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“You’re okay in the store on your own?” Mrs. Twilling asked.
“To be honest, I get here and Mr. Twilling usually takes off for a coffee, but he comes back, most of the time.”
“Yup, that’s Gary. But you’re not uncomfortable on your own?”
“No ma’am, not at all.”
Mookie was nervous and happy at the same time. He always was on those rare occasions that Mrs. Twilling was in the store.
“You could help yourself to the till.”
Mookie was shocked. “No, ma’am, I wouldn’t.”
“It’s all right,” she said. “I’m sorry I said that.”
“I’m in a program. Sister Connie sponsored me. I come in after school and on weekends.”
“You’re one of the orphans.”
“Yes ma’am, but I live in a foster home now.”
Mrs. Twilling tore off the paper tape, paused, and yawned deeply.
“No sleep last night,” she said.
She began to count the cash. Mookie marvelled at the slenderness of her hands. She stopped and looked up at him.
“You’re neat. I’ve noticed that.”
“Thank you ma’am. I appreciate the comment.”
She resumed counting. Mookie couldn’t keep his eyes off her hands. They were as beautiful as anything he’d ever seen. He thought of birds skipping from branch to branch. She yawned again and scratched behind her ear. She looked over at him.
“You’re staring at me.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to,” Mookie said, embarrassed, beginning to shrivel. He looked away and waved the duster at the paint cans.
“You want to make yourself useful, go strangle that mutt my neighbours have installed in their backyard. The damn thing kept me up all night with its whining.”
“My husband and the big box stores, that’s what I’m up against.”
Mrs. Twilling yawned again. She looked past Mookie’s shoulder and gave a little nod. “Incoming,” she said.
She smiled at him and went back to her office, the heels of her black pumps clacking on the tile floor.
The door jangled. Mookie turned just as Sister Connie from the Novitiate came in.
“Kee-rist,” he said under his breath. The sister was wearing baggy jeans and a sweatshirt and was splattered with paint top and bottom. She had a putty knife in one hand and in the other the package of putty that he had sold her just that morning.
“Now then young man,” she began good-naturedly, “you call yourself a paint and wallpaper expert…”
Saturday morning Mookie came in a quarter of an hour before opening time to put out the sidewalk display. He was surprised to find Mrs. Twilling behind the counter instead of her husband.
“Good morning, Mrs. Twilling” he said and started for the front of the store.
“That can wait,” she said, sharply.
He wasn’t sure what to do. Usually Mrs. Twilling came in later than this on Saturdays. She helped on the floor if it was busy and if it wasn’t she worked on the books in the office and left early.
“Any sign of my husband?” she said.
“I haven’t seen him. I just got here.”