Chapter 1 Unexpected Cash
“BEN! Ben..ny!” I tried to block out Mom’s voice by pulling the pillow over my head. I still hoped to escape back into sleep because I knew it was Saturday, and I didn’t have to get up for school. But then the pillow was pulled off, and bright sunlight penetrated my closed eyelids. Someone was shaking me.
“Get up! Remember, I told you last night that we had to go pick up a dresser I found in the newspaper. Now get out of bed!” Mom demanded. I heard her open my curtains and then hurry out.
Slowly, I stretched my legs, still wanting to sleep longer. But just as I was drifting off, I felt a weight on my bed. Opening my eyes just a tiny bit, I saw my older brother Conner sitting next to me. He started rubbing his fingers up and down my ribs and said in a loud voice, “Get moving, kid. Mom needs your help.”
I opened my eyes and grabbed his fingers. “Quit! That tickles. I’m getting up.” Crawling out of bed, I threw on yesterday’s jeans and t-shirt, and walked into the kitchen. Mom was sitting at the table holding a cup of coffee. Last night’s paper was folded open to the classified section with a black circle around one ad. A plate with toast and jam was on the table. I poured myself a glass of milk and sat down across from my mom. “Good morning, Ben. Hurry and eat some toast. I promised we’d be there before ten.”
“Why doesn’t Conner have to help?” I finished one piece of toast and started on another piece.
“Conner’s working today. In fact, I need to leave him lunch money.” She set out a five dollar bill with a note.
“Besides, it’s not that big of a job to load a dresser. We should be home in an hour. Now wipe the jam off your face, and let’s get going.” She picked up the keys and ushered me through the door.
It was a chilly fall day. Our lawn was littered with a design of brightly colored maple leaves. I had planned on calling my best friend Nate who lived on the farm down the road to see if we could kick around the soccer ball before our first game on Tuesday. There weren’t many kids living out in the country, and I felt lucky to have a friend my age next door. But now I’d have to wait until the afternoon to call him.
In the car, Mom smiled at me. “I’m glad you’re here to help. It shouldn’t be too hard to find this place. It’s just over in Stockton. We’ll be in and out in no time.”
But it took almost an hour to find the house, even with Google Search. When we got to the door, the lady was still in her robe and looked surprised to see us. “Oh yes, the dresser,” she said, and led us to the bedroom. Obviously, they were still using the dresser because she began to pull stuff out of the drawers and throw the clothes on the bed.
I stared out the window, not wanting to see her socks and pajamas piling up. Then the three of us slowly carried the dresser out of the house, careful not to scrape the walls. We loaded it into the back of our Blazer. Mom’s idea of a quick errand took forever!
As we drove away, Mom bragged, “What a steal! It’s in great shape for a used dresser.” She was grinning from ear to ear as we drove back toward town.
“Hey, it’s almost noon. How ’bout we stop at Toppers for lunch?” She pulled into the parking lot of our local restaurant, famous for good, cheap burgers.
“Couldn’t we just go home? I want Nate to come over. You know we have our first soccer game next week.”
“We have to eat lunch anyway, and you’ll have plenty of time to hang out with Nate this afternoon.”
Toppers was crowded. Luckily, we were seated right away. I ordered a burger and fries. “Hi Mrs. Manchester. Hi Ben.” Gwen Johnson, Conner’s girlfriend, raced by with a tray piled high with sandwiches. I couldn’t imagine balancing a tray full of food.
I dug into my burger while Mom picked away at a side salad. She was always dieting. If I ate like her, I’d starve. Finishing the last bite, I started to slide out of the booth just as the waitress refilled Mom’s coffee cup and left the check.
“Can’t we leave, Mom?” I moaned. “I don’t want to waste all day here.”
She rolled her eyes and began rustling in her purse. She set three dollars on the table for a tip. “Listen, here’s a twenty.” Mom handed me the money with the check. “You go up and pay while I use the restroom. I’ll meet you by the door.” She hurried away.
I stood in line at the cash register. There were a lot of people, and the line moved slowly. At my turn, I handed the cashier our check for $8.87 with the twenty dollar bill. She handed me back some change and two bills stacked together. I spread the bills apart, a dollar on top; and then instead of a ten dollar bill, there was … a HUNDRED dollar bill! In that moment, time stood still. What was I to do?
I froze, staring at the large bill. The face of Ben Franklin looked back at me. I knew that I should immediately tell the girl about her mistake and give her back the hundred. That was the right thing to do. But she was already turning to the person behind me. She didn’t realize her mistake. I had a free hundred in my hand. Should I call her attention to the mistake or keep the money?
I looked at the large bill still in my hand. The cashier took the next person’s money. No one was watching me. I put the bill into my pocket and quickly left. Mom was waiting at the door, and we walked out to the car.
(To be continued)
Where is the change?
The story so far…Ben and his mom run errands Saturday morn. Afterwards, they have lunch at the local restaurant. Ben pays the bill at the cash register while his mom uses the restroom. The cashier accidentally gives him a $100 instead of a $10 bill for change. No one notices the mistake, and Ben pockets the money.
The $100 bill was burning in my pocket, as we drove away from Toppers Restaurant. I worried about what I had done, but it was too late to give it back. I looked out the window to avoid talking.
“Hey, Ben!” Mom’s voice cut into my thoughts. We stopped at a red light near the highway. I was sure she would ask for her change from lunch. What could I say? Instead of her ten dollar bill, I had a hundred dollar bill in my pocket.
“Oh yeah,” I said, filled with guilt. “I forgot to give you your money.” I pretended that I couldn’t squeeze my hand into my pocket. “Can I give it to you when we get home?” I had thirty some dollars hidden in a box in the back of my closet where I stashed my spare cash. I could exchange the hundred for a ten and give her the correct amount.
She laughed. “Of course. That’s not want I was going to say. I have an idea.” “What?” I felt a wave of relief.
She looked over at me smiling and brushed her fingers across my hair. “I just wondered if you wanted to pick up some new soccer socks for your first game. I have to stop at the mall anyway.”
Normally, I love to shop and beg my mom to take me to the mall. And she hates it because I always try to talk her into buying me new jeans, a shirt, Nike Air Max or a game for my Xbox. We usually argue. She says, “You don’t need that!” or “I can’t afford this!” And then I get mad and won’t talk to her.
So her offer was something of a surprise. But shopping with a hundred dollar bill in my pocket was more than I could handle. I just wanted to get home and put it away in my closet. “No. Let’s do it another time. I’m tired.”
“Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you turn down an offer to shop!” she replied. “But, I’ve got to stop anyway. Conner texted me that he forgot to take the cash I left him this morning for his lunch.” She pulled into the mall. “Besides, I don’t know when we’ll get another chance to buy you soccer socks.”
Parking in front of the sports shop where Conner worked, she asked, “Want to come in with me and look for socks?”
“No!” I responded angrily. “I’ll wait here.”
“Suit yourself.” Climbing out, she shut the door and walked toward Conner’s store. I locked the car since I had the hundred dollar bill in my pocket.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the money in my pocket. It was such a big bill! If I tried to use it in a store, the clerk might get suspicious. Maybe, I could walk into town after school one day next week and deposit it in my bank account. I could just say that my uncle from Miami gave it to me for my birthday.
Just then I heard a rap on my window. I jumped, having been lost in my thoughts. My mom shouted through the glass. “Open the door!”
I pushed the unlock button and opened it. Mom dropped a pair of new socks on my lap and put out her hand. “Hey, give me the change from the restaurant. I don’t have any cash to give Conner for lunch.”
I panicked, since all I had was the hundred dollar bill. Mom stared at me, her eyes searching my face. “You look worried. Is something the matter?”
“Nothing,” I snapped, trying to think of what to do. I needed some time to come up with a plan. “Let me run and give it to Conner. I want to tell him something anyway.”
Before she could say anything, I jumped out and ran for the store. Conner was waiting right inside. “Hey, Bro, what’s up?” He gave my head a gentle shove. “Mom’s supposed to give me some lunch money. She said you have it.” He put out his hand.
I was sweating bullets. What was I going to do? “Listen, I lost Mom’s money. I must’ve dropped that ten when I took gum out of my pocket. I realized when she asked me for it that I didn’t have it.” I hated lying to my brother, but I’d already dug myself into a hole. When I got home, I could figure things out.
I continued, “I’ll give you a ten of my own money when you get home from work.”
Conner frowned at me. “I’m starved. And now I won’t be able to get anything to eat on my lunch break.”
“Don’t you have any of your own money?”
“A few bucks.”
“You can get something at the gas station. I promise I’ll give it to you just as soon as you get home.
“Lot of good that will do me now,” he groaned.
“I just don’t want Mom to know I lost her money and get a big lecture all the way home.”
“Ok. But you owe me, Bro.” He turned away. “Now get going. I have to get back to work.”
“Thanks,” I replied with relief. I turned and headed out. “See you at home.”
When I got back in the car, Mom said, “You’re acting so strange. Is something the matter?”
“Let’s just get home. We’ve been gone half the day with your dresser, and I want to see Nate.” I turned toward the window, afraid my face would give something away. I didn’t feel very good about myself with all the lies I’d told.
(To be continued)
The story so far…after pocketing a $100 bill from the restaurant that should have been a $10 bill, Ben and his mom stop at the mall to give lunch money to Ben’s brother Conner. Mom asks Ben for the $10 change from lunch. Ben is caught in more lies, both to his mom and brother because he doesn’t have the $10 bill.
Silence hung between us. I felt really bad about the money in my pocket. There was only one person who could help me figure out what to do, and she was sitting next to me. I hesitated looking over at her. She was humming some old country western song of hers.
“Mom?” I bit my lip, getting ready to confess.
“What is it?” She asked, her eyes on the road.
But then suddenly, all the things that 100 dollars could buy floated across my window. I really wanted a new soccer ball or an I-pod Touch. “Nothing,” I added quickly. “I just want to get home so Nate can come over. I told him after school yesterday that we’d get together today. And now it’s already afternoon.”
“Ok, ok.” She stepped on the gas, continuing toward our house, seven miles north of town. I liked living in the country. We had a huge yard, a bike trail, and a creek down back. But it was hard when most kids lived in town. Sometimes, I got bored. Thank goodness Nate lived close. We spent a lot of time together, especially on the weekends.
I decided to talk to Nate about the money. We always shared important stuff and helped each other out. He’d have some ideas about what I should do with the hundred dollar bill.
Mom’s cell began to sing. “Ben, grab my phone out of my purse from the back seat and see who’s calling.”
While reaching around, I saw the red lights of a police car quickly approaching from behind. “Mom, there’s a cop right behind you!”
“Oh no!” She checked her speed while quickly braking, and then she pulled over. The police parked behind her. “Just my rotten luck today. No point in saving money on that dresser. This will make up for it and then some. I just wasn’t paying attention to my speed. I wonder how much I was over?”
The policeman, or should I say policewoman slowly approached the car. “Ma’am, may I see your license, please?”
Mom dug in her purse and gave the officer her license. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to speed. It was just that we’d been out running errands all morning, and I was anxious to get back home…”
Without a word, the policewoman went back to her car. Mom continued to mutter about her bad luck. The minutes passed slowly. As time dragged on, I got restless. By now, Nate probably found something else to do or got a ride into town. It just wasn’t fair.
I felt in my pocket. The hundred dollar bill was folded and resting against my leg. I just wanted to put it away in my box in the closet. “How long does this take?” I asked impatiently.
She looked back over her shoulder at the police car. “I have no idea.”
The officer returned to our car. “I hope I wasn’t too much over the speed.” Mom looked miserable. “I’m usually very careful when I drive.”
A slight smile appeared on the policewoman’s face. “Mrs. Manchester, you were not speeding. I noticed that your brake lights weren’t working back a ways. I thought you’d notice me following you without turning on my red lights. But you didn’t, so I had to get your attention.”
I could see the look of surprise on Mom’s face.
“That could be a dangerous situation and must be fixed,” the officer continued. “I’ve written up an equipment repair notice.” She handed Mom a paper. “You have five days to get it fixed, and then you must bring the receipt into the police station. Do you understand?”
Relief spread across Mom’s face. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll take care of it first thing Monday. Thank you.”
Mom pulled away at a snail’s pace. “Why did you tell the police lady you were speeding, Mom?” I asked. “She thought you were nuts.”
“Stop it! I feel foolish enough already. I’m just glad it wasn’t a speeding ticket.”
We turned onto Walker Road. There were farms on both sides, a beef ranch on the east and a dairy farm across. A couple new houses were squeezed in between. Cornstalks in the field were gold. The long narrow leaves seeming to wave at me as we drove past. Further along, a big green tractor pulling a mower was crawling across the field cutting the hay. It was probably the final cut for the season. In a day or two, the farmer would rake and bale it. We were almost home, and I couldn’t wait.
Mom was switching radio stations. I saw a cat up ahead on the side of the road with its tail in the air. As we drew closer, the cat suddenly darted into the road.
“Watch out!” I screamed, as our car raced toward the cat. Just then, I felt a soft thump.
“Oh no!” Mom cried, slowing down. “I hope I didn’t hit that cat.”
I turned around and looked out the rear window. I saw the cat lying in the road. It wasn’t moving.
“Stop!” I yelled. “You did hit it!”
Mom, still moving slowly along, looked out her rearview mirror. “It’s obviously dead. No point in stopping.”
“We can’t just leave him!” I looked at her in shock. “Maybe he’s alive and needs help.” I opened my car door. Mom pulled to the side and stopped. I jumped out and ran back toward the cat.
“Wait!” she called out. But I continued as fast as I could run.
(To be continued)
Visit to the Vet
The story so far…Ben pocketed a $100 bill for a $10 bill at a restaurant and is now caught between wanting to keep the money and telling his mom what happened. On the way home, Mom hits a cat crossing the road. They argue about whether or not to stop. Ben jumps out of the car to check on the cat.
I ran back to the cat lying in the road. He was a skinny little tiger with burrs tangled in his matted fur. He wasn’t moving, except for his eyes which locked into mine. It was a blank stare, one of shock rather than pain. Blood dripped from his mouth. Mom came up and looked over my shoulder.
“Thank God he’s alive!” I said, close to tears. I looked up at her. “We need to get him to a vet right away!”
“He’s just a scrawny old barn cat!” She exclaimed. “Maybe a stray, one of those feral cats hanging around out here. The neighbors complain about them all the time. They kill the birds. Lots of times, people just drop off cats they don’t want anymore, thinking they can survive on their own.”
I couldn’t believe her words. How could she keep talking about that kind of stuff when we had an emergency on our hands? I gently gathered the cat into my arms, leaving a pool of blood on the pavement.
“Ben! You shouldn’t pick him up. He’s not someone’s beloved pet.” She looked closer at him in my arms. “This cat is hurt bad. I don’t think he’ll make it.”
Suddenly I got really mad. “So what are you saying? We should just leave him in the road to die?”
“Ben, stop it!”
“Or leave him for someone else to run over?”
Shrugging her shoulders, she shook her head. “I don’t know what to do.” Looking across the road, she added more gently, “He might belong to the farmhouse over there, probably lives in the barn to catch mice. Maybe we could run up to the house and see if it belongs to them.”
Still holding the cat, I walked toward the car. “I’m taking him to a vet. If you’re so cold-hearted, I’ll find someone else to drive me.”
With a big sigh, she followed me back to the car. “Vets don’t work for free, you know. It costs a lot of money. Who’s going to pay for it? Besides, it’s Saturday, the busiest day of the week for vets. No one will even be able to see us.”
But when we got to the car, she opened the door for me. Grabbing her red jacket from the back seat, she laid it across my lap for the cat. She started the car and turned around, heading back toward town. We drove in silence. I gently stroked the cat whose eyes were now closed. I felt sure he was relieved that someone had picked him up.
Black River Vet Clinic was packed when we walked in. There was a bunch of dogs and cats, growling and hissing as the owners tried to keep the peace. But I hardly noticed any of them as I marched right up to the desk with the wounded cat and announced, “We need to see a vet right now! My mom hit this cat on the road, and we want to save his life.”
The desk girl, a teenager with lots of black curly hair and a nose ring, glanced at the cat and then quickly looked at my mom, standing next to me. Mom gave a weak smile and nodded her head in agreement.
“I’ll see what I can do. Have a seat.” She disappeared behind the door, and we sat down in the only empty seats waiting with all the other owners.
In a short while, the girl returned and whisked us past the angry eyes of waiting customers into a vacant room. “Have a seat. The doctor should be in shortly.”
We sat on a bench, and the office girl closed the door behind us. It was a small room much like the one in Dr. Beck’s office where we go, except that the exam table was about half the size. The Formica top had a well-worn spot in the middle with scratch marks, like a design, going off in all directions. There were framed pictures of bouncing kittens and puppies on the wall. The cat in my lap didn’t look anything like those on the wall. I stroked his scruffy fur, but he didn’t respond. I kept watching the door. “What’s taking so long?” Mom shook her head.
Just then the door opened, and a young woman in black jeans and a long red braid walked in. She looked like she might be in high school too. “Hello, I’m Dr. Hammond. What do we have here?”
Mom explained what happened, as the doctor carefully took the cat out of my arms and laid him on the table. She examined him with gentle fingers. I kept biting my lower lip. Finally, she turned to us and said, “This cat is seriously hurt. But I can’t tell you exactly what’s going on without cutting her open. It could be a ruptured bladder. That is something I could fix.”
She was stroking the cat. “But it could be something much more serious. I might not be able to do enough. And she might die in the process.”
“Basically, you have a couple of choices here. We can perform exploratory surgery,” she looked at Mom, “Or, we can provide fluids and pain medicine, keep her for the night under observation, and see how she is in the morning.” Just then, the cat meowed weakly.
(To be continued)
The story so far…after Ben’s mom hits a cat in the road; they take the injured cat to the vet clinic. Dr. Hammond says the injuries are serious. She offers 2 choices – exploratory surgery to try to save the cat, or overnight observation.
I looked at the vet in shock. The cat still was lying on the exam table, not moving.
Mom rubbed her eyes and didn’t say anything. I held my breath. I wanted to shout out, “Don’t waste time! Let’s just get the cat fixed up quickly.” But I knew better. So I just stood there waiting.
Finally, she broke the silence. “The cost of each option?” she asked quietly.
The doctor flung her braid back behind her shoulder and cleared her throat. Overnight care with fluids may run from $80 to $100, and she might die before morning. Surgery could be anywhere from $300 to $1000, depending on what I find, and what we decide to do. And again, there’s no guarantee the cat will make it.”
She looked down and pressed the stethoscope against the cat’s breast. “But you need to decide quickly. We don’t have much time if we’re going to do the surgery.”
I looked pleadingly at Mom, tears filling my eyes. She looked from me to the cat. It had not moved a muscle since the vet laid it down. The seconds passed, seeming like hours. She sighed loudly but didn’t say anything.
Finally, I just couldn’t stand it a minute longer and blurted out. “Cut her open. Do what you can.” Looking up at Mom I added, “I’ll help pay. I’ll get a paper route or something. We just can’t let that cat die without giving it a chance.”
Dr. Hammond continued feeling the cat’s midsection. She was probably used to parents and kids fighting over what should be done and didn’t want to interfere.
Mom nodded her head reluctantly. “Ok, we’ll go for the surgery.” She put her arm around me, and I hugged her.
“You’re the greatest, Mom.”
“Ok, I’ll get started right away,” Dr. Hammond said firmly, already gathering her surgical tools. “We’ll call you as soon as I know anything.”
Mom and I walked out, now united. We got into the car without a word and started back toward our house. Finally I broke the silence, “Did you hear the doctor say ‘she’? The cat’s a girl! I kept thinking it was a boy. I don’t know why. But it doesn’t matter to me either way.”
I looked out the window but couldn’t get my mind off the cat. “How long till we hear from Dr. Hammond?”
“I don’t know.”
She stopped the car as we turned into the driveway and put her hand on my shoulder. “Benny, listen. You understand that the chances of surviving are not great. The cat may very easily die.”
“But at least we can say we tried.” I smiled at her. “Anyway, I have a good feeling about this. I think our tough cat will pull through.”
“Don’t get your hopes up too high. And it’s not OUR cat.” I got out of the car and headed for the house. It was almost three, and I wanted to call Nate, still hoping that he could come over. I couldn’t wait to tell him all about the cat.
“Hey, come back and help me get the dresser in the house!” Mom called out to me. I returned to the car, and we lifted out the dresser and carried it into the guest room in the lower level. Mom’s cell phone rang just as we set it down.
“Hi Kris,” Mom said into the phone. “Do I have the story for you!” It was my aunt, and I knew they could gab for hours.
“Don’t forget the vet’s going to call. So don’t stay on the phone. We don’t want to miss her.” I started for my bedroom and then turned, “Mom, did you hear me?”
Nodding her head, she waved me away and headed toward the TV room. She was talking a mile a minute. Just then, a car drove up. Conner jumped out and hurried into the house.
“Hey bro,” he said, giving my arm a friendly fist. “I’m starved.” He headed for the kitchen. I followed him
“Guess what happened to us this afternoon?” While he made three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I told him the whole story about the cat. He was just swallowing the last bite when I finished.
“So, we decided to get the surgery and are just waiting to hear back from the vet. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the cat is ok.”
My brother went to the refrigerator for milk and filled a glass to the very top. “I bet that surgery will be expensive.” Conner downed the entire glass. “Speaking of money, you still owe me the ten bucks that Mom was going to give me for lunch, the money you lost.”
I’d totally forgotten about the $100 bill I still had stashed in my pocket! I put my hand on my jeans and felt the bill through my pocket. “Oh yeah. Let me run and get you the money.” I took off for my room, closing the door behind me.
In the back of my closet, I found the little box where I store my spare cash. I was saving for a new soccer ball. Opening the box, I found a couple tens and some ones. Exchanging the hundred for a ten, I ran back and handed the bill to Conner. He pocketed the money without a word and headed for the TV.
Just then, the house phone rang. Glancing at the clock, I saw that it was four. Dr. Hammond must’ve finished the surgery and was calling to tell us the results.
(To be continued)
Ben’s Friend Nate Arrives
The story so far…Dr. Hammond gives Mrs. Manchester and Ben all the information so that they can decide what to do about the cat. While Mom is thinking about cost, Ben blurts out surgery. Back home, they wait for the results. Conner returns from work and wants his lunch money from Ben. Ben exchanges the $100 bill for his own $10 bill to pay his brother. Just then the phone rings.
I ran to the front room and quickly picked up the phone. “Hello,” I said cautiously, expecting to hear Dr. Hammond’s voice. My hope was that she was bringing me good news about the cat, but I feared the worst. I sat on the chair holding my breath.
But it was not the vet. It was my good friend Nate. “Hey Ben, where have you been all day? I called you about ten times this morning. I thought we were going to practice soccer for the big game next week.” He didn’t sound too happy with me.
“Sorry, I just got home. What a day I’ve had! You won’t believe everything that happened to me today.”
“Like what? I’ve been bored out of my mind.”
“All this amazing stuff. Come on over and I’ll tell you all about it.”
“Ok. I’ll be over in five.”
I hung up and headed outside to meet Nate. I figured I’d meet him halfway and then we could talk on the way back. I wanted to tell him not only about the cat but also about the hundred dollar bill. But then I remembered that the vet could call at any moment, and I didn’t want to miss the call. I decided to wait for Nate on the front porch.
It wasn’t long before Nate jogged up our driveway. About a head taller than me, he outweighed me by forty pounds. He was the biggest kid on our soccer team. When he got to running with the ball, everyone stayed out of his way. But he was best known for his red hair and a million freckles on his face.
“Hey, Ben.” He plopped down on the porch steps, breathing rapidly from his jog. “Check out my new shoes? Dad bought them for me last night when we went into the city.”
I was too distracted to notice. “Nice,” I said half-heartedly.
“So what happened?” He asked, looking at me.
“Long story. Let’s go to my room and I’ll tell you about it.” We walked into the house. Mom was getting ready to vacuum our front room. “Hi Nate,” she said, plugging in the cord.
I turned back to Mom, “Don’t forget about the vet. Will you hear the phone with that thing running?”
“Of course.” She turned on the vacuum. It seemed to scream bloody murder.
Nate and I hurried to my room, and I closed the door. He grabbed my soccer ball and sat on my bed, bouncing it back and forth from his right to left hand. I told him about Mom hitting the cat and our trip to the vet.
“You think the cat will make it?”
“I don’t know. She didn’t look too good. I just wish the doctor would call. It seems like it’s been forever.”
“If she lives, are you going to keep her?”
“I hope so. We haven’t talked about that part yet. Mom hasn’t ever allowed us to have a pet before.”
I took the ball from Nate and set it back in the corner of my room. “But I got another story you’re not going to believe.” And then I told him about the hundred dollar bill.
His mouth dropped open, “Wow, are you ever lucky!” He looked around the room. “So, let me see your free hundred. I’ve never seen one before.”
I got it out of the box in my closet and handed it to Nate. He studied it closely. “This is so cool! What are you going to buy with the money?”
“I’m not sure. I really don’t feel very good about it.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s kind of like stealing. I mean, it’s not my money. But everything happened so fast. By the time I realized her mistake, the girl at the cash register had already turned to the next person in line.”
“You shouldn’t feel bad. It was her mistake. Just think of what a hundred dollars could buy you.” He sighed. “Lucky dog. I never got free money.”
I took the bill back into my hands and stared at it. “I’d have no trouble spending the money. There are a hundred things I can think of. But I’m not so sure anymore. After Mom hit the cat, and then the surgery…” I took a big breath, “I’m wondering if I should use the money to help pay the vet. After all, I was the one who wanted the surgery.”
“Does your mom know about the money?”
I shook my head. “I don’t think she’d be very happy about it.”
Just then, I heard the house phone ring. Quickly folding the bill, I stashed it back into my pocket. I opened the door and ran down the hall to answer the phone. But Mom picked up the receiver before me.
“Hello? Yes Dr. Hammond.”
(To be continued)
The Doctor’s Report
The story so far…Ben’s friend Nate arrives. In the privacy of his bedroom, Ben tells Nate about the cat then confides about the $100 bill. Nate focuses on his friend’s good luck instead of his guilt and reassures him that it was the cashier’s mistake and not his. Ben talks about using the money to pay the vet. The phone rings, and its Dr. Hammond.
Mom turned away from Nate and me, as she listened to whatever Dr. Hammond was saying to her on the phone. There was a long silence. She was nodding her head. Of course, the doctor couldn’t see that. “Yes… yes. Ok.”
I stood frozen, wondering what she was being told. Mom was getting the update, and I just stood there feeling left out. It made me mad. Was the cat alive? Had she died in surgery? I could hear the quiet sounds of the TV in the den where Conner was watching some college football.
The silence was unbearable. I moved closer to her, hoping I’d overhear what the vet was saying. But I couldn’t hear a word.
“That’s amazing! I can’t believe it.” Mom said into the phone.
“What? What’s she saying?” I asked, walking around to face Mom. She had a big smile and gave me a thumbs up. Suddenly, I felt hopeful.
“Well, I’ll tell Ben. He’ll be so happy.” She hung up and gave me a high five. “The cat made it! She’s asleep after surgery. Dr. Hammond said that she’s not very old, maybe just a year.”
But then her smile disappeared, and she put her hands on my shoulders. “Listen, we’re still not out of the woods. The cat could unexpectedly get worse. The doctor said we’ll have a better idea by tomorrow.”
She started for the kitchen. “Come on, I’ll make you boys a snack. Not much though since it’s close to dinner time. Nate, you want to call and see if you can stay for supper?”
“Yes!” Nate picked up the phone and dialed.
“What was wrong with the cat?” I asked, following Mom into the kitchen.
“Just what Dr. Hammond guessed – a ruptured bladder. And she was able to repair it.”
I felt better than I had all day. She got out carrots and hummus and set them out on the kitchen table, then began cutting up an apple. Nate came into the kitchen and sat across from me nodding his head. “Mom said ok to supper.” He dipped a carrot into the hummus and popped it into his mouth.
“The cat’s going to make it,” I told Nate. “When do we pick her up, Mom?”
“We’ll check on her tomorrow. Oh wait. That’s Sunday. I guess we’ll have to find out on Monday.”
With my mouth full of carrot, I asked, “Now that we know it’s a girl and not a boy cat, what should we name her?”
Mom whirled around and faced me with a slice of apple in her hand. “Just a minute. It’s not our cat! We’ll have to see if she has an owner.”
“But you said she was just a stray!” I looked at her with disbelief. “And we can give her a good home. After all, if we paid to save her life, we deserve to keep her.” Mom set the apple slices on a plate between us and poured us each a glass of milk.
“Quit! You’re jumping the gun, Ben. Let’s see whether she makes it through the night. I’m more worried about how to pay for the surgery. I wish you could figure out that instead of talking about what to name her.”
Suddenly, I remembered the hundred dollar bill. I’d been showing it to Nate and had stuffed it back into my pocket when the phone rang. I knew at that moment exactly what I would do with the money. The only problem was how to explain it to Mom.
She turned and began to get out supplies for supper, ground beef, tomato sauce, and noodles. Looked like the makings for spaghetti, my favorite. She took out the frying pan and began to cook onions and garlic. My mind was churning trying to think up an explanation for the hundred dollar bill. Maybe Nate would have some ideas. I motioned to him with my head toward the bedroom. We left, just as the good smells brought my brother into the kitchen.
I closed the door behind me for privacy and sat on the desk chair while Nate laid down on my bed. “I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to use the money to pay for the surgery. I just don’t know how to explain the hundred dollar bill to Mom?”
“Hmmm.” Ben turned on his side, facing me. It was getting dark and I switched on my desk lamp. The smell of spaghetti floated into the room. “Couldn’t you just say you found it?”
“Come on, my mom would never fall for that.” We were both silent. I stood up and hid the money back in my closet box. Just then, we heard the doorbell. Nobody rang our doorbell in the country unless it was a stranger.
(To be continued)
The story so far…Dr. Hammond calls with news of the cat’s successful surgery. While they rejoice, Mom warns Ben that the cat could still have a relapse. Ben decides to give the $100 to help pay for the surgery, but doesn’t know how to tell his mom about how he got the money. Just then, the doorbell rings.
I ran to the front door to answer. But it wasn’t a stranger at the door. It was Conner’s girlfriend Gwen who stood there in her waitress uniform. She was in 4H with Conner and raised steers over in the far end of our county. I was pretty sure she won a ribbon at the fair every year.
“Hi Gwen,” Mom said arriving right behind me from the kitchen. “Come on in.”
“Hi Mrs. Manchester. Hi Ben. Is Conner around? Katie dropped me off after work. I wanted to remind him about the 4H bowling party tonight.”
Mom turned to me. “Go get your brother. It’s almost suppertime anyway. You’re welcome to stay for supper, Gwen. I made enough spaghetti for an army! And then I can drive you both to the party.”
Gwen took off her jacket and hung it on the hook just as Conner walked up and put his arm around her. He smiled at her. “Well, it’s a good thing you stopped by because I had forgotten all about it.”
She did a little dance step and bowed. “That’s why I’m here.”
“No, that’s why you get straight A’s and the teachers call me scatterbrained.” Conner replied, bowing down to her.
I went and got Nate from my room, and we all followed Mom into the kitchen. She set another plate at our large kitchen table. We often had an extra person or two for dinner. As she dished out the spaghetti, I realized how hungry I was.
Mom’s spaghetti with meatballs was a hit, and everyone ate quietly slurping down the noodles and sauce. Conner and Nate had seconds. Even the heels of the garlic bread were eaten. But it was while we were eating apple crisp that Gwen spoke up. “It was a crazy day at Toppers today.”
“What happened?” Mom asked putting down her fork and taking a sip of coffee.
“My friend Jasmine got fired. It was terrible!”
“Fired! I can’t believe that,” Conner exclaimed. “She’s like the perfect girl, never gets into any trouble. What happened?”
Mom started gathering the dessert plates, scraping the leftovers onto one plate and laying the forks on top. She reached over and collected the glasses too.
“Mr. Krantz accused her of stealing ninety dollars! He came back from counting the daily till in the afternoon and called all the staff together. He said that he was ninety dollars short. I’ve never seen him so angry and disappointed. She denied it and even took everything out of her purse in front of us.”
“Why did the boss think it was her?’ Conner asked. “There’s a lot of servers. She’d be my last guess.”
“But Jasmine is the cashier, not a server. She runs the cash register and is the only one who deals with the money. The customers have to take their checks and pay up front with her. She got the job because she had such a good reputation for honesty, not to mention that she’s good at math.” Gwen shook her head.
“She’s been working there for over a year, longer than any of the rest of us. She works more hours and even fills in for the waitresses on her day off. I think her dad lost his job, and her parents really count on her paychecks to help with the bills. I just can’t imagine her stealing money. She was so stressed out when he accused her in front of everyone!”
Gwen put her napkin on the table. “Mr. Krantz looked right at her and said, ‘Listen, either fork out the money, or you’re through!’ He gave her the evil eye, and she burst out crying. I went over to comfort her, but she just turned around and ran out of Toppers.”
“That is too bad. I know that family has been struggling to make ends meet,” Mom replied. “There’s several younger brothers and sisters, too. I just can’t imagine Jasmine taking the money.” She paused. “But if she didn’t take it, I wonder what happened to the money?”
Everyone at the table was silent, thinking the same thing, except me. I was beginning to realize the hundred dollar bill in my closet was not free money. Someone had made an honest mistake and was now being punished.
Mom looked up at the clock. “Hey, it’s almost seven. I’ll run you two over to the bowling alley. Nate, I can drop you off at your house on the way.” She looked over at me. “You might as well ride along to keep me company.”
It had turned cold, as we all piled into the car. The wind had picked up, and there were a few raindrops on the windshield. After dropping everyone off, Mom and I headed back to the house. I was quiet in the car. It had been a very full day, and I was tired. But I kept thinking about Gwen’s friend Jasmine who had been blamed for stealing ninety dollars from Toppers. The Ben Franklin in my box had to be the missing money. I never should have kept the hundred dollar bill. Or at least, I should have talked to Mom about it right away. She would’ve known what to do. I’d really made a mess of things.
I thought about talking it over with Mom. But I was just too tired and figured I’d discuss it with her in the morning.
(To be continued)
The story so far…Conner’s girlfriend, Gwen, stops over and stays for dinner. She tells about the cashier at Toppers who was fired for stealing money. The owner was short $90 at the end of the day and accused Jasmine of taking it. Not only her reputation, but her financial contribution to her family is in jeopardy. Ben realizes the $100 bill he has hidden in his closet must be the missing money. But he doesn’t say anything.
Two days later on Monday, we picked up the cat. Mom didn’t say anything about the money when the office girl gave her the bill. She just handed over her credit card. When a vet tech came out with the cat, purring in her arms, I couldn’t believe it was the same one we’d brought in. Her eyes were open, and her fur was shiny and smooth. She was wearing a big plastic ring around her little neck. Dr. Hammond followed. “She’ll need to wear this protective collar until the stitches heal,” the doctor explained. “The collar keeps her from chewing the wound.” She showed us the cat’s underside. There was a row of neat stitches in the middle of a clean shaven area. The vet tech handed the cat over to me. The collar looked uncomfortable, and I wondered how she’d be able to sleep with it on.
While Dr. Hammond talked to Mom about the medicine, I petted the cat. She looked at me with big golden eyes and began to purr. I’d never seen a cat with eyes that color. “Goldenrod! That’s your name. We’ll call you Goldie for short.”
Then Dr. Hammond turned to me. “This kitty will need a lot of tender loving care in the next few weeks. Keep the collar on no matter what. Feed her some high quality cat food. Start with canned food and then change over to pellets. And plenty of water. I’ll need to see her back in two weeks.” She smiled at me. “Good luck.”
“Thanks. I’m just so glad she made it.”
The cat laid across my knees on the ride home. I just kept petting her until she fell asleep and stopped purring.
“I can’t believe what it cost!” Mom complained. “At least if it had been a long time beloved pet it would be easier to fork out that kind of money.” Her words reminded me again of the hundred dollar bill. It was still hidden in the box in my closet. I had not yet talked to Mom about the money. I didn’t have the guts. But I couldn’t put it off any longer.
“Mom, I can help pay the bill.”
“I don’t think your small box of cash will help with this.”
“Just wait. I have more than you think.”
When we got home, Mom carefully lifted the cat off my lap and carried her to the den where she was settling Goldie on an old blanket. I ran and got the money out of my closet. She was putting down a bowl of food and one of water. “Here,” I held out the bill. “This should help some.”
She looked at me with wide eyes, still kneeling on the floor. Taking the money, she asked, “Where’d you get this?”
I told her the story about paying the lunch bill at Toppers and getting back the wrong change. She shook her head and smiled. “Thanks for wanting to help pay, but we can’t keep this money. Do you remember Gwen’s story about Jasmine? This explains the missing money at Toppers. Jasmine must have mixed up a ten and a hundred when she gave you your change. The difference is ninety, the exact amount of missing money.”
She looked at me closely. “You knew that the hundred dollar bill was wrong, but you accepted it anyway. Were you just going to keep the money and spend it on something for yourself?” She looked at me sternly. “That’s the same as stealing, Ben.”
I hung my head. “I didn’t know what to do. It happened so fast. Then we hit the cat and I forgot all about the money… until you worried about paying for the surgery. I thought I could help. But when Gwen told us what happened, I knew that keeping the money was wrong.” I felt close to crying. “But I was afraid to tell you.”
She got up from the floor and sat on the couch, patting a spot next to her. I sat down next to her. Goldie watched us with her beautiful eyes. “Ben, I appreciate you wanting to help pay for the surgery. But you do understand that you must never keep change that doesn’t belong to you. Someone has to pay the price for every mistake, in this case Jasmine. We’ll have to drive down to Toppers and explain what happened. This will save Jasmine’s reputation, whether or not Mr. Krantz will give her back her job.”
“I know, Mom.” I started to get up, but she pulled me down and put her arm around me.
“But I’m also very proud of you. I learned an important lesson from you in this cat incident. You were right to insist we stop and take the cat to the vet after I hit her with the car. I’m ashamed that I suggested leaving her in the road. That was wrong. And then at the vet’s office, you spoke up and chose surgery. I’m ashamed that I hesitated in making that decision because of the cost. It was your passion and clear vision in both situations that led us to do the humane thing.” I could see tears in her eyes. “And now we have a beautiful cat laying here recovering!”
She gave me a hug. “It is very kind of you to want to help pay the vet bill. I can afford it, and I shouldn’t have complained. When Goldie is better,” she continued, “I’ll check around the neighborhood and see if anyone is missing a cat. But frankly, I doubt it. She was too scrawny and full of worms. I think we have a new cat.”
I smiled up at her. “You’re the best mom ever!”
THE END: FINAL CHAPTER