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A Mother's Day Surprise

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Max’s muddy toes peeked out of the tips of her tattered old shoes. Her light pink dress fanned out around her scrawny legs. Her pale blonde hair was braided into two braids that slid back and forth in front of her petite shoulders. Her bright green eyes danced in the sunlight. Dave’s chubby hand clutched Max’s as they walked. Dave was two years old and very adventurous. Max was five. She adored Dave and always jumped at the chance to take him on walks.

“I wanna go home,” Dave whined.

“I know, Davey,” Max said, trying to reassure him. “We’ll go home as soon as we’re done in the store.” Dave stuck out his bottom lip but kept walking.

The store stood across the street, gleaming in the sunlight. Max’s pace quickened as she tugged Dave across the busy street. Opening the big glass door, Max shuffled Dave inside. Max breathed in deeply, sweet smelling perfumes filled her senses.

She turned to Dave. “Don’t touch anything, okay?” Dave nodded but his eyes were fixed on a huge glass jar full of gummy bears.

Max pulled Dave over to the women’s clothing section. For Mother’s Day next week, Max was going to buy Mommy a new dress. Mommy had taken her here just last week.

“Oh, Max!!” Mommy had exclaimed. “Look at this gorgeous dress!!”

Max scampered over to where Mommy stood. Max gasped. It was a pretty dress! The long, silk, brown dress hung on the hanger like a crystal chandelier. The sparkly sequins cast tiny rainbows on the floor. The thick spaghetti straps curved around where your neck was supposed to go. When Mommy held the dress against her body, the bottom edges of the dress brushed her ankles.

“Oooo!! Are you going to buy it, Mommy?”

Dave squirmed in Mommy’s arms as she adjusted his position on her hip. She sighed quietly enough Max almost didn’t hear her. “No,” she smiled sadly.

“Why not?” Max asked.

“Well . . . because I don’t need a new dress and because I’d rather spend my money on you two,” she said as she swooped her head down to rub noses with Max then Dave.

Max had smiled but it hadn’t been her happiest smile. She wanted Mommy to have that pretty dress. She deserved it.

That night after Mommy had tucked her in, Max jumped out of bed and flopped down on her belly. She wiggled underneath her bed. It was too dark to see so she had wave her arms around until one of them smacked the wooden and dusty box. She slithered out from her bed and tip-toed over to her bedroom door. She opened up the door a crack so that the light from the hallway would spill onto the floor of her bedroom then she lay down and pried opened the box. Eight dollars and fifty cents covered the bottom of the box. Max dumped all of the money out and stuffed it into the pocket of her favorite pink dress. She would wear it the day she bought Mommy that pretty dress because Mommy said that when they go into town they must look their best and this was Max’s best dress.

Max had tried to make it to the store earlier that week but there had never been the chance until now.

Max spotted the dress instantly. She ran over to it and tugged it off the hanger. She searched frantically for the price tag. Finally she found it. It read: $35.99. Max frowned. But she only had $8.50!! Frustrated, she stuffed the dress on a near-by shelf because she was too short to hang it back up.

Max’s face lit up. I know!! She thought. I can buy Mommy some new jewelry or perfume!! She grabbed Dave’s hand again and marched over to the perfumes and jewelry. She checked every single item but the only one she could afford was a Hello Kitty necklace. That was Max pretty, it just wasn’t Mommy pretty. Disappointment colored Max’s expression. She started towards the door, Dave following quickly behind. But before she could reach the door she heard an old man call out to her.

“Little girl!” He called. Max turned around and looked blankly at him. Do I know him? She thought. She tugged Dave closer to her and he hid behind her dress. The old man slowly strolled over to them.

“I noticed you seemed a little sad.” He said, his crackly voice sounding kind.

“Yeah,” Max confessed. “I don’t have enough money to buy a dress for my mommy for Mother’s Day.”

The old man gave her a sad smile. “Oh, I’m sorry,” Then his mouth curved upward into a smile. “You know what?” He said excitedly.

“What?!” Max could feel his excitement become her own.

“If you help me here in my store, I think I might be able to help you buy that dress for your Mama,” His eyes twinkled.

“And gummy bears?” Dave chimed in.

The old man chuckled. “Yes, and gummy bears.”

The excitement was too much for either of them to handle. Max and Dave grabbed each other’s hands and started jumping up and down in circles.

“Now,” the old man sounded very serious now so Max stopped jumping and listened. “Don’t tell your mama about this, okay?”

“We won’t! I promise.” Max used her most serious face.

He smiled again. “My name’s Jerry. You can call me Mr. Jerry if you’d like. What’s your names, youngans?”

“My name’s Dave an’ I’m four yeawrs owld.” Max giggled. Dave didn’t always say words the right way.

“And your name, young lady?” Mr. Jerry questioned.

“My name’s Max which is short for Maxine and I’m seven years old,” she said proudly. She loved her real name. It sounded so elegant, she thought.

“Well, nice to meet you, Maxine and Dave,” he replied with a smile. Max liked him already and she LOVED how he called her Maxine. “Now you two better go home before your mama gets a scare.”

“O.K. Bye, Mr. Jerry!” Max called as she and Dave headed out the store.

“Bye, kidos!” He waved from the front steps until they were out of sight.

Such nice kids, Jerry Crawford thought as he returned to the cash register. They almost look like . . . He didn’t let himself finish the thought. It’s impossible.
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Every day over the next two weeks, Max and Dave returned to the store to help Mr. Jerry. Sometimes they stacked cereal boxes on the shelves or washed the windows in the front of the store and sometimes they even got to help customers find things in the store. It was SO much fun!

Every morning Max would tell Mommy that she and Dave were going to the park. Max didn’t like lying to Mommy but she had to if she was going to make the dress a surprise.

Max looked over her shoulder to find Dave reaching for a huge, swaying stack of boxes.

“Davey! NO!!!!” Max screeched. She ran over to him. “What are you trying to do, Davey?”

He was very close to tears. “Mr. Jewy asked me to get mower paper towels.” He sobbed as he pointed to the top box.

Max nodded. “Here,” she said, pulling over a step-ladder. “Let me show you how to do it the safe way . . .”
________________________________________

Jerry glanced over to where Max was helping Dave up the step-ladder. Maybe if I ask . . . no . . . that couldn’t be. But . . . it couldn’t hurt to ask . . . right? Jerry nodded to himself. He would ask Maxine after closing time today.
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It was 3:00 which meant it was time to close the store. Max and Dave started to get ready to go home. They didn’t wear their shoes inside the store because their shoes were so decrepit. Max helped Dave put on his shoes then turned to do her own. Her second shoe was half on when the whole thing fell apart. Max felt angry tears sting her eyes. Just then Mr. Jerry came over and knelt next to her. He held out two blue boxes in his hands. He opened the bigger box and pulled out a pair of band new pink sneakers! Max sat up straight.

“Are those for me?!” She squeaked in disbelief.

Mr. Jerry nodded then opened the smaller box. He pulled out a brand new pair of blue racecar sneakers and pulled Dave onto his lap. Then he slowly slid off Dave’s dirty, old brown shoes and put on the new sneakers. Max quickly pulled on hers, too.

“Thank you so much, Mr. Jerry!!” Max said as she admired her new shoes on her feet. She couldn’t even see her toes!!

“Well, you two were working so hard, I thought you deserved something extra.” He smiled but there were tears in his eyes.

“Mr. Jerry? Why are you crying?” Max stood up and walked over to him. She started rubbing his back. When Mommy did that to her, it always made her feel better.

“Maxine, could I ask you a question?”

Max noticed his serious face and sat down in front of him. “Of course, Mr. Jerry.”

“What’s your Momma’s full name? Her first and last name, I mean.”

“Her first name is Kate and her last name is Simmons.”

Mr. Jerry’s eyes filled with tears again and he let out a big breath. Slowly he shook his head. “Thank you, Maxine. I’ll see you two tomorrow.”

Her eyes never left Mr. Jerry as she stood up and grabbed Dave’s hand. She shuffled him out the door and quietly closed it behind them.
________________________________________

Something warm and sticky touched her face. Kate tried to ignore it. When it tapped her face this time, it was accompanied by two small voices. The first one was a little boy, and the second was a little girl.

“Mommy! Mommy!” the two voices “whispered” in unison. Kate pried her eyes open. She blinked twice, now realizing where she was. She grinned at Max and Dave.

“Well, good morning you two.”

“Mommy! Mommy! Do you know what day it is?!” her oldest, Max, said as she jumped around the bed.

“Hmmm . . .” Kate scratched her head, playing along. “I can’t seem to remember. Do you know?” Kate asked, stifling a laugh as Dave tried to imitate his sister, skipping around the bed. Dave gave up and hopped up on the bed.

“It’s Mohver’s Day, Mommy!!” he giggled and plopped down beside her.

“Oh! That’s right!” she exclaimed, hitting her forehead dramatically.

“An’ we got a surp’ise for you!” Dave said, bouncing on the bed.

“Davey!!!!” Max shouted. She scowled at him and marched over to the side of the bed. “You’re not supposed to say that.”

“Oh . . .” Dave’s face fell. He turned back to Kate, determination etched on his face. “We don’t have a surp’ise for you.”

“Augh,” Max groaned.

Before the moment could get out of hand, Kate stood up and grabbed Dave by the feet. She tugged him off the bed and tucked him under her arm. He giggled wildly. Then she snatched Max from her spot beside the bed and tucked her under the other arm. Kate started down the stairs.

“Let’s get some breakfast,” she shouted over the children’s peals of laughter.
________________________________________

Dave stabbed the egg again. Come on, eggy! I weawy hungewy!

“Here, Davey, let me help you.” Max leaned over and scooped the eggs onto the fork. “Scoop them. It’s easier that way.”

Dave smiled big. He loved Max. She was always so nice. He finished his breakfast speedy fast ‘cause he wanted to see Mr. Jerry and get Mommy her new dress.

Dave looked up and saw Mommy walk into the kitchen with their new shoes.

“Max, where did you get these?” Mommy looked kind of mad. But why would Mommy be mad? Wouldn’t she be happy we have new shoes?

Dave looked at Max. She didn’t look to good. Her face was kinda whitish. She turned to Dave and put one finger on her lips. That meant to be quiet and not say a word. Not even ok. Dave nodded quickly and put both his hands over his mouth.
________________________________________

Kate was puzzled about Max’s explanation about the new shoes. It hadn’t made much sense. She had said something about a store and working but she hadn’t been real clear. In fact, this didn’t make any sense. All three of them were walking to a “surprise.” They had been walking about two blocks and Kate still couldn’t figure out where they were headed. Then she saw a store where Max must have been leading them to.

“Honey,” Kate stopped on the sidewalk. “The store is closed. It’s Sunday.”

Max turned around and grinned Kate’s favorite grin. “But it’s not Mommy. Not for us.” Then she turned around and started skipping across the street.
________________________________________

Here they come. Oh, I don’t know about this . . . But after all these years of waiting . . . Oh, this tie is too tight! Where did I put . . . Oh yes! Here it is. And the . . . ah right here. Okay, no more stalling. Let’s do this.
________________________________________

Kate was so confused. She was about to tell the kids that this was ridiculous and that they should go back home when an older, familiar looking man stepped out of the store they were headed toward. Kate squinted against the sunlight and politely waved. Just then the kids saw him.

“Mr. Jerry!” they screamed. They ran across the street, tugging Kate with them.

Mr. Jerry? Who’s he? And why does he look so familiar? As they got closer, Kate noticed the man’s tear stained face. How do my kids know this man?

“Kate?” the old man asked in a shaky voice.

And then it hit her. Kate froze in front of the old man. How had her kids found him? Why hadn’t she noticed him before? How was this happening? After ten years she didn’t think she would ever see him again. This man was her father.
.
.
.

Tears pooled in Kate’s eyes. “Dad?” her voice was only a whisper.

“Katie girl, I thought I’d never see you again,”

The kids were clearly bewildered. “Mommy, you know Mr. Jerry?” Max asked.

“Yes, sweetie. Mr. Jerry is my daddy. He’s your Grandpa,” Kate choked out.

Kate turned back to her father. “Dad, what happened?”

Her dad sighed. “Well, honey, after your mom died, and you came back here with Kevin, well, the landlord kicked me out. I decided to come here and live close by you but I . . . I couldn’t find you. Where were you all these years? And what happened to Kevin? And why did I never hear about these kids? I didn’t even know you wanted kids.”

Now it was Kate’s turn to sigh. “Well,” her voice was shaky. “Kevin told me when we got back home, that he had lost his job. You couldn’t find us because we . . . we had to live with another family. Then Kevin started drinking and getting involved with gangs. By then we had Max and I was pregnant with Dave. Kevin left three months before Dave was born. And by then the family we were living with was moving and sold me the house for a really low price because they knew I didn’t have much money. That’s where we live now. And you didn’t hear about the kids because when I called you at the house, someone picked up and said you didn’t live there anymore.”

“Oh honey, I’m so sorry.” They embraced, tears streaming down their faces.

“Mommy!” Max and Dave complained impatiently. “What about the surprise?!”

Kate and Jerry pulled back, chuckling. “Okay, okay. Show me the surprise. You’ve actually have me pretty interested.” She raised suspicious eyebrows at her father as she followed the kids inside the store.

The store was dark. Kate walked slowly, letting her eyes get adjusted to the dark. When she could see, she followed Max and Dave’s bouncing bodies.

She chuckled and turned to her dad. “What’s going on?”

His eyes crinkled as he smiled. “I’ll let them explain.”

Kate raised her eyebrows again but walked forward to where her kids had stopped and were now standing, trying as hard as they could not to run around some more.

“What’s going on?” Kate asked again.

“It’s the surprise, Mommy!” Max tugged Kate over to a box wrapped in colorful paper.

“Open it, Mommy!” Dave squealed.

“Okay,” Kate picked up the box and sat down in a chair against the wall. She placed the box on her lap and started to unwrap it. She took the wrapping paper and handed it to her dad, still puzzled. Carefully, she opened the box and pushed aside the tissue paper. Inside was the dress from so many weeks ago. Kate had wanted the dress since the day she had seen it in the store window. She gasped softly and pulled the dress out. She stood up and held the dress up in front of her. How had her kids afforded this?

“How . . .?”

“Everyday for two weeks, Maxine and Dave came to my store and worked. They made enough money for half the dress and a few gummy bears,” her dad grinned at Max and Dave. “I told them I’d give them a discount.”

Kate put the dress on the table and knelt down. “Come here you two.”

Max and Dave ran over and fell in her arms, their grins a mile wide. “Do you like it?” Max asked.

“No.” Their faces fell. “I love it!”

“YAY!!!!” They jumped up and danced around Kate. They all laughed.

“How about we have a Mother’s Day picnic?” Jerry suggested.

“Yes!!!!” the kids cheered.

They all gathered items from the store for the picnic and started walking to Max and Dave’s favorite park.

“Thanks, Dad,” Kate whispered as they watched the kids play on the slides.

“Anytime, Katie.”

“Dad? Why did your land lord kick you out? Are you having trouble with money?”

“Oh no, of course not. The land lord kicked me out because he was having money trouble and needed the house. But, Katie, are you having money trouble?”

Kate shifted uncomfortably on the park bench. “Dad, I can’t just take money from you.”

“You won’t be taking it, Katie. You’ll be given it. It’s my Mother’s Day gift to you.”

Kate’s eyes filled with tears that she had been holding back for too long. “Thanks,” was all she could manage. Life is good, Kate thought as she leaned against her daddy and watched her kids laugh and run around.



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