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And They Read Books

By @CharlieWrites

The Stranger

The stranger had brown eyes. Brown eyes and an awkward coat. The stranger was a bit taller than I am.

The stranger had dark eyes. Dark eyes and a leather backpack slung over her shoulder, a book in hand.

He sat in a chair by the window, framed by the cloudy outdoors and dreary streets outside, the shelves upon shelves of books over his opposite shoulder. He held a novel in his lap. Looking up once, he looked back down.

She paused to let the door close behind her, slightly shaking her shoulders as if the cold was a coat she could simply shrug off. Then she crossed the room to the counter, ordering a jasmine tea.

He sat in a plush leather chair by the window, enraptured in his novel. I could ask him what book he was reading. He would recommend the book to me, giving me his number so I could give my review.

She ordered her tea, subconsciously tapping the spine of her book with her thumb. I could recommend the novel I was reading; it would certainly strike up conversation. I could give her my number so that I could get her opinion later on.

He would ask me out to coffee, where we’d walk the narrow streets side by side but not touching. We’d discuss the book, then exchange more recommendations: a stupid excuse to keep talking.

I’d ask her on a date, but disguise it as coffee and interest in books. We’d go for coffee maybe once a month, soon turning into once a week. We’d begin reading together, her in my leather chair, me at her feet, leaning my head against her knees as we read stories in our heads.

We’d read our separate stories, breaking each other’s concentration with laughs or chuckles, or expressions of frustration. I might ask him to confirm a theory, a theory to which he’d suppress a smile and seal his lips.

I’d leave for university, and we’d decide to write letters. She’d have messily scrawled writing, writing that showed that she wrote often, but had to get her thoughts down quickly before another one took over. Our letters would take about a week to arrive to the other, envelopes full with the ideas and encounters of the other. I’d show up to surprise her, standing in front of her college as she left the building with her friends.

He’d show up at my college, and I’d run to him, flinging my arms around his shoulders as he lifted me, and we’d swing around in a circle. I’d laugh breathlessly, as we love each other to the fullest. He’d offer his arm in a polite manner and I’d take it, still laughing, and we’d stop at this exact coffee shop on our way to my apartment. We would then stay up past midnight, chatting and laughing. Eventually I’d lay on his chest, reading aloud while he stroked my hair, and we’d fall asleep that way.

I’d stand at the train station, one hand tangled in her fingers, one hand tangled in her hair, and I’d kiss her for the first time, quickly and gently, and I’d watch the color rush into her face, and she’d smile. She’d make me promise to write, and I’d agree, stroking her cheek gently with my thumb before I pulled away, the train readying to leave. Her hand would rest in the air, and my heart would leap into it, a deep yearning permeating my stomach as the train pulled out of the station, and I’d watch her disappear into the distance, lazy rain slicing across the glass.

We’d have little fights, causing us to fall out of our writing schedule. He would want me to come to him over break but I’d have family things to attend too. I’d grow frustrated when he’d forget to write, and I’d think he’d lost interest. I’d often wonder if I myself had lost interest. I would get sad, and escape into my books. But never the ones he recommended. I stopped writing, and I stopped opening the letters.

I begin to think she’s upset, that I may be losing her. I buy a train ticket the moment I get out of school and head to her place, pounding on the door, trying not to break it down. After a moment she would open it, peering out at me. A look of shock would appear on her face as she wouldn’t have expected me to be there, especially so late at night but I wouldn’t wait for her to adjust. I’d rush in and envelope her in my arms and breathe in the scent of her hair, stumbling forward and cradling her as she lost her balance. She’d mutter something into my chest but I wouldn’t hear. I’d pull back and look over her earnestly.

I’d stutter over my words, the shock of emotion racing up my spine and heating my face. I’d ask him what he was doing here, what about school? He’d shake his head and mumble how it wasn’t important, nowhere near as important as this was. And I’d start to cry, but he’d brush the tears from my eyes and kiss me, different from the way he had when he’d said goodbye. It would be passionate. He’d kiss me like it was the last day we’d ever see each other and I’d lean into him like he was the only thing keeping me standing. We’d fall asleep like that, in each other’s arms, me in my pajamas, him in his awkward coat. He’d stay through the weekend. I’d ask when I’d see him again. He’d say he doesn’t have to leave. He’d offer, really. I’d shake my head, and I’d promise to wait for him.

I’d propose a few months after she started university. A few months after we’d fully moved in together. We’d have been dating for about two years at that point. We’d plan to elope- some of her family, some of my brothers and friends, the couple running the coffee shop, her professor at university. We’d elope in the botanical gardens over behind the old post office on 22nd. She’d wear her grandmother’s wedding dress, and I’d wear a rented tux. We’d go back to the apartment for our honeymoon- we didn’t have enough time to travel, at least not yet.

Eventually we’d travel the world together, seeing the most wonderful castles and dancing through the most wonderful forests. We’d take pictures in the salt flats and beaches, and travel on camelback across vast deserts. We’d weave through the bazaars of Rajasthan and the narrow alleys of Venice. Then we’d go home to our little apartment, and begin saving for a good town home in the city. When we’d move into the townhome, we’d line the walls with books and fill the windows with plants. I’d work as an editor and writer, and a blogger. He’d work as a writer and a professor. We’d talk every night, and speak every morning.

I’d bring her coffee every morning; that’s when we’d speak. We’d speak about the things we’d forgotten to mention the night before, or what adventures the day might hold, or the dreams we’d had at night. Every now and then we’d have the same dream, and our faces would light up, having to convince the other that it really happened, and they’d believe, because we wanted to. I’d bring her coffee every morning, especially when we would have the kids. We’d have two. A girl, who would be two and a half years older than the boy. The boy would be blonde, which must’ve come from his great grandmother on his mom’s side. The girl would also have a surprise- bright green eyes. Those eyes would look down on all of them with disdain. The boy would grow up and get really into video games, despite his mother’s disapproval (and possibly my own) and the girl would be out about the town day in and day out. She would practice piano on the old out-of-tune Kingsbury we’d found in a garage sale. We’d would eventually have a cat.

The girl would get her heart broken multiple times, and while in college, she’d start her own blog, which received attention. Her research and questions, along with her degree in theory and philosophy, would earn her way to the TED stage, where she’d gain even more professional attention. The boy would rebel all throughout high school, but find someone he loved quite quickly, despite how little he’d left the house. They’d move out to the suburbs and get a couple dogs. Me and my husband would roam about the house, going about our work, missing the sound of clunky piano notes and children’s squabbling voices. We kept artwork and report cards all over our walls. The owners of the coffee shop grew old and died, and as a result, the shop closed down. He would make me coffee every morning, and we’d sit at the plant covered windows, soaking up the sights of the city and tell each other the things that we’d forgotten to tell each other the night before. we’d visit our children, or our children would visit us- eventually we retired, substituting at colleges or elementary schools, but never at middle schools or high schools. We’d volunteer at the libraries every now and then, or at the opera house. Our cat would slink around the empty home, chasing invisible flies until he too, had been put to rest.

And we’d grow old together like that, chatting and sipping our coffee, reading our books and visiting our children. We’d walk the parks and the narrow streets, and eventually, we’d die, our graves side by side in an old cemetery no one would ever visit, our names rubbing down with the rain and the wind, moss slowly creeping up like the plants in our window.

“Your tea, Ma’am,” the barista set down the mug on the counter. I smiled and took it to the table by the window.

I watched her sit down, coffee in hand, opening the novel and brushing some hair out of her eyes.

And they read books.

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