It was three weeks into the fall semester at the college and already Xug had forgotten that a paper was due in three days for his Interspecies Relations class. He wasn’t normally forgetful, but his focus had increased on the wrestling team since last semester now that he was in higher weight bracket. Joining that Crossfit gym to gave his muscles a proper workout over the summer and soon Xug found himself weighing over 320 pounds.
Not that Xug wasn’t pleased about it; he came from a long line of orc warriors who often bulked up with little issue and managed to tower threateningly over everyone. While he definitely was the tallest in his family, he didn’t look quite like them since he began college. He had chopped off his usual maroon-red dreads with bright orange tips. As it grew back after the first semester of school, he kept the sides shaved and enjoyed his new flowy mohawk that he styled a little differently depending on how he felt.
His appearance for the day had flown out the window as he stared down at the syllabus. He checked it on a whim as he brushed his teeth and much to his dismay, the impending date of his unwritten essay stared up at him. The dread of receiving a zero and dropping his grade point average was enough to nearly spit out his bubbled toothpaste onto the mirror. Instead, he choked a bit and accidentally smeared the mint green paste all over his chin as he managed to lean over the sink to spit.
After he rinsed his mouth and chin, Xug rushed out the door of his dorm room with his backpack slung over his shoulder. He knew exactly which books he was going to need for this paper and hoped that they would still be at the library. Unfortunately, much to his dismay every copy of what he needed was checked out and had been for days.
“You’re in Professor Pumpernickel’s class, yes?” Came a gruff voice of a small obsidian orc, peering at Xug from behind a pair of bedazzled spectacles.
“Yeah.” Xug sighed, “Do you know where I could find them? Maybe at a different library nearby?”
“I’ll check the database for you, but next time you take Pumpernickel’s class, make sure you pay attention to what she says. If she says get this done earlier rather than later, she means it.”
Xug wanted to roll his eyes at the grumpy orc but decided against it as he was helping Xug out. A few mouse clicks and typing sounds later and the orc began writing everything down on a piece of paper before handing it to Xug.
“Here’s the address. It’s about 5 blocks away from the science building and it looks like they have several copies available. Good luck.”
Snatching the paper quickly, Xug was out the door yelling his appreciation, “Thanks!”
He had ignored the librarian’s annoyance as he yelled at Xug to not run in the library. But it didn’t matter as Xug was on a mission. The rules would just have to wait for someone else who wasn’t feeling this anxiety.
Once he was out of the building, he ran, glancing at his phone for directions every so often to make sure he was on track. He didn’t even break a sweat before he found the community library and was relieved when he walked inside.
It was typical of any library. Quiet. Smelled distinctly of books. It even had several computers where other people sat typing and listening to their headphones to avoid any distractions. As Xug glanced around he spotted a young man standing at the front desk, silently checking out books for a young woman with an orc boy who clung to her skirt.
“Alright, ma’am, those books will be due in about three weeks. I’ve put a little bookmark inside with the date on it.”
Xug kept his gaze on the man as he moved to line up behind the woman. He was was awestruck as he watched as the man worked, his movements were elegant and fluid. It went hand in hand with the man’s tall and slim appearance, clad in an untucked blue button-up shirt and a pair of dark jeans with a black name tag.
The name Arnold was engraved into the plastic and Xug decided that the human looked like an Arnold. It suited this clean-shaven man, with his neatly trimmed black hair that was parted and swept to the side. Xug could have easily got lost in the breathtaking eyes of Arnold and nearly did as he continued to outright stare at the man.
Arnold. With flawless warm beige skin and honey brown almond shaped eyes. Arnold was captivating, so much that Xug didn’t even notice the woman and child leaving the library and that he was staring at Arnold.
“Sir? Did you need help?”
Xug managed to snap out of it, silently praying to the ancestors that Arnold didn’t see how the heat was rising in Xug’s cheeks, “Uh, yes, I need to find these books for my Interspecies Relations class.”
Holding out the small paper, Xug’s eyes went wide as he compared the size of his hands to Arnold’s own slender ones.
The man laughed as he took the paper, briefly glancing down at it, “I see you have Professor Pumpernickel’s class. She’s notorious for wanting these particular books only because she helped write a few parts. I shouldn’t be surprised that she’s still asking for you to write a paper specifically on these books.”
“Oh, did you take her class?”
“I took it three semesters ago and despite being the diligent student, I struggled to keep up with her workload.” The man paused, as he came around the corner and stood briefly next to Xug, “Let me show you where these are.”
Arnold led the way, easily walking in between the stacks of shelves whereas Xug frowned from being unable to fit without having to shimmy to the side. He concentrated on not touching or knocking anything over as he continued to move, taking small side steps and stopping only when Arnold stopped.
Xug couldn’t help but focus on Arnold as he pulled out a book before moving a little closer to Xug and pulling one more. The man was fluid in his movements and muttered under his breath as he wandered away to a different shelf, leaving Xug to carefully shuffle out from the previous aisle. He decided it might be best not to follow Arnold and waited patiently as Arnold came out with the final book.
“Here you go, these are the ones that you’ll be needing. I can point out the specific lines that she’ll want you to put into your paper if you’d like?”
“That would be very helpful, thank you.”
“It’s no problem.” Arnold smiled, walking back to the front desk with Xug following behind.
Patiently, Xug watched as Arnold opened each of the books, and began using post-it-notes to underline what Xug would need. Arnold jotted down a couple of notes and much to Xug’s dismay, the man’s handwriting was illegible. It looked like Xug’s grandfather’s shaky writing that resembled chicken scratches. Xug snorted suddenly, drawing up Arnold’s attention.
Arnold raised an eyebrow before glancing down at his post-it note, “Oh, you’re laughing at my writing, aren’t you?”
“No no. It’s—uh—”
“Don’t worry, I’m very aware my writing is awful. I usually only use the computer for writing—especially for this very reason.” Arnold rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly, “Although I don’t know why it’s funny.”
“It just doesn’t suit you.” Xug admitted, suddenly worried he offended Arnold, “You look so well put together. I thought maybe your handwriting would be beautiful too.”
Arnold chuckled, his shoulders relaxing, “Well, it’s nice to know I look well put together.”
Crap. Xug wasn’t too sure if that was too forward or if he just made it more awkward. Or worse, both. Xug was getting lost in his thoughts of worry as Arnold continued to jot down more notes and placing more post-its in the books.
“Are you a cardholder of this facility?” Arnold finally asked, glancing up at Xug with a small smile.
“I am not. Er—does it require money?”
“No, no. You live in the dorms right?”
The question was innocent enough, but Xug blinked at him before understanding that Arnold wasn’t trying to get personal information out of him for booty call benefits. It was to make sure that he would get a free membership, much to Xug’s slight disappointment. Scolding himself inwardly for getting his hopes up, Xug reminded himself that he just laughed at the man’s illegible handwriting.
“Yeah, I live in Sheppard Hall.”
“Oh, I’ve lived there—it was my second semester actually. I live off campus now—I think I prefer it over living in the dorms any day.” Arnold nodded before turning his attention to the computer, “Alright, let’s get you that library card and get you checked out. I’m sure you have a lot of work ahead of you so I won’t keep you much longer.”
Xug wanted to reply that he wouldn’t mind if he was kept a little longer but decided against it. He had no idea what the mating rituals for humans were. Xug found most human men unsuitable to his tastes but Arnold was different. The man had struck something in Xug wasn’t even aware existed.
“What’s your full name?”
“Xug of clan Spearslammer.”
Wordlessly Arnold typed before asking a series of other questions, quickly putting it into the computer until it was time for Arnold to take Xug’s picture.
“You’re fairly tall, I’m going to have to find a chair—or—aha! The counter will do, I just need to crouch down.”
Arnold climbed onto the counter, expertly snapping the photo after telling Xug he could smile or not. Before Xug could really decide, Arnold took the picture and hopped down before showing Xug all of his information and the photo.
Xug stared at the picture of himself and frowned. In comparison to Arnold, he was big with dark green skin, hair that looked unkempt from the run and large fang-like teeth that jutted upward from behind his bottom lip. His face looked like he was confused in the photo.
“Ah, I look so dumb.”
Arnold laughed, turning slightly to pull out his wallet from his back pocket before showing his own library card to Xug, “Don’t worry, everyone does. I had just crawled out of bed when I had mine done.”
Arnold’s hair was even more disheveled than Xug’s mohawk with little bits and pieces sticking up everywhere and all with Arnold’s eyes half open. It was super cute.
“That’s adorable,” Xug spoke before thinking and suddenly felt very embarrassed.
Arnold, however, didn’t mind and just smiled, “Thank you.”
It wasn’t long before Arnold had printed out the card and got the books checked out for Xug. There was a little bit of disappointment as he left the library without asking out the man, but Xug was determined that he would see Arnold again once he finished his paper.
He ran back to his dorm room and buckled down, ignoring calls from his friends as he focused on his paper. The little notes that Arnold had left behind were helpful. Especially the pointed out quotes that Pumpernickel had specifically given for the books itself. It might have been a bit silly to feed his professor’s ego, but Xug wanted to get the best possible grade that he could.
Those three days were a kind of fevered dream as Xug did his best to finish his paper, managing to hand it in on time. He thought about returning the books earlier before his grade came back, but decided to wait as it would give him an excuse to talk to Arnold. But he also thought that maybe if he returned the book before the grade, that would give him an extra excuse to see him again. Then again, Arnold might not even be there. Xug would have gone for nothing and look like a dumb-dumb for not bringing the books with him.
Xug ended up avoiding it until he got his grade back and was more than a little surprised at the grade he managed to get. A shiny 98%. It was his highest grade that he had ever received that wasn’t sports related. Excitement finally pushed Xug over the edge as he returned to the library, peeking in through the window to find Arnold standing at the front desk.
He had to force himself to calm down as he walked into the building, holding both his paper on top of his books. Arnold immediately noticed him and his smile couldn’t have been more enticing to Xug than it did at that moment.
“Xug! How did those books work out for you?”
Xug, a little too forcefully, slapped the paper down onto the desk, causing it to shake slightly, “Oops, sorry—read it and weep.”
“You got a 98%? Holy smokes, that’s amazing Xug! Congratulations!”
“Thank you and uh—also, thank you for helping me out. I don’t think I would have gotten that grade if you hadn’t helped.”
Arnold continued to smile, waving a hand, “It was all you—all I did was point out what makes Pumpernickel the happiest.”
Unsure of how to respond, Xug nervously chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck, “Well, thank you all the same.”
“Oh, are those books you want to return too?”
“Thanks for bringing them back. I’ll get these all sorted out. If you need help with finding anything let me know.”
Xug was hoping for more of a long interaction and turned away from the desk to look at the expansive library. He had no idea what to talk about with Arnold or even how to ask him on a date. Normally, he’d do what orc tradition dictated but Arnold was no orc.
That’s when the question popped into Xug’s head. How was he supposed to go about romancing a human? He simply didn’t know, but here he stood in a library full of knowledge. Surely there was a book that could help him.
Determined to find a book, Xug headed to a computer to start looking through the library’s online catalog, finding several titles that he considered worth reading. Mating Rituals of Humans. 100 Ways to Date a Human. Romancing Humans for Dummies. The list went on.
Xug chose ‘Romancing Humans for Dummies’ first, asking Arnold to point it out for him. It became their song and dance every week. Xug would go down the list of books, take one home after Arnold found it and checked it out for him. Then he’d come back and Arnold would always give him the brightest smile every time Xug entered the room, but he wasn’t clueing in that Xug was interested. Three weeks and several unhelpful books later, Xug decided to try one more book to gauge Arnold’s reaction.
As he handed the book over, Arnold smirked, “What a lucky human you have. You’ve been dedicating yourself to this type of book for almost a month now. I’m sure you’re the master of romance.”
Xug’s eyes almost bugged out as he watched Arnold. Did this silly volunteer not know that Xug was interested in him? How could this human be so oblivious to his advances? He was, after all, trying to come by the library almost every other day, even if it was just to read these awful books. And they were truly awful. Each one was a mixture of strange rituals that often involved watching a movie and then going and buying dinner and drinks. He even learned about showing interest through several dating apps and it utterly disgusted Xug. That wasn’t a way to learn about someone. Not by any orc standards.
First, an orc proves their strength and hunting capabilities by hunting down food. Then they show their cooking skills by preparing what they have hunted. It would show the potential mate their dedication to the relationship and that they were willing to put in the work and time. Then if the relationship proceeded onward, they would do ritual dancing and the meeting of the clans. But watching a movie—the very idea made Xug shudder at how it lacked intimacy or even proper words to express feelings.
But Xug was trying to woo Arnold and just borrowing books wasn’t enough of a signal for Arnold. Despite that knowledge, he was going to take this book back to his dorm and pout a little about how awkward he was when it came to starting a human relationship. These books weren’t helping him.
Another week had passed and Xug hadn’t even bothered picking up the latest book, already coming to the conclusion that it was rubbish. Instead, he sat in his dorm, thinking of purchasing a pig from a butcher and maybe roasting it outside somehow. He’d get in trouble, but it would be worth it if it meant Arnold would start seeing him exclusively.
That’s when the idea snapped into his head. He could clearly recall a man giving a woman flowers during a human holiday called Valentine’s day. Xug had asked him about it and was surprised that the man had chosen a very specific flower to give the lady. He said it had a special meaning.
Without any haste, Xug started looking up flower meanings and found the perfect one. He had poured over a handful of websites and was delighted that he knew where a great deal of them grew. It was amusing because these specific flowers had grown around the campus, placed in tidy little flower beds around the buildings.
They were called jonquils. A happy yellow trumpet-like flower that stuck out of a star-shaped arrangement of petals. Xug had wasted no time, buying up a set of chocolates from the store, before going around campus and pulling up the cheery flower. He took his time cleaning the dirt off of them after trimming the stem, wrapping them up with a simple strand of twine.
But before he was going to give them to Arnold he wanted to look his best. He showered, putting product in his hair to make it stick up the way he liked before putting on his clan’s beads around his neck. He would have worn a suit, but since he had put on weight, his normal suit didn’t fit anymore. He managed with a button up shirt and a pair of slacks.
Once he was satisfied with his appearance, he took the flowers and the chocolates, marching his way to the library. Xug took precious care of the flowers, holding them gingerly in his hands the whole way there. He stopped as he neared the door, peeking his head in the window and found Arnold was leaning against the front desk.
“You can do this, Xug. He’s a sweet and kind human. And you are a catch.” Xug spoke out loud, ignoring the looks he got from passersby, “Yes, I’m a catch. Any human would be lucky to have me. You’re strong and could easily catch a boar for that handsome man.”
This conversation lasted about 5 minutes until Xug finally worked up the courage and walked through the doors. He did his best to keep his face straight but was inwardly debating if he should smile, thinking it might make him more approachable.
“Xug.” Arnold stood up, smiling the way he normally did before his eyes drifted toward the chocolate and flowers. “Oh, are you about to go on a date or something?”
“Um, well, I wouldn’t mind going on a date.” Xug started, suddenly tripping over his words and unable to fully articulate what he wanted until he finally managed to blurt it out, “I want to go out with you, Arnold. These are for you.”
It was awkward. Horrifyingly so. The smile fell away instantly and was replaced by shock as Arnold stared up at him before looking at the flowers and the chocolates. This was not the reaction Xug was looking for and he couldn’t help but wonder if he messed it up. Or perhaps Arnold wasn’t attracted to orcs or maybe he wasn’t attracted to men.
No no no. Why hadn’t he thought of that? Xug knew from several classes and conversations that humans weren’t as fluid with their sexuality as the orcs were. How could he be so ignorant?
“You—you want to go out with me? But those books-”
“Were so I could see you and learn your human rituals on ‘dating’.”
“You did all that for me?”
Xug could feel sweat trickle down his back as he continued to hold out his offerings to Arnold, “Yes.”
Disbelief turned into a giddy glee as Arnold happily took the flowers and chocolate, “No one has ever asked me out like this before. I’m so happy.”
Relief caused Xug to untense as his shoulders dropped and he wiped the new sweat from his brow with the back of his hand, “Oh thank the ancestors, I thought I messed this up.”
“No, no. I’m sorry, I was just a little surprised that you were interested. I mean, I’ve been interested in you, I just didn’t know how to say it.”
“The fact that I was taking out those books every week from you didn’t clue you in?”
“Well, I thought that maybe it was, but I didn’t want to assume. I thought maybe you had a human girlfriend or boyfriend and you were trying to be the perfect partner.” Arnold laughed, sniffing the flowers, “You’re the first guy to give me flowers.”
“They mean ‘desire of affection’. I thought it was a suitable meaning given that I wanted you and your attention.”
“Thank you, they are super sweet.” Arnold paused, “Did you get these from the flower beds around campus?”
Arnold howled with laughter, wiping tears from his eyes as he walked from behind the counter, “C’mere.”
With one swift movement, Arnold gripped the front of Xug’s shirt and pulled him down for a kiss. He still was giggling as his mouth met Xug’s, but they softened as Xug lifted him up. It was gentle and slow, but Xug ended the kiss first by setting a blushing Arnold back down. He grinned up at Xug, briefly touching his lips.
“You’re pretty brave to be stealing flowers from the campus.”
“I stole them? You are mistaken.” Xug raised an eyebrow in confusion.
“You’re not supposed to take the flowers from public property. You normally have to buy them or find them in a field somewhere.”
“I don’t understand, so you plant flowers but no one is allowed to take them? What a silly rule.”
“I agree, it’s a little silly.” Arnold chuckled, “Regardless, I would very much like to date you, Xug.”
Xug grinned, still feeling the heat that lingered from his kiss from Arnold. The books might have been useless in many respects, but Xug was happy that it managed to get Arnold to notice him. Now all he had to do was plan out a date for Arnold so that Xug could show off his great cooking skills.