As with many other things in life, Cliff found himself looking in from the outside. It was a constant state of being which he knew very well. As a young boy he'd looked in through the window of someone's house and wondered why the same affection and care were not bestowed upon him. Sometimes he'd looked through the window of a bakery, trying to figure out if the change in his pocket was enough for a pastry. In the army he'd looked through the metaphorical window of his fellows' interactions and felt displaced in his own squad. He had become an expert in looking in from the outside, and shushing the intemperate wailing of his soul when the visions before him became overwhelming.
As he'd grown and matured he had learned how to observe these situations and let go of them.He'd gone into the film industry and found a job almost right away. Well, that was not entirely true. He had languished in agony for hours on end after returning home, but once he'd found a job as a stuntman things had started to look up.
He was not much of a reader, either. Then again he didn't need a vast knowledge of the Russian classics to keep his job. No, that need didn't present itself until one rainy day in which he'd been stuck outside with no car and no money in his pocket. He'd sought out refuge in the closest building, and was surprised to see it was actually a library. Soaking wet and feeling like he did not belong there, Cliff had wandered towards the window in order to be as unobtrusive as possible. That was when Tolstoy changed his life.
You'd been carrying a box with books ready for the shelves when you'd seen him looking out. The man was just...standing there. One of the library's policies was to be as warm and welcoming to visitors as possible to help them get acquainted with the library and hopefully gain a new patron. The more patrons a library had, the more books were loaned, and the more secure the library became in terms of economic grants. A library that did not fulfill its role was at huge risk of being defunded. So you went to fetch a tea towel from the staff room, and brought it back to him.
"Hello," you said, offering the towel to him. "Awful weather we're having."
Cliff had looked shocked, and he'd accepted the towel with wide eyes. He didn't know what to say. After all, it wasn't everyday that he fell desperately in love at first sight. Not knowing what to say or how to act in such a place, he tried to gain time by drying himself off as best he could with the towel. Then he saw the books you'd placed on a nearby table. "Tolstoy," he read aloud. "Those yours?"
You shook your head, still smiling. "No, they belong to the library, but they're one of my favourites." You went to pick up the leather-bound tome and offered it to him.
Cliff held the book in his hands, and opened it to read the first line. All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Cliff knew that for a fact. He looked at you. "What do I have to do to borrow this book?"
He hadn't known it was possible to feel as happy as he did when your face lit up. It looked as though he'd offered you a thousand dollars. So he'd gone and loaned the book. After three weeks he'd come back to the library and got another one. And then another one after those three weeks were up. He read like a man possessed, between shots, at home, while smoking, while eating. The faster he read the faster he finished a book and the sooner he'd get to see you again. He very quickly read all the books in the Russian literature section and then moved on to American literature. Each book allowed him to speak to you, and each conversation eventually became more and more lengthy until he was chatting with you for hours, following you around as you shelved books, and from time to time helping you reach the highest shelves.
It was Virginia Woolf who eventually shattered the last remaining boundaries of his heart. I see you everywhere, in the stars, in the river, to me you’re everything that exists; the reality of everything. Cliff had closed the book and stared in awestruck silence at the vastness of his tender affections. For the first time in his life he was in the inside, looking out at the world with wonder, rooted in the unshakeable belief that never had there been a man luckier than him. He increased his visits to the library, first going once every two days, and then going everyday. He carried boxes of books for you, and learned how to fill out forms for patrons just to have an excuse to help you. Just to have an excuse to stay.
He knew it could not last forever. Something had to give, and either he would be broken, or he would be free.
You were both reading at the library when he decided to make his move. It was after hours, and you were both indulging in the silence and peace that the late hour granted you. Cliff placed a bookmark on his book and looked at you, his hand travelled across the table and he placed it on top of yours. He gave it a squeeze. For how long had he yearned for this? How many nights had he talked himself out of doing this very thing? You were not the type of person who chose a man like him. And yet, his flaws had been laid out in this table many times before. You had never once pushed him away. Now, perhaps he could dare to try.
“I care,” he said, his voice rough at the edges. “I care very, very much.”
You smiled, and brought his hand up to your lips. You kissed his knuckles, then turned it over and kissed his palm.
“I know, Cliff,” you replied in a soft voice.
“Let me show you my world. Let me talk to you about everything I do and everything I’ve seen. Let me come home everyday to you.”
You smiled, and Cliff’s hand closed around yours, strong and warm.”Sounds like a plan.”
And it was.