And so it came to be that Anna strolled out through the media center of her school, a determined look in her small brown eyes. Brash, but thoughtful, Anna ducked through the scattered shelves of various educational materials and computers, avoiding the watchful gazes of the normally quite perceptive librarians. As it happened, Anna was in luck- Mr. Wilkins was currently going through a traumatizing divorce, and Ms. DuPont was buying a wonderful pair of discounted pumps on her laptop, so neither had eyes for the little girl as she slunk out of the school.
As Anna passed through the front doors of the building, she was joined by two black cats, who haughtily fell into step behind her. Anna couldn’t help but grin widely.
“Apple, Cherry,” she smiled at the two cats. “How do you do?”
Neither Apple nor Cherry replied to this, being cats, but both regarded her with an appraising look. The two cats were strays who could be found many places around town, being far too smart to fall into the local shelter’s clutches, and Anna had helped them out on numerous occasions, providing food and shelter on cold winter nights. As such, Apple and Cherry had an immense amount of respect for Anna, and enjoyed her company on the odd occasion.
“Do you know the way to the Jacksons?” Anna asked Apple. Apple merely stared at her, before turning her gaze to Cherry.
“This kid knows we can’t talk, right?” was written all over her narrow features.
Unperturbed, Anna, Apple, and Cherry walked down along the main street, block after block, as Anna attempted to recall the location of the Jackson home. She took a few wrong turns, and found herself at a somewhat suspect Waffle House not once, but twice, but eventually, the small girl and her companions strode up towards the dingy green townhome, paint peeling off of its small porch.
“Here we are,” Anna observed seriously, turning back to Apple and Cherry. “Did you have a nice walk?”
“It would’ve been nicer without your incessant prattling,” Cherry meowed to herself, and Apple glared at her companion.
“I agree, it was quite refreshing,” Anna replied, oblivious to the cat’s true words. Carefully, she stepped up towards the front door and knocked as loudly as she could. She stepped back, waiting patiently, and as footsteps sounded in the home, Apple and Cherry slunk into the shadows.
“Now, then,” Anna admonished the two. “There’s no need to be so–“
The door swung open, and the tired-looking form of Mr. Jackson peered out of the home. He took in the small girl with weary, hardened eyes, and shook his head as if he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing.
“Anna McDermott?” Mr. Jackson blinked. “Can I… help you?”
“Good morning Mr. Jackson,” Anna nodded stiffly towards the older man. “Is Jake okay?”
“Is he…?” Mr. Jackson paused, unsure how to respond to this. “Does your father know you’re here?”
“I’m concerned,” Anna ignored the latter question, placing her hands upon her hips in a way she hoped would lend her some authority. “He didn’t stop by last Saturday. Did he forget?”
“No, he didn’t forget,” Mr. Jackson stiffened, running a shaking hand through his salt and pepper hair. “Now, Anna, I must insist–“
“Then why isn’t he in school?” Anna questioned.
Mr. Jackson’s eyes widened. “He wasn’t in school?”
“No, sir,” Anna shook her head emphatically. “I’m concerned,” she repeated.
For a moment, Mr. Jackson considered sending the little girl away, demanding she mind her own business, and returning to the privacy of his own home. However, she certainly meant well, and she’d brought him important information regarding his son. She was just a little girl, and there was no harm in telling her the truth, embarrassing though it may be.
“I’m afraid, Anna,” Mr. Jackson bent down so he could look the little girl in the eyes. “That things have been a little hard for our family recently. I’m in the process of selling the store, and money is a bit thin.”
“Oh,” Anna blinked. “Would you like me to bring you some eggs for free?” she offered.
“That’s very kind,” Mr. Jackson smiled, letting out a tired laugh. “But no, I’m afraid we could never take your charity. We’ll work our way through this.”
Anna hesitated. “And… Jake?”
“Jake is taking our current situation hard,” Mr. Jackson sighed. “He loved the store, and knowing his parents will soon be unemployed is…”
“Unpleasant, I’m sure,” Anna frowned sympathetically. “Is there anything I can do?”
“No, Anna,” Mr. Jackson smiled thinly. “Just go back to class. I’ll talk with Jake when he gets home about skipping school. However, I must advise you return to your own classes before you get in trouble.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that,” Anna waved him off dismissively.
Mr. Jackson raised an eyebrow. “Why not?”
“I’m already in trouble,” Anna gestured across the street, to where a police car had stopped, doors opening to reveal two burly looking police officers familiar from school. They lumbered over to Anna, shaking their heads.
“Have a nice day, Mr. Jackson,” Anna said pleasantly, and went off to join the truancy officers.