Roughly four years ago, four women are sipping their wine while waiting for their meals at Ruby Tuesday’s. One of the women has a glow about her… The other three investigate, eventually ruling out weight loss, a new hair cut, a new relationship — the usual suspects. Until…

“I do have a secret,” the woman confessed, blushing profusely.

On the edge of our seats the rest of us sat, our lips at the edge of our wine glasses, holding our breath, waiting for the details of her confession.

She took a deep breath, looked each of us in the eye, then exhaled, “I play Bingo.”

Shock and awe. At least one audible gasp. “Like ink daubers and fuzzy-headed trolls?!” I laughed.

“Trolls are completely optional,” she retorted, sticking out her tongue. “Daubers too, depending where you play.”

“…But, err, ‘Bingo’?!”

“It’s the only place I have… No kids, no seeing the cottage cheese look of my thighs in mirrors beneath horrific florescent lights — and the only creepy dudes are the fuzzy-headed trolls. I started going once a month, now it’s once a week. It’s my happy place, my secret space.”

“How can you afford it?”

“I can head out with as little as $20; less than the cost of a sales rack at Macy’s. Everyone thinks I’m shopping anyway… Wanna come along with me tonight and find out for yourselves?”

We couldn’t finish our meals fast enough.

At the time, our intentions were more of the mocking-as-entertainment variety; but quickly, we fell in love… And from there, we’ve gone onto casinos, slot machines, poker, online and off.

Three months ago, while at a boring family event, I snuggled-up next to my grandmother conspiratorially.

“Grandma,” I whispered, “Can you keep a secret?”

Her eyes crinkled at the corners, just as they always have when she hands me a cookie, and I knew her answer. So I continued.

“My girlfriends and I gamble.”

“Darling, every girl’s life is a gamble,” she replied with that reassuring tone that suggests patting my knee.

“I mean I gamble with my girlfriends, Gran; like bingo and slots and stuff.”

There was a look in her eyes — a beautiful look, usually reserved for talk of my grandfather or friends who’ve passed on. “Oh, Shawnee,” she cried, “Every woman needs her gambling girls and her kitty! How else would we ever make it through life?!

And so begins my earnest quest for understanding all the games of chance that women must try to best.

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