It’s the Thought That Counts

By: Ren King and Violet Hirman

Note: This is a student generated work of short fiction

“It’s a gift.”

The familiar curve of a smile lines her cheeks, and I stiffen as she places the small wooden box in my hand. “From Don and me. To remind you to keep wishing.”

“Thank you, mom.” I would’ve gladly accepted a gift from my mom, but her deranged, middle aged lover, Don? He sickens me, and as my hands trace the detailed woodworking of the box, a glimpse of the desire to crush the box grips me.

“Don’t waste it, kiddo,” Don warns. Hate burns in my chest. He doesn’t even love my mom, just enjoys the attention. Something in his eyes makes my stomach turn again, a threat.

As soon as possible, I retreat to my room where I toss the box onto my bed and pull on my shoes. If I’m going to stay sane, I need air. Dinner was more tense than usual, the only sound being forks scratching plates. I’m almost out the door, but something tugs at me. At the last moment, I grab the box again and leave.

The sun has already tucked itself away behind the trees by the time my house disappears from view. I release a captured breath and let myself breathe freely.

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The breeze is warm, running small fingers through my tangled hair, dancing between the trees and tracing my face. When the air stills, the sounds of frogs and crickets fill my ears. The lake on my right glitters underneath the moon, warping its reflection.

I sit on a ledge overhanging the lake’s shore, feet swinging lethargically. The box in my hands is heavy, solid. Its intricacy catches my attention—really catches my attention—for the first time, the grain swirling and dipping over the surface. I unclasp the latch and flip the lid up. Inside, the box is lined with velvety fabric, cushioning a single penny.

“I guess it’s the thought that counts,” I mutter. I twirl the coin between my fingers and glance at the moon. It’s full, so full it looks like it’s about to burst. And it’s close. The stars twinkle, gently earlier, but now with a harsh bitterness usually left to the sunshine.

My mother’s words return to me, the words about wishes.

“Worth a shot.”

With a wish in my head, I squeeze my eyes shut and hurl the penny into the lake. It lands with a tiny splash, skips twice, and disappears beneath the waves. Time slows, pulling at my consciousness. Everything sharpens, coming to razor-sharp focus. I feel the weight of my eyelashes as I blink, the hair brushing the back of my neck in the wind, the feel of my clothes on my body. And then it returns to normal. Like nothing happened at all.

A sort of excitement grows in my stomach, sweet and sick all at once. I take a slow, deep breath of air and jog the entire way home, anticipation squirming under my skin like a caged animal.

My hand pauses over the door handle, but I push my way inside nevertheless.

“I’m home!” I call. The house is dark. I couldn’t have been gone that long, could I? I bound upstairs, box in hand, and peek into my mom’s room. She’s alone, and asleep if her breathing is any tell. Is he gone? Did he leave? Did the penny work?

I retreat again to my room, hope struggling against the bonds of disbelief. Sleep is quick to find me and tuck me into its safe space inside my head. I dream of coins, moons, and water.

The following morning I nearly fall down the stairs like a kid on Christmas morning. But the person in the kitchen makes my heart drop to my toes. Don. He’s still here. Why?

“Mornin’ kiddo. I see you used your wish.” His voice drips with honey-sweet malice. I take a step back. My mom sits in the adjacent living room, rocking away and humming to herself under her breath.

“Mom, what was that? What was that penny?” I ask, panic rising. She doesn’t answer, only continues rocking.

“She can’t hear you,” gloats Don. “I suppose I should feel upset that you tried to get rid of me with my own gift, but I’m flattered. After all, it’s the thought that counts, right kiddo?”

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