Fiona channeled all of the positive energy she could muster into the lottery ticket in her hand. With an impish smile, she imagined what life would be like if she won millions of dollars. The limitless online shopping she dreamed about would become a reality. She also considered how the situation would improve her relationship with Doug. Love may matter more than money, but having both made things easier. Doug wouldn’t worry about his business so much if it was flush with cash, and he could get out of the horrible marriage that held him back. His wife would surely walk away if a nice payoff became part of the divorce package, and then Fiona and Doug would be free to explore their future together with a mighty weight lifted off of their shoulders.
She placed the ticket on the refrigerator with a carrot-shaped magnet, right next to the magnet that wisely stated, “You have to pay attention to the small details in life if you wanted to succeed.” Fiona loved Jenny as if they were sisters, but sometimes she grew tired of Jenny incessantly shunning the worthwhile advice she offered. Fiona had few female influences in her life, even at work, so Jenny’s friendship was a necessity, but on more than one occasion she wanted to shake her good friend and make her face reality. Fiona hadn’t planned to take the ticket, and certainly did not steal it. She simply wanted to keep it safe in case her friend pulled off the biggest stroke of luck and won the damn thing. Maybe they could split the winnings once Jenny realized that she needed Fiona to look out for her. She deserved it, after all. Without saving the winning ticket, neither of them would receive the large payout.
How could anyone get through life without caring about the important things? Jenny did not have faith in the power of positive thinking, a necessary act to bring good things to your life, yet she still had a chance to win the lottery thanks to Fiona’s quick thinking, which saved the ticket from the trash bin. Still, her biggest flaw had to be a nonchalant attitude about finding Mr. Right. Jenny had not dated in what seemed like forever, and Fiona often wondered if she could still be a virgin. She wanted to ask on a few occasions, and even came close after a several glasses of wine, but she lost the nerve. Life would be cruel without the physical attractions being satisfied, without a man’s touch. People belonged paired off just as nature intended it, even if it was boy and boy, or girl and girl. She had no problem with that. Perhaps Jenny was gay! She doubted it, but it was a theory she hadn’t thought of before. Either way, Jenny might just as well lock herself away in a convent because she didn’t play by the rules of the world around her.
Attractive enough, Jenny had the right tools to get a man, although Fiona agreed with Jenny’s mother – a rare occurrence – that she did not enhance her best features, instead hiding behind a poorly chosen wardrobe. Still, plenty of couples seemed misplaced and made the best of it. Unattractive women still found men because it was the law of nature. Women held the power and the sexual energy that men craved. Men and women belonged together, and no matter what you looked like, you could find a partner if you wanted one. Fiona was convinced of that.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’ve picked out some things in this catalog that would look great on you,” she’d say on occasion, handing Jenny the latest Victoria’s Secret or Penney’s catalog. “They’re on sale, too.”
Jenny would smile politely and thank her. When asked about it again, she would say, “I don’t know if they’re right for me. Besides, I am not a mail order shopper. I prefer going to the store to buy my clothes. That way, I can see them in person and try them on.”
Fiona had difficulty believing that excuse. Jenny’s clothes did not fit her body the way they should if you tried something on before buying it. Shapeless and pathetically styled, her clothes hung on her as if she did not care in the least. Still, Fiona didn’t give up the fight. As the queen of catalog shopping, she received at least ten in the mail each week, and she persisted to pick out the proper clothes for her friend. Sometimes she believed it would be easier to find new friends who shared the same interests. Too bad a lot of other women were jealous of her because men found her desirable.
“It’s understandable why you don’t have any female friends, aside from my daughter, who you don’t consider competition,” Jenny’s mother once said to her. “Women don’t want to be around other women who prey on their men.”
The nerve of that woman, and her peering eyes that followed her everywhere before she divorced Jenny’s father and married a new and wealthy husband. Fiona often wondered how she pulled that off. That uptight prude of a woman must be wicked in bed or have blackmail photos to snag someone like him. Fiona could not help if men desired her. No wonder Jenny’s father kicked her mother to the curb.
Fiona would never forget Mr. Hobbs, who sat by her side during the most difficult days of her life. Jenny was lucky to have him. Her life may have turned out differently if she had the same love and consideration from her father. What will be, will be, she thought, trying to convince herself it didn’t matter. She had not seen her parents or her brothers in over 20 years, and didn’t even know if they were still alive. Most likely, she’d never see them again, so it was best to bury the memories deeper and forget she had a family at all.
Relaxing on the sofa with her phone by her side, she paged through the latest Coldwater Creek catalog. These clothes were conservative, yet somewhat fashionable. She could find Jenny something stylish among the pages. Like a lightning bolt, a realization struck her hard as she stared at the colorful southwest style blazer on page four. She had not thought of this before, but it may have been as plain as the lottery ticket on her refrigerator. Something from Jenny’s past could have affected her dramatically, and turned her away from men. What other reason could there be? It had to be something she did not want to reveal to anyone. No one shies away from the opposite sex without a good reason. If that was the case, they may have more in common that she previously thought.
# # # # # #
The sun had begun to set, turning the sky scarlet red. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. She didn’t know what it meant, but it had to be a good sign, and she smiled as she walked across town to meet her date. It had been a long time since she dressed up for a night out on the town, and the anticipation excited her. It had been a long time since she had any fun at all with everyone away at college and she deserved this.
Walking in to the empty nightclub – it was still early even by Harrisburg standards – she noticed Gilbert waiting for her at the bar nursing a beer. She smiled realizing how handsome he was, and how when the half-empty room filled in another hour or so, she would be the envy of every woman there. Fiona knew the bartender would not serve her alcohol; hers was a small town where everyone knew each other and their business. She ordered a ginger ale with two cherries and settled next to him.
“You look nice,” he said, complimenting her on the green dress she knew she wore well. She believed it to be classy and sexy, with the hemline six inches above her shapely knee. She had been told her legs were to die for. Still, she felt disappointed he could not come up with a better adjective to describe her. Nice was a bowl of soup your grandmother made for you, not the sexy number she wore just for him.
He shared a few details about his life while they ate, and she tried to seem amused. As a top sales representative, he earned an income well into the six-figure range, and it delighted her when compared to her own ginormous salary of $4.75 an hour. Nevertheless, they did not have to make it the entire basis of their conversation. Didn’t he want to know more about her? She had not accomplished much in life, but she was good at embellishing.
“How often do you come through town?” she asked, trying to steer the conversation in a new direction.
“A few times a month,” he said. She felt confident if she wanted it to, this blossoming relationship could go somewhere. Maybe this was not a one-time thing, after all, and after they finished their chicken Marsala, the hotel’s specialty, and only decent item on the menu, she accepted the invitation back to his room. “I have a bottle of wine chilling for us,” he told her.
Once they settled in and he opened the wine, she had the opportunity to talk about herself. She shared her dreams of becoming a lawyer one day hoping to impress him, and he seemed interested to hear more. About an hour later though, with a little buzz from the wine, she grew anxious, wondering why he had not attempted to put his arm around her or at the very least, hold her hand. When she had tried to snuggle in closer to him, she could smell his expensive aftershave, but he put the brakes on.
“Whoa, slow down,” he had said. “We have all night.”
He couldn’t have lost interest that fast! Moreover, he couldn’t be interested in her simply as a tour guide. She should play harder to get, she thought to herself as she sat alone waiting for him. A few minutes before, he had excused himself and headed for the bathroom. It seemed like an eternity had passed, and with the bad music playing courtesy of the easy listening channel on the hotel television for company, she grew bored.
Fiona stood. The firm and uncomfortable hotel sofa made her stiff, and she walked around the room to stretch her muscles. This hotel was kind of on the seedy side and she wondered if he thought the same. If he traveled all over he was likely used to those much more cosmopolitan than her tiny hamlet of Harrisburg. In this godforsaken place, the choices were few. A Holiday Inn and it was not one of the nicer ones, or a Motel 6 out by the turnpike entrance for truckers and one-night stands. She figured the furniture in the room to be at least 15 years old, since the place had not been upgraded since she had been around. On prom night, when she was with Kevin Forsythe, her best lover to date, she may have been in this room. She knew for certain, their room was in this wing. Kevin had asked her, and then begged her to sleep with his best friend after they were finished, but she refused. She was not a whore, after all. He had a lot of nerve to insinuate otherwise. It was the only time she felt used.
Fiona walked over to the worn dresser that had seen better days. The finish on top had cracked, making it appear ready for the dumpster, and she ran her hand over its rough surface almost getting a splinter. Gilbert’s brown leather wallet sat on top, and she felt compelled to peek. She would not steal his money or anything, but she had read in Vogue that the contents of a man’s wallet could reveal a lot about them. It looked pretty much like any man’s wallet, credit cards, health insurance stuff, receipts, and a couple twenty-dollar bills. Now onto the good stuff, she thought as she flipped through the pictures. No wife and kids, all good. Instead, the first photo was one of himself, rather odd she thought, followed by an older couple she assumed were his parents. The third picture inside the plastic cover looked familiar. It appeared to be a family shot, and as she looked closely at the young girl standing next to him, she gasped, flipped the wallet back onto the dresser, jerking back her hand. As her mysterious date came out of the bathroom, the look on his face made it clear they both had some explaining to do.