“What do you have there?” The voice brought the young man out of his scrutiny, and he was surprised to see a pretty woman seated on the opposite side of the table. He hadn’t even heard her enter the common room. Was this how college students always struck up conversations?
“Oh, uh, hello. I’m sorting pennies. My name’s Tom, uhhhh, what’s yours?” He paused awkwardly, unsure how to handle this intrusion.
The young woman smiled and tucked her long, brown hair behind her ear. “I’m Susan. What do you mean, you’re sorting pennies?”
Tom’s face brightened. “I just got a bunch of rolls from the bank, I go through them to see if there are any interesting ones in there! It’s like a treasure hunt, just with tiny pieces of money instead of gold or jewels.” He laughed. “Want to join me? I still have plenty left.”
“Not right now, thank you. Have you found anything interesting?”
He poked at the tiny pile of coins he’d set aside; after a moment, he handed one over with an apologetic shrug. “I’ve got a San Francisco, but that’s about it so far.”
“Really?” Susan looked at the penny briefly before handing it back. “What’s special about that? It looks like a regular penny.”
Tom laughed. “It pretty much is a regular penny, but ones made in San Francisco are kind of tough to find, so I keep them. Did you not see the mintmark?”
“Here.” he moved eagerly around to her side of the table. “It’s the S right there, on the front of the coin. That means it was made in San Francisco.”
She furrowed her brow and squinted at the penny. “That little mark is all it takes to make it special?”
“Mostly, yeah! It’s the little things that make them valuable. A mintmark, a tiny error, a different date.” He grabbed a roll and held it out to her. “There’s other stuff that’s a lot easier to spot, if you want to look for those. Wheat pennies, foreign coins, things like that. You sure you don’t want to try a roll?”
“Well…” she hesitated, then smiled. “Sure, I’ll try one. Just tell me what to look for.”
They spent a couple of hours that afternoon going through the pennies, and Tom convinced Susan afterwards to join him on several other afternoons as well. Susan did not seem very interested in the pennies, and Tom often had to go through the ones she’d checked to find the things she missed. But he didn’t mind; he found himself becoming quite interested in Susan. Many little things about her drew his attention, like the way she tucked her hair behind her ear, or laughed when he tried to make a joke.
As the months wore on, the two of them spent more time together, and less time sorting coins. Tom still got rolls from the bank on occasion, to pick through if he was alone and got bored, but that happened less and less frequently. He actually stopped paying attention to coins altogether for a time, finding his attention utterly absorbed by this new friendship.
Eventually though, the burning flame of interest sputtered, and Tom and Susan found themselves drifting apart. Unsure what their hearts and minds were guiding them towards, they pursued different paths. They made other friends, and formed other relationships, and gradually saw each other less and less. Still, they kept in touch, even after they finally graduated and moved away.
The demands of career and life grew heavier for Tom, and his hobby became his only escape. He pursued it passionately, learning more about pennies, and getting better at spotting the little things that truly made them special. His small collection of rarities grew, growing quite valuable when he began snagging the occasional error coin. It was gratifying catching things he would have missed before, but he always had the nagging feeling that treasures had slipped through his fingers in his younger, more ignorant years.
One day, Tom dragged himself home from work and flopped onto his bed, staring at the ceiling. He tried to drift off, but found himself lost in thought. It had been almost five years since college. Why, then, did his mind keep going back to Susan? Every day, she seemed to be haunting his mind. He wrestled with his confusion, and over the next few weeks found himself paying more attention whenever she posted something on social media. Seeing her online made him remember things about her that he’d forgotten, like her smile, or just her positive outlook on life. Little things, but they stuck in his mind.
When he saw that she’d returned from a long trip to Guatemala to help build houses for the homeless, he decided to call her. Not many people would volunteer to spend their summers that way, and it would be nice to get back in touch. Perhaps hearing her voice would straighten the confusion whirling in his mind. But even as he dialed, he found himself marveling at the woman she had become.
Susan answered on the second ring. “Tom! I haven’t heard from you in forever! How are you doing?”
His heart threatened to burst through his chest as soon as he heard her voice. He barely remembered what they said when they talked, but when they hung up, he was surprised to see that they had spoken for more than three hours. Three hours of little things, of tiny connections reforming.
They began calling more frequently, and each time they spoke, Tom’s confusion lessened. He eventually broached the idea of trying a long-distance relationship, and she agreed. The two of them called, wrote letters, and pursued each other with more intention than they had ever shown in college.
It wasn’t long before Tom knew what he had to do. Whenever he was free, he sorted pennies. He ripped open more and more rolls, returning more and more coins to the bank each week. Tom hunted almost obsessively, racing against the clock in his heart. An older wheat penny here, a rotated die there, he scooped up anything worth anything. After discovering that speculators bought older copper pennies, in the hopes that the government would legalize melting them someday, he began selling them in bulk instead of returning them to the bank. All the while, his tiny hoard of rare pennies grew larger, and his heart grew more anxious.
Eventually, Tom unwrapped a roll, and almost immediately pulled the final coin he needed. A 1914 wheat penny, in remarkably good condition for something from circulation. He’d found plenty of more valuable pennies in his years of searching, but this was the most special to him. He stared at the tiny coin in his hand for several minutes, absorbing the implications. It felt strangely light, for being the last piece of his puzzle. That night he cried himself to sleep, for what he was losing, and what he hoped to gain.
The next day, Tom took his entire stash to a coin shop, and haggled with the man until he’d gotten the price he wanted. He felt a heavy pang as he handed all those tiny, circular treasures over the counter, but he gritted his teeth and shook the man’s hand. The shopkeeper handed back 15 crisp, hundred-dollar bills, and Tom took them slowly. They felt so strange, these pieces of paper. There was no weight, no character to them, but he needed what they would provide.
Three weeks later, Susan answered a knock on her door, and was shocked to discover Tom standing there before her. He wore a three-piece suit and an enormous grin, and held a small bouquet of flowers. Susan blushed, and after a moment of standing there with her jaw dropped, blurted out,
“Tom! How are the pennies?”
He grinned wider, and held up another tiny, circular treasure. “They were great, but I realized I wanted something more valuable. I wouldn’t mind hunting for more treasures though. Care to join me?”
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Your story is very enticing! In the beginning, I didn't anticipate the story would make such a swerve in so little time. I like your descriptions of the actions and the metaphors you use. My suggestion is to add a little bit more description to the characters and the setting, so you can draw the reader more into the story. Also, maybe slow down the pace a little bit or focus more on the major events.
Thanks very much! I definitely struggle with descriptions :)