Bit by bit when he realized Giovanni wouldn’t suddenly attack him and demand sex, would never demand anything of him, Henry eventually relaxed. Their times in their corner of the library resettled into its comfortable silence. Books passed between them without any awkward hesitation when their hands touched accidentally. If Giovanni’s heart sped up every time that happened he didn’t speak of it. He didn’t want to cross any boundaries that Henry had, and he had to wait to find out what they were. But it didn’t matter. He could wait.
Henry started to smile more, talk more.
He seemed to let Giovanni in past the high walls of his usual reserved behavior and let him see what was inside. In the small alcove of the library Henry started to open up, telling Giovanni the truth he so hesitantly but hopefully offered.
He explained all the failed relationships, ‘No one wanted to try to understand,’ he had said in a quiet voice. All the bitter partings that always followed him explaining his lack of interest in sex.
“They thought I didn’t care.”
And worst of all, the one person he had found that he thought understood one day had a fit. Saying Henry was a tease for wanting the occasional kiss and for not realizing how tempting some of his actions were. Giovanni silently agreed that Henry was tempting, Giovanni was constantly tempted to pick Henry up and hold him close, breathe him in, but he couldn’t agree with the idea that it was somehow a fault of his. Henry told Giovanni the way he could feel his heart breaking as his partner threw him out and refused to speak to him again. Giovanni felt such a strong need to comfort Henry as a loss and hurt filled his big brown eyes that he could ignore the nerves that seemed to be his constant companions, and laid a hand over Henry’s silently. Letting him take as much time as he needed to remember that it was in the past. This new silence that hung between them seemed to grow lighter after Henry’s words and Henry smiled as if telling someone all of his troubles was the best thing he could have done. It almost made Giovanni forget the hopeless look on Henry’s face earlier.
Giovanni silently vowed to himself he would never allow another person to put that look on Henry’s face ever again.
And still Giovanni stayed, after every story that Henry told him he would remind his friend he had been bold enough to ask Henry if he could call him that and had never felt more happy when Henry had agreed that he was content with just his company. The occasional brushing of hands when they exchanged books.
Just being his companion was enough.
On their fifty-third meeting, exactly three months after they first met, yes Giovanni still counted, Henry rested his hand on Giovanni’s thigh and leaned in to kiss his cheek.
Giovanni was struck dumb.
He could feel the softness of Henry’s lips on his skin and he was sure his face was bright red. He would remember the moment vividly. The soft yellow light of the library lamps, the sweet scent of honeysuckle and something that was uniquely Henry. The reassuring weight of Henry’s hand on his leg, The soft rustle of pages being turned and the quiet calm of the library. It would all be ingrained in his memory.
Henry simply went back to reading with a pleased little smile on his lips, finally trusting that Giovanni would never push him for more than he was ready. Giovanni was beyond happy. His heart swelled with love for this man who had become so dear to him in such a short time, just from little things that wormed their way into Giovanni’s affections. Like the adorable way Henry would frown when he disagreed with something he read and the way his eyes would light up every time he had a new recommendation for Giovanni.
Giovanni had realized he was in love with his friend on their thirty-seventh meeting after Henry’s usual, ‘hello, my friend,’ had made Giovanni yearn to hear that phrases for the rest of his life. He wanted to see Henry in his chair waiting for Giovanni to join him, share his time with him. And now he knew he also would die a happy man if he got to be kissed, so sweetly, by Henry every day until he stopped breathing. It was a deep need to be around this man that made him realize the heaviness of his heart was an amount of love he had never thought himself capable of.
But still, the way his heart was pounding from the chaste kiss would take some time to get used to. He focused on the leather of the chair, the hush of footsteps on the library carpet, and tried to calm his heart. It was worth it, any kiss from Henry was worth the slight overwhelming feeling that followed.
And they continued like that for months, eventually meeting outside the library. Going to the park to watch the birds in companionable silence; the park bench was painted black and there were daisies blooming in the fields Giovanni remembered. Sitting in coffee shops, a small intimate table by the window where they could see the people passing by, speaking in low, soft tones about whatever book had caught their interest.
One day, in their corner of the library where the window was closed because of the fall breeze turning too cold to be comfortable, Henry set down his book and turned his chair so he was facing Giovanni straight on. His serious, handsome face was sincere as he spoke.
“My thoughts and words are yours to share as my friend. But now you are more than a friend. You, who are so kind and good to me, can have this.” Henry pointed to the center of his chest, towards the heart of everything he was Giovanni thought. His heart. His soul. The library seemed to fade away, all that mattered was Henry.
“You can’t have my body but this I offer to you, my companion.”
Giovanni only nodded, laid his hand over Henry’s and murmured a barely audible but heartfelt thank you. It was the most beautiful moment Giovanni had ever known.
Giovanni thought finally, he had found his life companion.
It wasn’t until they had been living together for years, as close as two people could be in Giovanni’s small apartment that seemed perfectly sized for the two of them, that Henry kissed Giovanni on the lips.
It was Giovanni’s thirty fifth birthday, and their one hundred and fifth visit to their library.
Later that day, on the picnic that Giovanni had dreamed about so long ago with the breeze blowing gently around them and the sun warming their shoulders, Giovanni proposed to Henry. When Henry had whispered in a voice laden with unspoken words of affection, ‘yes,’ Giovanni stopped counting their meetings.
It was only logical, he thought. After all, they would have the rest of their lives. It made much more sense to Giovanni to start counting something else.
Like the first time he said ‘I love you.’