The 50th Annual Life Partner Shindig
by Charles C. Cole
While upending his apartment in search of the remote control, bachelor Cappy Muldoon discovered a twenty-dollar bill in the pocket of forgotten jeans sandwiched in a stack of clean towels. There was a note scrawled in unfamiliar handwriting: “Use or lose: To invest in LIFE, give this dollar away at once. Or else!” Change from a sarcastic bartender perhaps?
Cappy had heard rumors of these left-leaning curses, altruism by gunpoint, but had managed all these years to avoid them, until today. “To the kitchen trash bin and a swift end with you.”
About that time, his extroverted neighbor from the condo across the street, Mamie Gentry, knocked on Cappy’s kitchen door with what resembled a very active swear jar resting under her chin, maybe an eighth-full with loose donations. She was collecting for the Annual Life Partner Shindig, “ALPS”, or so her apron promoted. Mamie peered at Cappy through the windowed door, one eyebrow raised.
“Come on, Cappy! You never give! It’s for the animals,” she grumbled. “You’ve got nothing and nobody. What’s it gonna set you back? Pizza without pepperoni for a couple of weeks?”
Surprisingly superstitious, Cappy yanked the door open and thrust the cash into the jar. “Take it. I don’t care. I didn’t know I had until five minutes ago. Your gain is my loss.”
“A twenty! Really?” Mamie was shocked. “I was kidding. No pressure, I swear. You’ll give me a bad reputation. Most people like seeing me each year.”
“What’s done is done,” said Cappy, already closing the door.
“You ready to settle down? If you win, your life could change. It happened to last year’s winner. And the year before that.” This was no mere exaggeration.
It must be understood that this was a fifty-year old village tradition: a lottery/fundraiser where the winning couple gets a date of a lifetime, free one-night-only (limo, tux, corsage, and the honor of being king and queen at the ALPS, in the bedecked high school gym). Sometimes all that excitement led to romance and even marriage. Not always.
“It just feels right,” Cappy offered, half-truthful. “I’m making up for last year when I chased you away with a broom, as I recall.”
“It was a yardstick,” Mamie corrected him. “God only knows what you were measuring.”
“Sweeping my keys out from under the oven actually. Off you go. Give my best to the abandoned cats and dogs.”
Mamie noticed something unusual. “There’s writing on it!”
“Is there? Probably a short grocery list. Don’t read it. You want it or not?” asked Cappy.
“So two chances then?”
“Just leave the tickets in the mailbox. I’ll grab them when I head out on errands later.”
Mamie shook Cappy’s free hand and squeezed, passionately. “Thank you, Cappy! You won’t regret it. Your generosity will make a difference.” Mamie’s skin felt warm and smooth and, surprisingly, comforting. Cappy smiled in spite of himself.
A month later, “King” Cappy, although socially awkward at times, had temporarily acquired a driver, a snappy suit, and a blind date for a very public charity event. The good news: dancing was not mandatory, except the slow dance to kick off the event.
Cappy’s lucky date would be revealed only when the limo stopped to pick him up, when he was too committed to retreat. She’d be glammed up in the back, two stemmed glasses of champagne in her hands, dressed to the nines. No pressure.
The night arrived. The limo honked. The part-time chauffeur, Principal Gill, in cap and sunglasses and too-tight vest, posed by the back door, ready for the reveal. Pam Goyette, weekend wedding photographer, stood nearby with her camera around her neck and a corsage for Cappy in her hand.
“Are you ready?” asked Principal Gill, swinging the door open. “When I was your age, the town used a police cruiser. This is so much nicer. Go on in.”
“Picture first,” insisted Pam. Cappy’s smile froze. “You’ll be the cover of next month’s newsletter and the Facebook page.”
On the opposite side of the backseat, a familiar woman reclined in a long black sleeveless dress, legs crossed demurely, in wavy brunette hair with shiny red lips, two bubbling drinks at the ready.
“Evening, Cappy,” Mamie cooed. “Let’s get the shock out of the way. I’m as surprised as you are. It’s one night. Let’s show the town how to have a good time.”
“Surprise! Mayor Riddle pulled the ticket at random from the tumbler. I wasn’t even there. I’m as flabbergasted as you are. Let’s try and make the best of it, for the sake of our furry friends. I hope you like champagne.”
“You’re pretty easy on the eyes when you get dressed up.”
The compliment was unanticipated. Cappy climbed in, his back firmly against his closed door. “Now what happens?”
“A fun night on the town, with everyone watching.”
By the time they reached the gym, the couple had gone through a magnum of champagne and Cappy’s cheeks ached from his smiling so much, or lack of practice. They had more mutual friends than expected, having only been two years apart in high school. They each liked running and jazz and sci-fi. And cats and dogs equally.
Principal Gill opened Mamie’s door. Pam was already standing nearby, ready for another picture.
“Let me help you,” said Cappy, dashing out and around. He extended his hand to his date. Mamie practically glowed. “You look nice.”
“Thanks,” said Principal Gill, joking.
“Wait! Don’t get out. I have an idea,” said Cappy.
“Is something wrong?” asked Mamie. “Do I have something in my teeth?”
“Principal Gill, would it be breaking with tradition if I asked you to drive around for another twenty minutes? I’d like to get to know my date a little better before we get distracted by all the hoopla. Is that okay with you, Mamie?”
“Sure,” said Mamie, with a smile that warmed Cappy to the core. “And maybe we can work on the second bottle of champagne.”
Copyright © 2020 by Charles C. Cole