Betting it All

The bar was crowded and noisy, but that was to be expected. On Valentine’s Day the sad and lonely like to t flock together and drown their sorrows. Becky ignored them as she went to the bar ordered her Crown and Coke. The bartender was quick enough to have it ready for her by the time she settled on the barstool.

This was a local place close to where she lived and Becky had become a regular after work. Her job was stressful enough to need a drink after the day. Then she would go home to her Netflix and her iguana. Sammy never judged her for her movie choices.

“Hard day?” a masculine voice asked from the end of the bar.

“You know it.” She answered, aware that he was going to be taking the seat next to her.

“It’s a busy day for both of us.”

Becky slid her eyes to the side to look at Chet. He was as cheerful and pretty as always. Skin that glowed tan even in the winter and dimples dented deeply in his cheeks. Baby blues framed with lashes that would make runway models jealous. Not to mention a body hot enough to cook breakfast on.

“I feel like it’s not quite the same.” She returned to staring at her glass. “You are bringing people together in loving bliss and I’m snatching the souls of those who gave up hope.”

“You have such a negative outlook on what you do.” Chet said.

“It’s required. It’s in the job title. Cheerful reaper didn’t have the same ring to it.”

“You don’t see me getting cranky when everyone thinks cupids are flying babies.” Chet flagged the bartender to pour them both another round. “I just don’t let it get to me.”

“Cupids are beloved and adored.” Especially hot ones like him. “Grim reapers aren’t exactly welcome at parties.”

“I don’t see why. You serve a valuable purpose. Someone has to be there when people pass on, so they are not alone.”

Becky didn’t feel noble about what she did. Since she cut her own life short, she was assigned to reap those who did the same. Watching it over and over again made it almost mundane to her now. Like the paperwork at a boring day job. It made her wish she hadn’t given up on life so easy the first time.

“Don’t you have somewhere better to be?”

She asked him, since this was the best night of the year for cupids. They went all Caligula with the drinking and wild orgies to reward their hard work. Cupid’s like it hard. Becky snorted at her own joke.

“I didn’t feel like celebrating.” Said Chet, sipping on his dirty martini. “I had one that got away and it’s eating at me.”

“You can’t win them all.”

“Yes I can.” Chet turned to nod his head in the direction of one of the booths. “I’m working overtime tonight.”

The guy they were talking about sat alone in one of the beat up wooden booths. He looked to be in his early twenties with a typical nerd look. Glasses around his brown eyes with brown hair that was too long and shaggy over his ears. A t-shirt quoting Star Trek was the icing on the cake. He was holding a beer bottle and staring at the label. Becky could see the faint hazy outline of despair around him, which meant she would be working overtime too.

“What happened with him?” Becky asked, letting the noise in the room fade away so she could focus on the target.

“He had a blind date tonight. Someone his mother fixed him up with.”

“Tell me he wasn’t wearing that shirt.”

Chet shrugged. “He thinks it makes him look witty.”

Cupids were given limited access to a human’s mind when they were targeting them. She was glad it didn’t work on her or she wouldn’t be able to look him in the eyes most of the time.

“She was socially awkward girl that went to his mother’s church and should have had some real potential.” Chet moved his barstool closer and leaned in until she could smell the fresh scent of rain on him. “I tried everything I could to help him but nothing was working. It ended in a handshake.”

A cupid doesn’t really have the power to make people fall in love, that pesky free will gets in the way. They were more like a truly superior life coach you couldn’t see. They whispered in your ear all the right things to do and say to attract the opposite sex. That made the odds better but wasn’t a guarantee.  Becky often wondered if a cupid had tried and failed with her when she was alive.

“It should have been an easy connection. They had a lot in common in fact, but every suggestion I made went unfollowed.” Chet sighed. “He wasn’t even trying.”

“I hate to be the bad news bear, but the man has given up.” Said Becky.

“On love?”

“On life.”

Slowly understanding crept across his expression like a shadow, casting sadness into those pretty eyes. “Bad form of them to send me out on a hard luck case.”

“They might have been trying to save him.” Becky knew she would have changed  her mind if love came along before the bridge she jumped from. “Last ditch effort to keep him in the game.”

“Which I failed at.”

Chet looked so sad, with his chiseled chin in his hands. Becky hated it when the little ray of sunshine in him went dark. It was worse if she was the cause of it.

“You can’t win them all.” She stood up, getting ready to go shake the guys hand and take his soul, which meant death would soon follow.

“Have you been summoned to take him?” Chet’s head bobbed up.

“No, but he’s ready to go.” Becky had been at this job long enough to know when a soul was ripe. “I’m just saving a trip for another a reaper.”

Chet’s hand wrapped around her arm and through the thickness of her hoodie she felt an electric shock.

“Let me have one more shot at him.” He asked.” If I can’t find him love by closing time, he’s all yours.”

“Why would I want to waste my night here watching you try to turn him into Cassanova?” Becky was thinking of the endless episodes of T.V. waiting for her at home.

“Victor picks the spoils.” Chet grinned.

That was essentially a no limit challenge. Her mind began forming different scenarios she could demand if she won. There was no possibility she would lose.

“Fine, but I’, not giving you until close. Beer goggles do not count as love. You have two hours.” Becky stuck out her hand and he took it.” Let’s see what kind of magic you can do quickly.”

Chet wasted no time, but made himself shimmer into invisibility to the human eye and walked in the guy’s direction. Other supernatural entities could still see the outline of each other if they went invisible and Becky never bothered to use that power. Reapers gained nothing from being unseen. She watched him lean in to whisper something in the guy’s ear, once, twice and then finally a third time worked. The guy got up from the booth and went in the direction of the dart board.

This bar wasn’t really the type to attract a lot of single girls and the only choice bunch was playing darts together. Becky counted at least five of them and none were wearing a ring, but they all looked like the type that wouldn’t go for a nerd. Sue enough, when our man approached them they all exchanged sympathetic looks. Still, with Chet urging him on he was able to convince the girls to let him play.

Becky wished she could hear what was being said during the game, because it really was working. One of the girls, probably the bottom of the social ladder in the group, was paying him extra attention. All signs indicated there might even be some flirting. Becky began to panic, realizing that if she lost Chet could ask for anything as reward. Her dignity might not be able to stand it. Without thinking about the fairness of the game, Becky spotted a nearby jock type guy and using her swift speed, made the nerd bump into him. That was enough to start a fight between the two and get them both thrown out by security.

“That was a dirty trick.” Chet’s watery figure was beside her as they followed the gentleman outside. “I should call foul and make you forfeit.”

“Never.” Becky was smiling despite herself.

The Jock willing to walk away, but the Nerd kept shoving him. He wanted the fight, wanted the bloodshed. He knew the other guy could seriously hurt him and that was the point. Even if it wasn’t murder, an accident could give him the same result here. The dark haze around him was thicker now and Becky needed to step in before the guy got killed. Otherwise his soul couldn’t crossover.

“Stay down.” The Jock gave him a big push, hard enough to knock him against the alley trashcan, rattling his brain before he fell to the ground.

Becky knew that could cause a brain injury, one that waited a bit before claiming his life. She could feel his relief, sensing it would be over soon.

“Leave him alone, ass hat.” A woman’s voice was hear seconds before the Jock convulsed and fell to the ground. A woman stood behind him, holding a flickering stun gun. “Are you alright, Jack?”

“Stephanie?” Jack, our heartbroken nerd looked up at her as she approached. “What are you doing here?”

“After our date I had this urge for a drink.” She said, kneeling down and inspecting his head. “This place was on my way home.”

Becky watched as the black haze began to fade away while Stephanie inspecting him. Jack was beginning to feel hopeful again. That meant she might not be needed after all.

“Let’s get you to a hospital.” Stephanie said, helping the young man to his feet.

“I don’t want to bother you. I already put you through a bad night.” Said Jack.

“No, this was rather exciting.” She flashed him a smile and even from the end of the alley, Becky could see the blush. “I always wanted to be a hero.”

That was it, the haze was completely gone and Jack was now glowing. Becky hated that glow and cursed under her breath.

“Looks like I win after all.” Chet said, throwing one of his arms around her while coming back into a visible form. “Love always wins.”

“You cheated.” She told him. “You knew she was coming because you gave her the idea to stop here for a drink.”

“I might have made the suggestion, but I couldn’t be sure she would take it.”

“You are very persuasive.”

“Even so, I couldn’t plan on him being the man in distress and that being what worked for her.” Chet gave her a squeeze. “Technically that was all your doing. So thanks for the win.”

Becky sighed. “So what do you have in mind for the prize?”

“I was thinking we could go back to my place and you slip into something special.”

A lingerie fashion show was just as degrading as she expected. Her cheeks were burning red. “I don’t look good in trashy nightwear.”

“Did I say anything about trashy?” He batted those baby blues at her. “It’s something I think you will look adorable in.”

“Adorable?” Not the word she was expecting.

Chet held up his hand an beneath his grin a pair of Carebear footie pajamas appear. The hideous thing was even pink.

Amanda is a KU graduate who got a BA in English lit and then went to Emporia for her MLS. She reads and writes primarily historical romance novels. She has a dog that could fit in a lunch box and looks like an alien. Aside from books, her favorite thing in the world is food, especially Chinese.

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