When the little red car pulled into the gravel driveway, Annie jumped away from the broken window pane, a window she herself had broken in anger, she bolted, heading for her mothers cluttered bedroom closet. As she ran, her worn thin, pink bathrobe flew open behind her and for a second she imagined being a soaring butterfly. She hoped her big sister didn't see which way she was running. Annie didn't realize that the closet wasn't a secret destination. Her family knew it had always been a hiding spot for her. To Annie, it was more of a comfort zone. She liked hiding under the big brown quilted winter comforter that was balled up in the tiny corner. She loved the smell of her moms perfume on all the long gowns and shawls that hung in plastic bags in that comfy corner. She also loved moms 'hidden' jar of poker pennies on the closet shelf, which she 'borrowed' every time she heard the happy tune of her neighborhood ice cream man.
Annie sat as quiet as she could and thought about how the little red car sort of looked like a lady bug without the black spots. There was NO way they were going to make her get in that dumb car and go with that strange man. That undefinable feeling came over her again, A feeling that felt like her best interest wasn't really being looked after. A feeling of dread, insecurity and fear. It was a scary feeling, being only 8 and not trusting the decision of the person that you know is your guardian, your parent, the grown up who's suppose to know best about making sure that you are always going to be okay.
Annie's mom had called Frances from her waitressing job a few minutes earlier and snapped at Frances about a man who was coming over to pick up Annie and bring her to school. "Get her ready Francie!" Annie's big sister Frances was accustomed to taking care of Annie, taking orders from their Mother and spending time cooking and cleaning their small shabby home. Wishing instead to spend more time giggling and primping with her 14 year old girlfriends from school. School! Frances hadn't been there all week. Like Annie, playing hooky from school had become a regular habit. It wasn't too difficult to over sleep and skip school when there was no one home seeing to it that you got up and out.
Frances gently slid the closet door to the side, peeling away another white paint chip and knelt down low. "Annie, I know you're scared, but this man is from your school and it IS safe to go with him. You've had too many absences Annie, they know you're not sick. You won't be in trouble but You need to let me help you get washed and dressed and you have to hurry up and go." Frances always had a softer way of mothering her than their own mother did. Whenever Annie was home alone with Frances, Annie's disguise never appeared. Annie's trust of Frances suddenly overpowered her fear of the strange ladybug man. Quietly, with tears streaming down her face mixing with breakfasts maple syrup still on her cheeks, Annie cooperated and got ready for school at 1 in the afternoon.
"what do I tell the kids Free"? whispered Annie. Free, the nickname 2 year old Annie had given her big sister when she couldn't pronounce Francie. Frances' heart skipped a beat for her little sister, trying to be so brave while suppressing stabbing sobs. Silently she cursed her mother for allowing this to happen. What mother gives permission for a little kid to go with a total stranger. Why couldn't SHE just leave work and take Annie to school herself? Herself.. hmm... She answered her own question.
Giving a gentle hug to the tiny shaking shoulders in front of her, she replied, "just tell them you're feeling all better now Annie".
Mr. Crawbid opened the passenger door for Annie. He was very tall, very polite and his car smelled like fresh cut grass. Inside the car between their seats Annie quizzically spied a zigzagged slot holding a black stick with a brown leather handle with random letters on it. Mr. Crawbid kept moving it as they drove along. Annie had never seen a car like this before and she didn't take her big brown eyes away from that black stick even while Mr. Crawbid asked her what her favorite color was (pink.) and if she liked Mrs. Wolfes class.(yes.)
When they got to George Washington Elementary school, Mr. Crawbid walked with Annie to her classroom and Mrs. Wolfe greeted her with a big genuine smile. "Annie! So nice to see you! Glad your feeling up for school today! The class is at recess but will be back very soon, you can take your seat and wait for them." When the kids came scurrying, noisily back in, Zachary and Billy, who were the known trouble makers in class 2-4 walked right up to Annie and Billy offensively sneered "weren't you absent? why did u come to school so late weirdo?" As much as Annie loved Free and her good advice, she didn't reply, she resolutely decided never to confess what had happend today. She buried her matted head of dark curls down into her arms on top of her ink smudged desk, mentally pulling on her invisibility costume. The very same disguise that she so often wished would disappear at home.
1 day ago