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*+X+X+*

It's not that Kris doesn't like doctors. He does. They're smart and have Important Jobs, and usually give presents. Like, Dr. Sanders has lollipops and Dr. Moscovich has stickers and wacky toothbrushes.

The only thing he gets from Dr. Busker, though, is questions because the only thing they ever do is talk, talk, talk. Kris figures Dr. Busker is very lonely.

Just like his monster.

"Now, Kristopher," she says even though nobody says Kristopher when they're trying to be friends, "I know stories are a lot of fun and I like hearing yours very much. But you promised we'd talk about real things today. Do you know the difference between real things and stories?"

Kris thinks about this. "What about real stories?"

"That's not exactly what I meant." She's impatient. "I mean things that really do happen and things that we imagine because we want them to happen. Or maybe because we're scared of something?"

The last one sounds a lot like a question and Kris may be six, but he's not a stupid six, and he's been coming here for nearly two weeks. He knows what the maybe-a-question thing leads to: trouble.

"I'm not a liar," he tells her. Again.

"I don't think you're a liar," she smiles. It's weird looking. "But I think there's something you're not telling me or your parents. Did you know that not telling the whole truth is a sort of lying, Kristopher?" She makes a crinkly sounding mark on her notepad and looks up, palms pressing together. "Would you like to tell me about the lamp, Kristopher?"

"I did." He did.

"Yes, but..." It really is a weird, weird smile. Like--caterpillar weird. Squishy caterpillar weird. "I just want you to know that nobody is going to be angry about it."

Which means she still thinks he's the one who broke it. Kris burrows further down in the dumb, green chair and thinks mean thoughts. It's so not fair, not even the tiniest bit!

The doctor watches him for a bit more, waiting, before picking up her pen again. That means she's going to ask a new question.

"Are you afraid of the dark, Kristopher?" she asks, like someone trying to be nice. "Isn't that why your daddy bought you the dragon lamp?"

"Dinosaur," Kris says automatically. "It was a dinosaur lamp. A diplodocus. It's the longest dinosaur that ever lived," he adds helpfully.

She nods to show she's listening, but it's a grown up nod, the one where they want you to know they're listening but not because you're telling them something totally amazing about elephants or Pluto. Kris gets those nods all the time (even when he does tell totally amazing things about elephants and Pluto). It'd be nice, he thinks, to have someone really understand about the elephants.

"It's okay to be scared of the dark, you know," she starts.

"I'm not." Her mouth puckers; she doesn't believe him. "I'm not. I was before, but it's okay now. He's being nice."

And that's a mistake because Dr. Busker's buggy eyes get bright and sneaky. "He? The boy who does bad things, the one who broke the lamp?"

"He's not a boy," Kris says. "He's--he's my friend."

Sort of.

"But he was the one who broke the lamp?" The doctor insists and Kris can't help it, he can't just listen to bad things being said. Friends don't do that.

"He didn't mean to do it," he tries to explain. Like the monster tried to explain to Kris and Kris believed him, because--"He said he was sorry. He wanted to play but the light spooked him, it hurt his face. Because he's still little, okay? He doesn't know how to be safe with lamps and things yet. He's learning." He adds, "It's okay to make mistakes when you're learning."

It is, because Kris' Mama said so and she's smarter than any doctor (even the good kind with the lollipops.) But then again Mama is the one who thinks he should be visiting mushy-mouthed doctors.

Kris has been confused about a lot of things since the monster in his closet started talking.

And maybe he shouldn't have talked back, maybe he should've just kept his head under the blanket or put the toy trunk in front of the closet door or called his Dad, or run away like they told you to do when a stranger was being scary. Except Kris' monster didn't sound scary; he just sounded...sad. Like someone who didn't have a toy trunk or a Dad or anybody to tell him to run away from strangers. Kris knows he didn't break the lamp or throw the box of light bulbs out to be nasty. He just didn't know better, like when Kris tried feeding pepperoni to Aunt Emily's goldfish.

"He's learning," he tells the doctor again. And then, because she's doing that nod again and being fishy-mouth and buggy-eyed, he adds: "I'm going to teach him."

I will, Kris promises. I'll teach him everything.

+X+X+

Kris may be six and small and only just starting first grade, but he's pretty certain of the basic truths about the world. Mostly in the form of the fact that doctors aren't supposed to assign homework.

If he doesn't do it, though, Bug-Eyes will probably tattle to Mama, so Kris finds some paper and colors to do as told. It's not very difficult homework, after all.

He has to draw his monster.

There's only one problem: he doesn't know what his monster looks like. He tried explaining it to the doctor in the same way his monster explained it to Kris: monsters don't have faces until they need them, and things don't work in the dark like they do outside it. But it pretty clear she didn't get any of it.

"Draw what you think he looks like," she told him and that was obviously the end of that. "Or what you'd like him to look like."

So Kris sits at the kitchen table with a stack of paper and a shoebox of markers and tries to think of what his monster could be. Like, with a bunch of tentacles maybe? Or two tails. Or a striped back, big as a tiger. They're all very cool ideas.

...but they don't feel right. Sure, stripes and fins and tails are great, they're awesome, but it seems mean to make his monster too big to fit in the car or as something that has to live in a bathtub. He's stuck in a closet now but what about later, when he gets big like he says he will? If he has tentacles they couldn't play cards or Nintendo, and tails might get trapped by doors (and his monster is sneaky, he wouldn't want to be caught.)

What would be really awesome, Kris thinks, is if his monster was like him. A boy. A cool boy who was bigger than Kris (to help with the difficult of being the smallest guy in class) and brave and full of surprises about elephants. And his clothes would be black--because he likes the dark, right?--but they'd be sparkly too, sometimes. And he'd like being loud along with the radio and making gloves out of socks, and coloring his fingers.

Kris draws every piece of that he can, sitting in his Mama's bright kitchen and thinking of invisible things, waiting.

+X+X+

He folds the finished drawing carefully, like a letter, and slips it underneath the closet door into the dark.

The room is silent.

+X+X+

Kris wakes up.

The room is very dark and the house is very quiet, and someone is sitting on his bed. Kris reaches for the bed lamp--until he remembers he doesn't have one anymore.

"I said I was sorry," says the someone.

Because, of course, it's him.

"Dad said he was going to buy me a new one," Kris says. "If I promised not to break it too." But he doesn't want his monster to feel guilty about a mistake and adds," I don't really need one though. Not if it's gonna hurt you."

"Oh." There's a shuffle and something touches the blanket over Kris' knee. "It'd be all right. I mean, if you wanted another lamp. Would it be a dinosaur one, too?"

"That'd be neat," Kris nods.

"He should get you a triceratops one this time," the monster says. "They had the giant skulls, right?"

"Huge," Kris grins. "Did you like the drawing?"

The monster doesn't say anything then and Kris can't help but fidget. Maybe the monster wanted tentacles and stripes, and a spiky tail. But Kris didn't draw any of it and now his monster is going to go back in the closet and never ask about dinosaurs or planets again.

"I don't get it."

Kris blinks into the dark. "What?"

"A part of the drawing," the monster says. He sounds--nervous? "The part on the bottom. I don't know what it means."

Surprise and relief rush through Kris like soda pop. He scrambles out from beneath the covers, bouncing. "Letters! I can read them for you. And I could teach you to do it, too, later. I totally could!"

Except it's still night and dark, and Kris has no dinosaur to help. He's seriously considering if he could run into the hall and turn on the light, and the read through the door when something bumps his hand.

"Here, I got it from the downstairs closet. I'll put it back this time, I promise," his monster adds.

Kris fumbles until his fingers close around a--tube of plastic? There's a rubbery bit on it, like a button, and something cool and roundish on the end--oh.

It's a flashlight. His monster brought him a flashlight.

There's something very...important about that, Kris knows. Even if he's not exactly sure what it is.

(One day he will.)

He hesitates before thumbing it on, though. "I wish I could see in the dark. Is it super great? Can you see colors?"

"Yeah," the monster says. "But they're probably not like yours. But I like your colors." Then, "Ok, I'm ready for it."

Kris turns on the flashlight.

Kris' monster is bigger than him. He has bangs and a black shirt, and slouchy material bunched over his hands, like gloves without fingers or gloves soft as socks. His hair is a little crazy and he's got his eyes shut tight, tight, tight. But when Kris tilts the light away, they open just a bit. It's impossible to tell the color with the monster's--the boy's--face in shadow, though.

It doesn't matter; Kris knows they're blue.

Kris' drawing lies open on the bedspread. The folded creases have been smoothed out, nearly invisible in the jumpy spot of light. His monster's fingers trace the wobbly letters on the bottom of the page. His fingertips are green and purple. Behind him Kris can make out the open shoebox wedged between the closet's door and wall.

"I thought," Kris starts. His monster looks up and--and his hair is really, really shiny even in the dark. "It's okay if you don't like it. I won't be mad."

"I don't know what it is," the monster says. He reaches out and put a hand on Kris' wrist, tugging. "Tell me."

There are tiny, dark spots on the hand touching Kris. Freckles, he thinks. His monster has freckles. Kris hadn't drawn those, but he likes them. He likes that his monster has surprises.

"Kris?"

"It's a name," he says. "It's--it's your name. If you want it. I mean, you don't have to."

The freckled fingers close a bit tighter. They're holding hands, Kris thinks, and somehow that doesn't feel like a surprise. It feels...nice.

"Can I keep it?" the monster suddenly asks. "Can I--is it like the flashlight, do I have to give it back later?"

"No, you can keep it," Kris says. "That's how names work. I think."

It's a good name, this one; Kris was very, very careful in picking it. His monster is special so the name had to be special; it had to be important, like something they taught in school.

Or Sunday school.

"Oh," the monster says like he heard something important, more important than Pluto.

Kris asks, "Do you want me to read it to you?"

Slowly, the monster nods. Kris scoots a little closer and puts his finger under the first letter. After a moment, a grape-colored fingertip slides down beside it. One by one they go through the letters to the sum: A. D. A. M.

*+X+X+*