Here was the assignment: write a story where a character seems to have very bad luck, but we see in the end that everything that seemed like bad luck turned out for the good.
Here's what Anchorite wrote.
Heather breathed a sigh of relief after the morning rush passed at Java Juke. After the stampede of immaculately dressed, demanding urban professionals, Heather enjoyed the relative peace and quiet. Instead of shouted, impatient orders she heard only the sensitive strums of the acoustic guitar from the singer-songwriter Jacqueline Benton piped in over the coffee shop’s sound system. Heather took the time to wipe down the empty tables and clean up the spilled milk, sugar packets, and other refuse that the morning’s patrons were apparently physically unable to toss into the garbage cans. Heather enjoyed the moment because this was the longest possible time until the dreaded lunch rush.
Heather hated having to spend her summer here after one year and nearly fifty thousand dollars in law school tuition. She tried not to think of the student loan debt accumulating like dry rot behind a wall, especially when set in stark contrast against her pitiful wages and meager tips at Java Juke, the home of caffeinated delicacies and live musical performances. As much as the crowds invaded like barbarians sacking an imperial Roman city, Heather was glad that she was not working at a downtown or financial district location which would have been several orders of magnitude worse.
Heather resented the thought of spending her summer doing this meager work while her classmates had prestigious internships at law firms or corporate legal departments. Heather had bad luck with interviews that did not go anywhere and she did not have the benefit of well-placed connections or a prior professional record to draw upon. There was not much of a job market for English-Philosophy dual majors, as law firms were not terribly impressed by her lack of work experience. Her inability to find a summer job in the legal profession would further set her back when she returned to law school in the fall, and she was already not looking forward at having to explain to classmates and prospective employers that she spent her summer slinging lattes for hipsters and yuppies. Heather figured that she could just as well have worked as a barista without a year of law school under her belt and wondered whether her parents ever felt like they were not where they wanted to be in life.
Heather had come close on one interview with a white shoe law firm, but she knew that she had blown it when the interviewing attorney had asked about the extracurricular activities listed on her resume. The interview had gone well up to that point, but when she answered his question about the student group Out Law Heather knew that his response of “that’s interesting” with a quick nod would not end well. Heather regretted having ever placed that membership on her resume, even if she was proud of the work that they did and results that they achieved. As a law student, Heather wondered whether she had a claim for unfair, discriminatory hiring practices but what chance did she stand against a large law firm full of attorneys who knew every intricacy of the law? She had received a well-crafted, if flowery, rejection letter printed on the firm’s professional letterhead that they were impressed by her qualifications and credentials but that she was unfortunately not a good fit for their hiring needs at the present time. Heather had read and re-read that letter before she threw it away lest it drive her insane and figured that she could not prove anything. She attributed the rejection to bad luck and went for the barista’s apron.
At this time off of peak hours customers trickled rather than poured in and they consisted mostly of housewives, the elderly, and the unemployed as all the professionals were at work. Heather noticed one Asian woman roughly her age that regularly came in to order either a hazelnut latte or raspberry mocha and then spent most all morning at a table typing away on her laptop. She looked like one of those overly ambitious career women, but then again she spent her days at Java Juke so she could not be an office drone. Heather had noticed her for a while, but had never personally served her. Thinking about her ill fortune at spending her summer in exile and wanting to find pleasure wherever she could, Heather decided to stop wiping the crumbs from the morning pastries off the tables and return to the register to take this customer’s order. The tables would still be there to clean after she took the order and this customer spent her days glued to her computer anyway, so there would not be much interaction after that initial contact.
Heather returned to the register and instinctively straightened her apron and her glasses on the bridge of her nose. She wondered why she bothered, but noticed that up close this customer was really quite striking and attractive. Heather had never dated an Asian woman before, or much of anyone for a long time. In addition to suffering through the first-year law school curriculum and a fruitless search for a summer job, Heather also experienced a dry spell for the entire academic year as no one was her type at school and she did not have much time to go out and socialize. She had gone to a strip club out of desperation after going a year without seeing any female anatomy other than her own and to have a few drinks after the crushing rejection from her best interview prospect. Heather had a good time that she still remembered fondly and the experience was worth it despite the staggering cost for an underemployed law student. Now, even if at a minimal level, Heather had the opportunity to speak with a beautiful customer who was not the standard demanding commuting professional.
“Welcome to Java Juke. May I have your name and start an order for you?”
“Sure, my name is Claire, and I would like a large hazelnut latte.”
And here's my over-the-top followup
Heather drove her Mercedes sportscar to school, happy after an exciting, whirlwind summer romance and settlling into her role as Claire's life partner. She hadn't wanted to accept the $120,000 car as a gift, but it would have broken Claire's heart if she hadn't.
Claire had developed a sudden, deadly allergy to hazelnuts. Claire had been at Heather's coffee shop, nursing a Hazelnut Juggernaut, when she started shaking and choking. Her throat swelled, and she turned a terrible grayish blue. An off-duty paramedic wanted to give her the Heimlich Maneuver, certain she was choking, but Heather herself had a peanut allergy. She, too, had gone into anaphylactice shock once and henceforth carried an Epipen with her wherever she went. It carried a dose of ephinephrine, also called adrenaline, enough to save a person's life. Heather recognized the symptoms, even though no one else did, and saved Claire's, and Claire, in a fit of grateful pique, demanded that Heather junk her ancient Ford Pinto and accept the Mercedes 'or else.' Heather had once bemoaned her bad luck in having a peanut allergy, had resented having to carry the Epipen, but now she blessed a kindly Fate for giving her the allergy, for, had she not had it, she would not have known what to do, and Claire would have died before her eyes.
A much worse incident happened a month later. They were in a dark alley, walking home from a romantic dinner out, when two men attacked them. Heather and Claire were completely caught off guard, since neither had ever experienced violence, unless you count that time another little girl had pulled Heather's braid back in fourth grade. Could that minor incident have been what spurred Heather to become a fifth degree black belt in jujitsu and an expert in the more practical Israeli art of self defense called Krav Maga? Probably not, but Heather's training allowed her and Heather to emerge shaken but unharmed.
Later, in the police station, Claire and Heather learned that the men had been not only rapists, but serial murderers. Heather had brought their wave of terror to an end. Subsequent searches of the men's homes revealed evidence that brought sad closure to many families that knew the worst in their hearts but were still tortured by the cruelty of irrational hope. An entire state recognized that many of their numbers, although they did not know who, owed their lives to Heather, for these men would have killed again and again. The prolonged agony the men suffered as a result of the injuries Heather inflicted in justifiable self defense brought some measure of satisfaction to the families of their victims, and brought new knowledge to the field of pain management, since doctors had many months to study two subject who were in constant, intractable, inhuman pain that medical science was unable to aleviate even the slightest bit. When the men finally died in unimaginable agony, it saved the state the expense of a capital murder case, and anti- and well as pro-death penalty advocates were happy to not have another divisive, controversial junking up the media. In a surprise move, many in the media took the opportunity to remember the victims, making this the only case in recent history where the names of the victims (and the hero, Heather Katz) were better known than the names of the worthless subhuman predators.
Heather thought of these things with gratitude and modesty as she easily, maybe too easily, found a parking space on campus, and walked to her first class. The room was more than half empty. Mark, one of her school friends, was there. In a class of 100, she was ranked 32 and he was 33, just below her. He whispered, "Did you hear?"
"You know how everyone above us got swanky interships?"
Heather nodded. Indeed, numbers 1 through 31 had landed excellent internships. She and Mark had not. She wasn't bitter though. Local millionaires Helen and Steve Gibbous had set up a fund to pay all her education expenses and pay her a generous stipend as well. For life. If she had gotten an internship, she never would have met Claire. Claire would most likely have died drinking her Hazelnut Juggernaut. Heather would not have been out that night to intercept the two murderers and they might have been torturing and murdering a woman or man (they victimized both) this very moment. If she could live her life over...she wouldn't have even interviewed for an internship.
"Well," Mark continued, "the law firms, and I think a bunch of daddies and mommies got together and sent all the interns on a cruise to Hawaii."
Heather's face clouded. She looked around the classroom. Many people were missing. Harmony, with her long honey-colored hair, wasn't there. Delicate, ballerina-like MacKenzie wasn't there either. Nor were Kirby, Biffy, Anderson, Yardley, Bradford or Ashton. All Heather's bad luck had turned to good, but she certainly didn't want to hear that her not getting an internship had saved her from being lost at sea. She looked at Mark, tears already burning in her eyes.
He didn't notice. He leaned forward gleefully. "Well, I don't know how they did it, since it's summer break. But they managed to all get involved in a cheating scandal!"
Heather let out her breathe. "All 31 of them?" Marked jiggled his head happily. "So that's why so many people are gone," she said to herself. She frowned again. "Oh, they didn't all get expelled, did they?"
"It's not decided yet. But even if they don't get expelled, they might not be able to be admitted to the bar with this on their record. Some have dropped out. Some will try to stay and see what happens." Mark laughed. "I think we'll probably have out pick of internships next year."
"Why do you say that? We're barely in the top third of our class."
Marked bounced in his chair and did a little dance with his feet. "Not anymore. Those idiots cheated. You and I used to be ranked 32 and 33. Well, now I'm ranked number 2. And you...." He grinned.
"And I," Heather's mouth fell open. "I'm number 1."
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