The Lucky Winner

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Chapter 11

“Can we start thinking about buying a new house now? How about we move to Los Angeles so I can finally make my dreams come true and become a Hollywood star?” I asked Mom as soon as I arrived home one day.

I’d stayed at Zoe’s after school, so Mom was already home. We were supposed to hang out at Sophia’s but she’d disappeared during the lunch break and ditched the rest of the day without telling us. That was so not her. Zoe and I kept texting her, and she finally wrote that she felt sick in the bathroom and had gone straight home. She said she was really sick and asked us not to come over and check on her. That made us worry terribly, but we figured we’d just talk to her tomorrow.

I’d been wanting to ask Mom about buying a new house ever since the one-month anniversary after the winning. However, I had to admit, the thought of moving away from Sophia and Zoe made me very sad. I’d never looked at it from that angle until then. Now that we actually had the financial ability to do so, I began to see the cons of it. The three of us spent so much time together ever since we were little. But the truth was, people moved all the time. It was rare when people chose to stay in their birthplaces forever—well, not including my parents, my grandparents, my great grandparents, and most of the people in Littleside.

Well, we could always build a new house here temporarily, and think about moving to Los Angeles after my graduation or something. Yeah, maybe.

“Mom,” I dropped my bag on the floor as I searched for her in the house. Evidently, it was hard to get lost in a thousand-square-foot house—I found her in her bedroom with the door open.

“Mom. Did you hear me? I waited for a while just like you told me, and now it’s time. People aren’t talking about the lottery anymore. It’s ancient history. So we’re safe.” I lied. Everybody was still talking about it. “We could even build a—”

“Someone was in my bedroom.” Mom mumbled before I could finish the sentence.

“What?” I wrinkled my nose.

“Someone was in here,” she repeated as her eyes searched the entire room. Her back was still facing me.

“Why do you say that?” I didn’t like the tone of her voice at all. It gave me the creeps.

“The photos,” she pointed at the photo frames on the nightstand. “Someone moved them.”

She slowly turned around and looked at me. I surveyed her face for a second. She looked very serious. In fact, she seemed to be shaken to the core. And for what? Because the photo frames were moved a little? Dad could have done that. Or she could have done that herself when she cleaned.

Has she lost it?

“Maybe Dad touched them.” I said with a sigh. I wanted her to stop acting so unnecessarily nervous. Seriously.

“Dad never comes to this side of the bed. This is my side.”

I sighed again. “Maybe you touched it in your sleep. Or when you were cleaning. Big deal.”

Mom’s eyes fixed onto mine.

“I always put these behind this,” she pointed at the picture frames as she continued. “This one with you as a baby was here, and this one with Kyle, over here. And this picture of all of us together at the church goes over here. In front.”

I remained silent for a moment. If I thought she was completely crazy, or wanted to deny her claim, I couldn’t because deep inside, a small part of me doubted that it was purely her imagination. I knew how OCD she was when it came to keeping everything neat and exactly in the same location. She cleaned the house often, but always put everything back exactly the way it was. If she placed the photo frames in a certain arrangement, she would never change it.

“Maybe Kyle was looking at the pictures,” saying that, I knew it could never be possible. He hated pictures. Especially his own. Besides, he never hung out in our parents’ bedroom.

Right…?

“You didn’t find anything rearranged in another part of the house, right?” I asked, but only because I wanted her to stop talking like a lunatic. “Was Kyle home before you?” I could hear his stupid video game from his closed room.

Kyle had bought a second-hand TV so he could play his video games in his own room. I wondered why he didn’t buy a brand new one especially after getting five thousand dollars. Cheap bastard. But if he really were the one who’d given Sophia the money for her cat’s surgery, then he wouldn’t have had any money left to buy a brand new TV, would he?

“Yes…” Mom answered after a pause.

“And he didn’t say anything, right?” Not that he’d have noticed anything.

Mom kept her gaze on me as if she were trying to communicate using only her eyes.

I needed to calm her down.

“Kyle,” I knocked on the door to Kyle’s bedroom. The sound of the video game got louder all of a sudden. Did he turn it up to ignore me? Jerk!

“Kyle!” I knocked harder.

“What?” he shouted from inside.

“Did you notice anything unusual when you got home? Mom thinks there might have been an intruder.”

“No,” he answered.

Wouldn’t you be the slightest bit curious if someone said there might have been an intruder in your house? He was so different from me and impossible for me to understand. I seriously wondered whether he’d been adopted.

I came back to Mom’s room and found her peeking under the bed, making sure no one was hiding there. Quietly approaching the closet, she opened the door. It was easy to see no one could have been hiding there—it was too small of a closet. She reached inside and grabbed a baseball bat that was hidden behind the hanging clothes.

My face turned into a grimace. “Mom. Don’t scare me,” I said in a low voice. I didn’t even know she had a baseball bat in her closet. Furthermore, I could never imagine her swinging it at anyone. She just wasn’t that type. Although, in a way, it was fairly understandable, considering we were usually alone in the house because Dad was often out of town. Even though we’d been doing an excellent job at concealing her winnings, I knew she’d been crazy nervous ever since that day.

Mom put her index finger over her lips and walked out of the room on her tiptoes. I trailed behind her, without knowing what else to do. Mostly, I felt like I needed to watch her.

She looked around the kitchen and opened the pantry, which was the only place anyone could have hidden in—only a small person though, maybe a hundred and twenty pounds max. Of course, we saw no one.

Then she moved on to the living room before searching the rest of the house. It was clearly unoccupied. We looked everywhere, and no intruder was hiding in our house.

I supposed that was one of the benefits of living in such a small house. If you ever suspected there might be an intruder inside a house like ours, you could search your entire house twice within minutes. Can you imagine living in a ten-thousand-square-foot house and fearing there might be someone hiding in it?

There was one room left to check—Kyle’s.

I was honestly scared to go inside his room. What if we came across something nasty? After the traumatic event of seeing what he did with Candy, entering his room for me was like being executed in an electric chair.

In any event, was there a chance someone might have been hiding in his room, even with him inside it? Hiding in his small closet while he played his video games? I wasn’t so sure.

Mom knocked on the door.

We heard nothing but the sound of the video game.

“Mom wants to search your room!” I shouted for her.

The video game paused. “I told you, I didn’t see anything weird.”

“She wants to check it anyway.” I started to get irritated. I could have just opened the door myself but I really wanted to avoid seeing Candy again.

“Just open the door,” I demanded.

The door opened.

As soon as I saw his face, I exclaimed. “What in the hell happened to your face?”

His face was swollen and his nose was purple like he was punched right between the eyes. I could see the remains of dried blood on his upper lip. There was only one person I could think of who’d have done that to him—Jerry.

Mom just stared at his face.

“I lost my glasses,” he said. “I couldn’t see and I fell.”

Again, a dumb lie.

“We have to get you a new pair then…” Mom muttered blankly.

I wasn’t sure if she believed his cheesy story—again—or simply didn’t have the capacity to think about anything else in her paranoiac state of mind.

I waited outside his room while Mom searched it. I was too young to die.

Mom came out of the room with a stoic expression, closing the door behind her.

“No intruder, right?” I asked the obvious.

“I wouldn’t know. The whole room is a mess,” she mumbled, as if someone could hide under the clutter.

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