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The kid’s here most mornings, waiting for the library to open.

If he’s not there, it’s because he’s in school, and he’ll show up the minute the school lets out, crossing the street to the library and coming inside. He always hurries, like there’s nowhere he wants to be more, and while that’s very gratifying for librarians to see, really it is, it is somewhat unnatural in such a young teenager. He doesn’t seem to hang out with friends, or ever want to go home.

He doesn’t have a library card. They’ve asked him, but he just said it wasn’t worth it, that he likes reading at the library. They don’t ask him again; if all this boy needs from them is a shelter, then they’re more than happy to give it. If he needs somewhere safe and quiet and warm to sit and read and do homework, then that is exactly what they’re here for.

He reads Lord of the Rings and books on history, mythology books and biology books, moving through shelves in no particular order. But he always takes his books to the big armchair in the back and reads there, letting the sunlight slant across his pages until the winter evenings set in and it grows dark.

The reference librarian has been doing her best to save the chair for him, so he can have it, day after day.

 They don’t even know the kid’s name. It’s the downside of him not having a library card, not being in their system. They know nothing about him, except the bruises.

He has bruises all the time, day in and day out. Usually up his arms, although he’s had a black eye once or twice, after a weekend away. The circulation librarian has tactfully tried to ask the boy if everything is okay at home. He’d just smiled and said everything was fine, and if it weren’t for the black eye, it might have even looked convincing.

Children shouldn’t be such good liars, they all think. 

Then one day, he doesn’t come in.

It’s not unusual. He’s left for a weekend before and come back with more bruises, so they all wait with baited breath. But he doesn’t show up Monday or any of the next week, and when two weeks pass, they know he’s gone.

The reference librarian does her best to keep his chair vacant anyways. Just in case. Just in case that little boy comes back, needing shelter one more time.