Jake placed the boxes of toothpaste and soap on the counter.
The cashier ran them over the scanner and placed them in a plastic bag. She reached under the counter and pulled out a lottery scratch ticket. She slid it across the counter to Jake.
He stared at the ticket, then looked at the cashier.
She smiled at him. ďWeíre giving away free samples today. Go ahead, you might get lucky.Ē
Jake looked back at the ticket. A familiar excitement fluttered in his stomach. He paid the cashier, then reached out, picked up the ticket, and slid it into his jacket pocket. He picked up the plastic bag and headed for the automatic sliding door of the pharmacy.
Outside, he stopped for a moment on the sidewalk. The sun shone on his upturned face. Help me, God. I know its been a long time, but am I still so weak?
Memories of his wife - crying, begging him to stop, to get help, to do something, anything - went through his mind. He walked across the street and into the park, where he sat down on an empty bench.
A young man on a skateboard went past. A couple, with a dog, ran behind the bench. Two teenagers threw a frisbee over his head, and ran off laughing. Jake didnít see any of them. He sat with the scratch ticket in his hand, rubbing the corner with his thumb. I didnít buy it on purpose, God. I only need to look and then throw it away. Or maybe Iíll win a few dollars and buy Shelly a little surprise gift. Thatís not a bad motive.
An image of Reverend Danís office at church flashed into his mind. He had spent many months going there twice a week, receiving the advice and counseling that he had needed to surrender to God, using His strength to get control of this dangerous habit.
Jake put his other hand in his pocket and rattled the change. I only need to scratch it and throw it away. Maybe this is a sign that I can handle something as insignificant as one ticket.
He thought about Reverend Danís warning: It is a good thing to repent to The Lord, but temptation has to be resisted - with His help - when it appears.
Jake kicked at a rock on the path next to the bench. What business did they have to give away free scratch tickets, anyway? Didnít they realize what it might do to some people? He clenched his fists and closed his eyes tight. Small beads of sweat dotted his forehead.
He opened his eyes and gently laid the ticket on the bench next to his leg. He bowed his head and folded his hands in his lap. God, I cannot afford to go back to that dark place. I cannot do this alone. Please help me.
A slight breeze lifted the ticket and it fluttered to the ground a couple of feet in front of the bench. A woman pushing a stroller stopped and picked it up. She held the ticket out to Jake. ďIs this yours?Ē she asked.
He stared at the ticket for a moment. Then he rose quickly and started to walk away, looking back at her hand. ďNo, please...I mean, Iím finished with it. Just throw it in the trash, there...thanks.Ē He waved his hand toward the trash can behind her.
The woman looked at the unused ticket, then back at Jake. She hesitated, unsure of his strange reaction.
He started to walk away, but then stopped suddenly. He went back to the woman and held out his hand. ďNo, Iím sorry. Iím not finished with it.Ē He took the ticket from her and tore it into two pieces. He threw them in the trash, then turned and strode across the park toward his street, and home.
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