By Chloe Vaughan
By March, we all thought Ted was going to kill himself. Can you blame us? All the signs were there. Poor old boy had just gone through the wringer with divorce number two, ex-wives had full custody, lived in a barebones condo by the airport, languishing as a low-level drone at a mid-level company, and buying lottery tickets and frozen dinners with any pennies he managed to scrape together. Hell, I would have killed myself too, if I were Ted. But I wasn’t Ted, so when Steve in sales and Marissa in accounting asked me if I wanted in on the little bet they had going, I said sure, I’ll throw some money down.
First it was just the three of us. Then someone, Steve or Marissa—or maybe it was me—told Walt in IT, just an offhand quip, a desperate grope for conversation at the water cooler, and obviously Walt wanted to see what all the fuss was all about. From there, I lost track of the specifics of who told whom, and before long everyone in the office knew about it. Everyone except Ted, of course. Poor old Ted. He was going to kill himself, that much was clear. It was just a matter of when.
As the pool grew larger, the rumor mill surrounding it swathed wider and wider, and by April there was no one left to bet against. The matter of “when” quickly mushroomed into the matter of “how,” and we added another layer to our intricately-expanding endeavor. When Ted finally decided to pull the plug, how would he do it? Carbon dioxide in the garage, liquor and pills, gun in the mouth? Some people thought he might try to take us with him. They put fire extinguishers within grabbing distance of their chairs and hastily flipped through the emergency handbook, just for a refresher, they said. But me, I couldn’t see Ted attacking anybody. No, Ted was a quiet one. Ted didn’t like to make waves. My money—two hundred dollars, to be exact—was on a good old-fashioned basement hanging.
As the weeks went on and the stakes grew higher, the scenarios got more specific and more ridiculous. Toaster in the bathtub, laying down on the train tracks, death by cop. Doug the building manager had 400 bucks on Ted driving up to his old family cabin and offing himself with an antique hunting rifle. The whole office was in on it, mailroom to boardroom and everyone in between.
And then in May, the unthinkable happened. Ted asked me out on a date. My gut reaction was to say no, of course, but then Marissa told me I should do it. Why? I asked. He’s so frumpy! So sad! I was no prize either, flabby arms, gray roots, and couldn’t do my makeup properly, but at least I didn’t look like Ted. You can feel him out, she said matter-of-factly, between bites of soggy lunch in a reheated plastic container. You know, for the pool.
So I let Ted take me to a mediocre Italian dive and then do a mediocre job of feeling me up in his 2009 Volkswagen. When he asked if I wanted to head to his place for a drink, I laughed and said no thank you, taking care to watch the expression on his face sink from enthusiasm to disappointment. It made my toes curl. When I got out of his car, I could still smell the steamed clams on his breath, and I wondered how someone like that could go even five more minutes without ending it all.
The next morning, I upped my money to 500. Soon enough, Ted was walking around the office like a zombie, devoid of any emotion, repulsive to look at and even worse to talk to. Nothing ruined your mood quicker than seeing Ted and realizing you had to go another day without winning the pool.
Eventually he started talking about leaving the company, and even gave some of his belongings away. His lumbar support pillow, a desk fan, a nice coffee mug. Okay, we told ourselves one afternoon, after Ted let Steve have his brand-new file hangers. It’s just a matter of time now. And just as we suspected, Ted wasn’t in the next day. This is it, we said, exchanging looks with each other across the break room, side-by-side at the copier. Ted’s dead and gone.
He wasn’t in the next day either, or the next. Every morning we scanned every single obituary page in the city, waiting with bated breath for that somber email from HR with old Teddy as the subject line.
Then on Saturday, I woke up to a barrage of texts from Marissa and Steve, telling me to check the local news. I was practically foaming at the mouth, ideas of how I’d spend my money swirling in my head. I could use it on a down payment for the new car I wanted, but my fridge was on the fritz and I needed a water heater. I cursed myself for not putting more money down.
Hands trembling with anticipation, I pulled up the headlines. And sure enough, there was Ted, poor old Ted, plastered across the front page with a winning lottery ticket, a giant check, and a shit-eating grin from ear to ear.