Michele McCole Moss
Middle Grade Fantasy
Brynn carefully excavated a small space, just big enough for her long boyish body amid all her favorite books. She fit perfectly between them. She liked to think of it as her nest. Every night they crowded around her, comforting words, old friends. But, her nest was sagging.
“You don’t need every book in bed with you,” Thomas said.
“Every book,” Brynn yelled. “Every book?”
Brynn bounded from her bed, the titles falling inward in an avalanche of words, tumbling into the crevice she had made for herself until it was full of splayed pages and colorful dust jackets leaping from their hardcovers.
Her father, Thomas, watched them tumble and breathed a deep, heavy sigh.
Brynn stomped out of her room, past her father, then pounded her feet into each step leading to the living room. She stood peering at the piles of books and papers that cluttered every surface. An ancient TV, almost waist high, stood in the room’s center, its screen absent, its guts replaced with books. More titles stood three deep on each shelf. Slimmer volumes laid horizontally on vertically arranged titles. No space remained. She threw her hands up in the air and looked over her shoulder to catch her father’s eye, but he was still upstairs. He hadn’t followed her. Her hands curled into frustrated fists and she let out a little growl. She made her way back to her room, each pounding footstep screaming out her frustration and disbelief.
“There’s nowhere else to put them,” she said. Her foot tapping the floor.
“I’ll find a place,” he said.
Her mouth hung open and her brow crinkled. Her father looked back at her, his expression a picture of calm unending patience. Brynn shook her head and rearranged her face, her eyes widening in hope.
“Please? Can’t I just keep some of them with me?” she asked.
Thomas shook his head and Brynn’s face fell.
“I don’t care if you pile them outside your door, but they can’t be inside your room anymore. The temptation is too much,” he said.
“But all of yours are outside my door lining the hall,” she yelled.
He was actually going to make good on his threat.
“You know, every other parent in the world would be happy with me. You’re being unreasonable,” she said.
“My beautiful bookworm, this is not a punishment, just a safety measure. You’re a growing girl. You need your sleep. While I’m very happy you read just as much as your dear old dad, you cannot keep doing this. We’ll find a perfectly reasonable spot. I just need to know you won’t stay up all night with them anymore,” he said.
He stepped into her room and plucked out a little stuffed dog from the pile of books.
“You can still have him,” Thomas said, holding the stuffed animal out to her and giving him a little jiggle. One of the dog’s button eyes dangled precariously from an inch-long blue thread, completely different from the white stitching of the original seams. Brynn reached and took the dog, her face screwed up, scrutinizing the old wound. Her fingers grasped the loose end of thread and pulled. The button fell to the floor. She gasped. She dropped down, her hand reaching under her bed for the lost eye.
“His name is Tock,” she said.
“I guess I didn’t do the best job on his eye, but his ears are still on,” he said. The same blue thread had reattached the dogs ears at some point.
Her fingers closed around her dog’s button eye. As she pulled herself up from beneath the bed her shoulder hit the frame and His Dark Materials Omnibus tumbled down smacking her smartly on the head. Her shoulders sagged and she looked to see if her father had noticed.
He pointed to her bed in a gesture that said “get started.”
Her father left her room. She could hear him doing something in the hall, but she didn’t want to see. She was too busy straightening the creased pages of the books that had fallen.
“It won’t even feel like my bed anymore. I won’t be able to sleep,” she called.
She knew if she had nightmares, or couldn’t sleep, that they were all right there, ready to rescue her, but he was taking them from her.
Thomas poked his head into Brynn’s room.
“C’mon, it’s not such a big deal. You can put them on the attic staircase. I pulled it down for you. I never realized it, but it’s like a bookcase waiting to be used. We can just leave it down from now on. I never really use it until I have to get Christmas decorations anyway,” he said.
“When you want to read in your room, you can take a book from it and then replace it before it’s time for lights out,” he said.
Brynn answered with an audible sniff. Thomas waited.
“I’m 11-years-old. Don’t you think I’m too old for ridiculous rules like this? You’re always telling me how mature I am,” she reminded him.
He leaned down and kissed her head.
“Yes, you’re getting very grown up, but evidently not grown up enough to gage when it is time to sleep. You can’t stay up all night reading and sleep all day,” he said.
She continued to methodically smooth pages, stroke spines and run her fingers along gold letters.
“I’m going to run out to get us some food. Our supplies are dire,” he said dramatically, trying to make her giggle. When no giggle was forthcoming, he continued, “The only place open is the Stop-N-Shop, so I’ll be awhile. It’ll give you some time to clear out your room.”
“Can’t I go with you?” she asked, a note of panic in her voice.
“No, sweetheart, stay here and finish up with your room. I won’t be that long. You’ll be fine,” he told her.
“What if something happens to you and I’m not there?” she asked.
“What is going to happen to me sweetheart? I’ll be fine. Now get to it,” he said.
“The same thing that happened to them,” she said.
Thomas squeezed his eyes shut. “You know that’s different,” he said.
“How would I know that? You’ve never told me anything, not really,” she said.
His whole body tensed. Brynn’s eyes filled with anger. She stared at him, but his eyes remained closed. Thomas turned his head up to the ceiling, but Brynn watched a single tear escape and trail down his face. He turned without looking at her.
Brynn listened as his footsteps trailed down the stairs, through the living room and out the front door. A moment later his motorcycle started up. Her heart raced. She scrambled up from her spot in a panic. She threw open her bedroom window. Her father was about to ride away.
“Be carful, Dad. I love you. Be careful. Please,” she yelled after him, but he was already riding down the dirt road unable to hear her over the din of the motorcycle.
When you have one person in the world, you want to keep them. As long as she knew he was safe, she happily orbited around him, but never strayed far. He didn’t know that she constantly worried about him leaving and never coming back. She stood in the window watching the darkening twilight swallow up the motorcycle’s lights as it progressed down the dirt road, away from her.