ONE BEFORE IT’S DONE
She straightened up tall in the entryway pressing her thin hands to her lips, then clicking her freshly done fingernails together, listening to his car pull into the driveway.
Tonight she would tell him even though it would hurt.
Outside the door she heard her husband fumbling with his keys the way he had so many times. He had done it at the old house too. Sometimes she heard him from the front room, fumbling, and she would put down her magazine, pry herself out of one of their two felt club chairs they bought after moving from Dallas to Chicago, and unlock the door, and he would smile apologetically and say thank you. She wasn’t going to do that this time. She told him several times before that he carried too many things and every time, the next day, he would take her advice and put things down, but then the day after that he’d be back to the old way, fumbling.
She sighed, thinking if she were like her sister, Eve, she would need a cigarette right about now.
He finally opened the door and quickly closed the cold air behind him. Hanging his coat and dropping his keys into a decorative bowl on the entryway table, he spun around to see her standing there.
“We need to talk,” she said, “but will you go buy some beer first? Or get some wine, whatever you like.”
“We can talk about it now,” he said casually.
She looked at him and shook her head coldly, “When you get back.”
Her stare went into and past him and he knew she probably wasn’t going to budge, but he shrugged innocently, shaking his head, “What’s going on?”
Her eyes looked away and up the staircase that led to their bedroom and she braced herself on one of the balusters as her voice broke slightly, “We’ll talk when you get back.”
“We’ve got plenty-”
“Just go,” she said sharply as she straightened herself up again.
Continuing to shake his head, he turned, picked up his keys, forced his coat on, and went outside.
Slamming the car door shut he started his car and rubbed his hands together, cursing the cold and cursing Chicago.
He could have kept asking what it was but maybe he already knew and it made him nauseous. But why couldn’t she just come out and say it? If she knew about the gambling she probably wanted him to get help. They hadn’t had that discussion in a long time. That’s all it was, and he could make it up to her, take her out for a lobster dinner or better yet, a Sunday champagne and brunch at that place, Gilly’s or Jilly’s, whatever the name was.
In ten minutes he was at the liquor store. He went straight to the wine section and found it. If it said Napa she was fine with it. Anything Napa, she always said. At least he still remembered that.
He used to remember everything. For a while, for a long time if he could be honest, he didn’t remember anything that mattered to her. For him, there was only gambling and times between gambling, and during those times he was thinking of how to gamble again, poker nights, football games, horse races, baseball, basketball, golf matches with salesmen or his boss, the Presidential election coming up, even who was going to win the next American Idol. Winning and winning, and winning again, mixed with colossal setbacks, would cause him to lose track of time or what day it was or to miss a planned dinner date. He’d do his best to cover and she’d do her best to act like it didn’t bother her or to believe things would change without having to say anything. Sometimes nothing he could say or do would make up for his behavior, like when he missed her thirtieth birthday, completely, coming home at three in the morning to an empty bed, from winning a marathon mahjong match that had started at eight o’clock that morning. Neither of them thought he would do that. When she and the couple they were to have spent the evening with realized he wasn’t coming, after dinner, drinking, and dancing, she decided she wouldn’t be coming home that night. She went from being heartbroken, to embarrassed, then furious, then vindictive, and finally back to heartbroken and embarrassed again. He knew the whole weekend should break his heart and make him embarrassed and furious but his heart was too inflated from winning to think about anything else.
Maybe that was all she wanted to talk about, his gambling.
He showed his ID, paid, and took the bottle of 2009 Merlot Napa Valley wine.
In the few steps from the store to the car the cruel winter wind from Lake Michigan bit at his face and ears. Warming himself with short fast breaths, he set the wine down in the passenger seat, started the car, and pulled out on to the street.
Tonight he’ll divulge the amount of his Christmas bonus and she can spend it on New Year’s Eve, whatever she wants, and they can make good memories.
Chicago would be a first. Before they were married he spent seventeen thousand dollars on a Times Square apartment for New Year’s Eve. They celebrated in London the next year, Tokyo one year and Boston a few years back. Chicago would be a special memory too, and he’d promise to get help, again.
He wished he’d never started gambling.
It all started in Las Vegas.
In their six years together it was their only trip to Vegas. He told her he would only spend five hundred dollars at the tables and then he would be all hers after that, they could see the new Cirque du Soleil and another show if she wanted and she could choose all the restaurants.
So, on the first night, after checking into the hotel and putting their things in the room they went down to the casino and the poker tables. After two hours and several drinks they both figured he’d have lost it all but he kept winning. First he took the chips of a tall, boot-wearing sim chip distributer from some suburb of Dallas that enjoyed making a swishing sound with the saliva in his mouth, who hadn’t lost up to that time and was in a great mood, swishing and swishing, until his last hand when he cursed and spit and walked off leaving two red chips and a white. And in those beginning rounds, a quiet couple whose husband only nodded and only liked to raise the pot, gave him about a thousand dollars on two hands, smiling the entire time, the wife squeezing her husband’s arm proudly as they left the table.
They quickly counted his winnings, twenty-three thousand dollars, and she asked him to stop, to come up with her to the room. She said they could order room service, everything on the menu, and she promised to make love to him, in so many words.
So he stopped and they went up to the room and ate all they could and ordered the most expensive bottle of wine they ever had, a one thousand dollar bottle. That was the first time he remembered her saying Anything Napa. They clinked their glasses and toasted to each other, savoring the wine with the first few bites of dinner, and then she swallowed her wine greedily and he grinned, emptying his glass, and they poured and drank and poured and drank until the bottle was empty and the food was gone. After dinner, he felt like he was a continuation of her meal the way she made love to him. He knew she was happy and proud of him and he felt proud and happy, especially about making her happy, but he wasn’t done gambling.
“I’m going back down, want to come?”
“No, you’re not going anywhere,” she pulled him back into bed, “you’re staying with me.”
He sighed and attempted to give her a peck on the lips but she kept their mouths together.
She scowled and huffed as he twisted away, “I said, don’t go!”
“Are you serious? I’ll be right back.”
He threw his clothes on and tried to kiss her but she refused, ignoring his apologies, wrapping herself tightly under the bed sheets.
He apologized again and she yelled curses as he shut the door. Her words wounded him but he laughed it off and hurried down to the casino.
Six hours later, at six-thirty that morning, he shocked himself, and everyone else who had gathered to watch, by building his earnings up to two-hundred thirty-one thousand dollars.
By seven, he undressed and crawled back into bed beside her and closed his eyes, not completely sure he hadn’t been dreaming the whole evening, and fell asleep.
She woke him up ordering room service around ten-thirty and when he told her he won two-hundred and thirty-thousand dollars she shrugged and hmphed, posing in front of a mirror, admiring herself from different angles. Forty-five minutes later, they had missed the knock from room service and after they fell out of bed exhausted, he wondered what it was like for the concierge bringing breakfast if they could hear through the door.
There hadn’t been any mornings like that for quite some time.
Driving back from the liquor store, looking at the bottle of Merlot in the passenger’s seat, he thought about how he felt on that day and how he imagined she felt, on that lustrous day on the Las Vegas strip, when they did everything her heart desired and he was like a king lavishing his queen to the limitless luxuries of his kingdom.
At Bouchon in the Venetian they sipped mimosas and brunched on chicken and waffles and afterwards shopped along the strip for purses and handbags, a dress for each of the remaining nights, two new skirts, three tops, a pair of jeans, two hot bikini bathing suits, a tuxedo and three shirts for him, and matching his and hers watches, only stopping to drop off the spoils at the hotel, which had moved all their belongings to a luxurious penthouse suite, compliments of the hotel. So that afternoon, after shopping for a couple more hours, they made love in every room of their new home at the top of the Bellagio.
After a long nap, they showered and bathed and shaved. She put on one of her slinky new dresses and he put on the tux and they went to dinner at Joël Robuchon, where, with their fifteen-course meal they bought another expensive bottle of wine, this time a twenty-five hundred dollar 1993 Harlan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.
After seeing a show that she mentioned she wanted to see they went back to their now favorite restaurant and ordered another bottle of wine, a 1999 Araujo Cabernet, and drank it as if this was the beginning of their new life of wealth and extravagance.
At midnight with everyone in the entire restaurant, they toasted to the New Year and kissed.
But that whole day he couldn’t help but think about how much more he could win if he could get back to the casino and even though they had spent fifty-thousand dollars he had more to start with now than the night before.
No, she said.
She didn’t want to spend the rest of the night in the casino watching him gamble or waiting in the penthouse for him to finish gambling. She wanted to go dancing, she said with a pouty smile. Besides, we need the money we have left to buy a house, and think of the honeymoon we could have, she said. He had never thought of marrying her before that weekend.
But he insisted that he was on a roll and would certainly win more and it did excite her to think of the possibilities.
So they went back to the penthouse before going down to the casino.
In her opulent bathroom, she freshened up her makeup, ran a comb through her freshly cut blonde bob, and changed into another one of her new sleek dresses that she promised he would definitely be taking off of her later.
Before they left the room he looked at her. He was at the door of the room about to open it and he turned to look at her. She walked out of the bathroom and he stared.
She liked it when he did that.
She liked it when anyone did that.
Her arms floated down settling along her shape. Her side, her hips, the shape of them is what he loved to look at. Her legs were long and milky soft and her calves were round and sexy when she wore heels. The tight dress she picked out showed her delicate and delicious curves and the low cut front and back left little for the imagination.
He looked at her and she let him look a long time.
It began to snow as he turned into their neighborhood and he thought about how she hadn’t lost any of her good looks. In fact, even today, she still stopped down any room she walked into.
Back in the casino, he won the first hand and the next one and the next. He promised to keep winning and she promised to keep drinking. So the drinks kept coming.
They both felt there was nothing they couldn’t do after his winnings ballooned to over two-hundred fifty thousand dollars in the first hour. They now had the full attention of the casino and the other tables near them shut down and gathered around their table to watch him gamble.
Two tall beautiful girls squeezed in close, each taking an arm of his wife as they watched.
In another forty-five minutes his pile of chips had grown to four hundred thousand dollars. After winning with three queens his wife gave him a long sweet chocolate martini flavored kiss that got plenty of hoots and hollers and then one at a time she kissed the two girls, first the red-haired one on her left and then the brunette on her right, with soft sensual kisses bringing the whole room into an uproar.
Thirty minutes later he had three aces and a pair of tens. The only thing that would beat him would be four of a kind or a straight flush and it was his turn to raise or call. He called. His opponent had three kings. He won and the total was half a million. He would have kept going but she moved over to him and whispered in his ear.
“Don’t take long.”
She kissed him, got up from the table, and walked away arm in arm with the two women.
Everyone at the table watched them as they slowly walked away.
Before the dealer started to deal the next hand he announced he was cashing out.
In the suite, he sat down on the couch of the main living room and loosened his tie and took it off as he looked over at the closed door of the bedroom and listened.
He got up and walked into the adjacent bathroom and looked at himself in the mirror.
He thought about her and then about her and the two women.
He splashed his face with water and swished some mouthwash.
Walking over to the bedroom door, he opened it.
At first, he stood in the doorway. Then he sat down in the chair next to the bed.
He watched her with the two women and for him it was more than enough to watch.
She didn’t notice he was in the room until she was facing him. She grinned and began moaning louder and in shorter intervals for his benefit.
Later, she smiled and nodded to one of the girls who leaned over the bed and reached for him. He stood up next to her and the bed and joined them.
The next morning, after breakfast, and after the two women left, she told him she wanted to get married in Paris, that coming May.
She had made up her mind. And so they did get married.
In Paris. In May.
Six months later, after the wedding and after taxes, the winnings from that weekend were gone.
And he never won again the way he won in Vegas.
In fact, now he was in the hole about forty thousand dollars and he figured this was the reason she sent him out for a bottle of wine.
He pulled into the driveway and sat there a moment.
Then he picked up the bottle, got out of the car, and walked to the front door.
She was there on the other side of the door to open it for him, her decided eyes boring into him and through him.
He hung up his coat and put his keys in the decorative bowl and faced her.
The sickness in his stomach surfaced to his throat and dried it out.
“I’m leaving you,” she said. “I’m moving back and I don’t want you to come.”
She would move in with Eve and her husband, until she had her own place again.
She followed him to the front room and he sat down in his club chair, holding the bottle in the paper bag, trying to ignore his constricting throat.
He could see she was having trouble breathing too.
But he also could see that her eyes matched the sureness he heard in her voice.
She had made up her mind. He knew.
She took the bottle from his hands and pulled it out of the paper bag, examining the label. He sat there, taking her in, and watched her turn and walk away toward the kitchen.