She pulled out her billfold and took three one-hundred-dollar bills from the hidden fold behind the change slot. She had planned to deposit it in her account in the morning. Instead she put it on the coffee table.

Dan threw in two hundred forty. "We’re still short sixty."

"I’ve got sixty," Mark said.

"Al, where did you get three hundred dollars? You’re always cash poor," Dan said.

"Birthday money from Charlotte and Oliver," she answered.

"I’ll pay you guys back," Mark vowed. "I promise."

"No, that’s not how it works," Dan argued. "Next month it could be Al needing some help . . . or me. We don’t keep tabs." 

Allison nodded in agreement. "Are we done here? I’ve got to go."

"Where?" Dan asked.

She quickly explained about the seminar and once again headed to the door.

"Got your pepper spray?" Dan called.

"Yes."

"Keys?"

"Yes."

"Cell phone in case you get in trouble?"

"Yes."

"Switchblade?"

She laughed. "I don’t have a switchblade . . . and no, I’m not getting one."

"I was just making sure you were listening to me. Be careful."

As she was closing the door behind her, she could hear him still calling to her, "And don’t forget . . . be aware of your surroundings."

Dan was a worrier. He was the loving big brother she never had. She wasn’t forgetting about her cousin, Will. He just didn’t qualify. She had grown up with him, and he could have taken on a brotherly role in her life, but that had never happened. The only person he worried about was himself, and he certainly wasn’t loving.

She heard someone call her name from the other side of the street, and just as she turned to wave to one of her professors, her phone rang. She was in a great mood until she saw who was calling. It was her aunt, who never called unless there was a problem. Allison didn’t want to answer and considered letting it go to voice mail, but from experience she knew her aunt wouldn’t give up. She also knew that, with each call, her aunt would become more and more belligerent. Allison decided to get it over with and talk to her now.

"Hello."

"Hello, Allison. How are you?" As usual her aunt’s voice was rigid. The only time Allison had ever heard any affection in the woman’s tone was when she was talking to her son.

"I’m good," she replied. She reached the end of her block and stopped on the corner to let traffic pass before she crossed the street. The streetlights were just beginning to flicker on as dusk settled over the city.

"Are you keeping warm?"

"Yes."

"You’re not eating too much, are you? You know you have to stay away from carbs."

Allison sighed. Her aunt was never going to change. "No, I’m not eating too much."

"We’ve been told you’re the perfect size and weight."

Allison gritted her teeth. It was amazing she hadn’t developed an eating disorder. While she was in high school, it was salads every night. Her aunt was constantly counting Allison’s calories. The pressure was nerve-racking. "Yes, I know."

"Are you keeping warm? We can’t afford for you to get sick."

She’d already asked that question. Her aunt was rattled. Allison could hear the tension in her voice. Trying to rush her to explain the problem never worked, though. God knew, Allison had tried to speed up the process in the past. It just made her aunt more nervous and prolonged the silly chitchat until she finally circled around to the reason for her call.

"Yes, I’m keeping warm," Allison repeated.

"I’m sorry. What were you saying? Your uncle’s talking to me at the same time, and I . . ."

"Yes?" Allison stopped there.

"Have you spoken to Giovanni lately?"

"Yes. I talk to him every week. Why?"

"We’re going to need you to do a couple more modeling jobs as soon as possible. You’ll have to put school on hold for now."

Again? Oh, hell no. "Aunt Jane, it’s almost the middle of the semester. I can’t just quit again. I only need a few hours to graduate. How many times do you think the Jesuits will take me back? What happened?"

It was Will, of course. It was always Will. Allison didn’t dare ask what he had done now, because her aunt would get her back up. When it came to Will, his mother and father lived in Looney Tune Land. Nothing was ever his fault.

"Will could go to jail," her aunt blurted, her voice shaking with emotion. "Yes, you heard me. Jail."

"Why?"

"For something he didn’t even do," she said. "He didn’t steal anything. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and when the police came, he tried to tell them that, but they wouldn’t listen to him. Now they want to charge him with resisting arrest, too. He’s the victim here, and his attorney will prove he’s innocent. But there’s an issue with the lawyer’s retainer. . . ."