“You let a vagrant into our apartment?! Are you nuts, Cherry?”
“He was hungry,” Cherry shrugged. “I only brought him out some warm soup. We sat and talked on the front porch. Did I tell you he once met the Dalai Llama? Besides, he’s not a vagrant- he’s a student.”
Her mouth hung open. Before a mean word had time to form in her mouth, however, she was shaking her head and patting her sister’s hand as she would when indulging a child.
“You should have met him, Bianca! He’s had the most interesting life!” Cherry’s arms flung out and her bright eyes shone.
Bianca turned to dump her school books in a chair and hide her smile from her sister. “Just don’t give him a key, alright, Sis?” she continued to hide her smile behind rolling eyes.
The next day, Bianca headed home burdened by an overflowing backpack and looming Midterms. She crunched through the leaves conglomerated together all across campus. She tried to hide her chapped hands inside the sleeves of her hoodie sweatshirt and quickened her step at the sight of cheery yellow-lit windows of home. She heard voices before she reached the edge of the grassy front yard of the old home, turned apartment building.
“You’re too kind, Cherry,” a deep, laughing voice boomed pleasantly. “I can’t remember when I’ve had food this good!”
“Tell me more about Connecticut,” Cherry’s voice sounded pleased and excited.
“Hey, Cherry. What’s up?” Cherry didn’t quite catch the wary glint in her sister’s eyes in the dark.
“Bianca! This is Peter!”
Peter switched hands with his plate and offered the free one to Bianca. “A pleasure,” he mumbled, his beard rising where his mouth underneath must have been also.
Bianca shook her icy hand out of her sleeve and gently squeezed the calloused hand back. “Nice to meet you… Peter.” She must have seemed hesitant because Peter attempted a hasty exit.
“Your sister is too kind. I shouldn’t take advantage… it’s not… I’m not as I seem.” It was obvious by the way he was stepping backwards and the look on his face that he was well aware that he had ended lamely and wanted nothing more than to be gone.
“No, no! Don’t be silly! Finish your dinner… my sister paid much more attention to our Mother’s cooking lessons, for sure. Maybe you wouldn’t mind if I joined you,” Bianca smiled most genuinely.
The stranger glanced back at Cherry who gave him an “I told you so” look and giggled. “Yours is in the warming oven, Bink,” winked Cherry.
Bianca re-emerged with a plate, fork and coat to catch the last half of an apparently hilarious comment, “… so he looked it up and found out there really is a market for ………………… in the U.S.”
Peter wiped his eyes and smiled hopefully at Bianca. “So, are you named for the beautiful and adored younger daughter of Baptista Minola?”
Bianca raised one eyebrow and quipped back, “Are you named for the composer of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker?”
“Touché!” Peter chuckled deeply. “Indeed, my mother’s favorite Tchaikovsky was Sleeping Beauty. Spot on!”
Bianca sat and raced the frost to eat her food before the steamy white curls left her plate. No sooner had she finished than Peter took his leave of them and crunched through the leaves with his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his threadbare jacket.
The next night, it was Bianca who answered the sycophantic knocking on their door.
“Come in, Peter!” If Bianca’s warm smile threw him off, he didn’t show it as he returned with his own. “Let me take your coat,” she said helping him off with it. She shook the season’s first snowflakes off onto the entry-0way rug and hung it on the coat tree. Peter shook melted snow out of his dark, curly locks and beard.
“Cherry invited me back for lasagna,” Peter said sheepishly.
“The table’s already set for three and we’re almost finished.” Bianca ignored the hole in his sweatshirt as she grabbed him by the elbow and steered him toward the table.
The winter passed pleasantly as Cherry and Bianca practiced their cooking on a more-than-willing Peter. He often stayed until late into the night studying with the sisters as either quizmaster or contestant. As the snow slowly stopped darkening their doorway, so, too, did Peter.
Bianca answered the phone one beautiful Spring day. “Hi, Peter! We’ve missed you coming around!”
He chuckled deeply. “I’m calling to tell you that, grateful though I am, I won’t be coming around during the summer. I have… business… anyway, please know that I wish I was with you.”
Shocked, Bianca stared at the fingers of her left hand while clutching the phone with her right. “Alright, Peter,” she heard herself say.
“Goodbye, Bianca,” The words faded to whispers.
“Bye…” was that a click? “Peter.”
Later that afternoon, cherry and Bianca were indulging themselves with a drive in the countryside surrounding their college town. They delighted in fields of Mamas with their babies; cows and calves, ewes and lambs, mares and foals. Just before they turned back towards campus, they came upon a tiny, dilapidated, rusted VW bug in a soft spot on the shoulder of the dirt road they were traveling.
A stocky, scruffy man was feverishly attempting to push the bug out of the Spring mud alone. Cherry pulled their car over and the sisters got out to help.
“I don’t need help from the likes of you!” spat the little man.
“Of course you do!” Cherry insisted with a smile.
Bianca stuck her head in the driver’s window to make sure it was in neutral and blinked once at the sun glinting on a Blackberry sitting on the passenger seat. Cherry and Bianca pushed with all their might while the mud-splattered man jumped up and down waving his arms and yelling at them not to help. When the car was clear of the mud, he sloshed over to it, squelched in and drove away flicking mud all over as he sped away.
With a shrug and a hug, the girls re-entered their own car and continued home with a clear conscience.
Not even a week later, the girls encountered their hapless acquaintance again as they strolled across a park in the ever warming weather. They hummed along with the jewelry box tune the carousel was playing as they neared. What met their eyes, however, made them drop their ice cream cones and run for the carousel. Their cranky friend was yelling croakily as he was dragged around the well-worn circle of compressed dirt around the carousel. The operator was frantically punching buttons on the panel in front of her as Cherry and Bianca jumped on the whirling ride. Bianca grabbed the writhing man around the waist and tried to pull him up onto the platform while Cherry was attempting to unhook his belt buckle from the bolt it was caught on just under the lip of the platform. Once free, the man grabbed a laptop case form the platform at the girls’ feet and took off running across the park shaking his fist at them.
Clear conscience or not, it was ungratifying work saving this particular ruffian.
Peter was a taboo subject as the weather continued to warm and the girls toed the line between summer jobs and a class or two here and there.
Bianca was reading a novel as she walked, determined to finis the last four pages before her shift at the shoe store started three blocks and twenty minutes away. She stopped walking at the corner to wait for the light to turn green. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a distracted couple on a moped chatting over the driver’s shoulder to each other. As she turned her head back to her book, her hand shot out and grabbed the back of the shirt of a man to pull him back onto the curb just as the moped cut the curve and sped around the corner.
“Don’t touch me! How dare… YOU?!” the last word ejaculated forth with such vehemence as Bianca’s heart fell to her knees at the sight of the dirty little man too oft spared by her. “Don’t… you… touch…”
Bianca’s eyes closed and her hands flew up to protect her face as fist collided with jaw. Bianca gasped sharply as she parted her fingers and gaped at the short form crumpled on the sidewalk at her feet.
“Peter!” Bianca’s hands went from her fact to around her hero’s neck.
Peter picked her up around the waist and swung her in a circle. “He’s been blackmailing me and stealing from my father’s company and blocking me from my family’s accounts. I’m… well, I’m actually very… my family owns several large factories here and overseas, Bianca. This bloke here,” Peter jabbed the unconscious man with his toe, “stumbled upon my Blackberry while cleaning my office in my Father’s building here in town. He stole my identity and changed my pin numbers to cut me off and has been threatening my family. The police couldn’t catch him and now here you are saving his neck!” His jolly laugh filled Bianca with joy. The police appeared out of nowhere and handcuffed the awakening double crosser. Peter slipped his hand in hers and they walked off into the sunset.
Now that you have read my version, read HERE the version of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.