Chapter 40: Libby
A small shudder courses through me as I step into my Photography class’s room. It’s being held in a random classroom today, as there is no permanent room for this course, nor teacher, but everyone seems to be there before me I see as I open the door. “Sorry,” I murmur, hurriedly slipping into the classroom and to an open seat in the very back.
“Oh, Elizabeth!” someone from the front calls, and I twirl around and see a boy with striking features holding a piece of paper out for me. Twirling back around to retrieve the letter, I skim through it briefly before folding it up and slipping it into my bag.
Bring pictures to next class of photos you took over the summer, it read. Your assignment for the rest of the semester: Take pictures of your favorite place in the world over holiday break.
Favorite place in the world, I think to myself as I sit down in one of the desks. Only one place comes to mind, but there isn’t any way I’m going back there any time soon.
When I get back to my dorm after class, I know exactly what to look for: My developed pictures from Summer 2012.
Opening the door to my room, I glance over all the decorations Megan and I have hung up around the room, smiling briefly at my home, although it fades quickly. It’s been four months now since I’ve lived here, but no matter how hard I try to rearrange things in here, I can’t settle. It’s as if I don’t belong here.
Over the course of these four months, I’ve talked to Mom twice and have been giving the silent treatment to Dad. I don’t want anything to do with him - at least, not right now. He’s overly pleased that I’ve come home from New York - even more than Mom - and the fact unsettles me.
Kneeling down to dig into the bottom of my closet where the pictures are kept, I find myself coming up empty.
“This can’t be right,” I murmur to myself, although I know wholeheartedly that this is the only place the pictures have been.
I can’t find the pictures.
I’m looking everywhere for them, but they’re nowhere to be seen in this damned room. I’m almost tempted to post a “Lost Photos! Return to Libby!” paper on every light pole on the campus, but who would honestly return pictures to the right place instead of just easily throwing them in the trash?
I’m practically grumbling when Megan comes in, breathing heavily as if she’s just run a marathon to the room. “You okay?” I ask, trying to be concerned for her as I’m looking for my photos even more - now checking for them in the craziest of places. (Under bed, inside pillowcase, under lamps, in the trash...)
“Yeah,” she breathes out funnily, “are you?”
I grunt in reply and she laughs in short breaths. “Have you seen my photo packet?”
“Yeah!” she says, and I nearly give myself whiplash when I whirl around to look at her.
“Where?” I must look crazy, because she’s stopped breathing and only pointed with her thumb towards the window.
“Ham’s,” she tells me.
“More like ‘what.’ It’s a record store - well, kinda - and he’s got a thing taped on the outside of his store’s door.” She swallows hard and leans down to rest her hands on her knees in an act of exhaustion. “That’s why I was running here, ya goof!”
I mean to tell her thank you, but I think of this as I’m already out the door.
There’s a picture of Liam and me kissing on a piece of paper taped to the outside of the shop.
I stare at the picture, stunned that someone would even dare to post something so intimate and personal in public. “Lost Photos,” it read. Thanks a lot.
Ham’s music supply seems endless compared to Juke Box Hero’s, but when I find myself looking for certain titles I’d learned of over the summer as I walk in, I catch myself empty-handed.
The place is cramped, despite it being in such a huge setting, but when I finally make my way into a small clearing after passing a couple towering shelves full of who-knows-what, I find myself being able to take a sigh of relief.
“You okay over there?” I hear someone call out from behind a few shelves over to my side, but I’m too overwhelmed to make any move to find them. Their voice is deep, but the question wasn’t mocking in any way.
I feel as one of my hands slides back through my hair in a nervous gesture, slowly letting myself take in the mess surrounding me. How can one place be so cramped?
“Hello?” the deep voice calls out again, this time closer, and the rustling of cardboard boxes and the shuffling of paper being pushed to the side warns me that they’re close.
Finally having at least some of my sense knocked back into me, I murmur a small response when, finally, I see him step out of the depths of the... mess. “Do you need any-” he starts, but when his dark brown eyes meet mine he stops.
I frown. “Are you okay?” I ask, but he just cocks his head to the side and squints at me. Is he scrutinizing me? “Sir?”
This makes him laugh. ”‘Sir?’ " he repeats, and smiles humorously. I know he’s not old enough for me to call him that - not even close - but at least it got him to speak. He doesn’t look away from me as he smiles at my crookedly and gestures towards his torso. “Do I really look old enough to be a ‘sir?’”
I shrug. “I mean, you could be in your early forties for all I know,” I lie, trying to not let his looks get the better of me. He’s cute. Dark hair, really pale skin, tattoo sleeves covering each of his arms, septum ring curled in his nose.... Totally not forty.
“With this thing?” he asks, flicking his septum ring lightly with the tip of a finger and sliding me a wink. “Nah, I’m twenty to be exact.” I watch as he slowly goes to kneel next to one of the hundreds of boxes and begins to dig through it. “Now,” he sighs like this conversation is exhausting him already, “tell me why you’re here.”
His “cool” attitude doesn’t faze me. “It says ‘open’ in the front.”
He smiles. “I meant why are you here?"
I pause. Did I reply wrong? “Music?”
He notches a dark eyebrow. “Is that a question?”
“Well, if you’re really here for music, you’ve come to the wrong place.”
“What? It literally says ‘Ham’s: Home of Records’ right out the front!”
“By the ‘open’ sign?” he asks, although it’s more of an acknowledgement.
“That’s another lie. We’re not open and we’re not even close to having music.” I tear my eyes away and look around all of the shit lying around us. He sighs, exasperated. “I mean we have music, we just have no fuckin’ clue where any of it is!”
I frown. “That sucks.”
He scoffs and leans back on once of the ends of the shelves. “Tell me ’bout it.”
We stand in silence, staring at all the piles of boxes that seem to populate the entire shop. “I’m Graham, by the way, but people call me Ham,” he says, and when I turn to look at him he’s offering a kind smile. “And this is my home of records.”
I smile back. “Libby,” I greet, and he just nods.
“Your name is Elizabeth-”
“Libby,” I try and correct, but he just waves my words away and continues.
“And you’re leaving.”
Wow. “You’re asking me to leave?”
He laughs at this. “No, I’m telling you that you’re going to leave.”
“You’re going back for him.”
“I don’t know... the guy in the photos, I guess.”
"You have my photos?”
He rolls his eyes, but his smile remains. “The ones you left in our Photography class, you idiot.”
“Hold up,” he says, turning around to head back into the black hole of broken CD cases and torn vinyl sleeves.
“Wait!” I call after him, but he just yells back, “I said hold up!”
What the hell is happening?
He’s in my Photography class? Why is he making me leave the shop? Why would he know this and not me?
He comes back just as fast as he left, but this time there’s my packet of pictures in his hands. ”This is why you’re leaving, Elizabeth.”
I don’t even bother to correct him because I’m too eager to get my hands back on my photos. They’re not necessarily the most interesting snapshots, but they’re definitely full of stories for me.
“They’re beautiful, y’know,” Ham says out of nowhere, and my eyes snap up to his.
“Um, thanks,” I mutter, and I meet him halfway to take them back into my possession.
“Who’s the guy?” he asks, stepping back from me after the exchange.
I shrug. “No one important,” I lie, although I know it’s a hopeless one. My voice is dull and the words are practiced.
He rolls his eyes, just as I would if someone told me the same thing. “Right, well, it didn’t seem like he wasn’t important from what I saw in the pics.”
“Why’d you look at them?”
He shrugs, crossing his arms in front of his chest once more. “I needed to know whose pictures they were.”
“And now you’re leaving.”
“What do you mean?”
“The school,” he tries to explain.
“Why would I leave?” I ask, and he responds by holding his hand out to take back the pictures.
I stare at his hand for a second and then back up at him, trying to see whether his intentions were well or not. When I conclude that he won’t destroy them, I let him take them, and watch as he opens the packet and slides the pictures out. There are at least three-hundred of them.
He throws the empty packet on the floor and effortlessly sits down next to it, splaying the pictures out in front of him. When he catches me just watching he rolls his eyes and pats the bare tile next to him. “C’mon.”
Figuring there’s nothing for me to lose by now, I do as he says and sit criss-cross next to him, watching as he spreads the countless number of snapshots around us. The sight of some of my favorite people in the world make my heart hammer and my mouth go dry. I haven’t looked at these since I first developed them - since I got back from New York.
When I first went through the photos, I was in tears. You will not cry, I tell myself now. There’s no need to cry.
Ham glances at my from the corner of his eye and sighs. “Don’t get emotional on me now.” I know he’s kidding but I shove his shoulder anyways, causing him to laugh. It’s a nice, chuckle - a laugh I wouldn’t mind hearing again.
After a few moments of silence and he’s nearly done sorting them out, he says, “I was telling the truth when I said they’re beautiful, y’know.”
I try to resist the blush coming to my cheeks but inevitably fail. “Err, thanks.”
Another small chuckle. “You’re welcome.”
Silence sweeps over us as I look at the pictures on the tile.
Jere writing his message he was gonna put in the balloon, a determined expression on his face - very serious; Jimmy tipping back one of his beers the night Liam and him got drunk during a game of truth-or-dare; Debby watering the flowers in Juke’s; Bentley sipping coffee at his usual table at Cornelia’s; a group shot of the five of them at Liam’s party; and....
“This guy,” Ham says, interrupting my thoughts as he holds up the picture I’ve been trying to avoid looking at ever since it’s been printed, “is why you’re going back.”
It’s of him and me.
Liam’s light brown hair was tussled, as was my cropped hair was, in the rare wind that night - the night we reenacted the kiss for the bucket list’s picture. We were standing on a sidewalk in the middle of Times Square once again, but this time it didn’t take as long for our kiss to grow as passionate as it always did. My arms were around his neck and his around my waist, both of us pulling the other one closer.
“It was only a kiss,” I murmur, although it’s more like I’m trying to convince myself more than him.
He scoffs. “Bullshit.”
I don’t cringe at his cursing. “He was just...”
“Just a fling?” He looks back down at the picture that’s still in his hand and shakes his head. “You don’t need a kiss to know that it’s love, Lib.”
My brows furrow in confusion, but when he leans over to pick up a handful of photos and holds them out for me to see, I understand.
“You’re going back,” he says simply as I look at each of the photos.
Liam, Jere, and I under our makeshift blanket fort we’d made during Disney-Day; Liam teaching me to cook “cakes” in the kitchen; Liam and I dancing in front of the haphazard campfire the four of us made that night under the stars....
He leans away from me and begins to dig something out of his back pocket, finally ending up with two quarters in his palm. “The payphone is across the street,” he tells me, looking at me with his dark eyes full of perseverance and faith in what I’m about to do.
“Why not use my phone?”
He shrugs. “No service in this damned place.”
I roll my eyes, sighing an, “Of course,” before shakily getting up to my feet.
I can’t believe what I’m about to do.
“I’m assuming you know the number.”
All I do is nod, turn around, and leave him and my pictures behind me as I continue onto the maze of shelves that lead me towards the door.
The air is chilly - too cold in Texas for it to be only November. But I cross the street from Ham’s: Home of Records and to the phone booth on the other side, all the while my heart thumping hard against my chest.
What am I even going to say? That I miss him? That I want to go back and do it all over again? But what if he doesn’t want me back? What if I’ll just sound like a fool? What if he doesn’t pick up - what do I do then? Go on with life as if the call never happened?
So when I pick up the phone with a shaking hand and hold it up to my ear as I insert the two coins into the slot, I hold my breath.
I dial the number slowly, already knowing it by heart just for this very occasion.
And then the phone rings on the other line.
“Hey,” a voice on the other line says, and my heart jumps - it’s him. “Sorry we can’t come to the phone right now, but please leave your name and number after the beep. Have a good day.”
The line beeps, but I don’t know what to say - I haven’t thought this far into the phone call.
“Hey,” I nearly whisper into the line, but somehow my voice is still there. What do I say to a man who doesn’t care anymore? “I was just, um... just wondering how y’all were. It’s, uh... been awhile.” Silence. “I miss you.” More silence. “So I guess I’ll be hanging up now. Um...” What am I even saying anymore? “Don’t try calling back, this is a payphone,” I say idiotically - as if they even wanted to call back, “but I’ll ring y’all again soon.”
And then, “Goodbye.”