I woke up at five AM the next morning. My head was pounding and my mouth felt like an old sock. As the events of the previous night came back to me, my headache just got worse. I realized that I hadn’t cathed myself the night before, so I knew before I even lifted the covers that I had wet the bed. This is something that’s happened enough that I’ve learned to deal with it. Back when I first moved in with my sister, I wet the bed probably once or twice a month, and I’d have to swallow my pride and ask her to change my sheets. By being careful what I drank before bedtime and cathing myself before going to sleep, I rarely had accidents anymore at night. But drinking did it to me every time.
I hoped it hadn’t happened until after Avi left. I didn’t want him to know this part of me. I didn’t want him to think of me as an incontinent cripple, even if that’s kind of what I was.
The first thing I did was get into my chair, go to the bathroom, and cath myself before things got any worse. I had some vicodin in my luggage that was supposed to be for the back pain I got from sitting in a chair all day, but right now I needed it more for my head. I had never taken any vicodin before a game and I wasn’t sure how it would affect my play, but I knew I needed something.
As I swallowed the pill with a lot of water, I looked into the lowered mirror at my face. I looked hungover. My dark hair was sticking straight up and there were circles under my eyes. I was even more pale than I usually was. Considering this tournament was going to be televised, I regretted drinking so much last night. Then again, it wasn’t like they were going to be calling me Heartbreaker anymore, no matter how bright-eyed I looked. Those days were over.
As I stared down into the empty sink, still tasting the whiskey in the back of my throat, I remembered the words Avi had said to me just before I passed out. I couldn’t fucking believe he said that. He loved me? Avi “I’m not gay I’m just messing around” Green himself. I almost wished he had been drunk too so I couldn’t have attributed it to that. But as far as I knew, he was sober. Fuck.
Over the last five years, I had spent some time trying to figure out what happened between Avi and me. Neither of us had been with anyone aside from women, yet we fell into our affair so easily. Sometimes I think I wanted to fuck Avi from the moment I first laid eyes on him. Before him, men had never once entered my fantasies... but after he and I started hooking up, I found myself purchasing my first magazine of male porn and purchasing erotic gay movies on cable. I never told Avi any of this, because I was afraid it would scare him. It scared me too. I had always considered myself straight, even when Avi was fucking me from behind.
It was time to stop kidding myself. I hadn’t broken up with Avi because I needed to focus on poker or some bullshit like that. I had broken up with him because I had been afraid of having a real relationship with another man. Despite the fact that I had always accused him of never wanting to get serious and being terrified of getting caught, I was the one who couldn’t take the thought of being a homosexual. I needed out.
What a fucking stupid kid I had been.
Now I had a second chance. Avi was willing to take me back, even the way I was. I didn’t want to screw it up.
I managed to get myself looking somewhat presentable by the time the competition began. I arrived on the early side because it was hard to move fast with all the carpeting and I was still getting lost a lot, so I didn’t want to risk being late. I was just in time to see Avi kissing a woman in the audience. His wife, I guessed. She looked a few years older than he was with sharp features. I didn’t know much about fashion, but her outfit reeked of wealth.
“Riley...” Avi was smiling crookedly at me. “Come here, I’d like you to meet my wife Sheila.” He turned back to her, “Sheila, this is Riley Haveson, another player who’s competing today.”
I wheeled over to the couple. Sheila Greenberg held her hand out to me and I shook it. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Haveson,” she said coolly. I very much doubt she knew anything about me and Avi. Like Keith had said, she probably just had contempt for poker players. If only she knew... she probably would have punched me in the jaw.
I could see what Keith had been talking about before. Sheila seemed like an odd choice for Avi—definitely not someone he could have married for love. But what Keith didn’t get was that Avi probably wasn’t capable of finding a woman that he was compatible with. He had probably just married the first woman who seemed interested.
Avi and I were seated one person apart at the final table, but that person hadn’t arrived yet. As he slid into his seat, I could see the apologetic look on his face. “I know what you’re thinking,” he said in a low voice.
“Really? What am I thinking?”
“My mother set Sheila and me up,” he explained. “I had to get married, Riley. You don’t know what kind of pressure there was on me.
“Is it worse than the pressure to stay married?”
Avi’s brow furrowed. “I can’t leave Sheila. You know that.”
I hadn’t known that. I suddenly felt like he had deceived me last night. “So what’s going on between us? Are we still just fucking? Was everything you said last night total bullshit?”
“Will you keep your voice down?” Avi hissed.
I stared at him. “I guess that answers my question.”
Avi bit his lip and leaned towards me. “Look, I meant what I said last night. But I can’t leave my wife for another man. Do you know how that would look?”
Before I had a chance to answer him, Don “Tips” Bradley took the seat between us. I didn’t want to have this conversation anymore anyway. I felt like an idiot. I should have known this would happen—I couldn’t believe I had gotten my hopes up.
The game started. I had the least chips at the table, and while it’s true that things can turn around very quickly in this game, it’s not exactly an enviable position to be in. With a big chip stack, you can push other players around. With a tiny chip stack, you have to wait for your moment to go all in. You have to play it really tight, which is my style usually anyway.
I had a couple of early wins. I had some small wins, but I won a big hand against Ben Gomez, then two in a row against Keith. Three other players left the game and I was still holding on. What surprised me more was the response from the audience—they were clearly on my side. Everybody in the audience seemed to know who I was and they went wild when I won my three big hands. Five years ago, I never got that kind of a response. People thought of me then as a stuck up kid who didn’t know what he was doing. Now they were acting like I was some kind of hero.
The other surprise was Avi. It had been a while since I had watched him play up close and I couldn’t believe how good he was. I never knew what the hell he was thinking. He didn’t follow any of the usual patterns, yet I wouldn’t have described him as erratic. After an hour, I felt like I had at least some kind of handle on the other players, but I was completely lost when I was up against Avi. I usually backed down quickly.
After the first five players were eliminated, I realized I wasn’t even feeling anxious anymore. My palms were completely dry and my leg hadn’t started jumping once the whole time. I was almost sorry when the dealer gave us a short break because I felt like I was on a roll, but I knew I needed to empty my bladder.
As I backed away from the table, two extremely cute girls blocked my exit. They were both in their early twenties and were nudging each other and giggling. “Mr. Haveson,” one of them said, “can you sign an autograph for me?”
“Sure,” I said. I had never signed an autograph before.
The girl handed me a felt tip pen, but instead of giving me a piece of paper or deck of cards to sign, she undid the top button on her shirt. Her large breasts jutted out from her bra, and bent over to put them in my reach. “Sign the left one,” she told me.
I laughed nervously before I did as she said. I had never signed my name on someone’s breast before, so the signature looked a little wobbly. I apologized to her. She didn’t seem to mind much though. The two girls walked away, giggling to each other. I heard the one whose breasts I signed saying, “Isn’t he cute?” I couldn’t help but feel my ego swell a little bit.
I ran into Marie Fallow coming back from the bathroom. She stood in front of my wheelchair and held out her hand to me, “Congratulations, Riley.”
“You’re in the top five,” Marie said, pointing out the obvious. “And if you keep it up, you could win.”
“I won’t win,” I said.
Marie smiled down at me. “What do you think of Avi’s wife?”
“It’s okay, Riley, I know.”
I stared at her. “You know what?”
“I’ve got connections at this hotel,” Marie explained. “I know about the... uh, movies you paid for while you’ve been here. It’s okay if you prefer men. I still think you’re really cute, but I know Avi’s the one you want.”
I looked down at my legs. “You know, it doesn’t even matter to me. I’ve accepted it. But Avi won’t. He’d never have a serious relationship with another man.”
Marie shook her head. “But he already has.”
There were five of us left now: me, Avi, Keith Tucker, Ben Gomez, and Don Bradley. The crowd watching us seemed so much larger than it had five years ago. I looked up and saw Avi’s wife staring down at us, the irritation plain in her thin face.
It was a friendly game, until Avi came into play. It was painfully obvious that the other guys wanted to push Avi out at any cost. It was a true tribute to Avi’s skills that they hadn’t managed to do it yet. I could see Keith glowering at him across the table. I remembered Keith’s words to me: If you ever think you have a chance to take that fucker down, you take it.
I wasn’t getting great hands, so I held back for a while. I played tight and conservative and tried to hold onto my chips until things turned around. Everyone was pretty much even, except that Don got pushed out after about half an hour. I didn’t know Don that well, but he was a great player and it was sobering to see him leave.
After an hour of playing, I finally got a monster hand: pair of aces. Statistically, the best opening hand you can get. When you play a lot of poker, you have to constantly be calculating odds, but this one was a no-brainer. I was ready to bet the house on this one. Until...
“I’m all in,” Avi said, pushing his chips into the pile.
I hadn’t expected that one. I was after Avi, in the small blind position. I tried to look at Avi’s eyes, but I was blocked by his dark glasses. I hated those dark glasses. I was the only one at the table not wearing them. I saw Avi chewing his lip, but it wasn’t a tell. Avi didn’t have a tell, as far as I knew.
The right thing to do was to call him. No matter what was in Avi’s hand, I had odds right now. I had the best hand and it was mine to lose. In fact, his all-in was a blessing in disguise because it meant I didn’t have to slow-play my aces to lure other people into the action. Anyone else but Avi, I would have called without even thinking about it. But for some reason, I was scared of Avi. It was ironic, because I had probably played more poker with Avi than anyone else I’ve ever known.
My palms began to feel sweaty. The sign of a good poker player is being able to block out visceral reactions like sweating. I suddenly realized I couldn’t go through with it. “I fold,” I said.
I felt like a complete loser.
Then only Benny, the big blind, was left. Benny shook his head at me, annoyed that the burden of driving Avi out of the game had fallen on his own shoulders. “Yeah, I’ll call,” Benny said.
The two men showed their cards. Avi had a pair of ladies, while Benny had a jack and a king. I watched as the flop turned up a bunch of low cards, then a jack on the turn. The river card would decide the hand.
I noticed at that point that Keith was staring at me. He looked upset, for some reason. I tried to ignore the look on his face as I watched the river card come up: a nine. Avi won the hand and Benny (with the least chips) was out of the game.
I was surprised by the amount of booing that came from the peanut gallery as Avi close to doubled his chip stack. It seemed like Avi had made a lot of enemies in the poker world. They didn’t know him like I did.
Benny went around the table shaking hands with us. As his hand slid into mine, he flashed me a small, sad smile. I didn’t know what that meant. It was kind of uncharacteristic of Benny. He was always a good sport, win or lose.
As I moved my chair back from the table to shake hands with Benny, Keith did something very unexpected. He reached across the table and flipped over my hand. My two aces. As he looked down at them, his face turned bright red. “I knew it!” he yelled. “I fucking knew you had a great hand, Haveson!”
I stared at him. Turning over another player’s hand was the most unprofessional thing you could do. It was grounds for being disqualified.
“You could have taken him down!” Keith yelled. “You would have won! What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“I... I didn’t think...” I was stammering like an idiot.
Keith reached across the table and grabbed a handful of my shirt, “You think just cuz you’re in a wheelchair now, I won’t kick your ass, Riley?”
Benny grabbed Keith’s shoulder, “What’s the matter with you, man?”
“He fucked us over!” Keith said. “He fucked all of us over.”
Benny tried to loosen Keith’s grip on my shirt. “Come on, what are you doing? He’s a paraplegic.”
My face burned. “I’m not an invalid. If you want to hit me, Keith, go ahead.”
And to my surprise, he did.
To be continued...