I extended an almost ashamed hand to my opponent(the break? really?).
"Good match, man".
"Do you want to keep playing?" he said, slumped and shrugging. "I mean, we pad sixteen dollars and it's only been forty minutes..."
I glanced at my phone: 9:15. We had started at 8:30. Three games of eight-ball, four games of nine-ball, seven wins - in 45 minutes.
"Sure, why not."
I was still taking it in. I'd never played that well before. The game felt different, not completely, but slightly. Slightly easier. Balls dropped effortlessly into pockets, whitey1 rolled where I wanted him to, and most importantly, I saw the patterns; the criss-crossing lines bouncing off the balls, the rails, dissecting the table into a neatly layed-out puzzle that I could, for one night, perfectly understand. Complete control of one small part of the universe, for forty minutes. It felt good.
And without the purpose and pressure of winning, the feeling quickly left. We played two more games for fun, and I lost both.
"That was fast," Chris said as me and my opponent signed the match slip. "I've still got seven o'clock matches going."
"I got a few lucky breaks." The words came out of my mouth as humbly and sincerely as I could manage. My opponent, an emaciated James Franco look alike, was good - and I would probably face him again. He didn't need anymore motivation for vengeance. His first shot - a long cut on the eleven ball he made with perfect speed - made me think I was in for a long night. It was obvious he could play; if not for a tricky layout, he might have run the table that first game. Instead, I got to the table and ran out. Maybe the pressure of knowing any mistakes I made, the Green Goblin would punish, brought out my A+ game. Either way, beating a skilled opponent, and not just beating them but crushing them, made the victory that much sweeter.
Glancing around, I saw Alex still playing. I didn't want to interrupt, but someone had to be told. Too anxious to search for Mike or Henry, I called Mi2.
"Hey, I the book for you - want to meet outside real quick? I'm done with my match!"
Waiting outside, the cold didn't bother me. Maybe it was the eager pacing keeping me warm. Mi2 came down, and I babbled on about my victory. Like a child waiting to tell a proud parent about a straight-A report card, I couldn't keep still; my soles were springs and my arms were rarely at my sides.
Later, everyone else got to tell their stories over pizza. Alex had won 7-4. Mike lost 4-5 on a very frustrating tiebreaker that I had witnessed from afar. Facing down an easy eight-ball in the side pocket, his opponent hit the ball ten times harder then he should have and the cue ball orbited the table and barely, BARELY stopped short of scratching in the corner.
Overall though, we had a good night, climbing from last place into fifth(out of nine teams). My euphoria didn't last much past that evening, though. The realization that I wasn't as good as I had played that night hit me when I practiced the next day. The game was back to being, largely, a mystery. The balls didn't go where they were told, the cue ball didn't snap to attention, and the once clear layouts were incomprehensible.
Oh well, that's life. If it was easy, why would we bother playing?
1Whitey is a pool slang term for the cue ball.