This time I picked out from my prompt jar an opening sentence. It was "What do you mean you lost the lottery ticket?"
"What do you mean you lost the lottery ticket?"
Katie huddled in the darkness at the top of the stairs, watching the light spill out from the kitchen. Mom and Dad were in there, arguing again.
"I didn't lose it," Dad replied with a sigh. "I tacked it to the fridge and now it's gone."
Katie wasn't sure what a lottery was, but she knew it had something to do with money and numbers. It was a stable feature of their Saturday nights, all huddled around the television with anticipation. She didn't really like the lottery on TV. Once the last number came up the feeling in the room always changed. Dad would become sullen and a dark shadow would fall over his face, like the light was afraid to touch him anymore. Mom would just look sad.
"I'm sorry Matt, that's the definition of lost to me. Could it have slipped underneath?"
"Sure, Alice, why didn't I think of that?" Dad replied harshly, "Of course I checked underneath, I'm not quite the moron you seem to think I am."
Money was supposed to be a good thing. Money meant she could get sweets from the shop, or a new car to add to the collection on her shelf. But any mention of it always seemed to make Mom and Dad cross.
"Don't take it out on me. It can't have just vanished. As usual you're just not looking hard enough."
"By all means, do it yourself. You always do. Nothing I do is ever good enough anyway."
But this was worse than any other Saturday that Mom and Dad shouted at each other. Boots the cat crossed the landing towards Katie, sat down, and meowed. Katie shushed him and scratched behind his ears. Loud scrapes issued from the kitchen, and Katie watched the shadows move as furniture was moved carelessly out of place.
"See? I'm not actually blind, Alice."
"Well it didn't hurt to check."
"Careful, you'll damage the tiles."
"I know what I'm doing."
Katie looked down at the piece of paper in her hand with the printed numbers. She had been sure that if she took it away then Mom and Dad would have nothing to be cross about. In reality, she'd just made things worse. Her heart began to beat hard against her chest. Should she give it back, or just keep pretending that it was lost?
Boots ran past her down the stairs and into the light of the kitchen. That's when Dad said one of the forbidden words that Jamie had once told her in school.
"Matt, keep your voice down, the kids might still be awake."
Katie swallowed and got to her feet. Slowly, she descended the stairs. The wood was cold on her bare feet as she crossed the hall and into the kitchen. The bright light hurt her eyes as she turned to look up at her parents. Mom glared at Dad, who looked a bit sheepish after having used the bad word.
"What is it, darling?" Mom crouched down and put her hand on Katie's arm. Katie didn't reply, instead she proffered the slip of paper out towards Dad. The older man's eyes went wide as he took it from her.
"I'm sorry." Katie said as tears threatened.
Dad looked down at the paper, then at his daughter. "Did you take this?" He wasn't angry like she'd been expecting. She nodded. "Why?"
"It always makes you sad. The lottery. I thought if I took it away you wouldn't be sad anymore."
Mom and Dad exchanged a look of guilt. Mom picked up Katie in her arms.
"Don't you worry about Mommy and Daddy being sad. We'll be okay."
She turned to Dad and spoke directly. "Matt, that's the last lottery ticket we're ever buying."
Dad nodded, studied the numbers, and then scrunched the paper up. "Nothing." He tossed it into the trash can. He closed the space between them and kissed both girls on the forehead in turn. "I'm sorry."
It was unclear if he was speaking to one, or both of the other people in the room. The cat, oblivious to everything, meowed at the cupboard door for his supper.