“It is. I can read you like a book.”
This embarrasses me a little, and why is his hand still on my knee? Not that I’m complaining. It feels . . . nice. “Well, I can’t read you at all, because you’re expressionless.”
“That’s my poker face.”
This makes me laugh. “You’re a terrible poker player. Remember when your dad taught us to play? You lost so many Oreos to me that night.” I haven’t spent a lot of time with Lennon’s dad, Adam, because Lennon mostly went to visit him in San Francisco instead of Adam coming to Melita Hills. But every once in a while, his father would come into town to visit, and last summer he brought playing cards and a supersize pack of Oreos to use for bets. We sat around Mac and Sunny’s dining room table playing Texas Hold’em until past midnight. My mom had to cross the street and come get me because I’d turned my phone’s ringer off and hadn’t realized it was so late. Then she’d ended up playing a few poker hands—until my dad called at two a.m., and Mom and I both got in trouble.
Lennon smiles. “That was so fun. I remember laughing so hard, I sprained my side.”
“It made us laugh even harder.”
“Your mom cleaned up, didn’t she? She took the entire pot. Who knew she was such a vicious poker player.”
That surprised me, too. She was so loud when she won. Probably woke half the neighborhood with her victory shouts. “Your dad was hilarious, showing up in that casino poker dealer outfit with the green visor. When he does something, he goes all out, doesn’t he?”
A wrinkle appears in his forehead. “Yeah,” he says softly.
Sunny and Mac have framed photos in their hallway of Lennon and Adam dressed up for Halloween in superdetailed complementary costumes. Milk carton and cookie. Batman and Robin. Mario and Luigi. Surfer and shark. Luke Skywalker and Yoda. This went on from the time Lennon was a baby until the year I moved to Mission Street, actually. Lennon was too old to go trick-or-treating, and Adam went on some punk reunion tour.
“I never figured out where he got that giant package of Oreos. There were hundreds.”
“I think he stole it from work. Or ‘borrowed,’ according to him,” Lennon says, one side of his mouth turning up. “Mac gave him hell for it later when she found out. You know how she feels about stealing.”
She has zero tolerance for it. I think it has something to do with her being homeless when she was a teen. May God have mercy on anyone who tries to shoplift vibrators from Toys in the Attic, because they will end up getting a tough-love speech from her while she calls the cops.
Now Lennon seems bluesy. I’m not sure what I said that made his mood go downhill, but before I can ask, he shoos away a moth that’s flying around our fire, attracted to the light, and grabs my knee harder, shaking my leg to get my attention. “Hey. I just remembered. I have cards in my backpack. For Solitaire. You want to play poker?”
“With what? We have no cookies. And Joy would kill me if I bet the emergency money she gave me for the trip.”
Lennon thinks for a moment. “We could use the M&M’s in your trail mix.”
“Just a couple of games before it’s black out here,” he says. “Then you can break out your telescope and do some stargazing.”
I chuckle. “All right. You’re on, buddy. Prepare to lose!”
It’s getting too dark to see all that well by the fire, and the bear canisters aren’t big enough to play on. So we decide to shove both of our packs in Lennon’s tent and play cards inside mine—it’s the bigger of the two—where we can spread out the cards. The palm-size LED light Lennon loaned me provides illumination, and we open the outer door flap and zip up the mesh screen to allow airflow while keeping away the bugs. It takes a while to pick out all the M&M’s from the trail mix, and then takes a couple of hands to remember how to play. I keep getting a straight flush confused with a full house, and Lennon forgets half of the rules. We’re probably still playing wrong, but neither of us cares. We’re too busy laughing.
And it feels natural and good. Easy.
We play until the moon rises outside and stars dot the black sky. The campfire nearly burns out. I even forget about my snake bite until he accidentally bumps into my ankle, apologizing profusely when I cry out. Then he rubs my leg, asking about my hives. I took a mild antihistamine at dinner, so they aren’t bothering me too badly at the moment, or maybe it’s just that his warm palm gliding over my bare skin is distracting me from the itching. It’s definitely making me forget about the snake bite all over again. I forget about everything, actually, including my current hand of poker. He wins the entire pot of M&M’s.