Going, Going, GONE!
Kate couldn't believe she had let herself be talked into doing such an embarrassing thing all those weeks ago.
And now here she was standing up in front of most of the town folk of Gungellan, wearing a skimpy outfit.
"It's for a good cause, lets all do it." her dear pal Grace had said. But funnily enough it was only Kate standing up on the stage while Grace and Stevie and Taylor and Moira were all standing safely at the back of the room.
Kate looked at the crowd that had gathered. Her beloved friends waved out and shouted their support, but Kate chose to ignore them. She continued to look over for a familiar face.
'I hope he hasn't come. I don't want him to see me like this' was all she could think.
But of course as she finished thinking it, she found him standing with their other friends.
They were standing in a group about 4 rows from the front.
'Typical Males' was her instant thought and she couldn't help and grin in their direction.
Riley and Marcus stopped talking and looked at Kate and grinned at her, whistling and calling out. Kate instinctively tugged at her short dress and felt a blush start. She turned away and decided it was safer to block the crowd out. She couldn't afford to do anything embarrassing in front of the man she was in lust with.
The other girls on the stage jostled and pushed about as they waited impatiently. Most of them had chosen to join the competition because of their vanity and desperation to find a husband in Gungellan.
Tonight they were dressed up or in most cases almost dressed in something resembling their underwear.
The makeup was thick and glitzy and made Kate fell like she had just come in from a 5 day roundup, badly needing a shower.
Being backstage had been horrible too, as the girls weren't friendly at all. Standing around they looked each other up and down and then sniggered to each other. It was just like being back at school.
Kate couldn't wait for the night to be over.
Phil came over and took the mic, as he started his job as Emcee for the night. Kate shot him a glare as he looked at her smiling.
'Damn Phil, this was all his idea to begin with' Kate remembered.
Music started and the crowd went wild as the girls had to do a dance.
Kate gritted her teeth and tried to remember the dance steps. She bumped into Stacey Brown who worked at the Chemist, and Stacey stomped down on her foot, and hissed at her. Kate moved to the other direction and got an elbow in her back compliments of Glenda Morgan from the Library.
Phil again took the microphone moved to the end of the line of women. The spotlight focused on the first girl to be auctioned, Lianna a kindergarten teacher.
Bidding got up to $450 and Henry from the bank had won a date for the night.
As Phil worked the crowd and got them into a bidding frenzy for each auction, Kate got more and more nervous.
'What if I get the lowest bids? Or even worse, nobody bids for me?'
Kate began to feel sick, as she thought of all the scenarios.
She jiggled nervously and looked around at the crowd, looking for a way out.
The last three to be auctioned then moved to stand in the middle of the stage.
Glenda and Sharon's smiles were getting faker and faker as they tried to push Kate into the background.
Phil moved over to the group and led them to the front edge of the stage and Kate tried to get his attention.
"Psst Phil, Let me sneak off please. You see I don't feel well and.."
"Now its Kate Manfredi's turn on this Date Night Auction"
Phil smiled at Kate and Kate scowled back in return.
"Just to remind you all that the money tonight is going towards a great cause and is helping one of Gungellan's children, Lucy Ingalls get money for a heart transplant. So open your hearts and your wallets for the last three delectable women here on the stage. Now do I have an opening bid for the lovely Kate?"
Kate closed her eyes but managed a smile.
She recognised Marcus and Patrick's voices but not the third. Her eyes opened to look into the light.
The crowd of males had moved closer to the edge of the stage and arms tried to reach up and touch her.
Kate couldn't work out the voices, and she began to feel more nervous.
'At least they were bidding'
"$400" from Heath.
Kate felt flattered, even though she knew Grace had feelings for him. It was nice that there was so much interest, even if it was only in her for tonight.
"500 if she gives me a snog as well as a date" shouted old Neil Thompson.
Kate instantly forgot about the flattery and panicked big time.
She started to wobble on Jodi's old high heels and Glenda and Sharon both elbowed her.
Kate lost her balance and fell forward.
She let out a little cry, and closed her eyes expecting to hit the ground and totally lose her dignity in front of the crowd.
But to her surprise strong arms caught her and she opened her eyes to look into the dark eyes of Riley.
"I've gotcha Kate. Don't worry."
"But I've got to go back up there Riley. Please don't make me!"
"Don't worry Katie, I will look after you"
Phil looked down at his auction prize in Riley's arms.
"Do I hear $550 for Kate? Or is she to be Neil's date"
"1000 dollars" Riley called out loudly, "and she's mine"
His gaze held Phil's steadily and Phil quickly finished
"going, going, gone! Sold to Riley for $1000"
The crowd went wild as Riley strode out of the hall with Kate in his arms.
Kate just burrowed her head into his chest, trying to hide her embarrassment over the whole auction.
When they got through the doors, Riley took her straight out to his Ute.
He gently lowered Kate beside the passenger door, and brushed her hair from her eyes.
Kate felt obliged to thank him.
"Well thanks so much for doing that in there Riley. Thanks for opening your wallet for little Lucy, even if you did get me as a booby prize" Kate looked everywhere but at Riley.
"Katie ,Katie ,Kate. What am I going to do with you? You aren't the booby prize for me. I didn't open my wallet, I opened my heart and found you in it."
Kate looked up to see Riley shyly looking down on her.
"So you didn't mind outbidding Neil Thompson for me?"
"I would have bid as high as I needed to, to make sure that you went to no-one else. Don't you know that I love you?"
"Ohh, Riley. Are you sure, because I can pay you back if you want and we can pretend that this never happened."
Riley grabbed Kate.
"Just shut up Kate!'
And he kissed her very thoroughly.
Kate responded after the initial shock wore off and moved her arms around his neck.
The kiss went on until Kate stopped for breath.
"You are worth every dollar Kate and don't you forget that"
"I love you Riley"
And Kate pulled Riley down for another kiss or ten.
Phil peeked out from the side door of the hall and then with a smile shut it again and turned back to the Drovers/Kilarney group.
"Well friends, just to let you know it's worked out as we had hoped and Riley and Kate feelings have moved from going, going in friendship to a definitely Gone in love."
Kate and Riley's happy friends moved back to join the family and celebrate, leaving the young lovers to celebrate on their own.