by Pati Nagle
Barb came out from the front desk and started going to each of the patrons, quietly informing them that the facility was about to close. I glanced at my watch, which read 4:55. Caeran seemed not to have noticed, but when Barb came over to us he sat back. He’d gotten about halfway through the book.
“We’ll be closing in a few minutes,” Barb said.
Caeran nodded, made a note of the page number, then closed the book and handed it to her. “Thank you.”
She smiled and headed for the guy with the maps. I pulled off my gloves.
“Did you get what you needed?” I asked softly.
A slight frown creased his brow. “Perhaps.”
“We could come again tomorrow if you want to finish.”
He turned his head to meet my gaze. “That is kind of you. Thank you.”
I smiled. “Glad to help.”
He removed his gloves and picked up his notes, carefully folding it in half. We stood up and I gathered the unused paper, pencils, and the gloves and carried them back to the counter.
Caeran took the key from his pocket, then stood frowning at the row of lockers.
I joined him. “I think it’s number four.”
I pointed to our locker and watched him try to fit the key into the lock. He turned it over a couple of times before he got it to go in. I bit my tongue on an offer to help. He wasn’t stupid, just unfamiliar with the format. My curiosity about him grew.
He slid his notes into his pack and followed me to the elevator. The map-guy grad student joined us, to my silent regret. Ignoring him, I smiled at Caeran and took my heart in my hands.
“So, can I buy you a cup of coffee?”
Caeran looked surprised, then gave me his polite smile. “Thank you, but I must return to my kindred. My family.”
Hiding my disappointment, I folded my page of lists into quarters and stuffed it into my pocket. The elevator opened and we walked out. I waited for the map guy to get out of earshot, then turned to Caeran with a friendly smile.
“Well, see you tomorrow maybe, if you want to go through the rest of that book. I’ll be working ‘til four again.”
He turned to me, his glorious face showing mixed emotions that I wasn’t sure I was reading correctly. Doubt? Speculation? He seemed to be looking at me, really looking at me, for the first time. My heart suddenly tried to fly up out of my chest.
The small crease on his brow faded, as if he’d reached a decision. “If I return, shall we meet in the same place?”
I nodded. “History display. Yeah.”
He kept gazing at me, and I stared back, mesmerized. He made me feel like I was floating in an exquisite limbo. I didn’t know if he was doing it on purpose, and I didn’t care. I did get the feeling that he was examining me as if I was some interesting specimen. Didn’t care about that either. I could have stood there for hours.
Suddenly he smiled. “Thank you for your help.”
I sucked in a giddy breath. “Any time.”
He turned and strode away. End of interaction.
I walked after him, knowing it was hopeless to play the moth drawn to the flame, but unable to resist. He went out the doors and turned west, heading for University Boulevard.
His stride was long and I had to hurry to keep him in sight. At the same time I didn’t want him to catch me following him, so I kept a few other students between us. That got harder as we moved toward the edge of campus and the crowd thinned out. I dropped to a stroll and tried to look like I was just walking along enjoying the day.
Leaves were turning orange and gold, the fallen ones swirling on the sidewalks and in the gutters. Roses in front of the older buildings on the street were showing a last, glorious pre-winter bloom. It was sunny with a cool breeze, perfect weather.
Just before reaching University, Caeran turned south along the street that loops the campus. I followed at a careful distance, composing excuses in case he caught me following him and confronted me. If he was aware of me—and it was quite possible he was—he chose not to show it. He walked to the south side of campus, crossed a lawn to Central Avenue, and went to the bus stop.
I sat down under a tree, watching him, debating whether to join him. Instinct warned me that would be a bad move. Not good if he were to get the idea I was stalking him. Which, basically, I was.
It didn’t matter anyway. In a few minutes a bus arrived and he got on it, heading for downtown. I watched it roll away.
I might see him again tomorrow, if he decided to look at the rest of the book. Should I be so lucky, though, it would probably be the last I saw of him, unless I was somehow able to connect with him.
I rubbed my eyes. I wasn’t good at this. I should let it go—let him go, and just enjoy the memory of his incredible beauty. Maybe tomorrow I’d try to sneak a photo of him as a memento.
Laughing at myself, I got up and slung my pack over my shoulder. A few yards away a weathered man in filthy, beat-up denims turned bloodshot eyes toward me. Street dudes hung out along this stretch of grass fairly often. I looked away to discourage him from panhandling me, and strode briskly back the way I had come.
Pati Nagle has written nineteen novels and two collections of short fiction, besides all the stuff that hasn’t seen print. She was born and raised in the mountains of northern New Mexico and is an avid student of music, history, and humans in general.
Her fiction has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Cricket, Cicada, and in anthologies. She has also written a series of historical novels as P.G. Nagle and writes mysteries as Patrice Greenwood. She is a founding member of Book View Café.