Impatiently, Brooks sat watching the sunset in the distance. Time always seemed to slow when he got to this point in the day. He felt like he was watching ice melt, as the sun slowly made its descent behind the hillside. He watched from his perch in the oak tree, hoping the sun would hurry up and disappear.
Then, the click of the lock that was his favorite sound in the world brought his gaze to the doors of the library. The paunchy librarian had just finished her routine of locking the doors and was taking her slow, waddling walk to the bus stop at the corner.
He could make his move now, and she probably wouldn’t notice him, but it just wasn’t worth the risk. A little more waiting, not long now, and he would be free for the night.
The squealing breaks of the bus as it slowed to a stop (probably his second favorite sound) meant that his wait was over. He watched her climb aboard the bus, the doors closed, and he was instantly moving.
He scrambled up the tree, just 3 or 4 branches higher, and then took the tenuous climb out the limb that hung over the roof of the library. The first time he had tried this, nearly a year ago, he was scared out of his mind. On that night, he was sure he would fall or be caught, but the reward was worth the risk.
But tonight, after making this jaunt hundreds of times, he gracefully moved along the branch and lightly dropped onto the roof. He scurried over to the exhaust vent, found the familiar bent corner, and pried it open. A bit of a shimmy down the vent shaft and he was in his sanctuary.
All day, every day, Brooks had to be someone else. He was expected to work in the factory. To be tough. To do as he was told and not complain. This is what was expected of his kind. But, that’s not Brooks. When he gets into the library (a place forbidden to him), he was able to let his guard down and be himself.
Tonight was no different. Tonight, he planned to lose himself in more stories. He had been working through the fantasy stories and he truly loved reading about the young heroes, the unexpected heroines, the kid who discovers he has powers, or strength, or holds some secret that will change the world. At night, he was the hero. He had the power.
He grabbed a few books and took them to his favorite corner, settled in, and began to read. It could have been hours or minutes, so lost in the stories Brooks was, when a sound startled him to attention.
He froze as he listened for further evidence of noise. He then heard a small cough and thought he might recognize it. He gingerly began to tiptoe around the shelves until he could just barely peak past the edge. What he saw startled him, almost more than it would have been to see a librarian.
“Tuck, what are you doing?” he said, as he emerged from behind the shelves and headed towards his brother. Tucker, or Tuck as most people called him, was his brother, younger by almost 2 years. Tuck was not yet old enough to be required to work, and that was a good thing, as he had always had weak lungs and trouble breathing.
Tuck’s face was sheepish and embarrassed as he looked into the eyes of his hero. “I followed you,” he said shyly before another small cough escaped.
“Tuck, it isn’t safe for you, you could have…” Brooks began to scold him but stopped short as Tuck began a small coughing fit. “Come here,” continued Brooks, “and sit down by me.” He put his arm around Tuck’s shoulder and walked him to his favorite corner.
Brooks sat and began reading to himself once again as Tuck caught his breath. Soon, Tuck was peering over his shoulder and began with the questions, “Why do you come in here? What are you doing?”
“Reading,” came Brooks’s short reply. When this didn’t seem to satisfy, he paused his reading and turned to face Tuck. “How did you get in here?”
“I followed you and climbed the tree like you.”
“That was dangerous,” then after a short pause, “but very brave.” The grin that broke out on Tuck’s face was bigger than Brooks ever saw.
Tuck blurted out, “Can I read to?”
Brooks chuckled a little, “I would have to teach you.” Tuck’s eyes bore into him. He had those kind of eyes, large and brown and pouty, that you just can’t say no to.
“Why don’t I read a bit to you first?” And Brooks started back at the beginning of the story. Tuck nestled his head upon his big brother’s shoulder and they spent the evening battling dwarves, rescuing princesses, befriending elves, and escaping dragons.
As they made their way back across the branch and down the oak tree (this was even harder and scarier than the climb up), Tuck looked at his brother with longing and Brooks could see the deep desire in his heart. “If you don’t tell anyone,” Brooks said quietly, “you can come back with me again tomorrow.”
Tuck’s heart nearly burst with joy, causing him to lose his grip for a minute, but Brooks’s quick reflexes and strong hand grabbed him before he was able to plummet and they completed their descent and headed towards home.
Brooks and Tucker quickly fell into a rhythm. The wait for the sunset was not as lonely with his little brother perched next to him, and Tuck was quickly just as efficient at scurrying across the branch as his older brother.
Brooks exclusively read to his brother for the first couple of weeks, and then began the process of teaching him to read. It was very slow at first, and Tuck was often frustrated and just wanted to listen to Brooks read.
Brooks continued to teach him with all the patience in the world. Slowly, steadily, Tucker’s ability to read grew. He was soon reading short stories to Brooks, and then to himself. As the boys journeyed into new and magical worlds each night, their friendship deepened.
One night, after a few months of hard work, Brooks sat back, watching his brother read chapter book after chapter book and his eyes welled with tears. He forgot all about his own stories and sat for who knows how long watching his younger brother. Pride bubbled inside of him. Tucker looked up and Brooks quickly looked away, wiping his eye.
“Are you okay, Brooks?” Tuck asked.
“I’m fine,” came his choked reply.
“Were you watching me?”
Tuck was getting a little embarrassed, “Why?”
“I am just so...” the words caught in his throat, “…proud…of you.”
“Is that why you were crying?”
The smile on Brooks’s face said it all.
The boys went back to their reading and continued like this for several years.
The only other night that was out of the ordinary was about a year later when they were so eager to get to their stories, they did not wait for the librarian to board the bus. She had always done the same thing, and the additional wait was just too much for them. So, they decided to head over as soon as she locked up.
They made it to the roof without incident and Tuck had begun his shimmy down the vent shaft (Brooks always insisted he go first so that the big brother could keep watch), when the sound that usually sparked so much joy in his heart caused it to stop.
Brooks heard the sound of the door lock and froze. Thankfully, he came to his senses quickly and in a hoarse whisper, said, “Tuck. Freeze.”
Tuck had not yet made just made it to the bottom of the vent and was about to drop down. “Freeze, what do you mean?”
“Someone is coming.” Brooks began to think quickly. “Climb back up, just a little higher.”
Tuck obeyed and was soon halfway up the shaft. He was grunting with the effort. A small cough escaped him.
“Can you hold it?” Brooks asked with trepidation.
Tuck nodded his head. Afraid that any talking would set off a fit of coughing, as another tiny pop escaped his mouth.
“No noise,” Brooks whispered. “I am going to go check for you.”
Brooks scrambled quietly to the edge of the roof and peered over. He could see the library doors still closed, but no sign of the librarian. He was just about to head back to Tuck when he saw movement through the window in the door.
He zipped back to Tuck and said, “She’s coming out. Just a little longer.”
Tuck felt his lungs burning. His throat was so rough and dry. He knew he would not be able to keep himself from coughing for much longer. But, he held his breath and squeezed every muscle in his body to not fall.
Then, the sound of their salvation came, and the library door’s lock clicked once again. Brooks tentatively peered over the edge to see the librarian’s slow waddle to the bus commence. When she was a few more steps away, he said to Tuck, go ahead and drop down.
Tuck did and instantly burst into a fit of coughing. Brooks watched the librarian, but she did not show any sign of hearing him. The bus came shortly after and he scrambled down to Tuck.
After his coughing finally subsided, the brothers looked at one another and burst into laughter. This brought on another coughing fit for Tuck, but it was worth it.
When the boys were young adults, their adventures in the library still a mystery to others, an uprising began. They found themselves at the heart of this movement, and their knowledge of mystical worlds, of battles and sneaky offensives, proved to be invaluable.
It was one moment, in particular, when Tucker (for he felt Tuck was too much of a kid’s name now) and Brooks came up with a plan to sneak into the stronghold of the enemy camp. It was daring and bold and took some time to sell to the higher-ups. But, once they had convinced them to let the boys try, they took on the task, with the help of a few fellow revolutionists. When they were able to successfully infiltrate the camp in the dead of night and unlock a side gate, their army was able to attack and strike the finishing blow to the war.
They were victorious, and their lives were forever changed for the better after that night.
When the battle had ended, Brooks and Tucker found themselves on the roof of the citadel, sitting alone, watching the sunrise over a distant hill. Brooks had helped Tucker wrap his bleeding arm in a bandage when their minds began drifting back to the nights when they would watch the sunset from their tree branch, waiting for the library to close.
They looked at each other, and without words, a lifetime of affection and gratitude passed between them. They both smiled, chuckled a bit as their heads dipped towards the ground, before once again meeting each other’s eyes with a care only known to brothers.