When I saw Tyler for the first time since he left the hospital, six months later, I almost didn't recognize him. He looked the best that I had ever seen him. His hair had grown back and was long enough to cover the scars that crisscrossed over his scalp. He had an air of confidence about him that hadn't been there before. He still wore his typical uniform of jeans and a t-shirt, though. At least not everything had changed.
I was sitting behind the counter, watching to make sure that the junior high kids didn't try and make off with something when he entered. My eyes went to him immediately, but I knew he wouldn't have any idea who I was. My chest ached when his eyes drifted over me and towards the computers in the back of the store. I no longer cared about the kids. I watched as he went to the back and woke up the sleeping computers, taking his time looking at each of them.
His mom had told me that he had moved out as soon as he was well enough. She thought he was living in an apartment in the next city over, but she wasn't sure. He didn't talk to anyone anymore and when he moved out, he told his mom that it was what was best for everyone since they could remember everything that he couldn't. He just wanted to start anew. I hadn't seen him since I visited him in the hospital and, when he couldn't remember who I was, he told me to just leave, that it wouldn't do any of us any good if he couldn't remember anything that we had done together in the past.
I slid off the stool and shot a dirty look at the junior high kids when they giggled, no doubt thinking that they were smarter than I was. They ran from the store and across the street to Herb's. Good. They could be his problem. I needed to focus on another problem at hand.
I watched as Tyler moved from the computers to the software aisle and watched as his once expert eye took in the different programs. I grabbed a box of new word processing programs and pretended to stock the shelves as I watched him out of the corner of my eye. He had bypassed the more advanced software and was looking at a photo shop program.
I didn't know why he was back if he wanted to start anew. In the hospital, he had made it clear that if he couldn't remember who we were, then there was no point in him sticking around, that there was no point in us pitying him, yearning for him because it wasn't going to change anything. He was better, he had said, and that was what mattered. He clearly also hadn't cared about how it would affect us when he told Dr. Holmes to do whatever it took.
The box fell out of my hands, causing Tyler to spin around and look at me. I stared at him, my heart pounding in my chest as I waited to see what his reaction would be. He looked at me for a moment and I thought that he had actually recognized me, but I should have known better. He stepped forward and knelt down and began to pick up the software cases.
I swallowed hard. "You don't have to do that."
"It's only the proper thing to do," he replied, glancing up at me. I gave him a small smile before I knelt down and started to pick them up as well.
"Are you interested in photo shop work?" I asked even though I already knew the answer. When I had visited with Dr. Holmes the other day, he said that Tyler's therapist had told him that he had switched from hacking to photo shop. He was apparently working at a photo studio wherever it was that he was living now.
"Oh, yeah," he said a little sheepishly. "It's kind of this new hobby that I just picked up." I nodded and stood up when he did. He picked up the box and looked down at it. "What about you? What's your hobby?" I stared at him. His question had caught me off guard because it was such an old Tyler question. He was looking at me, waiting for me to respond.
"Uh," I said as I tried to find my voice, "I don't really have a hobby." He arched an eyebrow. "I come to work, I go home, and I watch bad reality TV." A smile spread across his face and the ache in my chest intensified.
"So watching bad reality television is your hobby?" he asked. I shrugged.
"Yeah, I guess so," I muttered. He nodded and held the box out to me.
"Are you sure there's nothing else?" he asked. I took the box from him and shivered when our hands briefly touched. I thought I saw something flicker across his face, but it was gone before I could figure out what it was.
"I'm not sure," I whispered. He put his hands in his pockets and studied me for a few moments.
"If you want a different job," he said eventually, "I'm looking for someone who actually has experience with photo shop to work with me. Not as an assistant or anything, but as a partner." I smiled softly.
"I might have to take you up on that," I replied. He nodded and pulled out his phone.
"Can I have your email or phone number? I'll send you the details," he said. I shook my head, causing him to give me a cautious look.
"Dinner," I replied. "I don't give my number out to just anyone." It was a risk and I knew it. I had already been warned by Holmes that if Tyler reconnected with his old friends, his surgery could reverse itself because that was just how bad his warple was.
To my relief, a slow smile spread across his face. "Fine, but I will need a name and address in order to do that."
I smiled back at him. "Okay. I'm Charlie."
"Tyler," he replied, holding out his hand to shake. I stared at it for a moment before I shook it. It was a start. It was going to be hard, keeping from him what I knew, but it was a start. I was up for the challenge if it meant I would get him back.
"Nice to meet you."
"I think the pleasure is all mine." I grinned at him. He had no idea.