The Breaks

Mal could barely control her giddiness. She was faint from the anxiety and excitement coursing through her body, running in parallel neon streams from the top of her head to the tips of her tingling fingers and toes.

“I’d like to buy a vowel,” she shouted, her voice hoarse from the effort.

The light shone down on her, illuminating fair strands of hair and heavy globs of mascara. Mal ignored the glare, her pale blue eyes focused on the board before her. She knew this, she absolutely knew it. The answer was “Howling with laughter.”

“An A!” Alex called back. Vanna, resplendent in a red sequined gown that hugged her famous curves, walked gracefully from one end of the platform to the other, her manicured hand pushing the black button on each lit screen.

The audience cheered, the noise reverberating throughout the windowless studio. It echoed around Mal, pulsed just outside her ears. She could feel the air pushing against her, and her heart thumped harder and faster.

“I’d like to solve the puzzle, Alex,” she called.

Howling with laughter, howling with laughter, howling with laughter. She muttered the phrase under her breath, her mind whirling at the thought of what she would do with her winnings. She would get the final puzzle. Obviously. Then she could take her money – taxes, what? – pay off her remaining student debt, the typical albatross of her unfortunate generation, then she was out of here. Leaving behind her nagging mother, her cheating boyfriend. Paradise was just a plane ride away. And she watched enough movies (“The Firm,” anyone?) to know that the Cayman Islands were the place to be. Sun, sand, surf and safe banks. It was a no-brainer.

Mal lifted onto her toes, bounced three times, then cupped her hands around her mouth to clearly and confidently announce, “Howling with laughter!”

She squealed after the announcement, went from bouncing to jumping exuberantly. Her ill-fitting black blazer flapped at her wide hips, her limp curls sprung apathetically. She didn’t care. This was her moment.

So absorbed was she that Mal didn’t notice the audience’s lukewarm applause or the look exchanged between the two other players. All that mattered was that she was the smartest. The fastest. The winner. She was going to win. Win.

Beep, beep.

“I’m sorry, that’s not correct. On to you, Matt. Spin that wheel!”

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