Chance knew, as soon as the quarter left his hand, that he had made a mistake. He knew exactly what he wanted and it had taken until he had given the complete control of the situation over to the hands of Fate for him to realize that. He knew exactly what he wanted. But he had promised himself years ago that he'd always unquestioningly follow the directions of a twenty-five cent piece.
In his defense, it wasn't just any quarter. His father had given it to him and it was the last thing his father had ever given him. It was the last thing his father had ever done. Well, besides have a heart attack and die, which he did soon after. "Do you want a gumball now or an ice cream later?" had been the last thing his father ever said to him. Young Chance, either six or seven, had never had a problem with indecision before then. In fact, his lifelong bout with irresolution would not begin for a few more days . It went hand-in-hand with the aforementioned heart attack. No, at the time Chance's vice had been impulsivity. And impatience. So, with a gumball machine within sight of their then present location in the local shopping mall, it was obvious which he would choose.
Young Chance loved gumballs. Now, twenty or twenty-one years later, he still did. It was one aspect of his character that hadn't died with his father, which he, to this day, finds strange. Nowadays, however, the possibility of one did not consume his thoughts with the passionate entirety that it had when he was younger. On the particular day in question, it had become such a priority in his mind that he didn't hear his father's heart stop, not that anyone, but himself, blamed him for it. He didn't even hear his father's dead body hit the floor. No, his mind was preoccupied with the gumball machine that was directly in front of him and the gumball, preferably red if he had any say, he wasn't about to have. It was the shrill scream of the young woman pushing a red stroller that stopped him dead in his tracks. An action his father has recently become well acquainted with.
Chance didn't blame gumballs for his father's death. He didn't have a gumball that day, which is the reason he attributes to not blaming them. Had he seen his father's dead body with the sweet in his mouth, the story would have been different. It might not have even been worth telling. He didn't blame his father's peculiar predilection toward French fries with extra salt and ranch dressing. He was six or seven and that would have been a connection both impractical and impossible for him to make. He blamed his own rash decision and, if any sweet, ice cream, for being a less attractive option than gumballs. This distribution of guilt, while still impractical, made perfect sense to him. If he had still been holding his father's hand, he wouldn't have died. And he would have been holding his father's hand if he had either taken longer to decide between the treats offered him or chosen ice cream which was located in the food court at the other end of the mall. Were he to re-examine this logic, Chance, now twenty or twenty-one years older, would find it nonsensical or, at the least, very very flawed. But he didn't re-examine it, mostly because he didn't remember it. All he remembered was that his father dead and that he didn't like ice cream.
He realized his dislike for ice cream about a week later at a birthday party in his first or second grade class. They had had root beer floats. It was just so cold, and creamy, and melty. Not at all like a gumball. He realized the loss of his impetuous nature about two and a half weeks after that before his father's funeral. Six or seven year old Chance owned two suits. They were both black. But he found that standing there, in front of his open closet, before them, he couldn't decide which to wear. It was a startling and uncomfortable realization that came on this already startling and uncomfortable day. Contemplating, he shoved his hands in his pockets to get a firm grip on his pants and, vicariously, his crumbling world. It was then that he felt the cool hardness quarter in his pocket. Much like a gumball. More coincidence than irony, though he would describe it as "ironic" nine or ten years later, when his first girlfriend asked him about it, it was the very same quarter that his father had given him the day he died. Chance recognized it because it had a small splatter of congealed ranch dressing directly over the visible one of George Washington's cheeks.
They were children's small Levi's, the pants not the cheeks, with a tear in right knee where Chance had A mission that was, needless to say, a failure. In fact, it would be another month before his mother would overcome her melancholy enough to notice that Chance needed pants and another couple days before she got around to actually buying them. They'd be the exact same pair as before.
The last decisive thing he did was flip that coin. No, that's wrong, it was the second to last decisive thing he did, but the two were so closely connected they can be considered different parts of the same decision. He stood staring almost mesmerized by the two suits for about five minutes rolling the coin between his fingers unconsciously just like his father had taught him, until his uncle, his father's brother, called to him and broke the stupor. He made the suit on the left heads and the one on the right tail and he flipped the coin.
The feeling was exhilarating, incomparable to anything else he'd felt in all the six or seven years of life he had yet experienced. He felt dizzy and giddy. He would eleven or twelve years later liken the feeling to ecstasy, which he would try when his father's coin landed heads up, though it still wouldn't be near the same. The feeling of leaving his future up to a coin. He had no way of knowing how it would land. Heads or Tails. Left or Right. Suit or Suit. His heart raced. His mind spun. Incredible.
He ended up wearing the very unincredible one the left. Neither would have been terrible incredible, but the one on the left had an inside pocket which would be useful for holding tissues during the ceremony. Shortly after, while the priest was saying something nice about his father or God or some metaphor about the fleeting nature of life, Chance's fingers had once again found the infamous coin with a spot of congealed ranch dressing on Washington's cheek.
Sitting there, hand gripped so tightly around the coin that his palm had begun to sweat, Chance made the last major decision of his life. It was brought on as he stared at his father's dead body lying in the casket before him. He had stood directly over the body minutes earlier. So cold. So hard. Much like a gumball. He decided that every major decision from that moment forward would be made by that quarter. Plain and simple.
After the service but before the interment he was presented with his first opportunity to test his new found resolver. Chance was offered two different options as to transportation from the church to the cemetery: the driver's side back seat of his mother's minivan or the front passenger seat of his uncle's Mazda. Though not even at the age of six or seven would Chance consider the option of seats a major decision by any means, his general distress with the events of the day coupled with the sudden come-on of what would be a lifelong affliction with indecision made such a choice impossible. So he flipped for it. Again, that same all-encompassing feeling of possibility. Heads. The back seat of the Astro.
His decision to not make decisions was to be validated minutes when his uncle's car was T-boned while crossing an intersection and the person who had instead taken the seat, a pallbearer unknown to Chance in any respect, had to be rushed to the hospital. The pallbearer was thirty or thirty-one years old, and, though Chance would never hear this, the doctors all agreed that had the passenger been very young, like or seven, or very old, he would not have survived. All the same, the pallbearer was paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life.
So it happened that the man Chance grew into was a direct result of the flip of a coin, a thought he often relished. Every aspect of his being, save the love of gumball, dislike of ice cream, and coin flippery, were arbitrarily conceived. Had there been a heads where there was a tails, he would be an entirely different person. When his high school girlfriend cheated on him, heads: he stayed with her. But when he ran up against the ultimatum of going to his second choice school with her or his dream school all alone, heads told him it was time to follow his dreams solo. Tails told him to join the green peace club where he would meet the woman that he would eventually propose to. Tails would also tell him to propose to her where they first kissed rather than where they had their first date, which turned out to be a good thing because the restaurant in which they had their first date has a gas leak that night which resulted in a deadly fire that killed six customers, the maître d', and the sous chef.
So here he stood Chance Lee Henderson, staring at himself three-fold in a tri-paned mirror, now twenty-six or twenty-seven on his wedding. Adjusting his bow to perfect, he began to feel the incapacitating symptoms of cold feet. Thoughts flew swiftly through his mind just as the butterfly fluttered haphazardly around his stomach. Was he ready for this? Should he call the whole thing off? Maybe just a postponement. His exterior felt frozen solid, immobile, but his innards felt squishy and soft. Not unlike a gumball. Which he could really go for about now. There were so many reasons to get married and maybe just as many for the contrary. He was in love Gwenyth Eleanor Creed. That much he knew. Among other things, she was lactose intolerant. She couldn't even eat ice cream. Her favorite sweet was S'mores, not one of Chance's favorites, but one he could see the virtues of. Like the gumball, the S'more had a tough outer layer and a soft, sweet, and chewy center.
What would his father say? Even though he had only known the man for six or seven years, Chance imagined that he would be the best person to ask for advice. Closing his eyes and absentmindedly shoving his hands into his pocket, he tried to picture his father. Not as he had last him, which was cold and dead, but as he was seconds before he took last breath, as he was when he put the ranch-stained quarter in Chance's hand, which was with a bit of stubble, a huge grin, a twinkle in eye, and so much life in his being, or so it seemed.
His hand now found the quarter of legend which he has transferred to his suit pants more out of habit than the need make a decision. After all, all the decisions had been made, and most not by him, in the preceding months. White cake. Porcelain angel centerpieces. Honeymoon in Hawaii. He had made it this far. The only thing left required absolutely no thought, just mechanically repeat after the priest. And yet…
Chance pulled the coin from his pocket to examine it carefully. He often wondered whether the tails side landed face up more often because the congealed ranch added extra weight to the opposing side, but he had never conducted any sort of definitive experiment. In truth, he didn't really want to know. As long as he felt it was random, he could continue to feel no guilt in his decisions.
But this wasn't two black suits. This wasn't even two colleges. This was marriage to Gwenyth Eleanor Creed or not. He couldn't possible flip a coin for a spell of cold feet. Still, he didn't put the quarter back in his pocket. Staring at the spot of ranch, he thought he could hear his father's voice. An echo of a distant memory. Or a delusion brought on by panic.
I'm proud of you, his father would say. You've become a fine young man since that day in the mall. College graduate, successful young man, compassionate son, unerring boyfriend. You've done well for yourself. At this point Chance's father would try to nonchalantly wipe a tear from his eye whereas Chance would become suddenly interested in his own shoelaces for second slightly embarrassed.
You love this girl, don't you? Chance nodded to his reflection. He began fumbling with the coin, not able to look his own reflection in the eye anymore. His reflection reciprocated.
Still, it couldn't hurt to give that coin a little flip. Chance looked up immediately, shocked at his father's suggestion. But it wasn't his father's suggestion. Chance's father died twenty or twenty-one years earlier. The suggestion was wholly Chance's. He looked down at the twenty-five cent piece. Dare he? In spite of the gravity of the situation, a small smile flicker across Chance's face as he recalled that first time with the suits. If leaving a simple choice like that up to his father's quarter, could produce such an intense feeling, imagine what it would do now. A deep breath, followed by assigning sides, like always. Breathe in. Breathe out. Heads, I stay and marry Gwen. Tails, I run away. He placed the coin delicately on the thumb of his right hand as he had done so many times before and with force launched it into the air.
As soon as the coin was in the air flipping and, with each rotation catching the glare of the sun as it filtered through the dusty windows of the old church, he knew he had made a mistake. He knew exactly what he wanted. He wanted to marry Gwenyth Eleanor Creed. But it was too late. The quarter was spinning above his head. And he was a slave to Fate. And in spite of only having a fifty percent chance of marrying his beloved, he felt it. The awesome flood of exhilaration he had expected. He felt dizzy and giddy, just as he had when he was six or seven, but so much more than then. His heart raced. His mind spun. Incredible.
Instantly his blood went ice cold. Everything he'd worked for. The love of his life. Months of decisions. All vanished before his eyes as he stared at the embossed eagle. It seemed to be mocking him. It's outstretched wings offering him a pathetic consolation hug. How could he leave? How could he walk out on so much? He wanted to smash the fucking mirror in front him. The bowtie was suffocating him. The first time since he had ever flipped that coin, he felt wrong.
For a brief moment, and only a brief moment, did Chance consider going against what his father's quarter chose. The thought was immediately overcome by a more relevant one-how to escape the church undetected. The window to his right was open slightly to allow a breeze in the sweltering room. It seemed his only option, even though the room he was in was on the second floor.
Slipping his body through the window, Chance Lee Henderson remained the person he was always meant to be. He was still indecisive on his own. He still loved gumballs. He still hated ice cream. His father was still dead, and he was still a direct result of the flip of a coin, a thought he still often relished. Landing on and crushing the lazy white daffodils in the soil in front of the church, Chance had no idea where to go. His father's quarter had obliterated everything he knew until now. He took a deep breath and returned to the basics. Heads: go left; tails: go right. For the first time, he felt like his quarter. He didn't know how he would land. Tails. He shoved the quarter back into his pocket. Taking off across the busy intersection, Chance couldn't help but smile as he came to another realization. Life was hard, but sweet. Much like a gumball. And that was why he liked it.