I had fun today. Ashton had read the note over and over, folding and unfolding the little pink card and sticking it in the back pocket of his jeans. She didn’t write, “I had fun with you,” just that she’d had a fun day. He shouldn’t read too much into it.
He shoved the worn, folded card back in his pocket again just as she was coming in the door. Her gaze circled the room meeting eyes with each of the men, some longer than others. She hesitated at Victor, seductively raising her eyebrows so slightly and quickly Ashton wasn’t sure he’d seen the action correctly.
When her gaze rested on Ashton, a tiny smile curved her lips and she lowered her gaze. Maybe they had reached a turning point. Maybe she had forgiven him or would at least consider the possibility.
“Gentlemen, thank you all for staying.” Michelle nodded at them regally. “This is not an easy process and some of us are getting to know one another more quickly than others. I promise I’m keeping my heart and mind open and trying to reach out to each of you. Thank you for your patience.”
Murmurs of, “You’re welcome,” and, “Of course,” went around the room. Some of the guys nodded or smiled. Ashton shoved his hands in his front pockets and shuffled his feet.
“Today is a surprise for Casey,” Michelle said, stepping over and wrapping her arm around him. “We’re doing a service project at a local assisted living facility.”
“What? Like paint a room?” Mason asked.
“No, we’re going to play games in their activity center. They get bored playing with just each other.”
“More video games?” Brock raised his eyebrows.
“They have lots of things to do. A pool table, board games, puzzles, card games, a piano.”
“Piano?” Reggie’s ears perked up.
“They would probably appreciate if you played for them,” Michelle said, smiling in Reggie’s direction.
“I’d be honored,” Reggie said, puffing out his chest and raising his chin.
Ashton thought back to the last time he played piano and shoved the memory aside, cringing at how far he’d strayed off that path. Pool table. He would focus on the pool table.
“Anyway,” Michelle continued. “The limo’s waiting outside. Let’s go have some fun.”
Ashton continued to hang to the back of the group, and Victor stayed near Michelle’s side. She seemed to be forcing herself not to get too close to him and failing miserably. Several times her pinky brushed against him and Victor either brazenly took her hand or rubbed her back or grazed his fingers up and down Michelle’s arm. Ashton turned away.
Michelle sat next to Casey in the limo and turned her back to Victor, as if that would help. Ashton wondered, as he’d done since the day Michelle spent an entire day with Victor, what had happened on their date. They obviously had a physical connection that bordered on sexual tension. Ashton seethed with jealousy.
Once again, the camera crew had arrived in advance but there was no red-carpet reception at the retirement community, just a quiet peace and serenity coupled with the undeniable scent of antiseptic. Ashton longed for the open air of the beach.
The place was huge and beautiful, more like a mansion or castle than a retirement home. On the first night Casey had referred to his assisted living facility as a campus, and that wasn’t far from the description of this place also.
They walked down hall after hall past residence apartments, nursing stations, spacious dining rooms, and even a formal ballroom. Thinking that Casey was head of nursing for a place like this made him as much a rock star as Brock had been at the TwitchCon.
Finally, they came to a large recreation room that was sparsely populated with mostly old men playing at various activities, just as Michelle had promised. There was a very nice pool table, a few card games already in play, and a simple upright piano tucked into a corner. Ashton pulled his eyes from that corner.
“Welcome, gentlemen,” a woman called out in a cheerful voice. “Thank you for joining us this afternoon.”
Michelle and Casey stepped up to introduce themselves to the lady and Ashton glanced around the room. His eyes met with a man playing cards and they nodded at one another. Before Ashton had a chance to interact further, the lady called out to the room a little louder, addressing her charges in a similar respectful manner.
“Gentlemen, these young men could use some mentoring.” She turned back to Michelle’s group and smiled conspiratorially. “They are learning to court a lady and would welcome your advice about how best to win her heart. Do you think you could welcome them into your games and share with them your lifetime of wisdom?”
Some of the older men got up from their chairs and moved around to make room for the younger men. Ashton headed straight over to the table where he’d connected with the man playing cards and held out his hand. “Hi, I’m Ashton.”
“Hello, Ashton, I’m Bruce.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Sir. Do you mind if I join you?” He sat at the empty seat that was offered.
“Do you know how to play Euchre, young man?” Bruce asked.
“Yes, Sir,” Ashton answered. “Although I’m not very good.”
“Will you stop calling me ‘Sir’? You’re making me feel old.”
“Sorry.” Ashton chuckled and relaxed his shoulders. He glanced at the other two men at the table, reaching out to shake their hands, learning they were Roger and David.
“First jack deals,” Roger said, with no further introduction to the game. He flipped cards in front of each person at the table, all the way around until the first jack turned up in front of himself.
“Cheater,” Bruce said, shaking his head and winking at Ashton.
“I’ve never cheated a day in my life,” Roger insisted with a straight face. David snickered. Roger dealt three cards to Bruce, two to David, three to Ashton, and two to himself, then went around the table again adding two more to Bruce, three to David, two to Ashton, and ended with three to himself.
Ashton would never understand the dealing mechanism in Euchre, but he picked up the five cards in front of him, inwardly groaning at the full suit of tens, nines and an ace. He was in trouble. To his horror Bruce ordered up the king of clubs into Roger’s hand.
Bruce laid down the jack of clubs, effectively sucking out the ten of clubs in Ashton’s hand. Thankfully he also drew out the jack of spades from David and that king from Roger. Bruce’s next lead was the ace of clubs, which was the next highest card. David played off and so did Ashton. Roger casually laid down the nine of clubs.
The only trump still in play was the queen of clubs and Ashton suspected it wasn’t in his partner’s hand. Sure enough, Bruce laid down the ace of diamonds. David and Ashton both followed suit and, with a gleam in his eye, Roger placed the queen of clubs on top of Bruce’s ace.
We’re going to lose.
“What’chu got back?” Roger asked, looking right at Bruce.
“It’s your lead,” Bruce said, raising his innocent eyes to Roger.
Roger unceremoniously placed the king of hearts onto the table and Bruce reluctantly tossed out his queen of hearts. David added a ten of hearts to the pile and Ashton triumphantly laid his ace of hearts on top of the pile.
Bruce let out the breath he’d been holding. “Lesson number one, young man. Always count on your partner for one trick.”
Ashton chuckled at the wise older gentleman, and, without planning to, raised his eyes and caught Michelle’s attention one table over. It was obvious she’d heard what Bruce had said from the way she smiled and glanced at Bruce. Ashton couldn’t help it. He winked at her then gathered the cards into a pile and placed them in front of Bruce to deal the next hand. He turned his score card so that he showed one point. Not a bad way to start the day.