|The Story Plant|
13 May 2014
My thoughts on Pressed Pennies
“Find a penny, pick it up and all that day you’ll have good luck"
Two old friends, with a special
connection, meet again after years of heartbreak. Both are filled with
trepidation at the start of an exciting new love affair, which in a way feels
so right, and yet, even as ripples of anxiety threaten their new found dreams, they can only hope that their
special connection this second time around will survive whatever life throws at
Pressed Pennies is written with the author’s usual fine attention
to the minutiae of life and the believable characters with all their imperfections
and hang ups make this book an absolute joy to read. What I loved about the
novel, and I read it over the space of a couple of afternoons, was the way the
author was able to narrate the story from a realistic female perspective
without ever compromising his leading male viewpoint. In my opinion, very few
male authors manage to achieve this, with the exception of Nicholas Sparks.
This is now the third Steven
Manchester book I have read and this one is, by far, my favourite, it is warm hearted
without being overly sentimental, and utterly engaging without the saccharine
sweetness which can very easily become cloying.
It’s a perfect read for a quiet
afternoon, with a cup of hot tea and a classic radio station playing quietly in
A mix of playful
conversation and alcohol set the night’s happy mood. Rick was tipping his third
beer at the season’s final bash when he looked up and saw her. He nearly
choked on his drink. She was his age, pretty with an
athletic build. She had gorgeous wavy chestnut hair with beautiful dark eyes
that matched. She had a mysterious confidence about her and a smile that men
would die for. Rick swore she had an aura from her head to her feet. At that
moment, he thought, I have to meet her.
His mind filled with questions that needed answers: Who does she know at the party? Who can I get her background from? Who
can introduce us? As his mind raced, Carol walked over with the beauty. And
as they got closer, it hit him. “Oh, my God!” he said.
“Rick, this is…” the friendly hostess began to introduce with a
“Abby!” Rick interrupted. “I can’t believe it.” It was her. It was Abby Gerwitz, his childhood sweetheart. He searched
her eyes and a thousand memories—happy childhood pictures—flooded his mind. And
then he recalled the pain he’d felt on the day they were forced to say goodbye.
unforgettable summer, Abby and the neighborhood gang received the terrible
tidings. Rick—then known as Richard—gathered the gang in his backyard. He felt
ready to cry. “I’ve got some bad news, guys,” he said.
“Oh, God,” Tracy blurted.
“Yeah?” asked Vinny.
“What’s is it?” Grant asked.
Richard looked at Abby. She was frozen.
“My dad was promoted to lieutenant, and he has to transfer to
another prison across the state.” There was a long, painful pause. “We’re going
to have to move away…next week.”
It was a lie. They were moving, sure enough, but Richard’s dad
hadn’t been promoted. The hospital bills from his mom’s car accident—where a
drunk driver had stolen away her life—had finally broken them. It was a matter
of money or more precisely the lack of it. Richard silently vowed that he’d
never be put in the same position—ever. No
matter what I have to do, he swore to himself.
While the rest of his friends hung their heads and complained, Abby
burst out crying and ran for her house.
As Rick recalled, it was well past
midnight when he finally surrendered to the tossing and turning. Rolling out of
bed, he maneuvered past several moving boxes, stepped up to the window and
pulled back the curtain. Wilbur Avenue was deserted and silent. From left to
right—as if he was branding the picture into his mind forever—he carefully
scanned every detail of the place he could no longer call home. Although one
good memory after another played out before him, a sharp pain pricked his
heart. No one was watching, so he allowed the tears to flow. Once he’d arrived
at the farthest reaches of his vantage point, he forced his swollen eyes to
work their way back and absorb more of his past. “Why do we have to leave?” he
muttered. “Why?” Before long, his shoulders rocked back and forth to the rhythm
of his quiet sobs.
The very next morning, gray clouds hovered over
Wilbur Avenue. Richard’s dad and grandma made their goodbyes quick and waited
in the overstuffed station wagon for Richard.
Richard had never said goodbye before. The pain
was alien. It hurt something awful to face Abby. Overwhelmed with emotion, it
took him a while to speak. It was the hardest thing he had ever had to do.
“Well, I guess…” Richard muttered, and choked on the words. Not
knowing what else to do, he pulled the curled brim of his ball cap down further
over his eyes.
Through sniffles, Abby finally said, “You can
come back and visit, right?”
“Sure.” Richard was fighting to be strong and
dared not speak more than a word.
Abby lifted the brim of his hat. “Goodbye,
Richard,” she whimpered.
Richard placed his hand on her shoulder and
shook his head. “No Abby…I’ll be seein’ ya,” he whispered, and with one surge
of courage kissed her on the lips.
While Abby’s eyes went wide, he pulled his baseball cap back over
his eyes, jumped into the family station wagon and never looked back. One cruel
moment later, the Giles family drove away.
Though Richard and Abby promised to keep in touch, frequent phones
calls and detailed letters gradually became an occasional event until
adolescence rearranged priorities and their communication ceased altogether.
in the present, Abby gasped. “Richard? Is it really you?”
Rick grinned. “It’s Rick now,” he said.
Her smile turned mischievous. “Okay, Richard.”
He stood to meet her embrace and squeezed her
tight. “My God, it’s been so long. How have you been?”
She pulled away to peer into his eyes and,
without a word, returned to their embrace.
While they hugged over the unexpected reunion, Carol was clearly
pleased with herself—as if she’d known there was history between them. “Abby
just moved into the neighborhood, Rick…three houses down from us. It appears
that you two have a lot in common, so I’ll leave you to it.” Carol smiled widely
before strutting away.
“So you’re living on Freedom Avenue now…near these crazy people?”
Rick asked. He couldn’t believe it, but his palms were actually sweaty. He
looked into her sparkling eyes and experienced arrhythmia for the first time in
“I am,” Abby said before looking down at his left hand and then back
into his eyes. “You’re not married?” she asked, blushing slightly over the
“Happily divorced,” he answered.
“Then you must have a creep for an ex-husband too?” she teased. Her
tone was gentle and there was a soft light playing around her eyes.
“I do,” Rick said. “His name’s Rose.”
Abby chuckled and took the seat beside her old friend. Her laugh was
For a few moments, neither spoke a word. And then Abby’s face
blushed again when Rick caught her staring. She looked away. Rick was thrilled
over the obvious chemistry between them.
Rick cracked open a fresh beer and offered it to her. His hands were
almost trembling. No one has ever had this
effect on me, he thought. No one.
He was legitimately nervous.
She shook her head. “Thanks, but I don’t like beer,” she said, and
then stared straight into his soul. “So you did the divorce thing too, huh?”
He shrugged. “I did. Seems like the ‘in thing’ these days.”
“Any kids?” she asked, shifting from one hip to the other.
Rick’s eyes lit up. “Zachary…the love of my life. He just turned
two.” He took a swig of beer. “I’m thinking about getting him a bigger bowl.”
Abby’s eyebrow rose in confusion.
“Zachary’s my gold fish,” Rick explained, chuckling.
Even through the laughter, Abby kept staring. At one point, she slid
closer to him.
Her presence felt so comfortable and familiar to Rick. “And you… any
kids?” he asked.
“Paige,” Abby answered, with the same twinkle in her eyes. “She’ll be
nine next week…just old enough to be brokenhearted.”
Rick nodded. “Boy problems?”
“No. Daddy problems.” She shook her head, the twinkle gone. “Her
father hasn’t made a whole lot of time for her lately,” she explained.
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” As a light
drizzle began to fall, Rick leaned into Abby’s face. She smelled as good
as she looked.
Abby nodded, but quickly changed the subject. “So how long have you
known Carol?” she asked.
“Too long,” Rick answered with a smirk. “Actually, I met Danny in
college and met Carol after their first date. He was my business colleague for
a while. He and Carol have been together for almost three years now. She’s
great. She loves Danny’s two boys like they’re her own.”
“Investments. Stocks, bonds… really, really important stuff like
that,” he added, sarcastically.
“You two still together?” she asked.
“Nope. Danny and I have broken up. I recently discovered that I
liked sunshine a little more than fluorescent light.” He thought for a moment.
“I just started doing some consulting work, and I write a little now.”
“You do? That’s great!” Abby said. She smiled like an angel. “I’d
love to see some of your writing.”
Rick’s skin tingled over the suggestion.
a wet sky, the rest of the night was spent getting caught up. For Rick, it felt
like old times—even though he had no idea who Abby was as an adult.
They reminisced first about Rick’s grandma
and father. “So how are they?” Abby asked. “I always loved them, you
He smiled. “Dad lives in New Hampshire now, working with delinquent
She smiled, her head cocked. “Did he ever remarry?”
“No. He’s never stopped loving my mom enough to pursue another
woman. I guess in his own way he still grieves her death.”
Abby’s mouth twisted slightly, forming itself into a frown; she was
clearly touched by the undying love the man had for his wife.
“I think Grandma’s right,” Rick added. “When my dad passes, I’m
betting that he and my ma will spend eternity making up for lost time.”
Abby nearly cooed at the sweet sentiment. “I’ll never forget his
dog, Roy,” she said.
Rick took a sip of beer and chuckled. “Believe it or not, he
actually has Roy’s grandson now—Ray.”
She shook her head and laughed. “Roy and now Ray. What was the dog’s
name in between?”
Abby was sent into a state of hysterics.
Rick shrugged and laughed along with her.
“And Grandma?” she asked, regaining her composure.
Rick nodded. “Still spry
and spunky…just a really cool person. You know her
motto: ‘The body doesn’t wear out, it rusts.’ She’s still listening to her
music and raising holy hell.”
Abby smiled at the familiar phrase.
“And she got married,” Rick said.
“Yep. His name is Bill Stryker and they’re
perfect for each other.” He took another swig of beer. “She still makes me sit
for dinner every Sunday.” Rick then asked about Abby’s parents.
There was a sad pause. “My mom passed away,”
Abby said, “from a lack of purpose, I’d say. And I haven’t spoken to my father
for a few years now.” She tried to shake off the pain. “We no longer share a relationship… just some really bad memories. I imagine he’s still committing suicide the long way.”
“Yup, still doing laps in his
Rick put his beer on the table and
quickly changed the subject.
you heard from any of the old Wilbur Avenue gang?”
Abby’s smile returned. “From what I hear, Vinny
became an attorney and is living with his wife in Vermont.” She thought for a
moment. “I don’t know how anyone could stand to live
“Tracy became a psychologist and moved to
They both laughed. Rick couldn’t stop staring at
her great smile and adorable dimples.
“Actually, I heard she lives with her lesbian lover and goes by the new name Cheyenne.”
“You’re kidding me, right?”
Abby shook her head.
“Good for her,” Rick said.
“But I haven’t heard anything about Grant,” Abby
Rick leaned forward. “You’re not going to
believe this, but the first day I walked into college…there was Grant talking
to some pretty, unsuspecting freshman.”
“I still see him every
Tuesday night,” Rick said. “We shoot a little pool and a whole lot of bull.”
She was shocked. “How is he?”
amputated; socially challenged.”
As the laughter continued, she asked, “Do you
remember the last time your dad brought us all to Lincoln Park? Believe it or
not, I still think about that sometimes.”
“Are you kidding?” Rick said. “I could live a
hundred lifetimes and never forget that day!” And without his permission, his
mind immediately raced back to the smack of screen doors and the echoes of
foolish, barefooted children running toward the future.
As a going away
gift to Richard and his friends, Jim Giles announced, “I’m treating you all to
Lincoln Park.” It was a local amusement park that was famous for its epic
Easter egg hunts and The Comet—the largest and most feared roller coaster on
the East Coast. The park also had the reputation of hosting some lifelong
memories from early spring until late fall.
Jim Giles pulled the station wagon into the
front of the park and shut off the ignition. From sheer excitement, the back
doors flew open and Richard, Abby, Grant, Tracy and Vinny piled out like a
trained circus act. They waited. Jim Giles never opened his door.
Richard ran around to his father’s window.
“Aren’t you comin’, Dad?” he asked, still resentful over their upcoming move.
Jim handed his son some money and winked. “This
is your day,” he said, and then looked at Abby beside Richard. “Stay together,
They both nodded. “Absolutely,” said Richard.
“I’ll be seein’ ya.”
“We will,” Abby promised.
Richard’s father smiled. “Meet me back here at
six,” he said, and drove away from the curb.
The gang watched as the wood-paneled wagon
disappeared into traffic. They looked at each other and smiled. They’d been set
loose for one last hoorah. This entire day was going to
be their last great adventure together. Past the roller-skating
rink and bowling alley out front, they sprinted toward the ticket gate.
Murals of smiling clowns holding balloons and lollipops beckoned
them inside. A hand stamp cost five dollars and fifty cents and allowed them to
ride all the rides for the day. Once paid, the land of thrill seekers, big
crowds and long lines opened up to them. “That’s expensive,” Richard blurted,
while Grant discreetly talked Tracy into paying his fare.
Three steps in and a slew of stimuli nudged them into a frenzy of
squeals and high-fives. Flashing lights, carnival sounds and joyous screams
filled the park. From popcorn to vomit, the smells were overwhelming. A world
of vivid colors—dark reds and yellows and blues—covered everything. One look
around, and it was clear that romance could blossom here, as well. Richard
glanced over at Abby to find her staring at him. Smiling to himself, he turned,
waved his friends toward him and ran for the rides. “Come on!”
The gang worked its way through the park. Hidden speakers spouting
the moans and wails of ghouls and mutants soon had them standing before The
Monster Ride. “Looks like Old Lady MacDonald’s place,” Richard said and
everyone agreed. Those who dared to ride were greeted by gaudy, lurking statues
of hideous creatures with horns, sharp teeth and insane eyes. Of course, to the
older, more discerning eye, the giant plaster of Paris knick-knacks were no
less than absurd.
Richard led his friends toward the unknown. Tracy wouldn’t hear of
it. “Come on, Scaredy-Cat,” Grant taunted. It didn’t matter. No matter how much
teasing they heaped on, Grant and Vinny were forced to share a car. Abby had
already jumped in with Richard.
From the moment the car hit the double doors and entered pitch
darkness, Abby shut her eyes and never opened them. While hideous mannequins
waited in the shadows, the car took jerky turns on a squeaky track. “Eeeek,”
Abby squealed, while Richard did his best not to laugh. Through all the
screaming, the smells of the midway wafted in, while several rays of sunlight
streamed through the cracks in the old, wooden boards. Though these reminded
everyone that his or her plight was surreal and only temporary, it still didn’t
matter in the belly of the beast. At one point, Abby placed her trembling body
He’d never felt such warmth. His whole body tingled and he
instinctively tightened his grip. It was almost a hug. A swarm of butterflies
fluttered in his guts, but even in the blackness he couldn’t bring himself to
kiss her. He just couldn’t do it.
As the car came crashing through another set of double doors and
back into reality, Richard and Abby released each other. Through squinted eyes,
they exchanged a grin. The crush was their little secret.
Rick returned to their conversation, he looked hard
into Abby’s eyes and his Adam’s apple took forever to travel south. “Those were definitely the days,” he said.
She nodded. “Find a
penny, pick it up and all that day you’ll have good luck.”
“As long as it’s heads up,” he added, with a grin.
Between the conversation and shared laughter, the entire night
seemed to last all of three seconds.
My thanks to the author for providing this excerpt of Pressed Pennies.
Pressed Pennies is available from 13th May 2014.