Jim was a lottery ticket junkie. Every day for the last 35 years, he had bought a cup of Sumatra Blend, a breakfast sandwich, and a scratch off ticket from the Drop-On-In convenience store at the corner of Elm and Main on his way to work. He had never won any serious money; twenty-five here, twenty-five there, just enough to keep him buying one every day of the week.
Janet, Jim's wife of 35 years, had resignedly accepted Jim's routine and had given up admonishing him years ago about the uselessness of purchasing the tickets. Jim's argument was that it was "just a couple of bucks" ignoring the fact that his cumulative spending over the years had become quite significant. He just knew that he was going to be the "lucky one" some day; he could feel it in his bones.
Saturday morning Janet was working on bills and Jim was mowing the yard. For Janet, there just never seemed to be enough money to go around. Every month she performed her own little lottery to see which bills would be paid. She had become adept at fielding the phone calls from the credit card companies, the utilities companies, and the bank seeking payment on delinquent accounts. Although Jim and Janet had never faced foreclosure on their 40-year-old three bedroom ranch, there had been many tense moments over the years. Their old car needed replaced badly and Jim had been advocating that they purchase a new mini-van.
"Zero down and sixty months to pay!" he had stated. "We can make the payments out of the overtime that I'm sure to get this year…C'mon, Babe, be a sport! All of our neighbors have new cars."
Janet had been adamant. There was absolutely no room in the household budget for another payment—even if it was interest free. They would just have to make do as they had managed to do the last 30 plus years.
Arising from her chair after writing the last check for the minimum amount on their credit card bill, Janet gathered up the checkbook, put the remaining unpaid bills that would be dealt with next pay cycle into her well-worn accordion organizer, and thought about what to fix for lunch.
She heard the mower shut off signaling that Jim would soon be inside asking for something to eat. She grabbed a couple of cheese slices from the fridge and four slices of bread. Grilled cheese sandwiches would have to do today. She would shop Wednesday at Aldi's and clip coupons from the Sunday paper tomorrow to replenish the meager supplies that rested on her pantry shelf.
Coming inside, Jim headed straight for the bedroom to change clothes and get ready to watch the afternoon game on TV.
"Be there in a second, Hon. Get me a beer, will ya?"
Janet turned the sandwiches in the skillet and poured two glasses of water—Jim had consumed the last of the beer last night with his bowl of buttered microwave popcorn. She dropped a couple of ice cubes in the water and placed them on the table that she had set for their lunch.
Returning to the kitchen, Jim was carrying the scratch-off ticket he had purchased this morning at the Drop-On-In when he bought his morning paper and his first cup of Sumatra. He always made a ritual of scratching off his Saturday ticket at lunch. That way, he could prove to Janet, when his winning ticket was purchased, that his diligence in buying tickets all of those years had paid off.
The scratch-off numbers held a special attraction to Jim. Three matching numbers would change their lives. Three matching numbers would fulfill all their dreams. Three matching numbers would make him a hero at work and to the boys he played cards with at Freddie's once a month. Three matching numbers would…well, would make him a millionaire!
That had a nice ring to it.
Using a coin from his pocket, Jim scratched the first number revealing a six.
"Jim, eat your sandwich. It's getting cold," sighed Janet.
Taking a bite, Jim scratched off the second number, revealing another six…
Jim's heart rate increased. His palms dampened and he felt light headed.
He let the ticket lay on the table for a moment before scratching off the last number thinking that, somehow, by waiting, his dreams would come true.
So close now. One more six would get them the new car they needed. One more six would pay off their mortgage. One more six would take care of those nasty phone calls from the credit card companies. One more six would make Jim respectable.
Scratching off the last bit of latex ink on the last number revealed another six…
Three in a row; Jim was a millionaire. His wishes were reality.
The kitchen chair banged to the floor as Jim leapt to his feet screaming that he had won.
Quietly, Janet looked at the ticket to confirm Jim's outburst. Yes, it appeared that he was correct. There seemed to be three sixes in a row; however, the last six looked smudged. Perhaps Jim had altered it in his zeal to uncover the winning number.
Jim grabbed the ticket and headed for the door.
"I'm going to the Drop-On-In to claim my winnings!" he shouted, and was out the door.
Entering the convenience store, Jim shouted at Carl the day manager that he "had a winner". With trembling fingers, Jim pulled the ticket from his shirt pocket and placed it on the counter.
Carl looked at the ticket and began completing the paperwork the state required for submission. Carl knew that his store would gain also in the prize and congratulated Jim on his good fortune. The last six appeared a little fuzzy, but Carl wasn't going to challenge Jim. After all, this guy had spent a fortune at his place over the last thirty five years.
Jim pulled into the driveway around 6 p.m. It had been a busy afternoon. After he had submitted the ticket, he stopped by the car dealership and test drove that new mini-van promising that he would be in next week to close the deal in cash, of course. He stopped by the hardware store and ordered that new set of tools that he had been longing for; his buddies were going to be so envious of his new found wealth. Next stop was the sporting goods store where he made an appointment to be fitted for a new set of custom clubs next week. He told the guy at the store to be thinking about accessories, too. In fact, he thought he might even look into his own electric cart that he could keep at the course. He made a mental note of that and headed for home.
The rest of the evening was spent by Jim making list after list of things that they were going to do over the next few months with his winnings. They had arrived…in a few days, they would be millionaires. That had a nice ring to it. They were almost millionaires!
Jim wasn't shy about telling his buddies of his luck Monday at the shop. In fact, he told his foreman that he wasn't sure he was really going to need this job, but he would "hang in there for awhile" until he decided what he was going to do. Jim loved the independence that money afforded.
Jim and Janet were at work on Tuesday when the call came from the state lottery office and they retrieved the following message from the answering machine just before supper:
"Hi, Jim. This is Sally Jenkins from the state lottery office. We have received your ticket submitted by the Drop-On-In convenience store. I wanted to let you know that the ink smudged during the printing process on this batch of lottery tickets. The last number is actually a '26' rather than a '6'. So, your ticket is not a winning ticket. We're sorry for the inconvenience. We will gladly reimburse you for the replacement cost for a new ticket. We will be sending you an official letter in the next few days noting what I have told you in this message. Thanks for playing! Have a nice day."
At the end of the month, Janet wrote the next set of checks to meet the household bills that always came due too soon. The last check that she wrote every month was in the amount of $150.00, payable to the same company. Writing this check had been as regular as clockwork for the last thirty five years. Every day Janet would set $5 aside, calling it her "rainy day fund". She had opened an IRA account the first year that Jim and she were married and had faithfully set aside five bucks a day for it since opening it. At the time she had asked Jim about opening an account for himself as well. He wasn't interested and had long forgotten their conversation about saving for the future. Her meager earnings at the day care center provided enough earned income for her to build her account.
Janet picked up the phone and called Mr. Sullivan, her investment advisor.
"Hi, Mr. Sullivan. I just wanted to let you know that I'm getting ready to send another check to you for you to deposit for me."
"Great, Janet. I'll be looking for it. Thank you."
"By the way, Mr. Sullivan, I'm curious. Could you tell me the approximate value of my account?"
"Indeed I can, Janet. It looks like year-to-date, you have almost $750,000 accumulated. You're almost a millionaire."