I walk back to the table and pick up my cards for the next round. A couple of minutes later, Atlas walks over and takes the seat next to me. Jimmy shuffles out a round of new cards to everyone. “So, Atlas. How do you and Lily know each other?”
Atlas picks up his cards one at a time. “Lily saved my life when we were kids,” he says, matter-of-fact. He glances over at me and winks, and I drown in guilt for the way that wink makes me feel. Especially at a time like this. Why is my heart doing this to me?
“Aw, that’s sweet,” Brad says. “Lily saved your life, now you’re saving hers.”
Atlas lowers his cards and glares at Brad. “Excuse me?”
“Relax,” Brad says. “Me and Lily are tight, she knows I’m kidding.” Brad looks at me. “Your life might be complete crap right now, Lily, but it’ll get better. Trust me, I’ve been there.”
Darin laughs. “You’ve been beat up and pregnant and hiding out at another man’s house?” he says to Brad.
Atlas slaps his cards on the table and pushes back in his chair. “What the hell is wrong with you?” he yells at Darin.
I reach over and squeeze his arm reassuringly. “Relax,” I say. “We bonded before you got here. I actually don’t mind that they’re making light of my situation. It really does make it a little less heavy.”
He runs a frustrated hand through his hair, shaking his head. “I’m so confused,” he says. “You were alone with them for ten minutes.”
I laugh. “You can learn a lot about someone in ten minutes.” I try to redirect the conversation. “So how do you all know each other?”
Darin leans forward and points at himself. “I’m the sous chef at Bib’s.” He points at Brad. “He’s the dishwasher.”
“For now,” Brad interjects. “I’m working my way up.”
“What about you?” I say to Jimmy.
He smirks and says, “Take a guess.”
Based on the way he dresses and the fact that he’s been called arrogant and pompous, I’d have to assume . . . “Maître d’?”
Atlas laughs. “Jimmy actually works in valet.”
I glance back at Jimmy and raise an eyebrow. He tosses three poker chips down and says, “It’s true. I park cars for tips.”
“Don’t let him fool you,” Atlas says. “He works in valet, but only because he’s so rich he gets bored.”
I smile. It reminds me of Allysa. “I have an employee like that. Only works because she’s bored. She’s actually the best employee I have.”
“Damn straight,” Jimmy mutters.
I take a look at my cards when it’s my turn and toss in the three poker chips. Atlas’s phone rings and he pulls it out of his pocket. I’m raising the pot with another chip when he excuses himself from the table to take the call.
“Fold,” Brad says, slapping his cards on the table.
I’m watching the hallway Atlas just disappeared down in a hurry. It makes me wonder if he’s talking to Cassie, or if there’s someone else in his life. I know what he does for a living. I know he has at least three friends. I just know nothing about his love life.
Darin lays his cards on the table. Four of a kind. I lay down my straight flush and reach forward for all the poker chips as Darin groans.
“So does Cassie not usually come to poker night?” I ask, fishing for more information on Atlas. Information I’m too scared to ask him myself.
“Cassie?” Brad says.
I stack my winnings up in front of me and nod. “Isn’t that his girlfriend’s name?”
Darin laughs. “Atlas doesn’t have a girlfriend. I’ve known him for two years and he’s never mentioned anyone named Cassie.” He begins passing out new cards, but I’m trying to absorb the information he just gave me. I pick up my first two cards when Atlas walks back into the room.
“Hey, Atlas,” Jimmy says. “Who the hell is Cassie and how come we’ve never heard you talk about her?”
I’m completely mortified. I tighten my grip around the cards in my hands and try to avoid looking up at Atlas, but the room grows so quiet, it would be more obvious if I didn’t look at him.
He’s staring at Jimmy. Jimmy is staring at him. Brad and Darin are staring at me.
Atlas folds his lips together for a moment and then says, “There is no Cassie.” His eyes meet mine, but only for a brief second. But in that brief second, I can see it written all over his face.
There never was a Cassie.
He lied to me.
Atlas clears his throat and then says, “Listen, guys. I should have cancelled tonight. This week has been kind of . . .” He rubs his hand over his mouth and Jimmy stands up.
He squeezes Atlas on the shoulder and says, “Next week. My place.”
Atlas nods appreciatively. The three of them begin to gather their cards and poker chips. Brad pries my cards from my fingers apologetically because I’m unable to move as I clutch them tightly.
“It was lovely meeting you, Lily,” Brad says. I somehow find the strength to smile and stand up. I give them all hugs goodbye and after the front door closes behind them, it’s just me and Atlas in the room.
And no Cassie.
Cassie’s never even been in this room, because Cassie doesn’t exist.
What the hell?
Atlas hasn’t moved from his spot near the table. Neither have I. He’s standing firm with his arms folded across his chest. His head is slightly tilted down but his eyes are boring into me from across the table.