I like stories that end with a twist. It is the kind of story I like to read as well as write.  But when your word count is limited, it’s hard to get in everything you want to say…

Money Well Spent

“Oh, no!” she moaned. “Not another overdraft notice!” The bank envelop with the distinctive etching on the outside and the perforated end tab was by now all too familiar to Sally. What would she say to Richard this time? He alternated between praising her for taking over the bill paying because he was increasingly overworked and had no time to do it, and yelling at her that she had to cut back on expenses because the money just wasn’t there to absorb “frivolities.” Once she had asked him to make a priority list of how the bills should be paid, and wasn’t really surprised that it was almost the exact opposite of her priority list. They never agreed on anything, so why should she expect agreement on this?

Richard and Sally weren’t newlyweds. In fact, their kids were grown and gone, but just barely. The kids still asked for money for things they couldn’t quite afford on their own.  Sally had resigned herself to giving them checks only on Christmas and their birthdays, just to keep the budget on an even keel. Twenty-five dollars for their birthdays and $100 for each birthday wasn’t a lot, and she was able to pay for it by joining the bank’s Christmas Club and saving all during the year.

She shopped at outlet stores and cut-rate grocery stores. Magazine and newspaper coupons were a blessing! It had been a long time since she had bought a “dry-clean” dress. Everything she owned could be washed in the washing machine. Thank goodness for permanent press! Truth was, she loved bargains and she was good at finding them. At least that was one thing that Richard praised her for.

It wasn’t as if Richard were a big spender either, but they had been living on his salary alone now since downsizing had eliminated her job at the company last year. Where she had made two thousand dollars a month, she now made nothing. The unemployment figures in their town were “wonderful, almost approaching full employment for everyone who wants to work,” according to the local paper. Well, she wanted to work, but she couldn’t find a job.

That’s why she had answered the ad in last Sunday’s paper. Apparently there was a need for a receptionist at the new hotel, working in the Executive Suite on the Penthouse floor. She had an interview scheduled for this afternoon. The lady who had set up the appointment told her that she would need to wear something “professional,” so Sally had been at the Mall all morning, shopping for interview clothes. The cobalt blue suit she found was dressy in a tailored sort of way.  It made her blue eyes shine, and it was 50% off! She had stopped by the discount hair styling salon in the Mall, where for only $15, her hair was cut in the short bob that the stylist assured her was all the rage.  Fortunately, her Easter shoes and handbag were still in good shape.

She had rushed home to put everything on, including makeup (which she seldom wore anymore), when the mail arrived. Hoping to find her unemployment check, she found instead the overdraft notice. There was also a rather formal looking envelope, but it didn’t open easily, which only increased her frustration. Bursting into tears, she could hardly see to look through the rest of the mail. No check. Shoving the mail in her purse, she ran for the car, barely making the interview.

After the interview was over, Sally tried to make some kind of sense out of the meeting she had had with the Human Resources people. There was a woman – prim and proper – and a man, who was more casual. Sally tried to answer their questions, which were alternately warm and almost cold. It reminded her of the “good cop, bad cop” routine.

The discomfort started when she walked into the conference room. Before she could take a seat, they silently walked around her, looking her over from head to toe. Then they looked at each other for a long minute, but made no comment. At times, they would almost joke with her, and then they would retreat into formality.

Abruptly, they rose. There were at least two other people they had to interview before they would make their decision, they said, but she would be hearing from them soon. The only thing Sally was sure of was that she wouldn’t be getting that job. She had the strong sense that the next interviewee was probably the candidate they were seeking, and she was just there as a setup to fulfill the Human Resources requirement.

The interview was obviously over.

Dazed, all Sally could think of was that she hadn’t gotten the job, but she had gotten the clothes! Over $150 spent on this interview, with no return on investment! How could she tell Richard? This, on top of the overdraft? She wanted to run away somewhere and hide.

At home, in her bedroom, she began taking off the clothes. Maybe she could return them to the store, saying they didn’t fit, or that she really didn’t like the color. That was a possibility, even if they were sale items.  At least the purse and shoes were hers.  As she started taking the things out of her purse, she noticed the unopened mail. Getting a pair of scissors, she cut open the envelop and reached inside. Unfolding the letter, she saw a check spiraling down to the floor. It was for $2,500 and it was addressed to her!

Momentarily distracted by the amount of the check, she methodically examined every inch of it, front and back, looking for the dreaded words: “This is Not a Valid Check.” But it was, in fact, a valid check and it was, in fact, made out to her! Who was it from? She scanned the letter.

Of all things, it was a sweepstakes prize!

Sally entered every sweepstakes promotion that crossed her mailbox, long ago ceasing to buy anything, but meticulously following every direction “if not ordering at this time.” And now, it had paid off! This was her money, her reward for those years of patiently and loyally sending in the sweepstakes! She was so proud that she had kept at it!

But Richard wouldn’t be proud. First of all, he didn’t know that she had continued to enter the sweepstakes, after he had yelled at her for buying all those magazines and books a couple of years ago. Secondly, he would probably not view this as “her” money, especially after she told him about the overdraft and the purchases she had made today.

It was almost time for Richard to come home. Dreading the approaching  confrontation, she grabbed her purse and ran back to the car. Any place else was better than being here!

An hour later, Sally drove into the garage. There stood Richard – smiling – holding flowers! He opened the car door and helped her – gently – out of the car and into a big bear hug. “I’m so glad you are home!” he said. “Oh, Richard, you won’t be glad when you find out what I’ve done!” And, sobbing, she told him all about the day’s events.  All, that is, except about the check.

Amazingly, he didn’t get mad. Putting his arm around her shoulder, he said “Let’s go  into the house. I’ve got something to show you.” There on the kitchen table was an envelop. “Open it,” he said. The card showed two bunnies side by side in the grass.  Inside, the two bunnies were rolling in four-leaf clovers.  It was a “Thank You” card that read:

To The Love of My Life

“Thank you for loving me

In spite of my imperfections.

Thank you for loving me

When I lost my sense of direction.

Steadfastly you stood beside me

When I thought my life was over.

And now it’s your turn, darling,

To roll with me in the clover!

Richard then explained that he had been working hard on a big project at work, and that his long hours had paid off – literally! He had gotten a promotion and a raise that was more than the equivalent of Sally’s lost salary. The only thing he regretted, he told her, was that all the long hours had taken their toll on him, and he was worn out. And until he actually got his raise, money would still be tight. Too bad they had to cancel their vacation.

“I can help with that,” she said, handing him two round-trip tickets to Hawaii. “And all paid for, too!”  She put her finger across his lips, as he started to ask questions. “Just call it my project money,” she laughed. “I think it’s money well spent!”