She was chalking the tip of her cue when he walked in. Tall and proud, her father was still wearing his sweater vest in a bar.
“Are you ready?” she asked him as he pulled a pool cue from the rack and started chalking it.
“Always, sweetheart.” He gave her a wistful smile. “These games have been such a nice reminder of our summers together.”
She scrunched up her nose, “Yeah, well back then we weren’t playing for money, were we?”
Her father shook his head as he pulled out his checkbook from his pleated khakis. The book had a blank check that, if she won, she would get to fill out the amount line to cover the cost of the year-long trip she was planning with her boyfriend.
“I wish that for just one game, you could try to not mention our deal. Just one game.” He slapped it down on the head of the table.
Shrugging, she eyed the little leather book. “I have my priorities,” she said and turned away from him to prepare the table. She felt his scrutinizing gaze as she racked up the balls and moved to the front of the table to break. Like a gunshot, she slammed the white ball into the tip of the pyramid of colored balls and they flew all around the blue table, ricocheting off the bumpers and colliding with the other balls. She let out a satisfied huff as two solids crawled into a side and corner pocket. It was a good start, and at least she didn’t scratch in front of her father.
“I’m solids,” she said with a confident smile.
The game went on, and she was, surprisingly, running the table.
“You ready to lose, old man?”
Her father was comfortably leaning on his pool cue, a small grin playing on his lips. “Why does it seem that you say that every night, yet, every night you seem to lose?”
She gave him a pointed look before lining up a shot. “You know once I win, I’m never coming back to this bar.”
“Just because you wanna run off to Europe with that ponytail you call a boyfriend—”
She stood back up from the shot, “His name is Jordan, Dad, and he doesn’t have a ponytail anymore.”
Her father huffed, keeping his eyes trained on the inactive table. “My point still stands. You’re not going to find anything in Europe.”
She chose to ignore him as she bent back over the table to line the shot up again. “Corner pocket,” she whispered under her breath as she drew the stick back to send the cue ball into the five, her last ball. “At least I can try.” The sound of the five rolling into the pocket punctuated her reply.
That left her father with four balls and she one: the eight ball. This was the closest she had gotten to winning in all 47 games they had played. She pushed her sleeves up as she paced around the table, eyeing every angle, every way that she could win with one shot. “Dad, once I win this, I’m leaving. It’s my decision.” She waited for him to meet her eyes. “There is nothing you can do to stop me.”
“Except win, just like every night these past couple months,” her father said as his lips pressed into a tight worried line.
“Well, tonight is different,” She said as she lined up the white cue ball with the char black eight. She drew the stick back, exhaled, and confidently sent the ball forward. It connected with the eight exactly where she wanted. She shot up, her arms thrown over her head, holding the cue stick above her in triumph. The eight rolled into the pocket, falling with a delightful thunk.
“Yes, Yes, Yes!”
“Not so fast,” her father stopped her. His eyes followed the white cue ball still in motion, rolling slowly towards the same pocket the eight fell in. She fell silent, bending over the table and praying that it would stop. The cue ball crept to the edge of the pocket and teetered for just a moment, and with a fateful plunk, the ball fell into the pocket.
She didn’t want to see her dad’s small smile when he said, “It’s one of the worst ways to lose.”