The car ride was uncomfortable. Neither of the men said a word to each other. Eli was afraid to say another word. He didn’t want to rock the boat anymore than they already had this week.
Anthony pulled into the parking structure to the apartment building, and they both silently made their way to Eli’s apartment.
Eli’s heart soared at hearing Derek’s scream of “Daddy!” Nothing could take that feeling away, or the feeling of hugging his son in his arms.
“Have you been good for Mommy?” he asked his boy.
Derek gave that bobble head nod that he was great at. “I help with dinner.”
“You did?” Eli took Derek by the hand and led him toward the kitchen. Eli’s face brightened at the sight of Sam. How could he have left her when she was everything to him and more? She was his heart and soul. He let go of Derek’s hand and went to Sam, wrapping his arms around her.“Hey momma.”
Sam wrapped her arms around Eli’s neck and he took the kiss she wanted to give.
“I missed you,” he whispered. “I’m sorry.”
“I know. I’m sorry too. Did you make up with your brother?” Sam stroked his stubble and smiled up into his eyes. Yes. The tear stains still marred her cheeks. Eli hated knowing those were there because of him. He only ever wanted to see her smile. “Eli?”
“Sorry,” he said. “But no…well, sort of. I’m still pissed off at him. I know, I know,” he held up his hand. “I was irrational in my fears, but I just don’t like to think someone’s going to recognize me and say some shit to me.”
“I get it, Eli. I also know he’d never let that happen. Now, have you eaten?”
Eli kissed his wife once more. “I can eat.” He sat at the barstool and watched Sam work on the finishing touches of dinner. “Marv’s cooking isn’t as great as yours.”
Sam laughed. “Marv probably cooks with oil and grease.”
Eli made a face, even though he was sure Sam was right. Ever since Nikki kicked Marv to the curb for cheating on her three months ago, he’d been eating take-out and whatever Sam would make him when he visited.
“Where’s Anthony?” Sam asked.
Eli shrugged. “Probably in his room or something.” Eli was sure Anthony followed him into the apartment.
“Eli, I was thinking…and please don’t yell at me for suggesting this. We both want Anthony to find some friends, Right?”
“Yeah…” He was hesitant, but he would hear her out.
“Okay. Well, even though his idea wasn’t sound, a poker game with people would help him find friends. So…what if you invited Marv and,” she bit her lip, took a breath, and continued, “…Dad for a game? And maybe even ask Dad if he could bring some new rookie cops that are in the area that might want to get out and make some friends.”
Eli made a face. Her dad? Grant? “A night of poker with your Dad?”
She laughed. “Hey, I’ve seen you play poker. Just think of it this way, you’ll be robbing him blind.”
Eli hated that her idea was actually pretty badass. Sort of. Taking money from Grant, now that was sweet. “But more cops?” Eli groaned.
“Anthony needs friends that he can relate to, Eli. I know you don’t like the idea, but he’d relate better to guys who work closely into the same type of field as him. Just think about it.”
Dammit, but she was right. “Fine.”
Anthony stuffed his bag with his clothes. He was pretty sure he wasn’t staying, not with Eli so pissed at him. If he could, he would transfer right back to Oasis. But then, Rachael was in Oasis and he wasn’t going back to that. There was always Sim City. He could move up North and work at one of the biggest prisons in SimNation. Sunset Valley also was a choice, but he wasn’t sure if he wanted move across country.
There was a knock at the door, and Anthony turned to see Eli stepping in. Here it goes. “You going some place I don’t know about,” Eli asked. That wasn’t what Anthony expected to hear.
“Didn’t think I should stay after almost destroying your marriage.”
“Seriously? Dude, Sam and I are made for each other. It’d take a lot more than your sorry ass to tear us apart. And believe me, Grant’s tried to find even more ways to do that. But if you want to leave…”
Eli gave a one arm shrug. “It’s up to you, but I’m not kicking you out. I’m upset, and probably will be for a while. I’ve always respected you for what you do, and still will, but there has always been that line about your work. You crossed it. I know, not intentionally, just don’t cross it again.”
“I won’t.” Anthony sat on the bed and covered his face with his hands, while his elbows rested on his knees. “I should have thought about it more when I volunteered. I just wanted to make some friends, you know?”
“I can understand wanting friends, and yeah, it’s cool you have them at work. Try having a record, and making friends right out of prison. Took me a long time to make the friends I have. Marv’s my closest friend. I got a few others thanks to the gym now, but it took a long time to earn their trust.
“Look,” Eli said as he joined his brother on the bed, “if you really want to play poker, I can make a few calls tomorrow, and invite a few guys over sometime next week. Hell, I’ll even invite Grant over so you can have a cop friend around. In fact…” Eli shook his head and chuckled. “I can’t believe I am saying this, but I’ll even ask him to bring along a couple cops your age so you can all mingle. What do you think?”
“I think I could use some friends.”
The following Saturday, while Sam took Derek out to a playdate with Nikki and Marv’s daughters, Eli and Anthony prepared the folding table and chairs for tonight’s poker game. He made sure that they had plenty of beer ready in the ice cooler, chips and salsa to snack on, and put the pizzeria phone number into his cell. Everything was set.
He still couldn’t believe that Grant took up Eli’s offer on a poker night. He was even bringing two guys over with him. Marv was also coming along. It was going to be a weird night. Two ex-cons, three cops, and a corrections officer playing poker. There had to be a bad joke in there somewhere.
Grant and his friends were the first to arrive. He introduced Eli and Anthony to Leroy, a young man who also just moved to San Myshuno, and Nathan, one of Grant’s newest detectives who worked his way up the command as a beat cop.
Marv arrived within twenty minutes of the cops and Grant. Eli made sure everyone had a beer before he sat at the poker table. “Okay, there’s more beer in the cooler. There’s chips and salsa. I can order pizza later, if you all want.” Eli said and pointed out the cooler and the chips.
The game started and as chips were tossed, cards were shuffled, and the beer was drank, they were starting to talk trash and the conversations flowed around the table.
“So, Eli, what do you do?” Nathan asked.
“Marv and I are mechanics over at his shop, Marv’s Auto Repair.”
“Best auto shop in town,” Grant boasted. “I get all the cruisers serviced over there. And most cops will tell you they take their cars there.”
Marv nodded. “It’s true. Thanks to Grant and SMPD, the business is booming. That, and Eli’s one of the best mechanics in the city.”
Eli could feel his entire face burn, including his ears.
“What do you do, Tony?” Nathan asked.
“I’m a corrections officer over at San Myshuno State Prison.”
“I almost did that. Came close to applying over there, but decided I rather catch the criminals rather than babysit them,” Leroy added.
“I’ll drink to that,” Grant said and gave Eli a wink. Eli flipped his father-in-law off. “I used to love being on the street chasing after the dumb fucks.”
“Yeah, until you started to wheeze.” Eli cracked a laugh, and then imitated his father-in-law, “You…are…under…arrest…fuck…can’t…breath.”
Grant flipped Eli off in return. “Still caught you, didn’t I?”
“I could have made it over that fence. I just felt bad for your fat ass.”
Grant snorted. “I tore you off that fence like you were a ragdoll.”
Leroy finally caught on. “Wait, you were arrested…by Grant?”
“More than once,” Eli said with a sigh. He hadn’t planned on letting anyone in on that secret. Oh well. It was fun to egg Grant on though. “Did some time in my juvenile years thanks to him, and did even more hard time in my adult life. Spent ten years at SM State.”
“But…how did you…marry his daughter,” Nathan asked with a slight whisper.
Grant took a long pull of his beer. “I had an off day and forgot my service pistol at the wedding.”
Eli laughed. “Truth is I didn’t know who Sam’s father was until way after we fell for each other. Though Grant did try to kill me when he found out I was the father of her baby.”
“Seriously?” Leroy asked.
Eli shrugged. “The only reason I made it out of that restaurant was because there were witnesses.”
“And I still question that decision,” Grant said and took a long pull of his beer. He put down his cards. “And that sweeps all of your asses.”
Eli tossed his cards. Fucking Grant pulled a four of a kind. Fucking dick. He groaned like the rest of the guys around the table. They continued to talk and share interests. By the end of the night, when the beer was pretty much finished and the chips and pizza were both gone, not only did Anthony have plans with two new friends to go running with every morning, Eli had made his own plans with them to play some basketball later in the week. The group even made arrangements for the next poker night in a couple of weeks over at Grant’s place. Eli wasn’t sure how it happened, but he realized Anthony wasn’t the only one that needed more friends. He figured he needed them as well.