High Stakes Poker

There is a single moment in everyone’s life, a moment that shines brighter than all the rest. It’s the silver lining on all our dark clouds, our pot of gold at the end of every rainbow. It’s the memory we call on when we are feeling low.

For some it’s something simple. A sunny day at the beach spent with loved ones where no one fought and there was constant laughter. For other’s it’s lying in the grass on the perfect night, cheek to cheek with the person who captured their heart as they looked up at the stars and planned their forever.

For Mirabelle Rose Graycen her moment was when she was fifteen. She had gone to summer camp that summer; even though she had told her parents she was too old.

She had been sullen the whole hour-and-a-half bus ride out of town. Arms crossed, she stared out the window watching as the scenery changed from high-rise buildings and busy highways, to two lane highways and greenery. The sound of the other kids giggling and screeching faded away into the background as she fell into a trance from it all.

When they arrived, there had been a touch on her shoulder, pulling her out of her own head. Looking up, there he was. Dark hair, green eyes and a smile that reached into her chest and held onto her heart.

Zeke Anderson.

That summer had been the best summer of her life. She spent every moment she could with him. They swam together, played sports together, ate together. And late at night, when they walked back to their separate cabins, she had been so daring as to sneak out and meet him in the woods.

It had been an adventure, lasting forever and ending all too soon.

The bus ride back to the city that seemed to drag on and on for her on the way to camp, was over in a flash as she sat next to Zeke.

As soon as all the bags were unloaded from the bus, and she looked at the line-up of parents a dark cloud appeared over her head. She was suddenly so afraid of losing the one person who had meant so much to her.

He held onto her hand tightly. “I’m going to Sady Heights High School next week.”

Mirabelle’s face lit up. “Me too.” They linked their fingers together.

Her life became a romance novel. The kind where the love was so evident it made you groan with envy and yearning as you read it. You’d curl your toes and stretch out, getting more comfortable in bed, because comfort was something that was attainable.

Mirabelle and Zeke were inseparable. Always hand in hand, always smiling, always together.

He showed her what love was, and she had never been more happy.

Before they knew it they were graduating high school, they had all their bags packed in the back on his car and they were going on a road trip for the summer.

With their fingers linked they drove with the windows down, sunglasses on, singing at the top of their lungs as wind blew through their hair.

She laughed, pausing. “Hey, Zeke.”

He let his sunglasses fall down his nose, looking at her as his lips moved to the music.

Watching him then, the way he brought their hands up so he could kiss her fingers, she felt her heart pound against her chest. “I love you!”

“I love you, Mira.”

“I’ll love you forever.” She told him.

He smiled. “I’ve loved you forever already, and I’ll love you until forever ends.”

“When does forever end?”

“For us?” Zeke smiled at her the way that made her heart melt. “Never.”

Mirabelle looked at the cards in her hands. They were unlike any cards she had ever seen in her life. Black, covered in soot and grime that stuck to her fingers. Some of the edges were burnt, and the symbols in the middle were random and crackled in oranges and reds like fire.

“So, Mirabelle. Would you like another?” The voice was low, ominous. It was raspy, harsh.

Pale hands reached towards the center of the table. Waving at the cards stacked there, she watched as smoke rose up, lifting the cards and setting them back in a pile.

Swallowing hard, she tried to ease the tightness in her throat as a thick tear rolled down her cheek and hung off her chin. “I-” Her voice broke and she swallowed again before she could continue. “I am not sure if I understand the rules.”

He grinned, revealing white teeth to her in the darkness. “I believe you do.”

Looking at the cards in her hands, she laid one on the table and slid it over to him. Another card flew through the air towards her. She caught in it her hands. Adding it to the others she held.

He did something similar.

“Do you know what the problem in with darkness?”

“No.” Her voice was quiet, a mere whisper.

“Even the thickest darkness can so easily be diminished by the smallest bit of light; a mere flicker in the obscurity. It’s why hope can thrive in even the worst circumstances; it’s why faith can guide you through the most evil and sinful moments of your life. Darkness, even at it’s strongest is still frailer than the smallest light.”

She looked around the dark room, and the single flame floating above the table the sat at. It did almost nothing to light the dark corners of the room, but she was in its glow, as was the table and the hands of the mystery man.

She wished she could see him. She needed to understand what all this was, understand how she got here, why she was here.

“You know the answers to those questions.” He hissed at her. “Stop wasting time.”

Mirabelle called out in pain as her chest heaved up. The darkness around her ebbed away and she saw Zeke, smiling at her.

“For us?” Zeke smiled at her the way that made her heart melt. “Never.”

“Zeke!” She screamed, as the truck swerved into their land. The sickening sound of metal colliding filled the air. Her ears were ringing and she lost her breath.

She let out a harsh breath as her fingers curled around the armrests of her chair as she looked at her dark cards on the table.

“Pick up your cards, Mirabelle Rose Graycen. Play your hand.”

Her hand clutched to her chest. Looking across the table into the shadows she remembered the crash, remembered being pulled from the wreckage, remembered calling for Zeke.

But could she hear him?

The sirens were so loud, and her ears were still ringing.

“Play your hands, Mirabelle.”

Picking up the cards in shaking hands, she looked at the symbols. She had no idea how she knew what they meant, but she did. She had never seen the cards, yet she felt like this was a game she was always meant to play.

“Mirabelle.” His voice held an odd mix of irritated patience.

“The stakes…”

“Are as they always were. You win and you are pulled out of darkness, back into your body and your life. You lose, and you stay here… with me.” He smiled.

“Zeke.” She whispered.

“I’m afraid he was not invited to play.”

Her breath caught in her chest. “You mean…” Closing her eyes she felt her chest heave. A jolt of pain went through her chest and she was pulled away again.

“Mirabelle! Can you hear me, Mirabelle?” Someone’s face was above her, someone she didn’t know.

She called out, her hands wrapping around the armrests once again as she slumped forward in her chair.

“Play the game, Mirabelle… you’re running out of time.” He laughed.

“Okay, okay. But I want to change the stakes. If I win, Zeke and I both go back. If I lose, you keep up both.”

“No. I already have Zeke. Why would I risk losing two when I already have one?”

“But-”

“No.” He repeated.

Her eyes glassed over as she tried to think, and think quickly. He had said she was running out of time, which meant she was losing her chance to negotiate. If she didn’t hurry, it wouldn’t matter what hand she played… she would lose.

She could not get them both out. The realization hit her in the chest like whatever else was.

Closing her eyes tightly, she looked across the table at him. “If I win, Zeke goes back.” She waited a moment and when he didn’t say anything, she said “Only Zeke.”

“Agreed.”

Reaching up, she flipped her cards.

Slumping back in his chair, he clapped slowly. “Well played, Mirabelle.”

The pain in her chest ebbed away as the table vanished between them. The chair gone from under her, she fell to the floor, looking into the shadows.

Pulled out of the darkness for a moment, she saw the firefighters working, pulling the car door off to pull Zeke from the wreckage. Reaching in, he looked back over his shoulders. “We’ve got a live one here, bring a gurney.”

He moaned as they pulled him from his car, laying him on the gurney before strapping him in. As they carried him to the ambulance, his hand reached out to the car. “Mirabelle.” He whimpered.

She choked on a sob as the darkness closed in around her.

“Come along now, Mirabelle Rose Graycen. Don’t dawdle.”

       “When does forever end?”

       “For us?” Zeke smiled at her the way that made her heart melt. “Never.”

Pushing herself to her feet, she let the darkness wrap around her, pulling her in. “Coming.” She wiped at her tears.

Closing her eyes, she remembered that moment on the bus when she first laid eyes on Zeke Anderson. She held onto that moment, using it as a light as she walked through the darkness.

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