Illustration by Popularium. Source images House of Staunton
I tap anxiously at the table in front of me. There must be another decent move I can make before we start exchanging pieces. The board seems highly in my favor, but Sarah always has some trick up her sleeve…
“No tricks this time, I promise,” she says, and I glare at her. She wears a smug expression I want to wipe off her face. My cousin, Sarah, is a few years older and a more experienced chess player. She loves to taunt me while we play and throw off my concentration. Her blue eyes gaze at me condescendingly every single time we are in the middle of a match and it drives me crazy.
I breathe in and return my concentration to the battlefield below. What is she thinking? She is always three steps ahead of me. So confident in her choices. I want to be like that.
When I move into my grandparents’ house in Venezuela, she’s already living here. All I know is that both of her parents passed away around Christmas and my grandparents adopted her. I live with them temporarily while my parents find work and set up our new life in Panama. Even though it pains them to move, they believe we will have better opportunities in another country due to the increasing crime rate and political turmoil in Venezuela.
Sarah holds the edges of her chair and looms over the board, her golden locks brushing against the beautiful interlocking wood. The maple and palisander board is part of my grandfather’s most treasured chess set, made by House of Staunton. “Impressive. You’re choosing to play this one carefully, aren’t you? Are you scared?”
Even though her voice drips with confidence, I can see her nibbling softly on her bottom lip and squinting her eyes. I smirk. “Not at all,” I say. “Maybe you’re just seeing the reflection of your own fear.”
She takes hold of her ebony queen. I can’t help but admire the piece, its intricate details standing out against the contrasting background of her pale skin. “I can’t believe you gave up your advantage,” she says. She knew what I was going to do before I did it. It’s like she can see my future. But I can’t see hers.
The pieces become a blur as I focus on Sarah’s face. She stares back without a trace of amusement. The wind is the only sound left in the room. The breeze shakes the pine tree outside, releasing its fragrance, as a tinge of orange light seeps through the open window to cast the branches’ shadows on the wall behind her.
She drops her queen into position. “That’s checkmate. You left your right flank wide open. Sometimes it’s the simplest moves that you miss. Don’t always try so hard to see the next move — sometimes you have to just see what’s right in front of you.”
The difference in our skill is clear. I’m no match for her.
When I finally move to Panama to meet my parents, she prepares us two hotmail accounts so we can chat using MSN Messenger. We talk and play chess remotely almost every day, but it doesn’t feel the same. I thought we were just beginning to get along at my grandparents’ house, but in fact I’m already attached to her. Although I am reunited with my dad and mom, I feel lonely without her. Being near her always filled me with energy and optimism, and now we’re so far apart.
“Don’t you feel kinda like… alone?” I type. It feels like a release, but there’s no way I’ll allow myself the vulnerability of asking something like that. I delete it and try again, “Do you feel like something has changed…?” No, that isn’t it. For some reason, it feels weird. Before I can edit it, I receive a new message.
“Hey, are you gonna come on vacation to Médanos de Coro National Park? We are planning to go stargazing. It’ll be amazing — you can see every star out there in the desert. If you liked my constellations book, you’ll love the view. What do you say?”
A smile crosses my face before I can stop it. This time, there is no reason to hide how I feel.
My laptop flares to life and I log into my MSN account. I scroll through my contacts until I find Sarah’s username. Still no messages. There must be something going on, I’m sure of it now. She hadn’t replied for four days, no calls either. Weird.
I stare at the phone. Should I call my grandparents and ask if anything had happened? No, I am overreacting. She’s probably just busy with schoolwork or something. That has to be it.
I shake my head to clear the invading thoughts. I should just wait.
I wake up in the early hours of the next morning, and there’s still an almost inaudible whisper telling me that something is not right. No matter how many times I try to drive the thoughts out of my head, I can hear it. I can’t sleep, I can’t even shut my eyes without thinking about what might have happened. I shift in my bed for what feels like hours, thinking about her.
Of all the people I’ve met, she smiles the brightest. She has always been there for me, ready to boost me up with her positive spirit. On the other hand I… I’m the one who has grown distant. Because of homework, school, or whatever I only send her terse replies. She has every right to be mad at me. We are friends… family… and I took her for granted. Neglected her. I didn’t notice what I was doing, but I’ll redeem myself. Starting tomorrow I’ll be there for her, too. I groan into the pillow and get up.
On my way to class, sitting in the back of my dad’s car, I hear the whisper again. What if something did happen? I should’ve called. Just to make sure. As soon as I get home, I’ll call.
I am in the middle of social studies class when I hear the intercom. I feel chills go down my spine as my name is called. Something is wrong.
I jump up from my seat and hurry out of the classroom without a single word. Down the stairs, through the hallway, and outside.
My dad stands outside the school gates and waves. As I draw near, it gets increasingly hard to look him in the eye. When I stand in front of him, I can only stare at the ground. He takes my backpack and we get into his car.
“Your grandfather called,” he says. “He needs to talk to you.”