Lillian felt warm. From head to toe, she was downright cozy. She hadn’t thought about where she was, or why it felt warm there. She just lay in between sleep and wakefulness, enjoying the warmth that surrounded her.
It was the urge to cough that finally fully woke her. As she leaned forward to comply with the request from her lungs, she noticed she was covered in wires and tubes. She instinctively started pulling things off and away, before taking into consideration where she was. That was when things started beeping.
She sat frozen under the crisp white bedding that covered her. Looking around the room, she saw Susan’s purse, but no sign of the woman herself. A moment after the beeping had begun, a woman in bright pink scrubs entered the room Lillian was in.
“Ma’am,” she said, and Lillian could hear the thinly covered frustration in her tone.
“You have to keep those tubes on. You’re very sick.”
The woman spoke loudly, in the way that people speak to the very old and the very young: loudly and slowly. “I know that I’m sick,” Lillian said as best she could through the noise and the air blowing in her face. “What I don’t know, is how I got here.”
“Your friend brought you in,” the nurse said in the same tone as before. It annoyed Lillian to be spoken to this way, but she said nothing—choosing instead to stare blankly at the woman, which probably only made things worse.
After hooking all of the machines back up, and getting Lillian settled back into her bed, the nurse said, “I’ll go let the doctor know that you’re awake, and I’ll be back in a few minutes to get your vitals,” before leaving the room.
She hear Susan’s voice then. “For God’s sake, she’s sick, not deaf! I could hear you all the way in the bathroom!”
Lillian couldn’t hear the nurse’s reply, but she chuckled to herself.
“Well, Lillian, you look like Hell. How do you feel?” Susan was holding a cup of something hot. Lillian could see the steam wafting into the air.
“Like death,” she told her friend.
Susan laughed, but Lillian didn’t feel much like laughing. She felt tired. Susan waved a hand in Lillian’s direction as she moved to sit in a chair next to the bed. “Trust me,” she said to Lillian, “you’ll see why I’m laughing soon.”
As if on cue, a tall man in an open doctor’s coat entered the room. “Ms. O’Mally?” he asked.
“That’s me,” Lillian said. She saw nothing funny about the man, and still wasn’t sure why Susan had laughed.
“I’m Dr. Spencer,” the man said. “How are you feeling?” he asked her as he looked through what must have been her chart.
“I’ve definitely felt better,” she said. “But then again, I guess that’s to be expected.”
“Ah, yes,” Dr. Spencer said. “Your friend told me about your diagnosis. I just want to tell you that I’m very sorry for all that you’ve been through.”
“I imagine there are worse ways to die,” she said, pulling the mask off of her face in order to talk.
“Well, I’m sorry for that, too,” he began, reaching over to place the mask back on her face. “Please, try to keep this on,” he told her. “It will help.”
She didn’t understand how, but she did as she was asked.
“Ms. O’Mally,” the doctor continued, “You are very sick.”
Lillian refrained from rolling her eyes.
“But,” he added, “you are not dying.”
Lillian waited what felt like a lifetime to speak. “What do you mean I’m not dying? The doctor at the clinic seemed very sure that I had lung cancer, and I was dying.”
Dr. Spencer shook his head. “I would honestly need to evaluate the tests that the original diagnosis was based on, but I can tell you very clearly from what I’ve seen, that you aren’t dying. Not any faster than the rest of us, at least.”
Lillian took a slow, measured breath, trying to understand what she was hearing.
“You have a very serious case of pneumonia, and to be honest, it very well could have killed you. But, so far, your system is responding well to treatment. You’re going to have to stay with us a little while, but I have every confidence that we’ll get you back on your feet and feeling great again.”
Lillian sat, staring at the doctor. She wasn’t sure what to say. “Thank you,” she said. It seemed like a good start. “I still don’t believe this is happening,” she said, mostly to herself.
“Just be glad you passed out when you did. I’ll come back a little later and check on you, but for now, just try to get some rest.”
“I don’t have insurance,” she blurted. “I don’t know how I’ll pay for all of this.” She heard Susan snort with laughter. Then, she remembered the ticket. The lottery office. The winnings. And the promises she’d made.
“Please,” Dr. Spencer said. “Try not to worry about that part of it. Just worry about getting yourself better. Someone from billing can talk to you about a payment plan after you’re feeling better.”
After the doctor left, Lillian looked at Susan. “Payment plan,” she said. “Good luck with that.”
Susan punched her lightly in the arm. “My dear, have you forgotten that as of yesterday your financial situation has changed greatly?”
“Have you forgotten that I already promised that money away?”
“That was when you were dying. No one would expect you to keep that promise,” Susan told her.
“I would,” Lillian said.
“Even so,” her friend added, “You only promised away about half of it. That still leaves enough to get you back on your feet.”
“The rest was for you,” she told Susan.
The woman appeared to melt right in front of Lillian’s eyes.
“Why on Earth would you go and say a thing like that?” Lillian couldn’t be sure, but she thought Susan might be crying.
“Because it’s true. You’ve been my friend, even if only for a couple of days. I wanted to do something to make your life better, too.”
“I won’t accept that. It’s your money. Make your own damn life better.”
“No,” Lillian shook her head. “You’re taking it.”
“I am not!” Susan yelled. “Nobody asked you to give me pity money. Don’t be stupid. You’re going to live, you don’t need to be a hero. Keep your money.”
“It’s not pity money,” Lillian was offended. “If anyone was doing anything out of pity, it was you. Why else did you keep hanging out with me? Do you just not want to take it because you think you’ll have to be my friend if you do?”
“What?” Susan asked. “What kind of drugs are they pumping into that IV of yours? I kept hanging out with you because you’re good company,” Susan said, crossing her arms as she leaned back into her chair. Then she added, “Sometimes.”
Lillian chuckled as the insanity of the entire situation. She had won the lottery and given it away because she was dying. In two weeks time, she could be as healthy as a horse. She laughed out loud, coughing and wincing intermittently.
“Well what’s so funny?” Susan asked. Lillian couldn’t answer her. She just kept laughing. Soon, they were both laughing so hard that tears rolled down their cheeks.
“That is a pretty crappy string of luck,” Susan said after a while. Lillian patted her
“It’s not so bad,” she said, smiling toward the ceiling.
Lillian stood outside in the cold, dark morning. She hopped from foot to foot, trying as usual, to stay warm in the cold winter air. She watched the people shuffling in the line, freezing, the same as her. She pulled her gloved hands up to her face and blew on them, trying to warm her numb fingers.
Hurry up, she thought, fearful of catching another case of pneumonia. It had taken her nearly two months last year to recover fully from what she thought had been lung cancer. Now, she always worried about being out in the cold air, despite the doctor telling her she was perfectly safe.
She thought about all that had happened in the last year, and how she wouldn’t take back any of it. She had given half of her winnings away when she thought she was dying. And, when Susan refused to take more than a few thousand, Lillian had given more away to the shelter, and to a few people who looked like they could use a hand up along the way.
Her time as a rich woman had been short lived. But she was happier than she’d been in a while. She had a few bucks in the bank, and made enough money to keep her electricity on, and her fridge stocked. That was plenty in her mind.
She stuffed her hands into the pockets of her coat, still bouncing, still waiting for someone to come open the doors. Finally she heard the jingle of keys and hurried feet behind her.
“I’m sorry!” Devin said. “Hope you weren’t waiting long.”
“Not at all,” she said, smiling.
Devin opened the door and waved her in. Before they even turned the machines on, the entire the place smelled like coffee. Lillian breathed in the smell, smiling as she did so. She pulled off her coat and began turning on machines and brewing coffee for the morning rush.
After everything was set for opening, she pulled out three cups. One for her, one for Devin, and one for Susan, who would be stopping by any minute on her way to her own job at the soup kitchen. Susan said it wasn’t really a job because the pay was so awful, but she and Lillian both agreed that it was important. And with a roommate, she made enough to live on.
Lillian stood in front of the door, sipping her coffee as she waited to turn the sign to “open”. She thought of how different life looked from this side of the street. Her heart broke for the people standing in line, cold and hungry, waiting for food. Devin and Susan were always telling her that she couldn’t save everyone. She knew they were right, but it didn’t stop her from buying the occasional lottery ticket. Some she kept for herself, but most she gave away. She tried to find the people who seemed to just be having a bad day, and she’d hand them a ticket and a hot drink. Devin thought it was funny, and Susan said she was crazy, but she persisted. A little kindness on a bad day had changed everything for her. She hoped it could do the same for someone else.