Felicity would bet on just about anything. Even as a child, matters of chance drew her like a metal filing to a magnet. Which ant would cross the crack in the sidewalk first? How many blue cars would she see on the way to school? Would it really rain on Tuesday? She’d bet on it.
As she got older, her wagering habit grew with her. It wasn’t about the money, although she liked money. It was the thrill of winning, of being right, of predicting. Events were unpredictable, and that bothered her. Plan as she might, life had a way of sneaking in the unexpected left hook that flattened her. To bet on the future gave her an illusion of control, so she never stopped trying to guess what might happen next.
When she met Troy, she found a kindred spirit. Their first encounter was behind the outfield fence at a Little League game in which their brothers were playing.
“Bet you a buck the Artful Dodgers win,” he said to her.
“I’ll take the Bat Boys by three points,” she replied.
After the game, she pocketed Troy’s dollar graciously and nodded yes when he asked if she’d like a ride home on the handlebars of his bike. En route, she collected another dollar and paid him two, betting on how many cars could sneak through amber lights. They were even, and they looked at each other with mutual respect.
After that they were inseparable. All through junior high and high school they bet on ball games, test scores, which teachers wouldn’t last out the year, and how many times Mr. Lowenstein would clear his throat during fifth period algebra. At the end of the week, the winner would treat the loser to burgers and shakes. It was a friendship, that’s all, she told her girlfriends. She didn’t know there were bets riding on how long before she and Troy became a couple.
One Friday night Felicity slurped the last of her chocolate milkshake, looked around the diner and said, “Hey, I’ll bet you I can tell who’s married and who’s not without looking for wedding rings.”
“Oh, that’s not even worth betting on,” Troy said scornfully. “The ones who aren’t talking to each other are married. Duh.”
“Okay, then, I’ll bet you I can predict who will marry and who won’t.”
“How you gonna do that?”
“Simple observation, my dear Watson. See that couple at the third table over? She’s counting on getting married, but he’s not feeling it.”
“And you know that…how?”
“Because she never takes her eyes off his face, but he’s watching the door to see if someone better comes in.”
“Okay, I’ll bet you I can identify a couple who will get married but they don’t know it yet.”
“You’re on. Where are they?”
“Right here in this booth.”
“Here? You mean…us?”
“Yep. I’m betting it will happen.”
“No way. We’d be a disaster – we’d gamble away the baby’s toys.”
“Well, take my bet then.”
He pulled out his phone and summoned his bank balance. He was serious, a side of Troy she’d never seen.
“Eight hundred dollars,” he said. “That’s all the money I have. If you and I get married, all bets are off. If we don’t marry each other, then the first one to the altar pays up. Can you cover the bet?”
She didn’t think of it as a proposal. They were only sixteen. A lot could happen.
She told herself Troy was just a memory from her youth, along with all those crazy bets. They’d gone to colleges on opposite sides of the country, getting together during holidays when they could. After graduation they’d somehow lost touch in the flurry of new jobs and new cities. She wouldn’t have admitted to anyone how often she still thought of him. But that was then, this was now, and today was her wedding day.
Her husband-to-be was a stock broker like herself, only he was the stuffy pin-striped kind. She worked on the trading floor where there was always the possibility of disaster in the next transaction. The risk kept her interested. Her fiancé…not so much. But she was tired of waiting and he was a nice enough guy.
In spite of the lecture she gave herself about being silly, she folded eight crisp hundred dollar bills and tucked them in the tiny hidden pocket of her gown, the one meant for a tissue in case she was overcome with emotion during the ceremony. Not much chance of that. Then she fluffed her veil and walked calmly to meet her father for the trip down the aisle.
Instead, life hit her with that solid left hook again. For there was Troy, grinning like he always did when he won a bet. Felicity’s heart turned over as she realized she was about to lose the most important gamble of her life. Troy extended his hand, palm up. His grin faded as he looked at her searchingly. Slowly she pulled out the money. It was too late. Wasn’t it?
“Double or nothing?” she asked.
“You’re on!” he said.
Her smile matched his as they clasped hands and ran down the church steps to freedom. Neither noticed the eight Benjamins flutter to the floor. It was only money, and money had never been the important part. You could bet on that.