(Casino of Light stories are becoming something of a pet project of mine. I may eventually turn them into a novella but for now they can live here.)
Smooth black hair, slicked back and apparently impervious to the smoke of the blackjack pit gleamed thickly in the direct glare of the tiny spot lights shining down. Adding to the distraction was the fact that the royal blue shirt of the new dealer’s uniform actually looked good on him. He looked lean and fit, like he worked out every day and didn’t eat anything heavier than fish. It didn’t hurt that despite his shiny newness he looked like he had been dealing cards for years already. The sense of self-assurance coming off him was astounding. Tasting jealousy on the back of his tongue Shane watched from the corner of his eye as he dealt his own game. That guy is about two days into his job, he thought, and had the grace of a cheetah. Judgmental of his own movements by comparison he made a point to smooth out his card placement and to make his payouts clean and precise, not letting the chips click together any louder than necessary and setting them politely beside the winning wagers. On his other side he could hear Geoff table-slamming with his cards and thunking chips down like they were rocks. Geoff wouldn’t know how deal a clean game if you moved his hands for him. Shane focused himself and picked up his pace, sweeping his hand across the layout, palm up to open the new hand. His forehead was spotted with small beads of perspiration from the spot lights. Those things really heated a table up when there were players present.
“Envy is a strong motivator, I see.” The greasy voice appeared in Shane’s mind like a dirty smear. He didn’t twitch even a hair to show he was listening. “Keep humping rookie. That girl will move into a suit before you will but, you might get there yet.” Jonathan laughed softly, just over Shane’s left shoulder. The laugh was creepy enough to give him the feeling that Ol’ Shiny Suit might actually have a body in his basement. Then he realized what he had just heard and stopped dead.
“Girl?” The timbre of his voice cracked in surprise and he turned his head a fraction, catching sight of Jonathan’s ridiculous poofy blonde hair. All this guy needed was red lipstick and a bulbous nose and his clown costume would be complete.
“Yup.” Jonathan flashed a crocodile grin. “That’s a lady my friend. And she is slaying hearts left and right back of house.” A friendly elbow in the arm. “You have some serious competition pretty boy.” Shane got a hold of himself and gave Jonathan what he hoped was a casual shrug.
“Bets are closed,” he said and dealt out the cards.
On break Shane grabbed his tablet from his backpack hung on the coat rack and headed for the third floor break room, intending to bury himself in his current read for a few minutes. The sounds around him faded to a muffle as he swiped his finger across the tablet and touched the book icon. The fluorescent light from above, much brighter than the carefully controlled lighting on the main floor, gleamed against the tablet’s face, creating an annoying bright spot that he found himself staring at instead of through. Shifting around he looked for a position that moved the light off the tablet so he could read. Once he found the sweet spot he stretched his legs and moved to prop one foot on the seat of the chair opposite him. His foot found emptiness. Looking up in surprise he found Charles smirking at him from the other side of the table, his pale face lit up with enjoyment and holding the chair just out of reach. Shane gave him an impressed grin.
“What’s up Chuck?” The greeting never failed to amuse Shane though he knew it bugged the crap out of Charles. Chuck smiled blandly and sat down.
“There’s a new class sign up sheet posted for dice. Are you going to try to get in it?” Charles delivered this information with very little vocal inflection though his pale eyebrows moved up and down with excessive animation. Wondering for the millionth time if Charles might actually be tone deaf Shane raised an interested eye at him.
“Will you sign up with me?” Charles went very still, his greenish brown eyes becoming a bit unfocused. Shane recognized this as Charles’s basic bug instincts kicking in, the whole don’t move and no one will see me routine. “Come on Chuck, you have great math skills. Dice would be a breeze for you.” Charles shrugged thin shoulders that wardrobe couldn’t seem to fit properly. His shirts were always too small in the neck, his top button held closed with an extender because his shoulders were abnormally small and narrow. “We’ve talked about doing this together so many times.” Charles focused and gave him a slow, feline blink. Shane chuckled. “I know you want to.”
“What was that?”” Shane leaned dramatically forward and cupped a hand around his ear. “I didn’t catch it.”
“I said yes.” The volume was a little higher but not much. A large woman with goddess braids and wearing a teal shirt that marked her as belonging to the Slot Department began a slow clap as she passed.
“Congratulations!” she gushed obnoxiously. “He said yes.” Shane shot her an exaggerated look of happiness that he let slip into a serial-killer-clown grin. The woman’s look of nosey humor winked out like a lamp and she kept moving. He gave Charles a sly wink.
“Great! Let’s go get our names on that list before it fills up.” Shane closed the tablet’s app and toggled it into blackness before standing up. “Ready?” Charles nodded and tugged nervously at his short ponytail. “Relax,” Shane said. “Don’t eat your hair.” Charles snorted.
“I don’t eat my hair.”
“Not yet.” Shane lead the way toward the elevator to the first floor. “But once you get into that class there’s no telling.”
The first floor break room was packed. Careful to not step on any of the legs sprawled out around the tables and couches Shane moved toward the cork board and found the sign up sheet. Grabbing a pen from the nearest table he scribbled his name on the first open line then turned to hand Charles the pen. His friend was standing frozen, face slack, eyes fixed in place. Shane drew back a bit in surprise and waved a hand across Charles’s face.
“Earth to Chuck.” Charles blinked a little and his eyes slowly focused to follow Shane’s hand. Shane looked around, wondering what had so alarmingly captivated his friend. It was only a seconds before he spotted her. Sitting cross legged on the sagging leather couch was the new dealer, staring down at her phone and paying zero attention to them. Taking advantage of the opportunity to indulge his curiosity Shane looked for a sign that she was actually a she. He couldn’t see her throat from this angle so judging by the absence of an Adam’s Apple wouldn’t work. The cheekbones were sharp and the forehead was high, fully exposed by the nicely oiled, swept back hair that was cut short and shaved on the neck and sides. The build was all wrong for a woman, squared and broad shouldered, tapering downward in a slight vee. He couldn’t see any actual signs of breasts. Could she be trans? To his horror she picked that moment to look up and see him staring at her.
“Take a picture, it’ll last longer.” Her voice was deep and smooth but carried a slight lilt. Shane felt his face get very hot. Charles looked down at the floor and turned to solid stone.
“Sorry,” Shane stammered. “You’re new?”
“Second day,” she stated and smiled at him with perfect teeth. Letting go of her phone she extended her hand. “I’m Camila.” Shane stepped forward to shake it and glanced at her throat. There was a slight curve where the Adam’s Apple was but not overly pronounced like his own. Her hand was very warm and long fingered, her grip quite firm.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Shane.” Almost as an afterthought he hitched a thumb behind him. “That’s Charles.” Camila tilted her head to look past him and smiled at Chuck.
“Nice to meet you both.” To his credit Charles managed a bobble-head impression. Good boy, Shane thought encouragingly. Looking amused Camila pointed her chin at Charles.
“I believe you were going to write your name on that paper?” So she had been paying attention. Shane looked at the round clock on the wall as she spoke. It was 11:15 pm.
“Holy crap Chuck! Get a move on. We have to go.” He pressed the pen into Charles’s hand. “Come on buddy, sign it.” Charles closed his fingers around the pen and very stiffly turned to write his name directly below Shane’s, his signature shaky but legible.
“Done!” he croaked a bit too loudly. Shane did a slight double-take at him.
“Great, let’s go.”
“I’m at the other end.” Charles said loudly. ” I’ll see you later.” He practically ran out of the room, his miniature pony tail poking straight out behind him. Camila chuckled and stood up, slipping her phone into the green canvas bag at her feet and shoving the whole thing back against the wall.
“He’s in a serious hurry. Is his table very far away?”
“Huh?” Aware that his jaw had swung slightly open Shane forced it shut and pulled his eyes away from Charles’s shrinking figure. “Oh, no. Not any farther than ours.” Feeling like he had just missed something he lead the way out the door onto the main floor.
(More Casino of Light here)