Disclaimer: we don't own the rights just the plot
Biggest thanks to Sally, our beta extraordinaire and May and Mel for prereading and hand holding.
We hope you like our first collab!
"The Golden Ticket"
I'm explaining the benefits of choosing semi-gloss paint to old man Waylon for his bathroom remodel when my boss shows up for the day. It must be nice, getting to pick if, and when, you want to work.
One day, I'll be my own boss, and I'll have the luxury, I tell myself.
"Bella!" he calls from the register, not caring that I'm obviously with a customer. "Why haven't the new hammers been put up yet?"
I apologize to Waylon, and he goes back to looking over paint samples while I deal with the ogre. "I'm trying, Jake. I've been busy since I got here, and Dad only told me it needed to get done an hour ago."
My stepbrother rolls his eyes so far I can only see the whites. "Charlie," he corrects. "His name is Charlie."
We're both adults, but he's always loved shoving it in my face that Charlie isn't really my father. He married my mom when I was four and Jacob was nine. In the beginning, we were a perfectly blended family until Mom got sick. It felt like the day after her funeral, I turned into the stepkid role and never got out of it after all these years.
"I'll get to the hammers, Jake. As soon as I'm finished with Waylon."
He gives me a power-hungry grin. "You do that or you can work on it during your lunch!"
Angry tears prickle my eyes, and I'm not in the mood to fight, so I swallow my pride, as usual, and nod.
Jake stomps off, probably to his office so he can sit on his fat ass while I kill myself running this store. His store, if you ask him. Because the store is called Swan and Son's Hardware. There wasn't any room on the sign for me.
I turn back to Waylon, and he gives me a sad smile.
I clear my throat. "Where were we? Semi-gloss with a mildew-resistant additive?"
He agrees with my suggestion and shows me three colors he's having a problem choosing from. "Which one do you think she'll like better?"
"Hmm. It's hard to say. How much light is in the room? Does it have a window or is it closed in?"
He tries to explain it but gets exasperated with himself. "I'm so sorry to keep you from your work, Bella."
I wave off his apology. "Oh, stop it. I'm happy to help my best customer, and I'll get to it when I get to it." Even if it means I'll be working through my break.
"But I hate the idea of you skipping lunch just because a crotchety old man can't figure out what color to paint his bathroom. It's not right."
I assure him it's fine and offer to mix up some tester samples of the colors he can't decide on. "You can go home and do a patch test in the room and see which one looks the best."
Waylon is grateful and follows me to the mixing counter. I get everything set up, and we chat while the paints are shaking.
I lean against the counter to take some weight off my aching feet. "So, how are things going with the remodel? Do you think it'll be finished before Cora gets back from her ladies' cruise?"
He tells me he's confident with the work the contractor is doing. He's excited to be able to surprise her with the new bathroom, and he's confident it will be complete by the time she returns home to him.
Cora and Waylon are the only kind of grandparents I've ever known. They've always been there for me and are the only ones who showed up to my high school graduation. Their love for one another makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. They were high school sweethearts who married shortly after their own graduation and are celebrating their fiftieth anniversary this year. After all this time, they're still madly in love, and it's beautiful to witness. Waylon's been working on the bathroom since she went off with her friends, and he can't wait for her to see it.
I'm bagging up his samples and things he'll need for the patch tests when the newly installed intercom squeaks.
"Bella. My office. Now."
I let out an impatient huff and give Waylon his total. He hands me the cash but holds onto my hand for a beat. "When are you going to realize you're too good for this place? Leave this shit hole and find somewhere that will appreciate you for the hard-working sweetheart you are."
My eyes well up with unshed tears. "I can't leave my dad in a lurch."
Waylon pats my hand, and I walk him out to his car, making sure he gets in safely. He tells me he'll see me soon, that he'll figure out what shade of blue will look best, and I kiss his weathered cheek.
Jake must be watching on the cameras he had installed when Dad, I mean Charlie, let him take over because the second I come back into the store, he's calling for me over the intercom again. The impatience is evident in his voice.
I find him in his office, feet up on the desk, remote to the giant flat screen hanging on the wall in his hand. "There you are."
I clench my fists. "Here I am."
He proceeds to berate me for selling samples because the little cans of paint aren't going to pay the bills, and I swallow my tongue even though selling samples will indeed bring Waylon back to buy gallons of the color he chooses, thus making the store more money.
There's no point in fighting with Jake. It'll just make my job harder than it already is.
When I get out of this place, I'm going to work somewhere that appreciates its customers instead of looking at them as dollar signs. One day.
"And don't get me started on the hammer display—"
Whatever trash TV show he's watching is interrupted by our very own town celebrity newscaster, Rosalie McCarty. She smiles her million-dollar smile and pats her luxurious blonde hair before bringing the mic up to her mouth. "Breaking news: The Powerball jackpot hit overnight, and two lucky winners are taking home the three hundred and eighty-five million-dollar prize."
"It's your job to make the store presentable—" Jake continues, but I tune him out, focused on the TV.
"You're probably wondering why we've interrupted your regularly scheduled show. I assure you it's with good reason." The camera pans out to show my favorite bodega. "Our very own Stop and Gulp sold one of the winning tickets."
My stomach drops and my palms sweat when the winning numbers flash across the bottom of the screen.
There's no way.
"Bella? Are you even listening to me?"
"We'll follow this story closely. This is Rosalie McCarty with Channel Eight Washington News."
"Bella?" Jake explodes, making me jump and bringing me out of my thoughts.
"I need to go home," I choke out.
"What? Your shift doesn't end for five more hours."
"I started my period. and I need to go. Now."
Jake grimaces and tells me I can't leave until I cover my shift. He doesn't offer to watch the storefront like any decent human being or half-decent sibling would, not that I'm surprised.
I call Charlie first, but as usual, he's too busy to help me out. When he took a step back from the business, he actually took a giant leap and only stops by to take money from the register to support his gambling habit and tell me what needs to be done. The other cashier, Jess, is my closest friend and is always looking for extra hours. I explain what's going on, and she tells me she'll be right in.
While I wait, I check the winning numbers on my phone again just to be sure.
2-9-13-19-22 Powerball 32
The hammers aren't going to hang themselves, and I'd hate to leave Jess to do all the work, considering she's doing me a favor. With shaky hands and a mind three million miles away, I work quickly, but as soon as I see her alien green Kia Soul careen into the lot, I throw my smock under the counter and grab my keys, meeting her at the door.
"Whoa, what's the rush?" she jokes.
"I told you I started my period. It's a crime scene. I gotta go. I've already counted the drawer down, and there are some hammers that need to be displayed."
Jess pops her gum. "Did you hear about the Powerball winner? Lucky duck. Makes me wish I would have played. I'd be so far away from this podunk town just like that." She snaps her French-manicured fingers.
"I'm leaving. Thanks, Jess."
I rush out to my rust bucket of a truck and pry the door open before jumping inside. I've always promised myself when I had the money I'd get it restored to the way it was when my mom used to drive me around. When she died, it sat in the back yard, aging, until I was old enough to drive. It's a miracle I even got it running after the years of neglect.
And now I can—
"Stop it," I berate myself.
This has to be a hallucination. Maybe the display of hammers fell down on top of me, and I'm really in a coma at Forks General or dead.
This kind of stuff doesn't happen to me. It's literally one in, like, three hundred million.
I never play because the odds are so crazy, but for some reason, I let the cashier talk me into picking out six numbers. I also bought a ten-dollar scratch-off, but I lost and felt guilty for wasting the money when it could have been spent on smarter things.
I put the Powerball ticket on my fridge under a Garfield magnet for safekeeping and thought nothing of it because like I said, stuff like this doesn't happen to people like me.
As soon as I get home, I rush straight for the fridge. The numbers are covered by the magnet, and I take a second to breathe.
If the universe is playing a trick on me, it's a hell of a trick, and I'd like to live in this moment for a little longer.
I pull out my phone and check the site for the winning numbers again. I pinch myself hard to make sure I'm not, in fact, hallucinating. It'll leave a bruise, but it does its job to convince me I'm not in a coma or dead.
Carefully, I pull the ticket off the fridge, and it takes me three times, but sure enough, the numbers match those on my phone. I slowly lower myself to the floor and put my head between my knees.
"I just won the lottery." I wheeze.