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Penny Girls (cont.)
by. Holly Brantley
“Emmy, it’s been too long!”
Years later, I still dreaded that voice. I would dread it even more because of all the things I ever tried to teach my children, the one I was most adamant about was being kind to those who were not as capable as yourself. As I got older, I realized that part of the reason Elizabeth Tarantino acted the way she did was because she really couldn’t help it. That didn’t excuse it, of course, but it did provide a reason. At the very least, it made her much more sympathetic to me, which meant I was a lot less likely to take my shopping cart and run her over with it in the check-out line of Piggly Wiggly.
Elizabeth Tarantino, now Elizabeth Valentine, gave me one of her haughty looks and then turned it toward my little girl, my Lydia. “And aren’t you even more adorable than the last time I saw you? You look just like your daddy!”
I held tighter to Lydia’s hand, as if that could somehow protect her. “Doesn’t she?” Before Elizabeth Valentine could get to my baby, I stepped between them. “How have you been, Elizabeth?”
“I’ve been lovely.” Her eyes glazed over my shopping cart of groceries. “Though, I must admit I’m in a bit of a hurry. Would it be too troublesome for me to cut ahead of you?”
I looked at her basket which, to be fair, had less items than mine and then to my girls who were both watching intently. “Of course,” I said through gritted teeth. “Go right ahead.”
Elizabeth Valentine flashed me one of her toothy grins and stuck her nose right back in the air as she cut in front of me. “Please give my regards to the boys.”
Lydia wasn’t old enough at the time to really understand what had happened and of course Evie was just a baby, but they watched Elizabeth Valentine with such an intensity that I knew they must have noticed that something was different about her. They were, after all, my children. Thankfully, it was Evie’s fussing that distracted me from the exhausting presence of Elizabeth Valentine.
Out of all my children, Lydia was the one that warmed my heart and perplexed my soul the most. She was the spitting image of her father and had his kindness and compassion, but she had my mind. With a baby sister and two older brothers, I was very grateful she was well behaved, and even though we did our best not to overlook her, it did occasionally happen. By the grace of God, nothing bad ever happened to her, but I felt my heart stop on many occasions and the first was that day when I looked up and didn’t see her standing next to me anymore. Ironically, it was the first, and last, time I would ever be happy to hear Elizabeth Valentine’s voice.
“Are you sure?” Elizabeth Valentine continued to dig through her purse, her face reddening by the second. “I could’ve sworn I counted it out before I left.”
“You’re still short, ma’am,” the clerk said, his unforgiving face not looking up from the digital screen stating her balance.
“I know, just-”
It was the second time my heart would stop for my children, though this time for a different reason. When I looked up, I saw my Lydia, her tiny hands extended upwards toward Elizabeth Valentine and in them the four pennies Elizabeth Valentine was short for her total.
“Ms. Valentine,” Lydia repeated, her voice soft, “you can have my pennies, if you need them.”
My eyes locked with Elizabeth Valentine and it was in that moment, when the little girl with brown curls was offering all the money she had to a near stranger, that I knew the war had been won.
I beamed at my Lydia and picked her up, then turned the smile to Elizabeth Valentine. “That’s very sweet of you, Lydia, but Mrs. Valentine could never take your money.” I dug through my purse and handed Elizabeth Valentine a nickel. “Here you go, Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth Valentine swallowed. “I-I can just-”
“I insist,” I chirped cheerfully. “In fact,” I winked, “you can even keep the change.”