The Poker Champ, continued...

4 Years Later

“Double of whiskey,” I said, looking up at the waiter, whose nametag said Tony. He was dressed in a purple vest that matched the décor of the casino. I could never have been a waiter because I always felt ridiculous in those little costumes.

Tony gave me a funny look, eying the wheelchair I was sitting in. I met his gaze and raised an eyebrow. “Yeah?” I said irritably.

Finally, his face lit up. “Riley Haveson, right?” He grinned at me. “Oh man, you’re the best. This drink’s on me.”

Lately, there were very few casinos I could go into where I didn’t get recognized. If my face didn’t give me away, the wheelchair usually jogged the memory. I never thought I’d be signing autographs on a regular basis, but here I was, one of the most well known names in poker.

I had won the last three world series of poker championships. That was the sort of thing that didn’t happen very often. There were lots of tournaments in Vegas and I tried to get involved in as many of them as I could. I put grad school on hold indefinitely. Poker was a lot more profitable and a lot more fun. I was actually living my dream of being a professional poker player.

When Tony served me my double shot, I could tell he was debating asking to join me, but instead he just hovered over me, making me feel uneasy. “Mr. Haveson, I hope you don’t mind my saying so, but you’re the best poker player this city has ever seen.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“I play a little poker myself,” Tony went on, brushing his shaggy hair from his face, “and I always watch your games on television. I study your strategies. You’ve got an amazing intuition.”

“Thank you,” I said again.

Tony leaned over the table and hesitated a moment. “Are you… uh, here alone?”

I guess it would have been too much to hope for that Tony was just an excited fan. In the first three years after my return to Vegas, I slept with my fair share of poker fanatics. And among the inner circles, it was well known that I only fucked guys these days.

But last year, I met someone. And that ended the one night stands and all the fucking around. For the first time since Avi Green broke my heart, I was in love again.

“I’m with someone,” I said quietly and Tony got the hint. In some ways, it was a shame. Tony was a good looking guy.

That was when I saw him come in through the door. His name was Nate and he told me he had never played poker in his entire life. He hated poker and most poker players, but he made a big exception for me. I considered myself lucky.

Nate wheeled across the hard wood floor of the bar, lifting his hand briefly off his right wheel to wave at me. He pulled his chair up to my table and flashed me a grin. “I can’t believe a seasoned gambler like yourself would be seen drinking in a hotel bar,” he said. “Won’t you be ostracized for this?”

I met Nate at the gym. I had never been the kind of guy who felt a need to work out, but I was getting close to thirty and thanks to my weak stomach muscles, I actually had a sizable gut. Considering I had my reputation as the Heartbreaker to uphold, I decided to try to get rid of it, which proved to be impossible, unfortunately. I gave up and started wearing shirts to try to hide it instead.

Nate was involved in wheelchair basketball. He had been born with spina bifida and was into most wheelchair sports, but I was still kind of disgusted by the idea of competing in my chair. I ran into Nate in the locker room and he called me on it: “You don’t hang out with other guys in chairs, do you?”

Later Nate told me that he had seen me lifting weights, guessed I was gay, and had been scheming a way to “bump into” me. He never managed to convince me to get involved in any real b-ball games, but eventually he got me to go at it one on one with him. Both on the courts and at home.

Most of the guys I had fucked to that point were very young and fit. Nate was young and fit from the waist up, but below the waist… he was like me. But instead of turning me off, it made me feel less self-conscious of myself. I didn’t need to worry about having an accident in bed or freaking him out when my leg started spasming because Nate understood. And if I can be candid, the man had a mouth like a Hoover. When I felt his lips on my nipples for the first time, I nearly passed out.

The worst thing about it was probably the attention we drew in public. I never liked people staring at me when I was in my chair. Two guys in chairs got even more attention. Two guys in chairs who were a couple… nobody could look away. But none of that seemed to bother Nate so I didn’t let it bother me either.

A month ago, Nate and I took the big step and moved in together. I finally came out to my parents and sister, who were surprisingly understanding about the whole thing probably because they guessed it all along—they really welcomed Nate into the family. I was beginning to wonder if Nate was the person I would spend the rest of my life with.

Nate lifted my shot glass and sniffed it. “You drinking whiskey, Riley? Shit, at least give me a chance to catch up.”

Nate threaded his fingers into my hair and pushed my head closer to his to taste the remnants of whiskey in my mouth. I pulled away and grinned at him. “You getting drunk yet?”

Nate winked at me and glanced at his watch. “Don’t you have a tournament to go to in half an hour?”

I took a breath. “Yeah, I… I guess so…”

Nate raised an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me you’re nervous, Heartbreaker? I might lose some respect for you if you lose your cool.”

Nate could read me really well, but he didn’t have a clue what I was nervous about. I had heard that Avi had qualified to play in this small tournament and would be attending for the first time after his disappearance from the poker circuit for the last four years. This would be his comeback game.

Four years ago, it had all come down to one card. Avi and I both had our crap hands and five little cards were going to determine our destiny. Nothing new for either of us. Everyone in the audience waited in silence as the cards turned, revealing the eight that gave Avi a pair, making him the winner.

A bet was a bet: I had agreed to stay out of Avi’s life if he won the game and that’s what I did. I never called Avi, never made an effort to see him, and definitely never shacked up in the hotel room with him. When we were playing at the same tournament, I made an effort to avoid him.

I had heard rumors about Avi’s life for the last four years. He had gone on some kind of long-term tilt after winning that championship and never even got close to a final table again in any tournament. I heard that he and his wife got a divorce after he started hitting the bottle pretty hard. It didn’t give me any satisfaction to hear that about Avi. To be honest, I wanted him to do well.

I never worked up the nerve to tell Nate about Avi. It was my one big secret from him. And the honest truth was, I still thought about Avi. A lot. I don’t know where I’d be now if not for him.

Nate slid his hand over my shoulder, massaging my deltoids. Neither of us had any sensation below the belt, so we tended to stay above that area during sex. Sometimes we’d suck each other off though, just because it was so hot to watch. But neither of us could hold any sort of decent erections, and the sensations were much more intense everywhere else. Nate had a lot of sexual experience with other disabled men so he knew exactly what to do to drive me crazy.

Nate leaned toward me again and pulled my earlobe into his mouth. He ran his tongue in circles around it, causing me to moan aloud. A few people in the bar turned to look at us and I lowered my eyes, trying to focus on the fireworks going off in my ear rather than the match I had in half an hour, but it was no use. I pulled away from him.

He frowned. “You’re very tense, Riley. Is something bothering you?”

I tried to smile. “Nah, it’s just poker.”


Nate went with me all the way to the entrance to the tournament. I almost wished he’d go inside with me, but I knew he hated these things. “Besides,” Nate said, “you want your fans to think you’re available, right?”

“Yeah, because everyone’s dying to have sex with a paraplegic,” I shot back.

Nate shook his head at me. “Oh, you think I don’t know about all your drooling fans? Think again.”

Nate was sitting up straight in his lightweight chair. He was so comfortable with himself. It didn’t bother him at all when people stared at us. He had nothing to hide, no skeletons in the closet. I was jealous of him sometimes.

He pulled his chair up alongside mine and kissed me long and deep for good luck. I felt his hand sliding under my shirt and touching my gut that I had been going to pains to hide. My sensation was fading there, but I could still feel his fingers a little. “You have such a great body, Riley,” he whispered in my ear. “Later on, I’m going to fuck your brains out. I promise.”

I wheeled into the tournament alone. I received my random table assignment and I didn’t recognize anyone there, but I could see the other players recognized me. They didn’t look too happy either… and they were right to be worried. I predicted that within an hour, I’d have made short work of all of them.

A heavyset man with thinning hair and dark shades flashed me a wry smile. “Riley Haveson. Just my luck.”

“Excuse me?” I said, raising an eyebrow at him.

The man removed his shades and I gasped. It was fucking Avi Green. He looked about twenty years older than he did four years ago. “Jesus,” I breathed. “You look…”

“I know, I look like shit,” Avi replied with a shrug. “Just as well… I’d prefer nobody recognize me. I’m playing under the name Greenberg again.”

I must have been staring at him, but I couldn’t help it. “I’m sorry about you and Sheila,” I said quietly.

Avi laughed. “Yeah, right.”

“No, seriously.”

I meant it. And the crazy thing was, even with Avi looking the way he did, I still wanted him as much as I did before. He was still the same person, still had that same nervous smile and same brown eyes. I was surprised at myself. I had hoped when I finally saw Avi, I’d realize I was finally over him. But I wasn’t. I gripped the wheels of my chair, preparing to back away from the table. I knew I couldn’t play under these circumstances.

Avi must have seen what I was going to do. “Riley, don’t leave.”

“I have to,” I said. “We had a bet and you won.”

“Then let’s make another bet,” Avi said, gripping my arm to keep me from leaving.

The other people at the table were looking at us both, confused. They didn’t know who Avi was apparently.

I had fantasized about starting up with Avi again for the past nine years. It was something I still thought about more than I wanted to admit. But with his shades off, Avi was so goddamn easy to read. He wasn’t ready to be a couple with me anymore than he had been nine years ago. Nate had already introduced me to his parents, for christ’s sake. He wasn’t ashamed of our relationship like Avi had been. Like I had been.

“You want me?” I said to Avi.

He didn’t say anything, but held his grip on my arm.

“I’ll make a bet with you,” I said. “I’ll bet you can’t kiss me. I’ll bet you can’t kiss me, right here, on the mouth in front of all the poker players and God and the Nevada gaming commission. If you can do it, then you can have me. If you can’t, then I leave here and you never see me again.”

“Riley…” he said, his face turning red. His eyes were pleading.

I stared him straight in the eyes. “I’m waiting.” It wasn’t a bluff.

Slowly, I felt his grip loosen on my arm. I wasn’t sure if I had won that bet or lost it.

The other players at the table were staring at me as I wheeled away. There would be other tournaments. Right now I wanted to find Nate and let him make good on his promise to fuck my brains out.


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