800 WORD STORY ~ SAFE BET

By way of variation, Eden Baylee and I, who have been co-writing stories for our blogs since January this year (and before that on R.B. Wood’s Word Count Podcast), decided to intersperse the collaborations with solo efforts. We thought it would be interesting to apply the same basic principles (outlined in our introduction  to the series  here ) but rather than be alternate narrators, to write separate, individual stories based on the same prompt. This is mine.

Prompt: Tom lost 25 bucks at the races
Parts 1 to 4: Bill

***

Safe Bet

One Saturday in October, Tom lost 25 bucks at the races. He’d lost a lot more over the years, along with Rick, Jim and his other mates, but for all of them it was easy come, easy go. The times they went home with a (rare) profit just increased their addiction and brought them back to watch short-odds favourites cruise home while their own long-odds choices, that might win sixty or a hundred bucks for a single dollar outlay, trailed home exhausted as the winner pranced around the paddock tossing its head as if ready to do it all again.

But this loss was different. Tom wasn’t rich. 25 bucks was a significant chunk of his week’s wages. But the amount mattered in another, more important bet. With Julie.

In fact, this had been one of his better weeks. So much so that his winnings over the five days added up to 175 dollars. Putting 200 on the losing favourite in the last race was a deliberate, win-win strategy. He’d either win a packet or lose the bet with Julie, which meant when the season ended, he’d have proved his proposal was sincere and they could have a Spring wedding.

+++

Even though they’d been together for three years and neither was interested in other people, little differences in temperament, personality, beliefs kept surfacing, leading to days, sometimes weeks of silences and apparent cooling off periods. They always managed to overcome the differences in the end but when, in September, Tom confessed that, because of a bad streak on the horses, he couldn’t afford to go to a gig she’d been looking forward to, Julie had had enough.

“Again?” she said. “That’s the sixth time. You’ve known the date since July.”

Tom shrugged, shamefaced. “I know, but…” was all he could manage.

“But what?”

“I’ve tried but I haven’t been able to save enough.”

“Because you didn’t want to. It’s the same for me, but I’ve still managed to…”

“It’s not the same. They’ve been laying guys off at my place. I’m lucky I’ve still got the job.”

“Pity your luck’s not the same at the horses.”

Instead of bridling at the cheap jibe, Tom just shook his head.

“Anyway,” he said, “I was trying to save for something else.”

“What?”

Tom turned his head, looked away from her and, his voice low, almost an apology, said, “Us to get married”.

+++

The silence that followed was eloquent. All thoughts of the gig, money, horses, tumbled away to leave fantasies, hopes, impossibilities.

Julie’s reactive “What the…?” never developed into a coherent question because if this was what Tom thought was a proposal she should take it seriously.

The trouble was, they weren’t serious people. She liked gigs, he liked racing with Rick, Jim and the rest. They were just kids. With kids’ obsessions. Kids didn’t get married.

“D’you mean it?” she said at last.

Tom could only nod.

“Ask me,” Julie said.

“Ask what?”

“Ask me to marry you.”

After a long pause, during which they just stared at one another, Tom said, “I really love you, Julie. Will you marry me?”

She nodded and said, “OK”.

They kissed and, eventually, she pushed herself away from him and said, “Here’s the deal”.

When he tried to reply, she put her finger on his lips and went on, “I bet you can’t go a whole month without going to the races…”

But he was already shaking his head. She stopped, then started again.

“I bet you can’t keep your losses under twenty dollars a day for a week.”

“It’s a deal,” said Tom.

+++

200 dollars was the biggest bet Tom had ever made. It hurt to hand so much back to the bookies, but it meant Julie had won. The wedding was still on so he wasn’t a loser.

After that, the strength he’d felt in making that choice made it easier for him to resist the lure of the track. He and Julie spent more time together. Life was comfortable. But boring.

Then, on a warm, gorgeous day in early April, with the wedding date just 10 days away, he got the note. It was a scrap torn from a newspaper with a list of runners and riders for the following day. A big circle had been drawn around a horse in the 3.30: Bless the Bride, trained by Tom Julien.

Tom had never seen a more obvious sign. Rick and the others had been trying all winter to get him back to the track. They must have seen this and grabbed their chance. Tom smiled, folded the paper and tucked it into his shirt pocket. Four streets away, at the house she lived in with her mum, Julie bundled up the week’s newspapers to take them out to the recycling bin.

***

If you haven’t already done so, please visit Eden’s blog for her response to the same prompt. Next month, we’ll get back to our collaborative efforts but, for these solo efforts, all comments are still welcome.

2 comments

  1. Wow, Bill,

    A thoroughly enjoyable read, slightly open-ended for interpretation, but you know I love that. It’s the mark of a thoughtful story.
    What it also says to me is how we can each take a prompt and bend it in two very different directions. And yet, we are also compatible to write full stories together.
    Looking forward to the next one!
    xo
    e

    1. Thanks, Eden. I think this departure was a good idea – two very different stories with different messages (although mine doesn’t really qualify as a ‘message’), but maintaining the quality and value of the form. Looking forward to being back in shared harness next month. XX

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