Rory Morris and Gabriella Smarandache's lives changed with a simple scratch of the penny Thursday.
Each rake of the coin turned a single lottery ticket into a million-dollar prize and the young area couple into disbelieving winners.
Sitting in Smarandache's 2003 Grand Am, Morris, an Englewood resident, wiped away the silver coding to the Florida Lottery's "$1,000,000 Cash Spectacular" scratch-off ticket he had just purchased at the North Port Shell station.
Scratching off a picture of a money bag in the row of winning icons, the couple knew they at least had a shot of winning. Scratching off a second picture of a money bag, the couple realized a dream only seven other people in Florida have felt.
"I thought I was dreaming at first," said Smarandache, 24. "I had to go in and double-check."
The two won the "$1,000,000 Cash Spectacular" top prize. They elected Friday for the lump sum of $681,750, rather than $50,000 annually over a 20-year period.
But it took a while for the pair to realize their luck.
Soon after revealing the symbols, the two re-entered the Shell station, 13280 Tamiami Trail, and the clerk confirmed the winning ticket. Their quick stop at the gas station for cigarettes and lottery tickets had turned into a life-altering trip.
"At first I thought we had only won $50,000," Morris said. "I wanted to jump out of the car."
But the North Port resident said she and Morris, 19, would keep their jobs at PGT Technologies, a window glass factory in Venice. That's where the couple met about six months ago.
The game, available at 11,600 Florida Lottery retail locations, offers more than $90 million in prizes, including 120 prizes worth $10,000.
"When you win, you are going to win quite a bit," said Florida Lottery spokesman Alfred Bea.
Bea said the "$1,000,000 Cash Spectacular" is one of the state lottery's more popular games, but added he didn't know the exact number of people who play daily. Tickets cost $10.
"He put in $5 and I put in $5," Smarandache said.
Smarandache said both she and Morris took Friday off from work while the couple began making plans on how and where to spend their newfound fortune.
"I'm either going to buy a new car or pay off my 2003 Pontiac Grand Am," she said. "We might go looking for a place in Port Charlotte to buy. We are going to use it so we can start our new life. I told him we should keep it for at least the next couple of years."
In all the confusion, Morris thought he originally bought the ticket from the Chevron station across the street from the Shell, but Bea confirmed the ticket had been bought from the Shell station.
"Rory told me he had bought two tickets earlier from the Chevron," Bea said. "He got confused for a while as to where he bought the winning ticket."
A day late, a million dollars short
Mary Woods works the night shift at the North Port Shell. She sold Morris and Smarandache the million-dollar ticket.
The reality that she handed someone more money than she will probably ever make hit her hard Tuesday when she came into work.
With tears in her eyes, Woods recalled the young couple coming in around 9 p.m. Thursday to buy a ticket.
"They came in and had another $10 ticket with them where they had won a free ticket. But we didn't have the same one, so I said 'Try this one,' and pointed to the Cash Spectacular ticket. It had been just sitting there for days.
"I gave away a million dollars."
Woods said she didn't believe Morris when he came back into the store to thank her.
"He shook my hand and thanked me for selling him the ticket," she said, a look of disbelief on her face. "I didn't believe him. I just found out today he was serious."
Woods said the big win wouldn't spur her to start buying scratch-off tickets.
"It's gone now," she said shaking her head.
The owner of the Shell, Mathew Madathilate, said he wasn't even aware his store sold the winning ticket until Tuesday afternoon when he was approached by the Sun.
"It's great," he said smiling. "That's the biggest prize we have given away."