“What-?” Emile glanced over at his brother, his hand reaching up to put a book on a high shelf, frozen at the word Patton had chosen to use.
Emile and Patton had been working together in Emile’s bookstore-slash-library, Picani Librari, for several years now, and word association games had become a common method of passing the time when there was no-one using the facilities.
“You get bus stations. Bus.” Patton beamed from the desk. Emile shook his head and chuckled.
“Fine. Bus stop.”
“Um…” Emile blinked, trying to think of a word.
“Grams.” A new voice caught their attention, causing them both to turn towards the door.
“Hey, buddy!” Patton and Emile greeted the boy excitedly.
“Greetings.” Logan adjusted his glasses with one hand, the other clutching a copy of Alice In Wonderland. Patton had seen it often, but never questioned it. “Is grams acceptable?” Logan continued. “I understand you meant waiting, but I figured I could adjust the word to weight.”
“I’ll let you have it, but only because that’s really hecking smart.” Emile smirked, stepping off his ladder to grab another handful of books to pack away. Logan smiled slightly, removing his school bag and placing it next to his preferred seat in a darkened corner of the store.
“How was school, kiddo?” Patton asked, propping his elbows on the desk and resting his head in his hands.
“It was another average day.” Logan shrugged. “Do you know if anyone has checked out The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie?”
“You and I are the only people who touch that book.” Patton chuckled, moving from behind the desk to search for it. “I know I’ve mentioned it before, but… Why don’t you get a library card?” He added, spotting the book on a high shelf. “Or ask us to order a copy to purchase?”
“I cannot afford either… and I would rather sit in here to read. I cannot imagine reading anywhere else.” Logan confessed as Patton grabbed the book and handed it to him. “Thank you.”
“No problem. You okay?”
“Of course, why wouldn’t I be?” Logan asked, slightly defensive. Patton smiled kindly.
“You only read that one when you’re feeling low- gan .”
“...You did not just-“
“I did, I’m sorry.” Patton bit his lip to hide his smirk.
“To answer your question, I am… managing. Thank you for your concern.” Logan hugged the book to his chest with his Alice In Wonderland one, but upon noticing Patton wasn’t going to take that for an answer, Logan continued. “It is an… unpleasant anniversary.”
“Oh, kiddo, I’m sorry-“
“It is alright.” Logan whispered, and Patton almost whimpered at the sudden fragility of Logan’s voice. He’d never heard him like that before…
“Hey… Lo? Um… I-I’m sure Emile won’t mind, and no-one’s checked that book out in, like, two years… Do you want to keep it?” Patton smiled softly. Logan gasped.
“Sure you can!” Emile perked up from the back of the store. “It’ll only get chucked out next month if someone doesn’t check it out. May as well go to a good home.”
“Are you certain…?” Logan asked, looking between Emile and Patton with an expression of such disbelief that made Patton wonder if anyone had ever given the boy a book before.
“Of course.” Patton and Emile spoke together. Logan’s arms tightened around the book, blinking back tears.
“Thank you so much…”
“Oh, Logan…” Patton smiled fondly, walking around his desk and giving Logan a small side hug. “You’re having a tough day aren’t you?”
“This has helped tremendously.” Logan sniffed, wiping his eyes and standing straight, as though to hide any evidence of his tiny outburst. “I appreciate this very much.”
“No problem, kiddo!”
It wasn’t until a month later that Patton discovered what that anniversary was.
“Would you stop tapping that pen?” Emile snapped, throwing a worn book down into a cardboard box. Patton dropped the pen immediately, straightening up behind the desk.
“Logan’s usually here by now…”
“Patton, he’s got his own life.” Emile threw another book no-one had touched in years into the box.
“He spends most of it here!” Patton cried, burying his head in his hands. “He’s always here after school, even when he’s sick and we have to send him home.”
“I’m sure he’s fine.”
The noise of something hitting the window at the front of the store made Patton and Emile jump; Emile was grateful he’d been holding onto the shelf or he’d probably have fallen off his ladder. They turned to the window in time to see a gang of teenagers grabbing a boy, whom they’d seemingly thrown into the window, by the collar and slam him into the trunk of the tree that stood outside the store.
Now that they could see the frightened boy’s face, they realised it was their favourite young customer.
“No, no, no!” Patton gasped, running from behind the desk and throwing the door open. “Hey! Get off of him right now!” He cried, forcing his way through the crowd and placing himself in front of Logan. The boys just laughed.
“You got a little pocket protector now, four-eyes?” The largest boy sneered. “I’ll get you one day, nerd.”
Logan said nothing as the boy joked and left.
“Logan?” Emile stood in the shop entrance, shaken by what’d just happened.
“Oh, god, Logan, are you okay? Did they hurt you?” Patton turned to face Logan with an expression of fear and concern on his face, but Logan seemed too focused on something on the floor to notice Patton’s concern. Emile froze and Patton blinked, both following Logan’s gaze.
“Oh, Logan…” Patton whispered, watching Emile gather what seemed to be the remnants of what once was Logan’s treasured Alice In Wonderland book. Half of the pages were missing, likely having blown away with the wind. Emile held them carefully before moving to Logan’s side.
By now, the poor boy was crying silently, trying his hardest not to show how upset he was and failing. A dark bruise was forming on his face under his eye, which worried Patton greatly.
“Logan, honey, let’s get some ice on that bruise, alright?” Patton whispered.
“Logan-“ Emile tried to speak, but he froze when Logan whimpered.
“Please, fix it…?” Logan pleaded, his voice cracking as he looked up at Patton with tear-filled eyes. Patton was certain his heart had shattered at the sight.
“I-I’ll see what I can do…” Emile forced a supportive smile as he headed back into the store and over to the table in the darkened corner of he store. There was no way he could fix it, he knew that already. Most of the pages were gone, others had been ripped into shreds that would take forever to reassemble.
Patton gently guided Logan inside, taking his bag from the boy’s back and placing it behind the desk before indicating for Logan to sit in the desk chair. He knelt in front of Logan for a moment, whispering comforting words in the softest voice he could manage before going out back to the kitchen to get some ice. Logan choked back a sob when he thought he was alone, apparently forgetting that Emile was there.
“Logan?” Emile spoke up, causing the boy to jump slightly. “What’s this writing here on the front page?”
I know how excited you are for school, so I bought you this book. It was one of my favourites when I was younger.
Life is a story, Logan. As you learn to read, you can start reading this as you begin to create your own story. I know you’ll make your story a great one, as you improved my own story. The chapters in which you exist are the chapters I will re-read for as long as I live. You’ll always be my favourite character.
All my love, Mom.’
“The-The book was a gift from my Mother.” Logan struggled to keep his voice level. “She wrote in it and gave it to me the day I started school.”
“Here, Logan…” Patton whispered, holding a small ice-pack out to the boy. “It’ll reduce swelling.”
“I appreciate you both looking after me. I apologise for causing so much trouble.”
“Don’t you dare apologise!” Patton cried. “They hurt you and pushed you around! That was their fault, not yours!”
“Patton, calm down, you’ll scare him…” Emile whispered before standing. “Logan… I-I’m so sorry, I don’t think I can fix this…”
“I know…” Logan whispered. “I do not know why I asked you to, it is clearly not possible.”
“Hey, no, don’t be like that…” Emile leaned over the desk. “I’ll order another copy for you, a fresh new one, exactly the same, and I’ll stick your Mother’s message in the front. I’m sure she won’t mind.”
“You do not have to do that-”
“I know.” Emile smiled. “But that isn’t going to stop me!”
“I will pay you back as soon as I-”
“Nonsense.” Emile waved his hand in dismissal. “Consider it a loyalty reward.”
“Logan, can I walk you home?” Patton asked suddenly. “I… I’m worried those boys might… Can I? Please?”
“I’d feel better if Patton took you home too.” Emile added. “Just for tonight.”
“Alright… Thank you.”
At 6PM, the store closed, and Patton walked close to Logan as the two of them walked down the road.
“I’m so sorry about your book, Logan…” Patton whispered, breaking the silence between them.
“Why? It was not your fault.”
“I know, but… I just wish there was something more I could do, something I could have done-”
“It was my own fault. I was told not to carry it around because something like this would happen, and it happened, so there’s no point dwelling on it.” Logan’s tone ended angry, but the volume of his outburst told Patton he was just trying to tell himself something, anything, to comprehend why it had happened.
“It’s not your fault. It’s the kids who hurt you. They should know better. You didn’t fight back.”
“I am a pacifist. I do not believe in violence solving anything.” Logan bit his lip nervously. “Violence is never a good thing.”
“No, it’s not…” Patton sighed. Logan turned into a side road, which confused Patton, and over to an old building. “Logan, why’re we going down here? There’s nothing down here except a dead end and the old orphanage.”
”Yes, that is correct.” Logan muttered, climbing up the steps and knocking on the door. “Thank you for walking me back, Patton.”
“You… you live here…?” Patton’s heart felt like it was being torn in two. Logan nodded, as though it were an obvious fact. “But what about your Mother…?”
“It was the anniversary of my Mother’s death last month.”
Everything hit Patton in the chest at full force.
Logan feeling down a month ago because of an anniversary: The anniversary of his Mother’s death. The book was probably one of few, if any, things he had left of his Mother. His Mother’s words were the only words he had to remember her by. His book, his Mother’s words, were destroyed. He had nowhere to go.
“You… don’t have a family…?” Patton’s voice cracked.
Logan was alone.
“There you are!” The door flew open as a woman’s voice split the silence. For goodness sake, Logan, curfew was 6:00, not 6:15.”
“I-I’m sorry, it’s my fault he’s late back.” Patton spoke up, his voice still wobbly from his discovery. “Some teenagers were pushing him around and tore up his book and I insisted I walk him home.”
“I told you what would happen if you carried that damn book around.” The woman sighed. “Get in, I’ll deal with you later.”
“Thank you again, Patton.” Logan nodded gratefully before going inside.
“Will he be okay?” Patton asked, not knowing what else to say.
“He’s been beat up far worse than this before, it’s not uncommon for him.” The woman scoffed. “It was nice of you to bring him back. Half the time, I don’t know if he’s even alive.”
“That’s… not good.” Patton whispered, wanted to say something more, but not knowing what.
“Anyway, thanks.” The woman turned and slammed the door, leaving Patton standing on the stairs with a mix of emotions flooding through his poor heart.
How had he not known…?
The more he thought about it on the way to his and Picani’s apartments, conveniently next to the store, he picked up more and more evidence. The fact he couldn’t afford a library card or even a book, the fact he spent every afternoon in their store instead of going home, the fact he loved reading so much, the fact he was surprised at a simple act of kindness such as giving him an old second-hand book.
Patton knocked loudly on Emile’s apartment door, a floor below his own apartment, thoughts still whirling in his head. The door opened.
“Hey, did he get home okay-?”
“Did you know he’s an orphan?” Patton choked, his eyes welling with tears. Emile blinked.
“His Mom’s dead.” Patton whimpered. “He’s all alone, why is he alone?”
“Okay, okay, come on…” Emile whispered, wrapping an arm around Patton as his younger twin broke down. “Come on, let’s talk about this over some hot cocoa, okay?”