Despite all the crazy, hectic things that have happened, and Allie's moments of silence during the past few months, Allie ended the seventh grade on a very good note. While she had yet to discover who the mysterious man was, Allie was determined to have a relaxing summer by spending as much time with Quincy as possible before school started again. But little did she know, the man had been following her around lately. The man lived around the corner, and whenever Allie went out with her parents or anyone else, the man would spy on her with binoculars and take down some notes, as if he were recording her life or something. This man was nothing but bad news, and Allie did not make another brief encounter with him until one day when she and Quincy were playing at the playground, riding on the swings.
Quincy said to her, "Can you believe that we're almost in the eighth grade?"
"I can't," Allie replied with a chuckle.
"Boy, does time really fly! And before you know it, we'll be starting high school." He sounded pretty excited.
"Gee, high school sure sounds exciting, doesn't it?" Allie said.
Quincy nodded. "I hear that's the time when most kids go steady with each other. And maybe if you and I are lucky......." He shrugged with emphasis.
Allie giggled. "You really wanna go steady with me, Quincy?"
"Of course! Why not? You're an amazing girl."
"But I don't wanna embarrass you like I did in Mr. Perkins' History class that one time."
"You still remember that?" asked Quincy.
Allie shook her head. "Ah, I try not to."
"Forget it, Allie; it was the past. And besides, when you're in high school, nobody's gonna care what you did in middle school or kindergarten. And when you're in college, nobody cares what you did in high school or middle school, and when you're all fully grown-up, nobody's gonna care what you did when you were really young. That's just the way it is in life, Allie. Nobody remembers all the things you did but you."
"I suppose you're right," Allie said.
"So, would you like to go steady with me once we start high school?"
"That's a no-brainer. Of course I would!" Allie replied, and they laughed.
From there, Allie and Quincy continued having their sweet, silly little talks and playing on the swings, slides, seesaw, and other fun things. There were a bunch of other kids at the playground with them, and Allie and Quincy stuck together in hopes of never being far apart. While they were having a ball, the man had struck again. He was hiding behind the bushes, holding a pair of binoculars in his hands. He was checking up on Allie once again, and as usual, she never noticed. He stayed hidden behind the bushes for a really long time until Allie and Quincy started making their way back home.
"I'm glad we had fun out here today, Allie," Quincy said.
"Me, too," Allie said with a smile.
"Yes, it is anything worth keeping you happy after all those times you've kept to yourself, all 'cause of that awful thing that happened to your mother."
"Yeah, I know." Allie sighed.
"Well, it's ancient history now, so don't let that bother you."
"I won't." Then after a silent moment, Allie said with a grin, "So, I was just thinking......."
"If you and me ever decide to go steady when we're in high school, then does that mean........you know what I mean. You know, we'll be smooching some more and all that other stuff---other stuff, if you know what I mean." She gave him a wink. She was talking about sex, but she knew she was too young to understand what all that meant.
"Sadly, I do," Quincy said with a slight groan. "Ah, I'll try not to go that far with you. But it is gonna be your first time, though, isn't it?"
"My first time doing what?"
"You know, doing it. I mean, you have to promise me you won't be seeing any other guy behind my back."
"Quincy, you know I would never do that to you. I mean, what kind of girl do you think I am? Besides, I don't think my parents would allow me to see any boys anytime soon."
"Let me guess. You come from a strict Catholic upbringing, don't you?"
"No, I'm not Catholic."
"Then what're you so scared of? I'm not gonna do anything to hurt you, you know that, Allie. I'm your friend."
"I know, Quincy," she said. "I'm just thinking---I don't want whatever happened to my mother to happen to me as well."
"Of course it won't happen, Allie. Quit being ridiculous."
"You're right," she said with a smile. "Maybe I'm just overthinking it, that's all."
While they were walking and talking, the man then decided to come out of his cover and expose himself to Allie once and for all. He slowly and silently crept up on them, and suddenly he cleared his throat, and Allie and Quincy slowly turned around, and Allie's natural reaction was screaming in fear and panic. Quincy commanded her, "Run! As fast as you can!" He held her hand as they started running.
"Now hold on, hold on there a minute, little children," the man said to them. He actually sounded gentle this time---or not. "You don't know me, and I don't know you, but this does not mean we are merely strangers. You see, strangers are people who have not seen each other before, and I know I have not seen you before, young lady." He gave her a wink, and Allie could sense dishonesty in his eyes. Everything about this man screamed dishonesty. He was the man who had harmed her mother. "But don't tell anyone at all that you saw me---not even your mother. Therefore, I award you with a little something for keeping your silence." He reached into his pocket and gave her a handful of cash. "Fifty dollars. I think you truly deserved it, young lady. Now you wouldn't go around telling your dear old mother that I was the one who gave you this money, would you? You can simply tell her that your 'little friend' here was the one who'd given it to you."
For a moment, Allie was so shocked, she couldn't even say a word. Was this man really bribing her into not telling her mother that she saw him? Quincy then glared at the man and confronted him. "For your information, we are not 'little children'; we are teenagers. We are two thirteen-year-olds. And another thing, nobody bribes my friend like that or threatens her family and gets away with it, you---you big phony! Trust me, Allie and I may be young, but she is not dumb, just so you know. If you plan to harm her, you're gonna have to get through me first."
The man simply laughed and said cynically, "I don't know what you're talking about......Little Boy. So I suggest that you keep your mouth shut. Otherwise, I'll find your mother's number and ask her if she is available for me tonight." He smiled haughtily.
Allie looked like she was about to burst into tears, but Quincy grabbed her hand and said, "Come on, Allie, let's go home. We have much more important things to do with ourselves."
Allie couldn't control herself when she began shedding tears. Quincy groaned and said, "What's the matter now?"
"That was the man," she replied. "He was the one who'd hurt my mother!"
Quincy gasped, also equally astonished. "No way, you're not pulling my leg?" he exclaimed. Allie shook her head. "The nerve of that guy! You'd better tell your mother that you saw him today, and that he tried to bribe you into keeping silent about his whereabouts by giving you $50 that he probably just stole from God knows where."
Allie shook her head. "I'm sorry, Quincy, but I just can't tell her."
"What do you mean you can't tell her? Allie, you're gonna end up in more trouble if you continue to keep silent!"
"I don't care!" Allie sobbed. "He made me promise not to tell, and I won't tell anybody!"
"Allie, this is ridiculous! You can't just let a random man........"
"Quincy, I appreciate your care and concern, but this is my problem, not yours. And I would prefer if you would just stay out of it. Thanks." Allie was still crying, therefore she had no control over her words.
Quincy realized that he was through trying to help her out. "Okay, you know what? I will stay out of this. But don't come crying to me when this guy decides to attack your father or something." He sounded frustrated.
"Quincy, I'm sorry, I didn't really mean........"
"Of course you didn't really mean," Quincy said sharply. "You know, you're quite hard to understand sometimes, Allie. One minute we were having fun with each other at the park, and the next minute, you decide to let some completely random stranger take you for granted by taking money from him. Jesus, Allie, goddamned money! Whenever you're ready to act like my friend again, and a person who has much better common sense, you know where to find me." They walked off home in silence, Quincy saying not another word to her. Allie tried to control her crying as she arrived home. She couldn't think of a good place to hide the money from her mother, so she walked into the house with the money folded in her hands.
"How was the park, dear?" Alexandra asked. She was in the kitchen, baking cupcakes.
"It was swell," Allie replied.
"Hey, what'cha got there in your hands?" Paul asked. He was reading a book while snacking on a bowl of fruit salad.
"Oh, uh.......nothing," Allie replied, trying to play it cool.
"Nice try; you can open up your hands now," Paul said with a chuckle.
Reluctantly, Allie opened her hands to reveal the money. Alexandra glanced up from her baking, gasped and said, "Uh, where on Earth did you get $50 from?"
She had decided to do what the man said to her, tell them that Quincy was the one who had given her some money, even though she knew that lying was wrong, and she was a good girl who was always honest and moralistic. "Um, Quincy gave it to me," she said. "Just today."
"What would that friend of yours be giving you cash for? He got a job working at a summer camp for younger kids or something?" Paul said jokingly.
"No, just because he felt like it. Quincy is really kind in that way. He just wants me to save my money, that's all."
"And where in the world did Quincy receive $50 from, that he decided to give to you?" Alexandra asked, still a little suspicious.
"That is classified information." Allie could not think of a very good response for that.
"You hear that, honey? Classified," Paul said, laughing.
"Yes, I hear that indeed," Alexandra said. She still had her suspicion that something was definitely going on. Something which she would get to the bottom of finding out.
That night, Alexandra and Paul were in their room, Paul reading the newspapers while lying down in bed, and Alexandra was changing into her nightgown. She said, "I still don't buy the fact that Quincy gave Allie $50. What do you think, Paul?"
"Maybe he's an even better friend than we thought," Paul said with a shrug.
"Paul, Quincy has never had a job before. And even if he did make some money, he'd learn to keep it to himself. Something doesn't add up here. It's almost as if Allie received some cash from.........a stranger or something." She took a moment to consider this, and then it hit her that she had made an encounter with that man. She gasped and said, "No way! Did she really get it from whom I think?"
"What? What is it, dear?" Paul asked.
"Allie got money from that man. That man who threatened me, and he gave Allie money. The nerve of that fraud! Who does he think he is?"
"Honey, relax. Allie's still young; of course she'd be naive enough to trust strangers."
"Paul, she's thirteen years old and I think she is quite old enough to know that she is not supposed to take anything from strangers---not even money. I'm gonna have a long talk with her tomorrow."
"You should," Paul said as he yawned.
After church the following day, Allie was telling her mother about the encounter she had made with the man at the park yesterday. "Yes, and he was the one who gave me the money, not Quincy," Allie was saying. "I'm sorry for lying to you, Mama. I didn't want you to be too angry with me."
"Of course I'm not, dear," Alexandra said calmly, "but you should've just let me know that you saw that man again. I'm really concerned for you, Allie, and this man sounds like a con artist. You need to promise me you'll never take anything from strangers ever again. Is that clear?"
"Yes, Mama," Allie said. "I'm sorry."
Alexandra gave her a hug. "It's okay, baby. Well, we may not know the name of this man, but at least we know exactly the type of person he is---a true fraud. But we're not gonna worry about him anymore; you start school next week, and we need to get you some new clothes, so that way you can start the eighth grade on a positive note."
"Does that mean we have to go out and get me some clothes?" Allie asked as she began thinking about that terrifying experience at the mall when the man came from nowhere and started making moves on her mother.
"On second thought, you have a bunch of clothes in your closet, some you've never worn before," Alexandra said. "We could give them a shot."
"You're right, Mama," Allie said. "After all, I think I deserve a break from going to the mall and buying clothes for now."