Darren had left the game. I thought he had quit forever. For certain. I mean, he had surely quit – no one comes back after so much time to play seriously, even someone as talented as he had been.
Yet there Darren was, sitting down at my table, unracking. I wanted to say something but ended up just nodding to him. We weren’t close, after all, and I’ve always been quiet. He signaled back, kind of dipping his head and smiling.
I’d always liked Darren. He gave off confidence and was so good at what he did.
“Where have you been?” said one of the players. However, this wasn’t a friendly question. In fact, I noticed that a few people at the table seemed agitated.
“We missed you,” one said.
“I needed you,” said another.
I was surprised. I felt an irresistible anxiety stealing over me, as if I had walked into a bedroom or an alley or a universe I had no business in. They all to have been much closer than I could have guessed, and I was glad I had said nothing.
“And then, we forgot you,” added a third player.
Now everyone was silent, but Darren had put down his chips and started motioning with his hands. He wanted to talk; Darren had always commanded the table.
“I was learning what needed to be learned. I have good news, things you need to know.”
However, the players looked at each other and started racking up, leaving.
As the last one headed to the cage, he spoke to Darren. “Funny, we learned everything about you when you left.”
It seemed an eternity until the dealer flicked out the cards at the emptied table and things were back to normal.