“I didn’t know you stock first editions.”
Dakin is back again, black shards dropping from his lips, shiny obsidian glinting and sharp.
“We don’t.” Irwin answers calmly, iridescent teal clouds trailing from his mouth to catch the pieces before they hit the ground, blunting the edges and moulding into little yin yangs on the bookshop’s floor. “I had them shipped in specially for you.”
Posner huffs in exasperation from his corner of the bookshelves and tries to concentrate on rearranging the Encyclopedias, wishing that they would at least take the conversation out of his line of sight.
Colours has always been an indomitable part of Posner's life. Every colour in the rainbow spectrum, spewing from lips and leaking from objects, solidifying in front of his eyes. To Posner, synaesthesia has been more of an asset than a burden. The joy of perceiving words, colours and shapes has made life infinitely more interesting, more so when people's personalities solidify and coalesce around his fingertips. Reading is an intensely kinaesthetic experience, and poetry especially so. There are untold pleasures in delving into another universe, one uniquely crafted by the author and his mind, a long lost treasure discovered.
The drawbacks, however, comes from watching horribly sappy exchanges like the one before him.
Dakin has draped himself casually over the counter, face leaning close to Irwin, leather jacket pressed against bare forearms. Irwin pretends not to notice his proximity, as per usual, and peruses his log book, a bemused smile on his face and a faint blush high on his cheeks.
Posner had once fancied himself in love with Dakin. It was hard not to, with the biker get-up, the smirks, and the glitter of black diamonds with the promise of danger and they drip from his mouth and pile around his fingers. Posner reckons that if he squints hard enough, he could just make out the specks of galaxies present between Dakin’s devil-may-care tone.
Dakin first set foot in the bookshop last April with his sensuous whirl of black that absorbs all and reflect none, a sharp contrast to their surroundings and Posner was instantly enamoured.
But after months of trying to catch up with the shrapnel burst of adrenalin Dakin brings, Posner finally wears himself out. There was no respite, no space where the hopeful grey of his words could meld with Dakin’s.
Akhtar, the owner of the cafe next door, became the patient listener to his increasingly moody rants, helpfully providing tea and sympathetic advice, the warm summer yellow of his tone puffing from his lips and wrapping Posner in an airy hug.
It all came to naught a month later when Dakin met the bookshop’s owner. Irwin finally returned from yet another hiatus to parts unknown, took one look at Dakin and never took another holiday since. Even Akhtar had commented that he had never seen Dakin try to impress someone so badly. Personally, Posner thinks that it's rather fitting that two cold hearted, repressed bastards would get together.
It’s rather poetic, watching the deceptively hard teal of Irwin’s words leaving their imprint in the star studded coldness. It’s the only permanent stain of colour in the fabric of Dakin’s voice and Posner, always a sucker for true love, can’t help but feel happy for them.
Besides, having Dakin around had catalyzed a transformation to the once quiet, plain bookshop. There is now a mish mash of furniture, arranged in a cozy circle near the display window and an array of cheap paintings artfully placed around the cramped shelves . Posters and quotes filled the corkboard that hung beside the door, providing a burst of rainbow whenever Posner glances that way. The metallic ring of the electric door bell has been replaced with a small, old fashioned bell, which is a huge relief for the dissonant knives that it emits has been the cause of many of Posner’s headaches. A cozy atmosphere pervaded the small shop, and it had done wonders in luring in customers in addition to making them feel more comfortable.
The bell tinkles as the front door swings open, causing a cascade of cerulean blue raindrops to puddle on the floor.
Posner perks up, It’s the new customer, Scripps, he said his name was, with his broad, honest face and a voice of the warmest blue.
Posner blushed at the sudden wave of warmth coursing through him and winds him way around the shelves to the counter. It’s quite pathetic, really, him being so eager to see a customer, one that doesn't even spend much money on the books here anyway.
He still fondly remembers the first time first time the customer comes, at the beginning of the month, when Akhtar had sent over a cup of jasmine tea with cactus honey for him to sample. The man didn’t so much as enter as vaguely wandered through the threshold, making a beeline for Posner, who was smiling quietly behind the counter at the surprisingly delicious tasting mug of tea.
Posner sees his voice before he even heard it. “Horribly sorry to trouble you, but d’you stock a particular book by George Eliot? I’ve been looking everywhere and it always seems to be out of stock.” The man slides over piece of paper, the steam of his voice winding around his fingers and misting on a table in a friendly manner.
“Hmm? Oh yes, we do. Wait a mo, I’ll get it for you.” Posner just resists reaching out to pass his fingers through the opaque swirls. It tends to freak people out when he does that. Stretching to retrieve a dusty copy of the book from a particularly high shelf, Posner turns around to catch the stranger looking at him with a strangely appreciative stare.
“Are you a big fan of Eliot?” he asks, handing over the tome, warm puffs of smoke signalling his practiced nonchalance.
The man smiled. “Sort of. Her writing has a style of its own, even if they are a little long and convoluted in places," his fingers caressed the spine. "She's got panache and a determination to be heard that makes her a force to be reckoned with. Wouldn’t want to get in a fight with her either way.” he laughs, warm and soft, and Posner stares in fascination.
He taps his finger on the counter, watching the indents it makes in the man’s blue and willing himself to think of something intelligent to say. “I prefer Evelyn Waugh, really. Her voice is a mix of curlicues and strength.” He blinks, realising too late that he had injected a little bit of his condition into the conversation.
“Curlicues?” The man leans against the counter, intrigued. “I’ve never heard that before. Fascinating.” A small frown appeared as he concentrated on the word. “Very fitting, though. That certainly does add a new insight to my readings.” He straightened up and held out a hand. “I’m Scripps. And you are…?”
Posner glanced down at the strong forearms and the dusting of fair hair across the knuckles, friendly curls of dark blue twisting from his fingertips. There is something about Scripps that makes him feel curiously calm inside. “I’m Posner,” he reaches out to shake Scripps’s hand, marvelling at his cautious grey dribbling from his lips and shyly lying next to the blue, overlapping a little.
“Posner.” Scripps grinned, teeth white and eyes crinkling. “Nice to meet you. Maybe I’ll bring my copy Waugh and we can talk about it?”
Posner felt a thrill of excitement run through him. “I look forward to it.” he said, voice spiralling in anticipation.
They had struck up a casual friendship since, with Scripps bringing in a book or a piece of poetry that they spend pouring over and discussing, happy to be in the other’s company. It never fails to amaze Posner how comforting Scripps voice feels, a metaphorical ocean of duvet he could wrap himself in on a rainy Sunday morning, cuddled next to a warm body, though to whom it belongs to, he dares not look too closely. He delights in Scripps’s sun drenched laughs, the navy of his timbre turning lighter in his happiness and always, always reaching out to twine around Posner’s head, making him smile like a fool.
Best of all, he loves the way reassuring way the sapphire knits itself between the threads of his slate grey smokescreen, allowing itself to be entwined with the liquid pooling from his mouth as Scripps leans forward to read aloud his favourite lines in low tones. It is as close to seduction as it gets, a slow spread of warmth and contentment, a stark contrast to the jet black cut of Dakin’s impenetrable facade or any of his other conquest’s awkward fumblings.
Introspective as always, Akhtar is the first to cotton on and needles him about it one day under the guise of a food delivery.
“The sappy looks you give him,” he says, shaking his head and taking a bite of his muffin, crumbs and yellow dots flying out of his mouth with his muffled chewing. “It’s worse than the one Irwin gives Dakin. You stare at him like the sun shines out of his arse!” Akhtar stops and looked mildly nauseated. “Unless his voice is really like that?”
Posner hits him around the shoulder with a copy of Byron. "Don't be ridiculous." He fingers the wrapper of his carrot cake. "He's, well, I'm not exactly sure how I feel about him, but he's no Dakin and I suppose that's at least something. One is quite enough for the world."
"Talking about me now, are we."
Curious lines of satin black snakes around his waist as Dakin sidles up to them. Posner rolls his eyes. Speak of the devil.
"Why are you always here? Don't you have an actual job and all?"
Dakin shrugs, smooth and practiced. "My business is just down the street. And besides, it's lunch break."
Akhtar cocks his eyebrow but pushes the last muffin over to Dakin nonetheless. "Shouldn't you be mooning over Irwin then?"
Dakin makes an indignant sound, bold exclamation marks partially hidden as he took a bite of the muffin. "I wouldn't call it 'mooning'. It's more of seducing, you know." At their scoffs, he continues, "And why are we focusing on me anyway? Shouldn't we be discussing the boy toy Posner's got, and the way they go about it in such a clandestine manner in his corner of the shop?" Dakin waggles his eyebrows obscenely at Posner's blush.
"We do not 'go about it'," Posner says, a dark grey puffs emitting in his irritation. "We merely talk about poetry and history, that is all. He does have very interesting views of matters, you know." He takes another delicate bite of his half finished carrot cake. "But don't let us draw the topic away from you. How's progress with Irwin?"
To his surprise, Dakin drops his eyes almost shyly, finger rolling the stray crumbs on the mahogany counter. "He's all right, I suppose. He’s grown on me" He's trying for nonchalance, but the discs of nebulae dipped in moss green dripping from his lips to settle in the wood told a different story. "Though, you'd best keep your mouth shut if you want to keep all your limbs."
And with the vague threat, Dakin swishes out of the shop, adjusting his suit, lunch break clearly over. Posner could almost see the droopy shadow of disappointment hanging from the corner of Dakin's mouth at Irwin's absence.
Akhtar exhales and pushes himself up, golden oil collecting around him as he sweeps the crumbs onto the empty wrapper. “Honestly, I wish they’d just shag already. It’d at least make the atmosphere a little easier to bear.” He bends to collect his coat and tray, straightening up again to level a gaze at Posner. “And you. Try to make up your mind on whether you want to kiss the Scripps fella, will you? I've seen the way he looks at you for the past eight months, and there's nothing platonic about it.”
And before Posner could fit in a protest, Akhtar turns to leave, throwing a sunny smile behind.
There’s a dull thud of dropping books in the backroom and Irwin’s head peeks out from the door, a look of mild confusion and uncomfortable vulnerability etched on his face.
“Sir? Are you alright?”
Irwin starts. “Hmm? Oh yes, yes. It’s just that I’ve never known Dakin is that way inclined.”
Posner tries to hide a smile at the muddled turquoise whirlpools of Irwin’s tone. “He’s always been that way inclined, sir. Don’t let his attitude fool you.”
Nodding absently, Irwin finally steps out as the bell tinkles, signalling the arrival of a customer. “Interesting.” The whirlpools are starting to calm and roll smoothly again.
Posner shakes his head and braced himself for another afternoon of cataloguing. It’s infuriating, seeing how oblivious two obviously smart people are. Picking a copy of Vonnegut from the fiction section, he perks up a little at the subtle flashes of light the words on the book cover evoked, heart beating just a little faster at Scripps's impending visit. Maybe he could discuss this with him.
Akhtar’s parting words are still ringing at the back of his mind, a soft rolling echo that still makes him feel strangely unsettled, but for the time being, the anticipation of meeting Scripps again is enough to drown it.
Dakin likes to think he’s subtle, when usually, it’s anything but.
And if the muffled shouting from the back room is any indication, he has long abandoned any notion of being discreet.
Posner bends over his copy of Rilke’s poetry, casting an apologetic look through his lashes at Scripps, who only looks slightly perturbed as he eased himself on the low counter to share the book with Posner. Usually, the close proximity would make him dizzy, but he’s too busy trying to concentrate through the angry jab of black spots caused by Dakin’s raging.
There is a moment of awkward silence coagulating in the air before Scripps attempts to break it.
“Err, they’re not usually like this, are they?”
Posner heaves a sigh, smoke bellowing out of his nose. “Luckily, no. We’d be out of business otherwise.” It’s one of those rare days where there isn’t a customer to be seen for the entire morning, even if the day was particularly sunny, light casting a warm glow over Scripps’s figure and stirring up the dust on the floor. He likes to think that people would rather spend today outdoors than reading. “It’s probably their way of figuring out that they really like each other. What with both of them being headstrong and all.”
Scripps huffs a laugh, sky blue clouds rising from his lips to rest on his head, casting a peculiar halo that Posner aches to touch. “Well, that’s one way to go about it.” He turns a page of the book after acquiring a nod from Posner. “Couldn’t they just try talking it out calmly? Anything with less shouting, really.”
“‘There are so many ways to love a man’,” Posner sings softly, and huffs a laugh at Scripps’s bemused look. “And that is the best way for them.” The black spots are starting to stab at his eyelids. “How would you go about it anyway?” he asks brashly. “Telling someone you really like them and all.”
Scripps drops his gaze, small smile rising at the corner of his lips. “Probably quote some Neruda at them.” He raise his head, sky blue of his words turning navy. “Take them on long walks if the weather permits." He turns his head at gestures at the sun drenched pavement outside. When he twists back to face Posner, the lightness of his tone has matured, oak deep and laden with meaning. "Otherwise, it’d be the couch at home, glass of wine in our hands, discussing about poetry or history or a combination of both.” Scripps words are deep blue with their honesty and earnestness. There’s intent in his eyes, dark and certain.
Posner could feel his chest going tight. “Yeah?” he whispers, low roll of thunderstorm grey twisting with Scripps’s ultramarine, wrapping them in a lovely fog and pressing him forward towards the other man.
Scripps shifts closer, fingers twisting in Posner’s “Yeah.” And he’s so close that their noses are almost touching, so close that he could feel Scripps’s breath against his own and if he just leans a little closer-
“BECAUSE I LOVE YOU!”
Screw Dakin, Posner thinks savagely as they spring apart. And screw Irwin too.
Scripps straightens his jumper and gives a shaky laugh, his voice rougher than usual. A blush is spreading down his cheeks to his neck and for a sudden, Posner feels a strong wave of affection welling in his throat.
"So, um, Rilke," Scripps’s words coming out in a staccato drumbeat as he desperately tries to change the subject. "Extraordinary poet, isn't it?"
"The way he conveys grief in such a compact manner does put some of the other longer, tear driven ones to shame, yes," Posner agrees, silver blending in his sentence as he tries to hide his amusement. Another long pause ensued as they tried not to notice how the shouting has turned into the soft thud of body hitting the shelves. Posner wonders idly just how many books will survive this. He begins again, hesitantly, "Do you- do you ever think of yourself as extraordinary?"
“Oh no, never,” Scripps replies, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. “I'm really very, very ordinary.” He looks down, bashful, peering up through his lashes, blue coating them in a brilliant compliment to his eyes. “Besides, it’s hard to think of much when someone else is already occupying your thoughts.”
It’s unexpected moments like these that catches up on Posner, rendering him speechless, and it always ends with them with their elbows on the counter, leaning close with wide, silly grin, broad strokes of baby blue lightened with his his lightening grey.
“I should be going,” Scripps steals a look at his watch and inclines his head apologetically, picking up his briefcase. After a moment’s thought, he darts forward and plants a soft kiss at the side of Posner’s cheeks. Before Posner could do anything more than give a small start of surprise, Scripps is gone, bell tinkling blue raindrops in his wake.
Posner is still smiling dreamily as Irwin and Dakin stumbles out of the backroom, lips red and suspiciously dishevelled. He could only look with a mix of smugness, slight horror, and a dash of giddiness from the kiss as they shared a passionate snog in front of him, soft mix of fern green and ebony swirling around their heads, before Dakin collects his coat to leave.
Tearing his gaze from Irwin long enough to catch a glimpse of the knowing look on Posner’s face, Dakin arched an eyebrow at the copy of Rilke still open on the counter before sweeping out in a whirl.
The bell tinkles again, blue raindrops dripping to the ground as Posner’s head shot up for the fifth time, loathing the way eagerness has wound his body up in anticipation for a certain man. Realising that it’s just Akhtar, he sags down onto his stool at his usual place at the counter, only to straighten up again when he sees the monstrosity the other man brought in.
“No food and drinks allowed on the premises!”
“Right. And the pastries and teas I bought don’t count?” Plunking the shiny new coffee machine down, Akhtar busies himself with pressing the tiny buttons and adding the coffee grounds.
“Fine. But no coffee allowed.” Posner makes a noise of indignation, slate grey rolls streaming from his mouth and prodding the infernal machine as he tries valiantly to shift the mountain of books scattered around the counter. “I don’t know why you enjoy the horrible drink. It taste like it’s been left out to stew for a few days and then seasoned with a pile of rubbish.”
Akhtar hums in acknowledgement, concentrated gold sparks flying as he tries to focus on the percolating brew. “That’s what you always say, but you’ve never once tried it properly.” He extracts a cup and push it towards Posner. “Here, try some.”
Perhaps it is the stroke of chance, or just sheer dumb luck, but Posner, in trying to reject the cup of coffee, waves his hand a little too enthusiastically and topples it.
Which lands directly on his favourite white shirt, staining it a dark brown.
Leading to Akhtar leaning over the counter,face unnervingly close to his, trying to soak up the stain as much as possible with a stack of napkins.
And through the haze of his dismay mixed with the saffron fog of Akhtar’s panic, he hears the familiar sound of the doorbell sees Scripps, standing shell-shocked at the doorway, blue raindrops cascading down on his hair and running down his face.
There's a flash of realisation, followed by a heartbroken stare as Scripps struggles to understand.
And then he's gone.
It's been three weeks, two days and five hours since the fateful incident and Posner is moping.
He pretends not to, but it doesn't take a person with synaesthesia to notice the rain clouds hovering above his head as he hums along to his favourite songs and goes about his work. Even Irwin, usually aloof and distant, is starting to worry.
And as absurd as it sounds, the world is a lot less colourful without Scripps’s words, his laughter, and his hue.
Surprisingly, it was Dakin who manages to jerk him out of his wallowing.
"You're pathetic," he says, slamming down an inch thick report on the counter, unapologetically wrinkling Posner’s copy of Waugh. Dakin has taken to completing his work in the bookshop in the evening, claiming the cozy atmosphere conducive for concentrating. And if his jet black words goes hazy and light with joy and fondness when he and Irwin goes home together afterwards, Posner chose not to mention.
"Right, and the half a year you spend chasing after Irwin with those puppy eyes aren't?"
Dakin tuts, flipping open the thick file. "You're avoiding the issue," the stern graphite of his coiling words matching his gaze. "You miss him. And I can bet on my grandmother's ashes that he misses you too."
Posner snorts, disbelieving thunderclouds rolling out. "Really?" he tries to concentrate on another paragraph, then realised belatedly that all it does is remind him of Scripps. "Then why isn't he back?"
"Because he respects you, you great dunce. I saw what happened. He saw what happened. And he's gentleman enough to give you space." Dakin taps the tip of his pen against Posner's nose, ignoring the irritated huff of magnesium shards issuing from Posner's lips. "And if you had any sense, you'd go after him to clear it up."
"Thanks, but I'd figure that much out myself," Posner remarks dryly, batting away Dakin's hand.
Dakin makes an incredulous sound. "Then why are you still here for?" At Posner’s pointed silence, his tone softens. "Listen, mate, this isn't like the infatuation you had on me. It's different, and you know it. And if you balls up and do what you're supposed to have done three weeks ago, maybe your panties won't be in such a twist."
Posner doesn't respond, but he doesn't push Dakin's work off the counter either. Instead, he closes his copy of Waugh and strokes its spine.
The nondescript white door and the dirty welcome mat seems to taunt him as he glanced down at the strip of paper clutched tightly in his hand, uncertain, as his fist poised to knock.
Posner had requested for Scripps’s number from Irwin the day before, voice muddled grey and cloudy, still with half a plan forming in his mind. Irwin had looked at him sympathetically and dutifully dug it out from a stack of book orders before patting Posner on the back in what he hopes is a reassuring manner.
He and Scripps had arranged to meet over the phone, and he had cringed at the way his voice is an octave higher than usual and the way Scripps’s voice sounds, tinny and false, through the receiver.
But here he is, the rose pink burst of his words scribbled at the back of a receipt, nerves frazzled and a jumble of ideas and apologies on his tongue. There seem to be no finite way in approaching the matter, so Posner finally, wretchedly, decides to wing it.
His knock sounds horrifically loud against his ears after only having his thoughts to accompany him on the trip here, wooden balls rolling from the sound to clatter on the floor. He waits, anticipation and the acrid tang of fear building as he heard movement within.
And when Scripps finally opens the door, he feels the knot in his chest unfurl as they stared at each other, Posner tracing Scripps’s face with desperate hunger and Scripps with an indescribable look in his eyes.
Scripps's house is neat enough, for a bachelor pad, with matching furniture and a coat or two thrown over the couches. An overstuffed bookshelf beckons invitingly and provides a mixture of hues as he brushes his fingers across the well worn spine. A fat calico cat lying resplendent on the sofa meows in recognition as Scripps gave it a scratch.
"Tea?" At least Scripps is nervous too, by the way his voice sends wobbly waves of uncertainty. Posner gives a tight nod and what he hopes is a confident smile and goes to sit near the cat. It sniffs at his hand curiously, but allows itself to be petted, its caramel brown of its purr calming him a little.
In so many way, this could go exactly as Scripps had described in the shop, except this time it's tea instead of wine, and a misunderstanding instead of a discussion and a passionate reveal.
As Scripps reenters with the cups in his hands, Posner considers how his life had come to this particular juncture. And then he thinks, fuck it, steels himself and speaks.
"I have synaesthesia," he blurts, setting his tea down and watching nervously as Scripps's cup froze halfway to his mouth. "And I see shapes and colours created from sounds and words and," he rushes on, seeing as Scripps was about to say something. "And all my life I have seen the world as no one has before. I've traveled universes through the books I've read, understood how ecstasy looks like and stared into the abyss of darkness. I have bounded myself in a nutshell, protected by the pages written by people long dead and my small group of friends, but you," Posner stares down at his hand, watching the slow grey swirls gathering in mass on his lap. "You, with your sun warmed smile and your downy words and the way you've fit so perfectly in the tapestry of our voices and I-" he takes a deep breath, willing up the remnants of his courage. "I think I'm falling in love with you."
There's silence, and then a soft creaking of springs as Scripps gets up. Posner braced himself for the inevitable. Perhaps he will be kicked out, be told too pushy, too forward or, worse of all, be told, in a sympathetic voice laced in cobalt blue, that he is sorely mistaken about his affections.
But instead what he got is Scripps hands enfolding his, half on his knees in front of him, face upturned and laid bare, his very presence alone lightening the melancholic grey.
"I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where," he recites, voice low and fond, curling from his lips around their heads. "I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride."
"So I love you because I know no other way." Posner completes, voice barely above a whisper.
The loudness of their silence reverberate, intensifying as they stared, breaths held, muscle tensed, on the tip of a fine line and Posner is falling, falling, falling...
"May I?" Scripps is barely touching his jaw, reverent and gentle, eyes glittering in the half light of the evening.
Posner responds by leaning in the rest of the way, pressing their lips together in an exquisite slide of lips. He's smiling too hard for the kiss to be proper, but from the way Scripps’s mouth curls around his, it didn't matter. He could feel his hand carding through Scripps’s hair, bringing them closer together, tongue tracing the inside of his mouth over and over, barely noticing the hand sliding around his waist. And with every gasp or moan reverberating through his chest, he could see the unlacing of sensual grey-blue, so intertwined, so blurred, there was no way to tell where one starts and where the other ends.
As they broke apart, his lips still chasing Scripps's, Posner reluctantly admits that Dakin and Akhtar might be right after all.
Later, Posner accepts Scripps's invitation to stay the night, mind pleasantly hazy with the wine and heart brimming with affection, curling up on Scripps's bed, with Posner tucked under his chin and a hand stroking the soft skin under his shirt, content to talk in between kisses.
"The accident you saw at the shop," Posner murmurs sleepily, wriggling a little as Scripps brushed a particular ticklish spot. "It was just that, an accident. I've never had any feelings of that sort towards Akhtar."
Scripps huffs a laugh, smiling a little at the soft press of Posner’s lips against his collarbones. "I'm sorry I assumed. Though, we'd have to thank him for it. If it didn't happen, we wouldn't be here."
"Don't," Posner shudders. "He and Dakin will gloat about it for weeks."
They lie in comfortable silence for a while, listening to the staccato rhythm the soft drizzle of rain makes against the window.
Posner had almost dozed off, with Scripps breath ghosting through his hair and eyes heavy from watching the small spouts of lavender from the rain, when Scripps asks softly, curiously, "How does my voice look like?"
Posner smiles lazily, pushing up to plant a lopsided kiss on Scripps’s lips. "Exactly like this," he murmurs, heart light and hopeful. "Exactly like home."