Chapter 2

Chris stood in line at the gas station again, fuzzy-faced and fuzzy-minded. His youngest son Gideon had been awake from midnight to two, demanding banana after banana, until the supply was exhausted and they had to switch to frozen waffles. (FYI, the sedating effects of bananas have been greatly exaggerated.) Since they were out of graham crackers too, he was making an emergency snack run to ensure a peaceful afternoon.

He was buying two bunches this time, making it too difficult to pull his phone from his pocket and post another hilarious checkin to Foursquare or Facebook or Twitter or all of the above. Spoiler alert: it would have been “The cashier asked me if I had any gas today; I told her yes, but that I didn’t think it was because of the bananas.”

The line was seven people long, a rarity at this Kwik Trip, since it wasn’t as accessible from the highway as some of the other nearby gas stations. As each customer eventually paid and left, he noticed that again, the lottery-ticket-to-customer ratio was hovering above 1. What a bunch of idiots, he thought to himself. They might as well light their dollar bills on fire in the hopes that the ash would be made of gold dust.

The front of the line was currently occupied by an eighty year-old woman who was searching for exact change in her purse to pay for her custom-chosen set of number. She probably used the birthdays of her great-great-great-great-grandchildren. One of the coins rolled to the edge of the counter and dropped to the floor, skittering off under the ice cream treat freezer. Based on how she’s going after that dime, she must really need to win. I wonder if she would choose the lump sum or the 30 years of payments…

Behind the old gray mare was a middle-aged man in a seed hat, oil-stained jeans, and a worn flannel overshirt. He was unshaven like Chris, but in a way that suggested that he had so much testosterone that it had to spontaneously escape via his face. Chris’s stubble, which was patchy and uneven, teetered between suggesting either “grad student” or “unemployed.” The fact that he was in Kwik Trip at noon on a weekday buying only bananas didn’t tip the scales in either direction.

Directly in front of Chris, a middle-aged woman and her ten-year-old daughter (or seven or thirteen or nine-year-old — he had no idea) waited with a yellow-capped gallon of 1% milk, but negotiations were in progress to make an upgrade: “Mom. Mom. We learned at school that chocolate milk is actually better for you than regular milk, because, um, chocolate gives us… carbs… that regular milk doesn’t.” The mom wasn’t buying it — the argument, that is. She was buying the milk, and a Powerball ticket.

Chris observed the sale with detached superiority; with her odds of winning a mere 1 in 175,000,000, this woman was a fool. She should have skipped the lottery and instead bought her daughter some chocolate milk, improving her odds of being the favorite parent. Instead, she now had a surly cocoa-deprived child and a worthless scrap of paper. Oh well, he shrugged. You can’t save people from their awful decisions. It was finally his turn to do the checkout dance.

He hoisted the bananas up onto the counter and confirmed that no, he did not have any gas out there today.

“Anything else for ya?” The teenage gas station employee, Brianne (if her labelmaker name tag could be trusted), waited for his response like a cashier waits for a customer to confirm that he is not buying any additional items. Yeah, exactly like that.

He usually answered this weak up-sell with a quick “nope” before the question was even over, since he was a man who knew what he wanted and didn’t waste time deliberating at the register. But not today. His mouth froze for a second — he hadn’t been able to get the lottery out of his mind, and he suddenly felt like he should be a part of the national excitement instead of just an onlooker. What if it was his destiny to win millions of dollars and never have to work for anything in his life again? Definitely a possibility. It was time, he decided. It was time for him to shine.

“One lottery, please!” Dang it. Get it together, Chris! He knew he shouldn’t have jumped into the mile-a-minute lottery lifestyle without at least practicing first in front of a mirror. He grabbed a ten-dollar bill from his wallet and held it out, expecting that it would cover the bananas and his newfound gambling addiction, assuming that he hadn’t grossly underestimated the cost of a lottery ticket.

“You know they’re two dollars now, right?” The clerk paused before entering the sale on the register, as if to give Chris one last chance to change his mind.

Two dollars?? Well, I never!” He shoved the ten back in his pocket, threw the bananas to the ground, and backed slowly out of the gas station, never breaking eye contact with the stunned cashier. Her eyes were stuck wide open, and her jaw dropped slightly, pulling her bottom lip out of her permanent forced retail-worker smile.

Just kidding. “Yep.” Yes, I was definitely aware of that and am not hearing about it for the first time right now. While he still held out his cash, Brianne the checkout girl grabbed and weighed the bananas. Chris started to worry: does it look weird that I’m holding the money out this entire time? How long has it been now? This feels like an eternity. My arm is getting really heavy. I don’t think that’s normal. Oh good, she’s coming back to take it. Oh no, she stopped. What is she doing? Oh no.

She was fiddling with a machine halfway between the digital scale and the register; after punching a few buttons, the screech of a dot-matrix printer told Chris that it was most likely the Powerball ticket machine. Most likely? No, it was definitely the Powerball machine, since it was now visibly extruding a Powerball ticket. It was his ability to notice details like this that would make him an excellent witness in a criminal court case, but he had not yet been called upon in that capacity. Some day.

Crap, people are definitely noticing now that I’ve been holding this money out over the counter this entire time. Should I pull it back? I can’t pull it back now, she could be here any second. They must know I’ve never done this before. This is the worst day of my life. He closed his eyes and prayed for death.

The cashier finally returned and processed his change; she didn’t comment on the fact that the ten-dollar bill had been effectively airing out for more than two minutes. As Chris shoved the lottery ticket in his wallet and awkwardly pocketed the change, he waited for the refrain that ended every Kwik Trip transaction.

“Thanks, see you next time!”

Unlike his ticket purchase, this was a moment for which he was fully prepared. He pulled a pair of sunglasses from his shirt pocket, effortlessly slid them on, and turned to Brianne. A beat of silence, and then: “Not if I see you first.”


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