Seven year old Sheldon gritted his teeth as soft whimpers continued to assault his ears. The sounds had started six minutes and forty-two seconds ago, when a small form had accidently pressed against his back as he sat on the Amtrak Station bench. Sheldon would have been more tolerant of the sniveling if it had been allergy season, but there was virtually little pollen around to aggravate even the most sensitive nostrils. No, these sounds were the product of emotional devastation.
Sniffle. A pause. Just as the boy began to entertain the idea that the crisis was adverted, it started up again. Sniffle, sniffle.
“Could you please contain your emotional outbursts to yourself?” Sheldon finally asked. Behind him, the form cringed and shifted. Although he had no intentions of striking up a conversation, Sheldon found himself peering over his shoulder. A small boy with thick curly hair twisted around to meet the stranger’s gaze, his watery red eyes glassy behind chunky glasses.
“I’m sorry.” The boy’s lip quivered as he returned the thin pale boy’s stare. “I got separated from my mother and I don’t know which direction the platform’s in.”
“Precisely why they have signs with travel information. There’s one in the main hallway,” Sheldon replied, turning back around to focus on the huge book in his lap.
“I know. But I can’t read it,” came the disconsolate voice. Sheldon snorted in disdain. True, the child was young, but that was no excuse to be neglectful of one’s own education. He had been reading since the age of two!
“Hey!” the boy’s frown went unnoticed to the other’s bowed head, but Sheldon could sense indignant eyes. “It’s not that I can’t read, it’s just that I can’t read the signs. They’re too high up, and I’m… vertically challenged.”
“The logical course of action in that situation is to ask an adult or someone of taller stature to read it for you and relay the information.”
“I tried. Everyone just walked around me.” A sigh. “Maybe… you can help me?”
Unmoved by the hope in the other boy’s voice, Sheldon shook his head, still bent over his book. “I’m not allowed to converse with strangers. My mom took my siblings to the bathroom to relieve their bladders before the trip, and she’s due back any time.”
No verbal response met his reply, but Sheldon caught the sounds of a backpack zipper, then the plunk! of shoes hitting the pavement. Curious in spite of himself, Sheldon glanced up in time to see the kid racing around the bench.
“I’m Leonard,” the curly-haired boy announced, planting himself in front of Sheldon. Automatically sticking his hand out, embarrassment flooded Leonard’s face as his mannerisms were met with the familiar face of scorn.
“Given the level of distress you were experiencing, rhinorrhea was inevitable. I am convinced you wiped your runny nose with your hand. You understand why I must defer from common greeting practices, yes? But to return the courtesy, my name is Sheldon,” came the reluctant reply.
“Oh, ok. What cha reading?” Leonard questioned without missing a beat, taking a seat next to his acquaintance. Sheldon stared at Leonard from the corner of his eye warily, taking in the boy’s dangling feet. Leonard hadn’t been exaggerating… he was quite vertically challenged.
“Advanced aerodynamics, concentrating on hydraulic engines of flight-enabled modes of transportation.”
“Oh.” Sheldon waited for the inevitable what’s that comment typically generated by his peers and adults, but Leonard peeled off his Wolverine backpack and began to dig inside the contents. Finding the desired object, the boy triumphantly held it out for Sheldon’s inspection.
“Calculating nuclear hyperfine structures,” Sheldon read the title out loud. “I covered that material six months ago.”
Leonard’s smile wavered, and he drew the book closer to his chest. “It was checked out for a few months, otherwise I would have been done with it by now too.”
“Excellent choice of transportation luggage,” Sheldon finally commented after a minute of silence to the now sulky looking Leonard. He hated breaking his mother’s rule concerning strangers as well as his own guideline about banal chit-chat, but if this child was able to understand his speech without resorting to ridicule, perhaps he deserved a second chance.
“Thank you,” Leonard replied warily. “Mother says the X-men characters are a manifestation of human’s longing for physical prowess and domination, but I still like it.”
About to reply, Sheldon stiffened as an older female came into his line of sight, two rowdy, laughing children behind her. Leonard watched curiously as the woman lovingly fussed over the darting kids, her smile never faltering as she approached the bench.
“Everything ok, Shelly? Thanks for watching the stuff. Are you sure you don’t need to go to the bathroom, honey? Trains make you excited, and you know what that does to your bladder!” The woman, evidently Sheldon’s mother, started to bend down to pick up a bag when she noticed the child sitting beside her son.
“Oh, hello. How nice, did you make a friend, Shelly? It’s good to see you talking with someone your own…. How old are you, honey?” Sheldon’s mom interrupted herself.
“I’m seven,” Leonard replied shyly, feeling dizzy from all the waves of pleasantness radiating from the woman.
“….your own age,” Sheldon’s mom finished, satisfied.
“He looks like a geek too! Smarty-pants, smarty-pants, can’t see a thing!” An older boy taunted. Beside him, a girl that looked the same age as Sheldon and Leonard giggled before clamping a hand over her mouth. As the woman turned to chastise the other boy, Leonard glanced over to see Sheldon staring straight ahead, mouth set firmly. Apparently this boy was teased about his intelligence as well.
“My siblings do the same. Except, well… I’m not smart enough,” Leonard confided in a stage whisper.
“I wish I had similar circumstances,” Sheldon replied, sliding his book into his Flash backpack.
“Wish I had your family,” Leonard returned longingly.
“Honey, just where is your family?” Sheldon’s mom questioned once she was able to get Sheldon’s brother to stop pulling his sister’s pigtails.
“I got lost… I’m supposed to go to Platform 4B.” Leonard dug into his pocket, pulling out a carefully folded ticket. “Mother’s going to a convention, and my dad’s doing research, so I had to go with her,” he added.
“Oh, Shelly, why didn’t you say something about your friend sooner?” Glancing at her watch, the woman nodded to herself. “Praise the lord, you haven’t missed your train. C’mon, we’ll take you there. It’s right on our way.”
With marveling eyes, Leonard followed the mostly happy little family through the station, sticking close to the taller boy after Sheldon’s brother contorted his face in an effort to scare Leonard.
“He looks like an M-113 creature,” Leonard muttered under his breath. This earned him a strangely breathless chuckle from Sheldon.
“Here you are,” Sheldon’s mother announced, halting in front a sign boldly proclaiming the platform number. Peering around, Leonard’s eyes eventually landed on a familiar figure standing stiffly off to the side. In spite of himself, Leonard smiled in relief, waving his arm in the hope of catching the woman’s attention.
“There’s my mom! Thank you so much for showing me the way. I really appreciate it,” Leonard stated, eyeing between Sheldon’s mother and his own maternal parent.
“No problem, sweetie. Run along now, you’ll be boarding soon. Shelly, say good bye to your friend,” she added, nudging her youngest son.
“Bye, four-eyed shorty,” his brother spoke up before Sheldon could open his mouth.
“Nice to meet you,” the sister smiled, giving a little wave.
“Live long and prosper,” Sheldon finally got the change to say, nodding his head slightly. Leonard grinned, hesitated for a moment, and then rushed forward to awkwardly wrap his arms around the taller boy. Sheldon stood stiffly, mostly in surprise, as the younger boy squeezed him then stepped away.
“Thank you,” Leonard said again. With a slow sprint, the boy took off towards his mother, his backpack clumsily banging with each step.
“What did I tell you, Shelly? You are perfectly able to make friends. Thank the lord that He created someone that can understand you,” his mother announced. Sheldon remained silent, watching the strange little boy address his mother in the distance, the two quickly disappearing into the train.
Seventeen years later…
“There has to be someone looking to lease,” a curly-haired young man muttered to himself as his thick-lensed eyes roamed over the physics department bulletin board. What good was employment if he didn’t have a place to stay? Maybe they would let him sleep in his office for a while...
Amid the request for participants in clinical trials for the anatomy and health research department, one notice caught the man’s eye. Reaching out to tug the paper from its thumbtack, the man scanned the brief information.
“Whistlers need not apply. Huh. This Dr. Cooper sounds interesting.”