A Second Chance
By Dawn Natelle
I started off thinking this would just be a short episode. But the characters took over, and made it about average length. Sleepover tomorrow! Dawn.
THURSDAY, May 4, 2016
It was another nice day, and Rachael wondered how long the streak of nice weather could go on. Eventually it would rain, and they would not be able to make the walk home. But her plan seemed to be succeeding, with Bobby showing more energy, and her own clothes didn’t feel so tight. Except perhaps her bra. She seemed to be growing up there a little. Not enough to need a larger size, but there just seemed to be more there up there.
On the bus to school she sat with Larissa while Mikki went to sit with the girls at the back. She seemed to be fitting in well in their little group, and Rachael thought that the other girls were now being nicer to others. Carly especially, was less of a ‘mean girl’ although Layla was still occasional sniped at others.
Larissa said she had gotten permission from her mother to walk home with the girls, not that she needed to get into shape like Mikki and Rachael did. The day went rather mundanely, although Mikki did say that she agreed to let Lucy come to the sleep over if she would bring her makeup kit. Michaela wouldn’t tell the others what Mrs. Stoner had planned for grab bags for the girls, but said that they would be awesome. Lucy actually hugged Rachael in thanks for getting her into the party at school later that day.
Rachael went to each of the seven other girls and got a list of ingredients that the girls wanted on their pizza. Then she used most of her math class to work out her formula for how to make three pizzas satisfy eight different people. She worked out a list of ingredients that she would need for making pizzas and baking both chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies for the gang. Mrs. Stoner would buy the ingredients tonight, or tomorrow morning.
It wasn’t like she was missing anything in math class by working on her own project: Grade 8 math is not all that challenging when you have already completed two years of university calculus.
By lunch she had a plan on another tack. She sent the girls to the table, then approached Mark Russett as he stood in line for mystery meals. “Hey Mark, are you dating anyone these days?”
He looked down at her, and shyly said “No, why?”
“Well, I know someone who would like to meet you. She is tall, gorgeous, and speaks perfect French.”
“You mean the new student? The one everyone is calling a freak?”
“She is not a freak. She is just tall. You are tall, you shouldn’t mind.”
“I think she is taller than me. And girls are supposed to be shorter.”
“You probably still have a growth spurt to go,” Rachael argued. “You will probably grow another four or five inches. Girls have their growth spurts younger, so she is probably not going to get any taller.”
“I dunno. She is pretty cute though,” the boy wavered.
“Cute? She is drop dead gorgeous. She used to be a model. Look at it this way: when you are old and retired, do you want to tell your grandchildren that you had a chance to date a supermodel in middle school, and you let the chance slip away.”
“Do you think she is going to be a supermodel?”
“Duh. She has a lot better chance of it than me, or any other girl in this school.”
“What should I do?”
“Come with me at lunch and I will introduce you. The gym is free today during lunch isn’t it?” Mark was on the school basketball team, and would know.
“Yeah, unless there are a few guys practicing shots.”
“Well she is trying to learn basketball. You volunteer to take her down and give her some pointers for the last half of the lunch hour.”
“Okay, where is she?” Mark had passed through the food line, and accompanied Rachael back to the table, who sat him down next to Larissa, and squeezed herself in next to Robert (nothing like getting a personal advantage out of helping a friend, is there?)
“Gang, this is Mark. Most of you know him, but Larissa doesn’t. Larissa meet Mark, Mark, this is Larissa.”
Rachael knew that conversation would be stilted with people new to each other, so she told Mark about the movie night she had planned next week. He said that he would like to come.
“Have you decided on what movie to show?” Mikki asked.
“I was thinking about Casablanca. It is an old one, but good, with a good plot and a mixture of war and romance.”
“Why not get Fast and Furious?” Neal, the chess nerd, suggested.
“Can’t. The library only has old movies. I don’t even think they have Star Wars,” Rachael explained. “But there are enough good old ones that we can go to at least the end of this term. I’m hoping we can start up again in September when we will all be in Grade 9. A lot of us will be allowed to date then, but it still will be hard getting into the good shows at the cinema until we are 14. Dates are no fun if you have to take an adult along.”
“How much will it cost?” Neal asked.
“I don’t know. I think maybe we will all chip in a dollar, and use the money to buy snacks. We can get a few big bags of popcorn at the dollar store, and then use paper plate bowls to share with our friends. But we will have to work a bit. We have to leave the place spotless at the end, so that means vacuuming and putting the chairs all back neatly. I think you guys will like the big vacuum cleaner. It is an industrial model.”
By now most of them were finished eating, and the chess boys pulled out their Euchre deck. Rachael turned to Larissa: “Mark was telling me the gym is free during lunch today, and he said he would give you some tips on basketball. Would you like that?”
“Yes, please,” she said, showing gratitude in her eyes.
“Come on then, let’s go shoot some hoops,” Mark said as he got up and led Larissa away.
“Okay,” they could hear her say as she followed him out. “What are hoops?”
At the end of the day, Larissa caught up with Rachael and gushed her appreciation. Apparently the hoops shooting had gone well.
“A couple times he would put his arms around me, to show me how to hold and shoot the ball,” she said. “I think he liked holding me. I really, really liked him holding me. He asked me to be his date for that movie thing you are doing. I think he really likes me. I really like him.”
“Mark?” Mikki said, coming by for the end of the conversation. “He is a really nice guy. Some guys who are good in sports let it go to their heads, and just want to be the star. Mark will pass the ball to an open teammate when he gets the chance. He likes to win, but he is a real team player.”
“Plus he is dreamy looking,” Larissa added.
“We wouldn’t know that down here on our level,” Mikki said. “We can’t see that high.”
You could see Larissa mentally translating that statement, trying to figure it out, and finally coming to the conclusion that it was a joke. She laughed.
“You are so cool,” Larissa. “We are going to have so much fun over the next few years. I worried a lot about making friends in Canada, but now that I have I think you guys are even better than my friends in France were.”
“Do you still keep in touch?” Rachael asked.
“I email them every now and then,” Larissa said. “At first I think my emails must have been real downers, because I was depressed and missing them. But now I must send new ones telling them all about you guys. And Mark.”
By that time they had picked up Bobby and Danni, who Mikki said had begged their mother to let him walk home with the gang. “Such a pretty girl,” Larissa said, and Mikki had to explain that Danni was a boy: a boy who ran and crashed into Rachael with a huge hug.
“Hi Danni,” she said, winking as she said her name so he would know she said it with the i. Danni then took her hand and refused to let it go as they walked.
When they got to the stores, Danni and Bobby each got an apple at DaSilva’s and then they walked to the end of the strip of stores, where they saw that two of the vacant stores looked to have action happening inside. The door was open at one, and they peeked in, seeing the place was full of paintings, with two men working on arranging things.
“Hello, come in,” a short jolly and chubby looking fellow said. “Look John, we have customers already. Are you interested in buying art for your home or business. We are Lenin and Macarthur, Art Dealers. John Macarthur at your service.
The other man was tall and lanky, towering over even Larissa. “Don’t tease the girls, John,” he said. “And do make sure that the little ones don’t touch anything with sticky fingers.”
“Bobby is very good about not touching things,” Rachael said. “And I’m sure Danni will be the same. Is this your first day open?”
“D-Day minus two,” John laughed. “We will officially open on Saturday, and then there will be a gala Grand Opening in September, when everyone is back from vacation. It is a bit late in the year to start a business, but we hope to be making money before Christmas.”
“Where do you get all the art from?” Mikki asked.
“Well, John is an artist, and a pretty good one if I do say so,” Paul said. “A lot of these are his works. The rest are from our friends in Toronto. We made a trip through Ingersoll a few years back, trying to find gas on a visit to London. We kinda loved the place, and when we found a beautiful cottage just out of town we sold our condo in Toronto and moved. Then we found the city was giving a great deal on rent to new businesses, and we decided to see if a studio would go.”
“London?” Larissa said questioningly.
“Not the one you are thinking of,” Rachael laughed. “There is another London just a few miles down the road. They have the university and all the big malls, if you don’t want to go to Toronto. Larissa just moved here from Paris, France,” she explained to the men.
“Paris? Be still my beating heart,” John said flamboyantly. “I love Paris. I wish I could afford to live there, and paint on the banks of the Seine. I think I have a painting of Notre Dame. It was from my Impressionist phase. Ah yes, here it is.”
He showed them a 20x30 inch canvas that was definitely impressionist, but still clearly the famous cathedral in early morning. Larissa’s eyes misted up looking at it, and Rachael could tell that she fell in love with the painting. Rachael gulped when she saw the price tag on it. It was $3000.
“That is beautiful,” Larissa said softly, mesmerized by the image. “I love it. I wonder if my father will buy it for my room. No, for the living room. The whole family will love it. I will have to tell my parents to come down here soon after you open. They are coming down to check out the other shops here anyway.”
“See, I told you that leaving the door open was a good idea,” John teased Paul. “Get a red sticker.” As he affixed it to the price tag, he said: “This means it is a conditional sale. If anyone else wants it, we will call you and you get first chance. But you will have to get papa down with his credit card if you want to take it home.”
“I will,” Larissa vowed, and Rachael just gulped. It would take her mother at least three years to save $3000, and even then it would be hard. But to Larissa this was an amount she felt comfortable in asking her father to pay. She was traveling with a totally different crowd with Mikki and Larissa.
“You mentioned the other shops. I have been in the library, checking out what art books they have,” John said. “What are the other places like?”
“DaSilva’s is like a vegetable market stall in Paris,” Larissa said. “They have a bit more, cheese, cold cuts, and a few groceries. “That is where the apples come from.”
“And the Bread Baron is the best bakery,” Rachael added. “We get the seven-grain bread from there. It tastes like cake, but is really healthy. And they carry a lot of other goodies as well.”
“I looked in their window and put on five pounds,” John laughed, rubbing his large belly. “But if they have healthy bread, maybe I should stop in.”
“Or I could stop in,” Paul said with a smile. “I will buy the bread, and maybe one treat. If you go in, you will clear their stock out.”
“Oh, what is that?” Rachael noted a huge painting at the back of the store. It was so large that the suspended ceiling had to be removed to let it stand up, and the store ceilings were 10-foot high.
“I am still working on it,” John said. “I haven’t had much time this last month, but there are a few hours for me to get the robes just right down at the bottom. We decided to put it out, even though it really is too large. I guess 10-foot is going to be my new maximum for large canvasses.
“It is stunning,” Rachael said. It was a painting of Christ. The pose was somewhat hackneyed, with his arms outstretched as if to invite you into his arms. But the painting, in a realism style, completely drew you in. The face seemed to radiate peace and love. Rachael immediately fell in love with it, and then saw the price tag on it said $30,000.”
“I think we might need another red sticker,” John said as he smiled at the reaction his work was having on the girl.
“I wish,” Rachael said. “Do you think you could let it go for $10 a week for 3000 weeks?”
John laughed. Paul did the calculations. “That is about 60 years, my dearest. You might be around at the end, but I doubt we will be.”
“That’s okay,” Rachael said. “It wouldn’t fit anywhere in my house anyway. But it is beautiful. You didn’t paint this,” she accused John. “God painted this through you. It is truly magnificent.”
John beamed at the compliment. “Well, if you can’t buy it, tell others about it. If it gets people into the shop, then they may buy something more affordable. I’ve been working on that for three years, off and on, which is why it is so expensive.”
The group left the shop and headed to the next one, which had a closed door. There was a sign on it that read: “Xcuts Hair Styling, Opening Soon.”
“Cool, we will have a hair place near the schools,” Mikki said. “Most of the places in town seem to cater to old ladies with blue hair. The name Xcuts makes me think that this place will focus on a younger crowd. I can’t wait till they open.”
As they walked on from the stores, Mikki asked “Did those two art guys seem a little funny to you?”
“Well, they were gay, if that is what you mean?” Larissa said.
“Oh sure. There were all kinds of gay people in the modeling world in Paris,” the tall girl said. “You learn to tell which ones.”
Rachael had to agree. She had not noticed it at all while in the store, but in retrospect it was pretty clear that the two were partners in more than just business.
The group found Grandpa sitting on his porch, with a big smile. “Another jeune fille,” he said. Rachael did the introductions, and then spent some time with the old man before going in to check the sandwich supply. He still had two remaining, so she decided to restock him on the weekend.
Only then did she go next door, with little Danni following like a puppy. Bobby came over to walk Rudolph, but Danni chose to stay with Rachael. He did pet Goldie, who was coming along wonderfully, and was trying to lick both Rachael and Danni’s faces. The little tyke giggled when the dog succeeded.
Goldie got a few licks in with Rachel as well as she investigated inside his leg, and found the bone completely healed. The cast could come off on the weekend, but it would have to be Sunday, she told Miss Lajoie.
They went to the door, although Danni stayed for a few more seconds by Goldie’s crate to get more attention from the beautiful animal. “I have to get someone to do M. Verdun’s lawn,” Rachael said. It was growing like crazy in the spring weather. If he didn’t have someone cut it, the city would, and add the considerable cost to his taxes.
“I need to get mine done too,” Miss Lajoie said. “But the cost is just so high.”
“Do you think you could trade guitar lessons for cutting the grass?” Rachael asked.
“But Bobby is too little,” she said.
“Yes, but I was thinking about one of the boys from my grade at school. Piano lessons would not impress them, but guitar would.”
“If you could find someone, that would be wonderful,” the teacher said.
“I’ll let you know. Maybe tomorrow, although that is going to be a busy day for me.”
This time when they got to the Cartright house there were three who continued on, with Danni finally letting go of Rachael’s hand. Inside it was a normal evening, with Maria at work again. Bobby had his carrot and celery soldiers, and Rachael prepped and roasted a small chicken she had bought at the store on the weekend. She wanted to make Chicken Noodle soup for Grandpa on the weekend, once the family had gotten a meal or two from the carcass.
Bobby made his salad, and when Maria came home it was to a delicious aroma again.
“You spoil me, Rachael,” her mother said. “I had all day off yesterday and you guys only got spaghetti and warmed-over pizza. You are in school all day and still manage to cook a feast for us.”
“You deserve to be spoiled,” Rachael said. “You do so much for us. We are a team, and you are the captain. I’m just cook and chief bottle washer.”
“And I make the sallid,” Bobby chirped in.
Over dinner Rachael casually mentioned that she nearly bought a painting today. When she told the asking price, her mother nearly choked. “I offered $10 a week, but they turned me down,” Rachael said with a smile. “We have no place to show it here anyway. It is almost 12 feet high. But Momma, it is so beautiful. It is Christ, and he looks so welcoming and peaceful. You have to come down and look at it before they sell it.”
“Well, I suspect they won’t sell it quickly in Ingersoll at that price. You can buy a house with that kind of money. Or at least put a down payment on one. But I will come see it when you have time. Will that be this month, or next month?”
“Yeah, it is busy right now,” Rachael admitted. “Once the sleepover is done we should be back to normal. Are you good with picking up Bobby at the Stoner’s?”
“Yes, I can get off the bus near their home, and then we can walk back. I’ll probably have to get some “greasy spoon” food from the café for supper. As I said, I am spoiled now.”
“You won’t need treats for him. I plan to bake my cookies first, so he will get one or two of those to tide him over until you get home. Try to get him something healthy, if you can.”
“Okay. And there is no reason why the two of us can’t make a salad too.”
That night Bobby got a good long read of Harry Potter, and Rachael cleared up all her homework. She now had finished assignments for all her teachers, and was hopeful of getting mostly Bs and Cs, unlike the Ds and Fs that the old Rachael had been looking towards.
That night her prayer for the evening was that tomorrow’s sleepover would go well. Mikki had so much invested into it that any kind of disaster would really hurt the poor girl.
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