A cacophony out on the street jolted me awake, and as I lifted my head, an acute pain shot right through my skull. Sunlight accosted my eyes, and as I tried to blink them free of tears, I looked around in confusion. What day was it? Where was I? Was it morning or afternoon, or . . .
And why the hell had I fallen asleep on my desk?
I tried to lift my arm, but it was flaccid and full of pins and needles. My face ached, and when I touched it I realized it had been indented with dozens of tiny little marks from the keyboard. I had actually passed out with my cheek pressed against it. Mike Riley had hit a new low.
The moment I thought this, the realization came over me, and I remembered what I had done. I sat there, staring at my computer screen, which still displayed the PokerParty.com game room. My balance stared back at me, the very sight of it castigating me for my idiocy: BALANCE $0.
I closed my eyes as the nausea rode over me. It was Monday morning. That noise out on the street was the sound of garbage trucks coming for pickup. It was a school day and I had been up half the night, losing hand after hand on my computer. And my nonexistent PokerParty.com balance wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was that if I had opened my bank’s website, my savings account balance would have read exactly the same way.
I had emptied it out. Somewhere around 2 a.m. I had gone all-in on a straight, thinking there was no way I could lose. Feeling as if I were on the brink of winning it all back, rather than on a precipice of disaster. And instead, I had lost it all to a guy from Decatur with a straight flush. Lost all of my hard-earned money. Every last cent.
“Mike! Time to get up!”
My mother knocked once and walked into the room, just like she did every other morning. She was already fully dressed and coiffed and had her perky smile on. She looked at my bed in confusion, then her brows knit together when she saw my disheveled self sitting at the computer. My heart pounding, I surreptitiously clicked the Internet browser closed before she could see.
“Michael? What are you doing?” she asked.
“Nothing,” I replied automatically.
Slowly, she approached the computer. Oh, God. She had seen. She knew what I had done. Okay, this was it. What was I going to do?
Disavow everything, a little voice inside me cried. Plead innocent on all charges.
I gave her my most ingenuous look as she took in the soda cans, empty bag of chips, and whirring computer.
“Michael, were you up all night studying?” she asked, running her hand over my matted hair.
Oh, thank goodness. She thought I was being responsible—which somehow only made me feel even worse than I already did.
“Sweetie, you know I’m all for hard work, but I can’t condone you sleeping at your desk,” she said lightly, planting a kiss on top of my head.
“Sorry, Mom,” I said, faking somnolence and yawning. In actuality, my pulse was pounding fast enough to keep me awake for days. “I guess I just lost track of time.”
She smiled and cupped my face with her hand. Looking into her earnest eyes, I actually felt like crying. She loved me so much and thought I was such a good kid. Little did she know the irresponsible, wretched jerk I had become.
“Hop in the shower,” she said. “I’ll make you breakfast.”
There was nothing I could do but accede. Go on like it was a normal morning, like my entire world was not falling apart. As she shuffled off toward the kitchen, I got up and went about pretending to be the old Mike Riley.