"At least it's not on fire," Adam said as they turned to look at their former home one last time. "They used to burn things more."
"They still do," Eve said. They were the first words she'd spoken since they'd fled the house when the townspeople had come. Of course it had only been a matter of time. Where once the town had been big enough that their comings and goings had been unremarkable, their habits unnoticed, more and more people had moved away to the nearest city. There was work there, and food. As the town grew smaller, it was hard to stay hidden.
There had been dogs chasing them, and the people following, but Adam and Eve were too fast, too silent. They'd made it to the cover of the woods and the small shed they'd prepared - just in case - but the house was a loss. Even as they'd raced from their pursuers, they'd heard people breaking things inside, taking things away.
Adam turned back and ducked inside the shed. Eve stayed in the doorway a moment longer, peering through the trees towards the town down the hill. When she was certain, more than certain, that no one had managed to follow them, she shut the door firmly behind herself and joined Adam to see what he had rescued.
They'd only had a few minutes' warning. If they'd been paying better attention, perhaps they could have had an entire night to pack and be away, but they hadn't and now here they were.
Adam set down an instrument case - a lute, Eve noted. One he'd brought with them to this town several years back. He'd also taken a few items of clothing, two sheafs of sheet music, and the pieces to a mechanical toy he'd been tinkering with when they'd heard the people coming for them.
Eve watched as Adam carefully went through his few belongings, then packed them all away again. When he was done, she set down her own bag and opened it. The first book she drew out had been torn, the spine coming loose from the binding. She ran her fingers over it, inspecting the damage. It could be repaired. It wasn't destroyed - which was more than she could say for the rest of the library she hadn't been able to carry.
"How many?" Adam asked as Eve sat down to go through the rest of her bag. She counted as she took them out.
"Thirty-two," she said finally. "Including the catalog." It had been the first thing she'd taken. A list of all the books she'd acquired over the years. All her treasures. All gone but the thirty-one she'd been able to carry. She laid them out on the table, then arranged them in order by age, then packed them back into the bag, carefully this time, wrapping the damaged one in her scarf.
The shed was supplied with a lamp and oil, blankets in a sealed chest in the corner, and money tucked under the floorboards. They stayed for the day, then were gone the following night, leaving only the shed itself and the table and chairs behind.
Her thirty-two had become forty-five, but it was so hard to find the ones she wanted now. So hard to regain what she had lost. Tonight, arriving at home, she could hear a young man crying in the room below. It was raining outside and she had been out too long and now all she wanted was some good poetry to match the mood, but all she had were novels and essays. Eve went through her shelves four times. Not a stanza to be found.
Carefully, tenderly, taking a moment with each book to read a paragraph here, a page there, Eve put her shelves back in order, then took pen and paper and wrote a letter to Adam.
"My dearest, do you know, not a single book of poetry escaped that house with me? I thought for certain that I had at least saved one, but alas, no. This will be my new mission: To find the poetry in this city, wherever it might hide."
Perhaps on his journey to find new instruments to replace the ones he had lost, Adam would find her some books. Some poetry. Perhaps she could find him some music as well.
Resolved to a course of action, Eve chose a book of essays on the plants of faraway places and took it to a chair in the corner. Even with the shutters closed and the drapes pulled tight against the eventual dawn, Eve could hear the rain on the shingles. She pulled a heavy quilt over herself and tucked her feet up under it and let the names of the plants be the poetry she needed as she fell asleep.
Eve paused to look through the wares of a bookbinder's shop. There were poems and plays and not a few religious tomes. The poems made her stop and look more carefully, but nothing caught her eye. Over on the shelf full of plays, however, she spotted a beautifully made volume that all but begged to be bought. She took one glove off and ran her finger over the cover. It was older than the other books, made with such care.
"That was my father's work, ma'am," the bookbinder said, coming over to join her. "Taught me all he knew."
"Is it for sale?" Eve asked, her eyes tracing the lettering embossed on the cover. "It is impeccable work."
"It is indeed," the bookbinder told her. "I put one of his out every so often, for someone like yourself, who might take good care of them."
"Oh, I shall," Eve assured him, even as she assured herself that if she had to leave her books behind again, she would make certain to take this one with her.
So Eve spent one last evening out in the city. She listened through an open window as a woman sang to an infant. She wandered through the swirling scents of roasting meat and nuts. She purchased one last book to take with her. And then she went home to spend the rest of the night packing up her things.
The clothing was easy enough, as were the odds and ends she'd acquired over the years. The books took the longest, as she'd known they would. The ones she knew she couldn't stand to lose went in a pack she could carry herself if all else failed. The others were packed in order of how much their loss would hurt her. When all was ready, she took to bed just in time to hear the people who rose with the dawn start to go about their morning routines.
Eve had planned on waking well enough into the night that most people would be asleep, allowing her to steal away in the dark. Something, however, woke her far earlier than she had intended. She sat up in bed and listened. There was someone on the stairs, almost silent but not quite. There was the barest rustle of fabric, a soft tap of boot leather on the wood of the stair. Eve was out of bed in an instant and at the door in two and there in the doorway, waiting for her invitation, was Adam. Her Adam.
He grinned in the darkness and she could feel it on his face.
"May I come in?" he asked, ever the gentleman.
Eve nodded and held one hand out to him, which he took. She led him over the threshold and into her home. Once she had a lamp lit she took a good look at him. He had been traveling, away from her for so long, but he looked the same as he had when they had said their farewells years and years before.
Satisfied that her husband had returned to her unharmed, Eve drew him close and let the simple presence of him comfort her.
"I was leaving tonight," she told him after several moments of peace. "You would have missed me had you been but one more day."
"I knew I had to be back by tonight," he told her. He had not taken off his cloak or boots and Eve let go of him only to lead him to the bedroom while she dressed herself. Much as she would have liked to take him to bed and stay, just one more night and day, a plan made should not be put off. Not when she knew that it was time.
Eve could feel him looking around the bedroom, taking in the packed bags, the absence of books on her shelves.
"Did you have a new home planned?" he asked. "Or were you hoping to find one after leaving?"
"I thought I would go north," Eve told him. "It will be winter, dark longer the further I go."
Adam smiled. "Ah, my beloved. I have just the place."
It was warm indoors somehow, and Eve quickly shed her cloak and scarf. She looked to Adam and held out her gloved hands. He nodded and she pulled the gloves off, tucking them into a pocket in her cloak before drifting her way through the rooms. The furniture had been made recently, she could feel that as she touched the wood and fabric, felt their rawness. But the house itself wasn't new. It was older, and quite sturdy. When she had made her way up the stairs she stopped in front of a large door, carved with leaves and branches.
"This isn't the bedroom," she said, certain that their chamber did not lie beyond it, but also uncertain as to just what did. She touched the door, meaning it to be just a light brush of her fingers, but then found she could not pull back. The wood of the door was old. Ancient, even. It had been carved recently, but the wood had been around for longer than Eve herself. She traced the leaves and twigs and flowers, then looked to Adam.
"It is not the bedroom," he agreed. "The door is from a tree that died several years ago. It stood on our land, before. I had it brought here and made just for this."
He reached over and opened the door and as it opened and he walked in with his lamp, Eve watched the light illuminate shelf after shelf of books. Just the sight of it took her breath away.
"I couldn't find them all," Adam told her. "But I found ones you didn't have before. I thought perhaps that would help. I looked at your catalog before I left and made a list."
All those years without him, Eve had wondered what he'd been up to. And all those years, he'd been building her a library to rival the one she had lost. She took the lamp and inspected the books on the shelves. There were books there that she had almost forgotten, but seeing them again brought passages to mind immediately. She set the lamp on a table and pulled one book out to read the first page, only to find a stain on the page precisely where she had once dropped wax onto it. A touch of the page and she knew, it was her book. The very one she had left behind.
"Adam, my love," she whispered as she traced the stain around and around. "I would so very much like to read to you."
Adam took her hand and kissed it.
"Eve, I would love nothing more than to listen to you read all night long."