Ten Million Reasons
By Heather Gray
Money talks, and the way she spends hers tells him all he needs to know…
Richard needs to find a woman he can trust, and he needs to find her fast. He doesn’t have time to waste on getting to know people, which means dating and interviewing are out of the question. So how can he get past that initial mask of good behavior to learn what people are really like? Easy! Give them ten million dollars and watch to see what they do with it.
Genevieve is a free-lance journalist who talks to herself, constantly forgets to put appointments on her calendar and can’t go anywhere without being asked to take a survey. Why on earth is Richard interested in her? She doesn’t know it yet, but he has ten million reasons…
Ten million reasons to love the woman – or is it one billion reasons?
Who knew taking a survey could lead to such confusion and turmoil” Meeting Michael did just that to Gen.
Will se agree to a marriage of convenience even though it might turn out to be less than convenient? She can well imagine how her family will react.
This is the first of Ms Gray’s stories I have read. I loved it and look forward to reading more.
***A special thank you to Opal Campbell for providing a review copy.***
Now, for the first chapter. . .
How do I always let myself get sucked into these things? Genevieve Mason sat at her own little private booth in a large room with at least a dozen other people. The clock on the wall ticked loudly, reminding her this was not where she was supposed to be. For some reason she’d never understood, Genevieve had difficulty saying no to surveyors. She invariably felt sorry for the ones who had to stand out in the walkway of the mall trying to entice complete strangers into their offices to take the silly things. While she didn’t generally mind completing a survey, she simply didn’t have the time today. Yet, here I am. Taking a survey. When will I ever get a backbone about these things?
A tall, model-thin woman, with straight blonde hair and professionally done eyebrows, clapped her hands twice. “Alright ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming in today. I am going to explain what you need to do, and then I will answer any questions you have. The project should only take about an hour of your time, and you will each be compensated with a twenty-five dollar mall gift card. You can use your gift card at any retailer, including the food court.” The woman, who would doubtless look less severe if her eyebrows weren’t quite so brutally perfect, paused briefly before launching into what sounded like a well-rehearsed speech by a drill sergeant.
I wonder what she pays to get her eyebrows done. Surveying must be more lucrative than I thought.
“Today you will receive a windfall.” People gasped in surprise, but Genevieve wasn’t biting. She’d been through too many of these to get pulled in with a line like that. “You will be given a hypothetical amount of ten million dollars,” the woman continued, speaking over the disappointed sighs of some of Genevieve’s comrades-in-arms, “to spend any way you wish.”
Tapping her foot loudly, the woman who Genevieve had begun to think of as Model-Talker stared around the room until everyone was quiet. Then, continuing her speech, she said, “There is a computer screen in front of you with two columns. In the left column, you will give a description of how you are spending your money. On the right of the screen, you will enter the amount you wish to spend. You will see a tally at the bottom. The tally is keeping track of how much you have spent. When you get to ten million dollars, stop and raise your hand. I, or one of my assistants, will submit your entry and see that you receive your gift card.”
Arms raised all around the room as people began to have questions. Model-Talker held up her hand to halt people’s inquiries and added, “Let me give you a couple of guidelines first. Then I will answer your questions. Your survey will be assigned a coded number. When you are done, you will complete a form with your name and contact information in case we have questions at a later date. Your name will never appear on your survey. The information you enter will not be shared with any other companies and will be reviewed by only one other individual in addition to myself.”
Genevieve wondered how efficiently their survey data could be processed if only two people would see it. Reining her wandering thoughts in, she listened to the rest of Model-Talker’s speech. Talk faster! Some of us need to get somewhere.
“The items you wish to spend your money on have to be items you can purchase in a single day. You cannot spend any of your pretend money on buying a house, for example, because the paperwork and closing for a house take several days. While you can invest money in the stock market or a CD, you cannot open a trust fund because the legalities of opening a trust generally take more than a single day.” Three quarters of the hands in the room went down.
“Any questions?” Model-Talker’s chilly, businesslike voice and expression shamed the remaining people into putting their hands down.
For crying out loud, lady! It’s not as if you’re going to get the plague by answering a question. Genevieve stifled her laughter. She didn’t want to cause Model-Talker’s gaze to zero in on her.
“Alright, everyone. You have one hour to complete the exercise. Begin.”
Genevieve began typing away on her keyboard, entering totals, as she thought about all the ways she could spend the money. Ten million dollars… She wasn’t ever likely to have that kind of money, but it was sort of fun to think about.
Within five minutes, a short woman, muscular and dressed like a construction worker, raised her hand to indicate she was done. Genevieve wouldn’t have noticed except that Model-Talker tsked as the woman left the room. Once some of the other people saw how quickly it could be done, they began finishing hastily, too.
They’re probably dumping it all into a savings account or the stock market. Why wasn’t I born with that kind of cavalier attitude?
She, however, wanted to give careful thought to her expenditures. In order for the results to have any value, she needed to answer honestly. Although, at the rate the other people are leaving, I’d say the data compiled from today will be good and skewed.
Despite her best efforts to ignore it, the repeated ker-thunk of the door opening and closing demanded her attention. They obviously haven’t heard the honesty-in-testing lecture enough times. As she watched the next couple of people leave the room, something struck her.
They’re all women. There’s not a single man in this room. Maybe it’s a study into the female psyche. She was sure she’d heard Model-Talker say “ladies and gentlemen.”
Thinking about the lunch date waiting for her, Genevieve swiftly typed in her remaining entries and watched the tally at the bottom of the screen climb. When she got to nine million five hundred thousand dollars she sighed. Who’d have thought I’d have so much trouble spending money? What can I lavish half a million dollars on? Finally struck with inspiration, she entered her final imaginary expenditure and raised her hand. She completed the paperwork and left the room, casting one last pitying glance at the three remaining women who continued to studiously peck at their keyboards.****Genevieve sprinted the last twenty yards or so to the food court hoping her date hadn’t left. She clipped a stranger in the side with her shoulder, yelled an, “I’m sorry!” over her shoulder and continued on her path. Zipping around the corner, she found herself confronted with an overcrowded food court, people spilling over everywhere she looked. How am I supposed to find him?
“Aunt Gen, over here!” Genevieve turned her head this way and that until she saw her nephew waving his hands wildly over his head in a far back corner of the food court.
Relief coursed through her. Thank goodness! She’d been worried he would think she’d stood him up. Poor guy had enough trouble in his life. He didn’t need another reason to be disappointed in those he loved.
“I’m late, aren’t I?” she asked, the sound of her words shaped by her winded voice.
Max laughed at her. “Aunt Gen, you’re always late.”
“Will you ever forgive me?”
“Buy me lunch, and I’ll think about it,” her fifteen-year-old nephew said with a twinkle in his golden brown eyes.
Sliding two twenties across the table to her nephew, Genevieve said, “You know what I like. Get whatever you want. You deserve it for braving the masses to order.” As her nephew jumped over the handrail behind their table and began maneuvering his way in and out of the different lines, Genevieve sat back and closed her eyes.
Thank you for keeping Max here until I arrived. It was a small but heartfelt prayer.
She opened her eyes, looked around at the crowd and caught a glimpse of herself in the large mirror along the back wall of the food court. Why do they insist on using mirrors to make it look like there’s more seating – and more people – than there actually is? She didn’t care to spy on other people while they ate and instead studied her own reflection. Genevieve scrutinized her large green eyes and fair complexion. She had curly hair that her family insisted on calling red even though she always wrote auburn whenever she had to enter the color on a form. It was shoulder-length but tended to stand out away from her head rather than lying down gracefully. I certainly don’t need any of that shampoo advertised to add body! In a family of Irish-Italian descent, she was the only one that actually looked Irish. Everyone else had been born with the requisite bronzed skin and black hair of their Italian heritage.
She sought out Max in the mirror. He stood in line waiting for the slow progression of customers to move him forward so he could place his order. Max looked more like her father, his grandfather, with each passing year. He’s too handsome for his own good. It won’t be long before he realizes how much the girls notice him. Max spent much of his time seeking approval from his family; enough in fact, that he hadn’t yet detected the way the fairer sex was always trying to get his attention. If he has seen it, he certainly hasn’t let on about it.
Genevieve’s sister had divorced three years ago. Max had been twelve at the time, his sister Jenny fourteen. Jenny had fared better in the divorce. She saw her dad a couple times each month, and he doted on her, buying her all the pretty things she wanted. That was his way of making up for his absence, and she was okay with that. Sadly, Max had been much more wounded. He hadn’t wanted the latest toys and gadgets. Instead, he had wanted time, and his dad hadn’t been willing — or perhaps able – to supply it. At an age when he was growing from boy to man, he’d essentially lost the one person who was supposed to be most qualified to help him understand what it meant to be a man.
Maureen, Genevieve’s sister, had done her best, but the divorce had forced her to change jobs in order to support her kids. Instead of working part-time and being home in the afternoons, she now worked fifty or more hours each week and hardly saw her kids at all. Genevieve had always been close to her nieces and nephews, but after the divorce, she went out of her way to spend time with Jenny and Max. She and Max did lunch at the mall every other week. She and Jenny got mani-pedis together. It seemed like the least she could do. It sure beats spending good money to get my eyebrows tortured when I can do that at home free of charge!
“You know, Aunt Gen, you’ve never once been on time to lunch.” Max was still laughing at her as he set the food down.
Snagging one of his egg rolls and putting it on her own plate, she said, “What makes you say such a mean thing to your dear old auntie?”
“You were worried I’d think you’d blown me off. I could see it on your face when you came ‘round the corner.”
Genevieve shrugged. “Okay, so I was worried. Sue me.”
“You’ve never stood me up. Until you do, I’ll always believe you’re coming.”
Warmth moved through her middle, but it had an icy edge to it. Genevieve was both touched by Max’s words and saddened that he’d had enough experience with his parents in the past few years to know what it felt like to be stood up. His dad wasn’t the only one who hadn’t always been there for his son. There had been more than one sporting event in recent years where she’d been Max’s entire cheering squad. She always saved a seat for her sister, but the seat was rarely ever filled. Max deserved better, but as Maureen often pointed out to her, Genevieve didn’t know how hard it was to be a single mom working to support two teenagers.
Max and Genevieve ate lunch, swapped funny stories from their week, and discussed schedules for the upcoming month. He had decided to try out for the cross-country team.
“I don’t stand a chance, but I want to try.”
“Why? Running is so boring.”
“Yeah, but only because it’s slightly less monotonous than sitting at the computer when I have writer’s block.”
“The practices are long, and they’re in the afternoons when Mom’s usually working, so this will give me something to do. I get bored killing time at home so much. It’s dull there now that Jenny got a job and is gone all the time.”
“How does she like her job?” Genevieve asked, with interest.
“I don’t know about the job, but she sure does like the money,” Max answered, waggling his eyebrows comically.
Ah, to be a teenager with the simple worries of acne medication and a pretty dress. Then Genevieve corrected herself. And divorce. Don’t forget that simple worry.
“So why were you late today?” Max asked.
“You’d never believe me if I told you,” she answered.
Rolling her eyes, Genevieve answered, “I got sucked into another survey.”
Max almost spit chow mein at her as he laughed. “You have got to be kidding me! Can you even walk through the mall without taking a survey?”
Trying not to laugh, Genevieve crumbled a napkin to throw at her nephew. “I got a gift card out of this one.” Then, slapping the palm of her hand against her forehead, she said, “I should have used it to pay for lunch! What was I thinking?”
“You can use it next time.”
“Do you honestly think I’m going to remember that?” Her voice was filled with dry humor.
“No worries,” he said. “I’ll remind you.”
“What would I do without you, Max?”
“You’d be lost without me, Aunt Gen, and you know it.”
The two cleared their table, and then Genevieve linked her arm through Max’s as they began weaving their way through the crowd to head toward the front of the mall. “You know, Max, I think you might be right. I would be lost. Who else would know to buy himself an extra eggroll just so I could snag it?”
When they got to her car, Genevieve entered Max’s cross-country tryout into her phone’s calendar and told him, “I can’t promise, but I’ll do my best to be there.”
“It’s okay if you can’t make it.” His voice was rock solid. “I know it’s in the middle of the day.” Max, whose every emotion generally came out in the way he spoke, only sounded this steady when he was trying to mask something.
He doesn’t want me to know he’s disappointed.
“No, it’s not that,” Genevieve said. “You know how bad I am with dates. I need to double-check my desk calendar at home and make sure I don’t have something written down there that I forgot to put in my phone.” Staring at the device in her hand as if the calendar in it would magically give her an answer, she finally shook her head and said to Max. “I’ll text you the morning of to let you know for sure one way or the other, okay?”
Max nodded and said again, “No worries,” as he climbed into her car.
It was a beautiful day in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. They drove with their windows down and, since Max was in control of the radio, their music blaring.
Genevieve dropped him off at home. Jenny was still at work, so she didn’t pop in to say “hi”. Instead, she headed back to her own home to try and get some work done.
She was bumping up against deadlines for articles with three different magazines. That’ll teach me to stay up all night reading a book! Releasing a deep sigh, Genevieve admitted to herself that she’d been putting off the articles because they’d all sounded so boring. I have got to start getting pickier about the assignments I accept. What’s the point of freelancing if I can’t stand any of the work I do? I’m not sure this even counts as freelancing anymore.