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“So...if I go there-”
“I meant that space.”
“Just face it, Nina, you’ll lose to me and my brilliance no matter where you go.”
“Brilliance?” I scoffed. “You can’t even figure out how to open a water bottle.”
But I knew he was right. We had been playing chess for the last three hours and all I learned was that my GPA could not be transformed magically into playing chess. At one point Liam had even resorted to checkers, one of my favorite games, only for him to win and, of course, bring it up every single chance he could.
I shook my head and moved forward. His pawn danced around the board capturing nearly all of mine. The white pieces took over and finally overthrew the black king. Of course they did.
“You’re stupid, you know that?”
Liam looked up. His dull eyes finally ignited. “Yeah, and you lost to me.”
“Not the point. The white always win.”
He pushed the board across the attic floor, kicking up dust, and crawled over to the mini fridge. We had grown accustomed to the attic, even though our teenage bodies were now too tall to exactly fit. As children, this was our ‘secret lair’ and nothing could take that away.
Liam handed me a coke and smirked. “What do you mean by that?”
“History 101, but you wouldn’t know that.”
“Columbus, Pizarro, Cortes, Jamestown, Pequot War- the white majority won every time. And there again, the white overpowered.”
He laughed. A true Liam laugh. One I hadn’t heard since his grandmother had died. “This is why I keep you around, Nina.”
I popped open his bottle. “Because I can hydrate you?”
“Because you think so much about everything.”
We sat back against the rafters, our stocking feet poking at the insulation on the other side. We were maybe four inches apart. Closer enough to feel his heat, but not to feel his heart. I wanted to feel it. Hear the pounding in his chest as his mind raced about me. Feel his clammy hands lacing with mine. Have his shallow breaths brushing against my cheek. But we were four inches apart drinking cokes because he wasn’t ready yet.
“I don’t think about everything, Liam.”
“You’re right. It’s impossible to think about everything.”
Our breaths echoed throughout the attic. His toes stopped tormenting the insulation and moved close to mine. His holey grays against my puffy polka-dots.
“We don’t know everything yet.”
“My mom says that all the time.”
“But even she doesn’t know everything.”
I continued to stare at our feet. “Yeah.”
He took another swig, the liquid squishing as he swallowed next to my ear. “Nina-”
My eyes lifted to his. Heart pounding in my chest as his lips searched for the words. He stuttered for a while, watching the excitement in my own eyes.
After a while, he smiled and grabbed the board again. “Another game?”
I felt everything within me drop, but a smile was forced between my lips. “Sure, but I get to be white this time.”
“It doesn’t make a difference.”
“You’re right, but I just want to see the blacks win for once.”
He tried to hide a grin. Maybe he kept me around so he wouldn’t be lonely. Maybe it was to help heal his pain. Maybe it was just to laugh at me. And maybe it was for more. But I knew why I kept him around: to watch that beautiful smile come across his face. He didn’t deserve anything less.