Papa stood over us, heaving and red-faced, his jowls swinging and his ears smoking. Well, the smoke could’ve have been the from kitchen, as Grandma was standing in the doorway, her mouth clamped and her lips drawn tight, unconcerned with whatever was going on at the oven.
My attention snapped back to Papa as he shook the empty leather notebook at the three of us, sending it flapping to the floor. “You mean to tell me you spent it? Spent it?
I looked to Jake, the oldest of the cousins. The whole thing been his idea in the first place. But I should’ve known better than to listen to him. Then I turned to my left, to Aaron, who was sitting mute like he’d swallowed his tongue. Man, once again, it was yours truly who was going to have to start talking, so I wiped my face and looked up, stared through the bushy thicket of eyebrows and right into fury. “Um, well…”
I kept waiting for Grandma to swoop in and tell Papa to hush. Seems she always had her back, like last time when we were messing with Papa’s golf bag or model cars, or last summer when we set off those yellow jacket fireworks in Mr. Clemmon’s mailbox. But not today. She kept her eyes down like she had all evening to let us squirm under the shadow of Papa’s mile long shoulders. Maybe this was more serious than I’d thought.
“Well,” I started again, shaky at first but knowing I was all the hope we had. “Yes, we used those old coins,” I said, reminding him they were old and worn and likely worth nothing more than the time it took to count ‘em. “We bought some burgers at the food court.”
It was here that Papa gasped. And by gasped I mean about sucked in the windows and parted our hair in a different place. So I plowed ahead. I mean, we were talking about coins, right. Sure, we shouldn’t have taken the stupid things, but the way this thing was going, you’d have thought we’d killed someone. Which we didn’t, for the record, we’d bought lunch, then headed to the Dragon’s Lair for baseball cards and candy–and yeah, okay–Jake talked us into sneaking to the back to look at the “adult magazines” but we only got a peek before we got run off anyhow.
Being nervous as I was, I just let fly. I told Papa how we got Alexander the Grapes and Lemonheads, how we plucked a few of the coins into the wishing fountain. I laid it on thick, trying to score a few points with Grandma, saying how I’d wished on Aunt Jolene, hoping she’d get well again. Nothing doing. Papa’s eyes went nuclear and I thought maybe that vein on his temple was going to spring a leak. Grandma wasn’t helping with all those Lord-have-mercies, so I figured maybe it was time to wrap it up.
“Amazing,” Papa said, only he said “Amazing” the way he said it when we watched the evening news and they showed the world’s dumbest criminals. He stared out the bay window, like he’d rather watch the grass grow than see the likes of us. He turned back to Grandma. “They blew through twenty grand in an hour. On candy.”
“And baseball cards,” I said, helpfully. Sheez, you’d of thought he’d have been thanking us. Maybe Papa didn’t know this, but people weren’t exactly jumping up and down to count change—hang on. “Hey Papa, what do you mean, ‘twenty grand’”?
Papa nearly spit out his teeth. “I mean those coins might’ve helped pay for your college, if I ever thought you numbskulls had a mind to go, that is.”
Grandma unfolded her arms. “Now Harold.”
“Don’t ‘now Harold’ me,” he said, turning to Grandma then kicking at the carpet. He turned for the door and grappled for his coat. “I just can’t believe it,”
Grandma wiped her hands on her apron. “Now just where are you going at this hour? It’s nearly seven.”
“To the mall,” he said, looking us over. “Now come on, all of you.”
“What are we going to do?” I asked, my voice cracking, because the look in his eyes…this was a man who used to jump out of planes. And that was just to get to the war.
He opened the door, motioned for us to get moving. “Well you better start wishing, for starters.”