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It’s the second half of the Ray Bradbury Challenge of writing a short story each week for a year. Also, I’ve misnumbered somewhere. I can’t do math. I can only prove it works.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

Prompt:

A Carpet store clerk
Wins the lottery
A romance novel.

The Theory of Positivity

I had goals for my life. Every year, the day before my birthday, I would look at my list and attempt to check things off. So far, I have not been successful. 

What I expected by my 30th birthday:

Get married, preferable someone who wore clothes well

Have a great career as a fashion designer
Live in a great New York City apartment.
Maybe a baby
Have posse of friends who would throw me surprise birthday parties. 

What I did not expect by my 30th birthday:

Still single

Lost my New York fashion job due to a pandemic and moved back to home town

A job as a receptionist at a crappy carpet store

Living in a cheap studio apartment next to the school where my mother taught for 40 years.

Eating Walmart cake with weak-ass coffee in my mother’s dining room on my 30th birthday.

Mom jumped up from the table. “Here, I almost forgot to give you your present.”

She handed me an envelope.

In my mind, a present is a three-dimensional object with fancy paper and a bow. And an envelope is, well, not a present. Unless it was a nice gift card. I could use a shopping trip. “Thanks, Mom.”

Mom sat down and took a bite of cake, watching me.

I used my knife to open the envelope. At least as a receptionist, I’ve developed mad office skills.”Oh, a lottery ticket.”

Mom waved her fork in the air. “The Mega Millions is next week. Thirty million dollars! I just know giving you a ticket on your thirtieth birthday will be lucky.”

Now, I am usually not a greedy, ungrateful person. My mom was on a fixed income, but between her teacher retirement checks and some oil money her father left her, she was pretty well set. She could easily have spent more than five dollars on my birthday gift. 

“Mom, when have I ever been lucky?”

“You just need more positivity. Have you read that book yet? The Power of Postive Thinking?”

“It’s on my nightstand.” I did check it out from the library, and that was definitely where it was, under the three romance novels I had checked out at the same time. I would never lie to Mom.

“Perfect.” She stood up and stretched, yawning.

I took the hint. I got up and started clearing the cake dishes. 

“Oh, I can get that, it’s your birthday.” She yawned again. “I’m sorry, I not up past eight too often any more.”

I never understood the value of getting up at four in the morning, but Mom has been doing it for as long as I can remember. I tucked the ticket into my purse and left for my place. 

Once I got home, I fed the cat and cleaned the litter box. I knew that there would be no surprise birthday – all my hometown friends either worked nights or had families. I changed into my yoga pants and went to the nightstand to grab a romance novel. The positivity book was still anchoring the pile. I picked it up. If I can’t be happy, may as well make Mom happy.

I grabbed a beer and sat on my sofa with the book. Damn, if Mom read books like this, no wonder she went to be at eight. She was bored to death. I started to dog ear the spot, but it was a library book. I should use a bookmark. Well, the lottery ticket would be good for something. I got it from my purse and tucked it in.

The following Tuesday, my phone started ringing at six a.m. I never got up before eight.

“Mom? What’s wrong?”

“Did you check your ticket last night? The paper said this morning that the winning ticket was sold at the Quick Mart where I bought yours!”

I pushed myself out of bed. Was my luck changing? Where was the ticket? I checked my purse. 

Oh. Shit. “Mom, can I call you back later?”

“Yes, just let me know.”

I didn’t remember taking it out of the damn positivity book. The book I returned to the library on Friday with the romances I had finished. 

A quick google showed me the library opened at nine. The same time I needed to be at work. 

The first break I had, I called the library. “Of course I can help. Let me pull up your record.”

I heard the taps of a keyboard.

“Yes, you did return it.”

“Can I place a hold on it and pick it up after work?”  I held my breath. Did they clean out returned books or just reshelve them?

“I am so sorry. It’s already been checked out again.”

Fuck My Life. “Please, can you tell me who has it? I put my bookmark in it, and it’s a family heirloom of sorts.”

“I cannot disclose the borrowing information nor the contact information of our patrons.”

“But–”

“Is there anything else I can help you with?”

There wasn’t. 

As soon as I hung up, Mom called.

“Don’t worry about finding the ticket. They had the winner on News at Noon.”

“Oh, good.”

“He is a new high school teacher in town. He said he didn’t know anyone in town yet, so he grabbed some books at the library. One of them, the Power of Positive Thinking, has the ticket tucked inside.”

No. Just no. My luck has not changed.

I knew Mom was wagging her finger. “I bet with thirty million dollars, he’s a bit more positive now.”