Tom and I huddle close together in the bus stop shelter. Damp icy air, murky gray clouds. I hold out my hand to catch my first-ever snowflake. A real blizzard will churn across the state tonight. We expect a foot of snow and a deep freeze. Missouri winters are brutal. Coming from Florida where I never even wore a jacket, I have no doubt I’m about to experience a frosty death. I shiver, wish I had a winter coat, but after filling the propane tank and car repairs my parents are tapped out.
“Lulu, put this on.” Tom tucks his heavy wool jacket over my shoulders.
It’s warm from his body and I cover my face with it, inhale. “What about you?” I ask. My lovely boyfriend shrugs, hands in pockets. His tee-shirt won’t keep out the cold. The snow picks up and begins to come down serious. I wrap my arms around him to keep half of him warm.
“Wish I could buy you a coat,” he says. Tom is the best, but more broke you can’t imagine. No jobs for teens in this town. His parents are splitting, it’s high drama, wah-wah-wah all day about money. We’re poor. It sucks.
The snow falls thickly, frosting his hair. He grabs my hand. “Let’s get something to eat.” He can eat every half-hour and my stomach’s empty too.
I dig into my pocket. Eleven pennies and a dime, plus four quarters for laundry. “Uh, a donut?” Downtown shops are fancy, don’t tolerate broke high school kids coming in to get out of the weather.
He laughs and shows me two dollar bills. “Tiffenee’s Grill. It’s warm and cheap. We’ll share pancakes.”
He pulls me around the corner and down a side street. Snowflakes float soft onto my face. We’re jogging to keep warm when he stops at a lime-green door. Jet Rag, the store’s called. In smudged windows, worn-out mannequins are wearing pilly Christmas sweaters, hideous with reindeer antlers, Santas and jingle bells. Did I say hideous? “My mom shops here,” Tom says. “Maybe . . .”
The place smells funky. Old, sour, unwashed. It’s even colder than outside – I can see Tom’s breath. I don’t care because the first thing I see is – omigod – a hand-lettered sign: “COATS 4 SALE $3” and I dive into the rack, searching for anything in size 2. Or at least in that ballpark. I try on a down coat, puffy and red. Makes me look like a pillow with feet. An embroidered denim jacket – cool but hardly blizzard-proof. A stained trench coat hangs to my ankles.
“What about this one, Lu?” Tom holds up a gray wool coat, double-breasted, with nipped-in waist and flared skirt. Four fat black buttons. I put it on and gasp. It’s vintage, warm, perfect. He kisses my forehead. “You look like Audrey Hepburn.”
We hand over all our worldly cash. Even the pennies but it doesn’t matter. I’m aglow with the thrill of the buy, the way I look and feel in the soft heathery tweed. From pitifully freezing to posh and warm, for three bucks.
I hand him his jacket, he slips it on. Outside, falling snow makes a whispery sound, turning the world a shushed white. I twirl, humming. Happy.
“Where to now, my elfin waif?” he asks.
My stomach rumbles. “A hot meal.”
He raises an eyebrow. I laugh and show him the piece of paper I found in the pocket of my beautiful new coat. A picture of Andrew Jackson on one side, the White House on the other. “Take me to Tiffenee’s, darling. For breakfast.”
Karen Pullen’s short stories have appeared in Spinetingler and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Her mystery novel COLD FEET will be published by Five Star Cengage in 2013. She lives in Pittsboro, North Carolina.