This is part of my novel, "What Losing You Did to Me". To start at the beginning, click here. Right now a new section of my book posts every week.
There are so many people smiling and laughing around me. Couples with their hands clasped, their eyes lingering on each other. Mothers with babies, fathers with toddlers. I feel like I'm in a bubble. Or a zoo.
My heart hurts to see them as they saunter around the mall with wide-eyed gazes dancing from one shiny babble to the next. I realize I'm some kind of foreign object here, a silent observer cut off from all the color.
I came here to work up the nerve to go there. The college. Two blocks down. My heart is hammering just thinking about it. I'm supposed to be walking around campus right now. I'm supposed to be planning.
But the idea of going to that campus almost sends me into a panic attack. What will I do if I see Aainn? What if I don't see him?
I feel painfully conspicuous sitting here on this mall bench fidgeting and biting my lip. Two hours ago I'd confidently left my hotel room...only to find my feet turning north instead of south. Now I sit here actually paralyzed with fear, almost unable to move.
I try to take a deep, calming breath. It's okay. I'm okay. No expectations. It was unlikely I'd see Aainn this first day anyway due to it being summer. Last summer he'd taught only two classes, three days a week. If I did see him, that was okay too. I mean I am here to see him I remind myself, taking another shaky breath and letting it out slowly.
I stand finally, my legs wobbly and my vision blurring. I need to eat something. All this stress must be affecting my blood sugar. Or perhaps it had been a bad idea to skip breakfast. I lean against a nearby pillar trying to let my heart stabilize. What time is it? I'd left my watch at home, but based on the sun and my hunger pains it must be nearing noon. Belatedly I wished I'd brought a cell phone but since I had recently been exploring uncharted wilderness where the wild magie blocked those sorts of useful signals that luxury had not seemed all that important at the time. What did I need with a phone knee deep in trees? And before, as an orphan--a cell phone would have still been out of my purchase range. I mean, Aainn had one, but he had hardly used it and I didn't even know the number. There had been no need; he had always come home.
With this thought I feel my eyes start to water. I try to reorder my thoughts. Something about being here, being so close to Aainn makes my suppressed emotions very volatile. The distance I had put between us when I'd run north had locked all these feelings away under a careful guise of work and, well, learning to survive in a dangerous jungle. I'd misjudged myself thinking I'd dealt with it all. Being back here gave me to much time with my own damn thoughts.
And I'd thought I was ready for this.
People. Children. Walking. With their bags, swinging their arms to their mother's long strides. Adults, on cell phones, with animated voices and happy smiles blithely walked past me.
Now that I had successfully distracted myself from having a complete and utter breakdown in public, I better find something to eat, I reminded myself again. My belly rumbled so I pulled out my mall map from my back pocket. The food court was two floors down and had a cheep doughnut shop.
I'd already resigned myself to eating cup noodles every night for dinner. But a doughnut would do for lunch.
After lunch I made my way back to the hotel to discover I'd started my period. Oh, joy, another thing I'd forgotten about dealing with. I'd been just about to keep walking, turning the corner to campus when my uterus had decided to explode. Sharp cramps had notified me of the impending doom when I'd boarded the elevator, their pangs worsening when I finally stumbled to my room. Yet part of me strangely felt relief--I didn't have to face the college yet.
All the modern medicine and magie but doctors still couldn't cure this curse. The irony. I would have laughed if I wasn't already curled up in bed trying not to cry. I mean, I was supposed to take medicine...but it had to be taken at least three hours before the onset of my monthly cycle. I was three hours to late.
The deepening shadows woke me up--or was it the hunger? For a second I was disoriented, sprawled half in, half out of the bed, my covers flung everywhere. Where was I? Oh, the hotel. I checked the clock, it was now half past six, and I busied myself heating up some cup noodles for dinner. The salty smell made my mouth water even as my brain was reminding me how much I hated these things.
After gobbling them down, my insides felt better. Maybe my medicine had kicked in. Maybe fate had decided to be kind to me this evening. Or maybe cup noodles were the cure for cramps. Whatever the cause after I finished collecting myself mentally, I needed to finally explore campus. I had an agenda. And I couldn't let my personal feelings get in the way this time.
Once I stepped foot on the campus I was surprised to find my heart rate slow to normal. My emotions eased, and breathing became easier. It was almost like my body had excepted to be emotionally electrocuted on contact with the campus grounds, and once finding that to not be the case they had decided to go chill. Somewhere. I allowed myself a few moments of confused introspection: nope, I was fine, all the signs of my impeding panic were gone. I guess it wasn't as bad as what I thought it would be.
My goal today was to find Aainn's office. I needed to know where he might be so that I could follow him on a different occasion before springing my attack. Starting with his office while familiarizing myself with the campus was a great place to begin my plans.
I meandered the quiet college paths passing only a few students who all seemed in a hurry. Dusk was falling and the shadows were lengthening. I couldn't see very well in the dark, but I still knew I would know Aainn if I saw him.
I walked towards the magie buildings. Aainn had told me where his office was, describing it for me when I'd asked last fall. He'd been so excited to start teaching. While I had been to campus several times for my tutoring sessions, I'd only gone to his office once when, oddly, our commutes home had coincided.
There was no one in the hallway. I gulped and tried to walk normal, my anxiety mounting again.
Yup, his office was in the same place. I ran my fingers over his name plate. Aainn Durithean it read in sunken letters. I marveled as my fingers caressed it's smooth surface.
I've almost found you, I thought.
I continued walking down the hallway, my hand throbbing. So close.
As I made my way back to my hotel I remembered our pairing. I had wanted to take your name after marriage, but you had persisted I keep my own.
"It's the only tie to your family." You told me. "You might find them one day."
To me my last name was meaningless. A reminder I'd been abandoned because of magic. A reminder that I had no parents, no home, no family. I'd wanted your name because you are my family.
But the fact that you loved me enough to let me keep my own name meant something as well.
"If you still want to change names in a few years, you can" You'd said. "Just don't make a hasty decision. You are not flawed--and you don't have to take my name in order to prove anything."
And once again I'd cried in your arms because you just wanted me to let me know that you loved me for me. And I didn't need your name for that.
Oh, Aainn, I think to myself, unable to hold back the tears any longer...where are you?
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