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2.

David Rossi


He's in the middle of closing up when the door opens, stacking overturned chairs on top of the tables so Eduardo might actually clean the floor tomorrow morning instead of just dragging the mop around the legs of the chairs and hoping Dave doesn't notice.

"We're closed," he says without looking up, but the door doesn't open again and when he does look up, he's staring at a teenage girl with a backpack on one shoulder and a baby on the other.

He pegs her at about seventeen, eighteen at most. Skinny kid with straight dark hair bunched into a messy ponytail and an expression that is equal parts vulnerable and equal parts don't fuck with me.

"I need a job." She is telling, not asking. "Any job."

Dave is still trying to process this when the baby stirs and starts to make an unhappy noise. The girl hushes it by rubbing circles on its back until it quiets and starts glancing around the restaurant.

"Babysitting isn't paying enough these days?" Dave asks. He doesn't have a job for her or for anybody else. The restaurant is still in the red and he's thinking about laying off Eduardo as it is, though more of that has to do with the busboy's general incompetence than financial circumstances. Damn if he isn't curious, though, as to what the hell a teenage girl is doing in his place almost midnight on a Tuesday. Doesn't she have homework, or parents?

The girl's expression soften as she looks the baby. "I'm not babysitting," she says stoically, shifting the baby onto her hip. "She's my kid."

Well.

That makes things a little more interesting.

Dave can tell he is going to need to sit down for this, and it dawns on him that the girl --- girls --- might not have had dinner yet. "Do you like soup?"

She cocks her head to the side and smiles, sarcastic but mostly grateful. "Who doesn't like soup."

Over a bowl of minestrone (his Nonna's recipe) and half of loaf of ciabatta, he learns that the girl's name is Emily and the baby's is Miranda. Emily is sixteen. Miranda is six months, and very advanced for her age.

Dave asks if she does tricks, and as if on cue Miranda looks up from the piece of bread she's been gumming on and reaches out for him.

"I told you," Emily says smugly. "Very advanced."

By then Miranda is stretching out her little arms in earnest and Dave picks her up just because he is afraid the highchair will tip over. He's not even sure where the highchair came from.

It's the first time he has held a baby since Jamie, which is surprising, really, since he comes from an Italian family that seems to multiply like spores. Miranda is older than Jamie was, older than he will ever be. She is warm and loud and determined to put her finger into Dave's nose.

(Dave will learn this soon enough: Miranda believes everyone who meets her loves her, because everyone who meets her does.)

"I don't want her to grow up like I did," Emily says, as Dave settles the baby on his lap and asks what brought them here. "I --- moved around a lot, when I was a kid. I just want her to belong somewhere. And, I don't know. This seems like a nice place."

It's the first time since she stepped through his door that Emily Prentiss actually looks unsure of herself.

"You said something about a job?" Dave hears himself saying. He's always wanted to fire Eduardo anyway.

He gives her a place to stay as well, because the only choices nearby are limited to a kitschy bed-and-breakfast designed to rob tourists and a seedy motel down by the Interstate occupied mostly by truckers and prostitutes.

Jimmy thinks it's a bad idea, Dave letting them live in his poolhouse. Whatever happened to help thy neighbor, Dave asks him. It isn't like he is asking them to live with him, which admittedly would make the town think he was a wife-collecting, mob-affiliated millionaire recluse. Which the town already does anyway, so fuck the town.

"David," Jimmy says, and Dave winces. The last time he heard this tone in Jimmy's voice was at his son's funeral. "Are you screwing this girl?"

"Jesus fucking Christ," says Dave, forgetting that he is talking to a priest. "No."

"Are you going to screw this girl?"

Dave wonders if he would go to hell for punching a priest. He's probably going to hell for a myriad of other transgressions anyway, so it probably doesn't matter. "I'm only helping the poor kid out, all right? If you're really that concerned, I'll throw her and her baby out onto the street."

Jimmy shakes his head and doesn't say anything else. Never mentions it again.

When Dave gets back to the restaurant, there are a legion of Crown Vics out front and about two dozen FBI agents with their weapons drawn. Emily, apron still tied around her waist, is arguing with a woman in the window, a brunette with a severe expression whom Dave thinks he has seen before. An actress, maybe, on one of those daytime soaps Carolyn hated to admit she loved.

Turns out the brunette is Emily's mother (no surprise) and her name is Ambassador Elizabeth Prentiss (surprise) and Dave discovers himself suddenly wanted on two counts of federal kidnapping charges. ("Really?" he will say to Emily afterwards. "You couldn't have told me your mother, the Ambassador, was looking for you?")

None of the agents bother with cuffs, especially when the baby starts crying and the unmistakable smell of a soiled diaper fills the room. The agents look at each other and then at Dave, and Dave says, "For god's sake." They don't stop him when he walks into the backroom where Miranda is red-faced and wailing inside the playpen Emily set up.

"Hey there," Dave says, taking the baby by her pudgy middle and holding her at arm's length, a time-bomb that has already exploded. "Your mom's busy so you're stuck with me for now. Now, you're stinking up my restaurant which can't be good for business. Let's do something about it."

There is a changing table in the ladies' room and Miranda's diaper bag is sitting on the beat up old softa where Dave spends his nights whenever he's too tired or lazy to go home.

"Here you go, sweetheart," he sing-songs as he unsnaps the yellow sleeper and pulls off the plastic tabs.

Dave never changed his son's diaper. Never had the chance. But Carolyn's sister had a baby girl around the time Carolyn announced her pregnancy, and everyone in the family was determined to make him practice. From feeding to burping to changing diapers, they made him practice.

Changing a diaper is more or less like riding a bike, and within minutes he's got Miranda all cleaned up and sweet-smelling like all babies should be.

"Here you go," Dave says again, lifting her onto his shoulder. Her eyes are wide and wet but her sobs have tempered into hiccups and as she buries her face against his neck, he realizes that Jimmy's right, that son of a bitch. This is a bad idea, a monumentally bad idea.

("They're not yours, he can almost hear Jimmy saying in that irritatingly patient tone of his.)

(But Jimmy's wrong. They are his, and eventually Jimmy himself will admit, yes, they've always been his.)

By this time, the Ambassador has decided to throw in the towel and when Dave goes back into the other room with the baby, the agents are already re-holstering their Glocks and getting ready to harass the next unsuspecting Good Samaritan.

Miranda beams as her mother enters her sight. Dave lets Emily take her and heads towards the kitchen. No way will they open in time for lunch, but if he hurries he might be able to turn the lunch special into dinner's. Thursday is chicken cacciatore. His own recipe.

Emily is at his heels, apologizing. "My mom, she overreacts." She stops, fusses with Miranda's collar a little. "Are you going to make me leave?"

Years later, at Miranda's birthday party --- this will be the year she turns thirteen, skinny like her mother was but far less damaged --- the Ambassador will say to him. "You should've turned her away."

Dave will not answer, but Elizabeth Prentiss won't be looking for one. "You should have sent that girl and her baby back home, where they belonged. You had no right to keep them."

Miranda will defuse the situation, taking her grandmother by the arm in a way Emily at her age would never have done, and say, "Grandma, it's time to cut the cake. One of them anyway. I couldn't decide what I wanted, so Penny made four. You can cut one of them, but not the one shaped like my face, because that would be weird."

"We're a pretty weird crowd here, in case you haven't noticed," Emily will yell from the other side of the room. Her eyes will meet Dave's and she will smile at him. Dave will think, Maybe the Ambassador is right, maybe he should have sent those girls back.

But he didn't, and he's glad. He's glad.



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