This story is by Rosemary Clarke and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Lydia turned on the television to catch the news as she dragged herself to the kitchen to make coffee. Over the noise of her 40-year-old coffee grinder, she heard the newscaster say something about one lucky person from Massachusetts waking up this morning to a big surprise. “Well, I’m from Massachusetts, she thought. What’s the surprise?” She went back to the living room, nearly tripping over her cat, Ben, who insisted on always lying right at her feet. She picked up the remote and clicked to a couple of other stations hoping to find out as the three major channels tended to report the same news items right around the same time. “Darn it, Ben, I must have just missed it”, she said, so she switched back to her regular channel and returned to the business of making her coffee. Every morning Lydia would treat herself to a pot of coffee made from freshly ground beans from different parts of the world. This morning she had a date with Juan Valdez who was going to take her to Columbia. “Buenos Dias”, she said to Ben, raising her cup as if to toast him, and took her first sip. Years ago, she loved working as a flight attendant as she got to travel around the world a lot for both business and pleasure. Now, however, due to family demands on her time and money, her international air travel was limited to breathing in the aromas floating from her daily pot of global coffee. She lingered for a moment as she allowed herself to savor this simple pleasure.
Soon enough, the big surprise segment was back on and Lydia learned that the “one lucky person” had won the previous night’s game, the biggest jackpot in the history of the Massachusetts State Lottery. “That would be nice,” thought Lydia and then she remembered she had bought a couple of quick picks earlier that week. She turned off the television, turned on her computer and brought up the lottery’s website. She retrieved the two tickets from her wallet and checked them against the numbers displayed for those games. The first ticket didn’t have even one matching number. She double-checked them but the numbers hadn’t changed in the past minute so she moved on to the second ticket. When she saw the second ticket was for the previous night’s big game she carefully compared each number. They all matched. “Holy Croesus,” thought Lydia, did I just win?” She took a blank piece of paper, wrote down the numbers from her ticket, copied down the ones from the screen and then crossed off each number, matching them as she went along. She really had won. “Thank you, Jesus!” she whispered, momentarily stunned, and then she picked up Ben and twirled around and around with him, saying “We’re rich, Ben Ben, we’re rich”. She sat down, hugging him to her as he purred away and she gently patted him until she calmed down. Her mind was spinning and she quickly went from a state of elation and disbelief to worry and certainty. She put Ben down and pulled a chipped mug full of pens and markers towards her. She grabbed her special security pen she reserved for writing checks and turned the ticket over. She signed it and then carefully printed her name and address on the correct lines making sure everything was legible. She immediately put the ticket back into her wallet and then put the wallet back into her pocketbook. She then zipped up her pocketbook and hung it on the kitchen chair across from her so she could keep an eye on it. No way was she going to let that bag out of her sight until she could figure out what she was going to do. For some reason, she recalled a seminar she had attended years ago entitled “How to be rich when you’re rich” or something crazy like that. The speaker had explained when he inherited over $200 million dollars from the sale of his father’s company, it was quite a problem for him to suddenly become wealthy. He planned to start holding weekend boot camps for others who found themselves in similar situations. Lydia remembered thinking at the time, not understanding his dilemma, “Oh, gimme a break, buddy. I should have that problem”. Well, now she did have that problem and she understood completely.
After a decade of jet-setting around the world and never taking the time to put down any roots, Lydia had grown weary of her shallow, but fun, lifestyle. After earning a Master in International Business degree from the prestigious Fletcher School, she had started her own consulting firm offering financial management solutions to a number of Boston-based international charities and foundations. She was a financial wizard and she had quickly turned the cash flow for these companies from negative to positive and helped them establish and grow healthy cash reserves. As a single parent, she had raised her daughter who was now happily married with a successful career of her own. Just as Lydia thought she might finally have some time to herself again, her mom had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer so Lydia had moved in with her until her mom died. Because of the demands of her personal life and keeping her company running, she had not taken the time to manage her personal finances wisely so found herself on the brink of bankruptcy after paying off her mom’s medical bills. She also found that she had gone from a once fun-loving gadabout to a dull, broken-spirited middle-aged woman who hadn’t put herself first in decades. Lydia knew that statistically many lottery winners squandered away their money within five years of receiving it. She was determined not to let that happen to her and she felt she had been given both a golden opportunity and a divine directive to be fiscally responsible with these funds. Confident that if she were to treat herself as a client she would manage her money wisely, she decided to set up a family foundation. Now, all she had to do was figure out how to manage her personal affairs, carve out some time for herself, and learn how to treat herself well without being over-indulgent. The light bulb went off. There had always been one staff person she had joked about wanting to hire for herself and now she intended to do exactly that. With her new wealth, no one would even question the hire and, if she followed her plan, she would finally have the support she needed to put herself first while continuing her charitable work. After all these years of making personal sacrifices, she was starting to get excited about her life again. Perhaps the next time I say “Bonjour” over my morning cup of coffee I might actually be drinking it in Paris, she thought.
She happily spent the next ten minutes sketching out her business plan, and then she called Keith, her attorney, to make an appointment for later that morning. “It’s urgent,” she said, “but I don’t want to discuss it over the phone”. She hopped into the shower, taking her pocketbook with her into the bathroom, and then got dressed and headed over to Keith’s office. She had met Keith when she hired him to settle her mom’s estate. It had been a lot of work as there had been no will so, in addition to taking care of her mom’s paperwork, she had Keith draw up all the necessary documents to deal with her own estate as well. She chuckled as she thought of how big that estate had just become and wondered if getting her affairs in order had sent out a signal that she was ready to take on the responsibility of handling great personal wealth. “The Universe responds”, she reminded herself.
She arrived at Keith’s office, filled him in on winning the lottery, turned over the ticket to him for safekeeping and discussed her plans with him. Her anonymity was paramount to her so she wanted him to come up with a trust within a trust in order to claim the winnings. Keith congratulated her, confirmed that her business plan looked solid and asked her what she was going to do next. “Next?” she asked. “Next, I’m going to a crazy Boot Camp I heard about years ago to eat some crow” and then I’ve going to hire someone pronto to fill a staff position I’ve been putting off for years.
“Madam, shall I turn on the television for you to catch the news?” asked Lydia’s butler. “No thanks, Gerard, I’ll read the paper in the limo on the way to the airport. Make that coffee to go, would you”?