Fire had destroyed my aunt’s house and now she and my cousin were staying with us.
I hadn’t been around my cousin Clara very much because she lived a couple of hours to the south of us. Now, though, I would get a chance to get to know her and I looked forward to the opportunity, even though it was brought on by a disaster. We were the same age and wore the same size dresses so I saw no harm in sharing my room with her. After all, like Mom kept pointing out, they had just lost everything.
Clara settled into my room quickly and we decided to go shopping for clothes together. Her fashion tastes, though, were horrid. The dress she bought was too large and had pockets in the skirt. Simply horrid. Worse yet, she asked the store clerk if she could wear it home. I was so embarrassed. Three stores later I was relieved to finally be through with the shopping ordeal.
Once home, Clara wanted to go to our bedroom to chat. She didn’t seem at all like the wild thing I had pictured her to be. Maybe I really would find a new friend in my cousin.
“Cindy, you won’t believe what I got on our shopping trip!”
“Duh, girl, I saw what you got. True, I couldn’t believe it but…”
“No, I mean what I really got.” Her eyes twinkled as she reached into the over sized pocket in her horrid skirt. Slowly, she pulled out a beautiful green necklace. “Pretty great, huh?” My jaw dropped in shock. “Don’t worry, I got something for you, too.” From her other pocket she pulled out a gold chain locket with a watch in the middle. She placed it in my trembling hands. “We’re gonna have a great summer!”
“Clara, you can’t…” The words couldn’t even come out of my mouth.
“Don’t be so behind the times.” She looked at me like a mentor teaching a great truth. “This is how the cool kids shop. All this stuff…” She started pulling more items from her pockets. “It’s all insured by the store. They don’t lose a dime. In fact, they probably make a profit by cheating the insurance company.”
“It’s wrong Clara. We have to return this stuff.”
“You go to jail for returning it just the same as for taking it. Trust me, it’s a great way to get the things you need.”
A dozen thoughts were racing through my young brain. If she were using drugs I would know how to respond but I hadn’t been ready for something like this. You can’t just say ‘no’ when the stolen goods are already in your bedroom. Besides, people would think I was just as guilty as Clara because I was with her. Who would believe I didn’t even see what she was doing? I could scarcely believe it myself.
As I was wading in my thoughts Clara had started removing her ugly dress, but it wasn’t a slip that she wore under it. She had a name brand skirt and blouse on… price tags waving like flags. She had stolen clothes!
“Clara, I can’t be a part of this!” I was near panic as she took the blouse off and I saw a second, tight fitting blouse under it. “This can’t be… not in our house. I’m going to get Mom!”
“I’ll just tell her you took things, too.” Her sneer was sickening. “Even if she doesn’t want to, you know she will never completely trust you again. How could she?”
The doorbell rang downstairs and I looked out the window to see who it was, certain that I couldn’t talk to Mom as long as she had company.
"Oh, great! The police. They must have followed us home."
Clara started shoving things under the mattress. “Don’t tell, Cindy. Please, I won’t do it again.” She took the necklace from Cindy’s hand and stuffed it in the pillow case. “I really thought you would understand.”
We could hear the police talking downstairs but we couldn’t hear what was being said. Every moral fiber of my young Christian life was being stretched to the limit. Should I believe her? Give her a chance to change? What would Jesus have me do?
“Clara, Cindy, could you come down here, please.” It was Mom.
As I walked down the steps behind Cindy peace finally flooded over me. I knew, now, what I would do.
What would YOU do?
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