I promised you a short story, and now I’m going to deliver. I wrote this for a YA short story competition on Scribophile. The prompt was 500 words or less ending with “we didn’t talk after that.” Oops… guess that’s a spoiler alert. 😉 I hope you enjoy the story anyway.
My sister yanked on a strand of my hair with a tiny fist. “Mama.”
“No. Lulu. Call me Lulu, Sissy.” I gently unfurled each finger and shoved a teething ring in her hand.
A woman coming down the aisle stopped at my seat and clucked her tongue. I slid over to make room. She looked from Rose back to me. “How old are you, child?”
I sighed. Here we go again. “Fourteen.”
“Fourteen and having babies. Lord, what has the world come to!” She shook her head and glanced around the bus, but I knew this was the last seat available.
“She’s my sister. My mom works late. I pick her up from daycare.”
“Excuse me, Ma’am. You can have my seat.” An elderly woman with a flower covered hat placed a gloved hand on the woman’s arm. “I was just giving my granddaughters some space, but I’ll sit with them.”
The woman eyed her. I knew she didn’t buy it. We looked nothing alike. “Oh, all right.”
The small wrinkled woman plopped down on the seat and smiled. “Name’s Grace. Pleased to meet you.”
I shook her hand. She smelled of lilacs and looked like she’d worn the same Jackie Kennedy knock off since 1962. “I’m Lucy … and this really is my sister, Rose.”
Grace perched her handbag on her lap and laughed. “I know she is. I see you reading to her every day. And you don’t read to her like you’re her mama.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I clutched Rose a little tighter and glanced at my book, tucked between the seat and the wall of the bus.
“I mean that she’s a baby, and babies don’t care to listen to stories about wizards and vampires, or the latest teen couple in love.”
“How do you know what Rose likes? And I though reading to babies was good for them.” I narrowed my eyes at her. Maybe the woman who thought Rose was mine would have been better. She would have at least been silent in her unfounded judgment of me, instead of vocally criticizing my reading selection.
“I am – was – a librarian. I know what everyone likes, or doesn’t like, to read. And your sister needs small books with colorful pages. She’ll love them.” For a moment, she looked wistful and her gray eyes gleamed with a tear.
“Oh. Um, thanks for the advice. I’ll keep it in mind the next time I make it to the library.” I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. I just wanted to ride home in peace.
“Don’t you have a Mother Goose book from when you were a baby? Surly your mother read to you, you’re such an avid reader now.”
“Mother Goose?” I figured playing dumb was better than explaining to a complete stranger that we had moved five times in the last five years and any item I had as a baby was long gone.
“Yes. Cat and the Fiddle? Humpty Dumpty? You’ve heard those stories?” She opened her rather large purse and dug through its contents.
“I don’t know, maybe?” I shrugged and glanced out the window.
“Here.” She held out a book with a picture of three pigs standing near a brick house. Grace scrawled her address on an old receipt and pressed it in the pages of the book. “Return it to me at this address and I’ll give you Mother Goose, okay?”
Rose squealed and plucked the book from Grace’s hand. “I guess that’s a yes.” I muttered.
I clutched the book in one hand and rang the bell with the other. When a tall man with broad shoulders opened the door, I pulled the slip with Grace’s address out of my pocket and glanced at the numbers over the bell.
“Sorry. I’m looking for Grace.”
“She said you’d come. The girl with the book.” His eyes locked on the title in my hand, and I realized that they were red and rimmed with tears. “Keep it.”
“What? I usually give them back to her on the bus, but I haven’t seen her in a week, so I thought I’d deliver this one.” I didn’t mention that every time I traded her books on the bus, she told me to stop at her house the next time.
“Mom’s gone-” His voice cracked and he cleared his throat. “She said you could keep the book. In fact-” He stepped back and motioned to a row of boxes. “She has an entire box of books for you.” I spotted a box with “Lucy from the bus” scrawled on it in black marker.
“Oh.” I walked to the box and ran my hand over the words. I felt a pang of guilt for not coming here sooner. “I can’t take your mom’s books. Besides, I can’t carry this box home. It’s too heavy.”
“Where do you live? I’ll carry it for you.” He reached for a jacket hanging behind him.
“You don’t have to do that. I live three blocks away.”
“Mom said you were her last random act of kindness. You made her feel like a librarian again.” He strode across the room and knelt in front of me. “Can I hug you?”
“I guess.” I glanced at the door, still ajar. He wrapped his warm, muscular arms around me and squeezed slightly. I supposed that this must be what it felt like to be hugged by a brother, or maybe a father.
“Thank you,” he whispered as he let me go.
He motioned to the door and picked up the box. We didn’t talk after that.