Chapter 13: Arts and Entertainment

For Tonya, an artist who has a Gift
a murmuring sound, held close and it barely escapes
to take the girl's virgin fear and mold it to the sound of her heart
as it beats, like a maddened, fearful clock
blood, coursing through her veins, seeking passage to something more than fear
to a comfort she has never known; a soft blending of sweet love and caring for
her needs
and she wishes on the stars to just sit and pass the time
telling stark little tales of everything for which she prays
when her fingers move on the beads and she softly mouths the words
Jaehla Harty

Author’s note: I ask forbearance from readers who may be distressed by some of the artistic license  I’ve taken with actual places, though I’ve tried to be faithful in presenting public spaces as accurately as possible except when the story required a departure.

Gail wasn’t surprised when the Assistant District Attorney came into the attorney lounge and did a double take. “Gail Wright,” he said, “What are you doing here? It’s criminal court, not family court.”

She sighed. “I’m well aware it’s criminal court, David.”

“You have a criminal client on the docket?” he said with consternation.

“No, I’m representing the interests of a client who’s the child of a defendant.”

“Ah,” he said as if a light bulb went off in his head. “That would be Sandra Harper, correct?”


“She’s a piece of work.”

“So I’ve heard. Who’s presiding today?”

“Mary Beth Kennedy.”

Gail knew Her Honor, Superior Court Justice Mary Beth Kennedy. Rumor had it that the good judge was going to be seeking a divorce, and she’d set her sights on Gail to represent her. But that was just the normal speculation that always seemed to float around among the fraternity and sorority of lawyers. All Gail said was, “Well, she’s not one to have much sympathy or patience with the Sandra Harper’s of the world. What kind of bail are you arguing for?”

“I’d be happy if it stayed where it’s at, but it’s not likely she can make any bail over five hundred, so…”

“I hope not. She’s apt to get out and go looking for her daughter.”

“Where is the daughter? Is she safe?”

“She’s safe. She’s staying with a friend’s family, and the Mama Bear of that family is not someone you want to mess with. Do you know where she is on the docket?”

“Nope, it’s as much a mystery to me as it is to you. I can say they generally get the inmates out of the way first.”

“The sooner the better. I want to be back in my nice, warm office.”

“Shouldn’t take too long, Mary Beth likes to keep things moving. When they call her case, just step up to the bar.”

There was a general stirring among the attorneys in the small, austere lounge as the hands on the clock moved passed 8:00. “See you out there, David,” Gail said.

Gail went to the section reserved for attorneys and took in the dark and forbidding courtroom. The spectator seats were occupied by the day’s assorted criminals, most of them cocky young men and their women, women who were little more than chattel to be used and abused at will, women who more or less took pride in their status as ho’s for felons. Gail shook her head in puzzlement. There had to be something seriously fucked up in these women to see this as a desirable way to live. Suddenly, she didn’t feel quite so ambivalent about being here. It would be a despicable shame to see a girl like Laci trapped in that kind of life.

A side door opened and, led by two burly corrections officers, a row of shackled prisoners in fluorescent orange jail jumpsuits filed in and stood in front of a row of chairs directly across from Gail. There was a lone female prisoner – Laci’s infamous mother.

From across the room, she wasn’t much to look at: average height, gaunt, almost emaciated, grayish complexion, no teeth. It was almost impossible for Gail to reconcile the hag she saw with the Laci she knew. Sandra was unattractive to the point of repulsiveness. She was clearly a junkie deprived of her normal supply of drugs. Gail saw that Sandra was churlish with the corrections officer freeing her from the line of other prisoners, berating him for one reason or another.

At last, the head bailiff came out and said, “All Rise, this Superior Court is now in session, the Honorable Mary Beth Kennedy presiding.”

Judge Mary Beth Kennedy strode in and took her place on the bench.

Gail sat while she patiently waited for the court secretary to call her case. When it was called, Gail stepped down and approached the bar. When she did, Justice Kennedy scowled at her. “Ms. Wright, what is your interest in this case so that you bless us with your presence?”

Gail struggled to suppress a smile. “I’m representing the defendant’s daughter’s interests, Your Honor.”

Before anything else could be said, Sandra’s head snapped up at the mention of Laci. Sandra still hadn’t learned that the rules in court weren’t the same rules as those back in the neighborhood. “My daughter?” she cried out. “Where is that no good, rotten bitch, is she here? It’s all her fucking fault!”

Chaos ensued. The gallery, even semi-professional criminals and veteran felons, stirred in amazement. Mary Beth whipped her head around and bellowed, “What did you say? Contempt of court, 30 days! Counselor Ashton, you will control your client, or you’ll be looking at a contempt citation yourself. Bailiff! Remove the defendant from this courtroom. She can view the proceedings from the jail’s remote video room!”

The Bailiff was on Sandra seconds before Mary Beth ordered him into action. He was an older man with a droopy moustache, but he was built like a stump, and he moved fast. He had Sandra’s hands cuffed behind her, the back of her head in a vise-like grip before Mary Beth said, “…video room!”

“Ow!” Sandra cried out. “You’re hurting me!” A big, burly female corrections officer bustled over, and within 30 seconds, Sandra was hustled out by the two court officers, Denise Ashton in tow, her face flaming red and scowling.

Gail drank it all in. The ADA David muttered, “This is gonna be too easy if that woman doesn’t get a frigging clue.”

“I hope so, David, I hope so.”

Mary Beth rapped her gavel. “Order, please. For those of you in the gallery who aren’t aware of the facts of life, a certain level of decorum is required in this or any other court. Any outburst of any sort will be met with summary contempt citations. Do I make myself clear? OK counselors, let’s move on until Little Miss Sunshine has calmed down and is ready for the video feed.” She nodded slightly to the court secretary, who pulled the next file off the stack and gave it to Mary Beth.

It took a few minutes for the Tech Gurus to get the closed circuit video system up and running, but finally the process resumed.

Both sides waived a formal reading of the charges, so Mary Beth slipped on a pair of reading glasses and scanned the Grand Jury Indictments. She read off the tally of charges as if she was listing the starting line-up for a baseball game. “Well now, Ms. Harper, this is quite a laundry list of charges. You are potentially facing life in prison. Do you understand that? After today’s outburst, I don’t think you do, whether willfully or from genuine ignorance I do not know. What I do know is you’d better get a clue and start cooperating. Do I make myself clear?”

Sandra scowled into the monitor. “Yeah, I understand.” There was a pause, then she added, “Your Honor.”

“I see that bail is currently at twenty-five thousand dollars,” Mary Beth continued. She looked over her glasses at the ADA. “What bail are the people seeking?”

David, the ADA, said, “Your Honor, the people are seeking a bail increase to fifty thousand dollars. The defendant has no strong familial bonds in the area, and in fact her nearest family is in Massachusetts. She has no significant employment history. While she has no prior felonies charges, she has had several misdemeanors, with two instances of failure to appear, and failure to pay fines. She is an actively using addict and thus far has refused offers to enter treatment programs. As Your Honor witnessed, the defendant has poor impulse control, and the people feel there is ample evidence she is at a high risk for reoffending, fleeing, and threatening the victim’s well-being.”

Mary Beth looked at Gail. “Ms. Wright, what is your take? What is the custody status of her minor child…” she paused to scan the file. “Laci, Laci Harper?”

“Your Honor,” Gail spoke up. “Laci Harper is in the temporary custody in a foster home, and as of yesterday probate granted the adult foster caregiver emergency custody for 90 days. I intend to file for termination of parental rights at the earliest opportunity. Your Honor witnessed the defendant’s animosity toward her daughter. It’s clear that releasing her would place my client at significant risk. I’m seeking a minimum of no contact by any means, but I have to wonder whether such a condition would have any more value than the paper it’s printed on with this defendant. I support the District Attorney’s wish for as high a bail as possible.”

Mary Beth turned her attention to the camera. “Counselor Ashton, what is the defense requesting for bail?”

“Your Honor, as a practical matter, there is essentially no chance my client can raise bail that’s over a thousand dollars. I am asking for bail of ten thousand dollars, with the agreement with no-contact stipulations. There is little or no precedent for raising bail on an essentially indigent defendant in a non-capital case, absent extremely aggravating circumstances. I’d argue that level of egregiousness has not been met here.”

“Point well taken counselor. OK, I think, taking everything into consideration, aggravating and mitigating circumstances, that maintaining bail at twenty-five thousand dollars is a reasonable middle ground. So, twenty-five thousand cash bail, no contact with the victim.”

Sandra returned to the jail area of the county building just as lunch was being served. She was allowed to take her place in the serving line and then eat in the dining area rather than be returned to her cell. Thanks to the severity of her charges, and her generally uncooperative disposition, she was allowed out of her cell only for meals and one hour a day for hygiene and recreation.

Sandra was fuming inside and, though she wouldn’t admit it, she was afraid. Of course, none of it was her fault. It was that goddamned judge, so frigging touchy. She needed to chill out. Even more at fault was her no good cunt of a daughter, Laci. The little twat had them all wrapped around her finger with her fucking lies, all she had to do was twitch her ass and everyone bent over to cater to her.

I’ll get that no good, rotten bitch, just you wait and see, she’s fucking with the wrong bitch. I shoulda got an abortion soon’s I knew I was pregnant, or killed her when she was a fucking baby and everybody’d say it was Crib Death. An’ she fucked up my works so I can’t have no more kids, so I’m always broke, oh yeah, she’s fucked with me one time too many.

Laci struggled mightily not to seem like a small-town hick on her first trip to the city, but the sheer newness of it, the unprecedented size of everything, overwhelmed her. She sat as close to Karen as she could in the back seat of the taxi. She tried to make sense of the cityscape whizzing passed the windows, but it was dizzying. Karen seemed amused at Laci’s near-awe. She gave Laci’s thigh a squeeze and a pat.

The hotel itself looked like something out of an old movie. An awning ran from the main doors to the curb, and when the cab pulled to a stop, a guy in a long coat and a cap stepped up and opened the door for them. Laci slid out while Karen slipped the driver a twenty, and the girl stood there not knowing exactly what to do.

Directly in front of Laci was the tallest building she had ever seen – taller than anything she had ever seen. She was unable to keep from letting her gaze travel up the side of the skyscraper, her head going back until she was looking straight up. It made her dizzy, and her tummy swirled at the thought of being at the top and looking down. She stared until she sensed Karen standing next to her.

“It’s tall, isn’t it?” Karen said.

“Taller than… anything. How tall is it?”

“Sixty stories, sixty floors.”

Laci brought her gaze back to sea level. She felt smaller than ever. The entrance to the hotel was guarded by two enormous golden lions on either side of the carpeted walkway. Their bags were being tended to by a guy with a baggage caddy, and for a moment, it felt like she and Karen were royalty. It was enough to make her head feel swimmy. She looked back at the hotel, and noticed it too shot up toward the sky.

Karen slipped her arm around Laci’s shoulders. “Impressive, huh?” she said with a smile.

Laci nodded gravely. “I thought stuff like this was only on TV or the movies.”

She looked up at Karen, who, eyes twinkling, smiled at her. “There’s more.”

The doorman opened the doors for them, and Laci’s breath caught. It was almost beyond her ability to imagine. An enormous crystal chandelier, hundreds of lights twinkling, hung over the main lobby. The walls were adorned with artwork which would surely make Mr. Belden gasp in amazement. There were high vaulted columned archways and ceilings everywhere, all before reaching the actual main lobby.

Laci, eyes wide as silver dollars, moved her head back and forth, up and down. She held on to Karen’s arm, lest she linger to stare in awe at some of the treasures she saw.  

As they entered the main lobby, it was like stepping into an alternate universe. Elaborate promenades, stretched in both directions, each under its own sets of crystal chandeliers. Gilded, elaborately carved antique furniture was scattered neatly about. The whole thing made her think of European palaces from centuries gone by.

Laci was hardly aware of the awe on her face, or the fact that they’d stopped walking so Karen could let her drink it all in. “What do you think, Kitten?” Karen said with the same soft smile of pleasure.

“Karen!” Laci said in a whisper. “It’s – it’s unbelievable! I didn’t ever think places like this were real, I always thought they were only in Cinderella fairy tale books and stuff. No one in the old neighborhood would get this, they’d never believe such things were real.”

“This is how the other half lives, baby girl, we’re only here for a short visit. Come, let’s go check in.”

A very pretty young oriental woman looked up at them from behind the veined marble counter top and smiled brightly. “Good evening, Ma’am. May I help you?”

Karen released Laci’s arm and swung her bag up on the counter. “Yes, my daughter and I have reservations. The name is Nelson, Karen Nelson.”

Laci’s eyebrows rose. Did Karen say, “My daughter and I”? A warm glow trickled over Laci. Karen had indeed said that, and Laci smiled.

Karen pulled out her gold American Express card and set it down, while the clerk tapped her computer screen. “Yes, Ma’am, here we are. Oh, I see you’re a Copley House Gold guest. Would you prefer to be escorted to the Gold Club reception area to check in?”

“No thanks, that’s fine,” Karen said. “We can take care of the check-in now, then we can go straight to our suite.”

“Yes, Ma’am. I see you have a reservation for a Copley House Gold Suite. Let me get your concierge. She’ll escort you to your suite, arrange dinner reservations if you’d like, show you the amenities, and help get you settled.” The clerk took Karen’s card, swiped it, and gave it back. She handed her two room key cards.

Just then, an extremely attractive young woman in a blue skirt, matching blue blazer, and a ruffed ivory blouse, looking more than a little like Gail, came up to them. The desk clerk handed her a piece of paper. “This is Ms. Karen Nelson and her daughter…”

“Laci,” Karen said.

The concierge offered her hand. “Good evening, Ma’am. My name is Shelly, and I’ll be your personal concierge. And Laci.” She offered her hand to Laci, who took it as she stood there feeling small and intimidated. The evening was overflowing with amazing revelations of an alternate, alien world.

Things seemed to happen quickly, almost automatically. Laci noticed how Shelly moved with a well practiced grace. The concierge asked them if this was their first stay, and Karen told her it was. Shelly took the time to point out some of the decorative treasures they passed, the antique Grecian urns, Louis XIV antique settees and tables, the high vaulted ceilings and archways. She pointed out the way to places, and it was all a blur to Laci.

Shelly inserted a card into a slot at an elevator labeled “Restricted to Gold Club Members,” explaining how they need only slide their room cards into the slot to gain access to the private elevator. Once inside, the lady perkily asked, “Where are you folks from?”

“Two states north,” Karen said. “The Great White North Hinterlands,” she added with a wry smile. “My daughter, my foster daughter here, is looking just a bit overwhelmed by all this. Sensory overload in someone whose previous idea of genteel culture was Abercrombie’s at the mall.”

It suddenly dawned on Laci that Karen was talking about her. She blinked rapidly, shook her head as if to clear it, and she blushed. She looked at Karen, mildly bewildered.

“She’s a little naïve yet,” Karen said, giving Laci’s nose a quick brush of her finger.

“Naïve can be fixed,” the concierge said, “But beautiful just is, and you’re a very beautiful young lady.”

Laci blushed, unsure of what to think or say. She sensed the woman wouldn’t normally talk to guests this way, but something about she and Karen put the woman at an unusual ease. “Thank you,” she murmured. “So are you.”

The elevator glided to a halt and the doors slid open on the 18th floor onto a carpeted hallway foyer. There were just two doors, one on the left, one on the right, and it appeared two corridors wrapped around to a mirror-image rear side.

“This is the eighteenth floor,” Shelly said. “There are only four suites per floor from the fifteenth floor up. Yours is this one, eighteen-B.” She slipped the card in its slot, and with a smile and flourish, she opened the door.

Laci closely followed Karen into their suite, peeking from behind her to see what amazing things might be awaiting them. The first room was like a big living room in an elegant apartment, with a plush sofa and easy chairs. There was even a dining room table and chairs, and an enormous 60-inch flat screen HDTV mounted on the wall over a real fireplace.

Shelly led them through the bedroom into an enormous marble bathroom, with a huge, elaborate walk-in shower – Probably twice as big the jail cell that bitch is in right now, Laci thought with a mean satisfaction — and a big marble bathtub. Shelly explained to Karen how the fixtures worked, while Laci simply looked around in amazement.

Back in the bedroom, Laci noticed the king-sized bed was bigger than the one at home. There were antique looking bureaus, a walk-in closet, and a floor to ceiling window looking out over Boston Harbor. This must be how Kings and Queens and Princes and Princesses live. Oh my god, what if I break something! The very thought of damaging such expensive things made her tummy squirm unpleasantly.

At last, the tour was wrapped up. Before leaving, Shelly asked if she could arrange reservations for a late dinner.

Karen looked at her watch. It was seven thirty. “That might be a good idea, it’s still fairly early. What are the chances they’ll have a table downstairs at Cassin’s?”

“Pretty much guaranteed.”

“How about for eight-thirtyish then, so we’ll have some time to unpack when the bags get here.”

“Give me just a minute,” Shelly said, whipping out her cell phone. She punched a number and listened. “Hi Eric, Shell. Would you have a table for two, eight-thirtyish? Yes… Awesome… Nelson, Karen Nelson… Thanks hon, bye.” She smiled at Karen. “That easy, all set.”

“What’s the dress code?” Karen asked.

“Business casual is fine, just as you are,” she said. She gave Karen a business card. “If there’s anything else you need from seven in the morning to eleven at night, just pick up the phone and call that number, and either I or one of my colleagues will be delighted to take care of whatever you want.”

Alone at last, Karen sighed with a sort of relief. “Some people might like to be fussed over, have someone to wipe the snot from their nose, but not me,” she declared.

Laci broke out in giggles at Karen’s choice of images, the simple little joke easing the girl’s nervousness. “So, it was a waste of time for me to stuff extra hankies in my pocket then?” she said impishly, secretly surprised with her own joke.

“Funny Ha Ha,” Karen teased, trying and failing to hide her broad smile. “So funny I forgot to laugh. Let’s look around and see how the other half lives.”

“Karen, this is awesome, I never knew such things even existed!” Laci bubbled.

Karen turned to face Laci, and she draped her arms over the girl’s shoulders. “Someday, I’m going to take you on a mid-winter cruise, where you’ll get service like this every day for a week, plus it’s warm and there are lots of beautiful women in bikinis to ogle, not a one of whom even comes close to you in the beautiful or sexy department.”

Laci giggled with delight. “Karen, stop it.”

“You love it, don’t deny it, I can read you like a book,” Karen teased. She dipped her head and stole a firm kiss from Laci. “Let’s go to the bathroom,” Karen said suddenly. “If I’m not mistaken, there’s something there I know you’ve never seen before.”

“Like what?”

“Come on, you’ll see.”

Totally intrigued, Laci dutifully followed Karen into the ornate bathroom, unable to imagine what Karen might be talking about. Karen stood over the commode, looking down at it. “Aha!” she cried triumphantly. “Just as I thought. A bidet!”

“A what?” Laci said, scrunching her face. “What in the world is a bee-day?”

“A bidet. They’re very common in Europe, the last word in feminine hygiene after piddling or going poopoo. Look.” Karen picked up what looked like a remote control, punched a few buttons, and to Laci’s amazement, a stream of water shot up from the toilet. “This is what the rich and famous of Europe use instead of toilet paper. A proper lady aims the stream of water at her works after piddling, pushes a button, and voila! A stream of warm water cleans her unmentionable parts. There’s another one to clean her bum after doing number two. See?”

“No way,” Laci cried with delighted amazement. “Is that for real? Is that really what that’s for?”

“Absolutely. Watch.” Without batting an eyelash, Karen dropped her slacks, sat on the commode, tinkled into the toilet, and then pushed a button. She jumped a little. “Yikes! Even ready for it, it catches you by surprise. Oooo la la, a girl could get used to this.”

Laci laughed long and hard. She never ceased to be amazed at Karen’s utter lack of modesty about such things, and now here she was, showing Laci how to use a bee day. Karen took a towel hanging from a ring on the long vanity in front of her, and said, “Then you use this to pat yourself dry. Fresh as a daisy!”

Laci was still laughing when there was a loud knock at the entryway door. “Good thing I freshened up,” Karen said. “We have guests.”

Karen, slacks pulled up, strode out, pausing long enough to take a $5 bill from her wallet, and opened the front door. “Bags, ma’am,” said a young man in a guy’s version of Shelly’s blue uniform.

“Thank you,” Karen said.

“Do you want me to bring your bag in for you?”

“No, that won’t be necessary,” Karen said. “Just put it inside the door, and we’ll take it from there.” She pressed the $5 bill into his hand, he thanked her, and they were alone again.

Karen pulled their single large, wheeled suitcase into the bedroom, and hefted it up onto the bed. “OK, Kitten. Let’s get unpacked, then we can go eat.”

The first thing Laci took from the bag was the Teddy bear, Bearyanne. She smiled at it, fluffed it’s stuffing, and put it between their two sets of pillows. “There, all fluffed and ready to stand guard,” Laci said with a perky smile. She silently said a small prayer of thanks to a god unknown that Karen  seemed to understand how much the bear meant to her. Karen didn’t even hint that loving a stuffed bear might be childish.

It took them twenty minutes to get everything unpacked, hung up, and stowed away in dresser drawers. Laci asked Karen what she should leave out to wear tomorrow. “Oh, I don’t know, how about your boots, jeans, and a sweater top, that should be comfortable enough. No need to be dressy.”

Laci, as neat and precise as ever, carefully draped her folded jeans over the back of the chair that sat at the room’s desk, and laid a pink sweater, and clean bra over that atop the jeans. Everything else was either hung up in the walk-in closet, or stored in the dresser, which, she realized, might actually be a real antique. Laci suddenly imagined herself putting a scratch in the wood, and Karen having to not only explain it to the owner of the hotel, but also pay for it. Stop being so lame, she chided herself.

“There,” Karen said, putting her hands on her hips and looking around. “I don’t know about you, but I’m famished. I’m ready to go get something to eat.”

“Me too,” Laci said, trying to push aside her anxieties. “All I had was some nasty school lunch food and that soft pretzel on the train ride.”

“Alright then, let’s go strap on a feedbag.”

When dinner was over, they exited the dining room, and Karen said, “Let’s go for a walk. I want to look around. Maybe we’ll run into Elvis.”

Laci snickered. She never knew what to expect from Karen. Her dry sense of humor was a thing to marvel over.

They made there way arm-in-arm to the lobby. Laci took in the artwork — not really caring that they were mostly reproductions — the shimmering chandeliers, the elaborately woven carpets, the antique furniture, and the people from the upper echelons of society lounging around talking on cell phones and generally conducting business of one sort or another.

Karen looked at her, smiling, and said, “So, what do you think? Pretty interesting, huh?”

“It’s amazing, Karen. I mean, who woulda thought I’d ever be in a place like this, in the middle of all kinds of rich people. I feel like I don’t belong here, having people do stuff for me, and everything.”

“You know something, honey? Not a one of these people is any better than you. They may be richer, more spoiled, and they might have been around a little longer than you, but they’re not better than you. Don’t forget that, honey.”

“That’s kinda hard to believe.”

“No it isn’t hard to believe. They have money, and that’s it. If you ask me, that’s a pretty piss poor reason to be all full of yourself. Take the money away, and what’s left? Not much. Without the money, all that’s left is the arrogance. Thing is, whether they’ll admit it or not, they know they’re nothing without their money. They don’t save lives, paint works of art, build better mousetraps, nothing except make money so they can look down on people with less money.”

Laci wanted to believe Karen, but it was hard to lose the feeling that she was being watched and scrutinized, just like back home when she walked into a higher end department store alone; unseen but there, waiting for her to screw up so they could pounce and drag her off. Surely it was obvious she was not of this world, and needed to be watched lest she steal or break something.

They’d reached the main lobby, bathed in the bright but diffuse glow of the chandeliers. Karen guided Laci to one of half a dozen antique Victorian loveseats arrayed loosely in a kind of common sitting area. There were important looking people sitting in antique chairs, some chatting, some on cell phones, some tapping away at tablet computers, still others reading newspapers or books. Laci noticed off to their left the double door entrance to what a carved wooden sign announced was the Olde Towne Tavern and Grill.

“Is that another restaurant?” Laci asked.

“Well, it’s a bar that serves overpriced food. Speaking of food, what did you think of dinner?”

“Oh Karen! I can not believe you actually got octopus, that was so gross! Ewww, I mean they had their legs and sucker things and everything.”

“Hey Sunshine, don’t knock it til you’ve tried it. Be glad I didn’t get the escargot, which is a big, fat snail.”

“Thanks, but I think I’ll pass on the snails and the octopus.”

“You seemed to like the clam chowder well enough.”

“Yeah, that was pretty good. It helped that the clams were chopped up small. And that lobster macaroni and cheese was like, wow! I never woulda thought of making macaroni and cheese with lobster in it.”

“There you go? You tried something new and you survived.”

“I still can’t believe you ate octopus, though.”

“Give me time, and I’ll have you eating all sorts of new things.”

“Not octopus, you won’t.”

In spite of the fact that it was getting into the home stretch to ten o’clock, there was a steady traffic in and out of the bar. No one, Laci noted, seemed to be overtly drunk. In the bars of her old neighborhoods, the only people coming out of the bars sober were the cops. She’d never seen her mother stop at a single beer, or even a single six pack, but Karen didn’t even finish her one and only cocktail.

They got up and spent nearly twenty minutes strolling the promenades. At one point, Karen opened the door to the Grand Ballroom, and Laci was sure they would get in some sort of trouble. Nothing of the sort happened. Laci peeked in, the room lit only by muted wall sconces, and noted that the ballroom looked very close to her image of how such a place must look – grand, elegant, and romantic.

At last, Karen said, “Let’s head on back and get ready for bed. We have a busy day tomorrow.”

Laci put her arm around Karen’s waist, and Karen her arm around Laci’s shoulders. “I love you,” Laci said with a soft smile.

Karen smiled back. “And I love you.”

“And Karen? Thank you.”

“For what?”

“This,” Laci said, sweeping her free arm to indicate everything. “For bringing me here, for showing me all this, for everything.”

Karen smiled and gave Laci’s shoulders a squeeze. “Know what? There is no one – no one – I want to be experiencing this with except you. This weekend is just the beginning. There’s a whole, amazing world out there, and I’m going to make sure you get to experience it. The days when your world consisted of a shitty apartment, in a shitty tenement, in a shitty neighborhood are over.”

“You’re the only person I want, or even trust to show me stuff like this.”

They reached the dedicated elevator. Karen inserted her room key in the card slot, and the doors slid open. When the doors slid shut, Karen leaned over and kissed Laci fully now that they were out of the public eye. It seemed the ride up was much shorter than the ride down. When the doors slid open, Karen sighed and said, “Let’s go get changed out of these clothes and put on something more comfortable.”

When they got back in the suite, Karen announced that she couldn’t take another second in street clothes, and she was going into the bathroom to change. Laci said she wanted to look around while Karen changed.

As she cautiously poked around, everything she saw screamed “luxury” and “money”. I don’t really belong here, I’m just a kid from a shitty world, and what if I break something, or someone thinks I stole something? Don’t be such a loser. Karen’s right here, and she wouldn’t bring me here if she thought I couldn’t handle it.

She came to the breathtaking floor to ceiling windows looking out over the darkened waterfront. She was anxious to see the view by the light of day. It surely had to be as breathtaking as the windows that framed the scenes.

Laci was looking at the bedroom fireplace and trying to decide if it was real or just there for show when Karen came back from the bathroom. She’d changed into her bed clothes, and put on the terry robe. “There, that’s much better.”

“Karen, is this a real fireplace, or just a fake for show.”

“I think it’s real, sweetheart, it just runs on gas like the one we have at home. Want me to see if I can start it?”

“Sure, if you promise not to blow us up,” Laci said with a teasing smile.

“My my, you give as good as you get, don’t you?”

“I try. I have a good teacher.”

“Hmmpphhh. OK, smarty pants, let’s see here.” There was a remote on top of the fireplace mantel. Karen picked it up and looked it over. She pushed a couple of buttons, and with a soft Whump, the artificial logs blazed merrily, looking for all the world like the real thing. “There, and we’re still in one piece, not blown to smithereens.”

Laci stuck her tongue out and gave Karen a raspberry. Her reflexes were slow, because Karen jumped for her and caught her before she could dart away. “Gotcha!” Karen cried.

Laci squealed with delight, treasuring these little lover games they played. She squirmed and tried to get away, but Karen held her in a firm embrace and smothered her neck with kisses. “Mmmmm,” Karen purred. “You always smell so wonderful.” She loosened her embrace and said, “Why don’t you go change into your night stuff, too, and while you are, I’ll put on some music to help us relax.”

“I have to pee, too.”

“Go right ahead, you have my blessings.”

Laci stuck her tongue out at Karen again, and darted off before Karen could react.  

Laci undressed, carefully folding her clothes as she went. She pulled her pink Hello Kitty sleep cami on then went to the toilet. Before sitting down, she looked at the remote control for the bidet, and wondered if she should use it. She plopped down and peed, and decided to give it a try.

There were buttons for “Urine” and “Stool”, which she figured was a proper way to say, “Poop”. She pushed the urine button and the display read “99 F” which she assumed meant the water temperature. There were buttons to aim the stream with greater precision. She pushed the “Cleanse” button, and she was startled in spite of herself when the stream of water hit her muffin. She jumped and almost cried out. But it felt good, really good. I could get used to this, bet I could use it instead of touching myself when Karen’s not around. She reluctantly turned off the water stream and used the small towel hanging in front of her to pat herself dry.

Finished her business, she pulled up her panties, and shuffled back to the bedroom. “There you are,” Karen said with a playful smile. “I thought you might have fallen down the toilet and I’d have to get up a rescue party.”

“Funny ha-ha,” Laci said, climbing up onto the bed and flopping back. “Umm, this bed is comfy.”

“It better be, or I’d be demanding a refund,” Karen said, shedding the robe and climbing on the bed to lay on her side facing Laci.

“Know what? I tried that bee-day thing.”

Karen chuckled. “So, what did you think?”

“It felt kinda nice, it makes going pee kinda interesting.”

“Oh, so I’m going to be replaced by a bidet.”

“Karen, cut it out.”

Karen smiled at her, and Laci was held captive by her lover’s eyes. “Sometimes, you’re so easy to tease, I can’t help myself,” Karen said.

“Well, I don’t know about these things. Before I was happy if some gross scumbag didn’t pee on the toilet seat and we had toilet paper.” Laci had to push disturbing thoughts like that forcefully aside. “What music is this?”

“Mozart, his twenty-fifth symphony.”

“Why didn’t they give names to the music back then? Why did they just give them numbers?”

“I suppose it didn’t matter to them. Sometimes, a work did have a name, like Beethoven’s Third Symphony is named ‘Eroica’, which is Italian for ‘Heroic’. It was composed for Napoleon, until he anointed himself Emperor, which pissed off Beethoven so much, he scribbled and scratched Napoleon’s name from the dedication sheet.”

“Karen, seriously,” Laci said, shaking her head in amazement. “How do you know stuff like that?”

“Oh honey, that’s a very well known story to anybody who’s listened to Beethoven even half seriously. There’s nothing special about it.”

“It’s pretty special to me. It seems like I’ve heard part of this Mozart music before.”

“There was a movie about thirty years ago, when I was, what? Six, seven? Was it that long ago? It was called ‘Amadeus’, and it was about Mozart – his middle name was Amadeus, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. This music was part of the movie.”

“Was it a good movie?”

“I liked it a lot when I finally saw it, and it won a ton of Academy Awards. We’ll watch it someday.”

“Amadeus is a weird name. What’s it mean?”

“’Loved by God’ I think. It’s Latin, and the Latin word for love is ‘amor’ and for God it’s ‘Deus’. Did you know they still offered Latin as a foreign language when I was in high school? You’re going to have to take a foreign language next year if you take college level courses – which you are. You can’t do an AP course unless you’re on a college track.”

“We should be choosing classes for freshman year soon.”

“When you do, we’ll sit down together and see what’s what. I think I’ll be talking to your guidance counselor here pretty soon. They’re about to learn there’s a new boss in town when it comes to you.”

“Probably embarrass me, or something,” Laci said in a tone she was sure would make Karen understand she’d be very happy to be embarrassed.

“Probably,” Karen agreed cheerfully. “I’m good at that you know.”

“Ya think?” Laci said, her eyes sparkling impishly. She was still tingling from the bidet spray, and now her lower tummy was beginning to get warm and skittish. She turned onto her side so she was facing Karen, and shifted closer to her. Laci knew she didn’t need to say anything for Karen to know what she craved.

Karen’s eyes smiled at Laci in their own uniquely playful way. She reached over and pulled Laci to her, rolling onto her back as she did. Laci laid her head on Karen’s chest just above the woman’s breasts. Karen’s nipples were hard, pressing starkly against the silk fabric of her pajama top, seeming to sing a siren song luring Laci to them. She toyed coyly with one of the buttons of Karen’s garment.

Karen combed her fingers through Laci’s silken tresses, and Laci closed her eyes and purred softly like a cat having its ears scratched. Karen smiled back at her, and murmured, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach.”

“Karen,” Laci said in a half giggle, “You are so strange.” Strange indeed, but it was the kind of thing Laci had come to expect from Karen, and the thing was, she meant it when she said things like that. It made Laci’s insides flush delightfully. “Did you just make that up?”

“Ha!” Karen cried. “Me? Make up something like that? Umm, nope. That’s from a poem, a sonnet, by a woman named Elizabeth Barrett Browning.”

Laci toyed with Karen’s nipple through the fabric of her pj top, instantly making her lover shudder. Karen kissed the top of Laci’s head. “Are you trying to get me all hot and bothered?” she asked, her voice becoming thicker.

Laci tilted her head back and smiled up at Karen. “Uh huh.” She slipped her hand in an opening between buttons, and glided her fingers up the slope of Karen’s breast until she found the pliant nub of her lover’s nipple. “Course I am,” she said, a playfully naughty smile splashed on her face.

“Good god, Laci,” Karen said in a hoarse whisper. “It ought to be a crime for anyone to be as beautiful as you are.” She bent her head forward and found Laci’s lips with her own.

A surge of dizzying warmth spread over Laci, leaving her feeling faint. She purred softly, and used her tongue to lure Karen’s tongue to come out and play. She ever so softly caressed Karen’s nipple with the palm of her hand, drawing a sharp gasp from her lover. She cupped Karen’s firm breast in her hand, imagining it full and in need of nursing. Laci shifted herself up, the better to savor Karen’s kisses. She drew Karen’s tongue into her mouth and suckled it as she toyed with the woman’s nipple. When she released Karen’s tongue, Laci used her own tongue to caress Karen’s lips before nipping gently.

Karen held Laci’s face in her hands and pushed her tongue into the girl’s receptive mouth. Karen’s breathing had become rapid and shallow, which Laci knew meant her lover was very aroused. As if reading Laci’s thoughts, Karen murmured, “Laci baby, you make me so crazy hot, god help me you set me on fire baby girl.”

Did Karen know how much hearing words like that made Laci’s insides tremble? Even more than her own pleasure, Laci desperately wanted, needed, to bring her mother-lover to the magical places where the angels of passion danced and sang. The tips of their tongues kissed, and Laci’s groan was more of another purr of pure delight. She jumped and let out a small yip when Karen traced her finger tips up and down Laci’s back.

At last, Laci’s own fingers found the buttons of Karen’s top, and they trembled as she began to unbutton the silk garment. She needed her lover naked so she could feel Karen’s body fully exposed. They disentangled enough for Karen to slip off her top, exposing her full, firm globes. “Sit up, baby,” Karen said softly, “So I can take your top off.”

Karen pulled Laci’s cami off and tossed it aside, sighing at the sight of the girl’s small but perfectly shaped breasts. While she was raised up, Laci told Karen, “Lift your buns so I can get your panties off.”

Karen smiled and complied. “You want me naked so you can take advantage of me, don’t you?”

Laci smiled back at Karen. “Of course.” She brought Karen’s panties up to her face and breathed in the clean, musky aroma of her lover’s womanhood. It was an intoxicating fragrance, making Laci tingle all over.

“It’s so sexy when you do that,” Karen said and spread her legs open, exposing her glistening sex. She’d been letting her pubic hair grow back, something Laci found very sexy.

Laci straddled Karen and walked her knees up until she was over Karen’s chest. “You hafta pull my panties down,” she said with a kittenish smile. “I can’t do it.”

“Is that so? Well, it just so happens that I can,” Karen smiled back. She hooked her fingers in the waist of Laci’s thong panties, and worked them down. Laci shifted and managed to work them all the way off.

Laci’s sex was throbbing deliciously, and felt like there was a taut wire between it and some secret, magic place inside her. She tucked her hair behind her ears, and looked down at Karen, trying to discern what would please her lover. She reached down and opened her pussy. “See?” she murmured. “See how wet I am? That’s ‘cause of you, you make me that way.”

“Imagine that! You do exactly the same to me, plus a whole lot of other things.”

Giggling softly, Laci began toying with her muffin, exploring it, her fingers squishing, while hovering inches from Karen’s face. To Laci’s delight, Karen slipped her hand between her own legs and started stroking herself. Karen’s eyes closed and she sighed.

“Look at you,” Laci playfully teased. “Touching yourself like that. Are you always so naughty?”

Karen’s smile was languid. “Only when certain bad girls get me wet and leave no other choice.”

Laci was delighted that Karen was playing along in the little love game. “Mmmmmm,” she groaned with pleasure, as she used two fingers to rub her jewel. She was being drawn into the growing corona of warmth and surging pleasure in her pelvis, and so distracted, Laci was surprised when Karen’s legs suddenly encircled her hips. Caught off-balance, it was easy for Karen to twist and pull Laci down onto the bed.

Karen pounced and smothered Laci’s neck and face with hungry kisses. “This is what happens to girls who tease their mothers like you’re doing.”

Laci squirmed and squealed with delight. “Karen! Karen! Mommy Karen, you’re tickling me!”

“Are you done teasing me by playing with your hot, wet muffin?”

“Only if you’ll let me play with yours instead.”

“How’s that fair? Maybe I want to play with yours.”

Laci moved restlessly like a little girl trying to hold her pee. An idea flashed into her head. “I know what we can do, you remember what you showed me how to do the other day?”

“Good ol’ sixty-nine? I like how you think. Top or bottom.”

Laci giggled in spite of herself. Karen was as unconcerned with modesty as ever. “I don’t care.”

“Since you’re more on your back than I am, I’ll take topsies.” Karen straddled Laci on all fours, though she was facing Laci’s head, not her feet.

Before Laci could say anything, Karen dipped her head down and smothered the girl with short, wet kisses, all over her face and neck, growling like a playful tigress. Laci only laughed softly and basked in the pleasure of her lover’s wet kisses. When Karen kissed her way to the girl’s lips, Laci took Karen’s face in her fingertips so she could make love to the woman’s mouth with her own. She lightly scraped her nails up Karen’s back, making her lover shudder and let loose a soft, pleased sigh.

Their lips barely touching, Laci smiled with delight at being able to make Karen feel so good. She traced her tongue along the outline of Karen’s lips, exploring their shape and contours, before darting in for a visit with Karen’s tongue.

Laci wrapped her lithe young legs around Karen’s waist, and tried to pull her closer so their mounds might kiss. Her young sex blossomed open like a rose, a tendril of heat stabbing into her tummy. Karen tried to grind her own mons against Laci’s but the contact was imperfect, and it served only to hone the knife-edge of their intensifying arousal. Laci gave voice to her lust with soft whimpers and moans.

Laci let herself become absorbed by the passion glowing hot and bright inside her body. Her need to be touched and loved was growing urgent, and her restless movements made her hunger crystal clear. Karen nuzzled her lips up close to Laci’s ear and murmured, “I think you’re about to burn up, baby girl.”

“Yes,” Laci cried. “I am, I already am!”

Without it being more than the flash of a thought, a brief impression on her consciousness, to Laci, Karen seemed to have impeccable timing. It seemed she always knew exactly how much Laci could take before needing to be taken. Karen moved with casual ease when she rose up to her knees and turned around to face the other way, while Laci restlessly moved her knees back and forth.

“My, my,” Karen crooned. ”I see a very wet honeypot. Yummy!”

Laci shuffled her feet on the mattress, and whined, “Karen, don’t tease me.”

“Such a sexy sight,” Karen cooed. She used the flats of her fingers to tap Laci’s shimmering vulva, and it sent sharp shocks through the girl, making her cry out. At last, as if taking pity on Laci, Karen lowered herself.

And there before Laci’s eyes, inches away, was her mother-lover’s sex, every bit as glistening wet and puffy as her own. Up close, Karen’s fragrance was that of her panties only stronger, and inhaling it had every bit as intoxicating an effect as taking a hit from a joint. Laci wrapped her arms around Karen’s waist and pulled her down.

In a sort of implicit symbiosis, they both brought their mouths onto each others sexes at the same time. The combined effects of Laci tasting Karen’s nectar, and feeling the woman’s intricate folds on her tongue, along with the sharp bolt of lightning zapping through her at the solid touch of her lover’s mouth on her own sex, brought Laci to the very brink of orgasm. She cried out and instinctively tried to keep from being overwhelmed. She clamped her pelvic muscles as if retracting her orgasm, and tried to focus on Karen’s offering.

Laci shifted and wriggled until she was able to use her hands to open Karen’s vaginal sheath. Her inner voice, though largely drowned out by the cacophony of swirling sensations churning in her head, reminded her she needed to give, too, not just take, even though it was hard. Even so, they both managed to ease into a harmonious rhythm.

For every stab of her tongue, for every crease and fold Laci explored, Karen’s tongue seemed to do the same thing. Laci gathered Karen’s freely flowing ambrosia like a kitten drinking milk. Laci probed up and down the channel of Karen slit, sucking the loose folds of the woman’s labia, then finding and stroking her lover’s jewel.

Laci struggled to hold back, but the bubble of hot magma in the depths of her tummy could be contained for only so long before it took on a life of its own. The inexorable rhythm of Karen’s firm tongue strokes and suckling brought Laci higher, ever higher.

Laci knew when she reached the point where she no longer controlled what happened. There was a jolt inside, then it was as if she ran full tilt off a cliff over a lake of warm water, and there was an instant of seeming motionlessness before she plummeted down toward the bath waiting for her. She hit it with a loud ker-splash, and she was engulfed in warmth.

For a few seconds, Laci lost awareness of whether or not she was tending to Karen’s needs. When became aware of the external world again, she was being wracked by shuddering come spasms that made her cry out. She tried to go back to Karen, but the bursts made it hard for her. Was she making Karen come? She didn’t and couldn’t know, though she wanted to.

As the last tremor shuddered over Laci, for a time it was as if she were in a muddy twilight dream, uncertain of what was real and what was part of the dizzy kaleidoscope swirling in her head. It was only when she felt Karen gather her into an embrace that Laci was able to swim up through the warm fog. “Did you, Karen?” she murmured. “Did I make you come?”

“Yes, of course you did,” Karen cooed. “And nobody does it better.”

Even in the delightfully groggy glow after loving, Laci suspected Karen wasn’t being totally honest. Rather than get in a pointless debate, Laci simply snuggled herself as close to Karen as she could get, and let her fingers stroll down to the base of Karen’s mons to explore a little bit. When Karen didn’t offer even token resistance, Laci knew Karen was full of beans, she hadn’t come after all.

Laci let her fingertips scale the gradual slope of Karen’s pubic mound. “Know what?” Laci said, her voice still thick from her after orgasm glow.

“What?” Karen said, laying on her back and shifting her legs to part them.

“You’re the most beautiful, sexiest woman in the world. Don’t tell me ‘No’, because I know it’s so.”

“Really! Well, who am I to argue with the most beautiful girl in the world.” Karen voice was low and throaty.

Laci combed her fingers through Karen’s still sparse pubic hair, then scraped her nails ever so lightly up and down the crests of Karen puffy outer labia. Karen sighed, and looked at Laci with eyes that smoldered. Laci lifted herself up so she could ensnare Karen’s lips with her own. She pushed her tongue in and out of Karen’s mouth, like a tiger cub taking a drink.

Karen seemed reluctant to let Laci’s tongue leave. Laci drew her lips down Karen’s cheek, and pressed them up to her lover’s ear. “You were very naughty,” the girl whispered.

“Me?” Karen murmured. “What did I do?”

“You told me a fib when you said you came and you didn’t really. Now don’t make the fib worse by telling another one and denying it.” As she said this, Laci opened Karen and hooked two fingers into her lover’s warm, wet, slippery tunnel.

“OK, I’m done fibbing,” Karen said with a languid smile. “I accept my punishment.”

“That’s more like it,” Laci whispered before nipping at Karen’s earlobe.

Karen shuddered in response, and scissored her legs restlessly. Laci drew the pad of her fingers up Karen’s labial sleeve and found the woman’s clit. She massaged Karen’s nub, working it in circles, tapping it, squeezing it gently between her thumb and middle finger before sliding back down to fondle the entrance to her lover’s vagina.

Laci watched Karen’s face and listened to the increasingly urgent sounds her lover made. She pressed her mouth on Karen’s and used her tongue to fuck her lover’s mouth, and as she did, she hooked her fingers inside Karen. Her fingers weren’t quite long enough to do everything she wanted to do. Still, she was able to explore the tight interior of Karen’s treasure, while using the heel of her hand to massage Karen’s clit.

This time, there was no question. Karen held Laci’s face in trembling hands. Her body stiffened, and she held her breath, and when she let it out, she growled, “Holy Christ.” Her body stiffened and spasmed again, and a surge of warm nectar welled up and bathed Laci hand.

Her eyes still riveted on Karen, Laci kept up stroking and squeezing and massaging Karen’s sex, until finally the woman was squirming and laughing as if she were being tickled. She was panting when she fell back on the bed, smiling. “Phew!” Karen cried with a broad smile. “I pity the poor chambermaid changing the bedding tomorrow.”

“I keep telling you,” Laci scolded, “that it’s not fair for me to come, but not you.”

Karen, her breathing slowing, laughed. “Yes ma’am! Good lord Laci, you are beyond priceless.”

They embraced and let the grogginess seep back and ready them for sleep. After scurrying to the toilet to piddle Laci dove back into the bed. Karen had already pulled the covers back when she got up to take her turn in the toilet. When she got back, she and Laci embraced. “Hopefully,” Karen said, “the wet spot won’t soak through all the layers.” Laci giggled helplessly.  

At last, without needing to say anything, Karen lifted her breast for Laci. The girl sighed with utter contentment and took Karen’s offering. She never thinks I’m weird, I can tell her anything. And before Karen even had the light turned off, Laci was in the arms of Morpheus.

An irresistible need to pee woke Laci. It took a few seconds for her to remember where she was. She raised herself up and peered over Karen’s sleeping form at the alarm clock. 3:46. She knew Karen wanted an early start to the day, but not this early.

Laci reluctantly pushed back the covers, and swung her legs over the side. She grabbed Bearyanne, slipped on her scuffies, and scurried to the bathroom. There was enough light from the night light to move around. She put Bearyanne on the sink vanity directly across from the toilet, and winced in anticipation of her bottom contacting the cold seat. To her surprise, it was warm. “Bearyanne,” she said softly, but with delighted surprise. “Can you believe it? They even have heated toilet seats!” She giggled. “I can’t even hardly believe it. I wonder if this is how rich people live all the time?”

She tinkled, and decided not to fuss with the bee day. When she wiped, she winced. Her muffin was still sensitive from when she and Karen made love. Finished, Laci gave her hands a quick wash, then grabbed Bearyanne. She scampered out of the elaborate bathroom, and hesitated. Rather than climb back in bed, she made her way to the floor-to-ceiling window and drew back the curtain.

Laci clutched Bearyanne to her chest, as if the bear might somehow jump out of the window if Laci let her go. Just as earlier, her breath caught at the sight before her. There had to be a million lights of varied colors out there, some close to the ground, other rising up toward the sky in the shadowy outlines of skyscrapers even bigger than the one she was in. Seeing the street 18 stories below made her tummy squirm. Off to the left were the occasionally strobing lights of the airport runway, and the disembodied dots of lights that were passenger jets landing, even at this late hour. Must be from France, or England, or some place far away like that, she thought. Way off, not much more than a sliver, the moon hovered over the horizon.

“Can you believe it, Bearyanne,” she whispered. “It hardly seems like it’s all real and not a dream or something. But it is real, and you know what?” She looked down at the stuffed Bear’s impassive face. “That bitch monster who called herself my mother is in jail. Right now, locked up in a jail cell, probably crying for a cigarette, or some booze, or some meth, and she can’t have any of it. I hate her Bearyanne, I know I shouldn’t hate anyone, but I can’t help it with her.”

Laci hugged the bear tight and rocked it. She fleetingly wondered why she let thoughts of her mother intrude, but it couldn’t be helped. “I hate her,” she whispered with more vehemence than she expected. “She’s the most awful woman in the world, Bearyanne. You saw that the Bad Night when she tried to kill me. And that time she pushed me down the stairs when I was six, and broke my arm, and then she stole the medicine the doctor gave me for pain, stole it to take herself, di’n’t even give a care about me, called me a baby and stuff. I never told you about it, ‘cause I wanted to be sure it was a real memory, and not a made up story because I hate her so much. But it’s real, it really happened, you were still with Karen then, and I was still little.”

Laci felt tears welling up at the memory. She hugged the Bear close again, while her cheeks glistened wet in the dim light. “And now, I’m never, ever going back with her, never, ever, I don’t even care what some judge might say. Karen won’t let me go back, because she really loves me. And you know what? I really love her. You’ve been with her a long time, even when she was younger than I am right now, and she saved you all those years just so she could give you to me.”

Laci drew in a deep, shuddery breath and hugged Bearyanne to her cheek. At last, she said, “We’d better get back in bed before Karen wakes up and starts worrying.”

Laci shuffled back to the bed and climbed up and into it, kicking off her scuffies as she did. She carefully tucked Bearyanne in the cleft between her and Karen’s sets of pillows before scooting as close to Karen as she could.

Karen, on her side facing away from Laci, stirred. She seemed to wake up, but she didn’t say anything. She simply turned so she was facing Laci, and gently pulled the girl close. Laci sighed, her angst replaced by warm contentment, the lingering scent of Karen’s cologne acting as a gentle tranquilizer. Laci tucked her fist under her chin and rubbed her feet together.

Laci wasn’t exactly sure what to expect of the T’s Green Line, but she had vague images of ramshackle, trashy, enclosed trolley-hybrids with outer shells covered in an explosion of graffiti, and prowled by dangerous thugs and muggers. She was surprised that not only was it quite clean, it was actually not dissimilar to a regular street bus on rails. There were plenty of open seats, and Karen let her slide in so she could have the window. She put her pink Coach Legacy leather duffle bag holding her sketch book and box of sketching pencils in her lap. “How will we know when to get off?” Laci asked.

“They’ll announce it on the speaker system, plus remember, it’s only a subway for a little ways, then we’ll be above ground and we’ll be able to see the stop. We want the Museum of Fine Arts stop. We could have as easily walked it, but this is awesomer, especially where it might start raining any minute.”

The car lurched forward, and barely had time to gather any real speed before easing to a stop. A chime sounded and a disembodied voice said, “Prudential.” A few people got off, a few got on, and so it went through several stops. There really wasn’t anything to see out the window, just walls covered with ads. At last, it eased up an incline to emerge into the dreary daylight. The car rode on a dedicated median parallel to one way streets. There was one above ground stop before the voice announced, “Museum of Fine Arts.”

Karen smiled and winked at Laci and stood up. “See? Simple as that.”

When they emerged from the car, the skies still threatened, but it hadn’t rained yet. Karen carried umbrellas for both of them. Karen turned and pointed to the other side of the street at a park, and an imposing, multi-winged granite building, with a central rotunda and an entrance fronted by four tall columns.

“Karen!” Laci cried, her eyes wide with wonder. “It’s huge! Fricken ginormous!” Now she knew Karen wasn’t exaggerating when she said you could visit every day for a year before you’d see everything.

“Pretty impressive,” Karen agreed.

Traffic was light, so they were able to cross over quickly. As they drew close, Laci noticed a statue of an Indian chief atop a horse, arms spread wide and head upturned, beseeching the heavens. “Karen, check that out. The Indian chief statue.”

“Cool, isn’t it. It’s been there, I think, for over a hundred years.”

It wasn’t quite ten o’clock, and Laci was surprised to see that even on a gloomy day there was a line to get into the museum. “I guess it’s good we didn’t get here any later. Look at the line.” Laci was glad she’d dressed for comfort in jeans, low-heeled boots, and long-sleeved pink sweater, rather than something more elaborate for style.

Promptly at ten o’clock, the doors open and visitors started filing in. The line moved right along, and within twenty minutes it was their turn at the ticketing area. Karen paid her $25 admission, while Laci got in free. The ticket agent informed them the information center was straight ahead on the other side of the rotunda.

Laci felt almost overwhelmed by the sheer volume of sensory input, the vastness of everything. Karen chuckled at her awestruck look. She interlocked her elbow with Laci’s, and said, “Come sweetie, there’s a lot to see.”

They made their way to the Grand Stairway to the Rotunda, and Laci had her first true “Pinch me!” moment. “Oh! My! God!” she said in a voice that was almost a moan. While the Stairway itself was breathtaking, it was the ceiling above the Grand Staircase, offering the first of the John Singer Sargent murals of mythological figures – Atlas, Apollo and the Winds, Perseus on Pegasus Slaying Medusa – that drew the moan.

As they moved on, the Rotunda itself drew another gasping moan. Mythological figures associated with the Arts — Apollo and the Muses, the Sphinx and Chimaera, Ganymede and the Eagle, Classical and Romantic Art – and the relief sculptures of more figures from Greek and Roman artistic mythology adorning the vast inverted bowl of the rotunda stunned her. She might as well have been looking at the Sistine Chapel, and truth be told, from her perspective it was every bit as awe-inspiring as the handiwork of Michelangelo. She tilted her head back as far as she could and did a full three-sixty turn until she felt vertiginous. She had to steady herself on Karen’s arm when she looked down.

“Karen! Lookit that! Isn’t that the most amazing thing you ever saw?”

Karen nodded solemnly, and said, “I have to say I agree with you on that, Honey. It is amazing!”

Sadly in Laci’s eyes, they couldn’t linger, the first of the day’s frustrations at the need to rush. They continued on to the Information Center, a beautiful, white, geometrically interesting area in its own right, with counters manned by volunteer docents.  

They went to the information counter, where Karen asked about where the Monet, Rembrandt, and Winslow Homer collections were, and where the drawing in the galleries program was. The young woman they asked didn’t look like she was much more than 16 or 17, Laci noted, but she knew her stuff. There was a special Monet display in Torf Gallery 184, she said, back through the Rotunda on the aisle flanking the Grand Staircase. Unfortunately, the Rembrandt’s and Homer collections were mostly out on loan. The gallery drawing program was being held in and around the Shapiro Family Courtyard, just behind them. There would also be Artists Toolbox Carts located throughout the galleries, she said.

Laci felt herself deflate at the news about the Rembrandt’s and Homers. The young docent sensing Laci’s disappointment, said, “If you like Monet and the Impressionists, there’s an excellent collection of American Impressionists in Gallery two twenty-six. In fact, the entire Art of the America’s wing is loaded with amazing works. And of course, we’re having our big Sargent showing; he’s the artist who did the murals on and around the Rotunda.” She then asked where they were from, and when Laci told her, she said, “A good many of our Homers are on display in your Baytown Museum of Art until next year. It doesn’t help you today, but if you’re a fan of Homer, you owe it to yourself to take a day and go see them closer to home.”

“We can do that some weekend coming up,” Karen said. “Why don’t we go see the American Impressionists first. After that, we can visit Mr. Sargent, then work our way back down, and spend some time with Monsieur Monet before going to the drawing program.”

“OK, that sounds great. I don’t know a whole lot about American Impressionists, but I guess it’s time I learned.”

“Well there you go. When you’re given a bag of lemons, make lemonade.”

“Well, let’s both go learn something.” Laci grabbed Karen by the hand and started tugging her toward the staircase to the second level.

The afternoon passed in a rapid whirlwind. There was too much to see, and not enough time to do more than glance briefly at most of what she wanted to see. They did linger a while in the Sargent collection, longer than they did in the American Impressionist gallery, simply because Sargent was new to Laci, and the rotunda had so awed her. She was anxious to tell Mr. Belden all about the artist.

It was almost two o’clock when they made their way into the Monet collection, but it was crowded. They spent an hour there without really getting a chance to get decently close to the paintings.

Finally, feeling overwhelmed by all they’d seen, Karen suggested they go to the cafeteria get something to snack on and drink, then visit the store before trying the drawing program. They had to backtrack through the Rotunda, where Laci couldn’t help once again gaping in awe, through the Art of Asia Wing, to the Contemporary Art Wing. At the café, she got herself a bottle of diet cola, Karen a café latte, and both of them got a thick slice of chocolate cheesecake.

They found a place to plop down, and it was only then Laci realized how tiring the day had been.

“Pretty impressive, huh?” Karen said.

Laci closed her eyes briefly and tried to gather her thoughts. “Too much stuff,” she said. “Too much, too fast. But yeah, unbelievably impressive. I just never knew there could be so much different art in a single place. I wish we had more time.”

“Unfortunately, there’s only so much we can do in a single afternoon.”

“You weren’t kidding when you said you could come here every day for a year before you’d see everything.”

“Honestly? I thought I was exaggerating just a bit, but apparently I wasn’t. Mmmm, this cheesecake is fabulous!”

“Oh yeah,” Laci agreed. It was creamy, tart, sweet, and extremely chocolaty. “I haven’t had cheesecake very much. Do you know how to make it?”

“I have before. I’ll have to try it again, except we might get fat.”

“I’ll risk it,” Laci said dryly, finishing the last bite of hers.

When Karen finished her latte, and Laci her soda, they both stood up and stretched before going to the nearby museum store. In a mere twenty minutes, Karen bought Laci (inwardly distressing the girl at Karen’s willingness to buy her pretty much anything she asked for) a music box with Monet’s Grand Canal, Venice on the cover, a book on Winslow Homer, a big coffee table book on French Impressionism, a Sargent watercolor canvas tote, and a Wild Rose Sterling Silver and Pearl Bracelet, totaling over $400. Laci’s guilt was somewhat assuaged when Karen bought herself a double strand gray pearl necklace.

Laci put her acquisitions in the new canvas tote, and they made their way back to Visitor Center and then down into the spectacular, glass enclosed courtyard. Looking up, the skies were still a leaden gray, and droplets of drizzle collected on the glass and ran down, becoming larger drops on the way. The courtyard was open, spacious, and bright, giving the illusion of being outside on a warm though cloudy day. “I wonder where the drawing programs are,” Laci murmured softly, looking around.

Over there, I’ll bet,” Karen said, pointing to two areas cordoned off by red velvet rope of the kind one might see in a bank waiting line. “Let’s go look.”

As they approached, it was clear Karen was right. Both areas appeared to contain clothed models and artists floating around, offering sketchers comments and encouragement. Laci’s energy, which had been flagging a bit, surged anew. “C’mon Karen, let’s go.”

Laci grabbed Karen by the hand and almost ran to the nearest roped off area. It wasn’t overly crowded, and there were several open drawing tables, each with its own supply of sketch paper, pencils, and sharpeners. Laci grabbed an open table and looked around. She was the youngest of the visitors earnestly working on their artistic creations. Laci looked at the clothed model facing her seated on small stool, staring impassively ahead. Boring, Laci thought.

“Karen, I want to sketch you, not the model they have there.”

“Me? Why me? I’m not sure you can.”

“Why not? There’s no rule that says I can’t. Look, I’ll ask,” Laci said. Not normally one to be so willing to stand out from the madding crowd, Laci nevertheless had no trouble motioning to one of the artists walking around offering suggestions. A different artist, a tall, spare lady with short reddish hair, spoke about the artist-model relationship. The young artist Laci motioned to, a person of genuinely indeterminate gender from a distance, came over, and when she spoke, Laci realized it was a woman she was talking to. “Yes, can I help you?”

“Yes, I’m wondering, do I have to sketch your model, or can I sketch my… foster Mom here instead?”

“Oh, by all means, sketch whomever you want, whatever you want. If you need some pointers or you have any questions, just call me over. I see you have your own sketchbook and pencils. Are you very interested in art?”

“Yes ma’am, very much.”

“Do you take lessons?”

“Only what I get in art class at school a couple of times a week.”

“I see. What grade?”

“Eighth Grade.”

“Oh, well, I’d love to see what an eighth grade art lover can come up with. Don’t be afraid to call me over when you’re finished.”

“Thanks, I will. See? I told you, Karen. Now,” she directed, “grab that seat and sit down facing me.”

“Well well, I’ve never seen you so forward with strangers before. I guess I’d better just shut up and do as I’m told – artist at work.” Karen pulled up a folding chair and sat down as directed.

Laci maneuvered the drawing table so she was looking at Karen. She looked around, then down to see how the light was playing off Karen’s face, had her adjust her position a bit, and then said, “Don’t move more than you have to, you’re sitting just right.”

“Yes ma’am,” Karen said, her face set in one of her innumerable enigmatic smiles.

Laci opened her sketchbook to a blank page, and she opened her pencil box, carefully selecting the one she wanted. She sighed, and she went to work. She focused herself completely, and Karen’s likeness started to come out in a series of pencil strokes. There was no real conscious effort on Laci’s part. She was doing something that felt natural and comfortable to her. Everything seemed to happen on a subconscious level. Her eyes took in what she saw, transmitted it to the appropriate part of her brain, which in turn directed her hand.

Luckily, Karen had a very symmetrical, oval face, so the basic framework was easy enough. Laci was thinking about Karen’s enigmatic smile, her expressive eyes, the arch of her eyebrows, the way her hair lay, the way her face shadowed in the light, but none of her thoughts consciously translated into commands for her hands to do this, that, or the other. She was almost in a hypnotic trance.

Within half an hour, Laci was finished but for a few minor details. At last, she seemed to emerge from her trance. She looked at what she’d done, and she thought it looked OK for a quick sketch. “Done,” she said with a smile.

Karen stood up, stretched, and said, “OK, let’s see what you were able to accomplish with this mug.” Laci turned the sketch around for Karen to see. Karen’s eyebrows immediately went up in surprise. “Well now, if I hadn’t been sitting there rock still watching you work, I would’ve said you spent an entire day and then some on it. It’s – Wow! Impressive. I want that artist to see this.”

Laci felt a burst of delighted pride at Karen’s reaction. Karen stepped up to the rope, and motioned for the young artist to come over. “Need help?”

“Uh, no,” Karen said. “I wanted you to see what she did in a half an hour.”

Karen turned the sketch around and showed it to the woman, who’s eyebrows darted up in surprise. Her eyes went from the sketch, to Karen’s face, back to the sketch, and once again to Karen’s face. She looked at Laci, a look of surprise on her face. “You did this just now?” she asked Laci incredulously.

“Uh, yeah, what’s wrong with it?”

“Wrong with it? Ummm, not a darned thing, it’s – wow! Excuse me for just a minute.” The artist made her way over to the tall, spare redheaded artist who’d been giving the talk on artist-model relationships, and said to her, “Meg, come over here for a minute, I want you to see something.”

Laci frowned at Karen, not at all sure what was going on. Both the young artist, and the redheaded one she’d called Meg came over to them. “What’s up, Jo?” she asked.

“I want you to look at the sketch this young lady just did of her mother,” Jo said.

Meg came over and flashed a nondescript smile at Karen and Laci. “Good afternoon, folks,” she offered.

“Look at this,” Jo said. “Half an hour, no questions, just did it.”

Meg did the same thing Jo had done, looked from the sketch to Karen and back several times. She stroked her chin, furrowed her brow a bit at Laci, looked back at the sketch, then finally said, “Hmmm, do you take lessons?”

“Ummm, only what we get in art class twice a week at school.”

“Really?” Meg said, looking at Laci more closely. “What grade are you in, if you don’t mind my asking.”


“So you’re what? Thirteen?”

“Uh, yeah, I’ll be fourteen next month.”

“And you’ve never had lessons outside of school.”


Meg looked at Karen, and said, “Did you realize your daughter is so gifted?”

“She’s my foster daughter, and yes I did, that’s why we’re here today. She comes from, um, less than ideal circumstances, and I think it’s very important for her to build on her gifts.”

“Indeed. Where do you go to school? Around here?”

“No, we’re from two states north, I go to Williamston Consolidated up there.”

“Does your teacher know how well you sketch?”

“I guess so. He’s starting an after school art club next week after vacation, and he kinda wants me to be in it, and he says he wants me to do AP art classes next year.”

“Uh yeah, I should think. Um, I’m sorry, what’s your name, dear?”

“Laci. This is my foster mom Karen.”

“Laci, Karen,” Meg said, shaking both of their hands. “My name is Meg O’Hara, one of the artists-in-residence here at the museum. This is my colleague, Jo Pulaski. Um, Laci, it’s not every day that we have teenage middle school students walk in off the street and just boom! whip out something of this detail and expression. This is really quite remarkable, probably better than what I was capable of at thirteen. I’m very impressed, very impressed. What’s your teacher’s name?”

“Um, Mr. Belden, I think his first name is Jay.”

“Laci, if I gave you a business card would you give it to Mr. Belden and have him give me a call? I’d like to talk to him.”

“Um, sure, but it’s school vacation next week, and I won’t see him until, like a week from Monday.”

“That’s OK. I’ll be right back.”

Laci looked at Karen and smiled excitedly. A real artist thought her sketch was good, and that realization filled Laci with a heady glow. Karen put her arm around Laci’s shoulders, gave her a beaming smile and a wink.

Meg came back and handed Laci a business card. “My number and my email address are on the card. I’d like you to have him give me a phone call when you see him.”

Meg looked at Karen, and said, “I’m very impressed with this sketch. Plenty of people can do very nice, detailed, technically good sketches, but this goes beyond that, this shows a genuine, innate gift. She’s picked up on some very elemental aspects of your personality as she sees it, and conveyed it to the sketch. There’s an underlying emotional connection, and it has a very dynamic appearance. It goes way beyond drawing a nice picture. That’s the kind of thing most students don’t pick up unless they have private lessons from someone who really knows what he or she is doing. To have that raw ability is the mark of a born artist. Ma’am, if you can possibly do it, I’d strongly recommend you find Laci a private art instructor to help her develop her obvious talent more fully.”

“Well, thank you Ms. O’Hara.”

“Meg, please.”

“I’ll do just that, Meg. I’ll make it a mission to find a good instructor, and I promise you, I’ll make sure she gets what she needs to flourish.”

“Laci, it’s been a delight to meet you, a fellow artist. Here’s a card of mine for you. If you ever plan on coming to Boston again, you must call me, and I’ll make special plans for your visit. OK?”

Laci was beaming, her cheeks a rosy glow, her eyes sparkling. “Thank you, Meg. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Can you believe it Karen?” Laci said, her face beaming like the noonday sun, her entire being as effervescent and bubbly as a shaken bottle of cola. They’d just plopped down with a burger and fries from a place called Flamer’s in the food court of the Prudential Center’s shopping mall. “Do you think she meant it, or was she just saying it to be nice?” Laci already knew the answer to her question, but she needed Karen validate it.

“She meant it, baby,” Karen answered, her own face shining brightly. “There was nothing phony about what she was saying. Now you have a real artist saying you have talent.”

“I can’t wait to tell Mr. Belden all about it, and give him Meg’s card. What do you think she wants to talk to Mr. B about.” Laci took a big bite from her burger, and even in her excitement, she noted it was as good a burger as she’d ever had.

“You,” Karen answered as she took a bite from her own burger.

“Me? Why would she want to talk about me with Mr. Belden?” Laci asked ingenuously. “I’ll bet she wants to know if he’d like her to come up and like, give a talk to the art classes, or something like that.”

Karen smiled broadly. “Laci, my precious love, no one can ever accuse you of being full of yourself.  Trust me, Meg wants to make sure Mr. Belden knows he has a prodigy on his hands. Maybe she does want to come up and give a talk to the art classes too, maybe help get your club up and running.”

“That would be so awesome! Having a real artist come to our school. I get the feeling Mr. Belden wants to talk to you,” Laci said, shifting gears.

“Imagine that. I want to talk to him, too. Not just him, but all of your teachers. But especially him.”

“He’s my favorite teacher. I think it sucks that we have art class only a couple of days a week, and stupid gym class the other three days. What do I care about running and basketball and softball and stupid stuff like that

“Unfortunately, baby girl, we don’t make those rules.”

“Oh god, I can’t eat another bite,” Laci groaned, looking at her half-eaten burger and nearly empty container of fries.

“Same here,” Karen said, wiping her mouth with a napkin. “Ready to hit the home stretch and go shopping for a dress?”

“As I’ll ever be.”

“Good. Then onward and upward, look out Macy’s, here we come.”