Wanda was still pondering over whether coming on the trip had been a wise idea as the bus pulled up in front of Caesars Palace. She walked down the isle with the other passengers and noted that at 61 she was probably one of the younger people on the trip. She adjusted her fanny pack, used her hands to comb down her hair from around her visor cap, and took the small bag of coins from the driver; at least she had gotten away from the retirement home’s fare for a day since the trip also included an all-you-can-eat buffet. As she prepared to step off the bus the driver handed her an envelope. “Here, honey,” he said. “You win the special token today.” Before she could ask any questions, he had turned away from her to address the crowd. “Now listen up everybody! I’ll be back here at 4:30 and we pull out at 5 sharp. And I don’t wait, ladies and gentlemen so if you don’t wanna hafta spring for a cab, be here on time.” With that he swung the door shut and pulled away, leaving Wanda and her group in the midst of the late morning crowd and a gray cloud of diesel smoke.
She had read somewhere that on every trip this company ran they gave one lucky passenger a special pass to a private gambling room at the casino. She took the envelope, thankful for the chance to do something different. She’d worked for 36 years at the same company and had done well financially but had never found anyone with whom to spend her life. Upon retirement she packed up her small apartment and invested in a nice townhouse at the retirement place right outside of town. She lacked for nothing: there was a housekeeping service, trash pick-up, an exercise area, indoor and outdoor pools, and prepared meals–which could be taken in the social hall or brought to the private residence– included with the mortgage. Her life had become even more mundane as she grew older and she hoped that today would bring something, anything, different.
Once inside the dark yet flashy confines of the casino, Wanda slipped away from her more elderly comrades and moved to a floor map. She wanted to know where the nearest restrooms, the buffet, and the private gambling room were in relation to the penny slot area. She wasn’t a gambler but preferred to err on the side of caution; one one-dollar loss on a scratch-off ticket four years ago and she’d all but given up gambling all together. “Excuse me,” a deep voice said from behind and slightly above her head.
She turned and found herself looking up into the face of a handsome young man. “Yes?”
He looked at the envelope with the special pass in her hand and smiled, bowing slightly. “Please follow me.”
“But I wanted to get directions to a few other places in the casino before I went to the private room.”
He sighed as if he had repeated the same line a thousand times before. “Ms. Wanda, everything you need is in the private room.” He held out a crooked arm and she lightly took his elbow, too flushed by his chivalry to be concerned with the question of how he knew her name. They walked down the hall and made a right into a slight foyer. It was unmarked and had she been on her own Wanda believed she never would have noticed it. Her escort pulled a card from his pocket and waved it over a pad next to the wall; the card and pad reminded her of the system of entryways at her doctor’s office. Silently, the wall parted to reveal a secret room. The man motioned for her to enter and after she had crossed the threshold he disappeared back the way they’d come.
The wall closed behind her and she found herself standing before an opulent banquet table, which did not completely surprise her since they were after all in Caesar’s Palace.
However when Wanda pulled the trip itinerary from her fanny pack she noted that today’s buffet was said to include fried and baked chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers, a salad bar, and self-serve ice cream as the features. However, the tables before her contained none of those items. The lobster hors d’oeuvres, expensive champagne, and fresh fruit caught her eye and she imagined that what she was seeing was less of a casino buffet and more of a wedding feast; Wanda panicked, thinking she’d been brought to the wrong room.
“Please, Wanda; calm down,” said the most melodious male voice Wanda had ever heard. From the back of the room stepped a gentleman whose visage was just as pleasing as his voice; Wanda felt the heat rise in her cheeks as he came closer. “I know it may seem to be quite luxurious but this is all for you, my dear.”
She gathered her wits. “How do you know my name?”
The man smiled with a twinkle in his eye that made Wanda blush even more. “Of course I know your name. You won the prize! We must always be prepared for the person who wins the prize; there are months and months of preparation after all.”
His answer did nothing to stem her confusion. “But what do you mean? I only decided to come on this trip last week.”
The man was so close now that Wanda could smell his cologne; it was a mixture of earthy scents, ones that she liked. She thought she noted a bit of Hermes Jardin, patchouli, and a hint of an Oud oil but she couldn’t decide which. He looked deeply in her eyes. “Oh, Wanda, you must understand; nothing is left to chance. Winners are cultivated, not selected; they have been watching you since you retired. You fit the profile. And now you’ve won.” He took her hand gently and led her to the plates and silverware. “Now don’t fret; come, get something to eat. Look and see; all your favorites are here.” About this he was correct. Wanda looked up and down the table and saw delights she had not tasted since her youth, some of which she’d never revealed enjoying. Before she could ask any more questions, the man put a note in her hand. “Read this and it will all become clear.”
Congratulations, Wanda! You are our newest grand prize winner. In your honor we have assembled all your favorite foods. Henry, who is here with you now, was built specifically to the specifications you require for a life-mate. Although he is not human, he has all the fully-functioning features of one. The longer you spend time with him, the more he will adapt to your needs. He has been designed to age appropriately so no one will ever know the secret.
Arrangements have already been made for your return to your retirement community; Henry’s name has been added to your lease and the two of you will arrive there by car later this evening. The bus driver has been informed not to expect you at pick-up. Before you leave you will be provided with Henry’s life file, a brief story that you can share with your surprised neighbors, auto and banking information for the office and so forth. We have also made arrangements for you to come back next month to be married here, all expenses paid.
Again, congratulations, Wanda and enjoy your new life. You will never be worried about being lonely again.
Sincerely, the Management at Caesars, Inc.
With moist eyes Wanda looked up from the note at Henry, who smiled and handed her his handkerchief. Somewhere, music was playing; as she hummed along with Someday My Prince Will Come, Henry began filling a plate for her. It was Wanda’s luckiest day ever.
A surprisingly lengthy response to today’s Write Now! prompt:
A woman stops in Vegas for a few hours, and has the luckiest time of her life.