February 13, 2008
By Ashley Coenen, Little Chute, WI

He is sitting on a hard wooden chair in the public library, skimming through a thick book with stiff, old pages. The pages smell musty and old, and the dust from the book irritates his nose. He pauses from his reading to glance up with dead eyes at a young girl’s exclamation of joy. Her father pats her on the head distractedly as he takes long strides towards a distant shelf of books, and her mother smiles and shushes her gently. She has just finished her jigsaw puzzle. He absently notes that it’s a picture of the Three Little Pigs.
His cold blue eyes examine the young girl again. He wonders what joy feels like - he can’t remember any more. He hasn’t felt for so long; he is frozen. He rubs a single page of the book between his index finger and thumb and tries to stab off the cold misery rising in his throat. He swallows, as if the action will force down the wretchedness. He tries to continue reading, but now the words are mocking him, taunting him. He slams the book shut suddenly, dust gathering in small clouds, and gets up from his chair.

The little girl looks up as the teenager in the black trench coat stalks past her table. Her dark brown eyebrows furrow in confusion, and her small lips form a pout. She is always scolded when she doesn’t put away her toys, and she doesn’t want the pale boy to get in trouble. Her mother is in the restroom, and her father is browsing the gardening section on the other side of the bookshelf. They won’t even notice she's gone. Decision made, she skips over to the deserted table and, with some difficulty, gathers the thick tome into her short arms.

The librarian at the front desk is absorbed in her novel, and she doesn't notice the small brunette shuffle out the library, awkwardly carrying a large blue book.

He is sitting on the dying grass with his back against the rough brick of the library's rear wall. The sky is a dull overcast, and the cool autumn breeze makes him shiver slightly. The strange sensation of air dancing over wet skin is present both his cheeks, but he refuses to acknowledge it. A small trickle of blood drips from his tightly clenched fist, but he can't feel the pain.

The little girl steps out of the library, but she can't find the pale boy. The wind gusts, and she clutches the huge book close to her body. A flash of white to her left catches her eye; she turns to see an old and battered library card tumbling through the wilted grass. She trots off the sidewalk to the edge of the building. Clumsily, she squats to grab it so she won't have to set down her book - the muddy ground is no place for a book, after all. The writing is old and worn, and she'll admit she's not good at reading in the first place, but she can just make out the name, "Jonathan Kramer."

The salty taste of tears is on his tongue, and he can hear his heart beat in his ears. He takes a shuddering breath. With trembling hands, he takes off his trench coat and pulls out a well-maintained pocket knife. "I've lost my will to live."

She follows the imprint of shoes left in the soft earth. Her arms are almost shaking from exhaustion, and she stops momentarily to catch her breath. Maybe just a little rest, she thinks, but that thought is disregarded as she hears a dull thump nearby. She continues her awkward hobble. Soon, she turns around the corner of the building, and her breath hitches. The book lies forgotten on the lifeless ground as she runs to get her parents.

He fingers the bandages on his neck and attempts to ignore the annoying beep-beep of the heart monitor. His breathing is uneven, and he closes his eyes against the onslaught of painful memories: of blood oozing from his neck while he lay outside the library, of his reflection in the chocolate eyes of a terrified little girl. But mostly, he fights to forget the overwhelming despair.
When he opens his light blue eyes again, he sees a little brown-haired girl by his hospital bed. He ignores her parents behind her and their pitying looks; he doesn't want to remember.
Her visitor's nametag identifies her as Amanda Young. He offers a painful smile that looks more like a grimace as she timidly holds out a box with a new jigsaw puzzle inside.

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