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I ponder the possibility of someone possessing the ability to give you a permanent stomachache. An ulcer, perhaps? This idea is rather disconcerting to me as I stagger lopsidedly into my father’s Audi. No, really. Is it possible that instead of butterflies in my stomach, or an irregular heartbeat upon a casual glance, I instead receive a deadly sort of ulcer, one that grips my insides feverishly? I remember our exchange so clearly now, as if I was looking with a magnifying glass, strengthening everything to ensure perfect clarity. I remember the warm blush that crept up my pale cheeks, igniting them and lingering long after I had logged off of my computer.
“I’m so nervous for the exam,” I had admitted; my fingers nervously brushed the keyboard. It was as though we were playing chess, sizing each other up before making any rash movements.
He rubbed his hand in his hair from the next computer, turned and squinted at me. Like his hand was extending forward, with the intent of choosing a piece to play.
“Yeah,” he had replied after a minute. “Me too. I really need to study.” His keystrokes grew slower, heavy and erratic. Pawn; disappointing.
Mine grew faster, as I flippantly changed the wording of a few sentences in my thesis paper before I responded. It was a game, which of us could push the farthest without actually revealing anything of value, and I was picking up my knight. “I don’t know...I feel like sometimes it’s better to study with people, so that you have someone to talk things over with.”
His keystrokes stopped; so did mine. Slowly, without looking at me, his words fell out of his mouth as he measured each with care before actually speaking them. He measured himself as his fingers closed around his bishop, shakily nudging it forward.
“That would be good. But...my schedule is getting pretty busy, so the only time I could meet with anyone would be after school today.” Bishop in place, he leaned back content with his move, yet visibly anxious for mine.
I sucked in an imperceptible breath, considered biting my nails but resisted. “Today’s...well, it’s usually free for me, which is nice. A nice change, I mean,” I stammered uncomfortably. Skip the bishop, skip the rook, skip the knight...my queen. I would play my queen, because I knew what I was doing. I was Bobby Fisher, and this was my game; I played by my rules.
“I guess...I could see you then?” And I forced myself to look up at him, to find his eyes; they were blue, not quite piercing, but clear and pale. They held my gaze for the first time that morning; I froze. I was captivated by the blue in an attempt to describe the exact color. So very blue, and yet, not in the least a vibrant color.
He held my gaze for the longest moment. “Maybe,” he said finally. Checkmate.
My heart blistered from the heat of my blush, which had managed to travel throughout my entire body until it grew painful. My heart blistered and sank, pulling all of my insecurities, my doubts, my fears, along with it. Checkmate.
He continued speaking, unaware of the slight personal crisis I was undergoing.
“I have to check with my mom,” he had explained. His pawn moved so slowly it was impossible to miss.
I did my best to swallow as gracefully as possible, and managed to choke out, “Sounds good.” The game was over. I had lost at my own game. The rules I knew so well---
My father’s voice slams into my reflection of the day’s events and rudely displaces my thought process. “How was school Ali?”
I keep my eyes focused on the window and manage to still my heartbeat to the sounds of the car, hoping the rhythm will soothe my angst.
“Fine,” I rasp. “Just fine.”
My father must have gotten the car washed. The inside smells wonderful, the faintest hint of pine dwelling when I inhale. The windows are beautifully clear, crisply displaying the racing images of cars, trees and homes. There is perfect clarity. Everything is easy to see, and deductions can be made without flaw. Impeccable perception.
This morning I snapped at my mother, I ignored my friends, and had all but pulled out the hair on top of my head. The stress literally peeled away at my body, shriveling the skin every time I thought about the exam too much. But when he had given me such a passionless, flat “maybe,” I took that to mean “no.” After all, I have heard countless times that if a guy truly cares about a girl, he will go out of his way to make things happen. I take this to heart, and have really never been wrong when it comes to the little things in a relationship; the body language, frequency of eye contact---I have always managed to discern the meaning from the unspoken. Navigating the social politics of such relationships has always been surprisingly easy for me. Of course, there are always rumors, little pieces of paper with tiny scribbles on them, filled with gossip and lies that float around hallways rapidly and effortlessly. At one point, these little papers contained droplets about us. But I don’t listen, even when I want to. I would make my own decisions, no matter what those around me wanted my love life to resemble.
At the end of the day, I gathered my backpack, too heavy for its own good, and picked up the library book I was required to return. It weighed down my arms, for every step brought me closer to the place that I could have been enjoying my study date. But one checkmate, a “maybe” had spoiled it all. Not as impolite as a short, blunt “no”, but then, he was not one to be impolite. A “maybe” was just so...desperate. A desperate attempt to wiggle out of an uncomfortable situation, a desperate play for an easy win. His rejection was an easy win. I had made him desperate enough to reject a study date. What was wrong with me?
I pushed open the doors of the library reluctantly, reluctant to return to the chess board. Upon first glance it was quiet, scattered groups of pawns and knights lingering idly in the labyrinth. And then, my heart stopped. I tangibly felt the thumping halt inside of my chest. I gripped a rook in an instinct of defense. Sitting at the table we occasionally used with our group of friends, was him. Him, with two textbooks, two chairs, one of which was empty. For me. He was offering back my king.
The panic set in. What was “maybe” supposed to mean? I racked my brain, furiously digging through every conversation I’d ever had with a boy; I came up dry. “Maybe” indicated uncertainty, unpredictability. Therefore, that meant he had been unsure about studying together, unsure about me. Which had to mean “no”. And a “no” was a checkmate! But I could fix this. This was fixable! I would sneak out of the library, pray that the extra textbook was not for me, and not mention it the next morning so he would understand I had thought he had declined. But I knew the extra textbook was for me. I knew him, and therefore, I knew it was for me.
But I did not want my king back out of pity.
Then it happened---from across the entire library, of all the places to look, he chose to look directly at me. I did not require my glasses to know that we made eye contact. He saw me with my backpack, presumably full of study materials, and a book, presumably to aid me in my studying. With him.
I lost all semblances of logic after I dropped the library book and ran, fleeing as quickly as I could while burdened with a blistering heart and a backpack weighing the equivalent of a small hippopotamus. My eyes grew wet; wet at the humiliation at what I had thought, at what I had just done. My eyes grew wet, and that clarity, that crisp, beautiful, simple clarity I had enjoyed only minutes before was ruined. That clarity had told me he did not care for me, that he was hell bent on keeping my king prisoner. And now the clarity was stained by the tears that now soaked my second favorite black fleece. His eyes had been so clear that morning, so full of things I had been sure I understood. My vision had been perfect, my king safe; I had no cross to bear. But now the vision was mutilated, scratched beyond recognition. And my cheeks burned, oh they burned.
The window really is lovely, so crystal clear, shining brightly whenever I tilt my head. Here, in the safety of the Audi, my clarity is unblemished, undisturbed. And yet, I cannot remember the color of his eyes, as striking as they were. They too, blurred in my mind, despite the perception, the impeccable perception.
“Honey,” my father calls, simultaneously checking his rear view to avoid getting totaled by an SUV larger than my living room.
I raise my head in recognition; the tears are fading.
SUV crisis averted, he turned on to our street.
“Don’t you think it would be a good idea to start studying for that exam with a friend or two? Keep things interesting?”
His eyes were blue. So blue they had given me a startlingly acute stomachache. So pale and icy I shivered each time I looked into them. So blue. I did remember. Checkmate.