"Hey Kid," Chuck Michaels called out from the other side of the seemingly endless row of slot machines, "you having a good time?"
Bobby Harrison turned in the direction of the familiar voice, giving a friendly wave in response to the inquiry before quickly disappearing down the row. The twenty-one year old really hated it when his co-workers called him "Kid", even though there was some truth to it since the majority of them were much older than him.
Once he was sure he was out of sight of his friend, Bobby turned his thoughts back to the matter at hand. His friendly wave to the contrary, he was having a lousy time. That was pretty hard to do considering he was on an all expenses paid trip to Atlantic City. But even so, he couldn't wait until the bus was headed back to New York tomorrow night.
These feelings hadn't been there a month ago when his boss had called him into his office and told him he'd been picked as one of the Employees of the Year for 1994. He'd been full of pride and excitement then, winning an award that only six others did, all of them with a lot more time at the firm.
That enthusiasm, however, had begun to fade a two weeks ago when he'd finally persuaded Caroline Kelly, one of his neighbors, to go along on the trip with him. He and the twenty-three year old brunette had gone out a few times, with mixed results. Their relationship had been friendly enough, but friendship seemed to be as far as she wanted to take it.
"I'd be happy to go with you," Caroline had said when Bobby had asked her to come along, "but I just want to make one thing real clear. If there aren't two beds in the hotel room, one of us is going to be sleeping on the couch."
Even with that disappointing precondition, Bobby was glad that she was going with him. Truth be told, his luck with the ladies wasn't all that great. He wasn't a virgin, thankfully. That was something he couldn't have dealt with only two months after his twenty-first birthday. Being the only single on the trip would've been too much to take, he'd thought.
Not that he ever shared it anyone else, but his two previous sexual experiences really hadn't added up to all that much. One had been with a professional, right after his eighteenth birthday. The guys on his first job had taken him out to a brothel one of them knew about as a belated gift. Bobby had been so drunk that he barely remembered losing his cherry.
The other occasion had been with Suzie Clancy, a girl his older brother had set him up with. It was pretty common belief among the guys in the neighborhood that a guy would have to be totally queer not to score with Suzie. Still, even with that in mind, Bobby spent most of their date worrying that he'd somehow be found wanting. In the end, Suzie hadn't disappointed him, but the brief incident in the back of his Dad's borrowed car was memorable only in that he actually remembered it.
What excitement that still remained for the trip to Atlantic City, faded even before the bus left the company's parking lot in Queens. He was just about to walk around the corner to pick up Caroline when she called and said that she couldn't go after all. Her supervisor at the hospital where she worked as a Nurse's Aide needed her to cancel the three days off she had taken and fill in for another Aide who had broken her leg. She was sorry of course, Caroline had said, but she couldn't turn down the request. Not with her quarterly review coming up, not to mention the promotion she was trying to get.
Bobby had lied and said that of course he understood. What he really was thinking was that it was too late for him to cancel his own place on the trip. Just before Caroline had called, he'd just gotten off the phone with Chuck to confirm that he and his wife were stopping by to pick up him and Caroline. Reluctantly, he put on his best face and climbed into the car alone when it pulled up in front of his house.
The two and a half-hour trip to the casino/hotel turned out to be not as bad as Bobby imagined it might be. No one made jokes about his suddenly going stag. In fact, two of the wives commented that he'd probably have more fun that way since the resort area was full of beautiful women and a cute guy like him wouldn't have any problem meeting someone to spend time with.
So many people had told Bobby that he was cute that he sometimes almost believed them. The dark haired young man stood five seven and weighed a hundred and forty-two pounds. He had a face that had changed little since his early teens, so much so that he was constantly being carded. His only real problem seemed to be an inability to overcome a sometimes almost incapacitating shyness around women. A shyness that hid his more attractive qualities.
The camaraderie Bobby enjoyed on the bus slowly faded over the next day and a half as the small group attended the scheduled company functions and got their awards. No one really acted any differently toward him, in fact, the Michaels and one of the other couples asked him to tag along when the last scheduled event was over. Bobby had politely declined because he never liked being a third, or in this case fifth wheel.
With the Employee Awards had come two hundred dollars for the honorees to gamble with. Not really understanding most of the games of chance, Bobby had most of it converted to coins and played the slot machines. It was as good a way as any to pass the time, he thought, at least better than sitting up in his room alone and watching cable television. For a while, he was even winning more than losing, but that soon changed. Eventually, he was down to his last silver dollar.
"Well at least it wasn't my money I was playing with," Bobby thought as he pocketed the last coin, deciding to keep it as a souvenir.
His play money now gone, Bobby decided that maybe catching a late movie on the tube might not be a bad end to the night after all. Leaving behind the slot machine he'd been playing, Bobby started to make his way to the bank of elevators outside the casino. He'd just about cleared the end of the row when he heard someone call out.
"Oh shit," a dark haired woman sitting at the oversized multi-coin slot machine cried out as she looked down at her near empty coin bucket. "I could've sworn that I had another dollar left."
Thinking at first that the woman in the blue dress had been talking to him, Bobby had stopped and looked at the machine she was playing. It was one of those Progressive Slots where you put in multiple coins, the payoff being a lot larger than the ordinary slots. Of course the odds were greater too. This machine in particular required ten silver dollars for a chance at the big prize, and the lady evidently only had nine.
"Damn, I promised my granddaughter that I'd play this for her before we headed home," the woman who Bobby now realized was talking to a blonde-haired woman who had been standing behind Bobby as he walked by. "You wouldn't happen to have a dollar left, would you Golda?"
"Sorry, Shirley," Golda said with a shrug, "they don't call these things one armed bandits for nothing. I'm totally tapped out. I guess you're just going to have to settle for second prize when you hit."
From the inflection in the second woman's voice, Bobby was pretty sure that Shirley hadn't ever come close to any prize on that machine, much less second, in all the times she'd played it. Still, he supposed it was making the attempt that mattered to the first woman, not if she actually won anything.
Without even thinking about it, which was of course was when he was at his best, Bobby reached into his pocket and pulled out his souvenir dollar. He took a step closer to the slot machine and caught the dark haired woman's attention as she put her first coin into the machine.
"Excuse me, Ma'am," he said as he held out the palm of his hand, the dollar in the center, as way of why he was interrupting her. "This probably means more to you than it ever would to me as a souvenir. I'd be happy if you'd use it."
"Why thank you, young man," Shirley said, her face lighting up in both surprise and gratitude. "It's nice to see that there are still knights in shining armor to come to a lady's rescue."
As Shirley took the coin from his hand, Bobby got a much better look at the older woman. Her hair was darker than his, but in an age of better living through chemistry, that didn't mean anything. If he had to guess, and he was notoriously bad at that, he'd say that she was about his mother's age,. Certainly she wasn't as old as his own grandmother, who was fifty-nine. It would come as a real shock to him to learn that she was in actuality a month short of her sixty-first birthday. A lifetime of taking care of herself had kept the worst effects of age at bay.
Turning around to face him had also given Bobby a better view of a quite impressive chest. She looked as big as Mrs. Turtledove who had lived next door when he was growing up. Once, on a dare, he had sneaked into her backyard and stolen a brassiere off the clothesline. He remembered examining it with his friends and reading the size off the little white tag. It had been a 38D.
Lost in that memory for a moment, Bobby totally missed the older woman's thank you as she smiled at him one last time before turning back to the machine. One by one, she dropped the coins into the machine, savoring the sound of each one dropping as an almost religious experience.
Glad that he had done something good for someone, Bobby turned and walked away, reaching the elevators before Shirley was even up to the fifth dollar. It was better, he thought, to remember how her face had lit up when he'd handed her that dollar than watching her disappointment when the machine came up empty once more.
.... There is more of this story ...