Byron settled into his seat in the cafeteria. The cheerful hum of conversation filled the room, spreading a joy through Byron as he looked around at his teammates.
"Thanks, fellas. I really-" he smacked his forehead. "Oh, shucks, I can't believe that! I'll catch y'all later."
"Dude! You haven't even touched your food."
"Guys! It just occurred to me that I know that girl. I gotta find her."
"You crazy? C'mon, man!"
"I'll explain it to y'all later. Save me two seats tomorrow, Breck?"
"You got it, man."
Byron was gone before he could hear anymore complaints.
His sneakers thumped down the hall while he stretched his gaze to find her.
"Hey! Kris! Wait up."
"Hey," Her tired smile was heartbreaking.
"Kris, do you have a moment?"
"Yeah, what's up?"
"Let's talk in the Library. That okay with you?"
They walked in step. Silence reigned inside the library, and Byron momentarily wondered why the mystery girl wasn't singing in there. Kris's voice brought him back to the present.
"What's up, Byron?"
"Does my name sound familiar to you?"
"Hmm? I mean, I knew a Byron once. A long time ago."
He tentatively touched her arm. His fingers were warm, and Kris appreciated how gentle he was. Byron said her name, and she brought her eyes back to his face.
"Kris. Kris, look at me. Do you remember the library in Hico? The Little White Horse?"
He stare was blank for a second, and then her eyes widened to their limit. She vaulted onto her tip-toes and threw her arms around his neck.
"Whoa! Whoa there, Kris. It's good to see you, too."
He chuckled, and she pulled her arms away, apologizing. But he didn't seem to mind.
"I'm so sorry, it's just-oh my word I can't believe this. After-after I left, I had nobody."
Byron put his hand on her shoulder, and gently squeezed. "You gonna be okay?"
She nodded slowly, dabbing at her eyes with the sleeve of her shirt. He laughed and offered her a tissue.
"Kris, that was three years ago. You've changed a lot. In a good way."
She playfully punched him in the shoulder. "Ha. Yeah, I have. You have, too. You have no idea how much I've missed you."
"I've wondered what happened to you ever since you left the library so abruptly that day. I really liked you, even though we'd only met a few times. Where have you been?"
"I moved in with my aunt here in Austin."
"That sudden, huh?"
"Pretty much. I was-well, I need to get going."
"Oh. Okay. Talk soon?"
He saw that old pleading in her eyes again.
"Yes! Yes. Please. I'll call you. Or, well; I'll see. Goodbye."
"Goodbye. Hey, Kris?"
"Yeah," She paused in the doorway. "What's up?"
"I'll always be here for you if you need me. You can talk, or not; whatever you need. My offer still stands."
"I know. Thank you."
Byron looked across the hall just in time to catch Kris's eye. She hesitated, then looked both ways before crossing over to where he stood.
"Hey," she smiled up at him. "I never realized how tall you were."
"I guess I got my growth spurt after you moved. Say, will you sit with me at lunch?"
"I-I, sure. Why not. Will, that is, who usually sits near you?"
"Mostly some of the guys on my team."
"Oh, I-" she sucked in her breath.
"Not him, though, if that's what you were wondering. We definitely aren't buddies."
"Got it." She nodded. "In that case, I'd love to sit with you at lunch."
"Great! Shall we?"
"Lead the way."
The tables were already pretty full up by the time they filled their plates.
"Fitch, over here!"
"Ah, Breck! Thanks!"
"Meet Kris Kemper, fellas. She's an old friend of mine from back home."
There were hearty shouts of "Nice to meet you!" And "Any friend of Fitch's is welcome!"
Kris glowed. She whispered to Byron, "It's like having a bunch of brothers all of a sudden."
"That's exactly what it is." His voice was reassuring and gentle.
She beamed timidly at the brawny bunch of football players.
"It's nice to meet y'all, too."