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Authors: Ellie Danes,Lily Knight

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BOOK: The Windfall
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“An old guy can pick up a thing or two from watching cable TV,” he joked.

I just smiled and shook my head. This trip was going to be good for the both of us.

We arrived at the Los Angeles airport in less time than I had expected. Thankfully, traffic hadn’t been as congested as I imagined it would be. Still, I knew I’d feel better once we were checked in and through the security checkpoints. I hurried to park the car so that we could catch the shuttle. After a shuttle ride that seemed to take twice as long as it should have, we arrived at the curb just outside the Delta hub and lugged our suitcases from the shuttle to check in.

“Hey, Julia!” I greeted my cousin as we approached the counter where the tall redhead was standing. Though we were not as close as we used to be, I still connected with my cousin a few times a year.

“Hi, Emma,” she said, waving me over to her line. “Uncle Joseph. I’m so glad you are going to see Mom.”

“I hope she feels the same,” my dad said with a forced laugh. Julia gave me an eye roll and looked back at her computer, no doubt feeling the same as I did regarding my father’s sense of humor over the tense situation we were heading into. She, too, knew Dad and Aunt Beth had been on the outs for years. Julia and I had talked about it a few times, neither of us one hundred percent sure how it had all started. Recently, I had felt it was time for them to mend their differences once and for all. The trip had been my idea, not just because of the feud but also because my dad needed a little something to lift his spirits and take his mind off of his own life for a bit.

“I have two tickets for standby,” Julia was saying, her smile apologetic. “You guys might not get to sit together, but you’ll be on the same flight for sure. It was the best I could do, Emma.”

“It will be fine,” I said, not very excited about being on standby. It meant a long wait. “Are you sure we can get on a flight today?”

“I’m positive,” she replied, handing me two tickets. “With it being a Monday afternoon, you should be on your way in no time.”

“Thanks, Jules,” I said, picking up my suitcase. “We really appreciate it.”

“Have fun! Tell my mom I said hello,” she called after us as Dad and I walked toward security, seeing a long line there as well.

“Looks like we are going to be professional waiters today, Emmabug,” Dad joked, his voice hoarse from a coughing fit earlier.

I gave him a soft smile. “Might as well get as comfy as we can get in an airport.” It was going to be a long day.

Chapter Three

Cooper

The clinking of glasses and laughter filled the bar as I washed out the cocktail shaker for the hundredth time since I’d started my shift. The thunderous clamor was starting to contribute to my lack-of-sleep headache. After our phone call with my aunt, I had tried to lay down for an hour, but my mind was filled with how I was going to make up for the twenty dollars we lacked this month—make that the twenty-two dollars. I would have to work extra hard to get tips now, just to break even. On a night where I can’t get the shaker cleaned fast enough, though, it shouldn’t be too difficult.

The bar was lively for nearly two in the morning; typically, it had cleared out a good bit by that time. I could hardly wait for closing time. Unfortunately, even then I still had another hour of cleaning up and setting the bar for the next night on the books. It would be close to four when I’d finally get out of there, only to catch about four to five hours of sleep before I was due at the school to fulfill that job duty as well. It was a vicious cycle, but a necessary one. Without a college education or any related experience, an eight-to-fiver for me was out of the question. Once upon a time, I had dreamed of becoming an engineer or an architect, designing buildings and high rises that people would see all over the world. Maybe work in one of those big cities, like New York or Los Angeles. But it took a lot of money to go to college, and it wasn’t like money was raining down from the rafters. But, I liked working at the bar. To say the least, it was a very interesting place that kept me busy every night I worked. Besides, the tips weren’t too bad on a busy night and tonight I hoped I’d get my missing twenty bucks in just tips alone.

“Hey, you, bartender, I want another drink!”

I grinned at the drunk businessman before me, his tie skewed as he held up his glass toward me. I had already learned he was in town on business and was not driving home tonight, so my good conscience was out of the window on his drinks. If he had been driving, I would have cut him off hours earlier. Still, his drunken state hadn’t stopped him from trying to get a hot date. He had tried to pick up the girls at the end of the bar earlier, but his bills had been fives and tens, not the hundreds they were interested in. I knew them from their other frequent visits to the bar, and he wasn’t in the league they liked to play in.

I took his glass and walked to the end of the bar where the girls were located, reaching for the bottle of bourbon that he was favoring tonight. It was pretty expensive bourbon, and the way he had been sucking them down, his bill was going to be expensive as well.

“Did you see his shoes? Oh, my god, I wouldn’t be caught dead in those ratty things. Don’t they have some kind of dress code here or do they always let homeless bums work the bar?”

“You’re so rude,” the other girl giggled, sipping on the appletini I had made for her just a few minutes before.

“What? It’s true, you know. That’s what I like about that classy joint on the other end of town. At least their bartenders know that appearance is everything.”

“I think he’s pretty cute. He’s really rocking the whole facial hair thing without being gross about it.”

“You would, you drunk ass,” the first girl laughed. “If you want a bum, then go after him. I bet there would be lots of dates on the dollar menu with that one.”

I stiffened as I realized they were talking about me and my ripped-up Chuck Taylors, a deal that I had found at the thrift shop when they had just a small tear in the top. I had bought them to be work shoes, but hours upon hours of time on my feet had worked the tear into a hole. Normally, I was able to hide it, but I had run out of black socks to attempt to blend in the colors. In the end, I had opted for a pair of white ones that made the horrible state of my shoes stick out like a sore thumb. Apparently, being behind the bar hadn’t hidden my shoes like I thought it would.

“Shush, Janice, he’s right there!” the other girl said loudly, breaking out into giggles as soon as the words left her mouth. I ignored them, putting on my easy grin as I pulled the bottle down and walked away. Their words didn’t hurt me. I knew I wasn’t exactly what they expected to see when they entered the bar. Still, I kept my short beard groomed and my hair was always clean, along with my clothes and my shoes, no matter their state of disrepair. Impressing customers with my looks was the last thing on my mind as long as they sucked down my drinks and left me tips.

Pulling a clean glass from behind the bar, I poured a thumb full of the alcohol in the glass and pushed it over to the businessman, who looked up at me with bleary eyes. “Thanks. They are bitches, aren’t they? Don’t pay attention to them. Their expectations are way too high. If they wanted a real man, they would be looking at me and you.”

“I’m not worried,” I responded with a shrug. I wasn’t. Between two jobs, I didn’t have time to date anyway. I hadn’t dated anyone serious since high school, where my girlfriend had been one of the lucky ones to earn a scholarship and head off to college. We had, of course, lost touch since then and the last word on the street was that she was doing well in one of those big cities I dreamed about. At least one of us had made it out.

Shaking off the memory, I turned back to the businessman in front of me. “Want to talk about whatever is bothering you?” Something was eating him up. In this job, I had developed a damn good sense for reading people, from the girls who were desperate for a sugar-daddy pickup to the businessmen who were down on their luck.

“You wanna listen?” he slurred, surprise in his eyes. I nodded and threw the bar towel over my shoulder, my hands running water to wash up some glasses. I enjoyed listening to people’s stories from time to time, finding out all kinds of interesting information from my customers, especially my drunk ones. In the three years I had been working behind this bar, I had learned a lot, some that I didn’t care to know but was told anyhow. “I’ve got some time.”

“Craig.” The businessman stuck out his hand, and I shook it.

“Cooper,” I said, releasing his grip.

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, making it stick up off of his head. “Nice to meet you, Cooper. Well, I thought I had figured out this whole lotto thing, you know? It’s all about the numbers and the order they fall in. I studied it for weeks and picked the exact numbers it should have been. Hours of work and a ton of money.” He then reached into his coat pocket and slapped a pile of tickets on the table, crumpled by his frustration, no doubt. “All of them are a waste of space now.”

“So, I guess someone won then?” I asked casually. Honestly, I’d been so busy taking care of customers that I hadn’t even noticed the TV in the corner or had time to see if anyone had actually hit the numbers. For hours, I’d been slinging drinks without even a thought to the Sizzler Jackpot. Or its ridiculous name. It was going to be a huge problem for some poor soul now. That was a lot of money to have to worry about and keep up with. I’d heard all sorts of stories about the pitfalls to winning the lottery and how most people couldn’t handle large sums of money like that. Whoever had won had best be prepared to deal with a lot of the trouble that came with it.

Craig nodded, despair written all over his face. “Not even one number. I wasted a lot of money to not even get one number. Some lucky bastard is about to be three billion dollars richer.”

I thought about the ticket at home in my jean’s pocket and then pushed the thought aside as quickly as it appeared. I hadn’t even looked at the ticket since buying it earlier. Well, being forced to buy it earlier. I had no idea what numbers were even on it. I was more upset about the two dollars it had cost me.

Craig grabbed the glass and tossed the liquid down his throat, smacking his lips. “God, that’s good bourbon. Hey, Cooper, what would you do with that kind of money?”

I shook my head, a smile on my face. “I’ve never imagined having that kind of money.” Nodding toward the tip jar, I gave it a rueful laugh instead. “That’s what drives me, Craig, not the imaginary billions of dollars I will never see. That pays the bills around here.”

“Aww, come on, Cooper,” Craig slurred, reaching into his pocket and dropping a twenty-dollar bill into my tip jar. “You should always dream big. Without dreams, this country wouldn’t have survived. You gotta dream sometimes. How else do you expect to be rich one day? Dreams are what makes the world go round!”

“Thanks for the tip, Craig,” I replied, giving him a grin as I drenched a glass in the soapy water. Three billion dollars. That was a heck of a lot of money for someone in my position. Well, anyone’s position . . . unless they were already a billionaire. Mom would never have to worry about her medication again. We could leave that crappy apartment and move anywhere in the world we wanted to. I could have new shoes, new clothes, and get Felix out of the neighborhood before he killed himself. That kind of money would change my life. I snorted then, vigorously scrubbing the glasses with a rag. What was the use of dreaming about something that I could never have? It was a waste, a joke to even entertain the idea. I should stick to how I was going to pay the bills next month. Now
that
was something to dream about.

Chapter Four

Emma

I heaved open the door to the bar, glad it was still open despite it being nearly two o’clock in the morning, and stepped in. A quick glance around made me feel a little more at ease after all the warnings Aunt Beth had given me. The place was nearly empty. Aside from a waitress wiping down tables and a man sitting at the bar talking to the bartender, it was a ghost town.

Even though the man behind the bar was young and looked as tired as I felt, he was damn easy on the eyes. “Hi,” I offered as I approached the bar and slid onto a bar stool.

“Hi,” he responded back, wiping his hands on a bar rag. “What can I get you?”

“Anything,” I laughed tiredly, rubbing my forehead with my hand before looking up at him. I was momentarily lost in his beautiful eyes, the sights and sounds of the bar drifting away as our stares locked. Despite my tiredness, I could still feel the spark deep in my stomach, one that had me looking away immediately.

“Now that’s a loaded answer,” he chuckled. “Is there anything you want in particular?”

Now he was the one asking loaded questions. My mind immediately thought of something I’d like to say I wanted, but I was fairly certain he wasn’t on the menu. I sighed and adjusted myself on my stool, resting my feet on the steel bar that ran along the bottom of the bar itself. “Can I just have a beer? A really good one.”

“Coming right up,” he said, reaching behind the counter. He emerged with a bottle of a pale ale that I hadn’t tried before. He popped the bottle top and pushed it toward me. “Here, try this.”

I took it and drank greedily, licking my lips. It couldn’t have been a more perfect choice. “This is good.” I read over the label. “Excellent choice, barboy.”

He chuckled and raised an eyebrow. “Barboy? Should I take that as a compliment or be offended?”

A slow smile turned up one corner of my mouth. “It’s a compliment. That’s how we refer to the bartender at the bar and grille back where I work. I won’t tell you what we call the ones we don’t like.” I grinned.

“A compliment it is, then,” he laughed and tossed the towel in his hands into a sink.

I studied the label on my beer bottle again so that I could remember the name of it later. “This is seriously good. Not too strong.”

“It’s a local beer. One of my favorites,” he replied, shoving his hands in his pockets and leaning back against the counter behind him. “You’re not from around here, are you?”

BOOK: The Windfall
6.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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