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.
Written by Frances Milburn
Illustrated by Liv Aanrud
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.