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Good Neighbors

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It was only polite to bring a welcome gift to new neighbors, so Allison found herself standing on the doorstep of the Andressy house with a plate of cookies. Ordinarily, she'd be excited, but it still stung that Buzz had ignored his tennis date with her to pursue the new girl in town. Up to that point, Allison had mostly seen the charming side of Buzz, but she had to admit this side of him wasn't charming at all.

Allison had expected the butler to answer the door (the Andressys were the only family in town with a butler), but instead, Francesca answered it herself.

"Hello," Francesca said, looking curiously at Allison and her plate of cookies.

Allison smiled her best 'good neighbor' smile. "Hi! I'm Allison--I live down the street." She offered Francesca the plate of cookies. "I brought you these, to welcome you to the neighborhood."

Francesca looked delighted. "Thank you, Allison! My name is Francesca. This is most gentille of you." She reached for the plate of cookies, then hesitated. "May I?"

"Of course! They're for you," Allison said, handing Francesca the plate.

"Won't you come in?" Francesca asked.

"Thank you," Allison said, following Francesca inside.

"Perhaps you'll help me eat a few of your cookies while we talk," Francesca said with a smile.

Allison laughed. "I'd be glad to!"

They sat on the living room sofa, with the plate of cookies between them. Allison waited politely for Francesca to take the first cookie, which she did.

"Mm," Francesca said, delighted by her first bite. "You are a very talented baker!"

"Thank you," Allison said, feeling proud. Francesca seemed so fashionable that Allison had worried plain old chocolate chip cookies wouldn't seem like anything special to her. She was glad to be wrong. "Is this your first time in America?"

Francesca nodded. "I wish I'd been here longer. At the beginning, I never feel I really belong to a place."

"Oh," Allison said, "I wouldn't worry about that. You're very elegant. Everyone thinks so."

"Everyone?" Francesca said with a frown.

"Well," Allison said hesitantly, "it didn't look like you were having any trouble with the boys earlier."

"Oh, them," Francesca said. "I think they were trying to make a good impression, but Buzz doesn't seem to like Wilby very much."

That seemed strange to Allison. "They're best friends!"

"Vraiment?" Francesca said, looking surprised. "He did all he could to be alone with me at the museum, and leave Wilby behind."

Actually, now that Allison thought about it, when Buzz had been dating her, he'd never offered to bring Wilby with him, or to arrange a double date. "You're right. And he was so interested in meeting you--" She cut herself off, realizing she'd gotten so comfortable she'd almost been rude.

"What is it?" Francesca prompted.

Allison blushed. "Well, he sort of forgot his date with me."

"But you're so kind!" Francesca said, looking mortified. "Allison, truly, I'm sorry. I didn't know."

"Of course you didn't," Allison said. "I don't blame you. There's a word for boys who aren't satisfied with just one girl, and it starts with Casa and ends in nova."

Francesca giggled. "We have this word in French too. But come, such a boy shouldn't ruin our afternoon. Let's talk about something else."

Allison was happy to oblige. "Do you move a lot?"

"Oui," Francesca said. "My father's work takes us many places, and they're all beautiful in their own way, but I want to choose one place and call it home for a while."

"I envy you," Allison said. "I've lived in Medfield my whole life, and I'd love to travel."

"Then you know this town well," Francesca said. "Will you show me?"

Allison laughed. "The whole town?"

"No," Francesca said. "But you must know where all the best places are."

"I don't have a car," Allison said, "but if you don't mind walking, I'd be happy to show you around."

"I don't mind at all," Francesca said.

"And you can tell me stories about all the places you've lived!" Allison said, taking a cookie.

Francesca laughed. "I consider that more than fair." She reached over the cookies to pat Allison's hand. "I'm glad you came to the house today. I hope we'll be friends!"

Allison smiled. "So do I."

***

Francesca had barely opened the door when Allison wrapped her in a hug. "Are you all right?"

So the story of her adventure had gotten out. "I suppose."

Allison pulled back, looking anxious. "What does that mean? Are you hurt?"

"Non, non," Francesca said, feeling guilty for making her friend worry. She stepped aside to let Allison in, closing the door behind her. "Only my pride is hurt."

Allison nodded sympathetically. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Francesca shrugged as they walked toward the living room. "I don't know what to say. I never saw that side of my father before." He'd always been so gentle to her, so kind. She hadn't known he was capable of such things--committing crimes, threatening her and the people she cared about.

"Of course not," Allison said. "I'm glad he didn't hurt you."

"But he would have," Francesca said. That was the hardest thing to acknowledge--that her father had been someone completely different than she'd thought.

"It sounds scary," Allison said.

"It was," Francesca said. "It all blurs after I fell in the water. I remember Chiffon got me to safety."

"I'm glad he was there," Allison said.

Francesca nodded. "Me too." She looked down. "I'm sorry I can't take him with me."

"Where are you going?" Allison asked, looking worried.

"I have family in France," Francesca said. "I'll go to them." She shook her head. "I hoped this would be a place I could stay, but it seems impossible now."

"Well...what if a family here took you in?" Allison asked. "Let you finish the school year?"

Francesca frowned. "What family would do that?"

"Mine," Allison said. "I'm sure they'll let you stay with us, if I explain what happened!"

Francesca shook her head. "No one will trust me."

Allison folded her arms. "That's silly. Unless you want me to believe you made your father kidnap you."

That made Francesca laugh in spite of herself. "You're very kind, Allison. You always have been."

Allison shrugged, looking a little self-conscious. "I just want to help."

Francesca didn't know if she'd be able to convince her aunt and uncle to let her stay here with Allison's family, but she'd try. "All right. I'll talk to my family and you can talk to yours. But if they say no, I understand."

"They won't say no," Allison insisted.

Francesca smiled. "If they're like you, I believe they won't."

"Besides," Allison said, "I'd miss you if you left."

The thought warmed Francesca. "I'd miss you too. But I'd write you letters, and invite you to visit me."

Allison's eyes widened. "In France?"

"Absolument," Francesca said. "So you see, whatever happens, one of us gets something she wants."

Allison nodded. "Well, I'd better get home. I'm supposed to help with dinner. I just wanted to make sure you were really okay."

"I'm always better when you visit," Francesca said. If Allison could be so open and honest, Francesca could too. "I'll see you soon."

Allison smiled. "Absolument."