Sam is smart, crazy, intense, addicted to intensity, and Alex knows it. And it annoys the hell out of her. Not that Alex would mind a little intensity. Or a lot. Four years of college and all she has to be proud of are good grades. She begs her friend Sophie for something fun, and Sophie invites Alex to dinner and chess with friends, including Sam. But dinner and chess isn’t the kind of fun Alex wants. Then Sophie drops her bomb.
“It’s strip chess, Alex.”
Sam sees Alex as a good opponent, and a good girl. How will he react if he sees the rest of her? That might be more intensity than Alex can handle.
Copyright 2016 by Todd Caldwell
All rights reserved.
“I screwed up,” Gary said when the girls got back.
“You both screwed up,” Alex said. “You were both playing the wrong kind of game.”
The scoreboard read:
Alex 34 Sam 25
Sophie 39 Gary 30
Beth 39 Dennis 30
Alex sighed and mentally counted pieces.
“Hey,” Beth said. “You guys have some stripping to do.”
The guys pulled off their shirts to reveal sports bras underneath. The girls groaned.
“We consider it an act of solidarity,” Gary said.
“You look like idiots,” Beth said.
“Thank you,” Dennis said with a smile.
The guys stood and posed a little before sitting down.
“What was the posing for?” Alex asked.
Beth said, “We forgot that rule, didn’t we?”
“No,” Sophie said. “It’s a general stripping game rule. It’s not specific to Gary’s system. Right?” She looked at Alex. “Oh.”
Sam said, “You need to stand for three seconds after removing a major piece.”
“So the other people can get a good look?” Alex asked.
“Of course!” Sophie said. “I mean… Actually, that is what I mean.”
“Thanks,” Alex said. “Next time I’ll know to enjoy it.”
Sam picked up a black and white pawn, mixed them up and held out his hands. Alex tapped his right hand. Sam handed her the white pawn. The guys had set up the board while the girls were in the bathroom. Sam turned the white side toward Alex and set the clock on his left. Sam was left-handed, so clock placement was never an advantage with him. Neither was color. Sam preferred black. He liked to watch his opponent’s game unfold and find a weak moment to insert his latest strategy.
Alex stared at the board. This was it. Holy shit. She took a deep breath, moved her queen pawn, and tapped the clock.
Sam copied Alex’s move. Alex moved her c pawn. Sam took the pawn. Thirty-three points. Queen’s gambit accepted. Was that prophetic? No, but it was very Sam.
Alex developed a knight. Sam checked with his bishop. Damn, he was aggressive tonight. She blocked with a bishop. He took with his bishop.
“Thirty points,” Sam said.
Alex nodded, took back with a knight, and tapped the clock. Sam tapped back without moving. Alex looked up.
“Thirty points,” he said again.
She blinked at him.
“You need to take something off,” he said.
“Oh, God,” she said. “Sorry.”
“That was the fifth move,” Beth said.
“You wanted a ringer,” Alex said.
She stood up and untied the cord on her skirt, grateful for its simplicity. This would be the most skin she’d shown in public since high school. She sometimes wore tight pants to yoga class. Did that count?
—You’re stalling.— said a little voice in her head.
She pushed her skirt down, stepped out of it and stood up, holding it in front of her. This was stupid. She threw the skirt onto Sophie’s bed and waited for the clock to count off three seconds. She sat down quickly and tapped the clock.
“Happy?” she said.
“Yes,” Sam said, picking up a pawn. “You have nice legs.”
She watched him for a moment then said, “Very funny. Keep playing.”
Sam’s hand froze over the board.
“Alex,” he said and waited for her to look up. “You have nice legs.”
“Oh,” she said. “Thank you.”
He took a pawn. “You also have twenty-nine points.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Thank you.” She took a pawn with her bishop and thought, and you’re at twenty-one.
They both developed aggressively, but no one took a piece for seven moves. Alex took a bishop and waited. Sam smiled, stood up, and took off the sports bra. He watched the clock for three seconds, sat down, took the offending bishop, and tapped the clock.
“Have you been working out?” Sophie asked.
Sophie was right. Sam looked good. Alex advanced a pawn.
“This is more about keeping up with Dennis,” Sam said. He moved a knight. “He makes me do all of the stuff you won’t do.”
“Excuse me?” Alex said. She forked his knights with her queen.
“Hiking, climbing, mountain biking,” Sam replied. He advanced one of the knights, returning the threat to Alex’s queen.
“Got it,” Alex said. She moved the threat back to the knight.
“I draw the line at parkour,” Sam said. Three-way fork with the other knight. “That shit is crazy.”
“You’d be fine,” Dennis said.
“I’d break my fucking neck,” Sam said.
Alex took the forking knight with one of her own.
Sam grinned at Alex. He took her other knight with his rook, moving deep into her territory. That was damn aggressive this early in the game.
Alex ignored the rook and moved her knight forward.
Sam whispered, “Yes!”
“I still think you’d like rock climbing,” Dennis said to Sophie.
Sam paused for a moment, then ignored Alex’s knight and headed for her castled queen.
“Sorry,” Sophie said. “I like indoor plumbing too much.”
Alex deflected his attack with a pawn.
“What if you were rock climbing naked?” Alex said.
Sophie and Dennis looked at each other.
“I didn’t mean now,” Alex said.
“We know,” Sophie said. She and Dennis gave each other a we’ll-talk-later look.
Sam checked with his knight. Shit, Sam, let a girl catch a breath. She moved her king, and Sam took a pawn. God, the board looked thin. Where were they?
Alex 22 Sam 14
Sophie 27 Gary 19
Beth 27 Dennis 19
Wait, that meant Gary and Dennis should have removed their sports bras. Oh, they had. Sophie was right. Dennis looked damn good. And Sam … was at fourteen points. She was at twenty-two. Twenty-two? Shit. She was within one piece of losing her shirt.
She attacked the rook with her knight but left her hand on the piece. Sam could take her knight easily with his queen. She would be shirtless. Her queen already attacked his rook. She could take it. No. Stupid move. He wouldn’t take the knight. He’d lose his queen with no way to take hers. She let go of the knight and tapped the clock.
Sam moved his queen to the edge of the board, setting up an attack on her king.
No quick fix. That wasn’t like Sam. He would want full satisfaction. He would gladly play himself naked if it meant a good game. That was the plan. She could already see the look growing in his eyes. If she gave him the game of his life, his ass was hers for the rest of the night. She moved a rook to counter his strategy.
“Yes!” Sam said. “This is why I do six weeks of research.” He moved his rook out of danger and grinned at Alex again.
“Why do you do the research?” Beth asked.
Alex set up a rook attack against Sam’s king.
“Are you shitting me?” Sam said. “Alex is worth it.” He countered with his knight.
A few quick moves had Alex in line for an attack.
“God, yes!” Sam said.
“Do you need some time alone with your king?” Alex asked.
“I’m fine,” Sam said.
Alex said, “Just don’t get your pawns all over the board.”
Sam pulled back and redesigned his game. He smiled the whole time. He made a quick pawn grab. Alex ignored it and dangled her knight next to his queen.
“God, yes, Alex,” Sam said.
Dennis said, “You know we want to win, right?”
Sam looked at him then smiled at Alex. “So do I.” He ignored the knight and threatened the territory around Alex’s queen.
“Wow,” Alex said. “You really do want to win.” She moved her queen to safety.
Sam threatened one of her rooks with one of his. “No shit. I want to see you do dares.”
“Payback for all those lost games?” she asked.
Sam froze. “No, Alex.”
“You’re right,” she said. “I’m sorry.” She dropped her eyes and pushed her hair back from her shoulder.
—Exposing the neck is a sign— —
I know what it means.
Sam smiled at her again, but a different smile than his normal grin. He needed to smile like that more often.
Alex returned to the game. Shit. She was about to lose a piece. It didn’t matter which piece Sam took or which move she made. She surveyed the board carefully, wondering what she could lose. Sam had a three pawn advantage. Shit, when did that happen? Otherwise, they were matched. Her best move was to take his rook first. He would take back with his knight, and she would lose her shirt. Her hand shook when she reached for her rook. She pulled her hand back and clenched a fist.
“Scary fun or just scary?” Sam asked.
She took a deep breath. “Scary fun,” she said and took his rook.
Sam stood up, took off his pants and waited for three seconds. He wore dark boxer briefs underneath. They were actually a practical choice. They would look less weird on the walk to the bathroom. He sat down and took her rook.
Alex nodded and took a slow breath.
She started to stand, and Beth said, “Move first.”
Right. Good point. What was her next move? Her pawn. Threaten his queen. She moved, exhaled and stood up.
Her hands shook on the first button. Why had she worn a shirt with buttons? Take another breath. Try to ignore the five people about to see you in your underwear.
Todd Caldwell had his writer awakening at eleven and his publishing quite a bit later. He usually writes when he is awake, sometimes when he is asleep, but only about characters he cares about. His preferences include science fiction, physics, and psychology, but not always in that order. He currently working on several projects that should have been completed a long time ago. And, he is always looking for more.