you may want to read this first.
Olivia Reed’s favorite day of the week is unarguably Friday. Her kids, a bright-eyed group of six-year-olds, use show-and-tell day as a creative outlet for, well, whatever happens to be lying around their room, usually. Sometimes they’ll bring pets (with permission beforehand), sometimes they’ll bring toys. She once had a student pull up his sister, who was also in the class, and present her to the class as his “pet monkey.”
Today is a crisp day in mid-October. The sun is bright but the breeze is cool, and the leaves have just begun to change and fall. Littered around the windowsills of her classroom is all the intact leaves the kids could find yesterday—and there are a lot. She plans to dry them out over the weekend and bring them back for a project on Monday.
The kids chatter and clutch their toys and photographs and books to their chests as they settle into their semi-circle, Olivia at the head. She crosses her legs delicately, adjusting her skirt as it drapes across the stool. One child isn’t talking much—little Devon Hummel-Anderson distances himself slightly from the group, his wide golden eyes observing.
Olivia stares curiously at him, watches him fiddle with the small shadowbox carefully settled on his lap. He’s one of the children prone to bringing photographs and knickknacks that obviously don’t belong to him, but he always has clever, intelligent things to say.
"All right, guys," she says, looking up at the clock and clapping her hands. "It’s time for show-and-tell. Who wants to go first?"
“I do, Miss Olivia!” The little girl closest to her, Ashleigh, raises her hand first. It goes down the line, each kid getting as much time as they want to speak (because little do these excited kids know it but show-and-tell is their earliest lesson in public speaking).
The time ticks on, each kid getting more and more impatient as their turn gets closer, some getting impatient as recess and snack time loom the more the clock ticks to eleven. After Jacob finishes showing off the Nerf gun his grandparents had bought him for his birthday last weekend it’s Devon’s turn.
Olivia watches him stand up and take the spot at the front of the classroom. He’s turned the shadowbox around, and now Olivia can see that it holds three medals, and she immediately recognizes some of them from her brother’s collection. A small lump begins to form in her throat—she’d talked to Kurt and Blaine Hummel-Anderson before Devon had been enrolled, and she knows that Blaine is still active in the military. She had never known how that affected Devon because he’s never let it show.
Devon clears his throat, thrusts the shadowbox out, and says, “Today I’m gonna show you the medals my papa got for being brave and fighting all the bad guys far away from us. My daddy said I had to be super careful ‘cause these are important, but he let me borrow them so I can show you how brave my papa is.”
He tilts the shadowbox towards him, and Olivia leans forward as his finger presses on the glass above a small gold star affixed to a band of red, white, and blue fabric. “My daddy told me that this is the Silver Star and that for my papa to get it he had to be very, very brave and very, very stupid, but he told me not to say that to Papa ‘cause he was just being fac—fashi—he was just making a joke,” Devon finishes after struggling with the word. Olivia ducks her head and feels a wide grin stretch her cheeks.
He looks out at everyone, and Olivia notices their rapt attention, the surprise stoicism they’re showing for kids their age. But not many of them know kids whose parents have been in the armed forces; it has to be new for all of them. She knows firsthand how stressful and horrifying it is to know someone who’s been deployed; when her brother had left a few years ago she’d cried for days.
“But,” Devon continues, his lips stretching into a smile, “I already knew my papa was brave ‘cause that’s what my daddy always called him when they’d talk over the computer.”
A movement out of the corner of her eye catches Olivia’s attention: she looks towards the door to the classroom, which is ajar and in her line of vision but outside the kids’, and she’s surprised to see a man peering into the room.
He has a cap on, and it takes a moment for Olivia to recognize that it’s Devon’s father, Blaine, clad in full uniform and watching his kid with a proud look in his eyes. Devon talks on, oblivious, and Blaine looks over, meets Olivia’s eyes and brings a finger to his lips as a little secretive smile curls his lips the same way Devon’s had curled his.
Something warm blossoms in Olivia’s chest, and it’s with great willpower that she keeps her neutrality as Devon continues to speak pointing now at the medal next to the Silver Star.
Blaine creeps into the classroom, his boots silent against the carpeted floor. A few of the kids look up, over, curious with their little heads cocked in confusion, but Devon remains oblivious.
“I want to be just like my papa,” he says proudly. “He told me to keep my daddy safe while he’s gone and I promised I would.” He chews on his lower lip and toes at the floor in an uncharacteristic display of shyness. “I just want to be as brave as he is someday.”
Olivia sees the tears in Blaine’s eyes shimmering with the light, and by now all the kids are looking at where he stands just a few feet outside the circle. Devon stops, follows their gaze, and Olivia has to scrape the lipstick off her lower lip to keep from crying as Devon turns to see Blaine standing in the room.
His eyes go wider than normal, and he nearly drops the shadowbox as he says, “Papa!” He sets it to the ground as carefully as any six-year-old can and rushes over to Blaine, who readily scoops him up into his arms and hugs him close.
Devon’s arms wrap around Blaine’s neck, and he buries his face in Blaine’s shoulder. Blaine squeezes Devon tight, his cap getting knocked askew. He says, wobbly and tear-filled as well as indefinably happy, “Did you miss me, baby boy?”
Devon grips tighter to the back of Blaine’s neck, says, thick with tears, “So much, Papa.”
Olivia claps her hand again, trying her best to sniff her tears back discreetly, and says, “All right, it’s time for recess. Grab your snacks from your bags and wait in the hall, please.”
The kids disperse excitedly, rushing over to their cubbyholes. Olivia carefully gets off her stool, walking over to Blaine. She observes silently for a moment, afraid to disturb, and only comes closer when Blaine opens his eyes and smiles, warm and bright, at her. “Good to see you again, Olivia.”
She nods, returns Blaine’s gesture. “And the same goes to you. I’m glad to see that you’re well.”
“As well as I’ll ever be knowing that I have to leave again.” Blaine sighs and presses a kiss to the top of Devon’s head, the unruly mop of curls that are shorn on Blaine’s own head. “Do you mind if I steal him for the rest of the day? I’m only in town for a few more days, and Kurt and I had some stuff planned.”
Olivia shakes her head, says, “Oh no, no. I’d rather Devon be with you and Kurt than in here, truthfully.”
Blaine thanks her, then leans in to whisper in Devon’s ear, “C’mon, my brave little man. Daddy’s waiting outside in the car.”
Blaine lets Devon down, and Devon runs to pick up the shadowbox, clutching it close to his chest with one hand and taking Blaine’s with the other. He follows him out of the classroom, chattering excitedly along the way, and Olivia watches, smiling, and feels the first tear slip down her face.