Hidden among the Stars(7)

By: Melanie Dobson

In this day of unlimited screen time, countless games and movies, I’ve often wondered if this next generation of kids will be the one to turn their back on books. So far I’ve seen no evidence of a rebellion. They come in droves to the store and—usually—listen without interruption. Perhaps it’s a testament to their parents’ love of the written word.

After I finish George’s adventure, one of the younger boys in the front row raises his hand, whipping it around like a flag caught in a storm.

“Yes, Michael?”

“I’m wearing new underpants,” he announces confidently, as if everyone will be just as excited as he is by this news. “Spider-Man.”

I quickly reach for the crate where I store my reading books. “Very good.”

He stands, turning to the children behind him. “Do you want to see them?”

Thankfully his mother rushes forward before I have to intervene. “No one wants to see your underwear,” she says in one of those mortified mom whispers meant for a crowd.

I march my fingers quickly across the book spines in the crate and pick up one that I hope will redirect, ASAP. We have ten minutes left, plenty of time for Dr. Seuss. “Anyone ever hear about the fox who wears socks?” I lift one of my legs for a visual of my striped pair.

A few of them raise their hands.

I open the book and repeat by memory. “‘Fox. Socks. Box. Knox. Knox in box. Fox in socks.’”

The front door chimes, and I’m hoping it’s Charlotte so I can ask her to help me translate the lines in the Bambi book. But when I glance up, I choke down a groan. Kathleen Faulkner and her six-year-old son, Jack, walk into the store.

Focus—back to the blue-socked fox in my hands, my words slurring a bit as I continue with the story.

Kathleen seems like a perfectly nice woman, and her son is adorable—but I am a victim of the smallish-town curse where every resident’s path seems to intersect everyone else’s at one point or another. And I can’t very well turn away the wife and stepson of my ex-fiancé from a reading of Dr. Seuss. I’m only grateful that not once in the past two years, to my knowledge, has Scott Faulkner stepped through the front door.

Jack squeezes into a space beside my feet, Kathleen joining the lineup of adults curled around the outskirts.

“‘Let’s do chicks with bricks and clocks, sir. Let’s do tricks with bricks and blocks, sir.’”

“You messed it up,” Owen, my nephew, shouts. Then he grins as if he’s done my audience a great service by correcting me.

Unfortunately, the tongue-twisting in this book only gets worse from here, and I’ve lost my momentum.

I start to read the next page about stacking the chicks and bricks and blocks, but it’s a disaster. Perhaps I should ask if Michael has anything else he’d like to share.

“I hate to interrupt,” my lovely sister says from behind the parental wall, “but I have it on good authority that chocolate-chip cookies taste best when they’re warm, and I’ve just taken a batch out of the oven.”

With those words, the fox and his socks are forgotten as my audience surges around the castle steps, up to the counter with the cookies and hot chocolate that Brie has waiting for them every Saturday. Next week, I’ll take a mulligan on the book about the quirky fox.

“Have I told you lately how much I love you?” I say, slipping beside my sister. About two minutes have passed since she made the call, but only crumbs remain on the ceramic cookie tray.

Brie collects the paper cups that line the counter and wipes her hands on her polka-dotted apron. Her brown shoulder-length hair is newly streaked with lime green. “I’ve got your back, Callie.”

“You are the best of sisters.”

As Brie pours several more cups of chocolate, handing them out to the children, I glance around the busy store until I find Kathleen and her son in the loft, snuggled together on a couch. Surely she knows that Scott once proposed marriage to me, but the fact that he was seeing both of us at the same time in the weeks before our wedding day doesn’t seem to bother her in the least. Unlike me, who can’t seem to move past the betrayal. The colossal failure in the spotlight of our town.