He was third in line. He shifted his weight, his long fingers gripping the books and CD’s in his hand. The girl at the counter was arguing with the librian behind the counter. “This is bullshit. I can’t borrow books because I don’t have proof of a fixed address.”
“I’m sorry it’s the rules.”
“Bullshit.” She stormed off. He put his picks down on a table and quickly followed her out the doors.
She was muttering to herself, and walking fast. His legs were much longer than hers and he caught up to her quickly.
“You could put your books on my card if you want.” He cleared his throat, hoping he had spoke loud enough. He had a habit of being quiet.
She stopped walking and stared at him. He smiled a little, dropping his shoulders from their hunched state. She waved her hand and started walking again. “I’ve seen you around the square. I don’t mind if you don’t return them even.”
She stopped again, and turned on him. Her hands on her hips. “And what would you ask from me in return?”
She looked at him in disbelief. “It’s okay. I’ll just figure out something else for entertainment.”
He shrugged and kept walking beside her.
“Are you following me? Weren’t you getting books or something at the library?”
“I’ll go back another day. It was just a way to spend time.”
She stopped at the corner, watching the lights.
“I’m not following you. I’m going this way. To the square?”
“I’m going to the hostel. I have a headache.”
“You live at the hostel?’
“Why else would I go there?”
He didn’t say anything. She looked at him disgusted and then turned away. She stalked across the street. On the other side she stopped again. She looked at him. “You’d really let me get books on your card?”
“If you want some.”
She dropped her shoulders. Defenses down she looked at him. She almost had to take a few steps back to look at him. He was tall. “Maybe another day. I don’t think I should go back in there for a while.”
He laughed. “Probably not.”
“You want to get a cup of coffee with me or something?”
“Food?” His stomach had been rumbling and he had a few extra dollars in her pocket.
“We pay for our own,” she said, turning.
“Deal.” He smiled, looking down at her. She was frightened. She was trembling. Part of him wanted to take her and protect her from what she was running from. But, he knew better than to try to get close. Girls like that bit and ran, and he would end up getting hurt. He’d been around long enough to know better. But, there was something about her, that he longed to discover.
Twenty minutes later they were eating. She devoured her sandwich like she hadn’t eaten in days. Apparently living at the hostel, maybe she hadn’t eaten in a while. He watched her eat for a while, until she realized he was and stopped eating. He picked up his sandwich and ate as well.
They had both ordered the cheapest thing on the menu- a ham sandwich with a milk. Cheap and nutritious.
“How long have you been at the hostel?”
“Less than a month. I work at the fast food place around the corner.” She chewed her sandwhich. “Today’s my day off and I thought I’d check my email at the library and get some reading material.”
“Do you live here?”
“Here?” He furrowed his brow, trying to decide what here meant.
“In the city.”
“Oh yeah. I have an apartment near here. I work at the mini-mart in the square. Which is why I’ve seen you.”
The square was an area of the city that was termed “seedy” by the middle class, problem area by politics, crime riddled by the police, and home by 20-somethings working dead end jobs or travelling cheaply. Drugs were on the corners, hookers came out at night. A few business clung onto life there. And the buildings were all but condemned.
“Good place for snacks. At least it’s not far from the hostel.” She bowed her head and considered what was left of her sandwhich. She picked it up and took a tentative bite.
“It’s not shameful to live there you know.” He wanted to reach out and comfort her.
“I just used to have this good life. And, sometimes it’s hard.”
He wanted to ask about it, but something held his tongue. He turned his concentration to his food, giving her a moment to gather herself. “People in the square are anything but glamorous. But most of us came from a good life. But we ended up here. You know.”
She nodded. She knew too well, but she wasn’t about to confess to this stranger how she ended up here. She finished off her sandwhich and wiped her hands and face on the napkin.
He still had half of his left. She leaned back in her chair and looked at him. It was the first time she had really looked. She had avoided eye contact for most of the meal together. Her mouth half opened and he thought she was going to say something, but then she turned away from him and looked out the window.
He shrugged, chewing on the last bite of his sandwhich. Her long hair fell over the side of her face that was turned to him. It was dark and wavy, like she was. He laughed to himself, at the simile his mind had come up with. Her eyes were dark and unreadable behind her square glasses. The glasses were fairly new, he thought, not scratched or worn.
She turned back to him, her hair brushing over her shoulders. She brushed it out of her eyes and tucked it behind her ear. “How is your headache?” he asked softly.
“I’m okay. The frustration is forgotten. What are you doing now?”
He shrugged. “I thought about going home and reading my books. Or heading to the square and seeing who was about.”
“You have lots of friends there.”
It was more like a statement, but he replied as if it had been a question. “I do. I’ve been hanging around the square for a long time.”
She smiled, looking wistful.
“Do you want to come hang out with me? I’ll introduce you to some people.”
“I’ve learned not to make attachments. I never stay in one place long.”
Why? The question was posed on his lips, but it remained unspoken. “Come on, you don’t want to go sit on your bed in the hostel and pretend to sleep.”
She stared at him, the shock registering on her face. His lips turned into a little smile. “Please. My friends will all be jealous that I brought a pretty girl.”
She smiled, in spite of herself. “Fine. But just this once. If you ever come into my work I will pretend like I don’t know you.”
They left the restaurant. She flung her backpack, which was stuffed quite full on to her back. “What’s in the pack?” he asked.
“Everything I own is in here. I can’t leave it at the hostel. At work I have a locker. The rest of the time I carry it everywhere.”
“Everything you own is in there.” He stopped walking and looked at the pack.
He tried to imagine why she came to a place in her life where everything in the world to her fit into one small canvas bag.
“Don’t look at me with pity,” she said, not turning around. She was several steps in front of him and moving further away.
“I’m just amazed. Shocked. In wonder. But I won’t ask you any questions, because you won’t answer them anyway.” He had closed the space between them.
She smiled up at him. “You are right about that. My name is Ocean.”
He looked at her, surprised to realize they hadn’t yet exchanged names. “Terin.”
“Nice to meet you Terin.”
“You too.” He smiled at her, and put his arm around her. She didn’t shrug him away.
It was early afternoon, when most people started making their way to the square. Most of them preferred to be there at night. Terin sat down at the fountain, which had long been empty. He stretched out, enjoying the warmth of the sun.
Ocean sat cautiously beside him. She perched on the edge, eyes sweeping the square. She looked like she was ready to jump and run at a moment’s notice.
“Are you always so tense?” Terin’s leaned forward, his mouth close to her ear.
She jumped. “Living on street makes one tense.”
He didn’t say anything. Just looked at her with his deep blue eyes. She looked away quickly. He smiled and sighed a little. He touched her back softly. She tensed, but otherwise didn’t move.
“Terin, hey man.” Terin took his hand off Ocean’s back so he could shake his friend’s hand. Ocean turned towards them as they greeted one another.
“Hi, Rex. How’s it going?”
“Not bad. Finally dragged myself out of my place. You?”
“Alright. A day off is always good.”
“Except for not making any money.”
Ocean finally turned toward them. Terin smiled at her, reassuringly. “Ocean this is Rex, a good friend of mine. Rex this is Ocean.”
“How’d you get a girl to talk to you man?”
“I made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.” Terin and Rex grinned at each other. Ocean rolled her eyes and sighed loudly. Terin sobered. “Sorry. We just sorta ran into each other. I talked her into coming down here with me. She’s new.”
Rex nodded. “I see. Well, nice to meet you.” He didn’t offer his hand to her.
She forced a smile at him. “Nice to meet you too.”
He sat down beside Terin. “Where’s the computer?”
“I left it at home. I was just going to go to the library and then back home. But then I met Ocean and she sweet talked me.” Terin turned and smiled at Ocean. She didn’t look amused at his comments. “You did. Swearing at the librarian like that. People always get pushed around by them.”
No one said anything. Terin turned to Rex and started a conversation. Ocean watched them. Rex then excused himself and walked off.
Terin turned to Ocean. “You shouldn’t be so hostile all the time. You aren’t going to get attacked in the square in the daylight.”
Ocean opened her mouth and then closed it, slouching.
“Old habits die hard, I know. A smile, a nice friendly hello, that’s all you need. I’m not asking you to start a life long friendship.”
“I don’t like you telling me how to live my life. You know nothing about me.”
Terin sighed. There would be no way to break through her defenses like this. He decided it was better to just let it go. “You are right. I’m sorry.”
“I better be going.” Ocean stood up and looked at him, uncertain what to say for parting words.
“When is your next day off?”
“Next Tuesday.” Ocean replied before thinking about it.
“I work the evening shift that day. I’ll meet you at the front doors of the hostel at 11 AM to head to the library.”
She shook her head. “That’s okay. Thank you for the offer.”
“I’m not taking no for answer Ocean. So, you can meet me then or I’ll harass you until you give in.”
“Fine. 11. Next Tuesday. See you then.” She turned and waved at him over her shoulder.
He smiled and got up to head back to the library. He still needed some reading material.