I was walking through the fiction section of my local Barnes and Noble when my phone chirped with his first message. It was simple, nothing elaborate, and nothing gross. Just a hello, adorned with a smiling emoji. It was a hot day in July, one of the hottest New York had experienced all summer, and, after flipping through his pictures again, I decided to answer him.
All great love affairs start in the summer, when the weather is sultry and the air is thick. If I’ve learned nothing else from literature, it’s that weather can dictate the mood and create an atmosphere that extends metaphorically beyond temperature.
We talked about books that we’d read, our favorites, what we thought of the classics. He told me about small, used book shops that he’s found over the years, peppered all over New York City, and I told him about the Harry Potter tattoo that adorns the back of my calf. He invited me to book readings, and I politely declined, too nervous to meet someone I had met on the internet in person.
But something about him kept me answering, and after many exchanged messages and a few weeks, we agreed to meet on the steps of the New York Public Library. I had my reservations—as hard I tried, I couldn’t shake the trailing stigma so closely entwined with online dating. I was nervous he wouldn’t be what I expected, but I was also equally nervous that I wouldn’t be what he expected. Despite my qualms, and with the encouragement of a few friends, I decided to meet the guy who spoke so passionately about Haruki Murakami.
Our first date was at the coffee shop closest to the library. Meeting was endearingly awkward; my worries instantly dissolved when he mispronounced my name, and my heart swelled when the first thing he asked, after apologizing for botching my name, was to see my tattoo. He was even cuter than he appeared in his photos, and, sitting across from me in the small, poorly air-conditioned café, he asked what my favorite book was. When I reached into my bag to grab my copy of The History of Love, he laughed, asking if I always carried around my favorites. Before I could tell him I was in the middle of re-reading it, he mimicked me, pulling out his own battered book. "I’m re-reading mine too," he assured me, his smile reaching his eyes.
He came armed for our second date with a treasure map of used bookstores, strategically placed on a path that ended at the diner where we’d eat dinner. He told me he wasn’t looking for anything serious, a mantra I’d become accustomed to hearing. I brushed it off; I was looking for a nice person to spend the summer with, not a marriage proposal. He took me to Revolution Books, a used bookstore in Chelsea, where all the books centered on revolution and revolutionary ideas. He kissed me for the first time outside the small storefront, the sun beating down on our backs, the sweat pooling behind my knees as the humid air hung heavy around us. Two other small shops followed, and I perused the aisles of books giddily, concentrating on the hand he gently kept on my lower back rather than the titles in front of me.
The next time we met, I had been delegated the task of planning that day’s date. I planned to hit two bookstores in the East Village, an area I was most comfortable with, on that balmy Sunday. We walked leisurely along Seventh Avenue, watching the street numbers shrink, my hand resting comfortably in his. Alabaster Bookshop is a tiny store on Fourth Ave., a block away from Union Square, with shelves squeezed tightly together and piles of books stacked precariously in the small space. He followed behind me closely as we browsed the shelves, his breath on my neck, his fingers trailing up my arms.
At lunch, we talked about school—while he had just graduated, I still had two years left—and our dreams for the future. His future didn’t intersect with mine, and I felt a twinge in my chest. Over the weeks, I’d been repeating the mantra “just for the summer” to myself, trying to keep my thoughts in line when they drifted to the possibility of a relationship. I wanted to keep it casual, but I knew I liked him more than I had liked anyone in a while. He challenged me to think; he didn’t just ask me who my favorite author was, but why.
I took him to the Strand Book Store, and he was amazed that he had never visited the four-floor book haven before. He followed so closely behind me that it became hard to concentrate on anything but the heat radiating off his body. Down in the basement, he led me down a maze of book shelves, and after settling in a deserted section rife with law manuals, pushed me up against the stack, pressing his mouth against mine.
We got a lot less creative in our bookstore selection after that. Day after day, we found ourselves in the law section of the Strand, voraciously kissing, our hands in places they shouldn’t have been. We’d take breaks to walk along Washington Square Park, eating ice cream that melted too quickly, while discussing the probability of the existence of paranormal activity. I found myself falling for him, thinking about him even when I wasn’t with him, hoping he’d change his mind.
On the first night we spent together, we discussed Harry Potter and how differently the character’s life would have been had he been raised by wizards rather than muggles. He told me I excelled at pillow talk, and he was happy to add a Harry Potter after-sex conversation to his list of firsts. My heart swelled to three times its original size, but I knew my summer and its romance was coming to a fast end.
I was standing outside the Strand Bookstore the last time I saw him. He assured me that we’d keep in touch as he pulled me in by my waist. I smiled and reached up to meet his lips, knowing very well that it would be the last time I kissed him. I watched as he turned and walked up the block, the sun orange, huge and low in the sky. I tore my gaze away from his retreating back, knowing, deep down, that that was the last time I’d ever see him.
And I was right; I haven’t seen him since. His chapter in my book may be finished, but it’s well-read, highlighted and dog-eared, and always leaves me smiling every time I re-read it.
Elissa is a 22-year-old studying journalism in New Haven, Connecticut. Hailing from Long Island, she doesn’t correct anyone who assumes she’s from the city, just like she doesn’t correct anyone who assumes she’s a student at Yale. Besides drinking too much coffee and daydreaming about traveling the world, she spends most her time writing, reading and complaining about the weather. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @elissasanci.
featured image via edirain on pixabay
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Elissa Sanci is a twenty-something writer who's now a grad student studying journalism in New York because she was reluctant to start the real world. Besides drinking too much coffee and daydreaming about traveling the world, she spends most her time writing, reading and complaining about the weather. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @elissasanci.