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I didn’t think about the ticket again until Tuesday night. After all, everyone knows that if you have a violin lesson on Monday, you don’t have to practice until twenty-four hours later. Even parents understand this. It’s practically a law.

So, of course, I didn’t open my violin case until Tuesday night. I had just finished my math homework and figured I’d get my violin practicing over with. This turned out to be lucky for me for two reasons. First, it meant that I opened up my case in my room, instead of in the den where I usually practice, so that when the lottery ticket fluttered out, no one saw it but me. Second, having just finished working on math problems put me in the right frame of mind.

I had just been busting my brain on those problems where you have to figure out what the next number is by catching on to the pattern in the numbers before it. For example, if the series were 1,3,7,15 the next number would be 31 because between 1 and 3 is 2, and between 3 and 7 is 4, and between 7 and 15 is 8, so you keep multiplying the difference by two and adding it. And that turns out to be the same thing as multiplying by two and adding one. How almost interesting!

So, when the lottery ticket floated off of my violin and fluttered down to the floor, for the first time I saw the number that the hat lady had picked. 35-8-27-9-18-9. Now, normally I have a real hard time with these types of problems, but this one I got right away, even though there was no reason to think there was anything to get. Maybe that’s why I got it. Or maybe it was just that I noticed that the digits of the first number – 35 – added up to the second number. And, then, while I was at it, I noticed that if you subtract the second number from the first one – 35 minus 8 – you get the third number. And, wouldn’t you know it, if you add the digits of the third number, you get the fourth. And if you subtract the fourth from the third, you get the fifth. And if you add the digits of the fifth, you get the sixth.

Coincidence? Maybe. If you look hard enough at any series you can begin to find some ways they work out. But this was too neat. The woman in the Pick-a-Chick must have had her own twisted mathematical mind working overtime in picking her numbers.

But I had more important things to worry about: I had to finish my violin practicing in time to be able to watch The Simpsons rerun on TV. So, I put the ticket back in my violin case and got to work.

And there it stayed … until the next day.

I was in the den, playing Commander Keen on the kids’ computer. Keen’s an old game, but it’s a real time waster and because there’s no blood and gore, my parents practically encourage me to play it. My mother was sitting at the roll-top desk, going over the bills, opening envelopes and shaking her head. And in comes my sister Maddie, holding the ticket, and saying, “What’s this?” all innocently.

Maddie, you have to understand, is five years old and enough to drive any brother insane. She’s the worst variety of cute: the type that’s cute and knows it. All she has to do is pull her little lower lip under her upper one and look at her shoes and shuffle her feet, and you can practically hear a crowd say “Awww.” And then she gets what she wants.

Not that there’s anything really wrong with that. I’d do it too, if I could get away with it. But, Maddie seemed to me to be doing it more and more, as if recognizing that she was only about a birthday away from it not working for her anymore. You had to give her credit. She was milking it for all it was worth.

I was out of my seat in a flash, thinking about how to explain how I ended up with the ticket when, to my amazement, my mother actually ignored Maddie. The telephone rang, and Mom was annoyed enough about being interrupted while working on the bills that she went for the phone to stop it from ringing as if it were a chipmunk she had to chase out of the house. So, while Mom was on the phone with someone trying to sell her another credit card – I pity the poor slob on the other end of the line – I was in Maddie’s face and had grabbed the ticket from her.

“But what is it?” she asked..

“I’ll tell you later. Now just keep quiet or I’ll tell Mom you were playing with my violin again.” Quickly shoving the ticket into my pocket, I went back to Keen, Maddie wandered back to her room, and my mother hung up on the guy from the credit card company with an evil smirk on her face.

That night, Maddie came into my room to borrow my good markers. There was a reason why they were mine and not Maddie’s. They were permanent. Real permanent. I’d scientifically proved this when I was five and decided that the living room couch would look much better with a picture of our dog on it. Eight years later our dog was gone, the couch was in the “recreation room” in the basement, and my lovely drawing was still there in all its original color. Permanently. (By the way, you may be able to figure out why we call the recreation room the “wreck” room for short.)

“No,” I said to Maddie, “you know you’re not supposed to use these markers.”

“But I have to color in a picture for school tomorrow.”

“So what’s wrong with yours?”

“They stink,” she whined. Normally I would have corrected her language, not because I really care about the word “stink” but because it’s my obligation as an older brother to be as annoying as possible. But her markers really did stink. The yellow stank like old bananas, the brown like fake chocolate, the red like cherry-flavored cough medicine. Her markers really stank. Plus, they didn’t draw very well.

“If you get a single dot on anything except the paper, I’m the one who’ll be blamed. And I’ll take it out on you,” I promised. I got down the marker set and, holding it just out of her reach, added, “Want them?”

“Yes, I just said that.” She grabbed for them but I was faster.

“Want them? Want them?” Oh, I was being a real jerk.

“I’ll be careful” she pleaded, trying to jump up to reach the markers.

“I know you will. But when five-year-olds are careful, somehow the rug ends up with marker marks in it.”

“Let me use them!”

“Nope. I’m not going to take the blame for when you make a mistake and write your name on the rug.”

“Give me the markers.”

“Or what? You’ll bite my ankles?”

“Or I’ll tell Mom and Dad that you bought a lottery ticket.”

Well, that got a fast reaction from me. I pushed the markers further back on my highest shelf. “Definitely not,” I said.

“OK, then I’m going to tell anyways.”

I have to admit, Maddie knew how to fight. Of course, she learned everything she knew from me. That’s the problem with being the oldest – all the brilliant techniques you invented are stolen by the ones who come after you. It’s the price of being a pioneer.

So I thought for a moment. There was really only one way to absolutely force Maddie to keep the lottery ticket a secret. “Maddie,” I said, “I’ll tell you what. I’m going to give you a great deal. Bargain of a lifetime. Shut up about the ticket, and not only will I lend you my markers, but I’ll let you share my ticket. Ninety-ten.”

“What do you mean?”

The poor thing hadn’t gotten to percentages yet in school. “That means that if I win, I’ll give you ten cents out of every dollar that I win.”

“You’ll give me ten cents?” She seemed happy enough with the ten pennies, but I didn’t feel like I could really cheat her that way.

“Not exactly. I’ll give you ten cents for every dollar I win. So, if I win thirty dollars, I’ll give you three dollars and I’ll keep 27  dollars. And if I win a hundred dollars, I’ll give you ten dollars and I’ll keep ninety dollars.”

“You’re going to give me ten dollars?” This was just about beyond her comprehension.

“Yes, but only if the ticket wins a hundred dollars. Never mind, just believe me that it’s a great deal.”

“I’m going to get ten dollars!”

I’d created a monster. Somehow now she believed that not only was I lending her the markers, but I was going to fork over ten bucks. I gave it one last try: “But only if the lottery ticket wins. If it doesn’t win, neither of us will get any dollars at all.”

“Ten dollars!” she said, as I handed her the marker set. But I could tell that she understood. Now she was being the jerk.

But at least now she was my partner in crime and wouldn’t go blabbing to our parents – not if it was going to cost her ten dollars.

So, confident that my secret was safe – because now it was our secret – I tucked the ticket back into my violin case and began practicing “A Sailor’s Shanty” over and over and over again.



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