Yumeko wasted no time. Her eyes darted between her three cards, and that devilish smile gradually took over the gentle curve of her lips. Once she had studied her own hand, her gaze lifted to meet mine. I felt nothing. A heavy emptiness had rooted itself into the pit of my stomach. Why did I ever think I could beat her?
As we locked into a staring match, I could see the numbers working through her mind. She was calculating her odds, and though she didn’t know for sure what was in my hand, it was clear she still estimated her odds to be reasonably good. She focused intently on my face, grinning wildly as the glow of her eyes seemed to extend outward, blanketing everything in her enthusiasm.
“What’s wrong, Ryota? Do you not feel confident about your hand?”
The glow was reaching across the table. It crept ever forward, blocking out everything around me until all that I could see was Yumeko. Even so, I felt no fear. Really, though, was this any different than how I saw everything anyway? Every day, I wake up looking forward to seeing Yumeko another day. I spend the day planning her meals, sitting with her, and keeping her company. My evenings are spent carting around and just basking in her presence as she gambled her life away.
No matter what, all I ever do is for her, and all I ever see is her. This moment of isolation with just her, and I was nothing new. It was nothing to fear. If anything, it was something that comforted me, even as I held my imminent failure in my hands. Doing my best to smile back at her, I randomly picked one of the three papers in my hand and held out to place it down.
“It seems you’re pretty confident about yours, Yumeko.”
Yumeko blinked before pouting, eyeing her hand again.
“I don’t know…” she let her sentence trail off before grinning at me once more, “I do know this is going to be an exciting finale.”
I hoped it would be. Even as I looked at my hand again, somewhere deep inside me, that emptiness was flooding with hope. Fate could still intervene.
“I hope so. Let’s get it started.”
Yumeko nodded, plucking her own card from her hand. We counted down and slapped our cards on the table. As we pulled our hands away, I was not surprised. I, of course, played a paper. Yumeko had a scissor card. I couldn’t help rolling my eyes as I mentally cursed fate. Yumeko giggled, then reached out, her hand a soft peace offering.
“Ryota, don’t be upset. The game isn’t over yet.”
She might not have realized it, but I had. It was over. Even so, I took her hand and grasped it in my own. It was soft and smooth, chilled even as the warm ocean air embraced us on the porch. Surprisingly, Yumeko closed her eyes, cutting off that enthusiastic glow. Once again, we were just sitting on the porch. Her hand began to warm in mine as we sat in silence. The manic grin had long faded away to be replaced by a content, pleasant smile.
Of Yumeko’s own accord, she lifted my hand and interwove our fingers. She massaged my knuckles, causing my face to warm. This was much more physical contact than we usually had while we spent time together. I recalled every time I had longed to grasp her hand, just to hold it, just like this. Suddenly, though I still knew I would lose, I felt like I had won. Somewhere deep in my heart, I felt that she wanted the same future I did. Even if I lost, I would still get what I wanted out of the bet.
Yumeko wanted to be with me. I knew it. Still, I desperately wanted to win, to create that life for Yumeko because she had already done so much for me. That was why I pulled my hand away. Her eyes fluttered open, their familiar, calm brown shimmering with flecks of red dancing around in the iris meeting my gaze.
“Let’s finish this.”
Yumeko nodded, perking up as she picked her next card. I pulled mine, once again just grabbing one of the two remaining cards at random. We counted down and slapped our cards down. As we pulled our hands away, I couldn’t stop myself from jumping up to stare at the result.
I had, of course, set down a paper. Yumeko, however, had placed a rock. Even though she lost, her soft smile was all to be found on the other side. She didn’t seem surprised in the least. Perhaps, she already knew what my hand was. Maybe she was delaying the inevitable, but something passed across her eyes that gave me some pause. She did know something now, but her response gave nothing away.
I no longer knew if I was going to win or lose, and Yumeko wasn’t willing to waste any time. She continued to smile sweetly, and she clutched her final card to her chest.
“Alright, Ryota. This is it. Play your card.”
She was acting strange. This was not how I expected it all to end. Memories of Yumeko’s prior gambles flicker back into my mind. Usually, by this point, she would be the epitome of sex. Winning or losing, it didn’t matter. She would be in the throes of passion, taunting her opponent to finish her off. Not now, though.
Instead, she was serene. Silence and serenity surrounded her and settled in the air around me. I always thought of Yumeko as the ruby-eyed, promiscuous gambling deviant. That was the real her, as far I could tell. Yet, seeing this other person before me, I realized that this was her. When she was at peace, this was who Yumeko was. It was a Yumeko I wanted to get to know.
I wanted to spend the rest of my life understanding the real Yumeko. Once again, in the blanket of silence, Yumeko commanded once more:
“Play your card. Let’s see what fate has decided.”
Wasting no more time, I set my card down. Yumeko’s gaze shifted just long enough to see what I had played. Her smile never faltered. She met looked at me once more, and I felt no fear, even as she set her own card down, hiding what it was beneath her hand.
“This was a magnificent gamble, Ryota. I loved every second of it.”
With that, she removed her hand.