Maybe money CAN buy happiness...

Hello.  I’m Mallory Green—an ironic last name once you learn my story.  I grew up in the foster system, so I’ve had a laundry list of surnames in my relatively short life.  Then I got married (a colossal mistake) and acquired yet another name I’m currently trying to rid myself of.

Green is supposed to be lucky—four-leaf clovers, the luck of the Irish… the literal color of money and prosperity.  But you couldn’t prove it by me.  I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t pinching pennies and dreading opening my mailbox full of overdue bills.  I’m in debt up to my unplucked eyebrows over a college education I couldn’t finish, a multi-level marketing business my ex convinced me was a good idea, a lemon car that hasn’t run since a month after I drove it off the lot, and vet bills for my inherited French bulldog Nessie, among other things.

As a result of my accumulated poor financial decisions, I’m working round the clock:  during the week, I’m a receptionist at a soulless office building, on the weekends I waitress, and most nights I pull the graveyard shift at the GiddyUp GoMart.

To-date I’ve been unlucky in life, in love, and in fortune.

But that all changed the day my numbers came up—literally.

Can money buy happiness?  Friend, I’m SO ready to find out!

 

________________

The *FREE* LOTTERY GIRL serial begins Wednesday, July 1! Come back to this page every day July 1 - December 31 for a new daily episode that will display approximately 4am Eastern to 4am Eastern.  NOTE:  The episodes will accumulate July 1 - 10 to allow as many readers as possible to get on board before this page reverts to displaying one daily episode on July 11.  Please invite 10 reading friends to get in on the fun!  

July 1 - July 5

 

July 5, Sunday

 

“Mallory, order up!”

I hurried to the stainless counter where the order for table four sat lined up.  I glanced over the plates.  “The eggs with the Sunrise Platter are supposed to be scrambled.”

Doug, the owner and cook, looked up from the grill and glared.  “I did whatever you wrote on the ticket.”

I held up the ticket.  “It says scrambled.”

He squinted.  “It looks like ‘sunnyside’ to me.”

“Sorry—it says scrambled.”

“How am I supposed to read your hen-scratching?” he barked.

“Sorry,” I murmured again.

“Take it out anyway, maybe the customer won’t notice.”

I pressed my lips together, but dipped my chin in consent.  I piled the plates on a tray, balanced it on my shoulder, and carried it out to the dining room, maneuvering around tables and feet.  My own dogs were barking after being on my feet the prior two days.

I smiled at the couple at table four and lowered the tray to the corner to begin transferring plates.  The man and woman looked a little mismatched—she was tall, classically pretty, and wore the severe makeup of a 1960s pinup.  He was shorter and on the chubby side and looked as if he’d just come off the golf course.

But who was I to judge compatibility?  I’d once thought Trent and I would never hit a relationship snag we couldn’t work through.  And while on the surface we were still going through the motions, I could feel him slipping away from me.  He’d gotten in late last night and announced “Mike” hadn’t yet made up her mind about buying the boat.  He’d been irritable and distant, a mood that had carried over to this morning because, I’d assumed, it was pouring rain with more of the same forecast all day… and had wrecked plans for another day of boating?

On the other hand, I supposed it was a good sign he was irritable—versus happy—about not selling the boat.  Maybe he was starting to come around to my way of thinking.

“Anything else?” I asked the couple.

“It looks great,” the woman said, “except I ordered my eggs scrambled.  Normally I wouldn’t care, but I’m pregnant and I don’t want to risk eating undercooked eggs.”

“That could hurt the baby?” her companion asked, looking stricken.

“Not likely,” she said. “But it’s not worth the risk.”

“Of course,” I said quickly, picking up the plate and feeling like a heel for trying to trick her.  “My deepest apologies.  I’ll be right back with the correct order.”

There went my tip.  I scurried back to return the plate to the kitchen.  “The customer noticed,” I said to Doug.  “She’s pregnant and doesn’t want to risk salmonella.”

He scowled.  “It’ll be a few minutes.”

I nodded, knowing it was useless to push.

“Put Mallory’s order ahead of mine,” my coworker Vance said.  “My table are enjoying their mimosas and won’t mind waiting for food.”

“That’s not how I work,” Doug barked.

Vance gave him a cajoling smile.  “Come on… we don’t want to keep a pregnant woman waiting.”

Doug screwed up his mouth, but pulled out a bowl and cracked two eggs to scramble.

“Thanks,” I said to Vance.

“Don’t mention it,” he said with a wave.

“He’s more grouchy than usual,” I observed, filling two water glasses to carry back to the dining room.

Vance lowered his voice.  “Cut him a little slack—business is bad.”

I frowned.  “Really?  How bad?”

“I overheard him on the phone saying if he didn’t get an infusion of cash, he’d have to close within a few weeks.”

I gasped.  I really needed this job—and so did most of the people who worked at The Community Café.

“What are you two whispering about?” Our fellow coworker Kerry stopped to stick her bleach blond head between us.

“How short your skirt is,” Vance chirped, nodding to her mini.  “This is a classy restaurant, you know.”

Kerry stuck out her tongue.  “You’re jealous because Mr. Longo sat in my section today.”

I craned to see a well dressed older man digging into a tall stack of pancakes.

Vance scoffed.  “He tucked a twenty in my pocket and I didn’t even have to bring him food.”  As proof, he held up the folded bill, then arranged his beautiful face into a smirk.

Kerry snatched the twenty before he could react.  “This’ll catch you up in the lottery pool.”  She ignored his protest, then looked at me.  “Mal, are you in this week?”

I rummaged in my apron pocket and withdrew four dollars to hand over.  I could buy tickets all day long at the GiddyUp GoMart, but participating in the restaurant pool of my twenty or so coworkers made me feel included.

And who knew—maybe someday we’d win.

But probably not.

“What’s the jackpot?” Vance asked.

“Twelve million,” Kerry said, then moaned.  “Man, what I could do with that kind of cash.”

“Me too,” Vance said dreamily.

“Me three,” I murmured.  Money couldn’t buy happiness, but it certainly could lubricate the process.

“Mallory!” Doug screamed.  “Order up!”

I flashed Vance and Kerry a watery smile, then turned to add the plate to my tray.  On the way back to the dining room, I glanced at the clock.

Only seven and a half hours to go.  ~

 

_____

 

July 4, Saturday

 

“Anyway, Mike seemed really interested in buying the boat,” Trent continued, assembling another cooler of drinks for another day’s outing at the lake.  “Hopefully she’ll make up her mind today.”

I was fastening my nametag to the blouse of my waitressing outfit.  My head came up.  “Dale and PJ’s friend is a she?”

Trent poured ice over the drinks I’d replenished from the convenience store, the splintering sound even more grating than yesterday.  “Huh?  Oh, yeah…  her name is Mikala, but she likes to be called Mike.”

I wondered why he’d omitted that little detail before.  He wasn’t looking at me and his color was high… but then he’d gotten a lot of sun the day before.  I was being paranoid.  “Has Mikala ever owned a boat?”

“No, but she’s really fit and athletic—she took to water skiing right away.  And she’s in sales, so having a boat would be great for schmoozing clients.  Plus she makes bank, so she can more than afford it.”

He still wasn’t looking at me… and was his voice tinged with admiration?  “What kind of sales?” I asked casually.

“Mike works for a liquor distributor… she specializes in bourbon.”

Compared to my cobbled together career, that sounded downright exotic.  “I’m sure Dale was all over her.”

He frowned.  “No, she’s too classy for Dale.  And way too smart.”

I bit into my lip.  “Is there room for me?”

His head came around.  “Huh?”

“I was thinking I could call in sick to the restaurant—one of the other wait staff will cover for me.”

His expression turned anxious.  “But we really need your paycheck right now.”

Paychecks, plural… but I didn’t correct him.  “It’s only one day.”  I held up a pale arm.  “And I could use some sun.”

Trent closed the cooler with a thunk.  “Sorry, Mal, but you know how small the boat can be, and there are already four of us.”

“I thought you said PJ couldn’t make it.”

“Yeah, but Mike brought a friend yesterday who hit it off with Dale.”

Someone less classy and less smart, apparently.  I gave a little laugh.  “Sounds like a double date.”

“What?”  Trent’s mood darkened in a flash.  “You’re the one who insisted we sell the boat, and now you’re giving me grief for trying to sell it?”

Remorse stabbed me.  “No… I mean, I’m sorry if it seemed that way.  I just thought it would be nice to spend the day together.”

His shoulders sagged, then he came over to loop his arms around me.  His hazel eyes were contrite.  “I’m sorry about last night.  But I thought selling the boat would make you more happy than my mango-lime salmon.”

I smiled.  “I’m sorry, too.  Go have fun today and make the boat seem irresistible.”

“I will.”  He gave me a quick kiss on the mouth.  “I might be late if we get stuck watching fireworks over the water.”

We’d watched the fireworks display on the water more than once, I told myself.  It was spectacular… but nothing new… nothing to be jealous over.  “Okay, text to let me know.”

“You know cell service at the lake is spotty.”

“Oh… right.”

“Can you walk Nessie before you leave?”

“No problem—”  But I was talking to the closed door.  I looked down at Nessie, who was looking up at me, head cocked and whining.

I knew how she felt.  ~

_____

July 3, Friday

 

I was making toast when Trent walked into the kitchen, looking lean and handsome in cargo shorts, yellow polo shirt, and athletic sandals.  He grinned.  “Did you make enough for me?”

I pushed a buttered slice toward him, then squinted at the beach towel draped over his arm.  “Are you going somewhere?”

His mouth flattened, then he held up a red and white For Sale sign.  “The guy at the marina said we’d have a better chance at selling the boat if people see it on the water, so I’m taking a couple of friends out to ski.”

My face must have registered my disappointment over being left out because he added, “It’s only for a couple of hours, and it won’t even be fun.  You know how crowded Lake Lanier gets around the Fourth.”

It was true—on summer holidays the lake attracted boats much larger than ours, and their mammoth wakes made skiing less appealing.  And heaven knew we needed to sell the boat  before it was repossessed; we were way behind on the payments associated with owning and storing it.  Still, the thought of slogging through a day on my feet at the convenience store while Trent got a tan rankled me.  “What friends?” I asked morosely.

He’d retrieved a cooler from the utility closet and proceeded to fill it with beer and soda from the fridge, then emptied the container from our ice maker into it with a crashing noise. “Dale and PJ—we’re supposed to meet up with someone they think might buy the boat.”

I wasn’t crazy about Dale anyway—the guy went through women like changing channels and had hit on me more than once behind Trent’s back.  “Don’t forget sunscreen.”

He bit into the toast, then dropped a kiss near my ear that left crumbs on my shirt.  “I’ll be home long before you get off your shift.  How about I make dinner?”

I smiled, instantly contrite for feeling cross.  “That would be nice.”

“Can you walk Nessie?  I’m running late.”

“Sure.”

After he left, I made another piece of toast and wolfed it down while I walked Nessie, who seemed disappointed to have me on the other end of the leash instead of Trent.  “Stop pouting and go already,” I chided her.  “He’ll be back in time for your afternoon poo.”

That must’ve cheered her up because she finally peed.  I picked her up and sprinted back to the apartment.  I’d have to run a red light or two to make it to the GiddyUp GoMart for my shift.

As I swung my purse to my shoulder, I spotted the red and white For Sale sign—Trent had forgotten it in his haste to leave… or perhaps he’d unconsciously left it behind because despite the fact that we could no longer afford the boat, he desperately wanted to keep it.  He’d convinced me to buy the twenty-one-foot piece of precision machinery in one of his bouts of enthusiasm for all the money we’d be making when our careers expanded.  We deserved it, he’d said.  It was a fraction of what a vacation home would cost, and think of all the fun we’d have on the weekends.

And he was right.  Until my weekends had become crowded with extra work hours, and our budget had grown too tight to maintain the boat.  I hated that it had become a source of irritation between us because Trent was so attached to it.  I was glad he was going to have at least one more enjoyable outing before someone took the albatross off our hands.

Which was why when I dragged myself back home eight hours later—my shirt stained with grease from the hotdog spinner and blue syrup from the fountain drinks machine—to find Trent was still out with his friends, I gave him a pass and cleaned up the mess Nessie had made by the door.  She lay nearby with her paws over her eyes, embarrassed and forlorn.  “He just forgot,” I assured her.  “He’s busy taking care of things.”

It was worth missing out on dinner because selling the ski boat would be a huge weight off our finances and our stress level.  And I was so ready for us to get back to a happy place. ~

_____


July 2, Thursday

 

"Noble Plaza, how may I direct your call?,” I said into my headset.  “Please hold for your party."  I ended the call, then hit another lit button on the phone console.  "Noble Plaza, how may I direct your call?  Please hold for your party."

I ended the call and sighed.  The phrase was branded into my tongue's muscle recall.  When I was on my deathbed and was asked for some bit of dying wisdom, I would say, "Please hold for your party."

I connected the call from memory.  There were approximately thirty-five businesses and professionals who leased space in Noble Plaza, and I'd realized within hours of landing the job my life would be much improved if I didn't have to look up company names and numbers.  Besides answering the phone, I also directed walk-in traffic to the appropriate elevator bay, and signed for the occasional flower or food delivery.  In between, I offered friendly smiles to tenants as they came and went even when my feet ached from standing or my hips ached from sitting.

If I ever finished my training to become a physical therapist, I would be my first patient.

"Hi, Mallory."

I looked up and flashed a genuine smile at the redhead who strode up to my desk.  The security officer stationed nearby straightened, as did most men when Wanda Sandoval appeared.

"Hi," I returned, then nodded to the pink sheath that hugged her curves.  "Pretty dress."

"Thanks," she said, striking a pose.  Then she set an iced coffee drink on the counter.  "For you."

My eyes widened.  "Me?"

"Sure. You look like you could use a pick-me-up."

Was I sagging that badly?  "That's nice of you."

She wagged a finger.  "I'm not nice, please don't get that rumor started."  She glanced at the security guard and made a growling sound.  He looked scared... and intrigued.

Wanda was a paralegal for a ritzy firm on the fourteenth floor. Actually, it was the thirteenth floor, but this was one of those office buildings that chose to skip the thirteenth floor because of the bad luck connotation.  Since I, too, was superstitious, I could appreciate the nuance.

"Do you have plans for the holiday?" I asked, then took a drink of the rich coffee.

She grinned.  "My boyfriend is taking me to Aruba.  You?"

I swallowed hard.  "Um... nothing so exciting."  The office building was closing early for the holiday, but the manager of the convenience store where I sometimes pulled the night shift asked me to come in to help cover the rush expected for beer and fireworks.  And since he'd promised to pay me time-and-a-half, I couldn't turn it down.  “I’ll be working.”

She made a face.  "Your waitressing job?"

"Actually, I have a third gig I work sometimes."

She shook her head.  "You're industrious, for sure.  What's your husband like?"

I smiled.  "Trent is so talented—he has a master's degree in architecture.  And he's really outgoing—he's more of a people person than I am."

"So he's an architect?"

My smile faltered.  "He is... he was. I mean, not at the moment.  He used to work for an architecture firm, but he was laid off a few months ago."

"That sucks."

"He'll find something soon," I assured her.  "Until then, enjoy Aruba enough for me, too."

She grinned.  "Don’t worry, I will."

The sliding doors opened and a tall, handsome suited man walked in, talking on his phone.  I'd seen him many times coming and going from the building—he was hard to miss.

"Mm, mm," Wanda said under her breath.  "Now there’s a man I wouldn't mind sharing a beach blanket with."

As if he sensed our stares, he glanced toward us and flashed a brilliant smile, then kept going.

"Do you know him?" I asked.

She fanned herself.  "No, but I'd like to.  His name is Ryan Livingston.  He's a hotshot money manager on the floor above mine.  You can bet he's rich."

He did look like money, from his trendy haircut to his impeccable suit, to his saddle leather briefcase.

"It's the quickest way to get wealthy," Wanda said.

"Managing other people's money?"

"No—marrying someone who manages other people's money."

I laughed.

"In fact, I think I'll ride up with him," she said, wagging her eyebrows and pushing off from the desk.

"Thanks for the coffee."

"You're welcome," she said, then made a beeline for the man who was putting away his phone.  He smiled at her in greeting, then held the elevator door while she walked on.

I stared after Wanda, admiring her moxie for going after what she wanted.  I'd always been the opposite, taking whatever came my way and making the most of it.  I was fortunate Trent had crossed my path and pursued me.  What he’d seen in me, I wasn't sure… and I was worried whatever "it" was, I'd somehow misplaced it.

The phone console lit up.  I set my shoulders and stabbed the button.  "Noble Plaza, how may I direct your call?"  ~

_____


July 1, Wednesday

 

When the alarm sounded from my nightstand, I couldn’t believe it.  Hadn’t I just closed my eyes?  For a few seconds, I ignored it.  Then next to me, a male groan sounded.

“Mallory… make it stop.”

I reached over to hit the Off button.  Trent was right—at least one of us could sleep in a little.

When I swung my legs to the floor and pushed to my feet, the scent of smoke and grease wafted off my hair and skin.  I wrinkled my nose.  I’d been too exhausted to take a shower when I’d gotten home after midnight from my waitressing job.

The skitter of toenails on the floor sounded, then Trent’s beloved French bulldog Nessie slid into view.  She angled her head and whined, a sure sign she was on the verge of peeing on the carpet.  I sighed, then pushed my feet into flip flops and walked through the dark apartment to the door.  I felt for the foyer light switch and squinted in pain when the whiteness hit my gritty eyeballs.  Ignoring the pile of unopened mail on the side table and the accompanying gnaw at my stomach, I picked up Nessie’s leash and bent over to hook it to her collar.

“You’d better hope no one sees me like this,” I muttered.

She whined again, so I quickly opened the door and stepped out into the hallway, looking both ways.  There were nine other apartments on the first floor.  The coast was clear, thank goodness, so I steered Nessie toward the rear entrance.

The door opened before we reached it, though, and a man dressed in running clothes appeared, obviously returning from a workout.  He gave me a once-over.

My cheeks burned when I realized what a sight I must be—ratty dark hair, sleep crusties in my eyes, dressed in an Imagine Dragons T-shirt and shortie pajama pants.  He, on the other hand, looked athletic and fresh despite the perspiration darkening his shirt.  I’d never seen him before, but then again, I didn’t have time to get to know my neighbors.

“Hi,” he offered, although I suspected it was only because he felt obligated to say something.

“Hello,” I managed as we sidled past each other.  I was envious of his early-morning run.  Once upon a time, I’d been fit and healthy.  Now  I felt like a hag, tired and pale.

The door led to a breezeway and a postage-stamp size square of grass between the apartment buildings that made up the complex.  When I stepped outside, the Atlanta humidity clamped down on me like a moist hand.  The sun hadn’t yet risen and it was already steamy.  In the distance traffic hummed with commuters determined to get ahead of rush-hour, which only created pre-rush-hour.  While Nessie did her business, I stretched my shoulders and tried to wake up.  When I walked back to the apartment, my hopes that Trent had climbed out of bed to start the coffeemaker were dashed.  His snores sounded from the bedroom as I made my way to the tiny kitchen and flipped on the machine.  I squashed misgivings—it wasn’t Trent’s fault he’d gotten laid off from his job at the architectural firm.  He’d been working there only a year when the economy wobbled, and the downsizing policy was last in, first out.

A quick glance at the clock spurred me to the bathroom to shower while the coffee brewed.  I was in and out in a few minutes, then rummaged in my closet and dressed in the dark so I wouldn’t disturb my husband.

My empty stomach churned with anxiety.  We were coming up on our fifth wedding anniversary, but lately, it felt as if we were more roommates than lovers.  Between my three jobs, I was rarely home, and during the few times we were together, Trent’s bitter disappointment with the way his life had turned out was palpable.  I was sympathetic and supportive—it was Trent’s ambition that had first attracted me to him.  I was reared in the foster care system, so he’d been a rock of confidence to moor myself to.  I’d been swept along by his big dreams to make his mark on the world, and I’d happily dropped out of college to work full time so he could finish his master’s degree sooner.  The plan was for me to return to college and finish my degree in physical therapy once he’d secured a good job.

But the good job was always just out of reach.  We’d amassed what I suspected was a towering amount of debt, although Trent continued to assure me we’d be fine.  Sometimes it felt as if the more I tried to help, the more Trent resented me for believing in him in the first place.  But he was still pushing himself—he spent every day at a nearby Starbucks applying and interviewing for jobs online.

I downed a cup of homemade coffee while I put myself together well enough to man the reception desk of Noble Plaza, one of the most prestigious office buildings in Atlanta.  I was expected to arrive thirty minutes before the first company opened, with a smile on my face.  I was still dragging when I made my way to the apartment parking garage, praying my lemon of a car would start.

When it did, I sighed in abject gratitude and gave myself my daily pep talk:  This was my season of sacrifice.  Hard work was its own reward.  Luck would find me someday… right?

The sun was starting to peek over the horizon, so I looked heavenward for inspiration.

A dove appeared overhead, beautiful and serene as it sailed on the morning breeze.  I smiled—it was a sign.

Then it swooped down and pooped on my windshield.  ~

Come back tomorrow for another daily episode of LOTTERY GIRL!  Want to catch up or read ahead? Click here to order the LOTTERY GIRL, Part 1 novella (all entries for JULY) exclusively from Amazon!