I had to stare. “Mark…? What happened?”
He shook his head. “I guess I just got sloppy. Honestly, Leo, it’s not a big deal or anything. It’s just a game of chess.”
“But if you lost… None of us can win against her if YOU can’t!”
“Sure you can. Have you considered trying?” He shot a glare at me.
“Zeke.” Ixi looked up at him. “You next, please.”
“… Fine. I’ll try.”
Zeke also lost. I wasn’t completely surprised. He had never really been an expert at chess. He was decent, but nothing special. He knew the rules. His strategies were sloppy and poorly thought out. He never really thought ahead about what he was going to do… he just kind of went with the flow. It didn’t take long until I was sitting across from Ixi at the table with all the pieces lined up in front of me.
For some reason, I was scared to go against her. Scared of losing. You’d think that, since I’d have to fight in some sort of war or something if I won, I would be scared of winning. But that wasn’t the case. I wanted to win. I was afraid that she would beat me, just like she beat Mark.
Her face had no emotion when she played, which made me even more nervous. I had no idea what she was planning. Playing against Mark and Zeke was easier. Whenever they saw an opening to win, they would get a light in their eyes, a flash, and I could easily notice. But not Ixi. She wouldn’t let me know when she had an idea. I eventually willed myself not to look at her, so I wouldn’t be pushing myself to find out what she’s thinking, which would be impossible. So I just kept my eyes on the board. When the king fell over, I barely even noticed. When I did notice, I wondered whose king it was. It took at least half a minute for me to realize that it was Ixi’s.
“… You beat me.”
I was anxious about looking up. I didn’t want to see a scowl on her face. I didn’t want her to be angry. But when I did make myself look up, she wasn’t frowning. She was grinning.
“You’re a lot better than I thought, Leo! Not many people can beat me. I was right to find this group…”
I let out a long sigh of relief. The game was over. I didn’t have to be tense anymore. It took me a fairly long time before I remembered that it wouldn’t be long before I did have to feel that kind of tension. I had won. That meant I had to fight with her. It’s just a game it’s just a game it’s just a game…
I was completely in a daze. I didn’t even hear Ixi talking. I was just lost in my own thoughts, thinking as far ahead as I could. Playing against other people… people that have been trained to play chess expertly. People that could beat me in under ten moves. I’m going to lose. It’s just a game… But why doesn’t it feel that way?
I sneezed suddenly, bringing myself back to reality with a jolt. Ixi stopped talking for a moment.
“Did you hear a word of what I just said?”
Oops. “Uh… maybe? I think I did.”
“Then you should know when we’re leaving for your first match.”
“Right. Of course I do. Tomorrow, right?”
“Wrong. This Saturday.”
“Right, Saturday. I knew that…”
“I’m sure you did.” She stood up. “Anyway, I’ll be going home now. I’ll be back to visit you tomorrow, okay?”
“Right. I mean… Okay.”
“Great. See you tomorrow. Sleep well.”
And then she was gone. No poof of smoke. No flash. It was as if she hadn’t stood there at all.
I didn’t sleep at all that night.