He came to my hotel room, one night during the tournament. That day's game had been particularly grueling, and as I was not inclined to be civil to anyone, least of all him, I did not -- as, in another situation with another person, I might have -- invite him in, but just stood blocking the doorway, staring at him in the dim light of the hotel's hall. "What do you want?"
He said nothing; just regarded me with a strange, measuring gaze. He was not a calm person; through our games in the previous tournament, through our interactions at this one, he had always been in motion, jittering and twitching and pacing. Even now I could see a nervous energy thrumming under his skin, but he held still, watching me and saying nothing.
It wasn't until I, frustrated with his silence and not wishing to grant him the courtesy of patience, started to close the door on him, that he stirred, blinking as if rousing from a daze. "No," he said thickly, "wait. I just -- I wanted to --"
The words faltered on his tongue, but he shifted his eloquence from words to actions; in a single swift movement, he took the two steps that separated us, reached up to my face, and kissed me, badly.
I was too startled to move, and when he was finished he pulled back, cheeks flushed, eyes and lips both moist. "I wanted to know," he said, "what it was -- why she chose you."
Ah, so that was it. I should have guessed, and if I hadn't been suffering from the afternoon's game I probably would have. Everything, with him, revolved around one of four things: money, yet more money, fame, and a woman named Florence.
I could have said, she chose me because I treat her like she is human.
I could have said, she chose me because I care for her.
I could have said, she chose me because I was not you.
Instead of those, I just said, "Well?"
He licked lips that looked dry and chapped, and regarded me for a moment, the same curious stare that he'd shown earlier. Down the hall, a door clicked and opened. I did not want him here, but even less did I want him to be seen here, at my room, so before anyone could emerge from that other room I grabbed his arm and pulled him inside, hard enough that he stumbled against the worn carpet, and closed and bolted the door.
"Well?" I said again, turning to face him, arms crossed.
He sat on the bed, legs splayed carelessly outward, tongue between his lips, looking somehow innocent -- childlike -- and, perhaps, lonely. I would never admit to feeling sorry for him, but I did feel a pang of sympathy. In some ways, he was like me, choosing his career over his emotions. It made for brilliant chess, but a substandard love life.
Florence had run from him to me, and, now, seemed to be on the verge of running once more. And he -- he, too, had run to me, but for a very different reason.
He wanted to understand.
And, suddenly, it occurred to me that perhaps letting him understand would be the cruelest victory I could score over him, for at the end, he would go home, still alone, still unloved, but knowing what it was like.
And so, without a word, I sat straddling him, and stroked his lips with one thumb, and said, "Do you want this?"
White had taken his turn, and now it was Black's turn, and he reached for me, returning my opening gambit; and there were no more words, just a different sort of chess.
Afterwards, he turned to me, regarding me from under half-closed eyelids. "You do know," he said lazily, "that this changes nothing. I still hate you -- what you are, what you were, what you represent."
"And I," I said, "despise you."
"Just so we're clear," and a smile played on his thin lips.