Alyona ran along the road, glancing at her watch every now and then. She was very late, but there was nothing she could do about it. I couldn’t catch a taxi, and I had to stay late at work.
«But never mind,» she thought, «I’ll come anyway. – she reassured herself.
The phone rang incessantly. When she finally picked up the phone, she heard her friend’s angry cry: — Well, where do you go? The meeting has already begun.
— Yes, I’m running. with these words, the young woman walked up the steps of the school.
Literally jumping into the office where the parents’ meeting was going on, she exhaled. A friend pulled a chair over to her and motioned for her to come to her. Her parents gave her a disapproving look. The homeroom teacher did the same.
— How long has it started? Alyona asked in a whisper.
— It’s been going on for 20 minutes. You haven’t missed anything serious yet. As usual: handing over money for repairs, for security. In short, another rip-off.
«Am I bothering you?» – the homeroom teacher Margarita Vitalievna made a remark.
Alyona made a hand gesture resembling closing a zipper. After the meeting, when many parents began to get up and leave, Margarita Vitalievna called Alena to her.
— Alyona Pavlovna, I need to have a serious talk with you. At the general meeting, I did not bring up this topic. I decided to discuss everything personally.
Alena was alerted by this appeal. And her premonition did not deceive her.
— Your daughter Anna has been acting strangely lately. She comes to lessons when she wants to, when she doesn’t want to, she doesn’t come. She slipped from an excellent student almost into a two-year student. And a couple of days ago they came from the store. A security guard caught her trying to steal a package of chips. I took the most expensive and largest. It feels like she wanted to be caught.
— What a nightmare.
— I don’t know what’s going on in your family, but my advice to you is to have a serious conversation with your daughter.
Alyona thanked the teacher for the information provided, glanced at her watch and left. She walked all the way home and thought that she had done something wrong in raising her daughter.
— Maybe it’s not too late to fix everything? – thought the young woman, tapping her heels on the pavement.
In her family, indeed, not everything was smooth. Alyona’s mother was very ill. She was almost recumbent. Anna’s father, Slavik, has recently been sitting at home without work. The woman had to work in order to feed her family. Slavik didn’t really like working anyway, and now he’s completely lazy. He spent his days watching TV or playing backgammon with friends. Alyona plunged into her work. She worked all day, and in the evening she rushed to her mother. The upbringing of the daughter at that time fell on the shoulders of the father. But since he didn’t take care of the girl, she was left to herself for days on end.
Alyona was sitting at the table and waiting for her daughter. She went to visit a friend, in the afternoon, but has not yet returned.
— But where do you go? – with these words, the woman took her mobile phone and dialed her daughter’s number.
There were long beeps in the receiver. No one answered. Alyona called again. There was no answer. The woman began to call the girl’s friends, but they had not seen Anna for two days. Alyona glanced at her watch and leaned on her elbow. At that moment, the sound of the door opening was heard.
— Where have you been?
— And where – hello, daughter!? How are you? What’s new with you? Or is it unfashionable to greet a child now?
— hello. Where have you been?
— I was at Nadya Vereshkova’s, why? Have you been looking for me?
Having carefully looked at her 12-year-old daughter, Alyona told about her conversation with the class teacher.
— After all, the class complained, right? That’s a lying bastard. She promised not to betray me.
— Anna, watch your tongue, — Alyona made a remark to her, — So maybe you can explain to me what’s the matter here?!
— Well, we argued with the guys that I would take out this package. I took it out. I was scolded, they told you. The conflict is settled. Now, give me something to eat.
Alyona did not delve into the details of the dispute, only warned that this would not happen again in the future. She fed her daughter and went to talk to her husband. He was sitting and watching TV. Alyona told him about the shoplifting and about the girl’s behavior.
— I’m asking you, as a father, talk to her. You’re at home, not if you can’t follow her. I’m working and I can’t control it. You can do it. Pay attention to what she is interested in and does. Slavik listened attentively to his wife and only nodded in response to her words.
— OK. I’ll do everything.
But the parents didn’t know that this was just the tip of the iceberg. In the evening, when they fell asleep, the girl dressed, took her leather backpack and stood on the windowsill. She opened the window and looked down. Their apartment was on the ground floor. The house was old, and the basement was low. There was a whistle.
— Hey, kid, get down quickly, we’re just waiting for you, – said a young man standing in the dark and carefully watching the girl’s actions, — Help? – he added and came closer.
— Thank you, no need. It’s not high here. – with these words, the girl went down.
— Let’s go quickly. – the young man told her, giving her his hand and helmet.
His name was Igor. He could drive a moped. He wore a leather jacket. And he had curly blond hair. As soon as Anna sat down, Igor hit the gas, and they drove off. Very soon they arrived at an abandoned house. Once there was a kindergarten here. For what reason the building turned out to be uninhabited, no one knew.
— We’ve arrived. – said Igor. Anna famously jumped off the moped and hurried into the building.
There were large barrels, from which flames were constantly peeking out. There were six other people inside, among whom was the girl’s friend Mariana. When she saw Anna, she ran up to her and hugged her.
«I’m so glad you came,» she said, and taking the girl by the hand, led her to the others, «Here. This is Anna. She wants to be with us too.
«Does she know what we’re doing here?» – the red-haired young man asked, carefully examining the new acquaintance.
— He knows. She passed the test yesterday. – Igor said in response, — The package of chips was successfully stolen.
There was applause. And Anna saw a young man who was applauding her. It was Vladlen. He looked to be about 18 years old. He had a year in an educational colony behind him. According to rumors, he stole something, he was found, punished. The boy’s parents were not so much wealthy as influential. Mom worked as a judge, and dad worked in the prosecutor’s office. After learning about his criminal activities, they decided to teach him a lesson and did not help with solving this problem.
After a year of educational work, they still returned him home, giving an obligation to monitor the activities of his son. After watching all the delights of a children’s colony for minors, Vladlen decided to organize a computer club. Parents were glad that their son was on the path of truth, helped with the discovery, supported. They didn’t even realize that the club was a cover. Unofficially, Vladlen organized a private interest club. Here he invited only people who shared his views on life. Among them were mostly children from disadvantaged families.
Mariana’s mother was in prison for murdering her stepfather. She was raised by her grandparents.
Oleg’s dad drank heavily and periodically beat his mother and the boy himself.
Yulia’s parents divorced. The girl’s father was a drug addict, and her mother often drank.
Sergei was beaten by his stepfather.
Valera’s parents had an accident. The boy was raised by his mother’s sister.
The children gathered in the club were from 12 to 14 years old. Vladlen was the oldest in the group. He made the rules.
— Well, since you have already passed a little baptism of fire, Anka machine gunner, come to us. Now Sergey will tell us the plan of action. – said
Vladlen, carefully examining the girl. Unlike the others, Anna’s family was complete. And even though the girl’s father was not working at that time, he never raised a hand against her mother. She had heard a lot about the club from Mariana. According to her, it was very cool there. Besides, she really liked Igor. Because of him, she decided to get here.
Sergey took out the package, opened it and laid it on a large concrete slab lying on the floor. It was like some kind of plan.
As it turned out, a gang of minors planned to rob a beauty salon. Vladlen called such actions a «courtesy visit.»
— Today we will pay a «courtesy visit» to the Beauty salon. Take only the most valuable things – computers, hair clippers. Vladlen was saying, carefully watching Anna’s reaction.
The girl listened attentively to Vladlen and did not take her eyes off Igor.
— Anna and Mariana, you have a visit to the stylist. Pay attention to the presence of cameras, alarms, the location of the balcony and other points. If possible, take a photo. We’ll do it again. Very soon we will provide ourselves with a comfortable and happy life. – he continued.
— Again? Have you done this before? Anna whispered to her friend.
— yes. Four salons have already been robbed this week. This will be the fifth.
Vladlen talked for a long time, but Anna hardly listened to him anymore. She was in a kind of euphoria. She wanted so much to become an adult as soon as possible. It seemed that adults could do anything.
The next day, as planned, after school, Anna and Mariana went to the salon. They found out everything Vladlen asked them to do. Having received all the necessary information, he praised the girls and advised them to prepare for the evening «courtesy visit». In the evening, Anna went to her first job. There were no alarms and cameras in the barbershop. They entered through the balcony. The salon was on the ground floor. A group of four people went inside, breaking the glass. There was not much money in the cash register. The robbers had to take computers and professional hair clippers.
While Anna and Mariana were taking pictures sitting in an armchair, Sergey and Igor were taking out valuables. Vladlen’s black minivan was parked at the barber shop, where the young people were putting the loot.
— Girls, stop showing off. Get out already, or we’ll leave without you. – said Sergey, getting into the car. Vladlen was driving.
— Is everything okay, guys? – he asked, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel.
Anna and Mariana were already leaving the salon when someone called out to them.
— Anna. What are you doing here?
The girls turned around and saw Anna’s neighbor – a dry little old man. He was holding a small shaggy dog on a leash.
— Hello. We are walking. And you? Anna quickly got her bearings.
— My Bobik broke free again and ran away, damned. I ran three yards after him. Barely caught up. And what are you? – the old man paused, realizing what was the matter, — Does your mother know?
— Sorry, we have to go. Mariana said, taking Anna’s hand. And they both walked quickly to the car.
«Who was that?» Vladlen asked when the girls jumped into the car.
— Nobody. My neighbor. Anna said softly, looking down.
Vladlen, Sergey and Igor exchanged glances. Understanding each other, they got out of the car and followed the old man.
— What’s going to happen now? Anna asked, trying to peer into the darkness.
— He saw us. Can pawn. Don’t worry, the guys will figure it out. – her friend answered her.
— How’s that? Anna clung to the glass and began to look.
The boys approached Grandpa from both sides. One of them knocked him down. The second one started beating. The old man fell to the ground and covered his face with his hands.
— What are you doing? Leave him alone. You’re going to kill him like that. Anna screamed, running out of the car.
— Tell someone about us, you’re fucked. Understood? – Igor asked Grandpa.
«Don’t mess with us. – Sergey said and kicked Bobik, who ran up to the old man. The dog whined.
«You’re a fool, Anya,» Igor said, and after a pause, he added, «keep your mouth shut. Otherwise…» he leaned the knife against his throat and made a movement with his hand.
«But he had a knife. They could have easily killed the old man. – that’s all the girl had time to think when she heard the screech of brakes.
She looked around. The minivan has already left. Then Anna immediately ran up to the victim. The old man was lying on the ground and muttering incoherently. The girl bent down and lifted his head.
— How are you?
— Nothing, – said the neighbor in a hoarse voice, — I will live.
Anna helped the old man get up and walk home. She went up to his house with him. Bobik ran after him. Entering the apartment, the girl saw a mess. The old man’s name was Nikolai Valentinovich. His wife has been dead for a long time. He had no children. A lonely old man did not really keep himself clean. He was not very sociable and hardly talked to anyone. The man’s only joy was the dog. Nikolai Valentinovich sat down in an armchair and clutched his head.
Anna ran to the kitchen, found bandages, peroxide and treated the man’s wounds.
— How did you decide to do this? You’re a good girl. Your parents are normal. They’re not your company. – the neighbor suddenly said, massaging his temples with his fingers.
— I thought it would be fun… in an adult way. I don’t even know what I was thinking to myself.
— Daughter, I’m a former school teacher. They are not your equal. And you can ruin your whole life because of a stupid accident.
Anna just looked down.
— They are angry and stupid. So after all, they can kill.
Anna made a neighbor tea, covered him with a warm blanket and waited until he fell asleep in the chair, went home.
The next day she ran to a neighbor to find out how he was doing. He got hit pretty bad, so he could barely walk. The girl helped him up, cleaned the apartment, walked Bobik and fed the neighbor. She felt some kind of responsibility for him.
— Don’t be afraid, I don’t hold a grudge against you. You are a good and kind girl. Thank you for everything. – the neighbor told her in gratitude.
Anna blushed and curiously examined the wooden box on the coffee table by the sofa.
— Handmade. A friend gave it to me. He was in prison. There was fire, water and copper pipes. She has a secret. The time will come, and you will find out with what. – the old man said, laughing.
Since then, Anna began to come to the neighbor every day. He liked to tell her about his youth, about his wife. And she listened and helped him with the housework. Unbeknownst to herself, the girl began to change for the better. Changes in her behavior were noticed at school and at home.
This went on for two whole months. But one day she came home and saw an ambulance. Anna ran to the fourth floor and knocked on a neighbor’s door.
— Don’t knock, he’s dead. – the neighbor from the apartment opposite answered her.
— How did he die? – Anna did not believe.
— He became ill this afternoon and died. – the neighbor from the apartment opposite answered her, — Aren’t you Anna?
The girl nodded.
— Come here. He came to see me yesterday. As if he felt something. He asked me to look after the dog and left you something. – said the woman and brought the girl a familiar wooden box.
Anna took it, opened it and saw the inscription engraved on the lid: «Life is a choice. May it be right at every moment of your life!». And then the girl realized what kind of choice we are talking about here. But she could have made it wrong.