Card Challenge: Day 41
Card Day 41: A man in black and woman in white sitting around a chess board while windswept hearts surround them.
Galen’s palms were sweaty, anxiety coursing up and down his body in paralyzing waves. He took a few deep breaths, trying to calm his racing heart and relax his sweating brow, but the effect was negligible. He sat in the uncomfortable, wood-backed chair and prayed for success to gods he did not believe in. As his anxiety reached a fever pitch, the door swung open.
She waltzed in, pale white dress billowing around her. Her hair hung in strands of spun gold, gossamer strands that floated about her like a halo. Her eyes were crystal clear and blue, gleaming from a flawless marble face. She was as beautiful as he remembered, and if possibly even more so. He felt, for a moment, as if his pounding heart must have frozen, because he could feel or hear nothing as she floated to the chair opposite him.
She smiled, extending her hand across the black and white board between them. It hung in the air, slim and delicate with perfectly trimmed nails and smooth skin. Galen took it, feeling electricity spark from the connection.
“Sorry I’m late. It’s nice to see you again, Galen,” she said, her voice smooth.
“You as well, Ama,” he responded, his voice cracking slightly due to his nerves. She merely smiled at his embarrassment.
“Shall we play?”
He responded with a sharp nod and watched as she carefully lifted a pawn from the board, moving it across the board. Galen’s hand shook as he considered the pieces, trying to find the right move to make a strong opening, but not become too aggressive and over reach his skill. He gave a nervous chuckle as he felt the seconds slipping by.
“I’m not very good at chess,” he admitted, feeling blood rush into his cheeks. She simply studied hi from across the table, her eyes taking in his stubbled chin and scruffy mess of brown hair. As he watched her watching him, he felt as if he saw a glimmer of interest and attraction flicker across her eyes. He felt a swell of confidence, sitting up a bit straighter in his chair. Unknowingly, he broke the spell and she returned her eyes to the game.
“There will always be other games,” she comforted, resting her hands lightly on the edge of the board, the only sign of impatience that he could see.
“Well, you never know, maybe I’ll get some of that beginner’s luck!” he rallied, taking a haphazard stab at the pieces, hoping the move would at least keep him in the game. There was a pleased look that snaked into her eyes, immediately robbing him of the brief moment of confidence.
She considered her move quickly, pearly hands skimming over the board and placing her pieces with practiced ease. “So, how have you been?”
Her presence was intoxicating. Galen thought of all the difficulties he had faced since they last met, the feelings of isolation, or captivity even, but they all paled in her presence. In that moment, he felt deep, abiding, comforting peace. He was in the presence of his one true love, and the feeling was freeing. “Everything is worth it to be with you again,” he said smoothly and earnestly. This time, she blushed.
“Maybe we will one day find your game, and then we can stop meeting under such circumstances.” Her eyes were again trained to the board, like a predator stalking prey through the underbrush. His hands did not move.
“I’ll play forever if that means I can spend it with you.”
“At this rate, we might just.” There was an edge of irritation in her voice, impatience bristling at the surface. But her smile remained, light and friendly.
Galen quickly grabbed a piece, sliding it across the board.
“We’ve played so many, Ama. What is your favorite game?”
Her hand hung in the pace between them, a bishop midway in its flight across the board. “I suppose I’ve never thought about that. My favorite has always been the game at hand. It’s more about who you’re playing with, in my experience.” The thought complete, she placed her piece.
Galen looked at the board and tried to discover some impressive move, but his lack of experience was showing. He was beginning to wish it were any other game than chess. It had been years since he played, and even then it had only been at his grandfather’s request. He had not played a match since the man passed years before, and the rust was showing in his performance. Whereas the figures had been arranged so neatly at the beginning, now they sat in a slight scatter across the board, telling secrets he could not interpret. “Well, I hope this one is not a complete waste for you, then,” he said, placing a piece at random.
She laughed, the sound like a bell, and Galen felt a wave of ease flood over him. “Galen, I always enjoy playing with you. If I didn’t, I would not visit so often.”
It was his turn again, and he was beginning to understand that her speed meant this was likely to be a short game. “You know I enjoy the time with you, too, Ama. It’s the highlight of my week. Maybe we’ll one day find a game that I can beat you at.”
She was barely looking at the board now, instead smiling up at him. “I’m sure we will, someday. And what a day that will be.” There was a sadness in her eyes as she completed her turn, a sadness Galen knew all too well. “Check.”
He looked down at the traitorous board. It could not be nearing the end so quickly. There had to be something wrong. Looking at the blur of black and white, he tried to piece together how the game had gone so wrong so quickly. He saw the threat, but his options seemed limited. The sweat at his brow began to slowly trickle down his face an embarrassing problem to have, as he tried to identify the safest approach. He was, however, in a corner, and the time was nearly up.
“You know I love you, right?” he asked, a pleading tone in his voice, as he carefully lifted a knight to block the threat. It bought him time, if not much more.
“Of course I do, Galen. And I care deeply for you.” She took the knight, but he breathed a sigh, safe for the moment.
The slight tremor in his hand was now a full blown shake, threatening to topple all the pieces on the board at the slightest wrong move. He went to set his piece down carefully, but her hand grabbed his. The delicate touch surprised him and sent a tingle up his arm.
“You cannot move yourself into check,” she reminded, nudging his hand back. Stymied, Galen picked up another piece and moved it after checking for her approving nod.
“I hope that someday you might love me as well, Ama.”
The sadness was back in her eyes, almost tearfulness. “There are many days I think I do, Galen. But there are rules we must live by.” She set her piece down with a depressing finality. “Checkmate.”
Galen felt his shoulder’s sag in defeat, looking at his fate played out along the board. “I guess today was not my day,” he sighed, letting his head fall into his hands as his king toppled onto the checkered board.
“No, not today.” She rose from the chair, sweeping towards the door. “But I do mean what I say, I think I love you. Perhaps next time you will win, and we can be together,” she said, as she had so many times before. With a final wave, she left the room, and Galen heard the sound of the lock falling into place behind her.
So, I did not plan to pull a romance card the day before Valentine’s day, but it happened. I have already done a bad date, a mourning for lost lovers, and a love note (yeah, Day 9 was totally a sweet love letter. Nothing creepy there!). This one is heavily inspired by the Atalanta myth, and I admit there may be flaws. It may not be very clear what is going on based on the narrative alone, but I thought it was a fun way to weave in romance and competition. And not write a super standard V-Day story. That said, thanks for reading, and happy Valentine’s Day tomorrow!
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.