The next week at 11 AM, Ocean packed up her bag and left the hostel. True to his word, Terin was a few feet from the door, leaning on the wall. His head was bent as he looked at the book he held in one hand. He was chewing his thumb nail on his other.
“That is an unhealthy habit,” Ocean said, kicking his foot.
He looked up at her with a smile. “What? Oh yeah it is.” He closed the book and put it under his arm. “How are you?”
“Okay. I saw you out here twenty minutes ago.”
“You were watching for me?”
“I wasn’t sure you would come.”
“I didn’t think you would either. If you saw me then why didn’t you come out?”
“You said 11. So here I am.”
He laughed. “You’re quite the girl.”
Ocean shrugged. “So, what’s the plan?”
“To get you some reading material. I need some new stuff too.” He waved his book at her.
She leaned back. “Alright. If you insist.”
“I do. Reading is important.”
She smiled. “It is. I’ve done far too little of it over the past few years. I’ve done far too little of anything productive over the past few years.”
“How long have you been travelling around?”
“Let’s see. I don’t think about it very often. 6 years.”
She turned her head to look up at him. She wondered how old he thought she was. She hadn’t asked anyone that question since she left on her travels. She had been in the middle of her 19th year when she left. The seventh anniversary was five months away, and her birthday was in two weeks. Not that she observed any of that. No one knew when her birthday was, no one knew when the anniversary of her leaving was. No one knew any details of her personal life and she wasn’t about to tell anyone these things.
They chatted casually about city life while they walked. Ocean noticed that Terin was careful never to ask any personal questions nor did he make any personal comments. She was grateful for it. She was grateful for a connection with someone. She had learned early in her travels that it was easier to keep to herself. There was less pain when it was time for her to move on.
Lately she had become tired of having no connections, no where to call home and no one to confide in. She liked moving around, seeing different things and not being tied down. But it was exhausting sometimes.
Terin opened the door for her at the library. “What’s your pleasure, m’lady?” he asked, mocking an accent.
She laughed. “I don’t know. I haven’t read anything in the last six months, and not much in the last six years. Help me find something.”
“What did you like to read before?” Terin looked at her, probing with his eyes. She wanted to run from them, they looked at her as if they knew too much already.
She held her ground, looking back steadily into his eyes. “I used to read silly romance, contemporary literature, and self-help type books. I’ll take anything right now.” She rubbed her hands together, anticipating holding a book, smelling the pages and viewing the words.
“We can do all three of those. Now, I think you should pick two of each for right now. And we can go from there. Don’t think about your choices, just grab something to read for right now.”
He led her to the fiction section. “I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.” He disappeared around the corner.
Ocean wandered for five minutes, just looking at the books. She picked four novels off the shelf, one of which she had read before. She was reading the top one before she could even pull a chair out to sit in.
She was twenty pages into the book when Terin came back. He touched her shoulder, making her jump and throw the book across the table.
“It’s just me,” he said, taking his hand off of her.
“Don’t sneak up on people like that.”
He moved around the table and retrieved the book. “You don’t usually let yourself get lost like that. Is that why you don’t read?”
“Partly. I just haven’t been able to get a card and buying books isn’t cheap. Not the way I read.”
He nodded. “Is it good?” He set the book on the table in front of her.
“Do you want to get some more?”
Ocean shook her head. “Four is all I can fit in my bag, at the moment.”
“I could get you more and keep them at my apartment. Or something.” He shifted nervously in his seat.
She glanced at him. What was he up to? “What do you mean?” she said, slowly, cautiously.
“I meant if you want more I could get them and you can just ask me to switch them when you are done.”
“Or I could just ask you to bring me back to the library when I read these.”
“Oh right you could do that.”
She smiled at him. He was cute, in an odd sort of way. He seemed nice enough, but she wasn’t going to let her guard down just because he was helping her with some books. She looked at her book, pretending to read. She was really steeling her resolve not to get close to anyone. She would be leaving in a matter of months, having tired of being in the same place, having worn out her welcome in the city.
She bit her bottom lip as she raised her eyes. He was looking at his book, h is hands shaking as he thumbed through the pages. Her resolve melted a little. “Thank you for getting me some books,” she said, smiling at him.
He lifted his gaze to hers and smiled back. He visibly relaxed. “No problem. Really.”
She pushed her books across the table to him. He picked them up and stood. They walked silently to the front desk, where she waited by the door, while he had his card ran through and the books marked under his name.
“I promise to return them on time,” she said, as they walked out the door.
She stopped to take the books from him and stuff them in her bag. “Oh no, I forgot to check my email,” she said suddenly. “All the excitement of the books. Do you mind?”
He shook his head, trying to peer at her.
He followed her back into the library, as she strode quickly and confidently to the computers. He sat down at another one and looked at the log in screen. She watched him, waiting to see if he would log in. He didn’t.
Ocean shrugged and logged into the computer and then her email. She sent a quick message to her family, giving them a short update on where she was. She never gave them any identifying information on where she was.
She emailed them once a month to tell them she was still alive. She had been gone for about three months from her family, when she realized how worried they likely wore. She decided that letting them know she was alive and some brief details on her life now was the best path for her.
At first she emailed every week when she had time. Her family messaged her back, demanding to know where she was and what she was doing. At first she refused, but eventually she stopped answering their questions with refusals. She finally decided that once a month was enough contact and they eventually accepted the little contact they got.
She watched Terin as she typed. Paranoid he would get up and try to see what she was doing on her computer. Without checking her typing, she sent off the email. “There that’s done for the month,” she said as she logged off the computer.
“Month?” Terin asked.
“I send one email, once a month on the tenth day. Today.”
“So, someone knows that I’m not dead.”
“Okay.” He furrowed his brow, trying to assimilate this information about her.
She turned and walked away. He caught up with her quickly. “You really should tell me sometime what topics I’m allowed to ask about.”
“I’ll make up that list and give it you tonight.” She grinned at him. She wondered if he was serious. Probably not, she decided, but she might write the list to tease him.
“So what now?” he asked, as they stood in the park outside the library.
“Now we part ways. No wait, how can I get a hold of you if I need another fix.” She patted her bag, reassuring herself that the books were really in there.
“Well, come on, I’ll take you by my apartment and you can see where I live. I don’t have a phone or anything. Otherwise, you can find me at my work.”
She nodded, swallowing. Going by his apartment, even just on the outside seemed risky. She hesitated, thinking about removing the books from her pack and leaving the city immediately.
Her heart raced and her voice got caught in her throat. She forced the fear down as she looked at him. “Okay.”
They had walked a little way when she stopped. “You can’t accuse me of having secrets. There are things you don’t talk about.”
“You are very right. There are things I don’t like to talk about. But it doesn’t mean you can’t ask me.”
“I can ask you about your family or who you’ve been in love with or what your dreams are? Without you getting upset?”
“I won’t get upset. I will just decline to comment.”
She smiled a little.
He was looking at her expectantly.
“I’m not going to ask anything. I refuse to pry into your life.”
He shook his head. “Were you always so fearful?”
“Nope. I used to be very trusting. But, the street life has made me hard.” She scrunched her face into a comical sneer. He laughed and she joined in.
“Well, that you rarely smile or laugh or relax, makes the moments when you do much more rewarding and exciting.”
She looked away from him. Her face heated with a deep blush. Her heart was thrilled. It had been many years since she got a compliment that had nothing attached to it. No deeper motive to try to get something from her. He just wanted to be with her.
There was a sudden fear attached to that thought. He wanted to be with her and she wanted to spend time with him. This meant a growing attachment, something she had ran from for so long. She promised herself after she was done with the books she had borrowed from the library that she would have no more contact with him. Even if it meant she had to move a little head of schedule. She did a quick mental tally of the money she had, it would be tight and she might have to spend a bit of time outdoors, but she could get out in a few weeks time.
She smiled, having settled the anxious thoughts running around her mind.
“What are you thinking of?”
“Returning to read my books.”
He looked at her for a moment more. Then shrugged. She breathed a sigh of relief.