“My parents sent me to live with my sister. Better schools. More opportunities.”

Mary understood that. As a child, she dreamed of living with another family, a family with a home, not just an apartment above a bar.

Mo, who had ordered a beer at her mother’s bar every day for over forty years, remembered, “That’s right, Joyce had a kid. Always sat in the back booth, coloring, doing homework. They grow up fast. One day a scrawny kid, the next, a girl with a full rack.”

Julio brought a complimentary plate of fried plantains with powdered sugar sprinkled on top. “Not quite as good as my sister’s. But not too bad.”

She took a bite. It was soft and sweet and luscious. She wasn’t sure why Julio’s kindness made her sad. She felt far from home, far from Frank and Matthew, from Carissa, as if the drive over the Sierra Mountains had unmoored her. She hoped the clinic would invigorate Carissa. Her daughter was talented, but lazy. Already, some of the less gifted girls who worked harder were gaining tricks on her. Instead of it spurring her on, Carissa pretended like she didn’t care.

The Starz mothers were late showing up at the casino door. Elaine had won three-hundred dollars and vowed to come back and double it. She rose up on her toes and clicked the heels of her red shoes, three times. “I’m feeling the magic,” she said.

Mary curled her toes, imagining how it would feel to be the girl who got to wear the red shoes.

At the gym, the girls were pulling on gym pants and warm-up jackets. A sizeable group of parents had managed to get back in to watch. It wasn’t fair. She’d followed all the rules. She overheard, “I can’t believe Barbs got rid of her noodle arms,” and “Lisa almost—almost—made her one-and-a-quarter twist.”

“What did I miss?” Mary asked Carissa. “Did you get your double back tuck?”

Carissa glared. “Will you quit asking me that?”

At the hotel, Mary checked into two adjoining rooms. The girls wanted to go down to the hot tub. They changed into bathing suits. Mary sat at a table under the shadow of a palm tree and drank from a bottle of spring water. The air was soft. Fronds rustled overhead. She closed her eyes, lulled into almost believing she was in Cuba. When she opened them, she didn’t see Carissa. She stood, searching to see if she had slipped underwater, but thank God, there she was, shrouded in thick steam, nose just above the water, pressing her back against a jet spray.

After the girls settled into their room for the night, Mary turned on the TV and adjusted the volume. She looked out the window. Above downtown Reno, a bowl of colored light hugged the sky. She thought about calling Frank, but instead texted Matthew. “How’s the dog?” She waited a minute, and he sent back, “Pd in hs 2x.” She texted, “Hahaha. Is Laurel over?” Nothing. She texted again. “What movie u watching?” She waited, but didn’t hear back.

 

She woke with a mild headache. She thought it might be the altitude. She’d never shaken the pressure against her eardrums from when she crossed the I-80 pass. She knocked on the girls’ door. “Get a move on.” Twenty minutes later they were in the lobby choosing from the complimentary breakfast selection. Mary spotted Elaine and the other Starz moms.

“We’re going to start at the Silver Legacy this morning, then work our way down Virginia Street. You in?” Elaine asked.

Carissa leaned in to listen. Mary handed her an apple.

“I don’t think so,” Mary said. “That was enough excitement last night.”

“But it was so much fun.” Elaine whispered confidentially, “Sometimes we moms have to let loose.”

“I really can’t.” Mary walked away, nudging Carissa to keep her moving.

“What was that about?” Carissa peeled the sticker off the apple. “Did you go somewhere with those moms?”

She didn’t like Carissa’s tone. “Just to dinner.”

“I heard those Starz moms are kind of wild.”

“Where would you hear a thing like that?”

Carissa shrugged. “The girls talk. They say the moms go out and get drunk during meets and stuff. Sometimes they forget to come back.”

“Well, that’s not what I did.”

“You were late. You’re never late.” She bit into the apple. Its red skin snapped.

Mary dumped her paper coffee cup in the trash. “Hurry up. Get your friends. We’re leaving.”

At Carissa’s age, Mary was helping at the bar, stacking beer cases in the storage room, rolling the trash out at night. Carissa had no idea how lucky she was to have a mother who always put her first.

They were among the first to arrive at the gym. Sophia announced that parents had to leave, no exceptions. They grumbled. A few pretended not to understand her Russian accent. She promised to allow them to watch the last hour on Sunday. “Eleven. Tomorrow. You go now. Only then I let you watch.”

Mary left as part of the herd. Outside, the parents separated into groups according to their daughters’ team affiliation. The Starz moms were gone. She felt like she was still the last kid on the playground to be chosen for a team.

She had twelve hours before she picked up the girls. Back at the hotel, she peeked inside the girls’ room. They’d tossed the clothes they’d worn yesterday onto the floor. They hadn’t unpacked. She found hangers. Phoebe, of course, brought expensive, inappropriate clothes. A sequined mini dress. A padded bra. A sheer white blouse with satin ribbons that tied peasant-style across the bust. She turned it inside out, looking for the label. She ran her fingertip along the seams. She had taught herself to sew in high school. She’d snitch a popular girl’s skirt or blouse from their locker during gym class and stuff it in her purse and take it home to copy. On Phoebe’s blouse, she picked at an end knob, testing the seam’s strength. She nibbled at it, wetting the hem and threads with her tongue. She could taste the subtle residue from the pricy Victoria’s Secret line of soap. Phoebe was a rich kid. A spoiled kid. Her teeth clamped down on the seam, and she tore into it.

In her room, she stuffed the blouse into the wastebasket and covered it with pages she ripped from Reno Lifestyle. She opened a can of Coke from the mini-bar. She ate a bag of M&M’s. She flopped on the bed and turned on the TV. Reno news and weather. She looked at her watch—eleven more hours. She pulled the blanket up around her neck and stared at the textured ceiling. If she squinted, the peaks and ridges looked like cheekbones, the pockmarks like accusatory eyes. Mary reached into her purse and swallowed an Ambien. She needed to rest, to sleep. The ceiling fan hummed and clicked and moaned, but shortly, she grew accustomed to its predictable sounds.

She woke six hours later, her headache gone. The afternoon sun hovered above the mountains, and the casino lights—the reds, greens, blues, and purples—were beginning to infuse the sky. She felt a tingling rift of electricity along the back of her tongue. What harm could it do to experience Reno? If she were lucky, she might win back the clinic fees she’d charged on the card.

She’d only packed jeans and Dynamo T-shirts, which were icky. She fished the peasant blouse out of the basket. She’d brought her mini-travel sewing kit, and it took only a few stitches to fix the seam.

It felt wrong, perverse, to slip the blouse over her head and drape the featherweight fabric against her skin, but it sent waves of icy shivers through her. She looked in the mirror. If she didn’t tie the ribbons, it almost fit. Underneath, her thick-strapped sports bra looked like a cropped black tee. She took a few side steps, bumping and swiveling her hips. She was no poo.

Outside her door, she tucked her key into the side pocket of her purse. She checked her cell phone. It was 4:36 p.m. The battery was low, but she could recharge when she got back.

Security cameras picked her up entering the casino. More than a few people who knew her muttered, “Whoa! Is that Mary?”

Inside, elderly people shuffled behind walkers. Men wearing billed hats and scuffed work boots gambled. Mary withdrew $100 from an ATM machine and headed for the blackjack tables, where she exchanged cash for chips. She’d played cards as a kid. Lucky Mary, a few regulars at the bar called her, although they had probably let her win.

She bet ten bucks. The dealer shuffled. She checked her hand. She tapped the table for another card. Over the next hour, she lost and won some. Eventually, she discovered the rhythm and quirks of the other players. She ordered the house special, a Pink Cadillac Margarita.

A man slid onto the stool beside her. He glanced at her growing pile of chips. “Can I get a lucky lady another one of those pretty drinks?”

He watched her play. He reminded her of Julio, except older. He wore a dress shirt and black slacks. He had thick, dark hair. A peppery mustache. His hands were clean, yet calloused, and he said he worked as an airplane mechanic at Fallon Station. She touched his hand to thank him for the second, maybe third drink, pausing to let her fingers graze the creases. She imagined him scrubbing them with pumice stone.

A few days later, the bar waitress was interviewed. She thought she remembered serving Mary five or six margaritas.

“Didn’t that seem excessive?” the reporter asked.

“This is Reno,” she said. “Everyone drinks.”

The man—his name was Leo—held Mary’s elbow as they navigated the labyrinth of gaming tables and slot machines, looking to cash out her chips. He was compact, muscular, and he guided her as if they were gliding across a dance floor. She knew it was growing late, but she didn’t want to look down at her watch. She felt pleasantly woozy. Her shoulders and hips swayed.

“Dynamo!”

Mary squealed, “Elaine! I want your shoes.” She sunk to her knees. She tapped them. Hard as shellac. “I’ll give you a hundred bucks. Please! Pretty please!”

“Trade,” Elaine said. “My feet are killing me.”

The women plopped down on the burgundy and gold carpeting and yanked off their shoes. Although the casino cameras didn’t catch it, a cell phone video surfaced. Elaine rubbed her feet. Mary clutched the red shoes to her chest. If not for their size and clothing, they looked like children, oblivious to the throng of adults around them.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 | Single Page