Winning Ticket

                                                  By Sharon Mikeworth

On Friday, March 12, 2009, I won the Megaball jackpot for $56.4 million dollars. A cash prize of $28 million. Not an exorbitant amount by today’s standards, especially after taxes, but still a fortune to me.
     On Monday I still had not told my husband.
     I waited until he had gone to work and the kids were at school and then drove the hour and forty-five minutes over to the claims center to confirm my ticket.
     By the time I pulled up, my nerves were shot and my hands and back were cramped from hunching over the steering wheel too tightly.
     I had been Mrs. Lanie Markus, married to Jon Markus, for fourteen years, and during that time, he had taken good care of me and our boys, Kevin and Justin, but it had always been his money, his sacrifice, with us as his burden, his responsibility.
     I thought it would probably be fairly easy to keep it from him. Not forever, just for a little while. The ticket I had bought on impulse had not even been purchased with his money. It had been my mother’s money sent to me in a birthday card that had gained me the winning ticket.
     Still not quite believing any of it, I went inside and politely arranged to collect my winnings anonymously.
     I can’t say in all truthfulness that I didn’t have visions of new cars and homes and trips to Paris. But now that I had gotten older, I seemed to notice the passage of time more keenly, and I felt an almost superstitious fear of this money—of wasting it, of somehow jinxing it and having it snatched away and lost with nothing that mattered to show for it.
     I had no illusions as to how my husband would react to my windfall. We'd had the “If I won the lottery, I would …” conversation, and Jon had stated the first thing he would do was quit his job, before launching into a list of cars, boats, houses, and other material things he would buy, while I had sat thinking about everything I would be able to do that I'd never been able to do before. I would be able to move my mother, who lived on social security, out of that trailer she lived in. I could help homeless people. I could help save the polar bears, or the rain forest. I would finally be able to help Will and Holly!  When I had voiced some of these thoughts aloud, Jon had gently reminded me that our family should be our priority, that we needed the money for our children’s sake. “It wouldn’t be right to squander the money on some stranger, or two perfectly capable grown children, Lanie," he'd said, his tone growing more serious as he continued on about how he didn't agree with taking away from the family we had to give to my two grown children, further enabling them to rely on us instead of themselves. This had been a sore point in our marriage for years. Jon and I had been able to stay on solid ground financially during our marriage, with a small but adequate house, but there had never been any real money to spare to help the older kids or it probably would have been more of an issue between us.
     I could see the logic in his argument and I wasn’t unsympathetic to his point of view, but he just didn’t understand. Jon had been raised in a normal upper-middle-income family with all the love and support he had needed to get a decent start in life, worlds away from the childhood my oldest two had endured. Their father had disappeared early on and rarely sent support payments. It had been hard, damn hard until I had met and married Jon, but by then it had been too late for Will and Holly, who had been nearly grown and had left home soon after.

The day the money cleared, I started making plans and putting things into motion. I did make some small concessions to the huge figure burning a hole in the account. I purchased some new outfits, which I hid in the closet, and had my hair cut and colored in light brown with honey streaks. I bought other little things, too, like new clothes and shoes for the boys and extra groceries that I didn’t think Jon would pay any attention to. I also tried to take my mother on a shopping spree, telling her I had a little extra money and would explain it all to her later, but could only persuade her to get some food and a few little things she needed. I was able to talk her into letting me hook up cable TV for her, though, something I knew she had always wanted but couldn’t afford on her small social security check.
     For weeks I made arrangements, and finally the day I had been waiting on arrived. I was geared up and almost giddy with excitement. It was like a burden had been lifted off of me, and I felt lighter than air, full of promise and hope.

     The minute Jon left for work and the boys boarded the school bus, I sprang into action. I called and arranged for the next-door neighbor to watch for the kids that afternoon and keep them until Jon or I got home that evening. I told her I had a family emergency, which wasn’t far from the truth, as far as I was concerned. After hanging up with her, I called my daughter.
     Holly answered on the fourth ring right before it rolled to voice mail. “Mom?”
     “Hey, pumpkin, how’s it going?”
     “Okay, I guess.”
      She sounded as though she had been crying. “What’s wrong?” Probably something to do with her deadbeat live-in boyfriend.
     “Billy and I had a fight.” She sniffed, her voice threatening tears again. “And he didn’t come home last night and he knew I had to be at work this morning. I’ve been trying and trying to reach him, but as usual he won’t answer his phone. I ended up having to call in sick. Again.
     I usually held my tongue concerning my daughter’s choice of boyfriend, but no more. This time I let her know exactly what I thought. “Well, you’ve only got the one truck and since he’s still unemployed, I think the least he could do is give you, the ONLY one with a job, a ride to work! Where is he now, the damn bar?” It was only 11:00 a.m. but I didn't doubt it. “What’d he do, pick a fight so he could go party?”
     “Probably!” I heard a trace of anger in my daughter’s voice too now, and I was glad.
     “Hey, guess what?” I said, changing the subject, remembering why I called, and why this stupid boyfriend no longer mattered.
     “I won the lottery.”
     “Did you?” she asked in the same forlorn tone.
     “Yeah. The Megaball. I won it.”
     “I won the fucking lottery!” I repeated, and started laughing.
     It was as much my gleeful laughing as my use of the expletive that finally got through to her. “Mom! What? You won the lottery? How much did you win?”
     “Twenty-eight million. Give or take. I had to pay taxes on it."
     “You’re kidding.”
     “No. I am not. And you can’t tell anybody, not even Jon.”
     "No. You're kidding me."
     "I'm not kidding. And I mean it, don't say anything. I haven't told Jon yet."
     “Are you for real, Mom?” Holly sounded like she feared I had the early stages of Alzheimer’s. “Why wouldn’t you tell him?”
     “Oh, I’m going to. It’s just that he and I might not exactly see eye to eye on how this money's going to get spent, and I need to take care of a few things first.”
     “You really won all that money?”
     “Yes, I did. And I’m coming down, today. I’m leaving as soon as I run a few errands, and I should be there by early this afternoon. Everything’s going to be all right, Holly.”
     “Okay,” she said, a little bit of despondency creeping back in. I knew why. And I understood completely.
     It was hard to hope.

As soon as Holly got involved with Billy, he immediately moved my daughter out to the country two hours away. I’m sure he did it to get her away from me, and anyone else that cared about her. Since moving her out there he had systematically alienated her from virtually all her family and friends, and now I suspected he was abusing her in some way, if only emotionally and verbally.
     I pulled off the highway in Shawea, the last decent-sized town before you get to Holly’s, and searched through the streets until I found a pawnshop.
     After looking at several different types of stun guns, tasers, and zap sticks, I finally bought a 950,000-volt Blast Knuckle stun gun. It fit easily into the palm of my hand and wrapped around my fingers like brass knuckles. Except when you hit someone with these, you only had to make contact and press the button.
     I familiarized myself with the stun gun, made sure the safety was on, and then put it back in its holster and slid it into my pocketbook.

The first thing I saw as I pulled into the dirt drive of the double-wide Billy had bought and imprisoned my daughter in was his red truck parked slightly skewed beside the house. It looked like he had slid in drunk. Holly told me he had once done exactly that, pulled up too fast on wet ground and actually ran into the trailer and almost knocked it off its cement blocks.  I eyed the carelessly parked pickup as I walked up to the front steps. A drunken Billy did not bode well.
     I knocked loudly, calling out, “It’s me,” and tried the door. It was unlocked, so I pushed it open and went on in, calling out again as I moved through the living room and into the kitchen, where Holly was just coming out of the bedroom that led off of the dining area.
     “Hey,” she said, pulling the door shut behind her. I instantly knew from her expression that Billy was in there and that she was afraid there was going to be trouble. My daughter—living in fear.
     “Sit down,” she said, indicating a kitchen chair. “I made some coffee.”
     I studied her as she poured two cups and set them and the sugar bowl and the powdered creamer on the table. She had lost more weight and her hair hung down lankly around her face. As she sat down in front of me, I saw her eyes were red where she had been crying again and that she had on an inordinate amount of makeup. She usually wore only a little lip-gloss and sometimes some mascara.
     As I stared at her thick makeup, the realization came to me that Billy had hit her. He had hit her and she was trying to hide it. The little punk had hit my baby girl who wouldn’t hurt a flea and she was afraid of him.
     “He hit you, didn’t he?” I asked furiously.
     “He said he was sorry. He just drank too much and lost control.” Holly was keeping her voice low and I knew she was hoping I would do the same. No such luck.
     “Get your stuff, Holly, we’re leaving,” I said, and stood up.
     Holly stood up too just as the bedroom door, where Billy had obviously been standing and listening, flew open and Billy emerged. He looked belligerently at Holly, then at me before jerking open the fridge and grabbing a beer.
     Still glaring hard at me, he twisted the top off and took a swig, then yanked out a chair and sat down, clearly trying to intimidate me.
     “What was that, Mom? You trying to come between me and Hol?” He slammed the bottle down, spewing beer out onto the table and causing Holly to flinch.
     My mind worked furiously. I refused to let this drunken bully get the best of me. I walked around and jerked open the refrigerator and got out a beer. Cracking the top off, I sat back down in front of a clearly surprised Billy and knowing I was going to need it, took a long, long pull of my beer, finishing a good bit of it, and slammed it down right beside Billy’s. He jumped slightly as it banged down, and then incredibly, started laughing as I burped and wiped my mouth.
     “Oh shit, I didn’t know you had it in ya,” he said. “Holly grab yourself one and get another one for Lanie here. We’ll just have ourselves a li’l party.”
     “No thanks, I’m done,” I said, and reached into my handbag. Still keeping it hidden inside my purse, I took the stun gun out of the holster, stuck my fingers in it, and curled my fist around it. “Holly, get your stuff. We’re leaving.”
     “Mom?” Holly asked uncertainly.
     “She’s not going NO DAMN WHERE, ya HEAR!” Billy suddenly yelled, erupting, and flipped the table over, flinging beer everywhere. Holly and I jumped back, and I almost tripped over my chair but managed to hold on to the stun gun as my purse fell to the floor. Billy hadn’t noticed it yet; he was too busy backing Holly into a corner, gripping her upper arm viciously.
     I tightened my hold on the stun knuckles and pushed off the safety. “Get your hands off my daughter!” Stepping over, I grabbed his shoulder with my other hand and spun him around.
     Billy released my daughter and lunged for me, veins standing out in his neck. Instinctively I raised my left arm to protect my face while bringing the stun gun up. Driving myself forward, I pushed it against him and pressed the button. For a second Billy seemed to freeze, and then he was down, the sound of the arc resounding in the small kitchen as Holly screamed and Billy jerked on the floor.
     I pushed the safety back on and dropped it into my purse. “It’s okay, Holly. He’s not going to die. I just stunned him.” Then I picked up her phone and called the police.
     I had righted the table and Billy was starting to recover by the time the police car came squealing into the driveway. Holly let the two cops in and they followed her back into the kitchen, where a sullen Billy was sitting on the floor propped up against the kitchen cabinets and I was sitting calmly at the table.
     “What happened here, ma'am?” The younger policeman asked, looking from Billy to me. “What did you do to him?”
     “He’s drunk. He was threatening my daughter. He's already hurt her once, just look at her face, and he was about to do it again. I told him to get his hands off of her, and then he came at me. So I stunned him and called you.”
     The other policeman walked over to Holly and tilted her face up to the light of the window to get a better look.
     “Here,” Holly said. She reached over and grabbed a paper towel, wet it, and wiped some of the makeup off, wincing in pain. As soon as the policeman saw the large purple bruise around her eye, and the angry red marks on her arm, he turned around and jerked Billy to his feet and handcuffed him. He was still reading him his rights as he led him out to the squad car.
     The other one stayed behind to gather more information, and I talked to him about a restraining order. Then he followed the other one out, and they finally left.
     “He’ll come back. Even with a restraining order, he’ll come back.” Holly’s tears had dried up, but she was still shaking.
     “Do you want him to come back?”
     She hesitated, reaching up to feel her puffy eye. “No,” she said, then repeated it, firmer, “NO.”
     “Well then, we’ll leave. Pack your stuff, baby girl, we’re out of here.”
     “And where am I gonna go exactly? There’s no room at your house.”
     “You just let me worry about that.”

After safely ensconcing Holly in a suite complete with room service in the nicest hotel I could find close by, I set about helping her arrange for movers to pack up her stuff and place it in a temporary storage facility until she could get things figured out. Then I gave her some cash to tide her over and the debit card I had arranged for her, with strict instructions to go out and purchase a new car the next day so she could return Billy’s truck, which she had appropriated.
     “I love you. I’ll be in touch, and call if you need me,” I said, and hugged her goodbye.
     I waved one last time to a slightly shell-shocked but smiling Holly and drove away.

I felt mentally exhausted from all the drama with Holly, and the beer I had chugged had left me with a nagging headache. I decided to stop for some coffee and a bite to eat. I got off the interstate, ignored the Ruby Tuesday and Applebee's I passed, and stopped instead at a small diner that looked like it had been converted from an old carhop restaurant. Through the window I could see the place was filled with an older crowd, mostly black, with a few whites thrown in. Since obviously no one was going to come riding up on skates, I got out and went in.
     I stopped just inside the door, and for a moment the place went still as everyone collectively paused and looked over at me. Then a plump caramel-skinned woman came around and led me to a table in the back, and everyone went back to their food and resumed talking. She had a kind face and smiled as she offered me coffee. I accepted gratefully and dug two aspirins out of my purse and swallowed them with a gulp of the hot brew.
     I ended up ordering breakfast, which they served all day. When the ham and eggs came, I found them delicious. So were the warm biscuits she brought out a minute later with pats of real butter and an assortment of jams. The ham was tender and the eggs cooked perfectly.
     I was nibbling on a jelly biscuit and enjoying my last cup of coffee when she brought the check. I contemplated how I was going to tip her like I wanted to. If I put it on a card, I was afraid she wouldn't be the one to get it, and there was no way I was going to leave it on the table. I would just have to pay and then slip her the money on the way out.
     I got up and made my way over to the register, keeping my eye on the waitress. As I paid, I saw her walk over to the table and then turn away looking disappointed, probably worried she had been stiffed.
     After taking my receipt, I dug out five of the hundred-dollar bills I had on me, impulsively added five more, and folded them up together.
     I caught her in the back, near the restrooms. “Here, I had to get change for your tip,” I told her and handed her the folded bills.
     “Oh, well, thank you,” she said, and dropped them into her apron pocket without looking at them. I was grinning as I walked out. She was in for a surprise.
     She came running out as I was backing up, waving to get my attention. I hit the brakes and lowered my window.
     “You made a mistake! You gave me these by mistake,” she said as she came up to my door, holding out the bills.
     I ignored the outstretched money. “No mistake.”
     “But it’s a thousand dollars!”
     “That’s right, and it’s for you.” I shifted into Drive. "You have a good day." Her mouth fell open. She finally managed to close it, and yelled, “THANK YOOUU!” as I started across the parking lot.

Feeling energized, I drove the rest of the way to my son’s place, about thirty miles up the interstate. This was the thing I had been worrying about the most. He and I had not talked much over the past year. The last time I saw him he and Jon had ended up in a vicious argument, with horrible things being said. Will had gotten into a bit of a financial jam, nothing too serious, just some unexpected repairs needed on the truck he worked out of, and he had wanted a small loan. For years my son had tried to work for himself. He painted, doing both interior and exterior work for private homes and hotels. He had just been waiting to get paid for his last big job and only needed to borrow until the money came in. I was willing to rearrange a bill or two until he paid me back to help hi
m out, but Jon had stepped in saying anything could happen and we wouldn’t get the money back. He had gone on to say that it was Will’s fault anyway for not having a real job and a savings account for emergencies like this. It had hurt and angered Will, and he had not been back to my house since. He ended up having to borrow at an exorbitant rate to get his truck fixed, and the last I heard he was still struggling to pay it back and in worse shape than ever.
     I felt like I had failed my son as I parked in front of the dilapidated house he had rented. What chance had he ever really had?
     His truck wasn’t there, so he was probably still working. I walked across the tiny lawn to the front porch, mounted the steps, and knocked on the door. I was hoping his current live-in girlfriend was home to let me in so I could wait for him.
     I thought I saw the curtain move slightly in the window to my left. I was just about to knock again, when she finally cracked it open.
     Alicia peered out at me. “Oh, hey Lanie, Will’s not home,” she said, holding firmly to the door.
     Was she not going to let me in? “Yes, well, I thought I would wait on him. It’s kind of important.”
     She looked at me uncertainly. “I don’t know how much longer he'll be. It could be a while.”
     She definitely wasn’t inviting me in. I couldn’t believe the nerve of this girl.
     “All right then.” I turned around to sit on the porch steps until he got home and heard the door shut behind me before I could even lower myself down.
     I dug out my phone and tapped to call Will, hoping his number hadn’t changed. It rang and rang on the other end, and just when I had nearly given up, he answered. There was a lot of noise in the background. “HELLO?”
     “Hey Will, it’s Mom.”
     I moved off the porch to go around the side. “IT’S ME, YOUR MOTHER,” I yelled back.
     “OH, HOLD ON … LET ME TURN THIS OFF.” The background noise dropped drastically, and then he was back on the phone. “Okay. What’s up?”
     He didn’t exactly sound happy to hear from me. I plowed ahead anyway. “I’m at your house."
     “You are?”
     “Yeah, well I wanted to talk to you. When are you stopping for the day?”
     “I can leave right now if you need me to.”
     “I do. I’m sitting on your porch here,” I said, laughing a little.
     “Oh, well, Alicia should be there. She can let you in until I get home. I'm just right down the road." His voice became muffled for a moment as he spoke to someone in the background, and then he was back on the line, sounding more like himself. "I was ready to leave anyway. I’m starving! Alicia made a bunch of sloppy joes last night and that’s all I’ve been able to think about for the last hour or so. I was just about to come home and chow down on some leftovers."
     “Okay, I’ll see you in a bit.”

He pulled up a few minutes later, driving the same old beat-up truck. He got out, splattered in paint, looking dirty and tired, but smiling.
     “What are you doing still sitting there? Why didn’t you go in?”
     “Uh … well … She didn't … I didn't want to just barge in.”
      The smile disappeared from his face. “What the hell?”
     “She did say that you might not be home for a while.”
     I stayed on the porch as he pushed open the door and then followed him as he impatiently waved me in behind him. “Come on in.”
     I stepped into the living room, trying not to cringe at the mess. There was no sign of Alicia. Will leaned over and hollered up the stairs that led to the master bedroom and bath, “ALICIA!”
     I moved some of what looked like Alicia's clothes off the couch and sat down.
     “Man, I’m starving, just let me grab something real quick to hold me. Here’s the remote, turn something on if you want."
     "You want a sloppy joe?” he asked as he headed into the kitchen.
     I didn’t get a chance to answer him before I heard him stop in his tracks on the other side of the doorway. “God damnit!” he exclaimed, his voice low and furious.
     “God damn it,” he said again and this time the despair in it got me up off the couch and into the kitchen. Will stood staring at the stove, where a large uncovered frying pan sat containing what looked like congealed sloppy joe meat. There was also an open bag of buns sitting on the counter along with a jar of mustard and some hot sauce.
     The leftovers had never been put up the night before. In fact, the kitchen had not been cleaned at all in God knew how long. It was filthy, with dishes stacked in the sink and on the counter, and trash piled by the back door.
     Alicia chose that moment to come downstairs, and Will turned and lit into her. “Why didn’t you put supper up last night? You said you would. I had to go to bed early for work!"
     Alicia stared back at him, her eyes wide.
     "What am I supposed to eat now?" When no answer seemed forthcoming, he sighed in disgust and went to turn away.
     “Well, that’s probably okay, I can heat it up …” she started tentatively, and Will rounded on her. “Are you crazy? It sat out all night and all day!  Do you want to kill me with food poisoning?”
     With that, he seemed to lose all steam and flopped down onto the couch with an aggravated sigh and put his head in his hands. After a moment, he pulled out a crinkled cigarette pack, found it empty, and flung it down onto the coffee table.
     I stared at Alicia in horror as she slowly walked out of the room and back up the stairs.
     “Son,” I said, “I’ll buy you something to eat. Let’s go and get something.”
     “Five pounds of hamburger meat. Five pounds wasted. I tried to tell her that if she buys larger packs of meat she can get it cheaper, but then she never divides it up. And now this. She just wasted it. We barely have any money for food as it is.”
     “Let’s go,” I said, louder. "I need to talk to you anyway, and I think we should get out of here for a while.”
     “Mom, I haven’t even had a shower.”
     “That’s all right. Let’s just go, okay? Please? I need to talk to you and I don't want to do it here.”
     This finally convinced him and he stood up, looking at me curiously as he followed me out.
     I drove first to the store to buy him some cigarettes. It was a nasty habit that I had quit myself years ago, but I wasn’t here to judge. If a cigarette got him through the day, then fine. I could only hope that he would eventually quit as I had. I got out without saying a word and went in and bought him a carton of Marlboro’s, a lighter, and a candy bar, and brought it back out to him.
     His eyes lit up. “Wow Mom, for me?”
     “Yes, and that’s just to start.”
     Next, I drove over to a nearby Arby’s and ordered two large sodas and a ridiculous amount of food. I searched for a place for us to eat and talk, while Will attacked the fries.
     I finally pulled into a small community park that Will pointed out, and we got out and sat down at one of the picnic tables. I waited on him to finish eating and light up a smoke before I began.
     “If you had the money to do anything you wanted, what would it be?”
     “You know I want to run my own company. I’d expand, buy a couple of trucks, new equipment, hire some help … pay all the people I owe.” He laughed. “Find a decent girl, get married, buy a house, have kids … that’s all,” he said, and laughed again.  His face sobered after a moment. “I’m just so tired of struggling and never getting anywhere. Somehow, I never saw my life turning out this way.”
     “I didn’t either.”
     “What did you want to talk to me about?”
     “Hang on." I climbed out of the picnic table and walked back over to my SUV and retrieved my pocketbook.
     Sitting back down across from him, I drew out his card and gently dropped it on the table in front of him.
     He leaned forward and peered at it. His eyebrows went up as he read his own name on the front. “What’s this?”
     “Yours,” I said, grinning.
     I decided to stop torturing him. I loved him so much, and I was so sorry that I had not been able to give him the start in life that he deserved. My eyes teared up a little, and I said a little silent prayer of thanks for this incredible gift.
     “I won the lottery, son,” I said, my voice thick.
     He instantly believed me. He could tell from my demeanor that this was no joke. He looked back down at the card.
     “There’s three hundred thousand on there right now, and we can go from there.”
     “Oh my GOD, Mom,” he said, still ogling the card in front of him, trying to take it all in. “What about Jon?”
     “He doesn’t even know I won the money. Yet. But I have to tell him soon. So make it worth it, okay?”
     “You don’t even have to say it.” The reality of the situation was starting to hit him and he began to smile, and then to laugh out loud.
     “What the hell am I gonna do about Alicia?”
     I grinned back at him. “I’ll let you figure that one out.”

I left Will’s happier than I had been in a long time. Holly and Will were taken care of for now, and I had already arranged college trust funds for Kevin and Justin, and earmarked funds to pay all our debts and open an IRA account.
     Now it was time to have some fun.
     I looked at my watch. It was nearly 7:00. The kids had already been home from school for several hours now, and Jon had to be wondering what was going on. As if on cue, my cell phone rang. I picked it up, saw it was Jon, and laid it back down. I wasn’t ready to talk to him yet. As Ricky Ricardo would have said, I had some 'splaining to do. And I wasn’t quite finished with everything.
     At first I rode around aimlessly, trying to figure out how I was going to accomplish what I wanted to do. I drove to the mall and then pulled back off again, realizing that anyone who was at the mall probably didn’t need money that bad or they wouldn’t be at the mall.
     A few miles out of town, I passed a trailer park, and realized it was perfect. I turned around in a convenience store parking lot and drove back. At the entrance, I parked beside the large bank of mailboxes and pulled out the money I had gotten ready the day before. Each plain white envelope contained five thousand dollars and an anonymous note saying, “Just a little help from someone who cares." I lowered my window and slid an envelope into all ten mail-slots.
     Next, I drove back toward the downtown area and immediately spotted another likely recipient: an older white man, probably in his late fifties, with longish, graying black hair, wearing a sign that read, “Will work for food.” I pulled up and parked at a safe distance, watching him. He was wearing loose, torn jeans and a fatigue jacket. In an effort to stay warm he was stamping his feet and shifting from one foot to the other. He was staying close to the red lights, keeping an eye on the cars as they came to a stop, but making no move to approach them.
    I turned down the ringer volume on my phone, climbed out and stood there for a moment, gathering my courage, and then started toward him. Weary resignation and a sort of hard dignity settled on the man's face as the woman in the car that had just pulled up beside him hurriedly hit the button to lock her doors.
     As I neared, he became aware of my presence and turned to face me.
     I stopped in front of him, scanning the nearby establishments.
“Want some coffee?” I asked, turning back and studying him some more. He needed to shave, but didn’t smell. That was a plus. And his eyes and the way he regarded me seemed aware, which hopefully meant he wasn't crazy. So what had landed him in this situation? Was he trying to con people? Somehow I didn’t think so.  If he is, he isn’t doing a very good job of it, I thought as I took in his worn jeans and boots repaired with duct tape.
     “Sure,” he said after a moment, with a why not, what have I got to lose? expression.
     “Want to take off the sign?”
     “Yeah.” He pulled his head through it and looked around for somewhere to stash it. He finally placed it behind a nearby trash can.
     We proceeded down the sidewalk, an unlikely pair, a well-dressed youngish woman and an obviously homeless older man. After a bit, he fell slightly behind, and I slowed down and waited on him to catch up. As he walked up beside me, he paused for a moment and then did the most remarkable thing. He stuck out his elbow and offered me his arm. After a second, I took it, and felt unexpected tears prick my eyes as we resumed walking.
     We strolled like this all the way up to the Starbucks stand a couple of blocks away, neither of us speaking, where I ordered us two tall café au laits.
     After handing him his, I moved over to a nearby bench and motioned for him to sit down beside me. We sat sipping our coffee and steamed milk in companionable silence for a few minutes, and then I asked him.
     “So what happened?”
     He gave a small shake of his head. “Does it really matter?”
     I thought about it. “No, I guess not."
     He turned to face me. “Thank you for the coffee.” He started to rise, and I grasped his arm and gently held him back.
     “Please wait. I want to help.” I dug into my purse and pulled out two of the remaining envelopes. “Here,” I said, thrusting them into his hands.
     His eyebrows shot up in surprise as he glanced into one of them and saw the money.
     “It’s ten thousand all together. And don’t worry," I said with a laugh. "I didn’t rob anyone. I won a little in the lottery.”
     “Please take it,” I said as he blinked at the money in astonishment. Finally he carefully folded the envelopes and, mouth slightly open, slid them into the front pocket of his jacket.
     “Thank you,” he said, then picked up my hand and held it for a moment. “Thank you,” he said again—amazement, gratitude, awe, and the very beginnings of hope all held in that one gesture.
     I stood up and he stood up too and insisted on walking me back to my car. Looking a little dazed but smiling, the man stood to the side and watched me as I got in my car and drove away.
     Once I was safely back on the road, I glanced at my phone and saw Jon had called again. It was getting late, and I knew he was probably worried. I needed to get a move on. I was determined to finish what I had sat out to do and I wasn’t going home until I gave out all of the money I had brought.
     I drove to Walmart, a place I knew well. I would be able to get rid of the rest there and then I could go home and finally tell Jon. I knew after he got over his shock he would be ecstatic.
     I grabbed a buggy and took off through the store. I threw things in as I went along, watching people and trying to figure out how to give away the money without calling attention to myself.
     In electronics I picked up a laptop for Kevin, and the newest Xbox console for Justin along with several games. The young salesclerk that rang me up was lackadaisical and borderline rude about it, so “no funds for you” I thought in the Soup Nazi's accent from Seinfeld, which made me snort aloud and caused him to slow down even further as he was interrupted out of his complete boredom.
     I rolled the cart over to the televisions next, and after requesting help from someone else, managed to arrange for a 43-inch LED set for Jon to be brought up to the front.
     My phone, which I'd turned the volume up on, rang, and it was Jon again. I ignored it, telling myself this was the last time. I listened to my messages just to make sure nothing was wrong, turned the volume back down again, and stored it in my purse.
     I went over to the food section where things were calmer and started going up and down the grocery aisles. There weren’t many people out this late, and I had to go down two aisles before I ran into a woman shopping with two older children. The boy and the girl walked behind the tired-looking mother, their eyes on the floor, not even looking at the shelves. I glanced in their buggy as I pulled up alongside it. Bologna, bread, soup, cereal, milk, Hamburger Helper, hot dogs, box macaroni, almost all of it the cheaper store brand. There were no snacks, and apparently from the looks of the children, no hope for any. These poor people were barely eating.
     I fumbled in my pocketbook for one of the envelopes and finally got it out as she started moving on. “Wait!” I called after her, and she turned around, looking puzzled.
     I didn’t know how to do this. So I just did it. “Here,” I said, and thrust the envelope at her. She made no move to take it. “What? What is it?” she said, backing off and starting to turn away.
     “I won the lottery.” She stopped in her tracks and turned back around. I glanced over my shoulder to make sure no one was behind me. “I won the lottery and I just want to help a young family, that’s all. Please take it. I won’t even miss it." I smiled and held the envelope out again.
     This time she took it. She pulled back, still looking at me a little suspiciously, and opened it. Her eyes widened.
     “Five thousand,” I said, and she looked up at me in stunned disbelief. “I hope it helps.”
     She finally found her voice as I started away from them. “Oh my God,” she said. “Oh my God!”
     I glanced back as I rounded the corner and saw the kids throwing cookies in the buggy, their faces excited and happy.
     I was standing in front of the wine perusing the large selection when a young couple turned down the aisle I was on. I only glanced over for a second, but it was enough to tell me that they had been arguing. The young man had a long-suffering, obstinate look on his face, and hers was white with distress. I saw she was wearing a wedding band as she came up beside me to look at the wine, so they were married—probably just long enough to get past the honeymoon stage. As she turned to place the chardonnay she had chosen into the buggy, the man-boy rolled his eyes and quickly pushed the cart on past, ignoring her as he moved over to the beer. Face pink with embarrassment, she turned back around, returned the bottle to the shelf, and trudged after him. I decided to follow them, unobtrusively, of course.
     I maneuvered my buggy around and managed to "accidentally" run across them several times. But it wasn’t until her husband rejected a ninety-eight-cent can of air freshener that I decided to take action. I pulled out an envelope and quickly wrote on it, “This is for YOU, and if you are wise, you won’t let him have control of it." I thought for a second, and then added in smaller letters so it would fit, "And no I’m not crazy, I just won the lottery.” 
As soon as the husband had moved up ahead and she was alone, I quickly caught up with her, reached across and stuffed the envelope into the open side of her pocketbook, and kept walking.

     “What the….” I heard behind me. I turned around and held my finger up to my lips and pointed at her husband. She looked down, read my note, then looked at the money inside. Goggling at me, she stood stock-still for a long moment in disbelief. Then her gaze shifted from me to her husband then back to me again, and she finally managed to close her mouth. Are you really giving me this money? her face asked, and I smiled and nodded.  Shooting another look at her husband, she stuck the money back inside her purse and zipped it closed.
     That this might actually be happening was starting to sink in, and a dazed smile was slowly dawning across her face, transforming it, and I saw how pretty she really was. 
I whirled around—time was getting away from me and I needed to check out. I hurried to the front of the store and systematically started giving out the remaining smaller envelopes of $1,000, walking up to the cashiers, handing them one, saying, “This is for you, I hope it does some good,” and then moving on to the next.
I had given away all but two and was hurrying to a far register to check outwhen Jon showed up. He came through the doors and started toward me as I rolled up to the next open register.

     He blanched as the guy brought the LED television over and then stood by me looking horrified at everything I was buying.
     Trying to ignore the increasingly loud commotion behind me from the cashiers as they talked excitedly about what they had been given, I quickly paid for my purchases and handed the girl who had rung me up an envelope.
     As we were heading out the doors, I gave the very last one to the little old lady manning the door, thanked her, and continued on out.
     Jon waited until the television was loaded into my SUV and then finally exploded. “What the hell’s going on, Lanie?”
     “I can explain.” I pulled the door open and climbed into the driver's seat. After a moment, Jon came around and got into the passenger side.
     “How did you know where I was?” I asked.
     “I came in to get something Justin needed for his school project.” He stared at me narrowly, clearly beginning to lose the little patience he had left.
     “I won the lottery,” I blurted.
     “You won the lottery.”
     “Yes, and I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I was going to. Tonight.” I stopped at the look on his face. It wasn’t the furious look I had expected; it was more vulnerable, frightened.
     “Are you leaving me?”
     “NO!" I reached over and grabbed his hand. "But I've never had anything that was mine. Just mine to do with as I pleased. I wasn’t going to keep it from you forever. I really was going to tell you tonight. I just needed to take care of a few things first.”
     “Like what?” he asked, as though he couldn't wait to hear what I had blown all the money on.
     I started with the parts he wouldn’t object to first. “I set up college funds for Kevin and Justin.”
     “Good,” he said.
     “I started a retirement account."
     “Also good.”
     “And I gave away a little here and there, not that much, and I helped Will and Holly.” I said this last part in a rush.
     His features tightened. “How much did you spend?”
     “Not that much. Only a little over a million.”
     “WHAT? For God's sake, Lanie, how much did you win? Is there anything left?”
     “I did buy the LED TV for you.” A small part of me was definitely enjoying this.
     “HOW MUCH DID YOU WIN?” he shouted.
     “Oh … twenty-eight million, give or take.” I began to laugh at the comical expression on his face.
     "No way."
     "Yes way.
     “Are you serious? We have twenty-eight million dollars?
     “Well, minus what I spent.”
     “But we're rich?”
     “You could say that.”
     “I’m quitting my job.”
     “Of course you are. And I’m moving my mother out of that trailer.”
     “Of course you are.” We both laughed a little hysterically.
     “I love you, Jon.”
     “I love you too, Lanie.”

Through the years Jon became my check and I became his balance as he made his little investments and bought things and I gave donations to the occasional good cause, and somehow we managed to keep from losing everything like so many do.
     I did indeed move my mother into a house and she has never been happier. Holly went on to college and eventually became a psychologist, specializing in abusive relationships. Will's business took off and he eventually married a wonderful woman, and even gets along better with Jon now.
     But after all the years, after all the family celebrations, cruises, trips abroad, and even after Holly's graduation and Will's marriage, the day that stands out at me, the day I will never forget, is the day I gave away all that money.

March 2009

Image courtesy of James Barker/FreeDigitalPhotos