by Emily Cogan

***

Iris Blackstripes peered into her big sister Jane’s bedroom. She hoped that Jane was finally pulling herself out of her funk. But nope, there she was flopped facedown on the bed, just like she had been for the past fifteen minutes.

Iris wasn’t sure what exactly Jane’s problem was. Ever since they had learned that they were moving to a new house, Jane had been gloomier than that black tiger with the silver stripes who Iris always saw slouching around the playground. He was in the other fourth grade class, so she wasn’t sure what his name was. But she had been noticing him for a while now, because he was the only other tiger in her school who wasn’t orange. And that had to mean something, right?

But anyway, even though they had moved in this morning, it was afternoon now and Jane had barely unpacked any of her boxes, which wasn’t like her. Jane was the kind of girl who put all of her crayons in rainbow order in the box, and got mad if you didn’t put them back exactly the way that she left them. Which was why Iris refused to color with her most of the time, but that wasn’t the point. The point was, that Jane liked to have everything just so. And having a bunch of moving boxes hanging around was about as far from that as you could get.

“Janey?” Iris called, hoping that maybe her sister’s childhood nickname would bring her back. “You okay?”

But Jane just whimpered and curled into a tighter ball.

Mom said that Iris should leave Jane alone, that she’d be a teenager in a couple more years, and this was a part of Jane growing up. But in all of her nearly ten years on this planet, Iris had never left Jane alone. And she wasn’t about to start now.

“Jane, Zachary’s on the phone and he says he luuuuuvvvvs you!” If there was one thing that could reliably get Jane all worked up, it was teasing her about Zachary.

But nope, not one peep from the Jane-shaped lump on the bed. However, a pillow sailed through the air and clipped Iris on the ear.

“Ugh!” Iris rubbed her ear and stared at the pillow at her feet in dismay. “You’re no fun, Janey. Want me to help you unpack?” Iris had done a great job of dumping out all of her boxes and tossing things onto shelves. It only took her half an hour too.

“I want you to go away!” Jane said in a voice so fierce that Iris knew from years of experience that she wasn’t messing around.

“Fine!” Iris exclaimed, beating a hasty retreat. “But I’ll be back!”

And she would. Because in spite of everything, Jane was her sister. And Iris was worried about her.

Iris scampered down the hallway to her room and closed the door behind her. She picked up Sid, her trusty old stuffed unicorn, and looked down at his rumpled purple fur. Sometimes she felt like Sid was her only friend, and she wasn’t sure if unicorns even counted. She thought she was a cool person, but the kids who lived in Subdivision Glen didn’t think so. Most of them played with Jane, but they never wanted to play with her, because they said she didn’t play right. But who said basketball couldn’t involve a laundry basket? And what was wrong with playing sticker tag?

Even the kids in her class avoided her most of the time. Not that they made fun of her or anything, but she didn’t think any of them liked her stories or her pictures very much. Lately she had been pretending that the garden behind the playground was a fairy paradise, where a whole bunch of fairies played together all day long. Her favorites were Rosie and Tulip, who were best friends like the ones she always wished for. She liked to paint their wings in rainbow colors. They were so small that the garden was like their entire universe, and they had no idea that they lived behind Panthera Elementary.

A couple weeks ago she had made the mistake of telling Sadie Greeneyes to be careful, because she didn’t want her to step on Rosie. Sadie was one of Jane’s friends, and ever since then Sadie had gone around stomping through the grass and teasing Jane about her weirdo sister.

It was no wonder Iris didn’t really like most of Jane’s friends. Helen was okay, but the rest of them? Nooooooooo thanks.

Daddy was the only one who would listen to her stories. His eyes would always widen when she got to the scary parts, and then his laughter would boom when she got to the funny parts. He even looked at her pictures and asked her all the right questions, because he was an artist too. But Daddy was gone, and she missed him so much it hurt. And even though Iris knew that she still had her mom, and Jane, and Gramma Betty too, she couldn’t help thinking that she was all alone now.

Whenever Iris felt especially alone, there was only one Person she wanted to talk to. And that was Judah, the White Lion. In all of the chaos of the move, Iris hadn’t spent much time with Him lately. And right now, she needed Him. So she closed her eyes and leaned up against one of the moving boxes, pressing Sid into her chest for comfort.

“Judah,” she began to pray. “I really need you right now. I miss Daddy so much,” she began, sniffling into Sid’s fur. Daddy had given her Sid, so he was extra special to her.

“I know you do,” Judah said. He didn’t talk to her out loud, but she could hear His voice whispering to her just the same. It had always been like that, for as long as she could remember.

Iris moved her fingers through the lavender fuzz of Sid’s mane as she thought about what she wanted to say. “He’s with you now though, right?”

“Yes,” said Judah. “He’s no longer in any pain now. He’s free.” And in her mind’s eye Iris saw Daddy wrapped up safe in Judah’s arms.

“Do you think I should tell Jane about that? She’s acting weird again.”

“Jane needs you right now, Little Cub,” said Judah. Little Cub was Daddy’s nickname for her, and hearing it from Judah made her eyes fill up with tears.

“Yeah, right,” she scoffed. “Jane hates me. She threw a pillow at me, remember?”

“She lost him too, you know,” Judah reminded her.

“But she has Mom!” It was an indisputable fact that Jane was Mom’s favorite. And Iris had always been Daddy’s girl.

But Judah helped her to see that even though Jane and Daddy had never been as close as he and Iris had been, that didn’t mean that Jane didn’t miss him just as much. And as crazy as it seemed to Iris, Jane actually liked┬áliving in Subdivision Glen. She was probably sad about having to leave Helen and the rest of her friends behind.

But Iris wasn’t sad about leaving Subdivision Glen, with its horde of Beige People that came straight off the assembly line. Yeah, their new house was smaller, and the neighborhood wasn’t quite as nice. But the houses had actual colors, like the blue and purple house down the street that Iris daydreamed about living in.

“And what’s an eyesore, Judah? That’s what Mom called it when she saw it.” But all Judah did was laugh in reply.

After talking with Judah for a bit, Iris started to feel better. She just wished that Jane would start feeling better too. “What can I do?” she asked.

And Judah started whispering a plan into her heart…

***

A little while later, Iris crept into Jane’s bedroom. It didn’t look like she had moved an inch, although the dirty tissue pile next to her had grown quite a bit.

“Janey?” Iris said, laying one paw on her sister’s shoulder. “I made you something.”

Jane sniffed and looked up at Iris. “Huh?” she said, wiping her nose with another tissue.

Iris took the collage she had made out from behind her back, presenting it to Jane with a flourish. “Tada!” she exclaimed, beaming.

Jane burst into tears all over again as she took in what Iris had done, but Iris was pretty sure they were happy tears. Photos of Jane with all of her friends surrounded a huge drawing of their old house. Sparkly rainbow, heart, and butterfly stickers from Iris’s massive sticker collection were mixed in with the photos. And in the doorway of their old house, front and center, Iris had glued an old family snapshot of all four of the Blackstripes. Iris personally thought that was the best part, and from the way Jane’s eyes lingered on it, maybe Jane thought so too. Daddy had his arm around Mom and they were smiling softly at each other, while in front of them Jane was making a mortified face at Iris sticking her tongue out at the camera.

“Maybe you could hang it on your wall?” said Iris, feeling suddenly shy as Jane stared at her with shiny eyes.

And this time Jane didn’t throw a pillow at her. This time she wrapped Iris up in a tight hug, and whispered, “Thank you.”

Iris knew that in another few minutes Jane would get mad at her over some stupid thing that she blurted out without thinking. Or maybe she would get fed up with Jane being so picky about where she wanted to hang the collage. And Jane would kick her out of her room, or maybe Iris would just run out herself, slamming the door after her and making Jane scream in frustration.

But for now, they were friends. And Iris was surprisingly okay with that. She sent up a grateful prayer to Judah, thanking Him for the idea.

Because maybe He was right. Maybe Jane did need her after all.

 

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