Collections in an Empty Hand – Haley Petcher

Déjà Brew is Danny and Kate’s go-to coffee shop, only two blocks from the elementary school where they first met on the playground when he rescued her from the Kindergarten Bullies—he said she told the weirdest, coolest stories during Show and Tell and proclaimed loudly, standing on the top of the slide, that she was under his protection—and five blocks from the movie theater where they shared their first kiss, grappling in the dark during an old movie about the British monarchy. After that he started calling her his Queen.

They’re in the coffee shop playing cards when Danny says, “Don’t get worried if I start spending more time with that girl we met at the park the other day. It’s just that I need more Indie Pop Friends. My others moved away.” He sighs like it’s an inconvenience and sips his coffee. They’re playing the game of Nines.

“I don’t want to date her. You know you’re my girl. My Day One.” Danny reaches out and touches Kate’s free hand, covering it with his, squeezes, releases.

When you’re playing Nines, you want high cards, twos, and tens. Kate plays a king, which Danny can’t beat, so he adds the recently played cards—twos and eights and queens—to his collection. The goal might be to get rid of all of your cards first, but collecting is Danny’s strategy. He loves feeling like he has a collection of valuables, of ammunition, up his sleeves.

The two play card after card, taking bites of their traditional orange roll between turns and watching a man in his gray flat cap and tweed blazer trying to learn French. When Danny and Kate walk the hallways of their school, he calls her mon amour, shows her off, and tells everyone her stories. Danny liked the way Kate fit beside him, her head on his shoulder, his arm wrapped around her waist, and the way their classmates in high school watched as they walked down the hall. Kate moved with him, Peter Pan and his shadow.

Danny puts down a queen, winks at Kate. She’s never liked the title, but it used to make her smile all the same, thinking about all of their Firsts. Now her smile feels stale. She puts down a two, resetting the deck so they can play lower numbers again.

“You know you’re my girl, right?” Danny asks.

Before Kate nods, saying that she knows she’s his girl—she always has been—Danny says, “I mean, you know I like to have a wide variety of friends. The Avid Video Gamers. The Music Connoisseurs. The Cookie Bakers.” He examines the cards in his collection, weighing them against each other.

Kate plays a seven, sips her tea.

“Remember how the Car Enthusiasts got me into that show with all the old trucks?” Danny asks. An eight.

Kate puts down a jack, nodding. She had been home that night, plans canceled.

“My Car Enthusiast friends really like their alcohol. They’re exhausting.” He gives her a knowing glance. “The tickets were hard to come by though. Totally worth it.” A king.

“You know, I’ll be with my lacrosse team and then Indie Pop Girl this week, but I bet we can do something next week. I’ll shoot you a text when I have time.” Danny’s fingers draw circles on Kate’s knee, warm and familiar. “You’ll be free, right?”

Kate wonders how long the two of them will sit like this in the coffee shop, building and unbuilding collections. How long would it take him to replace his Silent Queen? Kate looks at the cards in her hand, sees a two and a ten, considers the risk. A two lets you restart with lower numbers on the same pile, but all those other cards are still there underneath the two, all of that extra baggage a threat to your goal of an empty hand. However, a ten flushes the pile and lets you start fresh. She snaps the ten on the table. A few years from now, she’ll sit in a coffee shop with new friends in a city 852 miles from Déjà Brew and tell stories she never told during her silent days, wondering why—why, why—she stayed quiet for so long, watching him take card after card. But, for now, she pushes the collection of cards aside and takes one more sip of tea.


HALEY PETCHER earned her BA from Auburn University and her MA from the University of Louisville. She currently teaches high school English in Huntsville, AL. You can find her work in Pithead Chapel, formercactus, and Spelk and learn more about her at

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Image via Pixabay 

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