She watches him out of the corner of her eye, as she does every Thursday. In the beginning, she came to the park because it was her Place. Her place to come when the world wearied her, people exhausted her, and she needed somewhere to escape. The gentle breeze and the soft whisperings of trees in the park soothed her. She had always come to the park every day, because it was her Place, but once she saw him that first Thursday so long ago she also started to come to the park every day in hope that perhaps, one day, maybe a Monday or Friday, he would be there. She had convinced herself that if he were there on any day other than a Thursday she would muster up to the courage to speak to him.
He has never looked at her. Even now, with her gaze on him, he does not look up to meet her eyes. He never has. She pulls her gaze back down to the magazine in her lap, though she has naught an idea what she is reading. She could not for the life of her tell you what is on the front cover. Because the magazine is a ruse. She was beginning to think that she was a ruse, too. Because he had never once caught her eye, never once noticed her.
He reads. He reads all kinds of books. Some days he will have a classic between his fingers, like Frankenstein or Black Beauty. Other days he will have genre fiction, like The Shining or Outlander. On yet other days he will have a book for the young, like The Fault in Our Stars or The Hunger Games. And sometimes he will have a book like The Very Hungry Caterpillar or The Rainbow Fish. It was these types of books that drew her to him. That let her know that he did not discriminate against works of words based on their age group, or their content. He read books because he liked to read, not because he thought he ought to. Whenever he is done, spurred by what she can only imagine is some kind of ingenious idea or thought, he snaps his book closed, holds it in his left hand, and simply walks away. Leaving her bereft. Today he reads the first Harry Potter.
He wears hats. The first time she saw him he wore a grey woollen beanie. She thought it kitschy, and somewhat chic. But the second time she saw him he wore a worn blue baseball cap. The third time he wore a black top hat. Since then there have been berets, bowler hats, trucker caps, fedoras, and even a helmet. She loves to see what hat he wears every new Thursday. Today he wears a cap with earflaps to protect him from the cold of the approaching winter. The cap looks soft, and she wonders for a moment what it would feel like between her fingers as she lifted it from his head to run her hands through his hair. She blushes at this, and turns her eyes back towards her magazine ruse. She is embarrassed by her own thoughts.
He has worn black jeans every Thursday since she noticed him. Sometimes they are so worn that they are more brown than black. Sometimes they are held on his hips by a belt. Sometimes they are sprinkled with metal studs. Sometimes they are iron pressed. Sometimes they are crushed. Sometimes they are acid washed. Today he is wearing jeans the colour of the blackest night. She does not think anyone has ever looked more perfect in a pair of black jeans. But she thinks this every Thursday.
He is always alone. No one has ever joined him in his reading. No one has ever kissed his cheek and flopped down on the bench beside him. No one has ever brought him a coffee, or a bagel. No one has ever come rushing, apologising for being late. No one has ever approached shyly and asked if he was who they thought him. No one has chatted about whatever book he was reading. No one has ever taken his book from his hands to hug him tight. No one has ever joined him. And today is no different. She sighs, a small weight lifted off her heart. She thinks she would be ruined if someone ever came for him.
He arrives after she does. She is always on her bench, one down from his, when he arrives. He walks with long strides and purpose, book in his right hand, and earphones in his ears. He sits down easily, props his right leg on his left knee, pulls out his earphones, tucks them into his front pocket, and starts to read. There is no one else in his world but him. There is nothing else in his world but his book. She wonders if he has ever noticed her sitting one bench down from his every Thursday. She thinks he likely hasn’t.
She does not like to admit it, but she has often dreamed about walking over to him. Asking his name. Sitting down and chatting to him about his book. She has dreamed about reaching out to him, getting to know him beyond these tiny things she has noticed. She has dreamed that he is enthralled by her, intrigued by her, taken by her. She has dreamed that his heart is captured by her the moment he lays eyes on her. She has dreamed about doing everything under the sun with him. Most of all she dreams about simply sitting next to him, and reading with him in companionable silence. In comradeship. In friendship. In love. She tries to wipe the thoughts from her mind, and the blush from her cheeks, but to no prevail.
She imagines, for a moment, that he does not arrive one Thursday. Or the next Thursday. Or the Thursday after that. She imagines, briefly, that he leaves today and never comes back. She never sees him again. She never learns his name. She never knows him. The possibility terrifies her. Almost as much as the thought of going over to him and learning his name and getting to know him. Almost.
She stands, though, leaving the magazine ruse on her bench. She takes a few steps forward, all the time wondering if this is the right thing to do. She arrives beside his bench, and notices that it is the UK edition of Harry Potter that he reads. She takes another step, until she is standing to his side. She coughs lightly, hoping that will be enough to grab his attention. He raises his eyes from his page, a finger lifting to mark his place. He has blue eyes, she notices. He tilts his head to the side. She bites her lip, and sits down next to him. He raises one eyebrow as he snaps his book shut and places it on the bench between them.
“I’ve been wondering when you might come and say hello,” he says, and his voice is like low thunder on a summer’s evening, and she smiles, because she knows that this is just the beginning.
Chiara Sullivan is a voracious reader who spends far too much time wandering the well worn paths of her imagination. She wants to share her words with the world because it was the world that gave them to her. At any given time you can find her blogging here or here, tweeting, and instagramming.