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Terra woke up to the shrill cry of a car alarm echoing wolf at a volume sure to get the attention of coyotes in Montana. The decibels rattled the window panes glowing tangerine pink with the sunrise. She gripped her pillow, threw her head underneath it, and did her best to find salvation in the acoustic dampening qualities of the cotton. She checked her watch: 6:30. Lovely.
After ten minutes the sound ceased like a baby coming to the realization that it didn’t need anything after all. Finally. The morning sounded normal. Too bad she couldn’t get back to sleep. She went downstairs.
“Mornin sunshine. I know you can handle cereal. Should be plenty of milk in the fridge. I gotta run. I’m late.” Lauren greeted her with a smile as she juggled her phone, purse, and travel mug while wrestling a granola bar into her mouth.
“Uh…yeah. Great. Thanks for letting me crash here.”
“Sure. No problem,” Lauren said, before she disappeared out the front door.
Terra heard the engine start, and the car slowly back out before she heard the car door open again. Lauren hurriedly opened the front door. Terra raised her eyebrows.
“Hey, I forgot to tell you, the pest control guy is going to be here in 30 minutes. You should probably get dressed.”
Terra felt the hope of going back to sleep evaporate like a water drop on Miami pavement. She needed quiet, if only for a little bit, then the world was free to implode on itself again. Unbelief at the fact that Carl had sold her out tugged at her mind. Did they have any idea where she was? She hoped not.
Libraries are quiet.
Great. She could go to the North Central branch, the Little River Branch, or even the Brockway Memorial that was down the street from that adorable French bistro. Then again, what was wrong with Starbucks? Barnes and Noble? Heck, even taking a bus all the way to Beanies? She couldn’t place it.
Aren’t you forgetting a branch?
Nope. She felt her inner monologue try to rocket her emotions into a safe orbit around Brian. How could a guy who seemed more boring than a wallpaper tour possibly be dangerous?
But he’s cute and won’t shoot at you.
Fine. She capitulated, a casualty of interior monologue. Thirty minutes later and thrown together, she was grateful to leave the newly fumigated apartment, and caught a bus to Arcola Lakes.
She was the only passenger, and felt obliged to sit in the back third. It was a twenty minute bus ride, and she soaked up every second. The window was smudged with fingerprint oil, and beyond it rows of palm trees passed with time. Her thoughts drifted between Venezuela, Carl, Brian, and Beanies. The sound of the air brakes came all too soon. She stepped off the bus and on to the paved concrete entrance leading up to the library.
The school bus startled her. She was halfway to the entrance when it unloaded its small choir of kinesthetic freedom. The wave rolled past her in pseudo single file followed by teacher who looked as though she had endured a fluff cycle in a commercial dryer.
She stopped to watch the unrehearsed parade.
Turn around. Go home.
But a carnation pink dress caught her eye.
It was worn by a brown skinned girl probably five or six years old at most who walked a few steps behind the other children. Terra watched her struggle to pay attention as the frazzled teacher brought the line to a halt and attempted to review the definition of ‘inside voices’. The little girl’s hair had been carefully braided, and the dress looked as though it had just been washed.
I’ll bet everything on a five year old had ‘just been washed’.
Just then, a five year old boy catapulted from the bus. A half-second later another adult appeared in bus entrance. The guy looked like he had crawled out of a bomb shelter five seconds too soon. Terra guessed him to be in his mid-twenties, and in way over his head.
“Bradley! You get back here!” He shouted, but the little boy had already made a bee-line for the pink dress. Standing in line, and facing away from the school bus, the little girl never saw him coming. Bradley ran headlong into her with the full force of his running start. She tumbled face first into the concrete losing several bobby pins on the way down.
Bradley stood dumbfounded for several seconds before turning away from her. The older teacher broke away from the line and ran towards the little girl. Dress ruined by the dirt of other library patrons, and deep scratches running red down her face, her cries drowned out the voices of the children standing in line.
Several minutes later the crying had stopped and the children had all filed inside. Only Terra remembered to collect the bobby pins swearing to herself to tell that little girl that that boy was wrong. The distance the little girl had been keeping suddenly made sense.
Children can be so cruel.
Terra made her way to the humor section, grabbed a Calvin and Hobbes, and found a chair. Thankful to have a moment to herself, Terra began flipping through the pages, pausing intermittently to read the panels.
C’mon girl, you aren’t here just for the comics.
She didn’t budge. She had already brought herself all the way to the library. If Brian were here he’d notice her soon enough. That is, if Lauren was right. The crowd of children moved to form a circle on the other side of the room around one of the library employees. Terra observed through a narrow window created by a partially empty bookshelf and a chair opposite her. She watched trying to remember if she’d ever been to a library for story-time. She wished she had, or at least had a father present enough to want to take her. She stopped. She wasn’t here to feel envious. Her eyes drifted across the rows of children all sitting attentively to the storyteller. The little girl in the pink dress sat distanced from the other children. Terra watched her stand up on her knees for a few moments to see over them, turn her head sideways, fall back down, and then turn her face away.
What was she doing?
Suddenly, it dawned on her. The storyteller was speaking English. Terra’s heart broke. She closed Calvin and Hobbes, crossed her legs, and bit the knuckle of her index finger.
What could she do?
It wasn’t fair.
Terra felt a single tear fall from her own face and land on the cover of the comic book. She felt a little silly for crying for someone else’s kid who, for all she knew, spoke perfect English and was just fidgety.
She shook her head at herself and started to reopen the comic book when she caught a glimpse of Brian making his way towards the circle of children. She watched as he knelt down to the little girl, said something, and motioned towards a stack of books he was holding. Her little eyes lit up with the thrill of being understood. He had noticed too.
He tenderly took her by the hand and led her outside the frame of Terra’s window. Instinctively, she stood up and moved to where she could see both of them. Benches were situated at regular intervals along the walls, and Brian was leading the little girl to one of them. He had her sit down, and took his place next to her, opened the book, and began to read.
Terra smiled as she watched page after page. Slowly, the little girl’s face forgot the concrete and remembered how to glow again. Half way through the second book Brian looked up and spotted her. His expression cycled through surprise, excitement, and confusion before landing in between all of them. He made a motion with his hands that he’d like to talk to her later. Embarrassed that she’d been caught, she laughed to herself quietly and nodded yes.
An hour later, all the children had left, and the library resumed its stereo silence.
“Hey…um…” Brian began, appearing awkwardly among the circle of chairs.
“Thanks for talking to me yesterday. It meant a lot.”
“And…I…was wondering, if maybe. If you have some time, we could…uh..”
“You don’t…do this often do you?” Terra laughed at him.
“No. No I really don’t.”
“I was wondering if we could, if you would go to coffee with me?”
“You’re terrible at this,” Terra gave him a playful smile.
“I know,” he admitted.
“Yes,” she said.