Sounds of children’s laughter and joy floated down the stairs. Liam breathed deeply and smiled. Never more content in his life. All thanks to the penny in his hand.
“Don’t forget your change, sir,” she had said. Her smile ignited the flame he thought long dead. A brush of her hand against his, and he was hers.
The ladies in his life, in beautiful red holiday dresses, walked down the steps of the opera house still reveling in The Nutcracker.
“Did you like it, Daddy?” Alice grinned.
“Very much so.” He kissed Alice on the forehead, and held his wife’s hand.
The ringing of the Christmas bell called to the penny, and with a smile and tip of his hat, Liam dropped the penny into the kettle so that it may bring someone else as much love and joy as it had him.
“Thank you, sir and Merry Christmas.”
That evening as the Salvation Army Santa Claus emptied his kettle into the bank deposit box, he noticed one of the coins sparkled. He thought it was his tired eyes, playing a trick on him, but there it was, almost begging him to retrieve it. He hesitated only a second or two and then took the penny.
Retiring for the night where he now called home — a shelter for the homeless — he wearily sat down on the blanketed cot and eyed the coin once again. He hoped he wouldn’t be harshly judged by the Almighty for keeping this penny, for indeed it had called to him. Turning it over to read the mint mark and the year, he saw something scratched into the copper.
Edgar donned his reading glasses hoping to better see the unusual etchings on the penny. He looked carefully, seeing that the engravings of the words “In God We Trust,” “Liberty,” and the date, “1955,” on the Lincoln side of the copper coin appeared to be blurry. Edgar became very excited, thinking that this penny might be worth way more than one cent.
The next morning, Edgar went to a friend of his who was a coin collector. When the numismatist looked at the penny, he let out an audible gasp. “Oh my God, this is a 1955 doubled die obverse penny. Edgar, do you know what this means?”
Edgar was so excited. He couldn’t believe his good fortune. How much do you think this penny will be worth? He asked his friend. ” I can’t really be sure , but it is likely to be in the neighborhood of 25 thousand dollars” was his friend’s reply. Something inside Edgar’s heart seemed to shrivel and die. He would have loved to have such a huge sum of money that could be realized by the selling of this valuable penny! He was living in a homeless shelter, down on his luck and having his meals in the soup kitchens!But there was his conscience which wouldn’t let him keep that valuable penny which wasn’t his, which he had picked up just for luck from the Salvation Army donation kettle.
His mind was at war with his heart. His brain telling him to be sensible and sell the penny and use the money to live a respectable life again but his heart was telling him to give the penny to the people in the Salvation Army. It would make a difference to them too. Twenty five thousand was a lot of money.
Edgar turned the rare penny over and over in his hand with his thumb while sitting across from his friend Richard, the warmth of the cup of coffee he bought the homeless older man warming his insides as well as the cozy atmosphere of the coffee shop soothed the outer man.
“How do I sell it? I mean, will someone just hand me that much money?”
“I doubt you’d get full value if you go to a local dealer, and I’d have to look it up to see if it would really go for that high an amount.” Richard pushed his bifocals up with an index finger and then ran his right hand through his still thick though silvery hair. He’d offered his spare room to Edgar a dozen times or more, but his old high school companion, veteran of football games, homecoming dances, and lost loves, said he wouldn’t take charity.
“Wait a minute.” The retired Paramount studios research analyst took his smartphone out of the pocket of his woolen vest and began punching virtual numbers.
Edgar chuckled while holding the penny between finger and thumb. “I still can’t see how you get used to those darn things.”
Richard was concentrating on the screen as he muttered, “Says here that a penny like this in the same condition went for $1,800 in 2009.”
“That was almost ten years ago. Can you really get on the internet with that thing?”
“The Tonny Coin Company is selling one for $2,800, and WeRCoins has one going for $3,996. I guess I misspoke when I appraised it so high before.”
“It would still buy more than a few folks a Merry Christmas, Rich.”
Richard looked up from his phone and had to adjust his glasses again. “Including you.”
The balding, paunchy sixty-six year old held the purloined coin up to the light, sadness etching his face. “You know I stole it, took it out of what I’d collected for the Salvation Army.”
“Because you thought it might be a rare coin?”
“No. I thought it was just a penny. I just liked the way it shone, and something about it called to me.”
“They don’t have to know, Ed.”
“Yes they do. I’d be a poor man in the eyes of the Lord indeed if I profited by stealing.”
“Isn’t that how you ended up homeless in the first place, by being too honest?”
“I guess. The Company called me a whistleblower. Destroyed all the proof I had that they’d committed fraud.”
“And you lost everything, your wife, the kids. Now you live in a shelter.”
“Better is the poor that walketh in his uprightness, than he that is perverse in his ways, though he be rich.”
“Is that from the Bible or something?”
“Proverbs 28:6 to be exact.” Edgar held the coin for one last moment in the palm of his hand, and then laid it next to Richard’s half-empty latte. “You sell it. Give me whatever you get for it, then I’ll do what’s right.”
“If you were going to do what’s right, you’d call your kids. I know Bob and Cheryl would love to hear from you.”
“Yeah, I forgot how your kids and mine are friends.”
“Call Cheryl, you idiot. Your grandkids would love to see you.”
“I can’t. I…I’m too ashamed.”
“We’ll see about that, you stubborn old blockhead.” Richard picked up his phone and the penny and began musing.
Two days before Christmas, Edgar walked into the local admin office of the Salvation Army. He’d been one of their Santa’s consistently for ten Christmas seasons, so he got in to see Betty Crawford, the manager, without much fuss.
“Edgar, this is a lot of money.” She stood up from behind her desk holding the check for $2,200 and change, not as much as he’d hoped, but more than a penny’s worth. “Where did you get so much.”
Blushing, the old man looked down at his shoes for a moment, then back up at her kindly face now marked by surprise. “I took a penny from the collection a few weeks back. Turns out it was rare. I didn’t know. I feel ashamed that I even took one cent from those in need, but I suppose this makes up for it some.”
“Sit down, Edgar.” She resumed her chair as he took the one opposite her battered, metal desk. “You know, you’re one of those people in need.”
“The shelter is warm, food’s okay. I spend a lot of time at the library reading. Life’s not so bad for me.” He paused for a second and then chuckled. “Friend of mine sold the coin for me. Gave me the check yesterday along with his cell phone. My daughter was at the other end. She…” Edgar stifled his tears. “I’m going to spend Christmas with my family. I’ve got all I could ever need.”
She put the check on her desk and picked up a plain folder sitting in front of her. After shuffling through some of the papers inside, the middle-aged woman looked back into Edgar’s pale, blue eyes, still wet with joyful tears. “I know you don’t take charity, but would you accept a job offer? Our bookkeeper quit suddenly, and right now, we need one desperately. I know you’re more than qualified.”
He took a deep breath, his hands trembling in anticipation. “I’d be grateful to earn an honest day’s wage.”
“We can’t pay as much as a for-profit company.”
“Betty, say no more. Seeing my children and grandkids again already makes me the richest man in the world. When do I start?”
Karen Wallace felt like dancing on air as she placed the 1955 Doubled Die Lincoln Cent in the safe for the night. She’d put it on sale after her small coin exchange opened up again after the holidays, along with the others she’d purchased over the last few weeks.
“You about ready, sweetheart. It’s started snowing again.” Mike took her coat off the rack near the door and helped her put it on.
“Thanks.” She smiled up at him while buttoning the heavy down jacket. “Just coming.”
He watched her lock up the shop, and the newly engaged couple held hands as they walked across the parking lot. She was humming Christmas tunes and leaning her head against his shoulder, thinking she was the luckiest person in the world.
She’d had a messy divorce last year. Thank God she never had any children with that bum. The pretty brunette had resigned herself to living alone for the rest of her days. Whoever thought that her high school sweetheart would walk into her life after twenty years with an antique coin and ask her to marry him?
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