This is part two of my story for National Novel Writing Month. You can start at the beginning by clicking here: Story Time
I was feeling better for having talked about Amanda's death but I knew I needed some lunch after the scotch I'd had. I felt that more than I really liked to and was feeling somewhat ashamed for resorting to it. I'd not done that much in the past year, which was one small blessing. One of my favorite restaurants in Gulfport was in this casino and I led the way. As usual during the week it was not at all crowded so Stew and I just took a seat near the windows that afforded a view of the shrimp boat fleet that docked nearby.
"How are you feeling?" Stew asked when we sat down.
I'm not sure if he asked because of the scotch I'd had or because of what I'd told him so far.
"Better. I guess I needed to talk about it. I really have not talked about it since it happened. I suppose I was trying to escape thinking about it by just trying not to even think about it too much."
"That's probably natural," Stew said. "You don't have to go on you know."
"I know but it'll help to talk about how I came to be here now I think." I told him, pausing when the waitress came and took our orders when she left I continued where I'd left off down in the bar.
The night after the funeral everybody had left and I was alone with Logan, Casey and Justin. I was sitting on the couch in the family room and Casey came over, sat on my lap and hugged me. She was twenty at the time and had not done that for a very long time.
She slid off to sit beside me but held my hand and looked at me with the big brown eyes she got from Amanda. "Is there anything we can do for you Daddy?" She wiped the tears out of her eyes.
"All we can do is just be here for each other I guess," I said automatically, but thinking it sounded a little lame.
Justin was biting his lip and I could tell something was bothering him. "You look like you have something on your mind Justin. More than just missing you mom I mean."
He took a deep breath and finally said, "Dad I can get more hours and help out with things if I need to."
I was touched but knew how unnecessary that was going to be. Justin was 17 but had always been a bit of a worrier. He also was not at all financially astute. He'd resisted all of our efforts to teach him to save or budget. He lived in the moment like a lot of teenagers. Logan had spoiled us.
It was Logan who went over to his brother and tousled his hair saying, "More hours wouldn't hurt you but nobody is gonna miss a meal or evict you all from the house even with mom gone squirt."
Amazingly Justin looked relieved at what Logan was saying and didn't object as usual to having his hair ruffled or being called squirt, both of which usually set off an argument if not a fight. He looked at me for confirmation.
"He's right Justin. We've got a lot of savings and your mom had a lot of insurance. Things can go on pretty much just as they are. I'm just not sure what I'm going to do."
"Oh dad!" Casey said thinking I had meant just that I was going to miss Amanda.
Of course I would but I meant something else. Only Logan really had any idea what I meant. We'd talked about it a bit when he'd moved into his own apartment a couple of years before.
For twenty years I'd been a stay at home dad. I'd never really had any other occupation. Over the years we'd acquired a few houses that we fixed up and rented and I took care of that stuff but it was not usually time consuming. As the children got older things had begun to change.
It always seemed to me that most people expected that I'd get a job as the kids got older. After all they didn't need me in constant attendance. Amanda had been ambivalent to that. She had always been supportive of anything I wanted to do for the most part as long as it wasn't too harebrained a scheme. She'd told me many times when I was questioning my future that I could get a job if I really wanted to but had not seemed to understand how I could think about giving up the freedom I had.
What she didn't really say was that I'd most likely not be able to get a job that made a really significant improvement to our income. She was paid very well for what she did and without going to college for a degree I was not going to add all that much to that. I'd thought of all that of course and I'd be a nearly fifty year old rookie in whatever new field I got into. That was not an appealing idea particularly.
Another of her concerns that she never voiced but that I think I knew was that she liked having me home when she was here most of the time. I had started traveling a little without her and she generally took that well. We'd taken a summer vacation to Gulfport, Mississippi after a co-worker had told her about it and all the fun they'd had. We'd all had fun and I'd discovered that I got a kick out of the casinos.
I'd always played poker and the one social event I participated in with any regularity was a more or less weekly poker game that some of the people that worked with her had. It was at that game that I'd first heard about online poker.
I've always been a computer nerd. The things have always fascinated me. That is probably the thing that Justin and I share the most. Online poker was totally addictive to me. I'd been introduced to Texas Hold'em in the weekly home game. I'd resisted it having grown up playing Stud but gave in to the inevitability of it because it was clear I was just about the only hold out.
Until I began to play online though I was never any good at it. Once I began to play online I read some online tutorials and finally went out and bought a book. That led to another book and another. It took on a life of it's own and I was soon playing a lot online, probably thirty to forty hours a week.
Amanda had liked our summer trip to the Gulfport area and had suggested a Christmas trip to Vegas that year. It was in part an effort to avoid the inevitable tension that occurred when we'd have to spend Christmas with her mother and her brother and his family. Her mother always accepted me ok and treated me decently but her brother had never accepted that being a stay at home dad was a useful thing for a guy to do. In all fairness I guess it wasn't just me. He pretty much insisted his wife work and Amanda and I always thought their four kids suffered for it. They certainly had not turned out as well as ours had and that was not just proud parents being biased.
That Christmas trip in Vegas had started me on this path I'm on now. It was out last Christmas together and looking back I'm so glad we spent it as we did. It was, we both agreed, one of the best Christmases we'd ever spent together even though we were not at home.
In Gulfport I'd played some poker but it was before I'd gotten serious about it and had really tried to learn the game so it had not gone well. In Vegas I had a lot of time online under my belt and it had made a big difference.
The MGM ran a daily tournament and Amanda had picked up a flyer for it. It was her idea that I play. To her tournaments made more sense that cash games because you limited your losses. Based on how I'd one in Gulfport and the fact that I was not a net winner in the home games I can't blame her thinking that way. I knew I'd changed my game but had no proof to show her really other than that I was winning online.
It was not an expensive tournament and I did enjoy them so I did it. Amanda shadowed me from the rail, watching me the entire time I was playing. It was like we'd found something new to share and when you've been married as long as we had that was always a precious thing. I'm not sure if I had really improved my game, if I was just having good luck, or if I wanted to play my best to impress Amanda but I went on to place third in that tournament out of a field of over 90 players. Financially it was not a windfall to us but as frugal as we both tended to be winning almost $700 was really cool.
Even more cool was how excited she had been watching me and how appreciative she was afterwards. It felt good having her telling me how great I'd done. We celebrated by taking the whole family to a show and dinner. That pretty much ate up the profits but it was a fantastic night.
I played that tournament the rest of the time we were in town, three more days. I made the final table two more times getting eight and on the last day fourth. I was disappointed I'd not managed to win but knew I'd been lucky to do what I had. Amanda had been totally thrilled and I was on top of the world.
It had been at her urging that I went to Gulfport not long after we got back from Vegas. I gave her regular reports and it was almost like she was there. I did well in the cash games there and in Biloxi but didn't make a final table in a tournament.
She thought it was great I'd made enough to pay for the trip though. The idea of being able to get 'free' vacations thrilled her. She always had a side to her that I called cheap and she smilingly called frugal. It was a running joke with us so being able to take what was essentially a free vacation was a great thing.
I went two more times between then and that day in March. Both times I came back with more than I went with. She had begun to refer to me as 'her poker pro'. I knew that was far from the truth but it felt nice to have her think that way.
Now I was sitting there on the couch with my children after the funeral and I had some tough decisions to make. True I'd made money playing poker but not a whole lot. I'd viewed the trips and what we'd called them 'free vacations', not as work. I didn't know that I could continue to do that now. I felt like I should maybe get a 'real' job even though when I thought about it even now it wouldn't help the finances that much. Another factor was that it had been something Amanda and I had shared even when she didn't actually accompany me.
Logan knew what I was thinking. I think it had been on his mind too. He'd never shown any real interest in poker but had seemed to think my interest was cool somehow. He confirmed what he was thinking when he said, "You're going to keep playing poker aren't you dad? Mom was all for it and you seem to love it. I think it would dumb as hell for you to get some nine to five job just because some stupid relatives who will remain nameless think that is right."
I had to smile at that. Logan was never one to hide what he was feeling. Probably one reason he didn't like poker. "I figured you had a long talk with your uncle Chris Logan."
"He threatened to beat the snot out of him," Justin chimed in ignoring Logan's warning glare. Beside me I saw Casey smile. "Uncle Chris backed right down. Logan told him that if he couldn't be civil to you then he'd better not show up at the funeral. He didn't care if it was his sister, she was our mom and your wife and if he didn't start treating you with respect he was gonna get pounded."
"Shut up Justin," Logan said.
"He was great dad," Casey said smiling.
"I just got tired of his attitude. I don't know why you took it so frigging long dad." Logan said.
"He is your mom's brother Logan and if we argued it upset both your mom and your grandmother. I've never been much on confrontations anyway. Your mom and I agreed years ago to just ignore him and stay away when we could."
"Well it's still not right." Logan said defiantly. "I think if you want to play poker you should. You love it and you know damn well you can afford to. Hell you mighteven get rich doing it."
I stood up then and hugged him. "Thank you Logan."
Then I voiced what was really bothering me. "I don't know that I can take out of town trips now though. Seems to me I should stick around home with mom gone."
Logan looked disgusted. "Dad I'm not even living at home. Casey is twenty years old and even the squirt can take care of him self. Besides Casey said she had no plans to move out soon."
"Dad we would be fine if you still want to take trips like the ones you took this year." Casey said.
Justin was still glaring at Logan for calling him squirt but then turned to me and said pretty much the same thing.
"We'll see," was all I said. "I'm not going to rush into anything. This is going to be a rough period and we're all just going to have to play it by ear for a while."
"Obviously you decided to give it a try," Up to that point Stew had just let me talk as we ate saying only enough to let me know he was paying attention.
"Yeah. I moped around for six months feeling sorry for myself. I played online. I studied. I explored lots of other options. In the end though after a lot of lobbying on the part of all three of the kids I decided to go for it. I've been given a gift in a way, an opportunity not many people get. It seems stupid not to take advantage of it. I still don't know if it's the right thing or not. I don't know if I can do it."
"You know what I think?" Stew asked.
"What?" I was curious. It was the first hint of a suggestion or even comment he'd had to add.
"I think you love the game and have a lot of promise. Yeah there is luck involved but you've been given an opportunity. I think you need to go for it. If it helps don't do it for you, do it for your Amanda. What better thing to do since it's the last thing you two shared together? I'm not saying that you should vow to win the World Series of Poker for her. That probably would be unrealistic, something you only see in a TV movie, but you can carry on and always have a little piece of what you two shared this way."
That brought tears to my eyes at the same time it opened them. That was exactly how I'd been looking at it but had been afraid to admit it even to myself. It was how I could move on and still forever keep a piece of Amanda with me.
I thanked him for the insight and for listening. We switched to other, lighter subjects and after a brief argument over the check, which I won. Stew and I went back up to the poker room for an enjoyable afternoon session of poker.