It’s almost Truth or Fiction Tuesday! And because tomorrow is election day, I am posting the story early and making it an even shorter read. Hope you enjoy…
Oh, and make sure you get out and vote!
Seventeen dollars and thirty-two cents. That’s how much Naira had to her name before she deposited her weekly paycheck of eleven hundred. Now, according to her ATM receipt, her balance was just over twenty million. She rechecked her account number and the eight figures beneath it, then slid the sweaty paper across to her boyfriend Jacob, who was busy wolfing down his second bowl of Mongolian barbecue.
One glance almost choked him.
“Wow. You weren’t joking.”
“Why would I joke about something like this?” Naira drummed her fingers on the laminate tabletop, pausing often to tug at her short, kinky curls and glance around the noisy restaurant. Her bowl, which reeked of garlic and Kung Pao, remained untouched.
“Well, you are quite the prankster, dear. I thought you were just pulling my leg.” Jacob polished off another mouthful, then asked in his slight accent, “So what are you going to do?”
Shouldn’t he answer that question? Wasn’t he the voice of reason in this outfit? Never mind her student loans, tapped out credit cards, and dead-end job at the phone company, the money wasn’t hers. She cleared her throat and leaned in. “Give it back…right?”
“I don’t know,” Jacob said. “The bank’s going to take it back as soon as they realize their mistake. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t grab some of it before they do.”
“You’re not serious?” The thought had crossed her mind of course. But coming from Jacob–the guy who’d once revisited a drive-thru and waited twenty minutes to return extra hamburgers–it sounded just plain wrong.
“Take enough to quit your job and hide,” he said. “Then you can focus on painting.”
“You know what? That sounds like a plan! Go on the lam for grand theft, spend years painting my masterpiece, then go to prison after I’ve surfaced to unveil it. Why didn’t I think of that?”
Jacob parted his full lips in a lazy smile made for fantasies. “Thieves do have aliases, Naira.” He took her hands, and her toffee-colored fingers instantly paled next to his dark skin. “It’s just…I know how strapped you are for cash. And I hate to see you struggle.” He sighed. “I’m only halfway through med school, love. I don’t know how much longer I can tolerate not being able to help you. It makes me feel…unworthy.”
Naira’s shoulders relaxed as her thoughts drifted away from the money and toward her relationship with Jacob. He’d been many things in their two years of dating–on call handyman, karaoke partner, art critic–none of which qualified him as unworthy. With him she had learned to appreciate simple things, especially the love they shared. Was the money worth risking that?
“I can’t do it,” she said, snatching up the receipt and crumpling it.
“Wait! You sure?”
She nodded. “I’ll call the bank first thing in the morning.”
“But have you thought of the possibilities?”
“Jacob! I can’t believe you’re trying to talk me into something I was sure you’d be talking me out of. So I don’t have a lot of money?” She twisted spikes into the balled up receipt and lowered her voice. “I’m happy with you, and I can’t jeopardize that.”
Jacob stared but said nothing, and Naira began to wonder if her choice upset him. When he pushed his chair back and stood, she felt a rush of panic.
“Well,” he said slowly, reaching into his pocket, “Since you won’t steal it from me…will you share it with me?” He knelt in front of her and placed a small felt box in her palm. “And will you take my name with it?”
“What?” Words failed her as he lifted the lid and pulled out a thick band with small white stones spiraling in a staircase to a large canary diamond. “Jacob!”
Women in the restaurant, who had popped up like moles when Jacob knelt, gasped as one at the ring.
“Marry me, Naira?”
“Wh-wh-what?” she asked again.
“The money? Half of my inheritance. Wired from Dubai a week ago. I get the other half when I finish med school. Do you think that’ll be enough to carry a pro bono physician and his artist wife to their graying years?” He touched her cheek. “Will you be my wife, Naira?”
She fought past the tears in her throat and issued a squeaky, ”Yes!”
The questions could wait until later. Naira threw her arms around Jacob and squeezed until he grunted a laugh.
The tattered receipt fell to the floor.