Mike watched the woman in front of him at the checkout buy a lottery ticket, a simple one dollar Quick Pick. He wanted to buy a ticket so bad his hands twitched. The urge to get a handful of scratch off cards made him physically ill. His stomach churned, his heart beat faster, his palm began to sweat.
The desire to gamble was as strong and addictive as any drug. Over the past year he estimated he had lost at least $2,000 on dollar tickets. The most he had ever won was $50. Cashiers at the convenient store he usual bought his ticket knew him by name.
Part of his efforts to control his gambling was to stop going to that particular store, but no matter where he bought gas, that same glass cabinet displaying scratch cards, and cash-3s, play-4s, and a dozen other games were front and center at the cash register. He couldn’t escape it.
Hoping the cashier was in a hurry and didn’t run the typical up-sell spiel to sell him one these games of chance, Mike handed her cash for his gas fighting his temptations. When she gave him an odd dollar bill in change, rimmed in red ink, he quickly pocketed it. Thinking it was a sign of something bigger, he planned to look at it away from the store.
Once back in his truck, Mike locked the doors and just sat in the parking lot, willing his heart to return to a normal rhythm. Wiping his wet palms on his jeans, he ran through the each of the twelve steps, and wondered if he could get away to attend a meeting later that night.
He needed to come clean with Jolene. She probably thought he was having an affair because he had become so secretive. He wasn’t sure what would be worst, telling her he was unfaithful, or the truth, that he was addicted to gambling. He had lost a lot of their money, money she was counting on to plan for their family. Would she still want to stay with him once he admitted his failure, or would she be willing to go through the program with him.
Jolene was a complete mystery to him. He was a working man grunt. Never even finished high school. Jolene was the smartest person he had ever known. She was always reading books, ones without pictures, and she even liked reading newspapers. She had this funny habit of reciting a quote for just about every situation. Most of the time he had no idea what she was talking about, or who she was talking about, but he was learning.
That’s what he loved about her. She made him better. He couldn’t lose her over something as stupid as betting few dollars here and there, but that’s how bad it had gotten. It wasn’t just a few dollars anymore. Mike had started lying to her about where he was going, about their bank account. He was hiding his losses, but she was suspicious and she would figure it out soon.
The only person who could screw this up for him was Ross, a high school friend and gambling buddy. He had already become a liability. Mike told him he wasn’t betting any longer. That the habit had gotten out of control and he was seeking help to quit. Ross made fun of him, tried to guilt him into playing the horses or making the spread on the Knicks. He would ask Mike to borrow a dollar to buy a lotto ticket when they stopped for coffee on their morning drive to work, or ask him who he should take in the game that night. It was so bad, that Mike had been distancing himself from Ross, avoiding any talking about gambling.
During his drive home Mike played out different scenarios in his head. Trying to imagine all the different reactions Jolene might have to his confession. There was anger, and crying, disgust, and rejection, laughter and mocking. He couldn’t hope for understanding, that would be too much to expect even from Jolene.
Pulling into his driveway he was surprised to see Ross’ car. He could hear voices as he walked into the house. Jolene was in the kitchen, pouring Ross a cup of coffee. She gave him one of her, ‘help me’ smiles when he came into the room. A shrug and shake of her head, told him Ross had been jabbering away, regaling her with what he thought was his charming wit. Jolene had told Mike before that she thought Ross was a tool, more impressed with himself than anyone else ever could be.
“Miiiiike! Hey man, how’s it going?”
“Hi Ross, I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“I know, but I’ve not seen you much lately. Where you been?”
“I’ve been around. Was there a reason for this visit?”
“Yeah! The Knicks are playing tonight and I wanted to get the point spread. Thought you could hook me up with your bookie. You know, since you’ve gone all soft on me and won’t lay bets any more.”
Mike just stared at him. Looking to Jolene he could see her faced contorting in a mixture of anger, confusion and more anger.
“Jolene, I was going to tell you tonight. I didn’t want you to find out this way.”
“HA! You haven’t told her? That’s great! Jolene your man Mike here likes to play the numbers, trouble is he’s terrible at it! HA!”
“Shut up Ross! Jolene, please let me explain.”
“How much have you lost Mike?”
“I really don’t know, but it’s a lot. I’m getting help though. I’ve been going to meetings, and I haven’t placed a bet in… 27 days. I’m trying Jolene.”
“What odds are you giving me that your marriage is over Mike?”
“SHUT UP Ross! Why are you still even here?”
“I’m just waiting for her to kick you out, so we can go have some fun again.”
“You’re a jerk Ross, Shut UP and get out!”
Jolene had sat down in one of the empty kitchen chairs, watching this scene playing out in front of her.
“Mike, why didn’t you tell me before?”
“I was afraid I’d lose you Jolene. I know you wanted to start a family, and I lost all the money we saved.”
“Here we go, give it to him Jolene.”
“SHUT UP ROSS!” They both yelled at the same time.
“You are getting help? Going to meetings?”
“Yes! Every chance I can. I’m was worried you would think I was… I don’t know. I knew keeping this from you was a bad idea, but I was really scared.”
“I believe you Mike, and I want to do whatever I can to support you.”
“What? Are you kidding me, that’s all you got Jolene?”
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.”
“What the hell does that mean, Jolene?”
“It means you are a selfish bastard who only thinks about yourself, and never considers what your actions mean for anyone else. Now, get out!”
Mike grabbed Ross by the arm and pulled him to the back door, locking it after pushing outside.
Turning back toward his wife, Mike took her into his arms, holding her close.
“I am so sorry Jolene. I know I’ve disappointed you and if you give me a second chance I’ll make it up to you.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out the dollar he saved from earlier that day.
“Here, this is my last bet and I’m making it with you. I’m giving you my last dollar, betting you that I can stay clean. I can do this for you and with you.”
“I’ll take that bet, and raise you. One year from now, we’ll celebrate and spend this dollar.”
“What do you want to spend it on?”
“Oh, I have a few ideas.”
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Mary challenged me with “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” and I challenged Shauntelle with “No one says a word, but they don’t have to. The look on their faces says it all.”