Jeremy winced at the tone and the full length of his name. “One sec,” he shouted back through the open den door, typing frantically into the betting window, while a table full of cartoon poker players waited. Chips appeared with a clatter in front of his own graphic, then in front of the man to his virtual left and on around the table. Three more players called him and the chips restacked themselves in the center of the table.
Though his name had shortened, so had the temper by the sound of the shout. He cursed under his breath as three cards were spread face up in the center of the table. They did nothing to help his hand. He bet again anyway. “I’ll be right there!”
“You said that ten minutes ago!”
By the sound of his voice, Jeremy knew that Kevin was now at the foot of the stairs. A fourth card was laid on the table. He bet again, the fourth card knocked out any chance he had of a winning hand, but he bet high. The four cards on the board left the possibility of a straight or a flush. It made for a good bluff, but a dangerous one if someone else actually held the right cards. He held his breath as the man to his left folded his cards, backing out of the hand. The next player folded as well. If the last two threw in the towel, he’d steal the pot and not even have to show the crappy cards he was bluffing on.
“Jeremy…” The voice had dropped several decibels in volume and sounded deceptively calm. Jeremy felt his shoulders tense.
“I’m coming, hang on…”
“I’m going to count to three…”
The third player folded after several tense seconds and Jeremy stared mutely at the cartoon cowboy sitting motionless and without expression, two face-down cards still resting in front of him. The timer demanding the man bet or fold appeared on the screen. He had twenty seconds. Jeremy held his breath.
“When I get to three, I’m coming up there, and then I’m going to take that damn modem and you won’t see it for a month!”
“I’m coming, Kev, I swear, just give me a second. ”
Chips appeared in front of the cowboy, calling Jeremy’s bet. “Dammit,” Jeremy muttered. A fifth card appeared, a diamond, making four of the five cards on the table diamonds. All the cowboy had to have in his hand was one more diamond and Jeremy was very burnt toast. The cursor blinked in front of Jeremy’s virtual seat and his two black cards. He chewed his lip for a second.
Jeremy ground his teeth. “Fuck it,” he muttered and typed in 1,500. The pile of chips appeared in front of his seat. The cursor moved to the cowboy. It blinked. Jeremy felt his heart thumping in his chest. “Come on, come on…”
“Three!” Heavy footsteps sounded on the stairs.
Jeremy jumped out of his chair, one hand still on the mouse. “I’m coming!” Seconds ticked by, then the cowboy’s cards vanished from the table. The center cards vanished from the table. His 1,500 chips flew to the center stack, then the entire stack slid back to rest in front of his seat. “Yes!” he hissed and quickly toggled himself out of the next round just as the footsteps approached the den door. Jeremy took two steps toward it himself, then paused and snatched the mobile modem from the computer port and shoved it quickly into his pocket just as Kevin’s scowling countenance appeared in the open doorway.
Jeremy pasted an ingratiatingly sheepish grin on his face and raised his open hands. “See? I’m all yours.”
Kevin’s arms were crossed over his chest. He hitched one shoulder against the door jamb and raised an eyebrow.
Jeremy winced a little. “I’m sorry,” he tried, and when it earned him no softening of expression, he added, “There was five grand in the pot!”
Kevin’s eyes widened and he tilted his face toward the ceiling. “It’s NOT REAL MONEY!” he exclaimed in an exasperated repeat of a phrase he’d used more times that month than there had been days.
Jeremy rolled his shoulder upward and smiled even more sheepishly. “Yeah, but… You know… It’s still…” He stopped as his partner’s expression approached glacial. “I don’t know why you’re in such a big hurry, anyway,” he mumbled, giving up ingratiation and flicking off the computer monitor.
Kevin said nothing just continued to stare at him so Jeremy sighed and went to the bookshelf on the other side of the room. Kevin pulled a wooden chair from the corner and set it in the middle of the floor as Jeremy took down from the top shelf, a sturdy wooden paddle.
For a moment their gazes met and the two men stood silent and still, only the faint hum of the computer sounding in the room. Then Kevin snorted and reached for his belt. “When you’re the one who has to sit at work for eight hours looking forward to this, you can complain about the time schedule.”
Jeremy waited until Kevin’s slacks and briefs were hobbling his ankles, then said, “Who says I don’t look forward to this?”
The look he got could have sheared metal and Jeremy raised his free hand in capitulation. “Okay! Okay.” He grinned and laid his hand lightly on Kevin’s shoulder, guiding him forward and down. Kevin pressed his palms to the seat of the chair and took a shaky breath. Jeremy stepped back and brought the paddle lightly to rest on its target. His grin widened at the almost imperceptible flinch the contact brought. Pitching his tone to one that would pacify a whining child, he said, “You can set the time schedule.”
Cheerfully disregarding the snarled insult to his pedigree, he brought the paddle back and put and end to the wait.
Much later that night, as Jeremy was putting the last of the clean dishes into the cupboard, Kevin sidled up behind him, snaking his arms around his waist and laying his cheek on Jeremy’s shoulder.
Jeremy squirmed around in his lover’s arms and nuzzled Kevin’s neck. “Sleepy?” he asked.
Kevin murmured wordlessly, hooking one finger into Jeremy’s belt at his belly, his other hand sliding over his hip. Jeremy lifted and tilted his head to look into Kevin’s face, then stiffened and made an inarticulate sound of outrage as Kevin pulled back out of his arms, a triumphant grin on his face and the small black modem raised in his right hand.
Jeremy pushed himself away from the counter, sputtering, “You… bloody… STREET URCHIN!”
Kevin sidestepped Jeremy’s lunge and grinned. “What did I say? A month?”
Jeremy hesitated, balancing his weight, ready to spring. “Kevin…” he warned.
Kevin’s grin grew wicked. “I think a month fits my time schedule just perfectly.”
Jeremy roared and pounded after him as Kevin bolted for the stairs.