by John Little
A once-in-a-lifetime gamble (Writer's Cramp Contest entry 976 words)
His horse "Showed". It was a favorite and should have "Won" or "Placed". "Betting To Show" was a limp sucker bet, no real payoff.
So much for suckers.
John tore up his ticket and left. He knew when to quit. Unfortunately, he had been quitting a lot.
"My luck has to change", he muttered. John never bet the farm, he was too smart for that, but sometimes you had to take chances. And he was working on a can't-fail scheme that would literally be an all-or-nothing shot.
The skeptic in John tried to convince him this scheme was the source of all his bad luck. All-or-nothings were for chumps; it wasn't his style, and it was affecting his timing, his luck. The gambler in him said, yeah sure, but all this bad luck is building the tension for that one lucky strike. When his ship came in, it would be Aces-high. Gotta hold on to that one thought, that little-engine-that-could.
That big strike would change his life. He might even give up on this nickel-and-dime stuff. That'd make Jeanne happy, too. She didn't mind the gambling too much, she knew he was smart, but she held rather conventional ideas about gambling. When this came through, though, all this small stuff wouldn't be the same.
John turned his phone back on. Never let anything distract luck, was his motto. His phone started beeping; Jeanne had left a dozen messages. No, nothing critical, but this was so atypical of her. She knew where he was and why the phone was off.
God! Don't let my bad luck rub off on this relationship!
"John? Is that you? You are going to be there tonight, right? It took me forever to get the reservations! Please, John, don't tell me you can't make it!?"
"Jeanne! Darling! I wouldn't miss it! I know how important this is for you. Yes yes yes, absolutely!" As distraught as Jeanne sounded, he was on the top of the world. Hearing her voice was magic.
"John, I'm sorry. This is important."
John didn't hear the hesitation in her voice. He just smiled. She was going to be thrilled when he scored this big one. With all the bad luck so far, he knew this couldn't fail. Only one more piece of the puzzle. "Jeanne, Darling. Yes. Should I pick you up, or meet you there? Ok, yeah, I'll be there. 7pm? Yes. Ok. What? Oh, ok. See you tonight! Love!"
John went home, cleaned up a bit, took a shower and got ready. If he caught the 6:22, he'd get to the restaurant a few minutes early. Checking himself in the mirror, he declared himself ready. He picked up the gift for Jeanne, put it in his jacket pocket, pulled out the old heirloom pocket watch from his great grandfather. He had 20 minutes to catch his ride. Plenty of time.
Locking up the brownstone, John got to the station and, after a few minutes, got on board. It was crowded, Friday night, everyone was going downtown for something. He kept a mindful eye on his pocket - pickpockets love crowded trains.
Jeanne was already there, waiting. She looked ... stunning! He had gambled on semi-formal over semi-casual, and it clearly paid off.
My luck is already changing.
"John!" She gave him a tight, lingering hug. He willingly gave it back in exchange. Her eyes quickly dilated in response. Yes! Lucky night!
The maitre d' showed them to an elegant and private table out by the garden. "You look very ... daper, John. Thank you!" She gave him one of her classic smiles that had hooked him on Day One.
"Shall we order?"
"No, I preordered when I made the reservation. I didn't want to waste time waiting for the food. I think you'll like it."
He was amused, and delighted. The dinner was fantastic: escargot, spring rolls, Peking Duck, and baklava. All with a quality German Auslese. She put a tremendous amount of thought into this, John realized.
When the waiter brought a pile of french fries with mayo, he laughed. He hoped the chef hadn't been too offended making street food, but ever since Germany, pomme frites with mayo had been his favorite.
They talked and talked and talked. She was always a good conversationalist, and tonight was no exception.
But it was getting late, and he still hadn't given her the gift. "Jeanne ..."
"No, wait, John. I need to say something first." He cocked an eye and brought his hand back up to the table from his pocket.
She took his hands. "John, dear, my life has been ... topsy-turvy ever since we met. We have spent so much time together, that I feel like ... I have been neglecting parts of my life that are — were — important to me. I even turned down that promotion because I couldn't bear the thought of life without you." Her eyes were beginning to tear up.
What the ...? John's mind raced a mile a minute. No! His luck is changing! The dinner, the conversation! This can't be happening!
"Jeanne! You know I would have moved ..."
"John, no. Stop. Let me finish. This isn't easy."
John choked back a reply, and waited. It was like watching his "Win-Place" bet slowly falling behind, fading before the finish line.
"John." She took a deep breath.
Hang on, boy. Your world is about to crash.
"John, will ... will you marry me?"
John's heart stopped. He sat there, transfixed.
"John? John, please. I ... I thought ..."
John released her hands, pulled out her present, and gave it to her. Jeanne looked confused, and John's lopsided grin didn't help.
She opened the gift, found the 2.4 carat diamond engagement ring inside.
John had known his luck was changing. But he didn't expect it to cash in so big.