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vol iv, issue 4 < ToC
Our Best Friend
Amy Bernstein
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Wych-ElmThe Left-Hand
Kings AgainPath
Our Best Friend
Amy Bernstein

Kings Again


The Left-Hand
Our Best Friend
Amy Bernstein
previous next

Wych-Elm The Left-Hand
Kings AgainPath

Kings Again


The Left-Hand
Our Best Friend  by Amy Bernstein
Our Best Friend
 by Amy Bernstein
I fell in love with Eden's family one icy day in the 1960s, long before we even thought of ending her life. It was winter in the city of Chicago where our wind is so vicious we call it "The Hawk," and Eden and I were in her room working on our projects for 5th grade Social Studies. Her room was big and light and shabby in a friendly way. There were half-built cardboard sculptures, stories that Eden was writing, and particularly, drawings that Eden was in the midst of working on scattered all over her old Oriental carpet. The elderly steam radiators in Eden's room hissed to try to convince us that they were giving off heat, though they weren't. It was cold in the room. But the chilliness in Eden's home was of the kind that makes you want to go downstairs and make mugs of delicious hot cocoa with marshmallows. In my house, we had the kind of chilly that meant we were keeping the thermostat down and putting on a sweater to be sensible.

My project that day was a diorama of the Great Chicago Fire. I thanked God we didn't have to work on our projects at my house because my mother never let me make a mess of any kind. Our apartment had white wall-to-wall carpeting, white walls, white upholstered furniture and white doilies on white armrests. My room was covered in thick, rough, brick-textured wallpaper. I was always afraid that I was going to scrape my clumsy knuckles against it and spill red blood across all that white.

South African mothers are just naturally cleaner than other people, I guess. No one born in the USA ever has a home quite as clean and white as ours was, in my experience. That was fine for my perfect sister Melanie, who only wanted to practice her violin anyway. But I was not so perfect.

The only reason I would have liked to have Eden over to my house at all was to show her my collection of plastic horses. I displayed them all in a galloping line on the white mantelpiece of the non-working fireplace in my all-white room. The horse at the front was Blackstar. Blackstar is all white too, with the important exception of the black star on his forehead. Blackstar had a proud but loving heart. I cared for all of my horses, of course, and I tried not to play favorites, but he was special to me. He often told me that he loved me best too, better even than the other horses.

Eden and I had been best friends for two weeks, ever since Mrs. Macklin had assigned us to do a book project together. I couldn't believe my luck, getting to work with Eden, who was petite and pretty, always did well in school, and had so many friends. I was too tall, and not at all pretty. And although I tried in school, I "just wasn't that academic," as my mother said. That adjective was reserved for Melanie, the straight-A student. I didn't have any friends really, either. But Eden and I got along. She was kind and friendly to everyone. I told her about my plastic horse collection, she told me about her cats, and we became friends, just like that. And then she invited me over to work on our Social Studies projects together.

Sitting on the bed in her cold room Eden was drawing a beautiful silhouette of a scene from Uncle Tom's Cabin. Thin, pale, and dark haired, she was wrapped in a mangy, cat-hair covered blue wool blanket. I loved that old blanket and sometimes let my hand brush against it, as if by accident. It was itchy, soft, and hairy. I could not imagine such a thing existing even for a second in my house.

I was on the floor struggling to cut red cellophane into flames. I had already made a Play-Doh cow, which, in my diorama, would be in the process of kicking over the lantern that started the Great Chicago Fire.

"My cow looks like a dog," I said, holding it up. Eden leaned over to look.

"No, it doesn't, it looks like a cow ... well, sort of!" she said. She laughed. For a moment, I thought her laughter was cruel. I knew that Eden would effortlessly create an entirely original project for which she would receive the grade of A+, while I would work for hours and hours to come up with something mediocre, a C+ or at best, a B-.

But then I remembered that Eden was never cruel to anyone, was kindness itself, which was why she was friends with unpopular me.

Eden's father poked his head around the heavy door. "May I come in?" he asked. Neither of my parents would ever have dreamed of asking permission to enter their own child's room. Eden jumped down from the bed, ran to the door, and threw her arms around her father. He kissed the top of her head as they hugged each other.

I realized it at that moment. Eden's family was absolutely perfect. They were as perfect as mine was awful. Her father, for example, was a bearded college professor who could raise one eyebrow and often did to let you know he found you clever and funny, while my father was a good-looking, sandy-haired drunk who couldn't hold a job and never came to see Melanie or me anymore.

The evening of that first visit, Mrs. Stein called my mother and actually persuaded her to let me stay for dinner. My mother never let me stay for dinner at other people's houses. She thought it gave them the impression that she couldn't afford to feed her own family, which she certainly could do, thank you very much. I don't know how Mrs. Stein accomplished this miracle, but I was grateful. I was allowed to help Eden and her little brother Nathan set the table, and I showed them how to fold the napkins the way my mother had taught me so that they looked like tiny swans. Then, I sat down to dinner for the first time with the Steins. Nathan insisted on sitting next to me.

"Hi, Swan," his little swan said to mine.

"Hi, Swan," mine answered. My swan had a South African accent, like my mother. My mum is just like a swan. She's clean and white and has a long thin neck and a bad temper.

Mrs. Stein set a pot of sauce and one of spaghetti down right on the table so we could serve ourselves and just take as much as we wanted.

"Hey, maybe we should go swimming in the sauce," my swan suggested to Nathan's. It clearly wanted to stir up trouble.

"Yeah!" answered Nathan's swan. Nathan's eyes went wide as my swan approached the pot of red sauce.

"However," said my swan in its finicky voice, "I don't want to get all dirty."

"I do!" yelled Nathan's swan, lunging toward the pot.

"Wait," said his mother, "swans hate the color red, don't they, Sandra? They would never jump into red sauce." She winked at me.

"No," I answered quickly, "no, they never would." Our swans retreated. How did Mrs. Stein know this swan fact? Mrs. Stein had a happy round face and black hair hanging long down her back. She was pretty and young looking in a way that my mother had never been, even before my father left. Mr. Stein twirled up a massive forkful of spaghetti and opened his mouth to insert it. Bits of spaghetti sauce were flicked off the ends; they reddened his mustache and beard and flecked the tablecloth, but nobody cared.

I went home after school with Eden practically every day after that. Her mother didn't seem to mind and my mother gradually accepted this new state of affairs. In fact, after the concert fiasco, I think she was happy whenever she could get rid of me.

On the day of Melanie's year-end concert, we started at noon waiting for our father's arrival. When no father made an appearance, Blackstar whispered to me that we should hide Melanie's bow. Blackstar could be quite bossy. I had to listen to him, though, or he got angry, and then he could make my life very unpleasant. Once, at school, he made me fall down in front of my whole class because I had stuffed him inside my desk. Everyone laughed at me and I had a big bruise. I made sure to try to do what he said after that.

Melanie was hysterical, but Blackstar just laughed. He wouldn't let me tell her where her bow was. Finally, my mother had to call all around to music stores at the last minute to find another one and I wasn't allowed to go to the concert. It was all Blackstar's fault, not mine, but I got the blame, as usual.

After Mum and Melanie left I snuck out of our house and rode Blackstar up the street to show him to Eden and to Mrs. Stein. They had an old, beautiful grey stone house with ivy crawling all over it. Blackstar galloped up the banister, jumped over the ivy, and rang the doorbell with his hoof. While we waited, he snorted and pawed the ground. He was excited to meet the Steins.

But when Mr. Stein answered the door, he looked rumpled and crabby. He put his arm across the doorway and stopped us.

"Hello, Sandra, I didn't know you were coming over this afternoon. The thing is, Eden is practicing the piano right now." He didn't say it mean, but I could tell he didn't want us.

"I just wanted to show her and Mrs. Stein Blackstar, so I came over," I said. I held Blackstar up. He snorted and neighed at Mr. Stein.

"Well, now is not a good time," he said. "I was asleep, and Eden's practicing is noisy enough." I realized then that we had woken him. This explained his crabbiness; men are crabby if you wake them. I remembered that from my dad.

"We won't bother you, Mr. Stein," I reassured him, moving toward the door.

"No, Sandra, I said that now is not a good time," he repeated, still blocking with his arm.

"Mrs. Stein told us we could come over any time."

"Well, I'm one of Eden's parents too, and I didn't say you could come over any time. You're here a bit too often. She needs other friends ... less ... weird."

"Dad?" I heard Eden's voice coming from behind him. "Is Sandra here?"

"She's not coming in right now."

"Why not?"

"Because she's over all the time. I think a little break is in order ..."

"Hi!" I shouted over his arm. "I brought Blackstar!" Blackstar whinnied.

"Dad, can I just see Blackstar?"

"Hi, Sandra!" yelled Nathan, waving at me from inside.

"Oh, for Christ's sake. Go back inside, Nathan."

"Herb, please don't swear at him," I heard Mrs. Stein say. "Who's out there? Why is everybody standing in the doorway?" She came forward, and Mr. Stein lifted his arm so that his wife could talk to me under it.

"Oh, hello Sandra, is that Blackstar?"

"Yes. Can I come in?"

"Of course you may, dear."

"I just told her ..." I heard Mr. Stein say, but Blackstar and I had already slipped in under his arm and the four of us, Blackstar, Eden, Nathan, and I, trotted up the stairs together laughing. From upstairs on the landing, while Blackstar neighed and pranced around for them, I could hear Mr. and Mrs. Stein arguing.

The next day, Melanie told Mum that using a strange bow had ruined her concert and I was grounded for a month. I wasn't allowed to go over to the Stein's or out anywhere except to school. I had to just stay home in my clean white room and listen to Melanie screeching away on her violin. I hadn't even done anything. Of course, Blackstar wasn't punished. He never is. But I couldn't stay mad at him for long. I love him.

One night during my grounded month, I lay on my narrow white bed on top of my immaculate white blanket holding Blackstar close to my ear.

"Eden's life is perfect," he whinnied softly. "Her family, her house, everything is just perfect. But what if she were gone? If Eden died, you could take her place. It would be easy. Most of her family loves you already. We just have to get rid of Eden, then you can slip right into her life."

"But I love Eden." Blackstar said that he loved Eden too. But how could I take her place if she was still in it? He had a point. But still, I knew I could never harm Eden. Blackstar kept whispering though. He said I had to be subtle; I wouldn't be able to take Eden's place if her family knew I was involved in her death. The best way, he thought, would be to encourage her to get rid of herself. That way no one could blame us. If we could make her unhappy enough to take her own life, he decided, that would work. It's not that he hated Eden or anything, or wanted her to be sad. We both loved her. She was our best friend.

"No," I told him definitely, "I will never hurt Eden."

Throughout that year and into middle school, because of my contact with Eden's family, I became increasingly aware of how miserable mine was. My mom was never loving or funny like Eden's mother, my sister was a weirdo, and my father was gone. He was so gone that he never showed up when he said he would, so gone that he forgot to call even on our birthdays.

One day I told Blackstar that maybe, instead of killing Eden, we could change my father. We could tell him how much it hurt me when he missed every important event in my life and never visited. Maybe he just didn't know. If my own family could be fixed, then I wouldn't have to take over Eden's. Blackstar thought I was kidding myself. But it was worth a try. So, one winter morning, I called my father. I usually never called his apartment, because one of his women would always answer and then they would gush all over and try to be nice to me. But that time, he actually answered the phone himself. I told him I needed to talk to him. It was important, I said. He swore he would meet me in half an hour at Cyril's House of Tiki, which was one of those bars every town seems to have, with hula dolls and totem poles.

I sat in the booth for over an hour, hot in my wool coat, holding tight to my shiny blue school backpack. Blackstar was inside, listening. Above my head hung an alive blowfish made into a lamp. How did they get him to stay puffed up that way, with his spikes sticking out? He must be miserable with a light bulb inside his stomach. His eyeballs were all puffed out too as if they might pop out of his head.

I wanted to climb up and rescue him. But doing that kind of thing gets me into trouble. So I told him I was sorry, I couldn't help him. Finally, Dad actually breezed in. Everybody knew him, of course, so he had to say hello to everyone both behind and at the bar.

"Hello, Mike," said the bartender. He watched my father warily. I wondered what Dad had done in the past that made the bartender so uneasy now. Eden's father would never think of going to such a place, let alone being known and feared by the bartender, let alone meeting his daughter there.

"Help me," said the poor blowfish, in a high-pitched, spiky voice. I told him again that I couldn't.

Dad was still handsome then. He was fit, blond, green-eyed, and charming. The middle-aged women who were drinking in the bar at noon perked up as soon as they saw him. He waved to me back in the booth and then stopped to get a beer for himself and a Shirley Temple with a pink umbrella in it for me. He knew I loved those silly drinks Tiki's served in fake coconut shells, with a plastic monkey perched on the handle and a tiny umbrella. We used to go to Tiki's often when I was little, and he would always get a pink umbrella for me because he knew that pink was my favorite color. It's not anymore, of course. My favorite color now is blue, like Eden's blanket. But he didn't know that since he never saw me.

He bent down to give me a kiss, posing for the scene, "Loving father gives a kiss to awkward, pre-teen daughter." I could smell morning beer on his breath. I wondered for the thousandth time how my parents, as different as they were, ever came together long enough to create my sister and me.

He sat down, smiled his lovely smile, and took a deep draw on his beer. Now that he was here, it was hard to get the conversation going. I had been planning for days how I would tell him that it hurt me when he made appointments to see me and didn't show up, or showed up drunk, or came to the house and spent all the time there fighting with Mom. I had it all planned out. But instead of starting, I turned my Shirley Temple around in my hands and poked at the little monkey hanging on the side. The monkey smiled up at me and cheeped. Then he climbed down the side of my glass and ambled across the table towards my father. Dad had turned his smile on a busty blond with fake eyelashes over by the bar. When the monkey reached Dad's beer stein and began to climb his glass, I got up the courage to start speaking at last.

"Dad, I have been wanting to talk to you about something important for some time." Dad turned the smile back on me and drained his beer.

"I just need to tell you," I said, my voice pretty steady, "that sometimes, what you do hurts me a lot. I love you so much so when you forget to call and ..."

"Oh," Dad said. He leaped to his feet. "Speaking of ... I forgot to call Wendy. Hell! Sorry, honey, don't move, don't move a muscle, I'll be right back." Wendy was his latest. He was always madly in love with them at the beginning. He rushed over to the pay phone at the front of the bar, inserted a dime, and turned to wink at me. I stayed stock-still. I tried to keep a tight hold on what I had started to say so that when he came back, I could finish saying it.

After talking for a little while, Dad laughed. He winked at me again. He rubbed his chin and got out a cigarette. He squinted one eye to keep the smoke out while he lit the cigarette with a plastic lighter. He smiled at something Wendy said, then blushed, glanced over at me and cupped the receiver with his hand, flicking ashes onto the floor. The bartender placed an ashtray near his elbow. Later, he hooked a bar stool with his foot and dragged it over to the phone so he could sit down. He was getting out a second cigarette when the blowfish above me started crying a hot salty rainstorm down on me.

"Please get me down," he begged. So I climbed up onto my seat and grabbed ahold of him with both hands. His spikes cut my fingers. It was much more difficult than I had expected to pull the light out of his stomach. It must have hurt him too, because he began screaming and screaming, that sad, poor fish.

The bartender yelled, "Hey, you, what the hell are you doing?" He ran toward me. My father turned around on his stool so that his back was to the whole scene and continued to talk. I wrenched my new friend free just as the bartender came up and the whole string of lights crashed down on all the tables. The bartender tried to pry my fish out of my hands, but I held on tight. His spikes cut the bartender's hands too, my fish screamed louder, and the bartender swore at me and let go.

"Mike," he yelled, "I want you and your crazy kid out of here!" My father ignored him.

"Mike, I'm calling the cops." He went behind the bar, grabbed a baseball bat, and approached my father, menacing him with it. I ran to the door, cradling my new friend the blowfish. Out on the grey cement streets, it was snowing hard. The cars were hiding under their blankets. They giggled like children playing hide and go seek. I wished that I could pull the snow up over my head too, that I could become invisible like them. I looked back through the plate glass windows of the bar. There they all stood, frozen. Even though my father had Wendy in one hand and the bartender still coming at him holding the bat, he was looking out the window, right at me.

I understood the expression on my father's face. A millipede, with too many wriggly legs dropping suddenly onto your arm, might inspire such a look of disgust. I inspired that feeling in my father.

I jammed my fish into my backpack and ran. Where could I go? Blots of blood, warm and red, fell to the white snow behind me, making a trail. My father could have followed it straight to me if he wanted to. But he never would.

When I pounded on the door of Eden's house, Mrs. Stein answered. She washed my hands in warm, clean water, and bandaged them carefully before even asking what had happened. I told her about my father, the bar, and the police being called. I said that I had cut my hands falling down while running away. She was nice, and sympathetic, like a real mother, but I could tell she was appalled by my father and shocked by all the blood. That was the first time I was asked to sleep over.

I began to spend most of my nights at the Steins' house. They had a lovely bright green spare room, almost as nice as the families' rooms, and it became mine. I got to be like a sister to Eden, and to Nathan too. By the time we began high school, I was to all intents and purposes living with the Steins. Even Mr. Stein had accepted my presence.

I realized that Blackstar hadn't yet punished me for leaving him behind at my mother's apartment. Perhaps he was concentrating his efforts on killing Eden. When I thought of that, to protect her, I knew I had to go back and deal with him.

When I opened the door, I saw that everything was unchanged. Except for me, of course. I was no longer the person who lived in that place. Blackstar stood exactly where I had left him, at the front, leading the march of the horses. He was silent. He said nothing about my new home that was perfect or my new family. He looked right at me, but there was hatred in his eyes. He had never looked at me with anything but love before. My heart galloped and my hands began to sweat. But I took him down from the mantel. I walked the whole long way to my father's house carrying him carefully.

"I still love you, Blackstar," I whispered.

My father lived with Wendy now, at the other end of the neighborhood. So, using only my hands and a plastic spoon, I dug a pit in their backyard and buried Blackstar, to make sure my best friend would be safe.

Eden was universally recognized as our high school's most outstanding English student. She could follow in her father's footsteps and become a professor of Literature, get married, have kids of her own if she wanted. I was worried that if she chose that path, though, her artistic talent would be wasted. She was a brilliant artist. She took lessons at the Art Institute downtown and life drawing classes every week up at The University.

It is a much more difficult life trying to be successful as an artist than as an English professor. It's not that I wanted her to suffer, or be sad, as Blackstar did. But I didn't want Eden to settle for the easy path. Together, she and I developed our own point of view about the relative merits of academics and art. We concluded that the only really worthwhile thing for her to do with her talents was to become a professional artist.

We daydreamed together about what her future might be. Perhaps she would be a painter in Paris, or somewhere like that, starving a bit until she was discovered. In all of these dream futures, I was always there beside her, sharing an apartment, or living down the "rue," helping and encouraging her, since I had no artistic talent, or really any kind of talent of my own.

In senior year Eden was offered the opportunity to take English at The University. Her father arranged it so that she could audit a graduate class with a couple of his high-powered old friends, instead of slogging away with the rest of us. But by now Eden cared only for her Art. She was not interested in taking any stupid poetry class. When Mr. Stein tried to force her (he still possessed unrealistic visions of Eden attending Barnard or Harvard, and studying Literature or Philosophy), I told him I would go to the class as well if that was what it took to get Eden there. He liked me better after that.

To say that I was out of my depth in this class is putting it mildly. I understood nothing of the academic content. Since I was only there for Eden, though, it didn't matter. What I did understand was that the two star teachers were falling all over themselves to demonstrate what regular guys they were and, at the same time, what brilliant and original thinkers about the poetry of John Dunne. They each particularly wanted their humility and brilliance to be noticed by one of the female graduate students in the class. Catherine was stunning, with auburn hair and bottle-glass green eyes. And she was brilliant. She had something insightful to say in response to every poem, and she wasn't shy about speaking up in front of these two august men. I enjoyed the interactions between the famous professors and their lovely student and wondered which would be the one to get her into his bed.

One day, I was laughing about all this on the way back to school. Eden stopped walking and stared, black straight hair curtaining her face, millions of strands of seed beads glittering in the sun, purple miniskirt showing off her knobby legs. She had no idea such a situation was even possible.

"That can't be true. Those men are married. They've been to our house."

"They can't cheat on their wives because they've been to your house?"

"Well, no. I guess that doesn't make sense."

"Believe me, they are each trying to impress her so they can get her into bed."

"How do you know that?"

I explained that I knew because my father had had so many affairs during my childhood when he still lived with us. When my parents broke up, I had heard my mother scream it at him, all of it, the affairs, the cheating, the betrayal. So, I could just tell.

Not long after this conversation, Eden noticed that her father was spending a lot of time with one of his graduate students. She wondered if he could be having an affair. Eden worried a great deal now, about her family, and about being a good enough artist. I reassured her, as a best friend should.

Against her father's wishes, Eden went to Bennington College to study art the following year. I supported her choice. I told her that she should keep on trying to be an artist since that was her dream. It's important to follow your dreams if you have any. I didn't have any, so I stayed around Chicago and helped her family not to miss her too much.

I got a job clerking in a hardware store. I was always good at fixing things with my hands and I wasn't really smart enough for college anyway. I volunteered to cook dinner and look after Nathan whenever his parents wanted to go out, and they asked me often. I think they were using this time to try to save their marriage. Mr. Stein was indeed having an affair. Nathan had looked through his father's desk for me and found a few letters that made it all quite clear. I wish now that Eden had never seen those.

Vermont was lonely for a city girl, and Eden said that the art majors up there were all more talented than she was. I told her not to get discouraged, that she was a gifted artist. This was true. She was having bad luck with boyfriends too. She seemed to have lost that natural sweetness that had made her so popular when we were younger. Now, guys kept saying she was too possessive and needy. She was also having a difficult time finding friends. I told her she didn't have to worry about that part because she would always have me.

Eden didn't go back to Bennington in the spring and instead moved to New York City to create art full time. Her parents were worried. But I was proud of her, and I told her so every time we spoke. I helped take care of Nathan, I cleaned the house, and I listened to Mrs. Stein when she talked about her difficulties with Mr. Stein. She said I was "wiser than my years."

I was promoted at work, put in charge of ordering for the whole store. One time, I typed a digit wrong and we received sixteen enormous bathtubs, instead of sixteen faucets. There was no place to put them and they all had to be sent back. But my boss was really nice about it.

"Sandra, I did much worse than that when I started out," he laughed. I got along with all the guys at the store. They seemed to like having a girl around, even if that girl was only me.

Eden called often, and said that New York City could be a terribly lonely place. There are people all around you but you are still alone, more alone, somehow, than if you were in a place with fewer people. Six months later, therefore, I was not so very surprised to learn that Eden had taken an overdose of sleeping pills. In her last phone calls to me, she had sounded pretty desperate. I know now that I should have told Mrs. Stein, but at the time, I wanted to spare her the worry. The Steins were patching up their marriage and they finally seemed happier.

Eden's roommate found her in the morning and called 911. She was unconscious and barely breathing when they took her in the ambulance. I was so afraid she would die. I knew it was all Blackstar's fault somehow. I should have known from the start that I was no match for him. Burying him had only made things worse. I went back to my father's yard and dug him up. He had done it all to help me, so I had to forgive him. I washed him off, and I kissed him.

That morning at work I tripped over some windowpanes and fell down on the shards of broken glass. I cut my hands and knees all to shreds, and blood was everywhere. But my punishment was still not as bad as I had anticipated. Then, friends again, we went to the hospital. The family was sitting in the horrible waiting room, with its florescent lighting and hard plastic seats. We waited there for hours to see if Eden would live. I was trying to keep Nathan quiet by playing "Go Fish," just passing the time, when Mr. Stein, who never stopped crying, started shouting at me.

"It all started with you, with your weirdness and your plastic horses, your cold sweaty hands and your strange family. You don't belong here. Get away from us and from my daughter."

"It's not Sandra's fault, Matt, please, she has been nothing but wonderful to Eden and to all of us." Mrs. Stein wrapped her arms around him and held him tight while she smiled at me apologetically.

"I want her out of here, now, and out of our house. I mean it." At that moment, the doctor came in. We all froze.

"Mr. and Mrs. Stein, may I speak to you?" He took them off to the family room. It was a good thing that I hadn't left, because then who would have looked after Nathan? He just sat there, the cards still in his lap.

"He didn't mean it, Sandra, he's just worried." But I knew that he did.

When they returned, Mrs. Stein was still crying, but she was smiling through her tears, so I knew that Eden was going to be all right. Mr. Stein had stopped crying and just kept saying "Thank God," over and over again. Nathan jumped up, scattering cards, and ran over to his parents. They opened their arms and held him tight. Then, the doctor took all three of them in to see Eden.

Blackstar looked up at me lovingly and spoke for the first time since I had buried him.

"We had better get going."

We went back to the Stein's house and put all my clothes and my few other things into my old school backpack. I peeked into Eden's room.

Just last week, Mrs. Stein and I had been talking about my moving in there, since Eden wasn't using it and the room was larger. I left my house key on Eden's dresser, but at the last moment, I stole the blue woolen blanket, the one covered in cat hair. I planned to hide it under my bed, to keep as a souvenir.

My mother wouldn't be happy to have me back, and Melanie would throw a fit, but what could they do? Family is family, after all.

Neither Blackstar nor I ever spoke with the Steins again. I thought for a while that Eden or Mrs. Stein, or even Nathan, might contact me, but they didn't. Occasionally, but not very often, in the evening, Blackstar and I walk down the alley in back of their house and stand there. We peek into the kitchen window to where the Steins are having dinner together. And we listen to their laughter. We stand there until Blackstar tells me it is time for us to go.

Kings Again