Lemony is not sexually frustrated. As much as Beatrice loves to insist. He is not.
The man with the one eyebrow behind the barista counter does not catch Lemony's eye. No—the man with the one eyebrow behind the barista counter offends Lemony's eye. Lemony does not need to see an unsexy barista making his hot chocolate while he waits at the counter.
The unsexy man with the one eyebrow grins with all teeth when he hands Lemony his drink. "Lemony," he calls out.
Lemony almost wishes the man didn't know his name. "Thanks," he says, taking his drink and leaving.
Lemony is not sexually frustrated. If the man with the one eyebrow flits through his thoughts that evening when the lights are out and his hand is stuffed beneath his blankets, that's not his fault.
Lemony comes to the cafe again. It is in chaos; the barista with the one eyebrow had gotten at least three patron's drinks wrong. A woman is yelling. The barista seems unbothered.
"You're quite bad at your job," Lemony comments when he retrieves his own drink—piping hot, perfectly made.
The man with one eyebrow smiles at him again. "Thank you for the compliment," he says.
The man with one eyebrow does not have a good smile. Objectively.
"Yes," Beatrice says, when she comes to the cafe with Lemony once, "but that doesn't mean you're not sexually frustrated."
"Why do I share anything with you," Lemony says, as they reach the front of the queue.
There are sticky spots on the surface of the cafe. Beatrice eyes them and says, "I don't think I'm coming here again."
"I assure you we provide excellent service," Eyebrow Man says, suddenly coming over.
Lemony raises his own eyebrow. "Are we pretending last week's fiasco didn't happen?"
Eyebrow Man grins.
His name is Olaf. Lemony is not surprised. It's not a sexy name.
He is working on his tablet. No—he is pretending to work on his tablet. No—he is working on his tablet, in the corner of the shop, the one closest to the barista counter. If he sneaks a peek out of the corner of his eye every once in awhile, that's no one's business.
Olaf is laughing loudly with one of his coworkers. She's a woman named Esme. She's the reason Lemony knows that Eyebrow Man's name is Olaf.
Olaf . Lemony reconsiders.
Not a sexy name at all.
"Is that Anna Karenina ?" Olaf asks one day, as he wipes down the table in front of Lemony. Lemony is working very hard on reading and annotating his copy of the Anna Karenina .
"Yes," Lemony says. "This is the
Olaf snorts. "Stupid book. Waste of time." He wipes the already dirty rag on his even dirtier forehead.
Lemony's eyebrows furrow. "Have you read it?"
"I read half of it, then I threw it out my window!" Olaf throws his head back and laughs loud, open-mouthed, a cackle that echoes.
He goes back behind the counter. Lemony resumes annotating.
It's terrible, really, that his thoughts that night (with his palm beneath his trousers) are about Olaf laughing at his apparent history of throwing the Anna Karenina out the window. Really, Lemony thinks, as he wipes down his hand, he needs to stop having random thoughts during these times.
He gets to the cafe early the next day. It's not to see when Olaf's shift starts. Olaf is smoking outside.
Lemony frowns and pauses with his messenger bag. "That's a nasty habit," he says.
Olaf snorts. "What do I care what you think?"
Lemony rolls his eyes and heads inside.
Lemony goes over to his usual table, setting down his tablet. Olaf comes in after him; his friend Esme is already behind the counter and crows loudly in greeting.
He laughs and kisses her square on the mouth.
Lemony is tapping very hard on his tablet. He hears the loud squelch of pulling back, of Esme laughing and asking, "Why did you do that?" of Olaf shrugging and saying, "Because I felt like it." He smirks at Lemony on his way back behind the counter.
Lemony annotates and annotates and annotates. He leaves after a half an hour of working.
"I doubt Esme is dating him," Beatrice says, when Lemony brings it up casually.
"They kissed," Lemony points out. "People don't usually kiss unless they're dating."
"That isn't a universal truth," says Beatrice. "We kissed once, remember?"
"When I was still in love with you," Lemony says. They had been teenagers; they're adults now. It's different. "It's different," he says.
"They might just be good friends," Beatrice says. She shrugs. "Esme is in one of my classes. She behaves in a way that makes me believe she's single."
"You—" Lemony realizes. "You're pursuing her?"
Beatrice shrugs again. "If one can."
"Why do you smoke?" Lemony asks. They are waiting for the cafe to open. Lemony doesn't know why Olaf is the first, the only employee already here before a coworker comes to open up.
Olaf sticks the cigarette in his mouth. "It makes me look cool, don't you think?" he says, dark eyes twinkling.
Lemony says, "That's the reason?"
"Why not do something that makes you look cool?" Olaf says. "And it's fire. I'm breathing fire."
"That's not what smoking is," Lemony says. "It gives you lung cancer. And it's unattractive."
Olaf raises his eyebrows. "You think so?" he says.
Lemony is in the cafe again. Every so often Olaf passes by to call him a nerd. He threatens to burn his copy of
, and Lemony tells him to read
"More reading?" Olaf snorts. "No thanks."
Today the cafe is jam-packed with other university students. It's not out of the ordinary for Lemony to be here; even less so when Kit finds him and sits with him and talks rapidly about her literature class. Lemony nods along, engrossed.
Olaf accidentally drops a salt shaker in her tea as he passes by. "Oops."
"Why do you read," Olaf fires back at him.
Lemony can talk about this for days. He says, instead, "Because you are a good person if you have knowledge, and books provide an endless fountain of knowledge."
Olaf snorts. "Good person? Who cares? What about power ?"
"Knowledge can be powerful," Lemony says.
"Yeah," Olaf says, and pulls out his lighter. "So can fire. Can your precious books fight against fire?"
"Reading about fire can," Lemony says pointedly.
Olaf snorts and waves the lighter in Lemony's face. Lemony doesn't flinch. Olaf puts it away and goes back to smoking, burning grey.
Lemony's mind betrays him. It's been betraying him for a while -
He's been betraying himself for a while.
It doesn't matter that he gets all hot at the thought of Olaf, close close close to him, eyes as dark as the end of his cigarette. That the sharp jaw of Olaf's chin, what he might feel brushed against him, so close that Lemony is engulfed in his fire and forgets everything he's ever read, everything he's ever known. White white white hot and Lemony becomes a part of it, swept away in every inch.
He wipes himself down, and grimaces.
"We should go on a double date someday," Beatrice says. They're at lunch in the dining hall. Bertrand is sick and Josephine is visiting Ike.
Beatrice would only mention Olaf or Esme around Lemony, regardless.
"Who," he says, anyway, playing dumb.
Beatrice rolls her eyes. "Me, Esme, you, Olaf."
"No," Lemony says immediately. And, "Have you succeeded in pursuing Esme?"
"I'm still conquesting," Beatrice says, which is so barbarian that Lemony cracks a smile. "What about you and Olaf?"
"We weren't even discussing that." Lemony then frowns.
Beatrice smiles at him. "We can," she says, but Lemony returns to eating.
Lemony is making his way to the cafe when he hears the sirens.
He cannot hear anything, because he is going in the same direction; and when he sees the building, up in flames, his chest seizes in panic. It's a bright and grey morning, but the only person who would be near the cafe this early is Olaf, and Lemony's fingers are going numb, and there's a crowd, bright bright flames hot on his face -
"Are you gonna fucking say something now?"
Lemony turns, jams his mouth against Olaf's. "You," Lemony says, both panting, breathing hot, "stupid, stupid, stupid —"
Before he can get inside, there's a hand on his arm. Tight. Bony.
Mouth on his own.
Olaf tastes like smoke. It's the first time. He kisses like a viper. All teeth, and open, and Lemony doesn't know what's supposed to be intimate about kissing. Stubble brushes against Lemony's thick chin.
Lemony's mouth is pungent and bitter when he pulls back.
"What was that," he hears himself say.
Olaf's gaze flickers. "What was—" he begins.
Lemony clears his throat. "I'm not—" he says. "I'm not interested in you like—" He stumbles. His body is heavy, numb. He turns.
When Olaf kisses him again, why do you read at the back of his tongue, already spoken, sliding against Lemony's tongue, Lemony can’t think. He forgets about why he reads; now he only knows why Olaf smokes.
Olaf's fingers are spindly. On Lemony's hips. Lemony groans.
It is dawn. They are in public.
Olaf's hands are making their way to Lemony's back pockets when Lemony says, "You're not a good person." Olaf laughs.
"Really," he says. "Is that news to you?" He blows smoke into Lemony's mouth.
Lemony coughs. Pulls back. He's hard. Hard to breathe. "I need to—"
Olaf grins. "Are you proud of my hard work?"
Lemony pulls away. "Of course you're the one who—you fucking—"
"I know how to set fires," Olaf says. They're far away enough so no one else can hear. "To stay safe."
"To harm others?"
"No one was inside," Olaf says, as if this is a reassurance. It is. "And you didn't even—"
"I did," Lemony says. "It's—Why do you even—"
"Ask yourself that," Olaf smells like smoke. Everything does.
One of them says, "We should leave the scene of the crime." The other grins. Teeth. Bright.
So they do, world ablaze.