If $8.9 million can turn your luck around, Lena M. Meeks and Billy Dean Howell Jr. are ready to give it a whirl.
Meeks, 24, and Howell, 22, both of Middle River, were the sole winners Saturday night of the third-largest Maryland Lotto jackpot ever awarded to a single winner.
Thursday they'll begin collecting on a 20-year Lottery Agency annuity paying about $451,000 now and $446,000 in each of the next 19 years, all before taxes.
Looking a little dazed by their sudden wealth, Meeks, a secretary, and Howell, assistant manager of a pizza store, appeared today at Lottery headquarters with an attorney, and told and retold their story.
Married just 18 months ago, the two said they hope the money will help to make their lives together, and those of their ailing parents and their 5-month-old son, more comfortable. But they don't want it to change them.
"You won't see a Mercedes, no," said Howell, an assistant manager for Mustang Pizza in Rosedale. "We don't want to change. And if any of our friends or family see us changing, we want them to let us know. Be a true friend and tell us."
"We're still the same people we ever were," said Meeks. "We'll just be able to get things a little easier."
Getting things hasn't been easy for Meeks and Howell.
After dating two years, they were married on Meeks' 21st birthday. Since then, they have been unable to get a place of their own, living with Meeks' disabled parents, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Meeks Jr.
When their son, Billy Dean Howell 3rd, was born a month premature in a difficult delivery, Meeks' life was threatened by blood clots in the lungs. She was forced to leave her secretarial job with the Baltimore County Police Department for four months. The bills began piling up.
But on Saturday, when the Lotto numbers were drawn on TV, their balance sheets tipped the other way.
"Me and my mother were in her bedroom, watching it on television, and we both wrote the numbers down," Meeks said.
Meeks then went into the living room and checked the numbers against the six tickets she had bought earlier. "I just started to scream," she said.
"It was a scream like you've never heard before," her father said. "She was out there shaking her hands in the air, saying 'I did it! I did it! I hit the Lotto! All six numbers!'"
Pretty soon, she was outside shouting it to the neighbors.
Her husband got the call at work.
"She was crying, and I thought something happened to the baby," Howell said. He drove home, and then to a lottery agent to double-check the numbers. It was true.
Then he realized he still had a pizza in the car. It was still hot, but late. He explained the delay to his customer, who couldn't figure out why he bothered to deliver it at all. She tipped him a dollar anyway.
Since then, Meeks and Howell have made initial plans for their new fortune. They will set up a trust fund for their son, build a house and care for their parents. Howell's father is starting kidney dialysis this week.
"They will be well taken care of," Howell said.
Meeks said she would work two more months, then quit her job to stay home with her baby. "That's been my dream," she said.
Howell said he'd stay on the job another month, until the store manager returns to work after recovering from an injury. Then Howell plans to return to school for a business degree.
"My life-long dream has been to own my own pizza shop," he said. Now that dream, too, can come true.