Missy looked up from the game board. She pulled out the required card and asked, “What is the largest marsupial found in Australia?”
Larry literally scratched his head. “Marsupials? Are those like animals?” he asked.
Missy shook her head. “You don’t know what a marsupial is?” she asked.
Larry sat back in his chair. “Of course I do,” he said. “I was just messing with you. If it’s Australia it must be a koala bear.” As he finished his answer he folded his arms in triumph.
Missy looked at the back of the card. “Nope, it’s a kangaroo,” she said.
Larry hit the table sending the pieces tumbling a bit. “That was my other guess. It had to be either a koala or a kangaroo,” he said. Larry pulled out his notebook and carefully wrote down the question and answer.
Missy fixed the pieces. She pointed at the notebook. “Do you always write down the stuff you miss?” she asked.
“Always,” Larry said. “Writing is the only way you learn stuff. That’s the only way I got through high school.” After finishing his task, Larry carefully placed his bookmark back into his notebook and closed it. “Your turn,” he said.
Missy rolled her dice and contemplated her options. “You must not miss much,” she said. “You have lots of room in that notebook.”
Larry laughed a bit self-consciously. “I have more notebooks,” he said. “I really like to play trivia games.”
Missy moved over to a history space. “Oh yeah?” she asked. “How many notebooks?”
Larry held up the front of the notebook to her. There in very meticulous handwriting was the number 34. “Like I said, I love to play trivia games,” he said. Larry picked up a card. “What two groups of people fought at the Battle of Hastings?”
Missy laughed. “How am I supposed to know that?” she asked. “I’m only seven, remember?”
Larry looked at the back of the card. “The Normans and the English,” Larry said, “so now you know.”
“But how am I supposed to remember?” Missy asked. “I don’t have a notebook.”
Larry nodded in agreement. “True, let me get you one like mine,” he said.
Larry left the room for a moment before he returned to the room, notebook in hand. “Here you go my lady,” Larry said, handing it to her.
“But how am I going to write in it?” Missy asked.
Larry reached into the pocket of his pants and pulled out a multicolored pack of pens with the flourish of a street magician. “You pick your color,” he said.
Missy’s hand drifted over all the colors, not selecting one yet. “That was pretty neat. Almost like magic. Where did you learn that?” she asked as she picked the bright turquoise blue pen.
Larry flourished and made the pens disappear. “When I was doing time,” he replied. “I happened to share a cell with a con man who knew some magic. He taught me a few things and I made sure he didn’t get roughed up too badly.”
“What does rough him up mean?” Missy asked.
Larry thought for a moment. “I was like his protector. I tried to make sure he didn’t get hurt,” he said.
“So you were his knight?” Missy asked.
Larry blushed a bit. “Yeah, kind of,” he said.
Missy wrote a very fancy one on the front of her notebook. She showed it proudly to Larry. “Do you think I can show my mom when she comes to pick me up?” she asked.
Larry squirmed a bit. “Sure. I think she would enjoy seeing it,” he said.
Missy opened the book and began writing the question. “When do you think she will be here?” she asked.
“Aren’t you full of questions?” asked Larry.
“Well I’m seven years old,” replied Missy matter of factly. “It’s what I’m supposed to do.”
“Ah, well it might be long time,” Larry said. “She told me to tell you not to worry though. She would get here as soon as she could. She just needed to go to the bank and stuff first.”
Missy looked at Larry. “Really?” she asked. Larry didn’t respond right away. “Well good,” she said. “I don’t want to leave right now anyhow. You are much better than having to stay with my dad.”
“I’m sure your dad isn’t that bad,” Larry said.
“How do you spell Norman?” asked Missy.
“What?” asked Larry.
“How do you spell Normans? You said I should write the answer to remember,” she said.
“Oh,” Larry said. “N O R M A N S.”
“Are they like a bunch of people with Norman as a first name?” Missy asked.
Larry put the card away. “I don’t know. I just read the card,” he said.
Missy looked for what to stick in her notebook as a bookmark. Larry noticed and handed her a small strip of cloth. She meticulously placed it into her notebook and closed it. “You are so much nicer than my dad,” she said. “He doesn’t play games with me because he is always too busy.”
“Well your dad is an important man,” Larry replied as he picked up the dice. “That’s why you’re here with me.”
“But am I important?” asked Missy. Her eyes began to well up in tears.
Larry awkwardly stood and moved to Missy’s side of the board and gave her a wooden hug. “Don’t cry there. You’ll ruin the cards.”
Missy giggled and snuggled in deeper into his embrace. “I never get hugs. Thank you.”
Larry broke the hug. “Really? No hugs?” he asked.
Missy shook her head. “Nope. They are a sign of weakness,” she said. “That’s what daddy says. Mommy agrees with him too, at least I think so. She is busy too.”
Larry returned to his side of the board and rolled the dice. “So who watches you when you’re home from school?” he asked.
“I don’t need watching silly,” Missy said. “I’m a big girl. You said so.”
Larry moved to a sport square. “You are big, but you should still have an adult around,” he said. “I mean, just in case something bad happens.”
“But that’s why I have you,” Missy said. Missy picked up the next question.
Larry put his hand over hers. “Wait, so your parents really don’t do stuff with you?” he asked.
Missy shook her head. “They have other people like you come in to do that,” she said. She took her hand away and looked at the card. “What was,” Missy paused trying to figure out how to say the name. “Muhaamd Alley’s name before he changed it?”
“Mohamed Ali,” Larry said.
Missy flipped over the card. “Nope, it was,” again another pause, “Casssia Clay,” she said.
“Cassius Clay,” Larry said. “And I knew that, I was just trying to correct the way you said it.”
“Oh,” Missy said. She put the card on the discard pile and waited.
“It’s your turn,” Larry said.
“I screwed up your question,” Missy said softly.
“You just didn’t know how to say it. It’s okay,” Larry said.
“No it’s not,” Missy said. “I screwed up. I don’t want to play anymore.”
Larry looked at her confused. “Why not?” he asked.
“Usually mommy or daddy just get mad and walk away when I make a mistake,” Missy said. “I’m supposed to know better.”
“You’re a kid. You’re supposed to make mistakes,” Larry said. “It’s part of growing up.”
Missy shook her head. “That’s not what mommy and daddy say.”
“Well they are stupid,” Larry said.
Missy looked up with fear. “Don’t say that!” she said.
“Why not?” Larry asked.
“If they hear you they won’t let you play with me,” Missy said. “And I really like you. You listen to me and don’t yell or hit me.” Missy stopped, realizing she had gone too far.
Larry got off his chair and gave her another hug. Missy began to cry softly in his arms. “It’ll be okay,” he said. “I’ll figure out something.”
Missy nodded and stared at the board. “I’ll be right back,” Larry said.
Larry went into his bedroom and closed the door around without shutting it completely. Missy never looked up from the board. He took out his burner phone and texted “Do you have the money yet?”
A couple seconds later came the reply. “Not yet. It takes time to pull together a half a million dollars.”
Larry smashed the phone under his foot. He peaked through the door. Missy was writing the question she had just read into her notebook. She paused from writing and caught him staring at her. “I want to make sure I get it right next time, just like you,” she said. Her smile melted his heart even more. Larry looked at the smashed phone and back at the girl writing and wondered what he should do next.