Penelope had gotten very used to making hard decisions in the past few weeks.  She had thought things were at their worst three years ago when her mother died, but recent events were making her reconsider that.  Her extended family had all but turned their back on her, and her stepdad had made it clear that her staying in his house was conditional.  Moving in with Jacob was not an option, since he had dumped her.
She cursed herself again for going to that party.  If she hadn’t gotten drunk….
She stood still in front of the pawn shop with a taped-up cardboard box tucked under her arm.  She had to stop thinking and just walk inside, but the thought of crossing the threshold made her eyes water and her throat close up.   Despite that, she placed one foot in front of the other until she was through the door.  Once inside, she started to tremble.  Penelope found an empty bench inside the pawn shop and sat down before she could drop the box.
The shop was empty this early in the morning.  An older, obese woman behind a display case closed her laptop and looked at Penelope from across the room.  Penelope imagined she could almost hear the woman’s mental “tsk tsk.”
“Can I help you, young lady?”  The woman rapped her fingers on the display case that served as her counter.  Inside the case, cheap jewelry caught the light.  Behind the woman were racks of various mismatched antiques.
“Yeah, just give me a minute.  I’m not feeling well.”  This was the truth.  Penelope hadn’t been feeling her best for weeks, physically, mentally, or emotionally.
Penelope had to take several minutes to calm down.  Meanwhile, the shopkeeper had turned back to watching TV on her laptop.  The shopkeeper’s nametag said “Manuela.”  She didn’t look up until Penelope placed the box in front of her.  Manuela grabbed a nearby box cutter and opened the box, then held the loose flaps open while Penelope cleared away the packing material, carefully lifted the heavy keepsake out, and placed it to one side.
It was an old but still beautiful model of a carousel made of metal and wood with ceramic horses.  Obviously hand-crafted, every horse had a different color and pose.  Penelope lovingly caressed her favorite horse with her fingertips.  It was pure white and designed to look like it was gazing behind at its invisible rider.
For an eternal moment, Penelope could hear her mother’s voice as clearly as if she was standing next to her.  “You know, Nell, that carousel belonged to your great-grandmother.  It has been in your room since you were a baby.  At night, I’d lay you down in your crib and wind it up so you could listen to the lullabies.  I never had any trouble putting you down for the night.” Her mom had told the story so often that Penelope used to tune it out.  Now, she was holding on to the words, the sound of her mother’s voice, like a fragile glass figurine.
The words slipped away into the space between memories when Manuela snapped her fingers at Penelope’s face.  “I asked you a question, honey.  Do you know how old it is?”
“Oh,” she replied distantly, “Uh, late 1800’s?”  There was a pause.  “It’s a music box.  It plays a few different tunes and spins,” she added in a monotone.
Manuela grunted in acknowledgement as she gently lifted the carousel to look at the underside.  “The serial number’s in decent shape, still readable.  Lichfield & Siebel, good company.  The metal’s pretty tarnished…”   She wound it up and the carousel started to turn while tinkling the notes to “Hush, Little Baby.”  A small smile contorted the wrinkles on the shopkeeper’s face.  “Sounds good, and the motor still works.  I can give you $250 for it.”
Penelope had watched enough reality pawning shows to know not to take the first offer.  “I think it’s worth closer to $400.”
“I’ll give you $300.  That’s as high as I can go.”
“Are you certain you can’t give me $325?”
Manuela opened up a metal box beside her laptop.  It was full of cash.  Manuela counted out six fifties, a ten, and a five.  “That’s what you’re getting.”  Penelope stared at the bills for a moment before picking them up off the counter.  She briskly turned around and walked toward the door, ignoring Manuela’s contrived “Have a nice day.”
The money would be enough to cover the testing fees for her GED.  The rest would be saved toward the crib.

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