I always carry a book with me. More than one if I was close to the end and might need the next before the day was over. That came in handy when the subway stops due to some kind of maintenance issue and I’m stuck with a half-dozen other passengers who buried their noses in their phones.
“Is it good?” a voice asked. I shifted in my seat, using supreme force of will to keep a snarl of impatience off my face as I set aside my novel and turned to the young man a few seats down.
“Definitely,” I replied as I studied him. He was wearing several layers, dark blue work pants with smudges in black and brown and gray, a button shirt in khaki with a gray and black plaid overshirt, puffy brown hoodie with clumpy beige faux fur lining and a bulky coat in navy. “Do you like science fiction?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. But the cover looks cool.”
“Yeah, dragons are awesome.” I set my book down on the seat beside me, next to the spot that held the crumpled grocery bag and 2 liter bottle of cola he lay beside him, using the two empty chairs between us as a buffer and staging area for our stuff to keep it off the floor.
“They have dragons in science?” His brown eyes glittered with challenge, but also interest.
“When they’re genetically engineered on an alien planet, yes.”
“Cool.” He stared down at his battered work boots, kicking one heel on the floor as if he were trying to press the edge of the walkway down where it had popped up. “My little brother might like it. He’s always talking about stuff like that.”
I perked up. “How old is he?”
“That’s when I first started reading this series.” Any annoyance at the interruption was long gone. This was it. The Moment. I’d heard of them but never had the honor. Adrenaline pumped through my veins and I hesitated a split second, wildly gathering my thoughts. Then went for it. “I’ve got the first in series in my bag. I just finished it. Here, take a look.”
I dug around in my light blue backpack, knocking aside the clutter to retrieve a well-loved copy of Dragonflight. I bought it at a used bookstore when my last copy fell apart and while I loved the story, the actual copy of the book wasn’t precious to me.
He hesitated, but then reached out and took it. “Cool,” he repeated as he looked it over, squinting a little as he checked it out. I guess it was hard to think up a response to what had to be a unique conversation. And strange book nerd practically tossing a used book at him.
The subway jolted, a message playing over the intercom, telling us we were on our way. As if we wouldn’t have noticed on our own. But how silly our day-to-day life was didn’t matter. No. All that mattered was The Moment.
“You can give that to him if you want,” I offered, trying to sound casual-yet-encouraging. “It was on the dollar shelf when I got it and I have another copy.” Easy, easy. Don’t overdo.
“Nah. I mean, that’s nice but I don’t want to take your book.”
Don’t let it go. Tug, reassure. Ease it on over the finish line… “Oh, it’s no biggie. Like I said, I’ve got another one. It’s an older series, too. But great. If your brother is a reader, he’ll like these.”
“He does read a lot.” There was something in his voice. Like he didn’t understand the need but respected it. My eyes narrowed imperceptibly as I worked it out.
“Is it just the two of you?” Oh, no. Maybe that was too much. I wasn’t trying to pry.
“Yeah. He’s a good kid. He has to take care of himself until I get home though.”
“I was like that, too.” I grew up in a different place, and definitely a different time. Even in elementary school I walked home alone, key to the house kept safe on a shoestring tied around my neck. TV and books kept me company. “Go ahead and take it. A gift from one book lover to another.”
“All right. Thanks.”
I almost cheered, but I didn’t want to scare him off.
I did it. He took it. Another kid was out there somewhere, sitting alone waiting for his guardian to come home, not knowing it but about to be introduced to the kind of love that lasted a lifetime. A new series. A deeper relationship with books. Story. Fiction.
“No problem,” I said, my voice steady and calm, unlike the rest of me. “Here, tuck my card in there. If your brother likes it, send me a message and I’ll give you the rest of the series. I’ve been trying to minimize and like I said, I have another copy of them.” As if. I would never “minimize” my personal library, but he didn’t need to know. If he thought it was a favor to me, maybe he wouldn’t say no.
As I hoped, he didn’t immediately reject my offer. Yeah. I was a random lady on a subway, but things happen. We had been stuck together for half an hour. That was a bond that lasted at least long enough to accept a book on behalf of a brother he obviously loved if not understood.
“You’re an author?” he asked, his voice impressed as he looked at my card.
“Yes, I am.”
“I guess that makes you an expert then.”
“Definitely,” I assured him with a straight face. “I give recommendations all the time. Shoot me an email and I’ll send the rest.”
The brakes hissed, the rails squealed, and we came to a stop. He stood, grabbing his lunch bag and drink, but not before he carefully tucked the book into his jacket pocket, buttoning the flap closed. He wanted to keep it safe. That reassured me. I had made the right call. He’d give it to his brother.
“It was nice meeting you,” he said. I responded in kind as he left. We hadn’t exchanged names, but that was okay. That wasn’t the important part. Me handing the keys to a new life was what The Moment was all about. And I nailed it.
This is a fiction piece, but my love of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight, and the entire Dragonriders of Pern series is real and true. And has lasted a lifetime.