Rhys loved his job because he was a librarian, or more specifically a bookstore librarian. Which meant he also sold books as well as lending them out. It meant he was able to create a space for children to read or play and he didn't have to worry about telling them to be quiet. He could also make study areas that allowed food as long as they cleaned up after themselves. Only once had he ever had to revoke the rule because someone kept leaving their garbage lying around, but it had stopped quickly. The people who came in always seemed friendly and not turned away by his missing arm or slightly blind eye. They were always warm and kind. And beyond that, he loved the smell and the feel of books. He loved the rows and rows of knowledge, loved knowing that he participated in helping others find worlds they could get lost in. But what Rhys loved most about this place was that it brought him here.
The man was taller than Rhys by a couple inches, something that was hard to do. Rhys was tall and gangly, while he was tall and broad and toned, but with a softness that a year or two of inactivity brought. His hair was dusted with age, but age had never been a problem with Rhys. Not that Rhys was saying he was dating the man, no, he’d actually never met the man and had certainly never spoken one word to him. And yet, he knew that the man kept his pencil in his mouth when he was excited about his work. Or when he read, the pencil was firmly in his ear. He whispered to himself as he wrote his notes and fanned the corner edges of a book through his fingers. Or how he wore pretty much the same outfit everyday. Faded jeans, a yellow shirt, with worn Converse sneakers. And depending on the day, he wore either a jacket or his lab coat. Rhys particularly loved him in the lab coat. He also always drank coffee, but always disliked the taste. He would scrunch his face up and chug it fast and then bitterly toss it in the trash.
Which had gotten Rhys thinking. What if he brought this handsome inventor the coffee he made himself every day for work? It was a simple cold brew mixed with just the right amount of creamer. It was nothing special except for the fact that cold brewing the coffee kept the acidity down, which made the coffee richer and smoother. He wanted to see if such a simple change would help the man like coffee better. But it had taken Rhys weeks to get the courage to make enough for the both of them. The man was confident, a force to be reckoned with and what if… What if he didn’t like Rhys? What if Rhys just pissed him off and yelled at him, or worse, stopped coming to the library?
So, that was why Rhys had ordered a large water at the coffee place on his way to work. When he got to the library, he dumped the water out and poured in his coffee. He set it in the fridge to stay cold. The man didn’t come in until ten o’clock and it would only be an hour until he forced himself to finish his coffee. Rhys had seen the container enough to know he always got the sugariest and creamiest drink. He liked it sweet, but it was obviously too much for him, even if he didn't know it yet.
Busying himself with his work, Rhys waited. He stacked books, put them away, and helped children find their favorite picture books. He was glad they weren’t put off by his disability. They were always fascinated by the fact that he had one arm. When they would ask him about it, he would always dramatize some epic battle. It was always different. The children loved hearing his stories. Especially when he would jump from table to table, fighting off every foe. Then, he would go back to his job, checking in with them as he went.
Today, though, as Rhys passed the literature section, he saw a young girl, sitting in the aisle. She had a thick braid over one shoulder and a book in her lap. She was in a sun dress, her flip flops set next to her. Rhys had never seen her here before.
“Hello,” he said, making his way to her.
Startled, the book fell from her lap. She covered her mouth. “I’m sorry!” she said, her voice breaking. She quickly grabbed her sandals and slipped them back on. “I’m sorry! They- they’re just so uncomfortable…” her voice trailed off.
Well, this just wouldn’t do. This little girl was obviously from a rough home. Rhys kept his smile warm and sat down across from her. The girl eyed him, her crystal blue eyes worrisome. Rhys pulled his shoes off one at a time. He stretched his legs and wiggled his toes under his socks. They were blue with gold stars.
“Ah! That’s better!” he set his shoes next to him. “You can take yours off too. It’s okay. This is a safe place, especially to feet.” He wiggled his toes again.
It took the girl a long moment to decide if Rhys was safe enough. Rhys was happy to wait. He readjusted his socks and she watched him, eyeing the bold patterns.
Rhys smiled. “I don’t know why, but I’ve always loved these kinds of socks. They’re fun and the world is already such a serious place. I like to think they add a little spark to my day.” He leaned in and whispered. “The adults are always frowning at them, so sometimes I purposefully roll my pants up, so they’re easier to see.”
This got the girl to giggle, but she covered her mouth as she did. She grabbed her sandals and took them off, leaning forward to put them next to Rhys, taking the time to make sure they were even and lined up perfectly. She blushed when she realized what she was doing and quickly moved away, embarrassed.
Rhys smiled. “Don’t worry about me, I love when things are tidy, that’s why I love working here. My name is Rhys, I run this place. And the number one rule here is that this is a safe place where you can be yourself all you want without getting into trouble,” he winked at her. “As long as you don't disrupt others too much.” She giggled once more. “The second rule is that having fun is absolutely allowed and sometimes required.”
She cocked an eyebrow at him. “Required?”
He nodded his head gravely. “Oh yes, sometimes the rule must be enforced and so a punishment for being too serious must be implemented.” He leaned in to whisper again. “Candy, or freshly baked cookies or cupcakes.”
“That’s not a punishment.”
Rhys shrugged. He picked up the book she’d been reading. “Wow, this is really advanced…” he looked at her, hoping she would tell him her name.
“Angel,” she said.
He nodded. “This is really impressive. Do you enjoy reading these types of stories? I know personally, literature books can be boring sometimes.”
Angel cocked her head and thought about the questions. “Not all the time, but yeah, a lot of them are boring, but they’re all my dad has in our house.”
Rhys tapped his finger to his chin. “Well, we are in a library or sorts that has a lot of different types of books. Hmmm, I wonder… I’ll be right back.” He stood and left the aisle.
And there was the man. The man Rhys was supposed to give coffee too. The man Rhys watched every day. He stopped in his tracks. What should he do? He wasn’t going to leave Angel, but he didn’t want to miss his chance. If he could be quick about it, he could get the coffee and the book and not be gone too long.
Quickly, he went to the back office and pulled out the mixed cold brew out. He went back out and peaked around the area the man was at. He was concentrating hard on his work, mumbling to himself. Slowly, Rhys made his way to the man. The man with two different colored eyes and a tattoo around his right wrist. The man who had become a night time fantasy for Rhys. He stood right next to him now, Rhys' heart was beating a million miles an hour, but he focused on setting the coffee on the table as quietly as possible. Once the cup was on the table, Rhys, very quietly, but very quickly, got the hell out of there. He ran around a corner of an aisle and turned to watch. It took a long minute before the man reached for the coffee and drank from it. He sipped it some more, drinking it greedily.
Rhys smiled, his heart floating above the clouds. The man liked his coffee! He was swirling it, sipping it, his Adam’s apple bobbling deliciously. Rhys turned from the sight. He had some place to be right now. He went down the aisle on his way back to Angel.
She was reading once more and she jumped when she heard him, but this time, she relaxed a little as he sat back down with her. He handed her the book he’d grabbed.
She looked it over. “The Hobbit?”
Rhys nodded. “It’s really good. It’s a fantasy tale. It’s funny, fun, adventurous, and, still literature. Give it a try when you’re finished with that book. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to read it.”
She nodded, reading the back.
“Well, Angel, I have to get back to work, but if you need me for anything, don’t be afraid to ask.” He stood and looked at his shoes. “Will you make sure no one steals my shoes, Angel?”
She smiled and nodded.
Rhys thanked her and took hold of the cart he’d been pushing. The rest of the day passed by quickly. Rhys forgot about the world around him, forgot about the man for a while and even forgot that he was by the man’s table. Forgot that he’d worked hard to avoid it so as not to be noticed. He always saved this area for when the man was gone, but today, with the accomplishment of having made Angel, the skittish girl laugh, Rhys was in high spirits.
Jack, however, did not forget. He’d noticed the man the moment he’d wheeled the cart in. The librarian who danced to some song he was singing to himself, his hips shaking from side to side. And what a glorious sight that was. Jack had noticed this particular librarian as he passed by one day and had made a habit of coming here instead of his office to work because the librarian was extremely easy on the eyes.
Jack had been writing down notes from a reference book when he’d seen the librarian come around the corner. Now, it was beginning to become hard to focus, especially the way he moved. It had taken Jack a long time to realize he liked the librarian and the atmosphere this man created. It was comfortable, easy- going and safe. The librarian was cheerful, something that was lacking from Jack’s life, and he was amazing with children, which was the most important thing of all.
Except for today. Today, the most important thing was trying to remember if he’d ordered a second coffee. He didn’t remember doing it, but he did get caught up in work easily, so he could have. But he didn’t remember ordering something so wonderful and delicious. It was the best coffee he’d ever had. He hadn’t even registered he’d been drinking it until it was halfway gone. And when he had, he had finally looked around the library for any sign of who’d given it to him.
But he hadn’t found any answers. So, he’d taken his time to drink it and for the first time in months, had taken his eyes off work to watch the goings on in the building. And that’s when he saw the librarian greet a little boy and help him to the children’s section. When the boy pointed at his missing arm, the librarian had just laughed and gestured wildly, spinning some tale about a shark. The kid then made a large mouth out of his arms and chomped at the missing arm. The librarian, his cries quiet, but loud enough to satisfy the boy, fell into a chair and collapsed. The boy clapped his hands and the librarian sat up, his smile wide and perfect.
And now, finally, the librarian was working around Jack’s area and Jack could let his eyes wander. The librarian was slender, his features soft and now horrified. The librarian had turned and realized where he was, standing in front of Jack. Now, he was staring at Jack with wide, terrified eyes, frozen in his stance.
Jack, not sure what to do and not wanting to scare him away, waved and gave his most charming smile he could. “Hey, cupcake, need a hand with those books?”
The librarian’s eyes grew wider, his face reddened and he turned abruptly, walking away stiffly and awkwardly. For a moment, Jack sat there, feeling disappointed and unsatisfied. Then, the librarian came back for the car, but he bumped into it and ricocheted into Jack’s table and started to fall. Instinct took over Jack and he reached forward and pulled the librarian into his lap. The librarian stiffened against him. They sat there in silence for a long moment. Oh, yes, this was much more satisfying.
Jack smiled wide, unable to help himself. “Hey, I’m Jack, you’re quite the catch. What’s your name?”
The librarian’s eyes widened. “Uh… R-Rhys… I-I like your hair- face- body- everything too...” If it was possible, Rhys’ face grew redder.
The smile on Jack’s face became wolf-ish. Rhys’ Adam’s apple bobbed nervously. Jack’s eyes fell on it. “Oh, I think I like everything about you too, Rhysie.”
Quickly and suddenly, Rhys lept from Jack’s grasp. He stood, backing away from Jack. He only stopped when he bumped into the cart. He reached for the handle. “Uh-y-yeah… nice- uh I mean hot- I mean yes, I mean-“ Rhys stopped abruptly and pushed the cart past Jack and around the corner of the book shelves.
Jack stared after Rhys for a long moment, trying to comprehend what had just happened. He would need a good few hours to pour over all the chaos of the last ten minutes. One thing was fur sure. He was going to be taking a long, hot shower tonight and his thoughts would be of nothing but Rhys. He’d take one now if he didn’t have work to get back to. Roughly, he ran his hands through his hair and tried to focus on his work.
It was definitely harder to concentrate than normal, but finally, Jack was able to and once again got lost in his work. He only looked away once he felt a tug on his arm. He looked at his daughter. The light of his life. The person he’d fought tooth and nail for. Had walked through hell and back for and had finally gained full custody of her. She was safe and away from her mother now. Though she still exhibited traces of that horrible place and it always broke Jack's heart to see her like that. And then it infuriated him because he should have done something to make sure she'd never been able to step a foot in that house.
He smiled at her. “Yes, Angel, dear?”
“It’s after five.”
“Is it?” Jack asked stretching back in his chair. “And I take it you’re hungry?”
“Staaaaaaarrrrrrvvvviiiiiiiinnnnnnnggggggg!” she said, hanging on his arm.
Laughing Jack hoisted her off the ground with his arm. She laughed and wrapped her legs around his torso. Jack began to pump his arm like he was exercising. “Oh, yeah, kiddo, I’m getting so strong!”
Angel tightened her grip, trying to stop him. “Noooo!”
Jack collapsed back in his chair, Angel sitting on his slap. He wiped his brow. “Phew! Jeeze, you’ve gotten big!” Angel giggled. Jack smiled. “Okay, help me clean up and we’ll stop at your favorite restaurant, Le Meilleur.”
“Dad! That’s your favorite place!”
Jack thought for a moment. “No, no I specifically remember you telling me you always want to eat there.”
“I did not!” Angel said, rolling up the large plans of whatever Jack was working on. He held the tube for her to put them into. “I’ve never said that before in my life!”
“Okay, okay, where would you like to go?”
Angel thought for a long while as they cleaned up. Jack noticed she had two books stacked together. One was a book from their home, the other was one he did not recognize.
He nodded to it. “What book is that, Angel?”
She beamed at him. “Rhys gave it to me to check out. He says it’s really good!”
Jack stopped. “You talked to Rhys?”
“Yeah! He’s really funny! And he wears weird socks!”
Rhys had talked with her. Rhys had made her laugh. He hadn’t seen Angel laugh with anyone other than himself. Ever since she’d been taken by her mother, she’d lost that light in her eye and he’d done his best, but without him always there, it was hard. That was one of the reasons he’d fought so hard to get her. He’d contemplated everything shy of murder, though it had been tempting. But here she was, not even a week away from her mother and he could see that light back in her again. And he was guessing Rhys was part of that.
Angel burst out just then. “Fiiiine! We’ll go to Le Whatever.”
Jack pumped his fist. “Yesss! I knew that was your favorite place.”
Scowling at her father, Angel crossed her arms. “It is not! I just couldn’t think of any other place to eat. You did that on purpose!”
Shrugging, Jack picked his things up. “Of course I did. It is my favorite place after all.”
“That’s so unfair! I’m picking the next one and it’s NOT going to be that place!”
Chuckling, Jack held the door open for her. “Okay, kiddo.”
Rhys was mortified. What the actual hell had he blurted to Jack?
His name was Jack.
The man he fantasized about.
Jack who liked his coffee.
Jack who had caught him after he’d become a clumsy idiot.
And Rhys had blathered and bubbled all kinds of stupid nonsense. What the hell had he meant by liking his everything too? Too. As in Jack had said it first and Rhys had replied. But Jack hadn’t. And then he’d basically told Jack that he’d love to bone him.
A strangled groan escaped Rhys as he fell dramatically onto his bed. He was such an idiot. And yet, he was pretty- no. Absolutely sure Jack had flirted with him. Right? That’s what flirting looked like? Rhys wouldn’t know what it looked like even if it beat him up. But he did remember that rasp Jack had gotten during their encounter. It had zinged him right in the gut and had stayed there, warm and heavy. It was enough to fuel him for a good long while.
Oh yeah, their encounter had been better than Rhys could have ever imagined. Jack was sexier, charmier, and betterier than he had thought. And his strong arms had engulfed him and Rhys had lost his mind deliciously.
And had made an absolute fool out of himself.
What the hell had he even said? He was too devastated to remember. He hoped that this didn’t destroy any chance he had. Not that he actually had a chance with Jack. He’d screwed that up today. At least… At least Rhys could still bring him his coffee…