The Steadfast Tin Soldier

A re-telling of the classic fairytale

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Once upon a time, there were twenty-five tin soldiers that stood straight and tall. Each one wore a red and blue uniform and held a gun on his shoulder. One soldier had only one leg because the toy-maker did not have enough tin to finish the second leg. The soldiers were made especially for a little boy's birthday present. When he opened the box he was delighted. He stood them all in a row in the playroom where there were lots of other toys...

*********

I remember the day the new kid first came to our school. It was a beautiful day in New York City, where I lived at that time. I suppose I couldn't have been any older than 14. It seems like so long ago, and yet I still remember it perfectly. It was one of those gorgeous fall days that just seems to go on and on, and makes you feel like you can live forever. And I think that was his mistake, coming on such a day. The new kid just didn't fit in with that feeling of immortality the day gave us. He was different, which I think was the thing that really scared us. He was crippled, as far from immortality as you could get without the help of death.

Of course, it wasn't his fault. It was the fault of a freak accident he had been involved in when he was younger. He had been playing near a radiator as a child and had somehow gotten too close. I won't go into detail, just tell you that the end result was that his legs were so horribly mangled that one had to be amputated, and the other was saved but left forever useless. The doctors had told his parents that he would never be able to walk, and so he grew up in a wheelchair, never knowing any different. We, of course, had heard the whole story from our school counselor, before he arrived, in hopes that then we wouldn't feel the need to make him explain it himself. In fact, we were told we were not to mention anything at all about his disability.to his face. We could talk all we wanted behind his back, but we were never to talk about it to his face. We were not to upset him. That seemed to be the solution for everything, back then: ignore a problem, purposely overlook it, and it will disappear. The new kid saw that we did that, and he knew we were wrong: but he was willing to accept our faults at a time when even we couldn't. And he taught us to accept them, too. It's amazing what you can learn from people, even when they aren't trying to teach.

Anyway, back to that day when he came: Robbie was different than us, and I think that was the thing that scared us. He showed up at the time we were feeling invincible, we were immortal, our lives and strengths were everlasting.but then he showed up and we had to face the reality that here was this kid who wouldn't live forever. Who was, in fact, horribly vulnerable, and if he was then maybe we were, too. We hated him for showing us that. Here was this kid who was different than us, but at the same time frighteningly similar. We had to face the reality that he brought to us. Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. You didn't come here to listen to me psychoanalyze my teenage years. You wanted to hear Robbie's story, and as I said, I remember that day perfectly.

As the first bell rang, my friends and I hurriedly ended our conversations and, satisfied with our fillings of the latest gossip, parted, running to our respective classes in order to make it before we were marked late. My first class happened to be English, and Mr. Coburn was definitely not the most forgiving teacher in the school, especially towards those hapless students who dared to step foot into his classroom even a second late. Fortunately, on that day, luck was with me. I slid through the door just as the bell finished echoing through the now empty hallways, and secured my seat next to my best friend Lindsay. Across the aisle sat Julie Chandler, who was nobody's best friend, but still managed to be everyone's closest. She was the kind of person no one had an unkind word about, the kind everyone wanted to know and be associated with. Best of all, she herself was nice to everyone in return. Julie was just an all-around nice person. She waved to me and I waved back, then turned to face Lindsay. Lindsay was a stark contrast to Julie-instead of being eternally kind, she seemed to be eternally suspicious, always gossiping and making snide comments about others. Still, she had been there for me when my parents had gotten divorced, so I felt I owed it to her to stick by her side. I may not have liked her rudeness at times, but overall she had been a good friend to me, and so I was determined to repay her in kind.

Lindsay seemed unusually quiet that day, staring at her desk and tracing a line into it with her pencil. Probably thinking of something mean to tell me about Katie, I thought. Katie was a bookworm, teased and tormented by the whole grade, who always sat quietly in the back of the room. As soon as that thought crossed my mind, I felt guilty and reprimanded myself. I'm definitely not going to win any Friend-Of-The-Year prizes any time soon-for Katie or Lindsay. At the front of the classroom, Mr. Coburn cleared his throat. Loudly. "Alright people, let's get it together. Stop talking." To my right, Catherine continued talking loudly, even as her friends fell silent, as though she was completely oblivious to what was going on. Mr. Coburn glared at her. "Ms. Shiller, this includes you as well," He said in a cold tone. Catherine shut up immediately. "Now then," He said, turning back towards the front of the classroom, "we will continue where we left off yesterday in our reading of William Shakespeare's Hamlet. We were at Prince Hamlet's famous 'To Be or not to be' speech, correct?" He did not wait for an answer, but kept right on talking. "You will proceed, Catherine?" Catherine cracked her gum loudly in her mouth as she glared at him, but she picked up her book and began to read. " To be, or not to be. that is the question. Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." As Catherine's monotone voice droned on and on, I stared out the window, thinking about Hamlet. In the long scheme of things, was he lucky? Sure, he was a prince, but his father was murdered, and here he is contemplating suicide.? Do you have to be lucky in the eyes of society to truly be "lucky," or is luck only what you, yourself, make of it?

As I sat there, lost in my own thoughts, the classroom door opened, jolting me back to reality. Our vice-principal stepped through, a smile on her face. She crossed the room to where Mr. Coburn was sitting, and whispered something to him. He smiled, and then motioned towards the door. "Come in," he said, "We won't bite." I sat up, curious, and saw Lindsay do the same beside me. All around the classroom, students were perking up and craning their necks to see what the heck was going on. After a long pause, a wheelchair rolled into the room. I was amazed. This boy sitting in the wheelchair had to be the new kid, but I was shocked. When our counselor had said disabled, I had pictured a scarred, maimed, unrecognizable, even, child.but this kid looked no different than the next. He seemed to be a normal height, sitting down at least, and had a shock of dark auburn hair that fell into his face. The thing that really got to me was his eyes, though. They were a deep forest green, and when he looked at you, as he was doing now, panning his gaze across each and every face in the classroom, he seemed to look straight through you and to be able to read your soul. It sounds corny, I know, but that was the feeling I got when I felt his stare come to rest on me. It was unnerving, to say the least. Feeling uncomfortable, I averted my gaze, and when I looked back up a few seconds later I was relieved to see that his eyes had moved on. He seemed to be evaluating us, seeing us for who we really were and, at the same time, for who we were trying to be.

Our vice-principal, Ms. Jefferson, who seemed completely oblivious to all the hushed conversations that had broken out since her entrance, smiled at us. "Class," she said, in a sickeningly sweet voice, "This is our new student, Robert Mackenzie." The boy suddenly seemed embarrassed. "You can call me Robbie," he said to us, in a voice so low it was almost as if he was talking to himself. Ms. Jefferson smiled again. "Robbie, then." She said. "Robbie comes to us from Westchester County, right outside our city. He's just turned thirteen in.when was it Robbie, October?" "September," Robbie mumbled quietly, his head low. "September," Ms. Jefferson continued, barely missing a beat. ".And I hope that you can all make him feel welcome. Now, Robbie, Mr. Coburn will help you with anything else you need. And if that's all.?" She looked over towards our teacher, who gestured towards her with a motion of dismissal. She nodded affirmatively. Her speech finished, she turned on her heel and pranced happily out of the classroom. Mr. Coburn, eager to get back to his lesson, pointed towards an empty seat in the back of the classroom, indicating that Robbie should sit there. "Now then," he said, turning back to the chalkboard, "Catherine, could you please continue reading to the end of the page?" There was a long pause, and then Mr. Coburn turned back around, obviously irked. "Catherine?" He said in a frigid tone. We all turned to look.

Catherine was staring at Robbie, who had not moved an inch. "He's not going anywhere," Catherine said in a pouty voice. "Didn't you just tell him to go sit down, Mr. Coburn?" Heaven, how I hated that girl. She made her voice all syrupy. "Didn't you?" Mr. Coburn was staring at Robbie at well. "Robbie, could you please sit down so that we may continue with our lesson?" He asked, albeit in a gentler tone than he had used with Catherine. Robbie's cheeks colored, and I almost felt sorry for him. Almost. Robbie said something inaudible, and Mr. Coburn's cheeks tightened, as they always did when he was getting frustrated. "I didn't hear you, Mr. Mackenzie," he said, in a taut voice. Robbie raised his head, and I thought I saw the glimmer of a tear on his cheek. "I said, Mr. Coburn, that I can't sit there, because there is a chair in the way." Mr. Coburn faltered, apparently not having considered that problem. We could see that he felt horrible for embarrassing Robbie.

The class sat in silence for a few moments, waiting in guilty anticipation for something to happen. Then Julie stood up. She silently walked towards the back of the classroom, moving with the grace of the dancer that she was, and pulled the chair out from behind Robbie's assigned desk. She gently placed it aside and then calmly returned to sit behind her own desk. We all held our breath, waiting to see what the two key players in this incident, Robbie and Mr. Coburn would do. I could see the relief in Robbie's eyes as he silently thanked Julie. She nodded quietly and then smiled. Robbie managed to break his gaze from Julie and then, with his chin up the whole way, rolled his wheelchair to his desk. Mr. Coburn turned his attention back to Catherine, who was now sulking, upset at the peaceful resolution of her little incident. "Ms. Shiller, please continue."

*********

The little tin soldier with only one leg stood just as tall and straight as the others. He looked around and saw that he was standing near a large cardboard castle. It was an interesting castle with high towers and many windows. Standing at the open door of the castle was a pretty little dancer made of paper. She wore a blue dress and had a jewel shaped like a star around her neck. The dancer stood on tiptoe with one leg raised high in the air so that the little tin soldier thought that she too had one leg.

*********

As soon as school let out, Catherine and her little groupies began searching for Robbie. I saw them as they stalked through the halls, and for an instant felt sorry for Robbie. He wasn't going to have much self- esteem left when they were done with him. I knew from personal experience. They used to pick on me, before I started hanging out with Lindsay. Now they were too scared of Lindsay to bother, and I was grateful. They really knew how to hurt you; exactly where to aim their taunts and insults. For me it was always something about my parents divorcing, or my sister being always better than me, or something equally spiteful. It hurt and, as it always is with sadness or bitter remarks, the pain never dulled. Each remark stung just as much as the last. I felt sorry for Robbie. No offense meant, but he had a lot more for them to tease him about than I had, and it was liable to hurt more. As I thought this, I saw other students following Catherine, waiting to see what would happen. Everyone loves a spectacle, no matter how much they hate to admit it. Feeling guilty, and telling myself that I was only going to see that they didn't hurt him, not for any excitement or anything, I allowed myself to be floated down the hall by the current of students.

As it turned out, Robbie was outside when Catherine and her cronies finally found him. He was sitting quietly in his wheelchair, by the side of the basketball court, watching the other boys his age play. I was thinking how lonely he must feel, when I saw who was sitting next to him. Katie. I flinched inside as I saw Catherine's eyes light up. This was merely fuel for the flame. She was going to have a field day with this newest development. Now there was no hope of avoiding a confrontation. Her next words proved this to be true. "Hey, freak!!" Both Robbie and Katie looked up from there conversation, startled. "Me," Robbie asked, sounding nervous. Catherine grinned. "Yeah, I'm talking to you. You didn't think I'd be talking to dork-girl over there did you? Which, by the way, I meant to tell you: you really should rethink your choice of companions." Katie blushed and looked away. "I mean, what with you being new and all, I wouldn't want you falling in with the wrong crowd. " Robbie glared back at her and said, in a tone to match hers, "Nor would I. Are you sure you're with the right people?" Catherine faltered, not having expected her words to be thrown back into her face.

All around them, students had gathered, eager to witness this confrontation. I couldn't believe it. How could we be so mean? And yet, part of me knew I wanted to stay, even if only to see whom the victor would be. "Yes, I'm sure." Catherine said, flustered. Then she laughed. "Oh dear," she said in a non-convincing 'sweet' tone, "Someone forgot to tell him! Robbie, your little friend Katie there, she's.how do I say this nicely? She's a geek, and a bookworm, and unless you want to end up like her, I suggest you don't associate yourself with her." Satisfied that she had gotten the last word, Catherine turned on her heel and began to walk away.

"I'd rather be like her than like you." Catherine stopped, mid-stride, and then slowly turned around. Her voice was icy. "What did you say?" Robbie sat up straighter in his wheelchair and stared straight at her with those piercing green eyes of his. "I said," he explained, carefully annunciating each word, "I would rather be like her than like you. Is that clear enough?" Catherine seemed at a loss for words, and so Lindsay took it upon herself to answer for her. "I think every single person here, given the choice, would rather be Catherine than you. I mean, come on, look at you. You're ugly. You're a stupid, deformed, cripple." She flung each insult carefully into his face, knowing just how badly they would sting. I hadn't even noticed Lindsay was here, and now I stared at her in horror. How could she say that?

I don't know what prompted me to step out of the cluster of students and speak. It must have been some otherworldly force, because I know, on my own I would never have done anything like that. Whatever it was, however, I couldn't stand by and let Robbie get insulted. I stepped in front of him and faced my best friend. "How can you say that?" Lindsay's face showed fear for just a second, maybe fear of hurting me, and then it hardened into an ugly mask. I had a sinking feeling that our relationship wasn't going to affect her next words at all. I was right. She turned to Catherine behind her, and grinned. "Oh, now the little wimp is on his side too. By the way, Alison, I've been meaning to ask you: how are your parents?" I felt hot tears spring up into my eyes as I clenched and unclenched my fists. I was so mad it hurt. How dare she?

Julie was the one who ended up preventing a fight that day. She stepped between Lindsay and I as we stood there glaring at one another, me feeling hurt and her probably feeling just the same. "Catherine," she said in as calming a voice as she could, "Why are you picking on Robbie? What did he do to you?" Catherine brought back her pouty voice that she had used on Mr. Coburn earlier that day. "He made me look like an idiot in English!" Julie laughed cynically. "No, he didn't, Catherine. He merely pointed out that he was unable to sit down. It wasn't an insult to you personally." Catherine glared at Julie, and she returned the look with a steady gaze. "Whatever," Catherine said finally, trying to shrug off the insult. As she turned to leave, Lindsay glared at me. While walking away, Catherine took one last shot at Julie, her new enemy. "Listen, Julie, enjoy your new friends, okay? 'Cause their the only ones you're gonna have." We stood in silence until they left and the crowd had all but disbanded. Julie seemed lost in thought. We knew that Catherine would be true to her word.

I looked around at the four of us. What a motley crew we made. The freak, the geek, the ballerina, and the reject. It sounded like some bad movie title. Julie smiled half-heartedly at us. "Don't let them get to you. They don't know what they are talking about." When nobody answered, she tried again. "Don't worry, it'll all forget it in a day or two." But even as she said it, I knew better, and I knew she did too. In the social ladder of our lives, we had just tripped on the bottom rung and fallen flat on our faces. This wasn't going to be pretty. I supposed I could deal with it, and I knew Katie and Robbie could, but I felt most sorry for Julie, who had spent her life as everyone's friend. Robbie grinned at us, looking for the entire world as if nothing had happened. "So I guess we're a team, huh?" He said, in a satisfied tone. I guessed we were.

*********

"How beautiful she is!" thought the little soldier. "She would make the perfect wife for me. But she is much too grand! She lives in a fine castle and I live in a plain wooden box with the other soldiers." He thought about the little dancer day and night, and always managed to stand close to the castle where he could see her standing on one leg. And he fell in love with her.

*********

I have to admit, the next couple weeks weren't nearly as bad as I had expected them to be. In fact, they were probably the best weeks of my life. Robbie, Julie, and Katie had turned out to be wonderful friends, proof to me that stereotypes are only as true as we make them believe. Katie, once she was coaxed out of her shell, was one of the most interesting people I had ever met. She had a passion for astronomy and the stars. The stars were, as she put it, smarter than we would ever be. They kept their secrets to themselves, and never allowed others to get close. That philosophy seemed to change, however, over the course of those few weeks, as her hard exterior melted and she became friendlier. And Julie.I had always known her to be a nice person, but I had never realized the extent she was willing to go to prove her loyalty. She was wonderful. Even Robbie managed to surprise me. He was one of the sweetest people I had ever met. He seemed to share the closest bond with Julie, and I didn't blame him in the least.

In those wonderful weeks, it seemed as if we were together all the time. We spent every waking moment together. We went to Julie's ballet recital, and cheered louder than ever should have been allowed. She was wonderful, as well she should be, as for her entire life her dream had been to dance. Robbie especially seemed in awe of her, and I could understand his reasoning. To walk--now, that was nothing special, but to dance, to fly across the stage while everyone watched.that was heaven. One weekend, we all went to Central Park and just hug out; the next we spent in Katie's back yard, staring at the stars and just talking. It didn't matter what we were doing, as long as we were together. In these friendships, I felt secure. After that initial confrontation with Catherine, we were pretty well left alone. Who am I kidding? We were avoided, isolated, shunned. And ever though I had thought it might, it didn't bother us in the slightest. In those few weeks, I learned more about friendship than I ever had in my whole life. We were good for each, the four of us. We were inseparable. I wish it could have stayed that way forever.

*********

Whenever the soldiers were taken out of their box the little thin soldier stood tall and straight, facing the castle. Watching the little dancer, he wished they could be together always. Every night when the children went to sleep, the other toys came to life and played together. But the little soldier stood straight and tall and the little dancer continued to stand on tiptoe without losing her balance.

*********

Whenever Catherine and the others worked up the nerve, or were merely bored enough to tease us, their targets were usually Julie or Robbie. They seemed to have lost interest in Katie, so often did she hide in the shadows, and they had never had much interest in me. Robbie and Julie, however, were a completely different story. Robbie was always fresh meat for them because of the constant presence of his wheelchair, which they seemed to think, made him inferior to them. And Julie.they loved picking on her. Once loved by almost everyone, Julia was now scorned and mocked by those very same people who had idolized her. They teased her about everything. They teased her about being friends with us, about her hair, the way she dressed. every little detail of her life was picked over, examined, and then tossed back at her by the vultures of our school. Throughout it all, Julia kept up her sunny temperament, until one day, they picked on her dancing.

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One morning when the children came into the playroom, somehow the little tin soldier was separated from the others and was placed on the windowsill. Just then a gust of wind came along and blew him out of the open window. He felt himself falling down, down, down toward the street below. He landed headfirst with the point of his gun stuck between two pebbles. The children ran out to look for him. Although they came close to where he was they could not find him. The little boy was disappointed but went back inside without his soldier...

*********

It was a gorgeous day, the day that Julie made the mistake of dancing at school. She had just learned a new routine and was eager to show it to us. We found an empty classroom, and turned on her music. Then we watched in awe as she lost herself into the flow of the music, into the graceful melody of the dance. It never ceased to amaze me how easily she could slip away from our harsh reality, away from all her problems, the instant she began to dance. If you have ever seen someone do something that they truly, deep down in their hearts, love to do, then you know what I am talking about. There is no greater passion exuded then that of an actor who is acting because they love to, or a dancer who dances-not for anyone else, just for herself. There is no greater passion than that of a singer who is singing merely for the love of it, or an artist who paints only to share her soul. These people do this not for the approval of others, but simply because they love to. If you ever get the chance to see one of these people at their work, know you have been blessed.

Robbie in particular was enthralled with Julie's dancing. He would always sit quietly in his wheelchair until she was finished, and then would clap louder than we all would. Once, he had asked her what it felt like to dance, to allow your legs to move you across the room. My heart went out to him, and in that instant I realized just how much he was missing by being forced to live in his wheelchair. She had smiled at him and told him that it felt as if she left us all alone in the room and was soaring across the sky in time to a background rhythm. I felt chills run up and down my spine when I heard her say that description. I loved when she talked like that. Julie always had the most poetic way with words. None of us could hold a candle to her, except maybe Robbie, whose dream was to be writer.

On this particular day, however, when we had settled down to watch Julie, we had not counted on unwelcome visitors. She just finished her first dance, and Robbie hadn't applauded at all. When we looked over to see what was wrong, we found that he had a wistful look on his face. Julie went over to his wheelchair and gracefully sat down next to it. "What's wrong?" she said softly. Robbie, who was never one for emotion, surprised us yet again as a tear rolled down the side of his face. He brushed it away angrily. "Nothing," he said, "It's just.it's just that." he seemed unable to find the right words. "You're so lucky. I wish to god that I could do that, but I'll never even get the chance. You all don't realize how lucky you are." There was a long pause, and then Julie reached up and wiped the tear off his face. "Yes, we do. We have you." They sat there staring at each other, and I think that both Katie and I realized it at the same time. Julie and Robbie had committed the unforgivable crime, done the unthinkable: the cripple was smitten with the ballerina, and the ballerina had fallen in love with the cripple. Just wait until Catherine got wind of this. She would never let them live it down.

*********

Soon the sun went in and it began to rain. It rained very hard for quite a while, until it seemed to the little tin soldier that the gutter had become a fast-moving stream. When the rain stopped and the sun came out again, two boys out to play and found the little tin soldier lying in the street. They thought it would be great fun to make a boat for him, so they got some newspaper and folded it into a boat. They put the little tin soldier into the boat they had made and it began to sail down the street. The boys ran alongside the gutter watching the little tin soldier standing straight and tall in the middle of the newspaper boat. The boat stated moving faster and faster. And as it moved it rocked up and down and swayed from side to side. But still the little tin soldier stood tall and kept looking straight ahead of him.

*********

Apparently, she realized this at the exact same time as we did, although we hadn't even known she was there. Loud laughter rang out from the back of the classroom, and I grimaced. This wasn't going to be pleasant. Catherine sauntered happily towards us. "So." she said, her voice honey- sweet. "You dance, Julie?" There was a long pause. "That's interesting." Catherine said in voice that clearly showed it wasn't. Julie stiffened. "Do you have a problem with that?" "No," Catherine stated, "I just think that's interesting." That had always been the biggest problem with Catherine; if you had any kind of conscience, you couldn't fight her. She always made her insults sound sincere, even when we knew they weren't. Done tormenting Julie, Catherine now turned towards Robbie.

That was when she made her mistake.

*********

All of a sudden, before the boys could catch it, the little boat sailed into a drain. How dark it was! It seemed like a long tunnel to the little soldier. He saw a large water rat scurrying past and was glad that his boat kept on moving. He tried not to be afraid and continued to stand straight and tall on his own leg. The boat now seemed to go faster than ever. There was daylight ahead. When the boat reached the end of the tunnel, it turned over and sank into the water. The little soldier fell into the water, too, but only for a moment because-Whoosh! He was swallowed up by a large fish. Now it was darker than in the tunnel! The fish rushed about for a few minutes, then stopped. Once again, the little soldier saw daylight.

*********

"So, freak," she said in the same honeyed tone, "do you dance, too?" Maybe it was his earlier remorse at not being able to walk, maybe he wanted to protect Julie, or maybe he was just sick of people picking on him. Whatever the reason, Robbie finally snapped. When she had walked over towards him, Catherine had made the mistake of standing too close. Now, completely blinded by his angry, he reached out and smacked her. She jumped. The slap couldn't have hurt much, as Robbie was still rather handicapped in his wheelchair, but Catherine was irate. She grabbed his arm and pulled him out of his wheelchair. He tumbled headfirst to the ground and she kicked him as he lay there helpless. Robbie didn't move. I don't know who started screaming first, the students in the hallway or us inside of that room, but it was for two very different reasons. While we were shrieking in fear for Robbie, Catherine had run out of the room, to join the throng of students rushing out the door screaming, at the top of their lungs, "Fire! Fire!" A teacher hurried into the room, and tried to shoo us out. We screamed at her to get Robbie, but she didn't listen, thinking we were merely frightened. We were hurried out of the building, leaving Robbie inside.

*********

The fish had been caught, taken to the market, sold, then taken home to be cooked. The cook cut the fish open with a large knife, found the little tin soldier and rushed with him into the playroom to show the children what she had found. It was the same playroom and there was his beautiful little dancer!.

*********

I was in shock when we finally emerged from the now smoke-filled building into the fresh air and crowds of screaming children. This wasn't supposed to happen. Things like this only happened in the movies, in those chick- flicks that you could go see, safe in the knowledge that none of this would ever happen to you. Next to me, Katie was sobbing, her eyes red, her face taut and worried. And next to her.I realized that Julie was no where to be seen. With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I shook Katie. "Where's Julie??" I yelled at her, "Where is she?" I think I was scaring Katie but I didn't care, I was too scared myself. Then it dawned on Katie exactly what I was saying. We both turned to look at our school building, lit up in gorgeous shades of orange and yellow and red, looking for all the world like a devil's Fourth-of-July celebration. It was hauntingly beautiful, the crystal streams of water shoot out to connect with the flaming blaze. Somewhere in there were our two best friends.

*********

The little boy picked up the tin soldier, who was wet and slimy, and threw him into the fire. At that moment a gust of air blew the little paper dancer into the fire with the little tin soldier. The next day when the ashes were cleared away, all that was left of them was a little tin heart next to a shiny jewel shaped like a star.

*********

It was in the papers the next day, "School Fire Rages Out of Control: Two Die in Blaze." Both Robbie and Julie had obituaries as well, but they angered me. Julie's didn't mention a thing about her dancing, just how she was a loved and well-respected member of our community. She would have hated it. Robbie's didn't say anything about his dreams to be a writer, just about his accident when he was little. They were almost laughable, but we couldn't laugh just yet. Both Katie and I went to the funerals, clinging to each other as the priest read the prayers. Then I went home, and as I was sitting there alone in my room, I realized just what they had given us. A love and respect for everyone, especially ourselves. Courage to stand up for what you believe in. And most importantly, a belief in our dreams. Those lessons were priceless, and stayed with us forever. And that's just how they would have wanted it.

.