The Library was at the junction between two unimportant side roads. An old, imposing structure that seemed too grand for the streets or the neighborhood. I parked just outside and tried to settle myself. I was relieved to finally see a building I could remember, but its memories sent bursts of pain and nausea to my stomach. The stone wall behind the giant pillars was covered in moss and climbing ivy.
The building felt deserted and cold, yet the image of the old fireplace in the main hall appeared perfectly detailed in my mind. I saw my 16 year old self sat in the rocking chair facing the blazing fire; Simon kneeling beside, his head in my lap and his arms wrapped around my legs, my fingers twisting the curls at his temple.
I closed my eyes and pushed the image away.
I took a deep breath and turned off the engine, wrapped my coat tightly around me. The wind and icy rain lashed at my face as soon as I stepped out of the car. I ran up the steps to the shelter of the front porch and stopped to steady myself before pushing the door. It was locked. I tried another time, harder, trying to believe that my lack of strength was the problem here.
I stepped back and laughed out loud. Making plans and disappearing was such a Simon thing, it was hilarious. I had just flown for three hours, drove for three more to reach the place from which I had ran away, crying, ten years before. And I did it to meet the man who caused the crying; and the running.
I sat on the cold stone floor leaning against the wall. Despite feeling like an utter idiot, I caught myself smiling. To be fair, you can’t call yourself an idiot for a decision that was out of your control. Anything to do with Simon was. So when the email came – THE EMAIL for which I had been waiting ten years, on the app I re-installed on five different phones with mad hope. When the email came, I started thinking, weighing in my head the pros and the cons of seeing him again; but my hands were already packing. When I finally reached the obvious conclusion that coming to meet him was an awful idea, I had a bag in one hand and a plane ticket in the other.
Despite the tight clutch of disappointment that had settled in my stomach, I was determined to keep my head up and my spirits high. It was the same old scenario being played out and I had no more sorrow to spend on it. Being here again was exciting, with or without Simon. I started searching through my memory for a nice hotel, but quickly realized the mistake when my mind flooded with detailed images of all the rooms we shared: wall mirrors, large showers, wide window sills… I forced it away and laughed at myself again, took out my phone and mindlessly checked the mail app (an old, ingrained habit) before opening AirBnB. The pictures of cozy flats and quirky bungalows did a quick job of lifting my spirits and the prospect of wandering the streets of my old city alone became exhilarating.
Then the sound of footsteps came from the side road, and seemed to grow strangely loud. It was afternoon, a perfectly normal street, on a perfectly normal rainy day in a city. They could have been anyone’s yet I had no doubt that they were his. I let my head fall back, pressed it slowly and heavily against the cold stone and closed my eyes – a sequence as old as the memory of the first room. I steadied my breaths and sat perfectly still, listening to his echoing footsteps, the tapping of raindrops against his body, the thundering of my own heartbeat.
When he stopped, barely a meter from me, a eerie blanket of silence descended over everything and all I could hear was the ringing in my ears. There was no more rain, or wind, or cars; no more world but the cold stone of the library beneath me and a man standing before me. I couldn’t get myself to open my eyes – another deja-vu – but I knew there was a half-smile on his lips, a dark and curious look in his eyes.
He sat silently beside me and my senses filled with the spices of the same old cologne. My thoughts started swirling in my head and I wandered if he wore it on purpose. I listened to his breathing slow until it synced perfectly with mine. Slowly the other sounds returned; the rain, the cars, a siren in the distance. As I opened my eyes and returned to the world I laughed at myself, were the sirens for me? Perhaps they’re coming to take me to the madhouse where I clearly belong.
We sat in the familiar comfort of our silence for a while. At some point I let my palm touch the cold stone and waited for him to fill the gaps between my fingers with his own. He did quickly, as if reading my mind, and the touch of his skin sent pulsating currents through my veins. I let out a small gasp and bit my lip, let my head turn to face him and whispered the same old words of every time:
‘I didn’t think you would come.’ I repeated the same old reply in my head as he said it.
‘You were early.’
We burst out laughing, and my hand turned to squeeze his tightly. In an instant, the tension between us vanished and we were us again, the same old ‘us’. As if time itself was an illusion and the years of unforgiving distance had been nothing but a frightening dream.