Stanley stared at the glittering pennies tucked into his polished loafers. They twinkled in the afternoon light, as vibrantly as Jackson Meredith’s braces through his smirk. Wincing at the parallel, Stanley looked up at the crosswalk’s illuminated crimson hand. It stayed steady as passing traffic shot by in a speedy churn. Grasping his backpack’s straps, he gazed at the brake lights and wondered if the drivers were heading to where they wanted to be or just where they had to go.
The stoplight changed, halting the exodus from downtown, and Stanley joined the glut of harried pedestrians swooping across the striped asphalt. He veered along the opposite curb, darted before a bike messenger, and dipped through the opening in the park’s stone wall. Shade blanketed him, the fading leaves providing a gentler shelter than the surrounding skyscrapers.
When he spotted their bench, he slowed, his backpack ceasing its thump. Finding it empty, he checked his phone, the digits admonishing him for being early.
“Better than staying behind.”
Shuddering at the thought of dawdling in the fenced-in schoolyard, Stanley plopped onto the weathered wood. He slouched, crinkling his uniform’s blazer and, with his khaki covered legs swinging, faced his phone’s screen. His nimble thumbs tapped up another round of Block Crusher and the gems and bricks aligned at his command. The connected fours and fives exploded in a firework shimmer or ash plume, and the display announced his arrival at level six by the time a figure’s shadow fell upon him.
“What’s with the glum puss?”
Pausing his game, Stanley stood and tucked the phone into his blazer’s pocket. “Nothing Pappy.”
“Silence never did anyone any good Stan.”
Without looking up at what he knew would be Pappy’s white browed scowl, Stanley nudged a pebble into the surrounding underbrush.
“Come on then.” Pappy’s wrinkled hand landed upon Stanley’s shoulder and guided him along the trail. “We’ve got a park to walk.”
Hanging his head, Stanley endured Pappy’s expectant quiet. To either side, the grass seemed to perk with their passage, the weight of coming winter lightened in the day’s echo of summer. As they strode, Stanley watched his loafers crunch the first autumn leaves. Their copper color made his shoes’ pennies gleam and brought Jackson’s sneer back to mind.
“They did it again,” he whispered.
“Meredith and his posse?”
“I don’t get It.” Stanley kicked an errant rock out of the way. “Just because I can answer a few of Mrs. Fisher’s questions faster than the rest, they think they’re better than me.”
“They don’t think they’re better than you, Stan.”
“I know, I know. You think they’re scared of me. I’m not sure how they could be when there are three of them, and I’m no bigger than Reynolds’ arm.”
“They’re scared of what you’ve got up here.” Pappy thumped his own temple feathered by receding gray. The motion rustled his sweater’s woolen sleeve and his gilded frames tilted on his bloated nose.
“All I’ve got is a bunch of facts and figures.”
“Knowledge is power.”
“So’s a left hook.” Stanley rubbed at his ribs.
“Did you tell Mrs. Fisher?”
“Then they’d beat me up for being a tattler.” A thought seized him and he grabbed Pappy’s arm despite the itch the knitted cables left on his fingers. “Don’t tell Mom.”
“Do I ever?”
Stanley hid his hands into his blazer’s pockets. “She seems to know somehow.”
“Mothers are gifted with a certain intuition. We all have gifts like that, and yours—”
“Is remembering stuff, sure.”
“Can I finish?”
Chagrinned, Stanley eyed his shoes. “Sorry Pappy.”
“Your gift is something you have to find. You’re a smart kid Stan, don’t let a bunch of bullies make you hide it.”
“Hiding it means I don’t get beat up after school.”
“Is that worth looking stupid?”
“I look pretty stupid curled up on the playground. Even Misty Jenkins is starting to laugh at me.”
“Ah, so it’s about a girl.”
Pappy raised both ridged hands. “Men have done many foolish things for the love of a woman.”
“It’s not love,” said Stanley, the repudiation gushing from his belly. “She’s just pretty. I mean, I like girls….”
Growling at his loosed tongue, he sped his stride and clenched his fists within his pockets. After a crunching dash, a gleam beneath a sturdy fern beckoned him to stop. Stooping low, Stanly brushed aside a covering of brittle leaves and scooped the coin into his palm. Pappy’s steady gait brought him alongside.
“What is it?”
Stanley rubbed the penny between his index finger and thumb. The earthy coating dissolved after two strokes, leaving the copper sparkling.
Straightening, Stanley squinted at the canopy. “Bush to Clinton?”
“The Olympics were somewhere in France but the summer ones were in Barcelona. Do you know they lit the torch with an arrow?”
“I did,” said Pappy.
“And then Toronto beat the Braves after dropping the first game and —”
“How about a little less sports.”
“Sorry.” Stanley stared at the penny while the pages in his mind turned, each as glossy as the coin. “NAFTA was signed. The Bosnian War got started. The first Web browsers were available for the public.” He shook his head. “I can’t believe they didn’t have the internet then.”
Pappy chuckled. “We didn’t have the internet for a lot longer than that.”
“I think I’d rather lose an arm.”
“It wasn’t all that bad. We did a lot more of this.” Pappy motioned at the trail and then nodded at a passing couple pushing a stroller.
Stanley shrugged. “I guess you find a way to survive.”
“You should remember that.”
Stanley rolled his eyes and stowed the penny away while Pappy reminisced on his personal memories from ’92.
Mom had been in high school. They had spent the summer looking at colleges all over the country once the Climate Change convention had finished. Pappy remembered reading a book by some author named Asimov who had recently died.
Pappy sighed. “I’ll bring you one of his books next time.”
Adjusting his backpack on his shoulders, Stanley settled the straps into worn grooves. “Like I don’t have enough to read.”
“There’s never enough.”
With a grunt, Pappy bent down and gathered another coin from the dirt. He blew on it, but the soil and patina clung.
“Here,” he said, handing the coin over. “You’re always better at getting these things to shine.”
“As long as they’re pennies.”
“We all have our specialties.”
Stanley cupped the coin and rubbed his finger over the dirtied surface. The columns of the Lincoln Memorial brushed against his skin, and flipping it over, he cleared the Presidential profile. He squinted when a beam of sunlight fell upon the polished surface but made out the accompanying date.
Pappy leaned over. “Really?”
“That’s what it says doesn’t it?”
Plucking the coin, Pappy brought it to his lenses, his eyes narrowing. With a frown, he doffed his glasses and tromboned the coin into range. “Well I’ll be.”
“What’s so cool? ’43’s easy. World War II’s going on but Mussolini’s on his way out. FDR’s still President. The Yankees—”
“Damn the Yankees.” Pappy tilted the coin so shafts of light danced on the Presidential face. “This one’s rare.”
Stanley tipped onto his toes and peered at the same features occupying his shoes. “It doesn’t look that rare to me. Hell, it doesn’t even look old.”
“Watch your tongue.”
Stanley stood by while Pappy fetched a booklet from the back pocket of his corduroys. Palming the coin, he flipped through the pages, stopped at one, and drew his finger along the text.
“Hot damn. I was right.” He closed the book with a dusty thud and held out the coin again. “Last one of these went for over eighty thousand dollars.”
“Eighty thousand.” Stanley frowned. “That’s a lot of money for, well, money.”
“You’re damn straight it is.” Pappy whistled and his grin beamed bright. “Mitch is going to blow his top when he sees it.”
“Shouldn’t you keep it a secret?” Stanley massaged his side where his ribs would no doubt be bruising. “I mean if the other collectors know, won’t they try and take it from you?”
“One thing I learned about life, Stan, is you don’t keep your best stuff hidden.”
Pappy’s gaze grew stern and the coin seemed to vanish from his thoughts. “I’m certain.”
“All right,” said Stanley. “But I’m not sure it’s fair. I mean your sharing gets you lots of money. I’m going to keep getting beaten up.”
“Isn’t there another way out?”
“Other than keeping my mouth shut?”
“Other than keeping your mouth shut.”
Stanley scrunched his face in thought. “I guess so.”
“I could tell them to go to he-heck. Make them know I’m not afraid of them.”
“That’s one way.”
“Better than running to Mrs. Fisher.” Stanley matched Pappy’s stride when he resumed their walk. “I hear Misty Jenkins’s likes smart guys better than jocks anyway.”
“I don’t think a little fame would hurt either.” Pappy bounced the coin in his hand.
“You mean we can share it?”
“I couldn’t have found it without you and those scrubbing little digits of yours.”
Stanley glanced at his thumb and index finger. Dirt from the coins remained, outlining his prints like a road map to some unknown destination.
“I guess we all have our specialties.”