Mike set the pot on the stove and turned the knob on the burner to high. He rubbed the back of his neck as he stared into his living room and tried to remember how to breathe.
“Can I get you anything else?” he asked over the clacking on his squat table.
Jane swirled the tiles around on the smooth surface, her face intent on the pieces. “No, the tea will be great.”
He pulled out a pair of mismatched mugs and the thin assortment of tea bags, stashing them onto the counter overlooking the sparse seating area. His gaze lingered on Jane, kneeling in her dark jeans and sparkling top. The glinting green and blues matched the geometric shapes in the carpet and even the frayed edges of his second hand couch.
She fits right in, he thought with a bit of wonder.
With a small grin he set out a bag of sugar, a pair of spoons and then joined her.
“Sorry about this,” he said, dropping to sit cross legged on the opposite side of the low slung table. He scooped up his beer and drowned the last of the hoppy contents.
She glanced up and gave him a pearly smile. His chest warmed with more than the alcohol streaming down his chest.
“It’s fine. I sit on the floor all the time.”
He returned the grin and set his bottle back on his recently purchased coasters. Looking over the tiles he frowned. “I haven’t played this in years,”
“I’m sure you’ll remember how it goes.”
Jane settled into a kneeling position after a quick tug at the hem of her shirt. The motion exposed a bit more of her collar bone and Mike did his best not to let his eyes linger like some ogling teenager.
“Thanks for suggesting the game.” Mike pulled out the requisite starting tiles. “Not many girls do that kind of thing.” He flipped the blocks on to their sides, the black faces and white dots staring at him in a cluttered mass.
“I thought it would be fun. I mean we talk about a game night at work all the time.” She tucked away an invisible strand of hair behind her ear.
“Yeah, it’s too bad the others couldn’t make it.”
She nodded and scattered the face down tiles again with another wave of her hand. The motion made her peach tinted nails swirl.
“Well, I think I’m ready,” said Mike, wiping his sweaty palms on his slacks.
“Right,” she said with a nervous chuckle.
Jane flipped up one of the face down tiles from the cluster gathered at her right. A single dot occupied either end of the rectangle. She set the block between them and then aligned her own set of starting tiles into a neat wall.
“Why don’t you go first,” she said.
“Is that some kind of handicap?” Mike gave a lopsided grin and placed a four and one sided tile into place.
“No,” said Jane, adjusting the block so the sides met in a seamless line. “I’m a guest. I’m supposed to be nice.”
“Are you sure you’re not some kind of domino shark out on a feeding frenzy?” Mike placed his next piece.
She laughed and shook her head. He watched her eyes bounce between her neat array and the tiles between them. “No. But I played with a few folks for a while on a kind of regular basis.” She laid down her tile. “I want to make sure you’ve got a fighting chance.”
“Were you on a team or something?” He set another block into place.
She shrugged a bare shoulder and chewed on her lower lip.
Mike found himself wondering what her lipstick might taste like. He shook away the thought as she continued, her tone a bit less lighthearted than she had been moments earlier.
The plastic edges of her tile snapped as she set the block into place. “My last boyfriend and I kind of made a habit of it.”
“Oh,” said Mike suddenly wishing conversations had a reverse button. He slid his tile against the last one.
“You can actually bet on the game, if you can believe it.” She shook her head and aligned her four by two next to his.
He swallowed but couldn’t help asking. “What happened?”
She glanced up, her head tilted to the side. “What do you mean?”
He waved his pulled tile around the unmentioned details. “With the guy…”
“Oh,” she winced and had to draw a piece for herself. “We just had different ideas about things, about the future.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” she said putting a five by five onto the end of one branch. “Not like I’m looking to get married and have eight kids tomorrow or anything,” her words rushed out in a nervous rhythm. “He just felt like he wanted to keep, you know, being out there and I wanted something more stable.”
“I can see where that would have become an issue.” He placed another tile alongside a fellow block.
She shrugged again and her shoulders sagged a bit. Leaning into the table she contemplated her next move. “It was hard but I think things turned out for the best.”
“I’m glad.” An edgy chuckled found a way out of his chest. “You two’d probably be kicking my butt at this otherwise.”
Jane looked up with a frown. Mike felt his stomach waver and wondered what he had said wrong.
“Is something burning?”
“Huh?” The acrid scent broke through to his brain. Mike looked up at the kitchen. Coils of smoke rose from the burner and gathered around the single florescent light streaked across the ceiling.
He leapt to his feet and rushed over to the stove. The bare back burner glowed crimson while the pot rested on the cool front coil. He flipped off the knob and turned on the one beneath the tea pot.
He shook his head and sat once more across the table.
“Sorry about that.” She smiled again and he caught her eye. “Must have been distracted.”
Her smile stretched and a bit of color flared on her cheeks.
“No problem,” she said, turning her tile between her fingers.
“Yeah,” she said, finally putting a five by three into place on the end of a jagged line.
“Sorry, but domino,” said Mike as he set down his last tile.
Jane’s mouth opened and he watched her stare at the finished spider web of plastic blocks. The rest of the tension ebbed from her body after the quick perusal and the grin returned.
“Beginner’s luck, I’m sure.”
“No,” she said with a shy glint in her eye, “I think I was just a little distracted.”