For Gen, to be shared with Kitty

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Sixty-three cents...

She sighed and scraped them off the bureau and into her hand: Four nickels, three dimes, and thirteen pennies. Added to the relative treasure of seventy-eight cents left her in the last room, it came to a dollar forty-one.

With what she had in her pocket already, she only needed fifty-nine cents more to have a complete five dollars.

With five dollars she could get two large boxes of Macaroni and Cheese---she could get milk from the kitchen---and some fruit at least ( she is trying to raise a child, after all.)

That should hold them over until pay day Wednesday.

She reached up to tighten the scrunchie holding her hair then, tucking an errant lock in.

Exhaustion, worry, resignation and, yes, some relief too were all written in her young face, though she did not see it herself.

Too busy.

The relief came from knowing that they could eat tonight and the next.

She knew also that the kind Chef would save them some breakfast in the morning and, unfortunately, that lunch would be taken care of in Hartford.

She shook all this off now though and snapped on a pair of rubber gloves, grabbed a plastic looped brush, and headed to the bathroom.

Things had been cut very close this month indeed.

It's just that she hadn't counted on Rory getting the flu.

(She squirted the cleanser in the bowl and began scrubbing then.)

The quarterly insurance payment on the car her parents had given her for her sixteenth birthday had come due this month.

She'd debated, for the millionth time, whether or not it would be wise to sell the thing, but in the end paid the bill hoping to squeak by the couple of weeks following.

And even though she'd thankfully had enough gas to get to the Free Clinic in Woodbury the week before, and Angie the Nurse Practitioner there was a perfect doll, there'd been the antibiotics to buy, and the thermometer, and the heating pad...

Then extra loads of laundry too. The poor kid had been sick to her stomach.

Those machines in town could eat quarters faster than she herself could eat a bag of chips.

And that was saying something.

So, all in all, really cutting it close this time 'round.

But she would make it until the paycheck, her tummy and Rory's both full. And she had enough gas to get to her mother's annual birthday lunch tomorrow.

She tugged off the gloves then and tossed them with the brush into the bucket on the cart, and turned to pick up Rory and her book off the freshly made bed. She set them down then to smooth the covers after and, with one last practiced look around the room, scooped up her small daughter again and strode purposefully to the waiting cart.

She plopped Rory and 'The Velveteen Rabbit' on top of the clean towels and rolled the lot to the next door down the hall.

"Two more rooms, Sweetie," she assured the child, "and then we can go buy dinner."

"Mac and Cheese!" squealed her daughter in delight.

"Mac and Cheese!" she echoed with a laugh. "You, wee one, have a very sophisticated palette."

"What's a palette?" queried Rory...

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Only four ninety-nine...

Not five dollars, after all.

Room twelve left two quarters on the bureau before departing to meet the valet and his Jag brought around front.

And room thirteen had left eight pennies, two of which were Canadian.

She stared at the carefully counted money on the rickety table before her (she'd saved it from demolition on the Service Porch last month.)

Well, she'd just squeak by anyway.

She hung up her uniform then as Rory sat quietly thumbing through her book yet again, and pulled on some jeans and sweatshirt. She snorted a little as she did so, hearing her mother's voice in her head tsking over the tear in the shirt's banded bottom.

Not something she missed at all, that voice. Now if she could only get it out of her head as she'd managed to get it out of her life.

"Mama?" she heard then.

She turned to the large somber eyes of her little daughter.

Too somber, she often thought, for a four year old (sorry, almost-five-year-old, she corrected herself, lest even an erroneous thought might offend.)

"What, Rory?"

"The Rabbit loves The Boy."

"Yes."

"Does The Boy stop loving The Rabbit when he is taken away?"

She puzzled over this question, regretting again the nickel spent at the library sale for this confounded book. She suspected Rory lay awake worrying over it before sleep each night.

"He doesn't stop loving The Rabbit," she began carefully. "He just gets older and more busy. And, before you ask, no that does not happen to children. Parents don't get too busy for their children."

Rory stared at her a moment, mulling this (as she herself wondered if it were in fact true,) then bent her head again back over the tattered book in her lap, her hair a curtain around her...

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One dollar and forty-five cents...

She had more left over than she could have hoped.

And, had been able to procure a bonus jar of peanut butter as well.

Total score. And, a refreshing change!

Hee. Change. A pun.

The small bag of oranges had been on special, and though she'd had an expired coupon for the boxes of Mac and Cheese, Jerry had gallantly let her use it anyway.

"It helps build Taylor's character," he'd winked.

And so they had their supper, the water boiled in the little dented pan the kind Chef had given them. Afterwards they made a picture of The Velveteen Rabbit himself on cardboard using white glue, buttons, crayons, some of the dried macaroni they'd saved from their dinner, a couple of acorns, and an interesting little hook they'd found under the floorboards of their potting shed home.

"It gives him a cute nose," assessed Rory.

She'd wrap it up in some tissue paper from a shoe box for her mother in the morning when it was dry.

And then, after bathing, they climbed into the small bed together and read 'The Velveteen Rabbit' again...

"It doesn't happen all at once..." she read...

"You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand..."

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One dollar and forty-five cents...

And holding.

There had been no magical change in her net worth overnight.

The Chef, ever-kind, made them scrambled eggs and bacon after the rush the next morning.

She saluted him with her raised mug of coffee, and flirted with him and, as she watched him blush, was so grateful to him, (and for him,) that her eyes smarted a little and she had to look away.

But all too soon they were on their way.

She didn't put the radio on, not knowing how much gas that might cost.

Rory sat in the back in a car seat a guest had left behind six months ago (she still couldn't work that one out,) and steadily studied her book as they pulled onto the wide tree-lined highway to Hartford.

"Mama?" she heard from behind.

"Yes?"

"Why couldn't they just wash the Scarlet Fever germs off The Rabbit? The Boy could have kept him then."

"I don't know, Rory. Maybe they didn't think to do that."

"I would have told them that if they had asked me."

"I have no doubt of that."

They pulled into the circular drive before the Gilmore home not long after this discussion and she sighed at the familiar clench in her abdomen.

She got out then and turned to open the back door and unlatch Rory.

"How do I look?" she asked her daughter a bit nervously before pressing the bell on the front step.

"Beautiful, " said Rory matter-of-factly. She smiled at this, how she looked not mattering so much any more.

"May I press the bell?"

"Sure, Sweetie. Knock yourself out."

She straightened her back, smiled grimly then and waited...

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One dollar and fifty cents...

(A miracle nickel had lain homeless and alone in The Independence Inn's gravel drive for who knew how long, poor little thing.)

The cake, after its brief viewing had been whisked off to be cut.

"You have very nice manners, Rory," said her grandmother approvingly.

"Thank you," responded the child dutifully, only to widen her eyes in fright and jump a bit when her grandfather chose that moment to clear his throat at the opposite end of the table.

"Richard," chided the birthday lady, "you're going to scare the child to death."

"I was only clearing my throat," he responded dourly.

"Well, you didn't need to do it right then," was the snapped response.

"I can't very well choose when my throat needs clearing, now can I, Emily?"

Before this question of the ages could be addressed, she interrupted her parents.

"We have a gift for you, Mom. Would you like to open it now?"

"Well, that would be nice. We'll go into the living room. We can have our cake in there. Magda!" she called as they scooted their chairs back, "cake in the living room, please!"

They all sat on the white settles and Queen Annes and waited in uncomfortable silence as she dug in her bag for her mother's gift.

"Rory, take this to your grandmother," she urged her daughter.

And of course her mother found their artwork appropriately 'interesting', though admitted she was confused by the macaroni.

Her father had duly looked over his spectacles and made a slight 'hmm-ing' noise at it, which was all relatively pleasant within the realm of her experience in such matters.

Criticism throughout lunch had remained relatively low.

Cracks about her maiding job, and soon-to-be achieved promotion to Assistant Housekeeper had been reduced to mere eyerolls and scoffing noises.

Rory's outfit had been pronounced 'charming'. Her own remained un-commented upon.

She did get some mild abuse for her 'dishpan' hands, but other than that...

"I would like to ask you a favor," her mother began then, just as she was plotting perhaps her cleanest get-away ever.

"Oh? What's that?" she asked warily.

(Too good to be true, Gilmore. You knew it was coming.)

"Well..." her mother looked down at her hands a moment.

"What is it, Mom?"

Her mother lifted her chin and looked her in the eye.

"Well, Sweetie's grand-daughter also has a birthday today. She's turning three. There is a party at 'The Groves'. I was hoping we could put in an appearance. I'm sure Rory will enjoy it. There'll be a clown and other children..."

Her father bent his newspaper down and looked over at her, "It would mean a great deal to your mother."

She did not want to go to 'The Groves', or to Sweetie's grand-daughter's birthday party.

"A clown?" asked Rory, her eyes wide.

"And pony rides!"

Rory turned her blue beacons onto her mother then.

"Could we go, Mama?"

"Do you really want to?"

"Yes. I want to ride a pony!"

"All the way out to 'The Groves'?" she asked her mother, inwardly calculating the gas mileage.

"Just for an hour. I promise. You can ride with us. And I've already bought a gift."

"All right," she relented at the sight of Rory's silent pleading. "But we'll drive ourselves, and get our own gift."

"Fine, fine!" happy enough at the prospect of showing off her own grand-daughter to compromise, her mother added, "I have a dress upstairs for Rory."

Rory frowned.

"No dress, Mom. She goes as she is."

"I don't like dresses," confirmed her daughter.

She watched her mother's face fall.

"Very well. We'll go ahead. She's registered at 'Trinkets and Togs for Tots,' that shop on Lancaster. You can pop in on your way."

"A three-year old is registered for gifts?"

"It makes things easier for everyone, really. No gift repeats that way. No awful plastic either. I wish they'd done that when you were a child.

Twenty minutes later, as she drove down Lancaster, she tried to remember if she'd had anything plastic of her own before her sixteenth birthday.

Oh, that pink comb...

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Two hundred and fifty dollars.

The price of only one of the Madam Alexander dolls on little Marion Goldworthy's list.

She'd registered for three.

The reproduction Shirley Temple was listed at three hundred and twenty.

She thanked the woman and handed the list back across the counter to her.

There was not so much as a pencil box in the whole place for less than eight dollars.

Well, she'd just have to go with her mother's gift after all.

She was definitely going to sell her car now.

She looked about for Rory then and spied her in a corner looking at stuffed animals. Joining her, she followed her daughter's worshipful eyes to something on a shelf before her...

And felt her throat close a little.

It was, of all things, a Velveteen Rabbit.

She thought she might be able to actually hear Murphy laughing aloud.

Rory said nothing but gazed on.

"Blink, Sweetie!" she joked lamely, but when her daughter did not respond, added a "Oh, Rory..." in a mumbled sigh under her breath.

In all her twenty-one years of life she'd never wanted to buy anything more.

She picked it up and looked at the tag on the rabbit's ear.

Knowing the odds of the beautiful creature in her hand being less than one dollar and fifty cents were slim and none, she couldn't resist looking anyway...

Twenty-nine ninety-five.

She closed her eyes, bit her lip, and silently cursed.

"Do you think the little girl would like a Velveteen Rabbit?" asked Rory then.

She carefully placed the rabbit back on the shelf and bent down to her daughter, turning her away from the animals by the shoulders.

She kept her hands there and squeezed slightly.

"I'm sure she would, honey, but..."

"It's too expensive?"

"Yes."

She watched her daughter digest this.

"But, your grandmother got her a very nice gift we can all give her together."

"All right," said Rory.

But she watched her daughter give The Rabbit one last longing look as they left.

In the car back on their way to 'The Groves', Rory asked, "Mama, it's true, isn't it?"

"What?"

"The story: How The Rabbit gets Real?"

"Yes. Absolutely."

She listened then to the veritable whirl within her child's head as they drove on.

There were some things she was willing to lie about...

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Seven point five million dollars...

What old Jack Goldworthy had paid for 'The Groves' in nineteen forty two.

It had been considered a steal then.

She couldn't begin to guess at it's worth now. The thought gave her a headache.

She straightened Rory's red overalls, took her hand and marched up to the sprawling mansion.

At the top step she turned to her daughter and whispered one throaty word before ringing the bell..."Rosebud!"

Rory furrowed her brow.

"I'll explain later," she winked.

The party was a fairy land of pastel dresses and balloons. There were cavorting clowns and decorated tables. A pair of ponies on the terrace below.

The gifts politely laid away until the guests would depart.

Because opening them in front of everyone would be crass, she thought with a snark, as she sipped punch and leaned beneath a painting the size of a Buick.

"It's a lesser Titian," her father explained.

She looked up at it but couldn't fathom how a painting that size could be a lesser anything.

Riding home in the dark later, Rory out cold with a goody bag the size of a bed pillow in her lap, she decided that maybe it hadn't all been so bad after all.

There'd been no old school 'friends' to bump into, they all being at college or working.

The food had been excellent, though she regretted the annoying tendency of the rich to not send cake home.

And, finally, her mother had thanked her. Simply. Brusquely. But, a thank you nevertheless...

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Twenty-five cents.

She'd forgotten about the toll when coming home that way.

Rory woke when she turned off the car and she bundled them both inside and into the bath.

As they climbed into bed together, she said, "We didn't get through the whole story last night. Wanna finish it now?"

"Can't," said Rory with a big yawn.

"Too tired, Sweets?"

"No. I gave the book to Marion."

"You what!" she demanded sitting up.

Rory's eyes grew round with concern, "I wanted her to have a nice gift."

"Rory, she had hundreds of nice gifts! You gave away your favorite book? You gave away 'The Velveteen Rabbit'?"

"Don't worry, Mama, I know how it ends," she was assured.

She scrambled to get out of bed then, "Come on, let's go up to the Inn. I want to call Mrs. Goldworthy and get that book back!"

"No," said Rory mildly.

She turned and looked at the four year old in the small bed, her head swimming.

"But.. but..." she stammered.

"I gave it to her to keep," said Rory as if that explained everything, and then snuggled down into the quilts with a yawn, "I'm cold..."

She stood and stared down for a moment, trying to process and failing miserably.

Finally, giving up, she switched off the lamp, climbed back into bed and wrapped her arms around her daughter to warm her up. She listened then as Rory's breath evened out and she fell asleep.

She herself lay awake for along time though...

Resolving to do whatever it took for her daughter to always feel safe, happy, and loved.

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Quote taken from 'The Velveteen Rabbit' by Margery Williams