Chapter Two

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The strand of Christmas lights over the window isn't working. I thought they were working this morning when I clocked in, but I don't remember when they stopped.

Now, the detail is driving me crazy.

I grab the step ladder from the back room and start pulling the lights from the little plastic hooks holding them in place around the rectangular window. This year, Carla wanted to do a display about travel, so model vehicles and plastic cars create a scene that looks a little chaotic but also colorful.

Kind of like the holidays.

"What are you doing?" Carla asks, putting the last of the stuffed animals on a shelf by the door.

"Fixing the lights."

"We close in half an hour. They'll be fine until tomorrow."

I've got nothing else to do until time to clock out, so I might as well replace faulty decorations. Probably best not to say so out loud though.

Carla pulls her hair into a ponytail and goes back into her office.

I put the lights on the counter by the register and inspect the bulbs. Red, green, pink, blue. They're supposed to have different settings, and we keep them on the one that fades the colors out slowly because it's not overwhelming to see from the street.

Below the counter, an alarm clock radio plays Christmas music from one of the local stations at low volume, just loud enough to hear as I inspect the bulbs again.

"Look!" The window muffles the voice on the other side of the glass, but it is distinctly Nash's. He's around six, blond-haired like his brother, and seems like a sweet kid.

Merritt opens the door and ushers his brother in from the cold. "Don't run."

Nash moves immediately to the window display to check out the model cars and planes.

"Hard at work?" Merritt leans one elbow on the other side of the counter.

"Not really. Our lights stopped working and I thought I could fix them."

"It's not even December yet."

A true statement, but it's only two days away. "Decorations are good for business. And who doesn't love Christmas lights?"

"We don't have ours up yet," Nash says, standing on tiptoe to look at something behind the counter. "Do you sell puzzles?"

"Sure do."

"Big ones?"



He follows me to a shelf in the back corner where the puzzles and board games are stacked. They're sorted by age group, younger groups on the bottom and older on the top shelves. He studies each one, from the painting-style images to the cartoonish ones.

"You're the first person who's been here today who looked at puzzles. What kind do you like?"

"Cars," he replies thoughtfully, "and dogs."

"I'll see what we have..." I find one of a puppy in a baseball cap. "How about this one?"

"It's only fifty pieces."

"Don't be rude, Nash." Merritt shrugs. "His last one was one-fifty."

"Holy cow." I don't even have that attention span. "We have one of a train that's one-fifty? Or a castle?"

Nash rocks on his heels. "I have a train set at home. Merritt gave it to me."

"How cool." I take the train puzzle box down and show it to him. "What do you think?"

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