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ma petite

This is a "what if" vignette.  Anita is only about ten years old in this story and while attending the opera with her father, she meets a very handsome, intriguing Frenchman when she returns a lost earring to one of his dates.
Rated G
Disclaimer:  All characters, situations, and universe belong to Laurell K. Hamilton.  This is only a twisted hobby of mine and I will gleen no profit from its likes.

Anita sat on the bench outside of the theater, banging her heels together and impatiently twisting her long hair around her small fingers. She could see her father standing in line from where she sat. He hadn't moved an inch in the past ten minutes, which made Anita grateful he allowed her to sit here while he collected their tickets from the theater's will call window.

It was chilly out tonight. Autumn had pushed summer aside back in September. Now it was early November, and winter was already making its presence felt.

Anita plunged her hands into her coat pockets and scooted back farther on the bench. She watched the congested traffic in front of the theater for awhile, then turned her attention to the gathering crowd milling about outside the doors. People were talking with acquaintances or smoking cigarettes. Nothing very interesting there either. Just typical opera patrons.

Everyone looked old and rich, Anita thought. All the women were dripping with diamonds and shimmering in their designer gowns. The men wore tuxedos or suits and black bow ties beneath long camel-hair coats.

Anita was dressed up too, but the only adornment she wore was a red bow on a barrette which kept her unruly hair out of her eyes. She reached up and pulled her long locks over her ears, half-hoping it would warm them as well as hide them. She wished she was old enough to have her ears pierced. At least she could have worn earrings then and she wouldn't look quite so plain. Times like these made her feel out of place--like she didn't really belong here among such an opulent crowd.

It was important for children to be exposed to culture, her father had told her; which was why they were attending the likes of "La Traviata" in St. Louis, instead of vacationing in Florida at Disney World. But Anita was certain there wasn't another child in a five mile radius of this theater. She had searched the crowd in vain, but there wasn't even anyone under thirty years old in the near vicinity.

Sighing heavily, Anita turned her head in the opposite direction and looked across the street. Her eyes immediately fixed on two women huddled against a man crossing at the intersection. Anita sat up a little straighter. Now they looked interesting, and they were obviously heading for the theater too.

The two women were wearing fur stoles, but also donned slinky black dresses that seemed a little inappropriate, considering the chill in the air. And except for a white linen scarf draped loosely around the man's neck, he gave no evidence of being affected by the cold either. His black tuxedo coat was long and tailed, and reminded Anita of something a coachman would wear in an old period movie. The thigh high black boots he wore only added to this perception. All he needed was a long leather whip and a top hat....

But their attire wasn't the only thing that made this trio interesting. These people were young, compared to the rest of the opera's patrons, and all three were so startlingly gorgeous, Anita concluded they must be movie stars or cover models for fashion magazines.

Anita found them so intriguing, she couldn't seem to take her eyes off them. They moved as though they were one singular body, with a fluid grace, gliding along the street with the lightest of footfalls, despite the man's boots and the women's spindly three-inch heels. There was a distinct rhythm to the way they walked together that was absolutely mesmerizing. Especially the roll and sway of the man's slender hips. Maybe he was a dancer, Anita wondered. All three of them had that thespian-troupe demeanor. Cultured and refined and rich, like the usual theater attendees, but much more artistic and eccentric than the people Anita had observed earlier.

As the trio drew closer to her, something seemed to brush over Anita--an odd, cold sensation which gave her the chills and made her catch her breath. Watching them carefully, Anita gathered her coat tighter around her and hunched back on the bench.

Her movement caught the man's eye. He turned his head slightly and looked down at her as he walked by, flashing a quick, but dazzling smile at her. He had the most perfect face Anita had ever seen on a man. Glittering dark eyes, flawless pale skin, and thick, curvey lips. All attractively framed by a mass of long, spiraling black hair that just brushed the top of his shoulders. He was actually prettier than the two blonde women he was escorting, Anita thought.

Anita's eyes widened and her mouth fell open, gaping up at him. But in an instant they had glided past her, continuing on towards the theater. Strangely enough, the odd sensation Anita had felt as they happened upon her also faded. Maybe it was just the wind picking up, she told herself. That didn't explain the emptiness about it though, as if something was missing. Anita had always had a good sense of people. She could tell things about them by perceiving their life energies and vitality. These people felt different to her, but she couldn't understand why. There was still a sense about them, a power or specific presence, but the sensation was cold, vacant, and vaguely ominous. It was gone now though. Anita was glad it was.

Glancing towards her father, she was heartened by the fact he had actually moved up in the line, but not by much. He noticed his daughter's gaze and looked up at her and grinned.

Anita smiled back, waved, then sighed, focusing her attention back on the sidewalk in front of her.

A twinkle of color caught her eye. It was an earring lying on the ground right where those people had walked. It hadn't been there before, Anita was sure of it. Quickly, Anita scooted off the bench to retrieve it.

It was gold, real gold, with red gems in it, but it wasn't a pierced earring. It was one of those old-fashioned clip-ons. Anita looked up and searched the crowd for the man and the two blonde women. They were easy enough to spot, standing on the fringe of the crowd waiting to go inside. One of the women was wearing a red and gold necklace. Anita hadn't noticed it before, but then the man kind of distracted her....

The earring must be hers, Anita thought, and quickly debated whether she should return the earring to her now, before she got inside the theater. It would mean she'd have to leave the bench and her father for a minute. Would he get mad? She looked towards him again. He was still three people away from the will call window. Surely she'd have time to run up and return the earring. She'd come right back. He probably wouldn't even notice she'd gone anywhere.

Her mind made up, Anita scampered off towards the ethereally beautiful trio just outside the theater entrance. She slowed her pace before coming up to them, then stopped just behind the lady she suspected had lost the earring. Standing so close to them brought that strange feeling back however. Anita didn't understand it and it was making her inexplicably afraid of them. Resolutely ignoring the chills she was suddenly feeling, Anita cleared her throat tactfully.

"Excuse me," she proclaimed loudly.

All three turned as one and peered down at her expectantly.

Anita's eyes immediately locked on the man's face and all coherent thought suddenly left her. She stared up at him with wide dark eyes and swallowed thickly. God, he was so handsome, she thought. It was all she could think suddenly; she'd forgotten all about the earring.

He was mesmerizing, but he also didn't look real up close. He was almost too handsome--too beautiful. Anita couldn't speak and her fear of him increased twofold. She had the inane urge to turn back around and run away, which made her all the more determined to stay where she was.

For what seemed like a long time, Anita and the man stared at each other, the latter growing more puzzled with each silent second that ticked by. Finally, the woman on the man's left laughed lightly and turned her head to whisper in the man's ear.

"It would appear you have a little admirer here, Jean-Claude," she relayed in a thin, breathy voice. "Seems a bit young to be chasing men though. Even you."

The man, Jean-Claude, smiled at that, but kept his gaze firmly on Anita. Slowly, gracefully, he knelt down in front of her to address her at eye level.

Subconsciously, Anita took a step back from him which made the cordial smile fade from his face. He sighed softly and crossed his arms over his knee.

"What can I do for you, petite fille?" he asked. His voice was silky and deep and he had a distinctive French accent.

Ah, European. Anita should have guessed.

"Stop gawking child," the other woman piped up. "What is it you want?"

The woman's brusque manner succeeded in snapping Anita out of her haze. She took another step back.

"I'm not gawking!" Anita protested, her eyes narrowing at the woman in contempt. But when she focused her attention back on Jean-Claude, she could feel herself falling under his spell again. She couldn't seem to stop staring at him, which made her feel more uneasy.

Jean-Claude's _expression softened. He reached out his hand towards Anita, but she shook her head resolutely.

"Don't touch me," Anita warned, fighting the urge to shove him away. He was beautiful, but he was also scary, like a tiger was beautiful, but in a lethal kind of way.

Jean-Claude lowered his hand. "Come closer, little one," he murmured. "I won't bite."

At that the two women behind him all but dissolved in laughter.

Anita didn't understand what was so funny. She suddenly wished she hadn't come up to them. All three of them gave her the creeps. There was something wrong about them. Something not quite right.

Anita balled her hands up into tight fists and suddenly felt the earring she was holding dig into the skin of her palm. It all came flooding back to her then. Now she knew why she was subjecting herself to all this. A fast wave of relief washed over her. All she had to do was return the earring, and then she could flee back to the safety of her bench.

"Here!" she declared and thrust out her small hand towards Jean-Claude. "She lost this back there."

Jean-Claude raised his brow and tentatively held out his hand again.

Anita lurched forward, dropped the earring into his palm, and jumped back again.

Jean-Claude inspected the earring with a soft sigh, then held it up to the woman on his left. She took it from him, her confused _expression morphing into one of surprise.

Anita watched her hand automatically go to her ear, brushing aside her long blonde hair. Sure enough, her earlobe was conspicuously bare.

"Oh!" she exclaimed. "I wasn't even aware it was gone!" She immediately fastened it back on her ear, double-checking the clip to make sure it wasn't faulty. She peered down at Anita and smiled genuinely. "Why thank you, little girl!"

Anita nodded and turned her eyes back on Jean-Claude with a self-satisfied look. Jean-Claude smiled gently at her and inclined his head in a gracious bow.

"Merci beaucoup," he whispered to Anita. "That was very nice of you."

Anita could feel her uneasiness waver in the light of their expressed gratitude. Maybe they weren't so scary after all. And she liked the fact Jean-Claude had thanked her in French. It made her feel a little more sophisticated. She only wished she knew how to respond likewise. She didn't know much French, but she did know Spanish.

"De nada," Anita said finally, settling for her mother's native tongue.

Jean-Claude's smile widened. Anita noticed he had impeccably straight, white teeth.

"Tu hablas espanol?" he asked.

Surprised and delighted, Anita smiled now. "Si."

"Vas a asistir a la opera esta noche?"

Anita nodded. He had asked if she was attending the performance tonight.

Jean-Claude leaned towards her slightly and lowered his voice. "Ah, debi haberlo sabido, estas muy elegante y eres la nina mas linda aqui."

Anita felt herself blush and bowed her head. He had told her he should have known, because she was all dressed up and very pretty. The prettiest girl here. No man had ever said anything like that to her before.

"Thank you," she murmured and tried to smile at him.

"It is only the truth, ma petite," Jean-Claude told her. He reached up and touched one of Anita's long curls, then slipped his fingers beneath her chin and raised her head. She did not back away this time. Jean-Claude smiled and peered deeply into her eyes. "Look at me. There is no reason for you to feel afraid. I will not harm you."

A new feeling seemed to envelope Anita now. A reassuring sense of contentment and peace. It made her feel all warm and tingly inside. It helped soothe away her strange fears to the point she almost reached out and hugged him.

"Anita! Where are you?" It was her father calling. He must have gotten the tickets finally.

Anita turned her head and looked in his direction. She waved to get his attention.

"Over here!" she hollered back, then realized the distraction had obliviated her odd euphoria. Suddenly Anita recognized it for what it was. That sense of peace did not originate from her. It came from Jean-Claude. That was scarier still.

Jean-Claude looked perplexed all of a sudden. It made Anita wonder if he knew she had shaken off his projection of assurance.

"I have to go now," Anita mumbled, wrapping her arms around herself and backing slowly away.

"Shall we, Jean-Claude?" the woman on the right impatiently urged. "I want to go in and sit down."

Nodding, Jean-Claude rose slowly to his feet, keeping his eyes on Anita. The two women immediately attached themselves to his arms again and pressed themselves up against him.

"I'm not afraid of you," Anita said to Jean-Claude, planting her small hands firmly on her hips.

Jean-Claude raised his brow. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "I can see that, Anita. Yet I know you resist me. I find that curious."

Smirking for all she was worth, Anita purposefully took a step towards him. "Yeah, well, maybe you're not as irresistible as you think."

The women tittered at that, but Jean-Claude only sighed heavily and shook his head.

"Your father has called you. We must go as well, so I bid you au revoir," he told Anita, his voice rubbing against her skin like the satin on her dress. "Have a pleasant night, ma cherie."

Anita scowled at him. "I'm not your 'cherie'," she quipped.

Jean-Claude smiled gently and shrugged. "Perhaps one day, ma petite, you will be." He winked at her then and turned the two women on his arms back towards the theater entrance.

Anita pressed her fists into her cheeks to stave off the impending blushing. She watched Jean-Claude walk away, feeling strangely liberated at the same time. The strange empty coldness was gone again, and the air, despite its chill, felt fresh and clean and full of life. Life? Was that what had been missing? The sense of it was all around her now where before there had been...nothing.

Anita turned on her heel and raced towards her father. She flung herself into his arms and hugged him mightily, absorbing his strength, his warmth, his life.

"Anita, what is it?" he inquired, prying his daughter's arms from around his waist. "You're trembling." He leaned down and pressed a soft kiss on her forehead. "Come on. Let's get inside and warm you up."

Anita forced a smile and leaned into her father. She really did feel good now: contented and at peace. Maybe all that before had been her imagination running away again. Maybe it was just the weather and the wind after all. She'd be sure to ask her grandmother about it anyway. Just in case.


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