Not How it’s Done
By Kevin McCarthy
The bell over the door chimed once when it opened. Eric, the owner of The Pavilion, Games and Toys, liked the nostalgia of a bell hanging from a spring that signaled the entrance of a customer.
"Welcome," he called, his customary greeting. Then he looked up from the cards he was sorting. His continuation of "...to The Pavilion" caught in his throat as he saw the person who just walked in.
She was stunning. Not beautiful, not even pretty. She had blue eyes, too blue. So blue, he could see them from halfway across the store. Her hair was gold, not blond, but that metallic luster of true, pure gold. Eric's third or fourth thought, once his brain started processing things correctly again, was that she was tall. Just over the height of tall and into the realm of weirdly tall. There were enough things about her that were just a little off that a thinking person would think she looked a little odd.
The atmosphere in the entire store changed slightly. The display of games and toys by the door seemed brighter than it should. The sun was already setting in the late fall sky, but the front still looked bright, like the summer sun was shining through the large windows.
The regulars in the back pain no mind to customers coming in. The shop was tight, wedged in between an ancient autoparts store and a brand new boutique that sold something, Eric wasn't quite sure.
"Hello," she said, walking up to the counter. "I'm here for game night?"
Her voice did not match her features. It was tremulous. Eric thought she must be foreign, the accents on the words were different than the Texas twang he was used to.
"Oh, sure," he replied. "Help yourself. There's some loaner games on the back shelf or just ask anyone if they want to play."
"Thank you kind sir." She smiled tentatively and stepped into the gaming area in the back.
Eric shook his head as if to clear cobwebs out of his mind, then went back to sorting cards.
The back half of the store was devoted to gaming. There was one large table off to the side and five large folding tables with uncomfortable chairs around them. Several small groups of people had already started games.
The woman first stopped at the large table, with more comfortable chairs. A large map was in the center with a ten figurines on it. The six people around the table had handfuls of dice, stacks of books, and paper scattered all around them.
"Right," one of the players said. He had a large screen around him and more papers than the other. "You're going to need a seventeen or better, just to survive."
Several of the other cheered as a young girl reached for one of her dice. "Comon Tissy, you can do it."
The woman tilted her head considering the elaborate ritual the young girl made of rolling the die. When the die stopped moving, the "20" was showing and the whole table cheered. The woman smiled.
"Hell yeah!" one of the other players said, a lot too loudly.
"No cussing before nine," Eric called out.
The woman moved on the other tables. At the first two older men were playing a card game. "If I draw a land, you're dead," the bald one said.
"Never happen, you always run too few mana," replied the other.
The bald one drew a card from the stack in front of him and laughing, slammed down a card with a picture of a mountain on it.
"Hah! Fireball for 8, to your head."
"Dang, good game. Nice draw. Eric, he won."
"Finally," Eric replied. "That's what, one to about twelve thousand?"
"Something like that."
The woman wandered on to the next table.
"Hey, we're about to start, want in?" The woman asking was older, with gray hair tied up in a bun. Her glasses hung off the end of her nose.
"Yes, please. That would be fine."
"I'm not that old honey," the woman replied.
"I'm Jim and this is my wife Mary," the only man at the table said. He was well past middle aged and had the slightly balding, portly look of a man in his more comfortable years. His wife was lean and fit, though her brown hair was starting to show some grey. She was dressed in a tracksuit compared to her husband's t-shirt and shorts.
They just looked at each other, kind of confused for a moment. Then Helen asked, "What's your name honey?"
"Oh, that's a lovely name," Helen replied. "Would you like to play with us?"
Felicity smiled and said "Yes." She sat in the spot that Helen indicated.
"I haven't seen you before," Mary said, while JIm unboxed a game, laying out a board and handing piles of pieces to everyone at the table.
"My first time," Felicity said.
Jim carefully explained the rules of the game, which wasn't very complex. Helen, Mary, and Jim, were obviously well acquainted and played the game while talking about a variety of topics. Felicity was mostly quite, except when responding to direct questions.
Finally, the last play was made and Jim won with Felicity coming in second place.
"That's never happened before," Felicity complained.
"Don't worry about it, honey. Jim's really good at this game. He went to the US tournament three years running."
"But I should have won."
"OK," Mary said slowly.
"All the rolls where in my favor."
Jim replied, "Well, yes, you had very good rolls, but that's only a part of the game. You have to plan to be most efficient. You have to know which parts work well together and which work against each other."
"You mean, it's not just being lucky?"
"Not at all. A really top notch player can have the worst luck in the world and still win. It's much harder, but it can be done."
Felicity looked very confused by that.
"Can we play another game? Something else?"
"Sure, anything in particular?"
"I used to like tavli."
Jim thought for a second, "I haven't heard of that one. Who is it by?" Mary pulled out her phone and start checking the internet.
"There's a board with two different discs on it. You roll dice to move the discs."
"Tavli," Mary read, "is the oldest game with rules known to be nearly identical to backgammon. Felicity, are you from Greece?"
"Well, we don't have a backgammon set and it's only two players anyway."
"OK. I can try something else."
"Great," Helen said. "How about this?" and pulled a game from her bag.
"Jim doesn't like it because he always loses," Mary said to Felicity, loudly to ensure that Jim could hear her.
Felicity nodded and they explained another set of rules to her.
"Wait, there's no dice?"
"No. You just place pieces on the board."
"No luck at all?"
"It's a strategy game."
"I don't like that at all," Felicity said, standing up and left the game shop.
The next week, Felicity came to the game shop again. Luckily, she found Helen, Jim, and Mary at the same table as last week.
"Hello," she said.
"Oh, hi honey," Helen said.
"I am apologizing for being… rude." She said it carefully as if she had rehearsed, but was concerned about getting it right.
"Oh, that's OK, right?" Jim and Mary agreed.
"Can I play?"
"Sure, but not the strategy game right?"
They played another game and despite very lucky dice rolls, Felicity was last this time. She frowned staring at the board. She glared at the board as if trying to force it to behave to her wishes.
Mary interrupted her stare down with the board, "I brought a game with lots of dice. Would like to play that?"
Felicity perked up at that. "Yes, please."
The others continued to chat about their grandchildren and the latest news while they played. Felicity concentrated on each roll of the dice. She never failed to exactly what she needed to complete her board. There was always enough that even if the other took something she needed, she had a backup.
The game was over quickly as Felicity filled her board well before the others.
Mary looked at Jim and he looked at Felicity. Helen was happily oblivious and trying to get Felicity into a conversation about puppies.
"Let's play again," Jim said.
"Yes," Felicity said.
The second game was over as quickly as the first. Felicity scored more than the other three combined.
"So, you've never played this before," Jim asked.
"No. I like this one."
"How did you do it?" Jim asked.
"Fix the dice."
"Jim!" Helen said.
"Helen, she rolled perfectly. Not once, not twice but 14 times in a row. She's a terrible player and back herself into corner after corner. Every roll after the first four had to be one number out of the eleven possible numbers on two six-sided. In order. And she hit every single one. Both games. How did you do it?"
Felicity sighed. "I just wanted someone to play with." She seemed about to cry.
"It's OK honey. We're not mad, but if you did… force the dice, you really shouldn't. That's not how it's done."
"It's OK, Felicity," Jim said. "Helen's right. We're not mad. But it's more fun to win and deserve it than to win and not deserve it."
"What do you mean? Winning is winning right?"
Mary sighed, "No dear. You lost to Jim last week, remember?" Felicity nodded. "One time, a long time ago, we played a game with our son. I think he was ten or eleven at the time. Anyway, he got mad because he lost and he wanted to win.
"Jim looked him in the eye and said, 'Son, when you beat me and you will eventually, you will know that you beat one of the best there is. Not because it was given to you, but because you earned it.'
"We're not in a competition for our lives. We're here to have some fun and be with our friends. It's true, we all like to win. But in a game, someone wins and the rest don't. That's life."
"I always win.”
"How?" Jim asked.
"Don't you mean you're lucky."
"No. I'm luck. I do luck. I give luck."
"Roll the dice. Five of them. Tell me the numbers you want."
"Two, six, six, one, one," Jim said and rolled the dice. The dice rolled the numbers he said. But not only that, they were in order, from left to right on the table. Not in a neat line, but obviously in the same order.
They did the test again and again. Every single time, the roll was exactly what they said, even when they didn't tell Felicity what they wanted.
"How?" Jim repeated for the tenth time.
"Can I still play with you?"
"If you promise not to do that."
"I'm not sure I can not do it."
Mary yelled out while looking on her phone. "Holy shit!"
"No cussing before nine!" Eric called out.
"What?" Jim asked.
"Felicitas is Greek for the condition of happiness, blessedness, and good fortune," Mary said, reading. "The goddess Felicitas was different from Fortuna," Felicity hissed. "As Felicitas was always beneficial while Fortuna was random and unpredictable."
The other three turned from Mary to stare a Felicity.
"That's not possible," Jim said.
"But it's true," Felicity replied.
"You can't be a goddess. There's no such thing."
Felicity just pointed at the dice, still lying in the last order Jim had called out.
After an uncomfortable pause, Felicity said, "Can we play another game. I'll try not to cheat."
"Why are you even here?" Jim asked.
"I'm bored and there's no one who will talk to me."
"You just want to have some friends, honey?"
"Yes. That's all. Can I stay?"
"Of course," Helen replied.
"But," Jim said. "We're going to teach you how to play games and not rely on luck."
He reached into his bag and pulled out a large box.
Felicity smiled and nodded.