Authors: Ellie Danes,Lily Knight
“No,” I said with a little laugh, some of the day’s events melting away. My dad and I had waited nearly two hours to get on the plane and the change in the time zones had left us both feeling wrung out once we arrived on this end of the country. “Is it that obvious?”
“Maybe just a little bit.” He grinned. “Where are you from?”
“Cali,” I replied, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear. “Apparently the time change hasn’t been able to catch up with me yet. I still feel like it’s super early.” I was tired, but not sleepy. My brain was still convinced it was hours earlier than the clock insisted it was.
“I’ve always been on the East Coast, so I’ll have to take your word for it,” he said with a chuckle. “Business or pleasure?”
“Pleasure,” I said, picking at the label on my beer bottle. “Or, so I thought. My dad’s half-sister lives here and he needed a pick me up so I thought it would be a good idea to bring him for a visit. They haven’t seen each other in ten years.”
“I’m guessing there is a reason?” he asked gently, his voice barely heard over the music.
I nodded, my cheeks flushed. “Yes, well, apparently they don’t see eye to eye on some things. When I left, they were arguing about the weather. Can you believe that?”
“The weather, huh?” he said with a grin.
I looked up at him and returned the expression, shaking my head. “I know, right? It’s ridiculous. I don’t think my dad will find an ounce of relaxation while we are here like I had hoped he would.” To escape the bickering, I had started walking, finding this place right around the corner from my aunt’s house. Though it was probably dangerous for me to be out this time of night, I was willing to take the chance to get out for a while.
“Well,” he said, leaning against the bar. “Hopefully you’ll have a few good memories from your visit here.”
I blushed, feeling a familiar warmth spread through my chest. He was too good looking for my own good. Too bad we were on opposite ends of the country. “Yeah, well, I’m having a pretty good one right now.”
He shot me a killer smile, and I tried not to read too much into it. He was helping me forget the mess I had created by bringing my dad here, even if for just a little while.
“How long are you in town?”
“Just two days,” I sighed, my smile fading as I remembered what time it was and why I was in Atlanta. I needed to head back. “Well, I guess I better get back before they kill each other. How much do I owe you?”
He shook his head, picking up my empty bottle. “It’s on me.”
“Thanks.” I smiled. I reached into the pocket of my jeans to grab the five-dollar bill I’d shoved in there at the airport after buying an overpriced bottle of water. I pushed the five into the tip jar, wishing I were brave enough to have written my name and number on it before I did. But then again, it wouldn’t have done me any good. The guy lived on the opposite side of the country from me. Besides, I was just coming out of a relationship. The last thing I needed was the complication of a one-night stand to cloud my judgment moving forward . . . which is exactly what barboy would have been. I moved myself off of the stool, finding I was a bit reluctant to leave, and started for the exit. “Have a nice night,” I offered as I reached the door.
He beamed an irresistible smile my way. “I hope you enjoy your visit.”
I hesitated for a moment, glancing back at him before I forced myself to walk out into the cool night. It was time to go back to reality, although camping out with barboy seemed like a much better option.
I stretched and opened my eyes, the aftereffects of a long night still with my tired body. I had finally made it into bed around five in the morning and, as I turned over, I saw that it was only eight. Great. Another long day and short, sleepless night.
With a sigh, I pushed myself out of the bed and threw on some clothes, running a hand through my hair as I walked to the kitchen. At least we had coffee today. Mom was sitting at the table when I entered, her ever present steaming coffee mug in front of her as she watched the small TV positioned on the counter. She looked just as tired as I felt. “Morning, Mom.”
“Good morning, Coop,” she answered, waving her hand for me to sit down. There was a plate with a sandwich on it, the smell of eggs and fried bacon filling the air. “I fixed you a breakfast sandwich.”
“Thanks,” I replied, pouring myself a cup of coffee before I took a seat. “What are you watching?”
She shook her head, a sad expression on her face. “Another shooting last night a few blocks over. Some kid who thought he was big with a gun. When is the senseless killing going to stop?”
I shook my head as well, thinking about Felix or F-bomb, as I was supposed to call him now. He just didn’t understand how much trouble, how much danger, he could get into by running with a gang. It could easily be him one day laying in the street, dead.
“Anyway,” she said, turning back to me. “How was work?”
I swallowed the bite I had just taken and wiped my mouth. “It was good. A good tip night at least.” Craig tipping me very well at the end of the night as he stumbled out of the bar had made up my deficit and then some. But the tip that immediately came to mind was the one from the Cali girl. I smiled as I thought about her. All in all, it was a very good night.
“That’s good,” she said, reaching for her notepad near the phone. “The school called. They don’t need you today. Something about a day off or something.”
“Great,” I muttered, some of my earlier elation dwindling as I thought of the money I was going to lose because of them being closed today. There went a day on my paycheck; the extra tips I’d made last night would go to make up for that loss as well. That was the problem with flexible careers such as the ones I was trying to work. One day they needed you, the next they didn’t. The school was the worst. They took more days off than they taught sometimes.
“Thanks, Kate. Now back to the breaking story of the day. The Sizzler Jackpot, worth three billion dollars, finally has a winner. One lucky person is the sole claimant of the entire amount. If you bought a ticket in the last three days, make sure you check those numbers scrolling across the bottom of the screen during our broadcast. According to the lottery commission, the claimant will have one year to claim this jackpot and must bring in the original ticket. Now, on to the weather.”
“Lord have mercy, someone is having a good morning this morning,” Mom said, taking a sip of her coffee with a shake of her head. “I’m just glad it’s over now so people can go back to their normal lives. Everyone at work has been absolutely obsessed with that thing.”
I sighed then, glad it was over but hating the fact that I was one of the people who’d contributed to it whether I wanted to or not. All because of that stupid line at the corner mart yesterday! It was still bothering me and while other people would think I was overreacting about it, I had my reasons, good reasons.
“What’s wrong, son?”
“What?” I asked, looking over at her. She gave me the look, a cross between
, tapping her fingers on the table. “I can see it written all over your face. What’s bothering you?”
I swallowed and turned back to my sandwich, wondering if I should tell her about how I’d been banned from the store because of Felix’s antics or the lotto ticket shoved in my jean’s pocket in the bedroom. She was going to be disappointed either way. She had raised me to mind myself better and keep my nose clean, something that was very difficult in this neighborhood. It wasn’t uncommon for the residents to have a rap sheet with the cops around here and, so far, I had avoided it. I ran a hand over my face and went with the easier of the two.
“I bought a ticket.”
My mom’s eyes widened and I waited for the onslaught, knowing she wasn’t going to enjoy any part of my story I was about to offer her. “It wasn’t my fault,” I rushed on. “The line was long and the cashier was passing them out left and right. I tried to refuse it, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer. So, I was stuck with it.”
Her mouth formed a tight line, and I forced myself to blink. “Cooper,” she started. “You know that is a waste of hard-earned money to be buying those things! Before you know it, you could become addicted and be like the rest of those fools out there, spending their money on a dream. People like us, we don’t win things like that.”
“I know,” I replied, feeling ashamed. I should have balled up the ticket and thrown it away or even refused to pay for it, but there was no way I could tell her why I couldn’t have caused a scene. That reason would only have her worrying and in her health, she didn’t need the added stress of what might happen. We already had enough stress as it was. “I’m sorry. I made the money back in tips last night.”
She sighed then and reached over, patting my hand. “I’m sorry, too. You’re a good son with a good head on your shoulders. I shouldn’t be so hard on you. Lord, you’re a man now, free to make your own decisions and here you are, stuck with an old woman in a tiny apartment. You should be out, enjoying the world. I wish I could give you that, I really do, son.”
“I don’t think of you as old.” I winked, getting a laugh out of her to lighten the mood. I knew she tried. We couldn’t help what we had been dealt anyway.
I stood, my mind made up on what I was going to do to relieve my mind of this ticket. I was going to destroy that thing and never give it another thought. It was going to be the first and the last one that would be in my possession. “I’ll be right back,” I told her, walking to the bedroom to retrieve it out of my pocket. With the crumpled up piece of paper in my hand, I entered the kitchen.
“Again, those numbers are 45-6-27-2-9-16. If you have any of those numbers at all, you might have won a hefty prize. If you have all of those numbers, well, I would urge you to get it turned in as soon as possible. You are now a billionaire.”
I looked down at the paper, the blood rushing to my ears as I realized I had the first, then the second, and finally the third. “W-what were those numbers again?” I asked softly, my hand starting to shake at the thought. Surely not.
“What? Oh, my, Coop. Sweetie, you’re white as a sheet,” Mom exclaimed as I pressed my hands against the table, my breath coming in short pants. “What’s wrong? Are you sick? Do I need to call 9-1-1?”
I looked up at the screen again for visual confirmation. “They match,” I forced out past the lump forming in my throat.
Holy hell, they all matched
. I was holding the winning ticket. I was a billionaire three times over. Suddenly the two-dollar loss didn’t look so bad.
“W-what?” she asked, her voice catching. I looked up at her with a grin on my face, holding up the piece of paper that just a few seconds ago had been so shameful. “I… they all match.”
Her hands went to her face and I yelled out, shaking the paper wildly. We weren’t going to have to live in this dump anymore! My mom wasn’t going to have to work that dead-end job and I wasn’t going to have to either. We could move anywhere, do anything, buy whatever we wanted!
“You, mean, oh my,” she exclaimed, standing and grabbing me around my neck. “Oh my God, Coop, this is our lucky day!”
“It’s more than luck, Mom,” I laughed, grabbing her around the waist. “It’s a miracle.”
She hugged me tightly and laughed herself, pulling back so I could see the tears in her eyes. “This is going to change our lives,” she said, her eyes sparkling. “So much, Coop. I am sorry I was so hard on you about the ticket. It seems like it was meant for you to win.”
“I guess it does.” I grinned back, all of the worries about living month to month gone in an instant. I thought about the neighborhood around us, and my grin faded. “We have to keep this quiet,” I cautioned, dropping my voice. We would be targets as soon as word got out. We couldn’t tell a soul. No, we had to keep it as quiet as we could until I could get the money safely in the bank and then we would get the hell out of this place to somewhere safer. Then we would decide what to do with all of that money.
“Of course,” my mom echoed, releasing me. “In this neighborhood, we can’t tell anyone. This has to remain between us.”
I nodded, some of my exuberance on the inside wanting to be unleashed. There would be a time and a place to do just that.
One Month Later
“So. If you will just sign here and here, we can have all the paperwork done and start the process of transferring everything over into your name.”
My smile grew wider as I looked over the paperwork one final time, adding my signature with a little more fanfare than was really needed, before handing it back to the lawyer I’d hired to represent me in this transaction. He laid the extra copies on the table and left, presumably on his way to release the funds and make it all official.
It was still pretty surreal that I was sitting in the bar that I’d worked in for so many years, a bar that had provided my means to make ends meet, only now I wasn’t working in it. As of forty-five seconds before, I owned it. In a month, I had gone from worrying about how I was going to pay for my lunch to signing a check worth more money than I’d made my entire life combined before hitting the jackpot.
Everything in my life had changed drastically. My mom didn’t have to work anymore. She could do whatever the hell she wanted. At the moment, she was sitting in her newly purchased house on the good side of town. It hadn’t been her choice to move out of the neighborhood that had practically raised us both; that was all me. Once word had gotten out that I’d won the lottery, her safety had become my number one priority. Of course, that was exactly why we’d kept it hush hush to begin with.
In our very close-knit neighborhood, everyone knew everyone. Which meant they also knew where we lived, and I didn’t want to give anyone the chance to do something stupid. So, the night after I confirmed the numbers with the lottery commission, I moved us to a nice hotel for our safety and for some privacy. It had given me a chance to think, to breathe, as well as get used to the idea of my new life.