Portrait - Halloween story in 3 parts - Part 2steemCreated with Sketch.

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Portrait

Part 1

The following morning, Sondra remembered to check her emails. She’d forgotten all about them because of the excitement of the portrait, hanging it, and the bonus of meeting her new, attractive, smart, funny neighbour.
Sondra clicked the screen power on and waited. The page she’d left it on had refreshed and flashed one word at her.

WINNER!

“Yeah, yeah, I’m a winner,” she said aloud and clicked the link.

The screen went to the usual ‘winner’ page and Sondra continued clicking through without taking proper notice of what the screens said.

Please contact the Lottery Head Office to claim your winnings. Have your lottery ticket to hand to help us process your claim more efficiently.

Sondra had never received that message before. She wondered what had changed. Maybe it was a new policy. She reached for the phone at the side of her desk and punched in the numbers.

When someone answered the phone, it took her a little by surprise; the voice wasn’t an automated answering machine, it was a real person.

“Hello, I have a message on my computer to ring you. Is there a problem with my lottery ticket?” Sondra asked.

“Can you tell me the numbers on your ticket please?”

Sondra reeled off the numbers, including the two additional, ‘tie breaker’ ones.

“Yes, that seems in order. You purchased your ticket online?” the woman asked.

“Yes,” Sondra said.

“And can you confirm that you’d like your winnings put into the bank account that you play the lottery from?”

“Yes, that’s where I usually get my winnings paid to me. Can I ask what this is all about? Is there a problem?” Sondra asked.

“A problem? Oh no, we always ask for confirmation when transferring such a large sum of money.” The woman paused. “You don’t know how much you’ve won, do you?”

“No, I haven’t checked. I’ve been quite… quite lucky lately, I’ve won something almost every week you see,” Sondra said, catching the other woman’s change of mood.

“Oh. Well, in that case, please allow me to be the first to congratulate you. You won the jackpot in last night’s rollover draw. You are the only winner in our seventy-two-million-pound lottery win.” Her voice cracked as she spoke and Sondra looked at the phone in her hand.

Sondra blinked once, twice, closed her eyes for a long beat, held her breath, tried to take a deep breath but it caught in her chest. She swallowed hard and asked, “How… how much?” her voice barely a whisper.

“To be precise, you won seventy-two-million, seven-hundred and twenty-five-thousand, nine hundred and seventy-two pounds,” she said. “I’ll just click ‘confirm’ to send it to the account you specified. Congratulations again and we’ll send another email with details of our specialist ‘big winner’ financial advisory service. Don’t worry, you don’t have to pay any money to the service provider, it’s a complementary service provided by us as part of our commitment to the Responsible Gambling Association.”

The woman waited for Sondra to respond but when she heard nothing from the lucky winner, she continued. “As I said, congratulations, your money should be in your bank today or tomorrow and there is advice, if you should require it, to help with your finances and how to invest your money. Please don’t hesitate to ring us if you have any questions. Have a great day. Goodbye.”

The line was already dead before Sondra murmured, “Goodbye,” and put the phone back in its cradle.

£72,725,972.00. Seventy-two-million, seven-hundred and twenty-five-thousand, nine hundred and seventy-two pounds.

Seventy-two-million.

Seventy.

Two.

Million.

Pounds.

Sondra picked up the phone and dialled the number on the screen again.

“Hello?” the voice said.

“Hello, I rang a few minutes ago,” Sondra said in a hesitating voice. “Is it true?”

“About the lottery win?”

“Yes, about the win.”

“Yes madam, you won seventy-two-million, seven-hundred and twenty-five-thousand, nine hundred and seventy-two pounds.”

“Thank you,” Sondra said.

“You’re welcome. I’d suggest going and getting a nice cup of hot, sweet tea while the news sinks in,” the woman said.

“Yes, thank you. I’ll do that… thank you,” Sondra said and hung up again.

Sondra didn’t go and get a cup of tea, she sat at her computer staring at the screen without seeing it.
In the space of twenty-four hours, she’d received her portrait, met a gorgeous, funny, sexy man and won a life-changing amount of money.

Sondra opened her email and sent a short message to the artist, ‘Zeb.

Hi ‘Zeb,

I just thought I’d drop you a line to say thank you. I won a large amount of money and I need to send you your share.

I’ve rounded the amount up and I’ll send you £24,250,000.00 as soon as the money is cleared into my bank.

Plus the share of the money I’ve already won.

There’s one question.

Does our agreement include the interest I’ll earn on the money too? I don’t mind of course, without the portrait, I’d have nothing.

Thank you so much,

Sondra

The email went with the familiar ‘whoosh’ sound and she clicked the receive mail button. A reply from ‘Zeb arrived in her inbox and she opened it.

Hi Sondra,

Well done on the win.

Just to clarify, I get a third of everything that comes your way, forever, whether that is by luck or skill; interest on banked money, wages, a gift from God – everything.

‘Zeb

“Well that’s perfectly clear then,” Sondra said. She clicked off her computer screen and went to get that cup of hot, sweet tea.

By the end of the day, a few rudimentary plans under her hat, Sondra went around to her neighbour’s house with a bottle of Champagne.

She knocked on the door. He opened it and a grin spread across his face when he saw Sondra. “Hi, Sondra, come in,” he said, stepping back so she could pass.

“Hi Joe, I’ve come to share my good news, I hope you don’t mind?”

“Not at all, I’m kinda happy you came round. I’m even more happy that you decided I’m worth sharing good news with.”

He led her into the living room and she handed the bottle of Champagne to him.

Joe took it and looked at the label. “Woah, this is the good stuff, the really good stuff.”

“Yeah, do you have a couple of glasses?” Sondra said.

“Not Champagne glasses, I’m afraid. I’ll see what I can find.” He handed the bottle back to Sondra and went in search of drinking vessels.

She heard clattering and a few choice swear words, so followed him into the kitchen. Surrounded by boxes still unpacked, he looked up at her from the floor where he searched for glasses, and she laughed.

“Come on round to mine, I may not have Champagne glasses but I can at least put my hand on something to drink from.” She nodded her head toward the door and he grinned again, scrambled up off the floor and followed her out of his house.

In her kitchen, glasses charged with Champagne, Sondra raised hers to clink on his. “Good health, good friends and good fortune,” she said and took a sip.

“Cheers,” Joe said. “What is it we’re celebrating?”

“My retirement,” Sondra said. “I’ve had a bit of a windfall and I no longer have to work for a living.”

“Good for you!” Joe said and raised his glass again.

Sondra took a deep breath, leaned forward and kissed him on the mouth. She had no idea how he’d react to her making the first move, but she took a chance anyway. He kissed her back. His lips were gentle and unsure, reminding her of how nervous she was. The second kiss went better, and she supposed the Champagne helped with that.

They ordered take-out food and talked long into the night. Joe stayed all night, but only because they didn’t realise how late it had got. They fell asleep on the sofa and Sondra woke, covered him with a throw and went up to her bed.

She expected him to be gone when she got up but he’d woken, cleared the glasses and plates away and made a start on washing the dishes they’d used.

She stood at the kitchen door watching him at the sink for a moment. “I could get used to this,” she said.

He spun around, spraying soap bubbles across the worktop and she laughed. “Good morning,” he said. “That was good Champagne, I don’t have even a hint of a hangover.”

“Ha, neither do I. I hadn’t thought about it. Would you like some breakfast?”

Sondra made a decision to take things slow with her new neighbour. There was no point in going too fast and scaring him off. She’d already decided she wouldn’t divulge the extent of her win, if only to be sure he really did want to be with her, rather than just sticking around for the fun they could have with her money.

Joe took over a bottle of wine one evening. As their relationship blossomed, he felt comfortable enough to walk right in through the front door rather than knocking.

He went through the hall and into the kitchen. Sondra didn’t seem to be about.

“Sondra?” he called.

“Up here, in the office,” she called back.

Joe headed up the stairs with the bottle of wine behind his back. “I’ve brought you something,” he said.

Sondra grinned, it would be the first gift from him and she knew then that their friendship was changing, becoming deeper.

An email pinged on her computer and feigning nonchalance for Joe’s gift, she opened it.

The email was from ‘Zeb.

That’s a nice bottle of wine. Think about how you’re going to get a third of that to me.

‘Zeb

The smile dropped from her face as realisation of the true nature of the contract she’d entered into with the elusive ‘Zeb occurred to her.

She swiftly typed a reply to the email:

Hi ‘Zeb,

How would you like me to deliver your third of this gift? I can pour it down the sink if you’d like?

She suggested wasting the wine as a sarcastic retort but hit ‘Send’ before she thought too much about whether to remove it or not.

The reply was almost instantaneous:

That will be fine.

‘Zeb

Sondra sat open-mouthed at the reply. Apparently, ‘everything that came her way’ meant everything. She only remembered Joe standing behind her when he nudged the back of her chair. She turned the power off to the screen and spun around in her chair.

He held out the bottle of wine and grinned at her like a kid presenting his girlfriend with a flower for the first time.

“Oooh, that looks like a good one,” she said, looking at the label. “It’s got alcohol in it and everything.” She looked up at Joe and laughed.

“I thought you knew about wine?”

“Not really, I’ve never studied it,” she said looking up at him.

“Oh, when you bought that Champagne, I thought…”

“Ah, then… Well, all I did was pick the most expensive one off the shelf in the supermarket. They do quite a range these days,” she said and laughed at his shocked expression. “Sorry to disillusion you, I prefer a good cider to wine, to be honest.”

He laughed with her and she tried to put ‘Zeb’s reply out of her mind.

Back downstairs, in the kitchen, she handed Joe the bottle to open and she got two glasses out of the cupboard. He poured the wine into the glasses and she handed one to him. Then she took the bottle from him and put it down, on the side of the sink. Unfortunately, it slipped from her grasp and up-ended in the sink, spilling almost half of what was left.

“Oh bloody hell!” she swore, catching the bottle and righting it again. “What a waste!”

“Don’t worry too much about it, I’ve just tasted it and I’m not sure the theory of ‘most expensive on the shelf’ works for red wine like it does for Champagne,” Joe said.

Sondra tasted the wine and thought that Joe must have been trying to make her feel better because hers didn’t taste bad at all.

After that evening, she quickly came to realise just how deadly serious ‘Zeb was about their contract.
Joe bought her a box of her favourite chocolates, expensive, hand-made chocolates. She loathed the thought of wasting a third of them so she avoided her computer until they had been eaten.

The morning after she’d consumed the last chocolate – devoured the last third in one sitting actually – she passed the portrait in the hall on her way for breakfast and had to do a ‘double-take’. The portrait usually exuded the picture of health. That morning, the skin looked pale, almost grey, there were dark circles under the image’s eyes, a horrible cold-sore starting at the corner of her mouth and a trickle of blood just visible in one nostril. Sondra put her fingertips to her nose and they came away bloody. A nosebleed started and she rushed up the stairs, one hand under her chin to catch the droplets, the other on each step as she scrambled up, trying not to drip blood on the stairs carpet. In the bathroom mirror, her face looked as sick as the portrait’s and her stomach lurched. Sondra leaned over the toilet bowl and threw up the chocolates. Nauseated, she flushed the toilet and rinsed out her mouth.

When she had recovered a little of her composure, she went into the small bedroom and started up her computer. She tapped her fingers impatiently while it booted up and she opened her email client.

The email from ‘Zeb made her stomach lurch again.

A deal is a deal.

‘Zeb

Sondra closed her eyes as the room swayed. Fighting the feeling of light-headed dizziness, she emailed her reply.

I’m so sorry. It won’t happen again.

Sondra

Sondra stayed upstairs all day, she couldn’t face food and she didn’t want to go past the portrait because she feared how it would look.

Joe came round when he got home from work.

“I’m up here, Joe, I’ve not been well.”

“Do you need anything? I can bring you a cuppa or a bowl of soup?”

“No, I’ll come down now. I think I’m feeling better. I’ve been asleep all day,” she lied.

He hadn’t voiced shock at the portrait’s appearance and she was certain he’d have mentioned it if it still looked ill.

Throwing a dressing gown around herself, she shuffled down the stairs. He’d made her a cup of tea and turned the TV on.

“I’ll get your quilt and we can stay in and watch a film if you want?” he said, making sure she was settled before he left the room.

He stayed over that night, Sondra asked him to. She couldn’t bear the thought of being alone in the house.

The following morning, Sondra tried to persuade herself she’d just had a 24-hour bug. She almost convinced herself, and the argument that it was her own greedy fault settled it for her.

Falling head over heels happened, gradually. They lived next door to each other for months before she finally allowed him to persuade her that moving in together would be good for them.

Sondra kept her win private, not allowing any publicity of the win, and she didn’t take advantage of the free financial advice from the lottery company. She continued to put a couple of quid on every so often and always won something; hiding the fact sometimes. Winning every single time she played would look odd. Sometimes, she’d buy Joe a ticket just to see his face when he checked the numbers.

Exactly a year after her big win, she had a strange feeling of deja-vu. The account with ‘Zeb paid up in timely fashion, Sondra had the persistent nagging at the back of her mind that she just had to buy a lottery ticket.

Instead of playing online, she went to the shops and bought a ‘Lucky Dip’ ticket. Just one set of randomly generated numbers. She took it home and slipped it into Joe’s pocket while he took a shower. She swapped the ticket he’d bought for the one she bought. She knew he’d bought one on the way home from work, because he’d told her.

“I think this could be the one, sweetheart,” he said, waving the ticket at her. He kissed it and put it into his pocket.

Later that evening, Sondra lounged in front of the TV. Joe nipped off to the loo and grab a drink but he was taking his time about it,

“Sondra! Sondra!” he yelled.

“What is it? What happened? Are you all right?” she shouted as she ran out of the living room.

They met in the hall, he was half-way down the stairs and he leaned over the bannister, waving a lottery ticket at her.

“I’ve won!” he yelled. He took the last few steps in one leap and landed at the bottom of the stairs but he didn’t stand still when he landed, he leaped up and down. He kissed the portrait on the mouth and turned to its subject. Joe took Sondra’s hands in both of his and looked deep into her eyes.

“Sondra, we’re made for life!” he said. “I’ve won the lottery!”

“No!” she said, feigning surprise. “Have you really?”

“Yes, I really have! We really have! That ticket I bought earlier was the one!”

The one third share in a five-million-pound win would have been a huge deal thirteen months ago, but Sondra had to draw on her experience of winning again and she played the part of the excited girlfriend – the excited fiancée; Joe proposed to her on the day they went to London to accept the money in a formal ceremony.

The fact that he’d won one third of the jackpot wasn’t lost on her. She emailed ‘Zeb and thanked him graciously. She also put £570,000 into ‘Zeb’s account from her own money, being generous in her calculations when she rounded up the third of the win.

The instant reply took her a little by surprise.

Yes, very clever. You win this one.

‘Zeb

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Images from Pixabay

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Uh-oh that was a strange statement by Zeb

Yeah... I don't think he's a very nice chap ;)