It was just like any other afternoon. There I was, by the riverbank, reading the book I had borrowed from the school library. I knew nothing of it beforehand, yet the library card had a storied history, with its fair share of repeat borrowers. I’m a guy easily swayed by public opinion, so there I went and grabbed it from the return shelf.
It’s good, I tell you. First day with it and I’m a hundred pages already. But that’s not really the point of this tale, is it? It’s about what happened that day.
Without looking back, I knew that someone was descending down the riverbank, approaching the spot I call my secret retreat. A girl, judging from the light footfalls on the grass. No man would care to make such a considerate approach. A girl, from the faint, flowery smell permeating around me.
I didn’t dare look back. The words in my book became unintelligible, and I squinted just to achieve a semblance of comprehension, my eyes speed-reading text, losing my place, repeating, and failing again.
I was, at that point, in a state that you would call defenseless. It wasn’t as if I had never spoken to a girl all my life. The problem was, I’d never spoken to one for no reason. It’s, you know, different? Like you used to call Mary ugly and scabby when you were kids but now she’s in high school and pretty and all? If we just had classes for this sort of thing. It would be more practical than, say, Chemistry.
A rustling in the grass told me that she had sat down, a couple of meters behind me. My fingers tightened on the book, and the wind blew colder. Much colder.
Why is she here? I thought desperately to myself. Did she single me out for unknown, sinister reasons? I’m not much. Average student, average grades, average personality. I just happened to be on this nice, green riverbank, with a book in my hands. Awkward, so awkward. I’m an only child. Heck, I’m too petrified to turn around.
I heard the crisp turning of a page. It was a smooth, practiced gesture, one developed through years and years of reading. Someone like myself could tell that, at least. She was reading a book, too! My heart wanted to scream in elation. That we had something in common. It kept this encounter from being completely hostile.
I resolved what to do.
“You come at last. I have waited too long,” I said. It was a line from the book I was reading. Immediately my heart froze in my chest, and my lungs squeezed all the air in. It is the instinct of a teenage boy to look and sound cooler than what he really is, and I was not able to go against my very nature.
Why the hell did I even say that? Did I even mean those words? She stood up. The rustling of the grass told me so. What they couldn’t tell me was how intense she was staring at my back. That’s something I could tell on my own.
The next few moments became unbearable. Was she going to leave? The wind blew. And then:
“It was a dark road. I have come as I could,” she said reluctantly, as if a great power had coerced the very words from her mouth.
I shivered, though not from the wind. Her voice, soft and ephemeral. This was the person who chose to keep me company? My eyes read on.
“But you are too late,” I said, turning to look at her. The next words almost died in my throat, as I drank in her long, flowing hair and dark, expressive eyes. She wore the uniform of my school, but I’ve never seen her before. “They are lost.”
Without looking at her own book, she replied, those eyes boring into my own: “I know it. But you are not.”
My mind unraveled. How could she know the lines from the book? It couldn’t be…
I held up the book I was reading, making the cover clear to her. “Did you, by any chance, read this?” I asked, dropping the act.
She turned her gaze away, as if it was a small matter. “That’s the last one I returned.”
The last name on the library card. I believed I spoke her name.
She acknowledged it with a smile. And, with my sense of fear taking leave of myself, I told her mine.
* * *
One thing any high school boy, current or otherwise, will tell you: we can’t help but make complete asses of ourselves. High school boys, don’t wait until you’re older to talk to girls! It just gets harder, a fact that I know all too well.
You’re alright, Literary Girl. Happy Valentine’s, everyone!