Queen’s Gambit Accepted
This is a fictional story, but with some elements of truth. 7,800 words, so quite short.
It started with a game of chess. I was one of a group of players, quite good, but not exceptional, who used to play every Saturday morning at a local cafe. The owner, Phil, was himself a chess nut and he would join in if there was a spare board and an extra player. So long as everyone bought a coffee and a slice of cake, he was happy. Although we played casual chess with no time limits, the rivalry was intense, and there was a lot of banter between us.
After my wife died during the first lockdown, I had gone through a period of depression and loneliness. I thought I had got over that and was forcing myself to go out and about again, swimming, going to the gym, walking, playing chess and volunteering, but I still suffered from some anxiety in social situations. Although that was getting better, I certainly wasn’t ready to start dating.
I arrived late that morning and noticed a slim young woman with her medium length brown hair in a pony tail, wearing joggers and a sweat shirt. She must have been in her mid-twenties, about 5′ 4″ and was on her own, watching one of the games. Even after the whole Queen’s Gambit thing on Netflix, it was still unusual to see female players. The rest of us were all males, at least 30 years older than her, but that didn’t seem to bother her. No-one was doing anything to make her welcome, so I felt I had to bring her into the group.
Following lockdown and all that, I am still nervous in social situations, so I took a deep breath, went up to her, smiled, and said, “Hi, I’m Rob, would you like a game?”
She started, looked at me for a moment, then said quietly, “Yes, I would, thank you.”
It was a tough game that lasted an hour and a half. By the end, several other players were watching, and when we got down to just a bishop and a pawn each, we agreed a draw. There was a round of applause from the audience. “Well played,” I said, and meant it. I was lucky to get away with a draw, to be honest. “I thought I’d lost when you skewered my knight!”
“I see you did your Houdini thing again today, Rob, escaping from a lost position!” said Phil, laughing. I don’t know how you do it.”
“Nor do I,” I replied, shaking my head.
“I have to go,” the girl said abruptly. She picked up her things and left.
“Who is she?” I asked the others. Nobody knew. She had arrived out of the blue that morning, like a lot of people did. The chess group was advertised on Facebook and elsewhere, and people passing through would drop by for a couple of games and then disappear.
There was something about her that was familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I was old enough to be her father, for goodness’ sake. Just another holidaymaker — we might not even see her again. I thought no more about her.
But she was there again the following week, although we didn’t get the chance to play. I watched one of her games and was struck by the way she would move her pieces around the board. She was a good player. After she left, someone said her name was Sharon and she had recently come back to the area after living elsewhere in the country for years.
I was away the next week, so didn’t see her again for a fortnight. This time we played again, and she beat me easily after I made an early blunder. Before she left, she slipped a piece of paper into my hand. When I was alone, I looked at it. “Rob, something to tell you. Meet @ the Lamb & Flag at 9 tonight? Txt me, Sharon x” She gave her number.
I texted. “What’s this about? Rob”
She texted back. “Tell u this evg”
“But I don’t know who you are…”
“Just trust me, OK?”
A mystery. I didn’t need mysteries. I didn’t like them. So what was this about? Was it a scam? Was she going to get me mugged? The pub was respectable and I’d been in a couple of times before, but it wasn’t one of my usual haunts. I was intrigued. Perhaps she was going to blackmail me? But I hadn’t got a past worth blackmailing! Had I? I hadn’t led a blameless life, but I hadn’t done anything really bad. Was she a long lost daughter I didn’t know about? That was crazy. I had a vasectomy 25 years ago, so she could be. No of course not, I had been faithful to my wife for many years, at the start. Perhaps she was a lawyer and was tracking down me down because I was an heir to a mad billionaire’s fortune. Unlikely. Somebody I’d crossed in business wanting revenge and sending her to reel me in? Again, unlikely. Unlikely, but possible. I’d find out soon enough if I went. Should I even go? She seemed OK, even if she didn’t talk much. Right up until the last minute, I wasn’t sure I’d go. I decided not to.
So I arrived ten minutes early, got myself a pint and sat at a table with a view of the entrance. Sharon came in just after nine, looked around, saw me and smiled. A beautiful smile. Everybody in the bar looked at her then at me. She had changed into jeans and a sort of grey green tunic top with istanbul escort the top few buttons undone. It set off her light tan and looked demure yet sexy at the same time. Out of her joggers and sweatshirt, with her hair down and framing her face, she looked gorgeous. How could I have missed that? I stood up and she came over and kissed me on the cheek. That was a surprise, as we had never even touched before, apart from shaking hands after each chess game.
“I’ll get you a drink, what would you like?”
“A pint, the same as you. But I’m buying the next round.”
The next round? How long was this meeting going to be? It felt like a date already. It didn’t matter that everybody thought she was my daughter, I was going to enjoy the next half hour or so in the company of a beautiful woman. I noticed all the men were taking surreptitious glances at her.
I brought her drink and sat down opposite her.
“You don’t remember me, do you?”
“Er, no. Sorry.” I looked at her closely. There was something familiar about her, but I had no idea. I shook my head.
“You taught me to play chess.”
It hit me like a hammer blow. “Sharon! Of course! Oh my God! You’ve changed. It must have been 15 years ago.”
My mouth opened but no words came out. I remembered her story. I used to teach chess as a volunteer in an after school club. Most kids learn the rules of chess from their parents or even their grandparents, but not her. She was very shy and hardly spoke a word in the club, but she had an aptitude for the game.
“You’re wrong, I didn’t teach you the rules. You told me your grandmother gave you a set and a book so you taught yourself.”
“You remember,” she squealed, “I never thought you would.” Everybody in the pub turned round, we were both laughing so loudly.
“I learnt the rules, but you taught me how to really play. I remember the day you taught us what a skewer was and I used it against Shaun Harris in the next game and he was furious! He had always beaten me before, so he thought I was easy meat, you should have seen his face!”
I had forgotten that bit, but I remembered Shaun, who was a little shit in school. Chess is great for kids, it develops character traits such as sportsmanship and respect for others, as well as the more obvious skills such as memory, logical thinking, concentration and planning ahead, amongst others. Shaun, like many kids, dropped out of the chess club early, but Sharon stayed on for the whole year.
I remembered something else as well. Sharon had been a very pale, skinny little kid with a torn dress that was always filthy, low self-esteem and no confidence, and her hair was never washed. She came from a sink estate at the wrong end of town. As she improved at chess and came out of her shell over the course of the year, her confidence improved, especially after she defeated her opponent in a match we held against the neighbouring school. I remember her being so proud about that, as I was.
And another memory came back suddenly. She told me one day her parents didn’t want to pick her up so late after school, so she had to stop coming to the club. I said, “what a shame, because you are getting so good at chess…” Her reply? “My parents say I’m not good at anything and I’m not worth anything…” I remembered being outraged, so angry, about how any parent could say that to their children. “You are worth a lot, don’t let anyone tell you anything different,” I almost shouted, “you are intelligent and talented, you can do anything you want. You can achieve anything you want.” I think that was the last time we spoke.
Remembering that, I looked at her across the table. She had changed so much, had reinvented herself completely. I was lost for words. She leaned across and put her hand on mine, holding it fiercely.
“You changed my life, Mr Pearce, Rob I mean. You made me believe in myself. You were the first man, no, the only man, who treated me with respect. You’re the only man I’ve ever met who didn’t want something from me. You told me I could do anything. You told me I had talent. I’ve lived with that thought ever since. My own dad walked out after beating up my mother, and I cried myself to sleep, wishing you could be my dad instead. I wanted to make you proud of me. I wanted you to know what I’ve achieved. You stood up when I came in tonight. No man’s ever done that before.”
I didn’t know what to say. “It must have been tough…”
“It was fucking tough. But I worked hard and I’m a qualified accountant now.” She smiled at me, tears in her eyes, “and you don’t know it, but I have you to thank. I am so glad you are here for me to thank you.”
“That’s fantastic. That’s brilliant. I am so pleased. Wow!” There were tears in my eyes now.
“In all the tough times I thought of you and what you said. I always asked myself what would Mr Pearce say? What would Mr Pearce do? So you were there with me all the way through school istanbul escort bayan and the accountancy course, and as I started my career. You were my guardian angel, without knowing it.”
We talked. Eventually I looked at my watch. It was past 11. “I’d better go,” I said, “can I get you a taxi?” But it was Saturday night and the taxis were all booked for the next hour at least. We couldn’t even get an Uber.
“It’s OK, I’ll walk,” she said.
“Where do you live?” She told me. “I’ll go with you, it’s on my way.” Not true, but I was worried about her walking in that area at this time of night. There had been some assaults recently.
“You don’t have to. I really will be OK.”
“Yes, I do, even if it is perfectly safe, I will feel better. This isn’t the best area in town.”
We started walking. There were a few drunks around, shouting and singing, but nobody bothered us. A couple of minutes later, I felt the first drops of rain. “Have you got a coat?”
“No, have you?”
“We’d better go quickly.” We started to walk fast and then we ran, and just made it to the shelter of Sharon’s hallway before there was a clap of thunder and it started to pour with rain.
“I’ll leave you here,” I said.
“No you won’t! You’ll get soaked.”
“No problem. I’m a bit wet already and I’ll get soaked but so what.”
“You’re coming in. I’ll make you a coffee while we wait for the rain to stop.”
We went in. She put the kettle on and texted someone. “I’m just telling my friend I’m OK,” she said by way of explanation. It was a long text.
We sat at the breakfast bar while the kettle boiled, looking at each other. I was still breathing heavily from the running, but she hadn’t even broken sweat. What I wouldn’t give to be 30 years younger… I should really go now, despite the rain, which seemed heavier than ever.
“I didn’t know if you were still around when I moved back a couple of months ago,” she said. “I got a new job with a big promotion. I never expected to see you at the cafe. When you came over and introduced yourself, I wanted to shout and scream, but I was tongue-tied and felt so shy all of a sudden. I didn’t know what to do because you didn’t recognise me. You have no idea how much you changed my life by what you said. You and your wife. She was the supply teacher to my class for a term. She also made me realise that I could be different, that I could make something of myself. I found out she had died recently and I cried and cried. I cried for myself and I cried for you.”
I reached across and took her hand. “It’s all right. It was bad but it’s OK now. I didn’t know she had taught you.”
“She caught Covid. Because of lockdown I couldn’t be with her. Even my children couldn’t come and see her. She died in so much pain and I couldn’t even hold her hand. I didn’t even say good-bye. Sorry, I didn’t mean to, to…” She had come round and put her arms around me. We were both silent for a while.
“To cry? It’s OK. You must have loved her a lot.”
“I did. We were together for 29 years.” I thought for a moment. “But, enough of that. Your story is inspirational. Tell me what happened.”
She shook her head. “You don’t understand. It’s not inspirational at all. My family hated me. I was an unwanted pregnancy. My mother told me that, when she was drunk one night. She said she wanted to abort me and she wished she had. You and your wife were the only people who believed in me. I only knew you for a year, but you inspired me. You inspired the others in the chess club, too, by the way. Everybody loved you.”
“Everybody except Shaun,” I joked.
“He was a bellend. Nobody liked him. He stopped coming because he wouldn’t learn and he couldn’t stand losing. We all loved you, because you made us feel special, win or lose. We would go into that room and just play chess. We would forget everything else that had happened that day. Nobody had expectations of us and we wanted to please you. You have no idea what you meant to us. You were the father figure many of us needed. You were my hero. You were everything I wanted my dad to be, but wasn’t.” She stopped, sobbing her heart out. This time I went to her, put my arms around her. I let her cry.
“It’s OK, it’s OK.” I kissed the top of her head, still holding her close. We were both still damp from the rain, and it was still raining outside. She was shivering. I wanted to make it better for her, to ease her hurt from all those years of mental abuse by her parents. No-one should suffer like that. To my horror, I realised I had an erection. I let go, but she pulled me back.
“Hold me Mr Pearce, please, sorry Rob.” she looked up at me with her tear-stained eyes and smiled ruefully. “I can’t get used to calling you Rob.” She paused. “When I was a little girl, I fantasized that you were my dad and cried myself to sleep thinking about you.” She looked up at me, still holding me tight. “Then, as I grew older, escort istanbul my fantasies changed.”
There was a long pause. Jesus! I thought, I’m not prepared for this. I looked into her hazel eyes, seeing where her mascara had run, wondering if the eyes really were the gateway to the soul. Oh my god, we were still clinging to each other and my erection was pressing against her body. I closed my eyes for a moment.
“I fantasized that you would come and rescue me and take me away and make love to me… Was that really bad of me? I wanted you to be my knight in shining armour.”
“I’d better leave,” I muttered. I really wasn’t ready for this. I had pushed the rest of the world away from me for so long, I didn’t want to let anybody in just yet.
“No, stay. Even if we are only together for one night, I want you to stay.” She stood up, still clinging tightly to me. Her eyes were looking into mine, her lips were so close to mine. “I didn’t realise how emotional I would be telling you all this. It’s like I’ve held on to all that hurt for so long and now I’ve dumped it on you. Sorry. I didn’t plan this.”
Her lips were parted, waiting for me to move. I shouldn’t be doing this. I didn’t want to be doing this. I wasn’t ready for an emotional roller-coaster. The words of Paul Simon came into my head ‘I am a rock, I am an island…’ She was so vulnerable, so I owed it to her to walk away. But she was so beautiful and so sexy. It had been a long time since I had been so close to anyone, let alone a beautiful, sexy woman. I wanted to hold her and make everything OK. My erection, so hard and so urgent, had ideas about how I could do that. It had been a long, long time since I had had sex with anyone. After my wife died I had watched a bit of porn and taken care of myself a few times, but until tonight the fire hadn’t been there. Now, I wanted her.
“Don’t be sorry,” I said. “It’s OK. But you need to know something. I’m nobody’s knight in shining armour. I’m just a guy. An ordinary guy. I’m definitely not a saint. Don’t build me up to be something I’m not. I am not perfect in any way. In fact, I’m a bit of a shit sometimes… A bit like Shaun even.”
“No,” she said, vehemently. “Don’t joke about it. Stop being so self-deprecating. You’re a guy who cares. A guy who changes lives. A guy who comes up to a woman and asks if she would like a game of chess and doesn’t want anything more from her. Nobody else asked me! I was there for half an hour and nobody spoke to me. After you broke the ice, everyone wanted to play against me.” She stopped, breathing heavily, then went on “A guy who gets angry when you see injustice… You’re… You’re… A guy who has a hard-on, apparently.” She smiled, embarrassing me. That million dollar smile. So she had noticed my erection.
She went on. “And I’m not eight years old any more — I’m 26 and perfectly capable of looking after myself, so you’re staying, even if I have to tie you up, Mr not a knight in shining armour but a bit of a fucking shit Pearce.”
She paused for breath and looked at me. “Now get down from your fucking pedestal, remember you’re a mere mortal and, and kiss me…” she ordered. “Kiss me then fuck me…”
Jesus! A man can only do what a lady asks him to do. I took a deep breath.
Her lips were warm and soft and so tender. They parted for me and I inserted my tongue, exploring her mouth, gently, slowly, as she held me tight. Her body felt so warm, so willing, I wondered if I was dreaming. I wanted this to be perfect for her. She deserved so much and expected so little. I drew back for a moment, looked into her eyes and then kissed her again, harder, more urgently. She sighed. Our tongues entwined and played with each other. She held me more tightly and her tongue fought back, teasing me and letting me feel the steel in her soul. At last she pulled back.
“Come to bed,” she whispered. I nodded and she took my hand.
As we went into the bedroom we kissed again, then she started to pull my polo shirt up. I raised my arms and she pulled it over my head. She stepped back and looked, taking in my body. She must have liked what she saw. “You work out,” she said.
“A bit,” I said, “but not enough.”
“I don’t like muscle bound men,” she replied, “they’re mostly narcissists.”
I couldn’t stop smiling. For someone who came from such a disadvantaged background, she could talk so crudely and then so posh. She had pulled herself out of the gutter, but was still so down to earth. She really had reinvented herself. Her taste in clothes was good, even if her taste in men was distinctly dodgy, if I was anything to go by.
I put my hands underneath her top, feeling the warmth of her body. I slipped it off, over her head as she put her hands up, then I held her close to me. My hands went round her and I unclipped her bra. Even after all those years of marriage, I haven’t forgotten how to do that, I thought. She slipped out of it and pressed her breasts against me. We kissed again, then she pulled me onto the bed. I propped myself up on one arm and looked at her, drinking in her beautiful body… She was small, I guessed 34B, but beautifully formed. Her skin was lightly tanned and her areolas were a slightly darker shade, highlighting her nipples beautifully. Her nipples were hard.