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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Lucky Little Things

Janice Erlbaum

Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)



Monday has never been my lucky day.

Monday, April 18, looked like it would be unlucky as usual. I was woken up before the alarm by our dog, Penguin, who sneezed on my face, and as I was stumbling half-asleep to go wash off the dog snot, I remembered two awful things:

1. It was Monday.

2. Aunt Jenny was still dead.

Aunt Jenny wasn’t my real aunt, but she had been my mom’s best friend since college. She and Mom did everything together and talked to each other every day. When my father moved back to Colombia after I was born, Aunt Jenny moved in with Mom to help take care of me. She stayed for almost three years. She saw me learn to walk and talk. She was there for all my birthdays and milestones. I thought for sure she would be there at my eighth-grade graduation this coming June, but back in October she got diagnosed with breast cancer, and then she was in and out of the hospital for surgeries, and then six weeks ago she died.

Mom and I were doing our best to act normal, but we were both really sad. Even sadder was watching Mom try to hide how sad she was. But I knew she was just trying to protect me by acting like she was okay. Mom’s group of friends all say, “Fake it till you make it.” Which means, “If you keep pretending to smile, one day you won’t have to pretend anymore.”

It’s weirdly quiet in the apartment whenever I get up before Mom does. It makes me feel like I’m the adult. I have my routine down pat, so I can stumble through it: wash (usually) and dress (always), check my phone while I eat my cereal, then take Penguin for a quick visit to the hydrant on the corner of Second Avenue. Penguin’s a little guy, not much bigger than my backpack. Mom and I got him from Waggytail, a shelter, two years ago, so we don’t know exactly how old he is or what breed he might be. We think he’s part pug, part bulldog, part who-knows-what else. Some kind of dog that sneezes a lot.

I was putting on Penguin’s leash when I saw a small white envelope lying on the kitchen floor. Someone must have slipped it under the front door. Fran, our building’s superintendent, who takes care of the plumbing and garbage and stuff, sometimes slips notes under our door when she wants to let us know the exterminator is coming. Fran lives in an apartment on the first floor behind the stairs, and I’m supposed to go knock on her door if I’m home alone while Mom’s out and there’s an emergency. But this didn’t look like a note from Fran.

I picked up the envelope and saw my name on it: EMMA MACINTYRE.

Nothing else. Just my name. Not my address, not a return address, not even a stamp. My name was typed, not handwritten, so there were no clues there. I stared at it, trying to think what it could be, but I couldn’t come up with anything except the obvious: It was a mysterious letter. And it was addressed to me.

So I opened it. Inside was a folded note, with the dirty-white edges of what looked like a dollar bill sticking out from each side of it. I pulled out the bill, and it was a twenty.

Lucky me! I thought, then opened the note. The first two words were in capital letters.


I closed the note.

Ooooohhhhhkaaaaaay. That was weird. I wasn’t used to opening mysterious notes and finding the exact thing I was just thinking. But I wasn’t used to opening mysterious notes and finding twenty bucks either, and that worked out pretty well. So I reopened the note and read on.

Your luck has changed for the better.

This twenty-dollar bill is the first of many lucky little things that will happen to you over the next thirty days.

You will not know when these lucky things are coming. You may not recognize some of them when you see them. Some, like this money, will be obvious right away. Others will take time to reveal themselves.

This is not a hoax. This is real, and here’s how you can prove it:

Write a list of ten lucky little things you want to happen. At the end of the thirty days, look at the list and see what your good luck has brought you.

One rule: Don’t tell anybody! No human person must know about this letter, or it won’t work.

That was it. No goodbye, no signature. There was nothing on the back of the letter, and nothing else in the envelope. There were only those words typed on a plain white sheet of paper, and the twenty-dollar bill in my hand.

My heart beat fast. Calm down, I told myself. It was probably just a prank. But who sends someone money as a prank? There had to be a rational explanation. I wanted to ask Mom if she knew anything about it, but she was still asleep. Also, the letter said that if I asked Mom—who was, by definition, a human person—the luck wouldn’t work.

I stuffed the letter in my pocket and puzzled over it as I walked Penguin. Was it some kind of test? Maybe some secret society was testing me to see if I could keep my mouth shut. If I could, they’d let me into their club. Or maybe someone put a hidden camera in the kitchen, waiting for my dumb reaction so they could make a hilarious gif out of it. That would be a nightmare. Or was there, just maybe, some kind of actual wizard who could do actual magic? No. I was a little too old to believe in that Harry Potter stuff.

I took the letter out of my pocket and reread the first line. Your luck has changed for the better. It reminded me of a fortune cookie—good news, but vague. Like a horoscope. Mom doesn’t believe in horoscopes, but Aunt Jenny did. She was always telling me what a Virgo I am. (“You’re so organized! You’re so thoughtful! You’re such a Virgo!”) Aunt Jenny was a Taurus with Cancer rising, which … Ha-ha, Life. Cancer rising. We get it—you’re hilarious.

Write a list of ten lucky little things you want to happen. That was more specific, but still not specific enough. What did “little” mean? For that matter, what did “lucky” mean? In the horoscopes, “lucky” meant “when things worked out the way you wanted them to.” I was definitely due for some of that.

You will not know when these lucky things are coming. That part was almost spooky. And then, at the end, No human person. That was a strange way to say it. Was there such a thing as a non-human person? Like the tooth fairy, or the Red Power Ranger? Or maybe it meant a supernatural being? Great. So if I came across any supernatural beings, I could feel free to tell them about this mysterious letter.

I wanted to believe what the letter said. I wanted to believe that my luck had changed and I could look forward to a month of twenty-dollar bills falling out of the trees and landing at my feet. But I didn’t want to be a sucker.

“Penguin,” I said, “you didn’t send me this note, did you?”

Penguin looked at me, then went back to sniffing street garbage and sneezing.

“No, it couldn’t be you. Your typing sucks.”

* * *

Mom was up by the time we got back. She makes her own hours doing personal tech support, mostly from home, so she can work whenever she wants. When I was younger, I wanted to have the same job when I grew up, until I realized how eye-meltingly boring it is.

Mom was in her bathrobe making green tea at the counter. “Bloop,” she said.

“Bloop” is our all-purpose word for “Hello,” “Goodbye,” “I love you,” and “Look, we are both here in the same room.”

“Bloop,” I replied.

I took Penguin’s leash off and studied Mom’s back as she fixed the tea. Did she write the letter and put it under the door? It had to be her. It was the most likely explanation. But why would she do that? It wasn’t her style at all. If she wanted to give me twenty dollars, she wouldn’t put it in an envelope and make a big deal out of it. Also, Mom was crap when it came to keeping secrets. When she and Aunt Jenny first found out about Aunt Jenny’s tumor, they agreed not to tell me for a week or two until they knew more—but then Mom immediately broke down crying that night and confessed everything.

I got my bag and put on my coat and kissed Mom goodbye, thinking how lucky it would be if I could go more than ten seconds without thinking about Aunt Jenny.

* * *

The lucky letter seemed to beckon from my book bag as I walked to school. I kept trying to understand its instructions. Write a list of ten lucky little things you want to happen.

I wished there were more details so I knew how it was supposed to work. Everybody knows that genies give you three wishes, and you aren’t allowed to use one of your wishes to ask for ninety-nine more wishes, and genies can’t bring dead people back or make people fall in love. But the lucky letter didn’t promise to grant any wishes. It told me to make a list of things I wanted to happen, so I’d know at the end if my good luck had been real.

It was almost like making a Christmas list. I didn’t want to ask for too much good luck, but I didn’t want to ask for too little, either. What did I want my good luck to bring me? Could I put I become a famous actress and writer on the list? Or Tyler Hoff falls in love with me and takes me to a castle in Spain? Somehow that seemed like stretching it, since (a) Tyler Hoff was one of the most popular guys at school, (b) he barely ever looked at me, and (c) he was terrible at Spanish.

I decided to focus on things that were like twenty dollars: nice things, but nothing life changing. You know, #realisticgoals.

Once I decided to keep it small, it was easy. By the time I got to school, I’d made most of my list, so I sat down before first period and started writing it out. There were so many things I wanted to happen:

1. Mom gets me a new phone.

2. Get a speaking part in the spring play.

3. Dakota likes me and invites me to hang out at her house with everyone.

4. Make out with Tyler Hoff.

5. Make new friends.

6. Mom gets a boyfriend or a social life.

7. Go somewhere good this summer instead of Grandma’s.

8. Mom forgets my upcoming dentist appointment.

9. Savvy stops being weird to me.

Okay. Not to go off on a tangent here, but number 9 on my list wasn’t such a little thing.

Savvy (short for Savannah) had been my best friend since third grade, when we discovered our mutual love of ZhuZhu Pets and One Direction. We used to spend hours at her apartment after school making “art” out of macaroni and paper plates, playing video games, and pretending we were secret agents and her cat was the enemy. One of our favorite things to do was to plan out the thirty-room mansion where we’d live with our boyfriends/husbands/dogs when we grew up, because of course we’d live together when we grew up. We wore the friendship bracelets we made in the summer after fourth grade until they were raggedy gray strings on our wrists.

This was the year they broke.

In the fall, right around the time Aunt Jenny was diagnosed with cancer, Savvy’s moms got her a real phone, and that was basically the end of normal, fun Savvy. Texting, Instagramming, and Snapchatting became her whole life. She started chatting with Dakota and the popular people, then she was hanging out with them on the sidewalk before class, and then she started getting invited over to Dakota’s after school. Without me.

To be fair, I hadn’t been around much this year, and when I was around, I was freaking out over Aunt Jenny. Savvy tried to be a good friend—she sent me funny animal videos and ridiculous jokes; she took me shopping at H&M and spent her entire Christmas gift certificate on me. One day I was crying, and she started crying, too, because she felt so sad for me. She even sent a card in the mail to Aunt Jenny, which made Mom and Aunt Jenny really happy. (I think Savvy’s moms probably told her to send the card, but whatever. She did it.)

But since the funeral, she’d been acting strangely, almost avoiding me at times. She still sat with me at lunch, but now we sat at the table next to the popular crowd’s, so she could turn around and join in their conversation, if they allowed it. I just wanted to spend an afternoon at Savvy’s like we used to, before everything bad happened: watching random stuff online, making bizarre snacks from whatever was lying around her kitchen, discussing my love for Tyler Hoff and her love for whichever YouTube celebrity she was into that week. I wanted it to be normal with us again.

Having my friendship with Savvy back was the most important “lucky little thing” on my list. But I still had space for one more.

I thought about Mom. What about something lucky for her? The boyfriend and social life I wanted her to have were mostly for me, so she’d stay off my back. But what would be lucky for Mom? What did she want her good luck to bring? Maybe she could get a rich new client, one who paid in advance and then fell off a mountain in Tibet. Or maybe she could win a vacation to go snorkeling in Puerto Rico, like the trip she took before I came along, with Aunt Jenny and their friends Brik and Derek.

But Mom didn’t care about snorkeling in Puerto Rico—not without Aunt Jenny there. All Mom really wanted was to have her best friend back.

Item number 9 on my list was for me to get my best friend back. Mom deserved the same. I knew it was impossible, and definitely not little, but the whole mystery-letter thing was impossible anyway, so I went ahead and made it item number 10 on my luck list:

10. Bring Aunt Jenny back.

Copyright © 2018 by Janice Erlbaum