I smiled, leaning against the wall in Boss' den. Jane was going to town on the pinball machine, racking it up. She had the touch, at least on this machine. She was beating me and Bekka, and we'd been playing the damn thing for as long as we'd known Boss.
Boss observed this and chuckled. "That girl's tearing it up," he said. "Lucky you didn't wager anything."
"Ah, beginner's luck," I replied. "Either that or she's some kind of savant."
"I'd go with savant. She looks too confident."
Jane finally lost the ball. I stepped up and shot, and began playing. Bekka came up from somewhere --- she'd disappeared with Boss' girlfriend Mona --- and asked if it was her turn.
"I just got here," I said. "Miss Tommy over there has been at the table this entire time."
"Well, get multiball, we need the damn points. She's beating us, and we can't let that happen."
"Competitive much?" I asked, flitting a quick glance at Bekka. "Big deal if she wins. Beginner's luck."
Bekka drew in air and said, "But it is a big deal. I made a bet with her."
"What did you wager?"
Another quick glance showed Bekka to be looking pasty. She said, "Um, you. Okay, sex with you, to be specific."
I caught the yell at the top of my throat. I was genuinely angry with Bekka. I asked her, "And what do we get if we win?"
"Two weeks of home-cooked dinners."
Through gritted teeth, I said, "Don't you think you should have talked to me before making this bet? You didn't think I'd have something to say? Fucking hell, woman, I'm not one of the goddamn stunt-cocks from the studio. I don't even know if I could get it up for her, to me she's still a kid. What were you thinking? Hell, were you thinking?"
"C'mon, Lenny, everyone knows we kick ass on this machine. We always make money betting on it whenever we're here for one of Boss's parties. How was I to know she'd start trouncing us? I thought I'd found an easy way to stop eating out all the time. I never dreamed that I'd have to pay up on my end of the bargain."
"Our end of the bargain," I corrected. "Remember, this is my dick we're talking about. Right now I am really, really annoyed. I thought one of the things that you valued in our relationship was the fact that I'm not a commodity. But you're treating me as one. Has nearly eight years in porn made you view cocks as baseball cards, to be traded around when you want? What's the status of your pussy? When I'm fucking you, am I fucking part of the woman I love, or is it just a commodity you own?"
Bekka said through a tear-choked voice, "That's so not fair."
I trapped the ball with a flipper, and held my finger on the flipper button, effectively pausing the game. I looked Bekka in the eye and said, "Oh yes it is. Go have a smoke, drink a beer, whatever. You're up after me. I'm gonna keep this ball in play and rack up as many points as I can, so hopefully we'll all be enjoying good meals for a couple weeks straight." I dropped the flipper and put the ball back in play.
Jane skipped up with a Budweiser in her hand. "Hey Lenny, how goes it?"
"Fucking peachy," I replied without looking. "I just learned about you little bet you two have."
"Yeah. Cool, huh?" said Jane, lighting a Newport.
"It didn't seem to occur to either of you that I might not be willing to take part in this routine. I'm not one of the rental dicks I employ, I can't get a hard-on just because someone tells me to. Dammit, you're still a kid to me, and I don't fuck children. How the hell did you even get her to agree to this stupid bet, voodoo?"
Jane looked angrier that I'd ever seen her. She yelled, "Fuck you, Lenny, I am a woman!"
"All right then, woman, tell me when you thought it was a good idea to have a friend be a poker chip in a bet. That's all I am right now. If Bekka and I don't beat your final score in the next two balls, I get to be your fuck toy for the night."
"Three nights," Jane corrected. "And no, you won't be my sex toy. You'll be Lenny, a man I love and have had a crush on since we first met in Florida. I don't want you to please me, I want to please you, show you how much I trust and care about you. Dammit Lenny, I want to show my love for you in the most direct way possible. See?"
And a second woman in tears departed from the pinball machine. I stood there playing and feeling like an asshole. I'd assumed it was all about me, and it was only partially about me. Jane didn't want me for fun, she wanted to consummate the crush she had on me. Sex was such a huge part of her ego that rejection must have been like a dagger in the back. Bekka had made an empty, sure-to-win bet, no expectation of ever having to make good on it. Seeing Jane trouncing the pinball machine must have set off a sense of panic.
I bobbled the ball and lost it down the center. I had one ball left. Taking my leave, I wandered through the house, first to the kitchen for beer, then into the living room, where Bekka was planted on a sofa. She looked at me coldly and said, "What?"
"Your ball," I replied. I followed her back to the den. When we reached the machine I simply said, "I'll do it."
Bekka stared at me, then gave me a hug. "What made you change your mind?" she asked.
"I realized there was no malice involved on anyone's part, and that it isn't all about me. You know?"
"Lenny, I thought it was a moot point. Nobody beats us, we rule this machine. You have no idea how scared I got when I saw Jane racking up the points. All the times I've deflected her from you, and now she was going to have you over a stupid bet on a pinball machine."
I pointed up at the scores. "She may have me yet. What happens if one of us beats her and the other loses?"
"A stalemate. Nobody gets anything."
"Rock and roll, girl. Think multiball."
Through the house and back into the living room, where I flopped on the sofa next to Jane. She gave me a plaintive look, I gave her a small smile and repeated the same three words I had to Bekka, "I'll do it."
She smiled and thanked me. I reminded her, "Remember, you have to win this game. Bekka is playing her fourth ball. After that, we each have one more shot. This isn't over yet."
Jane said, "Lenny, I promise you'll enjoy yourself if I win. I know I can make you very happy."
"I know, that's what bothers me."
"Lenny, I'm a damn woman," Jane scowled at me.
"I'm still adjusting to the idea," I said.
Bekka came back into the living room with a stormy face. "Your turn, pet," was all she said. Jane got up and headed for the den.
Boss looked over and said, "Y'all seem pretty upset over the pinball machine today. Th' hell's going on?"
Bekka said, "Ohh.... I made a really stupid bet with Jane, thinking there was no way I'd ever have to pay up on it. Now Jane's winning at pinball, and I might have to pay up after all."
"So what was the wager?" asked Boss.
Bekka paused, then said, "Something very close and valuable to me. Something I hadn't realized that I took for granted. I'll get it back, but it may be soiled."
Boss blinked. She was being too obtuse for him. He said, "Well, what was it?"
"What?" exclaimed Boss.
"I bet Jane three nights of sleeping with Lenny if she beat me and Lenny at pinball. If she loses, she cooks dinner for two weeks. Come on Boss, you know me and Lenny, we kick ass at that machine. I never expected her to be on top."
"So how did Lenny feel about all this? I kinda git the impression that Jane is his little girl, the way you are to me. He wouldn't go for anything outta line with her. That, and hell girl, kin you imagine the uproar there'd be if I did the same thing with a woman I knew? Shit, why not hang price tags on people after a while? See, this is something I worry about with your job. I'm afraid you'll git too cynical about people, stop recognizing them as bein' human. I know you hire out your body, but not everybody else is so detached. An' here you are bartering your husband with a teenage girl over a game of pinball. Girl, you need to watch yourself."
Mona said, "What the hell does Jane want with Lenny? She's just a kid."
Bekka said, "She's a sixteen year old with a turbocharged sex drive, and a heavy crush on Lenny. There's no other way of putting it: she wants his dick."
"It's a little more complicated than that," I said. "She says she loves me. Okay, fine, I love her too. But she wants to show me just how much she loves me. She's used to using sex to express affection, even if it might otherwise be inappropriate. She learned to think that way at a fairly young age. And Boss, whatever you're thinking about Florida swamp trash is probably true in her case.
"We've been sort of coaching her to not think or act that way. She is open with us about all aspects of her life, so it's easy for us to her steer clear of bad decisions. She hasn't been slutting it up at school, or hitting on her male teachers just because they were kind to her. But I'm a different story. Around the age of twelve, a major lesson she learned was that if there is a male close to you who you love, you express your fondness or gratitude by putting out. Your pussy is a gift you can keep giving away without ever losing it. So Jane grew up thinking her pussy was to be used as a thank you gift.
"So now she's sixteen and out here and living with us. She was certain we'd put her to work at the studio, legal implications be damned. It made perfect sense to her: what had been a gift would now be a source of income. Imagine her surprise when we told her she was going to school, then to college. Like I said, we've tried to guide her the right ways. She figured out the cultures between Gainesville and San Diego are light years apart, and didn't engage in behaviors that would have caused her trouble: no beer in the locker, no making out with boys you don't know just because you thought they were cute. The administration still hates her because of her hair and fast wheels and preference for leather pants, but she's not breaking any rules.
"As far as I go, well.... I think she views me as a big brother, but she expects us to have the same kind of relationship we'd have if we were back in the swamps. Why shouldn't we be fucking? We're kin, so obviously we love each other, and Jane knows exactly how to express love. With me turning her down, I wasn't rejecting sex with her, I was rejecting her. She'd never had to deal with that, probably ever. A guy refusing an offer of sex? She literally did not know what to think. I've explained to her why my refusal to sleep with her is not a rejection of her love, and I think she half-understands. It's just such a foreign concept to her she can't cope with it."
"So what are you going to do if she wins this bet?" Mona asked.
I lit a fresh cigarette. "I promised her I would follow through on my end of the bargain. I'll leave the details up to her and Bekka, since they made the damn bet to begin with. But the odds are very strong that I will be having sex with a sixteen year old girl I consider close to offspring. I'll be explaining to her that these three nights are for her to get it out of her system, and we can go back to having a more natural relationship. A natural relationship for California, at least."
Boss was leaned forward, staring at the toe of his boot, which was tapping on the carpet. "Damn them," he said, "no account inbred bucktooth shoeless swamp dwellin' white trash. They hadda take something as purty as little Gator Bait and twist her up. You said she's doing all right? Not havin' any problems?"
"She's doing well," I said. "She's boy crazy, but she's sensitive enough to social cues that she learned to keep her flirting innocent, not just pounce on a guy because he's cute. She has her boyfriend Lance, whom she captured as a virgin and is now molding him into her ideal stud. He's a nice kid. The two of them spend a lot of time in Jane's room fucking. Her grades are stellar, she's only been in one fight so far and that was with a jock, she keeps the house tidy and cooks meals.... Jane is a wonderful daughter."
Boss looked at me pleadingly and said, "Lenny, if ya can, don't go through with your end of the bargain. I know you don't want to welsh, even if it weren't your bet, but if you go through with it, things ain't gonna git simpler. Things are just gonna git crazy, and everybody's gonna end up hurt. You gotta take care of that little girl, and you know the right way to go."
"Don't worry, both my honor and my responsibility will be in play for all my decisions. There's always the chance that when faced with the reality of what she said she wants, versus her fantasy, she'll understand why me and Bekka have given her such forceful nos. Maybe we can get her to understand the concept of unconditional love, and she doesn't need to provide physical gifts, so to speak, as a way of showing her love. And I don't need her to offer them to show mine."
"Where is that girl, anyway?" asked Bekka, getting off my lap. She went in the direction of the den, then returned a few seconds later with a chagrined look.
"The little darling is still playing her last ball," she said. "She's on multiball right now, and burning it up. So Lenny, what combination of drugs and alcohol can you take that will erode your scruples about fucking teenage girls?"
"Cocaine and whiskey," suggested Mona. "The two together will rip the heart out of anyone."
I frowned. "Nah, doing too much coke makes my dick not work. We're not trying to cheat her."
"Why not just stick with Johnnie Walker?" asked Bekka. "Morality is something that dissolves easily in alcohol.
"Just start spiking up your dope," said Boss. "Ain't met a damn needle user yet who had a lick of conscience."
Just then Jane came bouncing into the room, looking pleased. She said, "Lenny, you got a score to beat."
From his sofa, Boss said, "Gator Bait, tell me why it's so all-fired important that you sleep with Lenny. You know he's like a big brother to you."
Jane said, "Dammit, I've had a crush on Lenny since we first met. He's not my big brother, he's a man. And a man I love, and want to show him just how much I love and appreciate him. He does so many wonderful things for me, I want to show him the wonderful things I know how to do. Simple enough?"
"But he knows you love him. You don't need to demonstrate it, least not the way you want to. Yer just gonna create a lot of unnecessary tension between the three of you."
I went to the den and stood in front of the pinball machine. Jane had an incredible points margin. How she'd gotten that good was beyond me, it was like a preternatural talent she had. Sighing, I let the ball fly and started playing. To beat her I'd have to hit multiball at least twice, not to mention aiming for bonuses when they became available.
Bekka came in and watched me play in silence for a minute. Then she said, "Boss is trying to convince Jane to not sleep with you. She's remaining steadfast, saying she's wanted the opportunity since she was fourteen and won't let the chance slip past. I'm sick of the subject. At this point I think you should pull her pants down to her ankles, bend her over one of the bikes, and fuck her in the driveway. This discussion has me numb."
"I'll keep that idea in mind. Heh, here's another strategy. What if I was to start constantly harassing her for sex, and really one-sided at that? Demanding she suck my dick six times a day, totally objectifying her. Think that would scare her straight?"
Bekka cleared her throat. "I've noticed that the solutions you seem to come up with involve you having sex with her. There a reason for that?"
"Yeah, at this point I'm resigned to it. Maybe I'll just wrap a bow around my dick and call it an early Christmas gift. Hold on...."
I'd just hit multiball, and the table was going crazy. In multiball, you've got three balls in play at once, and bonuses lighting up everywhere.... If you can hit them. You're busy trying to keep from losing any of the balls, which makes it even harder to aim. The longer you keep multiball alive, the better your score. Points are tripled during multiball. You'll break a sweat keeping up.
Bekka stood and let me work. I hammered away, aiming for ramps to up my bonuses. I kept all three balls active for over ninety seconds, finally dropping one down the side. Sixty seconds later I was back to a single ball and relative peace. A glance at the scoreboard showed me behind by nearly three million. I kept playing.
Mona walked in the den and said, "Stubborn damn girl. She seems convinced her life will be one of sweetness and light if she gets to screw Lenny. What the hell did you two do to get this idea in her head?"
"It's sort of my fault," said Bekka. "She knows I spend my work days in the physical act of intercourse, but I still can't wait to get home and have sex with Lenny. Jane figures that means Lenny is an incredible lover, God's gift to women. Why else would I be so eager for my husband? I've told her the reasons I'm so eager, but Jane still thinks Lenny must be some sort of orgasm genie. That's the main reason for her physical attraction: she thinks Lenny is a sex god."
"I do like to think of myself as at least ranking as a minor deity," I said. I had two balls trapped for multiball and was aiming at the necessary ramp to start it off.
Mona said, "I was hardly innocent at her age, but she seems obsessed with sex. She was telling us about her boyfriend, and the things they get up to. Was he really a virgin when they got together?"
"He says he was, and he's kinda geeky, so I believe him. He says Jane is the first real girlfriend he's ever had. When it comes to sex, she pulled him into the deep end and he's been treading water, trying to keep up. At least he's not as intimidated as he was when they first hooked up. She's aggressive enough that she would intimidate any high school boy.... All right!"
I hit multiball again, the machine started spazzing out, and points began racking up. "Go, baby," Bekka murmured.
Forty seconds later I was down to one ball, which I promptly lost to the left side. My bonus points began scrolling up, adding to my total. The numbers stopped spinning. I was 270,000 points short.
Bekka took my place at the front of the machine. She stared up at the scores blankly, then pulled the plunger and fired the ball. The ball was still being bounced around by the bumpers when Bekka said, "Oh, fuck this," and gave the machine a shove, tilting it. The ball rolled impotently out of play on a dead table.
Bekka looked at me and Mona with a grim smile and said, "Jane won, fair and square. Come on Lenny, we should start heading for Encinitas before it gets too late. Night riding still makes me a little nervous."
The three of us walked back into the living room, Bekka announcing our departure. Boss was intently talking to Jane. Jane looked up at us and asked, "So who won the game?"
I said, "You did, sweetheart. You can go look at the board if you want. I almost had you, but I fell short. You won."
I was expecting squealing joy, but she simply said, "Too cool. We'll talk about it more at home, okay?"
We pulled on our leathers, dispersed hugs, and headed to the door. Boss said to Jane, "You think about what I told you, little girl. Okay?"
"I will," she chirped, in a tone that indicated she'd already made up her mind about the subject at hand. We fired up our putts and rolled out, aiming for the 67 South to get us back to I-8. Then onto I-5 and north to home. Home, where the heart is.