Soon enough, the difference between winning and losing became moot. I just needed to play — more than I needed Lila, and I lost her. A small twisting knife of pain and regret took over her place in my heart. The only consolation, twisted as it might be, was that in the last few months, I was so out of control she would have left me if I hadn’t left first. I only had myself to blame and made myself pay for it every day for the past two years. Which was why I couldn’t live with anyone else. Besides Lucky anyway. And why I couldn’t give him up. He gave me love without judgment. What a thing.
It took a lot of strength. Yet somehow, I managed to suppress the depressing memories, as well as the urges to drink and jump out a window — not always in that order — that tended to come along with such remembrances. I needed to stay positive and stay alive. Lucky needed me. And not only to find us a new place to live, so we wouldn’t end up sleeping in my car. Even though I would have if that was what it would take.
With a deep, cleansing breath, I went back to the breakroom for some much needed coffee. A large cup of joe and about ten, poorly played, games of Space Invaders later, I ventured out into the office space to try and at least make a show at doing work. Settling back at my desk, I booted up my computer and prepared to write some kick-ass copy.
I was really the only writer in a den of artists. The only one who seemed to be able to empathize with my distinction was Chris, the art director with the design fetish who really didn’t understand music the way people like I did, despite coming from a family of musicians. We had both embraced our difference and bonded over it. If I had any friends, it would have to be Chris. Though Camilla seemed to like me too in her way. I would be the first to admit I could be a bit hard to take, so the fact I had anything close to friends was a relief and more than I really expected.
Switching from tape deck to Walkman, I started up Dance With Me. By far the darkest of all the T.S.O.L. albums. A distinction akin to being the coldest part of Antarctica. The volume was up, as it so often was when I was working. One of my few concessions to modern tech was a pair of noise-canceling headphones, which made it, so all I could hear was all the low-fi goodness, coming from America’s last real rebels, who were punks in the ’80s and got to be even more so as they got into their fifties. The band was so dedicated to the absurdist rejection of absolute states, including conceptions of genres and even names, they never released an album in the same style twice. Punk was the only commonality, and frontman Jack Grisham was credited with a different name, usually an anagram of his given moniker, on the credits of every one of them. Real dedication to the idea of being able to start fresh. I was trying to take it as an inspiration.
With music screaming into my ears, it was a wonder I could even hear her. Not only because of the headphones but also because of the distance between my cubicle and the reception desk. Yet I did. Or at least I thought I had. I had just been remembering her and hadn’t thought to see if I had a head injury. There was more than a moderate chance that I was just hallucinating the whole thing. It wouldn’t have been the oddest thing that had happened to me — even that day.
I lowered the headphones, ears still ringing from the raging decibels of fury, but the sound was still there, the unmistakable tone of Lila’s voice. As though on autopilot, I rose from my chair, bumping it with the back of my legs, sending the thing rolling clear across the cubicle until it crashed across the opposite wall.
My mind was racing. Mostly, it was trying to figure out just what the hell my legs were playing at. I didn’t want to see her. Even though I did. I missed Lila so much, a small, insane part of my mind actually believed that if I could only see her again, everything would be okay. Even though I had absolutely no idea what I was going to say if such a reunion would ever come to pass.
It was her. It was really her, standing at the reception desk — being checked in by Camilla. I still couldn’t see Lila’s heart-shaped face, but I would know her anywhere. Her blonde hair had grown down to her hips, usually kept in a very intricate braid. Her petite frame had filled out a little more, all curves and full, perky breasts. The blue suit she wore was prim, immediately indicating that she no longer worked as a dealer at my father’s casino.