Tap. Tap. Trrrk.
Constance leaned closer to the wall and pulled her notebook closer, scribbling to catch the last word of Ian’s message.
How are you?
“That’s the best you can come up with?” She teased through the vent in the wall and waited for Ian’s response. What use was learning a nearly extinct language like Morse Code if all they exchanged were three-word pleasantries?
Outside, rain pattered against the windowpanes of the old library, the humidity mingling with the welcome scent of paper and ink. With final exams finished for the semester, the place was quiet, save for the intermittent knocking on the wall behind her.
The seconds ticked by before another series of taps sounded through the thin plaster.
Tap, tap, trrrk, tap …
A single tap for a dot and a three-finger roll for the dash. Constance jotted down the letters one by one as Ian drummed out another message.
“Fine,” she huffed. She rapped out the single word and frowned. This was not what she’d had in mind when he’d asked her out on this date after her Shakespeare final. Next week would mark a year since they’d been together, and so far, it had been anything but ordinary. As if college wasn’t confusing enough, Ian Westhoff was still a mystery she’d yet to untangle. A mathematics major, he saw the world through a lens all his own, but she had to admit that was one of the things she loved most about him.
What’re you thinking over there?
Constance fumbled through the translation and slowly replied as she scanned over the cheat sheet. Only what a goofball you are.
I think you mean charming.
Of course. Silly me. She smiled, thinking of his eternally-tousled hair and strange love of numbers. One of these days, she’d convince him to leave behind the books and go on an actual adventure or two. They could easily cross off the rest of their James Bond marathon if this spy talk was any indication, but as long as she got to spend time with him, she wasn’t complaining.
He started to ask another question, and she stopped him. Nope. Your turn. What are you thinking? She’d learn what calculations and theories were swimming around in that head of his, even if it meant communicating through a wall.
The tapping started again in rapid-fire succession. Her eyes couldn’t scan the book fast enough while Ian’s taps gained speed. Hand beginning to cramp, she dropped her pencil in frustration.
“I’m sorry, can you start over and go a little slower?” she spoke into the wall. “I didn’t catch that last bit.” There was a long pause. Constance wondered if he had heard her. “Ian. Are you still there?” She was about to pick up her notebook and walk next door when his short reply came.
L. I. D.
She flipped through the book titled Morse Code and its Abbreviations until she reached the correct section. Halfway down the page, she found the code and bit back a laugh. “I’m not a poor operator. How is anyone supposed to keep all those dots and dashes straight when your knocks sound like a woodpecker on caffeine?”
Not even Captain Nemo could keep up with Ian’s jumbled tapping. He’d send the fictional hero halfway across the Atlantic before someone stepped in to translate.
With her pencil poised over the page, she leaned in and waited. After a few long seconds, Ian responded with three simple letters:
I. L. U.
Constance held her breath, the air suddenly thin in the empty room. She didn’t need a code book to translate those three letters.
She raised a trembling hand to respond, suddenly grateful for the wall between them shielding her flushed face. When the door behind her squeaked open, she turned and looked up into Ian’s hazel eyes.
Gone was the playful smile from earlier, replaced by a seriousness reserved for only the most perplexing of equations.
“Did you really mean that?” she asked.
He bowed his head and stepped into the room. His eyes seemed weary beneath his flop of unruly hair. Shoving his hands into his pockets, he looked up, the silent question emanating from his very being.
Constance closed the book and stood, her hand braced against the cool wall for fear her knees might crumple beneath her.
Lifting her hand, she rapped out her four-digit reply. Her fist stilled after the final tap, and the sound reverberated all the way to her toes.
I. L. U. 2.
He took another step forward, and his hand found hers. His eyebrows drew together as if he were on the cusp of puzzling out the solution to the infamous Navier–Stokes Equation. “You do?”
She studied the rise and fall of his chest where a heart as pure as the summer snowmelt beat only for her. Steady. Constant. Ever flowing. She didn’t need a calculator to figure out how their lives added together.
With her free hand, she traced the worry lines from his face and smiled up at him.
“I meant it. Every tap.”
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