Amber wanders the aisles of the truck stop. She and her parents linger, warming up because the heater in the truck isn’t working. Her parents share a coffee, passing it off to one another as they wander about the store, managing surreptitiously to refill the cup. Amber knows the routine.
There are aisles that don’t interest her, filled with accessories for cell phones and items that might add to one’s traveling pleasure. She enjoys looking in the aisle with the little state souvenirs—Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas—which often have nothing to do with the state except its name. Sometimes there are some toys or jewelry. Here, she finds some little figurines, statues of fanciful creatures made of glass. She wants to hold the unicorn, which stands tall on its hind legs, its front legs boxing the air, its horn golden. But she knows better than to pick up something so delicate and expensive. So she wanders over to the keychains. She finds her name on one that is a miniature license plate. Someday, she’ll have a car and get one of those. There are nicer keychains, sparkling, in the shape of roses, bears, cats. And it is there, just a corner peeking out from under the base of the rack, that she sees something that looks like a dollar bill. She looks around, squats, and quickly pulls it out. Not a dollar bill—a five-dollar bill.
Amber shoves the bill in her pocket, her heart racing. Five dollars. She should give it to her father. But it will just become gas money, or go to some food. No, this is special money. Gift money. She needs to buy something that isn’t ordinary with it. She starts wandering the aisles again, avoiding her parents while searching seriously. As much as five dollars is, it isn’t enough to buy very much. She could buy one of the plain keychains, but she doesn’t need one yet. The glass figurines have to cost more than five. Candy would be gone so soon. She goes up and down rows, trying to find something she can buy that would be meaningful.
And then it strikes her. Her parents spend hours talking about what they would do, if only they won the lottery. First, they would buy a new truck—nothing too fancy. Then, depending on how much they won, they would buy a house—again, nothing fancy, maybe a doublewide, something that was theirs. They could go on for hours about what they would do if they won the lottery. And now, she has this good luck money in her pocket.
Amber walks to the front of the store where the lottery tickets and game cards are sold. She studies the cards: there are several combinations that can make up five dollars.
Knowing she is too young to make the purchase herself, Amber approaches an older woman in the checkout line and asks her to buy a five-dollar game card. The woman gives Amber a long look, opens her mouth as if to say something, then closes it, and takes the bill Amber holds out to her.
Amber finds her parents hovering near the rear of the store. She hands the game card to her father.
His brow furrows. “Where did you get this?”
Suddenly unsure, she says, “I found it on the floor.”
Her father reaches in his pocket and pulls out a coin. He scratches off the card’s coating and then hands the card to Amber.
“Time to go,” he says.
Amber looks at the losing card and then puts it in her pocket.
Months later, changing pants in the laundromat bathroom, she finds the card, now in pieces from the wash. It’s all that’s left of her good luck money. Amber throws away the fragments. If only they had won, she would have bought the unicorn.