The car came into view as Crystal and I left City Hall. We walked in silence as we approached the vehicle. I looked at Crystal with red rimmed eyes and she immediately motioned for me to hand over the keys to my car. I slid into the passenger seat feeling worse than I could ever remember. She closed the door to the driver's side and leaned over to me and embraced my saddened form. I leaned into her body and began to sob once again. I had no control right now of my emotional state. Who could honestly blame me though? In a matter of minutes my heart had been filled with incredible sorrow. The woman that I had grown to love had been killed in a car accident due to her alcoholic ex-boyfriend. I do stress the word ex.
I didn't think that I had a chance of ever seeing my Annie again. Crystal, however, seemed to be pretty positive about it though. She held me as my sobs lessened and my composure was regained.
"How are you doing, Frankie?" She looked into my eyes.
"I don't know how to feel, Crystal. She's really gone. That bastard drove her literally, to her death. If he wasn't already dead, I'd kill him with my bare hands." I growled. "How am I supposed to feel? I feel numb."
"Well, I'm not going to settle for this being the end. You've already proven that time isn't an issue in this matter. Otherwise, you never would've been able to meet Annie in the first place. True?"
"True. So what are we going to do?" I asked curiously.
"Well, first of all, we need to get something to eat, I am starving. I will do you absolutely no good, if I have an empty stomach. If memory serves, you haven't eaten yet today, so you need to eat as well. Believe me you are going to need your energy." She said cryptically.
"Do I want to know what you have planned?"
"I'll let you know when the time is right, Frankie. I promise." She smiled.
"Somehow I don't think I'm going to like whatever you have planned, Crystal."
"Maybe, maybe not, but we'll know more later. C'Mon, I'm buying, let's go get some food."
"I'm not really hungry, Crystal, really." I said as brown eyes turned slowly to look at me. "But I'll try to eat." I finished sweetly. God knows that woman had a temper on her when it came to me eating.
"Good girl. Let's go to the diner on the corner. They always have hash and eggs just the way you like 'em." She suggested.
"Sounds good. Let's go." I weakly smiled at her.
The rest of the car ride was very quiet. It was very apparent to me that Crystal was trying to think of something to do so that Annie and I could be together again. I just don't know what could possibly be done now that we knew she wasn't alive anymore. I really didn't like to use the word dead when it came to Annie. It made everything so final.
We pulled into the Park Diner parking lot and Crystal shut the engine off.
"Okay, Frankie, are you ready to face the public?"
"Am I ever?" I smiled and looked at my reflection from the rearview mirror. I wiped away the dried salt marks on my cheeks and decided that this was as good as it was going to get for now. "I think I'm ready." I said as she smiled and opened the car door.
We walked into the restaurant and waited to be seated. We took a seat on the bench while the hostess took her sweet time finding some menus for us.
"Alright ladies, how many? She asked.
Crystal and I just looked at each other and then around us seeing no one else. We looked back at the hostess whose name was Brenda, and smiled. Crystal looked at her and answered, "Two?"
"Fine. Follow me." She said.
"Jesus " I whispered to Crystal who started to giggle at my response.
"Here we are, your server, Brandy, will be with you in a moment." She said with her fake smile.
"What's up her ass?" I really wanted to know.
"God only knows. It's not like they're busy, shit." She said as she rolled her eyes.
We sat in companionable silence when Brandy arrived.
"How're y'all doin'? Can I take your orders today?" She
drawled in some southern tongue.
Could this get any worse?
I looked at Crystal and it seemed she could read my thoughts. She started to laugh under her breath as I gave my order to our server.
"How did you want your eggs?" She blinked wildly at me. I almost couldn't keep up with her eyes. It was making me dizzy just looking at her.
"I would like them over easy, please. Make sure they
put the eggs right on top of the hash too, please."
"Sure, honey, no problem." She said as she snapped her gum. I was waiting for Mel and Vera to come out to help us next. "What about your darlin'? You made up your mind yet?" She blinked at Crystal next. It was my turn to stifle a laugh.
"Yes, I would like the large stack of pancakes with scrambled eggs and bacon on the side. Please make sure the bacon isn't crawling on the plate. You could even burn it a bit if you'd like." She finished.
"My goodness girly, where you plan on putting all of that?" She joked as her gum snapped again loudly.
"Why don't you let me worry about that, alright? You bring it out, and I guarantee you won't be throwing anything out. K, darlin'?" Crystal smiled that venom smile that usually meant 'I've had it with your shit, now go away.'
"You got it." She blinked at both of us and walked towards the kitchen.
"Good fucking God! What the hell is wrong with people these days? Could her eyes flutter any faster? You'd think they were wings for Chrissakes!" I said as Crystal snorted out the water she had just drunk.
"OH JESUS, FRANKIE! Don't do that." She laughed out as she blew her nose into her napkin.
"And how about that gum? You think she's put some serious mileage into that piece with all that chewing? Man " I couldn't help but pick on her. It was making me feel better and she didn't hear me.
At this time Crystal had leaned into the booth we were seated in to hide her bright red face. She was laughing so hard that it had become silent. Her mouth had a permanent "O" shaped to her lips as she tried to compose herself.
"Ppplease Frankie I'm gonna wet myself." She sputtered out. She was taking deep calming breaths and then I looked at her and blinked my eyes like Brandy and sent her into fits of laughter again. I couldn't help it; she was just too easy of a target. Crystal was so easy to amuse once she got going, so I didn't stop, until she came back.
"Here you go ladies. Enjoy." She placed our food down and watched in amazement as Crystal attacked her plate. "You gals just let me know if you need anything else. OK?" She asked.
"Mmhmmm." We both mumbled with full mouths.
We ate until there was no food left. I surprised myself that I actually was hungry and ate all my food. Crystal never ceased to amaze me with the amounts of food she could ingest into that tiny body of hers. We sat for a couple minutes as our food digested and motioned to Brandy for her to bring the check.
"Here you go little darlins, I hope everything was good for ya's." She paused as she looked at the empty plates. "Well, sew my mouth closed for a million years, you really did eat it all, didn't you?" She said surprised.
"I told you nothing would go to waste." Crystal answered.
"Well, that you did. I hope you aren't one of those girls that goes into the little girl's room to throw up everything she just ate." She said accusingly.
"Absolutely not. I think that's more of waste than not
eating what's on your plate at all. I'm pretty confident about my appearance,
and fuck anyone that thinks differently." Crystal said with a brash tongue.
"Good for you, honey!" She said as her gum snapped again.
I just looked at Crystal and smiled at her. I had never met anyone who spoke his or her mind as much as she did. Until Annie that is. She really let me have it when she thought I was against homosexuals. God that was absurd.
Little did she know where our night would lead after that.
"Earth to Frankie. You ready, babe?" Crystal asked jarring me from my memories.
"Yeah, let's get outta here before Alice gets here." I kidded.
"God, I was thinking about that too! How funny! I was waiting for Mel and Vera too!" She said as we laughed. It was really great how our minds were so in sync sometimes.
We left "Flo" a decent tip and went back to the car. I felt much better so I took my keys back from Crystal and we set off towards home.
I slowed the car as we approached the back parking lot of our building. I was very curious on how Crystal planned on getting me back to Annie. I could feel my sadness creeping back slowly. I don't think it really left me, it just took a nap while I ate.
I knew I would never be able to forget Annie and all that we shared together. So many people don't ever feel what we did in their whole lives. I just hoped I would be able to share all of that with Annie again, very soon.
"OK, Frankie, before we get started, I really need to talk with Nonnie about all of this. Do me a favor and stay at home or go to your shop until I am ready for you, OK?" She said sternly.
"Crystal, why won't you talk about this in front of me? I feel that it's " She cut me off.
"Frankie, please, just trust me on this, alright? Nonnie and I need to get everything together so that we can continue with this. I promise I won't be long, but I know you and I know how you like to ask questions and all of that. There will be plenty of time for your questions, I just have to make sure that Nonnie knows what's going on and that she's clear for the rest of the afternoon, OK?" She smiled and gave me her best puppy dog look. She knew those brown eyes would get her anything she wanted from me.
"Fine, I should go see how Mario is doing anyway. Just do me a favor and come and get me as soon as you guys are ready, alright?" I pleaded.
"I promise, Frankie. I'll be back soon." She assured.
"OK. See you later." I acquiesced.
I walked upstairs to change out of my inside out T-shirt. I took one look at my hair as I took it out of my hat and decided a shower was in order. My hair had started to grow into my Cubs hat, so I gave it a good washing. I dried off and changed into my favorite purple polo shirt and tucked that into my button down fly blue jeans.
After I finished blow drying my hair, I put a touch of makeup on my face and wandered down to Technicolor Classics. I opened my back door and wandered into the shop. It was a slow day, but Mario was putting some new clothing on the front window's mannequin.
"Hey Mario, how have things been going?" I asked.
Mario looked over to me and smiled. He was a decent guy about nineteen years old and loved the classic movies. I think he liked them even more than my Pop did. He was short as men went only about five feet eight or so, which was still shorter than myself. I felt bad for him since he was so young and his hairline had already started to recede. What he lacked in outward appearance, he more than made up for with his personality. Hell, if I were straight and younger, I'd have dated him! I took his hand in a friendly shake and smiled warmly at him.
"Thanks for watching the place, Mario. I haven't been
feeling so well as of late." I gave him the abridged version.
"You are very welcome, Miss Frankie. Im sorry you have been sick. Don't you worry though; this place has been running fine with me here. I won't let anything go wrong to make you worry. It's been kinda slow anyway, so you rest up and feel better. You still look a little pale, Miss Frankie."
"Mario, you know you can call me Frankie. I am as informal of a boss as you'll ever have." I smirked.
Isn't that the truth.
"I know Miss Frankie, but my Poppa would be very disappointed in me if I didn't treat you with respect." He said honestly.
"Please call me Frankie, ok, don't make me feel like
an old lady. Alright?" I smiled at him.
"Oh, Miss Frankie, I meant no disrespect. I mean Frankie " He blushed.
"Take a deep breath and let it out slowly." I had heard through the grapevine, otherwise known as my neighborhood, that Mario had a crush on me. I could tell that I was flustering him.
He did as I suggested and blew out his breath.
"There, feel any better?" I asked sincerely.
"Yeah, sorry. I just wanna do a good job for you."
"Mario, you've been doing a great job, so don't worry so much, alright?" I said warmly to him.
"Thanks for saying so, Mi
can I finish up the window now? It might scare some people to have a naked mannequin
up there as they pass by."
I laughed, "Of course, Mario, you go right ahead."
It was very obvious to me that he had this place under control. He had even cleaned up a few messes that I hadn't had time to do myself. I turned to go back upstairs.
"Looks great, Mario, thanks for holding down the fort
for me. Did you want to get something to eat or use the bathroom or anything
while I'm here?" That was the only thing I hated about working alone. You had
to close the store just to pee or eat. Unless of course, Crystal dropped food
off for me.
"No, Frankie, I'll be fine. You go rest now." He smiled his crooked smile at me and waved.
"OK, Thanks again, Mario." I said to his back.
"Bye." He waved again and I went back upstairs to wait for Crystal.
I walked back upstairs and sat on my couch. I turned on the TV and tried to take my mind off of finding Annie. It was no use. Every commercial especially the Hallmark ones, was reminding me of her. I missed her smile, her scent, but most of all, I missed her sweet voice. I hadn't heard it in awhile. I was hoping to hear it in my dreams last night, or even get taken back, but unfortunately I stayed put.
I heard the footsteps on my back porch and hoped it was Crystal. I turned off the TV and walked towards the kitchen.
"Crystal? Is that you?" I hoped.
"Yeah, babe, miss me?" She joked.
"You know I've been waiting here on pins and needles waiting to hear from you." I pouted.
"Well, if you are ready, Frankie, then lets get started. Nonnie knows the situation and we are ready to go for it." She reassured me.
"Great, you know I am. Let's go!" I excitedly said as I blew past her to get downstairs.
Crystal breathed out a long breath and ran after me. "Wait up, Frankie. You can't do anything until we are all ready." She shouted after me.
I couldn't wait to get started. I knew that I was rushing around and there was probably a good chance that this wouldn't work either, but I couldn't stand being away from Annie any longer. I needed her like I needed air to breathe.
I opened the door into Crystal and Nonnie's home and walked into their kitchen. I found Nonnie sitting quietly at the table sipping some tea.
"Hi, Nonnie. How are you?" I smiled.
"Child, come sit down and let me talk to you about this for a second, alright?" She calmly requested.
"Sure, Nonnie. I'm sure you are going to say that this might not work and that I shouldn't get my hopes up. Right?" I said raising my eyebrows in question.
"You are partly right, as usual." She smiled. "But I
want to ask you about this Annie woman and what she means to you."
"I am in love with her, Nonnie. I haven't felt like this with any other woman I have ever been with. She is the other half of my being, I just know it." I honestly responded.
"So there is nothing that you wouldn't do, to be with her again, correct?" She asked seriously.
"I would give and do anything to be with her again, Nonnie.
I love her that much."
"OK, we've established that much, and that is wonderful. Now, I need you to understand that this may not work exactly the way you want it to. We may get you there and she may already be gone. Do you understand that? Is it going to be enough for you to see her that way? What happens if you show up just as she crashes? There won't be anything that you can do. Am I making sense to you?"
I had to think about that for a second. I had never thought about that aspect of it. I don't know if I could see her in that state. It would kill me I was sure. Not doing one more thing to see her again though, would hurt even more. I think that answered my questions.
"Yes, Nonnie. I would do anything to see her again. I can't not try one more time." I implored to her.
"OK, then let's get on with it." She stated simply and walked into her parlor mumbling something about stubbornness.
Crystal looked over at me and smiled. "Ready?"
"Readier than I'll ever be."
"Then let's go get your girl." She happily said to me as she draped her arm around my shoulders and led me into the back towards their parlor.
"Is Nonnie okay with all of this?" I wasn't sure how she was really feeling about this whole thing.
"What do you mean?" Crystal asked concerned.
"I mean, she almost sounds like she doesn't want to do
"I think she is really just concerned about you not finding what you're looking for. She loves you as if you were her own, Frankie. She doesn't like to see you hurting. She just wanted to make sure that you understood all the aspects and you realize as she said, that it might not go the way you would like it to."
"I know, and I love her for it. I just know that I have to do something if there is still a chance for me to do anything. You know?" I asked and felt my eyes begin to well.
"Yes, honey, I'm gonna do everything in my power to get her back for you. I can see how much you love her. It hurts me to see you hurting as well, Frankie. You are my best friend in the whole world. I'll be damned if I'm just gonna sit here and do nothing. So " She kissed my cheek. "Let's go get your Annie.
"Sounds good to me."
We walked into the back parlor, which really didn't look like anything other than another room. It had a wooden table with four chairs, there was a couch on the wall with a lounge chair next to it. It was a little darker than most rooms, but it was really comfortable. It felt very homey, actually. It would have felt that way even if I hadn't known these two most of my life.
Nonnie was sitting at the table waiting for us to arrive. She didn't have a turban on or anything like that, just so you don't go thinking that she is really out there or something. The only thing that seemed different to me is that there was a bit of incense burning on the back table. Other than that, it was a regular room.
"OK, so where should I sit?" I asked wanting to get this show on the road.
"Where will you be most comfortable? The couch? The table?" Nonnie asked.
"Am I going to go to sleep? Cuz if that's the case, I should park it on the couch." I said pragmatically.
"Alright then, please get comfy on the couch." Nonnie pointed to the couch and motioned for Crystal to come closer to me.
"Alright." I said as I lay on the couch.
Crystal came and sat on the edge of the couch and just
smiled down on me. "You ready, babe?"
"Sure, let's do this."
Nonnie and Crystal both smiled at me. Nonnie took a seat at the table and Crystal remained at the edge of the couch with me. I took a deep breath and tried to relax my body.
"Now, Frankie, the most important thing to remember is not to try to control the situation. Just keep yourself calm and relaxed." Crystal softly said to me. "Now close your eyes. Relax, Frankie. Just trust in me and we'll be fine."
Nonnie put on some music, it was an old classical piece that my Pop loved. I think it was Bach; one of the Brandenburg Concertos. I was brought back to when I was a kid. He used to play those records all the time and whenever I would complain about them, he told me that they would culture me. He was right, I still remember them. I felt really close to him at this time, it was a connection we would always have.
I was very comfortable where I was. I could feel myself getting very relaxed. I could hear Crystal talking softly next to me.
"Imagine yourself flying towards the clouds. The lighter
you are the higher you'll fly. Let yourself go, Frankie. Lighten yourself. Feel
yourself float. You can see the rainbow above the clouds try to catch it, lighten
yourself a bit more, Frankie, you can do it. Do you see it?"
I could, I could see the rainbow she was showing me. I was so close to reaching it. I felt myself nodding at Crystal and she must have seen me since she responded to my actions.
"That's a good girl. You're so close. Let yourself go a little bit more, Frankie. Annie is on the other side of that rainbow. You'll be able to get to her soon. Relax yourself, feel the weight of your body leave you. You are completely free to go anywhere, this is where you need to be. Go to her, Frankie. She's waiting for you. You'll find her. When you come down you'll be exactly where you left her last. Go towards the top of the rainbow, you'll get to the other side, you'll get there. Feel yourself fly higher higher
I felt freer than I had ever felt in my life. I knew I would get to her, I just had to stay focused and relaxed. Focused and relaxed
Am I not doing this right? Do I need to go back down to Crystal? Why would she be calling me?
"Frankie? Can you hear me?"
I opened my eyes only to guard them against the strong sunlight shining into them. I saw a silhouette above me. I moved so the light hit the person differently. It was Betsy. It was Betsy!
YES! It worked, thank you, Crystal.
"Betsy? Is that you?"
"Yeah, why are you out here?" She asked a great question. What was the right answer?
"I fell asleep out here last night with Annie, is she with you? Where is she?" I started to panic. She left me on the blanket we made love on. I needed to find her.
"I haven't seen her today, Frankie. That's what worries
me. She was supposed to work this morning. She didn't show up. That isn't like
her. I'm very worried."
"What day is it?" I said all confused.
"The twenty-sixth?" I guessed.
"No, twenty-eighth. She was scheduled at 10 A.M. this morning and it's about noon and she is no where to be found. Do you have any idea on where she is? The café called and they are concerned as well."
"I don't have a clue, Betsy. Now I'm worried. We fell asleep out here together after the bonfire. That was last night wasn't it?" I asked hoping I wasn't too far off.
"Yes it was last night. You must have some hangover.
You guys had lots to drink. I have to say it made me smile to see her so happy
being with you. You two were inseparable."
"So inseparable, she pulled a Frankie by disappearing on me this morning. I hope she's alright. Billy didn't see us did he?" I hoped she wasn't with him. Not after what I read about their wreck on the twenty-eighth.
The twenty-eighth! Oh God!
"No, luckily he gave up and left. He was such an asshole last night." Betsy was talking to me and I didn't hear a word of it. He had her. He must have her.
"Betsy, where does Billy live? I have a really bad feeling
about this. He could've come here last night and saw us together. I'm sure it
was a sight he didn't want to see. I'm betting that Annie is with him right
now. Believe me, Betsy, she is in grave danger. He's capable of killing her.
We have to find her before it's too late."
"I'll do what I can. I think I have a student directory upstairs." She tried to recollect.
"I didn't think he was a student anymore." I remembered Annie's words.
"He's not, but he used to be and he hasn't moved in ages. The address should be the same. I think I have an older listing. Let's go and find it." She lowered her hand for me to reach up to stand.
I reached up and took hold of her hand and pulled up to lift my body into a standing position. I shook out the remainder of the sand off my body and off the blanket. I grabbed the blanket and gestured for her to lead the way.
We flew up the concrete steps of Mertz Hall. We took the elevator up to the eighteenth floor and walked over to Annie's room. I knocked hard on the door so if she was in there, she could hear it no matter what.
"Annie are you in there?" I screamed. I continued to knock loudly. "Annie can you hear me?" I jiggled the handle and luckily for me the door was unlocked.
I looked inside her room and found it empty. She was no where to be found. Everything was as we had left it before going to the bonfire.
"Shit! Where are you, sweetheart? I gotta find you! Give me something. A clue, anything!" I could feel the panic start to take me over. I don't do calm well, least of all when someone I love is in danger. Grave danger.
"Anything?" Betsy ran in with the student directory from 1972 in her hands.
"No, nothing. It looks exactly the same as we left it last night." I slumped.
"Well, we did get somewhat lucky, I did manage to find
that old student directory. Billy's in here. He lives on Pratt, which is just
down the street. We can walk it's that close."
"Well then, what are we waiting for? Let's go pay a visit to that nice bastard, shall we?" I sarcastically asked.
"Yes, lets. I can't wait to watch you kick his ass." She smiled.
"I can't wait to kick it!" I growled. "Come on, let's go."
We took off out of Annie's room and straight to the elevator. When the floor lights indicated the elevator wasn't coming up any time soon, we hit the stairs, two at a time. We got downstairs faster than the elevator could ever move. We both were determined to get Annie away from Billy. How we were going to do that was another story, but for now, getting to her was our first goal. What we did once we got there was something we would have to think about later. For now, all I wanted to do was find Annie to make sure she was alright. She can't die, she just can't. I wouldn't be able to live with myself knowing I didn't do anything to save her.
That may have been messing with time and the future, but dammit, I didn't care. I was going to find Annie and we were going to be together. That's all there was to it.
We walked out of Mertz Hall and Betsy pointed North towards Pratt Lane. It wasn't far at all. I could feel the anxiety building inside of me.
"It might take us all of five minutes to get there, Frankie." She stated flatly.
"Alright. He drive anything other than that pick-up?" I asked.
"Nope, he and that piece of shit deserve each other." She smiled. "I hate that rat bastard. He'd better not have hurt her again. I don't know what I'll do." She calmly said as we started walking towards Pratt.
"I know damn well what I'm gonna do if he has harmed her in any way." I stated matter of factly. "I'm gonna rip him apart with my bare hands. He's gonna wish that he'd never laid eyes on Frankie Camarelli, I'll tell you that much." I hissed through my teeth.
"Remind me never to piss you off, Frankie. Okay?" She smiled.
"Noted. Let's go get that son of a bitch." I said as I started to pick up the pace a bit.
Betsy kept up with me as we ran down Sheridan Road to find Billy Johnson. If he's lucky, he'll have left her sleeping somewhere in his house while he went out of town. If not, he's gonna rue the day he ever touched Annie Parker.
That my friend, is a promise.
To Be Continued
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