The house was wrapped in shadows, the darkening sky finally giving way to the stars. It was an unusually cool September night, one of the rarer occasions where hot chocolate or a rousing fire could be called for.
Tucked away in his bedroom, a little boy eagerly ditched both the idea of a rousing fire or hot chocolate. Instead, said ideas were abandoned in favor of devouring the books encompassing his bed.
(Children’s stories had long been abandoned for technical journals he still couldn’t possibly hope to completely understand.)
In any case, he was eager to drink in the knowledge, to add to his "memory banks" – as his favorite show would refer to them as.
“Harold? Are you still up?”
It would be too late to hide away his collection of knowledge by this point. That is, if his mom felt remembered to properly check-in on him.
“Harold, we can always not go to New York if you want to spend all your time in your room.”
It was in this moment Harold remembered that, unlike his dad, his mom did remember to check-in on him. Furthermore, he remembered that, for all of the reading he did, it was he who was the open book.
“But,” All the books were immediately shut closed in protest of this possibility. “We simply have to go to New York! It’s absolutely vital and necessary and—and— and we simply have to go!”
She stood there in silent bemusement with arms crossed and a tilted stare accompanied by a weary smile – all the while ignoring the fact that a six-and-a-half-year old (his words of late, not hers) just used “vital” and “necessary” in an everyday sentence.
“If you promise to go to bed right now, I promise to take us to New York.” He nodded, his glasses almost falling off his face due to his excitement. Her smile widened at this endearing act before she began to turn back to the door.
But, there was one thing he couldn't let go of just yet.
"Together in New York?" It was their phrase of late, something he chorused to himself to get through bullying, frustration, and the boredom that accompanied being in the middle-of-nowhere, Iowa.
"Together in New York." She turned back to him, a hand waiting to turn off the light. "Good ni--"
“-- Will you tell me a story about New York?" He glanced at the floor, realizing he just interrupted his mother and that was probably wasn't the smartest of things to do. "Please?”
Harold hadn’t asked for a bedtime story since he was nearing five – a time where he felt that, he was at his "most maturest state of maturity" and therefore didn’t need stories to be read to him. She had accepted it gracefully, but had hoped that he would change his mind one day.
“Well, there is a story I do believe I haven’t told you.” She could feel him leaning forward in anticipation without having to turn back around. “But, there are books still on your bed. And, you’re not in your pajamas.”
She gave him a minute to complete his tasks, withholding a grin at the sound of scampering feet that were normally so calm and poised.
“If I were to turn around, what would it be that I see?”
“Impeccable timing.” She couldn’t hold back a snort at this, pivoting around to see that her little boy was right after all. The books were neatly sectioned off far enough from his bed that he’d have a little way to go if he really wanted to read tonight. Furthermore, pajamas were now adorning his frame, and he was already tucked into bed.
For a word he’d just learned about a week ago, he sure was getting “impeccable” down.
“Now it’s time for you to hold your end of the bargaim.” Somehow, he managed to be both assertive and incredibly shy. The assertiveness evidenced by the fact that he dared to say such a statement. The shyness clearly outlined in his voice fading by the end of said statement.
“’Bargain’,” She corrected gently, knowing he’d prefer accuracy to ignorance. Already, she was beginning to walk back to his bed. “And, what’s the magic word?”
“'Bargain'.” He repeated, still caught in the last conversation and seemingly tasting the word as he spoke. Then, his face cringed at her word choice, as she knew it would. Though, naturally, he did understand the context of the request. “Please.”
Harold had given up on magic since the age of four, ever since he explained exactly how the magician at Susie’s party performed all of her tricks. Now, the word merely brought a grimace or an exasperated stare.
“Well, with a look like that I don’t know if a story is right for tonight.”
“Mooommm!” It was only with knowledge and curiosity that Harold ever got this petulant, much to her amusement. Fortunately, even though he probably could call her out on her bluff, he wasn’t willing to push his luck.
(Aka, the little boy schooled his features into something more amiable and something that was far more likely to result in having a story told.)
“Well, now, I think it could be time for a story.” He barely refrained from cheering, having long since decided that cheering in such an obvious fashion was also beneath him.
(She saw through that immediately. Saw through it, and still decided to indulge him.)
And, so, Harold's mother began her tale.
She spoke of her side of the family – the side that has lived in the Big Apple for years and would never, ever leave. She spoke of her eccentric grandma with her inspiring inventions and her grandfather, who was always willing to teach and always willing to motivate every student.
And, by the time she got to the part of the story her little boy hadn’t heard, he was already fast asleep.
The fire had started long after they were all asleep, but long before any help could come.
It had been just an accident. One that resulted in the lost of two wonderful people, the permanent crippling of the only survivor, and the breaking of a promise made just hours before:
They were never meant to be together in New York.