An uplifting novel without language, sex scenes, or graphic violence!
Brian Jackson needs help! He thought he would always win the way he did when he first went to the casino. Soon, he isn't winning all the time anymore. Then he begins to lose more than he wins. Brian hits bottom when he realizes that he is in danger of losing everything, including his ten-year-old daughter and even his life. Will he allow Julie Walker to show him the way to victory in Christ?
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Brian Jackson looked around the huge, noisy room. Thousands of lights of all imaginable colors were flashing everywhere he looked. This was the noisiest place he had ever been. Clanging, honking, beeping, buzzing, and ringing sounds were all around him. If that wasn’t bad enough, smoke hung like a thick cloud near the low ceiling.
He shook his head in amazement. What was he doing here? Why was he in a casino? He hadn’t wanted to come. He’d only come with his friends because they convinced him that he needed some time for himself, while his daughter, Sheila, was at summer camp.
Mike Henley ran his hand through the red stubble on his head and yelled, “Hey, Brian, are you okay?” Even above the casino noise, Brian could hear the concern in his friend’s voice.
When Brian didn’t answer right away, Mike nudged him with his elbow.
Brian was still trying to take in all the sights, sounds, and smells of this strange new place. He shook his head and said, “I don’t know yet, Mike, but it sure is noisy. How does anyone even think in here?”
“I guess you get used to it, and don’t even notice it after a while.”
Brian shook his head again more emphatically this time. “I don’t think so.”
“Hey! Are we in here to gawk, talk, or have some major fun?” Larry Murphy brushed dark blond bangs out of his eyes and started off toward the Black Jack tables, not looking back to see if the others were following.
Mike looked closely into Brian’s brown eyes and said, “Are you having second thoughts about coming here?”
“I guess.” Brian pivoted on his heels making a full 360-degree turn as he continued to take in the sights and sounds. “I’m not so sure of anything right now.”
Brian could feel his palms sweating and his head beginning to build toward a headache. He hadn’t had one of those in over a year. He looked in the direction Larry had gone and saw that he was sitting at a half-moon-shaped table covered with green felt and rimmed with padded, black leather.
An hour later, as Brian was idly feeding nickels into a slot machine, Larry came by with a beer in his hand.
“Hey, Brian, what do you think you’re doing playing this cheap little game?”
Larry finished his beer and wrapped his fingers around Brian’s arm pulling him off the stool. “Come on over here where the real slots are.”
Larry led Brian around the corner past several rows of slot machines to a row of machines with big dollar signs on top. Larry stopped a change girl and talked Brian into giving her a twenty-dollar bill and she gave him twenty tokens.
Larry took the machine next to Brian, placing a fresh beer in the holder attached to the side of the machine. After Larry showed Brian how to play that particular machine, they both began to play.
Brian looked down at the twenty tokens in his cup and wished he hadn’t let Larry talk him into this. He had been playing a nickel machine for an hour and had only lost three dollars. He wouldn’t buy any more dollar tokens, no matter how persuasive Larry was. He didn’t need to lose money. He and his daughter were making it okay on his teaching salary and the construction work he was able to do in the summer, but they didn’t have enough for him just to throw it away.
The machine had taken ten of Brian’s dollar tokens with no results, when Larry let out a whoop next to him. Lights on top of his slot machine began to flash and a loud honking noise came from it as tokens began clanking against the metal tray at the bottom of the machine.
Larry yelled over the noise of the machine, “That’s what a hundred bucks sounds like. Hey, it looks like this is my lucky night!”
Mike came around the corner and said, “Hey, Larry, I could hear you on the other side of the casino. What’d you do, lay an egg?”
Larry reached into the metal bin at the bottom of his machine, rattled the pile of tokens, and said, “This is what’s going on. Makes a nice sound doesn’t it?”
Brian continued putting tokens into his machine with no result until he only had two left. He looked around and didn’t see his friends. He remembered Larry saying he needed to scout out another machine since he didn’t think his would pay out again so soon. Brian didn’t remember Mike saying where he was going.
As soon as these last two tokens were gone, he was finding the other two and getting out of this place. He figured he’d be lucky if he only lost twenty-three dollars.
Brian was holding a token in each hand, ready to slip one into the machine, when a sign on the front of the machine caught his eye. It read, “Play Two or Three at a Time and Double or Triple Your Winnings.” He might as well get rid of both tokens at once. Then he would get out of there that much sooner.
He shoved the tokens in one after the other, pushed the button, and was already sliding off the stool when the machine went crazy. Dozens of lights flashed, horns honked, bells rang, and everyone nearby turned to look at him. His first thought was that he must have broken the stupid thing, and he’d better get away before security came for him.
A young woman in a green and yellow uniform appeared at his side with a uniformed security guard behind her. Brian knew he couldn’t get away then. He’d just have to wait and see what they had to say.
The woman smiled at him and said, “Congratulations sir, let me take a look and see how much you’ve won.”
She leaned over Brian’s shoulder to read a sign that was flashing on and off in the window of the machine. She leaned back and said. “It looks like you just won two thousand dollars, sir. The machines don’t pay off that much in tokens. You’ll need to come with us over to the cashier’s cage to get your check.
Brian was only vaguely aware of Larry and Mike falling in behind him as he followed the two casino employees to the cage.
The next evening, Brian found himself back at the noisy, smoky casino. He hadn’t really wanted to come, but Larry had talked him into it. To be honest, after winning $2000 the night before, it hadn’t been that difficult. Mike, though, had declined saying he needed to spend time with his family.
Brian went straight to the dollar slot machines and began playing two tokens at a time until he had gone through his first twenty tokens.
He was looking for a change girl when a slender brunette appeared at his elbow. She wasn’t wearing any of the casino’s many different uniforms, and she had a token cup in her hand.
She leaned against the stool next to his and smiled at him. She opened her mouth to speak just as Brian slid off the other side of his stool and almost ran down the aisle to the other end of the row of slot machines.
Every brunette he saw anymore reminded him of Mary. Even after three years, it still hurt to think of his wife and her last painful days in the hospital. He couldn’t let any woman get close to him again, especially another brunette.
Brian settled himself in front of another dollar slot machine and began to play. He looked up after a few minutes and noticed that Larry was now sitting next to the brunette, and they seemed to be having a rather animated conversation punctuated by much laughter.
Brian was on his third batch of twenty tokens when Larry appeared at his elbow. “Hey, Brian, I’m sure glad you drove tonight. Tina and I would like to go somewhere else, and we can take her car.”
Larry slapped Brian on the back and winked at him out of the vision of the brunette. “Is that okay with you, buddy?”
“Sure, Larry, have fun.”
After they left Brian settled down to his thoughts while mechanically feeding the slot machine and pushing the button. His mind went back to that day three years earlier when he and Sheila left the hospital for the last time. Sheila had only been seven. They had both been so lost.
A feeling of depression so deep it almost took his breath away settled over him. He wasn’t aware of the noise his machine was making until a woman in a green and yellow uniform tapped him on the shoulder and motioned for him to follow her and a security guard to the cage.
He went through the motions of signing for his $1200 check. He should be happy. He should be excited. It didn’t seem to matter, though, since Mary wasn’t there to share it with him.
As soon as Brian got home from work Wednesday, he took a quick shower. He was in a hurry to get to the casino. The phone rang while he was dressing. He groaned when he saw the caller-id. His sister only called when she was in a talking mood. All he could do was grit his teeth as he sat down to wait.
“Brian, have you heard from Sheila since you left her at that camp Sunday?”
“Susan, you make it sound like I dumped her there against her will.”
“Well, I still think she’s too young to go off on her own for two whole weeks.”
“Susan, you know she’s not on her own. Camp Willow Hills is a great camp with lots of adult supervision. You even helped me pick it out from all those brochures we looked through.”
Brian smiled in spite of himself. “Look, I know you worry about her, but I’m sure she’ll have a great time, a safe time,” he added as an afterthought.
Susan laughed softly and said, “I know I’m being a worrywart and I shouldn’t be, but I just can’t help it. I'm only trying to be a good motherly influence to Sheila. God knows I’ll probably be the only one she’ll ever have.”
“Susan!” Brian groaned audibly. “Don’t start on that again. I’m not getting married again, and you might as well stop with all your little hints. They won’t work.”
“Okay, Brian, but you didn’t answer my question. Have you heard from Sheila?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, she called me last night, and was she ever hyper. She’s having a blast and told me all about a new girl her age she met. It also turns out that her new friend will be a student at her school this year.”
Brian knew Susan was processing this new piece of information. She said, “I guess that’s good. I do hope this new girl is a nice girl.”
Brian knew what was coming next. “Brian, you need to meet her parents. Sheila doesn’t need friends who will be a bad influence on her. She’s so impressionable right now.”
“Relax Susan, Sheila’s a smart kid. She knows how to pick her friends. All of her other friends are okay.”
It took Brian another five minutes to get his sister off the phone. When he did, he hurried to finish dressing, eat a quick sandwich, and leave for the casino.
As Brian rushed from his car through the parking lot to the front steps, he looked forward to another winning evening at the casino. He walked down the one-hundred foot ramp from the riverbank to the floating casino bumping into several people as he moved through the crowd. He barely noticed the smiling woman in a green uniform and the uniformed security guard at the turnstile as he passed through.
Once inside, he was frustrated when he couldn’t find an available dollar slot. He decided to try the quarter slots while he waited for a dollar one to open up. He began by playing three quarter tokens at a time, which helped his mood somewhat, but he didn’t want to waste his time on the lower denomination slots for very long.
It was over an hour before one of the dollar slots opened up, and he claimed it. Out of frustration, he immediately began feeding three of his dollar tokens at a time into the machine.
At ten o’clock, after being there for three hours and only coming out a few dollars ahead, Brian decided to go home. He had to be at the construction site at six in the morning.
After cashing in his tokens, he headed for the exit, but he heard a loud male voice call his name. Brian turned around to see Larry moving toward him almost dragging the brunette from the night before
“Hey buddy, how’s the luck tonight?” Larry called out in a slurred voice.
Brian winced inwardly. He didn’t want to deal with Larry when he’d been drinking.
“You’re not leaving, are you?”
“I broke even and decided to head home.” Brian continued, before Larry could say more, “I’ve got to be at work at six in the morning.”
Larry grinned and leaned forward with his arm around the brunette’s shoulders. “I don’t think you realize how dull a life you lead ole pal. Aw go on home to bed-e-bye like a good little boy.”
With that, Larry lurched off toward the other end of the casino dragging the woman with him. Brian tried to determine if she was going willingly and decided that her laughter was proof enough, so he turned back toward the exit.
Thursday, Brian barely made it home from work before he began to get sick with the symptoms of stomach flu. He felt worse when he realized he wouldn’t be able to go to the casino that evening. There was nothing for him to do but go to bed until he could shake the bug.
He had just made it back to bed after another bathroom episode when the phone rang. He reached out to grab it off the nightstand and barely groaned out a weak “Hello.”
“Dad, I’m so glad you’re home. I’ve got the greatest news. We’re going to have a party here tomorrow night, and I get to stay up ‘til eleven.”
Brian mustered up enough energy to say, “That’s great honey, but you don’t want to get behind on your sleep. That’s when you get sick."
“Oh, Dad, I’m not a baby anymore. Besides, I don’t have anything at all to do Saturday until our picnic at noon. You are still coming, aren’t you?”
After he reassured her that he was, Sheila told him about some of the things she had been doing and then they ended the conversation.
She’s not a baby anymore! No, he certainly knew that. For an instant when she first started talking, she sounded like Mary had when they first met. Mary was always getting excited over little things.
Then it hit him the way it used to for the first year after Mary died. It felt like a vice was squeezing his chest and he couldn’t breathe. He leaned over to the nightstand and took a drink of water. Mary had been the most exciting and excitable person he had ever known, and every day, it seemed, Sheila was getting more like her.
He couldn’t decide if it helped that Sheila didn’t look like Mary. Mary had been a petite brunette, and Sheila was tall with shoulder length blond hair. However, Sheila’s mannerisms, her voice, and her personality seemed to be just as her mother’s had been. She’s just like her mother!
Brian struggled with thoughts of both of his “girls” for a while before falling asleep.
His old nightmare awakened him at three-thirty and he stayed awake until the alarm went off at five.
Brian was almost feeling himself again as he went in for a full day’s work, but he was more than a little weak. He took it easy most of the morning, and his strength had steadily improved. He was glad that it was Friday, though. He could rest up all weekend before going back to work.
Later, as he was walking into the casino, he looked around and things didn’t seem as strange to him as they had just a few nights ago. Had it only been Monday that he came to the casino for the first time? He didn’t notice the lights so much anymore. The noise didn’t seem so loud either. The smoke still bothered him, though. He felt sure that the smoke was partly to blame for the headache he had left the casino with Wednesday evening.
As he was passing through the nickel slots to get to the dollar slots, he literally bumped into the back of a short brunette with hair down to her waist. When she turned around, he realized that he knew her.
Her name was Jennifer Stone, and she was a music teacher at North High School. Just as he was about to say hello to her, the woman next to her turned toward him, and he recognized Joanne Lewis, who taught math at the high school. She looked over the shorter woman’s head as her own shoulder length red hair flew into her face almost covering her green eyes.
Jennifer batted her brown eyes at Brian and said, “What a pleasant surprise meeting you here, Brian.”
She looked over her shoulder at the other woman and continued, “Joanne and I were getting a little bored with these stingy slot machines.”
Brian didn’t know what to say or what to do. He didn’t want to be rude to the women, especially since he worked with them. He knew that Jennifer was inviting him to join them in some capacity, and he just couldn’t do it. He had to think of an excuse to get away from them. He opened his mouth just as the unmistakable sound of a cell phone began to jingle nearby.
Jennifer reached into her purse, retrieved her cell phone, and began a conversation on it.
Joanne took this opportunity to step up to Brian and almost purr in his ear. “Couldn’t we find some place a little more quite?”
Again, Brian missed having to respond to this more obvious invitation. Jennifer finished her phone conversation, turned to the two of them, and said, “I’m sorry, Joanne, but that was Samantha. Justin is running a temperature, and I need to get home to see about him.”
Joanne frowned and leaned her head sideways causing an avalanche of brown hair to shift onto Brian’s forearm. “I had so hoped that we could enjoy the evening together.”
She gave Brian another look before she said, “Okay, let’s go get my car.”
Brian said, “I hope your son will be fine, Jennifer.”
Before either woman could say anything else, he waved and took off down the aisle of slot machines.
Whew, that was a close one. He didn’t dare look back, but kept going until he found a likely looking dollar slot machine and sat down on the stool in front of it.
The rest of the evening was a blur of lights, sounds and smoke as Brian methodically fed the slot machine. His headache was becoming almost unbearable when his machine almost finished him off with the noise it made when he hit another jackpot.
He was so thankful when the woman in the yellow and green uniform arrived with her ever-present uniformed security guard and turned off the racket the machine was making. His head was pounding so much it felt as though it was going to explode.
Even the thrilling fact that this jackpot had been five thousand dollars was hardly enough to make up for his throbbing headache. When the security guard asked Brian if he would like an escort to his car, Brian gladly agreed. He could barely walk by then, and he couldn’t trust himself to get to his car by himself.
On the forty-five mile drive to Camp Willow Hills the next day, Brian thought about the events of the previous evening. His headache was just a fuzzy memory, and he could now think about what had happened.
He just couldn’t believe he had won $5000 in one jackpot. His thoughts turned to possible ways to spend the money. Several possibilities had come to him by the time he arrived at the camp.
His thoughts had also been on the two teachers he met at the casino last night. He’d never had much to do with any of the women teachers while Mary had been alive. Since she died, he had purposely avoided them whenever possible.
Both women had only been at the school for a couple of years. Sure, he had noticed them, how could he not? They were both attractive in quite different ways.
Last night had been different, giving him the feeling that their attitudes toward him were changing. They had both had that predatory look in their eyes.
As Brian steered his car onto the large, grassy area set up for parking for Family Day, he brought his thoughts to the present and his ten-year-old daughter.
There was a large group of kids gathered in front of the administration building, and Sheila emerged from the crowd waving at him.
By the time Brian stepped out of his car and shut the door, Sheila was next to him and leaped into his arms.
Brian groaned theatrically. “Hey, Kiddo, you’re getting too big for me to catch this way anymore.”
Sheila laughed and tweaked Brian’s nose. “Now, Daddy, you know a man isn’t supposed to tell a woman that she’s big.”
As Brian dropped her to her feet, she placed her hands on her hips and glared mockingly at him.
“Can’t you be my girl for a just a little longer, and not be a woman for at least a few more years?”
Sheila giggled and ran ahead of him toward the administration building. Brian followed, marveling at how tall she was getting. She seemed to be all legs like a young colt. She didn’t look much like Mary, so why was she beginning to remind him so much of Mary?
When Brian reached the building, Sheila was standing next to a girl who could have been her sister. Both girls had beautiful, golden blond hair, but the other girl’s hair was down to the middle of her back whereas Sheila’s was shoulder length.
“Dad, this is my new best friend, Kim Walker. She’s going to my school this year. We’ve just got to be in the same class. I want to let my hair grow long like hers.”
Brian smiled that the direction of his daughter’s thoughts had so closely paralleled his. They knew they looked alike and wanted the resemblance to be even more.
Before Brian could respond in any way, Kim shouted and began jumping up and down while waving her arms. “There’s my mom.” With that, she was off at a run for the parking area.
Brian and Sheila sat together during the picnic lunch on rows of tables covered with plastic tablecloths. Sheila pointed to Kim and her mother, and he couldn’t help but notice how much mother and daughter were alike.
“It’s too bad Kim and her mom had to sit way over there where we can’t talk. Then you could have met Kim’s mom.”
Brian was relieved. He had enough woman troubles brewing all ready. He didn’t need to add another one.
“Dad, they’re teaching us about Jesus here. I remember Mom talking about Him some. And of course Grandma is always telling me about God.”
She thought for a second. “But, what they’re saying here doesn’t sound like what Grandma always tells me.”
Brian was not happy about that bit of news, but he didn’t say anything. He had let his sister talk him into a Christian summer camp because she said the kids would be better influences on Sheila. He just didn’t want them cramming his daughter full of religious stuff. Maybe they wouldn’t be able to do much damage in a few days.
After lunch, there were some lawn games. Kim and her mother were always on the other side of the playing field. Brian wondered if she, too, might be avoiding him and Sheila.