The night of the high-stakes game, I was feeling a bit timorous as I approached the basement door to Ian’s house. What I was about to do was not going to be easy, but I couldn’t see any other way out. I just hoped that Ian would be amenable to my plan. After all, the whole thing hinged on him.
I took a deep breath and walked in. The stereo was on at a high volume, and Ian was puttering around, setting up the tables. He looked up when I closed the door. I was about half an hour early, but Ian looked inordinately surprised at my arrival. Didn’t I usually show up before everyone else?
“Hey, man,” he said. “What’re you doing here?”
Ian blinked, nonplussed. “Oh . . . okay,” he said, pushing in a chair.
“What?” I asked. I had never felt so unwelcome in my best friend’s house. In fact, I felt conspicuously out of place.
He walked by me and turned the stereo off. For a few seconds he stood there with his back to me, and my body temperature slowly crept higher and higher. What was going on here? What was he thinking?
“It’s just . . .” He finally turned around, but it seemed like he was having trouble looking me in the eye. “After last week’s games I wasn’t sure if you were exactly . . . uh . . . solvent,” he said finally.
He looked extremely uncomfortable as he said this, and I felt a rush of humiliation and anger. Had he been feeling sorry for me all week? Was I that deserving of his pity?
“I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but you kind of lost a lot of money on Wednesday,” he said. “And then again on Friday . . .”
I don’t know why this irritated me so much. It was, after all, true. And besides, the fact that he realized this made the conversation we were about to have a lot easier. I wasn’t going to have to explain every awful detail of what I had done and then endure his shock.
I took another deep breath and told myself to chill. “Actually, that’s kinda what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“What’s that?” Ian asked warily.
“Well, I’ve gotten myself into kind of a mess,” I said, the shame almost overwhelming. I sat down on one of the leather couches in the corner and found it easier to hang my head than to look at my best friend. “I’m not inextricably in trouble or anything,” I added quickly. “But I might need your help.”
“You want to borrow money,” Ian said flatly. His tone was totally dead, as if I was asking him for a kidney transplant or something.
“Just a little,” I said quickly. “Nothing exorbitant.” At least it wouldn’t be for him. The kid was rolling in cash even without his weekly percentage from the games.
“I know that, E,” I shot back, looking at him for the first time. “Why are you being such a bastard about this?”
His eyes flashed, and I realized the temerity of my outburst. Good friends or not, it probably wasn’t a good idea to insult the person you were asking a favor of.
“Look, I just need to get into this game. Dominic’s coming, and we already know the kid sucks. Plus, he and his stupid friends love to throw their money around. I know I can beat these guys,” I told him firmly. “I know I can.”
“Very quixotic of you, Mike,” he said. “But I think you proved last week that poker isn’t just about skill.”
“Dude, what’s your problem?” I said.
“Nothing! It’s just, I’m worried about you, man,” Ian said. “You seem a little desperate, and I’m not totally sure this is a scrupulous plan.”
I stood up, adrenaline pumping through my veins. “What the hell, E? I thought we were friends. Now it’s like you’re questioning my probity.” I wasn’t usually one to emote like this, but lately my feelings were so all over the place I couldn’t keep them in check.
“No!” Ian said. “No, I’m not. It’s just . . . I’m worried about you, man.”
I knew he was just trying to be a good friend, but somehow this was the most humiliating utterance I’d heard yet. “Well, thanks, but I don’t need you to be worried about me. I need you to help me.” At that moment, I’ll admit it, I was desperate.
He rubbed his hands over his face, and I knew I was making him uncomfortable. I almost felt bad for putting him in a difficult spot, but this wasn’t a rash decision, it was my only choice. If Ian forsook me, there was absolutely no way out. I was going to have to go to my parents and tell them what I had done. I was going to have to deal with the very real consequences of throwing away my life’s savings, whatever they turned out to be.
“Come on, man. Please,” I said, knowing I was being pertinacious. “Just help me out this one time.”
Ian looked at me, and I could tell he was weighing his options. I begged him silently. If I couldn’t count on my friends, who could I count on? I couldn’t even imagine the depth of the pit I was going to fall into if he said no.
“Okay, fine,” he said finally with a sigh. “I’ll buy you in, but that’s it.”
I was so relieved I could have collapsed, but instead I gave him a quick hug. My gratitude was that ineffable.
“Yeah,” he said with a smile. “You better be indefatigable tonight.”
I grinned back. “That’s my plan,” I said.
It was, in fact, the only option. If I didn’t win, I was screwed.