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Live, Love, Lose - 19. Chapter 19

Another week passed, and that evening it was just Mr. Hopkins and Karl in the house.

He didn’t really know where the others were supposed to be. But, hey, they had their own lives and didn’t need to keep him informed of everything they did. He thought he had understood that Mrs. Hopkins had gone on her own to visit some relatives, and if so he guessed she had asked her husband to stay with him so he wouldn’t be alone. As for Paul he was most likely kept by work, and as for George…no idea.

They were staying in the living room, facing each other wordlessly.

“If you will excuse me for one minute, I am just going to fetch something in the other room.”

Karl nodded, not fully understanding the words that he said. But they spoke for themselves.

He came back rather quickly with something in his hands. From afar, it looked like some kind of tray, but it wasn’t. It was thicker. And the things that were displayed on it were definitely not edible. He put it down on the table without saying a word before he sat back swiftly into his seat. Karl examined it with inquisitive eyes as he leaned forward.

“Have you already seen one before?”

Karl looked up at Mr. Hopkins.

“No.”

“This is called a chessboard, and thanks to all of these pieces we can play chess.”

So it was another kind of game. At first glance, it seemed to be similar to playing cards.

“I inherited it from my grandfather.”

Goods inherited from family members, from one generation to another, there was nothing more precious and valuable. It’s not as if you bought the thing yourself. It took on an important symbolic meaning.

“Would you like to learn how to play?”

Karl nodded eagerly, without taking the time to give it a second thought.

“You will see, it is not that hard. You just need to get used to it first.”

Karl just waited for him to show him how it worked.

“So, first, the pieces,” he said as he pointed at the white ones, the ones on his side. “There are six different types of pieces. First, the pawns,” he made a horizontal gesture with his finger to show every one of them. “The most basic pieces, or rather the less important ones, if you prefer. The kind that you can easily sacrifice without losing too much. Then the Bishops, you have only two of them. Each one on a different square of colour if you look closely. It is more important than pawns, but still remains a minor piece on the game.”

Karl listened carefully and glanced at Mr. Hopkins every now and then to show he did.

“The Knight. It is a minor piece just like the bishop. And you have two of them as well. One is for the King, and the other one is for the Queen. To protect them.”
The pieces were the same as the ones used for cards, except that there weren’t four different categories of suits, and no numbers were used.

“The Rook. You have got two Rooks as well. One near the King and one near the Queen. This, unlike the pawns, Bishops, and Knights, are major pieces. The Queen is the key piece. It is the most powerful one in the game. The King is not that powerful compared to the Queen, but he is the most important piece after her. If you checkmate your opponent’s King, then you win.”

He shouldn’t have any trouble learning the rules of the game. He guessed that you just couldn’t move the pieces anywhere haphazardly, as it pleases you.

“Chess is like a miniature version of war. The only difference is that there are no real victims made of chairs and bones.”

War. That word again. The word that no one liked, yet that was on everyone’s lips.

“Now, let us see how it is played. You always start using a pawn, since they are on the frontline. It is totally up to you to see which one is best to use first. Let us say for example that I start with this one.” He held one of the eight pawns between the tips of his fingers. “You can either make it move forward one square or two squares, but only if you move it for the first time. From the second time, it can only move forward one square.”

He observed his movements with the most utter attention.

“As for the other pieces, the Bishop can move diagonally as many squares as you wish. Like this, and like that. The Knight is the only piece that can jump over another piece; like this. It either moves one square left or right horizontally and then two squares up or down vertically, like this. Or it moves two squares left or right horizontally and then one square up or down vertically, like that. And whatever piece it lands on is automatically captured.”

Karl found it even more interesting than playing cards. But that didn’t mean he was going to dislike playing them from that moment.

“The Rook. It can move as many squares as it likes left or right horizontally, like this. Or it can move as many squares as it likes up or down vertically. But it must not be blocked by other pieces, just like for Bishops. Look, if we put these pieces this way…”

The way he took and moved the pieces, there was something somewhat fascinating in it.

“You can't move your Rook here, or there. Or if you put them that way, you can’t move your bishop on that square. But you can move it there. It gives you a small advantage.”

There was nothing too complicated in what he was shown. After training a few times he should manage to become as good as he could be with cards.

“And if I do this, and that after you do that, you can capture my Bishop.”

Karl looked up at him once again, and the warm feeling in his chest was well expressed by the smile that suddenly appeared on his face. Mr. Hopkins returned his smile.

“I am glad I am the one to make you discover this.”

His chest swelled with this warm feeling, and his smile widened a little bit more. They contemplated each other silently, and Karl was more comfortable than he had ever been until that moment in each other’s company. Mr. Hopkins spoke again before it could get too long.

“Back to chess. The Queen. It can move as many squares as it likes left or right horizontally, like this. Or it can move as many squares as it likes up or down vertically, like a Rook, this way. But it can also move as many squares as it likes diagonally, like a Bishop, that way.”

Yes, it definitely wasn’t too complicated for him.

“And last, the King. As I told you the King is not really powerful. It can only move or even capture, one square in any direction. Look, for example, if I do this…”

A good strategy, he could say just by watching.

“…you can easily checkmate my King if you do that.”

It wouldn’t be as fun as playing cards with George, but it would still be good.

“Let us start the first game, to put everything I have been saying and showing into practice.”

Mr. Hopkins put back all the pieces the way they were when he brought the chessboard.

“I will let you start.”

He didn’t really know how to start, and as it was something new, he took the time to foresee all the possible scenarios that could happen according to what pawn he would move first.

He just hoped Mr. Hopkins wouldn’t get impatient if he took too long, even though he didn’t look like the kind of man who would have such a reaction.

“Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. This is only a way to practice to help you, some kind of a first approach to chess if you’d like.”

How could that thought even cross his mind?

The warm and encouraging tone in his voice was proof enough that he wouldn’t.

He finally chose to move the pawn before one of his bishops, two squares.

“F4. Not so bad a move for a first time.”

The slight smirk that appeared on Karl’s face practically matched Mr. Hopkins’s tone of voice. He was quick to move one of his pawns, but only one square.

Karl thought carefully about what next move would be best, but he was faster this time. He moved another pawn, the one placed before the other bishop, two squares, like the other.

Mr. Hopkins and he briefly made eye contact. Mr. Hopkins looked somewhat surprised.

“Not bad at all.”

Karl smirked slightly at that. And Mr. Hopkins did the same. Then he moved the pawn before one of the Rooks, one square.

Okay, what move now?

Hmm…maybe if he moved this pawn like this…he wasn’t even sure.

But the look on Mr. Hopkins’s face soon had him realise that it didn’t seem to be such a good move this time. He looked thoughtful for a while.

“If you move this pawn this way, it will leave me in a much more difficult position. Then I can still do this to make things look more favorable to me. But then you can move your knight this way to tip the scales in your favor. You could even checkmate my King in eight moves if we do things this way…if we put pieces like this…”

He moved the pieces so easily and so quickly as if he had done this his whole life. There was really something mesmerising in it.

“…and checkmate."

Impressive. That was the only word that could come to Karl’s mind at that moment.

As their eyes met, Karl couldn’t miss Mr Hopkins’s smile. And he could only smile back at him.

“Chess is not that difficult a game. Most people think that it is only made for gifted people, but that is a lie. You simply need basic common sense to play well. Just like in any other strategic game.”

They continued playing for a while, and Karl was so much engrossed in learning how to play in a satisfying way that he totally lost track of time. But as they were right in the middle of a game, an unexpected knock on the door interrupted them.

They both looked up and glanced at each other. It couldn’t be either Paul, Mrs. Hopkins, or George. But then who could it be?

“Can I…?” Karl nodded towards the hall.

“Sure.”

He should have let Mr. Hopkins go and see who it was, but he guessed he just wanted to make himself useful.

In hardly ten seconds he was at the door. To his great surprise it was a boy who was standing on the threshold. The boy looked as surprised as he was to see him. Before they could start some kind of conversation he examined his face thoroughly. Blue eyes like his own, light brown hair that looked a bit disheveled, but not as much as his own. With his facial features, he must have been around ten or eleven, or maybe less. It was always difficult to guess people’s ages.

The boy seemed to be a bit too surprised to utter anything at all. So he took the initiative to speak instead.

“Hi.”

It’s not as if he were scary, or could he be…?

“Hi.”

The boy’s voice was faint, almost like a whisper.

He waited for the boy to say something else, because he had obviously come there for a good reason. He just hoped he wouldn’t scare him away.

“Is…is George here?” He ended up asking, still with the same tone of voice. He sounded as though he were sad.

So he knew George…

“No.”

He could try to add something else not to sound too rude. “He’s out. I do not know when he will be back…”

The boy remained silent, he didn’t even nod. He stared right into Karl’s eyes, not looking as surprised as earlier.

“You’re not from around here, are you?”

His voice sounded normal now.

“No. My home is far from here.”

There was a bit of silence as the boy never looked away.

“Where are you from?”

“I’m from Denmark.”

Another moment of silence.

“I like your accent.”

There was a hint of happiness in his voice.

“Thanks.”

The same thing happened again, but it lasted longer this time.

“Could you…Could you give this to George?”

Again there was the same frailty in his voice. He was holding an envelope in his hand, and there was most likely a letter in it. But then why did he come all the way there just to give it to him? He could have just sent it and he would have received it in the Hopkins’s mailbox.

“Of course,” he gave the boy a small smile.

The boy returned it, but it seemed rather forced more than anything else. He really did look upset.

“Thanks.”

It was very unlikely that he was related to George in some way. They didn’t look alike at all. And he was too young to be a friend of his. But then he didn’t look like his older brother at all.

“I should go now,” the boy said. “Mum doesn’t like it when I stay out too late.”

He thought he got it now. Maybe he had just hoped to see him.

But why had he come only that day? He could have come much earlier.

He just didn’t want to bombard the boy with questions.

“See you,” the boy just said.

“See you.”

And then he turned away to leave without wasting another minute.

He watched him walk away, and once he was out of sight he closed the door and went back into the living room. Oh, he didn’t even think about asking for his name.

Mr. Hopkins was focused on the chessboard.

“Who was it?” He asked without looking up.

“A boy, asking for George.”

Mr. Hopkins did look up at him this time. But he didn’t say a thing. He wouldn’t try to ask him questions either. If there was something he should know, he would be told about it.

He sat back in the armchair, the letter still in hand. He put it on the side and looked at Mr. Hopkins.

“Shall we play a few more games? Or perhaps you would rather retire to your bedroom.”

“Play.”

Short but clear.

Mr. Hopkins smiled at him, probably finding it kind of funny.

“Let us keep playing then. But perhaps you would like to eat something first. Are you hungry?”

Karl shook his head no. He could skip one meal once in a while. He wouldn’t die of it.

“Neither am I.”

He put all the pieces back into place so they could start playing again.

Once it was starting to get dark, they finally stopped.

“Can I…” Karl trailed off as he pointed at the chessboard.

“Of course. You may use it as much as you like.”

He wanted to take him into Paul’s bedroom to train on his own. It sure was much better to play with someone else, but playing against oneself had its own advantage too.

“Thank you.”

He took the chessboard and lifted it slowly, careful not to make the pieces fall.

“Good night.”

“Good night.”

Once he was in the room, he let the door open and placed the chessboard on the bed delicately. He sat near the pillows and started playing against himself. He wasn’t really used to doing it, but he found it kind of funny because most people would probably find it weird.

He played one game, then two, three, four.

When he glanced at the window, it was completely dark. He wasn’t tired at all so he wouldn’t mind playing all night long on his own.

He was deep in thought about the next move he should do for his black pieces. He analysed all the possible situations with the utmost care.

He didn’t know whether it was because he took too long to do something, or because he was actually tired but hadn’t realized it, but he saw his one knight left move on its own.
No, wait, pieces couldn’t move on their own. He looked up swiftly, only to see the roommate he had totally forgotten about. He had been so quiet that he didn’t even hear him enter the room.

Karl stared at him with an impassive look on his face, silently challenging him. George said nothing and stared back at him with the same kind of look on his face.

“You may be excellent at playing cards, but when you see how good I am at playing chess, you won’t laugh anymore.”

His tone was a bit haughty in a way, but if he thought it would affect Karl in any way, well, he was wrong.

He guessed he couldn’t finish the game between him and himself. So he lined up the pieces in their respective spots, first the black ones.

Oh, wait, before he forgot…

He stopped what he was doing and stood up swiftly to go downstairs at the speed of light.

“Hey, what’s wrong with you?” He heard George call after him.

He took the letter where he had left it and went back to the bedroom just as quickly. He approached George and handed him the letter.

George stared at him with a look that said: 'What the fuck is this?’

“It’s not from me,” Karl clarified to avoid any misunderstanding.

“From who is it then?”

“A small boy. With blue eyes.”

Despite his stoic face, he could notice a hint of slight shock in his eyes. He waited for him to take it through the silence, but he didn’t seem willing to do so. The letter ended up on the bed, on the side opposite Karl. George just watched him wordlessly.

“So…shall we play?” Karl asked him.

It was that same look again. The slight shock in his eyes was completely gone.

“You’re gonna regret it; you know that?”

The smirk that appeared on his face was automatic.

“Smile while you can. I swear it won’t last long.”

This was going to be a very long night but in a good way this time.

Hello!

Another day another chapter!

Take care ❤️

Copyright © 2021 LittleCherryBlossom26; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments

As much as George longs to hear from his best friend in the Army, he's afraid of what the letter says. As for the boy who delivered the letter, it's likely he's a younger brother. But because he wasn't described as being upset (as if the letter bore sad news from 'the Front'), perhaps it won't be bad news that would upset George?

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I was delighted that Mr. Hopkins taught Karl chess. The rules are simple, but the game has an amazing ability to develop logical thinking skills in players.  I taught many of my students the game.  The results were improvements in Language Art, Math, Science, History and team sports for many of them.  I hope that Karl will also be able to apply them in many aspects of his new life.  It might also bring George closer.  I agree with @Anton_Cloche about the identity of the young boy delivering the letter and the contents of the letter.  

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