"And English class was sooo booo-ring that I got most of this one done," Meg groaned as she flipped through her spiral notebook and thrust it under her friend's nose. "It's not the best, but it's hard to work from memory."
As they walked, Traci peered at the drawing of a tall man standing behind a bar with a towel draped over his shoulder. While it was beautifully drawn, the proportions of the man's face were wrong, and if she hadn't known it was supposed to be Ted Danson, she wouldn't have recognized him. Of course, she wasn't going to say that. "Wow, Meg, this is great!"
Her friend laughed, smacking Traci lightly on the arm. "No, it's not. It's terrible. But I'll redraw it when I get home, on good paper this time and with my Cheers scrapbook in front of me. Oh, and maybe my Tiger Beat will come in the mail today. Leanne showed me hers today, and there's a huge article with lots of pictures!"
Marcy, who had been hanging back chatting with Anne, dashed up and circled around them, walking backwards in front of her two friends. "You have to finish mine first! I gave you that picture of Sam and Diane a week ago already."
"I'm working on it!" Meg whined. "I'm doing it in pastels. It's going to take a while."
Marcy pursed her lips. "Aw, come on! You said a couple of days."
"Did too. I gave it to you after volleyball practice, which was Thursday, and you said you'd have it by Monday."
As the girls continued to argue, Traci dropped back to stroll next to Anne, who grinned at her and murmured, "That's why I didn't vote for Meg for class secretary. She never finishes anything she's started. But don't tell her that."
"Oh, she didn't really want it anyway. She only ran to try to impress Jesse Stevens. She'd rather be drawing anyway, not sitting in boring class meetings." Traci glanced over at the two girls in front. "She's really good at it, though. Wish she'd draw me something."
Anne smirked at her. "Harry Anderson?"
"Oh yes!" Clutching her bookbag to her chest, Traci hugged herself as she grinned. "Judge Harry is just a dream!"
Anne giggled at her friend. "I don't see why you like Night Court so much. Ted Danson over Harry Anderson any day."
Traci wrinkled her nose at that thought. "It's not just Harry Anderson. I don't know. I know it's just a TV show, but I just love it, and I'd love to be Judge Harry."
"Ha! Judge Traci!" Anne nudged her with her shoulder. "Is that what you want to do?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe. Who knows?" She shrugged.
As they came up to Marcy's house, the two other girls, by now giggling together like the best friends they were, turned to Traci and Anne. "Hey, wanna come in?" Marcy called. "We're gonna listen to that Journey album. I figured out where Jack hides it."
"Nah, I gotta go home," Traci answered. "Pam's expecting me to come straight from school today."
"Yeah, I gotta get home, too." Anne shrugged. "See you tomorrow." Bidding their farewells, Meg and Marcy turned in to the driveway while Anne and Traci walked on.
"So, your foster mom is still making you come straight home?"
"Yeah. This time it's 'til my math grades improve." Her shoulders sagged as she rolled her eyes. "I don't know why I signed up for trig. Next year, no more math. Or science. I'll get my AP credits in history and English."
"Want me to come over after I finish my chores? We can do the trig homework together."
"Nah." Traci shook her head, her permed curls bouncing. "It's ok. Pam isn't all that bad. I like her enough. She cares, you know? Jim does, too."
"Still can't call them 'Mom' and 'Dad,' though, huh?" Anne put an arm around her friend's shoulders and squeezed her as they walked.
"No. It doesn't feel right." Knowing she should be more charitable to these kind people who were willing to raise her as their own, she pursed her lips and shrugged. "Not yet."
"Oh, I understand. I still can't call Tom 'Dad,' and Mom's been married to him for two years now. Dad is my dad," she stated with conviction.
"At least you understand. Hey, you know what?" Traci nudged her friend with her shoulder. "Come over after your chores and maybe we can head to the drugstore. If Leanne's got her Tiger Beat, it should be on the shelves. I'll work on my trig as soon as I get home, so that Pam will let me go."
"Sure!" Anne's eyes lit up, and she mumbled, "I hope Mike Larson is working there today."
Traci snorted a laugh. "When are you going to finally go and talk to him?"
"I can't do that!" cried Anne, appalled, coming to a dead stop. She stared at her friend like she had suggested that she throw herself into traffic.
Traci threw her hands up in frustration. "Why not?"
"That's just ridiculous." She shook her head, eyeing her friend with pity. "If you don't, I will."
Anne's jaw dropped, and her mouth twitched soundlessly for a moment. "You wouldn't!"
"Just watch me." Traci held her head high, gazing down her nose at her friend with a supercilious smile. "And then I'll introduce you. Finally get you to talk to him."
"Don't you dare!" Anne groaned.
"Oh, now I have to! You're gonna talk to him, if I have anything to say about it." Traci's emphatic nod was backed by a mischievous sparkle in her eye.
By this time, they had reached Anne's house, and Anne turned to face her friend, hugging herself. She shivered with mixed irritation, appreciation, shyness, and embarrassment. "I don't know if I could. But… oh, I don't know. I've got to go. See you in a couple of hours." She waved and turned to trot up the walkway to her front door.
"Practice what you're going to say to him!" Traci called after her, grinning. She never quite understood why it was so hard for Anne, an otherwise smart and level-headed girl, to talk to boys, and it was so easy to embarrass her about them. But she made sure not to do it too often; she really couldn't risk the friendship of one of the few girls who'd really made her feel welcome when she was a new student in the middle of the fall quarter. She'd just been placed with her new foster family, moving to Pasadena and a new school, and she'd been scared and alone. Anne had made a point of getting to know her, and through Anne, she'd found friends in Meg and Marcy. Over the last half year, they had become an inseparable group, but it was Anne that had helped Traci adjust and cope.
She strolled along, thinking about getting home and dreading her trig homework, when her heavy bag shifted on her back. The strap's seam, which she always tried to remember to have Pam re-stitch, finally gave way. The bag slipped off her shoulder and spilled its contents to the sidewalk, heavy textbooks banging hard against her leg. Letting loose an involuntary, "Ah!" she dropped down to the ground. She knew she wasn't more than bruised, but it had hurt and she clasped her leg.
A few moments later, a shadow crossed over her and an accented male voice asked, "You all right?" A comforting hand touched her shoulder. She looked up into the face of a man squatting down in front her, peering at her in concern.
Traci smiled. "I'm fine. My leg just got bumped, see?" She flexed the leg to show that it moved without any real pain. "I just gotta get my books." Still sitting, she started grabbing the scattered articles into a single pile.
"Oh, that's good, then." The man picked up the book bag and examined the broken strap. "Ah. Fix that right up." He had some kind of foreign accent. Traci hadn't heard many, but she guessed it was British. He stood up and turned his back to her. After she heard a strange buzzing noise persist for a few seconds, he turned back and knelt down again. "Good as new!" He handed the bag back to her.
The end of the strap was now fused to the body of the bag, and she was pretty sure it wouldn't come apart again. "Thanks, mister!" The astonished and delighted look on her face evoked a pleased smile on his.
"Right! Let's get you home then!" He helped her put her things back in the bag and, standing back up, he offered her a hand and pulled her to her feet.
"Thanks a lot, mister! I can manage from here."
"Oh, I'm going your way anyway, and it's a splendid day for a walk." Clasping his hands behind his back, he stood with his feet apart and bowed, indicating with his head that he would walk with her. He continued chatting as they walked. "Not that there are many poor days in Pasadena. Lovely city, this is. How do you like it here?"
The question struck her as a bit odd: she'd been asked that by people who knew she'd just moved to Pasadena, but not by those who assumed she'd lived here all her life. On the other hand, the man seemed a bit odd anyway. He was tall and almost painfully thin, wearing a closely-tailored, crumpled blue pinstripe suit with, of all things, bright red tennis shoes. He had a narrow face that she might have thought handsome if it ever stopped changing for even a second, it was so expressive. Unlike the current fashion of bushy, feathered perms, his hair was short and stuck up on the top of his head. He spoke very quickly, and that, coupled with an accent that sounded like chopped and swallowed Masterpiece Theater, made it difficult for her to understand him. He bubbled with a general enthusiasm similar to her friends' that she had never seen in any other adult.
"Good, I guess," she replied. "I've lived here all my life. Well, in Glendale. I just moved here to Pasadena last year." Traci shrugged. "They're more or less the same."
"Glendale. That's the one with that glorious shopping mall, isn't it? Three stories, lots of little shops, massive food court?" His eyes gleamed with excitement, and Traci, nodding, stared at him in bemusement. She'd never seen a man be enthused about a shopping mall. "Now there's a place you could lose yourself in! But Pasadena's got Caltech. Brilliant scientists there. Best in the world. Spent days just talking to the students. Fascinating research going on. Ever been?"
His conversation was so machine-gunned that Traci was startled when it was turned to her, and she stuttered for a moment. "Um, n-no, not really. I don't think so. We've driven by the campus a few times." Her response was lame to her ears, but she had no idea how keep up a dialogue with this man. "So, um, you like shopping and science?"
"Sure! Well," he drawled, "science especially. Well, that and a lot of other things. I like a little of everything. Or at least I try. Keeps my mind open, my horizons broad. What do you like?"
In speaking with other adults, ones not in her own family, Traci had always felt that they were simply making small talk, but she had the strangest feeling that this man truly cared about what she had to say. He looked at her as they walked - so much so that if he outpaced her (and with his long legs and physical energy, he couldn't help it), he rotated as he walked to keep his eyes on her, even walking backwards in front of her, until he spun back into position beside her - and his eyes shone with eager interest as he listened.
"Oh, I don't know," she said, knowing full well that she was stalling a little. "I like shopping, too. And TV. I'd like to travel. Oh! And reading." Now there was something she liked to do, though she rarely talked about it with her friends. "We're doing A Tale of Two Cities in English class right now, and I love it. I want to read more Dickens when we're done with it."
He broke into a wide grin of approval. "Oh, you do that! I'm a great fan. Good man, he was. A bit stuffy, if you ask me, bossed me around a bit, but very much the explorer, with a fine, sceptical mind." Traci stared at her tall companion in confusion, but he didn't notice. "Definitely read A Christmas Carol. Don't just watch the films."
They arrived at Traci's house and he turned towards her as she stopped at the gate. "This is my house. You're kind of weird, mister."
"Oi!" he exclaimed in mock offense. "You take back that 'kind of'!" he demanded with a grin. "You just say what's on your mind, don't you? Cheeky. Don't ever lose that. And I'm the Doctor, by the way."
"Just the Doctor." He stuck out his hand in greeting and she grasped it.
"Okay, Doctor. I'm Traci."
"Pleasure to meet you, Traci." With his hands clasped behind his back, he bobbed a shallow bow and smiled sunnily. "It was brilliant chatting with you!" He turned and strolled down the street.
She watched him until he turned a corner and disappeared from sight. Then it occurred to her, If he was a doctor, why didn't he check my leg for real? It puzzled her momentarily, though she really hadn't been hurt at all, but he'd been nice enough, and she smiled to herself. Letting herself into the house, she headed up to her room and gave him no more thought.