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Girl with Pencil Drawing

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Annie's House Guest

We trudged along the busy street, blinking away the tears born of the frigid wind. My mind ground away in maximum overdrive sifting through various arguments I would use to convince my aunt that this new-found friend at my side should come to stay with us. At least until she escaped from the trouble she was in. After all, this person was my art instructor and a superior one, at that. If I were to develop my talent, I needed to protect her. I needed to work all this out right now and then I’d call my aunt. I was always good at giving myself pep talks. Would Aunt J agree?

“Look, Annie, I’m going to try to get a room somewhere. I don’t feel right just barging in on you and your aunt like this.” Francesca broke the silence of our three block walk from St Pat’s. Hands jammed into her parka, head bent to the wind, she stopped suddenly.

“I’ve got to go back for my stuff. I don’t even have the phone number of a friend to call.”

Derailed from my train of thought, I was shocked by her change of heart.

“How can you even think of going back there?” I gasped.

I didn’t know whether I felt more hurt that she didn’t think I was a friend she could call, or just stunned that she could go back there to face a man who obviously had an attitude of big dimensions where she was concerned. I felt my face go red as she backed away from me, determination jutting from her small jaw.

“Annie, if I’m going to move out of DiCristiani’s, I’ve got to get my belongings. I just can’t leave everything there.”

Logic kicked in. What could I do? I couldn’t hold her prisoner. I’d forgotten my Junior Crime Solvers’ handcuffs.

“Okay, Francesca.” I felt my shoulders droop with the realization that she was a stranger and that this is a free country. A little person inside me whistled a sigh of relief. Aunt J might have been a hard sell on this one and now I wouldn’t have to tangle with her.

Francesca wheeled on the toes of her sturdy work boots and began to dodge through the crowd on 47th Street. I watched her go, anxiety finally overcoming relief.

“Wait, Francesca!” I yelled, running after her. I tripped over the legs of a dozing homeless man who was sitting in a doorway. His container of coins and bills scattered all over. “Oops, sorry,” I shouted over my shoulder.

The guy woke up, saw what happened and started after me. I wanted to help him pick up the coins, but I had to get to Francesca. At least I hadn’t stepped on his lunch. I ran after her, trying to put some distance between me and the homeless man who was shouting all kinds of nasty things at me.

After I had gone a few yards I felt something hit my back. On God, I muttered, “What was that? I turned half expecting to see the homeless guy with another object, ready to throw at me. Instead I saw the remains of his cup of cold chili that had broken and erupted down the back of my jacket. I suppose I should have been grateful. It’s only chili.

Up ahead, Francesca was stuck at a crosswalk, traffic badly snarled. A traffic cop in the middle of it held up her hand and whistled for the traffic coming from Francesca’s direction to stop. She was forced to wait, allowing me time to catch up to her. As I grabbed her arm from behind, she attempted to give me a karate kick, stopping in mid-air when she recognized me.

“It’s no use, Annie. I’ve got to take care of some stuff. I’ll call you.” She shrugged away from me.

“You don’t have my number,” I reminded her.

“I’ll get it from the art gallery files,” she countered.

“Are you going to ask DiCristiani to look it up for you before or after he beats you up?” I asked sarcastically.

“I’m not stupid, Annie,” she shot back, losing a little of her spunk in light of what DiCristiani could do to her.

“Let me give you my number now,” I said, seizing the opportunity to stall for time to think. As I wrote down my home number, J’s work number, and my address, inspiration finally caught fire.

“Do what you have to do. But, if you don’t call me by four today, I’m calling in some heavy duty reinforcements. I’ll ask my aunt to put a trace on you. It won’t be official, because it takes forty-eight hours to file a missing persons report. But, she’ll pull strings.” I crossed my fingers behind my back.

Francesca’s shoulders sagged. “I can’t afford to have cops in on this. DiCristiani can get me into deep trouble.” She looked off into the distance, chewing her lip, her steamy breath wisping away in the breeze. When she looked back, she seemed to have made up her mind about something. The soft Madonna-like face was set, hard and dark, like the frozen slush piles on the side-walk.

“I’m going to take care of business,” she said quietly, “and then, I’ll call.”

“I want your phone number too, just in case.” I pushed.

“No! You’ll have to trust me. I can’t get anyone else involved in this. Look, I’m sorry I asked you to help. You did, and now it’s over for you. I’ll take care of the rest.”

Giving up, I took off for home, weaving and dodging through the crowds in the street, feeling snow drift down the neck of my jacket.

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