Rey checked her phone just after nine. A single notification flashed on the screen, a message from Finn sent an hour before that read: “Poe and I need your help with something. Can you come downstairs?”
Rey assumed the absence of a follow-up text meant that whatever help the boys needed was nothing urgent. She nevertheless gave a quick response to say she was coming down before she began searching for both a pair of shoes and the key to her apartment. Rey didn’t know how long she would be gone, or what would be asked of her, but she prepared to spend several hours away. It always happened as such; at least tonight she remembered to bring her shoes.
Living in the apartment above Finn and Poe had few benefits, Rey quickly discovered. She’d lived next to Finn when he’d first moved into the complex two years before, and the two had become friends after Rey had noticed him struggling to unlock the door as she returned to her apartment one evening.
“That’s my place.” She’d said to him, pointing out that she lived in 507A and he lived next door in 507B. “I’m Rey, by the way.”
He was her first real friend.
Three months later Finn introduced her to Poe, whom he’d met in the basement laundry room. Poe always said he’d been enthralled by the way Finn folded his shirts; Rey always joked that she couldn’t think of anything more romantic.
It took until his six month lease was up, however, before Finn officially moved out of his room next to Rey and into Poe’s room on the floor below. Sometimes, they would invite Rey down for dinner; other times, like tonight, they needed her to help settle a meaningless dispute. Always on game night.
When she wandered down the stairs and found both Finn and Poe standing with crossed arms outside their door at the opposite end of the hall, she knew it was a meaningless game night dispute that called her away from her own apartment.
“Everything okay?” Rey asked, certain of what the answer would be. It was always the same.
Poe addressed her before Finn could. “Have you ever played Uno ?”
“I don’t know what that is.” And she didn’t; she rarely knew the games Poe mentioned. Always the ones with the obscure rules that Finn claimed were made up and Poe promised he’d read in a rulebook long since lost in the apartment’s clutter. She preferred games like Poker, games where she could call Poe’s obvious bluff and steal away whatever candy they had wagered that night.
She didn’t understand, though, why they always came to her for help. The Internet existed, yet they always turned to Rey. As though she possessed the perfect level of moral ambiguity when it game to assigning rules to board games.
“You’ve never even heard of Uno ?” Poe asked.
She shook her head, looking to Finn who shrugged. “Should I have?”
“It’s a card game.” Finn told her. “And Poe’s been cheating.”
It was always the same.
Rey voiced her own concerns, “I don’t think I can be of much help…”
She knew what would happen: she would be invited in and would be given a rundown of the game, first from Poe and then from Finn. They would then scrutinize her as she thought over what she believed the most fair rules to be. Sometimes she sided with Poe, sometimes she sided with Finn. Other times she would pull out her phone and read the official rules, a gesture that provided her with more satisfaction than it did either boy sitting beside her.
“Why don’t you come in and see for yourself.” Poe said, the same as he always did.
Rey sighed, “Alright.”
The apartment had been recently cleaned, spotless save the occasional toy that lay abandoned on the floor by the orange and white tabby cat curled up on the sofa. The animal paid them no attention as the three moved to a table with mismatched chairs and wobbly legs, each taking a seat around a deck of cards with the word UNO printed on their fronts.
“So,” Poe began, taking the deck in his hands and shuffling through them. “Each card has a color and a number on it. Unless they’re special cards like this—” He held up a green card labeled Skip . “We go around in a circle putting down cards that match in color or number.”
“Unless you play a Wild card.” Finn joined in. “Which means you can pick the next color.”
“Sounds easy enough.”
Poe grinned, “But there are special rules.”
Finn went to interject, but Poe continued to explain his special rules. How, if a Draw two — or a Draw four — card was played, the next player could stack another Draw two or Draw four card on top of that, leaving the first player who couldn’t add to the stack to pick up the sum of the cards. How, if a player didn’t have a playable card on their turn, they had to continue to pick up cards until they found one they could play.
“And,” Poe looked to Rey with a grin that only grew wider. “the most important rule: when you have one card left you have to say ‘uno ,’ or we’ll make you pick up two more cards.”
“And you’re saying those aren’t the rules?” Rey asked Finn.
“Poe knows his special rules are the only way he can beat me.”
Poe leaned forward, the table wobbling as his body pressed against it. “You beat me twice today.”
“Out of ten games!”
Rey was more stunned that the two had played ten rounds of the card game before they’d called her down than anything else either had just said. She considered the rules Poe explained to her, finding that they would lead to a more interesting and competitive game. She also considered the look on his face if she decided to play by Finn’s rules.
Intrigue won out as she said, “Let’s start with Poe’s rules.”
When Poe turned away, Rey gave Finn a subtle nod to let him know she was already calculating how to use Poe’s special rules against him. She knew the look of defeat on Poe’s face after losing at his own game would bring both herself and Finn greater satisfaction.
When Finn nodded back, equally as subtle, Rey knew she’d made the right choice. And so they began.
Poe dealt first, distributing seven cards around to each participant before flipping over the card that sat at the top of the pile. “Your move.” He said to Finn, gesturing downward to the green seven that lay face-up.
The game began slowly at first, with several turns going by where the three simply put down the cards in their hands with little trouble. Rey skipped Poe once; Poe skipped Finn the turn after that. It wasn’t until Rey set down a Draw two that tensions rose.
Poe played another Draw two ; Finn picked up four cards. Rey set down a card; Poe swore as he began picking from the deck. He’d grabbed six cards before drawing one he could play.
Finn reversed the order.
“Is this a joke?” Poe asked, going back to the deck to pick up another card to play. “Are we picking on Poe? Is that what’s happening?”
When no one responded, he turned to Finn to say “I thought maybe we would have teamed up by now,” as he continued to draw more cards from the deck. “You know, couple stuff.”
Eventually he found a card to play, another reversal. The turn went back to Finn.
Finn nodded to Rey as he set down a Draw four and announced the color would be changed to blue.
“‘All’s fair in love and war.’” Finn said then, “Didn’t you tell me that this morning after you made me draw six cards?”
“Isn’t this love?”
“Right now it’s war.”
Rey added another Draw four and changed the color to red. “That’s eight cards.” Rey announced.
Finn laid down his next card, announcing “ Uno ” as he did so.
“ Uno .” Rey echoed him, placing her second to last card on the pile. Both she and Finn held one card; Poe held upwards of twenty.
Poe straightened himself then, looking through his cards before placing one on top of the pile. “Well, I’m skipping your turn.” He said to Finn.
Rey looked at her single card; a green skip. She could play it atop Poe’s red skip and win the game. “This was fun,” she told them as she set down the card. “But I believe I just won.”
Finn showed his last card, a blue eight.
Poe tossed his cards down without revealing them. “Beginners luck.” He said, already scooping up all the cards and beginning to shuffle them. “We’re playing again.”
And so they did. The second game progressed in a similar fashion to the first, everyone having the chance to set down several cards before they ran out of a color, or before the special rules became applicable.
“ Draw two .” Poe said to Finn, setting down the red card.
Finn picked up two cards.
“ Draw four .” Rey announced on her turn. “And the color is green.”
Poe smirked to himself. “That’s six,” He said as he set down a green Draw two .
“I’m sorry, Rey.” Finn said as he set down a blue Draw two . “That’s eight.”
Rey looked at her hand, eyes following the yellow Draw two she held. “Ten.”
“Unbelievable.” Poe set down his cards, collecting himself for a moment before picking them back up.
The game continued.
Poe regained some satisfaction on Finn’s next turn as Finn began picking from the pile until he found a yellow card to play. His hand grew comparable to the size of Poe’s.
Rey’s turn was no better, she herself having to pick up several cards before she was able to play one. A yellow seven.
The game picked up when Poe changed the color to blue with a seven of that color. Finn skipped Rey; Poe skipped Finn. Eventually they ran out of cards to pick up and Poe reshuffled the ones already discarded. Whenever someone came close to calling “ Uno ,” a color changed or the order was reversed. It went on like that for some time, the long stretches of Draw two and Draw four cards no longer stacking up.
When Poe called “ Uno” after setting down a green three several turns later, no one expected it.
Finn played a green six, turning to Rey as he did so. “You’re the only one who can stop him.” He leaned closer to her then, fighting laughter as he said: “You’re my only hope.”
Poe looked smug as he held his single card in his hand. Rey looked at the four cards she held in her own hand: a blue six, a green four, and two yellow cards. She didn’t know whether Poe held a blue, a green, or something else entirely.
Instinct told her to play the blue card, and instinct had been correct.
“Dammit.” Poe said as he went to pick a card from the pile. The first he turned over was an ordinary Wild card. “Green.” He said.
Finn set down a Wild card of his own. “Yellow.” He looked to Poe when he said it, satisfaction wearing on his face.
Rey played her card; Poe began picking from the pile. On Finn’s turn he reversed the order; on Poe’s turn he reversed it back with a red card. With the color red, both Finn and Rey continued to pick from the deck until they had a card to play.
Poe played several turns with ease, his hand growing smaller with each discard. Rey eventually had the chance to change the color to blue, an act that sent Poe back to the pick-up pile. No one knew how long they’d been playing, but at one point the tabby cat awoke and came over to the table. Rey reached down to pet his head.
“You’re going to help me win.” She said to him.
“He’s loyal to me,” Poe said. “Aren’t you, buddy?”
“That’s a terrible name for a cat.” Rey teased as the cat moved to jump on Poe’s lap.
“His name isn’t Buddy.”
“Right. Isn’t it something-something the eighth?”
Finn remained silent throughout the exchange, though Rey didn’t miss the subtle smirk he wore. He enjoyed this just as much as she did.
“BB-8. Now can we continue the game?” Poe asked, setting down a blue card after several pick-ups.
Finn played his card; Rey played hers. Poe was able to change the color by matching numbers. Finn set down his card after that and the game progressed quickly as everyone had a chance to add their cards to the pile.
“ Uno .” Finn called several turns later. Rey held three cards, Poe held five.
Rey set down her card before turning to Poe, who studied his cards with care. He toyed between two, going to set one down before pulling it back in favor of a different card. A red eight.
“You couldn’t have played a better card.” Finn said as he topped the pile with his yellow eight. “Great teamwork.”
Rey set her cards down. “Well, I should probably get going.”
“One more round.” Poe urged, already going to shuffle the cards.
They did not, in fact, play one more round. They played five over the course of two hours. Poe won a game; Finn and Rey each won two more.
It was a night of laughter, a night spent stacking up Draw two cards until Finn was forced to pick up sixteen cards; an act both Rey and Poe later apologized for. It was a night of belonging, one where Rey felt at ease and at home with Finn and Poe and BB-8 the cat. When she got up to leave as the clock crept past midnight, she wore a smile on her face despite the fatigue she felt in her body.
“I like Uno. ” She told them from the doorway.
“I’m sure you do.” Poe responded, no doubt still bitter over his poor performance. “ Settlers of Catan is next weekend.”
Rey laughed, “You’re just making things up now.”
“It’s real. And I’m going to win.”
“I’ll see you guys then.” Rey gave a final goodbye as she set off back toward her own apartment. “You know where to find me.”
In that moment, she was grateful for the text from Finn, grateful that she was invited in. Rey began to wonder if they ever needed her help at all, or if they simply wanted her there with them. That they liked her company. The Internet existed, an endless stretch of information about the games they played waiting at their fingertips; but they had chosen her.
And in that moment, she knew she couldn’t have found better friends.