The first thing I do when I get to a casino hotel room is to check the safe. I know I’ve been doing this for a while now, but I’m still never super comfortable carrying around large amount of cash in a duffel bag. In addition to it being super cliche, there’s really no way to feel good about it. Every trip I like to have a different combination, call it superstition, call it tradition, I like having to jog my brain for a four number combination that would capture a trip. I smirked and punched four numbers in.
Three. Five. Five. Two.
The Committee drove Isabella and I down to Atlantic City. They offered to put me up for two nights in a corner room, and who am I to turn down the opportunity to grab some money. The Committee was in the Hamptons and we hadn’t been able to hang out much this summer, so we decided to make the trip together. Isabella was a later addition, but why not right? She’s fun, personable, and she’d be a huge distraction, just hopefully not for me.
I had started calling her ‘Ella’, because if you know me, most of the time I don’t really like you until you get some sort of nickname. It’s not the best habit, but it ends up being a little endearing. Going to gamble with me is an interesting proposition (re: 15 Monkeys and the Suicide King), but at the end of the day, it’s about numbers, it’s about strategy, it’s about math. Isabella swears by intuition and worst of all, she plays slots. Slots are anathema to a table games player. Slots are where bad table players go to die after they’ve gotten cleaned out and they’re praying for a small jackpot on their last $5 to get back to the table. The Committee and I tried to convince Ella of this, but no, her grandmother had instructed her in the subtle art of the slot machine, and there was no convincing her otherwise.
After we checked in and unpacked, we walked around the casino to grab some caffeine. I always forget how overwhelming it can be to set foot in a casino. Everything assaults the senses, from the flashing lights, the blaring noises, to the acrid smoke coming from the cigarette pits. I showed Ella the landmarks and then watched as she began her attack on the slots. She put $20 in the slots and proceeded to play random machines for a few spins at a time, somehow always making off with a few dollars worth of profit. The names of all the machines were either ludicrous or slightly racist, from ‘Neptune’s Quest’ and ‘Great Cats’ to ‘China Mystery’ and ‘Nubian Goddess’. I have to admit, I was impressed. Slots are statistically the worst play in the entire casino, and the fact that she ended positive was a minor miracle. She then went back up to the room to get ready for dinner, and I wandered over to the green chip tables to get in some practice. Fortune does not smile kindly on the arrogant, and I’m loath to admit how many times I’ve let my overconfidence after a long absence from the tables cost me a pretty penny. I treaded water for a bit at the tables before I decided to head back up to get ready for the evening as well.
When I opened the door to the room, it was as if Hurricane Isabella blew through. There were clothes strewn everywhere, music blaring from the bathroom, and it looked as if a bomb had detonated in the sheets. I inquired if she was okay, and then proceeded to get dressed myself. This of course took me all of about fifteen minutes. I figured I should lean into what they expected of me and wore white pants to dinner, paired with a navy blue double breasted blazer. Ella walked out of the bathroom a few minutes later, I smiled and looked down at the floor.
“What?” she asked.
“You know how incredible you look right?”
“Shut up!…and thank you.”
And so we got into the elevator and made our way towards dinner. The Committee was waiting for us, admittedly slightly peeved because we were very late, but dinner was nice nonetheless. You could notice that the waiter just fell into Ella’s orbit, and as soon as we got to the tables after eating, her gravity was undeniable. When we sat down men would crane their necks from the next table to look. Jaded dealers would perk up and start paying attention. No one at the table noticed me at all, in fact the only time anyone wanted to talk to me was to know who I was in relation to her. Not that I minded much, I prefer to fly under the radar and get my money and get out. I couldn’t get the true count to be much above positive for hours, so we ended up leaving and going to the nightclub with the Committee. We left not long after we entered and as we made our way back to the hotel, Ella and I snaked through the slots, with her grinding just a little more change out of each machine she was feeling.
It got to be around 2 am, so I grabbed a bar of dark chocolate on the way up, and when we got back to the room, we feasted on that and the dried mangos I’d brought for the car ride. We were getting ready for bed, and as we were brushing our teeth at the sink together, I didn’t really know how to feel. That was a novel experience for me. I had brushed my teeth millions of times, but this was the first time with someone. Just like that something mundane became something new.
Isabella stole my sweatshirt because she forgot to bring something to sleep in, and once we turned the lights off, we just spoke. We talked about the things that you only talk about when it’s the wee small hours of the morning. It’s the side of her that people don’t see. They all see the gorgeous ballerina, but I see a fiery and passionate woman who pursues her dreams relentlessly. I see the strength and the steel behind her eyes, but that’s tempered by her kindness, her curiosity, and her warmth with which she approaches life. We jabbered excitedly sitting up about the most random things, mumbled tiredly into pillows at times, but more often than not, we found each other’s gaze in the dark before we slipped off to dreamland.
I couldn’t stay asleep. For the first time in a long time I watched the sun rise over the Atlantic. I’m normally the person who draws the blackout drapes over the windows, but Ella adored the view, and she wanted to see the sun in the morning. I got out of bed and put on whatever I could dig out of my duffel. As I stumbled away from the bed, the light in the closet seeped out because we never closed it fully the night before. I opened it and looked down at the safe, and for a second I couldn’t remember the combination. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her curled up in bed and then it came to me.
Three. Five. Five. Two.
I called her Ella now.
I took the cash out of the safe.
And I left the room.
(to be continued…)