Emily walked up to Michael “You look handsome,” she whispered into his ear.
Michael was sitting on the edge of the bed, tying his black dress shoes, which matched his black hair and black suit.
“Thanks. You look beautiful.” He kissed her gently on the lips.
She wrapped her arms around him. “You’re just saying that because you love me.”
“Are you ready?”
“Just have to go to the bathroom and put my makeup on. Be right back.”
Michael stood up and walked over to the floor-to-ceiling window, admiring the dazzling lights of the iconic Las Vegas Strip.
The hotel rooms at the Bellagio were known for having some of the best views on the Strip. It was their first time in Vegas, and he wanted the best for this special trip. He had heard many tales about this city—stories about people losing everything or gaining a fortune. But Michael didn’t come here hoping to get lucky. He didn’t even like gambling that much—actually, he was afraid of it. Gambling was something that could bring a lot of pain to him and the people he loved. Most of all, it reminded him of a promise he once made.
The sea of lights from the Strip hypnotized him as he continued to gaze out the window. He looked down at the severely scarred palm of his hand. Images from the night his mother died suddenly flashed in front of him, clear as day.
* * *
Young Michael sat up, squinting his eyes against the bright bedroom light. His father sat on the edge of his bed and looked down at him with wet, dull eyes.
“Promise me something.”
“What happened to Mommy?”
“Mommy had to go away for a little while. But I need you to listen now very carefully. It’s very important. Do you understand?” Billy’s gaze was alert.
“You won’t know what I’m talking about, but please just remember this: whatever happens, never ever play roulette. Don’t go near it, don’t think about it. Got it?” Billy pressed his lips together.
Michael didn’t know exactly what roulette was, but the seriousness and sadness in his father’s voice scared him. He nodded again.
“No matter how badly you need money, stay away from roulette.”
Michael promised. His father exhaled heavily.
“Now try to sleep.”
Several hours later, Michael was awakened by his own violent coughing. He opened his eyes and could see the room was filled with smoke. His eyes burned. He stumbled over to the door and grabbed the door knob. The hot metal stuck to his hands. He grimaced but did not scream. Pain rushed through his body. He fell to his knees. He could smell burnt meat. And, just when the pain was at its worst, it dissipated. Forcefully, he pulled his hands from the knob. Pieces of flesh and skin were still stuck to the doorknob. Wide eyed he stared at his wounded hands.
* * *
Michael was startled out of his reverie.
“Are you okay?” Emily asked, standing at the bathroom door.
“Yes, I’m fine. Just checked out for a sec.”
He turned away from the window as she walked toward him.
“What were you thinking about?”
“I was thinking of Mom.”
“Michael, you were a kid, and she died of a heart attack. Stop feeling guilty about it.”
“…Shhhh,” she said and put her finger on his lips.
“I’ve got a surprise for you.” She pushed him down onto an armchair before settling on his lap and wrapping her arms around his neck. “I know it’s my birthday today, but I want to give you a gift as well.”
“A surprise?” Michael asked, tilting his head slightly back.
She leaned in closer. “We’re pregnant!”
“What?” Michael breathed deeply through his nose. “Pregnant? I…I don’t know…” He looked at her stomach, which was still perfectly flat.
“Don’t look so worried. We’ll be fine.” She smiled and placed his hands on her stomach.
“When did you find out?”
“Just now. I didn’t get my period two weeks ago, so I picked up a test at the airport this morning.”
She kissed his freshly shaved cheek and stood up. “And now I want to gamble. I turned twenty-one today. I want to make millions.”
Michael felt his nervousness slowly give way to excitement at the thought of being a father.
“Yes, you’re right, let’s go and make some money for little Patrick,” he said.
“Patrick? What if it’s a girl?”
“Patricia then.” He was becoming more talkative.
“We’ll talk about that later,” she said and walked back to the bathroom to finish getting ready.