Steph remarked on the schema of plexiglass skyscrapers crouching over a green veneer in the distance on the drive back from the airport, three days early, telling Leon that she had squirreled her cashing winnings in a duffel, which was stolen in the Charles De Gaulle terminal, meaning she was illiquid but could gamble his savings to the gosh darned moon if he’d let her.
“Music to my fucking ears,” Leon said, as they pulled into the Indian casino’s parking garage while thanking Jesus for the detour keeping Steph away from home for just long enough. Steph sifted through her luggage, deodorizing, changing into a clean black turtleneck, and uncovering a crisp wayward twenty, which she went on to blunder at Blackjack, drawing a Queen of Diamonds and busting. Leon and a stranger in a Patriots jersey slid her ten dollars combined in pity chips, after which she drew Blackjack thrice and started doubling down on her first draw. Soon she tripled her original pot, swallowed the rest of the ice cube she was chewing on from a Moscow mule, and bowed out. Leon busted the next round then found Steph cashing in her chips. “Don’t you owe that stay-at-home dad in the jersey something?”
“Charities don’t give interest to their donors,” Steph replied, submerging the winnings in her leather purse. “I miss Dolly.” Dolly was Steph’s persnickety long-haired dachshund that Leon and his wife, Mary, were babysitting during Steph’s girls’ trip to Monaco. She was gone only four days, but Steph craved Dolly’s company; a day of R&R spent observing him tunnel under her bedsheets, pop his silken head out like a gopher, wag the blankets behind him, only pausing to docilly yawn.
“He’s probably curling up with the wife right now,” Leon said.
“I want to see him,” Steph said, biting her nail.
“I know a lucky slot machine,” Leon said, leading her around the perimeter of tables and electronic games clamoring in midi to a miscellaneous segment of slots near the bathrooms featuring down bad characters from an oft-forgotten sitcom around which the carpet was discolored from a tray of spilled drinks. Leon inserted a member’s electronic card into the machine on the end and a dollar amount appeared next to a sequence of buttons.
“I really miss Dolly, though,” Steph said.
“He’s probably curling up with Mary right now. We split the winnings 50/50,” Leon told Steph.
“60/40. It’s your money but it’s my luck.” She took a seat and her feet sank into the alcoholic pool. She selected her lines and tapped a glowing yellow button.
“It’s too bad someone jacked your commie cash,” Leon said.
“I’m luckier with other people’s money anyway.” The screen swirled with color. The first spin was a dud so she spun again.
“Lucky it was only your winnings in that bag, and not your passport or something,” Leon said, leaning on the machine. Another dud.
Steph maxed out the lines, bit her nail, paused with her finger on the button before instead pulling the lever. The screen swirled with color, a few frames of pause, every space lined with the faces of an Aryan blond and a gregarious red-head, amounting to, by some invisible calculus, a sophisticated Morse code of LED lights and the money on the display increasing one-and-a-half-fold.
“I miss Dolly,” Steph said. “Let’s just go.”
“This was your idea,” Leon said. “Stop worrying. Like I said, he’s probably curling up with your sister right now. You know she’s going through it, the triple threat. Those cramps. Her migraines, and a fucking toothache. She really wanted to be the one to pick you up. She was saying, ‘Steph, she’s always been a lost puppy.’ She’s always saying that stuff about you.”
“Keep it,” Steph said, standing up. “For picking me up so last minute.”
“You don’t want another drink?” Leon asked. “Something to eat? Krispy Kreme?”
“And you’re sure Dolly’s alright?”
He nodded. “It’s like I said.” Leon retrieved his card, the dollar amount cleared from the screen, and they left. The carpeting thinned as they approached a train of steep escalators that dove into an indoor pavilion packed with faux birch tree branches and stumps and rocks and woodland foxes and a loud waterfall occluding the seating of an Italian bistro. Leon jogged to the base of the waterfall, dug into his pockets, and produced spare change. “I hear they run this 24/7, even when the building’s closed,” Leon said as he tossed a nickel into the fountain. He handed Steph a quarter. “For my sake.”
“I’m never leaving the country again,” Steph announced, spearfishing the coin, and Leon made another urgent wish. “You can’t trust those girls I went with—they don’t play nice.”
Leon nodded. “Word.”
“Listen,” he continued. “Let’s go to the fucking moon. Texas Hold’em is your game, yeah?”
Steph bit her nail, and noticed how all of her nails were chipped, noticed how haggard Leon looked, his clothes a size too big, that, as a matter of fact, she had never seen him act so nice and, apropos of nothing, pictured the perfect flop: an immediate straight. Then the lowball betting stacking up, the snowballing cashflow, a vacation so long it requires vacations, hopping from Vegas to Macau, penthouse to penthouse, to take the edge off any given paradise and the rare but palpable whimpers of her beloved doggy. Leon thought about Mary at home. He thought about surprising her with his own duffel, her telling him that he had a job, and that he did it, that he went above and beyond. Many of the other milling guests paused and perked their ears to listen as an announcement over loudspeakers played a message that Leon and Steph failed to hear over the dutiful waterfall’s grumbling, and one of them took a step, then the other, and the escalators, there were six of them, flowed so sluggishly upward they seemed, on net, essentially stilled.
Andy Bodinger is a fiction writer, essayist, and PhD student at Ohio University. He earned his MFA from Oklahoma State University where he was an associate editor at The Cimarron Review. He is formerly an ESL teacher, having worked in The Czech Republic and China. His essays and stories have appeared in Lunch Ticket, Litro, and Bodega, among other places.