Throb(6)By: Vi Keeland
Two more hands and Ben and Frank fold again, leaving just Kate and me. My cards are shit, but I like the way she pushes back every time I raise the ante, so I just keep throwing good money after bad.
After my last raise, Kate brushes her thumb over the worn chip she’s kept at her side all night, looks down at her pot, then back to me, studying my face. I return the challenging stare. Her blue-green eyes squint ever so slightly as she tries to read what I’ve got sitting face-down on the table. For a second, she drops her gaze and lingers on my mouth before returning to my eyes. I have no idea what she sees, but something makes her smile. It’s slow and confident and she arches one eyebrow before she pushes her chips in. “Call.”
I don’t take my eyes off her as I turn over my pair of twos. She smirks, then turns over a pair of threes. Ben and Frank laugh their asses off and decide we need a short break, one long enough for me to “pull my head out of my ass.”
The two men disappear to the men’s room, leaving just Kate and me sitting at the table. Leaning back in my chair, I ask. “How did you know?”
She shrugs and smiles. “It’s all about reading people.”
“So you can see what I’m thinking?” I lift my beer to my lips and take a slow draw without breaking eye contact.
“What am I thinking about now?” I try in vain to keep a stoic face, but the corner of my mouth tilts up to a dirty grin.
She shakes her head and walks to the restroom smiling, leaving me watching the sway of her ass.
A few hours later, Frank calls for the last hand. I pull a money clip out of my pocket and lay it on the table. Ben takes out a business-card holder engraved with his initials and Frank tosses a pair of my father’s cufflinks to the middle.
“What’s going on?” Kate questions, a look of confusion on her face.
Apparently Frank failed to tell her about the tradition of last hand of the night, so he begins explaining. “Last hand isn’t for cash. It’s something that means something to you, that all of us might want.”
Kate lifts her purse and spends a minute looking through it. Finally, she takes out a pen and paper, writes something down, and folds it up.
“We don’t take IOUs,” I tease.
She looks me in the eye. “It’s my phone number. Didn’t think any of you would want my lipstick or a tampon.” She arches one eyebrow, daring me to question her choice. Another damn twitch. I might have to sit at the table for a while if this is another quick hand.
I laugh, but damn she anted up something I want. Badly. Unfortunately, true to the rest of the night, Kate is the one pulling in the pot at the end of the game.
“You better give me a chance to get my friend’s cufflinks back tomorrow, little lady.” Frank wags his finger at Kate. So she works here. Good to know.
Frank tells us to go, he has a few things to do before he can lock up. Ben takes off quickly, answering yet another call from his third wife. I walk Kate to her car.
“Lucky chip?” I ask, referring to the solid black worn chip she took from her purse and slid her thumb over on more than one occasion while playing.
“It brought my dad a lot of luck over the years.”
I nod. “I’m glad I came tonight. I had a great time. It’s been a while since I played with those guys.”
“Seems like you guys go pretty far back.”
“Pretty sure they were all playing cards in the hospital lobby when I was born,” I joke, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were. I’ll have to ask one day.
“This is me,” Kate says as we arrive at an old Jeep in the parking lot. It’s a beautiful night and the top is already off. She clicks her keys to unlock the door. I open it for her to get in, but hang on to the top, not letting it close.