“Eight ball, corner pocket,” Shane called out. His trembling hands coated the pool stick in slippery sweat, making it difficult to position his shot.
Sergio leaned against the pool table, a smirk slowly bleeding across his face. “You just called your fate, ese.”
Gripping the pool stick, Shane lowered himself to the table and attempted to line up his shot. His rapidly pounding heart reminded him of how ridiculous it was that his fate and the fate of his wife and kid rested on a simple game of pool.
His mind tried to trace the events that led him here…
He caught his wife cheating with his best friend.
That’s really what sparked everything off. He spotted them together on the Boulevard late one Friday night when Val was supposed to be working, and Frank was supposed to be out of town.
Shane decided not to call them out on their infidelity. He left the Boulevard in a rage, went to the club, and placed some bets with their savings in hopes of making enough to allow him to divorce Val and move out on his own. An unemployed electrician in South Heights, Shane had to rely on Val’s income to provide for their family’s needs, in many ways emasculating Shane and causing various degrees of tension in the Mark household.
No longer, he told himself as he threw his chips on the poker table.
He lost everything.
He went home in shame, thoughts of suicide racing through his mind. But when he stepped into their modest two-story home, he was caught off-guard by a surprise birthday party Val had put together. With all of their friends and family and a multitude of jovial balloons gathered in the foyer, Val and Frank both readily unwrapping a new mountain bike they had purchased jointly for Shane, he realized his own idiocy.
Val forgave him his mistake, but forgiveness was not enough for Shane. Guilt-ridden, he ventured to an old colleague on the seedier side of town and took out a loan, returning to the club to try and win back their savings.
Now he stood here, before the age-worn pool table in some parlor miles from home, columns of smoke drifting through the pool hall like the ghosts of those who came before him and perished under their own stupidity.
“You said everything is wiped clean if I win this game,” Shane said to Sergio.
The man nodded confirmation, but his smirk had engulfed his whole face. “Sure, ese. Sure, we’ll do a clean slate. Your debt, your loan, will be forgiven.”
The word rolled around Shane’s mind and then dropped into his chest like a hot coal. Val had forgiven him for the first offense. What about this one? Even if he won this game, even if he did indeed shoot the eight ball into the corner pocket, what was next? He would have to face Val. Forgiveness would not be in the cards. They would have to face the fact that he had destroyed their savings account on an emotional whim, that he had deceived her, not once but twice.
“Ese, you need to shoot that damn ball into the corner pocket. I have things to do. Your wife will be one of them if you lose this game.”
Shane took a deep breath, lined up his shot, and struck the white cue ball. It rolled across the table – like Val in her white wedding dress, running through the green grassy fields of their old farmhouse – and struck the black shadow of the menacing eight ball.
It was over before he could exhale. The eight ball missed the pocket by a hair.
Sergio’s smirk turned into a wolfish grin. “Now I’m going to ride with you to your house, and we’re going to settle in for a long night together – you, me, your wife and daughter. I have some friends-“
Her presence filled the room like light in a dark cavern. Val strode fluidly to Sergio like the commander of an army, her bright blond hair flowing like a banner behind her head. She ignored Shane and thrust a thick white envelope against Sergio’s chest. “There should be enough there to compensate you for your trouble,” she said. Then she turned, took Shane by the hand, and pulled him toward the exit.
“Good doing business with you,” Sergio called out from behind them.
Questions filled Shane’s head, but his heart was consumed with the warmth of Val’s hand, and the forgiveness and redemption that hand bestowed…