He had been torn about how to respond to Oz's letter. All day, he thought
about how to respond. Really, whether to respond. Sure, Oz said to not
write back, but Xander still felt odd about obeying that instruction.
But he spent so much time debating that he missed his chance. Oz's latest
batch of pictures had been packaged and sent back before he even realized
that the film had arrived.
And then another letter arrived. A short letter, but still a letter.
Thanks. For not writing back. Still sounds weird, I know, but it
was important. It is important. And since I haven't been the
target of a search-and-rescue mission, I'm guessing that you've
kept this to yourself.
Things are still quiet up here, but it's different now. Calm. I
mean, since I wrote that letter to you, I haven't felt surrounded
like I did when I wrote it. I'm not sure why. Was it because I
finally decided to contact someone? Because I decided to contact
you? Just because I wrote things down? I don't know. And I'm
not sure it really matters right now. And I don't think I really
Anyway, now I know the trick. I have my sanity back.
He glanced at the back of the envelope. He was only slightly surprised to
see tiny letters.
Falettinme be mice elf agin.
Once again finding the star on the back of the envelope, he carefully
removed the stamp. Two simple words.
"So, Xander, how well did you know the werewolf guy?" Oh, great. Now
Erick was going to remember the comment about high school.
"Uh, he dated a friend for a while." Nice and vague. And not entirely a
lie. "They broke up senior year." Skating closer to lies of omission.
He decided to stop there.
"Ah." The older man turned his attention back to the schedule. "So you
want more overtime? We got another one of his boxes today."
Xander shrugged, attempting to act cool and unaffected by the thought of
more pictures from Oz. "Sure."
This time, the pictures included shots of Oz's living space. Xander was
prepared to feel horrified at the conditions, but instead, he realized he
was jealous. No dilapidated squalor for the man with the van. A plain,
spartan cabin with solar panels and a basic bed. No washing machine next
to his bed, and Xander was fairly certain that no one was going to shout
down the stairs about hanging the rayon up to dry, interrupting whatever
leisure activity he was engaging in at the time. That thought was
something he had to work at pushing aside. Other features of the cabin
included a fireplace, a ceramic bowl on a metal stand that Xander realized
was an old-fashioned washbasin, an electric teakettle, a low bookcase
filled with books under a window, and a boombox with a pile of cassette
tapes next to it. He smiled at this last item before frowning at the
object propped against the wall next to it.
Oz's guitar. With a broken string.
The letter came exactly one week later.
So you saw it. I can't believe it. I mean, I can believe that
you saw it. I just can't believe that you did something about
it. That sounds wrong. It wasn't a hint. I just... I don't
know. I actually hadn't noticed that the string was broken when I
took that picture. To be honest, it had been a few days since I
had played, and I didn't pick up the thing again until after I got
the pictures back. I couldn't figure out why you had sent those
things until I went through the pictures.
Here's something else I don't want you to take the wrong way.
You sent the wrong guitar strings. Well, they're not the wrong
ones, but they're not my favorite. And that's important.
Why? Seriously, Xander, it is important -- in a good way --
that you sent the wrong strings. Willow would know the right
ones. But you obviously didn't ask her to find out.
And that means that you've kept this to yourself. That means more
than I can put into words. I know she'll freak when she finds out
I've been writing to you and not her. More secrets? We all know
what happened last time I kept a secret from her. I wouldn't be
here if that hadn't happened. But that was something I kept from
everybody, and this is something I'm sharing with you. It's
weird to think of it that way -- sharing this isolation. But I
think you understand what I mean. You're kind of isolated there
even though you're there with everyone around you. The fact
that you're not going to school separates you from them. And now
I'm not going to school either. So you and I have something in
common. Something that makes us different from the others. It
makes me feel closer to you. If I had really paid attention at
that frat when we were setting up the sound system, I think things
might have turned out a little differently. "He looks so normal."
That could be either of us, couldn't it? Or both. Maybe if I
hadn't been so set on trying to fix everything by myself, I
wouldn't be here.
Too late for maybes, though. It doesn't do any good to wish
things were different.
Did you understand the envelope this time? Okay, so I'm assuming
that you noticed, but you're a smart guy. I have faith in you.
I tried to figure out what to say, but all I could think of was
that song from the '60s. It was probably a bad choice, but I was
drawing a blank. If you don't get it, just ask Giles. I'm pretty
sure he has the album.
So. What else can I tell you? Not much is going on up here.
I've been thinking. I've been talking to the walls and the
animals up here. Sometimes, I feel like I'm in a Disney movie.
Or that I'm Dr. Doolittle. If I concentrate long enough, I can
convince myself that the animals are talking back. It's not that
I feel like I'm going insane. I just feel like I've been here
with them for so long that I'm finally understanding what their
mannerisms mean. Maybe I should do whatever what's-her-name did
in "Gorillas in the Mist". Except I would prefer to not be killed
by poachers. Hmm. Maybe that's not such a good idea after all.
One close call is enough.
Speaking of poachers, I need to go check the traps now. It sounds
horrible and disgusting, I know, but there are no grocery stores
or butchers up here, so I have to fend for myself. And I think
I'm doing a pretty good job of it. I'm not sure what's going on,
but I haven't torn my place apart during those nights. You know
what I mean.
Once again, Xander examined the envelope. Once again, he expected another
secret message, and Oz did not disappoint. On the back of the envelope,
he found a single sentence.
I was happy by myself.
And once again, the star on the back prompted him to peel off the stamp.
This wasn't supposed to happen.
Confused, he folded the letter and envelope in half and tucked it in his
pocket. Oz would eventually explain.