The blue sky was clear from clouds, only the sun had residence in it. Its rays illuminated the pine forest underneath it and its brightness reflected on the transparent water of the lake, shining on it whenever the calm wind created low waves on the surface. Eren could only catch a glimpse of it before the forest blocked his view and the lake remained only a familiar image in his mind.
The train began to lose speed and the breaks squealed as they reached the station. Eren stood up from his seat and took his luggage, throwing the backpack over his shoulders and walking to the door to get off. There were a few people on the platform, either waiting to get on the train or for someone to visit them. Eren scanned the crowd with anticipation, eyes going from one person to the other until his lips curved up into a smile.
He was the first to get off when the train stopped and carrying his luggage behind him, he briskly walked to the figure he had seen before. More people were now on the platform, greeting each other or running to the doors of the train that was about to leave, so Eren had to swim through the crowd with many “excuse me” and “sorry”. His eyes were trained on the mop of blond hair he had spotted before that was moving towards him.
He excitedly walked past the couple standing in front of him and finally had a clear view of the boy waiting for him. He looked exactly as when they had last seen each other at Christmas, only his hair was a bit longer. He had told Eren he wanted to see if a man bun would suit him as well or if it was only Eren who could pull it off. As of now, his hair was at a weird length that didn’t suit his soft features at all, a first sign that he should give up on his attempt. When they trained on him, his eyes had the same colour of the sky and the excitement portrayed in them was similar to Eren’s.
“Armin,” Eren shouted when the platform in front of him was finally clear.
“Eren,” the boy replied before being crushed between Eren’s arms. “Welcome back.”
“It feels good to be back,” Eren replied, pulling away. “I’ve missed you all.”
“We missed you too,” Armin smiled. “Ana is cooking a wedding buffet for you.”
“I’m going to put on so much weight now that she’s cooking for me again,” Eren chuckled.
“You’re so lucky. My grandma’s cooking skills are still terrible, she tried to make a cake with kiwi, apples, and bananas. Needless to say, it tasted horrible.”
Eren laughed, but he knew Armin wasn’t joking. He had tried his grandma’s dishes and swallowing everything down had been the hardest task of his life.
“It’s time to go back,” Armin said. “Mikasa and Ana are waiting for us.”
They left the platform and crossed the station, heading for the parking lot. Shinganshina was a big city and the influx of visitors was high enough to keep the station busy, but Eren’s village was a few miles away from it, so in order to get back in time for lunch they needed to leave soon.
They loaded Eren’s luggage in the car’s trunk and then got inside, heat immediately hitting Eren’s face.
“I regret wearing jeans,” he said as he sat down.
“Try feeling the heated seat on your skin and then you won’t be so sure about it,” Armin replied. The shorts he was wearing only covered his thighs, so the rest of his leg was touching the seat.
“You have a point,” Eren chuckled.
Armin turned on the engine and they soon left the parking lot, driving through the city centre before taking the road that led to their village. The air coming in from the open window made Eren’s long hair swirl in front of his face, but it helped cooling down the car, so Eren left it as it was.
“How’s the new job?” he asked. “Do you still like it?”
“I do,” Armin replied, quickly glancing at him. “The articles I work on are still on small news, nothing ground-breaking, but every journalist has to start somewhere.”
“The new Pulitzer winner is here everyone,” Eren shouted out of the window.
“It’ll take me a long time before getting there.”
“That doesn’t mean you won’t.”
Armin looked at him with a grin before focusing on the road again. “What about you? How were the exams?”
“Tough,” Eren said. “I’m ready for some well-deserved rest after those weeks of hell.”
“I feel you, exams were never fun.”
Eren agreed. He had worked hard to get into college, doing all kinds of jobs for two years after graduating from high school while his other friends left for campus life before him, but that didn’t mean he enjoyed the stress and anxiety that came with it. Luckily, he would start his senior year in the autumn.
“Do you already know what you’ll do after graduating?” Armin asked.
“Not yet,” Eren replied.
“There’s no rush, I’m sure your grandma wouldn’t mind having you at home for a long period of time.”
“I know,” Eren smiled. “I wouldn’t mind it either.”
His grandma was the only relative he had left and he loved her more than anyone else. His parents had died in a car accident when he was little and he had never known the rest of his family, but Ana had always been there for him, giving him anything he needed and making him lead the life any normal child would live.
As they drove through the countryside, Eren recognised the familiar landscape with its wheat fields and farms, large woods and small villages that brought him closer to home. The view was different from the one he saw every day at college and he would have liked to visit more often, but his college was too far away and the expenses too heavy, so he was only able to go home a few times a year.
Armin informed him of the few things that had changed in the village while Eren was away. Nothing had significantly changed, just a few shops had moved to another location and some new ones were opening soon. Eren already knew most of that, he and Armin chatted almost every day and his grandma called him at least twice a day when he was in college, but Eren didn’t mind hearing about those changes once again as it made him feel closer to his village after months of being away.
“Here we are,” Armin said as houses started to fill both sides of the road.
Eren looked at the sign with the name of his village written on it with a smile on his lips and he stretched his hand out of the window to feel the air between his fingers. Everything was familiar now, from the turns of the road to the colour of the houses and while Armin drove through the narrow streets of the village, Eren shifted in his seat in anticipation. His eyes were trained on the houses ahead of him, expecting to see his own pop up at any minute now. Armin took the usual road that led to the outsides of the village and among the wheat fields, Eren recognised his home.
It drew nearer while his friend drove towards it and as the car entered into the gravelled entryway, Eren unbuckled his seatbelt and took the backpack at his feet. Armin eventually stopped the car and Eren jumped out of it right as the front door of the house opened. A girl with slick black hair appeared on the porch and her smile was almost as wide as Eren’s.
“Eren,” she called, running towards him.
The girl immediately wrapped her arms around Eren’s chest in a tight hug. “Welcome back.”
“Thank you,” Eren replied, encircling her shoulders with one hand while the other still held his backpack.
“Come inside, Ana is waiting for you,” Mikasa said as she pulled away.
Eren nodded and turned around to grab his luggage from the car’s trunk, but Armin had already taken it out.
“Thanks,” he said as he stretched his arm to take it.
“I’ll carry it inside, you go see your grandma,” his friend replied.
Eren smiled at him in gratitude and went inside the house. The smell of homemade food caressed his nostrils as soon as he opened the door, making him feel finally at home.
“I’m back,” Eren shouted as he dumped his backpack near the entrance.
There was the sound of metal hitting a plate in the kitchen and Eren moved towards it. He crossed the living room and opened the door that separated it from the other room. His eyes immediately landed on a small figure working on the stove. Her grey hair was tied up in a neat bun held together by a brown claw hair clip and the apron she was wearing was secured in a bow at the back. She turned around and her emerald eyes sparkled with joy when she saw the boy in front of her. They had the same colour and youth as Eren’s, still bright and full of vitality.
“There you are,” she said. “I was starting to worry.”
“The train was a bit late,” Eren replied. He moved through the kitchen and took his grandma between his arms, easily raising her from the ground.
“Put me down, I need to check the lasagna,” Ana said with amusement in her voice.
Eren kissed her cheek and let her go just as the door of the kitchen opened again and Armin and Mikasa walked in.
“Food’s almost ready,” Ana informed them as she checked the oven. “You can go wash your hands.”
Eren, Mikasa, and Armin exchanged a glance before laughing under their breaths for the way Ana still treated them as children, but headed to the bathroom anyway.
“I’m going to take my stuff to my room,” Eren said as they passed through the entrance. “I’ll be down in a minute.”
“Okay,” Armin replied and while he went to the bathroom together with Mikasa, Eren climbed up the stairs.
He walked through the hallway on the second floor and opened the last door to the right. Everything was as he had left it. Underneath the window, his desk still had a portable calendar on it, turned to the right month, July. His lamp desk was still curved downwards, reminder of all the nights Eren had spent studying and the chair still had a cushion on it. His bed was next to the wall, the blue blanket neatly covered it, brushing the wooden planks of the floor.
Eren gave a quick fond look at the many books covering the majority of the walls and then left his bags near the bed. He opened his closet and changed into a pair of shorts and an old white T-shirt whose logo had faded long ago. He used the bathroom upstairs and once ready, he went downstairs and into the living room where food was already on the table.
“There you are, my boy,” Ana said. “Sit down, lunch is ready.”
“Thanks, grandma,” Eren smiled.
Armin and Mikasa were already sat on one side of the table, so Eren sat opposite them. Ana cut the lasagna and served a generous portion to all of them before cutting one for herself and sitting next to Eren.
“This is the best welcome back ever,” Eren said with his mouth full.
“Mikasa helped me with this,” his grandma said, carefully cutting her food.
“Thank you so much, guys, I really appreciate it.”
His friends smiled at him and Ana caressed his forearm.
“We’re happy to have you here,” she said.
They spent their lunch lightly chatting about Eren’s college, his friends’ jobs, and Ana’s garden, the most precious hobby of the old woman. She would spend hours on end outside, cutting the flowers, fixing the hedge, and cultivating the few vegetables she had planted. It was something she had always done ever since Eren was little and when he thought about his grandma, the first image that came to his mind was one of her with a straw hat on, a pair of scissors in her hands, and a content smile on her lips.
“Isn’t it too hot to stay outside now?” Eren asked, concerned.
“Don’t worry, I don’t go out when the sun is too hot,” Ana replied. “But I have to take care of my garden if I want things to grow healthy and strong.”
“Just be careful, okay? I could help you now that I’m home.”
“Thank you, dear, but you have the power of killing even a cactus.”
Armin and Mikasa lowly laughed at that.
“That was a simple mistake,” Eren defended himself. “And I was still young.”
“You’re here to relax anyway, so don’t worry about the garden,” Ana smiled. “Why don’t you go to the library as you always do.”
“I will,” Eren replied. “I have a few things to read for college and I want to get a head start.”
“That reminds me,” Armin interjected. “There’s a new librarian now.”
“What happened to old Maggie?” Eren asked. He and the old lady had become friends after the many hours he used to spend in the library when he was younger and she had been the one to have introduced him to many of his favourite books.
“She retired,” Ana replied. “The newcomer is a friend of Mr. Smith’s son.”
Eren clearly remembered his old middle school teacher, but he couldn’t pinpoint who was his son. The guy was ten years older than him, so they had never attended school together.
“Does he keep cookies as Maggie used to do?” Eren asked.
Ana chuckled. “I don’t think he does, dear, but you can ask him.”
“I will,” Eren laughed. “How is he?”
“I don’t know, I haven’t seen him yet.”
“Mom told me he’s pretty cold,” Mikasa said.
“Really?” Eren asked, a bit disappointed.
“She saw him only once, maybe he just wasn’t in the mood for chatting.”
The library was Eren’s favourite place in the whole town, so to have a rude librarian was a bummer for him. He usually spent entire days reading there and when Maggie was still working, they often chatted together or played chess. Few people went there, so they didn’t have to worry about disturbing anyone.
“I’ll see for myself this afternoon then.”
Armin and Mikasa stayed until after lunch when they went home together to let Eren unpack his things and settle down. While Ana cleaned the table, Eren took everything out of his luggage, piling the dirty clothes in a corner of the room and the clean ones in another. He did the laundry and put away the bits and pieces he had brought back from college. It was mainly books and electronics, so it didn’t take him long to have his room tidy once again.
“I’m going to rest for a while,” Ana said, coming into his room.
“Okay, I’ll be quiet,” Eren said.
“When were you ever quiet?” Ana smiled.
Eren smiled back and stood up to kiss his grandma’s cheek. “I’ll be as quiet as I can then.” Ana shook her head and left Eren to his things. Once the washing machine was done, Eren hang his clothes outside, sweating only for staying under the sun for five minutes and then he went back inside. He slumped on the bed and the tiredness from the journey and the heat took over him.
He woke up sweatier than before. The temperature in the room was too high for his liking so he opened the window to let some fresh air come in. He took a brisk shower and changed into some clean clothes before heading downstairs where the sound of the TV told him his grandma was awake as well.
“Were you able to rest?” he asked as he entered the living room.
His grandma was sat on the sofa, watching a soap opera. “Yes, dear.”
“I’m going to the library now,” Eren said.
Ana’s eyes were trained on the screen in front of her and Eren rolled his eyes at that. He didn’t understand what she could find in those exaggerated dramas, but he found it pretty amusing and made fun of her for it every time he got the chance. She never missed an episode of her favourite soap opera and Eren knew better than to bother her while she was watching it.
He took his bike out of the garage and travelled to town as the wind swirled the stray hairs of his messy bun. There were few cars on the road and even fewer people when he reached the town centre. Everyone preferred to stay inside because of the heat and Eren couldn’t blame them for that. He had been brave enough to face it only because he knew the library had the air conditioning.
He parked his bike in front of the tall building and went inside, climbing up the staircase to the second floor where the library was. As soon as he opened the door the cold air refreshed his heated skin and he sighed in relief. The smell of books fluttered everywhere mixed with an unfamiliar fragrance.
He turned a corner and the front desk appeared before his eyes, behind it there was a man working on the computer. His head was turned to the side, so Eren could see that his black hair was styled in an undercut that complimented his defined jawline, but contrasted with his pale complexion. His slim fingers were typing something on the keyboard, but when Eren entered the room they stopped and the man turned his head to look at him. His eyes were silver blue like the sky on a stormy day and captured Eren’s attention the moment they landed on him.
“Hello,” Eren said, walking forward.
Eren moved closer to him, the sound of his steps echoing in the silent environment. He wanted to see the man up close and when he stopped in front of him, his beauty enthralled him.
“Do you need something?” the raven asked. His voice was deep and soothing, it somewhat fit the quiet environment of the library.
“Ah, no,” Eren said, regaining his senses. “I’m just going to have a look around.”
“Suit yourself,” the man said and then went back to his previous task.
Eren stared at him for a few more seconds before walking towards the shelves with the books. He hid behind the first one he found, it was the section of books in Latin, but Eren didn’t care, he just needed a place to calm himself down. He wasn’t expecting to see someone so beautiful in his library, he had met other gorgeous men in his life, but no one had made his heart pound so hard in his chest after a single glance.
He walked through the shelves and as he did so, he glanced at the front desk. The raven was still at the computer, so Eren lingered a bit longer than necessary on his figure. Only when the man turned around, he pretended to be looking at the books in front of him, some volumes on the history of the village. He blamed the novelty factor for the way his heart was still doing weird things in his chest and he moved to the back of the library where the books he needed were.
He scanned through them, focusing on the titles to calm himself down and after finding what he needed he carefully went back to the front. The raven was still sat at the desk, going through a catalogue in front of him and raised his eyes when he heard Eren’s steps approaching.
“I’d like to borrow these,” Eren said, handing him the two books he had grabbed.
“Do you have the card?” the man said as he took the volumes.
“No, I’m sorry, I forgot it at home.”
The man gave Eren a disappointed look. “Tell me your name then.”
The raven typed it on the computer and when Eren’s profile popped up, he checked out the volumes.
“You have a month before returning them,” he informed Eren as he gave him his books back.
“I know, I come here often,” Eren smiled.
The man nodded and didn’t say anything else, making Eren feel uncomfortable.
“Ehm, good bye then,” Eren said.
The raven went back to the catalogue in front of him and after a last glance, Eren left the library.
The image of the man never left his mind as he went back home. As Mikasa’s mom had said, he was cold, borderline rude, but Eren couldn’t deny he was the most beautiful man he had ever seen. He had never had the time to dwell on romance when he was younger and if he had to be honest, he still didn’t have it, but he couldn’t stop thinking about the man. Images of his graceful fingers came to the forefront of his mind, his defined profile almost made Eren fall into a ditch, and his piercing eyes overpowered any other thought.
When Eren arrived back home, the TV was silent and there was no sign of his grandma inside, so he went to the backyard and found her cutting a bush of roses.
“Hello, dear,” Ana greeted him, looking away from the flowers. “How was the library?”
“As I remembered.”
“And the new librarian?”
“He was okay,” Eren said, playing with the hem of his T-shirt.
Ana stopped her movements and trained her eyes on him. Her lips were slightly curved upwards and one of her eyebrows raised in a gesture Eren knew all too well. She wasn’t fooled by Eren’s words in the slightest, somehow she always recognised when he was lying, but she never pressed on things unless it was absolutely necessary.
“Oh, really?” she said. “Was he as cold as Mikasa’s mother said?”
“Yes, but it’s more to be polite than anything.”
“Will you go back tomorrow as well?”
“I don’t think so,” Eren replied. “I’ll wait to finish the books I borrowed today.”
“Alright,” Ana said. The small grin she was wearing before hadn’t faded away yet.
Eren helped his grandma in the garden for the rest of the afternoon. He wasn’t allowed to touch the plants, so he simply picked up the fallen leaves and brought them to the trash bin down the road. When it was time, he helped her with dinner as well and then they both went to bed early. Eren took one of the books he had borrowed from the library and began to read it, but as the words danced in front of him, his mind went back to the man he had seen in the afternoon. His silver eyes still tormented Eren’s heart and when he was finally tired enough to fall asleep, they followed him in his dreams as well.