Ch 1. Meteorites, Sharks and Scratchy Carpet

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*** Beth ***

Beth had always assumed that if Fate singled her out of the crowd it would be to hit her with a meteorite.

"You won," whispered her sister, Ray, disbelief oozing from both words. "You won!" she shouted, this time ecstatic. She started jumping up and down, pushing on Beth's back. "I can't believe it, you actually won!"

This couldn't be happening, right? A meteor was going to come crashing through the ceiling any second now.

Ray continued running the gamut of emotions for her, which was handy, because so far Beth was not able to register the fact that she was the grand prize winner of an All Expenses Paid Vacation for Two in Paradise - Hawaii, specifically.

"And will the lucky lady step on up and claim her prize?" the graying announcer called on the microphone, waving Beth to the stand with the winner's coupon. "Step on up, that's right, I don't bite, although sometimes I nibble," he said with a wink to several violet-haired senior women sitting in front. "I'll take that and you...can have...this!" He took Beth's winning stub and placed the glossy picture of a sandy beach and aquamarine ocean in her uncooperative hands. Huge gold letters across the blue sky spelled out, Paradise is waiting for you! Lackluster applause pattered from the crowd in the food court. Most of the people were there because they had wanted to win the vacation.

"So tell me," he continued, squeezing her shoulders, "what's your name?"

My name? she wondered.

"It's Francis!" Ray shouted from the floor.

"Francis, huh? What a lovely name, for such a lovely girl." he said, hamming it up for his admirers.

"That's not actually my name, that's my sister being....It's our Aunt's name....I don't know why she...." What she really wanted to tell everyone at that exact moment was that the last six months of her life had been so incredibly awful that she was sure this was some kind of Twilight Zone nightmare where you think that finally, for once, something great has happened to you, but by the end of it you are up to your neck in a sand pit about to be devoured by amphibious sharks flopping out of the ocean. Plus, she was considered to be an intelligent person, in case the audience had any well-founded doubts.

"Your real name, sweetheart?"

"Beth. My name is Beth and I am so happy to have won. I really can't believe it. This is so amazing. Thank you and thanks to the Heart's Desire Travel Agency for giving this to me," Beth said, nodding like a bobble-head.

"All right then; another round of applause for our big winner! Isn't she lovely? Well, she's not the only lovely lady here tonight, and we've got some more great prizes to give away from the Denver Mountain View Shopping Mall!"

Beth found her way off the stand and back to her sister's side in a daze. She had never won anything in her life, as far as she could remember. In fact, she usually had fairly bad luck with even basic contests like Easter egg hunts.

"This is so amazing. Hold it up, I have to take your picture." Her sister shoved her phone in Beth's face and snapped a shot. "I'm calling Mom. I have to post this. Who are you taking? Say you'll take me-please, please, please!"

"No. Stop, Ray. Post the picture and calm down for a minute. And no, I am not taking you, so don't ask. I have a year to figure this out and get there, but I am most definitely taking someone more my own age and not in the family."

"A year? How could you wait a year? You should go tomorrow! Look at that picture, can't you just feel the sand and the sun and the ocean waves...and the tan coming on?"

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