The library isn't grand. Silence blankets it all day long on most days. Neo absolutely loves it.
It's a job that he doesn't need given that his family's wealth could last him until he retires, but he needs to do something with his hands and he wants to earn his money just like other normal people. His only stable coworker, Mrs. Felice Andres, isn't so bad either. She's the epitome of a tita in every aspect of the word and Neo adores how mothering she can be. At times when he misses his own mother, Mrs. Andres is the one to take that missing spot in Neo's life. His best friend Mia also works here, though part-time compared to Neo who spends most of his days inside this library.
Today, as he replaces all the books in the book cart to their proper shelves, he spots the regulars of the library. There's Phil, a psychiatrist, doing his daily research. He drops by here most mornings to read or do papers, not in his office that's lined up with patients in the afternoons. Neo gives him a small wave when he passes by Phil's table and the physician gives him a bright smile in return. As Neo passes by the biology shelves, he spots Don in his usual table. Neo doesn't know much about him, except that he's here every Monday's, Wednesday's, and Friday's and that he likes reading about history. A quick glance in the corner affirms that Faye is there as well, doing her thesis as always. Her table is stacked with reference books and she has her laptop in front of her, typing away. Iya is also here today. They're not so much of a regular as the others, but they admitted to liking the peace and quiet of the library to focus on their job. They graduated with a major in IT, Iya told Neo one day, and they code for some small business. They're handy with technology, that much he knows.
Neo finishes fixing the books in one book cart and decides to take a rest before doing the other two lined up for him. He sits in his own little corner desk that's strewn with various sticky notes stuck to his computer and his blue eagle figurine. Mrs. Andres, seated at the next table, smiles at him like she's up to something. "Nakita ko kayo ni Phil kanina." she teases in a hushed voice.
It's been like this for the past few months ever since Phil became a regular. She always pushed for Neo to go out on dates with the psychiatrist and Neo always declined. Phil was nice, there was no doubt about it, but Neo just never felt attracted to the man. "Tita, hindi po talaga." he shakes his head.
Mrs. Andres is about to chide Neo when the door opens and a little girl about six years old is followed by a larger man, probably not much older than Neo himself. The child has her hair parted in two buns and has a bright smile so early on a Monday. The guy she was with, however, has tattoos all over his arms and looks like he doesn't want to be here at all.
"Hello po!" The little girl chimes loudly, her voice startling the few people inside the library. "Cess, inside voice." The guy warns her and gives everyone else an apologetic smile. The child named Cess nods obediently and turns to Mrs. Andres and Neo. "May I borrow a book, please?" She asks with such childlike innocence.
The old librarian gives her a hearty laugh. "Of course. What do you want to read, my dear?" She asks. Neo doesn't hear what the child says because he's torn between looking at the new guy and finding somewhere else to look at. Only one look at him earlier and Neo was obviously smitten by the swept back hair and green eyes. It didn't help that he found anyone hot wearing black clothing even hotter, and the guy was wearing a black shirt that complimented his inked arms—
Mrs. Andres's calm voice calls him away from his thoughts and his face flushes a little.
"Um, sorry." he apologizes and turns to the head librarian. "Yes?" Out of habit, he pushes his rectangular glasses up the bridge of his nose.
A frail hand touches Cess's small one resting on the desk. "Cess, this is Kuya Neo." she introduces the child to Neo. "Cess here wants to borrow a Dr. Seuss book. Will you please guide her to the ones we have?" she kindly asks his coworker.
Once his blue eyes land on the hopeful child, he couldn't say no. Well, he had no choice but to say yes anyway.
"Of course." Neo says with enthusiasm to excite Cess. He stands up from his seat and motions her to follow him. The little girl is excited to follow along with her brand new library card and a pen she brought. "Kuya, let's go!" she demands and lets the entire library know that she's with her brother. Neo turns around to see Cess holding the guy's hand and drags him along. His eyes meet Cess's brother's green ones, and he wills himself not to melt and continue going to the children's corner of the library where little chairs and tables are.
Neo bends down in a squat to look for any available Dr. Seuss book they have. "Let's see what we got here…" he says, pulling out a few copies of some Dr. Seuss books from the low shelves. "We got Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and Fox in Socks for now." he reads the titles of the books.
Cess hopefully looks at Neo, waiting for him to hand them over to her. "I want them all, please." she pipes up.
A chuckle comes from her brother, and Neo thinks it's such a sexy chuckle and chuckles aren't even supposed to be sexy. Neo laughs too, lighter this time, and hands them over to the expectant child. "Do you like reading, Cess?" he asks curiously. He receives a bob of her head in reply and a small "Yeah."
Neo's still crouching on the floor and he looks up to see Cess's brother looking around the place. He admits to looking at the tattoos again a little longer than necessary before he turns to his customer. "We have a group reading every Thursday at 4 called Thursday Tales." he tells her. "It's like a book club where I read to kids like you. Do you want to drop by?" Neo invites.
Cess looks up at her brother and tugs at his hand. "Is it okay, Kuya?" she asks.
Said brother obviously wasn't paying attention to the conversation. "What?" he turns his attention back to his sister. Cessie's equally green eyes (that mirror his brother's) roll in her head, too sassy for such a young child.
"Kuya Neo says he has book clubs ng Thursdays and I wanna go." she informs him, but smiles toothily at the idea. Neo doesn't correct her, because he thinks she gets the general idea of what's going to happen anyway.
A vague shrug moves Salle's shoulders, and Neo's eyes land on the tattoos again. "I mean, you got nothing to do, so why not?" he tells his sister and diverts his attention to Neo, finally.
The brunet stands up and fixes his crisp blue polo. He doesn't know why but he feels he has to keep up a good first impression. "Ah, summer break?" Neo asks conversationally.
"Yeah." is all the brother gets to say, and then he's interrupted by Cess.
"Kuya, help!" Cess whispers from her spot on the small chair. She's filling up her library card with the personal information needed. Neo thinks he's done his job well today.
He sees Cess again on Thursday, just a little after one o'clock, and she's carrying the three books she borrowed on Monday. Once again, she's accompanied by her brother who's wearing a sinful grey tank top that shows off all his arms' tattoos. Neo thinks it's odd to see such a man in this kind of environment who looks like he'd rather be in a gym (those muscles indicated that much) but then again he thinks he shouldn't be one to judge.
While Mrs. Andres takes care of Cess's returning books, Neo is busy admiring her brother and picking a book to read for later. He trains his eyes away from that slicked back hair and those tattooed arms because he needs to focus on choosing between reading a classic or modern story to read for Thursday Tales.
"Can you be any more obvious, Anthony?"
Mia's voice startles Neo out of his ogling. He turns to his best friend with an embarrassed scowl on his face. "Shut up." he says and looks at the books in front of him instead. They're not as attractive as Cess's brother, but that's not what he gets paid to do. "He looks like trouble." Mia says, watching the tattooed guy say goodbye to his sister. Neo turns as well, just before the guy leaves, and he sees Cess claim an empty table for herself at the children's corner. He then looks at Mia, clearly annoyed that he got caught staring. "I have a job to do and so do you." Neo reminds her.
Mia snorts and goes to the opposite side of the bookshelf Neo is facing. It's quiet in their spot of the library and Neo can still see his friend through the several books separating them. "Yeah, and we don't get paid to have crushes on cute guys." She tells him and places a couple of books on the shelf between them.
The brunet's lips quirk in a smirk. "So inamin mo na cute siya." he taunts.
Mia doesn't even hesitate to fire a taunt in return. "So inamin mo na may crush ka." she raises her brows at Neo where they can easily see each other through the space between the books. This grants her a shake of his head and a defeated mumble of "You're impossible, Aquino."
Time trickles by and the children that often drop by the library come one by one as Neo sets up the place with several pillows and his own chair in front. The first to arrive is Addie, being dropped off by her mother as usual. Cess, being the only child in the library for a while, is happy to see another person of her age. She's quick to chat up Addie and introduce herself. Neo is also aware of how quiet Addie normally is. She's not much of a talker, Cess learns that within five minutes of attempting a conversation. It's not that Addie is closed off, she's just a very shy girl that's hard to break. But Cess pays no mind and lets Addie be quiet as they draw on papers on the same table.
A little after 4, Neo finally sees most of his regular children are present and he spots a few new faces as well. So he takes a seat on the chair and starts his spiel. "Hi, I'm Kuya Neo and welcome to Thursday Tales. Today—"
He's not usually bothered by the door opening and closing when he does the reading. Sometimes, Phil leaves later than usual or Faye goes out for a snack break. Sometimes a new person walks in to borrow a book and Mia assists them. But the newcomer who walks in isn't really a newcomer because Neo is all too familiar with those tattoo sleeves already.
Cess's brother, who Neo earlier found out was named Salle from a conversation with Cess herself, is surprised to see the crowd of children in front of Neo. They lock eyes for a brief moment that stuns Neo in his seat. Salle is the first to blink away to talk to Mrs. Andres at the front desk while Neo clears his throat to avoid looking any more suspicious in front of the kids. God he can only imagine how he looks like right now.
"Um, today we're reading In the Butterfly Garden by Philippe Ug." he starts off, showing the book's front cover. "This one is a pop-up book so I think you might like this one."
With that, he starts reading the book out loud to his crowd and the spell is cast. He entices them with every flip of a page, watching the story of a caterpillar develop into a butterfly through the books pop-up art. It's not often that Neo gets to engage the kids in a book like this, because usually he'd have to use different voices for different characters and get the kids to repeat what he said. But the pop-up book made his job a little easier today and he adores the look on their faces as he unravels each art between the pages.
Once Neo reaches the end, the kids have that dazed, elated look on their faces after every reading session. As always, he asks what their favorite parts of the story were and he gets the same answers, mostly. The spell is broken, and they all talk amongst each other while Neo casually watches on. From the corner of his vision, he sees Salle sitting on a table typing on his phone.
"Kuya Neo, can I borrow more books?" Cess asks from his side. Neo immediately turns to her with a smile, pushing his glasses up his nose. "Yes, of course. Have you returned the Dr. Seuss books you borrowed nung Monday?" He asks, his hands gliding over the cover of the book in his lap to give his hands something to do. Cess's ponytail swishes in the air as she nods. "Yep!" She says, popping the 'p' on the word.
Given the place's near-silent atmosphere, Salle's voice cuts through most of the hushed voices of the children and the sound of pages being turned. It's a deep voice that matches his aura and physique and Neo tries to not let it get to his head. He's heard him speak before, but GOD. He doesn't think he's appreciated it this much.
"Tara na?" Salle motions for Cess to come over and leave with him. The child looks displeased. "Wait! I'm gonna borrow more books." She says, half-jogging to the front desk. She doesn't even bother to take her shoes from the cubby and slip them on her feet, her feet in socks padding from the rubber mats on the children's corner to the waxed wooden floorboards of the library. Neo follows along, but remembers to put on his shoes, to assist her in looking for her library card. "Wear your shoes if you're not on the mats. You might slip." He warns the child and eyes her feet only protected with socks. The library has rules about keeping shoes off the provided rubber mats at the children's corner and Cess forgot about the following rule to wear the shoes once you're on wooden floors.
"Ayan. Ginalit mo na yung librarian."
A chill runs through Neo's spine as he fishes out Cess's library card to take. Mrs. Andres seated behind the front desk laughs at the remark because not once has she seen Neo get mad at children over the few months he's worked here. "I'm being careful naman eh." Cess adamantly replies and plucks her card from Neo's hands. She makes a dash back to the children's corner where she scours for her next books to read.
Salle watches on and leans on the front desk. With him being so close to Neo, the librarian finds it hard to avoid looking at him. It's all Neo wants to do because the guy has his arms crossed and one of the tattooed arms is dangerously close to touching Neo's own and Salle looks so casual and relaxed and laid-back and why is he so illegally hot? And why is Neo fawning over this guy so much when he's clearly out of his league? There's Salle, who's a spitting image of every bad boy stereotype out there. And there's Neo, who unfortunately is also a spitting image of every library nerd stereotype out there too. "I'm sorry about her." Salle speaks up, his voice deep. "She can get a little…" he trails off.
Neo waves a nonchalant hand, not really minding whatever excuse Salle has for his sister's behavior. Sure she's energetic, but she's still a child and most children he handles are like that. Cess is polite and charming after all, much like her brother who Neo is definitely not pining for. "It's fine, no harm done." He replies with a shrug.
"Salle." The guy smoothly lifts a hand between them for Neo to shake. It surprises the librarian that after all this time, he's only introducing himself just now.
Neo doesn't tell him he knows Salle's name because his sister spilled the beans before.
He's too stunned at the interaction to even form a proper reply and it's a second too late before he shakes the offered hand awkwardly and laughs. "Sorry, uh, Neo." He smacks himself internally as he introduces himself and takes his hand back, but not before noting how warm and firm Salle's grip was. He gives him a once-over, like he's regarding Salle's presence. Play it cool, Loyola. "You came early." Neo notes.
There's a sheepish look on Salle's face with a matching smirk. Neo wants to fling himself off the ground for having feelings similar to a teenager having crushes for every cute person in the world. "Akala ko kasi the reading ends at 4. My bad it apparently starts that time." Salle explains even though he doesn't owe Neo one. Still, he thinks it's a dorky move.
Neo can't help the slight laugh that bubbles inside him. "It's okay." He doesn't say 'I'm glad you stayed' even though he really wants to. That'll sound creepy.
It's Mia who assists Cess in filling out the library card this time when she gets confused again. It's also Mia who walks the little girl to the front desk and gives Neo a sly look. Being best friends who knew each other's language by facial expressions had its advantage, because Neo gives her a look that screams 'cut it out' in the most threatening way his passive look could muster. Mrs. Andres stamps a couple of things, most importantly the books' 'due by' dates. And that's the end of Neo's pining for the day.
"Bye Ate Mia! Bye Kuya Neo! Bye Tita Felice!" Cess bids as she leaves. Salle gives everyone a little smile and a wave of his own. The door is barely shut before it opens for a guardian to pick up their child, reminding Neo that he still has a job to do.
Neo sees Salle and Cess more in the following weeks. He sees Cess regularly, on Monday's and Thursday's, and sometimes on Friday's as well. He also admits he likes Cess's company. It's new to have a regular kid come around to visit. Several times she's asked if she could help Neo with returning the books to their shelves and Neo never denied her requests. He feels a little bad sometimes that she coops herself up in the children's corner without much people to talk to. And he voices that opinion out loud while she keeps him company one Monday afternoon.
"But I like reading." Cess simply replies, her focus more drawn to her drawing. She's sitting across the table from Neo, the same table for the adult's section where initially children aren't allowed to be in. Mrs. Andres made the exception for Cess when she noticed how lonely the child must be in the children's corner while Neo slaved in the larger bookshelves.
Neo looks up from his work. He's in the middle of replacing old plastic covers of books with new ones to preserve the books' covers. The glasses he wears are pushed up his nose again. "I know." He smiles, remembering how she filled up her library card last week down to the last blank space and had to staple a new one to her old card just to continue her progress.
"What do you do when you're not here?" Mia asks from her seat next to Neo. It's her day off today and Neo knows she's here to see if Phil's around. Much to Mia's dismay, the psychiatrist wasn't around for her to bat her eyes on so she resorts to pestering Neo instead.
Cess picks a different color of crayon before she replies. "May soccer ako every Tuesday, then I go to Mama's office every Wednesday." she innocently says. "Sometimes Kuya Salle gets too lazy to drive here pag Friday because Ate Asia comes over. I don't like being stuck at home, it's boring." She further adds. Neo pauses from making a clean cut on the plastic cover and Mia's thumbs hover over her phone.
Shit. "Is she your Kuya's girlfriend?" The older girl quickly asks with a coy smile. Neo throws her a glare. "That's not any of our business, Mia." He sings through clenched teeth, a smile forced on his face. If Cess gets any sort of hint about him liking her brother, Neo's death would be so certain. Mia, on the other hand, isn't threatened by Neo's tone of voice and raises her hands all innocent. "I'm just wondering! I'm interested in someone else anyway." She winks at him, pertaining to Phil who isn't around.
Cess looks up and shrugs. "I don't think so. I know they dance a lot kasi yun yung job ni Kuya." she tells the two adults. That only adds fuel to the fire, piqued Neo's curiosity as well as Mia's.
"And your Kuya's job is?" Mia continues to interrogate. She's fishing out more information from Cess than Neo ever will and she takes the chance while she can.
"He's a chord— a core— core graph? I forgot what he's called pero he makes up some dances with Ate Asia and people like them." Cess proudly beams. "Sometimes they record it and put it on YouTube for fun."
Before his best friend spews out any more questions, Neo places a hand on Mia's arm. "Okay! I think that's enough questions for today, don't you think?" He announces with a wry smile. "Tulungan mo kaya ako dito, Mia?" He asks, giving her a look to end her impromptu interview with Cess. Besides, he really does need the help. He has about 20 more books to cover and without the help, Neo might spend another day or two covering this, on top of other things he has to do like fixing books back on the shelf and organizing recent newspaper clippings.
The last thing Neo expects to hear is Salle himself. Boy oh boy today is really not his lucky day.
Salle calls his sister's name but all three occupants of the table look up. He's dressed in a black tank and a pair of gray joggers. By the looks of it, Neo assumes he came from a work out, if the sweat on his head hinted anything. And following Salle is a petite girl dressed in a similar attire, her orange hair tied in a bun on her head. She stops a few feet away from their table and occupies herself with the large globe on display.
"Hey." Salle lifts a hand like a wave as he approaches the table. He smiles politely at Mia and Neo before turning to his sister. "We're leaving na."
The slight outcry of his sister makes the other occupants of the library turn their heads. "Huh? You said 5pm!" Cess whines, her finger pointing at the wall clock that reads quarter past three. Neo takes it upon himself to hush her down, and Cess does, but only barely.
Salle sighs and runs a hand through his hair. Neo withers in his seat as he watches the tattooed arm flex with the movement. "May training pa 'ko until 7. Walang susundo sa'yo mamaya. Late pa sila Ma uuwi." He explains in a hushed voice.
Neo watches the disappointment loom over Cess as she frowns. "Ayoko pa." she mumbles under her breath. He remembers how she mentioned earlier that she doesn't have anything to do at home, which is why she prefers to be in here reading books. In a way, Neo sympathizes with her because occupying himself in the library gives him something to do rather than laze around in his apartment. He's not thinking straight when he blurts out, "She can stay with me."
It surprises everyone, even Neo himself, when he offers. Cess perks up and points at Neo. "Yeah!" she agrees eagerly, her nod expressing her happiness at someone else backing her up. Salle looks disapprovingly at Cess but gives Neo an apologetic smile. "It's fine, you don't have to. Uuwi na lang kami." He tells Neo and proceeds to give Cess a look of authority as if challenging his sister. "Cess? Let's go." Salle waved her over.
Cess doesn't look like she's backing down anytime soon. "Kuya Neo said I can stay." Her green eyes pleadingly meet Neo's for confirmation. Neo looks at Salle and nods. "Really, it's no problem. We close at 7:30 so okay lang." He smiles and hopes it doesn't look so weird because he must look so enthusiastic about babysitting on top of his work today. But then he rethinks the idea. Maybe he's overstepping a boundary. After all, who would leave their sister to a complete stranger?
Salle looks conflicted between being a stern brother and taking up on the offer of getting his sister off his back for a couple more hours. "Sure ka?" He asks Neo, locking his gaze on him with a slightly worried look.
"Y-yeah." Neo stammers out.
"Okay, um…" Salle stuffs his hand in the pocket of his joggers and pulls out a black wallet. He takes a 100-peso bill and reaches over to give to Cess. "Eat merienda or whatever. I'll be back mamaya." He tells her. She only gives an excited nod as she takes the money. "Uuwi ka na mamaya ha. Patutulugin kita dito eh." Salle teases and pinches his sister's nose. He then turns to Neo, who's watching the exchange with a little smile on his face. "Thanks, I owe you one, Neo."
And there it is. That heart-stopping smile that stuns Neo in his seat. He thinks it's unfair that Salle has this much power over him, but he also thinks he's stupid for having such a huge crush on this guy. He can only muster another smile, a nod, and some incomprehensible noise of agreement, then Salle is walking away again.
Cess watches Salle meet the girl he's brought with him. "Bye Kuya! Bye Ate Asia!" She whisper-yells and waves. The girl named Asia turns around and beams, waving her fingers at the little girl. "Bye Cessie!" She cheerfully bids farewell.
Half past three on Thursday, Neo gets ready to read another big book for his shared reading with the kids. Cess still isn't around and Neo starts to think he must have done something wrong that Monday night for Cess to never set foot in the library again.
Nothing went wrong, in his point of view anyway. Cess was excited to stay until closing time. When Mia offered to take a break and get them something to eat, Cess was more than eager to come with her to McDonald's and they got something for Neo to eat when they came back. By the time 7 o'clock hit, Cess was passed out on the table and Salle had to come in and carry her out. Neo felt vulnerable then, being the only soul awake in the library aside from Salle. He'd locked up the library once all three of them were outside, Cess still asleep in Salle's arms.
"Salamat sa pag-bantay sa kanya ha," Salle murmured to not wake his sister.
Neo shook his head. "Okay lang," he shrugged. "it was nice to have someone with me." He said with a voice full of honesty.
"You want a ride? I can drive you home." Salle nodded his head to the black car behind him.
The librarian smiled a little. Even the black car Salle drove just screamed his persona. "It's fine, may car ako." and at the very last second, he added, "thanks for the offer."
Salle seemed insistent though. "Are you sure? Gusto mo mag-dinner? So I can make up for making you babysit." At this, the brother hefted his sister higher up in his arms.
Neo felt like he's stepping some kind of boundary, so he shook his head once more. Besides, he wasn't all that hungry. "Okay lang, nag-McDo naman kami kanina ni Cess." He declines once more.
Salle hesitantly smiled and promised he'd make it up to Neo, then he placed Cess in the car and drove away after a wave of goodbye and "Ingat!" and the librarian was left alone with his feelings once again. He'd curse this stupid pining until he gets over it. Maybe he'll see less of Salle when Cess starts school again soon, which would mean he'd also see less of the little girl in question. He tried not to ponder on that for long.
The front door swings open again and his fears subside; Cess arrives to return her borrowed books from Monday. What's unusual about this scenario is Salle coming along as well holding boxes from Dunkin Donuts. Cess makes her way to the children's corner to chat up Addie sitting alone at the table. As Neo approaches the brother and Mrs Andres, he hears the older librarian reprimand Salle.
"Hijo, no food allowed in libraries." She tells him in a stern voice.
"It's for Neo po." Salle sheepishly says with a meek bow of his head.
Neo stiffens at the mention of his name, and Salle appropriately turns around to spot him. There's a beam on his face and if Neo had the opportunity, he would have whipped out his camera to snap a picture of the face. "Neo!" He greets happily and holds up the boxes of donuts hanging on his fingers. "I owe you one for Monday. Seryoso." Salle thrusts the boxes forward a little, urging for Neo to take it.
He feels little sparks in his cheeks, like he's blushing. He schools his face to a little smile instead to avoid embarrassing himself. "It's fine! You didn't have to get me anything." He holds his hands out in surrender to decline the food. Salle shrugs and let's the arm carrying the donuts fall on his side. "Okay lang. I thought I'd go with a safe gift." He bounces the box lightly. "All chocobutternut, because who doesn't like chocobutternut, right?" He jokes, a smirk playing on his lips.
There's a million different thoughts running in Neo's head, but the one that's occupying most of his brain is wondering why Salle thought he should go out of his way to buy him a gift as a way of saying thanks after Neo already told him watching Cess was no big deal. He finds the gesture thoughtful and really endearing and he falls for him just a little more. "Thank you." Neo finally accepts the gift with a true grateful smile and looks away at Mrs Andres giving him an all-knowing smile. "Um, are you staying until the reading is over?" He asks Salle, blue eyes flickering to the small flock of children patiently waiting for the read aloud session to begin.
Neo doesn't know it, but Salle is surprised he even asks. Surprisingly, he doesn't have anything to do today. Asia cancelled training earlier today and he doesn't have to teach dance class today either. So he finds himself replying "Yeah, I can stay a bit." with a smile.
And if Neo is more cheerful than he usually is during the entire session, he blames it on the coffee he had earlier and definitely not because Salle is present during the session.
The library is short-staffed on Friday, much to Neo's dismay. Mrs Andres called in sick earlier this morning and Mia is busy with her other job to help him. He's tried to ask help from his old friend Tomas, but the guy could only stay until noon because of his Master's classes in the afternoon. He admits it's rather lonely to be the only one working around, but then again, there's still people like Phil and the other regulars. He decides he'll close the library earlier today, given it's the start of the weekend anyway.
The front desk is a rare position for Neo to be in, so he idly busies himself looking at the borrower's cards in a wooden drawer. He smiles when he sees Cess's card. It's a waiting game to see if she's coming around today or not, since she doesn't come around on Fridays as regularly as Monday's and Thursday's.
His curiosity is answered when the front door opens and Salle walks in, this time alone and without a little sister accompanying him. Neo even dares to look behind him to see if Cess was just trailing behind him, but the door closes and Salle stands in front of the desk, looking unsure of himself. "Hey." He greets.
"Hey yourself." Neo manages to tease and looks behind Salle again, just to make sure his sister isn't really around. "Sa'n si Cess?" he asks curiously, because he really doesn't see a reason for Salle to be here unless it's to accompany the little bookworm.
A blush dusts Salle's cheeks just a bit, like he's been caught doing something he shouldn't. "She's sick eh, nagpapagaling sa bahay." He explains.
Neo's brows meet together in the middle as worry washes over him. "Oh no, tell her I hope she gets well soon." He sincerely offers his concern. Though he still doesn't understand why Salle is here. Maybe… "Are you here to borrow a book for her?" He guesses.
Salle briefly glances at the children's corner where two kids were reading books. "Um, actually, I'm kind of here to borrow a book for myself." He explains, and Neo has to fight the look of adoration that's threatening to appear on his face. "Cess wants to watch The Little Prince movie and I told her I'm not watching it until I read the book." Salle admits.
And if that isn't the cutest thing ever then Neo doesn't know what else could beat that. Salle, who's all muscles and tattoos, looks like an absolute vulnerable softie asking to borrow one of the most purest books Neo loves. He smiles at the thought of Salle arguing with Cess that he'd want to read the book first then watch the movie. Now the librarian sees where Cess gets her stubbornness from.
Neo straightens his posture in his seat. "Of course!" He takes a split-second to make the decision of whether he should guide Salle to where the book was. Then he decides the boy can probably navigate around the tiny children's corner on his own. "Asa third shelf," he points two fingers at the area. "They're arranged by title alphabetically, so you can find it pretty easily."
Salle throws him a quick smile and a "Thanks." then makes his way to the children's corner. He looks out of place the moment he removes his white Adidas and his black socks hit the rubber mats. He's tall, slightly bulky, all monochrome and inked in a colorful space meant for humans under 5 feet. And with that height specification, he has to squat low to look for the book. Salle sticks out like a red rose in a meadow of white flowers and Neo finds it adorable.
The brunet, on the other hand, averts his gaze to Faye when she stands over the front desk, holding a book, her bag, and library card. "Thesis problems?" He asks casually as he accepts her book and borrower's card. "Thesis problems." The student sighs and looks over her shoulder to see Salle flipping through a small book. The corners of her lips turn up when she looks back at Neo stamping the date of when she should return the book.
"So," Faye casually drawls out the word. "still pining?"
His blue eyes meet her yellow ones in surprise. "Hmm?" Neo hums, like he doesn't know what she's talking about. She could mean something else.
Faye takes her book and card from the desk, seeing as the librarian is done. She spares Salle a quick glance again and turns to Neo with a fond smile. "Balitaan mo na lang ako 'pag kayo na, ha?" She giggles lightly and waves, leaving Neo to gape like a fish at her.
Is he really not that subtle?
"Found it." Salle catches the librarian's attention, holding a copy of The Little Prince, as he walks back to the front desk. Neo gets back into focus and grabs a blank borrower's card for Salle to fill up, along with a pen. The guy takes it without question and places the book of his choice in front of Neo, then places his own borrower's card on a stack of books on the desk for him to write. He looks around, as if searching for something, then turns to Neo. "Your girlfriend not around?" Salle asks.
Neo's brain short-circuits at the question. He blinks owlishly in confusion, his blue eyes filled with confusion behind his glasses. "Who?" he asks, because the question Salle had asked came at him like a freight train.
Oh. Oh god.
"Oh no!" Neo is flustered to say the least. Pink dusting across his cheeks, the librarian shakes his head and makes a sound between a cough and a laugh. His face feels hot. Did Salle really think they were dating all this time? "No. She— I— we're not— uh—" he stammers incoherently, trying to form an explanation.
"Oh." There's wonder in Salle's voice when he says the word, like it weighs heavy. He finishes writing and hands his card back to Neo. "I just thought… since you two work here and stuff—" he shrugs.
And again, Neo jumps to defend himself. "No, no. We're best friends. That's it." He takes the card, avoiding Salle's gaze. His glasses are sliding down his nose and he pushes them back up. "I mean we tried dating before but we broke up and—" Neo clears his throat. Okay buddy, slow down. No need to get into details. "No. Um, she's not around." He dares to look at Salle, who's smiling patiently while Neo trips over his words. "Why do you ask?"
"Nothing, I just sometimes see her and sometimes I don't." is all Salle replies while Neo does the absolute laborious task of stamping cards and updating the system on the computer that the book was borrowed. Neo then gets the sudden realization that maybe Salle likes Mia (because who doesn't) and maybe he goes there for her, not Neo. He doesn't look at Salle when he talks. "She works here like twice a week." Neo says, like it's important information to know. Maybe it'll help if Neo gives her work schedule, maybe then Salle would only visit when Mia works and okay that little idea hurts Neo but he shouldn't feel this way.
"I see." Salle nods conspiratorially.
Neo squashes down the bitter feeling in his stomach and slides the book over for Salle to take. "Well, uh, you have fun with that book." He grins halfheartedly. "Try not to cry." Unlike Neo, who wants to pout at how stupid he is for falling for a really hot guy who's apparently straight. Or maybe not, but he loves jumping to conclusions. He can be bi or whatever. But still, he's into Mia if him searching for her today means anything.
Salle nods and takes the book, but doesn't leave immediately. "I will when I find time over the weekend." Maybe Neo should have stopped right there and said goodbye, but his mouth is on a run today and he keeps the conversation going. "You got stuff planned?" The librarian queries, fingers fidgeting with the pen he let Salle borrow.
There's a sheepish smile on the dancer's face. "Yeah," Salle nods, scratching the nape of his neck where his shaggy hair ends. "I'm kinda hoping to score a date." He impishly admits.
"Oh." This time, Neo can't help the flat disappointment in his voice. So now he's supposed to play wingman for this guy he really likes to his best friend? Wonderful way to end the week. He doesn't bother looking at those green eyes anymore, afraid he might say something bad. "Well, um," he breathes in, "I can give Mia your number if you want—"
The objection is hushed, but Salle could have yelled and Neo probably would have felt the same amount of surprise. "H-huh?" He forces himself to look at Salle. Ah, he screwed up big time. So it's not Mia he's interested in, some other person he doesn't know and will date this weekend perhaps, like his dance partner with the orange hair? "Sorry! I just— I just thought you were hinting I help you get Mia to like you or—" Neo explains, nervously pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose.
Salle holds two hands out, one clutching the book he borrowed. "No, no, it's not that. I—" He breathes out a short laugh and shakes his head and Neo fights to not fawn over the way Salle's black hair flicks. "Free ka ba bukas?" Salle asks.
"Sabi ko, free ka ba bukas?"
Neo is really lost now. It's a dumb question, given that the schedule outside their door clearly reads they're only open weekdays from 10-7. But Neo answers him anyway because he's supposed to be polite and Salle doesn't know any better. "Uh, yeah." He nods, his head tilting to the side. "Pero 'di kami open ng weekends." the brunet explains. He doesn't know why Salle is even asking. If his date pulls through then he wouldn't have time to read the book even though it's quite short. Still, if he wants to return it, he doesn't have to hurry. He can return it on Monday.
"Yeah, I know." Salle's laughing to himself and Neo thinks it's rude because maybe he's laughing at him and wow he's hitting so many nerves today. "Neo," he addresses him gently, "will you have lunch with me tomorrow?"
Salle's hoping to score a date this weekend and tomorrow is the weekend and he asked if Neo was free but he meant his own personal time and not the library's schedule and yeah Neo doesn't have anything planned at all so tomorrow he's free to have lunch with Salle and is this the date or is he just being friendly?
"Neo?" There's worry etched on Salle's face, his brows meeting in the middle as he observes Neo who's piecing two and two together.
Neo blinks. Neo's hands are sweating. Neo's heart is racing a hundred kilometers an hour. "Oh, uh! Um, no, I—" he stammers, adjusting his glasses. Then he belatedly realizes his mistake. "Not no as in no, like—!" He coughs, feeling his face burn up hotter than the weather outside. "Um. Yeah." He finally responds. "Yeah of course. Lunch. Tomorrow. With you." He slowly says the words mechanically, like he's still piecing out the bits of information. "And Cess?" Neo can't help but ask, because what if Salle means to bring his sister and he's totally misreading the signs?
Salle's laughter is deep and it vibrates through Neo like a huge sound wave. "No, tayo lang." He clarifies. "'Di naman ata date 'yun pag kasama sister ko."
And that confirms Anthony Loyola's ascent to heaven. His body remains planted on his seat but his insides are doing somersaults. What is going on and who is he? His brain processes what's happening bit by bit. "O-okay." is all he can manage to say.
A triumphant grin plays on Salle's lips. "My number's on the card, you can message me there." He motions to the borrower's card that Neo still hasn't placed in the drawer. Nimble fingers pick it up and aimlessly hold them. "Just tell me if it's you para alam ko." Salle requests.
Neo nods jerkily. He thinks it's unfair that the dancer can look so bold and smooth while Neo's tripping over himself. Maybe it comes with the package of being so unbelievably confident as a dancer or that's just Salle being himself. Either way, it sucks for Neo. "See you tomorrow?" The dancer raises his eyebrows happily, waiting for a response. Neo takes a deep breath and exhales his answer. "Yeah, tomorrow." He manages to smile for good... or maybe he's been smiling this whole time? Is that why his cheeks hurt?
His blue eyes follow Salle as the guy exits the library, Neo's hand propped on his hand like a lovestruck teenager. He lets himself ponder how much of a rollercoaster it's been for the past— he looks at the clock —twenty minutes since Salle walked in to borrow the book. Or maybe the ride started when summer began and Cess walked in accompanied by her brother. The card in his hand is smooth and it shows Salle's information, along with the very important detail that is his number. There are new books that need tagging but with his phone an arm's length away, he can't help but input the number in.
About lunch? :) -Neo