The full-spectrum recorder I checked out of the University’s Student Media department floated near my shoulder. The world had become a much larger place since Earth discovered life in the greater galaxy.
The woman who approached me could barely keep her comments to herself. I smiled. The upcoming local city budget proposal might not be the most glamorous event to cover for my Political Science class project, but Professor Eggers liked to see his students out talking to the masses.
“How do you feel about the budget pro…”
Her words exploded from her mouth.
“Well, let me just tell you. Councilman Rogers has no idea what he’s talking about. That man couldn’t find his ass with both hands and a map…”
This lady is gold. She’s the perfect face of community outrage. This is going to look great in my project.
The woman continued to complain, giving me everything I needed to wrap up my short documentary project in a matter of minutes. Fifteen minutes later, I had my equipment packed. The project didn’t specifically call for full-spectrum recording, but I like to think big.
Many species in the galaxy saw light spectrums human eyes couldn’t and I wanted my professor to see I was thinking beyond just Earth. Politics always excited me. I salivated at the thought of running for office, and not just for the excitement. I really wanted to make the galaxy a better place.
And find Human women an alternative to the Lottery…
First, though, I must learn to play the game…and edit together clips of the outraged masses. With the full-spectrum recorder carefully packed so I could return it without losing my deposit, I headed home.
I walked through campus, past the majestic buildings and carefully manicured lawns. Large, old trees planted hundreds of years ago, when the university had been founded, shaded my path. The light breeze ruffling my blonde ponytail hinted at warmer temperatures to come.
My comms bracelet buzzed on my wrist.
“Hi, Mom. I’m so glad you…”
“I’m happy to hear your voice, too, Nora. Now, don’t get too worked up. He’s fine, now…”
“Your father had a medical incident. He’s going to be okay…”
I froze in my tracks. My heart raced. “Medical incident?! Mom, what happened.”
“Well, you know his heart hasn’t been the best.”
“Mom, get to the point.”
Mom sighed over the phone.
“Your father had a small heart attack…”
“What the f…small? Heart attack? You act like this is normal—”
“I’m not acting like it’s normal, Nora. Well, I guess this is the new normal. Dad will be fine if I can convince him to follow the doctor’s recommendations.”
“I’m coming home right now.”
“Don’t you dare. You can’t leave your classes now.”
“Mom, I’m coming home. Dad is way more important.”
Mom sighed again.
“Nora! Listen for once. I’ll have him call you tonight, okay? Don’t you dare waste the education we’ve worked so hard to pay for.”
“Sorry. It’s just… Nora, find a place to sit. Don’t say anything yet. Let me get through this. Honestly, having to have this conversation with you is almost worse than driving your father to the Emergency Room.”
I dropped onto a nearby bench. I took a deep breath. “Okay, I’m sitting. Let’s…just say what you need to say.”
“I know we promised to put you through university…”
Mom drew in a deep breath. When she spoke, her words came out in a rush. “With…with this…heart thing…”
“You need the money to take care of Dad.”
“I’m so sorry. It’s getting so hard to make ends meet. I…I just don’t know what to do, but your father is going to need some therapy and the new medications…I just don’t know what else to do, Nora.”
“Mom, don’t cry. It will be fine. Give me a minute to…to digest all of this, okay? There’s a solution, just let me think.”
“Okay. I’m so sorry…”
“No, Mom, don’t be sorry. Of course, Dad needs what he needs. That’s no one’s fault. Just…let me think. We’ll talk later, when you have Dad call, okay?”
“Alright, Nora. I’m so sorry.”
“Hush, Mom, everything will be fine. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
I sat on the bench long after the call ended. I tried to think, but my thoughts kept hitting the same walls—Dad. Money. My future. Mom sounding so worried.
Mom has enough to deal with now. She doesn’t need to worry about both Dad’s health and my future. Mom needs to focus on Dad. What am I going to do? Where am I going to find enough money?
I shook my head to clear the tangle of thoughts warring inside. I took a deep breath and decided to take care of what I could at the moment, and headed to the media department to return the full-spectrum recorder.
I walked in a daze, head filled with newly born anxieties and impossible choices. Before I knew it, I stood at the media department counter. I downloaded my footage, wiping the recorder’s memory.
“Are you okay?”
My head snapped up. “What?”
The woman behind the counter looked at me like I was a lost child.
At this moment, maybe I am.
“Are you okay?”
When I opened my mouth to assure her I was fine, the tangled mass of my thoughts came out instead.
“I just found out my father had a heart attack, and my parents are struggling to handle the medical bills and now I don’t know how I will be able to pay for school and I hate myself a little for worrying about my school when Dad’s sick and Mom is so worried and…”
I broke down in chest-heaving sobs. Big, fat tears erupted. My knees gave way. I wrapped my arms around my core as if to hold in my shock and grief. I plopped onto the floor, dropping my bag.
“Sorry, I’m sorry…”
The woman wrapped her arms around me. She petted my hair and made soothing sounds, rocking me while I ugly cried on her shoulder.
“Nothing to be sorry for.”
We sat there, on the floor ‘til my tears emptied themselves. To my relief, no one else stopped by to interrupt us. As soon as I could, I pulled myself together enough to pull back.
“Thank you. I’m so sorry, I think I snotted all over your shirt.”
She laughed, this stranger who had taken time out of her day to comfort me when she didn’t have to.
“It will wash. Feeling better?”
I nodded, digging tissues from my bag and blowing my nose. “Yes, thank you. I’m Nora.”
“Hi, Nora. I’m Jeannie. It sounds like you have a lot on your mind right now.”
I laughed. “Yeah.”
“Have you considered Student Services? They have counselors you can speak with.”
“I, literally, found out right before I got here. Returning the recorder was the only thing I could concentrate on, after Mom’s call.”
She nodded. “That makes sense. Look, I don’t know the details of your situation, but my best friend was in, what sounds like, a very similar situation.”
I looked at her, the desperate need for hope gripping my guts. “What did she do?”
“She volunteered for the Lottery.”
“It worked out for her. Her family got the million dollars and she fell in love.”
“Well, shit. You make it sound not so bad.”
Jeannie laughed, then shrugged. “It was a long shot, anyway, matching an alien. So few match. But she did and she’s happy.”
I could split the money with Mom and Dad…