"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?"
.... There is more of this story ...