GENRE: YA Suspense
She hoped winning the lottery would solve her problems.
Her problems have just begun....
It is 1975, an ordinary year for an ordinary Southern family. TRAY DUNAWAY, like thousands of other teenagers around the country, longs to be part of the popular set at school. Tray’s mother, EVELYN, lies in bed most days with a headache, and her bipolar tendency toward extreme highs or desperate lows veers more and more often toward depression. Tray’s grandmother GINNY, who lives with the family, still grieves the loss of her husband, Brook. She believes it’s time for her to move out, if she could afford to, and find a place of her own, maybe even a new romance. This doesn’t look likely, given the state of the family’s finances.
Then something extraordinary happens. A down-and-out friend of the family, PEE WEE JOHNSON, buys an extra lottery ticket. He gives it to Tray’s dad as a thank-you for driving Pee Wee to Hazard, Illinois, where he purchased the tickets. And what do you know?
When Johnson demands his cut, Tray’s dad refuses. As Evelyn’s illness spirals toward madness, Johnson turns threatening, and Tray makes some poor decisions, what initially seems like a stroke of good fortune suddenly triggers a disturbing chain of events.
When I come home from school, I’m surprised to find Mama and Pee Wee standing together in the back yard. A neighbor has been burning trash or leaves or something. They’re actually standing in the neighbor’s yard, staring at the fire as if it has hypnotic powers over them.
The neighbor, watching from his patio, glances in my direction, and I lift a hand to wave. I shrug, as if to say, grownups can be pretty weird sometimes, which is what I’m thinking. Of course, he’s a grownup himself. I wander out to the fire to say hello to Mama and Pee Wee.
“I love to watch things burn,” Pee Wee says. “Don’t you?”
“Not especially,” I start to say. But then I realize he isn’t talking to me. I glance down at the scuffed pointed toes of Pee Wee’s cowboy boots. Flames of fire are reflected in his boots. Or are they painted there?
“There are people who get a kick out of starting fires,” he says. “There’s a word for it—some kind of maniac. Fire-o-maniac or something like that.”
“Pyromaniac,” I say, feeling kind of proud of my vocabulary.
“Fool!” Mama spits at Pee Wee. She doesn’t seem to have noticed my arrival. “Do you think you’re scaring me? Do you think I’m afraid of fire? I am afraid of nothing.”
I’ve always known Mama doesn’t care much for Pee Wee, especially since the lottery win. But, still, this seems downright rude. Of course, Mama doesn’t know what Pee Wee did at the tennis court, and he does seem kind of menacing today.
“You see that spider?” Mama points to a spider crawling up the calf of her leg. “Is he with you? He is, isn’t he?” Then, in response to Pee Wee’s perplexed expression, she laughs as if she’s made the cleverest joke ever. “I’m not afraid of that spider. In fact, I think he’s afraid of me.”
I lean over, brush the spider off Mama’s leg. “You never know,” I say, “it might be one of the poisonous kinds.”
She’s behaving so peculiarly, I only want to escape. “Lori’s dad is picking me up in a few minutes,” I tell her. “Remember, you said I could spend the night?”
She says nothing, which I take to mean okay. I feel sort of uneasy about the way she’s acting, but Gram should be home soon. Gram has started going on afternoon walks, but they don’t last long. Constitutionals, she calls them.
“If the house—your house—was to burn down,” Pee Wee says softly, as if talking to himself, “what would that do for us—for you and me? Old Jesse would have to buy a new house, wouldn’t he? A better house, a bigger house …”
The Ticket is Debra Coleman Jeter’s first novel. It was a finalist for a Selah Award in two categories: Young Adult Fiction and First Novel. A Vanderbilt University professor, Debra Coleman Jeter has published fiction and nonfiction in popular magazines, including Working Woman, New Woman, Self, Home Life, Savvy, Christian Woman, and American Baby. Her story, “Recovery,” won first prize in a Christian Woman short story competition, and her nonfiction book “Pshaw, It’s Me Grandson”: Tales of a Young Actor was a finalist in the 2007 USA Book News Awards. She is a co-writer of the screenplay for Jess + Moss, a feature film which premiered in 2011 at the Sundance Film Festival, screened at nearly forty film festivals around the world, and captured several international awards. She lives in Clarksville, Tennessee, with her husband.
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Debra will be awarding a $10 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour