May 26, 2015 – Chapter One
Jenny drew a deep breath, exhaled and tried to release the conversation with her mother. She unlocked and opened the drawer beneath the cash register and exhaled when she spotted the button safely wrapped in the corner. It was still there. No one had been in since Mrs. Chadwick left it behind, and Jenny had not moved it. However, the conversation with her mother made her insecurities rush into overdrive, and paranoia usually followed.
Calmer now, she tried to shut the drawer, but it wouldn’t close. Jenny jiggled it, and it still wouldn’t budge. She glanced underneath and saw the culprit—a piece of paper caught between the back of the drawer and the track. She grabbed it by its end and pulled it hard. In one swift motion as if it were a Band-Aid on sore skin, the paper dislodged.
“Oh, this is what I need right now,” she muttered realizing that she set free her rejection letter from the DIH. She opened the letter to read it again – torture seemed appropriate now – wondering why it would have been in the drawer in the first place. She had a DIH file for items like this.
“Dear Ms. Hobbs,” she read aloud with a sarcastic tone, “Thank you for your interest in the Daughters of Independence Hall. It is unfortunate that we cannot offer you membership at this time. This does not mean you shouldn’t try again next year, and with a hefty $250 processing fee,” she added for an extra dose. “This year’s inductees are members with a direct lineage to those who drafted our country’s finest document, the Declaration of Independence. If you would like to use our ancestry services to see if you might have a connection, or you can prove lineage with notarized documents blah, blah, blah…”
Jenny crumbled the paper and threw it in the wastebasket. She removed it a second later and ironed the crumpled paper with her hands. She would file this and keep it handy, maybe use it to torture herself again when she deserved it.
The DIH was part of her heritage, and that’s why she couldn’t let it go. Her grandmother served years before Martha Chadwick’s reign and change of rules, and her father continued the family legacy when he became a Revolutionary War Re-enactor, a hobby he consumed with passion each weekend during tourist season. He approached the crowds at Independence Hall, urging them to join General Washington’s army while parading down the cobble stone streets. If her mother didn’t keep her busy with other activities, such as dance classes and gymnastics, which she despised because she was a klutz, she could attend the weekend parades with her father, dressed appropriately in her own colonial dress that her grandmother hand-made. Her mother thought her desire to be a part of an old stodgy club ridiculous, just as she thought about her father’s association, and claimed he embarrassed his family by dressing in costume each week. The bitter comment made it easy for Jenny to bury him in his uniform – her parents had divorced by then making it her choice – with his trusty musket next to him.
Jenny failed to continue the legacy with her ill-fated attempt to join the DIH, a huge embarrassment for her, and one for her father as well if he had been alive to witness it. Her grandmother’s name as legacy connection on her application didn’t help and she realized that the fine woman of yesterday, who raised plenty of awareness for her beloved club meant nothing to the current crop of women who ran the show today. That made it easier for Jenny to decide to raise awareness her way, and her only solution – discretely write about them and on occasion, expose their flaws.
The shop door opened setting off the familiar sound of the visitors’ bell, and breaking the spell of her reverie.
“Good morning, Mr. Hiller,” she offered with a smile as a man from the neighborhood strolled through the door. “Here for your lottery ticket, are you?” Mr. Hiller lived in a red brick colonial on the corner that did have a historic plaque displayed. As a frequent customer, he stopped in a few times a week for lottery tickets and a chat.
Mr. Hiller nodded. “That I am, dear girl,” he said combing his wavy white hair back into place with his fingers. The March winds were blustery, despite the warmth of the sun, and he looked smashing in a dark tan Burberry raincoat. “I’m also going to buy that teapot I’ve been admiring,” he continued. “I know Mrs. Hiller would fancy it if she were here.” He looked sad for a moment, but brushed it away and smiled again. “We had one like it when we first married. I don’t know what took me as long as it did to give in to it.” His comment tugged at her heartstrings, and Jenny could not decide if his gesture, although romantic, seemed too doleful. “I know it seems silly,” he continued as if he was reading her thoughts, “but when I have my afternoon tea, it will be like she is a part of it.”
Jenny felt her eyes prickle and when the tears formed, she fought off the temptation to let them flow. His wife had passed away after a long illness the day after Halloween. She knew what Mr. Hiller meant, and as maudlin as it might seem, she understood.
“You think I’m foolish,” Mr. Hiller said.
She looked at him and smiled. “On the contrary, Mr. Hiller, I think it’s a wonderful way to honor her memory.” He reminded her of Claude Raines, the actor who played opposite Humphrey Bogart in ‘Casablanca’. “You have impeccable taste, too,” Jenny continued, taking the white teapot with the rose buds off the shelf to cradle it in bubble wrap. “This is the finest item in the shop right now.” After, she walked over to the lone piece of modern equipment in the store, the lottery machine. It seemed foreign in the land of curio cabinets, hope chests, maple rocking chairs and teapots, but it did bring a new set of customers into the store on a regular basis. Still, she did not want to admit that the idea to add the lottery machine proved successful because it came from her mother.
“I have a feeling about this one, Jenny. I’m a jackpot away from the good life, you know.”
“Same numbers?” she asked with a smile. “I have a feeling about this one, too, Mr. Hiller.”
“The same,” he said, as she punched in the date of his anniversary, his wife’s birthday, his birthday, the birthdays of their two Scotties, and both of their ages when they married. Finding his actions sentimental and romantic, Jenny knew his numbers by heart. Once the ticket printed, she handed it to Mr. Hiller and wished him luck. In turn, he handed her $50 for the teapot, and four one-dollar bills for the lottery ticket. “Print another one up, will you? And include the numbers you want this time.”
Puzzled, Jenny shook her head. “No, Mr. Hiller, I don’t play the lottery. I don’t believe in taking chances.” The words made her stop for a moment, as it became clear her confession rang true in most aspects of her life. The realization both embarrassed her and crushed her spirit. No wonder Andrew ignored her. She had no essence.
Mr. Hiller’s brow furrowed as her father’s would when she would put herself down, and he would beg her not to listen to her mother’s harsh criticisms. “I don’t believe that for a second, Jenny. You never turn a gift away, and how will you ever accomplish anything if you don’t take a chance now and then?”
Too shook up for a genuine smile, Jenny nodded and presented a false one and hoped it appeared authentic. It seemed crazy to argue, and she didn’t have the energy to refuse. “You’re too good to me, Mr. Hiller, but I don’t know which numbers to play.”
“Ah, I can’t help you with that, Jenny,” he said with a hint of an English accent that still clung to him after all of the years spent in the States. “Play the numbers that are special to you.”
Jenny thought for a moment and then let the machine select random numbers. They were just as special as any she could conjure up. She had a better chance at marrying a resurrected Cary Grant than winning the lottery, anyway.