The floor of the wishing well was covered in coins. Some people had made their wishes on the cheap sacrificing only coppers whilst others had tried to curry favour by flipping pound coins into the clear water. Paul watched as his twenty pence piece sunk to the bottom joining all the other hopes and wishes. How many had been granted? How many had just been wasted coins?
“Penny for them,” said Sarah sidling up alongside him, slipping an arm through his and gazing into the well.
“Can’t afford it,” he replied bitterly.
“What did you wish for?”
“A win. A big one.”
“You should have wished for a change of luck instead.”
“Yeah, like that would happen.”
“Go on, try it,” she urged, producing a fifty pence piece from her purse and offering it to him.
“Even if I wanted to, I’ve already made my wish, remember? I don’t think you get to pick and choose.”
“Then I’ll do it for you.” Sarah leant forward, closed her eyes and dropped the coin into the well. When she opened them again, she was smiling. “There! I’ve wished for you to have some good luck.”
“Thanks,” he muttered. “I’m due that’s for sure.”
“You should learn to be more grateful for what you’ve already got. Anyway, one day things will get better.”
“When I give up gambling you mean?” he snapped.
“I didn’t say that.”
“You didn’t have to.”
“I meant generally, but yes, if you gave up betting, you’d have more money.”
“You know how much I look forward to a few beers with the lads on a Saturday and a punt on the races. I don’t have many pleasures in life.”
“Thanks,” said Sarah, clearly hurt.
Paul rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean. If I could have afforded it, I would have gone with my mates to the races today, but instead I’ve had to make do with a solitary bet at the bookies...”
“And been stuck with me instead? Must be terrible for you?”
He was digging a bigger hole for himself by the minute. “I didn’t mean it like that, you know I didn’t,” he said apologetically.
“Want a bet?” Sarah said caustically. “Oh, wait, you can’t, you’re skint!”
“Very funny! Look, Sarah I…”
“No, you look. I don’t begrudge you your fun, but it’s no longer just Saturdays is it? Now it’s every day of the week and that’s why you’re skint. We’re supposed to be saving for a wedding, remember? It’s all right for your mates, they don’t have any commitments, but you do. Unless…” She let the unasked question hang in the air and prayed she was wrong.
“You know you mean the world to me, Sarah but so does my betting.”
“And I’m not asking you to choose between us, just to show some common sense before it gets out of hand. I don’t want to wake up one morning and find the bailiffs sitting in our lounge.”
“That won’t happen. Anyway, sometimes I come up flush,” he replied indignantly.
“Really? Tell me, when did you last have a decent win, or any sort of win, come to that?”
Paul went to reply but found that in all honesty he couldn’t remember when he’d last broken even, let alone won. He shrugged his shoulders in defeat.
“I’m just having a bad run. My day will come.”
Deciding that she had made her point, Sarah smiled trying to ease the tension. She looked at her watch and saw that it had just passed midday. “Come on, let’s go and eat at that lovely pub we passed on the way here.”
“Sorry, love I wasn’t joking. That literally was my last coin.” He stared longingly down the well wondering whether he could stoop as low as to reach in and snatch a few coins.
“Is that why your dad’s coin collection is in the boot?” she asked accusingly.
Rumbled, he decided to come clean. “I was going to pawn it and ask you if you’d mind me joining the lads this afternoon; they’re going to wait for me at the Red Lion until one o’clock then they’re going to leave for the races,” he replied, unable to meet her angry glare.
“You’re unbelievable! You never had any intention of spending the day with me!” She looked crestfallen.
“I was hoping to do both – spend some time with you this morning and then see the lads this afternoon.”
“You promised me we’d spend the day together.” Her tears were close.
“I know but that was before…”
“Before you came up with the bright idea of pawning the coin collection. Oh, Paul, how could you do that? They were your dad’s pride and joy. You promised to keep them safe.”
He shrugged in resignation. “I know but it’s okay; I’ll buy them back with my next winnings.”
“They’ll be long gone by then,” she laughed humourlessly.
“Maybe, but like I said that was…”
“Your last coin… yes I know. Please, Paul, spend the day with me. I was really looking forward to it.”
“But the lads…”
“Will survive without you this once. Hell, you might even enjoy spending time with me,” she added bitterly.
He looked at her sorrowful expression and realised that he was really hurting her. He was a fool. Still, he had been looking forward to the races. He thought about the coin collection and knew that she was right. If he pawned them, he might never see them again.
“Okay,” he said, offering up a small smile.
“Okay I’ll spend the day with you… if you’ll still have me?” She tried to maintain an angry countenance but couldn’t – instead, she leant forward and kissed him lightly on the lips. “But if the lads phone me later and say they’ve won a fortune I’m never speaking to you again.”
“Sounds fair. Come on – lunch is on me.”
“Uh huh. One of the advantages of having a working fiancée.”
“I don’t deserve you,” he said sliding an arm around her waist.
“No, you don’t, but there’s one condition.”
“You don’t sell your coin collection. You’ll only regret it. Your dad would have been heartbroken if he was still around.” Paul nodded. “Besides, I’ve got a feeling your luck is about to change.”
After one last glance at the wishing well, they made their way over to the car and headed for the pub.
The meal was delicious, and both were nicely relaxed as Sarah drove them home later that afternoon the earlier tension long forgotten, and Paul’s coin collection safely stored in the boot.
“Go on then,” said Sarah smiling, “I can tell you’re dying to.”
“What?” he asked feigning ignorance.
“You know what.”
“Thanks,” he grinned, switching on the radio.
After tuning in to the sports’ station he listened intently as the afternoon’s racing results were read out and cursed when the commentator described how Paul’s horse had fallen at the last fence just when it seemed certain to win. He turned the radio off in disgust.
“Should have wished for a win after all,” he said accusingly.
“You did as I recall.”
“Yes, but your stupid wish probably superseded it – bigger denomination coin and all that.”
“Not sure it quite works that way.”
“Whatever!” he said petulantly.
Sarah was about to bite back when Paul’s mobile rang. He looked at the caller ID and saw that it was one of his friends.
“Great, just what I need – Mark calling to tell me they’ve won a fortune and are retiring to the Bahamas.”
“More like they’re skint and asking to borrow off you.”
He glared at her as he answered the call. “Hi, Mark… What...? Yes… speaking… I do, yes.” As he spoke, he gestured for Sarah to pull over at a lay-by just ahead. “What…? No!” As soon as Sarah pulled over, he climbed out of the car and started pacing about, a worried Sarah close behind him. “How…? Of course… as soon as I get home. Thank you.”
The conversation had been short and stilted.
“What is it, Paul?” Sarah asked anxiously. The colour had drained from his face. He didn’t reply. “Paul?”
“That was St. Margaret’s hospital using Mark’s mobile. The lads were involved in an accident this afternoon not far from the Red Lion. Dave and Stewart… they’re both dead… and Mark’s in intensive care. They can’t get hold of his family but found my number on his phone. They’ve asked me to try and contact his family and tell them what’s happened. They don’t think Mark’s going to make it.”
Tears forming in her eyes, Sarah hurried over to Paul and embraced him as his own tears began to flow. This time it was Sarah who didn’t reply. She was thinking of the wishing well and her wish that he had a change of luck.
It looked like his day had come.
(c) Jeff Jones