Natalia was glad to have the extra company. She didn’t care what the adults were doing. As long as there was someone around to have adventures with, she was happy. She loved having fun.
Stevie Folger was just such a girl. She was a year younger than Natalia and Shasta, but she was every bit Natalia’s equal. Her older sister, Marina, also seemed the type to like a little mischief. They were quickly growing fond of Nattie and Shasta. But, then, both girls had no problems making friends.
Marina, being the oldest at thirteen, had just become Natalia’s new role model. She seemed so mature and wise. Most of all, she knew about the boys! Suddenly, Natalia was glad that the Folgers had sought refuge with them.
Stevie looked over at Natalia. “So what do you do for fun?”
Natalia shrugged. “I ride bikes with my friends, roller skate, and go watch the boys play baseball. Or I go with Iris, she’s one of my best friends, and watch her brother play the guitar. It’s like listening to Les Paul.”
Marina smiled. “I know Manny. He is a sweetheart. And a great jazz guitarist. I don’t blame you for having a crush on him. I think that all the girls either have a crush on him or on Tobias French. But Toby is cold and heartless. I would rather go with Manny.”
Natalia did not understand exactly what impact those words would have, but she knew that Marina and Stevie would have firsthand knowledge on how Tobias was. Perhaps they knew something she didn’t. So, for now, she quieted her crush on Tobias.
She turned back to Marina. “So which boys do you think are the best?”
Marina shrugged. “I don’t know. Well, maybe I do. Manny is one. And George Havers. Oh, and Luke Midas.
“All I know is that you want to stay away from the ones that hang around with Toby. They are all sickos. Pervs.
“They’ll lift your dress and tie mirrors on their shoes to see what you’re wearing under your skirt. Nasty boys. They even do other things, which I won’t go into, things you don’t want them to. They touch where you don’t want to be touched.”
Natalia was shocked. “And they get away with it?”
Marina nodded. “Yes. The teachers and other adults are afraid that their fathers will cause them to be fired. They pretty much have free reign.
“I had to protect Stevie from them, that is how I know about their doings. Please, can we change the subject?”
Natalia noticed a tear in Marina’s eye. She nodded. Apparently, something had happened. Something Marina didn’t want to talk about.
Shasta looked at Marina. “You are safe here. No one will hurt you here.”
Marina hugged Shasta and Natalia. “Thank you.”
Natalia could tell that this was going to be the first summer she would truly remember. First Papa and Mama Venechek moved, and now she had two new friends. And one of those friends knew who to stay away from and why. She had a lot to learn, and she was willing to learn from anyone sent to teach her.
Shasta, too, had noticed the pain in Marina’s words. Unlike Natalia, she would take them to heart and stay as far away from those boys as she could. Where Natalia liked to live dangerously, Shasta desired to life safe and secure. Natalia was so much a tomboy, Shasta was the scholar.
But both would defend the other. It was what family did. And now, they added Marina and Stevie to that family. They would protect them as they protected each other.
There was an uneasy silence at the dinner table. It was not the kind of silence that came from being among enemies, but rather one that came from getting used to having new people sharing the table. Of course, the children remained quiet. It was etiquette. It was expected.
Michael looked at Frank. “You can always come work for me at Morrow Mill Works, I have an opening or two.” He turned to look at Allan as he said the last sentence. “We can all carpool together, save on gas but share expenses.”
Frank was the first to speak. “I don’t want to stay here rent-free. Let me pay a little.”
Michael shook his head. “If you want to do your share, just help a little with the food. Buy what your family likes and we will fix it. We will alternate cars in carpool as well. This will make it seem as if one of us is still here and give the women a vehicle to use if they need to do any running.
“George at Tiny’s Market is an ally. Toffer tried to attack him a few weeks back. Thanks to Chuck, my brother-in-law, we were able to successfully overturn the accusations.”
Frank looked at him. “George?”
Michael smiled. “George is our nickname for him. Giorgio Machiavollo. A short Italian with a wonderful personality.”
Frank shuddered. “That was one of the cases I wrote as many holes into as I could. In fact, there really wasn’t any evidence against him. Just the fact that he had stopped Toby from doing some meanness to a young lady in his back alley. That boy is going to be the ruin of this city.”
Michael looked at him. “What kind of meanness?”
Frank swallowed. “He is known to do certain things to young girls. Assault them. Touch them. Force them to do things.”
Michael held up his hand. “I understand where this is going.”
Allan looked up. “Just suffice it to say that you will want to keep your daughters away from him or he will ruin their reputations. Even if they aren’t willing participants. Where do you think some of the teen girls have vanished to? Their families were forced to move because of the shame of what he had done to their daughters.
“Beware of Tobias French. He does whatever he pleases. So does his little pack of henchmen. And their word is law. Even though it is all lies, like his father’s.”
So now, Natalia knew. Tobias did things that were wrong. Against the law. She no longer liked him. She now knew that his handsome exterior hid a monster within.