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“It’s his fault, you know,” Ronni proclaimed.

“What’s his fault, exactly? The divorce? Or the fact that he stopped paying child support?” Candace Mahoney juggled her three year old son and her purse.

“How about both?”

The two young women laughed.

“I like both. Both is good.” Candace kissed little Ben on the cheek. “But even if I can’t blame my job loss on him, Christmas is going to be rough. Not to mention that big heating bill’s coming up. How could one tiny apartment generate such a high bill? But I’ll find a job soon so I’m keeping Ben in daycare with you, Ronni. Next to me, you’re the most stable thing he’s got.”

They said their goodbyes for the night.

Candace did have a tiny bit of money set aside. It would be helpful if her ex would pay child support, though. The second he knew his pay was garnished for child support; he’d quit his job and find a new one. A prince among men, that one.

What she needed was a Christmas miracle.

*     *     *

“That’ll be $15.21.”

            Gah. Well, she had to have milk. And laundry soap. And toilet paper, for God’s sake. She handed over the cash. It left her just enough to put gas in her car—guess she and Ben would be eating dinner at her mother’s house this week.

Candace put away the meager supplies when they got home. After their light supper, Ben played in her room with his toy cash register as Candace cleaned out her closet. She made a pile to take to the consignment shop. She figured while she waited on responses from the slew of resumes she had sent, she could sell some of her unused clothing, accessories and shoes; perhaps she could make a few dollars.

With a sigh, she tossed a gold lamé dress on the “to go” pile. She thought for a minute, fingered the material, and then grabbed it back out of the pile.

            No. It’s the one thing I have in my closet that I would wear if I ever go on a date. As an out-of-work single mother, she wasn’t quite date material. But she could feel attractive, right?

Grabbing the dress, she said, “BenBen, Mommy’s going to try this on, ok? I’ll be right back. Just keep playing with your toys.”

“I’m playing bank, Mommy.”

“I know,” she called from the bathroom. She shucked off her flannel shirt and leggings and slid the lamé over her head.

Oh. Oh. It still fit like a dream, clinging to her svelte body like a second skin. It’s svelte because I can’t afford to swing through the drive-through at McDonalds or Dairy Queen any more.

She danced a few steps in front of the mirror. “Ben!” she sang, as she sashayed back into the bedroom. “Let’s dance, baby…”

Ben sat on the floor with her old brown purse in his lap and a half eaten roll of Certs in his grip.  His jaw worked furiously as he chewed the candy as fast as possible before Candace could take it away.

“Ben! No! That’s old and icky!” Candace held her hand out for him to spit the Certs into it. That’s what I get for being distracted. Turn my back for one second and look what happens.

“I play bank, Mommy. I find money.”

“Playing bank, huh?” She ruffled his hair. “I’d like to have four dollars, please.”

Ben loved a chance to show off his counting skills. He proudly counted out three store receipts and a movie stub into her hand. “One, two, free, four.”

Candace’s heart swelled. “That’s right!  Nice counting!” She turned to throw the receipts and candy into the trash.

“Five.”

“Five? What else do you have, Ben?”

“More money.”

He handed her the “money”. A Merry Mistletoe lottery scratch-off card that she had never scratched.

“Where’d you find this?” she asked.

“In the purse,” he replied.

Probably not a winner. Most of them weren’t, or were at most a $2 win. Still in her dress, she carried Ben back to the kitchen for a snack. After settling him into his booster seat with some graham crackers and milk, she leaned over the counter and began to scratch the play areas of the card.

The first two amounts were $500,000. Oh, God. That would be a miracle. Wouldn’t have to worry about where the next meal was coming from—or the new brakes—could take some time off to be with Ben.

She scratched the next two revealing $40 and $2. Now that’s more my speed. Two more squares to go. Her coin scratched the gray spot. $2. That meant she had a chance of winning either a) nothing, b) $2, or c) $500,000.

People like her won $2. Not $500,000. Might as well not even get her hopes up.

Nervous, she went to the sink and filled her kettle, threw a tea bag into a cup, then sat back down at the table. I’ll start from the right side and scratch left.

00

The tension was delicious. Probably for nothing, but delicious anyway.

She called the gas station down the street and asked if the Merry Mistletoe Game was over and was told it was ending in a few weeks.

            So the ticket’s still valid.

            Scratch.

Another zero.

She bit her lip. It’s probably $1,000. The teapot whistled. She jumped up and with shaking hands poured the hot water over the waiting tea bag.

            Why am I doing this to myself? It’s not a winner.

“Mommy, want to play bank?”

Recklessly, Candace scraped off the rest of the scratch area. Her heart sang as she revealed the final amount. Happy tear drops splashed down like diamonds onto her gold dress.

“Yes, baby,” she choked out.  “Let’s play bank.”

Chris Picture 1460958_10151799688436603_406212805_a

Christine Cacciatore, a member of In Print, a professional writer’s organization, co-authored Baylyn, Bewitched and Cat, Charmed, with her sister Jennifer Starkman. They are sold on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. She is happily married with three children and one granddaughter. Christine blogs at the Life and Times of Poopwa Foley. She has multiple short stories published in the Not Your Mother’s Book anthologies and is happy to include her latest short story, Noah Cane’s Candy, in the first Writing Wenches anthology.

 

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