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Y. Lejand, The Coughdrop Kiss

The blinds were drawn across the library windows, but there wasn't much to see on such a gunmetal-gray, cloudy day. There was a certain damp mustiness that rose from the shelves of books. It was a kind of typical dustiness, of mothballs and yellowed pages and outdated magazines, and it lay over the entirety of the library like a fog that not even the misplaced sleek modern furniture from the defunct renovation could disguise.

Naturally on these days visitors were infrequent, but at 6:00 AM in the morning, a rare few actually knew the library was open at such an early time. At a table that was a little island among other little table-islands, they sat across from each other. Their postures were colored gray and listless. They were vaguely leaning forward in a sleepy stupor. Their faces were drawn and sallow. Their shoulders were slack. Their heads were in their arms. One of the two emitted a faint cough.

"God, it sucks to be sick."

"Yeah, tell me about it."

They limply rifled through their books. He lifted his chemistry book out of the way. She shuffled her note cards into order. He opened his copy of Camus' The Stranger, then he sighed and closed it again. She pulled her Spanish book towards her, turned to page 156, sighed and pushed it to the side, and dropped her head onto the cool desk.

"Good idea," he observed, and he promptly laid his head down on the desk as well. As he did so, she could catch the faint whiff of his breath. It was a warm smell, not at all organic or putrid with breakfast or chapped saliva from last night's sleep. She briefly closed her eyes took another quick but cautious breath. But, rather, she surmised, it was minty with a hint of honey and… a missing smell, but her eyes fluttered gently as she also discerned, threading through the other odors, the damp scent of saliva and she was intrigued.

They sat that way, across from each other, their heads down on the cool surface of the desk. She could feel the faint wisp of his exhale wafting across the desktop as if it were slowly tracing the fake whorls and knots of the fake wood grains patterned into the plastic. Each breath created an ephemeral cloud of condensation on the artificial wending woodwork, a map that lead to her, warm on her face, and fascinating to her nostrils.

She breathed out, sending her own breath like a telegram, but de repente (as page 156 of her Spanish book flashed nonsensically through her mind) something gurgled in her throat as she tried to exhale. Her eyes shot wide open. She sat up so suddenly that she jostled the desk and let out a whooping, cacophonous cough. It was the kind of cough that was meant to clear the throat of phlegm, mucus, and other gooey debris, and it clacked into the back of her mouth and onto the roof of her mouth in a gummy clatter, which she promptly swallowed.

He was already sitting up.

She allowed herself a sheepish gaze and politely cleared her throat with a small ahem. "That was gross," she said.

He had no comment. "You want a cough drop?" he asked, already reaching into his backpack.

She was already unwrapping her own. "That's okay." She could feel it quell her cough and soothe her throat, but it was the medicated taste that was marketed as "cherry-flavored."

Once more she tried to focus on page 156. The verbs were swimming in front of her eyes. Tengo la tos. No, it's el tos. No, it's la tos. The fluorescent lights made the page burn too bright. Everything around her looked dull. She decided to put her head back onto the desk. He was already head down in the book, sleeping. His lips fluttered as he breathed out. From this low angle, the words in the book appeared slanted. Y de repente los dos… But she could feel the tugging sensation at her eyelids.

I was… She stopped when he stopped. Just wondering… She had been dreaming about bees and koalas chewing doublemint gum and stopped. What… The warm sensation of his breath on her face had ceased and she indistinctly wondered why. Flavor… She heard a shuffle of clothing and opened her eyes. Then she closed them again.

The taste, it was laced with honey and mint, and ah--she licked his lips meditatively--the missing scent, the missing flavor… she contemplated as they allowed their tongues, sweetly flavored by the slick, sweetened, medicated lozenges, to collide… the missing scent, the missing flavor…

"Thanks for the extra cough drop."

"Same here. See you in class then."

She unwrapped the cough drop he had given her and smoothed out the wrapper. She read the ingredients: mint, honey, and…eucalyptus.

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