I was walking down Commonwealth towards Berkeley with a spring in my step. I was wearing my nice clothes, the slacks with no holes in them, and a white shirt with a string tie, and my hair was combed. I had things to do. The day after tomorrow was Megan’s birthday, and I had seventeen dollars in my pocket. The weeks of working at Mr. Roy’s grocery store had paid off, and I knew just what I was going to get Megan.
When I had been walking her home last Wednesday, we had walked past the jewelry shop in the Park Square Building. She stopped to look inside, like all girls do. She asked me what kind of ring I was going to get her when we got married. I didn’t know, and I don’t even know if we’re going to get married. But she likes to think so. After she looked at the rings in the bottom of the window, she looked up at another glass case, and ooohed at a brooch.
I didn’t think it was anything special, but I’m a guy. It was gold and silver, and there was a big M in the middle. It was cursive writing and fancy, and Megan liked it a lot. I wondered how much she would like it when she saw it in a box in her hands the day after tomorrow.
“Hey Kevin,” Sid Leary called. He was sitting on his front porch with his brother Ronald and the rest of the Dunston Boys. “Where’ve you been the last month? We haven’t seen you around.”
“I’ve been busy,” I said without stopping. I didn’t want to stop. Sid might find out I have money, and if he did, it’d probably get spent on pool or whiskey, neither of which would do Megan any good the day after tomorrow.
Sid called out after me as I walked past, and as I turned the corner he shouted again. I hoped he wouldn’t be too mad at me, but I had things to do.
I imagined how Megan would look opening the box, how the brooch would look on her favorite red sweater, how her friends in school would like it, too.
Officer Mulready was out walking his beat along Berkeley, his hands behind his back. He looked me over, but I wasn’t doing anything wrong today, so I looked back at him. “Well, Mr. Murphy, out and about this afternoon?”
“Yes sir,” I replied. He stopped in front of me, and I had to stop, too.
“Where you going?”
“I’m going to my girlfriend’s house, sir,” I said. It was just habit not to tell the truth to him.
“Isn’t she in school?”
“Yes, sir, but I’m going to wait for her.”
He cast a disbelieving eye over me, but nodded and continued on his way. He turned the corner and I could hear faint notes on the wind as he started to whistle. It ended abruptly, and I heard his booming voice questioning some other innocent person.
And then I was at the Park Square Building, outside the jewelry store. I fingered the rolled money in my pocket and went in.
A bell jingled and a man appeared from another room. “May I help you?” he asked.
It was warmer inside and it smelled nice. There were glass cases with all kinds of necklaces and things, but I looked at the case in the window. I could see the back of the brooch. I could very plainly see the little white sticker with the number 21.00 written on it. I felt my stomach drop and my throat got tight.
“I, ah, want to see something in that case,” I said.
“Come around,” he said, waving his hand around the display in front of it. He pulled a big ring of keys from his pocket and unlocked the display.
Then the bell over the door jingled, and Sid Leary and the Dunston Boys came in. “Look at that,” Sid said, pointing at one of the rings in another case.
The jeweller stepped around the glass case. “Can I help you boys?” he asked coldly.
The case was open, and the brooch was hanging on velvet. I snuck a glance at the jeweller. He was watching the Dunston Boys and paying no attention to me. I could just reach in and take it.
It was just like the sham we would pull in Wheeler’s drug store. One guy would go in and look around and then the rest would be rowdy and while old man Wheeler was throwing them out, the first guy would be loading his pockets. He’d then buy something cheap and split. It was usually good for a few packs of cigarettes and gum. It was my turn to be the pigeon.
Megan wouldn’t like something that was stolen. Some of the girls didn’t care, but Megan wouldn’t wear it if she knew it was stolen. She’d probably get mad at me too.
“If you’re not buying anything, you should go somewhere else,” the jeweller said, and I thought he was talking to me. I turned and he was pushing the last of the Dunston Boys out the door. Reggie appeared in the window and made faces at the jeweller, but then Sid called and Reggie disappeared from sight.
“Now what was it that you were looking at?” the jeweller asked after brushing his hands together.
“Well, sir, this brooch,” I said softly.
“The lacework is silver. The letter is inlaid with gold. It’d make a fine gift,” he said.
“It costs twenty-one dollars?” I asked.
“Yes, son, it does. It is a good deal for the piece. It was hand-worked, you know. Imported from Peru.”
“I only have seventeen dollars. Could I work here for you for the rest?”
“For your mother?”
“My girlfriend. It’s her birthday tomorrow. She really likes this brooch.”
He looked at me for a moment, probably to see if I was lying. “Tomorrow’s her birthday?”
“How old will she be?”
“I tell you what. Seventeen dollars for seventeen years sounds about right to me.”
I breathed again. “Thank you, sir,” I said. He took the brooch from the velvet and punched numbers in the cash register. It chinged and the number seventeen appeared in the windows on the top. I pulled out my two five dollar bills and seven ones. He put the brooch in a little white box and gave it to me.
“The other condition is if you marry this girl, you have to buy the ring here.” He smiled. “Would you like a receipt?”
“No, thank you, sir,” I said, and I took the box in both hands and left.
Megan was going to be so happy. I opened the box as I walked. The gold and silver didn’t look as good against the cotton as they had against the black velvet. Megan was going to love it.
Sid and the Dunston boys were standing on the corner of Commonwealth waiting for me. “What’d you get, Kevin?” Sid asked, uncrossing his arms and standing up from the lamp post he had been leaning on.
“Nothing.” I walked wide around the group.
“Hey,” Sid said, grabbing my right arm and half turning me. “What’s in the box?”
“Buzz off, Sid,” I said, shaking my arm out of his hands. I hurried up, and the Dunston boys stood, staring at me from the corner. Sid called my name again, but I ignored it. I went home and spent most of the night looking at the brooch and thinking of Megan.
Megan smiled when I held the box out. “You remembered,” she said with fake surprise. She opened the top and gasped. “Oh, Kevin,” she said softly. Her green eyes looked at me. I thought she was going to cry. “It’s beautiful,” she whispered.
“Do you like it?” I asked.
“I love it.” She stopped. “Can you put it on me?”
I stopped. “Sure,” I said, swallowing. I put her books down on the sidewalk and took the brooch. I unfastened it and tried to hide my trembling hands. I put it on the right side, right over her heart. I didn’t stick her, either.
“Wait till Judy sees this,” she said after we started walking again. “Thank you, Kevin,” she said when we got to the fence around her high school. She kissed me lightly and went in.
I watched her walk proudly into the building. Halfway up the steps, her friends Judy and Sandy met her. She gestured at the brooch and pointed at me. They smiled and looked wistfully at me. I felt good.
I got home from Mr. Roy’s store at eight thirty. My father and mother were screaming at each other in their bedroom. My little sister was in the living room and the radio was turned up to try and cover their disagreement. She ignored me as I came in, and I went up to my bedroom to change clothes. I got my tie off and the top button on my shirt open when Catherine called me from the living room.
Megan was pacing on the front porch. I closed the door behind me. “Hi,” I said.
She turned, eyes blazing. “Don’t ‘hi’ me, Kevin,” she said. She was still wearing the red sweater, but the brooch wasn’t on it.
“Where did you get this brooch?” She stuck it in front of me like it was a cross and I was a vampire.
“I bought it at Taylor’s Jewelry Shop. It’s the one we pass going to your house.”
“Did you buy it, Kevin? Or did you steal it?”
“I bought it.”
“Sid Leary told Sandy that he helped you steal it for me. That they made a distraction and you stole it while the jeweller was throwing them out.”
“That’s not true,” I said. “I….”
“Tell me they weren’t in there with you, Kevin. Tell me you were at the jewelry store alone.”
They were there, though, and I couldn’t lie to Megan. “They were, but….”
“Kevin! I thought you were done with the Dunston Boys. I really did. I thought I meant more to you then those hoodlums. If I don’t, then you can take your stupid brooch and find another girl.”
I didn’t want another girl, it wasn’t like that at all, I did buy the brooch, but none of these words came out. She looked at me for a moment as I stood there with my mouth half open. She then threw the brooch onto the porch and ran down the steps and into the night. The big cursive M glared at me.
I picked it up, and wondered what I’d do now. I went inside, drank a couple glasses of water, and went into my bedroom. Girls are crazy anyway, I thought.