The Island Of Lote

Episode 28: Simon's Lullaby

By Emily Kinney

DAYS PASSED SLOWLY, happily . . . safely. The hours were more euphoric than any that Milo had ever felt. Never had she thought that she would feel utterly satisfied with a life consumed by cooking, cleaning, and garden tending, but she was. Of course, like most circumstances in life, it all depends on the company you keep.

One particularly warm, happy, island-breezy afternoon Milo was sitting cross-legged on the bed in her and Simon's bedroom, thinking about what to write next in her diary. She stared at it, its crisp, lined pages staring back. All of her thoughts, feelings, and experiences were recorded in there, and it suddenly occurred to her that this beat-up notebook knew more about her than any human being. Something about this notion struck her as being monumen- tally Wrong. She decided right then, gazing at the white, awaiting paper and realizing that it could never substitute human ears, to stop writing in it. And she would never publish it; she never really wanted to end up on Dr. Phil, anyway. Closing it, she set it on the floor and slid it under the bed.

Languidly, her hand swept over the covers, feeling the enticing softness, and she felt obliged to lie down. It was just an idle sort of day, one where people feel too content to run about busily. Milo lay on her tum, burying her face in the blanket. It was two o'clock, a perfect time to laze.

Her stomach was full from lunch, and Ajsha was playing at a friend's house. Milo kept her eyes shut, inhaling sweet, sun- saturated air, worry free. The silent tranquility was suddenly broken by the sound of footsteps on the dusty dirt floor. They made the quiet, muffled sound footsteps make on dusty dirt floors. They made their way to the bed, where a knee climbed on, making the mattress dip. Milo felt a hand on her back, and in a moment warm breath stirred at her ear.

"Hello?" Simon's voice said softly.

"What up?" Milo mumbled into the blanket.

She heard Simon chuckle. "Good. Then you're awake?"

Moaning, she rolled over and squinted up at him, readjusting to the brightness.

"Yeah, I'm awake," she muttered, struggling to sit up, but Simon pushed her down. "Thank you," she said, rolling onto her face again.

Laughing, he rubbed her back. Chaos padded in from the hall, jumped upon the bed, and snuggled in beside Milo, kitty eyes slanting in glee. Copying her, Simon also cozied up to his wife, lying on the side of his face so that he could look at her. They remained motionless and quiet for moment, until Simon again shattered the serenity.

"You know what?" he asked Milo, tracing her shoulder blade with his finger.

Milo shook her faceless head.

"I know something."

Not really considering this news, Milo shrugged. "Aren't you lucky?" said her stifled voice. "So, what do you know? Dazzle me." Simon grinned, propped himself up on an elbow, and again brought his mouth within an inch of her ear. Softly, yet with a hint of triumph, he said, "I know when your birthday is."

Hearing this, Milo went rigid. Slowly, mechanically, she lifted her up head and turned it to him.

"Who told you?" she asked sharply.

Simon leaned back down to her level. "Squelch," he answered shortly.

Milo snorted and sat up. "Of course she did," she muttered. "She's the only one I confided in. So, go on, Sherlock. When is it?"

"March," Simon replied, rolling leisurely onto his back. "Eighteenth. Five days from now."

She sagged. "All right, so you know," she said dismally. "What do you want to make of it?"

"A party," he said simply.

"No," Milo said staunchly. "I told you already. No parties for me."

"Why not?" Simon demanded, sitting up. "Why don't you want a birthday party? Everyone has them."

"Not me." v"Not even when you were little?" he persisted.

"Only when I was a whelp," she retorted. "Once we moved, there was no one to invite."

"Well," he countered, "there are people here. People who love and admire you."

"No, Simon," she insisted. "I don't want a birthday party, and you had better not give me one."

"Come on!" Simon said, upset. "Why do you have to act like such a stick in the mud?"

Her eyes narrowed.

"Don't accuse me of such a thing, boi!" she warned. "You know very well that I indulge in many festivities, but birthday parties are not one of them. I never liked them to begin with. Too much singing to me, too much sweet, too much expectancy to be fun and deal with the ridiculousness of it all. I can handle others, but not my own. I might change my mind when I'm older, but for right now, I don't want one. Got it?"

He sighed. "Fine. I don't know why you dislike them, but since you're so sure, I won't. Happy?"

Instantly, Milo felt better, the swelling knot in her stomach unraveling. Smiling, she leaned forward to entwine her arms around him and kiss his head. Simon began to feel pretty good as well. He hugged her back, stealing a kiss, and Chaos, irritated at being ignored, rubbed against them. They released each other, and Milo sat against the pillows, while Simon got to his feet.

"Well," he said robustly. "If you don't want a party, then what do you want to do for your birthday?"

She shrugged. "I don't know," she said, unenthusiastic. "Nothing?"

Simon folded his arms. "We have to celebrate somehow," he said stubbornly. "After all, you'll be turning . . . what is it? You're fourteen now, right?"

"Right," Milo confirmed, realizing that she was telling this to a seventeen year old, and abruptly became very happy that it was her birthday soon.

"Right. So, you'll be turning fifteen?"

Milo nodded. "That's it. Fif - teen." She smiled. "Five and ten." They let this settle in for a moment, both looking and being thoughtful. Simon suddenly started to chuckle.

"What?" Milo asked suspiciously.

"I was just thinking," he said. "You once said that one of your 'principles' was you couldn't date until you were fifteen."

"Yeah," she said. "So?"

"Well. You're going to be fifteen, so . . ."

Milo gave him a long, scrutinizing look. "Are you trying to spit out what I think you're trying to spit out?" she asked.

Grinning, he sat on the bed and grandly took one of her hands in his.

"My dear," he began formally, "would you let me take you on your first date for your birthday?"

His dear sat stunned. When she was again capable of speech, she said, "Oh, my word. That sounds a little weird. Talking about first dates when I'm already married. But, I suppose that's how it was for daughters of sixteenth century fathers, only I doubt they dated at all."

"You haven't been on one already, have you?" he asked, not knowing a quarter of what she was prattling on about.

"Naw!" she said, shaking her head. "And, actually, I'd like to. I want to know what being on a date is like. I think I've earned it. Thus . . . sure. I'd love for you to take me on my first date. After all, I'll be fifteen. All my excuses will be gone. But what would we do?"

"You leave that to me," Simon told her excitedly, brushing his lips against the top of her hand.

Milo, blushing a darling shade of bubblegum, agreed. And though she ordered him to keep the date of her birthday "hush- hush," word got out. First to Ajsha, who could pry anything out of Simon with a bat of her eyelashes, then to Mrs. Lanslo, then to Soldier, and on to anyone else who had been trying to weasel it out of her for months. Of course, they also found out that she was refusing to have a party. But it didn't matter to them. They still tried to find ways to wish her a happy fifteenth.

Simon went into secrecy, preparing for the long-awaited first date. About two days before the upcoming event, friends started wandering out of the woodwork. The third to arrive was Mrs. Lanslo. The first was Soldier, and the second was an excessively giddy twelve year old girl that Milo had met the day the school burned down and hadn't seen since. (She had brought Milo a homemade card which Milo couldn't read, so therefore didn't really know why she was there, and had been reluctant to leave.) Mrs. Lanslo appeared before the front door the day following this awkward visit and, after reading the words painted beside it, knocked.

"Mrs. Lanslo!" Milo said in relief when she opened it. "What are you doing way out here?"

"Just to wish you a happy birthday and give you this, dear," she replied merrily, handing her a covered platter.

"Thanks," Milo said, taking it and letting her in. "How'd you find out when my birthday was?"

"Oh," she said carelessly, meandering into the kitchen. "Ajsha told me."

"Yeah?" Milo said, following her. "How'd she find out?"

"She didn't say," Mrs. Lanslo said evasively. "My! Didn't you perk this place up? It looks lovely, dear. It's a well known fact that a woman's touch is all a man needs to help his house."

"Thanks," Milo said yet again, setting the platter down and lifting the cover. "Honey cake?"

"Yes, it's a special of mine. I make it for Simon, too. You both are so cute together."

"I've heard," Milo said, again figuring this was only because she was camouflaged by Simon's overwhelming glow of attractiveness. "So are you and Soldier."

"Gorben? Oh, shush, dear!" she clucked modestly. "I'm not young enough to be called cute."

"Huh?" Milo said casually. "He was here, you know. Also to wish me a happy birthday."

"Is that so?" Mrs. Lanslo replied nonchalantly, admiring the polished shine of the water pump.

"Oh, yep. He brought me a T.V. screen."

"Did he now?" Mrs. Lanslo said. "Wasn't that nice of him?"

"Certainly was. I'm using it to cover the bathroom window. I never felt safe knowing that anyone could hop in while I'm showering. Anyhow, he said that you told him when my birthday was."

"Oh?" she remarked, picking at her hair. "Is that right? Well, I might have mentioned it to him."

"I'm sure you did."

Squelch was the next to come.

"Happy birthday!" she sang out exuberantly when Milo opened the door.

She gave her a massive hug and pranced inside.

"Now," Milo said, walking after her and letting the door swing shut by itself, "I'm not surprised to see you here."

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, nothing. What's that?"

Squelch grinned broadly. "For you," she said, handing her a large bag.

"Thank you," Milo said, putting the bag on the sitting room table and lifting out a large straw hat.

"Oooh," she cooed, trying it on. "Love it! How do I look?" she asked, twirling in a circle.

"Adorable," Squelch answered, flouncing down onto a chair.

"Thank you times fifteen," Milo told her, sitting on a couch, the rim of the hat hitting the wall.

"'Course. You definitely need something to keep you from getting sunburned. Maybe you can go to the beach more often now. So, whatcha doing for your birthday?"

Milo smirked. "You won't believe this," she said, leaning forward conspiratorially, "but Simon is going to take me on my very first date."

Her friend raised her eyebrows. "You haven't been on one yet?" she said in surprise.

"No," Milo snapped, prickly. "I told you already, I was waiting till I was fifteen to start dating. Marriage may have intervened a little, but this will still be my first date. Why? You ever been on one?"

Subdued, Squelch stared down at her feet. "No," she mumbled.

"Well, there you go."

She looked up and grinned. "Yeah, you're right, sorry. I just thought . . . well, you and Simon have been in love and all . . . maybe you would've done that already. But, never mind. So, you're starting the dating game, eh?"

Milo hesitated. "I'm sorry," she said falteringly. "The 'dating game'?"

"Yeah," Squelch confirmed. "At least, that's what my sisters call it. They say that most of the time dating can be a game, though for them it's more like a hunt. Anyway, you play it and if you win, you either never see the guy again, or have more dates with him."

"Why the various winnings?"

"Depends on the guy."

"Ahh," Milo said sagely. "What about husbands? What's the rule about husbands?"

"They don't know," Squelch said, simpering. "They've never had any."

This didn't comfort Milo all that much, and she began to wonder anxiously about this "dating game". She supposed that on an island where divorce was outlawed, there wasn't too much risk of her losing and never seeing Simon again. Of course, they could remain married even if he vanished into the jungle, never to reappear, ruing the day that he had decided to date his wife. Such farfetched, yet increasingly plausible, possibilities plagued Milo throughout the day, making her forget that the overall point of the Dating Game was to end up with a husband.

"Happy birthday," Ajsha told her one evening in the kitchen, where Milo was using every ounce of her strength to extract a gigantic pot from a cupboard, while wondering who would feed Simon if he became a mountain hermit.

Her stringy muscles trembling, she paused a moment to face to Ajsha. "Thanks, sugar," she panted, taking a small woven box from her. "What is it?"

"A jewelry box," Ajsha said proudly. "I made it in school. You can keep your jewelry in it."

The island educators were currently holding classes in the church, the new schoolhouse still in the process of being built.

"Thank you," Milo said gratefully. "I needed one. All my stuff is lying around everywhere."

"You're welcome, Momma," Ajsha said happily, hugging her before sitting at the table.

Placing the jewelry box by the flour bin, Milo went to fill her gargantuan pot with water.

"What are you going to make?" Ajsha inquired.

"Soup, if I can," Milo huffed, working the pump. "Do we have any birds in the house?"

"I think so. I believe Father brought one home. It might be in the cellar."

"Good man," Milo groaned, lugging the pot to the top of the calven, which she had already lit.

She retrieved the bird and let it sink into the water. Taking out all of the dried herbs, one by one she sprinkled them into the simmering water, creating a savory, steamy facial. She then fetched different vegetables from the cellar and chopped them roughly.

"I'll add them when the bird's cooked," she told Ajsha. "I'll take it out after an hour and take the meat off the bones. Then everything will go in together and cook until the veg is tender."

Ajsha's eyes were shining with admiration. "How clever," she murmured, her chin propped up in her hand. "Is that what you're going to eat on your date with Father?"

"He told you about that?" Milo asked, chopping a stalk of lemon grass into thin rings.

"Mm-hmm."

"Well," Milo said frankly. "Truth be told, I don't know what we're going to eat. Simon's taking care of that. He won't tell me anything he's doing. It makes me jittery."

"Why? Don't you trust Father?"

"'Course I do! But when he gets all secret-agent on me, I start to worry a little bit."

"Oh, trust me," Ajsha said positively. "You have nothing to worry about."

"Why?" Milo asked suspiciously, halting in mid-chop. "Did he tell you something?"

Ajsha smirked to herself. "Maybe," she said airily.

Milo, first deliberately setting down her knife, turned to her. "What? What do you know?"

Shrugging, Ajsha stood up. "I don't know," she said casually.

Milo's eyes narrowed, her hands on her hips, and she started to walk towards the little girl.

"You know something, don't you?" she accused. "What is it? Tell me!"

Slowly, Ajsha smiled and shook her head. Milo ended up chasing her around the house and tickling her within an inch of her life. But still she wouldn't say anything. She laughed, but there were no cryptic messages in it.

The night of the big first date arrived at last. Milo was very excited, since she had come to the conclusion that whether she won or lost the Dating Game, Simon wasn't going anywhere. If he had thought she was obstinate when trying to drive him away, just wait until he saw what she was like when refusing to let go.

Thus consoled, she got dressed in the fish pattern caftan, belt, and white capri pants she had received for Christmas. She used a thin scarf, borrowed from Ajsha, as a hair tie. Checking herself out in her bedroom mirror, she lightly brushed down the material, inhaling deeply.

"All right," she whispered to her chic reflection. "Here we go. Fifteen. I'm fifteen."

"And goin' courtin'!" Bob the Conscience sighed. "So grown up!"

Simon met her in the kitchen fifteen minutes later, wearing a button-down black shirt and khaki pants. Milo grinned with definite approval as she inspected him. When he came closer, she gave him a long kiss.

"Thank you," he said when they finally broke apart. "What was that for?"

"Because I can," she replied blithely, thinking it was better than telling him that she was rewarding him for looking so good. "Now, take me to our romantic evening."

"Can I carry you?" he asked mischievously.

"No!" she gasped. "Don't even think of it, boi! I can walk very well by myself, thank you. Lead me there. Don't!" she said severely when he took no heed. "I swear, honey! I will slap you."

Simon backed off, alarmed. Then he frowned and asked seriously, "You wouldn't, would you?"

"I might," she said smoothly. "But it won't be like your face or anything. You know, your arm or something, and gently. A gentle slap. Don't worry; my days of brutality are over."

Relaxing and smiling, Simon proffered his arm. Daintily, Milo hooked her elbow into his, and they sauntered outside, into the bright moonlight. The sky was flawless, not one cloud to obscure the view of glittering stars, and the air was warm with a cool breeze gamboling in from the east. It fluttered the hem of Milo's caftan, as well as her heartstrings. She clutched Simon's arm tighter, not knowing what awaited her, but still rigid with anticipation. He led her along the beach, plucking a flower or two for her here and there.

Eventually they arrived at the sandy cove where they had swum on Simon's birthday. For a moment Milo wondered if he wanted them to swim again. She almost groaned aloud. Not that there weren't many pleasant aspects from the first time that she wouldn't mind revisiting, but she had gotten all dressed up . . . Inwardly, she sighed with relief when he, instead of heading for the water, guided her to the huge, flat stone that was used for diving.

"Wait here," he told her at the bottom. He quickly scrambled up one of the rope ladders and disappeared from sight.

Milo stood patiently at the bottom and waited. Finally, she heard Simon's voice echoing from somewhere up above, telling her to climb up. Groping for the ladder rungs in the dark, Milo carefully made her way up, thankful that even if she did look down, it was too dark to see anything. As her head cleared the edge, she saw the wide, flat expanse of the top of the boulder, in the middle of which sat a candle lit dinner for two. It was set on a small, round table, erected at the center and adorned with their good tablecloth and a clay candelabrum. Simon was standing proudly, perhaps even a little smugly, behind one of the chairs. Milo gasped when she saw it.

"You did all this?" she asked in amazement, tiptoeing over, not wanting to disturb the ambiance.

"Well," he admitted. "You helped."

"I did?" she whispered, gazing at the flickering teardrop shaped flames of the candles.

"Yeah," he said sheepishly, pulling out the chair. "Won't you sit down, madam?"

"Oh," Milo said genially, accepting the offer. "You are so suave." He grinned, obviously pleased with himself, and took the seat opposite her. They bowed their heads.

"Dear, Lord," Simon prayed reverently. "Thank you for the nice weather. Please bless the food we are about to enjoy. Please bless Milo as she turns fifteen. Thank you for her being born. Please let Ajsha have no more nightmares. And . . . oh! Please help me to face the consequences for breaking a piece of the good china. Amen."

"Amen," Milo echoed. One thing (well, really, one thing on a list of many things) that she liked about Simon and Ajsha was that they didn't care what they prayed about in front of her or anyone. They were very open and shameless. But, even so, she couldn't help herself.

"Which piece?" she said, unfolding her hands.

"The sugar bowl," he said quietly, peeking up at her. "So sorry."

Milo swallowed hard. "That's okay," she managed to say. "What's for dinner? I'm starving."

"There's a first," Simon said. He lifted the covers off the bowls to reveal Milo's soup.

"Ah," Milo said, the aromatic steam caressing her nostrils. "So, that's how I helped, is it?"

Simon grinned imploringly. "It was so good, and you know I can only make fish medley. Do you mind?"

"No," Milo said kindly. "It was one of my better soups. . . . mmm. Still is. Wow. It's so cool up here. I feel like I'm on top of the world. It would be just like you to do a thing like this."

"It would?" he said, amused, dipping his spoon into his golden puddle of soup.

"Sure," she said, peering at him fondly through the candlesticks. "You're such a cool guy. Cool guys come up with cool things. But bringing all this up here must have been some hassle."

"A little," he admitted then glanced coyly over at her. "But it was worth it."

"Really?"

"Absolutely. But, we should be talking date-ish talk, and that does not include how the date came to be. Or, how it got set up."

"Oh?" Milo said. She jauntily leaned her chin on her hand. "Very well. You're the experienced one. So, tell me about yourself, dear Simon. I dare say, I don't very know much."

"No?" he said with a laugh. "We're married."

"Well," she said reasonably, "we didn't have any dates beforehand, so how could I? How could you? And, we didn't grow up together, so we didn't get to slip notes to each other during class or anything. So, we have a lot of catching up to do. What's your favorite color?"

Simon grinned. "I'll answer your questions, but each time I do, you have to answer one of mine."

"Fine, fine," she said cooperatively, shifting in her chair. "Now, what's your favorite color?"

"Blue," he said, settling back and folding his hands on his stomach. "Like the sea. What's yours?"

"Red," she replied promptly. "Like a pomegranate. What's your favorite subject in school?"

"Geography. Yours?"

"Literature," she said, wondering what to ask next. "What's . . . your favorite animal?"

"Porpoise. I love watching them when they're playing in the water. Sometimes, they will let you swim with them. I made friends with one when I was younger. I'm always on the lookout for him when I'm fishing. When did you start writing your diary?"

"The first time we moved." She laughed. "I told my mom what to write. My handwriting was pretty atrocious when I was six. Who is your best friend?"

"Besides you?"

"Sure," she said with an affectionate eye-roll.

"Ajsha. She has always been my very best friend."

"What about Will?"

"Ahhh, Will." His mouth quivered. "He's a close third. It sounds bad to say that, since we've known each other since we were babies, and we spent every second together growing up. I told him everything. Then . . . we both moved out and . . . other things became important. What's it like to fly?"

"Nerve-racking," Milo said with a shudder. "You wouldn't like it. When did you learn how to swim?"

"When I was four. Here, the boys learn to swim at four and the girls at seven. Ajsha will need lessons soon." He turned serious. "Do you miss where you used to live?"

"Heck no!" she laughed. "I'll never miss that place! Whew, okay, moving on." She paused thoughtfully, tapping her spoon against her lips. "Well, have you ever been in love before?"

"Only with Ajsha. No one else has captured my heart." He then asked tentatively, "Do you miss your parents?"

Milo stared at her soup, making swirls in it with her spoon. "I think so," she said softly. "I love them and all, but I can live without them. I wonder if they miss me."

"They probably do. They're probably worried."

Milo scoffed. Simon reached out and took her hand. Flipping it over, he rubbed his thumb in circles on her palm. Simon tended to do that whenever he was about to approach a difficult topic.

"Milo," he said sincerely. "Are you happy here? I know I'm skipping your turn, but are you happy here on the island?"

She smiled at him and meshed her fingers with his. "Of course I am!" she replied, keeping perfect eye contact. "Happier than I've ever been. Ever. Sometimes it's hard to believe, but it's true. Um . . . have you ever wished that someone would find this place and take you to see America?"

Somberly, Simon shook his head and drew his hand back.

"No," he said gravely. "No one can ever find this place, Milo. We'd be ruined if they did. Nobody knows this place exists and they can't. If they did, they would bring in people to gawk at us - at the little civilization on an island. They would flock here and destroy our way of life. They'd cut down the trees and snap with their metal boxes. They'll find this place so amazing, and they'll charge people to come to admire us! People will move here until the island sinks."

Milo sat bewildered at the sting in his voice. "Yeah," she whispered. "People seem to do that. Ruin everything they get their hands on."

"That's why it's so important that no one finds this island."

"But don't some people want to go back? Wouldn't they want the chance?"

"Not that I know of. But, if they did leave, they would have to be sworn to secrecy."

"All right!" Milo said with a light finality, wanting to steer away from such heavy conversation, especially since it felt like Simon had just recited something from a textbook.

"So . . . why didn't you guys name the island?"

"Why should we?" he asked, more comfortably. "It's not our island. It's merely letting us stay here. It's God's island, I guess. He can name it. We have no right to. Who's Bob?"

Milo, to be blatantly honest, guffawed. "One of my greatest friends," she said, deciding to tell him. "You won't believe this, but he's my conscience. His full name is Bob the Conscience."

Simon stared at her, a wind ruffling his hair. "Your conscience?" he said doubtfully.

"Uh-huh," she said, not liking the look he was giving her. "You see, at one point I was arguing with it so much, I named it - him. It was around the time I became quite friendless."

Simon's look turned to one of sympathy. "You must have been very, very lonely to start talking to yourself," he whispered.

"I was," she admitted softly, as if the full impact of this had only just hit her. "But I'm not now. Now that I have my boo." She smiled shyly at him "That's you, honey. But don't tell anyone about Bob. I don't want them to think I'm crazy. You're the only one I've ever told."

"Well," he said, after a moment. "Remember when you squished that tomato on me the first time we went to the market?"

She forced herself not to giggle and nodded intently.

"Well, I thought the juices were my blood and you had killed me."

"Oh," she laughed, clamping a hand onto her mouth. "Are you serious? I'm so sorry."

"I never told anyone that. So you'll keep my secret and I'll keep yours."

"Sounds fair," she said guiltily. "Dang, I was mean to you. . . . Um, where'd you learn to dance?"

Blushing profusely, Simon stared at a bead of melting candlewax. "That was my mom's fault. We have dances a lot here, and I guess she didn't want me to embarrass her. A friend that lived down the street from us taught me. But I enjoy it . . . now. When'd you learn how to dance?"

"Ha! I didn't!"

"What? But you're so good."

"No, I'm not!"

"Sure you are. I've seen you dancing around the house, and you can waltz perfectly. Really? No lessons?"

Milo smirked to herself, an image of her, Squelch, and Salsa tottering all over the place in Squelch's yard flashing through her mind. "Well, I have been having a few lately. I'll show you later. But first I want you to sing."

"All right, madam," Simon agreed, eager to display his odd talent. In truth, even if he wasn't mimicking a singing person but actually singing in his own voice, he still didn't sound too bad, but he preferred to mimic. "What do you want me to sing, baby?"

"'My Boo'," Milo replied without any hesitation. "That way we can both sing, even though I can't sound like Alicia Keys. And it is just unsettling when you do."

Simon grinned. "I like that song. But you still haven't told me what Boo means. I always thought it was a form of jeering."

"Sure," she said. "But it can also mean a person who you have strong relationshipy feelings for. Like a boyfriend or girlfriend, or someone who you visualize as your boyfriend or girlfriend. It's sort of a pet name for a loved one."

"All right," Simon said, still not entirely convinced, but willing to go along with it. He fidgeted into a position conducive for great concentration, as he always had to do when mimicking. But he still managed to stare lovingly at her face.

Gathering a deep breath, he began to sing, crooning the male part of the song to her. When Milo's turn came, she tried to sound the best she could, though singing had never been her strong suit. As they sang the lyrics, their eye contact impeccable, they both began to feel very close to each other. They felt very loving, very happy. Milo felt something else, too, something that she could only describe as perfection; this was indisputably the best birthday she ever had.

When they reached the end of the song, they stood up to lean over the table, precariously avoiding the flickering candles, which were now much shorter, and they kissed. They sat back down afterwards, Milo thoughtful.

"That one was very moist," she said at last.

Simon nodded, looking the tiniest bit disgruntled. "Speak for yourself. Ice lips."

"Hey!" she said. "I didn't ask you to slip me any tongue. I don't want that thing in my mouth!"

"Never?" Simon asked, disappointed.

Milo couldn't help but smile. "Well," she said reluctantly. "Not never. But definitely no time soon, so keep it in your own trap."

"All right," he conceded. "As you wish. Do you want to dance now?"

"Sounds lovely," she said, relieved that they were moving on. "Even if we don't have any music."

Grinning cunningly, Simon pulled out a small object from underneath the table.

"Forgive me, my love," he said, setting her radio and speaker on the table. "I would have asked permission, but I didn't want to give anything away."

Milo shook her head, her lips pursed. "You little thief," she mumbled, though with obvious amusement. "Let me see it. I know where every type of music is on there."

"I thought you only listened to hip-hop," Simon said as she adjusted it.

"No," she said carelessly, squinting at the miniscule numbers on the dial. "I listen to others. But hip-hop is my favorite, so I listen to it the most. Wonderful music, it is. You have no idea how harshly it's criticized. Really, it's ridiculous. Ah! Classical, found ya. Come on, boo. You can show me how you dance, and then I'll show you the new steps I've learned."

Simon agreed and as the soft, sweet sound of classical music filled the night sky he cupped her hand in his and drew her in to waltz, she actually allowing him to lead this time. They floated their way around the surface of the boulder, keeping a safe distance from the edges and continuously skirting the table. As she bobbed and swayed to the violins and clarinets, Milo felt like she was at a royal ball, only the dance floor was beneath a ceiling of stars and the handsome prince in her arms would inherit a fish business, not a kingdom. She could have gone on dancing in this fashion and with these romantic musings for hours, but Simon wanted her to show him that new dance she kept hinting at.

It took her several minutes of station searching to find the right type of music for a mild salsa, and even longer to feel bold enough to show him. Simon was pleasantly surprised by the dance and rapidly mastered the various steps and the overall attitude of the dance. This particular salsa being quite mild (it was only their first date, after all) it was more fun than anything else, though once or twice they strayed too far to the rock's limits and had to yank each other back before they fell off. Finally, winded from both exertion and laughter, they stopped dancing. It was quite late out by then, the moon already on its nightly descent.

"Now what?" Milo asked sleepily, shivering as she was buffeted by a particularly chilly breeze.

"Now I'm going to walk you home," Simon replied, blowing out the candles, which were nothing more than stubs by now. "I used to always walk my dates home. My mom said that's what a gentleman does. Ha, Ajsha would be cold furious if she saw what time we're getting in."

"I can imagine the sort of words she'd use," Milo muttered. "She talks like she's an English professor. And she's six! How'd that happen?"

"Oh, the usual way. Started reading at four, two books a day. In the last two years she's moved on to higher level books, ones that I can't even understand. She learns the words from them. I can't really like that fact."

"I know what you mean," Milo said, packing up her radio. "Oh. We barely ate anything."

"That proves it was a real date."

They walked home arm in arm, him reassuring her that he would return for the things on the rock tomorrow. Once they got there, they both changed out of their date attire, and Simon went to check on Ajsha. When he got back to their bedroom, Milo was already under the covers.

"Asleep?" she inquired.

"Yes," he replied. "Surprisingly. I didn't even sing to her. She may be the smartest little girl on the planet, but she still needs her lullabies."

Milo chuckled. "Can't escape the inner child," she said. "What kinds of lullabies do you sing?"

"Oh, all sorts. I found some on a plane once. You can find anything on those things."

"So," she murmured, peering at him as he walked around the foot of the bed. "You didn't make them up? Remember when you sang to me? Was that written by someone else?"

"No," Simon said, smiling as he climbed into bed. "That one I made up. I'm not exactly a poet, but I think it came out quite pretty. Of course, we keep these things to ourselves," he added seriously. "I don't need the guys on the beach knowing I wrote a lullaby."

"Will you sing it to me tonight?" Milo asked, nestling in beside him. "It is my birthday, and I promise I won't tell anyone."

He laughed and put his arms around her, kissing her temple.

"If you want me to," he said, and began, the words floating out of his mouth like nectar.

"The village is gently snoring,

The night bird sings its lullaby,

The children's' eyes are closed till morning,

Yet you lie there and cry.

The grieves you have my be many,

And perhaps wisdom has grown in your eyes,

But the comforts I give are plenty,

I can help you before your happiness dies.

Think of the heavenly sunshine, softly warming your face, Marvel at the cool, lush sea we swim in,

Never doubt my loving embrace,

Please go to the world you dream in."

(Then he sang this chorus.)

"Now let the tears cease,

Hush for a moment, my love,

May you dream in peace,

With soft blessings from above.

Lay you head down and sleep,

Don't be choked by tears of fright,

No more shall you weep,

I'm here to hold you through the night.

Tonight the lion stays home to eat,

Without him the jungle is quiet,

Yet your tears say you've suffered defeat,

And your sobs aren't denying it.

Forget your sadness, let it drift away,

Your eyes are full of sorrow,

Stars begin to shine as darkness covers day,

Let your soul sleep till tomorrow.

As the moon gently pushes the waves,

Angels are hypnotized by your charms,

Your tired body your slumber saves,

As you fall asleep in my arms."

(He once again repeated the chorus.)

"Never a beauty so frail,

Never a doze so light,

Never my protective gaze shall fail,

From your eyes so bright.

My love for you shall never bend,

Though your trials may never halt,

I'm always going to be here to defend,

And remind you it was never your fault.

Please stop your worry and find your peace,

Let the sobs stop from your throat so sore,

Have joy surround you, your smiles never cease,

You're the only lady I adore."

(He then sang the chorus for the final time.)

"Now let the tears cease,

Hush for a moment, my love,

May you dream in peace,

With soft blessings from above.

Lay your head down and sleep,

Don't be choked by tears of fright,

No more shall you weep,

I'm here to hold you through the night."

Simon caught his breath as he ended the song. He had to smile.

He had always been proud of that song, even though he kept its existence a closely guarded secret. He was impressed that he could come up with something so lovely, what with being someone who tussled with sharks.

"Did you like it?" he asked softly, looking down at Milo. She yawned.

She had loved it, though wasn't immune to its original purpose. "I adore it," she murmured. "So beautiful! You're so smart, Simon. But, it kind of knocked me out. I guess I need to sleep."

"Of course," he whispered, laying her down and kissing her cheek.

"Good night, boo," Milo said, her words slurring a bit. "I love you."

"Good night," Simon said, lying down on his side and draping a protective arm over her. "I love you, too. Hmm. Boo."

The day was done. It was time to sleep. They both had fun, but tomorrow was another one.

By Emily Kinney

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