An ebony grand piano filled the small stage. With a straight backed elegance unexpected in an adolescent, a slim girl of thirteen walked slowly up the short flight of stairs to the stage, reaching to greet the instrument as if it were a sweetly cherished friend. She wore a high bodice black dress that fell just to her knees, wrists protruding stubbornly from the sleeves as if, foal-like, her arms and legs had out grown her body . The chunky-heeled black shoes she wore added to a coltish demeanor. Thick auburn hair fell smoothly well past her waist line, the center marked by a lighter lock of sun bleached hair which had been pulled straight back from her face and gathered with a metal clip at the back of her head.
Struggling a bit with its awkward size, the girl pushed the bench back from the piano, settled herself, and found the peddle with her foot. She touched the keys lightly without striking for sound. Turning, she looked quickly out at the rows of moveable chairs, a wing of hair falling forward across her shoulder as she did. Three women smiled encouragingly at her from about halfway back, but it was the empty seat next to them that drew the girls attention. A slight pucker of her brow marred the smooth, freckled clarity of her face. She closed her liquid brown eyes, drew in a deep breath and arching her back slightly, pushed her slender rib cage forward in resolve. She reached for the keyboard, fingers poised delicately for a moment over the ivory steps before stroking the first haunting notes of Mozarts Fantasia.
Music grew and filled the room as the young pianist moved seamlessly on to a Bach three part invention, and concluded with a Chopin waltz. Even younger members of the audience were captivated as the girl effortlessly, and with touching emotion, found the soul of each composer in her performance. Her slight body moved in pursuit of the melody. When the final notes faded the room trembled with silence. A single set of hands began tentative applause, which rose to a thunderous response. Slowly the pianist stood and with grave dignity walked away from the piano, running her hand down its length as she left the stage. Eyes lowered, no smile acknowledged the audiences enthusiastic response to her performance. She returned to sit with the other students.
Laura stalked into her home ahead of her sister, mother and grandmother, barely pausing to make certain the door did not swing shut and hit her older sister, who followed closely behind her. She stopped short as she looked into the living room where her father was slouched in an armchair watching a television program. Their eyes met briefly before a mask of indifference fell across her face and she continued down a short hall toward the room she shared with Frances, closing the door firmly behind her.
Hi Daddy, Frances tilted her head full of shoulder length reddish-brown ringlets, her gaze challenging her father as she spoke. I wish you could have come to Lauras recital. She played beautifully.
I cant believe you couldnt pull yourself together long enough to be there for your Laura.
Abigail followed Frances into the hall, her voice bright and brittle; a tight smile veiling the couched anger of her words. She was looking for you all through the program, hoping to see that you had arrived. Doesnt matter to her that my mother came all the way from Connecticut to hear her play, or that Frances and I sat through all those awful beginners waiting to hear her. As if we hadnt had enough of that through the years! No, no, Laura just wanted her father there.
Upon entering the house, Anna, the girls grandmother, put an arm around Frances shoulder and drew her into the kitchen. Her soft voice could soon be heard chatting companionably to the teen about the recital and what sort of snack Frances might like.
John Holt, a man drowning in a sea of words, looked up at Abigail Holt.
Abigail was beautiful, even when angry, a spitfire of righteous indignation. Her ominously quiet rant continued for some minutes, concluding finally with, It isnt as if we havent all struggled with what happened, John. But life goes on. Weve all moved on. Youre the only one who cant seem to let go of the past. Get up now, come along. Be civilized and visit with Mother and Frances while I get dinner started.
Grasping her husbands arm Abigail firmly pushed him ahead of her into the kitchen where the other two women were sitting at the table drinking ice water. A plate with crackers and cheese sat untouched in front of them.
Perfect! Thank you Mother! John has had such a head ache since his walk this afternoon, hes been lying low hoping it will clear up. I think a nice cool drink and a little snack will do him a world of good!Abigail breezed blithefully on, as if her berating of her husband minutes earlier had neither occurred nor been over-heard.
Of course! John, Im so sorry youre not feeling well. Anna rose quietly to fill a glass, and setting it in front of her son- in-law, turned somewhat apologetically to Frances. Im just going to go check on your sister, Frances.
Anna walked out of the room that Abigail was now energetically filling with banging pots and slamming cupboard doors. Entering the girls bedroom, Anna closed her eyes as leaned against the door frame with a sigh. Lauras dress was a puddle of silky black in the middle of the floor, partially covering her hastily discarded tights and shoes.
Walking through the room, Anna pulled the curtain aside to look out. A cool breeze blew through the open window. A dog barked monotonously somewhere in the dark.
Laura was nowhere to be found.
It seemed there were just too many wounded people in this family for Anna reach all of them.
The soft dark of evening welcomed Laura as she slid into the cool Los Angeles air. Well aware her parents would probably not approve of her being out alone after dark, her bedroom window was her usual point of access to these adventures. Lauras pulse rate and breathing accelerated. She began to run.
Her worn boys sneakers found their way sure footedly in the dim light of early evening. No one who had seen her playing the piano an hour earlier would have mistaken this leaping runner for the same child. The black dress had been replaced with a nondescript gray tee shirt and cut off jean shorts. She was still at an age where no change of figure had yet betrayed her as more delicate or less able than her male counterpart. Save the long hair swaying against her back as she ran, her wiry form could have belonged to either boy or girl.
There was no trace of discontent in the expression on Lauras face. Any disappointment or hurt over her fathers failure to attend her piano recital had been pushed back in the moment their eyes met, and abandoned on the floor of her room when she slipped out the window. In running, Laura relaxed.
The rhythm of running, the pounding of her feet on the pavement, the fresh air blowing against her cheeks, the pleasant night sounds of crickets and whirring June bugs, filled Lauras senses. In too short a time she found herself at the far end of her usual night time excursions: the runoff tunnels. Slowing to a walk as she drew in deep breaths, Laura slipped in, heading to a shallow shelf in a shadowed alcove where she could sit, out of the debris on the tunnel floor, and just beyond the yellow triangle cast by a street light.
Laura had spent hours exploring these tunnels with her friends during daylight hours; they were as familiar to her as were the streets leading to them. Drawing her knees up to her chin, Laura wrapped her long arms around them. Her hair fell cape-like over her, keeping the slightly musty breeze that blew through the tunnel from chilling her.
As she sat quietly Lauras thoughts wandered unbidden to her father, and with a dull pain, to her brother. Teddy had drowned just over a year earlier. His loss was devastating to the entire family, but more so to Laura and her father, who had been with Teddy in the ocean when he had slipped under the waves and been pulled away from them in an undertow. Both blamed themselves for failing the timid little boy who feared the water.
Laura tried in every possible way to distract her father from his grief but he took no comfort in her companionship or her accomplishments. John Holt had withdrawn into himself. Losing Teddy had been awful. Sometimes it seemed to Laura as if her father had disappeared as well.
The grinding sound of footsteps near the mouth of the tunnel startled Laura; with an imperceptible movement she drew farther back into the shadows. She quietly turned her toes in and pressed back against the rough wall of the tunnel. Dark eyes wide, she looked cautiously in the direction of the noise.
A man clothed in black strode past her, clearly believing himself to be alone in the tunnels. Switching on a flashlight after moving beyond the streetlight-lit entrance, the shadowed figure ducked into the first turn off. In just a few moments the light was extinguished and the man swiftly exited the tunnels. The sound of his soft steps receded, leaving Laura once more alone.
For long moments Laura held her breath, waiting to be certain the man had truly left. Slowly uncurling herself, Laura lowered her feet to the mud covered floor. With careful steps she crept farther into the tunnels, into the turn off where the man had stopped. Her eyes accustomed to the dark, Laura found she could see surprisingly well even this far in.
The thirteen year old stood in the juncture of two corridors of the tunnels turning slowly in search of anything that might have drawn the interest of the tunnels other evening visitor. About three fourths of the way up one wall Laura spotted a dark opening a broken spot in the rough concrete. Stretching her hand toward it, Laura suddenly jumped at the scuffling of some small rodent as it ran past her in the tunnel.
Laura licked her lips nervously, but didnt move from where she stood. Once more she reached toward the hole in the wall. Running her hand over the space Laura found a leather packet. She carefully pulled it past the rough opening, and turned it over as she examined it.
Moving slightly to where a bit more light illuminated the object she held, Laura unfolded the edges to reveal a sparkling necklace, most likely made with diamonds. Under another fold lay some unset gems, a pair of earrings and several gold chains. Laura swallowed several times before cautiously refolding the leather packet, and placing it back into the cubby in which she had found it.
A chill ran down Lauras spine, and shivering, she shoved her hands into her pockets and turned to walk thoughtfully out of the tunnel. Once out under the starry sky Laura scrambled up the slope toward the street. With a loose limbed bravado she chose more than felt, she was soon loping home.
Laura could smell a spicy Mexican dish as soon as she hoisted her small frame up into the open window of her bedroom. Suddenly ravenous, she was also flooded with the realization that leaving the house near dinner time might have been a tactical error.
Her black dress was still puddled on her floor, however, and the dresser drawers from which she had angrily grabbed clothes were ajar. It appeared no one had come to check on her, and that perhaps her departure had gone unnoticed. Laura opened her bedroom door and cautiously peered around its edge.
Soft chords carried down the hallway from the piano. Laura crept towards those sounds. Rarely did anyone other than her touch the instrument. Turning the corner to enter the family room where the battered console stood, Lauras face lit softly to see her grandmother seated at the bench. Anna was thoughtfully searching out a familiar hymn. There were several keys on the piano that tended to stick, giving the music a disjointed sound.
Laura crept up to sit next to Anna, leaning in to rest her head on her grandmothers shoulder.
Humming the melody softly, the older woman played a bit more resonantly. At the end of the verse Lauras grandmother leaned in toward Laura and murmured gently I loved listening to you play this afternoon, Little One. Your music seems to come right out of your heart.
Laura smiled. You were my first teacher, Grandma. YOU talked Mother into finding me a piano and a teacher here in California.
Your mother hated practicing so much! It was clear to me that what had been a burden for her as a child was a joy for you. It just took a little convincing before she saw that too. Anna stopped playing and turned to take Lauras small hands in her own.
I told your mother you were asleep earlier, Laura. She wasnt very happy about your missing dinner. Anna searched Lauras face. I took a bit of a risk, and assumed you would be back as soon as youd had a little time to yourself.
Sheepishly Laura raised her brown eyes to meet her grandmothers faded gray-blue.
Thank you. Laura lifted her hands, helpless to explain. I just needed to run for awhile.
I find it relaxing to be outdoors and moving too. Anna seemed to understand her granddaughter without requiring a lot of words. It would be better in the future, though, if you told someone you were going out Frances or your father, if not your mother.
Was mother very angry?
With your father, not you, Anna sighed softly. There was a brief silence before she continued. Everyone deals with loss differently, Laura. Your mother just wants everything to be as normal as possible, so that you and Frances can go on with your lives. She cant quite convince your father to play that game with her. His sadness over losing Teddy is so big he cant seem to see anything else.
Laura rolled her eyes. Shes angry, Daddys sad, and Frances is her usual perfectly well-behaved self.
And where does that leave you, Little One? Anna smiled and gently cradled Lauras pretty freckled face between her hands.
By myself. Laura said matter-of-factly. Trying to stay out of everyone elses way.
Shall we join the others in the kitchen? I think your mother kept a plate for you.
At that moment a deep voice penetrated the shadows. Laura, would you play your pieces for me now?
Laura and Anna looked up to see Lauras father approaching from the kitchen. Im sorry I missed hearing you perform earlier. Your mother and sister tell me you were the star of the recital.
Laura glanced at her grandmother who nodded encouragingly. Im just one of the oldest, Daddy. Besides, youve heard everything I play already.
Perhaps. But not all together, and not tonight. Id like to sit here in this chair, and close my eyes, and imagine were in Carnegie Hall, and youre up on stage with a spot light on you, playing your beautiful music for people who really understand how talented you are. John Holt spoke quietly, pleading for forgiveness with his words.
Ill go see about heating up your dinner, Laura. Play. Lauras grandmother rose, and placed her hands firmly on Lauras shoulders before leaving father and daughter alone.
Once again the small musician squared her shoulders, straightened her back, and lovingly touched the keys of the piano without making a sound. Taking a deep breath, and throwing her chest out, she began Fantasia.
Music filled the house as John Holt walked slowly through the dark room to ease into a chair; he closed his eyes and did not move, even when his daughter had finished playing and turned to look expectantly at him.
Laura walked around the white picket fence framing the house next door. Roses twined over the fence, blooming prolifically in the California sunshine. A golden retriever loped along the path its feet had worn inside the fence, greeting Laura at the gate with a tail wagging smile.
Abigail, Anna and Frances were shopping - not an activity Laura ever willingly chose to participate in. Her father was out on one of his undefined errands, though he had actually offered that he would not be back until evening. Laura wanted companionship, so the Johanssons were a likely source.
There were six Johansson children. Mary Beth was the closest in age to Laura. She had been a ready friend and a willing partner on bike rides and trips to the park in the year since she had moved in next door to the Holts. The run off tunnels were Lauras goal this day.
Mrs. Johansson opened the door to Lauras knock. The dog waited expectantly next to Laura on the step.
Hello, Laura! How are you today? Mrs. Johansson voice was kind, her eyes on Laura as she spoke. Come in, were making cookies.
Laura was shepherded to the kitchen, Mrs. Johanssons arm around her thin shoulders. Several of the Johanssons were occupied with baking. The oldest boy pushed a chair out for Laura with his foot and smiling around a mouthful of warm chocolate chip cookie, motioned for her to be seated.
Eric! Mrs. Johansson remonstrated gently, Is that how you welcome a young lady?!
Eric stood up and bowed slightly to Laura, and with a slight flourish that managed to be sincere asked, Wont you please have a seat, Miss Holt? Hows Frances?
Laura smiled at Eric as she slid into the chair, and answered shyly, Shes fine.
The dog, Maggie, roamed hopefully from one family member to another, finally settling on a rug under the table.
Several cookies soon lay in front of Laura on a napkin. As Mrs. Johansson sent her youngest in search of Mary Beth, an animated conversation about the likelihood of space travel ala Lost In Space swirled around Laura. It was the kind of exchange of ideas never heard at the Holt household, where most opinions were emphatically declared by Lauras mother and where deviation from those views resulted in disbelief and discord rather than discussion.
David, the Johansson brother a year older than Laura and Mary Beth, wandered into the kitchen. He stopped short at the sight of Laura, and assuming a look of studied indifference jumped up to sit on the countertop. From his vantage point he could watch everyone else unobserved. For a while after the Johanssons move David had hung out with Mary Beth and Laura, but he had eventually begun spending more time with his male peers.
Mary Beth finally arrived in the kitchen, pulled by one arm by her little sister, who was anxious to return to the activity there.
The curly haired little blond planted herself in front of Laura. Did you taste the cookies yet? Arent they GOOD?
No one could resist the childs winsome question, certainly not Laura, and she pulled Michelle close and hugged her. Looking at the little girl speculatively, Laura said, Michelle, did you help make these cookies?
I did theyre really good, arent they? The little girl was delighted with her contribution. I broked the eggs and measured the chocolate chips!
Helped break, Mrs. Johansson corrected, tapping Michelles nose with a flour-covered finger.
Michelle, how would you like to help clean out the fish tank? Eric asked, making fish faces as he snatched her up and positioned her over his shoulder. I could use someone fast to scoop them all out!
Laura couldnt help but laugh as Eric swung the squealing child around as they left the kitchen. The Johanssons seemed to thoroughly enjoy one anothers company. Scott and Diane, the children between Michelle and Mary Beth in age, were busy removing cookies from the hot cookie sheets, stacking and counting the cookies before putting them in a plastic storage box. Mrs. Johansson guided while laughing at their antics.
Laura watched a little wistfully and then, suddenly somehow anxious to be outdoors, turned to Mary Beth and asked, Want to go for a bike ride? Laura wanted to check on the packet shed seen left in the runoff tunnel last night, but she chose to focus on the means of movement rather than the destination. Going to the tunnels fell into the same category for Laura as going out after dark. A parent couldnt say no to what they knew nothing about.
Sure! Ready to leave all the crazy behind? Mary Beth winked at Laura.
Despite all the cacophony in the kitchen, Mrs. Johansson listened with greater acuity than Laura was accustomed to from her own mother. Glancing inquisitively at Laura and Mary Beth she asked, Where do you think youll go, girls?
Well stay in the big circle, Mom. Mary Beth assured her quickly. Never more than half a mile from home!
Ill go, too, David added casually.
Laura looked up in surprise. Mary Beth looked annoyed. Dont you have a baseball game to go to or something?
Nope. David slid down off the counter to grab a handful of cookies.
Be careful and make sure youre back in time for dinner! Mrs. Johansson called out cheerfully. Laura, wed love to have you join us.
Thank you, Mrs. Johansson, but my Grandmother is visiting from Connecticut. Shes shopping with my mother and sister now, but theyll expect me home for dinner. Laura answered politely.
The children were quickly out the door and blinking in the bright California sunshine.
Since when do you hang out with us? Mary Beth asked David. Thought youd rather be with the guys.
Davids blushed slightly as he looked first at Laura, and then down at this shoes. Comon; we hang out together all the time, Mary Beth.
Mary Beth saw Davids blush as he glanced at Laura, and suddenly grinned. Here was ammunition to save for some appropriate moment! David liked Laura weird!
Laura looked thoughtfully at David, realizing only that three might be safer than two. I saw someone in the tunnels last night. I want to go back to see something he left there. Will you both come with me?
Brother and sister looked at one another, and then at Laura, and shrugged. Sure, O.K. they answered at the same time.
Three bikes were soon spinning down the street toward the runoff tunnels.
The cool dampness of the tunnels was a welcome change from the press of an unusually hot fall afternoon. Laura, Mary Beth and David tucked their bikes into a clump of bushes and slid down the concrete spillway into the man-made wilderness of the tunnels. The Johanssons had been here with Laura before; she had led them on forays into this world below Los Angeles.
The two watched wide-eyed as Laura pulled the leather packet from the dark hole in the wall.
All the times weve been in here, I never noticed the hole there! David felt around the opening to confirm that the packet Laura held was the only item secreted there.
A man came in last night, just after dark, tucked this in here and left. He knew this hole was here. Laura spoke in hushed tones befitting a mystery.
What were you doing here after dark, Laura? Mary Beth asked. It would never occur to her to be out of her yard after dark, much less down here, alone at night. Werent you scared?
I come here sometimes just to think Ive never been scared. Laura glanced at the Johanssons uncertainly. Last night was the first time Ive seen anyone else in here.
Whats wrapped up the packet? David asked, rescuing Laura from explaining her nighttime runs. He had witnessed Lauras somewhat unorthodox departures from her window on several occasions.
These excursions intrigued David enough that he had considered following Laura, but he was sure someone would notice if he went out after dark. His mother, in particular, had a sixth sense about where each of the Johansson children were and what they were doing.
Where Laura went by herself at night had not as puzzling to David as the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Holt seemed not to miss her.
Laura held the sparkling items out for her friends to look at. Do you think theyre real?
David picked up one of the loose stones and held it up to the light filtering in from the tunnels mouth. He shrugged, I guess so. Why would anyone hide something that wasnt? The real question is why.
And what should we do with them?
Lauras words fell heavily between the three. They looked at one another. Laura licked her lips nervously. The problem seemed agonizingly clear to each of the three. Anyone they showed the items to was going to want to know where the jewelry had been found. And just what the three had been doing in the tunnels. And then make clear why they should never go back there again.
The growl of engines buzzed gratingly outside the tunnels. Laura, Mary Beth and David turned to see a number of motocross bikes zooming up and down the steep sides of the spillway. The roar of the bikes was punctuated by whoops and hollers from their teenaged riders, who were moving closer to the mouth of the tunnels as they raced. Wordlessly, the three younger children moved farther back into the shadows.
Laura began to refold the jewelry into its leather packet, taking the loose stone from David to add it to the grouping.
The bikers skidded to a noisy stop. Pushing and shoving one another roughly, loud voiced and laughing, they entered the tunnels. Just as Laura stretched to put the packet back, there was a flare of light and several of the young men lit cigarettes just a few feet away from her.
David protectively pushed both girls ahead of him, deeper into the dark. Mary Beth backed as flat against the wall as possible, much as Laura had the night before. Placing a steadying hand on her friend, Laura waited, listening. The raucous group did not seem interested in moving past the shade of the entrance.
Pointing at the leather packet, and then back at the bikers, David looked a question at Laura. With a slight shrug of her shoulders she shook her head no, and after waiting an agonizing few minutes Laura gestured toward the dark corridor beyond them.
Finding their path by way of the dim light floating down from the occasional grate above them, the children began creeping as silently as possible further into the tunnel. They might have successfully escaped the notice of the bikers had the tunnels more native occupants not chosen to traverse the same pathway they were on. Suddenly half a dozen rats ran frenetically over their feet. Mary Beth shrieked, and kicked aimlessly at the rapidly departing rodents.
Whos in here? Called a belligerent voice from the group they had behind them. There were grunts and laughter as the older teens briefly argued over giving chase.
Laura and her friends flew on into the dark corridors, no longer worrying about the noise they made, racing through a series of turns and rises that brought them to a dead end and a series of damp metal handles set into the concrete wall. Scaling these swiftly Laura began to push on the metal grate above her, unable to budge it with her own strength.
David followed Laura up the ladder, his arms on either side of her, not too frightened to enjoy both the opportunity to provide Laura with help, as well the pleasant feeling of closeness to Lauras thick, fragrant hair.
Mary Beth whimpered below them. Hurry! Theyre coming!
With both David and Laura straining at the grate they were able to push it up enough to slide it across the surface into which it was set. Laura scrambled out, and reached down to grasp Mary Beths arms as David quickly boosted his sister from below. Both girls reached back to help pull David out.
Turning and searching the area a bit frantically Laura ran to grab an abandoned street sign which she wedged deftly between the curb and the grate that Mary Beth and David had already slid into place. All three backed away with relief, just as their laughing pursuers reached the blocked grate.
Not stopping to decide if they were really at any risk from their teenaged pursuers, Laura, Mary Beth and David raced back to where they had left their bikes. Jumping on, they pumped furiously around a corner and had moved beyond sight of the tunnels before the bikers had returned to the spillway. As the trio peddled home they began laughing, relief fueling their exhilaration.
Laura and her friends reached the Holt front yard, and throwing their bikes off to one side, collapsed on the lawn. Breathing took priority for a time over talking. The Johanssons dog Maggie barked companionably from the Johanssons side of the fence, the children beyond her insistent attention.
David finally raised himself up on one elbow, to look at Laura appraisingly.
What happened to the packet of stuff, Laura?
Laura got up and walked to the fence, reaching over to fondle Maggies ears. Maggie quieted, satisfied that her presence had been acknowledged. Laura turned to slide down the fence slats and sit where Maggie could reach through with her tongue to lick Lauras face. With a grin, she reached beneath her shirt to pull the folded leather from the waistband of her shorts.
I brought it with me.
The quiet of the afternoon was shattered as a group of motocross bikes sped noisily down the street at the end of the block where the Holts and the Johanssons lived.
Leaning over the edge of her bed to pull the leather packet from between the mattress and box spring, Lauras hair brushed the floor as she hung upside down. She sat up, but didnt unfold the packet. She didnt really need to look at the items again. She had looked at them a hundred times in the three days since she and the Johanssons had raced out of the tunnels.
Laura had seen her friends only briefly at school. After school she had been busy with piano, Mary Beth a school project, and David baseball. Mary Beth had shrugged once from across the lunch room, and then shaken her head no. David had waved at her in the hall as he laughed with a group of his buddies.
It seemed none of them had come up with any ideas on what to do with the packet of jewelry.
Bending to once more tuck the folder back into its hiding place, Laura rolled off her bed and stepped to the window. As Laura stood musing absently Maggie raced to the far corner of the Johanssons yard, where the dog remained statue still, whining pitifully.
Lauras focus sharpened suddenly as she saw David approaching the house with dragging steps. Davids clothes were torn and muddy. When he opened the gate Maggie met him and without a sound pushed her head under his hand, pressing close against his side. David turned and looked up at Lauras window for a moment. Laura gasped. Davids nose and lip were bloody and he was clearly developing a heck of a shiner.
The evening dragged on interminably.
Laura paced and for a short while watched television with her father. She sat at the piano forming endless minor chords, muttering when the high C and E flat stuck and lingered on when the other notes ended.
Laura, what is the matter with you!? Abigails concentration on the jigsaw puzzle she and her mother were working on was broken by Lauras fretfulness. Cant you settle on some quiet activity? Look at your sister. Shes been sitting in the kitchen doing homework all evening, not making a sound.
Sorry, Mother, Laura mumbled, glancing into the kitchen to see that her sister was standing and talking on the phone, curling the cord around one finger.
As she hung up, Frances motioned urgently for Laura to join her in the kitchen.
I just called Eric to ask him a question about our trig homework, and he said some boys beat David up at the ball fields today. David asked Eric to tell you that hes O.K. hell talk to you at school tomorrow. Frances pulled Laura to the table to sit across from her. Laura, what do you know about this?
Nothing really, Laura said miserably. I was looking out my window and saw David come home.
And thats all? Frances looked dubious. Why did David think you might be worried about him?
Laura shrugged. I dont know, Frances. Im going to bed. I think Im coming down with something. Before Laura could escape Frances questions Anna had joined them in the kitchen.
Laura, would come out for a walk with me? I could use some fresh air before going to sleep. Anna firmly took Lauras arm under hers, and began moving toward the door before Frances, John or Abigail could suggest a reason why the oldest and youngest members of the family shouldnt be out walking at nine oclock at night.
As her grandmother guided her out the front door, there was a soft woof and Maggie bounded across the Johanssons yard to greet them. Laura was startled to see a police officer standing at their neighbors front door, shaking Mr. Johanssons hand. The men looked over at Laura and her grandmother, Mr. Johansson waved slightly. The officer walked down the walk as Maggie bounded cheerfully around him. After carefully closing the Johanssons gate the man walked toward the Holt house.
Maam, he offered, touching the bill of his cap to Anna before asking, Are you Mrs. Holt and Laura?
Anna answered for them, This is Laura. Im her grandmother. Her mother is inside if you want to speak to her.
If its alright with you, you can relay a message. Turning to Laura the officer asked, Have you heard that some boys gave your friend David a pretty rough time today?
Lauras reply was only a nod of her head.
David didnt know the boys who hurt him, or seem to have any idea why anyone would bother him. The officer looked hard at Laura. The Johanssons are going to be keeping David and his sister Mary Beth a little closer to home for awhile. David wanted me to be sure your parents did the same thing. I was on my way to talk to them when I saw you coming out. Now maybe you have a really good friend who is worried about you, and maybe theres a good reason he should be worried. I hear your family has already had more than its share of sadness. I would really hate for your parents to go through any more difficulties, wouldnt you?
Lauras eyes began to burn at the officers words. Anna pulled the child close to her.
Thank you, Officer Barker? Anna read his name off his badge. Ill be sure to tell my daughter to keep a close watch on Laura.
The man turned and would have walked back to his car, but Laura abruptly stepped forward and grabbed his arm.
Wait. Laura swallowed repeatedly and licked her lips. A traitorous tear trickled down her cheeks, though her voice remained calm. I might know why David got hurt. It might be my fault.
The officer raised an eyebrow as he stood contemplating the girl, Well. Would you care to explain?
Could you wait here? I want to give you something. Laura darted into her house, and was back in seconds with the leather packet. Take it please!
Carefully unfolding the leather, the officer whistled as the gold and diamond necklace sparkled under the street light.
Abigail Holt came bursting out of the house at that moment, singing out, Laura Holt, I do not want you
She stopped short at the sight of the officer, and began again, a bit more intensely, Laura, what have you gotten into?
Mrs. Holt? Im Officer Barker. Your daughter was just about to tell me how she came to posses what appears to be some very valuable jewelry.
JOHN! Abigail shrieked loud enough for her husband to hear from inside the house. I need you out here RIGHT NOW!
Maggie, apparently responding to Abigails anxiety, raised her muzzle to the sky in a mournful howl that spiraled up repeatedly into the silence of the night.
Stricken, Laura turned to see several of the Johanssons pull back their curtains to peer out. The Johanssons front door opened and Mrs. Johanssons soft voice called Maggie! and the dog ambled cooperatively up the walk. Maggies wagging tail disappeared behind the gently closed door.
Laura dropped her head as her tears rolled freely down her cheeks.
Walking in to the family room Laura sat at her beloved worn piano, and after warming up with some finger exercises, moved on to some familiar pieces. Eventually she lost herself in the pursuit of a new Chopin. Laura pulled the sticky keys up with the side of her finger as she played, so quickly only someone really observant would see what she was doing.
Anna watched the child for some time, before walking into the room and sitting near her. She didnt speak until Laura finally stopped playing.
Youre making fine progress, Laura, especially managing with the difficulties that piano presents. Shall I ask your mother about having a tuner come look at those keys?
Laura turned, not realizing as she focused on her music that her grandmother was in the room. She sighed and contemplated the yellowed ivory keys.
Theyre not a problem, Grandmother. Im used to them.
Anna smiled and reached out to Laura.
Her brows drawn together in a frown, Laura dropped to the floor near her grandmother, and leaned her chin against Annas knee. Anna stroked Lauras hair, gently smoothing it back from her face.
Laura, I know it seems unfair that youre not allowed outside for awhile, but your mother is really just looking out for you. The police are still hoping to find the man who left the jewelry in the runoff tunnels, but until they do, we dont want you taking any chances by hanging out there.
I know. I just miss being free. Laura smiled briefly. Maybe I wouldnt have ever gone back there anyway. Im sorry I dragged David and Mary Beth into the whole thing, and really sorry that David got hurt.
I know you are. No one ever wants the people they care about to be hurt. It just happens sometimes. Anna put her finger under Lauras chin and smiled at her. Im going to miss you when I go home. You make life so much more interesting, Little One.
Im going to miss you more, Grandma. Its going to be really hard to be stuck here at home with just Frances and mother and father. Laura looked wistful. I miss Teddy more than I would have ever imagined. Things are never going to feel normal for us ever again.
No, things will never be the same, but youll find a new kind of normal. Youll see. Anna reached for Lauras hand. Come on. Lets play something together on that old piano of yours. Really shake things up around here.
As they began to play, Laura pulled at the sticking keys, laughing at the odd sounds the music made when notes lingered on into a new chord. Annas eyes narrowed momentarily before a beaming smile lit her face. She looked at the space the battered old console piano filled in the Holt family room and then appraisingly at the rest of the furniture in the room.
Laura, I have just had the most wonderful idea. When I get home Im going to send you a friend to keep you company in captivity.
Maggie barked and ran back and forth in excitement as a large truck bearing the slogan Piano Movers Extraordinaire pulled up in front of the Holt home. Three husky men began unloading a beautiful, ebony baby grand piano.