"Well, it looks like we got ourselves a Super Bowl!" Tom said to me, as we sat in my living room.
Tom was Tom Jacobsen, my next-door neighbor. We were watching the final minutes of the NFC Championship game, as the Carolina Panthers were closing out their impressive victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. The Panthers played in Charlotte, which is where I lived. So, the city was going to go nuts at the Panthers being in the Bowl-and Tom had been a Panthers fan since the team had been created. He was ecstatic.
Me? Nope. I'm Travis, by the way-Travis Almonte. And though I lived in Charlotte, I wasn't a native. In fact, we had just moved here about three years previous-we being me and my wife, Heather. There was a job opportunity here I just couldn't pass up, so we moved. Heather's a nurse, so she could move anywhere.
Since we moved in, Tom and his wife, Dawn, had been our closest friends, living right next door. Heather and Dawn got along particularly well. Me and Tom? Well, he was OK. Mostly a good guy. A little bit full of himself sometimes, which got on my nerves, but we had a lot in common.
However, one of things we didn't have in common was football teams. You see, Heater and I had moved to Charlotte from the Boston area, and I was a lifelong Patriots fan. And guess who had won the other conference championship game, the AFC game, three hours earlier?
"Well, congratulations to the Panthers," I said, "they deserve it." I grinned at Tom. "And I hope they enjoyed the run, because it comes to a crashing end in two weeks."
"You think?" Tom said. "I don't."
"You don't know what you're about to run into," I told him. "The Patriots are going to win the Super Bowl. No doubt in my mind."
"Oh, come on, they're not that good."
"They've won fourteen games in a row!"
"It's a fluke," Tom maintained. "Who have they got? Brady? Who's their running back, Antoine Smith? They've got some good guys on defense, but only Ty Law really stands out. They're overrated."
"You don't watch them," I told him. "I have the satellite dish so I watch the Pats every weekend. They don't win with stars-they win with the whole team."
"No it's not," I maintained. "I read something somewhere, and I agree with it. The Patriots don't win because they're number one or two guy is better than yours-they win because their fortieth guy is better than your thirtieth. It's all about consistency and depth."
"That's still crap, because it doesn't come back to matchups. What it comes down to is this-the Patriots' offensive line won't be able to handle the Panthers' d-line. Simple as that. And Davis will be able to run on the Pats' D."
"You think so? You know the Pats have only given up one hundred-yard rushing game this year? To Clinton Portis, in the Denver game. Come on, Tom, did you see the playoffs?"
"They shut down McNair and George; then they shut down Manning and James. You really thing they're worried about Davis and Delhomme? The Panthers will be lucky if they score seven points. And the Patriots' defense might score that many-I can see Law taking an interception back."
"I still think you're nuts. Brady will be running for his life."
"No way, he's too good at getting the ball off for that."
Tom took a pull from his beer, and then grinned at me. "If you're so sure, we should make this a little more interesting. A little wager, maybe?"
I grinned back. "You're on. How much?"
"Ah, betting money is no fun. We could both afford to lose a couple grand." It was true, neither of us were hurting for money and neither of us had any kids yet-we were both in our late twenties and were waiting to have kids. "I was thinking of something a little more, oh, dangerous."
"Hmm... how about our wives?" he leered.
"WHAT?" I choked on my beer.
"The winner gets a night with the loser's wife. That'd put a little spice into the proceedings, wouldn't you think?"
"Yeah, right," I said. "And our wives would just go along with this?"
"Dawn would. She does what I tell her to do." That much was true-it was one of the things about Tom that rubbed me the wrong way. "And I'm sure you could convince Heather."
"I'm sure I couldn't."
"Ask her. Are you game for it if she is?"
"I guess so, but she won't go for it."
"If we can get them to agree," Tom said. "we going to go with straight wins, or against the spread?"
"I'll only do this as a straight win. You know Vegas-the line's going to be inflated. The Patriots are going to be the favorites, and probably by a touchdown, but they're not a blowout team. They just win. So I won't pay any attention to the spread."
"Fine by me, the Panthers are going to win anyway. So, where are the girls?"
Heather and Dawn were there, we called them in. Tom explained the wager. Dawn, as expected, meekly went along.
Then Heather shocked me. "Sounds good to me," she said.
"Huh?" I said.
"Sure, I'll bite," she said, shrugging. "Might be fun."
I never expected her to go along with it. But she did. Shit! The next thing I knew, Tom was standing up out of the chair, grinning, and shaking my hand. "It's settled, then. We'll see you in two weeks. I'll bring the snacks. You just bring your gorgeous wife." And then he and Dawn left.
Heather sat there, grinning at me. I wiped the grin off her face by glaring at her. "Something wrong?" she asked.
"How the hell could you go along with this?" I roared.
"You didn't want me to?"
"Of course not! I didn't think for a minute you'd go along with it. I was waiting for you to shoot it down!"
"If you didn't want me to go along with it, why did you ask?"
"I didn't-Tom did. I got roped into this. And don't for a minute try to pretend you agreed for my sake. You're not Dawn, you don't do what I want just because I want it."
She looked down. "OK, well, you're right. The thought intrigues me. That's why I agreed." She looked up. "Honey, you know I love you. But, Tom is-well, he's a complete hunk. If we weren't both married, I would have jumped his bones a long time ago."
"Oh, isn't that just great!" I couldn't argue with Tom being a hunk. I wasn't bad looking, but Tom was the type of guy who had women swarming all over him. I'd had my share, but not like him.
"And I see how he looks at me," she went on. Well, of course, Heather was gorgeous. All guys looked at her. "I mean, honey, it's only going to be one time, right? What's the harm?"
"Fine. I've gotten sucked into this, so fine. But you're forgetting something. What if I win?"
"Huh?" she said.
"You're thinking about you lusting after Tom. What if I win? I'll be taking Dawn up to our bed and fucking her brains out-you gonna be able to deal with that?"
"Sure," she said bravely-but I could see the realization behind it. She hadn't thought of that. She tried to cover it. "Besides which, I love Dawn-but, let's face it, she can't hold a candle to me." Dawn was pretty, but Heather was a bombshell. "I don't worry about you leaving me for her."
"Why, because you're prettier?" I was getting more and more upset. "If that's all that mattered, then why the hell did you even marry me?" With that, I stormed out of the room.
I clumped around the house for a while, avoiding her. I waited until she went to bed before I did. All the while, I was thinking.
Look, male honor and all that-you make a bet, you make a bet. But this time, I didn't care. I was getting out of it. I was going to see Tom the next night, and tell him the bet was off.
I got up that morning, and Heather had made my favorite breakfast-and was being awfully nice. She sat across from me, eating, and said, "Look, honey, I'm sorry. It's not that I don't love you. It's just that Tom is sexy."
"I'm canceling the bet," I said abruptly.
"Huh?" she said.
"I'm going to see Tom tomorrow, and I'm canceling the bet."
"Honey, if you do that, he'll never let you live it down."
"I don't care."
"Look, I think you should let it go. Honey, it will only be one night. Our relationship can stand this."
I looked at her. "Well, I've opened Pandora's box, haven't I?"
"What do you mean?"
"Whether or not I stick with the bet, the seed's been planted in your mind. If I cancel the bet, you'll just find another way to get your night with Tom, won't you?"
"Honey, no! I wouldn't do that! I just think that you agreed to the bet, you should see it through."
"I'll think about it."
I was still thinking about it Wednesday night. Things had been strained Monday and Tuesday between Heather and I. OK, so I was insecure, and I felt like I had been maneuvered into this bet-by Tom and Heather. Tuesday night, Heather jumped my bones-I don't know if she was trying to reassure me, or what. I went with it.
Which brought me to Wednesday night. Heather had a class on Wednesdays, she was going for her Master's degree, so I was home alone. I was watching some college basketball when the doorbell rang.
It was Dawn. "I have this dish I had to return to Heather," she said with a smile. "I know where it goes."
"Sure," I said, and let her in. She went into the kitchen, then came back into the living room. Instead of heading for the front door, she lingered in front of me.
"Uhm, Travis? You weren't crazy about this bet, were you?"
"No, in fact, I think I'm going to tell Tom I want to back out. Even though he'll lord that one over me forever."
"Why?" Dawn asked.
"Because Heather's far too eager for this to happen," I snorted.
"She is?" Dawn said. "Why on earth?"
"Because Tom's a stud, don't you know," I said with a smirk.
"Oh," Dawn said. "I think Heather is... well, never mind that. Anyhow, I wish you wouldn't back out on the bet."
"You do?" I said. "I didn't think you were for this, either-that you just went along because you usually do go along with what Tom wants."
"I do, usually. But, in this instance, that's not all of it. Look, Travis, Tom was my first, OK? Which means he's my only. And, I dunno, I wonder... and you're a sweet guy and I've always liked you."
"Oh," I said. Well, this made things a little different, didn't it? "You're serious?"
"Yeah," she said with a little smile. "I think it would be fun."
I asked her the same thing, basically, that I had asked Heather. "What if Tom wins? Are you going to be able to live with Tom screwing Heather?"
"Wouldn't be the first time," she sniffed. "Oh, not with Heather, not that I know of. But it wouldn't be the first time he screwed somebody else."
"Oh, jeez, Dawn, I didn't know."
"I knew it when I married him," she shrugged. "I still said 'I do.' And I just can't bring myself to turn the tables. But if I had to do it because he lost a bet..." she said with a little grin.
"OK, then. I won't back out."
"Good. Go Patriots!" she laughed-and then she was gone.
Heather asked me about it the next night. "Did you go to Tom and cancel the bet?"
"I decided not to. Dawn talked me out of it."
"What?" Heather said, amazed.
"Yeah, she came over last night, to drop off your casserole dish. And she asked me not to cancel the bet." I couldn't resist twisting the screws a little bit. "I guess she's hoping that I win as badly as you are hoping that Tom wins."
"That bitch!" she blurted.
"Oh, really? Can't take it when the tables are turned, huh?"
"It's not the same thing at all! I mean, women flock to Tom! It's completely understandable why I'd be interested."
"And her being interested in me isn't reasonable? Jesus Christ, you married me!!"
"But that's because I got to know you. I married you because I love you. This is just for one night. I mean, it's not like she wants to marry you. Let's face it, honey, you're the marrying kind, not the one-night-stand kind."
"I never heard any complaints," I said.
"And I don't have any. Oh, I don't know what I'm trying to say! Tom exudes animal magnetism. Your appeal only comes out on closer inspection."
"Dawn has known me for two years.'
Heather thought about that. "That's right, she has, hasn't she? I hadn't thought of it that way." She sighed. "Ah, well, what's done is done."
It's a good thing there was only two weeks between the championship games and the Super Bowl, because things around the house were a bit weird, and strained. We weren't fighting-but, now that we had both committed to this bet, I think we wanted it all resolved.
Finally, Super Bowl Sunday arrived.
Gametime arrived. Tom and Dawn arrived, and we spread out the food. We ate and chatted before the game started, kind of avoiding any conversation about the bet. Then we settled in the living room. Tom and I took the side-by-side easy chairs-the girls sat on the couch off to the side.
Carolina won the toss, but the Patriots' defense shut them down. Troy Brown had a nice punt return. The Patriots moved the ball a bit, but then stalled. Vinatieri had to try a field goal-and missed it.
Not a good start for the Pats. Tom was bouncing up and down at the missed field goal.
But the Panthers offense went three-and-out again, including a sack. Brown had another decent return-but the Patriots got caught for holding. They started at their own 37, and they also went 3-and-out. It was setting up to be a defensive struggle early. The punt was weak-the Patriots' punter sucked-but we got a good bounce. The Panthers started at their own 11. Another 3-and-out.
"Jesus. Whoever scores first, wins," Tom said. "This game's going to be 3-0."
"And we should already have three," I said in disgust. "That's not like Vinatieri."
"That might come back to haunt the Pats," Tom taunted.
"Yeah, yeah. Let's see if the Panthers can get one first down before you start taunting."
The first quarter ended like that, with neither team able to do much. But the Patriots got a nice sustained drive going early in the second, and it ate up a good chunk of time. Unfortunately, Givens dropped a pass on third down and then Vinatieri, unbelievably, missed another field goal try.
"Jesus," I hissed, "when's the last time Vinatieri did that?"
"I know," Tom said. "I'm amazed myself."
But then, on the next series, Delhomme fumbled, and the Patriots took over deep in Carolina territory. And they finally broke the logjam-a five yard touchdown pass from Brady to Deion Branch, after Brady had a nice scramble for a first down. 7-0 Patriots. I stood up and did a happy dance.
"Don't worry, we'll come back," Tom said confidently.
"How, exactly? Carolina hasn't gained a yard yet!" Tom just glared at me-and I noticed Dawn shooting me a little smile. Heather studiously ignored that.
However, after the kickoff, Carolina got their offense going and started marching down the field. "There we go, that's more like it," Tom said. He was right-they scored on a long touchdown pass.
"YEE-HAH!" Tom screamed. Damn. The Pats' defense had completely shut them down to that point. This wasn't good, not at all.
The Pats got the ball back with a minute left. Brady completed a short pass, and then threw a feeble incompletion. "Brady's no Joe Montana," Tom smirked.
"He's closer than you think," I replied. Just as I said it, Brady completed a 60 yard pass to Deion Branch. "SEE?" I gloated, grinning. First down on the 15 with plenty of time. It only took a couple of plays. Touchdown, Patriots! I did another happy dance, and Dawn was openly grinning at me. Tom looked plainly disgusted. Heather, to my surprise, looked more bemused than anything.
It didn't end there. The Patriots did a squib kick, which backfired. The Panthers were able to get close enough for a field goal. 14-10 Patriots at halftime.
The chat during halftime was about anything other than the bet, or the game. The weather. The news. Justin Timberlake ripping Janet Jackson's shirt off. Whatever.
The second half started with a Patriots' three-and-out. The Panthers got a little drive going, but the Pats shut 'em down (thank goodness). The Panthers punted and the Pats took it deep within their own territory. The Patriots got a couple first downs but then got stopped and had to punt again. Miracle of miracles, Walter got a good one off-and Carolina got a penalty. The Patriots shut them down again and got the ball back.
And marched right down the field-another impressive drive, leading to an Antoine Smith touchdown. The Pats ended the third quarter with a 21-10 lead.
But the Panthers came right back with another impressive drive, and cut the lead to 21-16. Then they tried a 2-point conversion. They didn't get it-so at least they didn't get within a field goal.
"Jesus Christ, this game is going to give me an ulcer," Tom said.
"Got that right."
"And we thought it was going to be a defensive struggle," he said.
"And it was, for the first 20 minutes. Then all hell broke loose," I laughed.
The Patriots marched down the field again, seemingly having figured out the Carolina defense. They got it to the ten. And, then-disaster. On third and goal, Brady threw an interception.
"THAT'S IT!" Tom screamed. "That's the break we needed!"
He was right. At first, it didn't look like it, because the Pats looked like they were going to stop them. But Delhomme threw an 80-yard TD pass. Jesus. What the hell was going on? The Patriots didn't give up 80 yard TD passes! Peyton Manning couldn't do that against them and they were giving them up to Jake Freakin' Delhomme????
They went for two again, and didn't get it-so it was only a 1-point lead for the Panthers.
And it was true-the Patriots had solved the Panther's defense. They marched right back down and scored-on a pass from Brady to linebacker Mike Vrabel, of all people. Then they went for two-and got it. 29-22, Patriots, with 2 _ minutes left.
But here came the Panthers. They marched right down the field again, and got it to the fifteen.
And, on third down, they scored.
Tom and I just looked at each other. Neither of us could believe it.
"I have to say, I did not predict this much scoring," Tom said. I agreed with him. The extra point tied things up. There was a minute left-and then overtime.
Then the Pats got a break-Kasay kicked the kickoff out of bounds. So, the Pats got the ball at their own 40. They had a minute to go 60 yards for a TD-or about 40 to get into Vinatieri's field goal range. Of course, he'd missed a couple already. I'd rather see the TD.
The Patriots got a first down-but then Troy Brown got called for offensive pass interference. That pushed them back ten yards. Brown redeemed himself with a great catch, but there was still lots of yardage and time was ticking away. But Brady threw a great pass to Branch on third and three and got the ball down inside the 30. They had saved a time out and called it with 9 seconds left. Enough time for Vinatieri. It would be a 41 yard field goal. Would this be the Vinatieri who had won all those games for the Patriots in the pass, or the Vinatieri that had missed two already today? Could he do it?
There were four seconds left.
Vinatieri kicked off-he kicked it deep. And the Patriots got 'em.
YEEEEEHAAAAAAH!!!!!!! I did another happy dance.
"Congratulations," Tom said graciously. "At least it was a hell of a game."
"That much is true," I agreed. "Damn, though, I wish I were back in Boston. The place is probably going nuts."
"No doubt, and you have to live with all the depressed Panthers fans," he laughed.
"Yup, and I'm wearing my Patriots hat to work tomorrow," I laughed. And then I brought it up. "So, when do I claim the winnings on my bet?"
Heather shot me a look. Tom cleared his throat. "Look, I've been thinking about that." Are you kidding me? Was he going to try to weasel out of this? "You know, I don't think Dawn ever really agreed to this." He was going to try to weasel out of it! "I think I pushed her into it. I think she should get one last chance to get out of it-and I'll come up with another acceptable way to pay off the bet."
"Hmmm. Somehow I don't think you'd say the same thing if Carolina had won," I pointed out.
"But that wouldn't have affected Dawn."
"You sleeping with Heather wouldn't have affected Dawn? Are you nuts?" I snorted. "Anyhow, though, I will agree. For Dawn's sake-and mine, I prefer not to sleep with women who are reluctant. But, OK, if Dawn thinks she was coerced into agreeing, I'll let her out of it," I said-making sure all knew I was being generous towards Dawn and not Tom-or Heather, for that matter.
"I wasn't coerced," Dawn said quietly. "I said I'd go through with it and I meant it."
"What?" Tom blurted.
"This is what you wanted," Dawn reminded him. "This whole bet was your idea-and everyone knows I always do what you tell me to do, right? Well, I did what you told me to do. I agreed with the bet. If you're not prepared to lose, you shouldn't be betting." I was amazed-in the two years I had known them, this was the most stern I'd ever heard Dawn be with him. She looked at me. "Not tonight, OK? I'll be in touch."
"Fine with me."
She got up off the couch and headed for the door. Tom, plainly distressed, followed.
I just sat in my easy chair, feeling unbearably smug, watching the post-game festivities. Tom Brady won the MVP again. I should've bet on that, I would've predicted it.
Heather came and sat next to me, in the chair Tom had just vacated. "You're not really going to go through with it, are you?"
"Sure," I told her.
"But why? I mean-I thought you'd agree, and if you won, let everyone off the hook."
"I might have," I said, "until I saw how enthusiastic you were. If Tom had won, you wouldn't have let Dawn and me off the hook, would you have? Why should I?"
"So, let me get this straight. You're going to sleep with Dawn for revenge or something?" she hissed.
"Not revenge, no. I'm going to sleep with Dawn because you all opened the door on this. I'm also going to sleep with Dawn because she wants to. And because I think it'll be fun. Dawn told me that Tom was her one and only."
Heather nodded. "I knew that."
"And she wants a new experience, wants to see what she's missing. I think that will be fun."
"How could she be missing anything?" Heather snorted. "With Tom the hunk?"
"All I know is what she said to me. I'll find out when I sleep with her." Inside, I was shaking my head. Sometimes women just don't get it.
Tuesday night, Dawn called. "Tom's been trying to get me to back down. I think he's surprised that I won't. Anyhow, I did agree to two things: first, he's going away on business from Thursday until next Tuesday, and he asked me to do this while he was away."
"OK, Friday then?" I said.
"That's good. The second thing is-it has to be at your house. But, that's me, too. I'd rather it happen in your bed." She took a breath. "He's cheated on me in our bed. I just can't do it there, with you."
"I'll see what I can do about that."
I went and found Heather. "Friday for me and Dawn. And Dawn wants it to be here, not there."
"OK," she sighed.
That easy? I thought I'd get an argument on doing it in our bed-I was surprised I didn't. "Well, it had to happen either here or there," she said. "It really doesn't make a difference."
"You seem to have come to terms with this."
"It's going to happen. Maybe someday you'll have to come to terms with something happening that you don't want to happen."
That sounded like a threat. And if I knew Heather, it was a threat having to do with 'getting back at me' by sleeping with Tom. But I let it go.
The rest of the week passed fine. We talked normally, we even made love. Everything was good.
Until we got home after work on Friday. Dawn would be arriving at seven. And Heather was plainly nervous. We cooked supper together and she was distracted and fidgety. We ate, and it was the same. Then, at 6:30, she announced, "I'm going out for the evening, OK?"
I expected that, so I told her it was fine. She kissed me and, without a word, left.
As I said, she seemed nervous. I was wondering if she had planned an extra-curricular activity for herself tonight. She hadn't cheated at all, as far as I knew, and I'd never had any reason to be suspicious.
But I hadn't, either-and I was about to, wasn't I? I don't know. Was it cheating if she agreed? And she did agree-to the parameters of the bet, in any case. If she was going out tonight to find someone else, I most certainly had not agreed. But, shit, I certainly didn't feel like I had the right to be sanctimonious about it.
Dawn came at seven precisely. I took her coat. Dawn was, basically, a demure woman-but she'd gussied herself up a bit. The skirt was a little shorter than usual. The blouse was unbuttoned a little lower than usual. She was wearing a little bit of makeup-which I'd never seen on her at all. Dawn, as I said, was pretty. The way she was today, was very pretty-a strange combination of innocence and sensuality.
She was plainly nervous, though. She sat down on the couch and requested a glass of wine. I was surprised at that-Dawn wasn't a drinker. I got it for her and she sipped it, sitting on the couch, looking uncomfortable.
"Dawn," I said tentatively. "you know, this doesn't have to happen. If you want, we can just tell Tom it did. You don't have to go through with it."
"I want to," she maintained. "Look, I'm not going to pretend I'm not nervous, because I've never done anything like this before. But I want to, believe me."
"Why?" I asked.
"I'm not going to answer that until afterwards, if then. Just trust that I want this, OK?"
"OK," I said. I stood, and extended a hand to her. "Shall we go upstairs?"
She smiled, stood, took my hand, and I led her up to my bedroom. She sat down on my bed and looked at me apprehensively. I sat next to her, and smiled. "If I'm going to do this, I'm doing it the right way," I said.
With that, I leaned in and kissed her. At first she was-well, she wasn't resisting, but she was, I don't know, trying to get used to the idea. This didn't last long. Within a few seconds, she was eagerly kissing me back.
"Lie down," I whispered, and she did so, stretching out on the bed. I leaned over her and kissed her again, running my hands up and down her flanks-just touching, not in any 'forbidden' areas yet. She shuddered at first, then relaxed.
I gently probed her mouth with my tongue, and she opened for me, accepting my tongue probing into her mouth. I kept my hands rubbing up and down her sides, then reached for the top button on her blouse. She visibly stiffened.
I stopped my hand. She broke the kiss, and grunted, "Yes."
"Are you sure?"
"I want to do this. I have to do this. Yes, I'm sure."
"You don't have to do anything."
"Yes, I do. For me. Please."