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Mia searches for her mission in note

Mia and Brandon walked down the sidewalk, bundled up against the brisk, cold air in puffy coats and hats. The mouthwatering scent of baking cookies drifted through the air, coming from the Cookie Crumble Bakery, mixing with the smell of coffee from the Busy Bean Cafe next door. Mia took in a deep breath, loving the way everything seemed to smell so much better in the cold winter air.

“So you have no idea what the note means?” Brandon asked, and Mia shook her head.

“For the hundredth time, no.” She patted her coat pocket, where the note was safely stowed away. “The address is for that new supermarket that just opened. I have no idea why I’m supposed to go there.”

“Maybe you have to help bag groceries. Or stock the shelves.”

Mia shrugged. “Maybe. That seems weird, though. That’s not really what the ornaments are all about. Helping a big corporate store by giving them free labor doesn’t really seem like the kind of deed that would be in an ornament.”

“Well, you said yourself this ornament is different,” Brandon pointed out. “Who knows what that could mean.”

Mia smiled at him, knowing how lucky she was to have a friend like him. When she’d called him last night and told him what had happened, he’d believed her without question and said he was ready to help any way she wanted him to. There weren’t too many people like Brandon in the world, she was sure of that, and she was thankful every day that she got to call him her best friend.

“Have you heard from your dad?” she asked. “Wasn’t he supposed to call yesterday?”

“He was,” he said, trying not to sound glum but unable to help it. “Something came up, he had to reschedule.”

“He’ll still be able to come home for Christmas, though, right?”

Brandon shrugged. “It kind of seems unlikely, but who knows? We hope so.”

“Me, too.”

They walked in comfortable silence the rest of the way to the supermarket. When they got there, she realized she hadn’t even brought any money.

“They’ll think we look suspicious, two kids lingering around without buying anything,” she fretted, and Brandon grabbed a shopping cart.

“Relax. You really think my mom would let me come to the store without sending me with a list?” He smiled and rolled his eyes. “Come on, let’s see if we can figure this out.”

They walked the aisles, Brandon tossing in food and toiletries, but there was nothing signaling this was where Mia was supposed to be. She even pulled aside a manager and asked if they were expecting anyone, or if any messages had been left, but it was a dead end.

As they approached the checkout lines, she pulled out the little piece of paper to check the address, even though she’d memorized it the first dozen times she’d studied the paper last night.

They were in the right spot, but there was no point to it.

“But these are supposed to be on sale,” the woman in front of them said to the cashier, nudging a jar of baby food. “I only have enough if they’re on sale.”

“I’m sorry, but the sale ended yesterday. You’ll just have to put a few things back.” The cashier raised her eyebrows at the pile of groceries on the conveyor belt. “The total is $23.55.”

The woman looked helplessly at the groceries just as the baby she was carrying began to fuss. “I … I don’t know, we need everything.” Frantically, she tried to calm her baby while counting out change. Mia heard the people behind them in line sigh and grumble, and her heart filled with sympathy for the woman.

“I only have $19.37,” the woman said, her face red and sounding like she was holding back tears. “Are you sure there aren’t any coupons or anything?”

“No, ma’am,” the cashier said impatiently. “You’ll have to put something back.”

Mia shoved her hands in her pockets, uncomfortable at how sad the woman looked. She frowned as her fingers felt something. There was money in her pocket, even though she was sure she’d spent the last of her allowance at the bookstore last week.

She pulled out the crumpled bills and coins and counted.

$4.18. The exact amount the woman needed.

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