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"Read this, read this - An all expenses family cruise around the world and fifty thousand pounds to spend, can you imagine winning something like that?" Mary didn't break her stride leaving her sister Deanne still glued to the competition rules printed on the poster.

"Com'n Deanne, we don't have all day. Mum wants the groceries like twenty minutes ago, chop - chop!" Running out of breath fifteen year old Deanne kept up with her sister Mary, only two years older but acts ancient all the time; but she loved her sister who takes care of trouble for her all the time. People in the neighborhood prophesy that Mary will end up a spinster.

"Here, I copied the rules for you. You like those competitions, we can send for gobs of entry forms fill them all out and maybe we'll win that big prize." Deanne's dimples and smiling eyes warmed Mary's heart. It takes so little to make Deanne happy.

"Yes, wouldn't it be nice." The thought of her parents enjoying a vacation seemed far-fetched. None of their children have ever seen their parents, Richard and Lucy Connors, take a vacation from their jobs. "We always need the money." Lucy Connors says it like a pledge of allegiance. The last time Mary saw her parents relax was during a picnic with the family in the Peak District when Mary was ten, Deanne eight and Rodney five. It would be great if her parents could relax a little.

Concerned about the time Mary took the short cut to their house, a road her father told her never to use. Several car accidents have happened on that narrow road because of a few hard twists and blind corners. The thick trees that line the narrow road have formed a thick natural awning on a good stretch of it that no matter what time of day the road is always dark. Being a careful driver Mary never worried. She will use her lights and the horn if necessary. She must get the groceries to Mum soon as possible.

The narrow road twisted and turned like a serrated knife sometimes going back on itself like the letter U but Mary was ahead of the road and drove like a pro as Deanne cheered her efforts over the loud rap music on blasting on the stereo. As Mary steered around the U road she saw a little girl of about eight years old flagging Mary down from the side of the road just a few metres away. Mary sidled the car as close to the shoulder of the road just in case there was oncoming traffic and Deanne opened the car window to talk to the girl.

"Hullo!" The little girl came to the open car window. "I live about three miles from here. Can you please give me a ride as far as you can take me?" Her amber colour eyes danced as her smile twinkled.

"How did you end up here all on your own?" Mary couldn't control her maternal instinct. Deanne got off the two - door Mini to let the little girl in. She noticed that the girl had a fancy dress on.

"It's a long story and a stupid one but I am truly thankful. It was getting a little cold there." Deanne felt cold all of a sudden though she noticed the car windows were closed and so were the vents. Deanne buttoned her cardigan and pulled both sleeves over her clenched hands to get warmer.

"Tell me where you live and I'll take you home." Mary felt sorry for the girl and was surprised to see that her long blonde plaited hair was wet and dirty with what looked like moss though her white organdie dress was spotless.

"Do you know a Pub called Poppyseed? My parents own it and it is on the High Street next to the library. It's in the next village, just a few miles from here. I'll show you." The girl leaned back and looked thankfully at Mary and Deanne.

Following the girl's direction Mary drove through some lovely roads she had never seen before. Deanne turned off the radio and chatted with their passenger about the new songs in the charts. The little girl seemed hungry for news and Deanne was at her element filling the girl in with the latest dirt about the Spice Girls, Oasis and Brad Pitt breaking up with his girlfriend.

They arrived at The Poppyseed and the young girl invited them in for some refreshment but the two girls declined. Waving goodbye to their passenger Mary took the A3 so she can get home quicker. "Mum will understand when we explain why we are so late." She said.

"You are doing the explaining, right?" Deanne said. She knows her Mum is a fanatic about time and she won't like having dinner late on weekdays when Dad has to go to sleep as early as possible.

Dinner was successful and the two girls were surprised to find that they weren't that late after all. Confused about how their watches seemed to tell the same time yet they came home almost on time eluded the girls and soon the incident was forgotten.

The Grand Competition stated that the first five hundred entries picked will be the semi finalists in the contest and fifty lucky finalists will be drawn from the lot. The finalists will be invited to a sumptious dinner and on that evening a photograph will be taken. Numbers will be assigned to the fifty finalists on that photograph picked at random by computers. The numbers drawn by a special guest will win the Grand Prize totalling one million pounds in cash and prizes.

The Connors family at the behest of Deanne must have filled out a hundred entries before twelve year old Rodney complained that the bic pen is now permanently embedded in his hand. Deanne teased that it would come in handy when they win because then the bic pen is ready for autographs. "You'll be famous when we win!" Mary laughed. Never mind being famous. She would love to see her parents have a vacation; to see her mother being served instead of her slaving behind the counter at the Burger Restaurant. Mary swore that as soon as she found a decent job she will ask her mother to quit hers.

"Mary!!!" Deanne's loud voice on the telephone startled her sister. "Mary!!! You're one of the five hundred finalists!!!" Mary couldn't believe her ears still ringing from Deanne's shouts of joy. "My god Mary, you're getting a chance to be finalist!"

The Connors family rejoiced especially when they saw Mary's name in newsprint.

"I like seeing your name on the list." Dad Connors remarked. "You are a winner in my book anyway." He smiled at his daughter. Mary noticed his Dad's hair turning greyer lately. His tired eyes ready for sleep at nine pm. He reads books for a living and his eyes have suffered the consquences of avoiding prescription glasses because they were a nuisance.

When September 15, the day of the competition finals came Mary was at her temp job in a convalescent hospital taking care of the luncheon trays for the patients in ward 35. She finished her rounds and was just about to sit at her lunch when the phone rang in the kitchen and it was her mother.

"Mum, you okay?" Her mum never calls her unless there was some kind of emergency. "What's wrong Mummy?"

"Darling, it was just announced on the telly today, you're one of the lucky fifty! I can't breathe from excitement. You must call a number and let's get your outfit ready for that photograph!" Mrs. Connors hadn't been this excited in a long time.

The photo session lasted three minutes although it took almost all afternoon to get all the fifty finalists dressed, made-up and posed.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," the contest presenter began. Soon as our digital camera assigns the corresponding numbers to your photograph we will send you your photographs from which our special guests The Spice Girls will pick the lucky three winners for that evening." The finalists realised the importance of the occasion once they were told the Spice Girls were the guests. Mary couldn't wait to get home to tell her family.

On the day of the finals all telly's were tuned in to the Grand Competition Draw on BBC 1. Mary clutched the photograph of the fifty finalists with her number 28 clearly marked on the top of her head on the photograph. Deanne sat next to her munching popcorn absentmindedly. The girls sat on the floor close to the telly while their Mum and Dad and Rodney sat on the couch behind them.

After the musical numbers and special interviews the moment everyone waited for was at hand. Mary could hardly hear the telly as her heart beat much too loudly in her ears. Terry Wogan and Anthea Turner were now leading the Spice Girls to the three lucky buttons that will pick the three lucky numbers simultaneously. The drums rolled, Terry Wogan gave the signal and the Spice Girls jointly pressed the three buttons simultaneously. Number 28 appeared on top Deanne's bowl of popcorn flew from her hands as she jumped up for joy. Mrs. Connors cried and Rodney ran to the phone to tell his best friend. Mary sat quietly and looked at her father who was smiling at her."I told you you're a winner." He winked.

The whole country heard of the Mary Connors win and their village held a congratulatory party for Mary at the community hall. People brought cakes, biscuits, candy and drinks to celebrate Mary's win. Mr. and Mrs. Connors were interviewed by BBC Radio 2 about their coming world cruise and Deanne stood by her sister proudly telling anyone who would listen that it was all her idea.

The Connors family became popular overnight and the British media milked every story they could write about the family individually and collectively. The QE2 held a special sailaway champagne party for them when they embarked the ship in London for the start of their world tour. They were on every news coverage and their village held a sailaway party for them even in their absence.

That evening as the two sisters gazed out into the Atlantic Ocean from the Observation Lounge feeling grown up in their cocktail dresses their Dad and Mum came to their table to say goodnight.

"Mary, for the first time in many years your Mum will retire to our penthouse cabin and order something from the butler. I have to chaperone her to make sure she doesn't feel guilty about all of this and will allow someone to serve her, and rightfully so." Dad Connors looked tired but happy. It had been a long day for all of them. Mary's Mum looked resplendent in her emerald green evening gown that matched her eyes courtesy of Mark's and Spencer's. Mary and Deanne couldn't have been any happier as they watched their parents walk hand in hand towards their penthouse. Almost simultaneously the girls sighed in contentment.

"Did you, in your wildest dreams ever imagined us winning that contest?" Deanne asked her sister.

"You always believed we would Deanne."

It was past midnight when Mary finished reading a few pages from a novel. She looked across from her bed to her sister and heard her steady breathing in deep sleep. She had made sure that Rodney was in bed at eleven thirty after playing arcade games with his new friends across their penthouse. She stretched and yawned and felt so good in her new pegnoir, a gift from her mother. As she reached for the reading lamp switch something fell out of the book she was reading and she picked it up and it was the photograph of the fifty finalists. Examining her image in the photograph for the first time she saw the number 14 on top of her head. She rubbed her eyes, and looked at it again. She won with the number 28, why is it a number 14 in the photograph? She looked at the person under the number 28 and it was the young girl they picked up on Narrow Alley smiling that unforgettable smile Mary remembered well.


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