I ran her through a quick recap as I finished off my cereal, then carried the bowl into the sink and rinsed it out. She gave the appropriate responses, and it was funny how easily I preened under her attention. That was all I had needed, three years ago. A spandex-wearing physical trainer who clung to my every word while I told my small and insignificant part of someone else’s story. Just one person, for one moment in time, to listen to me.
“But, both wives are okay.” I dried the bowl with a paper towel and stuck it back in the cabinet. Our dish inventory was limited. One bowl. Three plates. An odds and ends assortment of silverware. Stack of disposable plastic cups. “They arrested the crazy wife.”
“That is insane.” Amy tightened her ponytail. “I can’t believe that happened to you! You’re like, famous.”
“Right?” I grinned at the thought. “Not that they’re going to interview me.”
“They might. You’re working tonight, right?”
I nodded and tried not to think about how big my teeth would look on camera. Maybe I’d get lucky, and a journalist would show up, notepad in hand, no camera in sight. I could get a quote in, my name in an article, something to send to my parents and prove that aha! I had done something with my life, even if that something was just to swipe a credit card and give someone a room key.
“I’ve got to run.” Amy groaned theatrically, as if she didn’t enjoy the act. “Literally. Half-marathon in Malibu next weekend.”
She headed for the door, and I shifted through my purse to find the business card that the cop had given me last night. I still had five hours before work, which was plenty of time to swing by the station and drop off this phone.
The business card was stuck to a cheap scratch-off ticket, and I pulled them both out and set them on the table. Rummaging through the bottom of my purse, I found a slightly sticky penny and brushed it off, then scratched off the top row of numbers. In the neighboring apartment, someone started a shower, and the pipes gurgled to life.
There was a five, which was a good thing. Fives always seemed to match the big prizes. I started down the first row of possibilities and wondered if I should take a shower before work. There was a chance that the news crews would still be there. And not that my hair was greasy, but it was borderline. Should I put on makeup? And if I did, would it be too obvious why I was doing it? I hadn’t worn makeup to work since my first day, five months ago. Chris would call me out on it. Definitely. I scratched the second row, checking the top line with each revealed number.
So, a shower and super light makeup. Concealer, powder and mascara, nothing else. Too bad I hadn’t washed my uniform last night. I had two versions of the calf-length skirt and cheap blazer, and both were crumpled in the bottom of my closet, dirty. I could hang one in the shower, then hit it with an iron.
A 21 on the third row matched on in the top bar. I quickly scratched the area below it.
The numbers were small and cramped, barely fitting in the little space. I looked from the 21 to the top 21, then back down.
Later, when the press would unfold how Emma Blanton came to be, and they’d return to this moment, I’d tell a story of me screaming in joy, then running around the apartment, looking for Amy. But in truth, that isn’t what happened. Instead, I just sat at our cheap wobbly table, the dented detective’s business card beside me, and checked the numbers over and over again. And then, after a long moment where the validity of it sank in, I started to cry.
It was the exhaustion of it all that finally hit me. The stress over the fourteen dollars in my bank account. The past-due balance on my cell phone. The deposit I had to abandon on community-college classes. The upcoming eight-hour shift. My teeth, which had dictated my social standing, dating prospects, and self-confidence for my entire life. And now I had this small square of paper with a million dollars that I suddenly felt an enormous pressure to do something with. But what?
I didn’t deserve this. I’d stolen a dead man’s phone. I owed Amy twelve dollars from takeout three days ago. I’d faked a doctor’s note to get an extra paid sick day at work.
I hadn’t done anything in my life which warranted this sort of blessing, and I cried because the hope it gave me was terrifying.
After ten minutes, I wiped off my face, then called Rick and left him a voicemail, quitting my job. I left the detective’s card on the table and moved into our shared bathroom, placing the ticket on the soap rack and locking the door behind me. I turned on the water and undressed.