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Song of the Heart
Love for All Time 1
Copyright © 2017 by Lynnette Bernard. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied within critical articles or reviews—without express written permission from the author. All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
“Emmy! Hurry up! Give me your hand!” Toby Hart called down through the hatchway of his tree fort, doing his best to keep his voice quiet despite the urgency of the situation.
“Toby, help me,” Emmy whispered, her fear obvious.
Reaching up desperately, she tried to pull herself up the narrow boards that had been nailed to the trunk of the old tree in the wooded area not far from Toby’s house. It had become their haven of escape from the cruelty of his father over the years.
Toby gripped her wrist and pulled her body upward, rolling to the side as her tiny frame slammed into his larger one as he hoisted her to safety. He held her against him, and covered her mouth quickly.
“Shh, Emmy. He’s coming,” Toby warned her, looking through the narrow, wooden slats of his fort to track the movement of his father as he came out onto the back porch of their house. He couldn’t help but make a small noise of disgust when he saw that his father was unsteady on his feet. He had been drinking. Again.
Emmy nodded, her blue eyes filled with terror as she looked at Toby. His dark hair fell across his cheek, partially hiding the bruise that was on the left side of his face. Toby had said that he had fallen when he had been exploring the woods that was a good hiding place for their fort, and had banged his face, but Emmy knew that wasn’t true.
She felt Toby hold her just a little bit tighter, and knew he was determined to protect her. He always protected her. It didn’t matter that he was eleven years old, and she was only nine. He had been her best friend for her whole life. He was the one who stopped the other kids at school from teasing her because she wore clothes that were old and tattered. He was the one who made sure that she ate lunch, sharing what little he packed for his own lunch in the brown paper bag that he always carried to school.
Both of them had lost their mothers within months of each other. But where Emmy was lucky to have a loving father who treated her like gold, Toby wasn’t lucky at all. His father was mean to him every day. It broke Emmy’s heart that her friend didn’t have anyone to love him—except her.
“Toby! Where are you, boy? You have chores to do!”
His father yelled for Toby over and over again from his spot on the back porch of the house, making Emmy cringe at the harsh, unspoken threat his voice held. Emmy gripped Toby’s shirt, frightened for her friend.
Mr. Hart was not a nice man. He hurt Toby all the time. There were many times that Toby had hidden inside of the fort, bruised and beaten, remaining still and quiet until he could heal. He never complained. He never cried. He just accepted whatever his father did to him, and began each day with the single hope that it wouldn’t be like the day before. It was awful.
Emmy hated Mr. Hart. She hated that he liked hurting Toby. She hated that he said awful things to her friend that made him believe that he wasn’t a good person.
“You’d better come home now, Toby!” his father yelled even louder.
“I hate my name,” Toby whispered. “I don’t ever want to hear anyone call me it ever again.”
Emmy nodded in understanding. She loved Toby’s name. It reminded her of goodness and friendship. It was the way Mr. Hart said it that made it bad. It promised unspeakable cruelty that made her hate hearing it. She knew that was the reason Toby hated hearing it, too.
She heard the sound of the crack of wood and jumped, looking over her shoulder and seeing the splintered mess that littered the back porch of the Hart home. She held onto Toby with all her strength, knowing that Mr. Hart had truly wanted to break that board over Toby’s body. There were so many times that she had snuck ice, bandages, and aspirins up into the tree fort to help her friend. She wished she was older so she could always make sure that he didn’t hurt.
They both watched in silence as Toby’s father chugged down the beer he was holding, wiped the liquid that had dribbled down his chin, and threw the empty bottle toward the trash barrel beside the back door. He missed, sending it crashing against the wall with such force, it smash into a thousand pieces, the shards of dark glass glistening in the waning sunlight as they lay on the littered porch floor.
Neither one of them moved until he pulled open the back door, staggered back inside, and slammed the door behind him. They could hear his muttered curses and felt the deepness of his anger as if it were a living entity reaching out to attack them.
“I’m not going back to that house tonight,” Toby said quietly, making the decision he had no choice but to make in order to protect himself from his father’s drunken rage.
“Come home with me,” Emmy pleaded. “My dad will take care of you.”
Toby looked at Emmy and smiled. She was such a sweet kid. He couldn’t imagine not having her around. They were a team—an army of two, who looked out for each other and cared about each other.
“I’ll be fine,” he told her calmly. “It’s not too cold today. It will be nice sleeping out here tonight.”
“But I don’t want you to sleep out here,” Emmy protested.
“Don’t worry about me,” he said softly as he sat up, helping her to sit beside him. “Happy Birthday, Emmy. I’m glad we’re here in our fort to celebrate.”
There wasn’t much to the fort, really. Just a small area of wood the two of them barely fit into, built of discarded lumber that Toby had scrounged from the trash heap. Emmy had brought him an old blanket from her home to make it more comfortable. That blanket had given him some respite from the cold on the many nights he had slept in the fort to escape his father’s drunken abuse.
“I brought something for us to share for my birthday,” Emmy told him, smiling happily, determined to make Toby forget his sadness. Her blue eyes sparkled with joy as she looked up at him. “I wanted to bring cake, but Daddy didn’t have money to buy one for me.”
“I’m so sorry, Emmy,” Toby whispered, his light brown eyes filled with gentleness as he looked down at her.
“It’s okay,” Emmy told him, dismissing his unnecessary worrying. “It doesn’t matter. Daddy bought some apples for me. He gave me a big hug and told me that I was his birthday present because I was born right after his birthday. He said I was the best present he ever got.”
She reached around her body to pull the burlap bag that hung across her shoulder, and dumped its contents out onto the wooden surface beneath them. Two Granny Smith apples rolled out, along with a small plastic bottle of water that she planned on sharing with him.
“That’s my favorite kind of apple,” Toby said at once, smiling at the joy that lit Emmy’s eyes at his words.
“I know. That’s why I asked Daddy to get them for my present. I wanted to share them with you.”
Toby tugged on the end of Emmy’s dark brown hair, loving the smile she gave him. She was absolutely the sweetest person he knew.
Releasing his hold on her hair, he reached into his pocket to take out his small pocket knife. He cleaned it carefully on the blanket that was neatly folded beside him, and began to cut the apples into small pieces. Emmy watched him, fascinated by how adept he was at wielding the knife. She opened her hands to accept the bounty that he carefully sliced for them. She offered her filled hands to Toby and waited until he took half of the pieces for himself.
“I’ve been thinking about something,” Emmy said as she ate her portion of the delicious apples.
“About what?” Toby asked, mumbling around the mouthful of goodness.
“I think I want to call you Smitty.”
“I want to call you something that means something to both of us that no one else will ever understand. I like that you call me Emmy instead of Emily like everyone else does, so I thought I could call you Smitty because you like these kind of apples. What do you think?”
Emmy hesitated, unsure. She didn’t want Toby to feel bad about hating his name. She just wanted to have him feel good whenever she talked to him.
“I think that’s a great idea,” Toby told her, smiling. “I’d like that, Emmy.”
She sighed softly, relieved. “I’m glad,” she said quietly.
Toby squeezed her little hand gently. He was glad that she thought of calling him Smitty. He would have never thought to have her call him anything but Toby. He liked it. Having that new name gave him a break from the reality of what his life was. He didn’t want to think about it. He didn’t want to be reminded of his father.
“I have something for you,” he told her after a moment, releasing her hand and reaching into the front pocket of his ripped jeans.
He pulled out a crinkled piece of blue tissue paper, clearing his throat nervously as he offered it to her. Before she could speak, he started singing a song he that had made up just for her.
I wish you joy and goodness,
I wish you peace and love,
I wish you stars to guide you,
I wish you friends along your way.
You’re the shining light in my life,
You’re my best friend, my helper, my warrior,
You understand, you care, and help,
You’re the happiness and light in each dark day.
My Emmy, My friend,
My Emmy, My friend.
Emmy remained silent, feeling happy and loved because of the song that he had created for her. It touched her heart more than he would ever know.
“That was beautiful,” she told him. She could tell that he was a little embarrassed by her compliment. “When you become a famous singer, I’m going to go to all of your concerts.”
“You will, huh?” he asked, shaking his head at the absurdity of such a thing happening.
The determination in her voice made him laugh. It was a nice thought. He loved to sing. It gave him moments of joy in his life. It especially provided him with a great escape from the garbage of life that surrounded him.
“You won’t tell anyone I sing, right Emmy?”
“Never,” Emmy promised, crossing her heart with her index finger. “But maybe, someday, you can show people how good you are.”
Toby just shrugged. Dreams of singing filled his mind, but he knew better than to believe that they could come true. His father had told him often enough that he wasn’t going to amount to much.
“Here, open your present,” he told her, pushing aside the thoughts of a future that he knew he would never have. He handed her the wad of tissue paper, placing it gently into the palm of her hand.
Emmy carefully unfolded the crinkled paper, gasping when the present was revealed to her. She had never seen anything more beautiful in her life.
“The gold chain belonged to my mom,” he explained quietly. “She gave it to me before she died. She told me to keep it hidden from my father.” He reached out and touched the small crystal heart that hung from the chain. “I saved up all the money I earned from the cans that I found and recycled so I could get you this. It’s not much, but I wanted you to have it. No matter where you are, or where we end up, you’ll always have my heart with you.”
“Put it on me,” Emmy whispered, leaning forward and waiting as he unclasped the chain, placed it around her neck, and fastened it securely.
The crystal heart hung low on her neck. She touched it reverently, filled with emotions that her best friend had given her such a beautiful gift.
“Thank you, Smitty,” she told him, leaning forward and wrapping her little arms around his neck to hug him tightly. “You’ll always have my heart, too.”
“Happy Birthday, Emmy,” he whispered, hugging her carefully, and making his own birthday wish that they would always be together.