I shook my head. “No, I’m fine and you don’t hafta be sorry. I was reaching for Emma May’s shotgun just when you came in.” I lifted the shotgun off its hooks under the counter so he could see it and pumped the shaft. The man took one look at the gun and bent over in a fit of laughter. I put it back under the counter. “What’s so funny?” I asked.
“Oh man, I can’t wait to tell Skid he almost got put to ground by a little girl.” His eyes teared up as he continued to laugh, deep and loud.
“I’m not a little girl.” I argued. “I’ll be eleven next month. How old are you?”
“I’m twenty-one.” He smiled even brighter and suddenly I was no longer angry over him calling me a little girl. If he kept smiling at me like that he could call me whatever he wanted.
“What’s your name, Darlin?” he asked.
“I’m Thia Andrews,” I said proudly, extending my hand out to him like my dad had taught me to do when introducing yourself.
“Thia?” he asked, giving me the same weird look most people did when they heard my name for the first time.
“Short for Cynthia, but not like Cindy. There are twelve girls in my class and three of them are Cindy’s so I’m glad I’m a Thia and not a Cindy.” I stuck out my tongue and mimicked sticking my finger down my throat. I hated the name Cindy, although when my dad proposed Thia as an alternative my mom refused to use the new nickname and had stuck to calling me Cindy. “What’s your name?”
He took my hand in his. “They call me Bear, Darlin’.” His skin was warm, except for the cool metal of his rings. I looked so small and pale compared to Bear, my hand looked like doll hands. “I got a buddy who shook hands as a kid too.”
“Daddy says it’s polite.”
“Your daddy is right.”
“Your friend who shakes hands, is he nice like you?” I asked.
“I wouldn’t exactly say I’m nice. But my friend? He’s…let’s just say, he’s different,” Bear said with a laugh.
“Different is good. My teachers say I’m different cause I got pink hair, although they also say I have a speaking-out-of-turn problem,” I said, with all the prolific knowledge of a ten-year-old.
“Sometimes different is real good, kid,” Bear agreed.
“Is your real name Bear?” I asked. “Is your last name Grizzly or something?”
“Nope,” he said. “Bear is just a nickname my club gave me. All the members go by nicknames, except we call them road names.”
“You’re in a club?” I asked with excitement. “That’s so cool! If your real name isn’t Bear though, what is it?”
“Can you keep a secret?” he whispered, looking around to make sure no one was listening. “I haven’t told anyone my name in years. Even my old man calls me Bear. But my real name? It’s Abel. And now you’re one of the only few people who know that.”
“That’s a really great name.” Although Bear fit him too. He was taller than my dad and he had a lot of muscles and his hands were huge like Bear paws.
He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a clip with folded bills in it. More money than I’d ever seen.
More than what was in my Buzz Lightyear piggy bank in my room at home.
More than what was in Emma May’s register.
Bear pulled off three of the bills and set them on the counter. “What’s that for?” I asked, looking down at his hand which was partially covering the money as he slid it over to me and released it.
“That, is three hundred dollars.”
“What do you want to buy? I can run over to the hair place and get Emma ’cause this dang register—”
“I’m not buying anything. It’s for you. For your help today. For not—”
“Three hundred bucks for not calling the sheriff?” I asked, catching on to what he was offering.
Three hundred dollars to a ten-year-old might as well have been a million.
“Consider it a thank you for not shooting him,” Bear corrected.
“That’s okay. Emma May would have been mad about the blood anyway.” Emma May hated a mess.
Bear laughed again and I smiled. “You’re funny, kid. You know that?”
“I am?” I’d been called crazy, weird, strange, talkative, but never funny. I decided that I liked being called funny.
“Yeah,” he said pushing the money closer to me. He looked up and around the counter. “No cameras in here?”
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