I have a confession to make. When I was a girl, I didn’t like pennies. Somewhere around age eleven, I got the idea that they weren’t worth the trouble. If I found one on the floor in my room, I’d vacuum it up. I know… I know…
Then one day about twenty years ago, I was reading an article about millionaires, and one stooped to pick up a penny. A man with him asked why, and I thought I knew the answer. I was certain the man would say, “Every penny adds up.” After all, that’s what my mom would have said (and she’d be right!).
But he didn’t. He said something about it being a reminder of “In God We Trust.”
Not what I expected, but from that date on, I made a point of treating even pennies with respect. I no longer ignore them on the ground. I pick up every last one of them suckers.
There’s an old saying, “Find a penny, pick it up, and all the day you’ll have good luck.” Even American brides sometimes put a penny in their shoes for “good luck and fortune.” Frankly, I’d have spent my entire ceremony with skin crawling if someone had done that. I may not have been kept awake by a pea under 20 mattresses, but I most definitely notice if my sock or stocking seams aren’t straight or if there’s even a significant bit of lint in the shoe!
For “lucky penny” day, however, I had no idea what I’d write for poor Elton. What on earth? But then it came to me. Here you go! This year’s Elton and Bethany tale!
For Her Thoughts
“She’s working tonight.” Elton propped his bony elbows on his equally knobby knees and rested his chin in his hand. Across from him, still sipping her tea with the delicacy only managed by those for whom tea drinking is an event rather than a necessity, Mary Margaret Montmorency sniffed. “You’ve gotten lazy, dear Elton. Already. I’m ashamed of you.”
The words pierced with the accuracy of the letter opener she kept on her secretary desk. Elton stared at the little scar on his hand and tried not to wince at the memory of pain, blood, and a concussion from passing out at the sight of that blood. You ruined her best doily, too.
When the triple-M, or Mmm as he’d taken to calling her, didn’t elaborate, Elton caved. “Lazy?”
Prim lips pursed and Mmm even set down her cup.
“Three weeks ago, you heard about bringing in the May and made an effort to share your heart in a tangible way. A week later, you were here agonizing over just the right poem to share feelings you’ve had for months.”
Six, long, lonely, hopeful, despairing months.
“And last week you destroyed a perfectly good copy of Pride and Prejudice to create something beautiful for her—”
“Which I replaced, I might add.” He swallowed hard at the look she gave him. “The book, I mean. Not the cookies that went with the flowers.”
Straightening the ever-present cardigan, even on an unusually hot May afternoon, Mary Margaret Montmorency sat up even straighter than usual—if such a thing were possible—and pointed a long finger at him. “Spend your night apart working on something to remind her you still adore her.”
“I seriously doubt she thinks I don’t.”
Apparently, that was the wrong thing to say. Mmm rose, moved to his side on the sofa, and took his hand between both of hers. The delicate, oh-too-thin skin showed every vein, every spot, every hint of a life well and nearly fully lived. “Elton, never become the man who expects a beloved woman to take his love for granted. Be the man who shows in every day and in tiny little ways pieces of the heart she holds in her hands.”
An idea formed. “She did like that May basket.”
“And the poem. She loved her poem—as did I. Mine, that is.”
“They were pathetic poems, and both of you know it.”
Mmm leaned her cheek against his shoulder. “There is nothing pathetic about a heart shared with one you love.”
I like that. Wish I could believe it. What would you say if you knew I have to stop myself from proposing every single day? What would Bethany say to that?
“It’s a Monday, after all…”
“Isn’t your scrap group meeting tonight?”
Elton stiffened and winced. “You mean the one where they call me Ellie and show me off to teenaged boys?”
“Boys who think you are a video game demigod?”
He had to think fast on that one. “I’m just protecting the sanctity of the ten commandments. No other gods—even demigods. The Lord, by way of Moses…”
“You know what I mean, young man.”
Uh, oh… bringing in the big guns. Young man, even. Ouch!
“Go to scrap night and make her something that says, ‘I missed you tonight.’”
She did have a point. Still, he resisted. “Why don’t we do something here. You can teach me to make a good sponge, or maybe some Eccles cakes.”
“No. You shore up your masculinity, Master Sadler. Get thee to the scrap-perie.”
There, Elton just grinned. “That should be the name of a shop.”
Tolkien, his Airedale terrier, must have awakened from his nap, because Elton heard the dog shake, the collar tags jingling. Before his pal demanded a trip outside, Elton pulled out his phone. “I wonder if tomorrow’s a special day or not.”
“Every day is a special day, Elton. The secret is in celebrating it.”
His phone answered the question he wanted answered. “It’s ‘lucky penny day.’ Great. I can see it now. ‘Here, Bethany. Here’s a penny made out of copper-colored tissue paper circles glued to a paper plate. I promise I did graduate from kindergarten—Mmm has pictures to prove it.’”
Mmm had already begun thinking. “Penny… pennies… Well, I wouldn’t say anything about spending a penny…”
The phrase sounded familiar, but Elton couldn’t place it. “Why?”
“It’s a euphemism for excusing oneself to the restroom in public.”
Yeah… romance killer right there.
“I suppose you could tape one to a card and say something about your luck in finding her?”
Who knew Mmm was so pathetic at creative ideas?
“Now if you were engaged, this would be easy.”
Startled, Elton just gaped at her. Did I mention how much I want to propose already? I didn’t. Did I? When she didn’t continue, he asked why.
“Oh, the old saying, you know.”
He didn’t know.
At his silence, she rose and began clearing away tea things. “That saying for brides. ‘Something old, something new…’”
Elton picked it up. “‘Something borrowed, and something blue.’”
“That’s where you have it wrong, dear boy. You put the ‘and’ in the wrong place. There’s a comma after borrowed but no and. The ‘and’ comes after blue. ‘And a silver sixpence in your shoe.’”
Although he’d never heard that line, it didn’t help as far as he could see. “What does that have to do with a penny?”
“In America, brides would put a penny in their shoes since America didn’t have sixpences.”
An idea began germinating before Mmm finished explaining. A glance at his phone told him he had two hours before scrappy night began. Still, he rose. “What say I go get us some of Rashid’s curry for supper. Then I have a date with a few ladies.”
“Don’t forget to send me a picture of whatever you do.”
Before he left that night, Elton asked if she had a shinier penny than he did. “I’ll trade you.”
Mmm pulled out her little coin purse with its twisted clasp and fished out the shiniest penny she had. Even as she accepted his duller one, she said, “If this weren’t a gift, I’d never take your penny, but a gift should cost something.”
The Scrap Shack was almost packed out. Twelve women and Elton sat around the bank of tables in the classroom, everyone but him with carts of supplies next to their chairs. One woman worked on an assembly line of wedding invitations, apologizing for being creatively hum-drum. “If I don’t get Caitlyn’s invites done soon, she’ll murder me!”
Misty had new pages for her son’s scrapbook—a six-year-old Dax with game controllers and a tongue that reached up to his nose when concentrating. Three women were making cards, and another assembled what she called a “junk journal.” It looked like art to him.
Something had changed in Elton when he walked into the store. Their excitement in seeing him, asking how Bethany was doing, asking after Tolkien, their caring—it all wiped away his embarrassment over being the lone young guy in a room of mostly middle-aged women. Something else had changed, too. Elton decided he liked his weekly meetings with these women. He’d return most weeks, if he knew himself as well as he hoped.
“Um, before I get comfortable and shamelessly abuse our budding friendship…”
The snarkster hooted. “Ooooh, Ellie’s gettin’ comfy!”
“I thought,” Elton continued, “I’d need to start buying supplies and something to cart them around in.” He glared at The Snarkster. “No pink. No animal prints. No flowers.” To Di, the owner, he said, “What’ve you got for me?”
Fifteen minutes, and over a hundred dollars later, he had a “Mary” craft case on wheels in a nice, safe gray, scissors, tape, glue dots, “bone folder,” (whatever that was), and a set of various sized pens. As he sat down at the table, his cart to his right, Elton grinned. “Does this make me one of the ‘scrap crowd?’”
“You already were,” Misty assured him.
A glance at the Snarkster earned him a grin and a thumbs-up. Di just sat down with her ever-present water bottle and cocked her head. “What’s today’s event?”
“Lucky Penny Day.”
A few murmurs and nods followed that. Di grew thoughtful. “So… um… a penny for your thoughts?”
His excitement plummeted. Elton hadn’t even thought of that one. “Well, that’s better than my original idea.”
“Which was?” The snarkster snickered when his face turned red. “Oh, Ellie’s totally in love.”
“As if we didn’t know it.” Di scowled at the woman. “Shush.”
“Well, Mary Margaret Montmorency mentioned the “penny in your shoe” thing, so I was trying to work up the courage to do something with a paper shoe and a penny—more like where I hope things will go than a proposal but…”
An argument erupted. Some voted for “absolutely.” Others insisted it was too early, even when Elton reminded them that he’d been conversing with Bethany almost daily for six months. “You haven’t been dating,” one older woman insisted. “She deserves that.”
“Who said anything about not still dating?” The protest sounded weak, even to his own ears. “I just thought it might be a gentle hint of where I hope things will go someday—a promise of a promise, if you will.”
The argument began to rage again, but the snarkster put a stop to it. “If this were any other guy, I’d be on the ‘not on your life’ side. But this guy has wanted to ask out a girl for six months and finally made an overture three weeks ago? He’s not going to rush this. He’s just being his old-fashioned self. Stating his intentions and all. I think it’s adorable—and I’ll swap out decaf beans on anyone who leaks that statement.” She turned to Elton and said, “And Ellie… do the thoughts, too. Make a little book of thoughts you have of her—maybe a nice junk journal with pockets galore. Put tags and notes in that thing until you’re sure she could never find them all. All the thoughts. Then, at the back wrap a penny in one thought and make that thought be, ‘I think I’d like to be the one to give you the penny for your shoe,’ or something like that, and let her figure out what that means.”
Misty cracked up. “Look who’s the romantic now! Whooee!”
As Snarky had been talking, Elton had watched the others. The detractors had become staunch supporters by the end of the speech, and one woman—the junk journal lady, of course—rose and bumped Di from the seat beside him. “I’ll come work on my journal over here.”
Di hopped up. “What does he need, Teri?”
The craft was afoot. And by the time Elton finished it and finished with all the notes, only three of them remained. Di, the snarkster, and Teri the wonder-junker. “That’s the best one I’ve ever seen,” she added as she snapped photo after photo to recreate it. “Those pockets!”
“‘They mark the difference between a gentleman and a bum,’” Di suggested.
Three heads swiveled to stare at Di. Elton found his voice first. “I hope I’m a gentleman, but I have no idea what that means.”
“Music Man. Watch it.”
Snarky told him not to bother. “It’s just one of her crazy musicals.” She tied a ribbon to the bag holding the journal. “There. It’s great. Throw some roses on top—open bloom, I think. Purple, pink, even yellow. Just not red this time. Don’t overdo the declaration thing with that penny in there, you know?”
Elton did know. And before he realized what he’d done, he hugged Snarky and kissed her cheek. “You’re the best.” Terror struck his heart at the shock on Snarky’s face. He turned and hugged Teri, shifted to Di as fast as possible, and somehow, miraculously, Snarky didn’t chase him out of the store with a rotary cutter.
At five-thirty, Elton took the vase of roses—obtained from one of Mary Margaret Montmorency’s obliging bushes, no less—and set it in the tall, kraft paper gift bag he’d bought from Di. The simple ribbon would have been underwhelming without those purply-pink blooms straining to spill over the top. Within seconds, he’d made it across the street and had the bag sitting in front of the garage door.
A minute later, he moved it to the left of the garage door to protect it from her car if she happened not to see it. Then he waited, his eyes riveted to the bag. Tolkien whined at the door, anxious to go out. After all, for months they’d taken their walks at just this time. “Just a minute… we’ll go out. I want to see her face when she’s not feeling self-conscious.”
The neighborhood menace, a cat Elton liked to call Dennis despite being told the thing was a female, strolled across the street and up the drive. “Oh, no you will not!” Elton dashed for the door, shouting and yelling, Tolkien on his heels for a few steps—right up to the second his faithful dog saw the feline and her obvious interest in the bag.
A woof caught Dennis’ attention. The cat froze, and her back arched, hair standing on end. Tolkien, with the bravery of a soldier going over the top, waded into what would surely become a fracas the neighborhood talked about for years. Elton, however, had eyes only for the bag—the roses. The notes.
Dennis streaked past and toward the street just as Elton grabbed the handle. Tolkien raced after her. Seeing no sign of urinary attack, Elton took a tentative whiff and sighed. Relieved.
Brakes squealed, a screech followed, and Elton turned in time to see Tolkien barely miss being headbutted by a Subaru. With all his plans ruined by the cat—the sort of feline that gave innocent cats a bad rap, no less—Elton did the only thing he could do. He called out, “Get her, Tolkien!”
Unfortunately, Tolkien assumed he meant Bethany and raced for the car door. She opened it, let him in for the last hundred feet, and pulled into the drive. Time froze with Elton standing feeling like a total idiot with his kraft bag and roses, her sitting in her idling car, grinning as if he held the best gift ever.
She rolled down the window and stuck her head out. “What’s today? Scare-dee cat day?”
“’Tell Bethany how beautiful she is day?’”
Wait, did that just come out of my mouth?
Her grin told him it had.
It took two weeks for her to pull up into her garage. A month to extract a “good boy” biscuit for Tolkien, and a year for her to reach his side. She took the bag, didn’t even look at it, and set it down. One arm snaked around his neck. The other followed. That smile reformed and if anything, bloomed. “Hey…”
“Missed you more.” Elton even proved it.
Of course, Dennis had to interrupt the most perfect kiss ever by trying to return to finish the job. Tolkien ignored the cat in favor of his bone, but Bethany kicked a foot out before the cat could get too close. “Not on your life, little girl—or rather, I won’t let you take your life into your hands like that.”
“I wouldn’t really hurt her,” Elton protested.
“If she christened my bag, I would.” She scooped the bag back up and fumbled for his hand. “Come on.” At her interior garage door, she called back, “Tolkien. Come. Bring your biscuit. We have presents to open.”
You have no idea.
Bethany set the bag on the dining table and kissed his cheek as she passed. “I have to get out of these disgusting clothes. Be right back.”
Elton’s protest died as she practically ran down the hallway. He’d only been in Bethany’s house a couple of times, but now he had a chance to really look. A photo on the mantle—who was the guy next to her? He peered closer. Gotta be related. Her brother? What’s his name, Jeriah? Jeremiah?
Truth be told, he hadn’t paid much attention. Her brother was doing medical mission work in Costa Rica. That meant he didn’t have to worry about the movie star-slash-jock dude staring back at him. You’ll say I’m not good enough for her. You’d be right. But I’ll spend my life trying to do everything I can to fill hers with love. That’s got to count for something.
“Isn’t he handsome?”
“Yeah…” She scooted close and wrapped her arms around his. “I miss him. Never spent a day apart until he drove off to Stanford and I drove off to Rockland.”
That made no sense. “Did one of you go to community college first?”
“Nope…” A giggle tickled his heart. “I didn’t tell you, did I? He’s my twin, but I’m older by a couple of minutes.” She sighed.” Almost by a day, actually. One more minute…”
Twins. Didn’t twins run in families? Or was that an old wives’ tale? But twin Bethanys… wow.
“Come sit with me. I want to open this. What’ve you made this time?” She elbowed him before dancing off to grab the bag and scooting back. “If I didn’t know you were honest, I’d be jealous of these ladies of yours. But you did say they were all older and married, right?”
“There’s one… Teri… she’s not married.” He couldn’t resist. “She helped me all night. Super sweet lady…”
He laughed at the pinched look on her face. “She’s also about fifty. That might not be old anymore, but it’s too old for me.”
She hadn’t finished fussing with the vase of Mmm’s flowers when Bethany sighed and said, “They’re Mary Margaret Montmorency’s, aren’t they? I can tell. They smell heavenly, and florist roses just don’t anymore.”
Elton couldn’t help himself. He pulled her back into the couch, arm still around her and asked, “Mind?”
“Not at all! They’re perfect.”
Elton reached out and grabbed the bag. “Okay. You can open that then.”
“I can, huh…?”
“Hope you will… and hope you get it.” And I really hope you don’t hate me.
Bethany puled out the “junk journal” and her jaw actually dropped a bit. “Wait… you made this?”
“With a boatload of help, yes.”
She turned over the beribboned and laced, papered within an inch of its life journal and shook her head. “No. Way.”
“It was easier than I thought, but I still needed way too much help. I want to try again, though.”
“I’m afraid to touch it.”
“Lots of glue and tape. It’ll hold.”
Some things are meant to be savored—a special day, a delicious meal, even a kiss. These things Elton knew. He just had never realized that one needed to savor the opening of a gift. She untied the silk ribbons, slid them between her fingers, and fully embraced the moment before opening the first “page.”
Page after page, section after section, she went through the entire thing without touching a single note. Elton’s heart plunged to his feet. If she didn’t like it… didn’t want to read them…
“The front says, “For Her Thoughts.” Bethany eyed him. “Did you write that, by the way?”
“I traced that. The snarkster wrote it.”
“I’ve got to meet Ms. Snarky.” Her finger traced the tiny words below it. “‘Happy Lucky Penny Day.’ Hmm… didn’t know that was a thing.”
“I didn’t either.”
Bethany turned back to the first page. “So, this little paper…” She slipped it from the little pocket that held it. “If I open it, will it have a ‘thought’ on it, or am I supposed to write one?”
Breathing easier, Elton offered a half smile. “Maybe you should look and see.”
Tolkien trotted up to them, jumped up on her other side, and nosed the book as if to say, “Hurry up!”
“Isn’t it beautiful, boy? Aren’t we both blessed to have Elton in our lives?” She pulled out that first paper and opened it. Were those tears? The way her finger dabbed at her eye hinted that, indeed, they were. “Here. It says, ‘My first thought of you was that I’d never work up the courage to say hi.’”
Her kiss to his cheek lasted longer than anything he’d ever heard of. That’s it. It’s official. Cheek kisses are underrated.
“Let’s read this one—oh, no. Look! There’s a little pocket behind here!”
And the search began. When she got to his favorite, Elton held his breath. “Oh, Tolkien. Listen to this! ‘All those ‘lucky pennies’ I found as a kid. Who knew they’d all be granted in you?’”
There, she wept. Bethany hadn’t seemed like much of a crier, but this one had obviously tipped her over the edge. “It’s beautiful. I want a tiny frame for that one—or better, I want a picture of you and then to tuck that one in with it. Will you?”
“It’ll be waiting when you get home tomorrow.”
To his disgust, she jumped off the couch and ran for the kitchen. Great. Now what’ve I done?
However, when she returned, a key dangled from her index finger. “Here. Bring it in and put it on the mantle. That way, Dennis the Felinis won’t ruin it for me.”
Is it any wonder that he kissed her again? And once more to be a charmer?
By the time she reached the back, she’d found most of the notes, but not all. Teri had warned him that the shoe die cut might not look like a pocket, but he’d used it nonetheless. Bethany set the journal aside, wrapped arms around him, and leaned close. “All those empty pages. I’m going to write my thoughts about you on them. Then it’ll be our book of thoughts.” She leaned up, kissed his jaw, and sighed as she curled back into him again. “It’s perfect. Thank you.”
“You’re sure you’ve got it all?”
That was the stupidest thing he’d ever said. Bethany sat bolt upright and fumbled for the journal. “I missed one? Maybe the penny? I was sure you’d have a penny in it somewhere—with the whole lucky penny theme.”
“By my count, you missed five.”
She’d have started over at the beginning, but Elton couldn’t stand it. “Um… I saved the best for last, and maybe you’d like to find the others when you’re having a bad day or something.”
“Best for last…” She flipped to the back and poked around at all the little places. Page after page of the little journaling book—nothing. Elton nearly went crazy as she ran her finger around the edge of the shoe as she tried to think. Then her wide, expressive eyes turned on him.
She knows. And she knows what it means. I know it. How does she know?
Oh, Lord. Please don’t let her say I’ve blown it.
“Didn’t what,” he croaked out.
One hand stroked his cheek while she kissed the tip of his, admittedly, overly-long nose. “Is that shoe a pocket?”
With effort, he managed to choke down a lump in his throat as he nodded.
“Does it mean what I think it does?”
“Maybe…” He steadied himself before adding, “but maybe not. You should read it.”
Part of the shoe peeled away as she fumbled for the little wrapped penny. With one hand, she smoothed the paper, and with the other, she clutched the penny to her heart. That’s good… isn’t it?
“Oh, Tolkien… this man… this man!”
And the tears flowed again. I’m either doing something really right, or I’ve just ruined all my hopes. Which is it, Lord?
“Remember when you said you thought you loved me?”
He nodded. “Remember when I said I didn’t think… I knew?”
“Remember how I didn’t say anything?” She kissed him and all thoughts of what he was supposed to remember disappeared until she pulled away and smiled through even more tears. “Well, I knew that day, too. I love you. And when the day comes that this means something more than hope for a tomorrow somewhere…” Bethany tapped that fist holding his penny against her chest. “This will definitely be in my shoe.”
and this year’s… For Her Thoughts
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