Penny was a trifle worse for the wear. Not terribly – but lovingly – shabby. Annetta held her close. This would be the last time Penny would be with her. She’d done her job; she’d protected Annetta and absorbed her tears when she was alone and afraid. Now it was time for Penny to be there for someone else, someone more alone and afraid than Annetta had ever been. Annetta still had Mom and Kit. Samantha had no one. Yes, there were grownups around her, including her mother, but they paid Samantha no mind except to order her around or tell her to get lost or… Annetta didn’t want to think what else Samantha had to run from when her mommy was too out of it to protect her.
Annetta’s mom was going to the do the hard thing, the right thing. Today she was going to take Sammy into state protective care. Annetta wasn’t sure what that was, but she knew it had to be better than the life Sammy was living now. Annetta shouldn’t have known about it, but she was an observant little girl, and a bit of a brave one. She had been the one to tell her mom of her worry about Sammy, who often came to school limping, or with bruises or burns. “From falling down,” Sammy would say. “From the stove,” she would say.” Annetta didn’t believe it.
Annetta didn’t know exactly what her mother did, but she knew her job was to protect kids.
She sat Penny on the bathroom sink and retied the bow she’d put in her yarn hair. Daddy had given Penny to Annetta the Christmas before he went to Heaven to be with Jesus. She knew in her heart that Daddy would not be mad at her for giving Penny to Samantha. She placed Penny in the shoe box, kissed her cloth face and tidied the blue gingham dress before putting the lid on the box. She wrapped it carefully and tied red ribbon around it.
“Hurry up in there,” her mom said impatiently from the hallway. “Your breakfast is on the table. You need to get a move on before it gets cold.”
Annetta opened the bathroom door, the wrapped package under her arm.
“It’s a gift, a gift for Sammy.”
“Samantha, the girl in my class I told you about.”
Her mother got that look she sometimes got when she didn’t know how to answer one of her children’s difficult questions, like, “Can Daddy see us from Heaven?”
“Christmas is tomorrow. I want you to give it to her. She will need Penny more than me.”
“Penny? You’re giving Penny away. But your dad…”
“Mom, Penny is for Sammy.”
“How did you know I would be seeing Samantha today?”
Her mother wouldn’t like what Annetta was going to say, but she couldn’t lie. “I heard you talking to Mrs. Kennedy on the phone. You said there was no other way to protect Sammy but to put her into state custody or foster care until her mother could get better.” Annetta chewed her lip. “What if she doesn’t get better? That’s why I want Sammy to have Penny. She needs someone to love. I have you and Kit; Sammy has no one.”
Annetta felt bad when she saw tears in her mother’s eyes. “Mommy, I didn’t mean to make you cry!”
“Oh, my darling child. These are not sad tears. Samantha is going to a safe place, and I have the best daughter on the planet. I’ll make sure your gift gets to your friend.”
Annetta grinned and skipped off to have her breakfast.
Kit stood in the doorway to his room looking at his mother in befuddlement.
“Mom, she loves Penny! Why would you let her give her away?”
She regarded her son in silence for a moment, thinking deeply about his question before answering.
“Because, Annetta isn’t giving away a doll, she is giving away her love. What better Christmas gift can there be?”
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