For several months Peavy had felt a growing restlessness. When he mentioned it to his friends, they laughed and said he was having his mid-life crisis in old age.
Peavy had always been a cautious man. In his youth he had avoided fights and contact sports. He worked at the same insurance company for forty years, never making a lot of money, but saving enough so that it would last him the rest of his life if he didn’t spend foolishly.
Grace, his wife of almost fifty years, had died five years ago. Peavy sold their house and bought into the Golden Trees Retirement Community, with its multiple levels of care, depending on need.
Here he had a lady friend, Rachel, who was witty and made great chocolate chip cookies. Peavy was honest enough with himself to realize that if they had met when young she would have been out of his league, but here the women greatly outnumbered the men and competed for them.
Peavy’s one extravagance was the weekly poker game, but the stakes were low and he played his cards close to his chest. He usually won a little—never a lot. One evening, George joined their game. George rarely played poker, and Peavy didn’t know him very well.
They chatted during a break. When Peavy asked him why he didn’t play more often, George laughed and said, “Because I always lose.”
“Everybody loses sometimes.”
“But I always lose.”
“I don’t remember you winning any hands.”
“I never win a hand. In fact, every time I’ve ever gambled, I’ve lost.”
“That’s a strong statement.”
“But it’s true . In spite of my bad luck, I have a mild addiction to gambling. I’ve found that I can satisfy it by betting on sports. Each week I bet a modest amount on a football game. I’ve been placing bets for several years. By chance, I should have won sometimes. But I’ve never won. In spite of that, I keep thinking my luck will change.”
Peavy thought he was exaggerating, but as George mentioned other times when he had lost bets, Peavy decided to run a test.
“I’ll bet you a dollar that the next person who walks through that door is wearing a yellow tie.”
George laughed and said, “You don’t believe me, do you? Well, I’ve never seen a yellow tie at Golden Trees, so I’ll take your bet.”
Five minutes later, Ken, one of the regulars, arrived late, wearing a faded but definitely yellow tie. As the open-mouthed Peavy questioned him about it, he said he had found it in a trunk that afternoon. It was his lucky tie from college poker games.
Peavy made several other small bets with George during the course of the evening, each one more improbable than the last. He won them all. And George didn’t win a hand at poker.
When the game ended, Peavy asked George what team he was betting on in Sunday’s football game.
“I’ve got the Lions and four points against the Browns. The Lions have been playing well lately. This time I think I’m going to win.”
Peavy obtained the phone number of the Las Vegas betting syndicate from George. He called and placed a twenty-dollar bet on the Browns. The Browns beat the Lions handily.
He felt a growing excitement. Maybe this was the lift he needed to overcome his restlessness. During each of the next three weeks he asked George which team he was betting on, and bet the opposite, doubling his bet each time. He didn’t tell George what he was doing, or anyone else.
Peavy was several hundred dollars ahead, and all he had risked was twenty dollars. If he continued this strategy, he would win several thousand dollars by the end of the season. That wasn’t chicken feed.
Or…. There was another possibility that Peavy’s cautious nature hadn’t dared to envision before. His heart beat faster when he thought about it. He could bet a wad on a single game, before his luck, or rather George’s luck, changed, pocket the money, and never bet again.
Residents of Golden Trees ate one meal a day in the dining room. Peavy usually ate dinner there with Rachel and some other people. One night, Rachel said to him, “August, you seem so happy tonight. Did a rich uncle die and leave you a pile of money?”
She was the only one who called him August—short for Augustus.
“My rich uncles are long dead. I can’t talk about it, but…. How would you like to go on a cruise? You’ve said you’d like to cruise through the Panama Canal.”
“That’s a pipe dream, I’m afraid.”
“No, you don’t understand. It would be my treat.” There. He had blurted it out. He had thrown caution to the winds. They had never even slept together, and yet he was inviting her to go on a cruise with him. If this was the new Peavy, he liked him.
Rachel, of course, protested that he couldn’t do that, but her voice was wistful. Now he knew he had to get the money. But he wouldn’t be playing with house money anymore. He would be playing with his life savings. That added a whole new layer of anxiety.
Peavy went to Roger, the Golden Trees spiritual advisor. Roger was an employee, who, among his other duties, acted as a minister at memorial services for residents who died. Without telling him what he was doing, Peavy asked, “When something you can’t explain happens, how should you look at it?”
“Faith is the basis for religion,” Roger said. “Faith in the unknown, faith in the unseen. Not everything can be explained by science. That is why religion is so important. It helps you develop that faith.” He smiled at Peavy. “Are you thinking of joining us at our weekly Bible study?”
Peavy wasn’t completely satisfied with that answer. He talked to Charles, who had been a scientist in his working life, and asked him the same question.
“Science is all about observation. Not everything can be explained by science, but we’re working on it. But if you can get reproducible results—that is, you obtain the same outcome each time you run an experiment—then you have evidence of something that is scientifically valid, even if you can’t yet explain why it is happening.”
Maybe a combination of religion and science was the answer. Faith that he would get the same result, even though he couldn’t explain it, and the knowledge that it worked, brought on by the evidence before his eyes.
Peavy made his bet on Saturday, the day before the game, after finding out how George had bet. He maxed out three credit cards, something he had never done before. He had always paid off the balance each month so that he wouldn’t incur interest charges.
He couldn’t help worrying about what he had done. He couldn’t sleep Saturday night. He stayed in his apartment on Sunday morning, too nervous to be around anybody else. The game started at one. Peavy watched it on television. The Patriots had to win by two.
The score seesawed back and forth, keeping Peavy pacing the room and nervously wolfing down cookies that Rachel had given him. With a minute to go the Patriots were ahead by two, the exact winning margin he needed. He relaxed a little.
Then the Colts completed a pass in Patriot territory. Peavy felt faint; he realized he had been holding his breath. He consciously sucked in air. The Colts took their last timeout with seconds to go. They lined up to attempt a field goal of over fifty yards.
Peavy couldn’t watch as the ball arced toward the goal posts. The cheers of the home crowd told him what he didn’t want to know. The kick was good; he had lost the bet. He frantically scanned the field, looking for a flag that would signal a penalty. There had to be a penalty.
But there was no penalty. The game was over, and he was ruined. And humiliated. He would have to leave Golden Trees.
Peavy snuck over to the kitchen before the dining room opened for dinner, intending to get takeout and eat in his apartment. He couldn’t face anybody. Just when he thought he would make it he ran into George, who was all smiles.
“Why the glum face, Peavy?”
Of course George was smiling. “You won, didn’t you? You won your bet.”
“No, as a matter of fact I lost.”
“But you bet on the Colts.”
“I changed my bet and doubled up. I decided I had made the wrong bet.”
“You didn’t tell me.”
“I didn’t think it was important. It was only ten dollars.”
A spark of hope flashed in Peavy’s brain. Maybe—just maybe—all was not lost.