Short Story

"Lucky Penny"
Chantal Boudreau
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Ronald was on his way to work in the morning, as he would be on any other Monday to Friday, expecting his usual humdrum day.  It was a short stretch from the place where he paid to park his car to his office.  As he walked, he was flipping through the text messages on his cell phone, hoping to find something out of the ordinary there, something to liven his day. That was when a coppery gleam caught the corner of his eye. He glanced down.
“A penny,” he observed aloud.
Should he bother to pick it up?  He could go through the list of adages that suggested that he should, adages about a penny saved being a penny earned, and the good fortune that it would bring him.  He scratched at his balding head, contemplating the situation for a couple of seconds.  Of what value would this really be to him?  He was not a superstitious man.  He was not a young man either, and there was always the possibility that he might put out his back while stooping to gather it from the sidewalk.  He decided that it was not worth it.  If there were any truth to the term “lucky penny”, he would let someone else take advantage of it.
With a shrug, Ronald went on his way, abandoning the lowly coin to be a part of some other soul’s fate, perhaps a child attracted by its sparkle, or a homeless person who would see more worth in the find.  He continued down the sidewalk towards his office building, returning to the task of hunting his way through his text messages.
Had he not been preoccupied by the contents of his cell phone, he might have noticed the woman emerging from the coffee shop as he approached.  It was Flora, a woman who worked in another office in the same building as Ronald, and she was overburdened with coffee, tea and sweets, playing volunteer for her co-workers’ whims.  She did not notice Ronald past her encumbrance, and when her heel caught in the doorstop on her way out, she spilled into him instead of trying to avoid him.  He and his cell phone were splattered with hot coffee.
Penniless Ronald cursed, offering Flora a string of expletives before he realized whom he was addressing.  He had had a bit of a crush on Flora since the first day he had spotted her by one of the vending machines on the same floor as his office, but had chosen to admire her from afar.  She was a reasonably attractive woman, wielding a warm and vibrant smile that would spark shyness in the heart of any typical administrative schmoe - and Ronald was just that, plain and simple.  He was middle-aged, slightly out of shape and gradually losing his hair, all reasons why he had never worked up the nerve to say more than “hi.”  He was also lacking somewhat in social graces, as his current circumstances would attest.
He silenced himself quickly, shaking the remains of the coffee from his dripping cell phone, but it was clear that this gesture had come too late.  Apologizing profusely, Flora avoided his gaze.  She was obviously both embarrassed and wounded, having turned an awkward shade of red and having busied herself examining the new cut and bruise on her elbow and a very nasty scrape on her shin.
Penniless Ronald felt ashamed as well.  He had been somewhat responsible for the accident, or at least he could have taken some evasive action, had he been paying more attention.  He mumbled his own apologies, kicking himself for over-reacting and for alienating this lovely woman before she had even had the opportunity to get to know him.  Then, he silently helped gather the few items that were still salvageable.  Flora whispered a quiet “thanks”, as she staggered to her feet, and then she ducked back into the coffee shop to replenish her co-workers’ orders at her own expense, limping her way in.
With a solemn look at the closing door, Penniless Ronald returned to his own path, shoulders hunched and brow furrowed.

Ronald was on his way to work in the morning, as he would be on any other Monday to Friday, expecting his usual humdrum day.  It was a short stretch from the place where he paid to park his car to his office.  As he walked, he was flipping through the text messages on his cell phone, hoping to find something out of the ordinary there, something to liven his day. That was when a coppery gleam caught the corner of his eye. He glanced down.
“A penny,” he observed aloud.
Should he bother to pick it up?  He could go through the list of adages that suggested that he should, adages about a penny saved being a penny earned, and the good fortune that it would bring him.  He scratched at his balding head, contemplating the situation for a couple of seconds.  Would it really hurt to pause and pluck the coin from the concrete?  He was not a superstitious man, but he saw no harm in acting on a playful whim.  If nothing else, he could add the coin to the others in the jar on his dresser, to roll at a later date.  He decided to test the fates and stooped somewhat creakily to snatch it up with his thumb and finger.  If there were any truth to the term “lucky penny”, he would try to take advantage of it.
Allowing the coin slide into his palm, Ronald let it roll loosely in his hand, wondering at how it had come to be there and imagining who might have had it before him, rather than returning his attention to his phone.  This worked in his favour, as he happened to be looking straight ahead when the hapless Flora emerged from the coffee shop and caught her heel on the doorstop.  He managed to step aside before she sprawled into him and instead he made a grab for her and her burden, rescuing her and most of what she carried from a bad fall.
Flora gazed down with mild disappointment at the single cup that had ended up a victim of her clumsiness.  Then, with a sigh, she turned to Pennied Ronald and flashed him her winning smile.
“Thank you so much.  I’m such a klutz.  That could have been a complete disaster.  As it is, the only coffee I lost was my own.  You just saved my day.”  She paused, her eyes narrowing a touch as she focussed on his face.  “I know you, don’t I?  You work for that IT firm on the fourth floor, right?”
Pennied Ronald grinned, thanking his lucky stars.  This was the opportunity that he had been waiting for.  He slid the penny into his pocket and nodded.
“Yes, Bright Bytes – I work there.  My name’s Ronald Orman, but my friends call me Ron.  I’m a trained IT tech, but at the moment, I mainly push paper for the office.”  He would have offered his hand to shake, but at the moment hers were entirely full. This gave him an idea. 
“That was your coffee?” Ronald said, gesturing towards the cup on the ground.  “Why don’t you let me buy you a fresh one?  My treat.”
“Oh no, I couldn’t,” Flora replied, still smiling.  “I’m already in your debt.”
“Please,” he stated, with a warm chuckle, “I insist.  And I also insist that you let me help you to carry this lot back to your office.  Your co-workers are a little thoughtless if they were expecting you to handle all of this on your own.”
Her hazel eyes shone with pleasure.
“How sweet of you and how very fortunate for me that you came along when you did.  I’m Flora Bernard. I can’t believe that we’ve never properly introduced ourselves until now.”
Ronald knew who she was, even if she had not known him from Adam.  He had asked around, in a very casual manner, after the first time that he had set eyes on her.  He had never made any other attempts to actually meet her.  Sheer nervousness and the fear that he might come across as some creepy stalker-type had led to the choice to continue admiring her from afar.  An encounter like this one had been totally unexpected.
Since Flora was agreeable, Pennied Ronald accompanied her back into the coffee shop.  As offered, he bought her a fresh cup and then relieved her of half her burden.  She readjusted what was left behind, for comfort’s sake, and then allowed herself to be escorted back to her office.

Penniless Ronald rocked back in his chair behind his desk, scowling and chewing on a pencil.  He stared at the stack of papers before him, notes for a report that one of the senior analysts, Franklin, had delegated to him to write.  He also glanced at the full white paper cup, one from the water cooler that was perched next to it.  It was hardly a replacement for lunch.  The deadline for that report was the reason that Ronald had not returned home to change his damp coffee-stained clothing, and it was also the reason he was going to have to miss a meal.  It had to be done by the end of the day, or at least that was what the higher ranking fellow had demanded.  Franklin had suggested that he needed until the following Monday to proofread the report, which was due at head office on Tuesday.  Ronald would be expected to complete any revisions that Monday, and even if he arranged the report perfectly, Franklin would find something that would have been just fine as is, and require that Ronald change it.  Otherwise, Franklin would feel like he could not claim that the report was truly his own work.
The lazy, self-important man could have at least typed the notes in and emailed them to him, Ronald thought crankily.  Of course, that would have made things too easy. 
He realized that sitting there staring at the paperwork would not get it done any faster, but he was still distracted by the memory of his earlier collision with Flora.  She might be forgiving, but Penniless Ronald could not rely on that.  He wondered if would be able to find someway to make amends for the incident.
He decided to make a trip to the vending machines and get something to quiet his rumbling, empty belly. He rose from his chair, pushing aside his malfunctioning cell phone and accidentally knocking over the cup of water in the process.  Thankfully, it missed the report notes, as Ronald hastily redirected the flow, but as he sopped it up, it instead dribbled onto the front of his stained pants.
“Great,” Penniless Ronald sighed, staring down at the large wet spot at approximately crotch level.  After tossing the dripping tissues and scrap paper he had used to absorb the water into his trash can, he headed out into the hall.
The vending machines on the fourth floor were a few doors down from his office, and he sauntered down, grumbling to himself along the way.  Once there, Ronald reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of change, but a few of the coins spilled out onto the floor.  He was too busy cursing to himself, as he crouched to gather them up, to notice Flora appear in the hallway behind him.  She spotted him first and with her face showing an expression of distress, she stepped away again, deciding that it was in her best interest to make her vending machine purchase elsewhere.
It took Penniless Ronald a couple of minutes to gather all of the errant change, including one evasive quarter that had escaped under the vending machine itself.  Ronald got to his feet, brushing the dust from his knees.  He was just starting to put his coins in the slot when Barry Clements, the office gossip, arrived upon the scene.  He gave Ronald the once over, smirking at the dishevelled state of his co-worker.  His eyes specifically lingered on the water spot by Ronald’s groin.  Everyone would no doubt be hearing out that now.
“Hey, Ronald,” Barry chuckled, “Rough day?”
“You could say that, yeah,” Ronald sighed. 
Trying to ignore Barry, Penniless Ronald collected his snacks from the machine.  Then, he headed back to his desk and the daunting task that awaited him there.

Pennied Ronald sat at his desk, typing happily away.  Normally, one of Franklin’s “dump work” projects would have put him in a foul mood, but after the wonderful morning that he had had, nothing was going to spoil Ronald’s day. The penny he had found was still sitting at the bottom of his pants pocket, and when he was done with one page of notes, and was flipping to the next page, he would stick his free hand in his pocket and touch the coin, still hopeful that it might bring him luck.
When Ronald came to the end of another page, and realized that his stomach was grumbling, he decided that it was time for a trip to the vending machines.  He rose casually to his feet, and grinning and whistling, he started down the hall.
Standing before the machine, he shoved his hand deep into his pocket to come up with change and accidentally spilled a few coins onto the floor, including his lucky penny, which rolled away from him along the flat gray carpet.
“Oh!  Can’t let you get away!” he exclaimed and he scrambled after it.  It rolled in a fairly wide arc and came to a stop at Flora’s feet.  She bent over to pick it up, giving Ronald an excellent view of her superb cleavage.  She smiled at him as she righted herself.
“Hi was Ron, wasn’t it?  Is this yours?  It seems to have gotten away from you.”
He nodded and blushed, accepting the return of the coin. 
“Sorry.  I’m afraid I’m a little clumsy.”
“Well, that would make one thing we have in common,” she laughed.  Flora had a very nice laugh, he thought, light and cheery.  “I was going to grab a snack, but it is lunchtime.  Care to join me in a meal?”
Pennied Ronald’s face fell a little.  He could not spare the time because of the deadline for Franklin’s report.  He shook his head.
“I would really love to,” he said, “but I have this report that has to be done by the end of the day and...”
“Supper then?” she interrupted.  “You could meet me after work.  There’s a great new bistro I discovered a few blocks from my apartment.  I could get your e-mail address so we can settle on a time to meet there, and I can give you all of the details including directions on how to get there from here.  I think it would be fun, and I never got to thank you properly for all of your kindness this morning.”
Ronald suddenly felt very self-conscious, his cheeks reddening even more.  He looked down at the floor and shuffled his feet a little.
“I wouldn’t want you to feel obligated...”
Flora put her hand on his arm.
“Nonsense.  I haven’t had pleasant company along for dinner in a long time.  Most men these days just don’t know the meaning of chivalry. Please tell me you’ll join me?”
Ronald’s throat went so dry he could barely manage to squeak out an “okay”.  They exchanged e-mail addresses, and after giving his arm a gentle squeeze, Flora drew her hand away and accompanied him to the vending machine.  She chatted to him nonchalantly as he gathered the few other coins that had fallen from his pocket.  As soon as she had left, Barry Clements appeared from around the corner wearing a wide grin and equally wide eyes.
“Did I hear things right?” Barry chuckled with a suggestion of disbelief.  “Are you going on a date with Flora Bernard?  How did you manage that?  Ronnie, you old dog, you - I didn’t know you had it in you.  You’re gonna’ be the envy of the entire office.”
Ronald turned away from him with a shrug, but he was smiling inside as he cradled the penny in the palm of his hand, inside his pocket.  He would not exactly call it a date, but he was willing to let Barry believe what he wanted to believe.  With Barry at the helm, this tidbit of gossip would spread like wildfire throughout the office, and likely earn Ronald some new respect – something he desperately wanted.  This day just seemed to get better and better.
Making his selection from the vending machine, Ronald said good-bye to Barry and started back towards his desk, moving with a noticeable spring in his step.

Penniless Ronald glanced at the clock as he hit the send button for his e-mail.  He had made Franklin’s deadline, just barely, but he had not had any time to check his work.  This would likely be one time where the senior analyst would not have to invent things he deemed errors.  There would probably be at least a few typos or grammatical errors that his spellchecker had not picked up, especially since Ronald had completed the work in such a rush.
With a groan, he picked up his useless cell phone from his desk.  He would have to bring it in to the manufacturer’s store during lunch hour the following day.  They would be closed by the time Ronald would reach them if he tried today, accounting for traffic.  No, he would be heading home to lament his day with a frozen dinner and a beer in front of his TV instead.  Hopefully, tomorrow would be a better day.
On his way out of the door, Penniless Ronald caught Franklin’s eye in passing.  The man gave him a cold stare, and Ronald knew what that meant.  The senior analyst had scanned through the report, and had already found a few things not to his liking.  Ronald was honestly past the point of caring.  He was tired, stressed, embarrassed and disappointed.  Feeling bullied would be just another point of negativity to add to the rapidly growing pile.
He slouched his way out of the building and along the route that led to where he had parked his car.  He could see with only the briefest glance that traffic heading in the direction he usually drove was practically at a stand-still.  Weighing his options, he decided that he would take a secondary route to his condo and hope to avoid all of the tie-ups.  It was longer distance-wise, and he would be travelling through a part of town that he was not that familiar with, but he was already too frustrated from the day’s events to tolerate sitting in a jam.
Penniless Ronald weaved his way through the traffic snarl to get to his escape route, and then, with a momentary detour along a couple of back roads, he headed off in the opposite direction.  Traffic was certainly lighter travelling the alternate way, but still a little heavier than the norm, from what he remembered.  Others clearly had made the same choice that Ronald had, and avoided the traffic jam by going this way.
He was trying to relax as he continued along the convoluted path, still tense, but this was made difficult by the fact that he had to pay more attention to where he was going.  While less stressed than he would have been sitting in the snarl, Ronald was more anxious than he normally would be and heavily distracted.  Maybe that was why, while looking for his next turn-off, he failed to notice the collision between the truck with the flagged load in front of him and a car in the intersection ahead, until the horrible sound of scraping metal and grinding glass met his ears.  Maybe that was also why he failed to brake in time before joining the collision himself.
Penniless Ronald’s airbag did deploy, but an airbag is not much in the way of protection when steel rebar penetrates your windshield.

Pennied Ronald hummed in a chipper way, excited about his upcoming supper with Flora. He sent off an e-mail with the attached report to Franklin, a few minutes before the senior analyst had been expecting it, and Ronald had made such good progress during the day that he had managed to proofread it properly too.  Good thing, he considered, because he had caught several typos that Franklin would have never missed.  Ronald had always had trouble getting his “there,” “they’re” and “their” in the appropriate place.  The last time that he had messed that up the senior man had pounced on it and lectured him for several minutes about the importance of professionalism in his reports.
After tidying his desk, Ronald headed out of the office wearing an uncharacteristically broad smile.  His head held high, he met the gaze of several of his co-workers on his way towards the door, and noticed the suggestion of mild awe there.  Apparently, Barry had already made the rounds and spread the word about Ronald and Flora. 
Pennied Ronald chuckled quietly to himself on the way through the exit.  The mild-mannered man actually had earned himself a bit of a reputation.
Ronald was in such a good mood that had there not been any witnesses, he might have actually skipped his way to his car.  As he slid into the driver seat, he noticed the steady stream of solid traffic crawling its way past the exit to the lot.  Not that he would not be able to tolerate the wait, but if he was delayed too long, he might be late in meeting up with Flora, and he certainly did not want to come across as being rude.  He had an alternate route that he could take, his fall-back plan, you could say.  With a contented shrug, he carefully made his way into traffic and gradually turned up the side street that would briefly take him in the opposite direction.
He noticed that traffic was a tad slow the other way as well, likely because of others who shared his line of thought.  It would not be enough of a delay, however, to keep him from meeting Flora when and where they had agreed.  In fact, he would likely have a little time to spare.  With that in mind, he acted on impulse when he spotted the sign for a florist’s shop just up ahead on a side street to his right, the last turn before the next major intersection.
“You can’t go wrong with flowers,” Ronald said to himself as he turned up the little roadway.  He had barely gone a few feet up the street when he slowed and cringed at the squealing of tires behind him, followed by the heart-wrenching sound of metal crunching and glass breaking.  There had been an accident back there, he thought, and he had been fortunate enough to avoid it – all because he had followed through on a desire to please Flora.  Pennied Ronald breathed a sigh of relief.
He pulled up to the florist’s, a little shaken but otherwise none the worse for the wear.  As he climbed out of his car, his finger made contact with the penny in his pocket.  He would never be sure if the coppery coin had actually had any effect on his fate, but as far as Ronald was concerned, it had proven to be a token of good fortune.  He eyed some pretty pink roses in the window, and then whistling a merry little tune, he stepped into the flower shop.

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About the author: Chantal Boudreau is an accountant/author/illustrator who lives by the ocean in beautiful Nova Scotia, Canada with her husband and two children. In addition to being a CMA-MBA, she has a BA from Dalhousie University. She writes and illustrates predominantly horror, dark fantasy and fantasy and has several short stories and multiple novels in the works.  Her recent projects include“Palliative," a short story published in the anthology Vampires, Zombies and Ghosts - Oh My!, and "Just Another Day" contracted for the anthology First Time Dead, scheduled for a February 2011 release.