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The Gambler, Part One
Reply to Livia or visit her websitePosted to the RoswellSlash mailing list June 27, 2001
Title: The Gambler
Disclaimer: Not mine. Sigh.
Feedback: please please? pleeeeeeeease?
Distribution: Yes to RSA, also look for it soon at American Pie
Spoilers: Vegas, baby, Vegas!
"Okay, okay, let's have some order here," Maria said, lifting her carton of milk and shaking it up. So it wasn't quite as refined as tapping a fork on a glass, but the sloshing got everyone's attention just as effectively. "Today's topic for the unofficial auxiliary debate team is Crime and Punishment. What's the damage, people?" Everyone at the table who'd been on the Vegas trip muttered and mumbled, but Maria waved her hands to quiet the table, then pointed at me. "Alex, you start."
"Well, I got grounded for a week." I said. "Oh, and my own personalized version of the 'Very Disappointed' speech. It was kind of nostalgic actually. I haven't heard that one since my sister moved out."
"Same." Liz looked guiltily up at all of us. "I think I freaked my parents out... They're not used to punishing me."
"I got a week too," Tess shrugged and glanced at Michael. Everyone at the table knew he hadn't been punished at all, because he didn't have anyone to punish him. Which was probably why the trip had been his idea in the first place.
There was a pause while everyone glared at him. Absorbed in his cheeseburger, Michael took a moment to notice. Finally he looked up, eyebrows raised. "What?" he mumbled, and then swallowed, gesturing with his cheeseburger. "Hey. I'd like everybody to just keep one thing in mind."
"Yeah, and what's that, Emancipated Boy?" Maria raised an eyebrow, expectant.
"I didn't invite *any* of you." Michael said bluntly, and went back to his cheeseburger.
Maria sighed. "The man has a point. Evanses?"
Max and Isabel exchanged glances. "We're both grounded for two weeks." Max muttered. "No allowance for two weeks, and since I'm going to have so much free time..."
He flicked a glance at Isabel, who rolled her eyes. "Max gets an extra session of therapy this week and next."
"Ouch." said Kyle, laughing. Isabel glared at him, but even Maria couldn't help but smile.
"So, uh, what kind of stuff do you *tell* that guy, anyway?" she asked, leaning across the table. "I mean, you can't... do you just make up crazy stuff or what? 'Cause I don't know about you, but that would make *me* feel a lot better."
"I..." Max looked down, but you could still see his mouth twisting in mild amusement. "I don't really talk much." He couldn't help but finally laugh. "I don't know. What kind of things should I tell him?"
"Tell him you want to be a fireman because you really, really like fire." Kyle suggested, then waved a hand. "No, no. Tell him you sniff paint thinner to escape the crushing ennui of small-town life."
"Oh, you know what," Maria said, "you should tell him that when you look in the mirror, you just see yourself as really, really fat, so now you only eat celery."
"You guys!" Liz jerked with laughter, then tried to look stern. "None of those things are funny!"
"Just tell him you're gay." Michael mumbled.
"I should *tell* him my best friend's an idiot and a bad influence," Max said, not putting a lot of effort into looking serious.
Michael shrugged and went back to his cheeseburger.
"Hm. Well," Maria said, leaning back in her chair. "I think I win the sweepstakes here with one *month* of grounding. Two weeks without phone privileges. And the Jetta's suspended till further notice, for everything except work." She hung her head like a condemned prisoner, and heaved a heavy sigh.
"I don't know about that," Kyle said, peeling the plastic wrap off his meatloaf sandwich. "I only got two weeks house arrest, but that's with no allowance, no phone, and Cindy from the attendance office is on alert to call my dad if I'm so much as tardy to class. Same with my teachers if I even pass a *note.*" He smiled, adding brightly, "It's full lockdown. But, hell, it was worth it, wasn't it? I mean, come on." he protested. "Wasn't it?"
He was looking straight at me.
Vegas was beautiful at night. A galaxy of glittering lights dazzled above our heads on both sides of the Strip as we spilled out of the supper club, laughing. We could've taken a cab back to the Bali Hai, but the girls wanted to walk. I didn't mind; truth be told, I wasn't in any hurry to get back to the casino. Apparently gambling wasn't my forte. So I hooked my arm through Isabel's, and we set out on our way. I was a little awed by all the movement on the street. Roswell usually shut down around eight o'clock, but here in Vegas, even at two in the morning, the street was crowded with people out for a good time. The party wasn't even slowing down.
Well, unless you were Max and Liz. They'd been quiet ever since they'd shared a dance back at the club, and they were the only couple that hadn't linked arms as we all left. If you didn't know them, you might not even think they were walking together. But as they drifted ahead of us, moving through the crowd, no matter how distant they got, they still kept pace with each other.
I wondered about Liz sometimes. It didn't bother me that much when Isabel wanted to be my friend, because we'd never really been involved. But it had to be hard for Max. He couldn't avoid seeing her around. He needed her when it came to dealing with things like those blue alien crystals-- Liz the Whiz. I'd thought that was all they had left. But then she'd come on this trip and even danced with Max at the club, so maybe there was something going on I didn't know about.
No, I told myself, it was probably nothing. After all, Kyle and Tess had danced, and they weren't involved, and I'd taken Isabel for a spin around the floor, but we weren't dating either. It was actually pretty ironic. Eight healthy, hormonal, unsupervised teenagers in Sin City... and only Maria and Michael were getting any action.
The way they were going at it, though, they were almost making up for the rest of us. Looking back, I caught a glimpse of them, lagging half a block behind. Maria's hand was clutching Michael's lapel, dragging him down for a kiss. They were half lost in shadow, half gleaming in the streetlight, like an old-fashioned movie poster, a classic romance. I'd always kind of had doubts about Michael, but every now and then he did something very right. Like not punching me in the face that time I hit him, for one. But tonight he'd outdone himself. I'd been hearing about Maria's Vegas dream for years now, and I'd probably be hearing about the reality for a lot of years to come.
I stole another glance over my shoulder, at Michael's large hand locked around Maria's arm. God, I was jealous of her. Not that I wanted Michael or anything... but just to have someone. Someone who would make all your dreams come true. Literally. God.
At that moment Kyle bumped into Isabel, sending her crashing against me. Still looking back, I didn't see it coming, and we almost toppled over. "Hey!"
"Sorry," Kyle offered, tugging playfully at Tess's arm. She was dragging her feet and giggling. "Come on, my little Pina Colada," Kyle said, pulling Tess by the wrists. "Pick up the pace. I wanna hit the tables. I'm th--"
"Thirteen hundred dollars ahead, we all *know.*" Tess planted her feet in the middle of the sidewalk, refusing to be moved. People dodged around them, but they ignored any annoyed glances, snickering as they tried to move each other. "Honestly! Why not quit while you're ahead?"
"You don't understand. I'm on a roll. I'm hot tonight, baby!" Kyle crouched and swept his arms forward like he was going to tackle Tess, and she shrieked and jumped back, allowing Kyle to wrap his arm around her waist and haul her along again-- both laughing so hard they had to clutch each other to keep upright.
Isabel and I shared an amused glance. Without a word, we both agreed that *we* would be the classy, dignified ones. Isabel looked like a goddess in her low-cut black dress, and Maria had picked me out a glossy, dark red suede jacket with matching shirt and tie, so I didn't look half bad either. Together we were the perfect picture of a high roller and his lady out for a stroll.
As Tess and Kyle's laughter subsided into occasional giggles, I craned my head around and inquired, "You're going back to the Bali Hai to gamble? What about the casino policy-- you know, Gamblers Anonymous?"
Kyle shrugged. "It's been a couple hours, there's gotta be a new dealer. You know," he said, turning around and glaring at Maria, who'd almost caught up to us. "One who doesn't think I have a *problem.*"
Maria just grinned. She was obviously too thrilled about her Vegas debut to really snark back, so Michael did it for her. "Kyle, everyone knows you've got a problem, and it's not gambling."
I winced a little, and Isabel pursed her lips, worried. But Kyle only cocked his head and smiled a little.
Tess suddenly jerked away, out of his arms. "Oh my god, Isabel, look."
"Oooooh." Isabel pulled away from me, joining Tess in a mini-huddle, staring into the window of a little 24-hour pawnshop with an assortment of jewelry in a case just inside the front windows. It was as classy as a 24-hour pawnshop could probably ever be.
"I've still got some money to burn," Tess said.
"Well, Michael *said* we had to spend it all..." Isabel grinned back, and they ducked inside.
"We'll just wait out here!" I called after them. The bell on the door jingled as it slammed shut.
"Women," Kyle said shortly, leaning back against the window, and I laughed. "No, I'm serious. Look at Tess. She could make a diamond ring out of a rock if she wanted to, but she still loves the shopping..."
"Yeah, and you can buy fish filets at the supermarket, but you still go down to the river every spring, don't you?" I said, staring across the street.
Kyle shrugged, acknowledging my point. As Michael and Maria passed us on the sidewalk, I could hear Maria singing quietly to herself, and it made me smile.
"Hey. Hotel buffet at ten. We're all meeting for breakfast," Michael said, pointing at both of us. "Tell the girls, okay?"
"Right on," I said, and they kept walking. Kyle sighed, leaning back and looking up at the sky. I followed his gaze. The illuminated billboards and long chains of colored bulbs soared stories high, and beyond that, the sky was black and nearly starless.
"It's kinda sad that there's a pawnshop right here that's doing so well, isn't it?" I said after a while. "I mean, nobody comes to Vegas thinking, okay, I got a hundred bucks, and when that runs out, I'll hock my wedding ring and sell my shoes, do they?"
Kyle just shrugged, and I shut up, going back to star-gazing. Or lack- of-star-gazing, actually. Occasionally, I stole a curious glance at Kyle. After all, if I wanted to know what was going on with Max and Liz, he might be the person to ask. Those rumors that had gone around a few months ago, about Liz having slept with Kyle... well, I just couldn't believe it. Neither could Maria. But Liz never denied it. Sometimes I wondered if she had started those rumors to push Max away, but I just didn't think Liz was devious enough for that. Besides, it obviously hadn't worked. She'd hurt Max, and maybe put him off for a while, but he still loved her. Anyone could see that.
"I've got this song that I sing, I can make the rain go... any time I move my finger..." I didn't even realize I was singing under my breath until Kyle leaned over and pushed at my shoulder with his own, both eyebrows raised. "Oh, sorry. Maria's song. I guess it got stuck in my head."
"Well, I'm not the expert on show tunes that you apparently are," Kyle drawled, "but that wasn't the song Maria sang tonight, was it?"
"No, no, this was a different one," I said, and laughed despite myself. "Okay, remember when I went to that audition with her, earlier?"
"Yeah, I remember. You'd just lost three thousand dollars." Kyle grinned.
"Uh-huh. Thanks for reminding me," I said, clutching at my heart. "So, as it turned out, it wasn't exactly the job she thought it was going to be..."
"Oh, Jesus," Kyle laughed as I told him the story of how Maria had auditioned to be a stripper-- including every sordid detail. "BYOG- string? That's so rich."
"Hey, I made three grand for playing one song," I said. "That's all I need to make it a happy story."
Kyle blinked at me. "You still have all that cash?"
"Well, I gave some back to Maria for these clothes... and I chipped in on the bail too, remember?"
"And then I lost some at blackjack," I mumbled, and Kyle laughed at me.
"Free advice, Whitman. Blackjack... maybe not your game."
"Yeah, well," I said. "When it comes to wacky alien adventures, it's still better than being trapped in a cave."
"I would tend to agree with that statement," he said sarcastically. And then he frowned, and scooted a little closer to me, and added, "Look, about that show tunes comment... I didn't mean anything."
"What?" I glanced over at Kyle. He looked surprisingly earnest, which was... odd. Honestly, I hadn't even given it a second thought. I was a band geek. I hung around with girls. Getting shoved into lockers and nicknamed 'Alice' was just the usual hassle. "Oh. Right. Well, that's... that's okay."
"It's just that I'm in this frustrating space right now," Kyle said, shaping out a square with his hands. "Where I realize I'm in a box. You know, preconcieved notions, conventional wisdom. And I can see *out* of the box, I have these intense moments of clarity where I realize that I have a dizzying array of limitless potentialities stretching out in all directions..."
He shrugged. "And then I get out of bed and put my pants on and I'm just Kyle."
I grinned at the casino across the street. "No you're not."
"No, you're Harvey Wallbanger, remember?"
"Hey, yeah." Kyle laughed. Turning around, he framed a spot on the window with his hands and peered inside. "You know they are never coming out of there," he said, and banged on the glass a little with the heel of his hand. I looked inside too. Tess was holding a necklace dripping with what looked like diamonds up to her throat, and she shooed Kyle off, looking annoyed, just as Isabel popped into sight, wrapped in a fluffy black fur coat.
Kyle burst out laughing as they both preened in the the mirror. "Look, Cruella de Isabel."
"Hey now," I said. "That's the hopeless unrequited love of my life you're talking about."
"Still? What about that Dutch girl? Your little Swiss Miss." Kyle elbowed me a little and I ducked away, laughing nervously, before he could get me in a headlock or perform some other type of jock bonding ritual.
"Swedish, she was *Swedish,* thank you." I proclaimed. "And, you know, that was just... a summer thing..."
Kyle wasn't paying attention. Pushing the door open and sticking his head inside the pawnshop, he raised his voice to tell Tess and Isabel, "Bali Hai at ten o'clock. Breakfast buffet, be there or be square. So says Doctor Love. Come on," he said, ducking back out onto the sidewalk. "Let's go."
"You don't think..." I began, then shook my head. "Forget it."
"Well, I guess Isabel and Tess can take care of themselves."
"I guess." Kyle snorted as we walked. He looked good in his dark jacket, faded gray shirt and blue tie. "Let's just say I wouldn't want to be the guy who tries something with one of them."
"So you never have?" I said, and Kyle flashed wide eyes at me.
"What, with Tess? Nah. She's like... a cousin, you know. The gorgeous, luscious cousin you only see once a year at the family reunion." He shook his head. "But she's still your *cousin,* so it's kind of..."
He shrugged. I guess his attitude had changed since Isabel's birthday. It was nice that he considered Tess family. In a more or less twisted way. It was sort of sweet.
"Wonder where you go in Vegas to find a prostitute?" Kyle wondered.
"God, Kyle!" I said shocked, and he laughed.
"Man, I'm just kidding. Seriously though, let's go in here," he said, grabbing my arm and dragging me towards the brightly lit entrance of another colorful casino-- 'The Morgana' was spelled out above the doors in a splash of pink neon. "Harvey Wallbanger's feelin' lucky tonight."
(continued in part 2)
Continue to Part Two
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