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Go ahead and take two, girls -- they're free.

-- Dad

'Three...four...seven...nine!"

"That's me," said Kip, a little too unenthusiastic, if you ask me. I glared at the ticket in my hand. You have failed me , I thought. Everyone else was going about their business, returning to unfinished conversations and refreshing their drinks. As if possessed by a petty demon, I stood and walked over to Kip, who was collecting his beautiful basket of goodies -- the basket that could have been mine had chance ruled in my favor instead of his.

"You motherfucker," I said, half in jest. Okay, less than half.

"What?" Kip was smiling, waiting for the punch line.

I stood in silence, staring at the candles, silky scarves, and incense that filled the basket.

"Did you just call Kip a motherfucker? " asked Ollie. I hadn't realized he'd been standing next to me.

"I was kidding," I said, meeting his incredulous gaze with what I hoped was a convincing smile.

"No, you weren't," said Ollie. "You actually just called your friend a dirty word because he won something and you didn't. Admit it." Unsure of how long I could hold my composure while being called out, I took one last, longing look at Kip's prize, muttered "Congratulations," and sulked back to the couch.

There was nothing in that basket I couldn't have had for a small price. After all, the whole reason Jennifer threw this party was to offer her friends first dibs at the goods she brought back from India and Thailand before she set up shop at the Farmer's Market. It wasn't that I didn't want to spend money -- I had already purchased a selection of pretty things. I wanted to win. And by "win" I mean "get free stuff."

"You could raffle off a barrel full of monkey piss and Barb would want to win it," I overheard David say. I chose not to argue in my favor; there was no way I could win such an argument with someone who has repeatedly witnessed my feverish collecting and hoarding of free things.

"Exhibit A: chocolate," I could hear David's voice say in my head. The victor of the chocolate incident has yet to be announced. To this day, David and I are still in disagreement. A few hours before the clock turned 12 on New Year's Eve, our friends Paul and Sarah presented us with a giant bar of chocolate from the Hershey factory. Molded onto the bar were the words "Happy New Year!" and "2005," and other images associated with partying, like noisemakers, fireworks, balloons, and party hats. We each had a few bites with our champagne, and the rest of the bar was broken up and put into a large Ziploc bag for David and me to take home.

At home I hid the chocolate in the cupboard among dozens of little Ghirardelli chocolates we had received for Christmas. It was my intention to have a small bite of my stash each day, saving the bulk as something to look forward to -- a treat for later . This way, I could draw my chocolate-induced pleasure out over a long period of time.

A week passed before I sought out my sweet stash. That afternoon, like one who finds a 20-dollar bill in the pocket of an old pair of jeans, I remembered there was chocolate in the house and I went downstairs to the cupboard and found...nothing. More surprised than angry, I confronted David. Where did it all go?

"I ate it," he said.

"ALL of it? How is that possible? I never saw you take one bite!"

"It was there," he said. "It's not like the world is out of chocolate, Barb. I can get you more." But I didn't want more. I wanted that very same chocolate, those gifts, those free sweets made even sweeter by the gestures to which they were attached. I would need a calculator to figure out how many times I have heard David say, "There's more at the store," in an attempt to talk me out of hoarding.

I thought that anyone who grew up with siblings would be as frantic about getting and keeping free stuff as I am. But David, the oldest of three, has somehow escaped this affliction. At our friends' wedding reception last weekend, I hovered by a table that held little boxes, each with a guest's name printed on the side.

"Can I take two?" I joked to David. He assumed I was serious.

"You don't even know what's in them, and you already want more than your share?" I grabbed my box before we were supposed to and held onto it until we were invited to sit at our table. In the box, along with mints, was a rectangle of paper. On our table were three pens. I snatched up a red one.

"Okay, everyone, this is what we're going to do! There are pens in front of you. Please write a wish for the newlyweds on the piece of paper that was placed inside your box." I wrote my note. I held onto the pen.

"Hey, Barb, can I see that pen?" Deron asked from across the table.

"Will you give it back?" He narrowed his eyes at me.

"You're not going to keep that pen, Barb. Those are for everyone."

"There are plenty to go around," I said. "I like this one. I'll let you use it if you promise to give it back."

Deron wouldn't promise, so, to his disbelief, I refused to pass him the pen. A minute later, Kip asked to use the pen. "Only if you use it and give it right back," I said, as though, like my glasses, I needed the pen to function. He agreed. I kept my eye trained on red tip as Kip scribbled his wish for Christy and Mike.

"Psst! Hey, Kip," Deron whispered, loud enough for me to hear. "Can I see that pen when you're done?"

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