"I like your library," Bobby said.
For a moment, Val had forgotten he was there. "Thank you for coming. You can take some books with you if you like."
Bobby was unaccustomed to receiving gifts, and his first instinct was that he'd need to pay. His father would never let him have the money.
"What for?" he asked.
"For reading, of course. As long as you bring them back next week."
"I can just take them?"
"As long as you promise not to lose them or rip them to pieces." What books there were in Bobby's house had long been stashed in the attic by his father, who said they made a mess of the place. Besides a car repair manual and a Gideon Bible taken from a hotel, they were mostly picture books his mother had gotten for him as a toddler. She taught him that they were precious. He still associated the smell of their pages with her voice, and the quiet creak of a hardback spine with the warmth of her bosom on his cheek.
"I promise more than all of the other promises added together forever." He crossed his heart and showed her that his fingers were spread so as not to jinx the deal.
"In every book is a clue about life," she said. "That's how stories are connected. You bring them to life when you read them, so the things that happen in them will happen to you."
"I don't think that the things that happen in books will happen in my life," he said.
"That's where you're wrong," she said. "You just don't recognize them yet." . . .
Val let Bobby borrow four books. . . He promised to take care of them, and he did, by hiding them in a place where no one would ever find them. At the back of the wardrobe behind the boxes of his mother's stuff.