Last week I won the lottery. Now no one will talk to me.
The first place I went was to Chevyland to buy a brand-new Tahoe LTZ, Red Jewel with chrome wheels and a boat hitch. I drove it to work to show the guys. That’s when Skip stopped speaking to me, since he wanted to sell me the 2008 Blazer he’s trying to unload before his almost-ex gets it.
I told my boss Jerry I’d need some time off, to enjoy my lottery winnings. He’s convinced his back-to-school “Tire Honor Roll” ads are going to bring customers in droves, and he wasn’t too happy about losing his second-best salesman. He chomped on the cigar he’s not allowed to light and said he didn’t want to hear from me until I was ready to get my rear in gear and earn my over-inflated salary.
My parents weren’t thrilled either. Dad had fantasized about winning, although Mom said what would it matter since all he ever wanted to do was sit on the couch, watching the twenty-five sports channels they now get. I told Dad if he could pry himself away from the TV, I’d take him on a men’s getaway. Mom stomped out of the den without offering me any homemade brownies, and Dad turned up the volume on the handball tournament he was watching.
Linda took it better. Hugged me and said congratulations. She’s a nice girl. People tell me so at least ten times a day, usually followed by, “When are you going to marry her?” I’ve long since run out of good answers for that question.
I told her I was going away. She asked where. Since she’s always telling me to be honest with her, I was. Now she’s giving me the silent treatment too.
I gassed up the Tahoe and hit I-65, heading south. Kenzie, my ex, lives in Elberta, Alabama. We dated during college while I was a half-decent running back for Bama. When my pro career with the Falcons washed out, she called me a loser. Packed all my DVDs and moved in with her personal trainer.
Once, when my cable was out and none of my friends were home, I called and asked her what it would take to get her back.
“Winning the lottery,” she said and hung up.
I always wondered if she meant it. Turns out she did. I called her while I was test-driving the Tahoe. Her relationship with the personal trainer didn’t work out, and she sounded happy to hear from me. We’ve talked on the phone and texted several times since, and she invited me down.
Kenzie lived in a rented bungalow that had probably been built as someone’s summer home. It had a big screened porch and seashell chimes beside the front door. I saw the curtain move when I pulled up, but she waited until I rang the bell to open the door.
“Jemison! You haven’t changed a bit!”
It was a lie. Five years out of football, and everything started slipping, but I didn’t say anything. She hugged me, and I smelt Obsession, the perfume I always bought her on her birthday.
“Come on in.”
Her living room was mottled red, and she had white leather sofas with big Chinese vases. I sat beside the window, away from the artificial palm fronds that spread out of the nearest vase. “So how’ve you been?”
She sat near me, her legs crossed at the ankles in the way her mother had told her a lady should sit. “I’m working at GulfCoast Realty. Just clerical now, but I’m getting my realtor’s license.”
In this market? I almost said, but I caught myself. “I’m sure men will line up to buy houses from you.”
She giggled. A fat tabby came from nowhere to jump on her lap and glare at me. “Not now, Lucci,” she told him. She excused herself to shut him up in one of the bedrooms.
I looked around. She had a picture of her cat on one of the glass and brass end tables, and beside it sat a picture of me in all my football glory.
“Sorry about that.”
“No problem. So tell me what you’ve been up to.”
She talked, and I listened. Her blonde hair was shorter, barely shoulder length. No need for a spray tan when you lived at the beach. I looked for lines or fat, but I didn’t see any. She hadn’t exactly fallen apart without me. She tilted her head when she talked and kept touching my arm.
When we started talking about college, she pulled out a huge scrapbook. She turned to a page that had a collage of snapshots of her and me, framed by a border of hearts. “This page holds a lot of fond memories for me,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at it and remembered all the good times we had.”
I touched one edge, and a drop of glue clung to my finger.
She looked up at me with widened blue eyes. “I’ve thought about calling you, but I wasn’t sure you’d want to hear from me.”
A little wriggle, and she was right up against me, in position for a kiss. I obliged, and she sighed.
‘I was such an idiot.”
I wasn’t going to argue with that one.
“You must be hungry, after that long drive. I made you some homemade gumbo. Your favorite.”
Gumbo was Kenzie’s specialty. She had cooked it for me the first time I visited her apartment. She never knew I found out it was really frozen Kajun Kitchen’s Gulf Gumbo. Linda wasn’t much of a cook either, but she didn’t hide the Stouffer’s package when she made lasagna.
We ate, and I told her I had to go. “”I have some business I need to take care of over near Mobile this afternoon.”
“Yes, as a matter of fact.”
She came over to me and slid her arms around my waist. “How much did you win?”
“More than you can imagine.”
She laughed. “Maybe I could ride with you? You could drop me off at the outlet mall and pick me up afterwards.” Then she looked like she wished she could take back her offer.
I knew she was thinking shopping at an outlet mall might sound tacky. “Ah, so you’re a smart shopper these days,” I said. “Sure, you’re welcome to tag along.”
“And maybe we could come back here afterwards,” she offered.
I dropped her at the outlet mall in Foley and told her I’d call her in a couple of hours. She was waiting on a bench. Bags and sacks surrounded her. When I’d unloaded all her shopping into her living room, I headed back for the door. “Well, I’d better be going.”
“You’re leaving?” she pouted. “I thought you might be interested in seeing a couple of the things I bought today.” She looked at me from under her lashes. “In fact, if you don’t have a hotel reservation…?”
“You’d let me stay with you?” I wanted her to say it.
She came closer and put her hand on her chest. “Sure. We can play football star and cheerleader.”
“Thanks, Kenzie. First there’s something I want to show you.” I reached in my pocket and pulled out a slip of paper.
“What’s this?” she frowned at it.
“What kind of license?” She batted her eyes at me.
She looked up at me. “I don’t understand.” Her expression was sweet, but there was a hint of annoyance behind the baby blues.
“And an Alligator Possession Tag.”
“What are these for?”
I explained how the state of Alabama held a lottery for alligator hunting permits. “This year my name was drawn, so I’m entitled to one alligator.”
“This?” She waved the paper. “Your lottery prize is an alligator?”
“Permission to hunt an alligator,” I explained.
Her face turned red. “I was right, Jemison Parker. You haven’t changed a bit. You’re still a big, fat LOSER!”
She called me a few more names, at a volume developed through years of cheerleading, and slammed the door so hard one of the wind chimes fell off. Guess she’s not speaking to me either.
Now I’m headed home, to pick up a ring for Linda, convince her she’s not too mad at me to accept it, and hope it keeps her sweet while I organize the gator hunting trip of a lifetime.