The ringing of slot machines, clatter of gaming chips, and chatter of hundreds of people filled the cavernous space of the rooms, punctuated by cheering and applause from the craps tables.
“Michael,” Emily said, looking around the large space, her eyes wide, taking in everything around them.
When Michael didn’t respond, she glanced at him. “You look pale. Are you okay?”
“Yes, yes, I’m fine. Was just distracted, sorry. I need to go to the bathroom,” Michael said hurriedly. “Why don’t you go and have fun—I’ll come find you in a bit.”
“You sure you’re feeling okay?”
“Just a bit tired. I’m fine. See you in a minute.” He walked off, Emily staring after him.
Relax, it’s just a casino.
He turned on the tap and splashed water on his face, not caring and barely noticing that the collar of his white dress shirt was getting soaked.
“Don’t ruin her birthday. Let’s go out there and give her the best time of her life,” he told himself, wiping his face dry.
He walked past the seemingly endless rows of slot machines, his steps heavy and slow. He saw people feeding one coin after another into the machines, their faces lit up and eyes glazed over by the spinning lights. He saw a waitress giving a cocktail to an older lady, who handed the waitress a $1 chip without looking away from her machine.
He reached the area where the table games were located. Craps, blackjack, poker, and other games surrounded him.
Crowds of people squeezed around the tables, some placing bets while others watched. Michael saw the casually dressed mixing with those in fine attire, all connected by the thrill of gambling and their hopes of winning big.
Despite the crowds, he quickly spotted Emily at the roulette table. She was hard to miss with her long, obsidian-black, curly hair, and lean legs accentuated by the red-soled heels she loved so much.
“There you are,” he said, coming up behind her and putting his hands around her waist.
“I won ten dollars.” Emily’s eyes sparkled and gleamed as she turned around to look at him.
“That’s great! But you should stop when you’re winning.”
“Come on, we’re talking about ten dollars, not a thousand,” she said, amused by his old-man cautiousness.
Michael conceded. It was her birthday after all.
He looked down at the roulette table.
How can this be dangerous?
“So how does this work?” he asked, though he knew he shouldn’t. His curiosity far outweighed the promise to his father, which was now a distant memory.
“You never played roulette before?”
“Nope. Is that bad?”
“No, not at all.” She smiled and started explaining. “It’s pretty easy. The game has thirty-eight numbers. Double Zero, single zero and the numbers one through thirty-six.”
She paused looking at Michael briefly and then continued, “That’s the American version. There’s also the European version that’s missing the double-zero. But that doesn’t matter right now,” she waved her hand gently. “If you place a chip on one of the numbers and the ball lands on your number, you win thirty-five times your bet. Do you see that the numbers have either a red or black background?”
“And there, the spaces with ‘Odd’ and ‘Even’ written on them?” She pointed her finger toward the game and continued, “Some people don’t like playing numbers. They think they’ll have a better chance by playing red or black or odd or even—you can’t win that much because you just double your bet but your chances of winning are higher.”
Michael stared at the table and the spinning wheel.
“Do you want to try?” Emily asked.
“Nah, I’m good.”
“Okay, at least give me a number.”
“Uh, go with your gut feeling I guess,” he said flinching his head back slightly.
The croupier snapped the little ball against the direction of the spinning roulette wheel. The ball rolled and jumped along the side of the wheel, gradually slowing. People held their breath, hoping that it would rest on their number.
“Eight!” Michael blurted out before he could stop himself.
“No more bets,” the croupier said, waving his hand over the table as the ball slowed even further.
The ball came to a stop.
“Eight wins!” The croupier said and placed a silver marker on the number eight. He then raked in the chips on the remainder of the table and paid out the winners.
“Michael, didn’t you just say eight?” She frowned.
“Must’ve been beginner’s luck,” he muttered, avoiding her gaze.
“Why did he place that little thing on the eight?” Michael whispered into Emily’s ear, trying to steer the conversation to a different topic.
“It tells the players that no one is allowed to collect or remove any of the bets from the table,” Emily explained as the croupier removed the silver marker.
“Please place your bets,” the croupier said.
“What number now ‘Mr. It-must-have-been-beginners-luck?’”
“Come on. Any number.”
“Ten? I…I really don’t know.” He shrugged.
She placed a five dollar chip on the number ten.
“No more bets,” the croupier said again, waving his hand over the table.
“Come on, come on,” Emily chanted, staring at the jumping ball.
“Twenty-five!” Michael blurted out, unable to stop himself.
“Twenty-five wins!” the croupier shouted.
“My God, Michael, you got it right again.” Her mouth was left open.
“That was weird,” he said rubbing his forehead.
“Okay, this time you better tell me the correct number or else.”
“Please place your bets.”
“What should it be?” Emily prodded Michael.
Suddenly, the number six popped up in Michael’s head, accompanied by an intense ache in his right temple. His eyes rapidly shut.
“No more bets.”
“Six,” Michael mumbled to Emily, the pain in his head receded the minute he spoke.
“It’s too late,” Emily said. “I hope you’re wrong because I put it on eighteen.”
“Six wins!” shouted the croupier.
Emily stared at Michael.
“We’re not taking advantage of your lucky streak,” she said, picking up a chip from the table. “Let’s try again.”
Michael was still slightly disoriented from the pain and gazed blankly throughout the room without looking at anything particular.
“Michael, which number?….Michael?”
He felt a quiver in his stomach.
“What? Sorry, I—” He stopped abruptly as another searing pain went through his head, accompanied by the image of the number twelve.
Emily’s voice pierced through the pain. “Michael?”
“Twelve,” he muttered.
Emily placed a hundred dollar chip on the number twelve.
“Are you crazy?” Michael said and budged his eyes.
The pain had disappeared again right after he said the number out loud.
“Maybe a little,” she smiled at him mischievously.
“Beginner’s luck, right? You got it right three times. Why not this time? Don’t forget, little Christina wants to go to college.”
“We really need to get that name straight?” he said, smiled, and felt better again.
“No more bets.”
The ball slowed its bouncing around the roulette wheel.
“Come on, come on,” Emily said.
Three, twenty-five, eighteen, twelve—Emily prayed that the ball would stay where it was—but it jumped to thirty-two, then fifteen. Emily reached for Michael’s hand and squeezed.
The ball jumped a few more times, slowing down with each jump, and then came to a stop.
“Oh my God.” Emily’s expression blanched.
“Twelve wins!” the croupier shouted.
“Michael, you’re my lucky charm.” She kissed him hard on the lips. “We just won $3,500. Three thousand five hundred freaking dollars. Oh my God.”
She watched as the croupier started counting and stacking her winnings before pushing them toward her.
Michael took a step back. “No, this can’t happen. This is all wrong.”
“Michael, don’t run away on me now. Which one’s next?”
The searing pain returned.
“Okay, two hundred dollars this time,” Emily said and placed her bet.
The ball started its journey along the roulette wheel.
“No more bets.”
The ball jumped, slowed, and settled.
Emily squealed and hugged Michael.