As he pulled on his belt, it did not slide away from the loops of his trousers with the ease and finesse that he had hoped. The black leather belt was slightly too wide for the loops, put up a fight and threatened to bring the material with it on the way out.
Stephen grinned, looked at the surrounding faces and carefully withdrew the offending article of clothing. He coiled it like a snake and placed it at his side. With that done, he sat back on his heels and the next hand was dealt before him. His opponent sat with a serene expression on her face.
The pocket cards were Aces. As he looked at his hand, he tried not to reveal the glee and excitement he felt. He had pursued Gemma for months. Although they occupied the same social circles, it was rare for them to be in such close proximity. She usually stood at the opposite end of the room at parties and in the pub, glanced in his direction and continued her conversations with others. He was peripheral to their social sphere and was comfortable with his place there. He was not a great talker and preferred the company of his online poker pals. Having said that, Gemma’s existence in their circle of friends and the possibility of meeting her now and again where alcohol was involved was promising and kept him from becoming a hermit within the confines of his bedroom.
The poker game had been an impromptu suggestion from Ricky. The group had exhausted both their funds and the publicans in town and left them with nothing to do but to take a walk to Ricky’s flat in Morningside. Once there, he produced the last remaining bottles of Merlot from the rack and a pack of playing cards.
“What’s the buy-in?” Stephen asked. “We’re all skint, right?”
Ricky dropped himself on the sofa and leaned towards the coffee table. Its surface, scuffed and burned from careless cigarettes was wide enough to accommodate six people for a game of texas hold’em if all the players sat on the floor.
“How about strip poker? We’re even on lads and girls.”
Anna, who had positioned herself beside Kevin on the floor raised an eyebrow. “Dirty sod. I’m not playing strip poker with this lot.” She winked and pulled her jumper off over her head.
“You have to play the game first, Love.” said Lindsey.
Stephen, who had until then been struggling with a wine bottle and corkscrew, looked up and saw Gemma smiling. Normally, he would have been appalled at the idea of polluting his favourite game by playing it in such a way, however, as he looked at Gemma; he began to ponder the possibilities. Beside, he thought, he could out-play them all. The hours and hours in front of the computer at night would not be a waste after all.
“How are we going to bet? None of us are wearing enough to play more than a hand or two.” asked Gemma.
“Everything has a value. Shirt can be a fiver; one shoe is two quid, etc. etc.” suggested Ricky.
With the terms laid out, the group settled into their game. As the poker progressed, Stephen began to feel sorry for his friends. He realised that most of them were not entirely familiar with the rules. He could tell by their clumsy betting and poor judgement. Clothes were being removed and dropped to the sides of the table at an alarming rate. Only he and Gemma seemed to be concentrating on producing the best possible hands from their pocket cards and the shared cards on the table. One by one, the players were eliminated from the game.
“Stevie, what do you call it when the three cards are put out face up?” asked Lindsey. She sat in her knickers and socks. She had withdrawn from the game once she was forced to surrender her bra. She sat with a throw over her shoulders and there were no more than dregs at the bottom of her wine glass.
“It’s called the Flop. First comes the Flop, which is three cars face up, then the Turn and finally, the River. You make the best pair out of your pocket cards and the five cards face up on the table. Weren’t you paying attention?”
Anna, now stripped down to her knickers and smile, drained her glass. “I don’t know about Lin, but I wasn’t.
“Come on Stevie, you’re being boring. Finish the game already.” said Ricky. He had lost the bulk of his clothing in the first hand.
Stephen had just removed his belt and saw his Aces when Gemma, at her turn to bet surprised him. “All in.” she said.
She wore a pink jumper with one of its small white buttons missing, baggy blue jeans and socks. Of all the others, she was the one who wore the most. Her hair, held loosely behind her head in a ponytail, began to slip from its knot and fell about her small face.
Stephen looked at his hand. For so long he had imagined what it would be like to see her lovely figure undressed and close to him. The opportunity was before him and would most likely never come again. Yet, the notion of taking advantage of someone he had admired for so long, for her grace, her loveliness and at that moment, for the childish eagerness of her face sent a pang of remorse through him.
His mind swam at the thought of letting her go, or letting her win a hand to make it a prolonged, less humiliating fight.
He glanced up and met her mischievous smile and made his decision. He could stand it no longer.
“I call.” He said and laid his cards down face up for all to see his pocket Aces.
She smiled, nodded, and with perfect calm turned up her cards.
“Two twos.” She said.
As Kevin dealt the remaining cards, Stephen imagined how she would look without her clothes and how they would laugh someday about the drunken poker game they all shared…and then came the Flop.
Kevin revealed a pair of twos on the table and the Queen of Hearts. By the sheer force of blind luck, Gemma had made four of a kind.
When the Turn predictably produced a low card, Stephen realised several things at once, not the least of which that he was wearing briefs that night.
© Eliza Dashwood 2007