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Bewildering Stories

Teresa Richards, The Windfall App


The Windfall App
Author: Teresa Richards
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Date: July 27, 2018
ISBN: 9781773397252
Review: by Alison McBain

Chapter One: Cat Eye Glasses

My best friend’s raspberry spritzer sat dangerously close to the edge of the table, a twitch of the elbow away from tumbling to the floor. It was non-alcoholic, of course. The staff at Valer Prep made sure that alcohol was only consumed by parents — preferably ones with fat checkbooks — at the annual fundraising events.

I reached over Darya and slid her drink to a less precarious spot in the center of the table. She didn’t even notice — she just kept staring at the phone in her hands.

Okay, I was staring at it, too.

“The draw was at six. Why haven’t they posted the numbers yet?” Darya’s eyes were wide, and her dark hair hung in thick waves down her back. She had the tiniest hint of a Spanish accent, but it only came out when she was stressed or upset. Like now.

“Relax, it’s only been five minutes.” My leg bounced up and down under the table, upsetting the floor-length tablecloth.

The parents in the decked-out ballroom were dressed like they’d gotten lost on their way to the Oscars and ended up at our school’s silent auction by mistake. They mingled about, bidding on dinner cruises around the San Francisco Bay, wine country tours, and timeshares in Tahoe. What they really should have been bidding on were self-help courses like: Connecting with Teens for Dummies, or How to Break Your Workout Addiction in Ten Easy Steps.

Despite what I’d said to Darya, I felt anything but relaxed. We’d both bought lottery tickets to celebrate my eighteenth birthday a few days ago, and since we couldn’t be home watching the live draw, we had to wait for the winning numbers to appear on the app. The new Windfall game was all the rage — I knew several other seniors who’d bought tickets this week. But none of my classmates actually needed to win the lottery. Not like I did.


The voice cut my thoughts short and chilled my blood-like a shot of that raspberry spritzer was running through my veins. I shifted, at once aware of just how uncomfortable I was in my concert-black dress. “Yes, A-Ma?” A-Ma was Cantonese for Mom. I’d never called her anything else.

“Why aren’t you getting ready?” My mom’s hands fluttered in the air. She pulled me from my seat for an inspection. I was wearing the awful dress she’d insisted on — tight and itchy and black, the worst non-color of all colors. Black looked good on grand pianos, nothing else. To offset the black, I’d worn my red cat eye glasses instead of the contacts my mother preferred.

A-Ma clucked her tongue and reached for the glasses. “Jiao,” she said, calling me by my Chinese middle name like she always did when she was upset. “Why did you wear these, they make you look like a starving person. They’re way too big for your face...” She pulled them off and tucked them into her worn, leather purse. “You don’t need them to play. People will think I don’t feed you.”

I blinked, my world going fuzzy. She was right, I didn’t need to see in order to play the piano. All the music was in my head. But seeing was still nice. And I liked the glasses because they were the only piece of me I had up there. Everything else was the person my parents wanted me to be.

And the glasses were not too big for my face.

There was no point arguing with her, though. I would never win.

“Sorry,” I said to Darya.

She glanced at her phone, then flicked it off. “They’re still not up. I’ll wait for you.” She tucked the phone into her rhinestone clutch — the one she’d bought the night we saw Phoenix play downtown while we were supposed to be at a college fair. “Go kick some butt.”

I followed A-Ma through the crowded ballroom toward the stage, which held a grand piano, a free-standing microphone, and a podium. One of Valer’s favorite tricks was to put their students’ talents on display to encourage larger donations. Chen Lam was just finishing up his program. He’d been playing for twenty minutes, and before him a girl in my music theory class — Lisa? Lina? — had sung a medley of selections from The Phantom of the Opera .

A-Ma stopped near the stage, where my dad was talking with Mr. Cruz, Darya’s dad. My dad was almost a foot taller than A-Ma, Caucasian, and dressed in a midnight-blue suit with narrow pinstripes. He looked like a 1920s mobster. A classy one, of course.

My dad was the founder of a company called Beanies, which made and sold organic beanbag furniture. Good for the environment and good for you, they promised.

It had been good for him, too. Until recently.

Mr. Cruz clapped me on the shoulder. “So, Juilliard in the fall? Your parents must be so proud.”

A-Ma inserted herself into the conversation, a special talent of hers. “We’re still waiting. She hasn’t been accepted yet.”

“Oh, but she will be.” Mr. Cruz smiled, wide and full. “You were made for that school, Marina. Darya told me the audition went well?”

“It did. I should hear something soon.”

“Well, keep us in the loop. With Darya at NYU, you two will take New York City by storm!”

Chen played the final chords of one of his original compositions and I wrinkled my nose. I’d heard this one way too many times. Helped him with it, even, back when we were still friends.

I flexed my fingers. “I’m up. Excuse me.”

“Of course,” Mr. Cruz said. “Go break a leg. Or ... a finger, or whatever they say to musicians.”

My dad caught my eye and winked. It was his way of wishing me luck. Then he cocked his head, eyeing me. “Weren’t you wearing glasses?” He turned to my mom. “Lo Poh, give the girl back her glasses.”

Dad never called my mom by her name, Suyin. He called her Lo Poh, which technically just meant wife, but when he said it, there was an undertone of affection.

“No time.” A-Ma pressed my back, urging me forward. “She’ll be fine.”

“It’s okay, Dad.”

The crowd clapped as I walked on stage, and kept clapping as I adjusted the piano bench.

I sat. Lifted my arms and held them so my hands were suspended just above the keys with my fingertips caressing the starting notes. My dress cut into the skin on my back, just below my arms. But I ignored it and closed my eyes, anticipating the opening notes of my piece.

Then I disappeared into the music.

* * *

Enthusiastic applause accompanied me offstage twenty minutes later. My eyes raked the crowd for Darya, but the people applauding me were just a blur. I bowed and made my way down the stairs, where A-Ma stood by my dad.

Dad pulled me into a bear hug. “You were wonderful, as always. Wasn’t she wonderful, Lo Poh?”

A-Ma nodded. “She was not bad.”

For a single heartbeat, I basked in the compliment. Because not bad was a compliment.

Then she added, “But Chen was very good. You better practice more so he doesn’t steal the County spot again.” Her mouth turned down into a worried frown.

I stiffened. Chen is very good and I’m not bad? Really?

Chen’s mother was A-Ma’s best friend. There’d been an unspoken, but fierce, competition between the two of them since the day Chen and I started piano lessons. Last summer, when Chen had won the coveted piano spot at County Youth Orchestra and I’d been made the alternate, Chen’s mother had gloated for weeks. Even worse, Chen had turned into this psychotic, power-hungry, piano machine. He showed up early for every rehearsal and performance, and even played an entire concert with the stomach bug — with a garbage can nearby in case he had to puke — just so I wouldn’t get a chance to play.

That was right after we broke up.

Dad patted me on the back. “Give the girl some credit. Marina played beautifully, as she always does. It was more beautiful than tears on a baby.”

Dad looked at me expectantly.

Oh. That was my cue. “More beautiful than ... fog on the bay.”

“More beautiful than a bathtub full of ice cream,” he fired back.

“More beautiful than sunset at Lands End.”

“More beautiful than Chen in a body cast.”

I took a breath, but couldn’t think of anything that would be more beautiful than Chen in a body cast. Ugh, he was so much better at this than me. “A body cast and a robust rash to go with it!” I laughed.

He grinned. “I won.”

“You always win. I can’t think fast enough.”

Dad took a drink.

A-Ma rolled her eyes.

“Can I have my glasses back now?”

A-Ma clucked her disapproval, but pulled them out of her bag. Honestly, you’d think I was asking for drugs or something.

Five more months, and I’d be free. Forget County this summer, I was moving to New York as soon as I graduated. Assuming I could scrounge up some money. Or, you know, win the lottery.

With my glasses back on, I could see Darya waving at me from across the room. She stood near one of the open back doors. Behind her, an atrium separated our banquet hall from the others in the facility.

I excused myself and headed her way, fishing my Windfall ticket out of my wristlet. The odds of winning Windfall were higher than with other lottery games. At least, that was what everyone said. It was one of the draws of the game.

My stomach flipped like I’d swallowed a fish and I couldn’t tell if I was excited or scared. It reminded me of the first time I’d ever taken the stage for an audience, when I was five years old.

Darya hopped from one foot to the other, her white Converse shoes glimpsing the party from beneath her floor-length gown. “My finger’s been hovering over refresh for forever. You were awesome, by the way. Chen looked like he was having serious regrets.”

“He did not.”

“No, I swear. He was sitting at his table, practically making out with his dessert spoon. He looked like a star-struck puppy dog.”

I raised an eyebrow. “A star-struck puppy dog?”

“Yep. I wouldn’t be surprised if he came crawling back to you with his tail between his legs.”

“Can we please stop talking about Chen?” I waved my lottery ticket in her face.

“Gah! Yes.” Darya pulled her ticket out. We bent our heads over the phone and held our tickets just below it so we’d be able to see all three sets of numbers — the winning ones and both of ours — at the same time. With a dramatic flourish, Darya pressed the refresh button on her phone.

The screen went white, then re-loaded. Darya squealed at the same moment my heart jumped into my throat. The numbers were there.

We both fell silent. I scanned the winning numbers, then glanced at the ticket in my hand. The two looked oddly similar. My heart sped up. My gaze darted between the numbers — mine and the winning ones — like I was watching an out-of-control Ping Pong match. I forced myself to slow down and compare the numbers one by one.

The first winning number was three.

My first number was three.

The second was eighteen.

My second was eighteen.

Thirty-nine was third.

Thirty-nine on mine.

“Darya, I matched the first three. Don’t you win something for that?”

“Maybe. Mine’s a dud, I didn’t get a single match.”

After comparing the first three, my brain caught up with my eyes. I took in the final three numbers as a single snapshot.

41 27 5

The last three numbers on my ticket were: 41 27 5.

My stomach dropped to the floor and exploded inside me at the same moment. Had I won? Had I actually guessed all six numbers right on the first time I’d ever played Windfall?

I scanned the winning numbers again. Darya grabbed my arm. Her nails dug into my skin. She dropped her ticket and we both stared at mine.

3 18 39 41 27 5

“Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh. Marina, you won Windfall! You won the freaking lottery!” Darya was jumping up and down and soon I was too. We held hands and squealed like a couple of little girls. It was too crazy to believe. But the numbers didn’t lie and there they were, right on my ticket.

Darya gasped. “You have to sign it.” She dropped my hands and fumbled around in her purse. She produced a pen.

“I already signed it.”

The pen dangled from her fingers in the space between us. “You ... already signed it?”

“Yeah. The instructions said to sign immediately so I signed right after I bought it.”

Darya grabbed the ticket from me and flipped it over, like she didn’t believe me. “Nobody follows those instructions, you know, people only sign if they’ve got a winner.”

I shrugged.

Darya squeezed my hand and squealed. “Ohmygosh, how are we going to celebrate? Should we go find some live music? Or, I know, let’s go to the Seward Street slides! Winning the lottery totally warrants trespassing.” She pulled me toward the banquet hall, where the silent auction was wrapping up. “Let’s go tell our friends. Jenna and Lexi are working the drink table.”

I planted my feet, jerking Darya to a stop. “No way, are you crazy? We can’t tell anyone, not even Jenna and Lexi. Word will spread. Everyone will want a piece of it and I need this money ... for college.”

Darya clamped a hand over her mouth. “You’re right. I’m so sorry.” She mimed zipping her lips, but we both knew there was another reason I needed the money. Darya was the only one outside my family who knew I’d been on scholarship since the start of the year.

Darya’s eyes went wide. Very wide. She was the only person I knew who actually looked like one of those anime characters with the really big eyes. “We have to turn it in. You have to get a lawyer. My dad has a friend, I bet he’d be—”

“A lawyer?” a too-perky voice said from behind us.

Both our heads whipped around. Lana Perkins stood in the hallway with us. Stood there like she’d been born there.

How long had she been there?

Lana advanced toward us, her stilettoed steps looking smooth and practiced. Which, of course, they were. Swimwear models had to rock their heels. “My father is a lawyer,” she reminded us, gliding forward with the ease of a jungle cat. “He’d be happy to help you settle up.”

My throat tightened. She knows. She knows I won the lottery.

But did she know how much I’d won?

Wait, how much had I won? In Windfall, you win a set amount of money every day for the rest of your life. But was it a hundred dollars a day or a thousand? I couldn’t remember.

I tucked the ticket into my wristlet, arranging my features into what I hoped was a mask of indifference. “Yeah, I matched a few numbers, isn’t that great? I’ll keep your dad in mind if I need a lawyer.”

Lana’s eyes narrowed.

She wasn’t sure how much I’d won either.

She tossed her bottle-blonde hair over her shoulder. “Fantastic. I’ll tell him to expect your call.”

A microphone crackled to life inside the ballroom.

“I’d better go wrap things up for the auction,” Lana said. “Duties, and all.” She blew us an air kiss and glided away.

Darya and I headed back to our table, where we found our parents already seated. Ms. Cole, Valer’s dean, stood at the podium with Lana. In addition to being a model, Lana was also the senior class president. Brains not required, apparently.

Ms. Cole tapped on the microphone. “Attention parents, students, and patrons. I’d like to take this moment to thank you all for coming out tonight and for your generous support. Together, we raised nearly two hundred thousand dollars.”

Enthusiastic applause.

Ms. Cole continued. “This money will be put back into the school and will ensure that our classrooms, resources, and staff are all cutting edge, providing your children with the very best education. Thanks also to our talented student musicians who performed for us tonight, and for those who gave so selflessly to make this evening a success. Lana, do you have anything you’d like to add?”

Lana flipped her hair and took the mic. “As senior class president, I’d also like to say thanks. You know, for all the generosity shown here tonight. And for the fab donations and stuff. Now” — she leaned closer to the mic, gripping it with both hands — “before you all leave, I have a tidbit of news. One of our classmates has had a fortunate stroke of luck and I want you all to be the first to know.”

I sucked in a breath. No. She wouldn’t.

Lana lowered her voice, like she was sharing a secret of epic proportions. “Marina Berghman.”

I froze. The smile on my face froze. My blood froze.

Oh, yes she would.

“Marina, where are you?” Lana put a hand over her eyes to block out the spotlight and searched through faces.

“What a little tramp!” Darya muttered.

A-Ma gripped my arm. “Is she talking about Juilliard? Have you heard something and not told me?”

Of course A-Ma would think the news was about Juilliard. For her, the world revolved around me getting in. And I would. Probably. Hopefully.

When Lana’s eyes found mine, she smiled. Like the little flesh-eater she was. “Would you round out the amount raised tonight with a donation from your Windfall win? The lottery is, after all, a pot added to by the community. The best way to show your thanks is by giving back, am I right?”

Two seats down from me, my dad stiffened. His face drained of color. “You played Windfall?” he hissed. It was no secret that Dad thought the lottery was evil.

“Dad, it was no big deal. I just bought a ticket for my birthday.”

From the stage, Lana’s voice crackled through the microphone. “Is that a yes? I think that was a yes, people. Let’s have a round of applause for Marina, for winning the lottery. I’m sure we will all benefit from her good luck. A fortune that big is meant to be shared, am I right?”

I wanted to punch her stupid face and tell her she was not right.

The applause that followed Lana’s speech sounded bewildered at first. People weren’t sure what had just happened. Had Marina Berghman really won the lottery?

But as heads turned and eyes fell on me, the applause grew in strength. The room full of brilliant entrepreneurs, trust-fund recipients, and unlikely heiresses were realizing that the little Asian girl who played the piano now had money.

Which meant I suddenly mattered.

Copyright © 2018 by Teresa Richards

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