This can’t be real.
Jimmy’s sitting in front of Alvarrez, wide-eyed as she said the word, “Checkmate.”
For the first time in my life, I’ve seen my brother lose. And he’s not taking it lightly.
“Who are you?” Jimmy asked, shaking his head.
Alvarrez sat straight, her eyes showing no sign of mischievousness it’s intimidating, “Alexandra Isabelle Alvarrez, World Champion.”
I felt a shiver run down my spine as she said the words. Both Jimmy and I were jaw-slacked at the revelation.
“But that was three years ago,” she laughed awkwardly while rubbing the nape of her neck. “Now I’m just a normal player.”
Jimmy was staring at her with his eyes wide, “You’re that Isabelle?"
“And how are you a normal player? You just beat a FIDE master!” Jimmy exclaimed. His tone made it hard to decipher if he was mad or excited. He clicked his tongue. “I knew you looked familiar.”
I racked my brain to remember something my brother told me about a girl named Isabelle. All I can remember is that she snatched the world championship at age 14 - the youngest female world champion.
Alvarrez raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t know you were a FIDE master.”
“I can’t believe I just played against you. You were a legend,” Jimmy said, his voice trying and failing to hide his excitement. “There’s no one in the chess community who didn’t know your name.”
Alvarrez waved a hand airily, “That was a long time ago.”
“Can you beat me in a five-one?” Jimmy inquired.
Alvarrez leveled her gaze. “Sure,” she answered without batting an eyelash.
“Let’s give it a try,” Jimmy agreed as he said the timer to one minute in Alvarrez’s side and five minutes in his.
No matter how I look at it, Alvarrez has put herself in a significant disadvantage. How the hell is she going to beat my brother in a minute?
Their hands flew all over the board and to the clock like lightning. Move-tap. Move-tap. Move-tap. There was barely time for Alvarrez to think while my brother is taking his time. It was hard for me to follow until I heard the word again, “Checkmate.” Alvarrez won with 16 seconds remaining in her time and my brother with 25 seconds left. She’s invincible.
I found myself watching Alvarrez the whole time. Not my brother, but her. She feels like a different person when she’s playing. Her hair was tied back in a ponytail, her green eyes focused on the game and not anywhere else. She doesn’t have her troublemaker smile or the overconfident smirk on her face. Nothing but pure concentration.
Every day I sat beside her and the only time I ever see her like that is when she’s solving a difficult math problem. Her eyebrows furrow and she runs a hand through her hair, squeezes it a little and takes a deep breath.
Something was stirring inside me and I don’t want to register it as something more than admiration. I thought she was just an annoying, flirty, basketball player who thinks she can get anything she wants with a smirk and fancy words. But no, my opinion about her has changed ever so slightly. She’s amazing.
It’s a good thing that we did the documentary first before I let them play. Because if not, I doubt any of them are going to stand up and stop playing. They played again. And again. And again. And again. And many times more until my brother said, “Is it true that you can play blindfolded?”
“Yeah, why?” Alvarrez replied, looking up from the board. A silly smile crept up my brother’s face and she noticed it. “Oh hell no.”
“Come on, please? Just one game. No time restrictions.” Jimmy bargained.
Alvarrez shot him a look. “Fine, just one game.”
Her only condition was that they both say their moves out load for her to remember. Jimmy moved the pieces on the board for himself. The ending was still the same: a resounding victory for Alvarrez.
“Damn. You are on a whole different level,” Jimmy let out a defeated sigh. “Why did you even stop playing?”
“I didn’t,” Alvarrez said nonchalantly. “I just quit playing competitively.”
“All the same.” When he glanced at the clock he abruptly stood up and his knee hit the table, making the chess pieces fall. “Shit I lost track of the time. I have to go Juju.”
“Huh? Why?” I asked following close behind him on his way to the front door. “I thought you were staying for dinner. I ordered sushi.”
He shook his head. “I’m sorry but I really have to go. I’ll make it up to you next time.”
I raised my eyebrow at him before kissing him on the cheek. “Okay, take care.”
“Thanks, princess.” Then he turned to Alvarrez who I didn’t notice was beside me. “Nice game,” he said and they shook hands. “I don’t wanna play with you anymore.”
Alvarrez smirked. “Scared to get your ass kicked?”
Then Jimmy was gone, which leaves Alvarrez and me alone. When I turned to face her, she was grinning from ear to ear. “I get to have the puppy.”
Damn. I forgot about that.
I let out a deep sigh. “Yeah, you can take him home.”
“Hey,” she said, touching my arm lightly. “I promise I’ll take care of him.” Those big green eyes were hard to say no to.
“You better,” I said before walking to the kitchen.
“Why does he call you Juju? What does that mean?” Alvarrez asked while I was preparing the food. She was sitting in the bar stool where she sat earlier, my back facing her.
“My first name’s Julia.”
I could feel her gaze on me, watching every move I make. “That’s cute. Can I call you Julia? Or Jules? Since it’s awkward for me to call you Alex.”
Normally, I wouldn’t even consider the thought but a part of me was about to say yes. I was actually willing to take the first step in becoming friends with her. But the reasonable part got the better of me. “No.” I put down our plates and sat in front of her.
“Okay then, can I call you babe?” She smirked. God, I hate that smirk.
I gave her a look. “You wanna get out of my house?”
She ignored my threat and proceeded to ask another question. “Are you always alone in here?”
“I’m not alone,” I told her. “Max!” I called out. Then a few seconds later, I heard pawsteps hitting the marble floor. Just the sound of those was enough to put a smile on my face. “I always have them with me.” I reached out to pat Maxie and she let out a soft purr.
I looked at Alvarrez. Her elbow was propped up on the table, her face resting on her knuckles. She was smiling at me. Not the teasing smile that she makes when she makes a move on me nor the mischievous smile she makes when she’s about to do something that will definitely get her in trouble. Her sea green eyes were twinkling and her face looks so serene I didn’t even think she was capable of making an expression like this.
I don’t want her looking at me like that. It makes me feel uneasy. “How did you learn to play like that?” I asked, anxious to get her attention off of me.
There was a sudden shift in her mood before she answered, “I picked it up from playing with my grandfather.”
I nodded slowly. “He plays blindfolded?”
“He’s blind.” She smiled weakly.
She wasn’t looking at me but I could feel the hurt in her voice. “Why did you stop competing internationally? With your skill, you would still be the reigning world champion.”
This time, she met my gaze, her eyebrows furrowed. “Why are you interested?”
“I’m curious,” I defended. “And it’s weird.”
She removed her ponytail and used her fingers to comb her hair before answering, “I learned chess when I was four. My grandfather taught me everything I know. He was on his way to becoming a grandmaster, but a tragic accident happened. He lost his sight. But my grandfather being the man he is, didn’t give up. He trained using a braille board and tried again.” She took a deep breath. “But it still wasn’t enough.
“I was ten when I saw him crying alone inside his room. The appointment with his doctor just finished so I fetched him to start our training. The sight of my grandfather, fragile, helpless, and crying were burned into the back of my mind. So I went to him and asked why he was crying. He simply said with a smile and tears in his eyes, ‘I just got something in my eye, Isabelle.’ Everything was back to normal after that - he still trained me every day, he was getting better - or so I thought. Years passed and I noticed that he was frequently forgetting what his last move was, or if I had already made my move.
“It wasn’t until he forgot my name that I forced my mom to tell me what was happening,” Alvarrez looked at me, her eyes were watery from trying to hold back tears. “He had Alzheimer’s.”
I gasped, covered my mouth with a hand. I didn’t know what to say. I don’t know why she’s telling me all this. I just asked a simple question and here she’s telling me something I know she wouldn’t tell anyone she doesn’t trust. And I don’t know why my heart aches for her.
She must’ve seen my reaction because she suddenly sniffed hard and wiped her nose and her eyes. “I’m sorry, I know you don’t care,” she laughed, but I could tell it was forced. “To cut the long story short, I promised him I’d win the world championship for him. So I did. And he died the day after I got the title.”
“I care.” The words got out of my mouth before I could even stop myself. Alvarrez looked at me as if she couldn’t believe what she heard. Before she could say anything, I added, “I-I mean I asked, so I don’t really mind you telling the whole story. It makes me see the bigger picture.”
She smiled. “Thank you.”
Now that the heavy atmosphere was gone, I took that as my cue to start eating. Along with the sushi, I also ordered 3 bowls of ramen, supposedly one for each of us but seeing as my brother left, I decided to leave it for my dad.
My bowl was already half empty when I noticed Alvarrez hasn’t touched her food. “What’s wrong? You don’t like Japanese food?”
“Not really,” she said sheepishly. “I mean, I eat it. But can you get me a spoon and fork?” The way she said it was like she was embarrassed to ask for utensils.
Then I realized why. “You don’t know how to use chopsticks,” I stated. She turned her head sideways to avoid showing her embarrassment. I tried my best to hold in my laughter and failed miserably. I laughed out loud. A real laugh.
She crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Not everyone likes raw food, okay? I didn’t see the need to learn how to use them.”
I ignored her obvious attempt to disrespect sushi, I was too caught up in the fact that mighty Alexandra Alvarrez doesn’t know how to use chopsticks. “Here, let me teach you.” I grabbed her chopsticks and put them in her hands. I held up my own to show her how to hold them properly.
I carefully positioned one chopstick between my middle finger and the base of my thumb. “Make sure this one is steady,” I told her. “And as for the other one, hold it like this. It’s the one you’re going to move.” I held the other one between my index finger and my thumb.
Alvarrez was looking closely at my fingers, mimicking me. When she tried to tap the tips together, they came apart. She tried again and got the same result. “See, this is why I don’t like using these things. We just don’t click.” She shrugged. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes at her pun.
“Try holding it in a way you’re comfortable. Maybe use your ring finger instead of your middle finger for support,” I adviced. She followed and was surprisingly able to do it. “See? It’s not so hard. Just a little practice and you’ll get the hang of it.”
Alvarrez was looking at me with a funny look on her face. “You have dimples.”
I didn’t even realize I was smiling. “So?”
“Nothing,” she said, smiling to herself. “It’s cute.”
I continued eating while watching her struggle on how to use the chopsticks. And as I chewed on a sushi roll, she suddenly snapped her fingers. “Oh, by the way, have you talked to Thea?”
Again with this talk. I thought she was over it but it seems she will never let this go until she hears what she wants to hear, so I do. “Yes.”
“She told me you didn’t kiss her.”
Alvarrez let out the breath she was holding in. “Whew, I thought she won’t tell you the truth.”
I am still skeptical about what really happened but Thea wouldn’t go to such lengths just to lie - not to mention she wasn’t the type to lie about something like that. And Alvarrez, as much as I despise her, is actually a very honest person. Perhaps her only redeeming quality. “I'm sorry for the things I’ve said before. I was wrong about you.” I told her sincerely.
“Apology accepted,” her smile grew into a huge toothy grin. "So I guess you owe me a meal, huh? Wait. Will that be considered a date?”
"Nope. And as for the meal," I said, gesturing to the bowl of ramen and the platter of sushi in front of her. "You just ate it."
She dropped her chopsticks. "You're kidding. That's unfair."
"I bought you a meal and you even got a free tutorial on how to use those things," I pointed to the chopsticks. "I don't see how that is unfair."
She shook her head in disappointment. "Unbelievable."
I like teasing her because she always lets me win, and she never gets mad. No matter how much I act like a bitch to her, she never reciprocates it. I admire that.
A thought crossed my mind. "Have you thought of a name for the puppy?"
She grinned. "Percy."
Confused, I asked. "Why Percy?"
"It's a mix of Perry and Macy's names. You think he'll like it?" She asked me, her sea green eyes were drawing me in, I didn't realize I was staring.
"I-Yes, of course. It's cute." I averted my gaze from her and focused on the almost empty bowl of ramen in front of me.
"Do I remind her of you that much?" She asked, her voice low, careful.
I remained silent and looked at her sea green eyes. Yes, both their eyes are green, but the similarity ends there. My ex-lover's eyes were slanted and a calculating forest green, hers were round and soft and sea green. And the way she looks at me. Janelle never looked at me that way.
"No," I answered. "You're very different."
"Is that a bad thing?"
"Honestly? I'm still trying to figure it out."
Alvarrez left after finishing the food I ordered. It was entertaining for me to watch her struggling to use chopsticks. There are sides to her that I think are endearing, maybe because we're different and she's a whole new species for me.
Just as I was getting ready to sleep, I got a text from my dad.
I won't be coming home tonight. Make sure to lock the doors. Love you.
I put my phone down without replying. So much for saving him a bowl.