Her perfume alerted him of her arrival. A heavy musk scent, which usually lingered long after she left. She always arrived half an hour before closing time, staying until it was time to lock up. She worked in media, according to her security tag and her casual image of mainly jeans, pumps and baggy jumpers. Her strawberry hair was always swept loosely into a ponytail, with tendrils snaking down her neck.
“Hi, how’s your day so far?” was the question she always asked and her mouth would stretch into a smile as she awaited his answer. He would always reply with the same nod and smile, then she would throw down her rucksack by the threadbare armchair under the stairs.
It was his favourite time of day. He would busy himself, just enough to allow him to watch her without arousing suspicion. The voice in his head would always pipe up and tease him. IF YOU WERE A REAL MAN, YOU WOULD ASK HER OUT. DOES SHE REALLY COME IN FOR THE BOOKS? But he could never find the courage and with each turn of the key in the door, he would mutter frustration through his sighs. Panic would creep across his brain, that he might never see her again. He wanted to tell her, that the only part of his day which meant anything to him, was that half an hour, when she sat reading in his battered, old arm chair. Sometimes she would cross her legs up underneath her and he would imagine they were at home together.
On a rainy Wednesday in September, after months of daily visits, she arrived flushed and anxious. Their usual familiar pattern was silenced. She hovered in the doorway as though she needed an invitation. He gently guided her in through the door, past the shelving crammed with antique books, inscribed to lost loves. When they reached her chair, she lingered as though afraid to sit down. Her hands rubbed together and she chewed on her finger nail. His eyes sought out hers. What was the matter? Concern rose from the pit of his stomach to the back of his throat.
She pushed him gently into the chair, then dropped her bag to the floor and knelt in front of him. What was she doing? Slowly, her hands began to move and her face contorted with concentration. She strung words together with her fingers. His wide eyes watched as she signed:
“This place is my sanctuary. When everything around me is dark what got me through, was my daily time spent here, with you.”
He lifted his hands and signed:
“Did you learn to sign, for me?” She nodded and her eyes held his gaze as he shuffled from the chair onto the floor and knelt in front of her. He took her face in his hands and kissed her, for the first time of forever.
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