A Bear's Contentment
by Hairy 1
The leap of a large fish nearby broke Daniel from his reverie. He didn't quite look over quickly enough to see the fish, but just to see the spreading circles caused by its action, and eventually the ripples lapped over his toes. He looked at his watch and was surprised at how long he had sat distracted. Rising, he slipped his sandals on and headed over to the library, a Saturday afternoon ritual. One would think that editing books would leave him without a desire to read more in his free time, but it only served to pique his interest. Besides, editing was mostly done online now, and part of the joy of reading was the weight of a book in his hands, the sound of a page rustling as it was turned, the smell of the paper, the actual character of a physical book.
Pushing open the big glass doors, Daniel entered the quiet lobby area of the small town library. The facility was actually very large and technologically modern for a town this size, in part due to the generosity of the founders of the publishing house he worked at. He occasionally would spend time perusing the shelves for treasures he had never heard of, but as he preferred to read in the comfort of his own home, he generally reserved his books from the online card catalogue, which allowed him access to a vast number of titles and to have them conveniently dropped off at his local library free of charge.
As he walked up to the circulation desk, a friendly voice greeted him. "Hi Daniel. You're running later than usual, I was starting to think that I was going to have to find space for this large stack you put on hold."
"Now Joy, you know me better than that, what would I do without a book or two about? Besides, then you'd be bored without processing all these returns I have for you." Daniel said as he emptied his canvas carry bag into the returns slot.
"Oh, don't worry about that. The new scan system checks them in for me right as you slide them down. All I have to do is either re-shelve them or sort them over to the bins for the inter-library loan van. It leaves me a lot more time to help out visitors. I see you are finally winding down that one series, books 6 and 7 came in."
"Oh, great. I started reading them at just the right time too; I can read the whole series through without waiting, as the final book just came out. I have a hold on it already. These authors have really caught my attention; it is fascinating that they can co-write so seamlessly, their strengths are so complimentary."
"Yes, these books are very popular; it is hard to believe the series is the first published full length work by either, before this they were well known for short stories, both individually and then together. That last book just came in a couple days ago, and is already checked out. There are so many holds it is listed as no inter-library loan as of yet."
"I'm not first in line? Dang, luckily I have plenty of other reading to keep me busy!"
"Ha, that is for sure. Let me check, yes, you are next on the list for our copy, and it is listed as no renewals, so you should see it soon."
Continuing his easy banter with the librarian, Daniel hands over his library card for scanning, and then reloads his canvas bag with the new books, an assorted collection with something for any mood which might strike him. With a wave good bye, he turns and heads out the door for the short walk home, whistling tunelessly to himself, trying to decide what to start reading after making a hearty dinner for himself.
Daniel's week goes by as always, steady and smooth. He is busy at work, yet not so much so as to be stressed. His co-workers are friendly and they often chat about life's happenings – a kid’s soccer game, the weather, gardens, asking if Daniel is dating. There is interest but no pressure. Daily he returns home to his garden and to his books, and enjoys his peaceful solitude. The week passes, then another. For Daniel, life is good and he is content.
Another weekend arrives, as does autumn. Daniel enjoys the changing foliage in his garden and the cool crisp air at night. Sitting by the river, he notices some of the leaves have turned, and sees one gently fall from an overhanging oak branch into the water. The currents, slow and steady as always, catch the leaf and draw it along, then suddenly something, maybe a rock beneath the surface, causes the leaf to spin a bit and drift erratically before finally again catching the flow and straightening back out, following a new path, just as smooth and steady as before. He watches the leaf move away until it is out of sight, a slight smile on his face, pondering how the smallest change can affect things, then turns to head over to the library.
As he walks into the library, the smile still on his face, he hears an animated discussion at the desk. Joy is speaking with someone at the library counter that he has never seen before, and apologizing. As Daniel draws closer, he overhears that the man had mistakenly dropped the wrong book down the return slot and wanted it back as he had only 100 pages left of this eighth and last book in a series, but the new system has already checked it in and there are holds by multiple people. The man is pleading that there must be something she can do, he is loud but not threatening, but Joy sadly shakes her head. Standing in the queue, Daniel has time to look at the man, he is handsome in a bearish manner, shorter than Daniel but almost as stocky, a full black beard shot through with some gray, his hair long and in a ponytail. Daniel can't help but notice from his angle that the man has a behind which is very nice to look at, his jeans fitting just right. As the man moves aside, Joy smiles and says hello. They chat for a few minutes, then along with a normally large stack Joy hands Daniel the book that had just been returned, as he is next on hold list.
As excited as Daniel is to get to read the novel, he can't help but notice the man still standing nearby, looking a bit dejected (Daniel knows how enthralled one can be with a really good book, so he understands). Motioning him over, Daniel explains that he couldn't help but overhear the discussion, and with a smile he generously resolves the dilemma by checking out the book and handing it to the man with an offer to let him borrow it to finish. Joy is smiling (a good librarian likes happy readers) but says in a cautionary tone "Remember, the book is in your name so you're responsible."
"Well, I'm usually a pretty good judge of character and I'll trust him. Anyone who likes books this much can't be that bad."
The man is surprised, thanking Daniel several times. Daniel writes down his address and tells him to drop the book off in the mailbox when he is done, "but don't take too long as I am anxious to read it. Luckily I have the rest of these to keep me occupied."
The next day, Sunday, Daniel is gardening in the back yard. It is unseasonably hot, he is a bit sweaty, but then, that is what happens to big hairy guys in hot weather. A light breeze travels through the trees, keeping it from being unbearable. As he pauses to look around at his progress, he hears his doorbell ring. Quickly wiping dirty hands on his pants, he hurries through the house to answer, wondering who it could be as there are no Sunday deliveries and he never has unexpected company.
Standing on the other side of the screened door is the man from the library, with the book and a plate of what looks to be homemade cookies. "Hello there" the man says, looking a bit sheepish. "Thank you so much for loaning me the book, it ends even better than I'd imagined. I intended to read it fast to get it back to you, and that was no problem at all as I couldn't put it down. I'm so glad you live close to the library, I'm new and don't know streets well."
"You needn't have gone to the trouble; I could have waited a couple days."
"Oh, it's no trouble. So far, you're the only person I know in town, and I really appreciate how kind you were."
Suddenly realizing his manners, Daniel opens the door and takes the book and cookies, stretching out his hand. "Well, if I'm the only person you know, I better tell you my name. It's Daniel, Daniel Bjornson."
With a firm shake, the man smiles, a smile which Daniel can't help but think lights up his face. "Pleased to meeting you Daniel, I'm Miles McMahon."
Smiling himself, Daniel invites Miles in for lemonade, apologizing for being such a mess from gardening (though his house is tidy).
"Oh, nothing wrong with a big guy with dirt on his hands who’s sweaty from working hard. You're fine."
They discuss the series of books over lemonade and the cookies, Miles having to curb his enthusiasm in order not to reveal anything from the finale. They compare these books to others they have both enjoyed, finding many common interests, yet also discovering new ones to explore. It seems neither dominates the conversation, both has opinions and a willingness to listen to the others' thoughts. The discussion at times is spirited, and at times breaks down into laughter.
Looking at the time, Miles apologizes "Wow, the afternoon has really gone by fast, I know you were busy in the garden and I didn't mean to take so much of your time. I better get going, but it has been wonderful getting to know you Daniel."
Watching Miles stroll up the sidewalk, Daniel again finds his eyes drawn to the behind that fits so well in Miles' jeans, and thinks about how nice it was to speak to him.
Daniel's week again goes by as always, steady and smooth. He is still busy at work, his co-workers are friendly and they often chat about life's happenings – a kid’s soccer game, the weather, gardens. But this week they also comment about how Daniel seems to be smiling privately, something must be up. He just laughs and says "no, nothing is up" but finds the smile back on his face anyway. The next weekend he finds himself actually hurrying from the river to the library, ready to return the book in question, but when he doesn't see Miles, he realizes that he had hoped to, to be able to discuss the conclusion.
"How silly you are" he thinks, shaking his head, "one pleasant conversation doesn't mean someone is interested in knowing you better." Life continues, Daniel is content, and time flows on.
The next weekend, there is a small art fair in the next town over, and Daniel decides to go. He browses the booths, chatting with some of the artists, buying a snack here and there ("have to maintain this burly physique" he chuckles to himself).
He hears music from the other side of the park, and wanders over, munching on a bag of fresh kettle corn. It is a rich baritone voice, accompanied only by a guitar, singing an old folk tune. He finds himself drawn to it, picking up strong visualizations from the tone and words. Height having its' advantage, he draws closer and looks over the heads of the crowd. With a start, he realizes it is his acquaintance from the library, his eyes closed as he sings. Daniel slowly sits down at the back of the crowd, leaning against a tree, watching and listening but invisible as always. He finds his eyes closing slightly, his kettle corn forgotten, the music flowing across him like the water of the river, peaceful and soothing, leaving him content. He's never experienced this before, contentment not from solitude but from the presence of another, for definitely Miles is fully present in his music.
All too soon, Daniel's reverie is broken by applause, and the audience getting up. Blinking quickly, as if awakening from a dream, he rises to his feet, clapping with everyone else. He moves forward to drop a few dollars in the guitar case as other people are doing, his head bowed as usual in an unfamiliar crowd. But escape is not that easy,
"Daniel! Hello. What a pleasant surprise." Miles says, leaning forward to clasp Daniel's hand.
They can only exchange pleasantries briefly, as Miles needs to move out of the way for the next performer, whom he has agreed to help set up for (he had played acoustically, so the amplifiers need to be connected), but Daniel feels a strange warmth inside as Miles tells him how pleased he is to see him.
"Miles, that was just wonderful. You are such a talented performer; I've never been so drawn into a song before."
"I'll be performing tomorrow as well, I'm hanging out at the art fair all weekend – maybe you'd like to come with me and some of the others for a drink after we close up tonight?"
"No no, I'd stick out like a sore thumb amongst all you creative types, I'm glad you found a group of friends, I hope to see you again sometime" Daniel sputters out hurried, then kicks himself as him walks away, thinking it would have been nice to spend time with Miles, even in a crowd. "He makes me feel so comfortable" Daniel thinks, but is unable to bring himself to turn around and change his mind, instead leaving the fair so as to be at the library at his normal time.
The next day in his garden, Daniel keeps finding himself drifting to the sound of Miles' music, tempted to go back and listen again, but unable to do so. He tells himself there is nothing wrong with going, that artists enjoy having their work being appreciated, but shies away anyway. Eventually he walks to the river, letting the water flow over his feet, but hearing the echo of a voice in the current, in the rustle of the leaves.
The work week goes by slowly. Daniel finds himself a bit listless, missing something but not knowing what. He hasn't felt this way for so long. After being asked what is on his mind several times, he is more careful to laugh and smile as usual. He draws himself close and returns to normal, letting his routine comfort him, letting life returns to its' usual pattern.
Over the next several weeks, Daniel sees Miles around town a few times, always at a distance, his eyes somehow always drawn directly to him. Miles is always with someone else, talking animatedly, laughing. Daniel is happy for him, that he has found friends and that he is fitting in, and never walks over to say anything, not wanting to intrude.
Always Daniel has the river, even when the approaching winter makes the water too cold to dip his feet in. He has his solitude and peace, and tells himself that it is enough.