Sebastian and Charlene left for Las Vegas right after church on Sunday.
He told his congregation that he was taking Charlene on a spiritual retreat, not wanting them to get the wrong idea about their pastor driving off the Vegas with the two hundred pound black woman who worked at the Quiznos across the street.
Charlene had gotten a big kick over their “spiritual retreat” and throughout the three and a half our car ride she had told him Bible jokes from her youth
Sebastian had finally asked her to stop after she told him that you make holy water by boiling the hell out of regular water.
She spent the rest of the trip listening to Miley Cyrus and T-Pain on her iPod.
Sebastian knew what she was listening to because she told him the name of every song when it started and sang along with all the lyrics.
His heart started pounding a little faster as he exited the interstate and hit South Las Vegas Boulevard.
Charlene pulled her earbuds out of her ears as he pulled into the Bellagio.
“I thought we were going to check in at the hotel before gambling.” She looked warily at the valet who was attempting to open her door.
“Well we’re not staying here.” She crossed her arms and rested them on her chest. Sebastian had noticed that Charlene crossed her arms a lot, especially when she was being stubborn.
“I always stay at the Bellagio.”
“Listen Pastor, I’m sure this is a very nice place and all, but I when I agreed to pay for the gas and hotel for this trip, I didn’t know you drove a big ole, gas guzzling boat and or that you wanted to stay at the Ritz. I can’t afford it.”
Sebastian resented her calling his car a boat. The 1962 powder blue Cadillac Eldorado was big, he supposed, but it was the only thing he had ever bought with his poker winnings. So maybe it only got twelve miles to the gallon, he still loved it.
Sebastian smiled apologetically at the valet and shut his car door. “So where do you propose we stay?” he asked as he started the car.
“Just drive. I’ll tell you when I see one that looks good.”
They drove down The Strip until Charlene saw a Travelodge. “That one has a free continental breakfast. Pull in there!”
Sebastian made a u-turn and pulled in to the Travelodge’s parking lot. The gold and blue building was the ugliest thing he had ever seen.
Charlene ran into the office to register while he sat in the car. She returned waving a key.
“This place is nice. And it was only $29 a night. Pull around. Our room in is the back.”
Sebastian was halfway around the building when he realized that she had said room. Singular. And she only had one key in her hand.
“You did get us each a room, right?” He was afraid to hear the answer.
“Of course I didn’t. Why would I waste the money on another room when this one has two beds?”
Sebastian thought about the mountain of luggage in his trunk, all Charlene’s and wondered if there would be space for him in the room.
Once they had brought all the luggage in, argued about who got which drawers and how many hangers they would each use, Charlene announced she needed a few minutes to “get spruced up” before they went out to win her fortune.
Over the sounds of the shower, Sebastian could hear her singing that she couldn’t wait to “see him again.” He prayed that she wasn’t talking about him.
He lay down on the bed and stared at the popcorn ceiling.
Sebastian hadn’t been in Vegas since he had walked away from the table at the World Series of Poker. Part of him was worried he would be tempted to return to playing professionally, and part of him was afraid he’d run into an old friend or opponent and would be forced to explain why he had left so suddenly.
It wasn’t that he was ashamed of God and his church. He just didn’t think his old cronies would understand.
Charlene emerged from the bathroom in a cloud of perfume and hairspray. She had traded in her red tracksuit for a tight black skirt and a glittery bustier, which pushed her considerable breast up almost to her chin.
All he could manage was “wow.”
Charlene did a little spin and winked at him. “I know, right? Aren’t you going to change?”
Sebastian looked down at his jeans. You couldn’t even see where he had spilled coffee on his crotch during the drive. Why would he change? “Nah. I’m ready.”
It took Charlene another fifteen minutes to rifle through her luggage and find the perfect purse. Then she said she was ready too.
“Where are we going first?” she asked as she settled back into his Cadillac.
Sebastian hadn’t given much thought to the itinerary. He had been too busy worrying about being back on The Strip.
He mind ran through the casinos and where he might be the least likely to run into someone he knew.
“I’ve never heard of that one.”
“It’s a little further up on The Strip, but it has nice tables. It’s a good place to start.”
In fact, Sebastian never had much luck at The Fitzgerald. No one did. So the only people there would be tourists.
Charlene gazed out the window as they drove up the street. “You used to spend a lot of time here, huh?”
“Do you miss it?”
He knew what he should say. That God was more powerful than cards, that he was on the right path. But, Lord help him, he did miss it. He missed it with a passion.
He loved the ministry and his congregation, but the church had never given him the same rush he felt winning a tournament.