Chapter Thirty-five: Just for Fun
"Just don't succumb to your testosterone," Gloria muttered to Will as they went back inside the warm house.
"Believe me, there is nothing about Ariana that I find attractive. She's shrill, nasty, and ... even older than you are."
"Will, how do you tell which end to wipe when you take a shit?" she said over her shoulder as they approached the table.
"Practice round," Ben announced. "Dealer shuffles, person to the left cuts the cards. Five cards for each." He dealt out five cards to each of the six. "Keep them face down for now. Mostly this game is about matching either number or suit. Spades need a spade, diamond needs a diamond. Or you match a number or rank. BUT. We start with the top rank. King -- you can play a king with another card of the same suit on top of it, the King can carry a burden with him. Nevertheless, the King is a weasel, he sends the play in the opposite direction.
"The Jack, he jumps. He skips the person next to him; he's also a tricky fiend, because he doesn't let his opposing team play a card. Did I also say that the whole point of this game is to have the least amount of points in order to win? The more cards, the more points you have at the end, you lose."
Maria waded in. "What about the Queen, what does she do?"
"Nothing, except count for ten points. She sits around and eats bonbons and watches other people do the work."
"Next card down the line, the Eight. Eight is a wild card, you can put it down almost any time, and the Eight is a tool to use. You put down an Eight, and you can name whatever suit you want to play next. If you know the next player has no diamonds, you can say 'Diamonds' when you lay down your Eight, and the next player has to pick up cards until they hit diamonds.
"Next is Two. You throw down a Two, the next player has to either pick up two cards, or play another Two. That passes it on to the next player, who has to either play a Two, or pick up four cards. Keeps going just like that.
"Last, the Joker. You play the Joker as a wild card, he can do for anything, but the next player has to pick up four cards, unless they have a Joker, and play it, and then the next player has to pick up eight --"
"Or play another Joker, and then the next has to pick up twelve," Maria completed for him. "I got this, like a recipe. Let's go."
Ben picked up the top card from the double deck in the middle of the table, and turned it over. "Maria, it's to you. Six of spades. Any spade, any six."
"I got six of diamonds," she said, and put it on the stack.
Gloria followed suit with a ten of diamonds.
Steve threw a ten of spades.
Lolo tossed an Eight. "Hearts," she said.
"Jack of hearts, brother," Will said as he skipped to Maria.
"Hearts, I can do that."
"Me, too," Gloria chortled. "A nice two of hearts to you, my love."
Steve looked at her quickly. "Love? Your love?"
"Yes, you're my love, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to trash you and leave you gasping for mercy in this card game."
He threw down another Two.
"You're an ungentlemanly creep," Lolo said, picking up four cards.
"Stop. Stop," said Ben. "I wasn't clear about the last important point. Sorry. If you get down to two cards, and you're going to play your next to the last card you have in your hand, you have to say 'One Card.' If you don't say that, and someone asks you 'How many cards you got?' then you have to pick up four more cards."
"He make that up just now, or is that really one of the rules?" Maria asked.
"It's really one of the rules," Gloria nodded. "And one of the best if you can catch someone out with it."
A few more cards were cast down, and Ben announced, "One card." He turned and smiled at Maria, who played a King with a Joker on it.
"Look, no cards," she said. "Now we play for real."
"Time to get drinks and check the cupcakes," Gloria announced. "And to reshuffle the cards and the seating. Ladies, we are playing against the semi-gentlemen."
"We've been playing Kick Your Neighbor's Dog since we were shorter than her," Will told Ben, rapping him on the shoulder. "We got this. Oh, boy, those are some cupcakes. Do they cook like this all the time?"
"They're cooks, Will. This is what they do for a living."
"They drive people nuts? I'm deranged by the smell, all it needs is --"
"French bread, sliced and soft," said Steve, putting a platter of bread on the counter.
"And extra sauce," Gloria added, taking the lid off a small saucepan, "for those who like a little more icing on the cupcake."
"And sprinkles," Maria smiled. "Pecorino romano. I'm beginning to think that if you have oregano and pecorino romano, you have everything."
Ben and Will both loaded two of the lasagna cupcakes onto their plates, with two slices of bread. They leaned against the counter and began to eat. "How'd you get Mom to let you join the house party?" Will asked his brother. "On Christmas Day, you weren't sure she'd even let you leave her house."
"I talked to Joe. Told him I wanted to play cards and watch movies with the old crew from the house. He said he'd call me right back, and in a couple minutes, he did. Told me he was whisking our mother off to Las Vegas for New Year's, have a great time, thank Gloria and Maria for taking care of me while they're gone." In four bites, Ben demolished the lasagna cupcake.
"Was it his idea, or did you put it in his head?"
"It was his. He's proving to be a valuable co-conspirator."
"You sound almost like you're glad to have him around."
"Will, it's getting to be that way. I know we were all pissed that Mom was marrying him, but I can't help but admit life has been a lot smoother since she did. It's not a case of the money, but she's getting downright mellow -- she was crabby and unpredictable since she had to go work as a cleaning lady, and then she was a freakin' volcano after you and Gloria moved out, but all of a sudden, she's okay." He sopped up the spicy sauce with a piece of buttered bread. "Both you and I ate some of that pork roast, so we can attest that it wasn't drugged, but I swear that's the day she put her hackles down and relaxed."
"I had some of it, too," Lolo interjected, appearing at Will's elbow. "It was so good, it made sunshine come up and sparkle, in spite of the rain. Made me sparkle, as though I hadn't had my room broken into hours before. Best food I'd had in weeks."
"For me, too. Carmen's cooking has been suffering since Ariana started acting like a ... I don't know, a competitor."
"Is she looking into your eyes?" Lolo asked.
"Yeah, like she's trying to see what I'm thinking."
"It's a come-on," Lolo said, shaking her head. "She shouldn't be looking at your eyes. You want her?"
"Hell, no," Will said, emphatically.
"Then don't look back. Look at her feet, or over her shoulder. Try not to address her directly. Keep your face still if you have to talk to her, don't smile."
"What? How do you know this?" Will folded his arms.
"I'm Mexican-American, it's a cultural thing."
"You're a car salesman, and could tell me anything with a straight face and I'd believe it was true. But I'll try that. If you're right, I'll buy my very next new car from you."
"Pfft," she gave a sputter. "I'll be long retired before you can do that."
"I might be retired before he can do that," Ben said. "On the other hand, he might buy a new backhoe before he buys a car."
Lolo looked back at the rest of the room. "Listen, after we play some cards, I'm up with the next snack, the shrimp tacos. But I've never made them, and I'm going to look like a dope for suggesting them. Do I ask Gloria or Maria for help?"
"No, Loca, you ask me," Ben said. "It'll be simple. We chop some lettuce, put a tiny bit of oil in a pan and sizzle the tortillas ... toss the shrimp with some flour and salt and cayenne -- wait, garlic powder, too -- and then appeal to Gloria's vainglorious side and ask her to supervise us cooking the shrimp. For the lettuce, I know how to make a vinaigrette -- watched her do it since I was about nine. We're good."
"I'll cut up avocados," Will said. "Hey, why doesn't Maria have an avocado tree? Maria," he called across the room, "why don't you have an avocado tree?"
"Husband didn't like them, I only use them for the Bakers, so why would I plant one? You guys gonna play cards, or just stand around and stuff your faces all night?"
"Both," the brothers answered together.
They took their places at the table, Maria at the head of the table, Ben to her right, then Lolo, Will, Gloria, and Steve to Maria's left. "It's easy to make teams when there's an even number of people," Gloria explained. "An odd number, and it's every man for himself."
"Isn't that sexist?" Steve questioned.
"It's an aphorism," Gloria replied.
"It's not an aphorism, it's an adage," Ben retorted. "I'm in high school, I have to know these things."
"Just shut up and deal," Will suggested.
Lolo began to laugh. "That's another one."
Will surprised them by laying three kings and a five on the table all at once. "I'm out. Losers, count your cards."
"You can't do that!" Maria said, folding her cards. "Can he?"
"Yeah, he can, but he shouldn't have. You can stack kings like that, but he didn't know what I was holding." He put his cards on the table, face up. "Joker counts as fifty points, the eight is forty, the ace is fifteen. That's a hundred five points right there."
Gloria cackled wickedly. "Good job, Brother, you caught Steve with two eights, too." She collected Maria's cards and Lolo's, counting the face cards by tens, and adding the number cards. "We only had sixty-four points total. And your grand total is ..."
"Two hundred sixteen," he said bitterly, writing down the totals on a piece of notebook paper. "Here, Lolo. Your turn to deal."
"Will tried to kick his neighbor's dog, but it bit him," Maria grinned.
"No kidding," Will said. "But that's why you don't hang on to high-point cards."
Lolo carefully shuffled the cards, and offered the stack to Ben to cut. "Don't think I didn't notice you were holding that joker to wreck my hand. Take off the dainty gloves, Ladies, it's time for war."