King. Queen. Jack. Ten. Nine. All spades.
Only a well-practiced poker face kept me from grinning. With a king-high straight flush in my hand, the only thing that could save any of my opponents was a royal flush.
Kristen, one of my girlfriends, eyed me from across the table, undoubtedly inspecting my expression for anything that might betray the hand I held. I just looked back at her, laid my cards facedown on the table, and folded my hands over them.
She laughed quietly. Why she still tried to read me, I didn't know. My poker face was as rock solid as her own.
I looked to my left. Steve, tonight's host, scowled at his cards. His visible frustration was too intense to be a bluff. He was probably thinking his shitty hand meant he was fucked. Which I supposed was true, but it was really my hand, not his, that meant he was fucked.
And it was about damned time, too. I was already down almost fifty bucks tonight, and most of that was in the pile of chips in front of Kristen. It was high time I got some of that back.
Matt, Kristen's other boyfriend, tapped a five-dollar chip on the table. "Kris, you're opening."
She didn't hesitate, picking up two fivers and tossing them into the center of the table. "Ten."
Steve's scowl intensified. He chewed his lip for a second, then threw in two chips. "Call."
I did the same, minus the display of frustration. "Call."
Matt raised the bet to fifteen. Kristen and Steve both raised their eyebrows. His five-dollar raise could have been cockiness or a bluff, knowing him. Still, I wasn't worried.
Matt tapped the deck with two fingers. "Kristen, how many?"
She pulled two cards out of her hand and slid them across the table. Matt dealt two and sent them her way.
He raised his eyebrows. "Steve?"
"Four," Steve muttered. They exchanged cards.
I started to speak, but my cell phone vibrated in my pocket, startling me. As I pulled it out, I said, "None for me."
I looked at my caller ID. The number was unrecognized, so it was probably a wrong number. I debated kicking it over to voicemail, but since they were calling at past nine on a weeknight, there was always the possibility it wasn't a wrong number and was important. Keeping my voice as quiet as I could, I answered.
The woman's voice raised the hairs on the back of my neck. It couldn't be. Not after all this time.
I cleared my throat. "Yes, this is Scott."
"Oh, thank God." She was almost whispering. "It's..."
My heart pounded. "Meredith?"
Kristen met my eyes from across the table, eyebrows up.
"Yeah," Meredith said softly. "It's me."
I nodded. Kristen's eyes widened.
To Meredith, I said, "This is... unexpected."
Matt and Kristen's voices murmured in the background, behind the blood pounding in my ears and the tense silence on the line.
"...someone you know?"
Meredith took a breath. "Listen, I know I'm probably the last person you expected to hear from, and..." She dropped her voice a little lower. "Scott, I need your help."
If there were five words in the English language that could make me abandon a king-high straight flush when I was fifty in the hole, those were the ones.