An Old Friend

Sometimes Eddie remembered the life he'd never had. The stories Susannah told him about the other Eddie she'd known had awakened something in his mind, like the first time letters come together to make a word, to make a meaning. After that, it's never just letters again. Once you're aware of

[the white

the truth, nothing is the same. Eddie carried with him memories of another self, a drug addicted but brave and passionate self, and the more he remembered, the clearer and more complete the memories became, until he missed That Other Eddie the way he'd miss an old friend.

But he was missing an old friend, too, and when his Susannah was in a storytelling mood, it was those stories he asked for. And when he saw Jake sitting in front of the television, watching his hands instead of Four's Company reruns, Eddie knew that Jake was missing him, too. Roland. More and more, Eddie sat staring at his own hands, too, remembering faces and feelings and conversations he could not possibly remember, and the more he remembered, the more he felt that somewhere in those memories was the reason for everything that had happened and would happen and would never happen again.

Susannah had been surprised to learn that Eddie could cook, and he had promised her duck a la orange weeks ago. Eddie asked Jake to set the table, and when Susannah came home, balancing on her prosthetic legs, Eddie was sautéing green beans with coconut.

"This is amazing," she said, looking at the covered dishes lining the counter. She kissed him. "I found me a man with a spatula. I never would have thought."

"Go sit down," Eddie said. He put a bottle of jade zinfandel in her hands. "And take this with you." Susannah opened her mouth to protest, probably to respond with her frequent, "No white boy gonna tell me what to do." But he moved against her and kissed her until she forgot her protest and until the coconut was a little more burned than it should have been.

Eddie sat with Susannah and Jake around their little table, and he focused on silencing the flood of words that rose acidly in his throat: we're a broken home, a crew without captain, a body without mind, Nirvana without Kurt Cobain. No one spoke until the duck was gone and the dishes had been cleared away, but even as they gathered in the living room, Jake sprawled on the floor as usual while Susannah and Eddie took the couch, even as they sat in silence and waited and tried to speak, they were all thinking about the man they remembered, the man who was more real to each than they were to each other.

"And it's not the Dark Tower that matters," Jake said as though they had been talking about it all the while. "It's not the Tower or the quest or the universe that matters. Not really. You know? It's…."

"Him," Eddie said, and Jake nodded.

Susannah added, "I know."

"I mean," Jake continued, "all this seems pointless compared to that…quest. But if he was here…."

"If he was here, we wouldn't know that we were missing the adventure," Susannah said. "That sounds ridiculous. It's not that we wouldn't know, more like we wouldn't care. I don't know." She put her forehead in her hands, rubbing her temples with her thumbs.

Eddie put an arm around her. "If he was here, there'd be no better adventure anywhere else. And if that was no adventure at all—"

"—it would still be enough," Jake finished.

They sat in silence after that, trying to decide if they believed the words they had given each other.

"I was angry at him at first, wasn't I?" Eddie said. "For abducting me and taking me along on the crazy trail."

"You were scared," she said. "Probably mad, too. But mostly scared."

"I was scared, too, but I was happy to know I wasn't crazy." Jake sat up and started brushing his hand against the carpet, making pictures by pushing the fibers one way and then the other, the lighter threads a background to the darker. "Isn't that funny? The same thing that made Eddie think he was crazy made me know I wasn't." He looked at Susannah for confirmation. She nodded. Jake's carpet picture became a face. "How many times did I die?" Jake asked for the hundredth time.

Eddie could never tell if Jake was scared of the answer or if some part of his x-year-old's mind found it cool. Probably both, like Eddie's recurrent question, when Susannah curled around him at night—Am I the same as That Other Eddie? He wanted the answer to be yes. He wanted to be everything she'd lost, and he wanted the answer to be no. He wanted to believe he could never make those mistakes, be as lost as That Other Eddie seemed in her stories. But he could never ask that question out loud. It was buried in that silent section of his mind, next to his buried jealousy of That Other, That Better Eddie, buried below the wide roots of sorrow that were the gunslinger's name.

Susannah, who had also once been another woman (or two), guessed at the problem, but could still not sympathize with Eddie and Jake. She had all of herself, all of her memories. She could only share in their grief. It was nothing compared to the grief of losing her first Eddie, but it was still grief. She also wondered if Roland had entered the highest room of the Dark Tower and what he had found there. She dreamed about him, and she thought about him. In her mind, he was reaching for the Tower, reaching and reaching forever.

She and Eddie and Jake had tried moving on. They left the city. Jake played goalie on his school soccer team. Eddie started taking night classes toward a bachelor's degree. Susannah went to work at the company that had once been her father's, and she did her best to take care of her men, but she knew and they knew, though none of them said it, that they were faking everything they did. They were trying too hard to live lives that should come naturally. And sometimes, though she never, never said it, Susannah thought they were just waiting. But that sounded like false hope, like denial.

Susannah came home exhausted for the fourth day in a row. She was thinking about ordering in for dinner, something she rarely allowed. If you're home, why not cook? If you don't want to cook, why not go out? But she rarely felt how she felt today—beaten down, broken down, vertically dead. Her prosthetics were wonderful, liberating her not only from her chair but from the stares, compassionate and otherwise, that the chair attracted, but the prosthetics grew painful by the end of her long days, and her whole body ached with their use, as though every muscle was entangled in the plastic straps.

Susannah's mind was on all this as she stepped into the house, dropping her bag in the foyer. She saw the Door immediately, standing tall and solid in the middle of their shag carpeted living room.

A Door. A real Door.

She only had a part of a second to see it and understand it before she saw that it was open and that the heel of Eddie's sneaker was following the rest of him through it. She didn't call out to him. The door closed and vanished, and Susannah moved to the couch, falling onto it with more than one kind of relief.

Roland would draw her out of this world, too, in time.