What We Were

I blink cautiously, uncertain that for the infinitesimal moment my eyes are closed he would disappear. A moment of nearly imperceptible darkness passes before my eyes, and when the light again floods them, he is still there, leafing through a novel, eyes scanning the pages steadily—we both know he isn’t actually reading, though. At least I think I know, because the second I turn away to reach for a book—whose title I haven’t bothered to read—his eyes are on me. As if his gaze is an apparition, an extension of his being, he seems to loom behind me and to glance over my shoulder, wanting to say, “Hey, what have you got there? Any good? I know this one is.” And his torso would hover, ever so gently, before mine, only a few atoms of the clothes separating us are touching, as he reaches over my head to grab another cryptic title and press it softly into my hands.

At that exact moment, I realize I am not blinking again, so I pause, blink, and turn to face the man. I say boldly, “You’re only a mere spectre.” In an instant his apparition vanishes, and I, looking over at the fleshly form, find him concentrating on turning the pages of a blank novel. Reminding myself to blink, lest his apparition should return, my gaze wanders to my hands and in surprise this time, I blink, finding myself clutching 6 books—the only evidence of his lingering presence. Sighing softly, I turn and walk to a table behind me to set the books down. When I look up, I let out a quiet gasp, for there he is: sitting at the table, with his own pile of books, making no motion to hide his stare directed upon me.

He is staring.

I tremble a little at the intensity of his gaze, as a sweet shiver traces a path down my spine. I flush, afraid he knows what I was imagining, but then feel indignant, because it was he after all, who was staring at me from the beginning.

Fortunately, composure soon settles, and I place it upon my face as a mask. I pull out a chair and hesitate. Something innate compels me to speak, so looking directly into his eyes, I whisper, “Do I—”

“Know you,” he finishes.

I sit down, with a plop louder than I intended.

I am unsure of how to proceed, so I simply stare back. His eyes have a strange cast to them; they glimmer and I can see flecks of gold against a silver-blue canvas. They captivate me and I lean a little closer. His lips curve upward slightly, making me pause as I realize he is smirking. Without thinking, I say, “Why are you so—”

“Familiar?” He says nothing else.

I bite my lower lip, trying to be reasonable. There is no way he knows me; I’ve never seen him outside of this library, and besides, I’ve only seen him at the library once or twice before. Perhaps the silence is too oppressive, because he suddenly frowns. He leans forward, and I pull back, thinking I should leave, but that same innate feeling compels me to stay.

“Have you really forgotten me, Liliana?” An overwhelming sadness fogs his eyes: they are grey storm-clouds above murky blue waters. Somehow, I want to cry. His frown deepens.

“Maybe…” he mumbles, looking away. He takes a book from the pile next to him, and I see that it is actually a sketchbook. He flips a few of the pages, and finding the one he wants, he pushes the book gingerly towards me. On it is a detailed pencil drawing of a beautiful garden, flanked by a high stone wall overgrown with vines. As I glance over the unfamiliar artwork, an unusual sense of nostalgia overcomes me.

Curiously, I ask, “Do you know the artist, or did you—”

He cuts me off. “You drew this.”

I push the sketchbook away; my hands are trembling but I cannot understand why. I look around the library wildly, but nobody glances our way. And this normalcy unsettles me. He reaches over to take my hands, and I struggle momentarily, but his hands feel so warm and reassuring. I stop struggling, and only then do I notice how heavily I am breathing. I glance around again, calmer, and am grateful that our table is slightly secluded from the others, so still nobody pays any attention to us. “It’s okay now. Don’t let me lose you again, Lili,” he whispers, voice ever-so-slightly shaking.

Lili, Lili…No one had addressed me by that familiar name before, except my mother…and…A new feeling of trust welled up inside of me, and the sensation felt odd, considering the strange situation. But it wasn’t new. It was old, maybe ancient. If I had looked at those blank novels and empty titles left on the table by both of us, I would have seen words form—loving words to be exact, sweet honeyed words of romance novels. Perhaps our love began somewhere in that chaotic sea of words that had tossed us into our own secret garden, like the one pictured in the sketchbook….  And suddenly I remembered something.


He smiled, and I could see the flecks of gold again.


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