The whisper of my dress stung against sunburned thighs.
It serves you right. They told us the Puerto Rican sun was stronger than we were used to.
Hair piled high, faces made up, sporting sundresses and suit coats, my friends and I strolled through the casino. We wove through the smokey room in twos and threes, pretending we were old enough to be there. From time to time, a security guard would single someone out and ask for their ID. The rest of us would scatter as the unlucky teen was escorted to the door.
And another one bites the dust.
Finding myself alone as our numbers dwindled, I walked past the craps tables. Dave, a tall, green-eyed Sophomore winked at me and shook the dice. My stomach flipped; he was a year younger than me but cute.
The dice rolled across the table. Snake eyes. Dave tilted his chin, offering the chair beside him. I watched the House swipe away the losing chips and rattled my plastic bucket of nickels.
“Too rich for my blood.”
God, you’re such a dork.
I blushed and retreated into a sea of flashing, whirring slot machines.
I scanned the row. A bulky, embroidered bag occupied the only free chair. At the next machine, an older woman fed a steady stream of coins in the slot. Her black hair was plaited in a tidy braid, her dress coral pink and ruffled. She looked like she belonged.
I gave myself a pep talk.
The whole point of this trip was to practice your Spanish. How do you conjugate ‘sitting’, again?
“Disculpe me. ¿Hay alguien sentado aquí?”
The woman turned and studied me. Blonde hair. Sunburned skin. Bad accent. After an eternity, she grinned and gathered up the bag.
“Disculpe. You do not need the ‘me’.” Her English was heavily accented but voice kind.
I smiled back and settled in to lose the last of the nickles clattering around at the bottom of my cup. The timing was good. Curfew was right around the corner and our group chaperone, and Spanish teacher, Senor Skippy would notice if we were late.
There was an addictive rhythm to playing slots. Slip in the coin. Pull the lever. Watch the bar spin. Cherry. Seven. Bell. Repeat. Occasionally a few coins would spill out, just enough to keep things exciting. Never enough to come out ahead.
I glanced up to check on Dave. He caught my look and pointed to the clock. I nodded. It was nearly time to go.
I shivered when I realized Dave wasn’t the only person watching me. A security guard fixed a dark gaze on me. He was young, in his early twenties, with a stern, serious face and a pristine uniform of deep blue. I turned back to the machine and shrank into the seat.
Trying to look nonchalant, I fished the remaining three coins from my cup and tossed them into the slot. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the officer shift his feet.
Maybe this wasn’t a good idea. You’ve never been in trouble before.
I pulled the lever and the images whirled.
The dark man was moving down the row toward me.
My breath caught in my throat.
My machine burst into a riot of lights and bells. A silver flood of nickels poured from its gaping mouth. Eyes stared and a few cheers sounded out.
Frantic, I scooped the coins into my cup. I jumped as the officer appeared at my side.
“Excuse me. May I help you with that?” His accented English was perfect, spoken in a deep baritone.
Wordless, I accepted the second cup he was offering. Under the glare of the flashing lights, it took a lifetime for the stream of coins to abate. When it finally did, the officer took my elbow and led me across the room. My heart pounded.
You’re so busted.
I struggled to keep my features smooth when we stopped at the bursar.
“Ciento… trescientos… quinientos.”
Stunned, I slipped the bills into my purse.
“Senorita…” The officer flashed me a smile, teeth blazing white against cocoa skin. “Would you like to have a drink with me? Celebrate your win?”
Red-faced, I motioned towards the door. “I’m sorry. My boyfriend’s waiting.” I mumbled the lie and fled.
Outside Dave waited for me on a bench. I collapsed next to him, laughing hysterically. “Five hundred dollars is a lot of nickels!”
Dave pulled me up. “Awesome! You’re buying burritos on the way back.” He didn’t let go of my hand as we ambled down the street.