Lillian stood frozen. Surely she hadn’t heard him correctly. Surely he hadn’t said what she thought he’d said. She was still looking straight ahead, and now the young
man, whose name was Devin, she finally remembered, was standing in front of her, waving his hand in her face. Susan was standing next to him. They were talking to
her. Or–she thought they were. She couldn’t hear them. She just heard the rasping of her own breaths as she tried to control them–tried to stop another coughing fit,
while also trying to process what Devin had just told her.
“A quarter of a million?” she finally said, her voice shaky. “I don’t believe it,” she added, shaking her head. “How is that possible?”
“Over here,” he said, guiding her toward the coffee island, and away from all the people standing in line. Some were staring at them, but from the looks on their faces, they all just seemed to think Lillian was in some sort of trouble.
“You matched all five numbers,” he whispered as he busied himself with filling two cups at the coffee station. “This is incredible. I absolutely cannot believe this is happening. Do you take cream?”
“In your coffee,” he said. “Do you take cream?”
Lillian tried to shake herself out of this fog. “Creamer,” she said. “French vanilla.”
“I like mine like I like my men,” Susan chimed in, getting shoulder to shoulder with Devin. The young man waited for the punchline while he emptied packets of creamer into one of the coffee cups.
After a moment, Susan blurted, “Rich!” Then she nudged Devin to see if he got the joke. He smirked, seemingly just to appease her, and then handed her the other cup.
“Those are on me,” he said, reaching into his back pocket. He pulled out his wallet, then removed two bills. He handed them to Lillian. She closed her hand around the
“This should get you and your friend to the lottery office, and get you both some lunch,” he told her. He took out his phone and began typing. After a moment, he
pulled a pen from his pocket, and wrote an address on one of the napkins from the coffee stand.
“You could take a cab, or the bus. It’s not far from here,” he said. His smile consumed his face. He seemed genuinely happy for her, which only deepened Lillian’s
Lillian took the napkin. She very carefully placed the napkin, the ticket, and the money inside of her worn canvas purse. She moved very slowly, unsure of how to feel, or what to say, or even what to think. She thought she might be in shock, then wondered at the possibility of someone in shock knowing they were in shock. How was this happening?
When words finally came to her, they were accompanied by tears. “I can’t possibly accept this. This isn’t my money. This is your money.”
“Nope,” he said, shaking his head. It’s yours. “Legally, I’m not even allowed to win. I sell the tickets.”
Was that true? Lillian wasn’t sure, but it sounded like a lie. She tried to argue further.
Devin held up a hand. “Look, you won this. Not me.”
“Why would you do all of this for me?”she asked Devin.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I just–it just seemed like you needed a win the other night. And now, you literally got one.”
Without thinking, Lillian wrapped both arms around the young man. She squeezed him, sniffled, and squeezed him again. He hugged her back after extricating his arms from her grip.
“I’m going to pay you back,” she told him. She held more coughs in, and said quickly, “I’m going to pay you back with lots of interest.”
* * * * *
If there was one thing life had taught Lillian, even in its sweeter moments–it was that most of the time, there was a catch. No matter how good things were, there was always something that could go wrong. This isn’t to say that she looked for things to go wrong: only that it rarely surprised her when something did.
The entire bus ride Lillian prayed. She prayed for the news to be true. She prayed there wouldn’t be a catch, and then, when she realized that she already knew what
the catch was, she prayed that she could stay alive long enough to do some good with the money she’d won.
“I can’t take it with me,” she said halfway through the ride. Susan, who had been digging in her purse for a fallen mint, sat up.
“Huh?” she asked.
“That’s the catch with winning the money,” Lillian said. “I can’t take it with me. I need to do something with it. Who knows how long I have.”
“Why not just spend it while you’ve got it?” Susan said. “That’s what I’d do. Look at the way you’ve had to live lately. I say, eat steak for every meal, buy yourself the
fanciest clothes…go all out. Have a big last hoorah.”
If Lillian was being honest, the thought was tempting. But she knew she couldn’t do that. That was too much waste.
The two spent the rest of the short ride in silence. Lillian sipped her coffee and worked her hardest to hold in more coughs. Her chest ached and her muscles hurt
from all the effort they took.
When they entered the office, Susan pushed ahead of Lillian and charged for the front desk. “Hi, how can I help you today?” Asked a pretty brunette woman, sitting behind the reception desk. “My friend here is dying.” She said in lieu of greeting.
“I’m sorry? I’m afraid I don’t take your meaning.” The woman spoke in one of those high pitched voices that fizzles out at the end of every sentence.
“She’s dying,” Susan repeated, pointing to Lillian. “About to take that long dirt nap. To wake no more…to shuffle off this mortal coil…to assume room temperature…”
Lillian felt sure Susan could have continued in this vein forever, but mercifully, the woman at the desk cut her off.
“I’m familiar with death and its various euphemisms,” she said. “What I’m not sure of is how you would like me to assist the two of you today.”
Lillian stepped forward, taking the ticket out of her bag. “It appears,” she said, placing the ticket on the smooth surface of the reception desk, “that I may have won
some money. The man at the gas station said it was about two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”
The woman placed a perfectly manicured hand on top of the ticket and slid it toward herself. She then examined the ticket before running it under scanner at her desk.
She pursed her lips, then pushed the ticket back toward Lillian.
“I need you to sign this, please,” she said. She then reached in her desk and pulled out some forms. “I also need you to fill these out. Do you have bank account that we can transfer your winnings to?” she asked Lillian.
“Um, I do, but it’s currently in the negative,” she said, her cheeks flushing.
The woman smiled. “I doubt that will be a problem much longer. Unless the deficit exceeds two hundred and fifty thousand.”
“A little less than that, I’m sure,” Lillian said. “That won’t be the amount to go into my account, though, will it? What about taxes?”
The woman looked at her screen again. “It should be close to that. The amount you won actually totaled more than that after all of the ticket sales were counted. So, after taxes, you should have a little more than a quarter of a million dollars deposited into your account. It should take about two weeks.”
Lillian’s heart sank. There was another catch. Two weeks. Did she have two more weeks of waiting in her? She’d have to find out. After all, she reminded herself, she’d made it this long. She went to sit in one of the chairs in the waiting area to fill out her paperwork. Susan stayed at the desk, talking with the woman.
Lillian could hear some of what was said, but mostly she focused on filling out her forms as neatly as possible. She didn’t want to hold up the process any longer because of messy handwriting. When she brought the form up to the reception desk, the woman was almost in tears.
“Please,” she said. “Have a seat, and someone else will be with you very shortly.”
As she walked toward the back of the office, Lillian asked Susan why the woman was crying.
“I just told her a little about the life of Miss Lillian,” Susan said.
“Well why on Earth would you do that?”
“Do you want to get your money faster or not?” Susan said.
Several moments later, a tall blonde woman came marching out of the back hall, toward Lillian and Susan. “Ms. O’Mally?” she said, extending a hand toward Lillian, who was working to stand up.
“Yes, I’m Lillian,” she said, extending her own hand toward the woman. She could hear her breaths wheezing and quickening. She tried to slow them, but it was difficult to keep calm under the circumstances.
“I’m Kimberly,” the woman said. “That’s quite a cough you’ve got there,” she said, exchanging a look with Susan. “If you’ll just come with me this way.” She gestured toward the back of the hall.
Lillian motioned for Susan to follow, but her new friend waved her off.
“You go ahead” Susan said. “I’ll wait here.”
The two women walked together toward the back of the hallway. When they reached a brightly colored office at the end, Kimberly motioned for Lillian to walk in.
“Have a seat,” she said. “Can I get you anything?” she offered. “Coffee, tea, water?”
Lillian nodded.The pain in her chest was worse. Even just since entering the office, she felt the constant urge to cough becoming even stronger. She coughed deeply and painfully as she said, “Water, please.”
Kimberly placed the papers Lillian had filled out onto the desk between them. Then, she turned around in her chair, reaching under a table for something. When she
turned back around, she held a small water bottle in her hands. Without a word, she placed it gently next to the papers on the desk in front of her.
Lillian nodded her thanks, and reached for bottle. She chugged it down, hoping it would help. It didn’t, but she smiled anyway.
“Lillian, I understand that your circumstances are quite unique. Let me first say that I
am so sorry to hear about your illness. Cancer is an ugly thing. It’s taken too many good people too soon, and I highly doubt you will be an exception.”
Lillian closed her eyes. She felt like crying. All of this was so much to take in, and now, another complete stranger was being kind.
“This process,” Kimberly continued, “usually takes about two weeks to get funds into your account.”
Again, Lillian nodded.
“I want you to know that I am going to do everything I can to expedite this for you.”
“Thank you,” Lillian said.
Once they went over all of the paperwork, Lillian was asked to take the official “big check” photo. She made sure to insist that Susan join her for the photo. When she refused, Lillian reminded her that had it not been for their fight, there would have been no lottery winnings.
As the photo was being snapped, Lillian decided that half of the money should go to Susan. The other half, she decided, she would split between Devin and Teddy.
She smiled a warm and genuine smile for the photo, feeling good about her decision. At least the money would go to other people who could really use it.
On the way home, Lillian wanted to stop and tell Teddy the good news. The only problem was, she had’t told Teddy the bad news. So talked over her options with
“Does he need to know?” Susan asked.
“It seems like I should tell him,” Lillian responded.
“The story of your impending death is yours to tell or not tell,” Susan said. “You don’t owe it to anyone.”
“Do you think he’ll accept it if I don’t tell him?”
“Only one way to find out.”
When she told Teddy about his good fortune, he didn’t question why. It could have been that he just assumed she was giving him a small part of larger sum-which
wasn’t untrue. But because he didn’t ask, Lillian felt better about not explaining the whole situation. He cried, he thanked her, and he hugged them both. “I’m so happy to see the two of you made up,” he said when they were about to leave.
On the way back to the trailer, Lillian and Susan stopped at the convenience store.
Sure enough, Devin was there.
“I almost hoped I wouldn’t see you here,” she told the young man when she walked in. He looked up, smiling.
“What are you doing slumming it back here?” he asked her.
“I’m not rich yet,” she laughed. “And actually, that’s what I’m here to talk to you about.”
He began shaking his head before she could get any further. “I told you,” he said, “it’s not my money.”
“Maybe not all of it,” Lillian told him. “But I would like to give you a quarter of my winnings.”
“You don’t have to do that,” he said.
“I know I don’t,” she said. “But it would make me really happy to know I left at least a couple of people better off than I found them. It’s what you did for me. Let me return the favor.”
Devin’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean ‘left a couple of people better’?”
Lillian had really hoped to avoid telling him the bad part. Partly because she didn’t want to cry, and partly because it really put a damper on finding out she was giving him the money. “I don’t have very long left,” she said. “I’ve known for a while. The doctor said there wasn’t anything that could be done, even if I had the money to do it, so it seems ridiculous to spend the money trying. Not when I could use it to help some
of the people who have made my last bit of time here so much better.”
Devin looked down at his feet, and for the first time since meeting him, so did Lillian.
To say his shoes were shabby didn’t do the situation justice. She nudged the toe of his duct taped shoe with the toe of her own.
“You can’t tell me you couldn’t use it,” she laughed. “There you were, handing out money and food to an old lady like me, when your shoes are falling apart.
“Are you sure they can’t save you?”
“The doctor seemed pretty sure,” she said. “Not to mention, I’ve felt progressively worse every day of the last month or so. Dying seems like an accurate diagnosis from where I’m standing.” Just talking about it seemed to make everything ache more. It had been such a long and emotion-filled day. She was ready to go lie down in her chair.
“If for some reason I don’t make it long enough for the check to clear, Susan will bring you the money.”
Could it really have only been a day ago that she’d been looking for jobs, she wondered. What exactly had she been thinking? Granted, she felt far worse now than she had yesterday, but she still had to laugh at the futility of her plan. Trying to get a job so that she could spend the last days of her life warm. She laughed, shaking her head at her own stupid optimism. Here she was now, a jackpot winner, and it still looked like she was going to die under a cold pile of blankets in her dark trailer. But, she told herself, at least she’d done some good. Something nice would live on after her, and that was at least something to feel proud of.
She smiled at Devin, and this time, he was the one to hug her first. As they hugged, he whispered, “I’m so sorry,” into her ear. She gave him a half smile when they parted.
“It’s all worth it,” she told him.
* * * * *
A short while later, Susan and Lillian exited the bus and began their walk toward Lillian’s trailer. She had insisted that Susan stay again. “You might as well get
comfortable,” she said. “It’s yours if you want it…you know, once I’m gone.”
Susan nodded wordlessly. Lillian saw her chin quiver a bit. “It’s very kind of you,” she said. “I couldn’t keep it if I wanted to, though.”
Lillian realized then that she’d never told Susan her
plan. She gasped, surprised at her own forgetfulness, but before she could speak, the rush of cold air to her lungs brought on the urge to cough.
She thought, like every other time that day, that she’d be able to get it under control pretty quickly. One cough was followed by another, and then another.
Soon she was rasping to catch her breath in the short seconds between coughs. She coughed until the muscles in her stomach seized up, then she fell down to her knees, holding her stomach, gasping for air.
She heard Susan next to her, asking her questions. She sounded concerned at first, then just moments later, Lillian heard panic in the woman’s voice as Lillian struggled to get in enough air. Lillian’s head swam. She coughed more. She remembered laying her head down on the cold pavement in an attempt to steady herself before everything around her went completely black.