It's mid-December, time for Jeff B's monthly Portrait of Words Challenge. Jeff offers a set of photos - each with a specific assignment: three wild cards, only one of which must be used, a purpose, a main character, and one essential item. The challenge is to craft a story incorporating these photos. Not so easy. Please visit Jeff's blog, A Word in Edgewise, to read his story and then follow Mr. Linky to all the clever stories written by other participants.
Vegas was Nicky Johnson's last hope to save the buildings he had nurtured for his whole adult life. He was the antithesis of a slum lord. Fifty years earlier when he had inherited - at the tender age of 21 - three buildings on New York's Lower East Side, he had been mortified by the squalid conditions. He had known his father was a cold and distant man, but he had not begun to imagine that anyone- let alone his own father - could in good conscience take money from people when he was letting them live in such deplorable conditions. So at twenty-one, he had taken it upon himself to atone for his father's sins. He had enlisted the tenants to help clean the place up, paying them for their labor and refusing to take any rent from them until the buildings were pristine and beautiful. Every apartment was painted, re-floored and given new windows and appliances. Working alongside them, he had grown to love these people whom his father had treated as so much refuse. He become an uncle or father-figure to many of the children, insuring that they got educations. He found his beloved wife Cora Anne among these struggling people. He had fallen in love with her passion for justice and beauty and change. She had spurned his advances initially, not taking them seriously until he presented her with two dozen of the most beautiful yellow roses she had ever seen...
For 55 years they had been blissfully happy. In the last five years, she had faced down cancer with her usual courage and good humor. Six months ago, she had died as she lived - with matter-of-fact honesty. She had had the courage to both laugh and to cry. Even though it was she battling cancer, it seemed to him that it was she caring for him and not the other way around. She had been an awesome woman, an awesome human being. He had loved her with his whole being. He had no doubt that she was safe in God's arms now. How could God manage with out her? They had been so blessed - and he still was. After his Cora died - quietly, smiling in his arms whispering that it would be ok - the tenants - the huge extended "family" they had created with their love and generosity, swooped in and held him up as he had so often held them up in dark times. They had sat with him, cried with him, remembered with him. They had brought him yellow roses and prepared meals for him. They had kept him going.
Alas, in the last days of Cora's illness and the months afterwards he had not been paying attention to the stock market, had not seen the disaster coming. Now his life's work, the well-being of own home and that of so many other families was imperiled. He knew gambling was a fool's risk, but it seemed to him the only way. If that didn't work, well he would find a way to join Cora and let his life insurance protect the buildings. He had already groomed young Willie Norris to be caretaker and since he and Cora left no heirs, his will left the properties to the tenants. Perhaps that would be best. But he knew Cora would be angry with him for thinking like that.
He knew others would think him crazy, but he felt her with him today. They had honeymooned at this hotel... in this room. He would have dinner with her - well, with her presence - and in the morning he would go downstairs and with some luck and maybe his late wife's help - he would save his buildings. He had ordered yellow roses, candles and dinner for two. He was being fanciful, not crazy. Lighting a candle, he raised poured a glass of her favorite wine and raised it to her empty chair. "Cora, babe... I need your help... The whole family needs your help. Unless I can win big tonight, we'll lose the buildings and all our lifetime of work, making a home for them will be destroyed. I'm going to gamble tonight for the first - and hopefully the last - time in my life. Watch over me. Blow on the dice, turn them over... do what you can to help. And if I lose, forgive me for what I must do. I love you."
Dinner over, he picked up the phone and talked to his banker... Tomorrow he would head downstairs to the roulette tables and bet everything he had left to his name in an effort to save his buildings. He was frightened, but he felt Cora with him. It would be OK, he thought. He had an angel on his side and she would not let him fail. He would save the buildings and then... one day soon, he would join her and together they would watch over all those they loved. For tonight, though, he would sleep with the sweet scent of yellow rose petals on his pillow and he would dream of Cora's arms.