sit. “He called you, didn’t he?”
Penny nods. “Two weeks exactly, and he’ll be sending you a late fee the moment they’re due. Did you remember the eggs?”
“Ah, well, you see…”
Penny sighs and shakes her head, setting down the paper and turning to face me. “Simon, we’ve talked about this. You know you’re my best friend, but this is getting a little ridiculous.”
I can tell she’s tired by the sound of her voice and the bags under her eyes. She never tells me when she’s frustrated, it’s not like her. She’s too nice to me, I think. “I’ll drop by the Tescos right now,” I say, making my way to the door. “Do you want anything else while I’m there?”
Penny shakes her head. “But you’ll make dinner, yeah? It’d be really wonderful if you could.”
“Yeah, I'll try.”
It's a short walk to the Tescos, but that doesn't stop me from feeling the nip in the air. It's only 5° outside but with the breeze it feels closer to freezing. I wish I would've worn my jumper.
I know exactly what I need to purchase but that doesn't stop me from meandering aimlessly through the aisles with the eggs already in my basket. I snag three tubs of butter without thinking twice about it. They’ll be gone by Thursday anyhow, it never takes me more than a week to get through a few tubs. As I’m looking through the sweets a familiar face catches my eye. “All right, Basilton?”
He looks up from his browsing to give me a curt nod. “All right, Snow. Running errands are you?”
“Yeah, I forgot to get the eggs again and Pen’s right tired.”
I smile fondly. “As always. PoliSci, you know?”
“Yeah.” Basilton falls silent after a moment. “Yeah, I do.”
“Penelope, I’m back!”
I deposit the groceries on the counter along with my house key; it’s dead quiet inside. Penelope must be asleep finally. I toe out of my trainers and put away the groceries before heading to my room to read.
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much,” I mumble, the words floating off the page into my mind as if they too were made of magic. Reading aloud had always made sense to me. I can only retain the information if I hear it from my own mouth, and even then it’s hit or miss. I wonder how Penelope does it in her head.
After three chapters I mark the page and set the novel aside. It’s a bit late for me to be up reading if I want to drag myself to my Saturday morning music workshop on time tomorrow. I turn off my bedside lamp with a gentle click and allow sleep to take over.
Chapter 2: You want me to read Shakespeare?
In which Baz is the no-nonsense librarian who grows to tolerate Simon constantly returning his books days, sometimes even weeks, late.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Sunday mornings are always slow in the library. Students sleeping in, the elderly attending church, and the few book groups that would meet up never came on Sundays. So it’s a bit of a surprise when Simon Snow stumbles through the doors at half past nine, eyes wild and nose rosy.
“Hello Snow,” I greet. “Come to return your books already?”
“Just the one.” He places a novel on my desk carefully. “I didn’t quite like it as much as I thought I would.”
“Shame. It’s always saddening to see a series phase out of commission because its not the shiny new thing anymore.” I check Harry Potter in and set it on the cart by my chair. I’ll reshelf it later. “Too simple for you?”
Simon shakes his head. “Not enough actually. Maybe it was the plot itself, but I just couldn’t stay focused.”
Wordlessly I set a small book in front of him. “You might like this one.”
“Shakespeare? I’m not sure-”
“ A Midsummer Night’s Dream is classic and simple. You’ll like it.”
Simon hands me his library card with a little sigh and I check it out for him. This is what I love about my job: the recommendations. It’s wonderful to see the most reluctant of readers check out a novel and rekindle their love for literature because of it. It’s why I continue to come back every day.
“I’ll hold you to it.”
Simon takes the book with a curt nod and makes his way to one of the sofas to read. I allow myself ten indulgent seconds before standing, pushing the cart of assorted novels along as I go. “I’ll be in the back reshelving if you need anything,” I say, then leave him to his book.
I can’t recall ever being so lost yet still so enraptured by a work of literature. I’ve always been daunted by the idea of Shakespeare and plays, but it seems that Basilton knows my literary preferences better than I do. I ignore any and all questions that come to mind as much as I can before growing too frustrated to sit still. Before I can convince myself otherwise I stand and make my way to the back. “Basilton?”
He turns at the sound of his name. “Just Baz,” he says after a beat.
“Only if you call me Simon,” I counter, “but that’s not why I’m here. I, ah...” I clear my throat. “I’m confused.”
Baz sets down the book in his hand and gestures for me to show him the one in mine. I open it up to where I’ve marked the page. He studies it for a moment. “What don’t you understand?”
“This entire exchange. What power does Theseus hold that he’s able to decide how to punish another man’s daughter? Why would Egeus allow his daughter to die for disobeying him?”
“It’s the culture of the times,” Baz begins, then launches into a lengthy description of what exactly is transpiring in this scene. He’s breathtaking, I must admit. His eyes light up when he talks about what he loves. I’d be content to listen to him speak for hours.
I don’t realize he’s stopped talking for about four seconds. As soon as it dawns on me I nod. “Right. Thank you, Baz.”
“Of course, Simon.”
He was staring at me. I know he was because I was staring at him too. It feels like a faraway fantasy now, but the quickening of my pulse is certainly real. I make a note to recommend difficult works more often, to up my chances of having a moment like this again. For now, though, I have books to reshelve.
Snow comes back on Tuesday around three in the afternoon. He sets A Midsummer Night’s Dream in front of me. He’s almost out of breath. “What else?” he asks. I smile and stand.
“Come with me. I have a section I’d like to show you.”
I lead Simon into the corner where all the classic literature is located. Austen, Dickens, Shakespeare, Alighieri, Virgil, Homer, all the big names in the world of novel-writing. “The classics,” I say. Simon nods vigorously.
“You’ll be seeing a lot more of me now,” he laughs, and I can’t help but smile. I’d love to see more of him. I’d keep him here forever if I could. Naturally these things would have to end, though, so holding him hostage may not go down too well.
“I’d like that,” I say, and for a moment everything is perfect.
“Penelope, what do I do?”
“Well, Basilton, you could always ask him to lunch.”
I sigh and shake my head, momentarily forgetting that she can’t see me through her phone. “I don’t know. Doesn’t he have a girlfriend anyway? Amanda or something?”
“Agatha broke things off with Simon over a year ago. Come on, Basilton, give it a go! You’ll never know if you don’t ask him!”
Penelope is right, not that I’ll tell her she is. She already knows it anyway. But a little voice in my head is holding me back, a little voice belonging to one Malcolm Grimm. Oh Basilton, don’t be a fool. You’ll be better off with some small town farm girl .
“I’m just not sure, Penelope. What if--”
“No. Ask him or don’t, but you can’t wonder ‘what if’.”
I blink a few times before formulating a proper response. It’s not the first time Penelope’s stunned me silent, and it won’t be the last. “Alright,” I say eventually. “Alright, I’ll ask him when he comes by next.”
Word count continuity who? I don't know her.