"For the Love in the Library"

Thirty minutes into editing my lead writer's article about the stigma looming in the bedside table of every woman who owns a vibrator, I heard it: Thump!

My eyes drifted to the ceiling, feeling my husband's frustration through the drywall. He had been working on a program for close to four days. He would come to bed at night and growl away his rage into the sheets, muttering about the code as if it were a force that had begun to crush him. Try as I might, he wouldn't let me relieve him.

Thump! Crash!

I bit my lip for a moment, contemplating if I should bother him when he was this frustrated. It wasn't that he was dangerous, no, he was just really irritated. "I mean, realistically, vibrators can wait. Right, Geryon?" I asked the fragile, red tomcat who was sleeping at the other end of the couch. The loud obscenities that came raining down through the ceiling caused both Geryon and me to jump as if each was a crack of thunder. "Right Mom," I whispered in the voice I reserved for narrating all of Geryon's inner thoughts. "Daddy's not himself when he gets like this."

I tread quietly up the stairs until I found myself just outside his office door. There, I found the familiarity of unending silence. Under those oppressive conditions was where we had first locked eyes, both just college students working on their weekly assignments. I had become infatuated with the boy who would spend hours staring into his laptop, but who could also be caught reading Dante's The Divine Comedy during any sort of break from his work.

"Can I help you?" he had asked kindly when he found my staring at him one day.

My cheeks instantly went flush as I realized I had been caught trying to decipher the title along the spine of his book. "I…uh…I just wanted to know what you were reading." I stated quickly, trying to angle my face, hoping he wouldn't see the color spilling into my cheeks.

He put his finger in the book and closed the cover, allowing him to better show me the spine. "I'm only in The Inferno right now, but it's quite promising. Have you read it?" He opened back up to the page he had left off on, but his eyes didn't stray from mine. "I'm Myles Holloway, by the way."

"Layla Ellison," I responded, trying to push some confidence into my voice. "I haven't read The Divine Comedy yet. I've been working my way through A Tale of Two Cities when I have the time."

He nodded, but before he could respond the student worker behind the circulation desk had started giving us exceptionally dirty looks for talking across the study lounge. He took up his bag and laptop, striding purposefully across the lounge until he could plop down in a chair at my table. "Tell me what you like about Dickens," he whispered, bending his head close to mine. "He lost me after Great Expectations."

The only difference between then and now was that the silence of that study lounge had found its way into our home and neither one of us was doing the work of moving our study materials to the other's table. That is until I finally got the courage to push his office door open. The first sound was his chair creaking as I peeked my head around the threshold. "Layla?" He sounded startled. "I'm sorry if I'm disturbing your work," he whispered as his eyes grew sad.

I pushed my way past the threshold and padded over to his desk. His laptop was closed, a good sign, but it was also crammed full of wadded up notes and pages from unidentified textbooks. "I wasn't looking forward to reading Nina's latest article anyway. She's been a bit aggressive lately when it comes to content." I was about to move his arms so that I could sit on his lap when I noticed what was occupying his hands: Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. For a moment I was relieved it wasn't the collection of poetry by Robert Frost which had plunged him deep into depression last winter, but his eyes told me all I needed to know about his sinking mood.

"She's eager to impress you," he said with his trademark crooked grin. "Though I can imagine all too well that her ambition clouds her content." His eyes darted to the fire raging in the fireplace, but not before I caught the gears of his mind grinding and sparking, threatening to set his temper ablaze.

My mind brought me back to a moment in the library, later on in our relationship, but before we started dating. It had become a common practice for he and I to take shelter at the table in the far corner of the study lounge and to not move from that shelter—with the exception of coffee and bathroom breaks—until 3:00 AM when the library closed.

He had been growing furious with a program and the sticking F key on his keyboard when I first saw that look. "No," was all he hissed as he slammed his laptop closed and started to dig through his bag.

I threw my Advanced Poetry workshop packet on the table and gave him a curious look. "Are you giving up already?" I asked, hoping that he would say yes so I would have an excuse to move my legs. I could only trudge through the darkest places inside my fellow writer's minds before I felt so uncomfortable I had to move.

He ripped The Divine Comedy out of his bag and threw it down on the table, causing the student worker to glare in our direction as the echo of hardcover on table faded quickly. "I just need to take a break," he hissed, flipping through the book till he stopped at the page he had left off on. His eyes were so bloodshot I could hardly believe he could focus on the small print of the book.

I was in the middle of reading Bernardo Traiga's not so inconspicuous poem about his torrid one night stand with college beauty and my unfortunate acquaintance, Arabella Volkov, when Myles pushed the book away from himself and produced a rumbling sound that came from deep in his chest. "There, there," I said as I picked up my phone and began to send a text to Arabella to make her aware of the threat to her reputation from Traiga's borderline pornography sonnet. "It can only get better from where you are. I mean, the last part is called Paradise soooo—"

"I'm three pages from the end of The Inferno and my eyes are so shot I can't read the words on the page," he grumbled as he tried again to concentrate on the lines. My heart sank as I watched his eyes go crooked before spazzing out altogether. "Fuck!" he snapped as he threw the book off the table and put his head down in frustration.

It only took a few seconds for me to think of a solution. I picked the book up off the floor and wheeled my chair around the table until I was next to him. "You said three pages from the end?" I asked as looked at the table of contents to figure out where Purgatory started. When I didn't get a response, I decided to just start reading.

After about ten pages, his hand reached out to touch mine. "You have a beautiful reading voice, Layla," he whispered as a handsome grin appeared across his lips.

That grin found its way to his face as I leaned over him to push Hardy all the way off his desk. "Leave Hardy in the dust where he belongs," I whispered as I moved his arms so I could straddle his lap. "Come to bed…with me…right now." I separated my words with kisses that I placed around his face, making certain to brush along the line of his jaw. I was pleased with the shudder I felt run through his legs until his hands shot up to cup my cheeks, halting my seduction.

"I'm just a little peeved with work," he said with a tone he reserved for dealing with crying children. Now my temper was the one in danger of going up in flames. "Besides, you know I hate it when you worry about me."

I recognized his hands slowly drifting to my hips as a classic tactic of his. He would feign temptation to lift me from his lap. "Ho-ho Myles Holloway," I hissed as I hooked my feet around the legs of the chair. "I am not merely a wife who will take you at your word."

"Layla," his tone was sharp as he realized I had no intention of letting him loose from the chair trap I had created. "I was just going to read for a bit and then get back to work."

The exhaustion in his voice stung me, but I was determined to get him into a more relaxed state. Or at least a far better state than the story of Jude would put him in. "I can't allow you to delve into Hardy. I need you to just be with me tonight. In our bed. Down the hallway."

He jerked underneath me, causing me to tighten my feet around the chair legs and grip the back of the chair with all the strength my fingers had. When he tried to duck under my arms I lowered my body weight into his lap. "Layla," he groaned as his voice took up the subtle hints of lust that I loved to hear so much. Recognizing the moment of weakness, I pushed forward and pressed my lips against the vulnerable point on the side of his neck. His hands tightened around my hips and he took a deep breath, his head momentarily falling back.

"We don't have to make it to the bed," I whispered as I worked my lips up to his ear. "You could have me right here—"

Before I could finish my sentence he was hoisting me off his lap with a force that I didn't realize he had in him. The corners of the chair legs left a burning sensation on the top of my feet, making me wince as he set me down in front of him. He stood up and took Jude the Obscure back to the bookshelf, before turning to stare at me with eyes so pointed and sharp I wouldn't recognize them in a dark place. "I'll come to bed when I'm done with this project. Just because I work at home doesn't mean I'm at your disposal, Layla."

A short, rage laced laugh slipped past my lips before I could contain it. "Fine Myles," I said as I turned and stormed towards his office door. "I'll play the good wife and go keep the bed warm for you. I can turn a blind eye to the distance you're putting between us because you're unhappy with your job."

"Layla…" I heard him whisper just before I slammed his office door shut. "Layla!" he yelled as I stormed down the hallway and threw myself down onto his side of the bed.

My name falling from his lips with so much hostility in his tone sent a nervous burning sensation across my skin, but I didn't turn back. I had learned through the years to never confront him when he was like this.

We had been going strong for two years when my senior thesis had crept in silently to poison the well of our love with each coming deadline. After searching through the stacks for hours in search of one sourcebook, my patience was so brittle a pin would have fractured it and left it to rain down, cutting away at my remaining sanity.

"The catalog says it should be here!" I snapped, rounding the stack to glare at the spot where the book should have been. I ran a hand through my hair and let out a hard sigh before slumping down and checking the call number I had scribbled down.

"Just log in to the terminal over there and check again," Myles chimed in from the beanbag he had strategically positioned in the center of the line of stacks I had been rampaging through. "Maybe you wrote down the wrong call number?"

"Myles," I hissed, throwing down the call number and glaring at him, "I'm a fucking English Major. I don't write down the wrong call number." My temper almost flared as he shrugged and flipped the page in the book he had picked up during our search.

"We're all human, Layla. You could have overlooked it." He flipped another page before turning his eyes up to meet mine. It was then that I saw the hint of mischief there, instantly putting me on edge. "What?" he asked as I got up and slowly stalked toward him.

"What are you reading?" I asked icily. The smile in his eyes suddenly transferred to his lips as he turned the spine of the book up for me to see. "You…I could…" There it was. The book I had been searching for, for what felt like an eternity, was sitting comfortably in his hands.

"I still don't understand why you chose to write your thesis on Dickens. I mean, the world gave us so many better options—"

I was walking away before he finished. My rage, if left unchecked, could have ended us right then and there. As the sounds of my footsteps echoed stoically in my ears I heard him cry out for me, but I was determined to ignore him.

"Layla!" the last cry I heard before I turned the corner and headed for the exit was different from all the others. It was sharp. It stuck with me.

It was the same sharp tone he produced from his office as he heard me rip open our bedroom door and try to slam it shut. When we had originally bought the house we had found it convenient that the bedroom door refused to shut all the way on account of Geryon's liking to come and go from his spot on the foot of our bed in the night, but it was moments like this that I wished it would stay closed.

I told myself I wouldn't cry. Three steps into the bedroom and the tears were streaming down so fast that I was blinded. How had we fallen away from ourselves so fast? My hunger for a career as a writer had been satiated by my success as an editor and co-founder of a semi-notable femme mag, but Myles was ravenous. As a result, he had found himself in a job that he hated, for people that he despised, and his mind was losing its luster.

I threw myself down on his side of the bed, beating my fists into his pillow, wishing with every hit that it was his chest. As my frustration began to fade, his scent rose up from the pillow. I clutched it to my chest and flopped down in exhaustion. When the door creaked, I wiped my eyes, hoping to see Myles so I could beat him with his own pillow, but it was only Geryon.

"Is Daddy being an idiot again, Mom?" I whispered in his voice as he jumped up on the bed and began to nuzzle my face. "Yes Geryon," I whispered in my own shaky tone, "Daddy is being a major idiot!"

"You've made Geryon quite unkind these days," came the voice from the doorway.

He was loosening his tie when my eyes cleared enough to see him. "It's not like you're ever around for our conversations anymore," I snapped as he started to walk toward the bed.

"You must know that I still love you," he whispered as his hand reached out to me.

"Do you?!" I shouted. "I never see you smile at me anymore. We don't watch our shows together. You don't eat dinner with me anymore." I took a breath, seeing each observation jab into him. "We haven't made love in months!"

He winced, quickly ripping his tie off. "I'm just thinking of you. I'm thinking of our future," he whispered as he began to loosen his collar.

I grabbed his sleeve and pulled him down on top of me. "Then love me, without hesitation, without thinking twice." He swallowed hard. "Myles Rowan Holloway, if you don't make love—"

His middle name was all it took. He lunged at me, smashing his body down on mine until I could hardly tell where my skin stopped and his started. The cold of his wedding ring sent a shiver down my spine as his hand slipped beneath my tank top.

"Tell me you love me," he whispered against my lips.

"Do you need to hear it that badly?" I whispered back jokingly as I ripped open the front of his shirt.

"Yes, now more than ever." He slowly brought my ring hand to his lips, eyeing me with a certain anxiety I recognized from the moment he had proposed to me. We had broken into the library during our reunion to see if anything had changed since we left and to make out like idiots in the AV Room like we used to.

I could hardly contain my nervous giggles as we climbed the stairs towards the study lounge. "This is so dumb, but I love it," I hissed as I peeked around the corner to see if any of the other reunion goers had beat us to our current antics.

"I happen to like this dumb idea," he hissed back.

When we got to the study lounge he pushed me ahead of him, his hand brushing against the mid-drift my crop top left exposed. "Ewww, Myles! Are you really that nervous about getting caught?! Your hands are all sweaty." I turned to try and look at him, but he motioned me forward.

"I'll feel better once we get to the table," he insisted.

Worried he had consumed too much jungle juice and not enough water in the past few days, I grabbed his wrist and pulled him to our table in the corner. I sent a silent prayer of thanks to the Alum Gods for not changing much in the study lounge, save for a fresh coat of paint and newer wheelie chairs, making it easily familiar to traverse. "Sit please," I whispered as I tried to maneuver him into one of the chairs.

"No, no," he muttered quickly. "You sit. Please."

His urgency was so out of character that I was forced to take the seat if only to examine him better. We floundered in an uneasy silence before he spoke again. "Is it weird to think that we started here?"

"We?" I asked softly. "Do you mean our relationship?"

He leaned back against the table and nodded.

"To be honest," I reached out and took his hand, "I never thought you'd glance my way."

"Yeah?" he questioned as his fingers tightened around mine. "I doubt I could have missed you. The beautiful, young woman tucked away in the corner trying to sneak a peek at my copy of The Divine Comedy, you immediately stole my attention."

"Well," I sighed trying to release the heat from my cheeks. "I definitely didn't think you'd stay interested for this long. I'm a lucky girl." My teasing tone seemed lost on him at first, but then his hand slid to my wrist and pulled me up from my chair and tucked me against his chest.

"I'm so nervous," he murmured into my hair.

A lump formed in my chest. I had never known Myles to be nervous. "Why are you nervous?"

"A few months ago I started to question some things that have slowly reshaped how I feel about us," he responded, his expression remaining neutral. I gripped the front of his shirt, feeling my ears grow warm and my throat beginning to burn with the thought of sobs. This was too unusual, too far out in left field, for something to not be wrong. Just when I was going to ask what he was getting at his hands began to massage the sudden tension out of my shoulders. "I began to question our decision to get a cat together."

The second the words passed his lips I wanted to punch him. Where could he possibly be going with this? Was he going to break off a five-year relationship because we got a cat?!

"Then I saw you come into our bedroom, cradling Geryon like a baby, and it was like I was falling in love with you all over again. That got me thinking about all things you do that make me recall why I chose you five years ago. You're intelligent, you're driven, you have a fantastic sense of humor, you're well read."

I glanced up at him through misty cornered eyes. "Myles—"

"Then the other night I came to bed late and found you sitting up against the headboard, your copy of A Tale of Two Cities resting in your lap and Geryon tucked safely in his place on the bed that you had made for him. You had left my nightstand light on. You were sleeping in my old Robotics Club jersey."

He slowly pushed me away from him until I was arms-length away. My emotional confusion slowly gave way to realization as he lowered himself, unsteadily, down onto one knee. "I knew then, for certain, that even though you're a woman who reads Dickens for fun, that I needed to take the next step and ask if you would be mine," he produced a ring box from his pocket, but in that moment of overwhelming joy I could hardly focus on diamond shining brightly in the dimly lit study lounge. All I could see was his eyes shaking with the effort of focusing on both my irises to see any sort of hindrance. The raw anxiety. The unbridled depth of his love for a woman as mundane as me. "So Layla Ellison…will you marry me?"

I snapped out of the dream of our past back into our current reality when my ears suddenly filled with the incessant drumming of Geryon's purring. I knew to wait a second before opening my eyes. Full clarity and consciousness were necessary to my maintaining all rational thoughts. The process was slow, the sun from the open windows setting me back a few paces.

"Geryon," I groaned, "did you knock the curtains down again?"

"Mommy," a familiar high-pitched voice graced my ears, "you never put them back up after the last time."

I couldn't contain my stupid grin as a set of arms slipped around my body to pull me closer. When his lips began to trace soft lines along the length of my neck and around the curve of my shoulder, I sighed in contentment. "Don't you have to go to work?" I whispered, turning in his arms to kiss him with a great fervor.

"Mmm…I uh…I called my boss," he murmured against my lips, gently using his hands to keep me at bay, but I quickly became attentive. "I called him and told him that I needed to know my worth to the company and that after three years and numerous successes that I needed to be able to pick and choose what work I'm assigned. When he told me that I had no grounds to demand such things…well, I told him that I did have the grounds to quit." I let out an unchecked gasp, but he only shrugged. "And then I quit."

Silence immediately consumed us. I scanned his eyes for any source of regret, but it only crept in after I stared for a few seconds too long. "Do you think you'll be happy?"

He eyed me for a few seconds, his hands roaming over my back and his mouth twisted as his mind tried to decide on the right response. The gears were moving again. "When you agreed to be my wife, I knew I was taking on an enormous responsibility. As your husband, it's my job to make you smile when your world is set ablaze by hellfire. It's my job to see you in a room full of others and to make you feel the full potential of your presence there when the attention mongers make you feel small," he spoke over my head, but when his eyes scanned down to mine, he grinned. "As your husband, I should always satisfy you physically," he kneaded his fingers into my shoulders, "but also mentally and emotionally."

"Myles," I whispered, holding his gaze, "you're deflecting the question."

"Ah ah!" he hissed quickly, leaning in and closing the gap between our bodies. "Let me finish. Somewhere along the line, I lost myself in this notion that by not preparing for the next steps of 'us' that I was failing as a husband. I forgot the most important part of my job description." My body came to full awareness as he hooked my legs with his and wound his fingers together with mine. "As a husband, as your husband, my job is to show you the true depth of my love with each passing day so that when 'us' becomes one person greater they will learn your smile."

The tears had started slowly pricking at the corners of my eyes. "Why my smile?" I choked out dumbly.

"Because Layla Holloway, your smile has kept me going from the moment it revealed itself from across that study lounge."

Now there was a ridiculous waterfall of tears rolling down my cheeks. "Answer my damn question, Myles!" I sobbed as I pushed my head under his chin in shame.

"Mommy," he groaned in his Geryon voice, "of course Dad will be happy. He has you."

"Oh can it, Geryon!" I yelled with a broken laugh.

"Mow!" Geryon came to lay between us, his name triggering his ever vigilant pet-me-senses. He began to head-butt my face until my tears ceased and then turned to lick Myles' face.

"So, per Geryon's queue, I say we take the day. Stay in bed, read, eat, make love, repeat. Are you opposed?" he asked, rising to look at our bookshelf.

"Agreed," I quickly rose from the bed to snag Great Expectations from the shelf. "But I get to pick the book."

"No," Myles chimed quickly, trying to hook my waist.

I ducked his arm, cracking open the book. "Do you want to start with the prologue or just dive into chapter one?"

"Geryon, tell your mother that Dickens is a pompously long-winded sadist," he said as he glanced at Geryon who was curling up near my pillow.

"Please," I laughed as I curled up next to Geryon, "you voluntarily read Daniel Deronda. You want to call Dickens long-winded?"

"Yes," he said as he slowly ascended up the bed towards me, "and pompous." He tried to snag the book, but I rolled away. There, in the light of a new day, we tussled over reading rights until Dickens lay on the floor, our bodies tangled in the sheets, encased in each other's arms, with the gentle purring from Geryon to lull us into a mid-afternoon slumber.