Tony stretched and groaned, feeling disoriented as his eyes cracked open to seek out the bedside clock. It read nine-thirty.
Is that a.m. or p.m.? And where am I?
The second question was answered as consciousness intensified its grip, and he recalled the trip to Las Vegas. The first question wasn’t quite so easy.
The room was dark, leading him to believe it was nighttime, but had he really slept over eighteen hours? The damn hotel blackout curtains that he usually considered a blessing were being a pain in his ass. If his phone wasn’t still in his pants pocket across the room, he would know for sure. Maybe Lilah had hers.
He stretched his leg to nudge her awake and ask, but her legs weren’t where they should be. His arm followed, stretching out and sweeping over her side of the bed. He was rewarded with nothing but cold, empty space.
Where the hell is she?
They were in a good – okay, decent – place when they fell into an exhausted sleep about two this morning, so he didn’t think she would’ve hightailed it out of here and left him behind. What did he know, though? He was just a man.
Peering around the blackened room didn’t tell him shit, so he pawed the nightstand for his glasses and slid them on. He couldn’t reach the lamp, but a quick push up on his elbow put him in a position to flick the switch.
Immediately, the light turned the murky shapes into meaningful objects and he made a quick assessment of his surroundings, finding two very helpful things. Her nightgown was still here, tossed over one of the stuffed chairs. Her suitcase was also still here, on the other chair, where she’d opened it to get out the nightgown.
Okay, she’s not gone gone.
His abandonment issues resolved, he fell back into the mattress and called out, “Lilah!”
Not receiving the expected – or any – answer from the bathroom, he sighed and snapped back the covers. It was time to drain the main vein, anyway, so he’d check it out for himself.
As the lack of response indicated, there was no Lilah, but he did find a note propped against the mirror.
Text me when you get up. -L
Mollified, Tony tended to more pressing morning matters before shuffling back out to the bedroom. A couple more hours’ sleep were begging him to claim them, but he grabbed his phone before he lay down. Checking the time, he discovered it was morning instead of night, making it no surprise that he was still dragging ass.
He yawned loudly and tapped out the requested text message.
[9:34 AM]TONY: Hey.
[9:36 AM]LILAH: Hi. I have stuff I want to do today, so you’re on your own until dinner.
He didn’t really care what she was doing, but, since they were trying to make improvements, he asked.
[9:37 AM]TONY: What stuff?
[9:38 AM]LILAH: Looking for some new shiny shit. Nothing you’d be interested in, but I’m going to use the Visa card.
Other than being grateful for the fact she might be buying non-legging clothes, he had zero interest in a shopping trip, so she had that part right. As for the credit card, why not? They’d be out of debt very soon, so it wouldn’t hurt to charge a few things.
[9:38 AM]TONY: Ok
[9:39 AM]LILAH: Meet you at the David Copperfield Theater around 6? Can you find us someplace for dinner?
He had no idea where the David Copperfield Theater was, but it couldn’t be that hard to find.
[9:40 AM]TONY: Yeah
[9:40 AM]LILAH: Thanks.
Dropping the phone to his chest, he closed his eyes and calculated that he had eight hours and twenty minutes to do whatever he wanted. The way he felt right now, he may spend eight hours sleeping and twenty minutes showering.
Yawning again, he parked both his glasses and phone on nightstand before rolling to his side and burrowing down into the blankets. He was hovering just on the edge of blissful unconsciousness when he was abruptly dragged back by an obnoxious ringtone blaring in his ear.
Why didn’t I mute the phone?
”Motherfucker,” he swore under his breath and snatched it up, his heart racing at the rude ass awakening. “What?”
“You never were a morning person.”
Jon’s amusement did nothing but piss Tony off.
“I was up late, I’m still tired and I don’t find you fucking funny.”
“Yes, but were you up late having kinky, perverted sex or arguing with your wife? One ain’t too bad to suffer through. The other makes you never wanna get up.”
“Definitely not the first one.”
“Plain old garden variety sex?”
“Not that either.” Lilah probably wouldn't have denied him, but both of them had been physically and emotionally drained. Going to separate sides of the bed with a simple goodnight was all the effort he’d been up to, and she’d offered no complaints.
“Things aren’t goin’ so well, then,” Jon observed dryly.
“Things are goin’ okay. One step at a time.”
“Is she listening to you?”
Tony’s forehead crinkled. “What? You mean now? No. She’s out.”
“Good. We need to talk.”
No good ever came of those four words. Granted, this was his brother and not the woman in his life, but still. He could want back the two thousand dollars that was sitting in Tony’s wallet. He could’ve changed his mind about the mortgages. He could be calling for an extra pound of flesh, to make him feel as if he was getting his money’s worth out of the deal. Who knew?
“When will you be back in Jersey?”
Tony closed his eyes and tried to remember, but he had nothing. All he could come up with was the desk clerk saying something about six nights. “I dunno. What’s today, Wednesday?”
“Jesus, you’re barely out the door and already lost track of the days? Yeah, it’s Wednesday.”
“Fuck you,” he droned without much enthusiasm. “Monday, maybe? Tuesday? Lilah made all the reservations, so I’d have to ask. Why?”
“Because,” his brother said sarcastically. “I’d like to tie up this extortion plan of yours before you change your mind and bail on my tour. Or Lilah changes your mind with some kinda marriage therapy pussy promises.”
Despite his best effort, Tony couldn’t help but let a low chuckle roll out. “I’d like to be offered some pussy promises, but I doubt they’d change my mind about this.”
“Jesus, you’re clueless,” Jon sighed dramatically. “As your older brother, and a man who has been married a ridiculous amount of years, it’s my obligation to warn you, I guess.”
“Uh, warn me about what?”
“This is serious shit. Don’t take this lightly, or it’ll ruin you, I swear to God.”
Tony didn’t know about all that, but after all that hype he was definitely curious, so he’d bite. “Serious shit. Got it. Now what is it?”
“Listen closely, because it is critical that you never – and I mean never, ever – underestimate the power of pussy.”
Really? His brother did not really just say that without laughing. Tony could barely run the words through his mind with a straight face, and decided that Jon must’ve started drinking early today.
“Okay there, Jersey Confucius. I’m pretty sure you offered me this same bit of wisdom when I was seventeen.”
“It’s the same, yet different, when you’re married. It bears repeating.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “So, yeah. A woman can get anything she wants by giving you pussy. Make sure you wanna give what she wants to take before you avail yourself of the pussy, no matter how hot and wet it is. That about cover it?”
“I see you’re skeptical,” the eldest Bongiovi son chided his little brother. “But this isn’t something to laugh about. I’m serious, because when she withholds pussy now, it’s a helluva lot harder to just move onto the next willing contestant. Damn wedding ring gives the pussy super powers.”
“You realize how fucking stupid you sound?”
“Hey, I’m not the one whose marriage is on the skids. Seems like that makes you the stupid one.”
Jon was a smart guy and Tony had no qualms about admitting that. There were some days, though, that he wondered if his brother had gone back to the days of recreational pharmaceuticals. Maybe it was the poetic soul song writing shit or something, but it wigged Tony out when he started this philosophical mumbo jumbo.
About pussy, no less.
“Okay, well, I’ll keep all that in mind. Thanks.”
“See that you do.”
“How are my kids?”
Jon snorted. “They’re hellions. Other than that, fine. Right now, I think they’re refusing to eat lunch because it doesn’t include some kind of fish fruit or something.”
Finding Dory fruit snacks. It was their current obsession, he’d found out when opening the cabinet to fifteen boxes of the damn things. Lilah said it was the only control she had over their behavior at the table. They loved the things so much that she parked a few of them in a separate little container, which the kids couldn’t have unless they finished their meal without arguing, kicking or picking at one another.
“You might wanna get some of those,” Tony suggested and filled him in on the story. “I’m surprised Lilah didn’t send some.”
“As I recall, she was a little preoccupied with other things at the time,” his brother reminded. “But that’s none of my business. I’ll be in touch when I get the closing date on the house.”
He’d fully expected Jon to disconnect the call with that, but for some reason he hesitated.
“For whatever it’s worth, I hope things work out for you guys.”
“Yeah? I thought you didn’t like Lilah.”
“Doesn’t matter whether I do or whether I don’t. There was a time when she made you a better person. Happier. More grounded. Kinda hard to believe she’s changed that much.”
The soft click in his ear let Tony know the conversation was officially over.
Tony clenched a cigarette between his teeth and rattled the dice in his hand. “Come on, baby,” he coaxed, before flinging them out one last time. “Gimme somethin’ good!”
He’d already dropped about three hundred this afternoon and could really use a win here.
“Seven! Craps!” the croupier called to the group around the table. “Sorry, sir.”
“Ya win some, ya lose some,” Tony lamented, checking his watch. Six o’clock. “Hey. Which way to the Copperfield Theater?”
“Down there,” one of the other gamblers directed, thumb jabbing over his shoulder to point behind him.
Tony took long strides in that direction, figuring he wasn’t going be too late. Hopefully, Lilah wouldn’t be there tapping her toe and checking the time every two seconds, mentally penalizing him for every minute that ticked past six.
Strangely enough, even if she was, he was pretty sure it wouldn’t piss him off. He’d been bored and a little lonely today, so even her neurotic habits would be a welcome distraction.
After the weirdest phone call of his life with Jon, Tony had decided that more sleep was out of the question so he would shower. Clean and dressed, he’d gone in search of cigarettes and chain smoked three of them as he watched the activity around the roulette table. He’d even gone so far as to place a little money on a couple of numbers – eleven for his birthday, nineteen for Lilah’s, twenty-two and twenty-four for the kids’ and thirteen just because he felt like thumbing his nose at the “unluckiest” number on the wheel.
A hundred and eighty bucks richer, courtesy of lucky thirteen, he’d gone in search of food. The chili cheese dog and fries – and Coke instead of beer, thank you very much – he’d chosen wouldn’t be doing his cholesterol numbers any favors, but, if he dropped dead of a heart attack, at least there was an obscene life insurance policy for Lilah and the kids.
Which prompted another of those split personality conversations about taking better care of himself now that he was fifty. His last bill of health hadn’t been completely clean, and it would be nice to live until his kids graduated high school, got married and gave him some grandkids. It was one argument in which there was a clear winner between the separate parts of his psyche, and Tony would be watching his diet a little more closely from now on.
On the way back toward the gaming floor from the hot dog stand, there were several of those upper-scale restaurants that didn’t open until evening. Studying the posted menus, he considered his options. There was Sea Blue, but Lilah didn’t like much seafood. Across the concourse was Emeril’s, but… eh.
However, right next door to Emeril’s was Craftsteak. Steak was always a good choice, cholesterol notwithstanding, and the clincher was that they had something besides a traditional wine list – a bourbon list. It wouldn’t matter to Lilah, since she still only drank the fruity shit, but he’d much rather have a good glass of bourbon if he was cutting down. No point in wasting his booze allotment on wine he didn’t care about.
After a call securing a seven o’clock reservation, he’d fired out that information to her.
[1:07 PM]TONY: Dinner taken care of.
[1:09 PM] LILAH: Thank you. If I get done early, I’m not coming back to the room. I’ll hang around in the casino until our meeting time.
That was… odd. Why wouldn’t she just text to find out where he was if she got done early? It didn’t make sense, but, in the continued interest of keeping things on an even keel, he didn’t push the matter.
[1:10 PM]TONY: Stay away from the slots, nobody wins money on those things.
[1:11 PM]LILAH: We’re on vacation, for God’s sake. People come to Vegas specifically TO play slots.
Against his will, he grinned, having no trouble recognizing the words as his own. The only difference was that she’d used “play slots” instead of “get drunk”.
[1:12 PM]TONY: Do what you’re gonna do
His fingers had hesitated over the keyboard, wondering whether things were good enough for him to finish that sentence the way he’d originally thought it.
Fuck it. I’m tired of censoring myself.
[1:12 PM]TONY: Do what you’re gonna do as long as you know I’m doing you tonight.
After all, people came to Vegas specifically TO get laid, and he might as well get something out of this relationship improvement thing.
[1:14 PM]LILAH: Promises, promises
That immediately brought to mind pussy promises, and Tony had silently cussed his brother.
Next up was the craps table, where Lady Luck had been on his side for a long time. It had seemed like he could do no wrong and his pile of chips kept growing until he was up by a thousand dollars. Then he’d gotten cocky and upped his ante. Lady Luck had, in turn, flipped him the bird and began hammering away at his stash of chips until she’d taken them all, along with his roulette winnings and another three hundred.
It was probably a good thing that it had been time to meet Lilah.
He now leaned against the wall beside the theater's entrance and checked his watch again, finding it to be five after six. There was still no sign of his wife, which wasn’t like her. She was obsessively early for everything.
Maybe I missed a text.
He put his cigarette in a nearby ashtray and dug out his phone. Sure enough, there were two messages waiting.
[5:30 PM]LILAH: I’ll be somewhere in the slots nearest the theater.
[5:50 PM] LILAH: I’m going to be a couple minutes late. Sorry!
Wonder how much money she’s lost and spent today?
It didn’t matter, really, Tony decided as he began to wind his way through the rows of dinging, singing machines. He wasn’t going to stress about money on this trip, because when they went home life was going to be a financial cakewalk. They would enjoy a nice vacation and, hopefully, find a way to like each other again.
Two rows and three islands of slots later, he still hadn’t found her, but there was a crowd of about fifty people milling around one of the slot machines on the other side of the room. Maybe she’d gotten sucked into that mess.
“Hey,” he asked a balding man who was coming from that direction. “Somebody hit a big one?”
The man snorted. “Yeah, you could say that. Nine hundred thirty-three grand.”
Tony had to have misheard the guy. “Did you say nine hundred grand?”
“Yep. It was one of those progressive jackpots. Crazy, huh?”
Damn right it was crazy. Almost a million dollars on a slot machine?? Jesus Christ. People actually hit those things?
“I guess my wife’s over there gawkin’ with everybody else,” Tony gestured toward the mass with a tilt of his chin. “I better go find her. Thanks.”
He approached the edge of the assembly, peering over heads in search of a familiar ponytail or braid. Although he hadn’t seen her when she left today, it was a logical assumption that she’d opted for one or the other, and he spotted one woman who fit the bill. She was on the opposite side of the winning Wheel of Fortune slot machine.
Tony tried to work his way in that direction, but because he wasn't paying close enough attention, he almost immediately collided with a different woman who was trying to exit the mob. His eyes on Lilah, so as not to lose her, he tossed a quick apology behind him and shouldered forward.
At least he attempted to.
The lady he bumped into latched onto his elbow and tugged him to a standstill, chiding, “To-ny!”
Her voice was familiar and, from the way she spoke his name, she obviously knew him. It was enough to have him swinging back around for a closer look at her face.
When he did...
When he did...
Ho. Ly. Shit.