A short burst of wind chills the coffee shop interior as I walk through the door, and a snow-soaked sheet of the Manhattan News sweeps past my feet. Immediately, I’m surrounded by conversation. The subway station is just across the street, so this is a really popular place. I look around. The line is far too long to wait for a drink, so I find a table to rest at before I catch the train home.
My phone buzzes from inside one of my shopping bags; I was at the mall all day. When I pick it up, the screen lights with an unflattering photo of my cousin Patrick. He’s standing at his high school graduation just last year. A cheesy grin is forcing all of his neck muscles to pop out, while his eyes and nose scrunch up playfully. I laugh to myself and marvel at how perfectly his reddish brown hair matches mine. Although we are cousins, Pat and I spend so much time together that we are frequently asked if we are siblings. My thumb slides across the screen.
“Kayla? Hey!” His voice is familiar, carefree and excited.
“Hi, Pat,” I say. Could you call back in like twenty minutes? I’m headed to the subway, and you know how that is…” Pat’s mom, my Aunt Lisa, recently had her phone stolen in a subway station, so I’ve been very cautious about keeping mine unseen.
“Wait, you still remember that?” He scoffs sarcastically and laughs at himself.
“Better safe than sorry,” I say sheepishly.
“Okay, okay, fine.” He pauses expectantly, probably waiting for me to say something, but when I don’t, he continues, “Don’t you know what day it is?!”
“Huh. January 5th, 2012, I think…” I say it in a mocking tone, because I do know what day it is, but he’s so flustered that he forgets to pick up on my joke.
“Kayla!” He emphasizes both syllables of my name in a whine. “I can’t believe you forgot! They’re announcing the lottery winners today! Want to come over to my place and listen?” Sometimes Pat reminds me of an eager puppy dog, always wanting to play.
“I was out shopping today. I have to bring all the stuff I bought home first.”
He fakes a groan. “Whatever. The results show at 2:30. Be here.”
“Whatever,” I repeat in a mocking low voice, and hang up the phone.
The station, as usual, is far too small for the people of Manhattan. I stand against a wall in an effort to separate myself from the crowd. It’s 2:00, so I decide to take the train home, drop my things, and drive over to watch the lottery results.
When I arrive in my little blue Honda, Pat’s house looks exactly the same way it did on Christmas Day. Lights are strung across the trees, tinsel is spread all over the lawn, and a very large, metal Santa Claus is precariously placed on the edge of the roof. I’m actually surprised it hasn’t fallen yet, although it’s only been a week or so since Christmas.
My Aunt Lisa opens the door, grinning Pat’s grin.
“Nice to see you Kayla! Oh, and don’t worry, you’re parent’s know you’re here.”
“Is it just the three of us?” I ask. Usually, Aunt Lisa has friends over.
She nods, and her curly hair bobs up and down beside her plump cheeks.
“Come on in,” she says, ushering me forward.
I think Aunt Lisa must get lonely sometimes. Pat’s father, Morgan, left the family when Pat was 7 and I was 6. He was a businessman, only focused on money. I don’t even think he felt sorry about leaving. Of course, Aunt Lisa was heartbroken, but she tried to forget it. I remember coming over a lot to keep her company. The three of us would sit together a lot like we were sitting now; Pat laying on the carpet in the center of the living room where Aunt Lisa and I lounged on the couch, our heads resting on the wall behind us.
The TV screen in front of us buzzes to life, and the word “Powerball” pops up in thick letters. A machine in the center is scrambling like a gumball machine gone wrong. The first ball pops out, reading “02”. I hear Pat chuckle and mutter something about how we’re doing pretty good so far, but I’m focused on the next ball. “27”. Aunt Lisa taps the ticket, giving me a pointed smile. “29” Is this normal? I think to myself, “How close do people usually get? “42” I find myself bouncing on the couch cushion nervously. “52” Then we all stand up, cheering and screaming. I don’t even know what’s happening except that we won. We won the lottery!
Never have I thought two numbers to be so powerful. It was like an explosion; first there is a chaotic frenzy, and then the terrifying ring of silence slices through. We had gotten the jackpot. In the moment before now I had been so perfectly excited, but now there was a heavy realization. Who would get the money?
It had only been a joke, really. Pat was always such a jokester, so I thought it might be fun to try it out for once. A few days ago, on Christmas, my whole family had gathered in the same living room that I sat in now. My family is close; it was just my parents, grandparents, Pat, and Aunt Lisa, since my father was an only child. For Pat’s gift, I had gone shopping and bought him the New York Red Bull’s new tee-shirt design, since that was his favorite soccer team. Then I had found these lottery ticket things. Pat was always teasing me about being the youngest and bragging about his adult rights as a nineteen year old. I had turned eighteen in November, so I decided to use my adult rights to buy a ticket. I had felt very clever and all, when he saw the ticket on Christmas Day, because it was good humored and exciting, which Pat adored. At the time, I hadn’t really considered whether the ticket would win.
With all of the thoughts in my head, I begin to feel dizzy, so I pull my face into a grimace that will hopefully come across as a smile and sit politely on the couch. Aunt Lisa is gone, but I can hear her in another room, squealing to my parents across the phone. Pat flops down next to me.
“Can you believe this?” he says. “Seventy-five million dollars.” He whistles. “Feels like I’m on a cloud.”
“Yeah. Are you going to get it in cash or do that annual thing?” With the Powerball lottery, I heard you could get all the cash immediately, or get a little bit each year and save up.
“Probably cash. But I can’t spend it all at once.” He laughs.
I laugh too. “Well aren’t you gonna share?” I grin, but I mean what I asked. I can’t imagine why he wouldn’t just split it, especially since I was the one who bought the ticket.
“Yeah, maybe like two hundred dollars or so.” Out of seventy-five million? No way. I look over at him to see if he’s kidding, but all I find is a straight face. He looks over at me, then back at the ground. It makes me uncomfortable, the way his lips purse and his eyes roll in discrete annoyance. It reminds me of how my Uncle Morgan used to act.
“Pat, what do you mean?”
“It was a gift, Kayla,” he says. “It’s my money now. If you really wanted it, you shouldn’t have given it to me.” He was treating this money like a stuffed animal.
“Are you hearing yourself?” I say.
“What do want me to do? Give it all to you?” Suddenly he’s not Pat, he’s my Uncle Morgan; greedy, rash, and easily angered. “I could be famous with this stuff, and all you’re doing is trying to steal my thunder.”
“That’s really not it,” I start to say, but he cuts me off.
“Look, I have a good reason for keeping this money for myself.”
“What reason would that be?”
“Patrick, you’re acting like your father. Why do you want the money? ”
Then he’s silent. I think that Pat’s worst fear is of becoming his father, but now his nightmare seems to be coming true.
“I want the money so my father will come back.” Now it’s my turn to be silent.
“Why would you want that?”
“I don’t really know,” he says. “As much as I hate him for leaving us, I still want a father who is actually my father.” He glances at my blank stare. “You wouldn’t understand.
But I do understood. Pat was still completely himself, just my hopeful cousin who missed his dad. I touched his shoulder.
“Pat, your father’s not coming back, no matter how much money you have. You have to understand that.”
He frowns, and Aunt Lisa stands in the doorway.
“Kayla’s right Pat,” she says. I think she heard our conversation. “Morgan’s gone for good. But listen, we have this huge fortune. Let’s not waste it on something pointless.”
“Agreed,” I say. “I’m sorry Pat, you’re never going to be anything like you’re father. And you don’t need him here, you have us.”
He nods. “Yeah. I still miss him, but I’m going to do something great with this money. Without Morgan.” Then he laughs, and Aunt Lisa and I look at each other in surprise. “It’s funny how so much money can mess with you so much,” he says, and we chuckle in agreement.