Bootlegacy by Rachel Astor

Annie thought she’d come up with the plan. All my life Annie was the brave one, the one who took risks, the one in the spotlight. I was the good girl. Everybody knew it, and probably wondered why I spent so much time with a girl like that, but after years of reading in my father’s library—especially the books I wasn’t supposed to—I’d come to the conclusion that being the good girl meant you were also the boring girl. The girl who had no fun. The girl who ended up alone.
Bootlegacy by Rachel Astor
If I could just get my stupid heart to stop pounding, and my stupid brain to stop trying to convince my body to stay exactly where it was, my plan might actually work, and I would stop being that boring girl. My parents had never come to check on me at night, but I piled the bed with pillows anyway, sticking the hair of a doll out the top of the blankets to make it look like I was sleeping soundly, instead of what I was really doing. I took a few deep breaths for courage and leaned slightly out the window, then quickly crouched back inside, squeezing my eyes shut, scolding myself for being me. “For Pete’s sake Sadie, stop being such a scaredy cat and get your caboose out here already,” said a voice from the darkness, nearly causing my already overworked heart to explode. It only took a second to realize it was just Annie standing outside, but she sure wasn’t doing anything to help my nerve. “You know,” Annie said, as I peeked out, “you may as well just hurry up. If your parents catch you crouching like a cornered rat and see the body-shaped pile of pillows I just know you’ve got on your bed, you’ll be done for.” I stuck my head out the window and tried to glare. “I do not have a pile of pillows.” “Liar,” she said with a smirk and grabbed for my arm. “Come on already,” she tugged gently. I wanted so badly to rush back to the door and listen one more time, especially after all the ruckus, but Annie would think I was the biggest wet blanket in the history of the world. One more deep breath and I hoisted both legs carefully over the windowsill—one cannot be too careful in the new short skirts—and leapt to my freedom. Sure, it was only the backyard where I’d spent my whole life, but for some reason it felt different. I stood for a moment watching, waiting for a light to flick on at any moment, but none did. It really was a perfect house, just right for the perfect family. I lost my nerve and turned back. But Annie pulled on my arm so hard I nearly toppled off my new heels. The lady at the store said the ‘innovative style’ was perfect for dancing, which seemed exciting at the time, but now I wondered if I even knew how to dance at all. “Come on,” Annie urged, giving me another good tug. I stumbled my way through what should have been an easy escape, but even your own yard can be dangerous when you’re in heels and being dragged by your overzealous best friend. Once we were safely a block or so away, she finally let go. “Geez Annie, you don’t have to drag me.” “Yeah right.” “So where’re we going again? Is it really so important you have to force me out in the middle of the night?” I’d become very good at making her think all the good ideas were hers. “Yes,” she said, looking at me like I was from the moon or something. “How else are we supposed to have any fun around here? I mean, it’s not like we can meet guys anywhere else.” “I know,” I sighed. “Those girls in the little towns have it made. Imagine being able to go to the same school as boys,” I said. Annie just rolled her eyes at me like she always did. “I think we can do a lot better for ourselves than some silly school boys.” I couldn’t help notice her walk seemed a little lighter as she said it, like she really believed it. I, however, knew better. “What would a stupid girl have to offer an older gentleman anyway?” “Are you crazy Sadie? All men want a younger woman. Don’t you ever read the New York papers? The most popular stories are the ones about the creepy old men dating girls young enough to be their daughters. So scandalous!” Her eyes glinted devilishly in the moonlight. “Creepy old men? That’s who we’re going to meet? Creepy old men!” I hoped the screech of my voice conveyed just how utterly displeased I was. “Oh for crying out loud Sadie, we’re not going to settle for old men. I’m just saying it happens.” “So what are we doing then?” “We’re having fun for once in our lives.” She spun around, flinging her arms in the air. Even I had to admit her excitement was contagious and I found myself picking up the pace as we cleared the outskirts of our neighborhood and continued downtown. “So, where did you hear about this place, anyway?” “Gabby told me about it. It’s called The Roxy and it’s supposed to be modeled after someplace in New York City.” “Don’t you think she’ll be mad her little sister is crashing her party?” “No,” she said, though I sensed hesitation. “Annie…” “Okay, okay. She’s not going to be there tonight. She’s going to some other place across town with her friends.” “Still, what if we get in trouble?” “How could we possibly get in trouble? They’ll either let us in or they won’t. Now come here and let me fix your outfit.” “But what if someone sees us?” I said, but she wasn’t paying attention to my words anymore, she was too busy trying to hike up my skirt, making it even shorter. “What are you doing?” “I’m making sure we get in. Now show off those gams,” she said with a wink. I noticed her skirt was much higher than usual too, hiked up and secured at her waist with a belt. “Annie!” I blinked several times. Apparently I’d been more worried about getting caught than I thought. I can’t believe I hadn’t noticed. It was positively scandalous. “Annie, you can not go in public looking like that!” She giggled. “I know, isn’t it marvelous!” She spun again and this time I truly worried about what I might see. “Annie! What has gotten into you?” “Relax Sadie. Gabby goes out like this all the time.” “There’s no way your mother lets her go out like that!” She tilted her head. “Oh please. My mother goes out like this too.” My face heated at the thought. Had the whole world had gone crazy? Surely grown women did not really go outside with their skirts inches above their knee, did they? Of course Annie’s mom was a single lady, her father having run off years ago. “Oh close your mouth,” Annie said, her exuberance dropping down a notch. “Not everyone in the world is as perfectly proper as you, you know.” She started walking again, faster this time. “Annie, wait up! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it,” I said, and tucked my skirt up under my belt another inch. “See?” Annie looked back and gave me a wink, grinning. Thank goodness her cloudy moods passed quickly. I’d die if I’d hurt her feelings badly. Annie was the center of my universe. Not that my universe was very big mind you, but she was my only source of fun and freedom in the whole world. Without her, I might wilt from boredom. Thank goodness my mother only knew half of the scandals in the Rutherford household. She already wasn’t happy with me hanging out with ‘a girl like that.’ The wind calmed as we neared our destination, holding its breath for us. Annie grabbed my hand. “Okay, here we go. Now act like you’re older okay?” She looked up at the sky. “What am I saying? You’re the most innocent girl on the planet. There is no way we’re going to pull this off.” “Hey,” I said giving her a little swat. “I am not.” She flashed her famous grin. “I know what you need.” She fished around in her tiny purse and pulled out a tube of lipstick. “No, Annie, I could never get away with your shade.” Annie was famous around school for her ruby red lips. Imagine wearing it during the day! Thank goodness she had the good sense not to put it on around my mother. “Honey, this shade was made for you, now hold still.” I held still. Very still. Not just because she told me to, but out of sheer fear of looking like a clown. That shade of lipstick was not the kind of thing that easily wiped off if it got smeared. So I held still all right, like a statue. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity—perhaps because I was too afraid to even breathe with the blood red tube near me—Annie snapped the cap back on and stepped back to admire her handiwork. She actually gasped. “Oh my goodness Sadie, you look five years older.” “Oh please,” I said, tentatively pressing my lips together. But she actually looked sincere for once. “No really, you’re beautiful,” she said, almost in a whisper. “Oh come on Annie,” I said, ducking away from her gaze, pretending to straighten my dress. I got a little nervous when she started fishing in her purse again—goodness knows what else she might have in there—but only pressed powder emerged. She didn’t even want me to put it on, she’d pulled it out for the tiny mirror inside. “Here, see for yourself.” She held it close to my face, and what I saw amazed me. I couldn’t believe how much one tiny thing could change a person. How very wrong I’d been when I said I could never wear this shade. I thought with my shockingly pale skin and light hair I’d end up looking like I belonged in a circus, but what I’d thought was my big, fat, worst feature, suddenly became the thing that made me beautiful. And Annie was right, I most definitely looked older. “See, I told you,” Annie said, snapping the case shut and throwing it back in her purse. “I think we actually have a shot at getting in. Let’s go!” She grabbed my hand and started jogging. Butterflies formed in my stomach at the thought of sneaking into a speakeasy. A week ago I hadn’t even known such places existed, I mean, I’d heard the term whispered of course, but I never knew what they really were. Imagine, a place that actually sold liquor. It had been ages since it had been outlawed, and apparently the places not only had liquor, but also dancing and other entertainment. I tried to picture what it would be like. My mind would only let me see a dirty, run-down old warehouse with creatures scurrying everywhere and rag-a-muffin gentlemen—though they could hardly be called gentlemen in my mind—slumped over in the corners. But the way people spoke about them, speakeasies were the classiest joints, with allure such as the world—or at least this corner of it—had never seen. We walked up to an old building. “This can’t be it, can it?” Annie checked her paper again. “Yeah, I think it’s the one.” My shoulders slumped. “I knew it,” I said, seeing only peeling paint and cracks in the wood. “Just give it a chance will ya?” Annie said. “I am so sick of your snobbishness.” My mouth gaped at her rudeness, though I admit, I did close it quickly in case random germs floated around, just waiting to make me sick. Judging from the smell, it was quite likely. I braced myself as Annie knocked on the door and spoke quietly to the eyes that appeared behind a tiny, latched opening. The door groaned open and we stepped inside. And all my tiny, sheltered ideas were ripped wide open. Light shone from every corner of the room, reflecting off gilded mirrors and jewels adorning young people in the highest fashion, all sparkles, feathers and fans. On stage, girls in scandalously tiny outfits danced to upbeat jazz, using long, fluffy boas as props. Other girls, with faces painted like dolls, sold their cigars and cigarettes to handsomely dressed gentlemen. Dozens of couples spun in the center of it all. Ritz and glitz and glamour oozed from every inch of the joint. And I had fallen in love. CHAPTER 2 Annie grabbed my hand and squeezed. “See? What did I tell you?” “Say,” the man who’d opened the door spoke from beside me. “How old did you dames say you were?” He glanced at us in a way that probably should have made me uneasy, but in this place, nothing could bring me down. And even though a good number of the people there would be considered strange in my world, I still felt safe. “We’re twenty-two of course, sir,” Annie lied with a coy smile. “Well enjoy yourselves then ladies,” he said, tipping of his hat. “It’s jumpin’ in here tonight.” We nodded our thanks to the man and pressed further into the crowd. I, for one, did not want to risk anyone asking any more questions. While Annie seemed to come by it honestly—or dishonestly, I suppose—lying was not my strong suit. The usual paleness I carried turned an unflattering scarlet at the very thought of telling a lie. Thank goodness I had still been in shock, admiring the atmosphere, when Annie answered. If I had been paying closer attention, I’d have given us away for sure. We navigated the crowd, shuffling toward the back wall, which suited me just fine since even though I relished in the atmosphere, I definitely didn’t want to make any wrong moves or embarrass myself by doing something out of the ordinary. I did not want to jeopardize my chances of getting back into this place. But what happened when we reached the back corner shocked me to my very core. A young couple were kissing, right there by the dance floor where anybody could see. The nerve! Annie giggled and dragged me closer to the action. “C’mon, I want to see,” she said. “Annie, what do you think you’re doing? It’s sinful.” She rolled her eyes. “Oh for Pete’s sake Sadie, get into the decade already! People go out necking all the time.” “Not decent people,” I said, my eyes wide at the thought. “You realize you sound like your mother, don’t you?” she said. “Boy do you have a thing or two to learn about the way of the world.” We were so close to the couple now that they had stopped what they were doing and were looking at us. The gentleman, if he could be called that, actually winked at me. The woman let out a very unladylike snicker and then they started up again—knowing we were still there watching! Annie grabbed my arm and pulled me away. “C’mon Sadie,” she said. “Live a little. There’s nothing wrong with a little kissing. What could possibly be so bad about that?” she asked. “It looks like fun to me.” She raised an eyebrow, looking back at the couple. I had to admit, it did look like they were having a good time. But they couldn’t have been much older than we were. The woman especially looked much too young to be doing such a thing! “The whole point of sneaking out of the house is so we can do the things our parents don’t approve of. Well, your parents anyway,” she said. I took a deep breath. The words stung, but Annie was right. My parents were nothing if not stuck in last-century values, which was exactly why I wasn’t used to such things. I nodded, trying to push the judgment out of my mind. “Okay, okay. Let’s have some fun.” The room was pulsing with energy and it was painfully obvious that I was the most uptight person in the room. If I had a hope of fitting in, I was going to have to prepare for the drastic. “Yes, fun!” Annie said, doing a little jump. “Time for drinks!” “I am a little thirsty,” I said. Annie let out a little snort. “What?” I asked. “Nothing,” she said, batting her eyelashes. I wondered if I would ever figure out Annie’s little inside jokes. I always seemed to be the only one who wasn’t in on them. We pushed our way up to the front of counter and Annie winked at the man working behind it. I gave her a little swat. “Annie! What are you doing?” She shrugged. “It’s a long line and I’m thirsty,” she said looking rather like she’d swallowed the canary. I was shocked to discover her little trick actually worked. Even though there was a huge crowd directly in front of the man, he came over to the far end of the counter just for us. “What’ll it be ladies?” he said leaning in close to Annie. Annie leaned in too. “This is my friend’s first time here,” she said gesturing toward me, which was quite maddening since it was her first time too. “Can you make her up a little something… special?” The man looked at Annie knowingly. “Two Pink Ladies, comin’ right up.” I hated that she could make feel so stupid sometimes. But the drinks that slid across the countertop looked so delicious—pink and foamy, like liquid candy—I forgot all about her teasing, and was relieved she hadn’t decided to trick me with liquor. It was just the sort of thing she’d do too. Luckily, most of the other patrons were drinking a dark brown liquid, which was surely the whiskey or some other foul and dangerous swill. I practically felt like a criminal just standing beside them, but I kept telling myself that besides sneaking out, I wasn’t doing anything wrong. So why did it feel so much like I was? I shook the idea out of my head and took a long sip of my frothy beverage. I was here to have fun damn it, and this drink was like pure heaven. I smiled. “This is unbelievable,” I said. “I thought you’d like it,” Annie said, looking a little too pleased with herself. “There’s nothing illegal in here is there?” “Of course not,” she said, batting her eyelashes in a way I decidedly did not like. “Annie. What is in this drink?” “Oh, I don’t know. Some kind of fruit flavoring, cream… some other stuff I’m not sure of,” she said with a dismissive wave. I supposed it didn’t sound too bad. Besides, if there really was something restricted in it, I was sure I’d be able to taste it. I remember one of my mother’s friends talking about how strong alcohol tasted. It certainly couldn’t be anything like this magical concoction that seemed as though it was designed specifically for my taste buds. I was so thankful when Annie had another waiting for me after I practically inhaled the first. We strode away from the counter with our second set of Pink Ladies and tried to find a quiet place to survey the scene a little further. Miraculously, a table was opening up right before us as a couple hurried to put on their jackets. “I wonder where they’re off to so fast,” Annie said, elbowing me – twice for good measure. I crinkled my brow. “Oh for goodness sake, Sadie. Get with it. They’re off to do a little backseat wrestling, if you know what I mean.” She raised her eyebrows a couple times. My mouth gaped at the thought. “But, I don’t think they were even married!” “Not to each other, anyway,” Annie said, winking. It took me a minute to catch on to what she was implying. Then I really gasped. “Annie! You are wicked! How could you even think such a thing?” “Oh Sadie, I can not believe how sheltered you are. You really think that old guy isn’t married to some other poor dame?” I was absolutely speechless. “And that little chippie looked like she was wanting for a Sugar Daddy in the worst way.” “Sugar Daddy?” “You know, a girl who wants to be taken care of financially, and in return she’ll… ahem, take care of him in other ways.” “Annie!” I couldn’t help but give her a little swat. Honestly, sometimes… the things that came out of her mouth. I glanced around to make sure no one had overheard her. Although I suppose it wasn’t the same as getting caught talking like that at school or something. Now that would be positively scandalous. Here though, no one probably even cared. There were people necking in the corner, for goodness sake. We settled back and sipped our drinks. I know I should have been more offended than I was at some of the behavior that was going on, but honestly, everybody just looked like they were trying to have fun. The kind of fun that I was sure my parents had never even dreamed of. Still, I felt so out of place that I was sure everyone could see right into the ridiculously conservative ideas, mostly in the voice of my mother, that kept running through my head. People were dancing, more lewdly than I’d ever dare, but there was so much laughing and smiling going on. And the music was certainly different than I was used to from church and the old radio my parents kept on top of the refrigerator, but it was so much more interesting. Who made up all the rules in the first place, and why? Even the blatant gossip at the next table wasn’t putting me off too badly, although it was getting rather audible to everybody around. Annie and I couldn’t ignore it any longer. In fact, Annie was even leaning toward me to get a better listen. “I heard they came all the way up from Chicago to open this place,” one lady said with a whirl of her hand. The other lady gasped with delight. “Chicago! The most notorious gangsters in the world are from Chicago.” The other nodded knowingly. “Oh yes, apparently Dr. Smith was led through some sort of secret maze or something, you know, so he wouldn’t be able to find his way back after he left, and the man he was to examine was none other than you-know-who himself!” The second lady actually put her hand over her heart as if to clutch it. “No!” “Oh yes,” the storyteller said, nodding vigorously. “My son James knows Dr. Smith’s son personally.” I looked at Annie, since she always knew everything, and was surprised to see her shrug. Unbelievable! Even Annie was in the dark this time. But whomever they were talking about, it must have been someone really famous. Judging from how wide Annie’s eyes were at the moment, she thought the same thing. “It’s got to be the mob,” she whispered. “I don’t know who the exact person is that they’re talking about, but Gabby was saying something to Sonja on the phone about the mob one day…” As intrigued as I was with her story, a moment later Annie completely lost my attention as I glanced around, noticing how everyone’s attention had suddenly turned toward the entrance. What in the world could possibly be that interesting? Then I saw him. He’d walked in with what must have been half a dozen other men, but my eyes could only focus on him. It was as if the rest of them were only there as part of some painted on backdrop. And then, the most amazing of things happened. The most indescribably intoxicating being I’d ever seen locked his pale blue eyes on mine. CHAPTER 3 I had seen handsome boys in my life. I wasn’t quite as sheltered as Annie would like to think, but this boy was like no one I’d ever seen. The boys I knew always wore boring old white shirts with suspenders and silly Gatsby caps, but this guy… this guy was a sight to behold. My eyes took a slow walk from the spats of his finely polished shoes and followed the white pinstripe of his black suit all the way up to his boyish, but rugged, face. The look was masterfully topped off with a black fedora, the white band around it a perfect compliment to the handkerchief in his pocket. But it wasn’t the way he was all put together that had me so flustered, it was that moment when he looked over at me. There was an intensity to him that made me know beyond any comprehension that this was the person I was supposed to be with. It felt like I was the only one in the room who could not only see his intelligence and power, but also that tiny glimmer of sadness, hidden deep within those eyes. “What?” Annie said from beside me, her eyes drifting to the direction I was gawking. She let out a low whistle like a man would do. “Now there is a tall drink of water.” Normally I would scold her for being so vulgar, but I was too busy not being able to tear my focus away from him. “You might want to close you mouth Sadie,” she said, snickering. Horrified at how ridiculous I was being, I did as I was told and tried to slink back in my chair, my gaze dropping. But when I couldn’t resist looking up for one more second, he was still looking my way. As he walked off in the opposite direction, he tilted his head slightly giving just a hint of a nod in my direction. My stomach was suddenly throbbing with intense heat, which probably should have been alarming, but was actually quite a lovely sensation. “Ooh, I think someone is smitten,” Annie said, smirking. I straightened my dress, tugging down the much-too-short skirt a bit. “I am not.” “Oh I wasn’t talking about you, I was talking about him,” she said nodding in the direction he’d disappeared. “He couldn’t take his eyes off you.” As much as I wanted to believe what she was saying, there was no way I could possibly compete with all the beautiful, sophisticated—not to mention about a hundred times more confident—women in this place. I let out a sad little snort. And it was rather unladylike too. It sent Annie into uncontrollable giggles. I should have been more upset, but something in the way she was giggling sent me into giggles that I couldn’t stop either. What has gotten into us? Finally, we composed ourselves a little and Annie called the serving girl over to order more of the delicious pink nectar. “You girls all giggly about that fella over there?” she asked, pointing her head in the direction of the guy. She blatantly gawked at him and licked her lips, as women enveloped him from all directions. The girl sighed. “Just don’t get your hopes up on that one. In all the times I’ve seen him in here, he’s never once taken interest in any of the girls.” She walked away and it was just as she turned her back that the man looked up, determined, as if he knew exactly what he wanted to see, and he stared. The air left the room and the music faded deep into the background as those eyes seared into me. I tried to look away, almost afraid—of what, I wasn’t sure—but I couldn’t. The back of my neck burned and I was thankful that the place was dark, intimate. And then he blinked. Our moment was over. He turned his attention back to the gaggle of girls surrounding him, though he didn’t look all that thrilled to be the center of their attention. Honestly, he looked a little bored. I glanced at Annie to see if she saw what had happened but she was busy making eyes at some sap across the other side of the room and hadn’t noticed a thing. A few minutes later, I wondered if it had ever happened at all. After a couple more drinks and lots of people watching, the temperature in the room seemed like it had gone up about ten degrees. I couldn’t help but drink at a pace that was much too quick for a lady, though I noticed no one else seemed to pay much attention to manners while enjoying their evening either. “May I borrow the lipstick again?” I asked Annie. She sighed. “At this rate you’re going to owe me a whole tube,” she said, handing it over. “What do you expect? I swear half this tube is decorating all the glasses we’ve gone through.” I got up from my seat, surprised at how the room seemed to tilt under me. Luckily, I was able to catch myself with the table just in time. Annie smiled. “You know, you don’t have to go rushing off to the John every time you want to put lipstick on. There are plenty of ladies putting it on right out here.” I’d seen it too, but I just couldn’t bring myself to join them. After all, wasn’t it a woman’s job to keep up at least an inkling of being put together naturally? Of course, no man would be daft enough to believe I was born with lips so ruby red a cherry would be jealous, but applying the lipstick in public would only remind everyone how excruciatingly human I was. I tried to navigate the crowd, remembering the way to the lady’s room very well by now, scolding myself for wondering just where that gorgeous man with the intense eyes had gotten to, and of course sucking in my stomach in case he might be watching from some dark corner of the room. Suddenly, the room shifted as if everything was in slow motion, a very tilting, uneasy sort of slow motion that would not relent. I noticed that my breathing was heavier than usual too, as if the task of simply walking across the room was a chore. Something was definitely more than a little wrong. I glanced around, wondering if everyone in the room could tell that I was having some sort of episode but I couldn’t quite bring myself to focus. Finally, in my haze, it hit me and I’d never felt so stupid. The drinks. They did have alcohol. Why else would I be feeling so numb around the face? I wondered if I should be horrified, but the idea that I’d been drinking alcohol all night and not even knowing it struck me as absurd instead. All I could think was that that stupid cow my mother hung around was a no-good liar, which was deliciously funny since she was the reverend’s wife. I could barely contain my giggles until I finally reached the lady’s room and howled like a hyena. The other girls in the room just laughed along with me like it was the most normal thing in the world. Eventually, we all settled down and I was left alone to reapply my lipstick, a task that proved to be approximately forty times more difficult than it had been an hour ago. I was forced to lean on the vanity just to keep my balance. I finally managed the task and stood straight, checking and re-checking that I had done a decent job. The strangest thoughts were going through my head--that I might be found out to be unladylike, but at the same time I didn’t really care. I straightened my dress once more and shook my head a little, hoping to clear the fog from my thoughts, and from my vision for that matter. But when I walked out of the powder room, my vision instantly became very clear. Unfortunately, too late, I discovered I was barreling at a pace that was far too quick to stop before I ran smack dab into the back of a very handsome looking three-piece black suit with white pinstripes. Heaven help me. I could only close my eyes and hope it wasn’t the man… uh, suit I had been admiring earlier. But as he slowly turned, my heart plummeted. “Hello,” he simply said, smiling a little. The people around him weren’t quite so kind though, practically sneering at me. Well, actually it wasn’t really people, there were only women around him, and I got the distinct feeling that was how it often was wherever he went. I couldn’t believe what a fool I’d been, believing he’d been looking at me when he first walked in. These other girls, these women, were far more sophisticated than I could ever hope to be in a million years. “Um, sorry,” I said in the most unflattering squeak of a voice. One of the ladies let out a snicker. “Looks like somebody’s had a bit too much of the giggle water.” The rest of the ladies tittered along with her. Much to my surprise though, he didn’t join in, and actually looked a bit perturbed with them. “Are you okay?” he asked, reaching out for my elbow, helping to steady me. But the moment he touched me the world spun harder, the shock of his hand on my skin almost too much to bear. His touch sent waves of tingles through me, and if he hadn’t been holding on, I probably would have fallen right over. “Yes, yes I think so. I think my friend may have been giving me liquor without my knowing.” “Ah, yes,” he said, “the good ol’ sneaky drunk. I’ve seen it a million times. And I bet you’re right. That ol’ boy Sam, don’t serve anything without at least a little booze hidden inside.” The ladies behind him really started giggling now. I nodded dumbly, feeling like the daftest girl on this side of the Rockies. I mean, what else could I do? I had just completely admitted what a naïve idiot I was. “My name’s Frankie by the way,” he said letting go of my elbow to shake my hand. “Oh, uh, Sadie,” I said, taking his hand. It was too bad his strong hands did nothing to help me feel any less like a six-year-old. The fact that I couldn’t tear my gaze away from his haunting eyes must have made me look like even more of a wreck. But he was kind enough to just smile, not letting on that he knew how ridiculous I was. “Do you think you’re up for a dance?” I sure could have used that hand on my elbow right then since my knees got all wobbly at the thought of dancing with a man like him. Frankie. The name suited him too. I stood there thinking about all that, blinking, trying to clear my vision. I had no idea how much time had gone by, too much obviously, since the women were giggling again, and even Frankie was smirking. Oh, and what a smirk it was. I’d never seen lips on a man that looked so soft before. The smirk widened. “Sorry,” was all I could say, as I turned to run off. I needed to get out of there and hide in the bathroom until approximately the end of time. But I didn’t get far. That strong hand grabbed my elbow again and pulled me gently back around. “Really, I insist,” he said, just loud enough for the ladies behind him to hear. A quick glance behind Frankie confirmed that they were not at all happy about it. I’d never been on the receiving end of another girl’s glare before and while it was startling, the most startling thing about it was that it almost felt like icing on top of the cake. Not only did I get to dance with the man that everyone wanted to dance with, but they were jealous too, like I’d taken something away from them. It was a terrible, unkind thought, but I could hardly make myself feel bad about it, what with the way they had been going on, making fun of me. “Um, okay,” I said, managing a smile and taking his hand again. Frankie led me out to the dance floor where, thankfully, the music had mellowed into a slower beat. I’m not sure I would have been able to dance to something fast, with nothing to help steady me. The bonus was that I got to be hand in hand with Frankie. I don’t know if it was the liquor or the proximity to him, but my head was spinning something fierce, and my stomach was certainly letting me know exactly where it was, churning its protests along to the music. The combination was rather uncomfortable and was making me incredibly dizzy. But Frankie was nothing if not gentle as he led me slowly around the dance floor, asking every now and again if I was doing okay. Much too soon—well, not for my stomach—the song was over and Frankie was letting go. What a tragedy it was that I hadn’t been clear-headed for what was sure to be one of the most important events of my life. I made a vow to let Annie know just how I felt about her funny little trick the second I saw her again. But I didn’t have much time to stew over it, since Frankie was looking at me again with those penetrating eyes of his. He was opening his mouth, presumably to say something, but he didn’t say anything, or rather, I couldn’t hear what it was. Because that’s when the gunshots started. CHAPTER 4 “Everybody freeze!” a deep voice boomed from the direction of the joint’s front door. Well, back door since the front door looked like a lovely shop window with no indication of what might really be going on behind those curtained off displays. Like always, I did as I was told and froze. But I was the only one. Every other person in the room ran wildly. Women screamed as people ran into each other left and right, chaos erupting. I remained frozen, though my insides were churning like a hurricane, and my heart was uncontrollable. This was it, we were caught, or worse, we might die. I’d never see Frankie again. What a ridiculous thought in the middle of a life and death situation, that I might lose something I never had to begin with. And I was sure I’d never be allowed to see Annie again either, even if we both made it out without being hurt. No doubt my parents would blame her for ‘corrupting me’ even though I was fully aware of my actions when I’d snuck out my window. Another shot hit the ceiling, wrenching me out of my daze and I looked around to see if I could spot her, but the scene was chaos. Dozens of police officers snatching as many people as they could get their hands on, glass breaking as people toppled tables, ducking behind them, knowing it was futile. In the corner, one of the cigarette girls had ducked down, showing the back of her knickers, and they were like none I’d ever seen, black and ruffled, and I blushed, wondering what kind of a girl would wear something like that. Then I saw her smoky rimmed eyes staring right at me and suddenly all I could hear was the happy jazz tune about ‘sweethearts and beaus all dressed up on Broadway,’ completely conflicting with the scene that was unfolding. She kept looking at me for who knows how long, probably only a second, and finally mouthed one word. Run. I blinked and then an officer was on her, grabbing her so violently by the wrist that she screamed. I took a step toward her, wanting to help, to somehow erase the offense of thinking badly of her. But a moment later, there was a tug on my arm and I, prepared myself for arrest. But when I looked up, it wasn’t a cop at all, it was Frankie. I was so sure he had already run, left me, saved himself. But he came back. I’d never been so paralyzed in my life, but one look into his eyes and my whole body seemed to calm. “Come on,” he yelled. I did what I was told, although I didn’t have much choice since Frankie was practically dragging me. The room exploded with breaking glass as people figured they would try to escape out the windows. More gunfire followed, the police apparently willing to do anything to bring the joint down. I ran, closing my eyes, afraid that I might see someone actually get shot and the image would haunt my dreams forever. Never once did I think there was a possibility of me being shot. I was too consumed with the idea of getting caught and the consequences of my parents finding out where I’d been. A moment later we slowed down and I dared to open my eyes a crack, but instantly wished I had just kept them closed. Frankie had run us into a dead end. I’d put every ounce of trust I had into this stranger and now we were trapped behind the very bar where Sam the bartender didn’t ‘serve anything without at least a little booze hidden inside.’ I ducked down behind the counter, squeezing against the shelves as hard as I could, hugging my knees to my chest and willing myself to become invisible. I marveled at the rows of pristine glasses, all lined up under the counter, completely at odds to the sounds of glass still shattering all around us and for a moment, I wondered if maybe this would be a safe cocoon. But it would never last. I closed my eyes, waiting for the inevitable, trying to keep my tears in. “Sadie, come on!” Frankie whisper-yelled to me. I opened my eyes, realizing he was down at my level near the floor. The odd thing was that the bottom half of his body was missing. It took me a moment to understand—probably longer because of the liquor—but I finally realized that he was halfway down a neat, rectangular hole in the floor. I scurried to my knees, careful not to let too much leg show as he led me into the hidden passage, moving out of the way so I could squeeze ahead of him, a protective hand on my back the whole time. “Be careful,” Frankie whispered as he kept a hand secured on my elbow. The stairs were steep and I wanted to climb down faster than I should, cursing my new shoes, trying to get as far away from the mess above as possible. Finally, I hit ground and could move much quicker, the noises from the club becoming muted and muffled. The passage was tight and musty. Blackness enveloped us when Frankie closed the hatch and locked from inside the tunnel. “What’s going on?” I whispered. “The cops are raiding the joint,” he said. “I know that, but why? I thought no one really cared about the drinking as long as there was no trouble.” “I guess they’re getting pressure to start cracking down. Same thing happened back home.” Back home. I was just about to ask him where back home was when it hit me. The three-piece suit, the secret passage, and those two ridiculous ladies that Annie and I had overheard. I gasped. “You’re one of the gangsters from Chicago!” How could I not have figured it out sooner? If only Annie were here, she’d have smacked me upside the head ages ago. “Oh,” he said, his voice hardening. “You heard about that?” “Yeah, I heard about that. Let me out of here right now!” “Shh…” he said and picked me up, actually picked me up and carried me further down the tunnel. I could only imagine what a real life gangster could do to me. Before tonight, the worst thing I had ever done was pretend to be sick that one Sunday so my mother wouldn’t make me go to church. Now I was trapped in a God forsaken underground passage with an actual gangster! I tried to free myself, flailing and screaming with all that I had, but he was too strong. I was too weak. As we clamored over the rough ground, his steps jarred me, my head flopping painfully, my stomach heaving with every footfall. I kept screaming for him to let me go, pounding him with my fists, but he was too strong. Why hadn’t I listened to my instincts telling me he was dangerous? A few minutes and much deeper into the tunnel, he stopped abruptly and set me down, keeping one hand around my wrist. I stayed silent, beginning to panic. I had let myself get trapped, alone with a strange man. And as it turned out, he was a gangster on top of it all. A lying, cheating, thieving, maybe even murderous gangster. Frankie was breathing close to my ear and suddenly the terror became too much to bear. I did the only thing I could do. I bit the hand holding on to me and ran. But the darkness, my dizziness, and the tears that had decided to show did little to help me. I bounced from one side of the tunnel to the next, my feet tripping over each other, my arms banging hard against the stone walls. Tears streamed down my face as I stumbled over the uneven ground. Frankie stalked behind me, calling my name, telling me to stop, but thankfully, he wasn’t really running after me, just following a fair distance back. “Sadie, come on, you don’t know where you’re going,” he called. But I kept going, faster, obsessed with getting out of there. The narrow walls and low ceiling were closing in on me and the floor was getting rougher and rougher, my feet picking up speed until finally they tangled and I went flying into the darkness, landing hard on my elbow. “Sadie! Sadie! Are you okay?” Frankie yelled. Now he did start running. I was laying on the dirt floor, sobbing uncontrollably, my elbow throbbing. “My God, Sadie, talk to me! Are you all right?” He slowed as he got near, obviously listening for my sobs to figure out exactly where I was. I tried to silence them but only succeeded in holding my breath for a moment. “Sadie, don’t be scared, I just want to help you.” He approached me as if I were a baby animal and was careful not to touch me. “Sadie, please calm down. I’m just trying to help you,” Frankie said, soothing. “Help me?” I sobbed. “You’ve kidnapped me and trapped me underground in your crazy gangster maze?” “It’s not like that, Sadie, I promise. I was only trying to save you from getting arrested.” “At least if I were arrested, I’d come out of it alive.” He let out a sigh. “You’ve got it all wrong Sadie.” He buried his head in his hands, crouching so close I could smell him. And the thing was, sitting there like that, like he didn’t seem to have any more of an idea what to do about the situation than I did, he looked almost… vulnerable. I couldn’t help just looking at the man in front of me, who was just barely a man really, maybe twenty. When my crying stopped, he looked up. “I don’t know what kind of stories you’ve heard, but we’re just here to make a few bucks, that’s it.” He sat down close to me, still careful not to touch me and leaned his head against the wall. “I really was just trying to help.” I tried to remember a time when I’d felt so completely overwhelmed with exhaustion, but couldn’t. Several minutes passed, a million thoughts invading my mind. I couldn’t stop thinking about Annie, wondering what had become of her. I was coming around to the idea that I would probably be okay, but I couldn’t stop my mind from wandering to a dark place every so often, a place where I would die in this claustrophobic tunnel and never be found. But mostly I just dreaded the long walk home I still had ahead of me. The absolute silence finally got the better of me. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. For a moment he didn’t say anything. In the darkness he somehow found my hand and squeezed it gently, reassuringly. In an instant I realized there was nothing predatory at all about his touch. I was an idiot. When I’d been running I wasn’t able to turn off my parents warnings about ‘the wrong sort of people’ and ‘dangerous hooligans and what they’re capable of.’ And even after I’d snuck out, disobeying their rules and knowing they were silly, I was still following them like the good little girl I was bred to be. I decided right then and there to actually listen to myself and for once, trust my instincts. Frankie was obviously concerned if I was okay or not. His voice wavered when he talked, a hint of fear in it. “Sadie?” I was the one who was sitting here with Frankie, not my parents. I was the only one who could really judge who he was. We sat like that for a while, not saying anything. Holding his hand was like the most normal thing in the world. I’d always thought I’d be a horrible ball of nerves around a boy, but it was nothing like that. It was weird. It was nice. “Sadie,” Frankie finally said. “I didn’t mean to upset you like this. I could just kick myself for being so stupid. I really was trying to protect you from getting in trouble, you know, so you could sneak back home and no one had to be the wiser.” “I know.” “Look Sadie, once we get out of here you don’t ever have to see me again. But see, the thing is… I really like you. I know we don’t know each other very well or anything, but there was just something when I looked at you. I… I can’t explain it.” I knew exactly what he meant. He offered his arm and I leaned into him. “But you’re a gangster,” I said, wishing he was absolutely anything but. He sighed. “It’s not as bad as you think.” “I may be a little behind the times,” I said, “but even I know what a gangster’s life is like. All underhanded money and parties, and… killing.” I don’t know why I bothered whispering the last part, there was certainly no one around to hear it, but I just couldn’t bring myself to say it out loud. Frankie snorted. “That’s what the papers would have you believe, but the truth is Sadie, it’s not like that. Yeah, okay, we don’t do everything according to the law, but really, we’re just trying to make a buck in this world like anybody else. Five years ago, none of this was even illegal. The boys were just going about their business and one day, poof! Their livelihood disintegrated right in front of their faces.” I didn’t know what to think about that. Five years ago didn’t really seem like that long of a time, I supposed. And what if someone had told my father he couldn’t be in politics anymore, that it was outlawed, then what would he do? “But, you’re young. You couldn’t have been involved with these guys for very long. How come you got tied up in all of it?” I could just make out his silhouette, taking off his hat and running his fingers through his hair. “You sure do have a lotta questions,” he said. “Look, I know it’s wrong. But there’s nothin’ else I know how to do.” “What about your parents? Surely they would help you get on the right side of the law.” “I don’t have any parents,” he said. “Haven’t for a long time.” “Oh,” I said, suddenly feeling like a sap again. No parents, no money, what else is a kid with no hope for the future supposed to do? Those gangsters probably went out and recruited him from the orphanage for goodness sake. And I’d gone and chastised him for it. He was doing the only thing he could do to survive. We sat there for a while longer. Eventually, Frankie helped me up and we stumbled through the darkness in silence. He kept his arm around me the whole time. “We’re here,” he said as we came to a dead end with a tiny, dim light barely penetrating the darkness of the tunnel. But I couldn’t understand where we were, there were no stairs to climb to get through another hatch. “Excuse me,” Frankie said, moving me gently out of the way. He scratched on the wall like he was going loony. Eventually I noticed a sliver of light near the floor where there had to be another secret opening. “Frankie, before we go in I just wanted to say I’m sorry. I was just scared is all.” He shrugged. “It’s nothin’.” “No, I really am sorry. Sometimes I think the way I was raised has turned me into nothing but a scaredy-cat. At least that’s what my friend Annie is always saying.” “I already said it’s nothing.” He sounded like he wanted it to be the end of the conversation, so I didn’t say anything else. He just kept scratching away at the door. “Um, maybe if you knocked?” He sighed, sounding more tired than annoyed. “I can’t just knock,” he said, in a gentle voice. “If there’s cops in there, it might be a little obvious that there’s a fake door if someone were to just go ahead and knock.” “Oh. Right.” He nodded once. “This way, if anyone asks, they can blame it on rats or something.” “Oh, sure,” I said, though I had to admit, the mention of rats did very little to comfort me, being trapped in an underground tunnel and all. It felt like a lifetime of silence passed between us. I didn’t have a clue in the world what to say. It’s not like we could ever be together anyway. No matter what his reasons were, he was still tied in with gangsters. I figured I should still apologize one more time—it was only good manners after all—but I didn’t even get a chance since the secret door started to open. CHAPTER 5 “Jesus Frankie, what the hell are you doin’ here?” a seedy looking guy, hair greased and parted down the middle, said. “There’s cops all over the place. Did you hear they swarmed The Roxy?” “Uh yeah, Joe, that’s where we came from,” he said, like it should be obvious. Joe’s eyes got wide. “You came all the way from over there? Man oh man, that musta been a scene.” “Anybody get nabbed?” Frankie asked. Joe shrugged. “Dunno yet. You see anyone else in the tunnels?” Frankie shook his head, giving Joe an ‘it don’t look good’ expression. “Well, at least the Boss is snug as a bug in a rug. Just saw him a little while ago, headin’ back to his place. Sure wasn’t a happy camper though.” Frankie nodded. “I bet.” It was around this time that Joe seemed to notice me standing there. “Well hey-a little lady. What’s a dame like you doin’ in a place like that?” he asked, nodding toward the wall that, if you hadn’t known any better, you’d never know was a hidden door. I must have shrunk in close to Frankie because the guy put up both hands. “Sorry, ma’am didn’t mean nothin’ by it.” He squinted at me, leaning in close. “You sure do look familiar. Have you been in here before?” I shook my head, squeezing in even closer to Frankie. “Well, we’d better get moving along,” Frankie said to me. “I’m sure you’re anxious to be gettin’ home.” I nodded, though I wasn’t quite as anxious about getting home as I was about getting out of that place. The few stragglers in the room looked like they weren’t really there for the establishment’s finest ale. More like they were just looking for a place to get out of the wind and the chill of the night. I wondered if these joints ever closed or if these transients just hung around and slept there too. Luckily, Frankie whisked me out pretty quickly. Honestly, even if he would have said we had to go back into those creepy old tunnels I’d have happily followed, even though a few minutes ago, I’d never felt so trapped in my life. But instead we exited through the door to the street. A rainstorm had come and gone and the air never smelled so free. The mud wasn’t so great for my new dancing shoes, but they had already been half trashed down in the tunnels anyway, especially after my fall. Still, I tried to avoid the puddles as best I could, but Frankie just kept walking along like he didn’t even notice the muck. “So, are you sure everything’s okay?” he kept asking over and over. “Yes,” I said for about the hundredth time. “I just wish I knew what happened to Annie. I’m sure she made it out of there okay. If you knew Annie, you’d probably think so too, but I just wish I knew for sure. She’s probably worried sick about me too.” Frankie nodded and was even kind enough not to argue with me when I said Annie was most likely okay. He was probably thinking it didn’t look good, like he was saying to Joe back there, but if he was, he kept it to himself. I was thankful for it since I would have completely lost it if he would have said anything to the contrary. We walked for what seemed like forever. My shoes were wet and rubbing the backs of my heels. I’d had no idea where the heck we were when we first came out of Joe’s place, but Frankie somehow knew to lead me back to a place where I could find my way home. I suppose he just figured everyone knew where they were once they found the town square, which is where we ended up. “Okay, well thanks,” I said. “You know, for saving me from the cops and then well… putting up with me.” He chuckled a little. “We may be out of the worst part of town, but there’s no way I’m going to let you walk alone the rest of the way.” “Really Frankie, it’s fine. It’s not that far,” I said, already on my way. “It’s okay if you don’t want me to walk with you, but if it’s all the same, I’ll just follow behind to make sure you get home safe.” I smiled, looking at the ground. “Don’t be ridiculous. You don’t have to walk behind me.” He caught up to me in the blink of an eye and even offered me his arm. I’d never really walked on the arm of a gentleman before-- well, other than my little cousin at Aunt Millie’s wedding, which definitely did not count in my books--and I had to admit, it was rather nice, even if it was on the arm of a potentially dangerous man. Funny thing was though: Frankie made me feel more safe, not less. The walk home suddenly seemed way too short and I even contemplated taking a longer route to drag it out a bit, you know, because the night was so nice and all, but I realized Frankie might figure it out, and then I’d really look like an idiot, as if I didn’t look bad enough already. Once I got home I was horrified to realize I would never have been able to get back in my window if Frankie had actually left me at the town square. Yes, my room was on the ground floor, but there was no way I would have been able to climb back into my window by myself. I’d agonized for so long about how to sneak out, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of the sneaking back in part. Luckily, Frankie was quite tall and was able to boost me up. It might have been quite romantic if I hadn’t been so worried about accidentally showing too much leg, not to mention trying not to get my behind in his face. How very embarrassing that would be. Finally, I was in and Frankie stood under my window for a minute, making sure I was settled. I waved one last time. He gave me sort of a salute back and I was sad to see him wander off. I was pretty tired though and barely got into my pajamas before I flopped on my bed. I suppose I should have been a lot more worried about what had become of Annie, and probably should have lost some sleep over it, but honestly, since I made it out of there okay—even though the circumstances were fairly adventurous—I was sure that Annie had to have made it. She was far more worldly than I was. So I drifted off, knowing she’d be okay. “Sadie! Sadie, wake up already!” The shrill screaming was my unfortunate wake up call the next morning, which, as I knew it would, came way too soon. “Emily, what in the devil are you doing?” I tried to yell, but it came out more like a muffled groan. “What?” my sister said, blinking innocently. “Mother told me to come and wake you up. What are you still doing in bed anyway?” I wondered if I had actually died in my sleep and gone directly to the depths of hell, but since I was disturbingly awake, and quite annoyed with my sister, I supposed I was just sick or something. Come to think of it, I believe I had overheard adults talking once or twice about how sometimes the day after you’ve had liquor, you can feel a bit sick. But this was more than just a little sick. Surely it must have been a weird coincidence because I’d heard about headaches after imbibing too much, but my head felt okay, a little dizzy maybe, but no, it was my stomach that felt like it would never settle down, even after I’d emptied the entire contents of it into my waste bin. “Mom, Sadie’s sick!” Emily yelled down the hall, at a volume sure to rouse the dead, as she left my room. I couldn’t imagine how on earth I was supposed to go to school in such a state, so I climbed straight back into bed. My mother came in and took one look at me, knowing immediately I had the flu. I slept most of the day away, unable to even get up and eat. I slept for a while, but woke to muffled shouting, getting louder by the second. I couldn’t stop myself from sneaking down the hallway, carefully, silently. The scene unfolded in front of me in pieces. My mother first, scrubbing the carpet with vigor, head down, focused intently on the floor, the mud in front of her, in small footprints, forcing my eyes toward the once white shoes. Next was Emily, clutching tightly to a red ribbon, trying hard not to break down, but failing miserably as the hiccupped sobs forced their way out. And then my father. “What on earth were you thinking?” “But I just,” gasp, “…wanted to…” hiccup “…show you my…” Emily bowed her head, trying to stop the crying, and limply lifting the little ribbon toward him. “I won the…” gasp “…singing competition.” Her arm dropped to her side, heavy, the ribbon nearly falling from her defeated grasp. “Can you imagine what the neighbors think? I saw you running Emily. Running! In our own neighborhood! This is a proper household, how many times have I told you? Girls do not run! You are wearing a dress!” He was getting more worked up by the second. Emily wept, quieter now, knowing she’d been beat. Mother scrubbed even harder. “And my God, look at you! What a disaster.” It was then that he seemed to notice I was standing there. “And what do you think you’re doing?” “I… I…” His eyes got wide as he took in my appearance. “You are in your nightgown? Wandering around the house in your nightgown?” “I… I’m not feeling well,” I squeaked. “Get back to your room immediately!” “But Emily just wanted to show you…” “Now!” he boomed. So many words were sitting impatiently on my tongue wanting so badly to be released, but I couldn’t seem to make my mind slow down enough to function properly. My lips were pinched together, pressure building behind them, so angry I could almost spit, but unable to find anything to say. So I did the only thing I could muster. I walked straight to my sister and crouched, gently pulled off the soiled shoes and took her hand, leading her quietly down the hall, away from my father. The scrubbing, faster and faster, was the only sound behind us. I couldn’t find the words I’d wanted to so badly, but at least I’d shocked my father into losing his too. And that is something for a politician. I tried to get more rest, but after that encounter, my mind was racing. I couldn’t fathom what on earth had gotten into my father. Sure, he was known for his rants and rages, but I had never seen him go off on his precious Emily before. Something big had to be going on. My door burst open and for a moment I held my breath, wondering if my father was still on his rage, this time to take it out on me. Thank goodness it was Annie who walked through the door. “You hussy! I cannot believe you didn’t drag yourself out of bed for school this morning. If I had to endure the torture, you most definitely should have too!” Ha--I knew Annie would be okay. “Shhh… my mother will hear you!” “Oh please, she’s all the way in the kitchen.” I groaned and flipped over, my back to her. “Oh no you don’t,” she said, tugging my arm and pulling me to my back. “Details girl! What in the name of all that is good and evil happened to you? One second I saw you bootin’ it across the room with that tall drink of water, and the next you were gone. I went to grab you and you’d just… vanished,” she said, her eyes growing wide for extra effect. I nodded. “I know. I wish I would have seen you. I’ve been worried sick all day.” “I don’t think it was the worry that got you sick like this,” she said with a wink. “So it was the liquor…” I whispered the word with a quick glance at the door, “…that did this to me? Did I really have that much?” “Good heavens girl, I’ve never seen anyone so zozzled in my life! I mean, you even talked to that guy! Never in a million years would I have thought I’d see Sadie McKay actually find the nerve to go up and talk to an actual boy, let alone one like that. Mmm… that man was positively hard boiled.” “Hey,” I said. Not that I could really argue. “I’m not saying it’s bad. You were on fire! It was a sight to behold!” she said. “So did you get his name, anyway?” “Um… yes?” “Well, aren’t you little Miss Hotsy-Totsy. So how’d you do it? I never did see him without a gaggle of hens stuck to his side all night.” I didn’t want to tell her that I’d plowed right into the back of him stumbling out of the bathroom, but she’d never believe I’d actually had the nerve to approach him under normal circumstances, especially with all those fancy ladies hanging around, so finally I just ‘fessed up. “I knew it!” I guess I must have looked disappointed because she started talking really fast. “Not that I don’t think you’ll ever come around. You know, I just thought it would be pretty brash of you to just waltz right up there. Besides, it doesn’t matter does it? The point is you got to talk to him, right?” “Well yeah,” I shrugged. “And I got to dance with him.” “Hold up a second!” she said, holding up her forefinger. “I swear, if you are feeding me a line, I will never forgive you.” “No really, we danced, and then the raid broke out. He even got me out of there safely,” I said, not knowing how much of the night I should reveal. It wasn’t that I was worried she wouldn’t approve - just the opposite, in fact. I was worried she would make a huge deal out of it, which, I guess it was, but talking too much about it would make it less… real or something. “So, how’d he get you out of there? I swear it really was like you disappeared into thin air.” I shrugged. “We sort of went into this secret door.” “What?” Her eyes were really wide now. I couldn’t help but break out in a little giggle. “It was like a hatch in the floor behind the bar.” Annie was looking a bit confused, but I’d never had her attention so focused on me in my life. It was kind of nice for once. “So you just had to sit down there until the whole thing was over? My God, how late were you out?” “It wasn’t like that exactly,” I said, talking a little slower than usual, drawing my words out for effect. “Once we got down there, it… opened up into this tunnel. We walked underground for what seemed like miles.” I was afraid her eyes might actually pop out of their sockets. “Okay, now you really are feeding me a line. You’re telling me there are secret tunnels underground? In this town?” she said, her voice rising up at the end like there was no way in you-know-where that she would believe me. “I swear,” I said. “Do you think I could even make something like that up?” She tilted her head. “You’ve got a point there,” she said. “Gee thanks.” She tried to shake the disbelief off her face. “Tell me everything!” I opened my mouth to start in on the story, but she just couldn’t stop herself from interrupting. “So, it was Frankie that you were in the tunnels with?” “Uh huh.” “He knew about the tunnels before last night?” “Yeah,” I said, slowly. “So…” There was a long pause. She was finally working it all out. It had taken her a while, what with us talkin’ about it just last night, but the thing you gotta know about Annie is that she usually doesn’t give all that much thought to what’s going on with other people. Not that she’s completely self-centered or anything, she just doesn’t take much of an interest in other people. Her life is way more interesting than the average person. If I were her, I’d probably spend all my time thinking about my own life too. “…oh my God!” she finally exclaimed. “He’s one of them!” I hung my head, nodding. Her eyes were so wide. “You are so lucky!” “Lucky?” “Oh my gosh, can you even imagine anything more exciting than discovering your guy is a real-life gangster?” “Um, yes,” I said, not quite believing she couldn’t see the complete horror of the situation, “besides, he’s not my guy.” She waved her hand dismissing my comment. “Of course he is. What about all the girls hanging around him all night. Did he choose to save any of them from getting caught? No. Don’t you think it’s a little odd that he only bothered to protect you?” “Not really, we were dancing together at the time.” “So what? I’m pretty sure there must be some gangster code or something that says you can’t just take any old person down to the secret lair.” “It’s not a secret lair.” “Oh horsefeathers! Anyway, I’m pretty sure those guys don’t go bragging all over town about their hideaways. I mean, we didn’t even know about those tunnels and this town has more gossip than a New York City newspaper!” “I guess,” I said, but I was still having a hard time believing I was let into something special that others weren’t privy to. It just didn’t add up. “I’m serious, Sadie. You are his chosen one.” Now don’t get me wrong. I know I’m not hideous or anything, I just never saw anything all that special in myself, and now to imagine I was being let in on this secret society was just too unimaginable. Too foreign. “That can’t be right. It’s too weird.” “What’s so weird about it? You’ve got that brooding, mysterious look about you.” “I do?” “Sure, you know, you’re always inside your own head puzzling things through, it can be pretty intriguing, even for me. And I know you’re probably just thinking about last night’s pot roast or something, but I still find myself wanting to know what you’re thinking.” Well that was unexpected, to say the least. Never had I imagined anyone would care about what little old me was thinking, especially someone as exciting as Annie with her risqué dresses and even wilder sister. But I didn’t get much of a chance to revel in it because a moment later there was a tiny knock on my door. CHAPTER 6 Now my eyes were wide. If my mother had heard even one word of any of that, we were in so much trouble. The door opened. “Hello girls,” Mom said, coming right on in without being invited. “I just thought you might try a little chicken soup dear.” “I… I’m not really that hungry,” I said, thinking that no matter what I ate today it was bound to come right back up as fast as it went down. But she looked so disappointed. I suppose she’d probably been cooking it half the day. “Well… maybe a little,” I said, the guilt getting to me, probably because I’d completely broken every rule last night. Mother’s eyes lit up like it was Christmas morning and I couldn’t help but feel like it was so sad that she didn’t have anything better to do than make stupid soup all day. How do most women put up with the same old routine day in and day out? “I’ll make sure she gets some down Mrs. McKay,” Annie said, batting her eyelashes. Now if I had tried that, there’s just no way I’d pull it off, especially with my mother, but for Annie it worked like a charm. I’d often wondered why my parents even let me hang out with her, what with her not having a father and all the rumors that swirled around her mother, but she had a way of making you like her, no matter what. “Oh, thank you dear,” my mother said, eating it up. “You’re such a wonderful friend to our Sadie,” she said, even patting her on the head on the way out. “Just don’t stay too long dear, who knows how contagious this little bug is. We wouldn’t want you coming down with it too.” “Sure thing, Mrs. McKay,” Annie said, beaming radiantly. The second the door was shut, we both burst into giggles. “How do you do that?” I asked Annie. “Do what,” she said, batting her eyes even more innocently than she had with my mother. Of course, that just made the giggles even worse. “Okay, okay, enough already. Tell me exactly what happened last night,” Annie said with a quick glance back at the door. “Are you sure you don’t want to get going? What with me being contagious and all,” I said. Annie snorted. “Yeah…” she said between giggles. “I’m sure I’m in grave danger of catching that little ‘bug’ you’ve got.” We eventually settled down enough that Annie started pestering me about the evening all over again. “I’ve already told you everything,” I said. “Oh please, there were absolutely no juicy details at all in your silly little story.” “Well then, why don’t you tell me how you got out of there and show me how a real story should be then.” Annie rolled her eyes. “Fine, I will.” She cleared her throat. “After you went off to the lady’s room, which I couldn’t help but notice you were in for a very long time by the way…” I gave her a little swat on the arm. She snickered. “…this fellow came up and offered to buy me a drink.” “No!” “Oh yes my dear, and he was one handsome devil too. Oh, you would have died if you’d seen him,” she said, looking wistful. “He had these eyes that just sort of twinkled when he talked.” I fought with all my might not to snicker. But maybe I wasn’t as good an actress as I thought though ‘cause she shot me a little glare. ‘Sorry,’ I mouthed. “So anyway,” she said, annoyed, “when all the fuss broke out, he hightailed me right out the back door.” “Weren’t there police back there?” “Oh please, I swear, when it comes to the police force, there ain’t nobody home upstairs,” she said, tapping herself on the temple. I couldn’t believe it. I could have just waltzed out the back door and avoided that whole uncomfortable encounter with Frankie? Of course, it hadn’t ended so bad really. Not so bad at all. “Anyway,” Annie continued, “he took me to his car and we drove around for a while. I could tell he was waitin’ to see if he could ask me to neck, so finally I just suggested it myself.” My mouth dropped open. Annie just laughed at me in that way that always made me feel like I was the bumpkinist of all the world’s bumpkins. “And he wasn’t even the guy I liked the most from last night either,” she said with a wink. Now she had to be pulling my leg. Necking with a boy that you aren’t even looking for a relationship with? I couldn’t understand why anyone would do such a thing. Wouldn’t it be a huge waste of time, not to mention a terrible mark on your reputation? I must have gasped—and really it deserved a gasp if you ask me—because she rolled her eyes one more time for good measure. “We’ve got to get you a man. Otherwise I’m never going to be able to talk to you about these things.” “I don’t see how that would change anything,” I said. “No, I suppose you wouldn’t,” she replied. “You don’t have to be so mean about it,” I said, waiting for her to take it back, even though it was no use. The moments just kept ticking by, her with her gloating face, and me wishing so badly that she’d stop treating me like a three-year-old. “Fine then,” I said. I’ll show her. “Let’s go out again tonight and you can show me this other guy you’re head-over-heels for.” For a moment, Annie had nothing to say. Then a smile started slowly creeping across her face. But it quickly turned to a frown. “Wait, what about the benefit tonight?” I shrugged. “I guess we’ll just get there later.” “Now that’s the spirit,” she said. “It’s perfect, we’ll already be ready to go.” She had a little hop in her step as she left me alone to wallow in my “flu”. The truth was that I had totally forgotten about the God forsaken charity event. I was in no mood, or shape for that matter, to put on my Mayor’s daughter face and attempt to mingle with the snootiest snoots in the city. But of course I would have no choice. Sick or not, these things were attended by the Mayor’s family, no matter what. A few minutes later, when my mother brought in my gown, my guess was confirmed. “I know you’re not feeling well dear, but we made this commitment ages ago,” she said, even looking slightly apologetic, though it was clear there would be no backing out. I sighed. “Yes mother, I know.” “Thank you,” she said, coming over to kiss my forehead. She turned to walk out of the room. “And make sure you cover up those dark circles under your eyes dear,” she added as an afterthought. Gee, thanks for noticing. Appearances were everything in this bloody house. I did, of course, put extra time into getting ready, but the reason was certainly not some boring old charity benefit. Even with the way I was feeling, I couldn’t stop thinking about Frankie and wonder if there was even the slightest chance that I might see him again tonight. My mother had somehow, miraculously, even picked out a beautiful dress that did not make me look like I was twelve. It was still conservative obviously, but at least the red satin showed that I had a waist and it was even slightly shorter than most of the monstrosities she usually picked out, and it shouldn’t be too much trouble at all to cinch it up before the speakeasy. “Well, well, look at you,” Annie said, tucking up beside me as soon as I finished my dutiful hellos. “Even your mother is starting to come around.” “Oh shush,” I said, in no mood to be teased. The way I felt, I had no idea how I would make it through the benefit, much less through the wee hours later. After my all-day sleep I wasn’t tired anymore, but I was completely parched and could not seem to get enough moisture in me no matter how much water and punch I drank. “You look like you’ve been to the desert and back,” Annie said, smirking as I downed another glass. “Very funny.” She chuckled, and took a sip of her own drink. But a second later, her sip was practically coming out of her nose, she choked so hard. “Annie! Are you okay?” But she was too busy staring at the door to answer. I followed her gaze and nearly choked myself, and I wasn’t even sipping anything at the time. “Oh my God.” Annie nodded, silent. Never, in any of my wildest imaginings would I have pictured Frankie at a place like this, yet there he was, as mesmerizing as ever, sauntering right through the large double doors and into the ballroom. He was with several other people, but again, I couldn’t look at anything besides him. When I was finally able to tear my eyes away, it was clear that most of the other people in the room couldn’t help but stare either, most of them with mouths gaping, though I wasn’t sure if it was because of Frankie’s good looks, or if some of them actually knew who these men were. “What are they doing here?” Annie finally found the composure to whisper. Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet regained the wits to speak, so I just shook my head, astonished. My heart leapt into my throat when I saw that the group of the mobsters had made a beeline right to my father’s table. Ever the politician, my father shook their hands cordially and tried his best not to look too uncomfortable, though there was something in his eyes, fear… no, panic, maybe. Annie snickered beside me. “Well. That’s awkward.” Thankfully, the men left quickly, away from my father’s table and on to the next, a shorter, plumper man in the lead clearly introducing only himself as they went along. As the men made their way around the room, they were getting closer and closer to where Annie and I stood. My breath caught as they passed us by and went straight to the next table. I was both relieved and, to be honest, slightly offended that they had barely glanced in our direction. But, when the leader turned to talk to the man at the table, Frankie suddenly turned and walked right toward us, looking directly at me, effectively turning me to mush. I sucked in my breath just as Annie whispered “oh God,” under her breath. “Good evening ladies,” Frankie said as if it were an everyday occurrence. “Uh…” was all I could say, though of course Annie composed herself much more quickly and offered a quick curtsey and held her hand up for him to take. “Annie Carmicheal.” He followed her lead and took her hand. “I’m Frankie, lovely to meet you.” He glanced quickly at her as he kissed her hand, but turned his gaze straight back to me. Heat crept up the back of my neck. Annie elbowed me and I finally came out of my daze, at least long enough to lift my hand and spit out my name. He took my hand and lingered just a moment longer than he had with Annie, when he kissed it. It took all my strength not to close my eyes, lean my head back, and sigh, relishing in the warmth of his lips on my skin. But somehow I managed to stare straight ahead, unblinking. “May I have this dance?” he asked innocently, though he followed it up with a sly wink. Beside me, Annie was trying to hide the fact that she’d just choked on the piece of hors d’oeuvre she was sampling. Flashes of our dance at the speakeasy went through my mind. I wanted nothing more than to be that close to Frankie again, but… what if my parents actually knew who he was? And what he was? But no, there was no way these people could really know who Frankie and his associates were, could they? This room was full of the uppermost class of citizens, no way any of them had probably even heard of a speakeasy, let alone know what sort of businessmen ran such operations. No, all these people thought about all day were taxes, benefits, and silly luncheons. Besides, wasn’t it my mother who was always telling me it was rude to turn down a dance when a gentleman asked? My mind was still leaning toward ‘no, too risky’ but my mouth apparently had other ideas. “Um… sure,” I finally answered. Frankie’s face instantly melted into relief and he took my hand, guiding me to the dance floor. The song was, of course, a civilized one, nothing like the sort of music at the speakeasy, but I was pleasantly surprised that Frankie looked just as at home here as he did at The Roxy. The first minute of the dance I was completely lost in making sure I didn’t forget even a moment of it. Frankie smelled even more delicious than I remembered and in his arms, I felt more right than I had ever remembered feeling. We glided around that dance floor like we’d been practicing for months, and I even let myself wonder if maybe, just maybe he could become a real part of my life. After all, he was handsome, well-mannered, and now it looked like he could fit right in to my world. He’d just have to find something new to do, and say goodbye to his old ways. But soon, I noticed that something was very, very wrong. Glancing around, my mood went from giddy to foul in the blink of an eye. Every single person was staring straight at us. I knew my parents would be curious, and of course Annie would be hanging on every detail, but I certainly did not expect that the entire ballroom would have their attention fully and completely on us. The other two couples that had been dancing were still on the dance floor, though they had stopped to watch us. Honestly, it was a miracle the orchestra kept playing. Somehow, Frankie didn’t seem to notice anything was wrong at all. He just kept dancing away without so much as a glance around the room. Perhaps he was just used to everybody always staring at him and he didn’t realize this was any different. I didn’t know what to do, if I were to run off the dance floor, my parents would surely know that I knew what was going on. How would I explain that I agreed to dance with a mobster? No, the only choice was to finish the dance. Unfortunately, there was no way I would be able to enjoy it at all. Already the ladies from my mother’s book club were pointing, whispering to each other. And two girls from school were giggling practically uncontrollably, goodness only knows how they knew what was going on, but Annie was there in an instant and their giggles came to an abrupt halt. I could always count on Annie, though even the threat of her wrath might not be enough to keep the school rumors at bay this time. The worst part was that every time I spun back around to face my parents and I would see my mother’s face, the look of pure terror, like she was afraid for my life. Thank goodness her manners stopped her from actually doing anything about it. I couldn’t help but think back to The Roxy, when the bullets were actually flying. What on earth was I doing to her? And my father, well, that was even worse. He did look a little less terrified than my mother, but I could tell exactly what he was thinking. He knew that every person in that room was shocked and horrified that the Mayor’s daughter would dare do such a thing and he was silently counting all the lost votes. He was probably already practicing his damage control speech. I’d wished before at these sorts of boring occasions that the earth would just open up and swallow me, but I had never felt it in such an excruciating manner. Finally, after about twelve lifetimes, the song came to an end and Frankie was letting go. I could not look anyone in the eye, least of all Frankie, who did not seem to have any clue as to what we had done. “Thank you for the dance,” he said, smiling and even bowing politely. He would probably wonder why I couldn’t look at him, and the truth was, I didn’t fully know myself. I just felt like if I did, my mother would be able to see that I knew him, or at least knew who he was, and that was something that I could not risk. I gave him a tiny curtsey and hoped beyond hope that it would be enough for him to know to just walk away, and his gang could leave the building. Luckily, one of my wishes finally came true, although as Frankie’s gang stood by the door, they did not look too pleased at all that Frankie had made them wait. He was only a few steps away before my mother was on me, pulling me by the arm, whisking me out the back door of the room. I barely had a moment to get my thoughts together before the interrogation started. “What on earth was that?” “Um…” was all I could spit out. “Do you know who that man was?” “No,” I said, in the squeakiest of voices. “He is a dangerous, dangerous man!” I tried my best to look confused. “What do you mean mother?” I asked, finally finding the will to look her in the eye, hoping she would mistake it as honesty. “They… they…” she looked around wildly, looking for a respectable way to put it. Something that my ‘innocent’ ears could handle. But she never did come up with anything. A little more courage came to me from somewhere. “I’m sorry mother. But I thought you’d be happy. You’re always telling me how rude it is to turn down a dance from a gentleman.” I blinked a couple times for good measure, hoping I was channeling my inner Annie. Her mouth popped open as if she were about to argue, but promptly closed right back up again. I nearly giggled, but I knew what was about to happen, and I settled down quickly. We would have to go back out there and face the wolves. My mother shook her head as if she was trying to get something out of it. “Well,” she cleared her throat. “We don’t have any choice. We’ll just go back out as if nothing ever happened.” “But… what did happen mother?” I asked, and wondered if I was pushing my luck. Honestly, I guess I just wanted to see if she would be able to say it. But she just gave me a stern look. “Do not leave my side again for one second, young lady. And just hope that everybody will eventually forget about all of this.” I knew the time for arguing was over. If I were to press the issue, she would know that something was up. I had, after all, always been the dutiful daughter, knowing not to ask unnecessary questions. She led me back out to the ballroom and I could feel the eyes on us as we walked through. Sudden, whispered conversations started up all around us. Thank goodness it looked like Frankie was long gone, and hopefully soon just a memory to all these awful people. My mother literally pulled me back to our table and forced me to sit beside one of the homeliest boys I had ever seen. I could barely look at him with the ugly, red pimples covering practically his entire face, but it was obvious that my mother had set up some matchmaking scheme before the whole dancing debacle, and she seemed more determined than ever to make it happen now. We sat there in total silence while I actively avoided the boy’s gaze, which I could feel turn my way every so often. I tried not to shiver each time, shocked and horrified that this was the person that my parents would have me date. My father spent the rest of the night shaking hands an no doubt explaining what a stupid fool his daughter was to not even know who the man was she’d danced with. I was sure he’d play me up as even more of a fool to everybody then I already was. And even more awful was that was the last I was to see of Frankie. Until, that is, Annie and I made our second social appearance of the night. CHAPTER 7 “Can you even believe that happened?” Annie was still giddy from the unexpected excitement at the benefit. I, on the other hand, was distinctly displeased with the way things had turned out. I shouldn’t even have been going to the speakeasy tonight, but I could hardly back down now, not after I’d made such a stink about it to Annie. “I can’t believe you still wanted to go,” she said. “Really Sadie, I think you’re coming around to this whole underground lifestyle. And with the way that Frankie couldn’t keep his hands off you, it could be a definite possibility.” “I wouldn’t go that far,” I said, knowing now that Frankie and I were from worlds even farther apart than I’d thought. There was no way we could ever be seen together in public, at least not the public of my world. God, I hated society sometimes. Why did everybody else get to make all my decisions for me? But even with my newfound disappointment, I couldn’t deny the way my blood was surging, like I had finally been awakened for the first time in my life, and it all started last night. It was strange, I knew there’d been danger involved in the raid at The Roxy, but for some reason—Frankie probably—I never really felt like I’d been in any real jeopardy myself. The boys in blue seemed to only be firing into the air to scare everybody, but still, the bullets were real. Something terrible could have happened. Even so, I just knew in my heart that it wasn’t going to happen to me. Not that I hadn’t been scared mind you, I was, it’s just that I never knew there was a good kind of scared. A kind that made everything so much more exciting. “Honestly,” Annie was saying. “I’m proud of you. I would have never thought in a million years that Sadie McKay would be the one telling me we should go out a second night in a row. To a speakeasy for goodness sake. Now let’s get a wiggle-on, we’re already so late.” I sighed. If she told me one more time that she was proud of me for sneaking out, I think I would have screamed. It made me feel ridiculous, as if she didn’t even know me at all. Of course, I wondered if I even really knew myself anymore, but she didn’t have to rub it in every chance she got. I guess she got the hint by my sigh because she quickly changed the subject. “So anyway, are you about ready to hear about my other guy yet?” “You were serious about that? I thought you were just razzin’ me.” She gave me a sideways glance. “Yes, I was serious about that. There really was another guy—an Adonis really—that I could not take my eyes off all night.” “So, how come you ended up with that other guy then?” She slumped forward like she couldn’t believe I wasn’t getting this already. “Because the other guy saved me from being caught by the police! I already told you that.” “Yeah, but how come you ended up necking with him?” “Well, to thank him of course!” By now she was positively exasperated with me. I crinkled my brow trying to figure how one thing was related to the other. How was necking with someone supposed to be some kind of thank you? I guess since I didn’t say anything, Annie must have thought I finally figured it all out because she started in about the guy again. “So anyway, I sure hope we see him tonight. This time I’m not going to chicken out. I’m going to go up to him right away and make him buy me a drink.” I was a little stunned that she admitted she’d chickened out of something. In fact, I was a little stunned that Annie Cambridge had chickened out of anything. Especially when it had to do with a guy she had her eye on. At school, she was usually the one making all the boys blush. And me of course. Ugh, just thinking about blushing made me remember the embarrassment at The Roxy, and earlier tonight, all over again. I still don’t know how Frankie managed to stay so calm. “Are you even listening to me?” she asked, stopping. “Huh? Yeah, I’m just thinkin’ at the same time, that’s all.” She got the weirdest look on her face. “You’re busy thinking about Frankie aren’t you?” “Um, no,” I said. She snorted. I wish I knew how she could make her snorts say more than I could say with entire paragraphs. “Oh, you so are. Of course you’re going to fall for the first guy you see.” “Hey!” I said. “Okay, okay, he is one delicious lookin’ drink of water, I’ll give you that.” I nodded. But the thing was, I knew he was so much more than just his looks. He could have taken every advantage of me last night in those tunnels, but he didn’t. He comforted me. He reassured me. Why would someone do that if they weren’t at least a little bit decent? We’d finally made it to the new super secret joint, and Annie was already tapping out the ‘code knock’ the way she’d heard from her sister. I couldn’t help but wonder if Gabby would catch on to what Annie was doing, pretending that she was interested in hearing all the gossip and goings on at the speakeasies, when in reality she was grilling her for information on how to get in. So far, Gabby had been clueless, thank goodness. I guess she thought Annie was more innocent than she let on. Come to think of it, Annie really could make a fantastic actress someday, if she put her mind to it. The door to this place was really rickety. I mean, the door had been rickety at The Roxy, but this was ridiculous. The bare wood was so worn I was afraid if Annie were to knock too hard, her whole fist would break through. It certainly wouldn’t be too difficult for the fuzz to come bustin’ in if they were so inclined. But this was the only other place that Annie knew the secret knock for. I cursed the stupid cops for picking the swankiest place in town to bust. I mean, geez, did they really have to pick that place? It had been so nice. The door creaked open, sounding as rickety as it looked. I crossed my fingers that the hinges wouldn’t snap right off. Once we were inside though, it was a different story. The music was pulsing just as it had been at The Roxy. The girls were up on stage and it looked like the same sort of crowd. Word had obviously spread that this was the new place de jour. Thank goodness. I was getting worried that it would look like Sam’s place had after the tunnels last night, and that was certainly not the scene I was interested in finding ever again. Annie flashed the guy at the door her famous smile and got us right in. Of course, the hiking of our skirts a few blocks before we got to the club probably didn’t hurt either. Once the door was shut behind us, it was as though we were almost back in the same place as last night, just a little less fancy. I scanned the crowd, not admitting to myself who I was looking for, but Annie figured it out right away. “I’m sure he won’t be here yet,” she said. “Remember how late he showed up last night? You’d already had three or four drinks before he even stepped foot in the door.” “Whatever do you mean?” I said, decidedly looking straight ahead. She just rolled her eyes. “C’mon, I know just the thing to make you feel better.” She grabbed my elbow and started tugging me toward the drink bar. “Oh no. No way. I am not going to go through the hell that I’ve been through today ever again. No booze for me.” Annie shrugged. “I just wanted to get you something that would make you feel like yourself again.” My shoulders relaxed a little. After the way the liquor made me act last night, there was no possible way she could be speaking of more booze. “Hair of the Dog, please,” Annie said. “And a Gin Fizz for me.” “Are you seriously drinking more liquor?” I asked, amazed that she could even think about the stuff after last night. “Well, for one thing, I didn’t have nearly as many as you. You were downing them like they were Sunday school punch.” “Well,” I said, putting one hand on my hip, “if someone had let me in on the secret that they were full of booze, maybe I wouldn’t have had so many.” Annie just chuckled a little, still proud of herself for getting me loopy without my knowing. I tried to glare at her but it was something I had never been good at. I’m pretty sure I just ended up looking constipated. She handed me this weird concoction that looked kind of like watered down tomato juice except that it had foam on the top, which the sight of did my stomach no good. “What?” Annie said, again with the eye batting. “There is no way I am going to drink this. What’s in it anyway?” She shrugged one shoulder. “Mostly juice, a little spice,” she said, turning away from me to scan the crowd. She lifted her deliciously decadent looking drink to her lips, “…an egg,” she finished quietly, her eyes darting around the room. “Wait. Did you just say an egg?” She turned back to me. “What?” Blink blink. Blink blink. I sighed. “Did you just say an egg?” “Oh egg, um yeah. The protein is good for the hangover or something. Just try it. I swear it’ll make you feel so much better.” I eyed it carefully, now seeing the off colored lump at the bottom of the glass. I couldn’t help but think that there was no way this was going to make me do anything other than upchuck again. “Sadie, really. Just try it. It totally worked for me.” “You’ve tried it?” “Sure, plenty of times.” The funny thing was, she was pretending not to, but she was completely watching me out of the corner of her eye. It was feeling almost like a dare. I sniffed the drink. It smelled mostly like tomato juice, although oddly, a little like bread too. When I put it up to my lips, Annie turned to full on stare at me. “What?” I asked, my lips dangerously close to the pinkish looking foam floating above the blood red drink. “Oh… uh, nothing,” she said, looking away again. And that’s when I did it. I took a sip. And… it wasn’t all that bad, a lot like tomato juice. The thing that surprised me though, was that it was fizzy, which seems unbelievably hideous, but really, it wasn’t too bad. After a couple more sips, I think the fizz was actually making my stomach feel a little less gurgley. As I was drinking, I had been staring hard into the glass, making sure that egg didn’t surprise me. When I looked up, Annie was staring at me wide-eyed and slack-jawed. “You actually did it,” she said. “Yeah, of course I did. You said it wasn’t so bad.” “I totally lied. When someone handed me one of those puppies, I never had the nerve to actually go through with it.” My mouth dropped open. I had done something that Annie was too scared to do. Of course I was tricked into it, but still. I beamed her a smile. “Huh,” was all I said and took a deep breath. I chugged the rest, egg and all. And I only gagged for a moment. I slammed the glass down on the nearest table and scanned the crowd, just like Annie had been doing before I drank the ‘Hair of the Dog.’ Of course, I was only pretending too, just like she was, and inside I was doing a little victory chant while she continued to stare at me in awe. I had surprised and impressed Annie Cambridge. Maybe I was turning over a new leaf after all. So I was feeling pretty good about myself, but then, there he was. My heart raced. It was so stupid, I wasn’t even anywhere near him yet and it was going crazy already. I tried to breathe evenly but it was hopeless, especially after he spotted me. I’d had a pretty good idea that he didn’t find me disgusting, especially after our most recent dance, but I still wasn’t prepared for that beaming smile. He wasn’t even sneaky about it either, like he was embarrassed to know me, which I always assumed people were when they were around me. Nope, that smile was all for me and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the looks on the other girls faces as he made his way toward me. And somehow the fact that I was going to tell him that whatever this was between us had to stop and could never amount to anything, flew right out of my head. CHAPTER 8 It took a while for him to get to me. I was pretty sure Christmas was going to arrive sooner what with all the girls getting in his way and touching him on the arm. I’m sure they were talking to him too, but my focus kept going to the touching. One girl even reached up and straightened his tie although it had already been straight. Eventually though, he was standing in front of me. I could tell Annie was holding her breath in anticipation beside me, but believe me, her anticipation couldn’t have been anything compared to mine. “Hello again Sadie,” he said, taking off his hat. I noticed he hadn’t done that with any of the other girls. It made me wonder if he thought I was a stickler for manners or something and since no one likes a nag, I took it as a bad sign. Annie told me later that it was a sign of respect, which I thought that was ridiculous too since I’d certainly done nothing to deserve his respect. Quite the opposite, if I really thought about it. Which, of course, I tried not to because it just made me feel like such a pill. “Hi,” I said, looking down, almost wishing I had another one of those Hair of the Dog concoctions even though the thought of another one had me almost gagging again, but I really needed something to do with my hands. “I’m glad to see you out again,” he said. Then the silence started. I don’t know why Frankie wasn’t saying anything. He had been the one to come over here, after all, and I was so busy wondering why he hadn’t mentioned the benefit, or if he had noticed the way everyone stared. Beside me, Annie had finally taken a breath and was now clearing her throat. “Nice to see you again… Annie was it?” he said, shaking her hand. “Right back at ya,” Annie said sort of gazing sideways at him. She looked quite demure and friendly as she did this and I really wanted to know exactly how she managed it because if I were to try it, I’d just end up looking like I had a twitching disease. Frankie turned his attention back to me, which was very nice because that usually doesn’t happen when Annie is by my side. “I see you don’t have a drink,” he said. “Can I get you anything?” Annie was so thoughtful to give a snort from beside us. Frankie pretended not to notice. “Sure, that would be nice,” I said. “Any preference?” he said, raising an eyebrow. “Um, no. Whatever you think is good will do.” He sauntered off and Annie backhanded me in the arm. “Ow!” “I thought you said you weren’t drinking tonight!” “I know,” I whispered, glancing over my shoulder to make sure Frankie hadn’t heard. “But I can’t just say no.” She put one hand on her hip. “Of course you can. Remember, we’re trying to be modern women here.” I rolled my eyes. “I am a modern woman.” She scoffed. “Yeah, you’re about as modern as a nun.” “Hey,” I said giving her a little smack back. “I am not. I’m here aren’t I?” “Yeah, and I get to babysit.” “Well that is just uncalled for!” She giggled a little. “Okay, okay. I’m kidding. I’m just saying you don’t have to get your heart set on the first guy you see, although I did like your parents reaction.” “I’m not,” I said, though I wished I sounded more convincing. I know Frankie and I had just met, and he was the worst sort of man for me, and we could never have a future together, but something drew me to him, and it was something way beyond my control. “Yeah. Right,” she said as Frankie walked back up to us. “Here you go doll,” he said, handing me the drink and surveying the room. Thank goodness his attention was off me for a second because my stupid heart had started pounding out of my chest again. I swear, if he had tried talking to me at that moment, I would never have heard him with the blood rushing through my ears. He called me doll! I’d certainly never been called a doll before! Annie would probably tell me that is was something derogatory, what with us being modern women and all, and I can’t say if I would have liked it coming from anyone else or not, but from Frankie it was music to my ears. “Thank you,” I said, taking a sip to hide my giddiness. The drink was deliciously fruity. It may have been even better than the Pink Lady. Even with the day I’d had, I still found it hard to believe that this nectar of the Gods was the kind of poison that would make one feel the way I felt earlier. It was some kind of cruel trick for sure. I took another sip. “Delicious,” I said, finally able to look up at Frankie. I’d meant the drink of course, but my mind was taking me elsewhere. It was all I could do not to let my eyes wander up and down him. “It’s called Planter’s Punch, the house specialty,” he said, then added, “for the ladies.” I nodded, noticing the brown concoction he was holding. Sometimes I was really thankful to be a woman. Annie gasped from beside me. “He’s here,” she whispered. I followed her gaze. She’d been right, the man was very handsome, not as handsome as Frankie of course, but he was dark and mysterious, and was dressed very much like Frankie. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say they were a part of the same circle. “Wish me luck,” she said, practically jumping out of her skin. “No, wait!” I whispered. “You can’t leave me here alone!” “It looks like you’re in good hands,” she said loudly, smiling at Frankie. It was definitely loud enough for Frankie to hear. Thanks a lot Annie, you have now officially put Frankie in charge of me whether he wants to be or not. “Yes, she is,” Frankie said, placing his hand around my elbow acknowledging that he would stay with me. I could have died. My stupid friend was basically handing me off to a practical stranger, and he was happy as pie to go along with it. Not that I minded the particular company or anything, but geez, I was a full grown woman. Annie took off so fast she was a blur in her Sapphire fringed dress. Soon, all I could see was the feather from her headpiece bobbing through the crowd. I made a mental note to keep one eye on it. Unfortunately, I was so busy worrying about all that, that I hadn’t even noticed I’d been once again sipping nervously at my drink and it was nearly empty. Before I could protest, Frankie was handing me another. “Oh, you didn’t have to,” I said, wondering whether I should even take it. But my manners told me I couldn’t refuse. Frankie just smiled. “How ‘bout when you’re done that one we dance for a while.” The mention of dancing sent a wave of heat up the back of my neck, but he looked so hopeful that I didn’t know how could I possibly refuse those words. Not, I suppose, that I wanted to, if I were being honest. Besides, we were in a speakeasy, no intruding eyes of upper society here. “Sure,” I said, already sipping. Frankie was surveying the room and drinking his thick looking drink quite fast, so I tried to keep up. I promised myself it would be my last drink of the night since my legs already felt heavy and I desperately wanted to dance with Frankie for as long possible. “Hey Frankie,” a girl strode up, sneaking into what tiny space there was between us. Of course it was because she was so tiny herself that she could even squeeze in there. She was a bit shorter than me and her feather—red to match her dress—was getting right up my nose. “Oh hey Doris,” Frankie said. I was pleased to hear the slightly bored tone in his voice. “When are you going to ask me to dance?” she asked, leaning in close to him, grabbing his tie for balance. What a hussy! “Not tonight,” he said. “I’ve already asked someone.” Doris straightened up, surprised, and turned slightly toward me. “What? That one?” she asked, waving her cigarette holder. The ember of her cigarette dangled dangerously close to my hair.. Frankie sighed. “Yes.” “Well, she’s just a kitten, ain’t she?” Boy how I wished I hadn’t been prone to blushing at that moment. “Doris, I’m afraid I’m being rude to my friend here, you’ll have to excuse us.” With that he reached around the chippie—okay, that wasn’t nice, but I couldn’t help thinking it—took my arm again, and led me gently away. A glance back at Doris told me she was a little stung, but I was sure she’d get over it. In fact, she was already sidling up beside the next guy at the bar. “Sorry about that,” Frankie said. “Doris is always trying to get free drinks out of us.” “Oh,” I said, suddenly very aware that I was holding my own free drink. “Are you ready to dance?” he asked. “Sure,” I said, setting my almost finished glass on the tray of a passing barmaid the way I’d seen others do. The song was a fast one and it was all I could do to keep up, especially with my heavy legs, but a few songs in, it was like I was sailing. All that weight seemed to lift off me and I could move as well as the rest of the dancers out there. Maybe it was all the practice Annie and I did over at her house, but I swear, it was as if I’d been born to dance. I even learned the Charleston from watching the girl beside me. Maybe, if I was feeling generous later, I’d teach it to Annie! Finally, after what must have been ten songs, Frankie pulled me off the dance floor. “Whew, this old bird can’t keep up with the likes of you,” he said, raising a hand to the drink girl to get her attention. “Don’t you ever get thirsty?” I shrugged, remembering I had already sailed past my self-imposed limit of none for the night. “Not really.” Of course he’d already motioned for the waitress to bring two drinks, so what was I supposed to do? I sure could have gone for a big glass of water—though I knew these places didn’t like to serve it—and when the drink arrived, it did look so refreshing that I just couldn’t help myself and dove right in. Frankie found a place for us to sit, which was nice because the dancing shoes I’d worn the other night, and spent half the day today cleaning, were getting another chance to be broken in. And boy were they breaking. My feet, that is. “So, that was funny what Doris said back there hey?” Frankie said, sort of out-of-the-blue. “Hmm?” I said, taking another sip. I hoped he wasn’t talking about that silly kitten comment. I’d been so relieved that he’s seemed to forget about it out on the dance floor. The worst part was, I’d sort of let myself forget about it too. “The kitten comment,” he said. My heart plunged into my stomach. “Heh, heh. Yeah, funny,” I said, looking around at the crowd. “I wonder where Annie has gotten off to.” I thought I was being quite sneaky with changing the subject, but Frankie was too smart for me. “Yeah, Annie. Right. So,” he said, gently tipping my face toward his so I could meet his gaze. “How old did you say you were again, doll?” I blinked. And somehow my brain and eyes got stuck on that last little word, doll. Oh how it looked so good coming out of his mouth. I couldn’t tear my eyes off those soft lips of his as I gave my oh-so-clever answer of, “Um…” He raised his eyebrows, jerking my attention from his magnificent mouth. The room swirled, and the blinking lights suddenly went from exciting to entrancing. My eyelids got heavy. Now that I’d stopped moving, all my body wanted to do was shut down. The lights got more intense and the room spun faster and faster until all I could do was lean back in the chair and just close my eyes, holding on to the table for support so I wouldn’t take a dive off the chair. I sucked in air, trying to find a hint of oxygen in the smoky room. “Sadie, are you okay?” Frankie asked, concerned. I nodded, though I probably shouldn’t have, and opened my eyes, just a little. The glass in front of me was empty. Had I downed that entire drink already? I supposed that might have contributed to the little episode I was having. “C’mon,” Frankie said, “I think you need to get some air.” Boy was he right. I could only imagine how delicious fresh air would taste right then. He swung my arm over his shoulder and I tried to walk like a normal person as he limped me out the back door. We emerged into a dark alley, and normally I would have been terrified of such a place, but I either wasn’t caring because I had more pressing things to worry about—like not upchucking all over Frankie’s silvery suit—or I just felt a lot safer with Frankie than I would have with anyone else. Of course, all those secure feelings went straight out the window when we suddenly heard footsteps coming toward the ally from the street. Three men came into view, rounding the corner to start up the alley. I couldn’t see their faces, just the silhouette of a short, round man with two taller men on either side. Frankie took one step ahead of me, effectively blocking me from the view of the men. It was nice to be protected like that and all, but the thing I really did not like was the way he stiffened and slowly rested his hand gently on his hip. CHAPTER 9 Moisture from the recent rain lent a glossy look to the pavement, a thin stream of water, still draining down the middle of the alley. I glanced around, only to see solid brick looming up on all sides and behind us was a dead end. The men hadn’t noticed us yet. I followed Frankie’s lead and froze on the spot, almost afraid to breathe. While I certainly didn’t approve of guns, I had to admit, at that moment, I was a little glad Frankie had one. At least that’s what I assumed was going on there on his hip. My breathing was ragged and annoyingly loud as the men took step after painfully slow step towards us, talking amongst themselves. Eventually, the man in the middle of the group looked up and noticed they weren’t alone in the alleyway. “Who’s there?” he shouted, making a move toward his own hip. And faster than I could follow with my blurry gaze, the two men on either side had pistols out at the ready. I instinctively went for Frankie, grabbing the back of his jacket, hanging on for dear life, noticing with dismay that he was so slow with his gun that he still hadn’t un-holstered it. “Oh, hey there Boss,” Frankie said, allowing me to finally exhale the breath I hadn’t even realized I’d been holding. Boss? “Frankie!” the fat man said, putting his gun away. Frankie took a step away from me and I let go of his jacket, hoping I hadn’t done any damage to it. The fat man put his arms around him in a giant bear hug while the other two gentlemen put away their guns and everyone went back to acting as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened at all. Once ‘Boss’ finally let go of Frankie, he noticed me standing there. “Well hey there,” he said, being a perfect gentleman, not looking me up and down, but right in the eyes, though I wasn’t sure he could really see me that well in the shadows. “Hi,” I squeaked, still a little shaky from the guns being pointed at me. The Boss turned his attention back to Frankie. “We were just heading to a little get together over at home base,” he said. “You should join us,” he said, giving me a wink. “It’s going to be a good time.” “Yeah, sure Boss,” Frankie said, slapping the short man on the back. The other two men, thugs really, tipped their hats to me, and they all sauntered inside. “Is this home base?” I asked once they were safely out of earshot. Frankie chuckled. “No, but you can get there from here.” “The tunnels?” He nodded, smiling. “Well, it looks like you’ve gotten the okay from the Boss, and believe me, that doesn’t happen very often. He doesn’t invite just anyone into the tunnels, let alone home base.” “Really? But I didn’t even do anything.” Frankie shrugged. “He puts a lot of stock in first impressions.” I crinkled my brow. “I don’t get it. All those other girls in there seem to be a lot more suited to the place.” Frankie nodded. “That’s why he likes you. The Boss is pretty down to earth. He likes people who don’t try too hard.” I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow, looking at that shiny, silvery suit he was wearing. “Really?” Frankie sort of hung his head a little, embarrassed. “I know, I know. It’s kind of backward, but the Boss says we have to keep up appearances once we are officially working for him. Says we reflect on him.” “But he doesn’t like anyone else who gets all dressed up?” He shrugged again, looking a little uncomfortable. “Says they’re tryin’ too hard. No one else should be at our level.” “That’s… strange.” “I know. I don’t much like it, but that’s how it is with the Boss. I try not to stir things up, yanno?” I nodded. “Yeah, I guess. But the Boss doesn’t like all those pretty girls inside?” I asked, doubtful. “You’re prettier than all them,” Frankie said. I let out a huff. “Yeah right,” though I couldn’t help being a little flattered at the same time. “Really, you are. You’re just not all dressed up fake with a bunch of fancy sparkles or makeup.” “I wear lipstick,” I said, hoping the last layer I’d applied was still staying put even after all that dancing and the drinks. Frankie curled up one half of his mouth. “And do you wear it!” And that’s when the absolutely, most positively exciting thing that had ever happened to me took place. Frankie leaned toward me, and for a moment, I thought he was about to kiss me. What could have been more romantic? Alone in a dark alley… well, okay, that part was a little scary, but at least we were alone, uninterrupted. I closed my eyes, waiting for our lips to meet. But it wasn’t his lips that touched mine. Instead, he lightly brushed his thumb across my lips, ever so slowly. It was as if fireworks were being set off inside my head. A tiny sigh escaped me. And then it was over. Just like that, way too soon. It was a second or two before my brain could function again, but Frankie was nice enough to savor the moment too. “I’m sorry, I hope that wasn’t too forward,” Frankie said, so sincere. Of course I didn’t have the mental fortitude to scrape up any sort of answer in an appropriate amount of time. Worry twitched around his eyes. “Oh no, I’m so sorry,” he said quickly. “I just thought…” “No, no, it is okay,” I was finally able to spit out. “I uh, guess I was a little surprised, but it was definitely okay.” I actually had to congratulate myself a little bit about getting myself together enough to say something coherent. “Oh good,” he said, grinning and rubbing the back of his neck. “So uh, I guess we should get back in?” “What about the party?” I said, suddenly a bit disappointed that I wouldn’t get to be initiated into the super secret society of those privileged enough to see a mob boss’ secret hideaway. Oh my gosh, I might get to see a mob hideaway! Boy, if someone had told me that a week ago, I would have told them they must have been drinking too much giggle water. In the first place, I would have never believed I would have an opportunity like that, but there was certainly no way I’d believe I would actually ever go someplace so dangerous. And now after the scene at the benefit, it was all too clear that our lives didn’t match, but still, maybe if we were to just keep our relationship a secret, and nobody ever knew… Suddenly, my heart beat fast again. There’s this thing about danger that I never knew before. Danger equals excitement. I always thought that danger equaled bad, but that is definitely not the case. For the first time in my life, I was living! Even with the gun pointed toward us a few short minutes ago, I may have been scared, but it was also a rush. I don’t know if that makes me crazy or what, but the thought of possible death had made me feel more alive than ever. And keeping a secret had always been exciting. A secret this big could prove to be… exhilarating. Now, the thought of not getting to go to the party pretty much crushed my spirit completely. “Don’t worry, we can still go if you want,” Frankie said. I breathed again. “It’s just that it won’t start for a while I’m sure.” He looked at his watch. “It’s early yet for the Boss.” I nodded, and couldn’t help wondering who The Boss really was. Surely, he couldn’t be who the gossip papers said he was. I mean, I knew he must be a mobster, but I couldn’t believe he was that mobster. Of course, I was far too embarrassed to ask Frankie about it. Back inside Frankie bought me another drink, even though I protested. “C’mon,” he said. “It ain’t livin’ without Jumpin’ Jerry’s famous juices!” And while he said it he sort of did a little dance with his arms, and most comically, his face seemed to dance right along too. I giggled, liking this new, less serious side of Frankie, almost as if he were a little nervous, and maybe he was, considering the events out in the alley. He was probably still shook up from the guns. I, on the other hand, was definitely still shook up from that monumental moment afterward. I could hardly wait for the night to end. Well, that part of the night anyway. I was positively dying to know what the inside of the Boss’ secret lair looked like. It was silly that I was thinking of it as a secret lair, it’s not like it was a cave or anything, or who knows, maybe it was, but something about the phrase just fit. I kept looking for any sign of Annie, but she had again abandoned me. I couldn’t decide whether I was flattered because she believed I could take care of myself, or if I should be offended because she could so easily forget me. Unfortunately, it was probably the latter since she wasn’t known much for her selflessness. I’m sure she got one look at her Adonis-like guy and snuck him outta there so she could have him all to herself. I didn’t even want to think about what they might be doing at that moment. Suddenly, I felt flush. I didn’t know if it was the dancing, thinking about that touch in the alley, or the brief thought of Annie and her, ehm… gentleman. “You okay?” Frankie asked, taking my elbow the way he had started to do, looking concerned. It was nice the way Frankie was touching me, almost like it was beginning to become a habit for him, like he was protecting me without even thinking about it, not that I wanted to be that damsel in distress or anything, but it was nice, how familiar it was becoming already. “Yeah, I’m okay, thanks.” I smiled. “Just a little warm is all.” Which was definitely true. I should have been cold since we’d just come in from outside, but even out in the alley had been sweltering. My blood felt like it was positively racing through my body. It wasn’t that my heart was only beating faster, but it was also beating harder, more intensely. I wasn’t sure if it was the closeness to Frankie, or if the liquor had a hand in it. “Maybe now would be a good time to get outta here,” he said, “you know, if you still want to go to the party.” “Oh yeah, sure,” I said casually, though I was screaming “finally!” in my head. Plus the thought of the dim chill of the tunnels was almost enough to start to cool me down. I looked around to see if I could figure out where the secret entrance to the tunnel would be this time. At Joe’s it had opened up just like a door, but from The Roxy it had been the hatch in the floor. I could only guess what they had come up with for this place. To my surprise, Frankie led me straight to the Men’s washroom door. As he was just about to walk in, I stopped. I certainly wasn’t about to go traipsing in on the men in there, and if Frankie thought I was, he was surely mistaken! “Don’t worry,” he said, sensing my utter horror, “we don’t go all the way in to the washroom, there’s a little hallway.” I’m sure I didn’t look all that convinced, probably because I wasn’t. I couldn’t let all the people in the joint see me walk right into the men’s bathroom! Even if it wasn’t really the bathroom. Surely they would know that something was up. “It’s okay Sadie,” Frankie said. “Besides, it’s the only way. I don’t even know how to get there from above ground.” I looked around the room. Frankie probably thought I was looking for a place to escape, but really, I was just making sure that no one was watching us. Everyone seemed to be minding their own business though, other than the few girls that had their eyes glued to every move that Frankie was making. Never in my life had I seen so many mean looks, especially directed toward me. Of course, I had never done anything to remotely cause a mean look before, but I had to admit, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. They were supremely jealous of the fact that I had Frankie’s full attention, so it was actually a little bit nice. “Okay, let’s go,” I said, pushing Frankie. My heart started racing as we once again delved into the world of my city’s underground tunnels. CHAPTER 10 Frankie had been true to his word that I did not have to see the inside of the men’s washroom. From what I’d seen in the ladies room, I was in no hurry to see how much worse the men’s could get, although it is funny how quickly you get used to something. Just over a day ago, I was horrified to see what several dozen girls could do to a restroom in a single night, but by the time the cops had shown up, I’d managed to make several trips and hadn’t even been thinking about the germs by the end. I had other, more important things to think about. Like Frankie. We approached a door marked ‘Broom Closet.’ “We have to hurry, we can’t let anyone see,” Frankie said. I quickened my steps to keep up with the gentle tug on my arm. The door opened into complete and utter darkness, even darker than I’d remembered from before. “I’ll have to see about getting that light fixed,” he said as the door shut behind us, leaving us blind. “It’s not far this time.” I smiled, though I supposed he wasn’t able to see me in the darkness of the tunnel. I made a ‘hmm’ noise so he would know I was listening. The air smelled of fresh dirt, almost like a spring rain, and it was again blessedly cool. Frankie held my hand as we made our way toward a dim light in the distance, and even when we reached where we could see better, he kept holding it. I tried to think of something interesting to say, but my brain still wasn’t working quite right. In fact, my head was kind of spinning. It was the strangest sensation, like if I was to hold my body still for a moment, my head would spin like crazy. But when I stayed in motion, the spinning wasn’t quite as bad. Plus, just being alone in the tunnel with Frankie was nice, even if we weren’t talking much. Every now and again as we’d turn another corner, sounds of a party would drift to us, muffled, but unmistakably people having a grand ol’ time. I marveled at the fact that it seemed like hundreds of people knew about these secret places, and how many people were not content to sit at home and live ‘proper’ lives. At least I wasn’t the only one. I wondered how many others had to sneak out after their parents had gone to sleep like I did. Maybe I was alone. Well, other than Annie of course, although if her mother caught her sneaking out she’d probably take her shopping for some new dancing shoes, whereas if I was caught, I’d be under lock and key until the day I died. Or moved out, I supposed. Longer if my parents thought they could get away with it. “We’re getting close,” Frankie said. “Okay.” I was definitely excited, but a little disappointed too. It was kind of nice having Frankie all to myself. “Or we could just stay here a little longer,” he said, a hopeful note creeping into his voice, or maybe he had just picked up on the disappointment in my voice. Either way I was more than happy to stay down in the tunnel and rest for a while. It had been a long night already, though I wasn’t really tired. Who could be with all the electricity piercing the air? There was something about the tunnels, the secrecy, the danger, the… privacy. I thought I felt something before, but now that Frankie was standing in front of me, looking at me, it was like the whole place had come alive with energy. My breath deepened as I sucked in more air, trying to calm the giddy, dizzy feeling in my head. My stomach tightened in anticipation, almost as if I was afraid. And I was I guess, but only a little, the excitement was by far overriding it. Frankie gave me a sort of goofy grin and the dim light only softened his gorgeous face, his blue eyes catching the reflection of the crude lighting behind my head. Instinctively, I took a step back, straight into the wall of the narrow passageway. It wasn’t that I’d wanted to get away from him or anything, quite the opposite in fact, but my instinct had turned out to be right since the wall proved to be a perfect stabilizer for my poor, spinning head. I leaned into the coolness of the stone, letting my head fall back slightly for support. I closed my eyes, drinking in the wonderful chill, the muffled party noises from somewhere down the tunnel, and Frankie’s light cologne. Just as a smile was creeping across my face something brushed across my exposed throat. Something warm and soft. Something perfect. Frankie. His lips wandered across my skin so lightly I could barely feel it. It was completely at odds with the other feelings surging through my body, which were some of the most intense I had ever experienced in my life. The best part was that my head had stopped spinning completely. I was just there, in the tunnel, my thoughts nowhere other than on my neck and inhaling that sweet musk. I must have made a noise because Frankie suddenly brought his head closer to mine. At first he looked worried, but then once I smiled a little he grinned too and leaned, ever so slowly—excruciatingly slowly—toward me. In that moment, all the electricity that had been buzzing around seemed to zap together and as our lips met, a charge surged through me. The hair on my arms stood up, and not because of the coolness in the tunnel either. I didn’t have any frame of reference as far as kissing went, but I had to believe that this was one of the most perfect, amazing, chemistry filled kisses of all time. There was nothing on Earth that could have prepared me for the urgent and pulsing physical reaction of my body. I’d always—so wrongly—thought that kissing was purely a brain activity. But oh no. Things were going on that I had no idea how to control, nor did I really want to all that badly. Frankie pressed gently into me, his fresh scent mingling with the dampness of the tunnel, which made it even more intoxicating. With all the privacy, it was easy to imagine that the whole world had completely disappeared and Frankie and I were the only survivors. The nearby party seemed to completely fade away. Frankie put his arm around my waist and pulled me in closer, gently pressing himself against me, causing the strange pulsing to magically, and satisfactorily subside, though only for a second. I couldn’t help but push slightly toward him myself and even though I was doing something very, very against every rule I was ever taught, there was absolutely no way I would have been able to stop myself. Suddenly, the noise of the party burst into my ears, no longer drowned out by the security of a heavy door. Tragically, someone had entered the tunnels and we were no longer alone. “Well, well,” a man in a brown suit and matching fedora approached. “Who’s there?” He squinted in the darkness. Frankie cleared his throat. “Ah Frankie, ol’ boy, what’s the holdup?” he said, knowing full well what the holdup really was. His sly grin widened as he took a good look at me. Though I’d gotten used to the some of the looks I’d been getting lately, I couldn’t help but feel a little funny about the way his gaze went all the way up and all the way down me, coming back to finally settle on my face to shoot me a wink. Frankie leaned in a little closer, blocking me a little from the man’s open and unwanted stare. “Oh, hey Lenny,” he said. “How’s the party?” “Oh good, good. Just heading home though. When I stay out too late, the missus sometimes won’t wait up, if you know what I mean.” He raised his eyebrows twice conspiratorially. Ew, this man is married! Who would marry such a creep? Frankie let out a huffing sound that acknowledged he understood, but didn’t really humor the guy. I could tell right away that this Lenny wasn’t very high up on Frankie’s list of people he liked, or respected for that matter. I swear it made me like him even more, if that was possible. We both watched Lenny wander off, stumbling slightly as he made his way down the tunnel. “Sorry about him,” Frankie said, not giving any further explanation. I could only assume that Lenny was the Boss’s nephew or something because there was no way anyone would have brought him into the gang if they didn’t absolutely have to, I was sure of it. I turned my gaze back to Frankie, oh so ready to get back to where we were before Lenny had so rudely interrupted us, but unfortunately, Frankie had other plans. “Well, I guess we’d better get in there. The Boss likes all his boys to make an appearance at these things.” “Oh,” I nodded. “Okay.” What I really wanted to say was “No way! Come here big fella!” But of course I would never have been able to say anything like that in a million years. Frankie took my hand and I was pleasantly surprised to notice that electricity still pulsed between us, my hand tingling ever so slightly where our skin had touched. He led me through the heavy door where Lenny had come from and we walked up a set of stairs. Frankie knocked on a second door, this time not worrying about how loud it was. I guess there wasn’t any danger of the police overhearing at this place. And when the door opened, I understood why. It wasn’t just another old speakeasy. This was a residence. Someone’s house actually had a secret entrance into the tunnels! When I was a little girl I’d read stories about houses with secret passageways and forever wished I could live in a place like that. I even scoured my own house, checking behind paintings and under all the rugs just to be sure mine didn’t have an exciting hidden door or secret of some sort, but no such luck. I’d never seen a curved room the way this one was, the straight lines of the largest rug I had ever seen trying their best to contradict. The walls were a deep, creamy red, set off by shocks of gloss-black that covered the panels of trim as well as the several doors around the room. Gold shone everywhere reaching almost to the ceiling on the heavily carved arches that framed it all. I noticed almost immediately that there were no windows here, no way of looking out into the world and I found it sad that, while this life must be grand, it came at a cost. A cost of even the most simplest of comforts, like the sun. The place was practically claustrophobic with artwork, each wall housing at least one or two pieces. Large paintings, mostly landscape, with trees in every color imaginable hung above alcoves where soft light showcased busts of famous gentlemen, as well as several lewd sculptures of ladies standing in what were supposed to be artful poses. Heavy furniture and bookcases, some trimmed with gold, took up every available crevice, each lounger and chair accompanied by its own fringe-trimmed lamp alongside. I’d never seen such extravagance in my life, and if it weren’t for having been in The Roxy last night, I might not have thought it possible. I realized then that the underground liquor business must be rather lucrative and wondered how much of the proceeds went to someone like Frankie. His clothes were certainly some of the nicest in the clubs. Perhaps his place looked something like this one too. “Frankie!” people started yelling from every direction as we made our way inside. He certainly was well known. Every man in the room came over to shake his hand. Some of the older men patted him on the shoulder, as a father would do to a son. Frankie seemed to be enjoying himself and this place. This world of secrecy and intrigue was obviously where he felt comfortable. This was home for him. As in the clubs, the ladies in the room eyed Frankie up. I was amazed at how forward everyone was in this underground community. They didn’t even try to hide the fact that they were ogling him, even the ones who were sitting on other gentlemen’s laps, which was a little shocking in itself. Once all the pleasantries were finally over—it seemed to take forever for the introductions—Frankie pulled me toward the other side of the room where things were slightly quieter. I wasn’t too pleased when Frankie grabbed two glasses of a thick, bronze liquid, no doubt more liquor, from a table filled with of them and handed one to me. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to try this type of liquor—okay, maybe it was, since it looked positively wretched—but I also knew that I absolutely should not put any more alcohol into my system. The way my head had been off kilter back in the tunnel was enough for me to know that, but I took the glass to be polite, deciding I would just hold it. Maybe take a sip just to tell Annie I’d tried it, even though she probably wouldn’t believe me. When I raised the glass close to my lips though, the smell got to me first and I decided that maybe Annie was right. Maybe I was too chicken for certain things. Of course, it could have been the circumstances. I was already feeling rather jumbled down in my stomach and not just because of the little interlude out in the tunnel. I held the glass far from my face as I glanced around. “So, what do you think?” Frankie asked, gesturing to the room. I wasn’t sure if he meant the house, or the people in it, or maybe his whole lifestyle all together. So I just smiled and said, “it’s the cat’s meow.” Of course it came out sounding like I was about six years old seeing a fancy place for the first time in my life. But Frankie just smiled. “Well, we’d better go say hi to the Boss.” My stomach did a little flip. I wasn’t sure if I was up for that yet. Back in the alley it all happened so fast and I didn’t have a chance to get my head around who I was meeting. But now seemed different, as if I was being set up for scrutiny. What if I didn’t meet his approval? What would he do to Frankie? Especially if he was who everyone said he was. I’d read so many things about him in the papers that I didn’t know what to believe. Surely, he couldn’t have done all the things they said he did, and if was all true, what was he still doing on this side of metal bars? But at the same time, weren’t we standing at that very moment in some kind of secret lair? Frankie must have sensed my hesitation. “Don’t worry,” he said, bending down to whisper in my ear. “He’s not as scary as you might think.” He finished with a wink. I took a deep breath as Frankie pushed me gently toward the far end of the room where the short man from the alley sat in a fine striped suit, smoking on a fat cigar and laughing raucously along with the small crowd gathered around him. I would have thought that the atmosphere might be strained, people walking on eggshells around such a powerful man, but everyone looked completely comfortable and relaxed. As we approached, the Boss looked up. He stood ceremoniously as he spoke. “Frankie! Glad you could make it.” A strange choice of words, I thought, since it seemed sort of mandatory the way Frankie was talking. “Hey Boss,” Frankie said, leaning in for a one-s—s-shouldered hug. The Boss patted Frankie’s back more aggresively than I’d ever seen in a hug before and laughed from deep within. Finally Frankie broke away from the embrace and stepped back in line with me. “I’d like you to meet Sadie sir,” he said. “Ah! The girl from the alley,” the Boss said, smiling widely and leaning in close. The faint scent of cigar mingled with a very strong drink on his breath, but there was something about him that put me at ease, the tension and fear just faded away. I nodded almost imperceptibly and tried to smile. His expression seemed to change slightly then, almost like he was confused or something. He cleared his throat. “She’s a looker,” he said, turning to Frankie, and I was free from his attention again. But I did notice a strange look pass between Frankie and the Boss and then he pulled Frankie a few steps away for a bit of privacy, whispering into his ear. The tension came back tenfold. I knew he wasn’t going to like me. He could probably tell I was from a straight-laced, church-going family. He probably thought I was just there as a dare, a silly girl, in over her head, which I suppose I was, but I wasn’t scared the way he probably thought I was. This was the life for me, I knew with all my being. But then I noticed the rest of the people in the room. It felt suspiciously like the ballroom had just a few short hours ago. I felt like I was standing in the middle of a darkened stage with a spotlight shining directly on my head. I tried to smile and keep my blush at bay, but it was no use. They were looking at me as if I had the plague. That’s when it hit me. Not only would Frankie and I not have a public relationship but we would not have an underground, secret relationship either. These people hated me just as much as my parents’ people hated Frankie. How could I have been so stupid? Frankie stepped back toward me, an expression on his face that could only be described as quizzical. We stood there as the Boss sat down again and turned his attention back to his other guests. Unfortunately, as Frankie led me away—gazes following us the whole way—his arm was not around me, only his hand clutching the back of my arm. “Sadie…” he said. “I forgot to ask you before. What was your last name?” My heart practically stopped. “Um…” was all I could spit out before my voice caught. He sighed and leaned his head back, closing his eyes. “Please tell me that it’s not McKay.” “Um…” “Sadie!” I sighed. “Yes, it’s McKay,” I said as quietly as I could, terrified that the others might overhear. CHAPTER 11 “Okay, I can fix this,” he said, as if in a trance. Frankie took the full drink from my hand, set it down, and led me back toward the door to the tunnel. “I’ll take you home and try to forget about you, and everything will be okay,” he said quietly, so as not to make a scene. Everyone had gone right on back partying as if the whole world hadn’t just fallen completely apart. We rushed out the way we came in, but as the heavy door at the bottom of the stairs slammed behind us, I couldn’t help but notice the coolness in the tunnels wasn’t nearly as comforting as it had been a short while ago. “I can’t believe I let myself do this,” Frankie muttered under his breath. I stopped and stared at him, my mouth open in shock. “Don’t look at me like that,” he said. “Like what?” “Like you’re surprised that this didn’t work out. Surely you didn’t think you’d actually be able to date someone like me. Your father’s the Mayor for God’s sake!” “What’s that supposed to mean?” He shrugged. “Politics do not mix well with the likes of people like me. You’d think someone like you would know that.” I glared at him, not sure I’d ever been so upset in my life. “How can you even think that’s who I am? Don’t you think I hate that my parents run my life for me? Haven’t I proven to you that’s not who I am?” “Oh I see who you are alright. You’re a girl who got bored one day and decided to find a little excitement in her life. But believe me, the excitement wears off faster than you’d imagine. And then you’re stuck.” I eyed him up. “You don’t look like you’re that bad off.” “Oh really? You know, the funny thing is, my life isn’t much different than yours. Do you really think I can just up and leave anytime I want? That I get to make any of my own decisions in this life?” I crinkled my brow, not understanding. “Of course you didn’t think of that,” he paused, exasperated that I wasn’t getting what he was trying to say. “Sadie, don’t you see? This life that I have, it isn’t real. Sure I have nice things, but nice things are only worth something if you have the freedom to enjoy them.” “But you’re a grown man. Why on earth wouldn’t you be free?” Frankie looked at me like I was some child he had to educate. “This organization I’m in,” he said slowly, so it would really sink in. “They don’t just let people take off whenever they want. Once you’re in, you’re in. For life.” He started walking away. “You don’t know how lucky you are. I only wish I had someone to stop me before I’d gotten into all this.” I looked at him, not quite understanding. He sighed and leaned back on the wall of the tunnel. “Look, I was sixteen when I first met the Boss. My family was all gone and the life seemed so… glamorous.” I suddenly felt ashamed for all the thoughts I’d had the past few days. “But it is glamorous,” I said, maybe more to defend myself than to convince him. “Just look at all the people who admire you.” My jealous side couldn’t help but think of all those women who I’d seen look at him so hungrily in the last couple days. He whipped his head around to look me in the eye. “Admire me? None of them even know me. There’s not one person on this planet that has any clue who I am. Maybe they admire the suit, or the parties I go to, but believe me, if anyone really knew what I’ve become, admiration would be the last thing on their minds.” He turned and started walking again, this time with a vengeance. “My God, how did I let this happen?” he said, taking off his hat and ramming his fingers through his hair. “Let what happen?” I couldn’t help but yell. I was overreacting, and goodness knows my mother had always taught me that a lady never loses her temper, but I couldn’t help myself. The spinning in my head had come back full-force and I was completely out of control. “What is it you’ve done that is so bad?” It was just so insulting that Frankie thought the greatest thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life was such a big mistake. He just kind of smirked. “I guess you’re too sheltered to know.” He got up and started walking. The words were a slap in the face, meant to hurt, meant to make me like him less. But I knew what was going on. He was trying to make it look like he was the bad guy, trying to make me hate him. “It’s not going to work, you know,” I said. “What?” “You’re not going to trick me into thinking you’re something you’re not.” He snorted. “No, I guess that’s your game. And by the way, what is it that I’m not?” I followed behind him, barely able to keep up as he barreled down the tunnel. “You’re not a bad guy. You’re trying to make me think you’re this awful guy who can do whatever he wants and not care who he hurts.” He stopped, and at first I was relieved to catch my breath, but then I noticed his face, wild, like something had suddenly snapped inside him. “Not a bad guy?” He leaned in close. “Not a bad guy? If you only knew some of the things I have done in my life, you would run like hell in the other direction. What do you call someone who cheats his way through life? Someone who tricks people? Someone who does things you can’t even imagine are possible?” “Now you’re just trying to scare me,” I said. “You’re not those things.” Frankie turned away like he suddenly couldn’t look at me. “Of course you wouldn’t believe the real truth about people, you’re just a naïve little daddy’s girl.” I tried to breathe, and tried not to let any more tears fall, not wanting to give him the satisfaction, so I marched ahead down the tunnel. “Leave me alone. It’s not like this was ever going to happen anyway.” “You got that right… doll.” He said, emphasizing the last word, out of spite, no doubt. But the thing was, I couldn’t help but think that a guy who follows someone all the way back to the club—the only place I knew how to get to in that stupid tunnel maze—and then all the way across town, just to make sure she gets home safe, could not be as bad of a person as he claimed. After I snuck back through my window—I had remembered to leave a small garbage can for a step this time—I was much too wired to sleep. I changed into my nightgown and put the doll from my bed back into the closet and crept out of my room, on the prowl for something to read, hoping to get the events of the night off my mind. I was shocked to hear someone talking as I snuck down the hall. My first instinct was to sprint back to my room, thinking for sure they’d known I’d been out half the night. But I realized if they’d found me out, all the lights in the house would be on and my mother would be frantically pacing. No, this voice was whispered, and I was only hearing half of the conversation. It was obvious that my father was on the telephone. But who could he be talking to in the middle of the night? I knew I should turn back to my room, but something drew me closer to my father’s study. “Look Daniel, I think we’re blowing this all out of proportion. I’m sure the raid got those guys thinking. They’re probably busy packing up, ready to head for the hills,” he said. I pressed myself against the wall and snuck even closer. “I know you wanted another one tonight, but it’s too dangerous for the people. Someone could get hurt.” I couldn’t hear the words, but it was obvious that someone, this Daniel, was yelling on the other end. I guess he wasn’t too worried about his family hearing his end of the conversation. My father sighed. “Fine. I’ll see what I can do. But I still say it’s much too dangerous for the people of the town.” His voice held a hint of worry that I’d never heard in him before. “Look, maybe the only way we could pull it off if we did a bunch of joints at the same time. Get ‘em all at once.” More yelling came from the other end of the line. “Yeah, yeah I know.” I turned to rush back to my room, but a moment later, I was surprised to hear the dialing of the phone. “It’s me,” my father said. “What the hell were you thinking showing up like that tonight?” There was a pause while the person on the other end spoke. Given the context of the call, I would expect to hear yelling again, but I didn’t hear a peep. Whoever was on the other end remained collected. “Look, I can’t protect your guys anymore. I’m getting heat from all directions. All I can say is that they’re ready to raid, and they’re coming hard this time.” I tried to understand exactly what I was hearing. The first call was obviously one of the people my father answered to. But this, this sounded almost like he was speaking to the bad guys, or who he would call bad guys, anyway. But that couldn’t possibly be the case. My father could never be associated with something underhanded. There was just no way. He was always shouting out from up on his high horse, the perfect man to lead the town to victory. Not that we were ever fighting for anything. “I don’t know,” he was saying. “I just don’t know. They won’t risk telling me when and where this time. They’re keeping tight lipped on this one.” More silence. “I know, and of course I appreciate the money. Believe me, it could not have come at a better time, but the deal was to tell you everything I know, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. I can’t afford to ask anymore questions, they’ll figure me out. I’m sorry. I swear that’s all I know.” His voice had taken another turn that I’d never heard before, the fear in it terrified me. He hung up then, and this time I did rush back to my room. I tried desperately to make sleep come, but for what seemed like hours, I stared at my ceiling, unable to believe what I’d heard. I couldn’t help but think about Frankie, and what might happen to him, hoping desperately—and hating myself for it—that I’d have a chance to at least see him one last time. CHAPTER 12 Eventually I drifted into an uneasy sleep. I didn’t tell Annie about the phone calls when she came over the next morning. She could be trusted with any secret, but I wasn’t quite ready to come to terms with it myself yet. And I certainly wasn’t ready to let her know that our nighttime escapades might soon come to an end. Besides, we had plenty to talk about once I told her what had happened with Frankie. “What a complete ass!” she yelled. “Shh! My mother will hear you!” That’s all I needed, my mother forbidding me to see my best friend because of one little word, which is exactly the kind of thing that my mother would just love to do. “Oh hogwash!” Annie said, waving her hand dismissively. “You’re mother is too uptight for her own good. No wonder you’re out there every night looking for adventure.” She put one hand on her hip. “And that Frankie doesn’t know what he’s missing. He would be so lucky to have someone like you.” I sigh. “Forget about him. There are plenty more fish in the sea. More handsome even, and powerful!” she said, with a wicked glint in her eye. “Not in this town,” I said. Annie thought about that for a moment, then nodded in agreement. “Okay, maybe not from this town, but Frankie isn’t the only recent import. The Boss brought plenty of fresh blood with him when he moved here. I shrugged, thinking there was no way anyone would ever measure up to Frankie, plus the Boss would always have his stupid age rule anyway. “Just look at the boys I’ve met,” Annie continued, beaming, drifting off to some little dream world doing who knows what with who knows which handsome stranger she’d gotten her hands on last night. I let her have her fun. If I couldn’t have any, someone should be able to. “You should find somebody like my Jimmy. Oh, he is a handsome devil,” she said, smiling. “Devil being the operative word, if you know what I mean.” She actually winked. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes even though I secretly couldn’t get enough of her stories. How else was I ever going to learn the ways of the world? It’s not like I’d learned anything other than how to be a perfect lady in my house. I relied on Annie to give me the how not to be a lady education. I couldn’t help it, it just seemed like so much more fun. Unfortunately, it looked like we were running out of time. “You will not believe what we did. We snuck into the fountain, you know, outside your Dad’s work building, and went skinny dipping!” My jaw dropped. “You went skinny dipping in the Mayoral fountain?” Annie giggled. “Well, okay, not total skinny dipping. We kept our underthings on, but let me tell you, those little briefs that Jimmy was wearing were not hiding much.” We fell into a fit of giggles. Soon, my mother came in and ruined all the fun. “Girls, what is all this ruckus? That is no way for ladies to behave!” “Sorry Mrs. McKay,” Annie said, flashing her most gleaming of smiles my mother’s way. Then she immediately turned back to me and crossed her eyes. So of course I couldn’t stop giggling while I attempted my apology and ended up exasperating my mother even more. She walked out shaking her head and sighing. When we finally found our composure, Annie was already making plans for our next outing. “Jimmy wants to meet me again tonight. I bet we can get him to bring one of his friends along. We can double!” I fumbled with my hands. “I don’t know.” After that kiss last night with Frankie, I couldn’t imagine going on a date with another guy. I was also more than a little worried about our safety. Not that we could possibly have such bad luck as to be caught in another of the raids. “Oh come on, Sadie,” she looked at me, pleading. “You know what?” She got up and put her hands on her hips. “I am not taking no for an answer.” She marched over to my closet and started shuffling through my clothes almost violently. I sighed. “What are you doing?” “I am finding you something to wear. How can you possibly survive with all these prissy dresses?” “I don’t know,” I said, slumping back into my headboard. “It’s not like I have much choice in the matter.” “Wait a minute,” she said reaching in, then spinning around, holding the formal dress I wore to the annual Mayor’s ball. “What?” I asked. “That’s one of the frumpiest things in there.” I wondered if Annie was going loopy on me with all the late night partying. Goodness knows I was certainly tired these days. “Well now it is,” she said, holding it at arm’s length and eyeing it up and down. “But wait until we’re finished with it. Off to my house.” “Okay, but how are we going to sneak that past my mother?” She shook her head at me like I was the saddest creature in the universe. “Do you recall how you sneak out past your mother?” “Through the window?” “Yes. Just drop it out and we’ll sneak around and collect it.” “But, it’ll get all messed up.” Annie raised her head to the ceiling, shaking her head a little. Honestly, I didn’t know what she was so frustrated about, it’s not like she was being very clear. “Put it in a bag or something,” she said. “Oh, right.” Suddenly I did feel rather silly. We scrambled around in my closet and finally found a large laundry bag that would be suitable and chucked the whole works right to the ground. “Are you sure it will be okay?” Annie shrugged. “It’s not like it really matters. Your mother would never let you wear this again to a public function, and it’s too formal for anything else.” She had a point, but I was still skeptical about whether I should just go ahead and ruin something so valuable. Of course, it would just eventually get given to some charity or another anyway. “We’re heading out for tea,” I called to my mother as we hurried out the door. She gave us an approving smile, no doubt highly impressed that I was able to convince Annie to attend something so proper. I supposed she thought I was a good influence on her. If she only knew. We grabbed the dress bag off the damp lawn and each held gingerly to an end. The bag was much too dirty to for just one of us to carry, but even with both of us carrying, it was cumbersome, especially trying to make sure it didn’t touch our clothes. Thank goodness Annie didn’t live too far away since anyone who passed us looked at us like we were absolutely crazy. Annie’s mother was entirely too excited to see us with the dress. She loved to get her hands on a good fashion project, but thankfully, Annie slapped her hand away. “No mother, this is just for me and Sadie.” She glanced over at me. “Well, probably just me. I have a vision and I’m going to make it happen.” She put her nose in the air and walked off while her mother and I exchanged glances. Mrs. Cambridge even shrugged and shook her head, smiling a little, well used to Annie’s moods by now. We both knew once she got an idea into her head, there was no talking her out of it. I hurried up the stairs after Annie. Her room was a lavish display of all things dramatic, just like Annie herself. Newspapers were scattered everywhere, revealing her obsession with celebrities, fashion, and anything that had absolutely nothing to do with this boring little city that we lived in. The sooner she could break free of this place, the better. Even when she was a little girl, it barely held her interest. The shimmering green dress that she’d confiscated from my wardrobe actually did seem to be holding her interest for the moment though. She dumped the dress on the bed and frantically leafed through the paper from New York. She’d never actually talked about it, but it was Annie’s dream to someday move there and become famous. It didn’t seem to matter how she acquired her fame, just as long as people knew who she was. Judging by the way she was eyeing the fashion pages, I thought becoming a famous fashion designer might be right up her alley. A couple hours later, I was proven correct. The gown was an up to the minute version of some of the most stylish dresses in the papers. I doubt anyone in this city had ever seen the likes of something like it in real life. I was certainly going to stand out. The shimmery green of the dress was the first thing of course, but Annie had absolutely outdone herself, shortening the skirt (a little more than I was comfortable with, but she assured me it was perfect), and redesigning the neckline to an off the shoulder, draping style. It would have been wonderful on its own, but the matching headband complete with large peacock feather from her own closet made it completely perfect. “There is no way anybody is going to miss you tonight,” Annie said. She was right. The dress made a statement. “Frankie is going to fall all over himself the second he sees you. He will not be a happy mobster,” she said, with a hint of mischief in her voice. “And you’re sure Jimmy won’t mind if you bring me along?” “Are you kidding? Being seen around town with a couple of the prettiest girls in town? Who would mind something like that?” “What if he wants to be alone with you?” She shrugged. “So what if he does? Doesn’t mean he get’s to, does it?” I contemplated that for a moment. “Okay, but what if you want to be alone with him?” She giggled a little. “I’ll just have to control myself, I suppose. Besides, who says you won’t find some hot daddy to sneak off with yourself?” she said with a wink. “Annie!” I said. Honestly, I could not believe her gall sometimes. I couldn’t imagine wanting to sneak off with anybody other than Frankie, let alone some stranger I just met that night. Of course, I couldn’t very well say that out loud, since Annie wouldn’t even think twice about doing just that and I didn’t want her to think I disapproved of her choices. And really, I didn’t. It’s just that she lived her life differently than me. “You never know,” she said, and raised her eyebrows in that way that always makes me feel like she knows so much more than I do. I changed from the fabulous green dress back into my regular clothes to head home. It would be much safer to sneak out later and get ready at Annie’s. If anyone caught me with that dress at my house, it would all be over. The rest of the day at home was positively painful. After I’d made the decision to go out with Annie, time seemed to slow to a standstill. I played piano while Emily tentatively practiced her singing. Her win at the competition had given her the opportunity to travel to an even bigger competition, all the way to the capitol city where she’d compete against other winners from the area. I don’t know how my mother managed, but she must have convinced my father it would get our family name on the ears of an even bigger voting public. Goodness knows he would fall all over himself to find a way into a larger government platform. The thought sent shivers down my spine. “You sound amazing,” I said, as we finished the song. Emily smiled, still looking a bit defeated. Only my father could make a person lose all hope in her dreams. “You’re going to do so well,” I tried. Emily shrugged. “Look Em, don’t let him crush you. He knows as well as we do that you’re the best. That’s why he’s allowing you to go, you know. Do you really think he’d send you off to the capitol city to go sing if he thought you’d do anything besides perfection?” She still looked at the floor, but I couldn’t help notice her eyebrows raise, just a little. She knew I was right. “Besides, this could be your ticket out of here someday,” I added. She looked at me then, her eyes filling with hope. “What do you mean?” “Em, there are places all over the world looking for someone who can sing like you. You could be on Broadway, for goodness sake.” “No,” she said, shyly, but a hint of excitement was springing back to life in her. “Yes. But only if you work really hard at it.” I turned back to the piano and started playing one of her favorites, “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” which of course she could never sing if our father was around, but I swear, I’d never seen her sing anything with such intensity in my life. After practice, we all ate supper in silence other than the clock mocking us with its loud ‘tick, tick, tick.” Unfortunately, when we were almost finished, my father decided to break that silence. “I heard you practicing today,” he said, more to his plate than anyone at the table. I glanced at Emily whose eyes grew wide with fear. But it was me that he turned to. “I will not have you filling our Emily’s head with your ridiculous songs and ridiculous notions.” He stared at me, waiting. Of course there was no correct reply to this, but I knew from experience that I’d better hurry up and answer before he lost even more of his patience. “It was just for fun…” “Fun? That’s what you call fun? Singing a ridiculous song about being lonely?” “I just…” “Do not interrupt me young lady! From now on you will stick to the hymns I have approved and nothing else! There is hardly enough time as it is if she is ever going to be good enough for the competition!” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Emily’s face crumple. Why did he always have to be so mean? “Father, you know she’s fantastic.” “Fantastic? Who cares about fantastic?” He turned to my sister. “Emily you have to be technically perfect, there is no room for the ridiculous artistic trills you put into your singing. No one wants to hear that. They want to hear it the way it’s supposed to be sung.” Emily whimpered a bit and I was desperate to get the attention off her. “There isn’t a way a song is supposed to be sung,” I said. “It’s about the interpretation, Father. When someone really creative and talented sings, magic happens.” I really don’t know what I was thinking. Why would he start listening to reason now? Especially with everything that was going on. I could practically see steam coming out of his ears. “Magic?” he scoffed. “I honestly don’t know where you come up with your ridiculous ideas. Margaret,” he said, turning to my mother, “what have you got her reading? There will be no more New York papers coming into this house!” My mother nodded once and kept on eating, absolutely enthralled with the food on her plate. “I haven’t been reading anything in the paper! Is it so impossible to believe that I could have ideas of my own?” I had actually dared to raise my voice to my father. Apparently my mother and Emily couldn’t believe it either, since they’d both stopped eating to stare. Emily had even forgotten the roll she’d been holding to her mouth, mid-bite. With my words, the air had been sucked out of the room. Even the clock seemed to get quieter. My father’s face was turning as dark as the wine in his glass, and I prepared myself for the worst. But instead of yelling, he spoke in a low, excruciatingly even tone. “I do not know what has gotten into you Sadie, but you will go to your room until you remember what it is to be a part of this family. And if you ever talk back to me in the future, you will never see the outside world again.” I just as calmly stood and set my napkin on my half-eaten plate, taking a step back from the table. I placed my hands gently on the back of my chair and took a deep breath. And I screamed as loud as was physically possible. “I. Hate. Being. In. This. Family!” Then, I moved. I moved as fast as my legs would walk while still trying desperately not to look like I was running away from the situation, even though, if I was being honest with myself, that was exactly what I was doing. I slammed my bedroom door and crawled under the covers of my bed, waiting for the door to burst open. But it never did. It killed me to think about Emily, out there to deal with the mess I’d made. There was no yelling though, only quiet, the way the house always was. It was as if nothing out of the ordinary had even happened, which might have been the most worrisome part of all. I literally stared at my wall for what seemed like hours until my parents finally retired to their room for the evening. I waited a few minutes, probably not long enough to ensure they were really sleeping soundly, but I just couldn’t stand it any longer. I’d opened the window hours earlier in anticipation of my great getaway so it was easy to sneak out quietly. Except for one thing, that is. As one leg dangled out the window, a tiny knock sounded at my door. My heart raced and my mind seemed to go blank. Okay, calm down, I told myself. I jumped back inside, then glanced down, remembering I was fully clothed. There is no way that would not arouse suspicion. I dove under the covers and closed my eyes just as the door slowly creaked open. I realized a second later that I was holding my breath, which was obviously not good when I was supposed to be sleeping. But my heart was beating a million miles a minute and my breath would be ragged. I mustered all my concentration on trying to breathe as smoothly as possible. And then the strangest thing happened. The door simply shut again. I lay still for what seemed like forever, not knowing for sure if the person had entered and closed the door behind them, still in my room—in which case they must have been the quietest breather ever—or if they had just peeked in and then left. I was still for another few minutes, finally deciding there was no way anyone could be that still and not have made a sound. Just to be sure though, I made a big production of rolling over, all tired like, as if I were just shifting in my sleep. I opened my eyes, just a little, enough to see, but could still fake it if I had to keep pretending I was asleep. I’d never been so relieved in my life to see that no one was in my room. Until, that is, I suddenly realized that this was still news of tragic proportions. Someone was checking up on me. CHAPTER 13 “What am I going to do?” I asked, pacing back and forth in Annie’s bedroom. “They could be in there right now discovering that I’m not there! How could this happen? Do they not trust me?” “I have found,” Annie said smugly, “that a person who is breaking the rules should not spout words about being offended over someone not trusting them to not break the rules.” “What?” I said, turning to her, exasperated. Why is she always turning everything I say around on me? “Shouldn’t you be on my side here?” “I am on your side,” she said with a hint of a smile. “It’s just that you can hardly allow yourself to feel offended over someone thinking you might break a rule when you have actually been breaking this rule for days now. Plus, you said you screamed at your father. It probably made him suspicious.” I stared at her, dumbfounded. “What you need to do,” said the ever-so-wise Annie, “is just let it go.” She moves her hands as if shooing a fly. “Let it go? Let what go?” “This need that you have to please your parents.” “I don’t have a need to please my parents,” I said defensively. Annie scoffed. “Oh please.” “I may,” I said, not conceding anything, “have a need to have a roof over my head. And that need may require some rule following, even if the rules are quite ridiculous and designed to keep me stifled for my entire life, but that is it. It is definitely not a need for any sort of approval or whatever it is you seem to be suggesting.” Annie nodded once. “Right,” she said, drawing the word out. “Well what do you suggest I do? I shouldn’t even be here! It’s not like I have any other choice but to follow the stupid rules until who knows when. Until I find a husband, I suppose.” Annie really rolled her eyes at that one. “Why on earth would you need one of those?” “Well what else is there to do?” “My mother doesn’t have a husband,” Annie said, sticking her nose in the air. “Well she did. And now she has her husband’s money.” She shrugged. “I plan on being just fine all on my own. Well,” she says, getting a glimmer in her eye, “there will be men obviously, but I certainly don’t plan on keeping any of them all that long.” I gave her a little smack on her shoulder. “How can you say such things?” She raised her eyebrows. “The world is changing Sadie,” she said. “Just think how lucky we are that we have the opportunities we do now. There are things a woman can do. In fact, a woman can do most everything,” she stood now, her speech gaining momentum, “we just have to have the guts to go out there and do it.” I sighed. I suppose she did have a point, but that was her world, not mine. “Fine, that’s all well and good for someone like you, someone who doesn’t have to worry about keeping up appearances. Who doesn’t have a father dictating every little thing that every single person in his life is allowed to do or not do.” “So what if you have a father who cares about you?” she pouted. “Don’t you think I’d give all this up to have a father again?” No one like mine, you wouldn’t. But then again, Annie never would believe it when I tried to tell her how difficult mine could be. I sighed. “You’d have to give up your dreams to go out into the world and do what you want.” She turned her back on me, crossing her arms at her chest. “No I wouldn’t. I’d still venture out on my own.” “If you were allowed.” “Even if I weren’t allowed, I’d do it!” “And how would you support yourself?” I said, gaining confidence in my argument. “What do you mean? The same way I will be as soon as I’m finished with school.” “Oh really,” I said, crossing my arms now. “You actually believe if your father was still living that he’d let his daughter gallivant off to New York City all by herself?” “Well, it wouldn’t matter if he approved or not.” “Except that if he didn’t approve, he wouldn’t give you any money to get settled.” And that is what finally shut her up. Well, for about half a minute. “Well, lucky for me I guess, that’s not the way my life turned out. I will have a fabulous life in New York City. Just you see. Now, if you don’t mind, I don’t really feel like going out anymore so you can just go sneak back to your house full of stupid rules and stupid parents.” She stormed out of her room and a moment later, the bathroom door slammed. I had to admit, I really didn’t feel like going out anymore either. In fact that little urge left me around the same time as that little knock on my door back in my bedroom. I was about to storm up to the bathroom door and tell her my life wasn’t so bad. At least I had two parents who cared about my well-being… but the muffled crying stopped me. I had never known Annie to cry before. Even when we were small girls and her father had just died, she shed no tears. I suppose I always thought she must have at some point, but I certainly didn’t see any. She was a good person of course, at least for the most part, but it hadn’t dawned on me that her heart might be made of anything other than stone. I wanted to go in and apologize, but I realized she probably stormed off for a reason, and that reason was specifically so that I wouldn’t see her. No, it was best just to leave her alone for now and come back to apologize in the morning. I only stopped to collect my ‘new’ dress, carefully packing it into the laundry bag before I snuck out into the chilly night. It never really dawned on me that I should be concerned about who else might be out in the dead black of night. Since I’d always been under so much intense scrutiny and hardly ever left home alone, I’d never bothered thinking about my own well-being. Perhaps my parents just hadn’t thought to warn me of the possible dangers out on the streets at night since they probably never imagined in a million years that I would think of going out on my own after dark. But as I strolled down the street, I had a sickening feeling that someone was following close behind, yet when I turned around there was nothing there. I quickened my steps, extremely aware of my pace. I didn’t want to go too fast and alert the person that might be following me that I was on to them. If there even was anyone back there, that is. It was perfectly possible that I was just being completely paranoid. I wasn’t having the most relaxing of evenings, what with being spied on in my room and then the fight with Annie. Needless to say, I was not feeling like myself. Unfortunately, I also wasn’t paying enough attention to what was in front of me since I’d been so preoccupied over what might be behind me. I turned a corner and ran smack dab into two gentlemen that had obviously been partaking in some of the illegal beverages around town. The first man stumbled back a few steps I’d knocked into him so hard. “Whoa there little lady,” the other man said, grabbing my hand for support so he wouldn’t stumble back as well. But then he didn’t let it go. He just held on tight while he looked behind him, chuckling a bit as his friend regained his composure. He turned back to me, his face much closer to mine than was comfortable. “Where’re you off to in such a hurry?” he said. His breath was atrocious. “Just heading home,” I said quickly, trying to pull my hand away. The other man walked up. “You look like you could use a little help getting there,” he said. My heart was pounding as I tried to struggle free of the man who was still holding onto my hand. I wouldn’t have thought someone could be so strong after what had obviously been many, many drinks, but the grasp was firm and I could not wriggle free. I smiled as best as I could under the circumstances. “Thank you sir, but I’m fine.” “Oh, I can see that you’re fine,” he said, taking a half a step back so he could get a good look at me. “Thank you for your assistance,” I said, even though they certainly had not helped me in any way, “but I must be getting home.” The grip on my hand did not loosen even the slightest and now the second man was leaning in close to my face too. Close enough that I could tell he had been drinking a different concoction than the first man, though it sure didn’t smell like it had been any less strong. “Oh, you’re welcome,” the second man said, putting his hand around my waist now. I needed to scream out for someone, anyone to help me, but I couldn’t get anything more than a whisper out. I was frozen, being jostled back and forth between the men who seemed to be playing a sick sort of catch with me. The dress I was carrying flew into the middle of the street. They were both laughing loudly, making it my only hope that someone might hear and come to my rescue. I let my body go limp, causing it to be a little harder for the men to pass me back and forth. Finally, I fell to the ground. I squeezed my eyes shut, waiting for the inevitable. I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, but I knew it wouldn’t be good. I pulled my arms up over my head, waiting to feel the heaviness of one or both of the men on top of me. As the shadow of the first man blocked the streetllight above, I tried to pretend I was already home, safely back into my bed. But somehow, miraculously, the weight of my attacker never descended upon me. After a few moments, I dared open my eyes, surprised to see tears had welled up in them, and when I moved my arms away from my face, I was even more surprised to see the two men stumbling backward in the direction from where they’d come, looks of sheer terror on both their faces. I slowly turned my head to look behind me, anxious to know what the two men were so scared of, but the streetlight was too bright, silhouetting whatever was standing above me. I scrambled to my hands and knees, desperate to know if I was safe. But I soon discovered that I was very, very far from safe. I was staring down the barrel of a shiny, silver gun. CHAPTER 14 “Jesus Sadie, what the hell do you think you’re doing?” Frankie yelled, quickly pulling the gun away from my face. I breathed again. I came so close to jumping up and giving Frankie the biggest hug any girl had ever given, until I remembered just in time that we were still fighting. Instead, I stood there like an idiot, my whole body shaking from the ordeal, unable to stop staring at the gun in Frankie’s hand. I couldn’t help wonder if he’d ever actually fired it. Or worse… if what he was eluding to yesterday might be true. Could he really be that bad a person? “I was walking home,” I said, picking up my dress and dusting off the protective cover, wondering why I even cared what he thought. “What are you doing by yourself, are you trying to get killed?” Killed? “Frankie, people don’t get killed in this town. Maybe wherever it is that you came from people get killed, but it just doesn’t happen here. Besides, what are you doing out if it’s so dangerous?” I raised my eyebrow defiantly. “Well,” he said, the light from the streetlamp glinting off the weapon as he holstered it back under his suit jacket. “For starters, I know how to defend myself. And since I’m a man, I’m not all that afraid of the sexual advances of other men the way a young lady ought to be,” he finished as if he were scolding me. My face burned and for the first time since I’d left Annie’s house, I was thankful it was dark and shadowy, too dark for him to see the heat of my face. I couldn’t remember ever having been so angry at anyone in my life. I squeezed my dress, not caring if I was getting it even more wrinkled than it must already be. I could barely see his smirk in the dim light, but it was decidedly there as he was apparently pleased with my reaction. “Well, I best be getting along then.” “You didn’t really answer my question,” I said, finally calm enough to find my voice. “Sure I did.” “No, you told me why you weren’t scared of being out here alone. You didn’t tell me why you just happened to be out here exactly where I am.” I tried to stand tall, give confidence to my words. Frankie took a tiny step backward. “I… I… it was just a coincidence,” he said quickly. Too quickly. “Is that a fact?” I said, a smirk of my own now taking shape. “Well, I guess I’m lucky you just happened to be here.” I made sure to accentuate the word ‘happened’ too, so he would know I wasn’t exactly buying his explanation. I turned my back and began walking away quickly, my heart beating faster from catching the oh-so-cool Frankie in an awkward moment. As I walked home, I weighed just how likely it would be that he was there exactly when I needed him. The thing was, it didn’t seem too likely at all, and I couldn’t help but smile the rest of the way home. The next morning I baked Annie’s favorite Chocolate Mint cookies. I usually only made them at Christmastime, but this was a matter of the utmost urgency. Annie and I had never had a fight like the one last night and I was sick to my stomach thinking about her being mad at me. Of course, a batch of cookies probably couldn’t mend the feelings I’d hurt, but I decided they couldn’t make the situation any worse either. For an added touch I drizzled a chocolate glaze on top. Hopefully, Annie wouldn’t be able to resist. After lunch, I ventured out into the beautiful day. About halfway to Annie’s house I stopped and turned around as fast as I could. I so badly wanted to catch a certain someone who just might ‘happen’ to be behind me again, but no such luck. Honestly, it was a bit maddening how quickly my heart sank just because he wasn’t there. I didn’t want to be the girl who was ruled by love and nothing else, especially love for a person who had already rejected her, but I couldn’t help it. Something about Frankie was still so… enticing. The day was hotter than I’d anticipated, and by the time I reached Annie’s front porch I was practically pouring with sweat. My mother would positively faint if she were to see me like this. The rules were ‘always be a lady’ and ‘never put oneself under any sort of stress that might disrupt one’s image.’ Certainly going out for a walk in the blazing sun was against all that she stood for. And I’d forgotten my hat on top of it all. But despite my mother’s words running through my head, I actually felt quite liberated being able to stand there on the front porch soaking in my own perspiration, although I was hoping I’d be able to stay at Annie’s at least long enough to cool down and not have to walk back until most of the heat of the afternoon had passed. I’d be sure to walk more leisurely on the way back so that when I arrived I’d still be looking slightly like a lady, or maybe I’d try to sneak in so I could quickly change before mother caught sight of me. I had to ring the doorbell twice before someone finally came to the door. “Oh, hello Sadie,” Annie’s mother said. “I wasn’t expecting company this afternoon.” I nodded and smiled. “Yes, I know Mrs. Cambridge, but I was hoping I’d be able to speak with Annie. She and I had a bit of a falling out yesterday and I’d like to apologize if she would allow me.” I lifted the cookies I’d carried all the way over. They were melty from the heat, but still looked quite good if I did say so myself. “Oh, how nice of you. I’ll see if she’s available,” she said, opening the door a bit more. “Do come in out of the heat dear,” she said, looking me up and down. “You can sit in the front room while I go check.” Sit in the front room? Since when does this family treat me like some sort of formal guest? I was a bit offended, but after the fight last night I suppose I deserved it. I bowed my head as graciously as I could and said, “Thank you Mrs. Cambridge,” pasting on an even bigger smile as she walked down the hall. Blessedly it was a bit cooler inside than outside. There was a nice breeze coming from somewhere. I wandered around the extravagant room, hunting for the best spot to take advantage of the miraculous coolness. The ceiling in the front room was as high as any I’d seen, the Cambridge’s not being ones to skimp on grandeur. Heavy drapes hung from the tallest windows all the way down to the floor where they pooled like golden puddles, trying their best to dim the room against the searing rays of the afternoon sun. My footsteps echoed in the spacious drawing room and for a moment, I was the only person in the world. Oh, to have all this and not care about the strained rules of society—not to mention an overbearing husband—though I supposed all husbands weren’t overbearing. It was silly, but I couldn’t help but picture Frankie. Even though he hadn’t been treating me with the utmost consideration lately, he really was just trying to do the right thing. “Sadie.” Annie’s voice echoed from behind me on the grand staircase. I spun around with the very best and most humble smile I could muster. “Annie, I’m so sorry for yesterday. I really didn’t mean to upset you.” She closed her eyes and waved her hand in front of her face as if she’d suddenly smelled something unpleasant. “Please,” she said breathing in heavily, as if she didn’t have a care in the world. “Water under the bridge.” When Annie really wanted to, she could carry a grudge that would likely last at least two generations. She had her mother to thank for that, since I knew full-well Annie was carrying a couple of her mother’s grudges even as we spoke, so I practically fell in relief as she said those words. Suddenly Annie started rushing toward me. “Are those Chocolate Mint?” she said staring at the plate, smiling her signature grin, reaching out to grab the cookies from my hands. “I made them especially for you,” I said, beaming. “Oh my gosh Sadie, you have no idea how much I need these today! Don’t you find that chocolate can cure just about anything?” she said, as if it were some biblical revelation she’d just discovered. I couldn’t stop myself from letting out just the slightest giggle. “Yes, I suppose so.” Annie pulled one of the cookies from the plate and stuffed it into her mouth. The whole thing too, no bites needed. Well, they were needed, but I guess she decided that would take too long. Eventually she even offered one of her precious cookies to me and it was quite delicious, possibly my best ever. The mint was even somewhat refreshing on this scorching day. We sat lazily sprawled on the deck chairs out back—in the shade of course—for the rest of the afternoon. It was so decadent being able to stretch out like that, knowing there was no way my parents would ever approve no matter how private the situation was. We talked about boys, the incident with Frankie of course, and about some of the men Annie currently held on an invisible leash. There was a lot of giggling (and sometimes blushing) at Annie’s stories, but mostly we talked about the future. Her dreams of escaping to New York the very moment her mother would let her, mine of going on to college, though I let her in on my secret fantasy. Now that I had suspicions of Frankie still caring, at lease a little, I dared indulge in thoughts of running away with Frankie and living a life on the wrong side of the law. She giggled until she could hardly breathe at the idea of that. “Hey,” I said, not liking what her laughing implied. “It could happen.” “Yeah,” she said sarcastically. “Sweet Sadie McKay, mob moll.” She rolled her eyes so hard I thought she might hurt herself. I folded my arms over my chest, trying to think of a way to convince her. It’s not like it was that far out of the question. “If only I weren’t the stupid Mayor’s daughter, Frankie and I would probably be seeing each other tonight.” “Maybe, for tonight, but you wouldn’t last three day without running back home to your Mother and Daddy.” “I would so!” “Oh right, I can just see it now. Miss Proper twenty-four hours a day, hanging out with the mob,” she said, giggling. “Well, at least I’m not worried about being improper twenty-four hours a day,” I said, standing defensively. “And just what is that supposed to mean?” she said, standing too, putting her hands dramatically on her hips. “Why would you care what it means? It’s not like you’ve ever cared what anyone else thought of you.” “You know, I feel sorry for you,” she said, her eyes narrowing. “You’ve never lived a day in your life!” I couldn’t believe she had the nerve to say that after all we’d been through in the past few days. “Well,” I said, putting my chin up. “I feel sorry for you. You’re going to end up ashamed for all the things that you do…” She opened her mouth to yell, but I was too quick. “…and probably with some disease so you won’t even be able to find false comfort in any more men.” The second the words came out of my mouth, I knew I’d gone way over the line, knowing only a prostitute would have such an affliction. Annie’s mouth kept opening and closing like she was trying to think of something to say. It would have been funny that she couldn’t think of a single bad thing to say about me, if I hadn’t felt so horrible, that is. Finally, she reached for the plate I’d brought over, the remaining few cookies melted beyond all recognition. “Get out!” she screamed, shoving the plate, chocolate first, directly into me. The plate bounced off my dress and landed on the ground, smashing to bits. And boy was my dress a sight. Chocolate fell off me in chunks, the gooey melted icing staining me from my chest practically to my ankles. And I thought I’d looked a sight when I’d arrived! I could only pray my mother would not be home when I got back. CHAPTER 15 I’d been sent to my room the second I walked in the door. I was as quiet as could be, but somehow my mother still heard me come in, and then nearly fainted at the sight of me. “How could you go out in public like that?” she asked, wringing her hands nearly right off. “It’s not like I planned to look like this,” I said. “But the Benson’s will be here any moment! Get changed before your father sees you!” Her eyes were wide at the thought. I turned and walked away as quickly as I could. With all the things that had gone on, I could hardly keep the tears inside anymore. And I had completely forgotten about the supper with the Benson’s, some of my parent’s most pretentious friends. Exactly the last thing I was up for. An hour later, I was cleaned up and looking like the perfect little daughter my parents expected me to be. My sister and I were in matching blue dresses, complete with blue ribbons in our hair. Emily loved it of course, she copied me in practically every way possible, but I was in absolute misery. Not to mention I felt like a five year old. Imagine, my mother still making us dress the same. But what was worse was listening to Mr. and Mrs. Benson drone on about the state of the city. Of course my father agreed wholeheartedly with them—or at least pretended to—and promised more police investigation to ‘sniff out these thugs.’ It made my stomach tighten. I made up my mind then. I was going out once more before my father took it all away. Besides, someone had to warn Frankie. Maybe it was because of what Annie said that led me to disobey my parents, just this one last time. I knew I was under strict scrutiny and if they decided to check on me, they would be more careful this time, checking more closely, so I didn’t even bother to make up the bed to look like someone was sleeping there. I got ready in a daze. Well, not a daze really, more like a trance. It was like I had no conscious choice in the matter, I had to go. There was no question where everyone would be. With a new club opening in town, every other joint may as well be closed. Everyone would be at Diamonds. As I mindlessly applied my rouge, I couldn’t fight the feeling that this night would change my life forever, and I didn’t know if it would be for the better, or if it would be for the worse. Unfortunately, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it very well might be the latter. But no matter how much I knew I shouldn’t, I couldn’t stop myself as I lifted that window, taking one last glance at that photo on my nightstand. My family. I crept across the lawn and out to the street, taking one look back at my house. Because of the close call with the drunkards the other night, I glanced around constantly now, searching for trouble before it found me. But the streets were quiet, no doubt everyone who was anyone was already having a grand ol’ time at the fancy new gin joint. The silence was mocking me, telling me just how much of a kid I still really was, having to wait until my parents were fast asleep before I dared sneak out. Everyone else seemed to have it so lucky. I just felt like I was waiting for real life to begin. Oddly, the further I got from the comfort of my home, the more at ease I was. Almost as if the girl living in that big house under constant scrutiny of the Mayor was a stranger rather than the face that looked back at me in the mirror everyday. It struck me that when I was in that big, echo-filled place of formality, it was more like a ghost in the mirror. Someone who was already dead, but just stuck in purgatory until finally, one day she’d be able to move on. Maybe today was that day. The idea struck me as hopeful, not sad, and a little bounce came into my step as I swung my tiny, jeweled purse a little as I walked. I couldn’t help but feel a bit of a thrill as the skirt of my new ‘Anniefied’ emerald dress skimmed across my thighs, dangerously high. I dared one quick spin, causing the skirt to rise even higher, almost to the brink of indecency. Shivers surged through me at the scandal of it all. I checked to make sure the peacock feather in my headband was at the perfect angle as I neared my destination. The Boss must have spent extra money on the place for sound dampening because as I stood in front of the door that was to take me into what promised to be ‘the most exciting experience since the gold rush,’ only silence and anticipation penetrated the air. If I were being honest, I was hoping to patch things up with Annie, and possibly even catch a glimpse of Frankie. Maybe, just maybe, if I kept in his sights as much as possible, I would somehow be able to win him back. I knocked tentatively on the heavy plank door and stepped back, holding my breath. Nothing. With all the noise that was surely going on inside, no one would hear the tiny knock of a silly little girl. I decided then and there to leave that silly little girl, the ghost in the mirror, right out there in that dark alley with the rest of yesterday’s news. I pulled myself as tall as I could go, hiked my skirt just a smidgeon higher, and forced my shoulders back. I can’t believe I hadn’t noticed before, especially considering Annie was always standing like that, but doing so pushed my assets out to where someone might actually notice them. Glancing around to make sure no one was around, and with a sly smile, I unfastened the top button on the front of my dress. The results were positively indecent… and completely adrenaline inducing. I applied one more coat of lipstick and feeling almost as if I were sexy, I knocked on that heavy old door like I had a purpose. And for once in my life, I actually did. One of the horizontal boards on the door close to eye level suddenly slid open as if by magic. And the way I was feeling, I could almost believe in magic. A pair of eyes looked back at me, unblinking, and instantly I wanted to run away. But I held my ground and took one step back, putting one hand seductively on my hip and pushing my chest out even further. I may have been mistaken, but the eyes seemed to have widened just a little as they worked their way down me. “Evenin’,” I said, as if I didn’t have a care in the world, flashing him my best smile. I didn’t even feel silly giving the ridiculous password into the joint. “Alligator Pie good tonight?” I even ended with a wink. Apparently, the Boss didn’t want to chance someone accidentally giving a password without knowing, so he made sure all his passwords were something you wouldn’t normally come across in conversation, and Alligator Pie fit the bill, that was for sure. I’d never seen a door open so fast in my life. Not even when Annie had waltzed up to the one at The Roxy that first night. A wave of exhilaration surged through me. I never knew I could possess so much power. Not that getting into a gin joint was all that powerful, I supposed, but the fact that I’d done something proactive to move myself forward in life was a whole new feeling for me. Realizing that, I felt like my life had been utterly pathetic up until now. No wonder Annie’s mother and sister were so happy all the time even though half the town was talkin’ about them. If life could feel this exciting, who the heck cared what the snooty conservatives of this town thought? I made a pact with myself that I would no longer be one of those people who cared. Of course, my first thought after that was what would my mother think, but hey, who said going against absolutely everything you’d ever been taught your whole life would happen in an instant? It was something I was going to have to work on, but at least I had taken a giant step forward. I strode into the place as if I owned it, and what happened next was amazing. Nearly every eye in the place turned to look at me. There were girls whispering in the corner, no doubt about how very unbuttoned I was, and judging from the approving looks I was getting from some of the men, it could be jealousy. They only wished they had the confidence to pull it off themselves. I smiled at each and every one of them. I strolled up to the bar. “What’ll it be, doll? We’ve got a special drink for the ladies tonight,” the bartender said with a wink, in the direction of my chest of course. “Sounds marvelous,” I said, my voice huskier than usual. Maybe it was just the confidence coming out. The ladies special was creamy and sweet and tasted like whipped cream and Heaven. I was feeling on top of the world. Silly girl. I slid over to the end of the bar where it was a little less crowded and turned to survey the room, propping both elbows up on the bar behind me, and crossing one leg in front of the other. I sucked in the musky scent of the room, a deep, satisfying breath that felt like pure power. I could do anything. Heck, I felt like I could save the world if I had to, and in dancing shoes, no less. Silly girl. I was so preoccupied by all the attention I’d been getting when I first walked in, that I barely had the chance to notice my surroundings. Everyone was having a good time of course, but it was the room itself that was the real magic. There was no question as to why they named it Diamonds. The whole place sparkled, literally sparkled, from floor to ceiling. The lighting was a little brighter than the other places and the result was positively dazzling. The walls shimmered as if the paint had crushed diamonds mixed in. Every surface glittered as if lit from within. Large diamond shaped jewels hung from every inch of ceiling. The whole room had a feeling of enchantment and movement, like all the bits of light were running and dancing with each other in one giant playground. Even my drink seemed to sparkle. The whole world was giddy. Silly girl. I finished my drink in record time and ordered another. The gentleman who’d been staring mercilessly at my er… womanliness, practically threw money at the bar tender to pay for it. Of course, he was approximately my father’s age, but a free drink was a free drink. It wasn’t like my parents would let their perfect little daughter have any sort of a job. Even babysitting my little cousins was “out of the question” according to my father. “Your only job is to study and help me look like the fine, upstanding mayor that I am.” I nearly rolled my eyes just at the thought of it. If he could only see me now. I giggled and decided maybe I should move before people thought I was crazy. I thanked the man graciously for the drink—even though I would have given anything for the person who’d bought me the drink to be just about anyone else—and eased away from the bar. The man shocked me by grabbing my arm but I pulled out of his grasp and the bartender gave him a stern look. Maybe these guys were both bartenders and hired muscle. And I do have to admit that I gave more than just a glance at the very muscles in question as I smiled my thanks to him. But truthfully, I had a much more important guy on my mind. I tried to look as nonchalant as possible, gently holding my straw as I walked and sipped, looking for that one particular gangster in what seemed like a sea of them. Face after face was a disappointment and I neared the end of the room. I guess my disappointment must have shown all over my face because when I turned around and practically ran into someone with an extremely unfriendly face, the first thing they said was, “And what the hell is the matter with you this time?” CHAPTER 16 “Hi Annie.” Obviously, she was still rather miffed at me over our fight. I suppose I should have been happy that she was at least talking to me. Yet another hunk-of-the-day clung to her arm. I guess she hadn’t taken our argument very seriously. The guy just kept staring at me expectantly, waiting for an introduction I suppose, but he wasn’t going to get it. She looked me up and down. “Well, well, isn’t this a fancy little turn of events?” she said, a sneer making its way across her delicate features. “Nice dress by the way.” I put one hand on my hip and noticed with a little skip of my heart that Annie’s date was definitely taking notice of me. I took in a deep breath, effectively making my chest rise even higher, and smiled. “Thank you,” I said. I had to get out of there, regain my bearings. Seeing someone from my real life was throwing me off balance. “I guess it should be nice though, since I made it,” she said. “It’s funny too, wasn’t it you that was just talking about other people being whores?” I walked away quickly, fighting the sting in my eyes. I wanted more than anything to make up with her, but she was obviously not in the mood for forgiving yet. And if there’s one thing I knew about Annie, it’s that she does things in her own time. The more you try to push her where she doesn’t want to go, the more she pushes, and nobody wanted to see that, especially while they were out trying to have a good time. No, Annie would have to wait for another day. Tonight my focus was Frankie. As the time went by though, minute after excruciating minute, my hopes faded. Men kept coming over to me, asking me to dance. The first few times, I even said yes, but I couldn’t seem to have any fun out on the dance floor. Maybe it was because the men kept grabbing at me like I was a plaything. Eventually I did up the extra button on my shirt, hoping I’d still look sexy when I ran into Frankie. When the clock struck midnight, I knew it was no use. Frankie was always at the club by that time and my hopes were completely and utterly dashed. Even the heavenly drinks were losing their charm. In fact, after I’d had a few, they were becoming too much, sort of sickly sweet, coating my tongue. The glamour of the place paled, the twinkle lights losing some of their luster. The room started pulsing slightly, kind of to the beat of the music, which seemed to invade my head. I walked toward the exit, trying to pull my skirt back down to a reasonable length, suddenly feeling like the biggest idiot on the planet. Even if I had found him, what the heck did I think I was going to do? Daze him with my cleavage? Frankie saw attractive women all the time, and lots of them. They practically threw themselves at him on a daily basis. I’d never felt so much like a little girl. I stumbled to the door but the thug who was guarding it was preoccupied with something on the other side. At first, I thought he was looking through the peephole to let some latecomers in and my stomach actually did a little flip thinking that maybe my Frankie had come to join me after all, but I realized the man wouldn’t be so focused if it was just Frankie. No, this was different. He wasn’t actually looking through the peephole either, just had his ear pressed to the door, his eyes zipping back and forth wildly as he tried to concentrate on whatever was on the other side. I was about to tap on his shoulder and ask him to get the heck out of my way so I could release myself from the glittery prison, when he jumped back, his arm flailing wildly, landing firmly across my cheek. The blow sent me flying backward along with him. My vision went white and then, even scarier, dark, for just a moment. The room tilted, and firecrackers began exploding all around. Dozens of firecrackers. I thought I had flown half-way across the room, but when my vision finally came back, I realized I had only gone a couple of feet. Why did he hit me like that? I had certainly never done anything to him. I didn’t even know him. I expected someone to come to my rescue and subdue the doorman when I realized the firecracker noise was beginning to mingle with the sounds of screaming. Lots of screaming. Shaking my head, trying to clear the fuzziness and get a hold of my senses, my eyes eventually found the man who’d hit me. Oddly enough, his hand was draped over my legs. I scrambled to get away but soon realized that in his condition, there was no way I was in any danger anymore. At least from him. Blood poured from his head and his open eyes registered nothing as they stared straight at me. It was then I finally realized what I was hearing wasn’t firecrackers. Gunshots. Glass rained from the ceiling. I put my hand down to push myself up and immediately felt the sting of shards in my hand. People scrambled both toward and away from the door, not knowing another way out, but not wanting to get shot. Scrambling away, slipping on the broken pieces of glass, I ducked my head and kept my hands up, hoping none of the glass would bounce up into my eyes. Thrust into a crowd of people, I was jostled toward the bar, crouching behind it just inches from where the older man had bought me the drink just a few short hours before. A dozen other people were back there with me, including the very nice bartender who looked completely scared out of his wits, not that he was the only one. I could only imagine what I’d see if I looked in a mirror. A few words came roaring above the noise of all the people scurrying to find someplace, anyplace to hide. “Police! Nobody move!” Behind Tommy the bartender, as I read on his nametag, a man hovered over a woman who had obviously been the victim of one of the stray shots. My stomach heaved at the sight of the wound, so dark, so red. The man crouched over her, tending to her. He looked somewhat familiar, as if I’d met him somewhere before, but in all the confusion, I couldn’t place him. Tommy made a slow move deeper into the shadows behind the bar. Back out on the dance floor, people were being thrown to the ground, getting arrested. I pulled another tiny piece of glass out of my hand, which was now covered in blood. Behind me, Tommy was lifting the hatch of the most beautiful sight in the world. A tunnel entrance. He quickly helped the other man get the woman who’d been shot into the safety of the tunnels. Those shoes. Something about the woman’s shoes seemed familiar. But my head was still racing. Spinning. I peeked around the counter suddenly feeling like we needed a lookout, but no one had caught on to us yet. As the last of the people behind the bar snuck down through the hatch, I scurried over, my legs already feeling the cool relief of the tunnel before the rest of me even made it through. “I’m the last one,” I whispered, though I probably could have yelled it without anyone hearing with all the noise they were making up there. Tommy shut the hatch above us and locked it, cloaking us in darkness. There were still muffled noises above, but the change in the sound and pressure was almost eerie. I shivered and leaned back on the wall, willing myself to regain my senses. But the noises from the woman who’d been hurt were far too distracting to gather my thoughts completely. Her ragged breaths were coming fast, like she couldn’t gulp enough air. The poor woman, just out for a night on the town and look what happens. I realized, as I listened to her breathing, that she probably wouldn’t make it. I closed my eyes and rubbed my forehead, trying to bring myself back to where I could think again. At least Frankie hadn’t made an appearance. If he had, who knows what might have happened to him. From what little I saw, the police were definitely going after the men first, and more specifically, the men in the three-piece suits. The injured woman just kept right on whimpering beside me, choking on every breath she tried to take. I opened my eyes slowly, a knot of black forming in my stomach. The whimpers. There was something about them. The shoes. The shoes I noticed while she was being pulled through the hole in the floor. There was something about them too. And that man. Why did he look so familiar? The images and sounds swirled in my head as I searched it for the answer. I sucked in a deep breath. Annie. CHAPTER 17 When I talked to her earlier, I noticed she’d been wearing new shoes that I hadn’t seen before. “Light! We need light!” I shouted. “Shhh!” Someone said, I think it was Tommy. His hand was over my mouth in an instant. I realized what I’d done as we heard the first footsteps fall directly above our heads. “We’ve got to move!” Tommy whisper-yelled. “Help me carry her,” another voice said. The voice of a man who I’d finally figured out I’d met only that night. Annie’s date. They hoisted her up together and she let out a little cry. There was no doubt anymore. The woman who’d been shot, whose breath was so very, very ragged, was my very best friend in the whole world. “Annie I’m here,” I whispered, trying to find her hand, but the men had already started down the tunnel. I followed numbly, tears falling down my face, though I didn’t feel a sting in my eyes, only the wetness that followed, running down my cheeks. I gulped for air. There were no lights in this section of the tunnel. Judging from the fresh scent of earth, I guessed they hadn’t gotten around to putting the lights in for this newly dug section yet. The walls were closing in on me and my head would not stop spinning, even for a second. Stumbling, we slowly—painfully slowly—made our way down the tunnel. We’d never get Annie the help she needed at this rate. “Hurry up!” I urged, even though the men were going as fast as they could with the added weight and awkwardness of carrying an injured person. The rest of the people who’d been hiding behind the bar with us were long gone, happy to get out of the dire situation we were in. It was down to me, Annie, Tommy the bartender and Annie’s date whose name I could not seem to remember. Maybe I never knew. “Stop,” Annie said weakly. “Please stop. I can’t go on.” But the men didn’t listen. We were finally coming close to a light, which meant we would soon be out of the new section of tunnel and into the old. There was a good chance that another speakeasy or perhaps one of the other gangster hideouts would be nearby. Unfortunately, Tommy did not seem to know his way around, and Annie’s guy wasn’t even one of the wise guys. I let out an ironic laugh thinking that, out of all of us, I might be the one who had the most experience in these stupid tunnels. And I had absolutely no idea where we were. Shouting came from behind us. The police must have discovered the secret door. So. The tunnels would be a secret no more. “Please. Please stop. Just for a moment.” It was Annie again. I shivered. I’d never heard my exuberant best friend’s voice so weak and fragile. There had never been anything fragile about Annie. Physically, she was all woman, but was as bold as any man, and just as strong inside. I guess I’d always thought she was invincible. Silly girl. It was no use. The guys were still struggling with Annie and I could hear the police gaining on us as we turned a corner to another arm of the tunnel. My tears came furiously and Annie sounded worse than ever. The choking noises had settled into a sort of wheezing. No. More animalistic. Like a scared, gurgling growl. I couldn’t stop myself from sobbing now, the tears making my vision blurry, my cries only drawing attention from the boys in blue behind us. I stumbled along, even falling once on the uneven ground. Pain seared through my leg, my knee twisting violently. Tommy reached back with one hand, keeping hold of Annie’s feet with the other, and helped me up. “Come on there miss, we’re almost there.” There? Where was there? My heart beat faster. Maybe, just maybe, if we could get Annie out of here, she’d have a chance. I was almost to the point where I wanted to run to the police and have them help—getting caught was hardly an issue anymore—if only I could trust them not to keep shooting. As it was, I was afraid the second they saw us it would be a massacre. But Tommy’s words had given me hope. “Hang in there Annie,” I said, rushing forward to help carry. My stupid heels kept me stumbling though, and I seemed to be slowing us down even more. Finally I gave up and just tried my best to keep as close as I could. The voices from behind were getting louder. Soon they would be on us and the whole world would come to an end. At least that’s the only thing I could imagine. I couldn’t get any further into the future with my thoughts. I just needed to get Annie safe and somehow get us out of this mess. That’s all that mattered. Closer. Louder. I could make out actual words of the policemen now, who had to be mere seconds from turning the corner into our arm of the tunnel. We were trapped. It was over. I melted to the ground. There would be no going home to the Mayor’s house, no more Emily to save from Mom and Dad. There would be no Frankie. And now, it was looking very likely that there would be no Annie. What else is there? A few feet away, Tommy and Annie’s date had stopped and laid Annie gently on the floor of the tunnel. I crawled over to them, kneeling beside my oldest friend. “Don’t worry, it’s going to be okay,” I said. Because that’s what you’re supposed to say, even if you don’t believe it. She let out a sad little laugh. “No it won’t be,” she said, “but thanks.” Tears started streaming down my face again as I looked at her. Everything went quiet as if I were in a dream. She’d looked so beautiful all dolled up, the white of her sweater like a blank canvas. But the crimson spreading now was anything but art. A stain of impending death. I plunged my hand over the bullet hole, knowing I might be doing more harm than good. Somewhere behind me a noise registered. Knocking. I peered down the narrow passage where the shadows of the men chasing us bobbed in the dimness of the underground maze. Suddenly, a stream of light seared into the tunnel. A door, as if from nowhere, creaked open behind me, making the blurry shadows of our followers disappear, but only for a second, as the real men came into view almost immediately. Blinking through the harsh light, I looked back down at my friend, her blood sticky in my hands. She looked back at me and sighed, smiling. “With that light behind you, you look like an angel.” And then her eyes fluttered closed, her head drooping lifelessly away from me. The chaos started. Someone yelling, “We’re gonna get pinched!” Pushing from every direction. Someone else screaming. The same word over and over. A name. Her name. Only later—after a pair of arms, inhumanly strong, reached around and yanked me away, forcing me to abandon my friend—did I realize those screams had been my own. CHAPTER 18 The next few minutes were a blur. The glaring light stung my eyes after the darkness in the tunnel. I screamed for my abductor to stop, I needed to get back to Annie. We moved so fast I couldn’t even tell where we were. Noise of a party invaded my ears. I supposed we were in one of the joints, but I had no idea which one. Or maybe it was a house party. I didn’t have the strength or desire to bother taking any of it in. My mind was only on Annie. Her absolute fearlessness, her beauty, the way she would never bat her eyes at anyone ever again. I pounded on the man, begging him to let me go so I could get back to her. But we kept storming further and further away from the best friend I’d ever had. My only friend, really. All the rest of the girls only wanted to be my friend because of my father. My father’s power. I often imagined how their parents probably sat them down and instructed them to ‘be real nice’ to that Mayor’s daughter. Ugh. Annie was the only one who didn’t seem to pay my father any attention. She didn’t need to feed off anyone else’s power, she had enough all on her own. Commanding respect just by walking into a room. No one would ever try to tell her what to do, probably because she could crush anyone senseless with one penetrating glance. And now she was gone. Because of my father and his shady dealings. I had nothing left in me to fight. The man grabbed me tighter as my body went limp, too exhausted to even hold myself up anymore. And then as suddenly as I’d been forced into the glaring light, I was out of it again, this time into the darkness outside with only a few feeble streetlamps trying to penetrate the midnight sky. Around the corner of the building we went, and the second we reached the alley, which was even darker than the street, voices broke the silence. My heart found the will to start beating a little faster as I realized the police had already caught up to us. The man carrying me propped me up against the building and leaned close. Very close. Frankie. He wasn’t abducting me, he was rescuing me. Again. “Fra…” I started, but was cut off by his lips pressing against mine. Hard. The exhaustion got the better of me and all I could do was stand there, Frankie kissing me, and me not really kissing back. I didn’t have the heart or energy to even try. Wetness from my tears streamed down my cheeks, getting trapped between Frankie and me, cool and itchy on my skin. “Hey!” someone shouted. “You there!” At least Frankie had the sense to pretend to be distracted, and a bit annoyed, at the men yelling at us. “What?” he growled. “You see a girl come past here?” the man leading the pack of officers asked. My heart about stopped as I regained my wits a little. I was finally realizing that even though Frankie had taken me away from Annie, he was actually saving me from certain arrest, or worse, the wrath of my parents, especially the good Mayor McKay. “Well sir, it wouldn’t really say much for my girl here if I was busy lookin’ out for other ladies, now would it?” Frankie said, smooth and calm as could be. The man actually chuckled and said, “no. No friend, I guess it wouldn’t. You all should be getting along though. There are some dangerous sorts around these kinds of… places.” “You sure we aren’t in any trouble sir?” Frankie was so bold to ask, and quite innocently at that. I wondered when he’d had time to ditch his jacket, hat and vest. If I hadn’t known better, I would have mistaken him for a local too. “Oh no, you seem like fine, upstanding folks. But just be careful. Mayor McKay has it out for these joints and he’s looking for heads to roll. We shut one of ‘em down already tonight. Unfortunately there were some fine folks just like yourselves that got caught in the crossfire and a bunch more on their way to the station right now.” “Gosh,” Frankie said, his performance worthy of the movie pictures. “Well, thanks for the heads up. We only wanted to see what all the fuss was about with these places, we sure won’t make the same mistake twice.” He was laying on the charm real thick. “Glad to hear it son,” the older gentleman said. “Off with you now. You best be getting home.” “Right away sir,” Frankie said, “and thanks again.” He gently put his arm around me, cleverly hiding my tearstained face from the men. Somehow, I found the will to walk a few steps as if it was any old, normal night and I hadn’t a care in the world. As the men rushed off to find their ‘dangerous people,’ everything around me spun, the whole world fading to black. ~ ~ ~ A radio played nearby, muffled as if it were on the other side of a wall. Then water running, closer than the radio. I blinked my eyes open to a room bathed completely in red. Blood red. Annie’s blood burned into my eyes forever. But it was just the sun streaming in through burgundy curtains. And there was the headache. Like someone had taken an axe to my head. My stomach was in even worse shape than my head, though it seemed to be more a product of my grief than the drinks. It was a feeling that would stay for a long time. How was I supposed to keep living without Annie? I buried my head in my hands, wishing away the red, wishing I had never gone out last night, wishing I didn’t know Annie’s fate. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things we’d done together. I remembered so clearly the first time I’d seen her, the first day of school when we were just six years old, and she pushed me right off my swing. “I want a turn,” she’d said, and I’d been so mesmerized by her that I just brushed off my dress, smiled and said “okay,” then offered to give her a push. After that Annie became my protector, torturing anyone who dared look at me the wrong way. I would not have wanted to be Gladys Shepherd the year she invited everyone in our class, except me, to her birthday party. In fact, I would not have wanted to be her for the four years following. Annie was nothing if not thorough in her punishments. She guided me in every way, right down to the lipstick our fateful first night at the speakeasy. How could I ever go on without her? I breathed into my pillow, willing the tears to hold off, just for a while, just until I got my bearings. The pillow smelled strange. Bleach. I could still hear the radio. And the running water. I was not in my own bed. My sheets at home were scented lightly with lavender, not bleach, and my curtains were certainly not burgundy. I bolted upright, but it proved to be a bad decision as the pain seared through my head and my stomach scolded me with an unkind rumble. But all that could wait. First, I had to figure out where I was. The room was empty except for me, the bed and a cheap looking dresser. But someone must be around since the water was still running steadily in the next room. Someone was in there washing. Bits and pieces of last night came back. Frankie. Frankie had saved me. But he wouldn’t drag me off to some seedy place who-knows-where. No, Frankie would have made sure I made it home safely. But if not Frankie, then who? And why? Surely they would know I would get into trouble. Oh God, my parents. What could they be thinking? The way the sun was peeking in through the curtains, there’d be no way they hadn’t already discovered that I was gone. How was I ever supposed to face them again? They’d had their suspicions that I’d been sneaking out, but they would never imagine that I’d been sneaking into illegal clubs. Not their little Sadie. Of course, the news of Annie must have reached them by now, but still, even though they knew I was friends with her, would they really believe I’d gone and done something like that? Well, maybe after I didn’t make it home, they would. I hugged the blanket close to my chest, suddenly feeling like I had done something very bad. Which I guess I had. It’s funny how even though it was against the rules, it still didn’t feel wrong as it was all happening. It was just harmless fun. But, I would never be the same person again. It had not been harmless. People got hurt. Annie got hurt. It dawned on me to make sure that I was at least still decent. I breathed a sigh of relief as I discovered I was fully clothed, though whoever had brought me here must have taken my shoes off before laying me down. My stomach clenched hard as I looked down at my green dress. Flashes of Annie and me reading the New York papers rolled through my head like a moving picture show. Annie talking nonstop about fashion and how she would have made this hem different, or how that ruffle was yesterday’s news. She would have made such a talented designer. There was no pillow beside me. I glanced around and discovered the second pillow on the floor, accompanied by a scrunched up blanket. Obviously a makeshift bed. At least my captor was a gentleman. Well, as much of a gentleman as a captor could be, I suppose. I got my answer a moment later when the washroom door opened. He wasn’t looking at me as he came into the room. He was busy toweling off his hair. Relief washed over me. It was Frankie. My Frankie. I was angry with him for not taking me home, but in that moment I was more shocked by the fact that he had no shirt on. A few drops of water remained on his broad shoulders, clinging there, like they didn’t want to let go. I’d tried so many times to imagine what he’d look like under that suit, but never in my wildest dreams had I imagined this. Muscles rippled where I didn’t even know there could be muscles, his years of working for the Boss had definitely not made him soft. If I’d never met him before, I’d have guessed he’d been in construction, or mining, some sort of hard labor. My face heated. I should not think such things, especially with all that was going on. I was able to gather myself enough to close my gaping mouth just before he noticed I was no longer asleep. Perhaps my teeth clasping together was what made him look my way. “Oh,” he said, looking embarrassed. “You’re up.” He quickly reached for his undershirt and pulled it over his head in record time. How cute. It almost made me forget just how very mad at him I was. But once he put on that shirt, my senses came back to me and it all started going downhill. “What do you think you’re doing?” I asked. “Uh…” He looked around the room, searching for an answer. “Why are we here?” I stood, throwing the covers off me. “Actually, where the heck are we, anyway?” I put my hands on my hips and stared at him, trying to keep my focus above his neck though it was so very, very hard. “I’m sorry Sadie. It’s just that I…” “You what? Just decided to keep me for yourself?” I yelled. “’Cause the last time I checked, you said you didn’t want to have anything to do with me!” “Sadie,” he pleaded, his arms reaching in my direction. “It’s not that I didn’t want to be with you, I said I couldn’t be with you. There’s a big difference.” I stood firm, telling my heart very strictly, not to melt. “Well, you still haven’t answered where we are. Or why!” “I know, Sadie. You haven’t given me a chance!” I was becoming irrational, even I could tell, but I just couldn’t stop myself from going on. “Oh! So this is all my fault? You think I wanted you to drag me off to some shady motel while my parents are probably sick with worry, not knowing if I’m alive!” I hated that my eyes were welling up again. “No Sadie, come on. You know me. It’s not like that,” he said, gently. “I don’t know you! I sure didn’t know you when you abandoned me just because the stupid Boss said to!” My legs felt wobbly under me. I sat back down on the bed, burying my face in my hands. Frankie had seen enough of my tears. “Sadie…” he said. “I didn’t abandon you.” He took a few steps toward me, sitting carefully on the end of the bed, still several excruciating feet away. “I never wanted to abandon you,” he corrected with a whisper. I hated myself for still wanting to be close to him. He ran his hand through his hair roughly. “It’s just that… your family. Your father.” I sighed. Frankie didn’t say anything, but his silence told me more than he could ever have found the words for. “So why now? Why did you take me away now?” I asked, looking up at him. He met my gaze. There was something in those eyes that made my stomach lurch again. Something was wrong. He was scared too. He closed his eyes and put a fist up to his forehead, as if he were struggling to find the right words. He took a deep breath. “This is going to sound horrible. But I want you to know, before I go any further, that if I could have seen any possible way to be with you before, I would have. I swear.” I furrowed my brow. “But…” I searched the room for the right question. “Why me? Like you said, I’m just a silly girl.” “Sadie, I never said you were silly,” he said, in a tone that said ‘you know that.’ “And I don’t know why you. Why me?” I stared at my hands, fidgeting. I had no answer for him either. “I guess there’s just a… connection between us,” he said. I nodded stupidly. There was nothing else to say about it. He was right. It was whatever people were talking about when they said they had ‘chemistry.’ You can’t see it. There’s no reasoning behind it. It’s just there. “So why are we here?” I asked again, not knowing if I really wanted the answer. Something about the fear in his eyes scared me too. I couldn’t help feeling like I’d never be able to go back to the way things were before. “I tried to get you home last night, I really did, but when we got close there was already trouble.” He took another deep breath, stalling. He closed his eyes and shook his head, just a little. “Sadie, police cars were already lined halfway down your street.” CHAPTER 19 My breath caught and my stomach threatened to heave. My mind couldn’t process fast enough, wondering whether it was because my father had been found out, or if it was all just about me going missing. “I didn’t know what else to do,” he said. “I had to get you out of there. I mean, who knows if you’d been spotted at the club or something. Even I’ve seen you in the papers with your father. No wonder the Boss found out who you were.” I guess I hadn’t really thought about that. I was never the person who stood out in a crowd. Heck, I was never the person who stood out in a group of two. That was always Annie’s job, or my father’s. Until last night, I’d always been fine with that. “You were passed out cold, and I didn’t know what to do. I don’t know. Maybe they thought you’d run away or something and called the cops. I suppose when the Mayor’s daughter goes missing it’s a big deal down at the station. God Sadie, I’m so sorry, I just didn’t know what else to do.” He buried his head in his hands. He wasn’t crying, but I guess he just couldn’t face looking at me. I laid down on the bed, my legs hanging over the edge and crossed my hands over my stomach. It did little to help the churning. “I wouldn’t have known what to do either,” I finally said. I tried to picture the scene. All those policemen, the lights flashing, maybe even the sirens going. What would I have done? “I certainly wouldn’t have waltzed right up to my front door either if it had been my decision.” “Really?” he asked, hopeful. “Are you kidding? The police had just finished shooting at me! They killed Annie, Frankie. They killed her!” “You don’t know that for sure,” Frankie said. “Yes I do. You didn’t see her like I did. She’s gone Frankie. My best friend is gone.” I thought I’d cried all the tears that my body could possibly produce, but I was wrong. They pooled around my neck, some sliding past my ears leaving a cold path. Frankie lay down on his side, nestled closer and stroked my hair gently. “I’m so sorry Sadie. About everything. About Annie. Just… about everything,” he said, laying his head on the bed, his hair touching my cheek. I believed him. I believed that he truly hadn’t meant to hurt me. I believed he was broken up about Annie. And most of all, I believed he would have taken me home if he could have, even if it meant he might never see me again. My breath went shaky when I thought about what that meant. “But, why here?” I asked, trying to keep my breathing steady. “Why aren’t we at your house?” I couldn’t imagine what Frankie’s place might look like. Was it fancy or plain? Clean or messy? Dark or light? Knowing Frankie, it was probably modest. Funny, out of all the guys that worked for the Boss, Frankie seemed less taken in by all the money and all the ‘things’ than the rest. Frankie made a sound, almost like he was wounded. “I couldn’t go back there. After the raid…” he started, sitting up. I propped myself up on one elbow, waiting. “…well, you know that the cops found the tunnels. So, it’s just a matter of time before they find my place. The guys are all on high alert. Most who haven’t already been arrested are making plans to leave town.” He was actively avoiding my gaze now as he cleared his throat. “Some of them are already gone.” I suddenly realized Frankie was trying to tell me he was leaving. “So, um…” I started, trying my best to not sound as panicked as I was, “what about me?” He buried his head in his hands again. “Yeah, I…” What followed was the longest pause in the history of the world. “… I just don’t know.” That was it. He didn’t want me. He didn’t want me to run away. Especially, it seemed, with him. And now I couldn’t go back home either. I tried my best not to let the tears come again, but there was no stopping them, running as if my eyes were a faucet. Another steady stream soaking my cheeks and the front of my dress which was a disastrous mess, stained with blood, soaked with tears, and I noticed, torn as well. I could never leave the room in this condition. Plus everyone in town knew my face, especially now. I could only imagine what was in today’s paper. Great perk of being the Mayor’s daughter. Frankie tried. He really did. But I was inconsolable. Numb, as if the whole world just fell away and all that was left was the stupid little cell of a hotel room. Nowhere to go. Nothing to see, nothing to do. Just nothing. Frankie paced for what could have been a few minutes, or it could have been hours. I didn’t have any sense of time, although after a while I noticed the room wasn’t as bright. Perhaps the sun had gone down. Or maybe it was raining. I didn’t have the energy to get up off the bed to check. I just lay there sleepless and numb. Frankie went out once for something to eat, but I wasn’t hungry. “Please Sadie. You’ve got to eat something.” I tried to choke down a few bites, I really did. But along with the food, Frankie had also picked up a copy of the local paper. “MAYOR’S DAUGHTER GOES MISSING IN RAID, SECRET MOB TUNNELS DISCOVERED,” was the caption. Just as I thought. How nice for my father that he wasn’t found out. I started reading. A few lines down, it described briefly, how “many innocent civilians were caught in the crossfire, including three who lost their lives. The newly discovered secret tunnels linked several previously unknown, illegal establishments, as well as various other mob hideouts.” I could barely read the rest of the article, my vision so blurry from a new wave of tears. The article also detailed several ‘unnamed’ eyewitness accounts to my whereabouts last night, stating I was at Diamonds. An unnamed police snitch got into the story, no doubt making a month’s wages for being the inside source. He’d confirmed that I’d been there, right down to what I’d been wearing. Of course my father shot it all down, saying ‘these sources are unnamed for a reason. There’s no truth behind it.’ He was adamant that I had been kidnapped, taken out of my room in the dead of night. I couldn’t help but let out a humorless laugh, knowing full well he knew I’d snuck out. But he had to save face for the press. After all, an election was coming up. He couldn’t afford to have a daughter who would even think of sneaking out of the house, and certainly not to some seedy, illegal juice joint. Ironic, considering Diamonds was the swankiest, most upscale place in town, much more so than anyplace legal. I balled up the paper and threw it across the room. The vision of Annie’s lifeless body haunted me. The way I’d left her in that dark, dingy tunnel. I couldn’t believe I once thought the tunnels were so mysterious, so exciting. All I could see in them now was devastation and death. Time passed. I couldn’t even guess how much, a day for sure, maybe more. Frankie would leave for food and other supplies, but mostly he just stood, holding the curtains open a crack, staring out the window. We didn’t talk much. Every now and then, when he thought I was sleeping, he came and lay with me on the bed, close, but always the gentleman, carful not to touch me inappropriately. On what I guessed was the third day, Frankie left again. He was gone much longer than the times before, and soon I was the one peeking through the curtains, willing him to come strolling back into that parking lot. The longer I waited, the more worked up I became. How could he be gone so long? Wasn’t he worried about someone spotting him? What on earth could be so important? Whatever it was, it was obviously more important than me. I soaked in the bathtub, and didn’t even care if Frankie walked in or not. Sitting, vulnerable in that tiny bathroom, almost like I was daring him to catch me. Daring him to return. I even left the bathroom door partway open. But he didn’t come. I had no choice but to put my blood-caked dress back on. Another reminder that I had nothing in the world, not even a clean outfit. Finally, as the sun was setting again, Frankie came back. His hands were so full of shopping bags and boxes that I could barely see his face behind everything. Relief flooded over me. “Hi,” I said, quietly, wondering what was inside all those bags. “Hi,” he said back, and smiled for the first time since we’d been holed up in this God forsaken room. It was like seeing the sun break through the clouds at the end of a hurricane. He walked up to the bed and spread his arms wide, dropping everything carelessly on top of the wrinkled blankets. He turned to face me, still beaming. “I have come to a decision.” I couldn’t help it. My heart beat just a little faster and for the first time since the tunnel, I think I felt something slightly related to hope. “I’m leaving town,” he said. And that was the end of that. Frankie must have seen my face fall because he was quick to add, “but I want to take you with me Sadie. I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to think of every angle but one thing was always holding me back.” “Me?” I said quietly. “Yes!” “Well, I’m sorry to be such a burden to you,” I said, feeling that old familiar sting behind my eyes. I hung my head, hoping to hide the tears. “No Sadie, you don’t understand. I meant you are holding me back in a good way. In an I-can’t-get-my-mind-off-of-you way.” I kept my head down, but I dared a quick glance up. Frankie was still beaming. “Sadie, as much as I’ve tried not to, I finally realized that I’ve completely fallen for you I just can’t walk away.” My heart started up again. What was I supposed to say to that? Fortunately, Frankie probably knew I’d be stunned when he let out this revelation, so he kept talking. “When I realized I wanted to take care of you for the rest of my life, I wanted to get started right away.” Take care of me for the rest of my life? “So that’s all stuff… for me?” “Well, I had to get a few things for myself, but yeah, it’s for you. The saleslady at the boutique really helped me out a lot.” I couldn’t believe it. I mean, I was used to having fine things, but I never imagined that one day Frankie might be the person buying those fine things for me. And fine things they were. As I rifled through, feeling the softness of the fabrics, knowing how much this all must have cost, I couldn’t help but feel special. It had been a long, trying few days and I wondered if maybe I could start to feel like a real person again. But then my mood would darken, remembering. I knew Annie would want me to be happy, so I tried to imagine how she would be decidedly envious of all my new clothes, but be happy for me anyway, asking to try everything on. Annie was nothing if not a fashion--obsessed girl. Frankie looked so happy, watching me go through the clothes. The thought flashed through my mind, wondering how he could afford it all, but then I realized that a man in his position, high up in the organization, would probably have money to burn. The Boss’ joints were humming every night. They must rake in cash hand over fist. “Frankie, this is too much,” I said. “Nothing is too good for my girl,” he said, sitting beside me, even daring to put his arm around my waist. My girl. He called me his girl. I nearly fainted dead away, having wished so hard for those words. The thing I’d wanted had finally come, but I was missing my best friend. Annie had been my everything, and accepting Frankie into my life felt like I was betraying her somehow. I shouldn’t be happy. I should be punished, and if no one else was going to do it, I should at least have the decency to punish myself. But I didn’t even know how to do that. I buried my head in my hands, guilt overcoming me, and tears came again. Annie was the one who knew how to live. She deserved to be alive so much more than me, and just sitting in that room for days, doing nothing, proved it even more. If I were Frankie, I would just sigh and walk away from the driveling mess that I had become. But Frankie wasn’t like that. Criminal or not, he had a good and kind heart. And for some reason, he had chosen me to share it with. He set his hat down on the table and came to me. He sat on the bed and put his arms around me and let me cry all over his clothes, messing them up yet again. I just couldn’t do anything right, not even accept a wonderful and generous gift from the man I loved. And I did love him. More than I had ever loved anything in my life. So much that I could no longer picture a life without him, could barely remember a life before him. It was then that Annie’s voice came to me. “You’re alive for a reason Sadie, it’s your turn now. Your turn to live your life. Your turn to take a chance. Your turn to dare to accept love.” I pulled back from Frankie, wondering if somehow he’d heard it too. Of course he hadn’t, but the way he looked at me with so much concern, and with so much love in his eyes, I knew that Annie was telling me it was okay. That it wasn’t all my fault, and that she would seriously let me have it if I didn’t hurry up and live my life. I decided right then and there to start living it. It seemed to take forever to get the coat off, it was so snug in the arms. I still couldn’t believe how strong Frankie was. I tried to imagine what kind of work he did for the Boss that would require such muscle, but nothing came to me. Not that I was complaining. The kisses were gentle, loving, as he slid his hand ever so lightly down my arm. Tingles shot through my body and I almost dove on him, hardly able to hold myself back. The only thing that stopped me was Frankie. He seemed to be having no trouble going slowly. Perhaps he already knew it was better that way. I pushed the thought out of my mind as quickly as I could, not that it was all that difficult considering what was going on. In fact, it was pretty hard trying to think any thoughts whatsoever. My mind was a big pile of mush again, just like with that first kiss in the tunnel. Finally, I gave up and decided to just feel instead of think. I couldn’t keep my eyes off his muscular forearms as he unbuttoned his shirt… until, that is, he pulled off his undershirt, revealing his rippled stomach. It was like his whole body was alive with movement, bathed in red as the setting sun tried to peek through the curtains. He laid me back gently, breathing heavy, though I couldn’t imagine his breathing was any heavier than mine. I was exhilarated, like I’d just run a mile, but not tired in the least. Tiny pulses of energy sparked through my body, taking turns through my fingers, my legs, even my scalp. “Are you okay?” Frankie asked gently. Somehow I found a way to answer, “yes, more than okay.” He smiled, pressing into me, his lips nearly crushing mine. Before that moment, I would never have thought that sort of pressure would have felt good, but it was amazing. His lips investigated my neck. My eyes rolled back and I could do nothing, my mind was gone. All senses except the ones in my neck had abandoned me and I was forced to give in to the sensation, unable to move, barely able to even breathe. But soon the rest of my body came alive, alive like I’d never known it to be. An urgency like no other, swelled deep where I’d never experienced. It was shocking and marvelous all at once. Frankie shifted further on top of me and with the weight of him the urgency subsided momentarily, then grew even stronger. Finally, he made his way to my lips and I kissed back with no thought attached to it, only Frankie’s comfort and warmth guiding me. Of course, no unmarried woman should ever indulge in such scandalous behavior, but I had truly never felt more comfortable, and nothing had ever felt so right before. It was like with Frankie, I had finally found a home, and I knew in my heart that he felt the same way. He was gentle as he kissed my shoulders, down my arms, and undid the buttons on my dress, leaving fluttery kisses across my stomach. The butterflies that were forming soared into a frenzy and I gulped for air then bit down on my lip, trying to control myself from crying out. This was the point of no return. I could not stop myself from giving into Frankie completely, and was surprised to realize there was nothing I wanted more. I guess there was more of my sacandalous Annie in me than I’d thought. Maybe she would always be with me after all. CHAPTER 20 I was no longer the silly girl who always did what her parents told her. I kept waiting for the moment when I would regret what I had done with Frankie, but that moment never came. I just kept going over and over in my head how beautiful and perfect and gentle he had been the whole time, asking me if I was doing okay, and telling me we could stop. Of course, that was the last thing either one of us wanted to do, but I appreciated the gesture none-the-less. A tiny sliver of light shone through the heavy curtains. Morning was fast approaching, but I was more than content to stay exactly where I was, wrapped in Frankie’s strong arms, the sweet smell of him enveloping me tighter than the blankets ever could. I didn’t dare move. The last thing I wanted was to wake him, and I hoped this moment would never end. Thankfully, Frankie was a deep sleeper and his quiet, soothing snores lulled me back to my own sleep for a while longer. I didn’t think that anything could possibly be as perfect as waking up in Frankie’s arms, but watching how giddy and happy he was, was even more satisfying. He strutted around with this big, goofy smile plastered on his face, like he couldn’t not smile if he tried. After he paced the room a couple more times, trying to burn off extra energy, he sat back down on the bed. “I am so sorry it took me this long to figure everything out,” he said. “I wish I had never talked to the Boss that night.” “Don’t worry,” I said, putting my hands on his face. He pulled one of my hands to my lips. “Your father has a lot of clout in this town and the Boss figured messing around with you could be dangerous for business.” He paused for a moment, and let out a humorless chuckle. “I guess he was right.” I dropped my hands down, looking at them. “I’m sorry Frankie. I feel like this is all my fault.” “Sadie, don’t worry. It’s not like you did anything. You can’t help who your family is.” “You don’t understand. I think… I think my father is working for both sides. I think he might be working for the Boss too.” I looked into his eyes. “Annie and me, we just wanted to have a little fun for once in our lives,” I said, suddenly remembering what our ‘fun’ had really caused. “And now Annie’s gone, and the Boss’ business is gone, and we… I… ruined everything.” Frankie stood with his mouth open for a moment, obviously processing the shock of my father being crooked. Finally, he shook his head. “No Sadie, it wasn’t you. The City and the cops were already closing in on us a while ago, long before I ever glanced your way. None of this is your fault. And none of it is Annie’s either. She was just an innocent bystander, gunned down by crazed law enforcement. None of this was you, even if your father had a hand in it.” He looked me straight in the eye and said again, “none of this was you.” I blinked back tears, trying to meet his gaze. He believed what he said, or perhaps was just desperate to believe it. It would take me a lot longer to forgive myself than it took for Frankie to forgive me, but I tried to smile anyway. “Thanks,” I whispered. “And hey, it’s not like the business is totally ruined. We’ve got joints all over the place. The heat has started to die down back home,” he said, more hopeful than he had in days. “We get to start over in a new place where no one even knows who you are. You don’t have to be the Mayor’s daughter if you’re not living in his city.” My heart beat a little faster. But what else could I possibly be? And then it dawned on me. I could be whoever I wanted to be. Maybe I didn’t have to be the snooty, upper-class, perfect-at-every-minute daughter anymore! My eyes grew wide. “I can just leave and go somewhere where nobody even knows who I am. Where the name McKay is just any old name!” Frankie was nodding vigorously. “And nobody would care. Besides, it wouldn’t be anybody’s business.” I crawled to my knees. “We would make a life together!” Frankie smiled wide. “We sure would. For now, we’d have to live at my old apartment—it’s all I got—but I swear Sadie, we’ll get a proper house as soon as we can swing it.” “A house? Really?” I threw my arms around Frankie, hardly able to believe he already had it all planned out. He laughed, nodding. “A place of our own. We’ll have everything you could ever want. You should see the shops they have in Chicago. If you think all this is something…” he said, gesturing to all the new clothes around the room, “…you’ll faint when you see what they’ve got back home.” “Could we have a big yard? I’d love to show my mother what a read yard should look like.” He grinned. “Why not? As long as it has a big ol’ porch for us to sit and cool off at night, I’m game. Heck, maybe we could find something that looks over the lake. Course, those houses would be pretty big, but nothin’s too good for my girl.” I couldn’t tell if he was kidding or not, but I didn’t even care. I didn’t need a big house or a fancy neighborhood. I’d had that all my life and look where that had gotten me. “I don’t need anything fancy Frankie, I just need you.” He smiled and pulled me closer. Across the room I noticed a suit draped over the chair, the same suit he’d worn that first night I snuck out. It seemed like it had happened a million years ago. “Frankie, what about your old life… the Boss? I couldn’t stand it, always wondering if something like the night at Diamonds could happen again…” Frankie was shaking his head. “I’ll break away from the Boss and the rest of the guys and it’ll just be us, I promise. I can’t wait for you to see it Sadie. Chicago is such a beautiful place, and it’s got so much energy. There’s stuff going on all night long back home.” “I’ll be the happiest girl Chicago ever saw. The only thing is…” I said, sinking back down to sit, “…what about my sister?” Frankie snuggled up close. “I know Sadie, but this will be for the best. If you go back home now, imagine the scandal for your family. Your sister might even get hurt in the process. If you stay ‘missing,’ then your family will find a way to save face.” “But if I turn myself in, maybe…” He put a finger up to my lips. “Then the reporters would have a field day with you. And with your father. Your mother and sister would be humiliated. The whole family could be run out of town. It’s just lucky that the Boss got nabbed too. I don’t know what he’d do to them.” My stomach tightened at the thought that something could have happened to my family. And I certainly wasn’t helping matters. Maybe, if they could just hold out the story that their precious daughter was missing, perhaps even kidnapped, then the entire city would have sympathy for them. My father would be reelected easily with that kind of support, if he was man enough to stay in town. More importantly, my sister and mother could continue to live a comfortable life. I didn’t want to think of the alternative. All my life, all my father had ever done was charm people. What other sort of occupations were there for someone like that? I couldn’t do that to Mother and Emily. But I also couldn’t just let Emily think I was gone forever, without a trace. After some time passed, maybe we could meet somewhere again. I turned to Frankie who was rubbing my back gently, letting me think through my options. “Okay. But I have to at least talk to my sister. Let her know I’m all right.” He must have seen the pleading in my eyes. “I know you want some closure,” he said gently. “But it’s just too risky.” “But I can’t just let her think I’m dead!” I yelled. “I’m the person closest to her in the whole world.” “I know it’s bad,” he said, “but the heat will still be swarming all over your parent’s house.” Tears sprung to my eyes. “Frankie, I can’t do that to them. To my sister!” I pleaded. He wrapped his arms tightly around my shoulders. “It’s okay Sadie, it’ll be okay. Maybe when we get to where we’re going, and we know we’re safe… maybe then you can send a letter. Let them know everything is okay.” “But…” It was hard enough to comprehend leaving this town, the only home I’d ever known, but to do it allowing my family to think the worst? How would I feel if someone I loved went missing? What if it were my sister who I thought was kidnapped… or worse? “Shhh…” Frankie said, stroking my hair. “It will be okay, I promise.” But he couldn’t really promise that. My parents and sister would be sick with worry for weeks until Frankie and I were sure no one had followed us or suspected what we’d been up to. I couldn’t do that to them. Maybe if it were just my parents, but I would never be able to leave without at least letting Emily know I was alive, even if she might never see me again. The poor girl had been through enough. After all, she had grown up in the same prison-like home I had. She had to deal with the scrutiny from the press just as much as me, perhaps even more since she was the baby of the family. The darling girl who’d been born just after my father had already taken office fourteen years ago. She was probably scared out of her mind this very second, the stress of so many people watching her, asking questions that she didn’t have the answers to, following her around, no doubt giving her no relief except when she was holed up in the house. I couldn’t leave her, on top of all that, to think I might be dead when I was perfectly fine. It was too cruel. The second Frankie walked out of that motel room that afternoon to gather supplies and research our options for getting out of town, I snuck out too, wearing some of my stylish new clothes, pen and paper ready in my new black handbag. I had to make sure I wouldn’t attract too much attention. Given the fact I was trying not to be seen, I was extremely glad Frankie had bought me a few hats in the latest fashion as well. The one I wore drooped jauntily over one eye, perfect for remaining incognito. Sure, I’d likely turn a few heads, but I was positive no one would guess my true identity dressed like this. I put on extra rouge and lipstick, just in case, and with the charcoal lining my eyes, I truly did look like a different person. Perhaps even a better person. I figured now was as good a time as any to try out a new walk too. Striding as confidently as I could muster, I made my way toward home. It was a long walk, especially in the new shoes. As I went, the houses grew bigger and the lawns more manicured, until eventually I made it to one of the biggest houses in town. My old house. There were a few folks loitering on the street several yards from the front door. I’d hoped I’d be able to sneak in that way, but it would be out of the question. As I stood staring at the house, wondering what my next plan of attack should be, one of the men in the group glanced up in my direction. I quickly turned and started walking down the sidewalk, away from my house, sneaking around the corner at the end of the block, hiding behind the bushes of the Jensen’s house. I stayed there for a moment, catching my breath. Removing my hat, I peered around the thick hedge. Down at the end of the street, the man gazed in my general direction but did not see me spying. Finally, after several heart-wrenching moments, he turned back toward the group waiting outside my family’s home. My lungs emptied in one relieved whoosh. I continued up the street parallel to my old one, put my hat back on, and tried to force a plan to come together. Emily’s window was at the back of the house, the same as mine, but what would I do if her window wasn’t open? The trouble was that I doubted my father would allow any open windows anymore, not after my ‘kidnapping’—or more importantly, in case any mobsters were still hanging around—and he’d make sure they were all locked as well. I closed my eyes and hoped beyond hope that I would be wrong. I crept through the back gate which I’d walked through hundreds of times before, and my heart sank. Every window was shut tight. I leaned against the fence, my shoulders slumping, and t ried to will myself not to cry. Think Sadie, think! There has got to be a way to get a message to Emily. But nothing came to me. In frustration, I kicked one of the rocks in my mother’s new flower garden. Really, it was just a rock garden with a few spindly bushes sparsely planted here and there. I’d never seen a flowerbed full of stupid, ugly rocks before, but my mother insisted it was the newest thing, all the rage over in Europe. I thought it looked plain hideous. But it was there, in the blandness of that rock garden that the idea came to me. I quickly scribbled a note to my sister. Emily, You must be so confused right now, but please don’t worry about me. I am safe and beginning to find my true happiness. You must concentrate on your singing now, more than ever, and use it to someday get away from this place. I know in my heart that all your dreams will come true. All my love, Sadie I wanted to tell her everything that had gone on, but didn’t want to risk the time it would take to write it all out, not to mention the very good possibility that someone else could find the note besides Emily. If it was Edith, our maid, I could probably trust her to quietly give it to Emily, she’d always disagreed with my father over most everything. But if my father was to come and open the window, Emily would never see and he’d never let her know I was safe. It would be far too risky in his mind to allow the possibility of Emily saying something to the wrong person, or it getting leaked to the papers. Then what sort of sympathy would he have with the people? No, a man whose daughter would rather run off with some gangster than spend another minute in his house was not exactly the sort of thing the voting public adored. But there was no other way. I crept up to my sister’s window as quietly as I could, surprised at how much easier this all seemed a few days ago. Of course, a few days ago I’d had no idea what I stood to lose. I kissed the note for luck and reached up, placing the folded paper on the outer windowsill, carefully placing the fist-sized rock I’d stolen from my mother’s garden on top to keep it from blowing away. “Please don’t let it rain,” I whispered into the air, and crept back out of my yard as quietly as I’d crept in. I avoided the front of the house with all the snoops and took an alternate route back to the hotel, sweeping in a wide arc around my old neighborhood. After the almost run in with that reporter back there, I could not be too careful. But I had to hurry too, if Frankie knew I’d left the motel room, he’d have a heart attack right there on the spot. I quickly checked the watch he bought on his little spending spree and realized that I’d already been gone more than an hour, and by the time I made it back, it would be closer to ninety minutes. Please, please let Frankie be taking a long time to organize our escape plan, I thought as I scurried along as fast as I could in the new shoes. Finally, I reached the motel. I flooded with relief when there were no lights on in our room, but I had to waste more precious time, forced to ask the motel manager to come and open the door for me. I didn’t remember him, but he apparently remembered me from the night we’d checked in. I didn’t like the way he smirked when he recognized me, but at least I was able to get back in the room before Frankie arrived back. As it turned out, I hadn’t a moment to spare. Just as I’d gotten my hat off and was in the midst of pulling off my gloves, Frankie burst through the door. His excited expression quickly turned to a frown. “Have you gone out somewhere?” he asked, panic flashing through his eyes as he looked at my gloves, halfway off my hands. “Uh…” I stammered. I quickly pulled the glove back on. “No. No, of course not,” I said, smiling, though I was shaking inside at the lie. “I saw you coming and thought maybe we could go someplace nice for supper. I’m getting a bit stir crazy all cooped up in this little room,” I said, shrugging. The relief flooded his face and I had to admit I felt a little thrill that my lie had actually worked. “Sadie,” he said, gently, “we can’t go out. Who knows who might see us? You’re practically a celebrity in this town. We could never get away with it.” I put on a big pout for good measure. “I know we shouldn’t, but I just thought with the new clothes and an extra touch of makeup, people might not recognize me.” He chuckled, coming close and pulling me into him. “Well, I must say you do look beautiful, but even with the clothes and the makeup there’s no way people wouldn’t recognize you. You’ve been plastered all over the papers for days.” He shook his head, still chuckling, and hugged me close. My stomach churned. I truly thought my disguise was good, that people wouldn’t recognize me. But what if someone had? I didn’t have much time to think about it though as Frankie pulled out of the hug. “And don’t you worry about being cooped up in here any longer. I’ve got our tickets out of here.” He pulled an envelope out of his jacket pocket and handed it to me. “Two tickets to Chicago, leaving on the early train.” My smile widened as I tore into the envelope, studying the first class tickets on the Soo Line. I jumped and flung my arms around him, finally feeling like everything might be okay after all. And now that I’d gotten a message to Emily, at least I hoped it would reach her, I was really free to go. CHAPTER 21 We tried to go to sleep early knowing our departure was at the crack of dawn. Of course we were both too excited to sleep, which was just as well really, since both of us were a little excited in a different way too, what with being so close in the same bed and all. I finally fell asleep late into the night with Frankie’s strong arms keeping me warm. It was a restless sleep though, far too many thoughts raced through my head. I had dreams of my sister. Then of my father yelling at me for one thing or another the way he had my whole life. I never seemed able to please him. Once, I woke up and Frankie was smoothing my hair. “Everything’s okay,” he said sweetly. “Tomorrow, everything will be okay.” I didn’t even know what the dream was about, but Frankie said it was a bad one. I woke for good before the sun came up and I checked every five minutes until Frankie’s pocket watch finally said six o’clock. Time to get up and get dressed. I could not wait for our new life to begin. We got ready quickly, both of us anxious and excited. The air was full of possibilities and neither of us could stop smiling. Finally, my life with Frankie was about to begin. But we couldn’t leave for the train station too soon. “It’ll be best to get there right on time,” he explained. “I don’t want to risk someone recognizing you out there,” he said, motioning toward the window. I nodded, relived. It was going to be hard for me to leave the only city I’d ever lived in, and the less time I had to take it all in, the better. Finally, with only twenty minutes to go before the train was scheduled to leave, we snuck out of the motel. “I’ve never been so glad to leave a place in my life,” I said. Frankie chuckled. “Yes, it’s about time you got out of that dingy old room.” I tried not to blush, remembering how good the fresh air felt during my excursion yesterday. We walked briskly and made it to the train station in just over ten minutes. Another ten and we would be safely away. The platform buzzed with excitement. I tried not to look at the families hugging, saying goodbye with tears glistening in their eyes. Instead, I pulled my hat down over my face, hoping beyond hope that no one would recognize me. I was grateful again to Frankie for thinking ahead and getting the hats. They were proving to be invaluable. The train was proudly stretched out in front of us, gleaming in the sun. Frankie led the way, carrying most of the luggage that we’d hauled over. We packed lightly, only bringing the new clothes Frankie had bought for us, leaving the old ones behind in the motel room. “To start fresh,” Frankie had explained. “And less for me to carry,” he added, winking. First class on the train was even lovelier than I’d expected. Everything looked so new and shiny, as if we were the very first people to enjoy it. The seats were comfortable and would make for a relaxing journey, even one as long as the one we were about to embark on. Stowing our things, we settled in for the ride. I had to admit I was excited to have Frankie all to myself. No sneaking away to who knows where and to do who knows what while I was stuck all by myself with nothing to do but stare out a tiny crack between curtains. Heaven forbid I would open them, there was always a chance someone might see me, at least according to Frankie. Thank goodness he hadn’t found out about yesterday. I leaned my head back and took a deep breath, completely unable to keep the smile off my face. Frankie leaned in and kissed me softly on the cheek. “Just a few more minutes.” I smiled even larger and nodded, closing my eyes, enjoying the warm sun shining on me. I was as content as a lazy cat finding a sliver of sunshine for a long afternoon nap. Frankie watched past me out the window, looking at the people go by out on the platform. “Max?” he suddenly said, jolting up straight. “Sadie, that’s Max. Wow, I didn’t think he made it out the other night. Thought he was in the slammer for sure,” he whispered. I followed Frankie’s gaze and saw a short, plump fellow with the same sort of three-piece suit that all the employees of the Boss seemed to wear, though I couldn’t help but notice the suit did not look nearly as good on this Max person as a similar one did on Frankie. “I have to go talk to him,” Frankie said, jumping up. “Frankie? No! Are you crazy? We’re so close to being out of here,” I protested, a deep feeling of dread settling into my stomach. “Just for a second,” Frankie said, smiling at me. All I could think was as careful as we were about no one seeing me, he sure wasn’t very careful about anyone seeing him. “Just to tell him our plans. Maybe he can still make the train with us.” I sighed. “This man must be awful important to you,” I said, pouting a little. I suppose I wanted to be the only thing important in Frankie’s life. And then I realized what a silly thought that was, and since I’d been trying so hard not to act like a little girl, I decided to straighten up, and even cracked a tiny smile. “Alright, but please hurry back.” I hoped he could hear the worry in my voice. He bent down and gave me a peck on the cheek and strode out of the train car. I glanced back out the window, secretly wanting to see just how much better Frankie wore his suit than his stubby friend, when I saw it. A face that looked all too familiar. My heart knew before my brain that something wasn’t right. I’d seen him somewhere before, but I couldn’t place him. I looked around wildly, searching for clues. Frankie was coming into view. He had his hand outstretched toward his friend, getting ready to shake his hand. But Max wasn’t reaching out to take it. Instead, he was saying something and looking genuinely panicked. Oh, how I wished I was able to read lips at that moment, but there was one tiny, little phrase that was unmistakable. “I’m sorry,” were the two words I could understand. A flurry of activity broke out on the platform. Men rushing toward Frankie. Men in uniform. Police. Someone knocking Frankie down from behind, slamming his arms out to his sides. Ladies and children screamed while family men pushed them out of the way of the dangerous criminal who was being apprehended. Two more men jumped on top of him, making sure he was held securely as the first officer cuffed him. Yet another officer held Max’s arms behind his back, stopping him from helping Frankie. And then the man. The man whose face I recognized strolled up to the scene. That’s when it all fell into place. The man from outside my parent’s house. The man who had tried to follow me down the street when I’d gone to leave my sister her note. He wasn’t a reporter like I’d thought. He was with the police. And by the looks of it, he was the head detective on the case. He’d probably been watching me since yesterday. I jumped up out of my seat and was about to run off the train when Frankie looked right at the window I was sitting behind. If I hadn’t been staring right at him at the time, I might not have noticed it, a tiny shake of his head and one word mouthed. “No.” Then he looked away so as not to alert their attention toward me. I wanted nothing more than to run out there and hug the love of my life and make it impossible for anyone to tear me away, but I knew that eventually they would. And then what? Back to my father’s house? Too much had changed for me to ever go back and live that stifling life again. But I couldn’t very well just leave Frankie all by himself for who knows how long, and to endure who knows what kind of torture while they interrogated him. Perhaps I could just quietly get off the train, down at the end where none of the policemen would notice, and walk away. If I could get back to the motel and get a minute to think, I was sure I’d be able to figure something out. But how will I pay for the room? I had absolutely nothing but the clothes on my back and what was in my suitcase. Tears sprung to my eyes and I sat down quickly, hoping no one had noticed my distress. Through the tears, blurs of color stuttered outside the window. They hauled Frankie to his feet, his hat falling off in the process. I wanted so badly to retrieve it for him so he could have at least a bit of dignity while he was marched through all those people who were no doubt judging him, thinking he was nothing but a two-bit thug. The smug looking detective was talking to Frankie, but again I could not make out the words, and Frankie just kept shaking his head. It was over. There was nothing I could do. And now I had nowhere to go. The train whistle blew. The final boarding call. The call signaling the end of my old life. No more family, my best friend gone. And cruelly, signaling the end of my future as well. There would be no house with the big front porch and beautiful yard. There would be no watching the lake at dusk. There would be no Frankie at all. As I looked out that window at my love for the last time, two things happened. First, Frankie looked toward the train and mouthed the words “I love you”. And second, just as they led Frankie away and the train jolted into motion, the detective looked right at my window, meeting my gaze. I couldn’t tear my eyes from his as he stood as frozen as me, getting smaller and smaller as my train slowly pulled away.


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