The Game Changer

Robert got out of bed at 6:30am after what felt like a night without sleep. His mind was racing, buzzing; he’d fade off for a while them immediately start running the scenarios in this head, over and over.

He shuffled down the stairs and into the kitchen, where he put a pot of water on the stove for coffee. While his body was weary, his mind was spinning; nothing this day seemed real. He felt like he had been transported to some random place, where everything around him appeared slightly different from yesterday. Everything in Robert’s familiar, ordinary world looked suddenly temporary.

The urge to shout his news from a rooftop was palpable, but he had been warned by his parents to maintain complete silence. They had to develop a plan first, a strategy to navigate the innumerable challenges that lay ahead. He knew they were right, but the temptation to share what he knew with someone, anyone, was excruciating.

He drank his coffee standing up, too nervous and anxious to sit. He thought about the friends he was going to lose. Making friends was not the easiest thing for him to do; while not a recluse, he didn’t view himself as someone who could make connections easily. Social situations could be  awkward for him, and he relied on a small circle of confidants- Jim from the office, his wife Julia; Billy, who Robert had known since elementary school (and oddly preferred to still be addressed as Billy), and Sara, a sweet girl -next-door type who worked at the deli down the block. He wondered how his inner circle would react to the news and how they would feel about it. He suspected they would be supportive, but felt this great unease about how their relationships might change. The scenarios were churning through his head, unceasing.

He had called in sick the night before. It would have been impossible to go to work today, he said to himself. I would have just sat in that cube, paralyzed.

He decided to leave the house and go for a drive. Pulling out of the condo complex, he navigated his 2001 Subaru through the neighborhood, and onto the freeway, where he drove for over two hours before pulling off to refuel. He had nowhere to go this day; he just didn’t want to sit still.

The demands of Robert’s newly minted life were overwhelming to him. He was going to become a people magnet, a notion that brought a pang of discomfort as he accelerated up the on-ramp to resume his journey to nowhere in particular. He would be negotiating relationships now, judging, sensing and sizing up people. Friendships and acquaintances would be transactional. The fear and dread would be replaced by moments of breathless anticipation, of imagining all that was now possible and attainable; his mood would shift from ebullient to morose, and back again.

Robert and his sister Beth grew up in a working-class neighborhood, a post-WWII subdivision of homes constructed under the GI Bill. His mother was a traditional housewife, but active in the community. His father was a middle management type at a textile plant. The family’s existence was comfortable, though a bit routine; weekend brunch at the grandparents every Sunday, 2 weeks’ vacation at Aunt Judy’s home on the Washington State coast every year. The household was stable and predictable. Robert and Beth were average students, with cliques of friends in the low-to-moderate popularity range. Beth excelled at music and theatre, Robert preferring solitary pursuits like walking the family dog and writing. His genre of choice was fantasy, inspired by 80’s films like Excalibur and the Conan series. He liked the idea of being able to transport himself to another world, to be his own man and make his own rules. He didn’t share his words with anyone; a pile of binders in his room was the repository for his collection of stories about witches, spirits and conquerors.

1pm: his journey now eclipsing four hours, Robert pulled his car off the freeway and parked it at a truck stop. There was a 24-hour coffee shop adjacent to the fueling center; he walked in, requested a booth, and ordered lunch. A few minutes later, the food arrived, but he didn’t immediately dig in. He pulled the item from his back pocket, laminated to protect it from damage. His hands trembled as he placed it on the table. He stole a moment, to savor it, in this place where we was completely anonymous, and felt safe.

45 36 08 38 09     Mega 0230 million dollars. Robert was the sole winner.The ticket was purchased at a convenience store a few weeks earlier, an impulse buy; he rarely played, aware of the astronomical odds of winning. The jackpot was large, so on a lark, he bought a quick pick, tossing it on his bedroom dresser when he arrived home later that day. The ticket sat undisturbed in that spot for three weeks, until he checked the past winning numbers on the lotto website.

He stared at the ticket, as he had so many times the past 24 hours, running the scenarios.

A waitress approached the booth, noticing Robert’s food was untouched.

“Everything OK, darlin’?”

“Yeah, sure…”

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