“Find a penny, pick it up. All day long, you’ll have good luck.”
Hilarious, you think as you watch the whirlwind of leaves swirl down the sidewalk and whip a girl’s hair into a leafy, cotton-candied frenzy. She deserves it. Probably paid sixty dollars for that hairdo. She is pretty, but pink hair is ridiculous. You know Alberta is better. She wouldn’t pay sixty dollars for a hairdo. Not a pink one. You chuckle as you swallow the last bite of your turkey sandwich. A mushy clump of mustardy-white bread clings to the roof of your mouth. You try to work it loose with your tongue, but it’s stuck.
It is the same turkey sandwich you pack in your lunch every day. White bread, yellow mustard, and lettuce — the crunchy kind, not that leafy crap. Alberta once bought something that was purple and red that she called lettuce, but she hadn’t packed your lunch in a long time. You couldn’t fault her for it. After all, she fixes dinner every night, unless she has girls’ night out. What did women do at those damn parties, anyway?
Across the street you notice a man in a suit pacing and yelling into his phone. He jerks it away from his ear and shouts at it. Maybe he will throw it. A cell phone getting chucked into the street… now that would be an entertaining upgrade from your typical lunch break scenery.
You see a woman catch her shoe heel in the storm drain and it breaks. How will she walk with only one heel? She is blonde, and young, and prettier than Alberta. You know pretty people aren’t very smart. It surprises you when she kicks up her leg and snaps off the other heel, turning her shoes into a pair of flats. You grunt another laugh. Breaking off the other heel, now that’s something Alberta would do. She is smart. It’s one of the things you love about her.
You turn your attention back to the pacing cell-phone-suit-man, hoping for the throw. As he rants, you fumble through your lunchbox for your favorite part of lunch: the Cheetos. You always eat the Cheetos last.
By the time you finish, the ranting man in the suit still hadn’t thrown his phone. A gust of wind chills you and you jam your fat fingers into your pockets.
Dammit! Something slid under your nail. You forgot about that pressed penny in your pocket. It drew a little blood. You suck on the tip of your finger to soothe the stinging.
Alberta always got one of those souvenir pennies every year at the North Carolina State Fair. Fifty cents to put a penny in a crank and ruin it. Most of the imprints were a dumb-looking teddy bear or a silly animal with googly eyes. You’d always refused to waste a penny in that machine, but this year, you had found one lying on the ground and kept it. It was engraved with a tiny poem:
Things held dearest
Become the merest
A penny enchanted
An inferior granted
Lunch break is almost over and you are still hungry. You wish you had another bag of Cheetos. You lick the roof of your mouth — a little mushy bread still clung at the corner of your tooth. Closing your lunchbox, you notice something isn’t right. You fling it open again and stare at a sealed plastic bag, containing an uneaten turkey sandwich. What the hell?
A commercial break jolts you from your late-night-recliner-induced snooze. Why are all the ads about video games? Do they think kids are watching Monday Night Football at 11:17 p.m.?
14 to 38. Third and long on our own forty-two. It’s not looking good.
This Williams kid isn’t bad, but he doesn’t come close to Davis, who has been out with a knee injury. Until Williams learns how to hold on to the ball when it counts, he won’t be much of a threat in the passing game. You have to give him credit though. The kid’s story is amazing. Came from nothing. Raised by his grandma after his dad got hooked on drugs and killed his mom. He’s not a great tight end, but a good kid and a hell of a linebacker.
Screen to Williams. He catches it. Go man!
You suck in a breath of air. The hit knocked off his helmet. Man, that looked like it hurt.
He’s not getting up.
Come on man, get up.
Cut to commercial. Call of Duty? What is this crap?
Back to the game. He’s still down. Now they’re escorting him off the field.
“Out for the season?” the announcer questions.
“He’s headed into the tent for concussion protocol,” the other commentator says.
You hope he recovers soon. At least we got fifteen yards.
The game gets going again and you accept that another loss is less than three minutes away. The team is better with Davis as tight end. He’s your favorite player and should be back next week.
You take a swig of your beer and set it down on the end table without looking. It rolls onto the carpet spilling the last couple sips and you spit out a curse. You had set it on that pressed penny. After picking up the bottle, you shove the penny into your jeans pocket.
When you glance back at the TV, you see Williams run back out on the field, holding his helmet. He’s back already?
“Wow. That was quick for a concussion check. I guess he’s fine,” the announcer says.
“Does this guy have a brother?” the other commentator asks.
What is he talking about? The camera cuts to another Williams sitting on the bench with no helmet. A split-screen shot follows them both. They are wearing the same number — eighty-two. What the hell?
“I think the laundry guy will be looking for a new job tomorrow,” the announcer says, commenting on the duplicate jerseys.
The Williams boys look identical. They both play tight end? You know everything about this kid and you’ve never heard of his brother. You pull up Twitter and it’s going crazy. No one seems to know Williams had a brother. This is insane. You must be losing your mind. It’s 11:32 p.m. and you have a long day tomorrow. You better get to bed.
Tuesdays always feel long. If you could, you’d be out on the job site instead of placing orders. Still more than half the week to go, but at least today will have a nice ending. It’s date night.
At afternoon break, you hit up the vending machine for a Dr. Pepper. Your favorite soda, Alberta calls it. It pisses you off when she says that. It’s the only soda you drink.
Seventy-five cents for a can. You remember when it used to cost a quarter. You could have brought your own, but the cans from this machine are always ice-cold.
Your friend Frank is the vending guy. He appreciates the old soda machine in your office. You and Frank both hate soda from plastic bottles. Plastic can’t keep a drink cold. Plastic is probably what gives people cancer or something.
You scour your pocket for seventy-five cents. Your hand brushes across an odd-shaped coin and you pull it out. You’d forgotten you put that pressed penny in your jeans. You stuff it back in your pocket, pluck out two quarters, a dime and three nickels. The coins rattle-clink in the machine and you mash the Dr. Pepper button.
Out pops two Diet Dr. Peppers. What the hell? Two? And diet? Something must be wrong with this machine. Did Frank stock the wrong thing? He’s getting old, but he’s not that old.
You search for more change. Only two nickels and that damned penny. You wish the machine would take that.
You don’t drink diet drinks because diet drinks are stupid. Just a way to make people feel better about a bad habit. But Diet Dr. Pepper is better than no Dr. Pepper, so you drink it.
You arrive home later than you want, but you’ll still have time to make it to dinner. You need to put Harvey away. He’s the best dog, and your favorite pet. He always comes when called. Not to mention he’s always excited to see you.
Bucket is a different story. She’s a decent cat, as far as cats go. It’s nice having a cat to nab mice before they can wriggle their way into the house, but Bucket likes chasing mice more than nabbing them.
Alberta wants you to bring Bucket in the garage every night. She thinks hawks and owls are a threat to Bucket, even though the cat weighs at least fifteen pounds. Bucket was supposed to be on a diet, but you always rattled some food in her bowl to get her in the garage. Alberta fussed about you feeding her at night, but the last thing Bucket does is come when called, unless there’s food.
You’ll drive Alberta’s car to dinner. You hate she wanted to buy that imported piece of crap, but she didn’t like riding in your Ford. She always complained it smelled like gas and mud.
Realizing you left your wallet in the truck, you reach into your pocket to get your keys and your hand slides over that penny. You step back into the garage and there is Bucket — sitting beside another cat. What the…? That cat looks just like Bucket, and just as fat. Same color, same faded-pink collar. You blink and both cats blink back. Bucket meows for her evening meal. Her twin meows just like her.
Two damn cats? Harvey barks at them. You wish you had two of him.
Has Alberta lost her mind getting another cat without telling you? It was like her to bring home a stray. She’s always had a soft spot for animals. You sigh. You’ll deal with it later. Tonight is date night. You are gonna get lucky tonight and you don’t want to screw that up.
Flying into the house, you strip off your work clothes and toss them in the washing machine. You dance a quick naked jig in front of Alberta yelling “Woo-woo!” She doesn’t look impressed. You jump in the shower and yell to her asking if she will move the clothes to the dryer when they are done. You’ll need those jeans for work tomorrow.
You and Alberta have your dates on Tuesday nights. Fewer crowds and good specials. But there were no specials here. Not at La Chèvre.
The candle at your table casts a soft glow on your glass of wine. D’Autrefois, your server had said. You weren’t sure what that was. Maybe a pinot. Who cares? You always order the house red, anyway.
La Chèvre is Alberta’s favorite place. She had ordered your meal. You didn’t mind. It was embarrassing trying to order something you couldn’t pronounce, so you let her do it. It was almost time to order dessert. You like that Crème brûlée stuff.
A blonde bombshell saunters through the door and the maître d’ takes her coat. She’s alone. Why is a woman like that alone at a place like this?
You’ve always had a thing for blondes. Alberta used to be blonde, once. You hadn’t thought about that in a long time.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Alberta says, drawing your attention back to her.
Dammit. Had she seen you looking? Think of something quick, moron.
“I found it in the washing machine when I moved your clothes to the dryer,” she says, holding that pressed penny in her hand. “I thought you hated souvenir pennies?”
A god-awful moan comes out of your mouth as you stall.
“Cat got your tongue?” she asks.
Real smooth, idiot. You take the penny from her and slide it in your pocket.
Surprisingly, Alberta gives you a demure glance. Maybe she hadn’t noticed you eyeing that blonde. Maybe you weren’t in trouble.
“Am I still your favorite dish?” she asks.
What? You offer her a blank stare.
“Am I still your favorite dish?” she repeated as her coy expression melted. “I used to be your favorite thing on the menu.”
You glance at your plate. It had been an almost perfect date, and it would have been a good night if it wasn’t for that last screw up. You push your fork into the last bite of filet, trying to gather the right words to convince Alberta she is still your favorite. But when you raise your head to look into her eyes, two Alberta’s sit across the table, both staring at you.
Mr. Taylor spends his days cultivating children, herding cats, loving an amazing woman and leading a recovery ministry in the personable town of Greenville, South Carolina. He writes more sermons than fiction, to expose the heart, inspire the spirit and provoke the mind. You can find him on goodreads and @itsjimnotjames on Twitter.
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