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A CHANCE TO EARN SOME CASH
The last thing I thought I’d be doing this weekend is carrying mics and amplifiers up three sets of stairs in the sweltering heat. The only person I know who could convince me to sign up for such a lame-o weekend is, of course, Matt.
His brother Jamie’s band, Velvet Incinerator, is touring for the next several months and needs help moving some extra gear into a storage unit. Matt talked me into helping by telling me we could scour the place for cool stuff people discarded and skateboard through the industrial park. But what really got my attention was the forty bucks apiece Jamie said he’d pay us.
I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to make some cash doing something outside of chores at home. I had a nice gig doing errands for a few neighbors, but that came to an end when I got carried away playing air guitar and accidently whacked the head off Ms. Clifton’s fountain. She immediately took to the neighborhood message thread to share how unhappy she was with my work. My clientele pretty much dried up after that.
The payday from helping Matt’s brother will let me afford something I’ve been itching to buy—a 3D printer. I’ve saved up for lots of big-ticket items before, mostly having to do with skateboarding. New wheels, new decks, upgraded sneakers—but a 3D printer will be my biggest purchase by far.
My parents have always made a point to try to instill good money sense in me. Their top principle of fiscal responsibility is that saving money is incredibly important. Out of all the different things they’ve taught me through the years, it’s the only one with concrete proof. (See above: wheels, deck, shoes.) So when I have the chance to score forty bucks in one day, I take the job to add the cash to my savings.
3D printer, here I come!
“What’s worse?” Matt asks as we climb the stairs for the tenth time. “Carrying one big, heavy box or a handful of smaller things?”
“Are the smaller things in one package or are they loose?” I ask.
“Then definitely a bigger box.” As evidence, I hold up the reams of paper, old frying pan, and headphones I’m carrying upstairs. “When Jamie said he and his friends were packed, I thought they’d be ready to go.”
Instead, Matt’s mom took us to Jamie’s apartment this morning and we found him and his friends playing video games on the floor surrounded by moving boxes. EMPTY moving boxes. Matt’s mom seemed about as pleased as Matt and I were; she rustled the guys to their feet to begin the moving day Jamie had begged us to help him with.
Forty dollars, forty dollars, forty dollars, I tell myself as I dump several loose decks of playing cards into an empty shoebox. I try to focus on the fact that I’ll have something tangible on the other side of all this work. Matt, on the other hand, will blow through his allotment by tomorrow afternoon, probably buying old comedy albums on eBay.
By four o’clock, everyone is a sweaty, dirty mess.
Jamie thrusts his hands into the front pockets of his jeans and pulls out the cotton linings. His pockets are as empty as the moving boxes were.
“I’m going to have to get back to you with some cash,” Jamie tells us. “Buying all the boxes and tape wiped me out.”
“Those handheld tape dispensers are EXPENSIVE,” his friend Tony says. “Like four dollars apiece.”
Before I can protest, Matt beats me to it.
“You said, ‘Be here at ten,’ and we were here at ten. You said, ‘Bring your A game,’ and we brought our A game,” Matt states firmly. “We did our part, now you do yours.”
Jamie looks at his little brother and stifles a laugh. “You’ll get your money, Mattster, just not today.”
I know Matt hates it when Jamie calls him “Mattster” and hope Jamie didn’t just escalate an already-prickly situation.
Matt turns to his mom, who looks at both her sons and shrugs. Matt’s mom is much more hands-off than mine. Most of the time I think that’s a good thing, but today I want her to stick up for Matt and lay down the law.
As Matt and Jamie argue, I do some mental math and figure my 3D printer got pushed back at least another month.
“Okay, okay, okay,” Jamie tells Matt. “Just so I don’t have to listen to you anymore.” He rummages around for his jacket and pulls out a Powerball ticket.
“THAT COST YOU TWO BUCKS, not forty!” Matt shouts. “Besides, we want money—not a stupid lottery ticket.”
He shifts his attention from Matt to me. “How about you, Derek? You feeling lucky?”
“No, Jamie,” I answer. “I’m looking for real money too.”
“This thing could be worth millions!” Jamie continues.
“The odds are a zillion to one that it’s worth nothing,” Matt argues.
Tony lets out a low whistle while scrolling through his phone. “The payout’s over a billion dollars right now. You could be RICH.”
Matt turns to his mother for arbitration one more time but she shakes her head and leaves the room. For Matt’s mom, not getting involved with a sibling squabble is nonnegotiable.
As upset as I am about Jamie’s lame offer, the prospect of owning a lottery ticket is tempting.
“Are we even allowed to HAVE lottery tickets?” I ask. “I didn’t think it was legal for kids to gamble.”
“It’s not gambling,” Jamie said. “It’s a harmless game of chance.”
“That’s what gambling IS!” Matt shouts. “Not only did you stiff us on the pay, now you’re trying to get us in trouble too?”
I snatch the lottery ticket from Jamie’s hand. “You can pay me with this, but you still owe Matt.” Anything to move this day along and get home. Dinner, my dog, Bodi, video games—I have a dozen more interesting things to do tonight than this.
“Deal.” Jamie slaps my back and Matt and I head to the car.
At this rate, I’ll get my 3D printer just in time to print myself some dentures.
Back home that night, I don’t bother showing my parents the lottery ticket. I’m usually pretty optimistic but even I realize the chances of winning a nationwide lottery are pretty much nil. Besides, I know what Mom would focus on—that you have to be eighteen to buy a lottery ticket, so I shouldn’t even have one; that I couldn’t claim the jackpot even if I won; that Jamie should respect Matt’s and my time; and so on. Since I can predict everything she’ll say, there’s no reason to broach the subject; I remove the ticket from my back pocket where the forty dollars should’ve been and toss it on my desk.
My parents have already eaten and are playing Boggle in the living room. Mom tells me to help myself to some baked ziti, then join them for a family tournament.
Both my parents have been on a campaign to reduce time spent with technology—which is maybe the worst idea they’ve ever had. So instead of scrolling through TikTok, Instagram, or YouTube after school and on weekends, I end up playing a lot of board games or reading. I have a reading disability, so books aren’t my first choice, although drawing pictures of my vocabulary words in my notebook is something I’ve come to enjoy. I’m hoping this “old-fashioned fun” idea of theirs will eventually fall by the wayside the way composting and making our own soap did.
Bodi’s curled underneath the coffee table beside my usual place on the couch. My parents have the TV on the news station in the background, yet ANOTHER great idea of theirs about how everyone needs to stay well-versed in current events. After the evacuation and wildfires last year, Dad has become a news junkie. I liked it better when we watched Westerns or comedies for the third and fourth time instead of watching all this NEWS.
Even though reading isn’t my best subject, Boggle is actually one of my favorite games. Sure, they’re both focused on words, but at least with Boggle you get to shake all the cubes in the little container first. Maybe if books were more tactile, I’d have better luck with them.
When we tally the scores from the first round, I’m disappointed that the longest word I found—DEEPEN—doesn’t count because I used the same E twice. To me, it’s a technicality, but Mom’s a stickler for following rules, so I end up not getting credit for it.
When the woman comes on the last segment of the local news to read the Powerball numbers, I don’t bother looking up. But as I’m staring at the cubes to find new words, I hear her say “27,” which I remember was the first number on Jamie’s ticket. When she picks up the second Ping-Pong ball and reads the number “15,” I sit up straight in my chair. Even if the first two numbers are the same as the ones Jamie chose, it’s still a zillion to one the others will match. I excuse myself from Boggle and run upstairs to find the Powerball ticket on my desk.
By the time I flatten the paper and hurry downstairs, there are now three Ping-Pong balls sitting on the little shelf beside the woman. 27 15 59. I stare at the paper in my hand listing the same three numbers.
“Your turn to tally up,” Dad says. “Although neither of us will be able to catch up to your mom after that last round. How did she find the word straighten?”
Mom doesn’t miss a beat and asks what’s in my hand. I tell her Jamie gave me his lottery ticket today.
“You have to be eighteen…”
“I know!” I snap. “But these first three numbers match.”
Dad grimaces as if that couldn’t possibly be true but is intrigued enough to read the ticket over my shoulder.
“44,” the woman on TV says.
My dad and I look from the ticket stub to each other. The next number on the paper in my hand is ALSO 44.
Mom jumps up and joins us. “That’s incredible! What are the chances the next one is…”
“63,” the woman says.
All three of us scream. Bodi jumps to his feet and starts barking his head off. I rub his neck to get him to relax, but he can tell something exciting is going on.
“Okay, calm down,” Dad says. “This is a giant fluke—there’s absolutely no way the last number is…”
“8!” the woman announces.
My hands are shaking as I stare at the ticket in my hand. An 8.
I trace my fingers along the row of numbers and match them to the Ping-Pong balls on-screen. 27 15 59 44 63 8. This time we’re all too shocked to scream.
“Well, that’s tonight’s Powerball number—good luck to all our viewers,” the woman says. “Remember the jackpot tonight is one point six BILLION dollars.”
My mother shakes her head. “Did she say million with an M?” She looks at us both cautiously. “Or billion with a B?”
“Billion with a B,” my father and I answer.
My mom slowly lowers herself onto the couch. I’m guessing she’s got a million—with an M—questions, but right now the gears in her brain are completely clogged by the near impossibility of what just happened.
I grab Bodi’s paws and dance.
I AM NOW A BILLIONAIRE!!!
Text copyright © 2021 by Janet Tashjian
Illustrations copyright © 2021 by Jake Tashjian