“Do not wander away,” Jack’s mother said. “You are not to leave this department store. I want you back here in an hour.”
Jack and Hannah both nodded.
“I have to do the dishes all the time,” Hannah said. “Besides, do you really want Jack to watch the baby?”
“There is no ‘baby’ yet,” their mother said. She rubbed at the bulge beneath her coat and sweater. “Not for another month or so.”
“It’s a shame the blob is going to miss Christmas,” Charlotte said.
“I think I’d rather have the baby than fight through these crowds much longer,” their mother said.
“Have the baby here,” Charlotte said with a grin. “That’d get rid of the crowds real fast!”
“Don’t even joke about that,” Hannah said. “Come on, Jack.”
Jack’s older sister pulled him away from the perfume counters, and they made for the escalators. Jack tried to pull his hand away several times, but Hannah kept a firm grip.
“I’m seven now, I don’t need to hold your hand the whole way!”
“Fine,” she said. “You have until we get to the top. And stop fiddling with that!” She swatted at Jack’s hand, which was zipping the ring back and forth along the chain around his neck.
“You do that all the time with your—“
“It’s different. My necklaces don’t make so much noise. Now tuck it away before somebody sees it.”
“We can turn around right now and go back to Mom. That means no present for her this year. Do you want that?”
Jack scowled, but dropped the ring down the front of his collar. He shivered, despite the many layers. The ring was cold against his skin. But he didn’t dare pluck it back out and drop it outside his shirt.
Hannah took Jack’s hand as they stepped off the escalator. She tugged him along as he slowed to look at the shiny kitchenware. Blenders, mixers and toasters in several different colors caught his eye: red and blue and yellow. He liked he chrome ones the best, though.
“Come on, Jack!”
He turned to stick his tongue out at his sister, but she tugged his hand again, and he nearly bit his tongue. Something flashed, from the corner of his eye, and he hauled back on his sister’s hand.
“Wait!” he said. She stopped with a sigh, and Jack turned to look at the blender, but whatever he’d seen in the reflection was gone.
“Mom already has one of those.”
“I know,” he said. “But I—“
“Tick tock, Jack. We don’t have a lot of time.”
They cut through the furniture section to avoid tangling up the line at one of the cash register stations, and had crossed into more housewares when Jack again slowed. Hannah glowered.
“I thought I saw—“
“People, Jack. You’re seeing them moving in the glass. As if this place isn’t crowded enough.”
Hannah sighed. “Now what?”
Jack danced from foot to foot.
“No. No way. Why didn’t you say something before we got all the way over here?”
“I didn’t have to go before we got all the way over here!”
They turned around, winding through the tables full of picture frames and decorations. They didn’t pause when they drew near the line of people.
“Make way, he’s gotta pee!” Hannah barked.
More customers smiled than scowled as they huddled aside.
* * * * *
Jack spent several minutes washing his hands. Actually, he spent several minutes waving his hand under the faucet to make the water start and stop.
“Some time today, Jack!” his sister called from outside the restroom.
He sighed, and turned and waved his hand in front of the paper towel dispenser. The red light blinked, and it spat out a length of brown paper. He waved his hand again. And again.
“You don’t have time to play, Jack.”
He looked up, was going to scowl and maybe stick his tongue out at the door, but he stopped when he looked in the mirror.
She was standing about an arm’s length behind him. The girl.
Jack tuned, but there was nobody there. He turned back to the mirror.
She was still there.
“Get to one of those telephones, Jack. Call for help.”
Jack frowned. “Help? I don’t—“
“You need to call a doctor.”
“A doctor? But I’m not sick.“
“Not you, your mother and sister. They need your help. You need to call a doctor.”
“How did you—“
“Hurry!” She jabbed a finger towards the door’s reflection.
Jack followed her gesture, but she was gone when he turned to look back in the mirror.
“It’s about time,” Hannah said.
Jack plowed into her, and she staggered back a few steps.
“No, we’re getting Mom a purse.”
“No, I need to get to a phone!”
“Where are they?”
“Come on,” she said, tugging his hand towards the elevators. But Jack spotted the sign and the arrows.
"That way!" He slipped his hand from hers and took off the opposite direction.
"Jack! Come back here!" She had no choice but to give chase.
“What on earth are you doing?” Hannah asked, two floors later. Jack ignored her, mashing down the buttons on the pay phone at Customer Service.
9 1 1
“My mom needs help!” Jack shouted into the phone. “You have to help my mom! I think she’s having her baby! No, she’s down stairs, so I can’t put her on the phone. This isn’t a joke!” He looked up at Hannah, his eyes flooding with tears.
The Christmas music oozing through the store’s speakers cut off, replaced by a soothing tone. “Attention shoppers, this is a customer page. Customers Hannah and Jack Jacobs, please report to the first floor perfume counter. Jack and Hannah Jacobs…”
“Give me that,” Hannah said, snatching the phone. She started giving the operator orders.
* * * * *
“Are we in trouble?”
The sheriff’s deputy looked down at Jack and smiled. “No. We just need to wait for your dad to get here. Till then, I get to babysit.”
“You’re going to want to use that gun if you have to sit much longer,” Charlotte said. “It’s the only way to get him to stop asking questions.”
“We’re sorry about this,” Hannah said.
“This is the most excitement I’ve had all day,” he said.
“The lights and siren sure were cool,” Jack said.
“Do you think our mom is going to be okay?” Hannah asked.
The deputy’s smile wavered. “That, I don’t know, miss. But your mom is in good hands here.”
“Have you ever been shot?” Jack asked.
The deputy laughed, patting Jack on the shoulder. “This is a pretty quiet county. Not much call for dodging bullets. Not nowadays, anyway. Now, maybe a hundred years ago, or so. Used to be some pretty big ranches down the south parts of the county.”
“There were cowboys here? I thought they only lived in Texas.”
“Cowboys, Indians, railroads, trains, the whole nine yards.”
“Cattle rustlers and train robbers?”
“Had a few attempts, but nobody managed a heist on any of the trains. Couple hangings for snatching cattle, though. And then there was the lynching of the —”
Hannah cleared her throat.
The deputy blinked, blushed as he remembered his audience. “Oh, right.”
It wasn’t too much longer before Jack’s father arrived, and he and the deputy stepped up to the nurse’s station to sort things out. They shook hands, and the deputy tipped his hat towards the family as he left.
Jack’s father talked with the nurses for several more minutes before he came back over to their seats by the window.
“Which one of you called ambulance?”
“It was Jack’s fault!” Charlotte said, pointing.
“Is this true?”
Jack swallowed, and nodded. “I… dialed 911. That’s what you call when you need help.”
“You two stay here,” Jack’s father said. “And you are to come with me.”
Jack swallowed again.