Long before they understand a single word, most babies love to hear their parents read out loud. After all, storytime combines some of your child’s favorite things: snuggles, interesting pictures, fascinating sounds and, of course, you. By around 6 months of age, your little one will begin understanding simple words as they’re spoken. And by a few months later, storytime will start to get a lot more interactive, with your toddler repeating favorite phrases, requesting multiple readings of favorite books, and pointing to colors, animals and objects as you read their names aloud. Once your toddler understands that storytime is a kind of playtime, you’ll have started him on a lifetime of book-loving and learning.
In which Baz is the assistant librarian at his local library and Simon is a very persistent, dyslexic student from the same high school (who just so happens to be failing English.
Warnings: Swearing and too many emotions.
Baz kept his eyes focused on the dark, slippery pavement ahead of him, reflecting the blurry orange light of the street lamps softly. Simon’s breathing was steady and uneven from the passenger seat, loud and frantic. Baz thought that he was crying, and he wanted to comfort him, but he didn’t dare take his eyes off the road.
“Snow?” he asked quietly. “Are you ready to tell me what’s going on?”
Simon gave a large, jagged shudder, closely followed by a sniffle, and then sat up a tad straighter. “I suppose so. Yeah.”
“Alright, then,” he nodded encouragingly.
“Well,” Simon began, swallowing his emotions. “The hospital receptionist called me, and he said that Ms. Salisbury is in surgery right now. She- um- well, she had a heart attack about an hour ago, and her neighbors brought her to the hospital. I didn’t know, but I guess she has a history of heart attacks-”
“But she’s only in her thirties!” Baz’s eyes widened.
“Yeah, I know,” Simon said dryly. “That’s what’s so weird about it. They’re doing some testing after she comes out of the operation to see if she’s got some sort of condition, but that’s only if she lives…”
He fell silent.
Baz took a deep breath and reminded himself not to stare, to keep his eyes stubbornly trained on the highway in front of him. The sound of rain roared on the roof of his silver Prius.
“Wait, Snow, why would they call you?”
Simon inhaled sharply. “See, that’s the part I’m confused about. They told me that I was her emergency contact, and I know that she has my number, because she tutored me for a while, but that’s not the weird part. They told me that I was her only living relative.”
“What?” Baz gaped. “You’re related to Ms. Salisbury.”
For a moment, there was no sound from Simon’s half of the car, but Baz assumed that he was shrugging. “Yeah, I mean, I think so. Probably. They told me that I was her kid.”
“That’s what he said,” Simon reassured him.
“Well, I mean, that’s-” Baz tried to figure out exactly what to say in a situation such as this. “Wow, Snow. That’s incredible.”
“It’s awful,” Simon disagreed. “The orphanage could have told me who my mother was, much less whether or not she was alive. Eighteen years in that hell hole, Baz, and I only find out that I know my mother when there’s a high chance that I’ll never see her again.”
Baz took a deep breath.
“No,” Simon said.
“You were getting ready to give me some big speech about life,” he explained. “I said no.”
“Right, then,” Baz nodded, turning the wheel to take the exit that lead to the hospital. “You know, Snow, at least you’ll get to say goodbye if she goes tonight.”
Simon huffed, his eyes red and bloodshot. “I don’t want to. I want to ask her why she would fucking give me up and then watch me through my senior year without even a hint that she knows who I am.”
“No,” Simon growled. “Don’t.”
“Snow,” Baz said forcefully, taking a moment to slide his focus away from the road and onto Simon’s face. He looked pale and gaunt, like a malnourished child. The moles stood out on his skin more than normal, and his eyes appeared to be rimmed with bright pink-red. Baz pretended not to see a tear clinging to his jaw. “Lucy Salisbury is most likely in her mid thirties. If you do the math, then she would still be a teenager when you were born. She probably only gave you up because she had to!”
“Just because she was a teenager doesn’t mean she had to give me up,” Simon grumbled spitefully. “She could have fucking kept me.”
“Simon,” Baz said, and Simon finally looked at him with those cornflower eyes that he’d fallen for only weeks ago. “When I was five, my mother committed suicide. I don’t know how; I don’t know why. All I know is that she didn’t have to, that she could have lived with whatever it was that was going on in her life for at least another ten years, so she could watch me grow up, but she didn’t. I don’t hate her because she took her own life, though.”
For a moment, it was silent.
“You said I was a poem,” Simon said quietly.
“On that first night, with coffee, you told me that I was a poem.”
Baz bit his lip. “Yes, I did.”
He laughed minimally. “Snow, that wasn’t the point of the metaphor. I didn’t relate you to a specific piece of poetry.”
“But if you could choose one piece of poetry,” Simon reasoned with him. “Just for the sake of curiosity, what would it be?”
Baz thought for a moment, then smirked. Simon adjusted himself in his seat and curled his knees up to his chest, like a toddler, ready for storytime. Baz smiled.
“Simon Snow, there is no poem in a world of people who completely invest themselves into being poetic to describe the amount of poeticness that oozes off of you on a daily basis,” Baz smiled. “I promise.”
Simon grinned shyly and then yawned, fatigued. “Someday, you’re going to write me a poem or something, okay?” he said. “And it’ll be the first piece of literature that I ever enjoy reading.”
“Okay,” Baz whispered affectionately, feeling settled as they pulled into the driveway of the hospital, which towered over the surrounding buildings like the David to their Goliath. “We’re here, Snow. Ready?”
Simon looked away, but Baz knew that his eyes were hardened. “Yeah.”
Baz’s hand was starting to hurt, but he didn’t mind. Simon’s fingers were warm and delicate as they tangled with his, and he squeezed Baz’s palms every time the elevator speaker dinged or a nurse rushed by or when the room was too quiet to stand. He tried not to think about Simon rushing in to find Ms. Salisbury, dead, on her hospital cot, her hair spread out on the pillow like an angel’s, like Simon’s, and her eyes colder than his would ever be. He tried to pretend that it would all be alright, that Ms. Salisbury would live, and she would pay Simon’s college tuition and make him birthday dinners and let him cry on her shoulder when the emotional dam in his head cracked. He couldn’t. Instead, he just let Simon squeeze the circulation out of his hand and disappeared into a world of crystal blue eyes and porcelain skin.
When they finally reached the emergency room, which branched out into several different wards, the two of them broke into a fast-paced walk, then a jog, which soon evolved into the two of them sprinting two Ms. Salisbury’s room.
“Sorry, immediate family only,” a wide-eyed receptionist blocked Baz’s way through the door.
Simon came to a sharp halt and whirled around on his heel behind the receptionist, who looked minimally intimidating in his scrubs. Baz began to pushed his jaw out and got ready to barge his way in (which was completely out of character, but necessary) when the golden-haired boy cleared his throat loudly. The receptionist turned around with a raised eyebrow.
“He’s her future son-in-law,” he said loudly, though he wasn’t looking at the man in scrubs. He was looking at Baz. “Let him through.”
The receptionist stood aside reluctantly, and Baz pushed past him before he was even out of the way. Simon pulled him into the bedroom, which was covered in blue tiles and watercolour paintings of flowers. It smelled like chemicals, like furniture polish and medicine. He froze, and Baz fell into line behind him.
A steady, faint beeping crept through every corner in the small room, eliminating even the noise of thought. Lucy Salisbury lay flat on her back, her brilliant blonde hair curling around her jaw like a brace and a crease knit in between her two eyebrows, as if she was thinking very hard about something. Peacefully, her hands folded over her stomach, though it made Simon shiver. She may as well have been in a casket.
A tall, portly man with a mustache and a briefcase stood over her like her like a guardian angel, his hand on her shoulder, like her was too afraid to touch her hands, which were pale and small.
“E-e-excuse m-me,” Simon fumbled with his words, and Baz squeezed his hand.
The man looked up, startled. Neither boy said anything. They both saw the slight curve of his shoulder muscles into his arms, the moles than dotted his neck and cheeks, the slight part between his lips, all of which belonged not only to him, but to the smaller boy, which stood there in disbelief. He didn’t say a word.
“This is Simon,” Baz said quietly.
Nobody made a sound.
Simon moved forward slowly, and for the first time, it was quite apparent that he was none other than Lucy Salisbury’s son. He knit his eyebrows together, creating a crease in his forehead, and his golden hair shone in the dim light of the bedside lamp like an angel’s. Slowly, he reached out to touch her hand, just a touch, like a human coming in contact with a flame for the very first time. He curled his pinky around hers, as if making a promise, and everybody in the room shared a deep breath.
Her delicate frame twitched for a moment, just a moment.
There was a sudden spike in the monitor’s steady rise and fall.
And then, a soft screech buzzed from the machine, constant, without pause or hesitation. It sounded like somebody was screaming, far off, in a distant land.
Simon shuddered, and then joined the monitor, yelling as loud as he could, screaming for help, sobbing for comfort, begging for a second chance. None came.
And then there were fingers wedging in between his own, long and warm, squeezing the life out of his palm, pulling him back to reality.
Baz pulled Simon into his chest, and they knelt there together, empty.