Damnation, children! This is flying off my fingertips, and I think it’s got the ingredients of a big seller. It’s going to be a great Kindlemas around the Vance house, I can feel it!
The next morning, Peter sat in the lobby of Plant, Williams and Anderson, trying to read a trashy magazine article about scandal on the set of some movie. Good luck with that, he thought, barely able to look at the WHO’S FAT NOW photos without his eyes crossing. Katie’s father, James Plant, was one of the busiest and most successful attorneys in New York City, so getting an appointment with him was usually a nightmare if not an impossibility. But there was nothing like a client worth $700 million to get a schedule rearranged, after Katie had called her dad on his cell and explained what had happened.
For one perfect moment there in the bathroom, Peter had an idea, had suddenly felt free. He’d stopped crying into Katie’s blouse and looked up with a light in his eyes.
“I’m going to flush it down the toilet.” It made perfect sense. He would go back to working his job, writing his blog, dreaming his dream…and dating Matt. Matt, who he already felt slipping away from him, as if the money was a terrible flood that would obliterate everything in its path. But would I? Would I really lose him?
Of course you’ll lose him, the black dog said. That’s bound to happen anyway. This will only accelerate the process. You really think he’s the kind of guy who wants to be “the lottery winner’s trophy husband,” the guy who lives in a huge mansion and does nothing all day? You know how you are, you’d try and buy his love, try and buy him a business, and he wouldn’t take your money, he’s too proud for that. And think of the media shitstorm when you’re announced as the winner, do you think he wants to live in the middle of all that?
“No!” Katie nearly screamed. Then she calmed down, seeing the look on Peter’s face. “Look, hon, I know it’s crazy. You’re in shock. You can give it all away if you want. But don’t, do not, leave it to the State of New York.”
The moment passed, the open hand that had offered to let him go, closed back around him. “Yeah, okay. Okay.”
“God,” Katie said, “how much is it really?” She took out her phone and started Googling. “Here we go, here’s an article in Forbes about the prize money. “‘How Much Tax Will You Owe On A $700 Million Jackpot? A Lot More Than In 2012.’ Boo hoo, right?”
Peter laughed, wiping his eyes. “Yeah, no doubt.”
“Hmm.” Katie scanned the article. “Cash value, about $440 million. Top federal tax rate, 39.6%. New York tax, 12.7% on that kind of money. So, about half in taxes. Still. You walk away with…two hundred and twenty million dollars,” she finished, using a tone of voice that spelled the number out in the properly majestic tone it deserved.
“Oh my God.” Peter was queasy all over again.
He thought about that now, sitting in the lobby of the attorneys’ offices. Katie’s eyes had glazed, glittered, thinking of the money, the glorious wonderful avalanche of money. Peter could see it, see her…changing. Everyone would change, everyone would look at him and see money bags, dollar signs. Even your best friend couldn’t help but think about it all the time, how insanely rich you were now.
His reverie was broken when a secretary came out for him. “He’s ready for you.”
Peter shook James Plant’s hand across his desk. “Peter, good to meet you. Congratulations.” Plant was in his fifties, lean, athletic, with the clear sharp eyes of a much younger man. His smile was kind, and Peter could see where Katie got her good looks. “Have a seat, can I get you anything to drink?”
“No, thank you.”
“Okay. First question. Do you have the ticket in a secure location?”
“It’s in my wallet.”
“Well, we need to change that. Have you signed it yet?”
“Okay, we need you to sign that right now. It’s a bearer instrument, do you know what that means?”
“It’s like a check made out to ‘Cash.’” Peter pulled his wallet out of his back pocket, and extracted the little slip of paper.
“Right.” James handed him a pen. Peter flattened the ticket on the edge of the desk and then hesitated. “But if I want to give it away, or put it in an anonymous trust or something, doesn’t this screw that up?”
“No. And I’m afraid in New York, there’s no anonymity. When you claim the prize, your name becomes public record.”
Plant smiled gently. “But, you have ninety days before you have to cash it.”
Peter looked at the ticket again. Ninety days…ninety days he could have with Matt before it all went to hell. Because it would, he knew it would, because suddenly being a hundred-millionaire would change everything.
And what are you going to do, keep it a secret from him for three months? Then say, oh by the way I’m filthy rich with money I didn’t earn but I didn’t want to tell you so I could keep you till the last minute?
“What if I just give it away? Can I just…hand this to someone?”
James Plant looked at Peter anew, surprised at the question. “You could. But if there’s one single piece of advice I’d give you, Peter, it would be not to make any rash decisions. Not to cash it this second, not to quit your job today, not to start any new friendships or new relationships. Just keep your life the way it is today until you’ve had time to think about what you really want to do.”
He paused. “I know it’s an enormous amount of money. And honestly, Peter, I’m impressed that you’d even consider just walking away from that kind of wealth. But there’s a world of good you could do with that money, too, you know. You could give it to some stranger on the street, who’d just spend it on…”
“A solid gold house,” Peter said ruefully, remembering Matt’s joke.
“Right. And if you decide to give it, it would be even more than $220 million, because giving would lessen the tax penalty. You could give the ticket, unsigned, to one charity, and walk away. But honestly, if you think that kind of money doesn’t belong in a single person’s hands, I can tell you that it doesn’t belong in a single charity’s hands, either. It would ruin most organizations.” He paused. “It’s a responsibility. It’s your responsibility now.”
Peter nodded. Don’t start any new relationships. Too late for that.
“And honestly, I’d recommend therapy. I know someone who’s good, who’s trustworthy, who you can talk to. She’s an expert on what they call SWS, Sudden Wealth Syndrome.”
Peter had to laugh. “What a terrible illness to have.”
“Right?” James laughed with him. “But it’s still a shock to your system. It’s something that changes your relationship with everyone in your life. And talking to a professional about the feelings you’re having right now can help you make a better decision when the time comes. We’ll put the ticket in our safe here, or you can get a safe deposit box, and you can spend a couple months working out what you need to do.”
Peter nodded. “Okay.” He exhaled, and signed the ticket. “If you’ll hold on to it here, that’s fine.” Pushing it across the desk felt good, putting it out of his reach, his sight, the weight of it he’d been carrying put on someone else. For now.
Two days later, he had his therapy appointment. “Thanks for coming in,” Jessica Zane said, her warm brown eyes matching her smile as she shook Peter’s hand.
Everyone’s so nice, he thought bitterly, now that you’re rich. But then he stopped himself. Thinking like that, trying not to think like that, was why he was here.
She’d noticed it, smiled, nodded, gestured for him to sit down. “It’s normal to feel suspicious of people right now. It’s healthy, actually, given how most of the people in your life are about to change when you do.”
“To be suspicious, and paranoid, is healthy?”
“When you wake up one morning with hundreds of millions of dollars, yes. How’s work going?”
Peter shrugged. “Honestly, it’s a blur. I mean, it’s a good thing I’ve been there for two years, and can do the job in my sleep, because honestly it feels like that’s what I’m doing. Sleepwalking. I mean, I know I’m not supposed to quit or do anything else impulsive, but it just seems…insane, you know? Getting up early and riding a crowded subway to make $25 an hour, cashing a paycheck for a few grand. And it’s not like I’m saving lives, you know, it’s…advertising. It’s just selling stupid stuff to gullible people.”
“You’re conscious of how things are changing,” she reflected back to him. “You know you won’t have to get up early, or ride the train at rush hour, or work in advertising, and clearly these are things you don’t like to do.”
“Well, I’ll have to keep doing those things if I give all the money away.” But he could feel it, like the One Ring burning a hole in his pocket, even though it wasn’t literally in his pocket anymore. The Ring is mine! he could hear himself shouting.
“Is that one of the options you’re considering, giving it all away?”
Well, not all of it, he thought glumly. He already owed money to a lawyer, and now to a shrink. Something had to pay for that, and it wouldn’t be his paycheck; the margin he lived on was tight enough already.
“Yeah. But it’s getting harder to think about that.”
“When you have to do things, you adjust. You put on blinders to get on the subway, use coping mechanisms to get through your work day, and you deal with what you have to deal with. And when all of a sudden you just…don’t have to, when the option of not dealing is suddenly available, the whole coping system breaks down.”
“That’s it,” Peter sighed, relieved. “That’s what it feels like.”
“How about relationships, do you have a partner, are you seeing anyone?”
“Yeah, I just…I just met someone. Like days before I found out about…all this.”
“And have you told him?”
“No. Not because I think he’d want my money,” he said hastily. “Just the opposite.”
“That he wouldn’t want you because you have money?”
Peter nodded. “Yeah, exactly. Unearned money, crazy stupid huge money. He’s…he’s so awesome. And he walked away from a consulting job, making bank I’m sure, to be an auto mechanic. I mean, it’s good money, but it’s not tons of money. Not this kind of crazy money. He has… He has a really good life. He’s really happy.”
“Would you say you trust him?”
He looked at her. “Aren’t I supposed to distrust him if I just met him?”
“You met him before this. And it sounds like the attraction was immediate, and deep, and that it’s based on the respect you have for him. And you do have to trust someone. Do you have family?”
Peter laughed. “Not really.”
“Did you grow up with money?”
He laughed. “Not even close.”