"Yes, well done. What's the next one?" He said, pointing to the picture above it. The cartoonish animal smiling straight at him.
"Luh...erm...erm I don't know." She said, she was only small, the letters becoming jumbled in her head as she tried to read them.
"Come on, you know this one, sound it out." She perked up, the challenge exciting her slightly.
"Okay, erm, luh...i...oh...ner."
"That's it, all together."
"Luh...i...Lion. Lion." She said again, her eyes widened and she wriggled in her bed. She looked straight at him and smiled, as if they both accomplished the hardest thing ever.
"Go on you've got loads left, look who's the Lion talking to." A crudely drawn speech bubble emanating from it's mouth. The dialogue was laughable, but that was the point. It kept the parents slightly amused, whilst the child sat there in awe of Leon the Lion the hero of the jungle. She fidgeted around, Dad leant over and puffed up her pillow. They weren't as soft as she was used to but that was all they had so they made do. Emily didn't mind, she was too preoccupied by the colours and characters of the book. She leant back and snuggled into the covers, sliding down into the bed. Her long blonde hair, resting ever so softly by her sides. One hundred brushes a day, keeping her innocence so beautiful.
She carried on reading on her own, caressing the pictures of the animals as she sounded out their names. The door opened to the dimly lit room they were in. A woman stepped in, she placed her bag on the floor next to the chair in the corner. Dad stood up and kissed her on the cheek, she smiled and sat down next to the bed on the other side.
"How is she?"
"She's fine. Aren't you dear?"
"Muh...muh...oh." She murmured, completely engrossed in the book. The woman smiled at her and stroked Emily's hair, up and down, up and down. It calmed her. It always does.
"What ya reading?" She said, peering over the top of the book.
"Leon the Lion, but...don't know this one." Emily said, turning the book around and pointing at the animal. "Mummy, help me." She said. Mum looked closely at the picture, half pretending she didn't know either.
"Hmmm, this is a hard one, it has this long tail though what usually has a long tail?" Emily looked into the sky and put her fingers in her mouth, biting slightly as she tried to think. She shook her head. "It has a banana in it's hand..." Mum hinted.
"Oh!" Emily shouted, bumping up and down. "It's Monkey, Leon's best friend!" She grabs the book back off of Mum and gets stuck into reading it again, with this new found knowledge.
"Oooo, best friend." Dad said.
"Yeah, they run and play and fight baddies and help each other and eat all the jungle food together." She said not taking a breath. The parents looked at each other, their eyes meeting in the middle, brief, but perfect. A true moment. "Daddy I'm thirsty. I want a drink."
"Don't be cheeky, ask nicely." Dad said, leaning over the side of his chair, reaching inside Mum's overnight bag.
"Please can I have a drink?" Emily said, her eyes still fixed on the book.
"That's better..." Dad pulled out two drink cartons. "Now we have, cherry or blackcurrent. Which one do you want you little rascal?"
"The red one." She said, thrusting her arm out and grabbing it from him. He usually would tell her off for being rude but it just didn't feel right. She was completely and totally happy, sitting there reading her book with Mummy and Daddy and it warmed his heart. Dad stuck the straw of the blackcurrent one in the carton and started slurping it.
"Mmmm..." He said poking Emily in the arm. "This tastes so much better."
"You're silly Daddy." She said, not being phased by him teasing her.
The moment of bliss was soon stopped, there was a knock at the door. It opened slightly, a young man poked his head through. The parents turned and glared at him. Hoping that they wouldn't have to see him that night but it was inevitable. Dad got up from his chair, Mum did as well. He held his hand up gesturing her to sit back down.
"It's okay, I've got it. You stay with her." He said, he passed her the drink carton and followed the young man out of the room. They reconvened outside, Mum turned to face the window, there was a lot going on outside their room but she focused in on them. The young man held up his clipboard, he clings to it as his lifeline, protecting him from the news it brings. She couldn't hear their voices the walls being too thick. She could only see the conversation.
The young man was hesitant at first, plucking up the courage to say what he had to say. Dad knew that was a bad thing as soon as he stepped outside. Mum didn't need to know what they were talking about it was written all over her husband. His left hand was beginning to tremble, the butterflies in his stomach trying to rip through and escape. The young man looked down to the floor for a moment, he reluctantly raised his head and started talking to Dad. Mum was confused and didn't know what was happening, she desperately wanted to be out there with him but at the same time she couldn't leave Emily.
Dad's lips started quivering, he bit his upper lip and breathed out slowly through his nose. He too looked at the ground, as if there was something down there to take you away from this place. But there wasn't, he was stuck there just like the man in the long white coat. The young man touched him on the shoulder and turned down the corridor. He wanted to get out of there as much as Emily's Dad did.
The door opened slowly, he trundled down to his seat next to Emily, she was playing with her fingers on top of the book, pretending to be the characters. Dad looked at Mum. Her eyes never wavering from him since he opened the door. He looked deep into her eyes, a thin glaze covering his vision. A small, lonely tear fell from his face and landed on his lap. She looked at him, pleading with him. Dad shook his head side to side. Her face crumbled, she tried to hold in her emotion but she was failing. She turned away from the bed and held her face in her hands. Dad was feeling exactly the same, but he was holding it back a lot better.
"Daddy?" Emily whispered.
"What's up baby?" Dad whispered back leaning in towards her. He was expecting a really hard question.
"I want to be a monkey." She said, with a completely straight face. Dad started laughing.
"Why?" He chuckled.
"I dunno, it looks like fun." She said, her curious logic breaking their hearts. Dad just smiled, he cuddled up with her and carried on reading Leon the Lion.
"You know what? You're right, it does look like fun." He whispered, she giggled and turned the page. Mum wiped the tears from her cheek and moved in closer, she started stroking her hair again as Emily read to them the story of the Monkey and the Lion. They all stayed up that night. Forgetting about everything else in the world, they were the only ones that existed. They cherished it. The Moment. They shared it. It was Brief. And it was Perfect.