As the sun sinks toward the horizon, the harsh light fades until everything is bathed in a softened apricot glow. The memories and regrets also fade. The silence in the luxury suite starts to feel oppressive as his energy rises. Anticipation sizzles through his body. The soul-crushing disappointments of previous nights disappear as his hope soars.
Tonight could be the night.
Tonight, tonight, tonight.
We’ve got tonight, baby.
As the shower steams up the mirrors in the bathroom, he sings the songs that got him here, the songs that won four Grammy awards and a legion of fans. Tonight might finally bring redemption and the sort of glory that transcends fame.
It’s time to go.
Exiting the suite, he follows the pattern he’s been following every single evening since disaster ruined his twenty-fifth birthday. This routine dominates his existence. The routine will eventually lead to his freedom; he knows this deep in his core.
It starts with a visit to the private High Rollers area of the casino below his suite. There’s a dealer working there most nights - bleached blonde hair artfully arranged over one shoulder - named Lori or Leslie or Lisa … something like that. Her thick pancake makeup hides more than old acne scars; it hides an ever-changing kaleidoscope of new and fading bruises. Despite the fact that she makes more money in one night than his own mother ever brought home after a week of working double shifts at the diner, this Las Vegas card dealer owns nothing. She is clean and sober, but every penny she makes is wasted on addiction. No matter how many times he slides a generous tip closer to her fingers and whispers, “Leave that bastard,” she never listens. She is every bit as addicted to her boyfriend’s abuse as the creep is addicted to top-shelf liquor and Sports Book.
A golden nametag pinned to her vest reminds him the dealer’s name is Leanne. The light that originally drew him to Leanne has dimmed. Even though he knows she won’t provide the sort of redemption he’s looking for, he can’t seem to stop trying.
“Spread your wings and fly,” he whispers in her ear.
Madison isn’t waiting for him near Leanne’s table, but the relief is only temporary. She’ll find him soon enough. She always does. She only ventured into the High Rollers room once over the past few weeks. It was early in their contest. She was on the arm of an elderly man he should have recognized. The old geezer gambled away five thousand dollars with the same level of emotion most Americans feel when plopping coins into a parking meter while Madison’s eyes stared into the void.
The next stop on his routine takes him to a poolside bar on the roof of another casino. Like every other night, his timing is perfect. The sunset sky still holds faint streaks of salmon pink and smoky purple. A sliver of crescent moon hovers over the arid mountains surrounding the city. Yes, he thinks, that’s exactly the way it looked on my birthday. No matter how slippery his memory has become, it’s been a month. One month. The moon proves it. As he weaves his way through the press of sweaty bodies, he braces himself. This is normally where he encounters Madison. It’s where she waited for him yesterday. But his nemesis is not huddled at the end of the bar nursing a glass of cheap wine. In her place, a man with intricately inked arms sips a glass of soda water and eyes him dispassionately. A cool breeze snakes its way through the crowd as he continues on.
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