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The next morning I was not up bright and early.
That’s because I was up dim and late the night before. I tossed. I turned. I practically did land-based synchronized swimming. My blankets were twisted around me as tightly as if elves had spent the evening practicing for their knot-tying merit badge. And when dawn finally came, I drifted off to sleep.
To sleep, and to dream. To dream about coming home from school with dollar bills stuffed into every pocket and down my shirt and in my cap and in my lunch box. Dollar bills hanging out all over me. And my mother and father were waiting for me, asking me how my school day had been and if I’d like a snack, while I frantically kept shoving bills back into their hiding places, hoping my parents wouldn’t see.
It was nine thirty when I woke up, which was late for me on a Saturday morning. Even before breakfast, I made an excuse about getting some exercise, and hopped on my bike.
The Pick-a-Chick was open. Outside was a stack of newspapers. I grabbed one and raced inside, pulling a dollar from my pants pocket. Mrs. Karchov was feeling particularly chatty that day, and it seemed forever before she gave me my fifty cents change.
Thanking her – remember, I am a nice boy – I went outside, sat on the curb, and with trembling fingers looked up in the index where the winning lottery number was. Page 56. It’s amazing how hard it can be to find a page when you really want to.
I knew I had five of the six numbers right. So, when I got to page 56, I read backwards, from right to left. There it was, in big beautiful black ink: 9.
I had won.
The prize, the paper said, was $111,000,000.
Now what was I going to do?
So I did what any red-blooded American boy would do: I stood up, made a fist, pulled my elbow in, and said, “Yes!”
That was the moment Ms. Floyd, my math teacher, decided to pass by.
“Why so excited?” she asked.
“Oh, um, my favorite team just won.” This was desperate. I don’t even have a favorite team. I have to keep reminding myself that baseball is the one with bases.
“Well, congratulations,” she said, as she went into the Pick-a-Chick. I hate seeing teachers outside of school. It’s so confusing.
I sat on the curb again, this time because I was beginning to feel dizzy thinking about what had just happened to me.
I had won $111,000,000.
I began to think of all the things I could buy. And after each thought popped in my head, there was a picture of my parents grounding me for 111,000,000 days.
A super CD player. Mom shaking her head.
A speed boat for our vacations on Lake Winpucket. Dad looking disappointed in me.
Brand new cars for my parents. Mom and Dad giving the keys back to the car salesperson.
Could I not accept the prize? Just pretend I had lost the ticket or the woman had never given it to me? But how can you turn down $111,000,000? I could give it all to charity, but I’m not that nice a boy.
I guess I wasn’t looking so happy by the time the woman who looked like the Starship Enterprise came back out of the store, with new lottery tickets in her hand.
“Oh, hello!” she said cheerily.
“Hello,” I said, avoiding her eyes.
“Oh dear, you seem upset?” she asked. “Can I help you?”
I practically laughed. “Not exactly,” I said.
“What’s bothering you?”
“Well,” I said, “it’s actually sort of your fault.”
“My fault,” the woman said in great surprise, putting her hand to her chest as if her heart were failing her.
“Only sort of.” Now I had to explain. “Remember, you gave me that lottery ticket a couple of days ago because I helped you pick up some buttons that had spilled?”
“Yes, indeed. You were very kind.”
“Just being polite.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet a young person who’s learned his manners. The ticket was the least I could do for you.”
“Was it worth $111,000,000 to you to have me help?”
“Yeah. The ticket you gave me won.”
“Are you sure?”
“Totally. Do you know that your numbers were in a series?”
“Of course. It helps me pick numbers to use a little sequence like that. Otherwise, I spend forever trying to decide which numbers to pick. So you won?”
“Well, actually, you won,” I said. “It was your ticket.”
“Now, now. None of that. I gave it to you fair and square.”
“But it doesn’t seem right …”
“I wanted you to have it. But, oh, my, what are you going to do with all that money?”
“I have no idea.”
“Is that’s what’s making you unhappy?” she asked kindly.
“Not really. My parents are dead set against playing the lottery.”
“Oh, I see.”
“In fact, my father has an editorial against it on the front page of this paper.”
The woman unfolded a newspaper from under her arm. It was The Gaz. “You mean this article? This is your father? He’s a very good writer. The editorial makes a lot of sense.” She was holding her lottery tickets in her other hand.
“So, I can’t really tell them that I won.”
“Well,” she said, “Why don’t come with me to the Soda Squirt and we’ll sit down and try to figure this out?”
So we trudged across the street to the little green and white snack bar. “By the way,” she said, “I’m Mrs. Fordgythe. Mrs. Moira Fordgythe. What’s your name?”
“Jake,” I said.
“Well, Jake, let’s take a booth and have a soda,” she said, seating herself at a red leather booth that barely held her.
“I’ll pay,” I said. “Um, actually,” I said, checking my pockets, “you’ll have to lend me some money …”
“Pshaw,” she said, “Don’t you worry about that.”
The waitress came and I ordered a Coke, although I actually was in the mood for a Coke with a scoop of Cookies and Cream ice cream, which gets most of your dessert food groups into a single glass. Mrs. Fordgythe ordered "a simple glass of bubbly bottled water," – she patted her starship-like stomach – "And, oh, a slice of that dreamy looking cheese cake. And instead of a lime in my bubbly water, would you mind adding just a couple of squeezes of chocolate syrup and about two ounces of fresh cream? That would be so lovely, thank you, dear. Oh, and a scoop of pistachio ice cream on that cheese cake would be divine. Thank you so much."
We sat in the silence of two people who don’t know each other sharing a booth at an ice cream shop.
"This must be very hard on you, poor dear," she said at last.
"Your parents must be very much against the lottery."
I nodded again.
"And they must have a lot of respect for you to think that you'd act on principle and not play the lottery."
I had to nod again. It was true, but I hadn't thought of it that way before.
"Well," she said, "I think I have an idea about how to get you your money without your parents knowing."
"Yes, but of course that isn't your problem."
"No. Your real problem is getting your parents to understand how you came by a lottery ticket and why you should be allowed to keep your winnings."
That was true, too.
"What's your plan for getting me the money?"
"Oh, it's a very good plan, I think. Trust me."
I didn't say anything. To trust someone, you should know them well enough to think that there aren't any odd quirks that may make them act in ways you couldn’t predict. And so far Mrs. Fordgythe was all quirks. But I did trust her. I couldn’t tell you why.
"What do I have to do?" I asked.
"You have to lend me your ticket for a few days."
"But why can't you just come explain to my parents that you gave me the ticket because I helped you out?"
"Oh, no no no," she said, "I don't think that would be wise at all. You parents will think that you shouldn’t have accepted the ticket, and I would so much like to help you find a way to keep the money."
Just then our food arrived and seemed to wipe all thought of lottery tickets, parents and 111 million dollars out of Mrs. Fordgythe's mind. All that existed for her was her spoon, her mouth, and Mount Dessert.
When she was done, with a satisfied smile on her lips, she said, "Ahh. That was refreshing."
And I handed her my lottery ticket, slightly bent from its trip in my pocket.
"What are you going to do with it?" I asked, which really meant, "Am I ever going to see it – or you – again?"
"Thank you, Jake," she said as she took it. "I really think this plan will work."
"How will I know?"
"Come back to the Pick-a-Chick on Wednesday around 3. Is that all right?"
"But suppose you have to reach me before that?"
"I can always give you a call."
"But you don't know my number."
"Don't be silly. 'Richter' is in the phone book."
The waitress came back and left the bill on our table. I stuck my hand in my pocket, looking for money, but then remembered that I only had the fifty cents change from the newspaper. I looked at Mrs. Fordgythe, embarrassed. “Oh don’t be silly, dear,” she said, as she left money for the bill. “You don’t have your hundred and eleven million dollars yet!”
We stood up to go. I felt much lighter without the ticket in my pocket. Mrs. Fordgythe touched me on the arm and said, “I’ll see you on Wednesday, dear. Now don’t you worry about a thing.”
For a moment I didn’t. And then I had a sudden thought. “Wait, Mrs. Fordgythe,” I called to her back as she began to walk away. “I have a question.”
“Yes, dear,” she said sweetly, turning towards me.
“I never told you my last name. How did you know it?” I could almost hear the dramatic background music as the detective uncovers the clue that gives it all away.
She pointed to her copy of the Gaz. “It says your father’s name right here, dear.”
“Oh, yeah. That’s right.”
“Don’t worry about a thing,” she said to me again and left.