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II. Intermission (Nine Months Later)

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“I really should get going,” Olive said to the camera.

“I know,” William said with a sigh. “It’s hard, not being with you.”

“You could come see me sometime soon,” she offered. “I’m not on break for a month or so, but you could always come here, to America.”

“I have a competition there. Three weeks. In Philadelphia. It’s not Virginia, but it’s as close as I can get to you anytime soon. Miss Park is… strict.”

“I understand, Barf. Is it the World Open Tournament?”

He nodded. “Yes.”

“At least it’s not in New York this time,” she said. “I think I can make it up there on the weekend, if I get to see you.”

“I would love that,” he said, smiling gently. “But I love you even more.”

Olive smiled. “I love you too,” she said. “And I’ve really got to go. Big paper due this weekend.”

“Will you call soon?”

“Friday?”

“Perfect,” he said. “Auf Wiedersehen. Ich liebe dich.”

“Goodbye,” she said, smiling as sweetly as ever. Olive ended the call and leaned back in her chair with a sigh.

————

Chip pressed another kiss to Marigold’s cheek. “We should go see a movie tonight,” he whispered.

She absently patted his face, not bothering to look up from her laptop. “Can’t. I’ve got two articles due by midnight.”

“You have to work so much,” he said. “You’re always writing for this or writing for that.”

“Yeah, that’s what happens when you have a job. Have you been checking out law schools?”

He slumped against her shoulder. “I’ve finished applications to two. I just haven’t submitted them yet.”

“Why?” She asked, backspacing furiously. “Something wrong?”

“I don't know. I miss playing chess.”

“You don’t have to quit.” Marigold pecked his temple and continued typing. “You just can’t do both.”

“I know.” Chip fell silent and watched her write. “Do ever think about the future?”

“Yeah. I’ll probably get a demotion if I get these things in late and that’ll suck.”

He sat up. “No, the future. Say ten, twenty years. Where do you see yourself?”

She paused and considered it. “I mean, I always assumed I’d be married by then. But,” she shrugged and returned to her work, “I’m not sure anymore. I’d be fine with something like this forever. Where do you think you’ll be?”

“Well...” he considered it. “I’ll definitely be married, with three or four kids.”

“You really want that many?”

“I like kids,” Chip said defensively. “And I’d be an involved dad even though I’d have my hands full with my partnership at a law firm. Twenty years, when I’m… forty seven. Yeah, and I’d go home to my wife every night, and I’d catch up with the kids over dinner, see what they did at school.”

Marigold finished what she was working on and sent it. As she began her second project, she asked, “What’s your future wife like? Is it me, or some unspecified woman?”

“Oh, I’ve never thought much about what she’d be like. Living in the present and all that, but if I had to put a face to it…” His hand found its place on her thigh. “I’d like it to be you.”

She smiled faintly and stopped long enough to kiss him.

————

Despite his loneliness, Will was content. Even if Olive wasn’t able to stay with him in Germany, he was going to see her in a week, and they talked so frequently that he still felt connected to her. It wasn’t the most ideal relationship, but he wasn’t focused on the physicality of it. Knowing that Olive was doing alright was enough for him.

“Führen Sie den Bohrer erneut aus.”
[Run the drill again.]

He sighed. “Nochmal? Es ist eine Stunde her.”
[Again? It’s been an hour.]

She set her bottle down and pointed at him. “Sie haben mich eingestellt, um sicherzustellen, dass Sie gewinnen. Das ist wie. Nochmal.”
[You hired me to ensure you win. This is how. Again.]

With another sigh, he reset the board. His mind trailed back to Olive. Her pretty face, her kind heart…

Marcy startled him back into focus by pounding her bottle on the table. “Fokus! Möchten Sie gewinnen oder nicht?”
[Focus! Do you want to win or not?]

“Mach ich, mach ich. Es tut uns leid.”
[I do, I do. Sorry.]

“Gut. Denken Sie später über Ihre Freundin nach, Liebesjunge. Schach jetzt spielen.” She took another sip and waved her hand. “Nochmal.”
[Good. Think about your girlfriend later, loverboy. Play chess now. (...) Again.]

Will sighed and rolled his eyes, preparing himself for the drill. Marcy leaned against the table and watched intently, though her mind laid elsewhere.

————

Knock-knock.

Leaf heard an unidentifiable shout and movement inside the apartment. Then the door opened.

Oh, shit.

His favorite cele- no, his sister’s boyfriend was answering the door. The only thing he was wearing was a pair of pajama pants. His hair was a mess, he didn’t have glasses on anD HE WAS SHIRTLESS.

“Mari didn’t say you were over,” Leaf said nervously.

Chip blinked and rubbed his eyes. “Thank god. It’s you, and not some weirdo press person that I just opened the door to.” He noticed the drink carrier and grocery bag Leaf had. “Wha’s that?”

“I always bring food over when I come! I get a discount at work, so Mari always makes me bring her coffee and pastries when I come by. Of course, if she had said you were here, I woulda gotten you coffee-“

“It’s fine,” he said, waving his hand dismissively. “Made some already. Come in.” He opened the door more and stepped back to let Leaf in. Leaf walked to the kitchen and set everything down on the table. “Your sister’s in the shower.”

He nodded and sat down, opening the grocery bag and taking the pastries out. “You can have a pastry if you want! I usually get a lot of them because I eat a lot of them, but they’re not super healthy and I work with them all the time so, please, take some actually.”

Chip grabbed his mug from the counter, sat down at the table, and took a pastry. He ate slowly, alternating bites with sips of coffee.

Leaf, on the other hand, ate so fast he was barely chewing. He stopped himself after two pastries and slipped his phone out. He scrolled through his social media feeds aimlessly, catching up on everything and nothing all at once.

“You were at the championship last year.”

Surprised, he glanced up at Chip. “Huh?”

Chip pointed at him with the uneaten half of his croissant. “You. I remember seeing you at the chess championship last year.”

“Oh. Yeah, Mari took me with her.”

“Why?”

Leaf tapped his fingers on the table. “It was her birthday present to me, cause I really like chess, and also she didn’t understand the game and the players so I was there to explain everything to her.”

Chip finished swallowing another bite. “You play?”

He nodded.

Chip gestured back at living room. “Wanna play?”

Leaf about died on the spot. Chip Tolentino, a chess legend, wanted to play chess with him? This was like every dream come true. Realizing that Chip needed an answer, he nodded rapidly.

“Cool.” Chip chugged the rest of his coffee and stood up. “I’m gonna go set the board up.” He left the kitchen, giving Leaf some time to panic.

What are you supposed to do if a world champion chess players asks you to play a game? Is it a casual game, or does he want to like, actually play? Wow, he looks cute right now… No!!! That’s your sister’s boyfriend!! Don’t be weird! Just play chess. Ignore the fact that he’s shirtless and hot and-

“You ready?” Chip asked. He now had glasses on and he looked slightly more awake. His hair looked like it had been combed down with his fingers, but hairs still curled up.

Leaf managed to nod. This was so exciting! He followed Chip out to the living room and sat on the couch. “Black or white?”

“You can play white,” Chip said, a hint of a smile on his face. “Your move.”

Leaf remembered his first move, but everything after that seemed to blur together. It was almost like being in a trance. He only snapped back to reality when the word, “Check,” stumbled out of his mouth.

Chip moved his king. Leaf slid his rook up.

“Checkmate,” he said, unable to believe anything that had just happened. He just went easy on me, right? Yeah, he was barely even thinking that entire match. That was just him having a bit of fun.

“How in the hell did you do that?” Chip demanded. “You’re not a professional.”

He shook his head nervously. Did he do something wrong?

Chip looked back down at the board. “That’s the same strategy I used in Paris. Paris. Where I fucking won a world championship.”

“I know. I’ve studied it,” Leaf said without thinking. “I’ve studied a lot of current professionals and their strategies, so I kinda know how they work and how to you know, defend against them.”

Without looking up from the board, Chip asked, “You worked a defense out yourself?”

Leaf nodded.

“And you work at a coffee shop?”

He shrugged. “I don’t have a degree or anything to get anything better. Chess is my hobby.”

“That could easily be a helluva lot more than a hobby,” Chip said.

He frowned. “What’s that mean?”

Chip leaned over the board and looked at him intently. “I think you could play professionally.” At Leaf’s look of intense doubt, he continued, “How long have you played the game?”

“I learned it when I was, uh, six,” he said. “And I’m twenty six now, so… twenty years.”

“How often do you practice?”

“It’s pretty much all I read about,” he admitted. “I play a lot. I use one of those free games on my phone, and I’ve got some friends I play with.”

“Have you ever thought about competing?” He asked. “Even at an amateur level you've got plenty of chances.”

Leaf shook his head. “I’m not a competitive person. The rest of my family is, but I’m not. Besides, I’m not good enough to do well in something like that.”

“Not good enough?” Chip stared at him for a moment. “Just- just for the sake of experimentation, would you do a competition? There’s an amateur one coming up.”

“I know,” he mumbled.

Chip sat back. “You do?”

“I keep tabs on local competitions,” he admitted. “I’d just rather not enter one.”

“If you don’t want to, that’s fine I guess. But the prize is $1,000. I’d spot you entry fee and you’d only have to pay that back if you won.”

Leaf shifted in his seat, uncomfortable. “I don’t wanna waste your time and money by losing.”

“It’s ten bucks,” Chip said, “and I’m unemployed. I need something to spend some time on. You’ve got skill, you’ve got potential. You just need a shove in the right direction.”

“Potential to be what?”

He shrugged. “A good chess player. Professional level. With the right coach, I’d dare say you could be a contender for world champion in, oh, five years.”

“You really think I could be a world champ?” Leaf said nervously. “I, I dunno. I’m not a smart person like you or my sister or like all those other chess people.”

Marigold walked out of the bathroom, her hair wrapped up in a towel. “What are you two up to?”

“You didn’t tell me your brother was into chess!” Chip said. “He just beat me and, lemme tell ya, I wasn’t going easy on him.”

“Yeah, he’s pretty alright at it,” she said with a shrug. Leaf stiffened up. “But,” she continued, “he doesn’t have any interest in competing.”

“Actually, I-I do,” Leaf said. “I’m gonna enter a competition. And Chip’s gonna coach me.”

Her eyes went wide. She smiled faintly. “Really? That’s great, Leaf. Could you grab me my coffee real quick?”

Leaf walked back into the kitchen. As soon as he was gone, Marigold sat down next to Chip.

“What the hell are you doing?” She hissed. “Tell me he’s joking.”

He looked at her, shocked. “What? No, I’m going to help him. What’s wrong with that?”

“He’s-” she sighed out through her nose. “We’ll talk later. After he leaves.”

“Fine.”

Leaf returned with Mari’s coffee. “Here ya go!”

“Thanks,” she said, taking the cup. She took a sip and asked, “Any plans today?”

He shook his head. “No, not besides work.” He checked his phone and his eyes went wide. “Which I should’ve been at ten minutes ago. I gotta run,” he said, giving a quick wave as he hurried out the door.

As soon as he was gone, Chip turned a questioning look to his girlfriend. She sighed. “That is exactly he’ll never get anywhere. He’s scattered and stupid and up in the clouds. He doesn’t think about anything he does.”

“He’s…” Chip trailed off, unable to finish the thought. She was probably right. He barely knew Leaf, and she was his twin. “One competition,” he said, holding a finger up. “I told him I would. Worst comes to worst, he loses or doesn’t show up.”

“It’s a nice thought, Chip. But Leaf doesn’t have that drive to do something like that. Never has, never will.” She took a sip of coffee. “It’s just how he is, and he’s fine with it.”

“One competition,” Chip repeated. “That’s all I’m holding him to.”