summer librarian
by cimorene

Kunimitsu has already been going to the Arts & Sciences Library daily for a week and a half when he arrives one day to find his copy machine broken.

He eyes the machine's open side with a touch of resignation and resists the urge to shift his weight from foot to foot. Since his arms are full of a somewhat precarious stack of bound history journals, he can't afford to stand here indefinitely, nor can he take them down the stairs in one trip.

Kunimitsu doesn't like the copiers on the first floor. For one thing, they get a lot more use, so they are temperamental; for another, they are always running out of paper. The copy room on the first floor has floor-length windows, too, which make it unpleasantly hot, and its doorway faces the circulation desk. Kunimitsu doesn't like making copies when he can frequently see the librarian out of the corner of his eye. He likes it even less when he suspects he can feel the librarian watching him.

Or, more accurately, he likes it a great deal more, but it distracts him from his photocopying so badly that he loses his place. Once he copied five pages on the wrong size paper; so now he always uses the copier on the second floor. Which is obviously broken.

Kunimitsu knows that he has no right to think of it as his copier just because the library is practically deserted in the summertime and he almost never has any competition for it. Certainly resenting whoever broke it just for using it in the first place is unjustified. He sighs, sets his stack of journals down on the nearby coffee table, and goes downstairs to face the librarian.

When Kunimitsu was hired as Professor Nakao's research assistant and given his tour of the library, he was shown around by a squat cylindrical woman in a floor-length orange flower-printed dress that made her look like a piece of lawn furniture. That, Professor Nakao had informed him after his first day of research, was the head librarian, Oshima-san; she didn't work in the summer. The summer librarian - at least the summer librarian who works days when Kunimitsu is there - is another matter altogether.

He is younger than Kunimitsu, probably an undergraduate, small and slender. He has sleek and shaggy black hair whose ends brush against his forehead and curl in front of his ears, a full mouth and a lazy sarcastic smile, a pale delicate face and some of the largest eyes Kunimitsu has ever seen. He has long legs and narrow hips and small hands, and when Kunimitsu walks up to the desk, he appears to be asleep with his feet propped on the counter (for the second time this week).

Just when Kunimitsu is thinking about clearing his throat, the very pretty librarian lifts his head and opens one eye halfway. Then he swings his booted feet down off the counter and pushes his chair forward. He opens his other eye, too, and looks up at Kunimitsu with one corner of his expressive mouth quirking up. "Do you need something?" he says.

Kunimitsu nods. "The copy machine on the second floor is broken."

"Oh, that," he says. "They're sending someone. The repair guy should be here already." He tilts his head a little, apparently considering his next words. His hands lie loosely on the counter in front of him. A red lanyard is looped four times around his left arm like a bracelet, a key ring clipped to it and two shiny keys flirting with the sharp bones of his wrist. "It shouldn't be long," he finally says.

"There was no one when i was up there," says Kunimitsu.

The librarian shrugs gracefully and stands up, slipping his hands into his pockets. "He probably took the service elevator," he says, coming around the end of the desk and waiting for Kunimitsu to fall into step next to him before mounting the stairs. The top of his head barely comes to Kunimitsu's shoulder. "But if he's not there, I can give them a call." He doesn't say anything about the room full of copiers on the first floor; he knows that Kunimitsu knows about them.

The repairman is, indeed, there. When they get upstairs there are a pair of legs in blue coveralls protruding from the bottom of the copier. Around the legs and the copier are scattered several pieces of crumpled paper smeared with ink, an open toolkit, an inky handkerchief, and an open composition notebook with the top page half-full of scribbling. A steady stream of low-voiced muttering emerges from the printer.

"Hi, Inui-san," says the librarian.

There is a little thump, and a head of wildly spiky black hair emerges from the copier. Inui-san turns around and pushes a pair of thick-framed glasses up his nose, leaving a second smear of ink on his cheek. "Ahhh. Echizen," he nods. "I am almost done diagnosing the problem, I believe." He picks up the notebook and fumbles in his chest pocket for a pen, adding ink smears to the page and to the top half of his coveralls while Kunimitsu watches in blank amazement.

"Whatever," says the librarian - Echizen. He catches Kunimitsu's eye and holds it for a moment, his face perfectly expressionless, and Kunimitsu resists the urge to bite the inside of his cheek, averting his eyes. "It probably won't be too bad to wait," he tells Kunimitsu. "He doesn't usually take as long as you'd think."

He doesn't even have to glance sideways to emphasise his point. Inui-san isn't in the copier at all - he's scribbling in his notebook, murmuring, "Raise the A4 drawer by two millimetres... ."

"Okay," says Kunimitsu, "thanks."

One of the things he likes about Echizen - besides his sarcastic smile and his sleepy eyes and his... (Kunimitsu cuts off the train of thought there) - is that he doesn't talk too much. In the past week they've had several conversations: about the layout of the second floor, the public printers in the computer room, the procedure for ordering books and journals out of reserve storage. Echizen never uses too many words, which is comforting.

He feels uncomfortable now anyway, which is new. He thinks it might have more to do with the way Echizen is gazing steadily at him with that glint of amusement in his eyes than with the conversation, though.

"Are those your books?" Echizen asks.

Kunimitsu nods. "Yes."

"Really, all of those?"

"Yes," says Kunimitsu. The stack is nearly half as tall as Echizen is - and probably more awkward to carry (another thought which he firmly stops himself from pursuing). It's only been a week, and already he's copied folders full of newspapers and history and literature journals. He has microscopic papercuts on his fingertips that sting when he washes his hands.

"Hnnnnn," says Echizen, with a little chuckle, and then walks away without another word. Kunimitsu watches him go for a moment, then jerks his gaze away, back to the copier again.

Inui-san spends about half of the next thirty minutes taking out the paper drawers, the ink cartridge, the toner and every other piece of the copier that isn't nailed down, and then putting it carefully back exactly where it was. He doesn't replace any of it; he spends the other half of that time drawing a detailed, scale diagram in his notebook, which he is also comparing point-by-point with the user manual.

Finally he says to himself, "The ink cartridge should be adjusted by approximately one centimetre."

"Was it out of ink?" Kunimitsu asks him.

Inui-san looks up, surprised, but then he turns back to the copier. "The data show that the position of the ink cartridge is not optimal. According to average ink cartridge placement, and taking into account service records and performance..." at this point his voice is no longer audible, but Kunimitsu doesn't prompt him to speak up.

Instead, he firmly crosses his arms over his chest while Inui-san breaks the ink cartridge with the tip of a screwdriver.

"Perhaps you should just replace the ink in its original place and refill the toner," Kunimitsu suggests, once Inui-san is back from the bathroom with a handful of paper towels.

This time, there is no sign that he has even been heard. The elevator chimes and Kunimitsu hears the rumble of its doors opening, and then Inui-san breaks the second ink cartridge. Since there is only one ink cartridge left intact with the toolkit, Kunimitsu decides he has to intervene.

"Excuse me," he says, a little sharply, and Inui-san jumps and lets himself be shouldered out of the way. It's a little hard to look into the copier without putting his knees or his hands in one of the ink spots on the carpet, but fortunately it's not necessary to put his whole head inside the way Inui-san was doing. He carefully jiggles loose the broken ink cartridge and replaces it. After he refills the toner, he discovers it's a little difficult to fit the piece in properly because of some sticky residue on the edges of the cover.

"Probability that adhesive substance is original to copy machine, zero percent," Inui-san says. "In general, probability that a sticky substance is chewing gum is seventy percent, but its properties are not consistent with chewing gum. Colour, texture - "

Kunimitsu looks up to ask him for a paper towel and catches sight of Echizen standing on the other side of the coffee table, lounging against a bookshelf with his ankles crossed in front of him. There's a tiny smirk on his face and an empty wheeled bookcart next to him. "Would you pass me a paper towel, please?" he says politely to Inui-san.

Kunimitsu has to adjust the toner balance dial slightly before he gets a test copy he's satisfied with - "He's touching the dial?" Inui-san gasps, "Suicide! This guy..." - but overall, it only takes about half an hour before his copier is working again.

Inui-san is sitting cross-legged on the floor nearby scribbling furiously in his notebook. "Very impressive," he mutters. "Your copy machine repair strategy will bear more study," he says directly to Kunimitsu, but before Kunimitsu is able to produce an appropriate civil response, a pair of long muscular legs in grey shorts impinges on his field of view.

Even though he looks up quickly, he gets an eyeful of golden skin and calf muscles and the waistband of Echizen's shorts hanging lasciviously low on his hips.

"Here," says Echizen, and gives him a kleenex and a very slight smile.

The kleenex makes a good excuse to look down at his hands as he wipes the copier door clean. When the first kleenex is dirty, another appears in front of his face. It's just enough to wipe get the last of the ink off his hands.

Because he decides he is safer with Echizen's eyes and mouth than with his thighs and knees, Kunimitsu stands up to thank him.

"No problem," Echizen says, smiling a little more widely. "That's my favourite copier too."

Kunimitsu has thought Echizen was pretty since he first walked into the library at eight in the morning two Mondays ago and saw him behind the desk. The first time their eyes met, he felt it like a sharp, stinging shock. He's wondered what Echizen was thinking since he was first favoured with that secretive, superior little smile.

And he's liked Echizen since they spent a fruitless twenty minutes trying to get an article abstract through the university's internet subscriptions; a few hours after they gave up, Echizen came to find him in the mildewy basement stacks with a hard copy. "The ethnology department used to have a subscription," he explained, with an air of boredom. "They keep the back issues in their coffee room. Hey, aren't you doing 20th-century literature? You're in the wrong room. They ran out of shelves in here and the end picks up through there, after the architecture journals."

In retrospect, he was probably hooked already when he made those copies on the wrong paper last week. But today is the true point of no return. Kunimitsu drops the inky kleenex in the trash, and Inui-san, still scribbling in his notebook (now liberally smeared with ink), looks up and says: "Echizen, could I have one of those tissues?"

Echizen's hands are in his pockets. He doesn't glance at Inui-san or at Kunimitsu; his eyebrows rise very slightly in surprise, and he replies coolly, "Mada mada dane," and strolls away.

That is when Kunimitsu falls in love.


beta by lilah.

post a comment - read comments