By the time lunch rolled around, I was a wreck. All I could think about all morning was my bank account, the balance that used to be there, and the balance that was there now. What my parents would do once the situation had been elucidated. That was the worst part—thinking about how disappointed they were going to be. I needed to talk to someone. I needed to confess and maybe even get absolution. But since there was no priest on campus, and I wasn’t that religious anyway, I decided to take Winter on as my new confidant. It made perfect sense. I couldn’t tell Ian that I had lost the bank. I was too ashamed. And besides, Winter was so different from everyone else I knew, maybe she would have a different perspective. Maybe she could come up with a solution I hadn’t even thought of yet. Like, I don’t know, selling a kidney or something.
I took her outside to the picnic tables at lunch. It was a sunny fall day, and even though there was a cool breeze in the air, the sun was strong enough to keep us warm. Winter’s skin was luminous in that light, and I just wished we could sit out there and talk about something easy, or even make out a little—do something normal. But I had pretty much killed that possibility with my flash of irresponsibility. There was no normal for me today.
So instead I spilled out the whole awful story. Winter was great, unsurprisingly. She listened attentively throughout the sordid tale, but when I finally got to the actual amount of money I’d lost, she balked. In fact, I think she almost choked on her bagel.
“Are you kidding me?” she asked, sucking down some soda to clear her throat. “Please tell me you’re kidding.”
Okay, I hadn’t expected her to be happy for me, but I also didn’t expect her to look at me like I was some kind of nefarious fiend. It was my money I had lost, after all, not hers.
“No. I’m not kidding,” I said brusquely. “That’s why they call it a high-stakes game.”
“Damn,” she said under her breath. Then she saw my face and shrugged, smiling apologetically. “Sorry. I’m just penurious by nature. I can’t even imagine taking out that much money, let alone gambling it.”
I squirmed, feeling sick to my stomach. I knew she hadn’t meant to rub it in, but that was exactly what she had done. I pushed my cafeteria-issue pizza away from me, no longer wanting to stare at the slowly congealing cheese.
“Well, thanks for your candor, I guess,” I said. I knew she was right, of course. That’s why I felt so horrible.
“So . . . what are you going to do?” she asked sympathetically.
“Not a clue,” I said. “Any ideas?”
“Sell a kidney?” she suggested.
I laughed half-heartedly. How had I known she was going to say that?
“Maybe you should tell your parents,” she suggested.
“No. I can’t do that,” I said firmly.
“Why? You don’t know. They might be totally understanding about it,” she replied.
“No. It’s not an option,” I said. “They would never look at me the same way again.”
Winter eyed me with obvious pity. This conversation wasn’t going as well as I had hoped it would. I wanted her to offer her condolences, make me feel better. But now it was clear that there was no way to make me feel better about a mistake I had already made.
“I’m just gonna have to win it back,” I said, taking a sip of my soda.
“Oh, yeah. There’s a good plan,” she said sarcastically.
“What? It could work,” I replied.
“Uh, maybe it would be better if you just capitulate to lady luck,” Winter suggested. “You know, quit while you’re not ahead. At least you still have some money in the bank. If you play and lose, you could end up with nothing.”
“Okay, I see your point. And it’s a judicious argument,” I told her. “But it’s a chance I’m going to have to take.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Have you not been listening to me?” I asked, my voice rising. “My parents are going to kill me.”
“First of all, no they’re not. They’re not actually going to kill you. They may be disappointed, but they’re not going to take the life of their one and only son,” she said flatly. “Secondly, do you not see how fraught with flaws this plan is? Let’s say, hypothetically, you go over to Ian’s and play a few hands. You win a couple and you’re up a little, but not enough. So you start betting a little more, playing a little more dangerously. Then all you’ve got to do is lose one big hand and you’re back where you started. Or worse.”
Wow. She was really launching a polemic here.
“Your confidence in me is heartening. Really,” I said.
“I’m not going to lose it all back,” I told her.
“Oh, so now you’re clairvoyant all of a sudden?” she asked. “Now you know exactly what cards you’re going to be dealt?”
The girl did not want me to play.
“Well, if I’m dealt bad cards, I’ll fold,” I told her.
“You still lose money when you fold,” she pointed out.
Even in the midst of this argument and my tension, I was impressed that she knew anything about poker. I really did like this girl. Too bad I met her right when my life was totally falling apart. I took a deep breath and leaned forward.
“Look, this is the only choice I have,” I told her. “I have to put that money back before my parents realize it’s gone. I just have to.”
Winter looked at me for a long moment, and I wondered if she was going to get up and walk away and never look back. But instead, she dropped back in her chair, popped a piece of bagel into her mouth, and shrugged.
“Well, then. I guess I wish you luck.”