I had a stalker.
I didn't know his name but I'm sure he knew mine.
I called him Charlie.
He always had a camera hanging from his twig thick neck and he cradled it in his hands; a wispy finger stroking the shutter release. His dark brown hair was a curly mess and his shirts wrinkly and thin. He had the most perfect eyebrows, sweeping and gentle. He must have the most captivating eyes, I thought every time he'd glance my way. We'd never made eye contact. Charlie preferred it that way.
He came into the bookstore once a week, not to watch me leaf through the used books or reach high to shelve the approved ones, but to actually browse them. He read the unknowns; the virgins with their unbroken spines. I imagine he liked the smell of them aromas preserved for him alone. Charlie appreciated the books wearing dusty coats and factory perfume a decade old.
The rest of the time he spent on the outside looking in. My co-workers were tickled pink. "What a geek." "Poor guy doesn't realize you're far out of his league." I just shook my head because they didn't know me and I was defensive because they didn't know him. "Why do you let him hang around?" They would ask dumbfounded. "I think it's precious. He's a kind-hearted soul he's here to capture something beautiful." "Wow," they scoffed, "you sure are full of it." "No no, not me, I'm not beauty but he must think I am. He's built me up in his mind to be something elusive and free. He wants to capture an instance of his imagination." They rolled their eyes.
He would follow me home even on my long meandering walks. I only worked till four so I had the time. I'd walk in the middle of the street it was often empty, a ghost town. Sometimes I felt like I was the only ghost around. Charlie was here to document my afterlife story.
I could hear his foot falls behind me, soft and so careful mustn't scare the ghost away. I pretended like I didn't hear, like I didn't know. It hurt not to speak to the one person who meant so much to me. Sometimes he'd get within feet of me, close enough for the click of the camera lens to echo in my ear. Close enough to hear his heart beat, I wish he was.
I was working late when the bell jingled alerting me to a curious passerby. I looked up from the book I was reading to see Charlie standing in the doorway. He looked at me I didn't look away, I never did. His gaze usually flitted away just fast enough but this time he held steady and I fell into his sea-green eyes. He raised his camera then and focused on me, head-on to capture my gaze eager to look through the camera, back into his captivating eyes. He lowered the camera and let it sway. His head was lowered but I could still see the corners of his mouth raised.
He walked to his favorite bookshelf it was his bookshelf. I put all the obscure and yellow-paged books for his delicate fingers to examine and for those mesmerizing eyes to caress. He plucked one out, placed something in-between the pages, re-shelved the book then glided to the door. We never made eye contact again. He left. No waiting for me to close up and take my stroll home. No final snapshot. No words.
After rushing to the shelf, I yanked the book out, trembling. I flipped through pages becoming salty and wrinkled with the tears I could not stop from falling. . There - a single grayscale photo to hold the memory of us. It was of me, my back to him, black coat too big and draping, white bag hanging on my casual, sloping shoulders. My unkempt hair dull against the impenetrable darkness of my jacket. I was mid-stride in the center of a wide, wide street. A white car parked ahead and to the left of me. I, a ghost realized in a silent neighborhood, lost and searching for something intangible. The alignment skewed to the right marred perfection but it was me, unremarkable and unassuming, captured in his curious aperture. Although I appeared to wander alone, he was in the photo too invisible but present still. He was a part of me he was in every stroll, he was in every breath and every deep pocket cradling an unloved book. He was behind me like a welcome shadow - company in an empty street. I hugged the photo close and I swear I could feel his heart beat.