“Six Million”

A robin flutters outside the window. Solitary lightbulbs, adorned with small shades, dangle from the ceiling; their cast light glows off the stainless steel of the espresso machines. A pleather handbag swings on the athletic arm of a teenager who snaps and pops her gum. Cedar trim divides the brick wall from sheetrock painted maroon. Dark stone tile covers the floor.

“What can I get started for you, Patrick?” the barista asks.

Patrick looks to the barista and pushes a strand of stringy brown hair out of his face. He glances behind him. The line has backed up to the door. His cheeks flush, and he steps forward to the counter, his focus darting around the menu. He flashes his yellowed teeth in a wide, zany grin. “Uh … I’ll have a tall white chocolate mocha, please,” he says.

“You got it,” the barista replies.

Patrick fumbles in his pockets to find some money. He slaps a five-dollar bill on the counter and retreats to his corner table.

“Sir! Sir!” he hears behind him. He looks back to see the barista holding his change. Patrick waves him off and sits down. A grin lights the barista’s face as he drops the change in the tip jar.

“Thank you!” he says, far too loudly for Patrick’s liking.

Patrick grunts. I wanted that change, he thinks. He closes his eyes to shut out the frustration. Patrick listens. Steamed milk hisses. A ukulele strums over the radio. The cash register dings. The squeal of a shoe shatters Patrick’s peace. His eyes open.

It’s raining? Patrick looks out the window. The gray sky leaks water onto the streets.

Patrick looks to the loud shoes. They’re nice shoes. Dress shoes. The shoes of a businessman, he thinks. He observes the man: middle-aged and carrying a briefcase. He is heavier-set and wears a tan overcoat whose tails are tainted darker with the precipitation. He looks in Patrick’s direction, and they make eye contact. The businessman gives a brief nod and looks back to the front of the store.

Patrick watches as he pulls a trifold wallet out of his front right pocket. After paying the barista for his coffee – a venti Americano, as Patrick had heard – the man drops his change into the tip jar. Patrick’s eyes narrow, and he can feel his body beginning to quake.

Patrick hears his name. He slides off his chair and marches to the pick-up counter. He retrieves his coffee and takes a sip. Too sweet. And cold. Shoulda got a drip. 

Patrick forces down the rest of his five-dollar coffee and discards the empty cup. He sits back down and checks the room for the businessman. In the far corner by the bathrooms, the athletic girl thumbs her phone which she holds mere inches from her face. Next to her, three white-haired ladies chatter away in their loud, floral-patterned shirts. A goth walks away from the counter with a bagel, looking over his shoulder as he makes his exit. His trench coat drags across the newly-waxed floor. Patrick’s barista, a blonde-haired man about his own age, serves a college-aged student whose eyes are circled in the darkness of fatigue. The other baristas bustle behind the counter, pouring cream, putting lids on the cups, throwing away a ruined drink.

Patrick jolts backward when he sees that the businessman stands right in front of him, facing the pick-up counter. The man looks at his glistening watch and taps his foot.

Patrick rolls his fingertips on his knees. He focuses all of the attention that he can on the businessman, letting the thud-thud-thud-thud of his digits occupy the remainder of his mental space.

Patrick studies the businessman’s face, which looks back and forth across the room with a slight scowl. If Rachel were chubbier, she’d look kinda like him. His fingers slow to a stop. Patrick’s chest tightens. He chokes on his breath in anticipation.    

The barista hands the businessman his coffee. “Sorry about that first drink,” he says.

“No problem. Thanks.”

The barista goes back to his work, and the businessman turns to exit. Patrick hops from his chair and collides with the man.

“Jeez!” the businessman exclaims.

“Oh, I’m sorry, so sorry,” Patrick says. He pats the businessman’s left shoulder. “Hey, at least your coffee didn’t spill.”

The businessman looks at the cup in his left hand and laughs. “Indeed. Have a nice day, sir.”

Patrick nods. “Thanks. You too.”

They walk out the door and go separate directions down the street. As Patrick rounds the corner, he pulls a trifold wallet out of his pocket.

Patrick returns to his home after a mostly boring day. He locks the door behind him and takes off his shoes. He carries them with him as he walks upstairs into his room. He closes the blinds, shuts the door, and locks it. He walks into his closet where a chair sits. Shoeboxes line the back wall of the closet. A lone padded satin hanger sways to his left, surrounded by clusters of hungry-looking wire ones. He never liked that hanger, but he loved the dress it used to hold on its arms.

Patrick closes the closet door and grabs one of the shoeboxes. The others have dates written on their tops, but this one remains unmarked. He sits on the chair and sets the shoebox on the floor by his feet. He turns to set his shoes in line with the others in the closet. He pulls the businessman’s gray trifold wallet out of his front pocket. He opens the two flaps, finding a driver’s license, a single five-dollar bill, and no credit cards.

“Disappointing,” he says.

He opens the shoebox to reveal rows of wallets, organized by color and shape. As he separates two other wallets, a brown and a black one, and as he starts to slide the gray wallet into its spot, he sees the corner of some sort of paper poking out of wallet’s side. Patrick pulls the wallet back out, reclining in his chair.

“What’s this?” he says.

Patrick unfolds the wallet completely to find a ticket hidden underneath the driver’s license: a lottery ticket.

“That guy a gambler?” he says aloud. Patrick pulls out the ticket and examines it. Powerball, he thinks. This could be worth some money. He checks the back of the ticket and sees that today is the redeem date. He takes out his phone and navigates to the Powerball website. The current jackpot displays in the corner.

“Wow, six million dollars.”

The screen lights his face as he navigates to the winning numbers page. He reads the numbers: nine, fifty-seven, seven, forty-two, ten, fourteen.

Patrick looks at the ticket, then his phone, then back at the ticket. All of the numbers match. He won the jackpot. 

Patrick’s eyes widen, blood rushing from his face to his hands. He begins to tremble, and he tosses the phone on the floor. It slides away from him on the tightly-knit carpet.

“Six million,” he says. “What have I done?”

Patrick sits up on the right side of his king-size bed. He can see the sun peeking through the blinds. The chirps of a goldfinch and a cool spring breeze drift under a window that Patrick couldn’t remember opening. He picks his phone off his nightstand and checks the time – 9:57.

“Time to get up, I guess,” he says. As he gets out of bed, he sees that his closet light is on. Must’ve forgotten to turn that off. Patrick walks over to the closet door and sees the gray trifold open on the chair with the lottery ticket sitting on top. He walks into the closet and picks up the ticket. He folds it in half and puts it back underneath the driver’s license. Patrick takes the wallet to the back of the closet and puts it in between the brown and the black wallets in the unmarked shoebox. He closes the box and sets it back in its place. On his way out of the closet, he flips the light switch and goes into his bathroom.

Patrick turns on the sink: the left handle at a sixty-degree angle and the right handle at a forty-five. He washes his bristly face and towels it off. As he turns back to face his room, he sees that his closet light is on. I must’ve not flipped the switch down all the way, he thinks.

Patrick walks over to the closet door and sees the gray trifold open on the chair with the lottery ticket sitting on top. He walks into the closet and picks up the ticket. He folds it in half and puts it back underneath the driver’s license. Patrick takes the wallet to the back of the closet and puts it in between the brown and the black wallets in the unmarked shoebox. He closes the box and sets it back in its place. On his way out of the closet, he flips the light switch and goes into his room.

Patrick walks to his dresser and picks out his clothes: a single-color, crew-neck t-shirt and khaki cargo shorts. He dresses and folds his dirty clothes into a pile, setting them in one of the dresser’s empty drawers. Patrick sees a lone earring sparkling in the drawer on the light wood. He picks it up and stares at it, remembering the day he bought it for Rachel. He sets the earring on top of the dresser and walks back across the room to open the blinds. As he walks past the end of his bed, he sees that his closet light is on. Again? he thinks.

Patrick walks over to the closet door and sees the gray trifold open on the chair with the lottery ticket sitting on top.

Patrick awakes, jolting upwards and panting. He looks to his right to see that the blinds and the window remain closed. He looks to his left over the expanse of his bed to his dresser. No earring.

“I have to get rid of that wallet,” he says.

Patrick rushes through his morning routine. He goes into his closet, flips on the light, pulls the shoebox out, and retrieves the trifold. He slips on a pair of sandals and bounds out of his room down the stairs. He sets the wallet next to his keys and his phone on the table outside the kitchen. Patrick wolfs down an apple and buttered toast, not even bothering to sit down. He grabs his things and jams them into his pockets. He walks over to his laptop at the far end of his table.

Patrick pulls the wallet back out of his pocket and searches the address on the businessman’s driver’s license. “Good.  It’s not far,” he says. Patrick studies the turns and street names before shutting his laptop. He pauses to look down the row of seven empty chairs at the table. He puts the wallet into his pocket and walks out his front door, locking it behind him.

Patrick walks down the sidewalk. Sunrays slash their way through wispy clouds, demanding the suburbanites to enjoy the nice weather. Patrick walks past dozens of pristine houses which border the street like a wall. He stops in front of a split-entry home, sky-blue with white trim.

“This is it,” he says. Patrick swallows back his fear and walks to the front steps. He pauses and thinks, I could just walk away now. He’s probably already forgotten about that stupid thing anyways. He might want his driver’s license back, but I could just take the ticket, give him his wallet, and book it back home before he has time to realize what’s missing.

Patrick takes two steps up the stairs, and his stomach churns in protest. His heart seems to jump in his chest like a sugar-fed toddler. His breaths become shorter with each inhalation.

“Hey!” someone calls from behind. Patrick whips to face the stranger and falls down the two steps in the process. He catches himself on his hand, scraping off some skin.

“Whoa, dude, are you okay?” the stranger yells.

Patrick groans. “My hand,” he says. He rolls onto his back. “I think I’ll just stay down here for a little bit.”

The man laughs. “Need any help?” he asks, still yelling.

“Ehh, no thanks,” says Patrick, rising to his feet. He checks to see if this obnoxious man has any pockets on his shorts. He does not.

“Are you looking for John?” the man shouts. “Cause if you are, you won’t find him there.”

“Oh?” Patrick says.

“Yeah, I live across the street. My name’s Jess. I barbeque with John sometimes. He’s a great guy. He’s probably up at the park helping with the children’s concert.”

Patrick fails to hear the last sentence. This guy’s way too chatty, he thinks. And loud. Can’t he just leave?

Jess continues his ramble. “Anyways, why are you looking for John?”

I never even said I was. Patrick responds, “Oh, we met at Broaster’s yesterday. He said to come and meet up with him this afternoon. I guess he must’ve forgot. Where did you say he was at?”

“Oh, probably over at that park a street or so south. It’s a nice place. Have you ever been?”

“I don’t go to parks. Never been a fan.”

“Well, you can leave a message with me if you’d like, and I can have him get back to you. You have a cell phone?”

Leave you a message? Patrick thinks. So you can yell to everyone that I stole his wallet?

Patrick smiles at Jess. “Ah, no thanks. I’ll just go over there. I’ve got nothing else planned.”

“You sure? It’s really not a problem.”

“Yeah, I’m sure. Thanks for the help.” I guess.

“You’re very welcome. Have a nice day.” The loud neighbor walks back to his house and gives Patrick a wave before reentering his home.

Once Jess leaves his line of sight, Patrick grimaces and shakes his head. “Some people …” he murmurs.

Patrick keeps walking in his original direction. He crosses over to the next street, and he begins to hear the noises of a crowd. Children squeal with excitement, their voices rising above the overall din of people chattering. Patrick’s head begins to throb. He slows his walking to a creep. He does not see the park yet.  His mouth dries up. He can feel himself beginning to tremble.

This will all be over soon, he thinks.

Patrick sees the end of a row of houses. He cannot control the shaking anymore. He struggles to walk forward. Step by step he can feel dread pressing on him. He wipes his now-sweaty hands on his shorts. Patrick tries to encourage himself. “This shouldn’t take long,” he says.

Patrick walks around the last house’s yard and finally enters the park. Patrick’s stomach rolls, and he stands paralyzed at the park entrance. He cannot move at all. He tries to escape, but his body disobeys, so all he can do is observe the terrors before him.

Not a single tree decorates the park. A mob mulls under a concrete pavilion towards the middle of the field. On a stage next to the pavilion, a live band tunes their instruments. Patrick cannot spy the businessman. The openness of the park and the largeness of the crowd fill his vision. Nothing else has an effect on his mind.

Patrick cannot even think. Amidst a jangle of fractured sensory receptions, only one coherent thought remains. It echoes louder with every repetition.

Get out. Get out! GET OUT. 

A sharp pain in his chest steals Patrick’s breath from him. He collapses to the ground. He curls into the fetal position, clutching his gut. His vision blurs, and Patrick wretches. Nothing comes up. He continues to cough and sputter; the tightness in his chest intensifies. Patrick shivers. Cold sweat collects on his face and back.

Patrick hears someone approaching him. A man’s voice says, “Sir! Are you okay? Can you hear me?”

Patrick rolls upward to see who had addressed him.

“… Have we met before?” John asks.

Patrick wakes on a leather couch with a damp towel on his forehead. He sits up and groans.

“Ah, you’re awake now,” John says. He sets down a newspaper and walks from his armchair to the couch. He hands Patrick a water bottle and says, “Here. Drink this.”

Patrick snatches the drink and begins to gulp it down.

“… slowly,” John says. “You’ve just passed out. Just sip it. Sip!”

Patrick sets the empty bottle on an end table. “Too late,” he says.

John slightly tilts his head. “Do I know you from somewhere?” he asks.  “There’s something about you – I think it’s your voice – that seems … familiar.”

Patrick lies back down on the couch and sighs. He feels his palms begin to sweat, and the wallet in his pocket presses against his thigh, the edges like blades. He swallows.

“Are you okay?” John asks. “You’re getting pale again.”

Patrick shakes his head. “I’m fine. Just a little woozy.” He stands up and reaches into his pocket. “I’m here because you dropped this at Broaster’s yesterday.” Patrick pulls the wallet out of his pocket and holds it out to John.

John’s eyes widen, his own face turning white. “How d-did you find this?”

“It was on the floor, like I said.” Sweat beads on Patrick’s forehead. He wipes his brow. “I thought you’d want it back.”

That’s it? Patrick thinks. He starts to tremble.

“Oh … I … Thank you, sir,” John says, also trembling. “I’m not sure you know how much this means. I got a lottery ticket the other day. I used my lucky numbers: the room numbers for all my classes in my junior year of college. Best year of my life.”

“Oh,” Patrick says. He slides his hand down across the back of his head. “How much was it worth?”

“Six million dollars. Six. Million.”  John’s eyes widen with each word. “A lot of people wouldn’t have gone through the trouble that you did. You’ve done something … remarkable.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” Patrick responds.

“Why wouldn’t you be?”

“I don’t feel remarkable.”

John puts his hand on Patrick’s shoulder. “You are.” John opens the wallet and plucks out the five-dollar bill. “Here, take this,” he says. “I know that you deserve more, but this is all the cash that I have on me right now.”

Color rushes back to Patrick’s face. He lifts his hand to receive the money but hesitates.

“Please take it,” John says. “I insist.”

Patrick accepts the bill, folding it and putting it in his pocket.

John says, “Thank you so much. Feel free to stay if you don’t think you’re well enough to go home. How did you get here, even?”

“I walked,” Patrick answers. “I don’t live too far from here. And I think I can go now.”

“Well, go knowing that you’ve done a great thing.”

John shows him to the door, and Patrick walks down the porch steps.

“Take care,” John says. “I think you’ve restored my faith in humanity.”

Patrick waves and turns his back on John. He rounds the corner and sees a hawk flying overhead. Two young boys ride bicycles up and down the street. Sunlight glints off the handlebars. Sprinklers hiss as they water well-manicured lawns. An elderly woman prunes a rosebush. The smooth sidewalk stretches out of Patrick’s line of sight.