Efren took the page back to his room and hid it in his suitcase. He’d set up a small binder there for them in the order he returned them. His phone went off on the edge of the nightstand and fell on the rug in front of the bed. It kept buzzing and jerking on the brown stripes until he managed to get it. He turned it around and saw it was a missed call from Marc. He frowned, hesitating. Marc never called this late unless there was an emergency.
Then it had to be emergency, he decided and soon the phone was picked up with a quick hello. “What’s wrong?” He skipped the greetings.
“I got stuck at work and can’t get off before nine. Can you pick her up from the socker and stay with her until I get there?”
“Sure…” Efren knew he should have asked Steven first, but didn’t they tell him to get lost already? “Yeah, I can do that. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
When he walked back, he heard Cedrick’s voice.
“I thought you only give him the pages when he’s been a good boy?” Cedrick asked.
“I do.” Steven answered.
“Then how would this correlate as being good?”
“Even you have to admit it was witty.” Steven snorted and second later Cedrick’s chuckling joined him.
Efren listened and his eyebrows furrowed. A servant, who can be taught with doggy treats. Be a good boy, give me your palm, ah, how sweet – here’s your page of the day. He gritted his teeth and tossed the jacket on, making a quick beeline to the exit. There was complete silence while he was at it, but he was absolutely sure they’d continue laughing the moment the door closed. He didn’t wait up to listen, he skirted down the steps and towards the bus stop.
He made it just in time to get her from the school’s gate and from there they walked home as it was any other day.
“So…” Pearl began, drawling the word as if it was made of lead. “Did you two make up?”
He should have known this inquiry was coming, and had she asked him this morning, she would have gotten a nice solid answer. But now he wasn’t sure anymore. But he didn’t want to worry Pearl.
“Yeah, we…” He couldn’t say it. The words simply didn’t come out and he focused on two crows on their path, fighting over food carton. “We’re OK.” For now. “Listen, I’m moving soon.”
“Again?” She whined like it was her moving and Efren couldn’t keep back a smile. She might be thirteen, but she hadn’t got rid of that prima donna effect yet. Suddenly, her face lid up and she grinned. “That’s worth a celebration!” She announced and Efren’s eyes followed her fixed eyes towards the small cafe.
“I’d say it’s way too early for house warming party, sweetheart, but…” Then again, when was the last time he’d let himself sit and enjoy the day?
They sat in the corner table. After they settled her bag on the third chair and got rid of their jackets, Pearl went eerily quiet. She studied him, curiously, but didn’t say anything nor asked about anything. It was as if she was mind reading him. At first he ignored it, letting his own gaze go around and search new targets, but after their orders were brought in, he took a deep breath and braised himself. He raised his eyes and fixed them on her. God, they must have looked funny to others in the cafe, but he didn’t care. No matter how he looked at it they would have humored others.
“Should we have bought the ice creams on the go?” He asked.
“Hello!” They young man’s baritone next to their table and jolted, looking up.
“Hi.” Efren answered, but Pearl remained quiet on her end of the table.
Efren knew where this was taking, and so did Pearl. This wasn’t the first time for them to draw attention of strangers. Especially those, whose instincts told them to come and help the innocent preteen, who was being gobbled up, lured in by candy offering predator. All he needed was white bus with big letters on the side – selling candy to kiddos. It had to be kiddos. Street slang and all that.
He felt Pearl’s leg do a quick punch at his calf. Her expression had gone from playing smart-ass to scared. She had excellent people monitor for trouble makers and from that he knew the guy they were talking now wasn’t lightweight.
“Are you OK, miss?” he turned his attention to Pearl immediately.
“She’s fine.” Efren said, discreetly checking the man for hidden weapons. Muscles seemed to be the only asset he had, but even they looked as lethal as a bodybuilder would look. Overconfident, sure of his win. Stick legs. Like Black Corsair. Which just happened to be an assassin bug he related him with. Damn.
“I didn’t ask from you.” He bit at him, not even looking towards him and turned his attention back on Pearl. “Are you OK, miss?” he repeated softly.
Her eyes turned back on him and she whined, half loud. “U-uncle?”
“Hey!” Efren shouted louder, to get his attention again. “You’re scaring my niece! Back off!”
“Your niece?” The man hadn’t considered that possibility, but he still stepped back and gave them to check them over. They did look similar thanks to Sun which had bleached her hair considerably, although on closer inspection it would have failed the genealogy test.
“Yes!” He barked, using the moment. “My niece!”
The man’s eyes went back on Pearl.
“When is her birthday?”
What? Efren frowned, taken back by the question. To check on such detail he had to know it. He took a double check on Pearl’s face, but she shrugged, just as confused.
“April fourth, just as her mother’s.” He blurted and turned to face him straight on.