I looked up to see him (to be called M) and I knew why he was there. "The latest edition of American Scientific is over there," I offered pointing toward the magazine rack.
"Uhhm," he stumbled, fidgeting nervously with his zipper, "You finish soon?"
"In about fifteen minutes. Why?"
"I need your help. I need to tell you something."
Looking around at the practically deserted library, I gestured toward an empty table. "We can talk here."
"No," he said quickly and then more softly, "It is a secret. We need privacy."
"Ok. We can talk when I finish work."
"Ok. I will wait."
As the minutes ticked by, my mind bounced around weighing possibilities and forging guesses. I worked at the main library. He worked at the science library. We had a mutual friend. Once in a while we played cards together. We were both juniors. He was a science nerd that drove a red sports car. His English was fair, my Japanese much worse. Sometimes our conversations were reduced to gestures. He had a cute, little girlfriend and they seemed so happy together. You hardly ever saw one without the other. I wondered where she was tonight.
"Night," I called out to to night manager as security locked up the building.
"Night, Trisha," he called back.
M and I walked along in silence. I didn't know where we were going or what he had to say. I sensed that whatever it was, it was weighing on him; a big puzzle he was working on putting together.
He guided me to a bench in the shape of a square with an ashtray in the middle. We sat opposite each other and he took at a lighter and cigarettes.
"Put that away," I heard someone say and was startled to realize it was his girlfriend (to be called A). She looked so small, there with the moonlight streaming down between them. They mumbled something to each other and I saw sadness in her face and guilt in his.
M cleared his throat and casually asked, "What are you doing Thursday?"
"I have class in the morning and then I will work in the afternoon."
"Oh, right. Think you can skip class. We are going to Pittsburgh and we want you to come."
Classes had just started that day (Monday) and he wanted me to skip class to go to Pittsburgh. "Can't we go on Saturday?"
"The clinic isn't open on Saturday," he replied staring at his feet, shifting uncomfortably.
"Are you sick?" I asked, concerned.
"No. She's......," his voice trailed off.
Her words were soft like butterfly wings, "I will have a baby. I don't........ We can't........"
The tears overtook her and he reached out and pulled her near. I felt awkward like I shouldn't be watching but he had invited me in and I felt I had to stay. I had to help them put that big puzzle together.
"I will talk to my teacher tomorrow," I promised, "I will see what I can do."
That Thursday found me crammed into the back of that red sports car headed to Pittsburgh. The flashes of color as the protesters waved their signs, the roughness of the guards hand as he took my purse to search, the paperwork, the nurse's cold, unemotional speech about the procedure and then the questions. I was there to help with the questions and counselling.
When was your first period?
Have you ever been pregnant before?
Have you ever had any type of surgery?
Do you have any allergies?
Those were the easy questions for both of us. I was here to offer support and help, so why did I feel so uncomfortable, so heavy, so sick that I thought I might throw up.
The nurse left the room to get some papers she had forgotten and I concentrated on calming my nerves. Through inhale, exhale I heard her speak.
"You are American. Americans pray. Help me pray," she said reaching for my hand.
We prayed together and then with a look I know I'll never forget, she said, "I am not a bad person. Please don't think I am bad. Please pray for me and my baby."
"I will," I answered choking on tears, "Are you sure you want to do this?"
"It's the only way," she said as the nurse came back and had A sign some papers. The nurse then asked me to leave the room.
When it was all over, we headed back to campus. A lying in the back seat and not a word spoken the entire time.
We got A settled in her room, gave her some medicine for pain and got her a sandwich from Subway that she didn't touch.
As I turned to go, M called out, "Thank you. You are a good friend."
I just nodded and went back to my own room.
We never spoke of that day again. We continued as if nothing happened. Working together, playing cards together- we tried to make it all feel normal again.
On the day I graduated, I saw A for the last time. She handed me an envelope and asked me not to read it until she was gone. We hugged and then she slipped into the crowd.
Later that night, I opened the envelope and found a simple, pale pink card inside. She had written:
Thank you for being a good friend. I will pray for you. Please pray for me.
Today, as I was sorting through some old boxes, trying to keep the junk at a dull roar, I came across that simple, pale pink card. It was just about this time of year that it happened. Summer was losing it's fight and the air had a cool breeze to it.
I often wonder what happened to M and A. I heard that they got married and came back to Japan. I wonder why they choose me to go with them that day. I wonder if she still prays for me, I still pray for her.