The library is usually quiet, but that is good. Noises, especially low-pitched, guttural ones, still make you jump. The head librarian, Mrs. Gosling is a good boss, very kind and understanding towards you. Of course, she is rather protective of her books. Like Grandmother, she has special knowledge of stories and their significance.
It’s a pretty slow day today. Kids haven’t come out of school yet, and no one seems to want to do last minute research for a paper. It’s the perfect time to take a break. Pick up a book that you haven’t sorted yet, pull out a seat, sit, and then start reading. Looks like a new story. It’ll be fun to see what happens.
Stop reading when you hear the door opens. Sit up and smile, look welcoming. See who it is. It’s Hunter, one of the classmates who graduated with you. Wasn’t he supposed to be already packed and ready to go to that expensive, but apparently perfect university? From what you remember, he got a free ride there because of his involvement with sports. Good for him. He gets to get out of here.
Hey, he says, smiling. You look better.
Blink: What do you mean?
Hunter also blinks, then his smile wavers a little, before regaining its brightness. Sorry, I guess it has been a while since you were in the hospital. Three months or something, right?
Three months? Feels like last week, really. Then again, the days are starting to feel all blurry again. Even trying to recall your stay in the hospital is like trying to get a solid image of your reflection in a rushing stream. Sometimes you feel like time is being stolen from you, perhaps even leaving you behind.
You don’t remember?
Shake your head: No, sorry.
His smile no longer reaches his eyes. It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. He clears his throat. I just wanted to say goodbye to you before I left.
Say: For college?
Yeah. You should apply there, he playfully punches your shoulder. I hear they’re still accepting applications.
Say this: I’ll think about it. Right now, I just want to take a break from anything school related. Thank you, though.
Hunter nods in understanding, though there’s a dimness to his gray eyes now. Seeing it makes you sad. Knowing you caused it makes you even sadder. How terrible you are, for making people sad.
He spreads his arms out, looking expectant while you blink in confusion. What does he want? He realizes your confusion, but his smile doesn’t falter this time. Instead, he reaches out and wraps you in a hug.
Remember to breathe, the way the doctors told you to, in and out. Hunter is safe. He isn’t…that monster with a human face and human skin, the creature that manipulated you off the path and hurt you. He isn’t. Hunter is that friendly guy with the solid build and a great smile, who sometimes sent you that smile whenever he walked past your locker. Sometimes, you two even had conversations. Well, mostly it was you talking about the new book you were reading, the places you wanted to travel to, the people you wanted to meet—but he had seemed interested back then. Relax. Hug him back, even if it makes you feel a little sick.
There was once a time when you would have done almost anything to be this close to him. To be close enough to kiss his mouth, to grasp at his muscles, feel his warmth. He wasn’t the most attractive boy in your school, but he was one of the boys you really wanted. A part of you still feels that way, right now, in fact. But now, it’s a shameful desire, so shameful it makes you want to throw up. The wonders of your filth will never cease to amaze.
After he gives you a light squeeze, he lets go. He looks down at you, now frowning and his jaw clenched, but there’s warmth in his eyes now. You wonder, not for the first time, if you’re one of the girls he really wanted too. If seeing you like this, and knowing what had happened, hurts him as much as it hurts Grandmother.
He finally gives you a small smile, then pats your shoulder. Take care of yourself, okay.
Reply: Yeah. You too.
He’s walking away now. Watch him, even though you want to say more, even though you want to apologize for being so messed up now, even though you want to promise that you will get better. But you don’t want to make him sad. Such lies always make people (especially loved ones) sad.