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I was sure my heart shattered apart into a million tiny pieces. I was sure, as the sensation in my chest was almost too much to bear.

Chapter Six

Levi

I couldn’t believe she was in my room.

I couldn’t believe that she was here before me, looking like she did. I thought I was dreaming when I saw a flash of blond hair against the darkness of the night. Until I watched her small hand place something on the bedside counter. My heart had doubled in time when I saw the familiar brown beads, when I saw that tarnished silver cross—my mamma’s rosary, which meant everything to me. And the picture. The small copied picture I kept with me always.

And she had given them back. Like an honest thief in the night, she was bringing back the one precious thing I truly treasured.

Acting on impulse, I refused to let her drop off the beads and leave. I reached forward and took hold of her wrist. I couldn’t not when she was here, in the night, looking like this.

Automatically my hand held her wrist; nerves quickly followed, my stomach flipping upside down. I had no idea where to go from here. Then her eyes darted to mine and all bets were off.

Every part of me stilled, then like it was its own force, like I had no choice but to speak her name, I rasped, “Elsie.”

Elsie’s wrist jerked in my hand as I uttered her name, and I sighed. She’d heard me. This pretty lost girl had heard me. Her head tipped to the right, the side on which she could hear, as if to hear more.

Like the spreading of wildfire, I felt the blush building within me, coating every inch of my skin. Elsie’s arm trembled in mine. As it did, my eyes drank in her pale skin and I couldn’t help but stroke my thumb over the back of her hand. It was so soft.

Hearing Elsie’s breathing hitch, I quickly released her arm. She didn’t move. She didn’t run out the door like I expected. Instead, she stayed at the side of my bed, with her head downcast.

She was as shy as me.

Taking in a deep breath, I reached to the side lamp and turned on the light. Shuffling to sit up in bed, I noticed Elsie’s attention drift to my bare torso, only to immediately dip her head again to focus on the floor. A twinge of satisfaction sparked inside me, seeing that she was affected by me.

I thanked God I had my sweatpants on the bottom. The silence thickened. We both felt awkward and uncomfortable, but even this strained silence didn’t prevent me from looking again at Elsie. Her head was still dipped, and she played with her hands, showing how nervous she really was.

Sighing, I reached for the rosary beads on my side table, immediately feeling relief at having them back. It was stupid how lost I’d felt without them. It was irrational, even Axel had said so, but having them back… I felt like I had a lost piece of my heart back with me again.

I ran the wooden beads through my hand and said, “Thank you for bringing these back. And the picture. You have no idea how much they mean to me.”

Elsie didn’t speak, I never expected her to. When I looked up, she was watching me. Elsie nodded her head, then lifted her hand to lay it on the thin gold locket around her neck. She held the locket in her fingers and laid her hand over her heart.

I watched her in fascination, when I realized she was trying to tell me something. I sat further forward, studying her every move, until I guessed, “You know how it feels.” Elsie inhaled deeply through her nose, then nodded. I could tell by the sad expression on her face that whatever sentiment the locket held was as important to Elsie as the beads were to me.

“The locket,” I said, as Elsie released the locket to lay back on her lower neck, “it means a lot to you.”

Elsie nodded and, using her hands, she drew a circle in the air. “Everything,” I said, understanding its silent meaning. Elsie glanced up at me through her lashes and a small smile pulled on her lips.

Light burst through me at that tiny smile. Throwing the comforter off my legs, I quickly straightened the bed. As I turned to speak again to Elsie, she was heading for the door.

“Please don’t leave,” I called out to her retreating back. Elsie stopped dead in her tracks. My hands clenched into fists at the frustration of what to say now. Instead I simply spoke what I wanted most. “Don’t go,” I asked softly. “Stay a while.”

Elsie’s shoulders were tight and strained, until they dropped. She turned again, fingers fidgeting at her sides.

Lowering myself down to sit on the bed, I said, “Talk to me a while.”

Alarm spread on Elsie’s face and she shook her head vigorously, pressing her hand to her lips. Her wide blue eyes implored me to understand.

“You don’t talk,” I ventured, hoping it would calm her down. She looked to the door, then back to me. I could see she was about to bolt.

Standing up, I kept my distance, but asked, “How do you communicate with people?”

Elsie mimed using paper and pen. Moving to my desk, I took out a fresh pad of paper and a pen, and held them out. Elsie looked to them like they were gold. Another piece of my heart broke for her at that moment.

I didn’t speak to folk because I was crippled with shyness. I couldn’t imagine what it was like not to be able to talk.

Elsie took the paper and pen, and dipped her head. I knew she was thanking me. I slowly moved back to my bed and sat down. I pointed at the spot beside me, feeling nervous shivers running down my spine.

Elsie rocked on her feet, then she stepped forward, walking painstakingly slowly to where I was sitting. As she sat down beside me, clutching the paper and pen to her chest, the smell of coconuts drifted past my nose.

“You smell nice,” I blurted, then shook my head at how stupid that sounded. Feeling my face set alight, I mumbled, “I mean your hair or whatever you used to wash with, smells nice. Of coconuts or whatever…” I trailed off and ran a hand down my face. “Sorry,” I said without looking up. “I’m not real good with talking to girls. To anyone.”

I kept my focus down as silence followed. Then to my shock, a warm hand covered my hand. My eyes snapped up in time to witness Elsie’s mouth curling up into a smile. The smile was like a hammer blow to my stomach.

Elsie released her hand to write on the paper. As she wrote, the tip of her tongue rested on her upper lip in concentration. I didn’t know why, but I thought it was the cutest thing I’d ever seen in my life.

Elsie lowered the pen, then turned the paper for me to read. My eyes scanned the perfect cursive words. “I’m not good with talking either.”

Relief ran through me, and I met Elsie’s eyes. “We’re similar.” Elsie fixed her focus on the rosary beads still in my hands and began writing again.

I waited to see what she would say. She eventually turned the page for me to view. “I’m sorry for taking your wallet. I didn’t know the beads were in there, or the picture. I would never have taken them if I’d known. I had seen you drive in to the college in a nice car and thought you would have cash.” She took the pad back, scribbled something else down, and showed it to me. “I discarded your wallet when it had no cash, but I kept hold of the rosary. Something made me keep it safe.”  I went to speak when she held up her hand and wrote something else. This time her expression turned to embarrassment and she wrote, “I don’t deserve all you have done for me.”

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