This week for our “Making Out in the Stacks” feature, we’ve got an exclusive short for y’all. This comes from Mary Ann Rivers and is a lovely little treat for this holiday Monday
“Hey,” he said.
He was tall, all lank.
From my low spot at the desk I had to look at him one part at a time. The wallet chain at his hip, his complicated layers of sweater and canvas jacket and scarf, the stocking cap pulled to dark eyebrows.
“Hey,” I said.
“I found you.” He looked around at the shelves closing in around my desk. “Pretty sure I found you.”
“Who were you looking for?”
He unhitched the messenger bag from his body, pulled out a green card, handed it to me.
“You need a bone box.” I looked at him again. He didn’t really seem like a first-year med student. I didn’t know who did, anymore, I guess, but this guy looked like he should be halfway through his set doing something complicated with a guitar and anguished with his voice.
He had rocker hips.
I usually told the patrons to sit down on the chair that was right behind him, but I wanted to see what it would be like to walk with him back through the stacks.
“Come on,” I said.
I stood up, and he followed me down the aisle behind my desk.
Walking with him was nice. He walked close, smelled good. When he pulled his stocking cap off, his hair was a mess of flattened curls.
“You ever get creeped out?”
He had been looking around at the stacks as we made our way to where the bone boxes were shelved. Anatomical models of all kinds were lined up on every surface.
Eyeballs as big as globes, brains that came apart down the middle, hearts skewered on rods nestled into desk stands.
Skulls with no skeletons, grinning everywhere.
“But you used to?” He stopped in the middle of a row filled with ears.
“I did. It’s quiet up here, and kind of dark.”
He looked at me and I looked at him and all the ears listened.
“You just get used to it, then?”
“No, not really. I started drawing a comic.”
I don’t know why I told him that, this medical student who looked like a rock star. I just wanted to.
“Can I see it?”
He shoved his hand in his pocket, the ears were looming behind him, as surprised as I was by his question.
“Yeah. I like comics.”
“It’s not like a Sunday funnies, ha-ha comic. It’s like a graphic novel kind of thing.”
“What’s it about?”
He shoved his other hand in his pocket and kind of leaned forward on the balls of his feet. The curls of his hair were springing out, one at a time, from where they had been pressed by his hat, and he must have noticed I was looking because then he reached up and ran his hand through all the curls.
They looked soft.
“It’s about when I became an aunt.”
“You’re an aunt?”
“Yeah. My nephew is fifteen months. My sister had him all by herself, and I was her labor coach. We live together and I help her out.”
He was interested, I could tell. I didn’t know why—I didn’t know if he liked the looks of me, or could tell I liked the looks of him, or was really into graphic memoir, or what.
“I would like to see it. If you’d show me.”
“Okay,” I said. If he wanted, he could sit with me at my desk for a while, after I checked out the bone box to him, and look at my notebooks. It seemed like he would want to do that.
“The boxes are just over here.” He followed me to a low row of shelves. I pulled out the bone box, which was really a black, hard-sided suitcase.
“That’s it, huh?” He took the case from me and set it down on top of the shelves, worked the latches with his musician’s hands. I guess maybe they were a surgeon’s hands, something like that.
He opened it. The bones were rested in their compartments, and a zippered bag in the corner held the skull and mandible.
“They look real,” he said. He traced a finger along a femur.
“They’re reproductions. You can check out a human skeleton, though.”
“I heard that.”
He was still looking into the case. Sometimes touching one of the bones.
“You ready to take it up front? I have to scan the tag.”
“Are you a student?” He asked.
His brows had furrowed, and he rested his hand in the open case like he was protecting the bones from exposure.
“No. I just work here. I graduated a couple years ago with a MFA.”
“And you’re drawing a comic? Making art?”
“I think so.”
This was one of the most confusing conversations I had ever had, but I didn’t want it to end. When I looked closely at his face, his mouth, I realized that there was a tiny hole, maybe where his lip had been pierced. I imagined him with a thin sliver loop there, glinting over his lower lip.
It seemed right.
Seemed more right when he pushed up the sleeves of his jacket and I saw the edges of tattoo sleeves that kissed his wrist bones.
“You’re in med school?” I asked, but didn’t need to. He had a green card for a bone box.
“As of Monday.”
“What kind of doctor do you want to be?”
“You like kids?”
“I like patients who aren’t sick because of something they did to themselves.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, because there seemed like there were a lot of questions I could ask, and all of them would be their own graphic novel. Instead, I stepped over to shut the bone box.
He was close, then, closer than he had been. His lean hip touched my waist as pulled the case shut.
“How’d you get your hair dyed in all the rainbow colors like that?” I felt him touch a lock of hair at my shoulder.
“My sister did it. It took all day.”
When I looked up, he didn’t move his finger from the hair at my shoulder, and I was standing close, and he still smelled so good.
“Would you mind if I asked for your number?”
I hadn’t ever been asked straight out like that for my number, it made everything turn over way down low in my pelvis in a way that felt so good, I knew I was blushing.
“I wouldn’t mind,” my voice sounded strange in the quiet.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone, and I reflexively pulled out mine.
He gave me his number, without my asking for it, and when he read off the numbers, he stepped the last step into my space to look at my screen as I typed them in. I hovered over the keypad when the curser blinked on Contact Name.
“Aaron. Aaron Painter.”
“Dora Kay,” I said. Then I gave him my number and he put it in carefully, showed me the screen so I could check to make sure it was right.
We put our phones away at the same time, but he didn’t step back.
“It’s quiet back here,” he said.
“I used to bring music and headphones,” I said. “But now I like the quiet.”
This close, I could definitely see that the little imperfection at his lip line was a hole from a piercing. When I looked into his eyes, to ask, he was looking at my mouth.
For no reason, I don’t think, exactly, except there was that hot, heavy flip in my pelvis again, the tingling rush between my legs.
“Could I kiss you?” He asked.
In my imagination, all the ears on all the shelves came tumbling down in a huge crash of plastic and plaster from the shock of his question.
“What?” I asked, even though I knew exactly what he had said and had already said yes in my head, but I wanted to hear him say it again.
“I’d like to kiss you. If that would be okay. It’s just when I look at you, I want to, I want to kiss you, and I just thought I’d ask. It’s not, like, something I’d normally just ask straight out like that. But it’s so quiet up here, and on Monday, everything in my life will be so crazy. So I just wondered, if you’re not doing anything right now, if you’d consider kissing me?”
Yes. I said inside my head again. Yes yes yes.
He wasn’t kissing me yet, though, so I think I had to actually say it, out loud. Yes. The idea of saying yes out loud to him, in this quiet and private space, as an answer to his question, made the flips go crazy, all over, made my breath short and my breasts tight.
But I had to say it.
Saying it would feel almost as good as a kiss.
“Yes,” I said, and got hot all over with pleasure, this amazing pleasure. He rubbed a hand over his mouth, and when he pulled it away I could see he had been trying to rub away a smile.
He cupped my shoulder with his hand, barely touching, and I wanted to say yes again because just that, his hand on the cap of my shoulder, made me wet.
I felt his breath, first, and it was a surprise. It was a surprise that he breathed, that he required all the normal human things I did, because the way I felt in the deepest parts of myself didn’t seem like some regular person could have started them up, just like that.
Like he did, with his question.
Could I kiss you?
His mouth was better, though, soft where his bottom lip touched mine and pressed, and I almost forgot to kiss back because my whole body and brain had been kissing him back before he had even touched me, already.
When I did kiss him back, though, his hands came over my face, and I curved my own over his wrists.
The kiss was more like kisses than a kiss, one after the next, almost getting deeper, but not quite, almost slowing to one, long, searching kiss, but not yet.
His hands told me he wouldn’t stop, he’d get there, we could have these kisses first, for as long as we needed them to decorate the quiet, to consent, to give in, to say yes.