Opening line: “I love that book!” from Erin
“I love that book!”
He froze. He’d had it clutched across his chest, its cardboard buffering the world as he carefully climbed the steps. But the bright cover was facing out. She must have recognized it through his crossed arms.
Girls were scary. Scarier even than the too-tall library steps he had to climb one at a time, like a baby, because his legs weren’t quite long enough yet. Embarrassing, those steps. Girls, too. They were pink and sparkly and they moved in big noisy packs. And they giggled all the time. Why? What was so funny? Was it him?
Although this one wasn’t giggling. She didn’t even seem to be very sparkly. Her purple shoelaces had silver glitter threaded through them, but at least they were dirty. That was promising. That was all he could see so far. And she liked the book. That was something, too.
He tilted his chin up and met her eyes. She was taller, but not by much. Her ponytail was crooked. She smiled.
“Did you finish it yet? Did you at least get to the part with the dragon?”
His shoulders relaxed a little and the book fell away from his chest a few inches. He smiled back.
The sun slanted, warming the stone steps as they paged through the book. She didn’t seem to notice that his sweatshirt sleeves didn’t cover his wrists anymore. She didn’t make fun of the way he said words with r’s in them. She didn’t ask awkward questions about why he was there alone. Her babysitter sat on a bench nearby, glancing up indulgently between text messages. (She had definitely been one of the pink sparkly ones when she was little.)
They weren’t even through the scary bit yet when the babysitter came over. Dinnertime, bathtime, storytime: she shepherded the girl off for those cozy evening times that she must always have.
On his way home, the book was back at his chest, but now it was cradled, happily. He’d have to venture back to ask the librarian to keep it longer. But when he did, maybe the girl would be there again. The thought carried him through to sleep. Maybe they could get to the happy ending.