Charlie watched her silently as the pick-pocket crunched and chewed contentedly on her fourth slice of pizza with extra black olives, dangling her small legs that weren't even close to reaching the floor. Occasionally she would kick his leg but he would ignore it. Not her fault.
"Jeez, kid, I ain't ever seen someone eat so much at once," Charlie said honestly, flicking some ashes from his cigarette.
Lacy opened her mouth and let out a deafening belch from the deepest depths of her belly that would have put the likes of Al Capone to shame. "Oops!" A furious blush spread across her cheeks. She slapped a hand over her mouth and closed her eyes, embarrassed beyond belief.
"Hey." Charlie hit his hand on the table. Lacy cringed and said through her hands, "It was an accident."
"I never said it wasn't. Excuse yourself."
"Excusee," Lacy said, smiling.
In the hour or so Charlie and Lacy had spent together, he had learned seven somewhat important or interesting things: Lacy lived with her mother, by whom he could assume was an old drunk, her father died in a, "Big fight," which he assumed was the war, she had a baby brother named Tommy, she loved the colors pink and green, she'd never been to school, which obviously meant she could not read or write, and she still had the teddy bear given to her the day she was born, which was the best day of the year, July 4th. But most blatantly, he had learned this kid could eat.
But what was he going to do with her? He didn't want her…here with him much longer. This 'date' had already gone way longer than he had anticipated. He had places to go, people to see, business to conduct. He couldn't spend all day…babysitting. He had already delicately approached the subject of getting her home, and her face abruptly drained of any happiness, and Charlie quickly changed the subject, asking something like," What are your goals in life, sunshine?"
Lacy contemplated this for a little while, oddly picking the peperoni off the pizza, which Charlie noted said nothing. She frowned and made a small disapproving noise. "What's,' goals' mean?" she wondered.
Charlie thought for a moment. "Stuff you wanna do before you die," he explained in the simplest way he was able to manage.
"Oh!" Lacy nodded as if something inside of her head clicked and everything all of a sudden make clear sense. "I get it!" She smiled at him and it was the sweetest smile he had seen in a very long time. Plenty of smiles had been directed his way before, but this felt like the first, made of angel fleece. Then she said, "I wanna marry someone like you!"
Charlie nearly choked on his coffee.
"Uh-huh," Lacy said, picking off the last piece of peperoni and setting it on top of the pile beside her plate. "And you know what else? I wanna go to school and I wanna see an elephant. But I wanna marry someone like you." They looked at each other evenly for several seconds; neither one blinking until suddenly, she spoke again, leaning in close towards Charlie as if she were whispering to him a deep, dark secret. "Are you married?"
At this, Charlie let a large smile spread over his features, his brown eyes dancing with genuine amusement of the likes he hadn't felt in quite a while. "No, honey, I'm not. Are you?" he asked, raising his eyebrows.
Lacy made a face between a smile and a frown. "I'm not, either," she whispered, chewing on her thumb. She rested her chin in her hands and said, "Do you wanna marry me?"
This time Charlie did choke on his coffee. "Well," he said, looking at his folded hands, "baby face, there's only room for one woman in my heart." He made a fist over his chest. "My mama, bless her soul."
Lacy scowled deeply, her brow knitting together in anger, crossing her arms. She harrumphed and turned away from Charlie, who was still giggling in enjoyment at the pick-pocket. A hand over his mouth was all that kept him from bursting into hysterical laughter at the sight of the pouting child. "What's the matter?" he laughed. "Huh?" He shook her shoulder lightly.
Lacy bowed her head.
"Aw, don't be that way," he chuckled. "C'mere." Charlie, though it was a strange thing to admit, very much disliked people being unhappy around him. It had never seemed like his job to cheer them up until just now. "Look at me, baby girl. There are better guys out there than me. How old are you?"
A small smile began to tug at the corners of Lacy's mouth. Charlie knew he had her now.
"Eight in November," she said.
"Oh, like me. So see? Don't you even start lookin' at boys 'till you're eighteen. And when you do marry someone, make sure he treats ya like a princess. Make sure he stops ya from picking pockets. You deserve better than that." Again, Charlie was baffled at what he was babbling on and on about. But he couldn't seem to stop himself.
Finally, Lacy broke. "Okay, I promise!" She spat into her hand and reached across the table for a handshake, green eyes wide and hopeful.
Charlie sighed in annoyance and slight disgust. He reached into his vest pocket, pulling out his trusty handkerchief and wrapping it around his hand. He then shook with Lacy, who hardly seemed to care or even take note. Charlie was surprised at how large his hands were. It swallowed Lacy's up in his grip, just disappearing.
"You done your sulkin'?" Charlie asked, rising to his feet to take the kid home, or…away from him.
"Sure," Lacy said, clearly having no idea what the meaning of the word, but agreeing with whatever Charlie had to say.
"Good girl." Charlie restrained a small smile and an eye roll as he led her out of his childhood hangout and back onto the streets of New York.
The house was barely three blocks away from Central Park, a dingy white square itself, a large backyard with half green, half brown grass and a tricycle lying by the dying maple tree. "My home," Lacy said, stretching her arms out in pride. "Come on, Mr. Luciano, you can meet my mama and Tommy-"
"I gotta go, sweetheart," Charlie told her. Not to his surprise, her eyes watered and her lip quivered, sticking out like a shelf.
"Hey." He placed his hand on top of her head and left it there. "Remember-no boys 'till you turn eighteen, stop pickin' pockets and start makin' clean money, and keep your chin up."
Lacy nodded, no longer grimacing, but not exactly smiling, either. "Okay. Bye-bye."
And just like that, the pick-pocket was gone, bounding down the walkway, up the steps, and into her home just like that, never looking back or slowing down.
The rest of Charlie's day went as any other day would have gone, and honestly he had never realized how dull his life was. The only highlight was at Arnold's when he was carrying his usual glass of milk to him and tripped over the carpet, nearly spilling it all over the floor but catching it at the last second. He had a good laugh, but he didn't laugh nearly as hard as he had at the sight of Lacy Lawrence angry in the corner.
That night at Charlie settled in under his silk sheets in his nice, cozy bedroom, he wondered what it would be like to be poor again. Little Lacy reminded him so much of him when he was young, a dirty street urchin worthy of no one's respect. He still looked in the mirror from time to time and seen that young teenager again, seen those sad eyes of his and hid filthy face and clothes for a split second. From time to time that's all he could see, all day.
If only someone would have been kind to him at that young age like he was to Lacy. Even just once would have meant more than the world to him. He felt a weird, tingly sensation in the pit of his stomach at the thought. He must have made her life.
Charlie fell asleep, somehow feeling a tremendous amount better about the world.