“What are your names?”
“I’m Darin,” the tall one says.
“Brad,” the shorter one says.
“Lily,” I say to them, even though I already told them my name. “Atlas will be here soon.” I move to close the door and they seem to relax a little. Darin heads into the kitchen and helps himself to Atlas’s refrigerator.
Brad takes off his jacket and hangs it up. “Do you know how to play poker, Lily?”
I shrug. “It’s been a few years, but I used to play with friends in college.”
Both of them walk toward the dining room table.
“What happened to your head?” Darin asks as he takes a seat. He asks it so casually, like it doesn’t even cross his mind that it might be a sensitive subject.
I don’t know why I have an urge to give him the naked truth. Maybe I just want to see how someone will react when they find out my own husband did this to me.
“My husband happened. We got into a fight two nights ago and he head-butted me. Atlas took me to the emergency room. They gave me six stitches and told me I was pregnant. Now I’m hiding out here until I figure out what to do.”
Poor Darin is frozen, halfway between standing and sitting. He has no idea how to respond to that. Based on the look on his face, I think he’s convinced I’m crazy.
Brad pulls out his chair and takes a seat, pointing at me. “You should get some Rodan and Fields. The amp roller works wonders for scarring.”
I immediately laugh at his random response. Somehow.
“Jesus, Brad!” Darin says, finally sinking into his seat. “You’re worse than your wife with this direct sales shit. You’re like a walking infomercial.”
Brad raises his hands in defense. “What?” he says innocently. “I’m not trying to sell her anything, I’m being honest. The stuff works. You’d know that if you’d use it on your damn acne.”
“Screw you,” Darin says.
“It’s like you’re trying to be a perpetual teenager,” Brad mutters. “Acne isn’t cool when you’re thirty.”
Brad pulls out the chair next to him while Darin begins shuffling a deck of cards. “Have a seat, Lily. One of our friends decided to be an idiot and get married last week, and now his wife won’t let him come to poker night anymore. You can be his fill-in until he gets a divorce.”
I had every intention of hiding out in my room tonight, but these two make it hard to walk away. I take a seat next to Brad and reach across the table. “Hand me those,” I say to Darin. He’s shuffling the cards like a one-armed infant.
He raises an eyebrow and pushes the deck of cards across the table. I don’t know much about card games, but I can shuffle cards like a pro.
I separate the cards into two piles and scoot them together, pressing my thumbs to the ends, watching as they beautifully intertwine. Darin and Brad are staring at the deck of cards, when there’s another knock on the door. This time the door swings open without pause and a guy walks in dressed in what looks like a very expensive tweed jacket. There’s a scarf wrapped around his neck, and he begins to unwind it as soon as he slams the door behind him. He nudges his head in my direction as he walks toward the kitchen. “Who are you?”
He’s older than the other two, probably in his mid-forties.
Atlas definitely has an interesting mix of friends.
“This is Lily,” Brad says. “She’s married to an asshole and just found out she’s pregnant with the asshole’s baby. Lily, this is Jimmy. He’s pompous and arrogant.”
“Pompous and arrogant are the same thing, idiot,” Jimmy says. He pulls out the chair next to Darin and nudges his head at the cards in my hands. “Did Atlas plant you here to hustle us? What kind of average person knows how to shuffle cards like that?”
I smile and begin to pass cards out to each of them. “I guess we’ll have to play a round to find out.”
• • •
We’re on our third round of bets when Atlas finally walks in. He closes the door behind him and looks around at the four of us. Brad said something funny right before Atlas opened the door, so I’m in the middle of a fit of laughter when Atlas locks eyes with me. He nods his head toward the kitchen and begins walking in that direction.
“Fold,” I say, laying my cards flat on the table as I stand up to follow him. When I get to the kitchen, he’s standing where he isn’t visible to the guys at the table. I walk over to him and lean against the counter.
“You want me to ask them to leave?”
I shake my head. “No, don’t do that. I’m actually enjoying it. It’s keeping my mind off things.”
He nods and I can’t help but notice how he smells like herbs. Rosemary, specifically. It makes me wish I could see him in action at his restaurant.
“You hungry?” he asks.
I shake my head. “Not really. I ate some leftover pasta a couple hours ago.”
My hands are pressed into the counter on either side of me. He takes a step closer and puts one of his hands over mine, brushing his thumb across the top of it. I know he doesn’t mean for it to be anything more than a comforting gesture, but when he touches me, it feels like a whole lot more. A rush of warmth moves up my chest and I immediately drop my eyes to our hands. Atlas pauses his thumb for a second, like he feels it, too. He pulls his h and away and backs up a step.
“Sorry,” he mutters, turning toward the refrigerator, pretending to look for something. It’s obvious he’s trying to spare me from the awkwardness of what just happened.