"Is poker a game? Is it a sport? I don't know. I look at it simply like this. Shut up and give me your money." - Joey Fiore, World Series of Poker Champion
November 3rd, 2003. Queens, NY, USA.
'Is this all there is to life?' Joey thought, as he walked through the snow on his return to high school.
It was lunchtime, yet while everyone else sat in the cafeteria eating, gossiping, and copying homework, here he was walking alone...just like every other day.
He neither had lunch to bring from home nor could afford to buy any. Rather than sit and be ridiculed by other students, he preferred being alone...always more comfortable alone. 'It's better this way.'
Passing by an electronics shop, his attention was attracted by a tv blasting through the window. "We have witnessed the impossible! Chris Moneymaker, a complete amateur, has turned $40 into $2.5 million by winning the biggest poker tournament in history, The World Series of Poker Main Event Championship!"
'Moneymaker...Is this the power of a name? If I changed my name to Bruce Wayne, would I win a Batmobile?' He solemnly contemplated the prospect, before shaking his head. 'Absurd, I need to be realistic...there are definitely many Bruce Waynes out there who are all a step ahead of me...'
'It would be good if I could win $40, let alone $2.5 million.' His sigh melted into the slushing sound of his steps, growing ever heavier with his approach to the ashen school gate, separator of bleak present from mundane future.
BZZZZZZ. The bell marking the end of the school day rang out to the ears of restless students.
"Joey, may I speak with you for a moment?" asked Ms. Rodriguez as Joey was exiting the classroom.
"Yes?" responded Joey.
"Your guidance counselor mentioned you haven't applied to any universities. I really wish you'd give more thought to your future."
"Future?" Joey touched the base of his neck, reflecting on the word as if it was slightly foreign to him. "Ms. Rodriguez, thanks for your concern, but people like me don't have that kind of future," he stated with a helpless smile.
He left, leaving her gazing at his back, rendered speechless. Soon, she remembered something. "Ah! Wait, Joey! Will your mother be attending parent-teacher night tonight?"
"I think so," he answered over his shoulder as he proceeded down the downcast hallway. After he turned the corner, the directness of his words stayed with her, as did her subsequent silence, replaying in her ears like the melody of a stubborn song squatting in the back of her mind.
His mother had said she would come, but with a demanding work schedule, it would be no surprise if she couldn't. He needed a place to wait. Many of the student facilities were closed, so the open cafeteria became his goal.
"Joey!" someone yelled as he entered. It was Matt, a friend, or as close to a friend someone like him could have without losing their sanity.
"What's up?" Joey greeted, as he browsed over Matt and several other students playing some card game.
"Hey bro, perfect timing, we need another player. You down?" asked Matt.
"What game is this?" asked Joey.
"Game? Have you been living under a rock? This is poker, Texas hold'em! Don't you watch tv? it's all over ESPN, some nobody won 2.5 mil this year! It's fun. Besides, what else you got to do now?"
"...I don't know the rules though."
"Piece of cake, grab a seat buddy, I'll show you how it's done." Matt made space for Joey, who sat down and listened while Matt explained the basics.
The last rays of sunlight gradually escaped from the cracks of the dated cafeteria windows, giving life to the lingering light falling from the old halogen ceiling lamps, and to Joey's eyes as he stared unblinkingly at the cards dancing below.
He hadn't noticed that for the first time in a long while, all the darkness in his heart yielded, if only briefly.
"Hello?" A woman's voice petitioned the room.
"Come in," Ms. Rodriguez replied. A middle-aged woman entered with the kindest smile. Her thick faded winter clothes, as weatherbeaten by the years as her once smooth skin, still couldn't fully insulate the firmness of her disposition, as if she was a prideful mountain whose nature was to provide shelter on its back for the growth of a luscious forest.
"Hello, I'm Caroline, Joey Fiore's mother."
"Oh, I'm Rosa Rodriguez, it's a pleasure to finally meet you, Mrs. Fiore," she introduced as they shook hands and exchanged smiles.
"Actually, it's Ms. Fiore, but please call me Caroline," Caroline corrected while trying to maintain her smile as they both sat down.
"...Caroline, your son is a very special young man. He's hardworking and has good grades. It's my first year teaching him, but I'm very optimistic about him."
"Yes, Joey's a good boy," Caroline replied, her smile becoming even warmer.
"I also understand things have been difficult for him with his...condition," Rosa's words trailed off as she collected her thoughts.
"Could you tell me more about this? That is, if you're willing, and in confidence of course. From his records, I'm not very clear on the specifics. I've never seen anything quite like it. It's just...I'm very concerned about Joey, he seems to be having a tough time."
Caroline looked down, contemplating her response. "Joey's very...sensitive," she paused. "He's what the psychologists call an empath."
"Empath?" Rosa sounded out. "As in empathy?"
"Yes, except in Joey's case it's more like empathy overload. He can intensely feel people's emotions and general mindsets just by being near them."
"You mean like...telepathy?" Rosa questioned, slightly blushing at the word.
"No, it's more like he has a very easy time putting himself into other people's shoes, like a type of intuition. The psychologists say he can pick up on tiny cues in people's faces and body language. These help him simulate how they think and feel. The problem is...he can't control it." Her smile dimmed.
"When it happens, he gets exhausted very quickly. It makes it difficult for him to do many things others find normal. The worst part is...he can't get close to anyone." She tried to keep her face firm, but couldn't hide her slightly shaking voice and tensing grip on her handbag.
"I think...I think the only way he's learned to deal with it is to isolate himself. When his father and I split, it's like he...locked away his heart."
This information was far stranger than Rosa had expected. The room remained silent as she searched for some words of comfort. "I can't imagine what it's been like for you."
"...It's been tough, but we've been getting by. We'll get by."
Rosa had planned to try to convince Caroline to have Joey apply to some universities, but now she felt she understood him even less. She wasn't confident of being qualified to give advice for such an unusual young man.
As such, with other students' parents waiting in the hallway, she responded in the only manner she could think of. She switched into autopilot, quickly summarizing Joey's recent grades and handing out generic praise like the gratuitous lollipop at the end of a doctor's visit.
'Yea, it's always like this,' Caroline thought as she observed Rosa's eyes glaze over. "Well, thanks for having me," she said as she politely excused herself and went to meet her son.
A short while later, as they trekked back home breathing in the dense cold air, Caroline took a deep look at Joey. "You've been doing really well. I'm proud of you."
"...Are you sure it was okay to skip work today?"
"And let you slack off in class without me finding out? Don't dream of it!" Caroline joked as she tousled his hair. Soon after, they arrived at the steps of their small, multi-family brownstone.
Caroline turned the key and they walked in. "Oh, I must've left the lights on," she murmured as they passed the small interior hallway and climbed up the stairs into the apartment.
Upon reaching the dining room, their hairs rose when they heard a sinister voice, equally raspy as it was unnerving.
Hello everyone, thanks for looking at my novel. I've wanted to write a story about poker for many years now. I feel it's a very exciting game and world with various aspects of psychology and tactics, as well as light and dark sides. I started playing professionally at a high-level many years ago and parts of this story are based on my real-life experiences.
I plan to show the rise of a poker player from poverty to playing with the best in the world, overcoming difficulties and opponents along the way. Like other sports or games novels, you don't need to understand poker to enjoy this as I will write it in a reader-friendly manner assuming 0 knowledge. Over time I plan to gradually include simple explanations of real techniques and concepts in poker, from the basics to the professional level, but nothing intimidating. So if you do play I'm sure you will gain a lot from it.
I'll be publishing new chapters every day and look forward to your support!
-Samsara With Words