He was grooming carefully, straightening imaginary wrinkles, brushing away non-existent dust, touching up his hair. Finally, he seemed satisfied. Winking at himself in the mirror, he turned and headed for the door.
"Going out, Face?" Tawnia had watched the performance closely, always fascinated by the meticulous preparations. The team had just returned from a mission that had turned out nastily; they were all feeling drained and out of sorts. She was frankly surprised that Face had any energy to go out at all.
"For a bit."
"No, just a little amusement."
"Mind if I come along?" She smiled sweetly, hoping to sway him. His term, 'amusement', piqued her curiosity. She'd often wondered what Face did with his time when he didn't have a beautiful woman on his arm.
Face glanced at her, hesitant. He didn't really care to have company on this particular jaunt. Not even the other guys knew about this. He wasn't sure they would approve if they did. Then again, Tawnia might just learn something she needed to. Especially if she was going to hang around the team.
He smiled at her. "Sure, you can come. On one condition..."
Tawnia was already next to him, ready to leave. Uh-oh. Now what?
"You don't tell anyone about this. No one. And you keep your mouth shut while we're there."
She looked at him, suspicious.
"Take it or leave it." He opened the door and walked out.
Taking a deep breath, hoping she hadn't bit off more than she could chew, Tawnia hurried after him.
Face sat at the table, watching the dealer's cards carefully. He himself sat with a nine and a seven. Logic, the 'rules', said he should stand. He never did on 16. Never. There was always a chance...
Tawnia had been watching him for almost two hours. She'd nearly fainted when he plucked down five grand in chips and began to bet in $100 increments. But then, she was shocked when they'd pulled up to the casino. She had never thought of Face as a gambler, and was quite sure none of the others had any idea. She'd heard Face himself say that gambling was just a way to throw away good money.
Sure enough, he lost the hand. And just like with the other hands he'd lost, he never varied the look on his face. It was the same, win or lose. Just intensity, with a little sparkle in his eye. A strange mix. She had started to say something after he'd lost several hands in a row, several hundred dollars in a row, but he only glared at her, a silent reminder of their agreement. So she'd kept quiet.
Face's luck went up and down. At one point, he was ahead nearly $2000. Within moments he was down that much. Eventually, his stack of chips dwindled down to nothing. He smiled at the dealer, who smiled back with a familiarity that told Tawnia they'd both been this route before. As they wandered casually through the casino to the front door, Face waved nonchalantly, or smiled easily, at various dealers, waitresses, and floor managers. It was obviously not the first time he'd been there.
Tawnia finally broke her silence as they walked through the very early morning coolness to the car.
"How can you lose $5000 and act so happy about it?"
Face stopped and looked up at the sky, a small smile on his face.
"Because I love the game."
"But you said gambling..."
"Gambling is a waste of time and money. I wasn't here to gamble. I was here to play the game." He looked at her, still smiling. "It's what we do, Tawnia. We play the game. Doesn't even matter how much we win, really. As long as we don't worry about the odds, only about the love of the game, we can keep playing. And every time we win, it just means we can play a little longer. That's really what it's all about."
Tawnia stared at him, beginning to understand.
"So why is this such a secret?"
Face shrugged. He'd wanted Tawnia to understand something about the team. Personal disclosures were not included in the deal. He wouldn't tell her that sometimes he needed to play a game with nothing more valuable than money at stake. To get the joy back. To remind himself what it felt like.
"The guys don't care much for gambling, that's all. So it's my private little vice." Smiling once more, he started walking to the car. "C'mon, let's go home."