His skin smells sticky from sweat, and she wants to lick the palm of his hand as he offers it to her. She imagines placing her lips at the base of his neck so that she can feel the residual warmth of the sun still clinging to his body.

“The Uber’s AC was out,” he says with a shrug.

She smiles and slips her hand into his, the rough callouses at the base of each of his fingers chafing against her own.

There is an emptiness between them, so she moves in closer to the bulk of his body. His shoulders tense, but he doesn’t pull away. She can feel her own sweat trickling down the back of her calf, and she suggests they duck into a casino, one of the cool, dark mouths that line the street. He agrees and lets go of her hand to get his wallet ready. It’s one of the things she likes about him: his willingness to pay for everything.

In the casino, the carpet is thick with the smell of bad luck. She can almost see the once hopeful faces like ghosts along the edges of the room: gathering empty glasses around their elbows, once bright eyes, now half open and bloodshot, shoulders slumping and spines curling, slinking towards the exit like feral cats.

“Ever play Craps?” he asks, leading her towards a long table that always reminds her of a miniature football field with all it’s ticks and line and numbers.

She snakes her arm through his and presses her hip against his thigh as he’s dealt a hand of chips that clack against one another as he lines them up. He tosses them across the green felt, calling things out to the dealer in a way that leads her to believe he’s not the novice she originally thought. After an hour, his stack of chips has doubled and his posture is loose, the hint of a smile at the corner of his lips. He grabs the chips and pulls her towards the booth to cash out.

The woman behind the counter blandly counts out his cash, pressing the crisp bills into his upturned hand. They take the money to a bar down the street and he buys her a line of drinks with names that all sound like glitter. She grabs one to take a sip and the rainbow-colored liquor splashes up the sides of the glass. He laughs at the face she makes.

“You try them,” she says.

He takes a drink from the bright pink one that’s bubbling, his face like a stone.

“You like whiskey?” he asks, pushing his own glass towards her.

It’s thick and dark and sits like cinnamon in the pit of her belly. “Better,” she says.

At the end of the bar, a man is playing poker on the small screen set into the bar top. The sound of the beeps and ticks and swooshes start to sound funny to her. The man she is with asks her what she’s laughing at. She explains how the noises remind her of the children’s game, Chutes and Ladders. She and her brother would play it for hours making noises in the back of their throat as they moved their players, dings and swooshes just like the poker game.

He raises his eyebrows at her. “You’re drunk.”

He wraps his arm around her waist, and the emptiness between them starts to fade. His muscles don’t feel so stiff against her skin and she finds herself returning to the rainbow-colored drinks, letting them slide down her throat as the man moves closer and closer.



The Neighborhood

The Neighborhood