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And They're There For You

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The stars are the greatest thing you've ever seen
And they're there for you
For you alone you are the everything
You are the everything, REM

In summertime the sun doesn't set until after most children Bod's age are already asleep. It's all right, of course, since Bod knows very few other children to compare himself to; and he wouldn't complain even if he knew. Few other children stay up all night and learn to read from grave stones. Things like strict bedtimes (and teatimes and bath times and visiting-Grandmother-times) only remind Bod how lucky he is.

It is late summer and Bod is seven. The last bit of summer warmth lingers in the air, and in the mornings there is already a chill, a reminder that fall will come soon.

The graveyard is quiet, as it always is. Wind ruffles tendrils of ivy and through tree branches, small animals creep through the grass in pursuit of an evening snack, and the graveyard's inhabitants begin to stir, their silent footsteps falling on winding paths.

Two sets of footsteps are not so silent, as Bod and Miss Lupescu walk from the Owens' plot to the top of the hill, so that they may look out over the town. The sky is dark blue over their heads, with stars just beginning to prick through, and pink and gold at the horizon.

Miss Lupescu has a basket on her arm, and Bod carries his new book (The Borrowers, which he is eager to read because the cover has a tiny family surrounded by big-people objects and he wants to find out how they came to shrink so tiny and if they ever get stepped on by big people) hugged against his chest.

"Will Silas be back soon?" says Bod as they climb.

"He will return when he is ready." Miss Lupescu's footsteps are steady and even. She is stronger than she looks and doesn't need to stop for breath, unlike the tourists who were on the hill earlier today. Bod watched them for a full hour: two small children who played and tumbled over the grass, a mother who laughed as she watched them, and a father who stopped every few yards up the hill and looked embarrassed when the mother offered her hand. But he still took it, and they swung their joined hands as they finished their walk up the hill.

Miss Lupescu chooses a smooth place on the grass and sets down the basket. She unfolds a blanket with a snap—it's plaid wool on top, and rubberized on the bottom so they won't get damp. She kneels and begins to unpack the basket, which contains, Bod is glad to see, a treat: fish and chips from the shop across the street from the graveyard, actual battered cod and chips smelling of salt and hot oil. She has fresh fruit for Bod as well, and tea in a thermos. Bod plops down on the blanket with her and eats an apple as he gazes out over the darkening town.

Summer is ending, but it's all right because that means Silas will be home.

Miss Lupescu makes Bod wipe his fingers with a paper napkin before she lets him turn the pages of his book. There are illustrations within, pen-and-ink drawings of the little family making their homes and tools with the items they borrow from the big people. Bod says, "They're like me. Other people take care of them."

"You're a child," says Miss Lupescu. She leaves the fish and chips for Bod and eats something that also smells sharply of vinegar and oil from a plastic container with a plastic fork. She samples the fruit quite a bit, though, and drinks most of the tea. "It's your place to be taken care of."

"What will happen when I'm a man?" he asks her, and she smiles just a little bit before primly wiping her mouth with her napkin.

"Whatever you want, nimini."

"You will astound us all," says a voice behind them, and Bod is up on his feet and running to him without a thought.

"Silas!" He does not throw his arms around Silas, of course, because that is not what you do to Silas, but he stops in front of his guardian and beams up at him. "I have a new book."

"You left your new book on the grass," says Silas in his grave manner, so Bod runs back and shuts the book reverently and lays it on the blanket beside the picnic basket. "That's better. Now you may have your gift."

The gift is more books, slim volumes that have more words on every page than the ABC books Silas had given him previously, and Bod touches their covers with fascinated fingertips. "Thank you, Silas," he says, and Silas nods.

"Silas," says Miss Lupescu.

"Miss Lupescu," says Silas. "Has he been good?"

"He has."

Bod turns pages, looks at pictures and sounds out words, and barely listens as they talk of his lessons. It was a quiet summer: no ghouls, no little girls in bright orange mackintoshes, nothing but people from the town. They ate their picnics and had their courtships and watched for birds in the grass, holding binoculars to their faces. The man who cuts the grass came, the Historical Society gave a few walking tours.

It's like they've never been as soon as they go. They make no more impact on the graveyard than a dandelion seed floating through the air.

Bod starts to listen again when Miss Lupescu says softly, "And Vancouver?"

"Successful," says Silas.

"Good. It is good."

The wind ruffles through Silas's velvet clothes, soft as owl's wings. "It is not done, not yet."

"There is still time," says Miss Lupescu, and then says more loudly, "Bod, come. Finish your supper."

"Yes, ma'am," says Bod and closes his new book so he doesn't get fingerprints on the pages. He kneels on the blanket and picks up his chips again, only slightly cooler from the night air. Above, the sun has completely set, and the stars are coming out one by one. "They have names," Bod informs Silas and points up. "Every one of them, and groups of them, too."

"They do indeed. Very old names." Silas points to one, low on the horizon. "That is not a star. That is a planet named Venus. It glows from the reflection of the sun."

"Venus," says Bod.

"A goddess," says Miss Lupescu. "A silly creature, quite vain, but her name is immortal now."

"Immortal," says Bod. "That means she'll live forever."

"That is correct," says Miss Lupescu, "goddesses live forever. Their names have a harder time. They sometimes get lost. Or sometimes people forget them because they get new gods. Or they've gone by their title for so long no one thinks there might be another name."

Bod watches the sparkling stars and the steadily shining planet as he finishes his chips. When he has eaten his fill and put the crumpled paper in the basket he from his guardian to his teacher. He notices the way they both sit, straight-backed and not touching him or each other, on the blanket. Miss Lupescu finishes her supper slowly, and Silas is just there, letting the wind stir his clothes and watching the stars come out.

"There was a family here today," Bod says. "They held hands as they walked up the hill."

"Families do that sometimes," says Miss Lupescu. She starts repacking the basket, apples cores and paper in a bag, her container cover sealed tight.

"And they played a game, a singing game," says Bod. They had clapped and sang once they'd eaten, and the children had danced, clumsy and free, and they all had laughed.

"Did they sing well?" says Silas.

"No," says Bod, and Silas looks away as he smooths back a smile. "But they were happy anyway."

"Good," says Silas.

Bod nods. "Sometimes families don't sing," he remarks. "Sometimes they read."

"Oh?" says Silas.

"And sometimes they don't say anything at all."

"Sometimes words are superfluous," says Miss Lupescu.

"What's sup-flu-us?"

"Superfluous," corrects Miss Lupescu. "It means unnecessary. More than you need."

"Sup-er-flu-ous," says Bod. "Yes. Sometimes they are." He picks up his new books and holds them to his chest again, and curls in the blanket, between Miss Lupescu and Silas's flowing velvet, and looks up at the stars. They sparkle serenely, and as he struggles to keep his eyelids open the stars seem to dip closer as if they want to brush their fingers over his face and through his hair.

He is vaguely aware of being lifted from the wool blanket and borne smoothly through the night. He barely wakes: he is tucked against something strong and soft and velvet-covered, and he knows, even in his sleep, that all is well.

When he wakes it is just after dawn and he is in the Owens's grave, his books tucked safely beside him. "Good morning, darling boy," says his mother and he smiles and stretches. "I see Silas is home. Did you remember to thank him for the books?"

"Yes, Mother," says Bod, and it's time to start a new day.

End.