if i close my eyes

Act I: On Some Dark, Quiet Street
Act II: I'll Be What I Am

Act III: Go Find Your Brother

June 4, 1956

"Do your ears hang low, do they wobble to and fro..." Crystal sang along with the chimes from the ice cream truck that was slowly making its way toward them.

Danny put his hand over her mouth. "Okay, already. Okay. I'll buy you some ice cream. Just please stop singing." He lifted his hand gingerly.

Crystal gave him a satisfied grin. "Eskimo Pie."

Danny shook his head. "Let me rephrase that. I'll pay for the ice cream; you will be the one to stand in line with the little kids." He reached into his pocket and pulled out some coins, handing them to her with his own grin. "Fudgesicle for me."

Crystal took the money and hopped up from the picnic table where they were sitting. "Be right back," she called out in a sing-song voice, already on her way to stop the vendor before he turned the corner.

Danny watched her and waited patiently for her to come back. He shrugged out of his jacket; it just wasn't cool for a Cowhand to be seen doing something as childish as eating ice cream. Although Crystal would see him, he didn't need anyone else to.

Crystal returned and handed him the chocolate confection. "Here you go." She sat down on the bench below him.

Danny made short work of his treat, and then watched Crystal enjoy hers. She looked different than the last time he saw her. "So, besides hanging out here, what have you been up to? I haven't seen you around lately. You look good." Her hair actually looked like it had been washed, and she must have gained about ten pounds; she had lost that sunken look around her eyes and cheekbones.

Crystal looked up at him and shrugged. "Mom's in jail again. I've been staying with my dad and his new girlfriend." She took another bite of her ice cream. "I heard about you, though."

"Yeah, well..." Danny let that subject drop quickly, but pulled his jacket back on at the reminder.

"Oh, and I saw your friend again the other day. The good-looking one. Nick." She licked her lips dramatically.

Danny wondered what kind of lipstick she had on; it was still as bright a pink as before the ice cream. Must be some powerful stuff. Wonder if it'll stay on if I kiss her?

"He asked about you," Crystal went on when Danny didn't reply.

That caught his attention. With as casual a tone as he could muster, he asked, "Neil? What did he want?" Danny hadn't seen Neil since the day he'd left the comfort of that Flatbush apartment.

"Nick, Neil, whatever."

Something in her tone made Danny realize that it was she who had approached him, not the other way around. Danny chuckled. "He brushed you off?"

"Yeah." Crystal frowned, and then shrugged her shoulders again. "His loss."

"Yeah," Danny answered, pulling her back to lean against him. "Tell me the whole story, anyway. I need to find out if I should go kick his ass or not." It was an act. Danny didn't want Crystal to know he was curious about what Neil had said, and using the cover of protecting her would get her to open up.

"He wasn't rude about it. But I'll let you decide. He asks a lot of questions, though, doesn't he?"

Danny couldn't help but laugh at that. "He's working on a book, I think."

"Oh." He felt Crystal shrug in a puzzled manner, and then she told him the story. It really was nothing. She'd seen him walking down the street and had gone over to him. All Neil had asked was if she was Danny's girl. And when he left, he'd told her to say "hi" to him. Everything else he'd asked had been about her. Although Neil had been nosy, he had not been rude.

"I'll let him live, then," Danny told her when she'd finished. "I think he's just really interested in some other girl."

"Figures." Crystal got up. "I better get back home. My dad's pretty strict."

Danny got up with her. "I'll walk with you."

July 14, 1956

"You're going to have to do this," Luke explained.

Danny glared at the older boy. "I told you from the beginning I wasn't ever going to sell drugs. You said that was cool."

"I lied. Sue me." Luke glared back at Danny, then softened his expression. "Just until Derek gets out, okay?"

Danny shook his head. "You know how I feel about that."

"Look," Luke explained, "These people're gonna buy whether you sell it to them or not. If they don't buy from us, they'll buy from someone else. That would really make Paul mad. So, why not make some dough?"

"Screw Paul." Danny spit on the ground.

Luke shook his head, and then suddenly swung and hit Danny on the jaw. "Stupid."

Danny staggered a bit but stood his ground.

"Paul's gained some respect for you. He admired the way you never cried out a couple of months ago. Don't blow it now; next time he won't be so nice." Luke's tone of voice was that of a teacher to a young child.

Danny couldn't believe the crap coming out of Luke's mouth. Respect? Try resentment. Danny had pretty much hung low since coming back from the Diamonds. He kept up with the stealing, adding shoplifting to the mix. Danny had also avoided the jazz shows that kept his soul grounded. Instead, he'd stayed close to Cowhand territory. He spent his free time hanging out with the other gang members, now. Paul had commented that at least Danny had learned who his family was.

Danny looked across the warehouse where some of the other Cowhands were hanging out. "Why can't one of them do the sale?"

Luke held his gaze, his tone threatening. "I'm asking you. You do it."

Danny took the bag of white powder Luke handed him. Why not? I've already lost everything else. He sighed in defeat. "Give me the details."

Danny had finished with the drop and was on his way back to the warehouse. He wanted to be rid of the money in his pocket. He felt absolutely sick to his stomach, and it wasn't the flu this time. When he arrived, he was disappointed to see that Paul was not around. All the way back, with each step he'd taken, his resolve had strengthened. He was scared he'd lose his nerve if he had to wait for Paul. He picked an empty corner and sat down and waited. A couple of the guys had tried to come over and talk to him, but he'd given them such a mean look they decided it would be safer to leave him alone.

Paul walked in and Danny finally got up, eager to get this over with. He approached him deliberately.

"Danny-boy. I hear you made a run for me, finally." Paul sneered in triumph.

Danny reached into his pocket and took out the cash. He counted it slowly in front of Paul, and then handed the entire wad to him.

"You can keep your share, you know." Paul laughed; it was an evil-sounding snicker. "Buy yourself a nice meal for a change." He handed a few of the bills back to Danny.

Danny shook his head. "Keep it. All of it. I don't want it." Danny took off his jacket and let it drop to the floor.

"Whatcha doin', Danny?" one of the other Cowhands asked.

Danny ignored the boy and turned back to look at Paul. "Keep it all." Then he walked towards the door.

"You crazy, boy? You can't just walk out of here."

Danny heard Paul walk up quickly behind him, but he didn't change his pace. "Watch me," he said forcefully.

Paul yanked Danny by the back of his t-shirt and reached to punch him, but Danny was faster. He blocked the punch and got his own in. Danny had never fought back before, but this was different. His life was on the line, and he knew it. He also knew the unspoken rules said no one else would interfere, on behalf of either one of them. He hoped the other Cowhands stuck to those rules. He drew his fist back and punched again, getting Paul right in the sternum. Danny saw the surprise, anger, and hatred in Paul's face. He kept going, his own anger fueling him: anger at his parents for leaving him; anger at himself for doing the things he had done. It didn't matter that Paul was more than ten years older than he was; it didn't matter that the things Danny was really angry about weren't Paul's fault. He still deserves to have the shit beat out of him, even if he's not to blame.

The fight dragged on pretty evenly. What Danny lacked in strength, he made up for in agility. Once, Danny managed to look at the faces of the other Cowhands who had gathered around in a circle, eager to see the outcome. He didn't know whether they were rooting for Paul or for him, but it spurred him on. He returned his focus to the fight and narrowly avoided having the heel of Paul's boot crush his knee. And in that second when Paul was off balance, Danny tripped him. He managed to keep Paul from getting up with more kicks. From there, he seemed to have the upper hand. Paul's probably not used to anyone fighting back. Danny grinned at the thought and sneered down at Paul. "How do you like it? Feels good, don't it?" Danny kicked him again, adrenaline masking all his own pain. "Having that cold hard floor cool you down; it's downright comforting, ain't it?"

Eventually, Paul stopped moving. Luke might've been right after all. I do feel a bit of respect for him after kicking the shit out of him. Somehow, the thought wasn't all that consoling. Danny straightened up and continued on to the door. With a menacing look, he turned to the other Cowhands. He used the back of his hand to wipe some blood from the corner of his mouth. "Anyone else wanna try and stop me?" He hoped someone would take the challenge.

No one in the room moved. Not even Luke. Satisfied, Danny turned and closed the door behind him.

Danny took the subway up to his old Harlem neighborhood. The clickety-clack of the train helped calm his agitated state. By the time he arrived at the 135th Street stop, his anger had abated and been replaced by a kind of euphoria. He was free.

He walked over to his old high school and grabbed his duffle bag from the supply closet. A nice, long shower helped him calm down even more. Twenty minutes later, he was cleaned up as best he could be. He sat down on one of the benches in the locker room and pulled a notebook out of his duffle bag. It was a three-ring binder, about two inches thick. He flipped through the pages: musical notes and other markings he couldn't read. They were the last songs his father had been working on before he left for Korea. One of these days, Danny hoped he could find a musician who could translate the gibberish and maybe even record the music. Harry Volpe? Maybe...

He reached the last of his father's pages and laughed. Neil's sickeningly sweet love-letter stared up at him through the wrinkles. Danny was never sure why he bothered to keep it. Maybe just so he could remember Mrs. Diamond's yummy cheese blintzes. He put the binder back and pulled out one of the two spiral notebooks instead. Harvey's words echoed in his mind: "What are you going to do with your life? Are you going to hang with that gang forever?" He had given up his dream of becoming a journalist long ago, but he had never stopped writing. Turning the pages, he finally found some blank sheets. He rummaged in the duffle bag for a pen and let the words pour on to the page. It felt even more cleansing than the shower had.

A noise from the corner of the room startled Danny. It was just a mouse or a rat, but it brought him out of his reverie. I need to find a new place. Luke knows too much about me, about my past, and he's loyal to Paul. He'll track me down here and Paul will kill me. He stuffed everything back into the duffle bag.

With the bag hoisted on his shoulder, Danny left his old neighborhood behind. He couldn't stay there; he couldn't go back to the Lower East Side. He headed to Flatbush, the long way around, hoping Neil had told him the truth. He hated to crawl back there, begging for a place to stay, but he was pretty sure none of the Cowhands would be able to find him there. Why didn't I just stay there in the first place?

It was late when Danny arrived, too late to go knocking on the Diamonds' door. Knowing his options were limited, he hunkered down in a grove in Prospect Park and decided to try in the morning.

The next day, Danny found his way to the apartment without any problems. He climbed the two flights of stairs and quickly knocked on the door before he could change his mind. He heard some mumbled voices, and then someone shouted through the closed door. "Who is it?"

"It's Danny. Neil's friend." Danny waited.

"Who are you? What do you want?"

Danny looked at the door again. It was definitely the right apartment. "Mr. Diamond? Is that you?"

"Diamond? The Diamonds moved." An old man opened the door a crack and peered out at Danny. "They moved."

"Oh." Danny's shoulders slumped. "Sorry to bother you." He turned around and left.

September 18, 1956

"Judge Armen wants to see you in his chambers," the bailiff told Danny. "Let's go."

With a resigned sigh, Danny got up and followed the young officer.

dannyDanny entered the cramped office, overstuffed with a large desk and books that seemed to spill out everywhere. The judge who was seated behind the desk pointed to a chair opposite him. "Sit down, son." His voice was soft, kind.

Danny sat in the designated chair, tense and rigid.

"I've been reviewing your case. First offense?" Judge Armen peered at him over wire-rimmed glasses.

Danny nodded. "Yes, sir."

"You were caught snatching a purse," Judge Armen stated.

Danny looked out the window on his right, avoiding the judge's gaze. "Yes, sir."

"The woman dropped the charges when she got her property back. A case like this should never have come up to me. The police should have released you, but it says here there's no one to release you to. Do you have any family, Daniel?"

"No, sir."

Judge Armen searched through some papers on the desk and picked up a legal pad. "Tell me about your parents, son."

Danny answered the question as simply as he could. "My father died in Korea. My mother died soon after."

"And did they have any family?" Judge Armen's voice was still calm and even, exuding patience and understanding.

Danny relaxed his stance slightly. "My father's parents died when I was around four. He was an only child. I don't know if I had any other family on his side." He paused, letting the judge finish writing his notes. When Judge Armen looked up, he continued. "My mother was an orphan. She had a younger brother."

"Had?" Judge Armen asked. "Did he die, too?"

Danny shook his head. "I don't know. The last we heard from him, he'd gotten in trouble with the law over some horse races in Saratoga. That was about four or five years ago."

"Hmm." Judge Armen licked the tip of the pen, then poised it to write again. "He doesn't sound like the most upstanding citizen, but I feel obligated to check it out, anyway. Does this uncle of yours have a name?"

"Willie. My mom always referred to him as Willie. I don't know his last name." Danny gazed out the window to his right again. The view wasn't that fascinating, but he didn't like facing the judge. "My mom's name is Sarah Mangan. But that's her married name; I don't know her maiden name."

"Thank you, son." The judge wrote the information down. "It's not much, but it's something to go on." He set the pad of paper and the pen down on top of some other papers on the desk. "I have to appoint you a guardian, meanwhile. Just temporary, for now. If I can't find your uncle, or if I find him and he's not a suitable guardian, then I'll have to place you in the foster care system."

Danny nodded glumly. He knew when the cops hadn't released him, this would probably happen.

Judge Armen picked up a large tome that was spread open, revealing a telephone underneath it. Danny heard the gentle click-whirrr as Judge Armen dialed each number. The other party answered, and Judge Armen kept his eyes on Danny as he spoke. "Akeeba? Moshe, here. ... Yes, thank you. Same to you and your family. Listen, Akeeba, I've got the boy here. You were right; he has no family. ... Well, he might have an uncle. I'll look into that. ... I've got the papers ready. ... Yes, you just need to come down here and sign the guardianship forms. ... I'll keep him here. ... Shalom." Judge Armen hung up the phone.

Danny met his gaze with interest. He wondered who Akeeba was. It was an unusual name, to him anyway. And the judge had ended the call with "Shalom." Was he being placed in the custody of a Jewish family?

Judge Armen might have been a mind reader. "Daniel and Sarah. Those are good Jewish names. You're mother wasn't Jewish, was she?"

Danny couldn't help let out a snort. "Sorry, sir. No, we're Irish. Catholic."

One of the judge's eyebrows shot up. "Oh, my. This will be interesting." He paused, and then leaned back in his chair. He folded his hands into a tent, his fingertips touching. "Are you okay with staying with a Jewish family?"

Danny met the judge's gaze evenly. "Do you want an honest answer?"

"Yes, I do." Judge Armen waited.

"I don't want to stay with anyone. I'll probably run away. So, no, it doesn't really matter to me what they are." Danny's tone was straight-forward and factual, not the least bit argumentative.

Judge Armen nodded. "I guess your running away is a chance we'll have to take." He stood up, and Danny did the same. Judge Armen motioned him to sit back down. "I have to get back to the courtroom. You wait here. Bailiff Robertson will be outside my door at all times."

Danny waited rather impatiently in the tiny office. He wandered over to the desk, curious if, among all the papers, his own file was there. The legal pad the judge had been writing on had somehow disappeared amongst the books and papers. There seemed to be a delicate balance to the mess on the desk and Danny was afraid to move anything.

Next, he went over to the door and opened it. Sure enough, a large black man in a bailiff's uniform was standing there. "Just checking," Danny said simply. The bailiff didn't reply. Danny closed the door and strolled over to the window, gazing out at the city streets below.

The time passed slowly, but eventually the door handle moved; Judge Armen had returned. "Danny, your guardian is here."

Danny turned around and tried to see behind the judge.

Judge Armen smiled kindly at him. "Downstairs. In the lobby."

Danny followed the judge down the three flights of stairs to the lobby. He was curious to see his temporary guardian. When he spied the large man waiting by the stairs, he broke into a genuine grin, his first in a long time. "Mr. Diamond?! What are you doing here?"

"Hmph," Mr. Diamond grumbled. "You don't think it was a coincidence my friend, Moshe, ended up with your case, do you?"

Danny shook his head, still surprised. "I did think things were moving kind of fast."

Mr. Diamond gave Danny a stern look, trying to be serious. "Yes. Moshe pulled some strings. Now, what's this I hear about you wanting to run away again? You're going to break my Rosie's heart."

"Well..." Danny remembered the teasing nature that he felt during his previous brief stay with the Diamonds. "If she promises to make me more of those delicious blintzes, I just might stay a little longer this time."

Judge Armen winked at Danny and then addressed Mr. Diamond. "If Rose makes those blintzes, I'll be staying with you a while, too."

"Anytime, Moshe. Anytime. As a matter of fact, why don't you and Miriam come for dinner tonight?" Mr. Diamond responded.

"Wish I could, Akeeba. Maybe another night. I still want to hear the whole story about young Daniel, here. I have a feeling you left out far too much the first time." Judge Armen patted Danny on the shoulder and then shook Akeeba Diamond's hand. "Take care of him, Kieve. I'll be in touch soon."

Mr. Diamond nodded his goodbye to his friend, and then ushered Danny out the door in front of him. A beat-up looking blue car was parked in front of the building, illegally, and Mr. Diamond opened the door for Danny to climb in. Soon, they were on their way.

Danny watched the passing street signs as they made their way through the city. "Mr. Diamond?"

"Hmm?" Mr. Diamond kept his eyes on the road.

"Why?" Danny had thought Mr. Diamond would be glad to be rid of him. He couldn't come up with any reason why Mr. Diamond would bother with a street punk like himself.

"After you left, my wife, she worried about you. Wouldn't let it go. Neil said he didn't see you anymore. So, I put a word in with a good friend... or three." Mr. Diamond's mustache tried to hide the smile, but Danny could see the corner of his mouth had lifted up.

"Three? You had three people looking for me, and they couldn't find me?" Danny chortled.

Mr. Diamond glanced quickly at him. "Well, if you count Neil, four. But none of my friends could find you unless you got in trouble. I didn't think it would take them so long."

"Thanks," Danny retorted. "I do try not to get caught, you know."

"Apparently." The whiskers in Mr. Diamond's mustache quivered.

"I tried to go back."


"I tried to go back to your apartment. I had no where to go..." Danny's voice trailed off.

"We moved. I'm sorry. I wish I could've let you know somehow." Mr. Diamond stopped at a light and looked over at Danny. "Your back, now."

Danny nodded. The light changed, and Mr. Diamond continued driving. "Where are we going?"

"Home, son. Coney Island."

"Can we stop somewhere so I can get my things?" Danny wanted his notebooks, if nothing else.

Mr. Diamond looked over at him in surprise. "Where?"

"I found a hiding place, over by Prospect Park. In your old neighborhood."

"Tell me where to turn."

A short while later, they were near the park, and Danny gave him the directions. He got out of the car, ran over to some dumpsters, and rummaged behind them. He returned with his duffle bag slung over his shoulder. Dumping it in the back seat, he got in the car again and Mr. Diamond continued on his way.

Soon, Mr. Diamond was pulling into a driveway in a nice residential area of Brighton Beach. He put his finger over his mouth, letting Danny know he wanted to surprise the others. Opening the front door, he called out, "Rose, I'm home. We have one more for dinner."

Mrs. Diamond came to the door to greet her husband. "Kieve, where's our guest? Who is it?"

Kieve moved out of the way and Danny stepped forward. "Mrs. D. Hi."

Mrs. Diamond rushed up to Danny and gave him a surprisingly strong hug. "Danny!" She kissed him on the cheek, and then stepped back. "I've been worried sick about you! How dare you go off and leave like that in the middle of the night? I really do need to teach you some manners." Her eyes twinkled throughout the scolding.

Neil and Harvey must have heard the commotion, as they came to the door also. "Don't just stand there. Let him in, Mameleh."

Mrs. Diamond moved aside, allowing Danny to follow Mr. Diamond into the house.

Mr. Diamond cleared his throat. "It's only temporary, for now, but Danny will be staying with us. I expect you to treat him like he's family."

Neil grinned and then smacked Danny on the back of the head. "Moron."

"Hey!" Danny protested, taken by surprise. "What was that for?"

Harvey chuckled. "That's how brothers act in this house. You get used to it."

Danny grinned and smacked Harvey the same way in return. "Yeah, I could get used to this."

"Boys! Cut it out or I'll whip all of you." Mrs. Diamond held up a wooden spoon, but the happy grin on her face made the threat fall short. "Dinner's about ready. Wash up and sit down."

Dinner was fairly quiet. Not a strained, uncomfortable quiet, but more of a long-day, let's-just-eat kind of quiet. When Harvey, who had been the last one to finish, finally put down his fork, Mrs. Diamond broke the serene silence. "What have you been up to the last six months, Danny?" Mrs. Diamond's question was sudden and direct, which didn't surprise Danny in the least.

The day had been long and overwhelming, and Danny wasn't sure what he really felt about this new change to his situation. He was nervous, but he also wanted to be honest with these people who had only treated him nicely, in spite of his own demeanor. He kept his eyes focused on his empty plate; his answer was guarded. "Hiding, mostly."

"Hiding from what?" Mrs. Diamond asked. When that question got no response, she tried again. "Or should I ask, hiding from whom?"

Danny looked up at the other members of the Diamond family. Neil mouthed the name on the tip of Danny's tongue. "Paul."

Damn! How the hell does he know? Outwardly, Danny tried not to show any surprise. Without emotion, he simply nodded.

Mrs. Diamond noticed the exchange. "Hiding from whom?" she asked again, this time looking at Neil.

"Paul," Neil answered obediently.

"And who is this Paul?" Mrs. Diamond looked first at Neil and then at Danny.

In a very polite tone of voice, Danny answered the question. "I can't talk about Paul without using language that would be inappropriate at the dinner table." He hoped that would be enough.

"What about you, Neil? Can you explain, without foul language, why Danny would be hiding from this Paul?"

"Yes, I'd like to know, too," Mr. Diamond added. Both parents stared at Neil, waiting for him to answer.

neilDanny started to rescue him, but Neil held up a hand, stopping him. "It's okay. I think I can explain." He took a sip of juice before continuing. "Paul is the bas - uh, guy, who beat the cr - beat up Danny when he stayed here the last time. Paul is also the guy that Danny nearly k - that Danny fought in order to leave the gang."

Danny heard Mrs. Diamond's sharp intake of breath. "Is that true, Danny?"

Stunned at just how much Neil knew, Danny simply nodded again.

"So, Paul is the leader of this gang, and you are no longer a part of this gang, because you fought with Paul?" Mrs. Diamond asked. Her words came out slowly; she was trying to understand.

Danny nodded once again, looking up at her.

"And now you have to hide from him? Why?" Mrs. Diamond's gaze was kind and sympathetic. When Danny didn't answer right away, she pushed. "Why are you hiding?"

Danny spoke quietly. "He'll kill me."

Mrs. Diamond gasped.

The sudden thump and rattle of the dishes startled Danny. Mr. Diamond had been listening in his usual stoic manner, letting Mrs. Diamond ask all the questions. But he had just slammed his hand down on the table and the water in his glass was still swishing back and forth. His face was red with anger as he muttered loudly in Yiddish. "Es vert mir finster in di oygen. Nisht fur dich gedacht!"

Whatever Mr. Diamond said did have the affect of helping Mrs. Diamond recover. She shot more questions at Danny. "He wants to kill you because you won the fight? Why can't he just let you leave? Are you so important to him?"

Danny looked up at her and met her tear-filled gaze. "It's not just that I fought him; it's that I won. I humiliated him in front of the gang. I stripped away the respect that he had. He can't let me get away with that."

"I see," Mrs. Diamond responded, her tone conveying her immense sadness. "How old are you, child?"

Danny bristled involuntarily at being called a child, though he knew she hadn't meant it as an insult. "Fourteen," he answered.

Mrs. Diamond got up and stood next to him. Then she bent down and hugged him tightly. "Fourteen? So young, and you've already lived two lifetimes." She didn't let go.

After what felt like many minutes later, Danny heard Mr. Diamond's deep, calm voice. "Rose, you're smothering him."

Mrs. Diamond let go then and stood back up, dabbing at her eyes. "I guess I'll go get our dessert."

Mrs. Diamond left, and Danny looked at the others. Mr. Diamond gave him a sympathetic look, one that nearly mirrored his wife's earlier gaze. However, Danny could still see some anger behind that look. He hoped the anger wasn't directed at him. Feeling uneasy, Danny's eyes shifted to Harvey, who was staring at him with outright awe. Finding that just as awkward, Danny looked over at Neil. Neil seemed to be the only one comfortable in the whole room.

Mr. Diamond broke the silence that had crept into the room with Mrs. Diamond's absence. "How did you know about all this, Neil?"

"Can I plead the fifth?" Neil grinned hopefully at his father.

"No." Mr. Diamond answered. "Unless you want to work at my store for the rest of your life, no."

Danny looked over at his friend, curious as well. And then he guessed. "Crystal?"

Neil nodded.

Danny laughed, out of relief or out of hysteria, he wasn't sure.

Mr. Diamond was not laughing. "Since Neil told us about Paul, why don't you tell us about Crystal?"

"Yes, sir." Danny, mollified, told what he knew. "Crystal's just this girl that hangs out with the gang sometimes. She's pretty harmless, but she does usually know what's going on with everyone."

Mr. Diamond's mustache bristled, something Danny had grown used to seeing already. "And, why, Neil, are you hanging out with this Crystal girl?"

"I try not to." Neil defended himself. "She's seen me a few times, and she comes up to me and just starts talking." Neil had answered his father, but Danny saw the unspoken communication between them. There was more, and Mr. Diamond knew it. With a sigh, Neil continued. "Her real name is Kirsten. She's fifteen. Her parents are divorced and she's living with her mother right now."

"Damn. She was better off with her father." The words had left Danny's mouth before he could stop them.

Neil shot him a knowing glance. "Yeah, I agree."

Mr. Diamond shook his head. "I should just lock you in your room, shouldn't I?"

Mrs. Diamond had returned carrying a tray with some wonderfully aromatic baked-apple concoction. "It wouldn't help, Kieve. But it's worth a try." She set the tray down, and Harvey, apparently eager for something to do, passed the plates around. Mrs. Diamond focused her attention on Neil. "When are you going to bring Kirsten around to meet us?"

In one quick movement, Neil reached up and grabbed a plate from Harvey, and then stuffed his mouth with the warm dessert to avoid answering.

Danny was weary. He thought sleep should come easy, but it didn't. He couldn't turn his mind off; all the events of the last year played out in front of him again. Most of it seemed very real: Luke, the Cowhands, Paul. When the police had taken him into custody two nights ago, that seemed real. But this night, the Diamonds: this felt like a dream. Will it ever all go away? Danny turned toward the wall, staring at the blankness. A clean page; a new start. If I close my eyes, will this go away?

the end