A Penny For Christmas

A Penny For Christmas Chapter 2: The Secret

By Anthonia Nicol

Mr. Barnes’s thrift shop was overflowing with customers, not that it mattered now, thought Penny, as they drove past his store and around the block, sometimes stopping to ask for work. As punishment, she was to tag along with her mum while she searched for a job. Looking at her now, she discovered that she had aged overnight, with dark bags under her eyes, and her hair was flying carelessly in the wind. Penny felt remorseful for a moment before the overwhelming rage in her took over.
Now, they were looking out for vacancies in the city mall, a long way from home.
Soon after, Penny saw a blackboard a few meters ahead. ‘Mum,’ she said, tugging at her mother’s shirt. ‘Let’s go in there.’
‘No, Penny. I believe the ice cream shop has a vacancy or two’, she replied, heading the other direction.
‘That store will pay better,’ reasoned Penny, throwing her hands in the air.
‘Now, how do you know if I am qualified to work in a store like that? I don’t know anything about drugs and stuff. I’m sure they will take one look at me and send us out of there’.
Penny rolled her eyes, long enough to irk her mum. ‘I see. You married dad because you thought you weren’t qualified for someone better, right?’
Her mum’s jaw dropped in dismay. ‘You are a little brat. If your dad didn’t hit hard enough, I would have finished the job’, she warned, pulling Penny’s ear then releasing it when she saw that she was drawing attention.
‘No, you wouldn’t have. You are a coward!’ Penny snapped.
‘Penny Marie Wilcox, I have had just about enough of you! We are going to the ice cream shop, and that’s final!’ her mother shouted, attempting to drag Penny away, but Penny broke free.
‘Final for you! I’m going to the pharmacy!’ she said and ran off, just before her mum could get a hold of her.
‘Penny, get back here!’ screamed her mum, but she was already inside the store.
‘What will I do with this girl?’ wondered Mrs. Wilcox as she hurriedly went after her.
Penny was speaking with the supervisor when Mrs. Wilcox got to the entrance. ‘No, young lady,’ he said courteously, slightly amused that an eight-year-old girl would be asking for a job in a pharmacy. ‘We don’t have a job for someone your age.’
‘No, it’s not for me,’ corrected Penny. ‘It’s for my mum.’ she said, pointing towards the entrance like she knew her mum was behind her.
He looked up to see Mrs. Wilcox. ‘Her?’ he asked, motioning her to come forward. ‘We might have a job for her if she’s qualified,’
‘Come on, mum!’ Penny said, irked by her mum’s hesitation. Mrs. Wilcox walked towards them like she was on death row. ‘What’s your name, ma’am?’ he asked with a smile. ‘Sarah…Sarah Wilcox’, she stammered.
‘Do you have any work experience relating to medicine?’
She swallowed. ‘No sir, I don’t .’
Penny rolled her eyes at her mum in disgust. ‘She was an assistant at a top company once. I’m sure she can work here’.
How in the world did she know that? Her mum wondered.
The supervisor sighed, ‘Unfortunately, we need a pharmacist and an extra cashier to join us. I don’t think you can…’
‘She can,’ said a man with a deep voice, coming out of an inner office in the store. Penny and her mum looked up to see a very handsome and well-built man, with ebony hair and blue eyes, dressed in a slim-fitted suit.
Penny’s eyes lit up as she tugged at her mum’s shirt. ‘You see! Mum, they are giving you a chance! Please say yes. Mum?’ Penny continued, wondering why she wasn’t saying anything.
‘Penny, let’s go,’ she said quietly, grabbing her hand and pulling her away. ‘What? Mum! We got a job!’ Sarah didn’t respond, and she continued at a steady pace to the car.
Penny felt like she was going to explode. ‘Where are you going, mum?’ she asked desperately. ‘Mum!’
‘Get in the car,’ Sarah said decisively, daring Penny to refuse.
She didn’t because she had never seen that look in her mum’s eyes, and it scared her.
What’s wrong with my mum? Penny wondered as she tried to figure out why her mum would turn down a job that would have paid better than jobs at the thrift or ice-cream shop. Looking at her now, she could officially say that a ghost had more color than her, and she was trembling too. Was it the weather? Huh, snorted Penny, inwardly. Soon, they wouldn’t have heating at home, and God knew for how long this time!
Suddenly, she stopped the car.
‘I need you to walk home from here,’ said Sarah, looking ahead.
‘Why? Where are you going?’ asked Penny, realizing that it would take her a while to get home.
‘To Mr. Barnes store…to get my old job back’. Exasperated, Penny opened the door and jumped out, banging it shut in frustration.
The car turned and zoomed off in the other direction, and Penny kicked the snow in anger. ‘We are going to be poor forever!’ she cried, walking in huge strides towards the house.
It was evening, and all the lights except one in her father’s room were off when she got home. The demon was home. If she put the lights on, he would know she or her mother had arrived, so she didn’t and quietly entered through the kitchen door, at the back.
It wasn’t quiet.
Noises were coming from his bedroom. He was grunting, and a woman was yelling. He was with another woman! she concluded in shock!
Curiously, she sneaked to his room. They locked the door, but she found a crack in the door, near the keyhole.
She couldn’t see much,’ but after squinting her eyes a little, what she saw made her gasp, loud enough for the noises to stop.
Her sister was bare, with her hands tied behind her back, and he was on top of her.
She crawled backward and ran out of there, knowing she couldn’t go to her room because he would find out it was her. Out the kitchen door, she went, making sure she stayed close to the walls just in case anyone peeped through the windows.
‘Who’s there?’ he asked from above her. She swallowed hard. God help her. If he caught her, it would be her end for sure. He was there for a while, and she was lucky he didn’t put the lights on before he went back in.
She found an opening to their neighbor’s yard and went in, sitting in the snow, waiting.
About an hour later, the mustang pulled into the driveway. Relief flooded Penny’s mind as she made sure to meet Sarah at the door. Her mother was confused. ‘What are you doing out…’ ‘Ssssssh,’ said Penny hurriedly.
The front door opened.
He was sober this time, with an irked look on his face. ‘You took your pretty time!’ he snapped. ‘Where’s the food?’ he demanded, pushing Sarah aside to look for grocery bags.
‘I only got a few things. I ran short of cash’, explained Sarah.
He grabbed the paper bag she was holding. ‘You call this few?’ he laughed, shaking the bag.
‘At least, let us come in,’ Sarah said, holding Penny’s hand.
‘So the two of you went together,’ he said, looking suspiciously at Penny.
Penny squeezed Sarah’s hand.
‘Yes,’ Sarah said quickly. ‘Penny wanted me to get a job at some ice cream store, but the pay wasn’t right, so I went back to Mr. Barnes. He offered me my old job back, but I had to take a pay cut.’
‘Huh,’ he said, still looking at the eight-year-old.
Penny held on to her mother for dear life. She couldn’t meet his eyes.
‘Daisy, when did you get back from Brenda’s?’ asked her mum, of her eldest daughter, coming down the stairs.
‘Huh? This afternoon’, she replied, heading to the fridge. ‘Mum, we are out of milk,’ she informed Sarah.’
‘Heb, please hand the paper bag over. There is some milk in there. We will have to manage till I get my wages this week’.
She took Penny upstairs, and the little one saw that her dad was still looking at her. He knew! He must know she was there earlier, or he wouldn’t be looking at her like a tiger waiting for its prey.
Penny found her sister sitting on her bed, looking out the window and lost in thought.
‘Daisy?’ Penny called. Daisy never came into her room.
‘I know you saw us,’ she said, still looking out the window.
‘What are you talking about?’ asked Penny, walking towards her.
Daisy turned to look at her with eyes that were lost. ‘I saw your footprints on the kitchen floor. I think I cleaned them in time. I don’t know. Don’t tell mum’.
Penny sat beside her. ‘Mum has to know.’
‘He will hurt her, Penny! He will hurt all of us. He says mum doesn’t make him happy, and I have to make up for that or else! Don’t tell mum’.
She got up and headed towards the door.
‘Where are you going?’ Penny asked afraid Daisy was going to do something crazy.
‘To Brenda’s. I’ll be back tomorrow’.

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