I used to hate it when they left. We would have a wonderful time: dinner, dancing, the theater. It was bliss. Often they would suggest picnics or walks in the gardens off Center street, I never refused. It was just sad when they said goodnight. No one felt like it was a good idea to stay at my home, which is modest, I admit.

I would get them a cab, or walk them to subway, or whatnot, but I was always left with a bit of melancholy. Until Francis.

Francis was different than those other girls. She had been a bit of a wild one as a teen and had sowed more than a little oats, if she was to be believed. We met by accident, at the market, and I took a shine to her immediately. Everyone called her Frannie, she explained, but I called her Francis from the start. She was too feminine for a male's nickname. Long, bright red hair, pale skin like that of women who live sheltered lives and bright green, almost aqua, eyes. I took hundreds of pictures of her and I showed her a few. I think she was flattered. We helped each other, I think. Francis had been unemployed for a while and I helped her get a job at a grocery my neighbor ran.

Once, while sitting at an outdoor patio, she overheard me talking to a friend of mine about my other hobby. Taxidermy. My uncle had been quite good at it and had taught me a great deal. He helped me do the first animal, a particularly clumsy squirrel who had died in our back yard when I was 9. It wasn't lifelike, I admit, but it was a start. After he passed I took a class at a local night school and I had been doing one or two animals a year. I had never really mentioned it to a date, expecting the worst. You know how women are.

After my friend left I was stunned to see Francis' reaction. She was VERY curious and quite excited about the whole process. I took her home that very night and showed her both my lab and my work. Now it's true that my larger animals were all done on commission and are in homes/businesses. I have no bears or lions, although I did a llama once for an odd lady from Australia, but that was years ago. On that night in my basement the largest thing I had was an Irish setter, that my accountant ordered.

Well, needless to say, this went over amazingly well. She not only loved the art, she wanted to learn everything . In no time at all we were working as a team. I would meet her for a quick supper after work, then on to the basement where we would work until the early hours. She no longer left to sleep at her place, either, but I don't wish to go into those kinds of details.

I think this was the happiest time of my life, those weeks, it was nothing but bliss. We did three dogs, a cat, a parakeet and wild boar someone said they had shot in Africa (I was skeptical, but kept it to myself). I thought we were doing quite well in all respects, until the night she came home to tell me she was leaving town.

A former boyfriend had won the lottery and she said she was going to join him. Alabama or somesuch place, can you imagine? Well, we argued of course and things went badly from there. The wound on her head was a mess, and it's a wonder I was able to patch it up as well as I did. See it there? Not really noticeable now is it? I agree. Of the three here, hers is still my favorite, I admit. I mean, I promise to find a nice spot for you on that far wall, but she was the first and you know how that is. They hold a special place in your heart.

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