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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Q&A - Checkmate

Write a quick love story. The story must end badly.
Theirs was an impulsive love affair.

He frequented the cafe in the square, always sitting on the patio enjoying his brunch - he rarely woke up in time for breakfast if he could help it. In the center of the square was a large stone fountain carved to look like mermaids dancing, the water flowing up through a vase-like structure and spilling out and over the laughing ladies.

Near the fountain were tables of older men - fathers, grandfathers, and great grandfathers even - and her.

At first she stood out because she was the only woman in a sea of men. He'd only noticed her when a little boy ran away from his mother pretending to be a military plane shooting down random things he came across as if they were his foes. Sometimes these things were people, and as he sat late one Saturday morning, this boy came up, arms outstretched from his sides, screaming noises he could only assume were gunfire. He feigned being shot before the child's mother caught up to him, apologizing sheepishly as she dragged her son away.

Watching them walk away, as the little boy shot at a newspaper bin, he heard a triumphant shriek, and turned to see her seated at one of the chess tables with her arms raised in victory. The man before her seemed slightly unhappy though impressed. Sipping his coffee, he watched her reach across the table, take a chess piece, and do a little dance with it in her hand before she retired it to a collection on her side. He was too far aware to hear what they were actually saying, but her laughter danced across the square like rays of sun.

It was then he had become smitten.

From that day on when he went to the cafe, he kept his eye out for her, watching her various tournaments with the regular gents. Regardless of if she beat them or not, they all seemed to love her... as did the man at the cafe.

One day, he walked past the host stand and straight to the bakery counter. Moments later, he left with a coffee and a small paper bag and headed toward the fountain. He hovered near her table as she tried convincing the man she was playing against that she most definitely had him in checkmate. He could see that she did... though her opponent was stubborn to give in so easily. "Beg your pardon," he said to the man, "but I believe she's got you." Looking back and forth at her and him, the older man grumbled and shrugged and leaving the table muttered something about coffee.

"Don't let him fool you," she said resetting the board. "He's actually a sweetheart." Hearing her voice up close and clear sent a tingle down his spine. Her chestnut hair was plaited in braids that hung well over her shoulders, a baseball cap affixed atop her head. She paused in her rearrangement of the pieces to look up at him, her face squinting slightly in the sun. It was then he noticed the sunglasses looped on the collar of her t-shirt. "Though I don't think he's too pleased with you siding with me. Pride and all that." It almost looked like she was winking at him.

"Well, I call 'em like I see 'em," he said and took the man's seat. Now looking at her across the table, her hat shielding her face from the sun, he could see her beautiful brown eyes.

As she placed the pieces back in their starting positions, she said, occasionally glancing up at him with a grin, "Since you're new here, I'll be polite and ask." He grinned and waited. "Usually taking a seat means you wish to do battle." He raised his eyebrows in amusement. "You play?" she asked holding up the final piece - the white king - before placing in its spot on his side of the board.

He shrugged with mock humility. "I dabble."

From then it was love at first checkmate.

Every second with her was a miracle. Every day a blessing. Every touch a cherished memory.

How could it gone so horribly wrong?

*******

He sat before her unable to speak.

He wanted to tell her he loved her. He wanted to explain. He wanted to say he was sorry.

They sat staring at each other in silence - the silence that drove him mad - the silence he wanted to fill with anything except their pained breathing.

The door opened, and in they walked. He wasn't sure how they'd found him. He'd long been out of the game - even faked his own death, changed his name, moved far away from where anyone had known him. He even got his tattoos removed. They weren't many but they were distinguishable enough... as if erasing them would erase his past.

They were walking home from dinner when the ambush happened. It had been so long, he ignored the odd feeling the crept up the back of his neck when something wasn't quite right. He was out of practice, and there were too many of them to fight off. They were shoved in a van and before he could call out her name, he was knocked unconscious.

When he came to, he had a sack over his head, and his hands were tied behind him. There was a click of a door opening and that was the last thing he heard before the beating started. He wasn't sure if it was many men or just one, but the pain was just as he remembered. Somewhere toward the end he fell to the ground, and they left him there, the faint click of the door again before his world faded to black.

The next time he grew conscious, he was seated in the chair again, hands bound behind him, but the sack was gone and a gag tied around his mouth. And when his eyes could focus, he saw seated before him was her. The sack was over her head, but he knew it was her. Unable to speak, unable to move, he wondered if she was all right, but how could she be? God only knew what they had done to her while they had been separated, while he was knocked out. All he could do was stare at the place her face would be if he could see. He thought of her eyes, her hair, how she had looked before and refused to let his imagination run wild with how she really looked beneath the cover.

The biggest of the men stood behind her, his eyes boring into his. The man smiled as he reached out and touched her arm. She flinched. Anger soared in him, but what could he do? The man laughed. "She really is quite a pretty thing," he said, this time touching the top of her head, and she jerked to escape his touch which only made him laugh. "It's a pity we had to mess her up a bit," said the man, "but I'll give her credit. She can take a beating." And with that he removed the sack, and their eyes met - hers wide with fear, his pained with frustration.

Stepping away from her, the man crossed to the other chair. "I will admit," he said, his voice calm, "I was upset when I heard you had died. I felt you had gotten off easy." The man leaned down, his voice low near the bound man's face. "I wanted you to suffer. I wanted you to suffer a long time." As the big man spoke, the bound man never looked away from her. "You took from me," said the man standing and continuing to pace around the chair. He stopped briefly behind her chair and stared at the man seated opposite before rounding it and standing between them.

Quietly he prayed.

He pleaded.

He begged.

"Now," said the man. "I take from you." He heard the boom before he saw the gun. Her eyes went wide with shock for that brief instant before her body went slack. It was then he screamed though the gag muffled his cries. He stretched forward, trying to get closer to her, but he barely moved. The man leaned down, his head over the bound man's, his voice low and steady and menacing as he said, "Now... you suffer." He lingered close for a moment before standing and walked away, but he saw nothing but her.

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