Another chapter, guys. I hope the narration is not getting too confusing with the back and forth in the timeline. This chapter is mostly focused in the "present" or up to date events, but I have decided that for this story, past and present will intertwine. I also haven't been planning everything in advance, it's something I'm writing casually and posting as I go.

September 2017

Squallwood, my hometown. A small town built on a slope, surrounded by mountains on one side and plains on the other. A town having nothing interesting enough to make you stay, yet holding a subtle irresistible power. An undeniable, sweet serenity. It was something I realized only after spending four years studying in a big busy city, the fact that the simplest things also known as "life's simple pleasures" are much more likely to be found here in Squallwood. And by that I mean things like watching a lonely road at dusk, walking on a misty path early in the morning, smelling the sweet scent of fresh baked bread from a nearby bakery. A city makes all these small things disappear into fast-paced lives.

Thoughts like these were twirling around inside my mind when I made my way to Kiren's flower shop that cloudy morning, after I had promised to have coffee with her a couple days before. I took a not so familiar route, going through the Old Town. The whole area was built around the mid 19th century, and remains a popular sightseeing spot for its traditional architecture. It's a district veined with very narrow stone-paved alleys, mostly lifeless during the autumn and winter.

I strolled through alleys vaguely remembering them from my childhood, spotted a restaurant I used to love but unfortunately realized it had turned into a pub, and finally took a turn towards one of the main roads to Kiren's shop. Just before reaching the exit, another building caught my eye. "Moriarty" was carved in all capitals on the wooden label hanging from the top of the door. The walls were covered in rough stone, just like pretty much every building in the Old Town. Some seemingly old books were displayed on the storefront, the glass was foggy and looked like it needed a good cleaning.

I remembered this bookstore, I used to come by here often in my early teen years. Maybe because I had just discovered Sherlock Holmes and was binge-reading all of the books, somehow I thought that the bookstore had a pretty clever name. My opinion still hasn't changed.

I had the sudden urge to go inside, but my brain nagged at me that I was probably going to be late. I glanced at my phone, it was 11.23, I still had some time and Kiren's shop wasn't far. I gently opened the door and as I slid inside, I convinced myself that I would only take a little look. A warm scent hit my nose as the door closed behind me. Maybe it was vanilla, or caramel, or something among the toffee family. The store's walls were covered in books, rows of wooden bookcases occupied the majority of the interior, which was a lot larger than one would think just looking at the front of the store. There was an old-fashioned wooden desk on the left side of the entrance. All sorts of papers, books and stationery were scattered on it, but there was nobody in sight.

I walked a little bit between the rows of bookcases, trying to read the labels on the back of the books, when a gentle feminine voice sounded behind me.

"Why hello, are you here for the assistant position?"

I turned around, slightly shocked at the woman appearing out of nowhere. She was the old woman I used to see when I came here in the past. Her small, smart eyes examined me behind her round glasses.

"Uh, excuse me?" is all I managed to blurt out at her sudden question.

The old lady motioned towards the desk. My eyes followed her gesture and I noticed a notice on the desk that I didn't remember seeing when I first entered. "ASSISTANT NEEDED" is all that was written on it.

"No, I was just passing by and...I wanted to take a look." I smiled kindly at the lady.

"Oh, that's alright dear." she nodded, slightly disappointed, and told me to look around as much as I would like.

"You are hiring?" I asked, mostly because I felt I had to keep the conversation going.

"I need someone to help me with the shop, organize the books, that sort of thing. I'm sorry, I just got a call yesterday from a girl that said she would be interested. I thought you were that girl, but I guess she changed her mind about it."

I nodded in understanding, and continued trying to read some book titles, although I felt slightly awkward knowing that she was there, observing.

"You see, I really love this shop" she continued, "I've worked here all my life but I'm alone and can't take care of it as well as I used to." her voice trailed off.

"I understand. And if I were interested in this job...what would my duties be?" I asked.

"You could work part time, mostly mornings. Talk to customers, send out books, organize, dust off a bit."

I took a good look around. The place seemed like it was in great need of organization.

"Thanks for the information." I smiled at the lady, and slowly made my way outside.

The feeling of cold air on my skin felt like I had just woken up from a strange dream involving a weird old lady.

Daylight gave way to dusk, and I found myself walking along the Square. All squares have names, we just call ours "The Square". I walked along a path paved with wood, green grass on both sides of the path. It wasn't the way back home, it was the way to someplace else. I walked along a bit longer, then looked over to the right side. There was a small opening between the pine trees, small enough so that a thin person could fit. It wasn't very easy to find, as the whole right side was covered with numerous decorative plants, mostly a stubby type of bush trimmed into a somewhat round shape. But I knew it was there. I looked around to make sure nobody was watching. I walked over to the opening between the two trees, turned to my side and slid through the opening, making sure not to step on the bush.

There was a set of steps before me. Empty, silent, haunting, just like before. Like a small child, I started going down. There were small houses on both sides of the stone steps, abandoned and sad.

When I reached the end of the steps, a cold wind carried some rusty leaves to my feet, almost like a warning that nightfall was close. It's been years since I had last seen that place, but it felt untouched by time. Everything was the same, just like that first time that Ren took my hand and guided me down into the darkness of the night. And then he smiled, watching my face lit up in wonder. I looked around, smiling, as the memory grew.

The stone steps led to a round area that resembled a garden, with a couple of wooden benches, and full view of the plains below. From the moment I laid my eyes on the view I knew why Ren had mentioned that we should go at night.

"The lights." he had mentioned quietly that night. He was still holding my hand.

Indeed, the part of Squallwood below that point including suburbs and main roads was a beautiful sight at night. The morning clouds had disappeared, and I was greeted with a starry sky and a half-moon. But there was something else. The silence, the distant sound of a motorcycle below, the feeling that this little garden was forgotten by everyone. It felt like entering a different dimension, one in which I was in control of every thought, every feeling. It was a discovery, a small one, a little secret place. He had showed me his favorite place, but I was the one to put a name on it, "The Garden". I hope you can see a pattern in our talent at coming up with names.

Ren and I used to go to the Garden quite often, until it was too cold to stay outside at night. One of those times, we were sitting on this same bench, hugging each other tight, to fend off the cold. Another time, I remember teasing him about his smoking affecting his stamina. Responding to my teasing, he had swept me up and carried me in his arms until the top of the stairs, while I was flailing around demanding that he let me down.

Ever since I had seen Ren at the party, the memories entered my mind, like water in a sinking boat. What could he be doing now? Was he somewhere safe and warm? Was he happy? I turned around and started climbing the steps. Maybe those questions are best left unanswered.