by Evelyn House
First Place – Level B (5th – 6th grade)
Nelly clutched the little silver dollar in her hand. She had no reason to feel guilty. At least, that was what she kept telling herself.
She was hungry, and the man wasn’t. She had more right to the shiny coin than he had. Nelly frowned. Maybe she should’ve asked him first, but she didn’t want to hurt him. Really, she couldn’t have hurt him just by taking his dollar! And she couldn’t have asked him. He would never have given it to her. Besides, she didn’t want charity. She wasn’t a beggar! She was just a child. A child with no parents, or a house, or money. She didn’t beg, so she couldn’t be a beggar. And she wasn’t starving—not full, but not starved. If she managed to get food every now and then, she couldn’t be a beggar.
Nelly nodded savagely. Yes, she would keep the money. She couldn’t return it now, anyway. The man was long gone. She must’ve taken the silver thirty minutes ago.
Oh, there he was! Nelly’s eyes widened. The man was coming down the street at a snail’s pace, his eyes cast down at the street, as though looking for something—something like a silver dollar coin, Nelly thought. A twinge of guilt hit her.
Nelly took a closer look at the man. He didn’t look as rich as she’d originally thought. His brown suit was old and worn. It didn’t look fancy anymore—and the bag she’d taken the coin from was threadbare and tattered.
Why didn’t he appear like this to her the first time? Nelly frowned. Was it possible that she’d only seen him as rich because she wanted to? It was a lot easier to steal from a man who had everything than from a man who had nothing but a little silver dollar coin.
She shook her head. No! It was her coin now! She needed it! Needed it to get Mother out of jail! Surely this man wouldn’t go hungry on the streets for lack of a dollar. Justice for Mother was more important than a muffin was for this man. She was almost there, too. Almost had enough to get her Mother out. This dollar coin was important to her. She had to get Mother out. She had to. She’d been picking coins off the street for a year. Surely it was all right to swipe just one.
Nelly hesitated. Maybe she could follow the man, just to see what his life was like. Just to make sure. She trailed after him.
You are without question your own worst enemy, Nelly told herself.
They passed some trees and houses before arriving at a small, rundown house. Ivy climbed the side of the house and brambles and shrubbery surrounded its sides.
Nelly stared, aghast. This was where he lived? This man, who she’d thought was so rich, lived in a dump like this. Why, even she, who had no home, was surprised by this!
She hid behind a bush, waiting. Maybe this wasn’t his house. Maybe he was visiting a poor friend. Surely, he didn’t really live here. Ah, someone was coming out. It was a little girl.
“Daddy!” she squealed, running to hug him.
Nelly rocked on her heels, astounded. This really was his house. His whole family lived here. It was a wonder it was big enough. As she watched, a woman wearing an old white dress and an apron emerged. She had a wedding ring on her finger. Nelly looked closer at the man and saw his ring, almost identical to the woman’s ring.
The woman laughed. “All right, Katie. Run along into the house. Daddy and I need to talk for a minute.”
“Okay,” said the girl. She skipped into the house and the man’s smile melted immediately.
“It’s gone. I can’t find it anywhere.”
The woman sighed.
“And tomorrow’s her birthday.”
The man nodded gravely.
“We don’t have the money to get her a real gift. That little silver dollar was all we had.”
Nelly gasped. She looked at the coin in her hand, that shiny coin which was meant to be used for the girl’s birthday.
“Do you know where you dropped it?” the woman asked.
The man shook his head.
“I looked all over for it. It’s vanished. Someone probably picked it off the street while I was gone.”
“Poor dear. She’ll be so disappointed.”
The couple walked into the house, attempted to put on a happy face as they went inside.
Nelly sat down and looked at the dollar again. It could buy her mother out of prison in a couple of weeks. It meant so much to her. Nelly shook her head. She got to her feet, dusted off her knees, and walked up the threshold of the house. She placed the silver dollar on the ground in front of the door before raising her hand to knock. With that, she walked away, the small cry of joy was all the reward she needed.