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Ckeckmate Crush

Life is a lot like chess. Just when you think you have learnt all the rules and know how to

play, life forks you. Soon you need to decide what to sacrifice, or you’ll end up backed into a

corner, too late to castle.

“Do you need a clock?” he asked, reaching into a pile of floppy chess boards, all that was left

piled up on the chair in the corner. Emma wasn’t sure whether to take his question as a

compliment or a unique form of intimidation. She didn’t think she looked like a chess player

and definitely not one in need of a clock.

She followed him outside to the only free table available, where he had begun setting up the

pieces. He looked how she imagined a chess player to look- slim and slightly too pale,

suggesting he spent most of his time indoors and was more interested in cerebral pursuits

rather than anytime lost at the gym. Emma on the other hand, was curvy suggesting she too

spent a lot of time in a sedentary position but would pine for her daily walk outside, which

had given her a slight tan. She was thankful she tanned so easily and considered it one of her

best features.

Accepting his challenge, she straddled the outdoor bench to sit down, instantly regretting

wearing a skirt. Bench tables were the worst things about pubs in her opinion. There was no

way of getting in or out of them without exposing yourself or looking awkward. He must

have agreed as one leg in, he got up and left to watch another players’ game inside, a game

with clock people.

Feeling rejected, Emma sighed at the empty space where her opponent should be. She wasn’t

ready for this. She needed coffee first. Returning with her favourite matcha latte, she sat

down at the bench finding her empty space had been occupied with a bearded guy who smelt

of cigarettes.

“You can play white,” he offered in an east European accent. Emma thought about how

stereotypical it was for Russians to play chess then scolded herself for calling him Russian.

Nobody liked to be called Russian if they weren’t, especially these days.

For a second, she worried that this was another test. Was he only offering her to go first to

see how good she was? No, that was being paranoid. Caffeine normally had that effect on

her. Distracted trying to work out if matcha latte had caffeine in it or not, Emma began by

moving her pawn to the centre of the board.

It was a standard move and they continued for a while with no surprises, until bearded guy

revealed he was completely bald. After a stressful attack on his rook, he removed his beanie.

Emma couldn’t decide where to look. Knowing she didn’t find him at all attractive should

have helped her concentrate more, but his bald head was hard to ignore. She wondered if he

thought she was staring at it.

That’s when he threatened her knight. Not willing to lose a piece so easily, Emma plundered

into scheming a counterattack. She cursed under her breath when she saw her red fingers.

Turns out, £20 lipsticks transfer the same as £4 ones. She should have known from the stains

all over her coffee cup.

“What are you thinking?” He interrupted. Emma’s decision-making process on whether to

sacrifice a bishop was delayed by her envisioning herself as a clown with red lipstick

smeared all over her face.

“You should castle.”

Emma nodded, ignoring him. Why did men always feel the need to tell her what to do? She

could have told him never to remove his beanie to return the favour but thought better of it.

She wasn’t that mean.

“I’m just deciding, you can go and smoke if you want. I won’t touch anything, promise.”

Emma stretched in her seat and took out her phone’s camera, surveying the damage and

reapplying her lipstick. Happy with the results, she turned her attention back to the board.

Sooner than she had hoped, Bald guy’s reappearance hurried her to make up her mind. She

would sacrifice her bishop. His response came swiftly, forcing a checkmate. Damn it! She

thought, she should have castled.

On winning, bald guy shook her hand and left, probably to go grab another smoke. Emma,

alone at the bench table again, didn’t mind that she had lost. She was more irked that he had

been right. Next time, she would not be distracted by looks and was determined to prove

herself. She knew she could play chess. Maybe she could even have become a master at it, if

she hadn’t given up her dream in favour of popularity at ten years old.

“Would you like to play?”

Hot damn! she thought. Emma was glad she had fixed her makeup.

“Sure,” If this guy had been at the chess club at school, she would definitely have been a

grandmaster by now.

“I was watching you back there,” he said, starting the game.

“You were watching me?” Emma blushed, moving her piece.

“You should have castled.”

“Yeh, I know.” Emma thought about how she didn’t mind him telling her what to do at all in

comparison to baldy. Her imagination wandered to what else he could tell her, and she got

lost in fantasy.

“I haven’t seen you play here before,” the mouth spoke. He had the most beautiful lips she’d

ever seen.

“It’s my first time,” she managed to mumble.

“A chess virgin, eh?”

Emma giggled, and self-consciously moved her bangs so they covered the little wrinkles she

had on her forehead. She thought at thirty-one she was still too young for antiaging creams,

but these little buggers had appeared overnight.

“I wouldn’t say that, but I doubt I’m as experienced as you.” Emma winked. Oh god, why did

she wink? How embarrassing.

“Checkmate!” He said flatly.

Emma had been too distracted by how his mouth looked when he talked and the veins in his

forearms to concentrate on the game.

“Wow, I’m rusty.”

He shrugged and Emma desperate for him to stay almost begged, “Play again?”

“Sorry, I’m being summoned, must go.” Emma tried to hide her disappointment and creeping

jealousy of the plain girl in glasses that had just waved him over to the clock people.

“He’s beautiful, isn’t he?” a camp creation with a loud shirt and even louder shoes sighed


“Huh?” Emma muttered, confused at how such a colourful creature had been able to sneak up

on her and read her mind so easily.

“That’s Anthony, the Chess champion, nay Chess God,” he said.

“Is it weird that I just want to be his brain?”

Emma laughed, “No. I’d want to be anything of his, including his socks.”

It was his turn to laugh, “I’m Lee”.

“Emma. Nice to meet you. Nice shirt by the way.”


“So, are you any good at chess Lee?”

“Oh, of course not. I can barely grasp how a knight moves. It seems ridiculous to me that it’s

the only thing to move in an L shape. But I guess I should admire it for doing its own thing.”

He continued, “Nope, I’m here for Anthony. It’s my dream that one day he’ll see how terrible

I am at chess and offer me private tuition.”

“Then you’ll run off into the sunset?”

“Naturally. But it hasn’t happened yet. He’s got a thing for plain Jane over there.”

“I noticed,” Emma sighed.

“I have no idea why. Her shoes are awful. You’re much prettier.”


“Do you think these would work?” Emma pulled a pair of glasses from a handbag. They

were old and unfashionable, used only in emergencies like that time she dropped her contact

lens down the sink.

“Abomination! Put those away!”

“Well how else can I get his attention?”

“I’d say your best bet is to ask the trolls.”

“Trolls?” She imagined rock beings with moss outfits only emerging from their caves to

insult strangers online, and wondered how they would be of any use.

“Them, over there” Lee pointed to a huddle of geeky looking young men intensely studying

chess puzzles.

“Yep, they all have the highest ELO scores here. You want Anthony to notice you, you need

to get good.”

“Oh, ok. I can do that.” Determined, Emma got up to approach the table of trolls.

“Wait!” Anthony stopped her. “You can’t just go over there! You’ll give them a heart attack.

I doubt most of them have ever spoken to a girl.”

“Then how...?”

“I happen to have one of their numbers.”

Responding to Emma’s raised eyebrows, Lee continued sheepishly “I was drunk, and it was

very dark.”

“No judgement.”

“It was the day Anthony called me Steve.”

Insincere, Emma replied, “That’s awful!”

Teasing she said, “So, Steve, will you be here next week?”


“Yes, Lee will be here. I’ll text you mine and troll number four’s number and maybe we can

all go for cocktails!”

“You’re kidding right?”

“Of course. But I am always available for cocktails and pining over hot guys.”

“Sounds awesome, I’ll hit you up.”

“Oof. You really need to work on that.”

“I know.”

“Byeee.” Lee waltzed over to the troll table as Emma packed the board and pieces away. She

suspected there was more between Lee and troll number four than he cared to admit and

made a mental note to probe him more about it.

Emma hadn’t expected to find a crush, drinking buddy, and a new life mission at an event

she’d avoided coming to for so long. This was a sign from the Universe, it was time to

embrace her other self, her inner geek. As Emma’s ten-year-old self rejoiced, she worried it

was too late. She had ignored that part of herself for so long, tried to fit in, be popular, that

maybe she had no inner geek left. Maybe her brain had absconded out of boredom and now

that she wanted to use it, it would abandon her as punishment for her neglect. But inner geek

or not, she thought about wiping the smugness of clock guy’s face, of Anthony’s perfect

mouth on hers, and found it was all the encouragement she needed. Better late than never.


Genamarie Shaw is a poet and writer from London, England. She is currently working on a

young adult historical and fantasy fiction novel and a new poetry collection. Her first poetry

collection “Coffee stirred with milk” is available to purchase from Amazon. You can connect

with her at

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