An uneventful Friday afternoon ended a long and disheartening week. Jenny closed up shop and headed upstairs with the thought of a lonely weekend adding extra salt to her wounds. She spent most of her Friday nights alone, but it felt different now. Andrew and Melissa likely had romantic plans for tonight and the rest of the weekend, and as much as she tried to get those images out of her head, they added to her pain.
All day long, she berated herself for not being more open with her feelings for him before, and for not showing him she was interested when she had the chance. It may not have changed things – he probably wasn’t interested in her that way – but if she had tried to make her feelings knows, the hollow feeling inside may not be as intense. One solution existed for this problem and every other social problem she had. It’s not as if she hadn’t heard it before, and often fought it off, but she needed to learn to speak up and ask for what she wanted. That theory worked well for most people. She needed to find her courage, erase all of the social anxiety in her life, and go for it. It was unimaginable to think about spending the rest of her life as a wallflower, or worse, a doormat. She could admit that now that her dreams resembled a pill inside a pharmacist’s apothecary jar crushed down to a fine powder.
No more, she told herself. She deserved to be happy. But how would she accomplish such a tall order? Seeking happiness silently was one thing, but changing your personality to speak up about what you wanted was altogether different. She felt certain that Melissa was that kind of women, not afraid to speak up about what she wanted, and look at the rewards bestowed upon her.
Once upstairs, she locked herself in for the night and started to think about dinner. Her appetite made itself known with a good rumble in her stomach, a good sign, and even though she still felt sad, eating might make her feel better. She had a vegetable potpie in the freezer, which would take about 45 minutes in the oven to bake. Too long to wait, her stomach told her. With not much else in the apartment, she figured she’d have to go food shopping sometime this weekend.
“What would Melissa do?” she asked aloud. Go out and grab soup and a grilled cheese sandwich at the Old Nelson Deli, she decided. If she felt brave enough, she might even eat it there – on a Friday night. That would not look too pathetic. She smiled at the thought, realizing that once she got to the deli, she would order to go, but the mere thought of considering a bolder move made her smile. Change, the big change required to make her life better, would have to come in smaller installments.
She wrapped herself in her dark wool pea coat and began her trek downstairs. Once she hit the streets, the crowds did not surprise her. People stayed in the city on Friday nights, to meet friends at dinner or happy hour, or to stay behind and shop. After the quick walk, she strolled into the deli and saw a familiar face sitting at the table by the window.
“Hi, Mr. Hiller,” she said.
Seated alone with a bowl of soup, a chicken salad sandwich on rye, and an unopened Clive Owens novel next to him, Mr. Hiller smiled. “Jenny, what a nice surprise. Did you stop in for dinner?”
She nodded. “I stopped in to get something to go, but I could join you if you’d like.”
“Please do,” he said with a wide grin. “You are wonderful company.”
Jenny nodded, and then walked up to the counter to place her order. Within a few minutes, she joined Mr. Hiller at the table. As soon as she sat down, he picked up the newspaper and smiled. He pointed to the headline indicated that Monday’s lottery drawing would be one of the largest the area had ever seen, and she smiled, too. “I assume that means you’ve already won the jackpot in your imagination,” she said. “So has my neighbor.”
He nodded. “I’d also be happy if you won, Jenny.”
She knew he meant every word. A kind man to the core, she felt glad she had gotten to know him over the last few months, and all because of the addition of a lottery machine in her store.
“Thank you, Mr. Hiller. Maybe we can both win.”
“We’ll find out soon enough, won’t we? The drawing is in three days.” He had stopped eating, but started again as soon as Jenny’s tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich arrived. “You know, I wasn’t always such a gambler,” he said. “There was a time I wouldn’t have considered spending money on a lottery ticket. My parents raised me to believe that taking foolish chances was wasteful. Even though my family was comfortable, they would have considered buying a lottery ticket squandering money away.”
“What changed your mind?” Jenny took a bite of her sandwich.
“My wife,” he said with sadness in his eyes. She believed in miracles of all kinds. She taught me that you had to take chances in life because that’s where most of the fun is.”
She smiled, realizing once again that the conversation shifted to taking chances, and she was about to get another life lesson.
“She loved Atlantic City and the casinos,” he said. “I used to get a little upset about how much she would want to spend there, and now that she’s gone I regret that. She loved it so much I should have let her have her way, and I’m not sure why I didn’t. It wasn’t about the money. We had plenty of that. I inherited a great deal from my family, and I worked for the United Nations all those years, which paid well.”
She smiled. “So, that’s what you did for a living,” she said. “Mystery solved. I kind of got the feeling that you didn’t want to talk about it.”
“You’d be right about that, Jenny. I had such passion for that job, but it had been ingrained in all of us that we shouldn’t speak about it too much.”
“By whom?” she asked. “The UN?”
He laughed. “Actually, the British Government. Now mind you, we did not operate like Interpol or British Intelligence, but we did work on a lot of top-secret stuff. I started out as a Farsi translator, and I ended up working with the British and the U.S. on our relations with the Middle East. As you can imagine, those last few years of my career were action packed, and I couldn’t even talk about it with my wife.”
“That must have been difficult,” she said. Jenny knew how much he loved his wife and how impossible it must have been not to share his work with her. “You loved her, Mr. Hiller. That makes you a lucky man, lottery, or no lottery.”
He smiled. “I am lucky,” he said. “Or at least I was. It gets lonely now and then, and I miss her.”
“I’m sure you do. And you’re used to such an exciting action-packed life with all of the espionage and such.” She smiled, half joking, but feeling his sadness overcome her. She wondered if he would ever want to date again, or even would consider the possibility of remarriage.
He laughed. “You’ve watched too many movies, I see. The job today is so much different than it once was. Nothing is private or top secret, and the media is involved in everything, which made it difficult to operate, or have a normal relationship. I was lucky I had an understanding wife.”
“And how about you?” he asked. “Whose heart are you breaking now?”
She shrugged. “Now that’s a funny question,” she said. “There’s no one special in my life right now. The man I thought I might be interested in told me he has been dating a woman I know from my book club for the last few months. It’s serious, and I took that hard.” There, she finally said it out loud and she considered that a first step.
“I’m sorry, Jenny. Matters of the heart are so tender, and l might add he is crazy not to want to be with you. If I were younger, I’d be in line myself. You’re a quality woman, Jenny Hobbs.”
She smiled and blushed. Mr. Hiller did have the old world charm she enjoyed in men, but so did Andrew. For vastly different reasons, neither was for her. “That’s sweet of you to say, Mr. Hiller, but I think I’m meant to stay single.”
“Nonsense,” he cried, but no one around them seemed to notice. “You’re still a young woman, and much too young to think that way. Keep your eyes open and you will find the right man. I’m sure of it.”
“I wish I had your positive attitude, and so does my mother,” she said. “Most of the men I meet seem so full of themselves, and they have few manners.” She smiled. “Men like you and the man I thought would be a good match for me are few and far between, you know.”
“Ah, we’re more plentiful that you think, Jenny. You have to take a chance, and you have to keep your eyes open.”
She smiled. “You believe in taking chances, don’t you?”
“Wouldn’t be here otherwise,” he said. “I never would have left London if I didn’t believe in taking chances.”
“OK, then I will take one with you,” she said feeling bold. “I already have in a way. I’ve never told anyone about Andrew before today,” she said. “That’s the name of the man I am interested in.”
He nodded. “And it’s a fine, old fashioned name. An English one to boot.”
“And now I’m going to tell you another secret that no one else knows.” Something about Mr. Hiller felt comforting, and she wanted to entrust him with her secret and find out what advice he could offer.
He laughed. “You have me intrigued and you have my full attention.”
She smiled too. “Do you know that column in the Philadelphia Weekly about the DIH and its activities?”
He nodded. “Sure, I read it on occasion. It’s by the journalist who shares the same name as the actor Cary Grant, a fine Englishman from my hometown, I might add.”
She nodded. “I’m not an Englishman but I am Carrie Grant.”
She watched his jaw drop in surprise and the smile grow on his face. “Well, I’ll be,” he said. “I didn’t know you were a journalist.”
She laughed. “That’s the beauty of my secret. No one knows.”
“I’m impressed. You’ve kept it a secret even though many people around the city are trying to expose who the real Carrie Grant is.”
“Weird, isn’t it?”
“It’s amusing,” he said, his relaxed persona showing the joy on his face. “How did this all come about?”
“As you know I’m a history buff, and last year I applied to the DIH because they fascinate me. My grandmother was a member years ago, and my father was a Revolutionary War re-enactor, so I guess it’s in my blood. However, a tie to one of the signers is not. Unfortunately, they turned me away.”
“So, you decided to do your part and write about them instead.”
Jenny laughed. “You make it sound noble, but in actuality, I started it as a little bit of revenge. Not the best way to begin a journalism career, but it is the truth. A lot of the members come in to my store and openly discuss the behind the scenes stuff with each other before they go to the place down the street for lunch, so I put what I hear to good use.”
Mr. Hiller laughed. “That’s brilliant, dear girl,” he said. “They deserve it for turning you away. And why did they turn you away?”
“For starters I’m not related by bloodline or marriage to one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence.”
He laughed. “That’s one of my favorites, by the way. I am in no way bitter that this country felt it had to declare its independence from the King.”
She smiled. “And another thing is that I’m not wealthy like most of their members. They consider me their service girl, and not someone who would serve side by side on a committee with them.”
“They are crazy to have turned you away.”
“Thank you, Mr. Hiller. I appreciate that. And I’m glad I told someone.”
He smiled. “I’m glad you chose me,” he said. “Let me assure you I will keep your secret safe.”
“Oh, but I’m forgetting a key part of this story. The DIH sent over an invitation for Carrie Grant to join the club the other day. They sent it to my editor, and are extending the olive branch, I suppose. I have no idea what to do.”
“Take them up on it,” he said. “It’s poetic justice if you ask me.”
“I’d love to give them all a good shock,” she said, “but I’m a little worried about my shop. Those women are my best customers. If I lose them, I don’t think I could stay open.”
Mr. Hiller frowned “That is a bit of a predicament, isn’t it? I don’t fancy buying my lottery tickets anywhere else.”
Jenny laughed. “And I don’t want to lose your business, either.”
“Don’t worry, my dear.” He smiled at her, as her father used to and said, “You’ll know what to do when the time is right.