“Mr Cooper, that door has been locked since 1996. What makes you think I’m going to open it for you?”
“Please, Mr Welding.” He begged. “We need to give these students access to books. They can’t just be locked away like that, it’s a waste of knowledge.”
The headteacher rose his brows and leant back in his chair. The last time Benji was sat in his office, he was in shock; it was his first day at Oakleaf and Mr Welding hadn’t eased his concerns in the slightest. “The last headmaster closed down the library and I have no intent to reopen it. It was attracting no more than a couple of students a fortnight and the school was losing money from the librarian’s salary.”
“That was over twenty years ago!” Benji complained. “Things are different now. We want to learn, sir.”
“Maybe you do, Mr Cooper. And maybe some kids mights. But not here. Not at Oakleaf.”
“You don’t know that—”
“I would advise you to stop talking back, young man.” He snapped. “This isn’t how we do things here. You don just come marching into my office demanding favours.”
“I’m sorry, sir.” Benji said sincerely, his eyes falling down to his lap where he played with his tie distractedly.
“Those books haven’t been updated in twenty years.” He continued. “They’re no use to anyone.”
“But they are, sir.” Benji contradicted as respectfully as he could. “Classic literature only grows in value. Shakespeare, Hardy, Brontë, Dickens—”
“Yes, I know my literature, Mr Cooper.” He silenced him. His cold eyes watched Benji for a moment, his expression blank and unreadable before he began to type away on the old fashioned computer. “For someone with such a passion for reading, your grades aren’t particularly impressive. Not even in English.” He said blandly, his eyes scanning the screen.
“I know, sir.” Benji gulped, his cheeks reddening in embarrassment. “I have dyslexia so I’m not great in lessons, but I love to read.”
Mr Welding sighed and turned his attention back to Benji. “Very well, Mr Cooper.” He said stiffly.
Benji grinned in excitement, “Thank you—!”
“But there are conditions.” He cut him off. “I will give you the key but that stays in your possession, no one else’s. If you’re so eager for everyone to have access to books, then it is your responsibility entirely. It needs to be supervised when open and you need to arrange closing times.”
“W-Wait...does that mean I have to run it?”
“Precisely.” He responded simply. “I will not be interfering, nor will any other members of staff. This is a big responsibility so I would suggest you only open it a couple days a week in the beginning.”
Benji nodded enthusiastically, “Yeah...uh, sure.”
“If the library turns into a crack den or a place to deal drugs, it will be shut down immediately and I’ll be holding you personally responsible for these activities. Do you understand?”
“Of course, sir.”
Mr Welding leant down to riffle through a draw, before producing a large circular key ring, holding what had to be over fifty keys. It took a while before he finally located the right one and twisted it out of the bundle before sliding it over the table. Benji tucked it into his pocket, careful not to lose it before he’d even left the room. “Oh, and it’s going to need a deep clean.” Mr Welding added as an afterthought. “Take anything you need from the storage cupboard closest to the library and make sure to return everything once you’re done. You’ve got twenty years worth of dust to clean.”
Benji stopped off at Diesel’s room on the way, fidgeting and grinning like an idiot, beyond excited to find out what lay behind that mysterious door. “I’ve got a surprise.” He told him eagerly, grabbing Diesel’s wrist and beginning to pull him down the corridor.
“Pup?” Diesel laughed faintly. “Where are we going?”
“Somewhere we’ve never been before. Somewhere no one’s ever been before.”
“Are you high?” He chuckled, enjoying how warm Benji’s cheeks looked, how his dimples indented his cheeks and his smile shone brighter than he’d ever seen it. Benji eventually stopped in front of a tall shadowed door and leant down to fiddle with the padlock, leaving Diesel clueless at his stared at the bold letters, ”Bibliotheca?”
“It’s Latin.” Benji replied, “It means library.”
“We have a library?”
“We do now.” The lock finally clicked open and Benji’s smile grew as he let the heavy padlock fall to the ground. He stood to his full height, slipped his fingers between Diesel’s and pushed the door open.
The boys both gasped, their eyes widening, their interlocked hands tightening.
Dust was collecting everywhere; every surface, every corner, every crack. Spider webs wove loosely around books, dirtied shelves, and stands. Outdated lamps hung from the rafters, tangled wires embedded into the cracked ceiling. The ground was littered with dirt, broken glass, books, and torn paper. Large windows pierced the walls and allowed slivers of light to filter through along with thin ropes of ivy.
It was hauntingly beautiful. Eerily angelic. A place which made Benji want to flee from shivers of nerves and yet stay for eternity.
The ceiling was low and the air was chilling, the thin cracked windows doing little to keep out the cold. A tall desk and a spinning wooden chair were nestled into the corner, magazines littering the table, an archaic computer sat patiently waiting for its owner to return and switch it on after twenty years of silence. Beyond the front desk, a long table stretched out almost to the far wall and rows of shelves surrounded it, creaking with the weight of unread books.
“This is crazy.” Benji whispered.
Diesel was too starstruck to reply, his lips parted, his eyes glossy with wonder. “Insane.” He murmured.
Benji stepped over the debris littering the floor and plucked out the first book he saw. Bound in red leather, cracked and dry with age, the thin volume smelled faintly of coffee and dust. The pages within were brittle and what remained of the book’s original stitching barely held it together. A faded scrawl on the inside cover announced that the book once belonged to a boy named Pierre Blake. “Wonder what he’s doing now.” Benji mumbled to himself, flicking through the pages curiously.
“If he went here, probably in jail.” Diesel replied, his finger running along the spines of books as he strolled along the row. “This place wasn’t what it is now.”
“What’d you mean?”
“It used to be worse. So much worse. They try to hide the history behind this place but it’s still there. The teachers would beat the kids, half of them left this place only to be checked into a mental asylum straight after.”
Benji’s brows furrowed as he reread Pierre Blake’s name with sadness. Was he beaten? Was he in prison? Was he driven to insanity by this place?
“I’m gonna reopen it.” Benji declared, slipping the book back into its place and wandering along the shelves, his eyes scanning worn covers. “Welding said I could.”
“That seems like a lot a work.” Diesel pointed out, walking across the other side of the bookcase. When Benji stopped to reach for a book, Diesel grabbed his cold hand and forced him to look at him through the shelf. “You gonna be up for it?”
Benji shrugged. “Something to distract me.”
“Let me distract you.” He countered. “You don’t need to run an entire library for that. It’s gonna be tough, Pup.”
“Well, it’s a good thing I’ve got you to help.” He smiled sweetly.
Diesel sighed, his fingers still curled around Benji’s wrist. He could feel the raised scars lining his forearm, but there weren’t any fresh wounds. That was all that mattered. “You okay now?”
Benji felt Diesel’s cool thumb caressing his wrist and slowly retracted his arm. “Yeah. I’m okay.” He smiled falsely and continued searching through books, looking for hidden treasures. “I can’t believe this place has been untouched for so many years.” He commented in fascination.
“It gives me the creeps.” Diesel shuddered. “It feels like there are ghosts lurking somewhere.”
“Maybe there are.” Benji teased, strolling around until he reached Diesel on his side of the bookcase. “Well, ghosts of characters and storylines that is.” He smiled lightly. “Think how many different worlds exist in this very room. How many hours spent writing every chapter, every paragraph, every sentence.”
“Every word.” Diesel finished in a whisper before turning to Benji with heavy eyes. He cupped his cheeks in his warm hands and leant down, pressing his lips against Benji’s. The other boy hummed in satisfaction, almost as if an urge had been quenched. Almost as if he’d been waiting for Diesel to kiss him.
It was gentle and slow as Benji hesitantly clung onto Diesel’s scruffy shirt and kissed him back. Their lips moved in sync, the dead silence of the room disturbed with the sound of panting and soft mumbles and moans. Diesel’s hands fell to his Pup’s waist as he gently nudged him towards the long, creaky table, before hoisting him up and standing between his thighs, their passionate kiss never once interrupted.
Benji’s fingers knotted into Diesel’s dark hair, holding on for support in fear that the kiss would consume him. He was glad he wasn’t standing up, otherwise his knees would certainly give way from the pure ecstasy that was currently infecting his body. “I love kissing you.” Diesel smirked into his lips.
“Then don’t stop.” Benji smiled back, pulling Diesel’s mouth back to his.
Diesel laughed, complying with Benji’s demand and kissing him with everything he had. But he was holding back and containing himself as best he could, trying not to let his animal side emerge. He was scared he’d hurt Benji if he did. He wasn’t ready for that. For now, he had to treat him with care. And he would. Because Benji meant more to him than anyone else ever had.