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The Wooing of Dolores McDougal

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Word spread of Alberto Ledbetter’s participation in this year’s bachelor auction. Alberto had always been considered swoon-worthy by the females of West Ambrosia on account of his dancing, but since he had made himself somewhat scarce of late, he had become the single most sought-after male in West Ambrosia. Mrs. Theodore F. Wanamaker was counting on a date with Alberto fetching a pretty penny.

As the day of the bachelor auction drew near, Alberto developed a nervous tick in his left shoulder and a twitch in his right hand, as if these two isolated parts of his body had gotten stuck in some portion of a jitterbug move while the rest of him was busy with daily life.

“How in the world do you expect to fetch any kind of price at the auction if you’re possessed by the twangling spirit of St. Vitus?” bemoaned Mrs. Wanamaker.

“I promise you it’s not on purpose,” Alberto swore.

“Well, you’d better go see the doctor,” Mrs. Wanamaker sniffed. “It’s not normal.”

But Alberto knew no doctor could cure what ailed him.

The day of the West Ambrosia Bachelor Auction dawned with the gray mist of an enchanted Arthurian legend. Everyone remarked that it felt more like autumn than spring. A delicate sprinkling of dew coated the grass around the pavilion in the center of West Ambrosia’s prize rose garden, and, while it was too early for the roses yet to bloom, the very dew itself seemed to stand proxy for the buds to come.

Bowing to his wife’s insistence, Mr. Theodore Wanamaker, West Ambrosia’s leading town councilman, had agreed once again to serve as master of ceremonies. Billy Kerpletsky was on duty as sound technician, and the members of the Ladies Auxiliary had all chipped in with their finest recipes to provide products for sale at the concessions stand. (Mrs. Wanamaker said you should never count on only one source of revenue for a fundraiser, especially when that one source depended on the desirability of West Ambrosia’s ever-dwindling pool of eligible bachelors. The Ladies Auxiliary might have chosen a different format for the fundraiser, but tradition was a powerful motivator in the town of West Ambrosia, and Mrs. Theodore Wanamaker and her followers were most emphatically not Free Spirits.)

Despite record attendance, the auction got off to a slow start. Poor Billy Kerpletsky waited in vain for the bids to rise to a respectable level, but he went for a paltry $10, barely the cost of an order of Duffy’s famous chili cheese fries. Next up was Floyd Flintswitch, decked out in his best Coors T-shirt and stonewashed jeans. Suzette Pieswatter was the high bidder at $50. Things picked up when the Bugatti twins brought in a satisfying $75 each, and Zebediah Hornesby, the computer repairman, pulled an easy $150, since a date with him came with free IT support. Mrs. Wanamaker had wisely saved Alberto Ledbetter for last.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” announced Mr. Wanamaker, standing stiff and awkward in his three-piece suit and tie, “I give you West Ambrosia’s own Fred Astaire—Mr. Alberto Ledbetter.”

In the next moment, three things happened simultaneously. Alberto Ledbetter stepped onstage to a round of appreciative giggles and applause. A massive feedback squeal proceeded from the speakers as a result of Billy Kerpletsky’s mishandling of the sound mix. And Dolores McDougal stood up at the back of the room.

“Give us a taste of your famous fancy footwork, Alberto,” coaxed Mr. Wanamaker.

Alberto would happily have obliged him, but the moment he saw Dolores rise from the crowd like Botticelli’s Venus, his legs turned the consistency of deviled ham and his shoulder and hand commenced twitching as they’d never twitched before.

“Do something,” hissed Mrs. Wanamaker.

Mr. Wanamaker pointedly cleared his throat.

Dolores watched with an expectant air, Cleopatra awaiting proof that her Marc Antony was worthy and not a mere pretender to the throne. Alberto was in agony.

With a frustrated fury, Mrs. Wanamaker snatched the microphone away from her husband. “We all know about Alberto’s dance skills,” she said. “We’ve seen him in action a thousand times. But perhaps the ladies in the crowd don’t know what a fine physical specimen he is. Go on, Alberto. Take off your shirt and show us your physique.”

Alberto stared at her in horror.

Mrs. Wanamaker forced her words through gritted teeth. “Go. On.”

Sweat dripped from Alberto’s glistening head. His muscles expanded and contracted at an alarming rate. At last, with the eyes of his true love upon him, Alberto Ledbetter took action. He reached his twitching hand up under his shirt and jammed it against his naked armpit. His shoulder commenced its convulsions. The result was a magnificent, eardrum-shattering, crowd-deafening clarion call that trumpeted forth from Alberto’s armpit with a resounding BRAAAAP. The sound reverberated from the open air pavilion clear down Main Street to the old clock tower, where some say its vibrations set the tower’s big brass bell to ringing for the first time in 25 years.

A stunned silence reigned over the crowd. Mr. and Mrs. Wanamaker stood, eyes wide and mouths wider, the microphone drooping limply between them. Not a soul moved, with one notable exception. From her position at the back of the crowd, Dolores McDougal smiled. Not a small, mysterious Mona Lisa smile, but a dazzling, gap-toothed, mile-wide grin. Alberto Ledbetter had done the one thing guaranteed to get her attention.

“$1,000!” she called across the heads of the crowd.

Mr. Wanamaker seized the microphone. “$1,000—going-going-gone!” In spite of his quiet ways, Theodore Wanamaker knew a match made in heaven when he saw it.

For their first date, Alberto Ledbetter and Dolores McDougal danced at every bar and nightclub in West Ambrosia. On their second date, they took in East Ambrosia. By the time they announced their engagement, the couple had danced their way from one end of the state to the other and back again. They brought bags of clothespins with them to offset any patron complaints about Dolores’s joyfully fragrant worship of the Lord. On their wedding day, Dolores and Alberto glided across the parquet of Duffy’s Bar and Grill through a cloud of their own aroma in the dusky glimmer of jukebox and candles, sharing the spotlight, the dance floor, and the coveted title of West Ambrosia’s Freest Spirits.

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