“Do we have enough?” Aly handed over the precious pile of crumpled bills and warm coins. “The tag says twenty-five, doesn’t it?”
“Twenty-four ninety-nine,” Jace said. He cupped his hands for her contribution to their mother’s birthday gift.
“Same thing.” Aly crouched down in front of the jewelry case searching for the pair of gold-plated earrings in the shape of little books. It was just perfect for Mum. “Plus tax, right?”
“Yeah,” Jace began to line up their coins together, counting beneath his breath. “How much did you have?”
“I dunno, maybe twelve something?” Aly nibbled on a nubby fingernail, resisting the urge to press her face against the pristine glass front of the case. “Mr. Holding’s taking a long time.”
“It’s a big stockroom,” Jace said, patiently. “I’m sure he’s looking as fast as he can. We still have a half-hour here.” He frowned. “Tax is what? A ten or a nine?”
“Ten’s easier. Go with ten?” Aly popped back up to her feet. “It should be like, two-fifty? Out of twenty-five?”
“So say, twenty-eight?” Jace frowned. “We have twenty-seven.”
Aly bit her lip. “Maybe it’s twenty-seven.”
They waited until Mr. Holding came shuffling through the doorway of the rear stockroom. He set down a dark velvet jewelry box, wrapped in dusty plastic. “This is the last one,” he announced, watching them with sharp eyes. “Check it if you like.”
Jace wrinkled his nose at the dusty plastic, but upon opening it, found that the jewelry box and its silvery contents were perfectly preserved and not the least bit tarnished. “We’ll take it. How much?”
“Twenty-eight even.” He grunted.
Aly exchanged a look with Jace and frowned at Mr. Holding. “That’s because of tax, right?”
“It is,” he said gravely.
Jace sighed and began to recount the pile of coins and dollars, just loud enough to hear. When he reached twenty-seven even, he stopped.
Mr. Holding sighed. “I’ll hold it ‘till tomorrow, but I can’t promise anything after that.”
“But Mum’s birthday is tomorrow,” Aly said. “We can’t come back. Can’t you-?”
“Daddy?” Marie stuck her head through the employee breakroom doorway. “Austin flipped a breaker again and I don’t know which one it is?”
“Did he blow a circuit?” Mr. Holding growled. “That foolish boy, I told him not to—ring them up, Marie?” He waddled to the door and disappeared from view.
Marie came over to the counter and smiled at them. “Checking out?”
“Kind of,” Aly hesitated. “How much is it really?”
Marie blinked at her, then looked at the display pole. “Twenty-eight even?”
Jace rubbed his forhead. “We don’t have an extra dollar, Aly, I have maybe—another dime or a nickel.” He fumbled in his own pockets and drew out a lint-covered dime. “Twenty-seven ten.”
A faint smile touched Marie’s face and she leaned over to get a better look at the earrings. “They’re pretty.”
“It’s for Mum.” Aly toed off the right side of her cowgirl boots and shook it.
“If you have coins in there, you’re daft,” Jace said, fondly.
Aly rolled her eyes and shook the boot again, before sticking it back on her foot. She tried the left side and brightened at once, retrieving a silver dollar that she proudly deposited on the counter.
“Your silver dollar?” Jace exclaimed. “Aly!”
“A silver dollar?” Marie looked from the fat coin to Aly’s determined face.
“That makes it twenty-eight ten,” Aly said. “Ring it up, please.”
Marie gathered the money with slow hands, counting it into the cash drawer. “You know, my Mum once gave me a silver dollar for luck—on my eighth birthday—I still have it.” She said, quietly. “Gift wrap? It’s free.”
“Yes please,” Jace smiled at her, accepting the grimy dime that she slid back to him.
A sheet of gift wrapping paper was produced from beneath the counter and Marie handed it to Jace. “Thanks for shopping with us.”
Jace matched her smile with one of his own. He folded the paper carefully and thanked her as they left. He gave the bag to Aly and fished out the prepaid cellphone to call their uncle.
Aly frowned. The bag felt heavier than it should have. She fumbled through the contents only to find the fat silver dollar staring up at her. She stopped. “Jace-!”
“She-!” Aly showed him.
“Marie wanted you to keep it.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “She put in four quarters from her own pocket.”
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