Mr. Gary and I start our game. I play as white, so I employ the opening I studied last week, the ‘Ruy Lopez’. My moves come quickly, while Mr. Gary takes longer with his replies. He also decides to talk while playing.
“Suzaku, you here just to check out the club? Or do you want to learn how to play? Or both?”
Mr. Gary is impressive. He’s foreign, yet there’s hardly any noticeable accent when he speaks. He’s also a commanding presence wherever he goes - which is quite fitting for a teacher.
“I just tagged along with Ayato for today. I can’t play chess at all and I suck at shogi. The club looks fun, though.”
I can tell that he’s sugar coating. Mr. Gary can probably tell too.
“Give it a try, you might end up liking it. If you wait for this game to finish, I’ll play with you. I’m just going to teach this kid a lesson first. It shouldn’t take long.”
He shoots a playful smirk across the board. I smile back as I make my move. I believe this variation is called the ‘Morphy defence’. Suzaku looks back at our board and crosses his arms.
“I can barely play shogi, so I’m not sure it’s a good idea for me to learn chess yet.”
“I was talking about playing shogi, I didn’t know you came here for chess.”
“Isn’t this the Shogi AND Chess Club?”
Mr. Gary makes a move, then gets up and addresses the rest of the room.
“... Everyone! From today onwards, this will no longer be the Shogi Club. It will be the Shogi and Chess Club. Any objections?”
Of course he forgot to discuss it with the club. He is quick to make promises, but I think he often takes on too much at once. Now I feel bad for stating it so matter-of-factly to Suzaku. Fortunately, the move Mr. Gary made lets me win a pawn in the centre of the board. It’s his own fault for getting distracted.
After some murmurs of indifference around the room, Mr. Gary nods.
“Great. Carry on.”
He sits down and redirects his attention to the board. He takes longer to make his next move than I expected.
“Is it just the two of you that play chess here?” Suzaku speaks up.
“For now it is, yes. I’m trying to get some of the other kids into it, but only Ayato here seemed to bite.”
There’s no way Suzaku is coming back here after this. Oh well, I tried.
“I’m not that great at shogi, but I can kick some real ass in chess!” Mr. Gary starts chuckling, throwing his arms back.
I’m not sure a teacher should be talking like that, but no-one seems to mind when it is after school. He’s also being modest, he can probably beat at least half of the players in this room at shogi. He was appointed as the club advisor when it was still exclusively for shogi, after all, so he had to be good at it in the first place.
“Are you getting destroyed, Ayato?”
Suzaku pulls a chair closer and sits down to face our board.
“I don’t think so. I think things are going well.”
Mr. Gary retaliates straight away with both a move and a reply.
“That’s what you think, kiddo!”
His move isn’t particularly threatening, so I’m pretty sure he’s still just playing it up. My preparation is going to end soon, but it looks like I’ll still be up a pawn going into the midgame.
“It looks like you’re pretty serious about this, Ayato.”
Suzaku says it as if that’s abnormal.
“He is,” Mr. Gary answers for me. “It’s the only way that he can hope to stay alive against me!” He puffs out his chest and throws me another smirk, then leans forward and continues. “In all seriousness, he’s gotten really good, especially as of late. I’m already in a bit of trouble in this game.”
Suzaku takes a bit of a closer look at the board as we make more moves.
“What happens with these pieces that you’ve both taken?”
I choose to answer since I’ve just finished making my move.
“This doesn’t work like shogi, you can’t put the pieces you’ve captured back on the board in any way. The only thing that you can do is promote your pawn, but then it just changes into a different piece of the same colour, so you aren’t technically getting a piece back for nothing.”
“Sounds complicated. I think I should just stick to shogi.” Suzaku leans back, clearly not interested in hearing the rest of my explanation about pawn promotion.
“Chess has a different type of appeal,” Mr. Gary speaks up after making a move of his own. “But maybe you should stick to shogi before you decide whether or not you want to learn chess. The club’s doors are obviously open for you either way.”
Suzaku looks around a bit before answering.
“I’ll think about it. Right now I’d probably just waste people’s time if I joined.”
There’s no way he’s joining at this point, but Mr. Gary seems to put in quite the effort to get him to, without my asking.
“Don’t think like that. Not all of the students in this club are serious about shogi either, so it won’t be a waste of time.”
I hear one or two students scoff mockingly from across the room. Mr. Gary chuckles and then continues.
“Besides, I can personally train you up at first if you’re scared of wasting the others’ time. I may not be the best shogi player, but I’m a great coach. I bet I can make a Meijin out of anybody!”
The rest of the room scoffs even louder than before, some bursting into full-on laughter.
“Anybody willing to put in the time, okay?”
He seems to eye a specific group with his playful banter. He then returns his attention to the board, still chuckling to himself. Suzaku shuffles about in his seat before leaning back.
“I’ll see how it goes.”
“You do that.”
Mr. Gary gets in the final word before thinking more deeply about his next move. Normally when a frown appears on his forehead, you know he’s being serious.
A couple of moves go by in silence before I notice that Suzaku is now on his phone, no longer interested enough to ask questions about our game or about the club. A few moves later, it suddenly feels like I’ve lost the advantage. I’m still up one pawn, but I don’t have any openings to attack and it feels like I’m slowly being pushed to go on the defence. This happens quite often in games between us two, but this time it never felt as if I made a mistake.
The game progresses and, sure enough, I’m on the defensive and running out of options. There’s a bit of shuffling in the room, but no-one is paying attention to our game. Just as well, as a few moves later I get checkmated. Mr. Gary lets out a sigh of relief as he stretches his back.
“Phew, you made it even harder for me this time!”
Hearing that actually just makes me feel worse, as if I really did squander my lead.
“When did I make a mistake?”
“You didn’t, really. You just didn’t capitalise on your early lead much, allowing me to get my development done and then I just had to wait for an opening. It really wasn’t easy, though. Your opening was solid.”
Of course, I spent quite some time memorising the main lines of that opening. But it seems like I still have quite a way to go.
“So I should play more aggressively after the opening?” I ask.
He crosses his arms, giving it a bit more thought than I expected him to.
“In this case, yes. Maybe not aggressively in the sense of trying to capture pieces, but just to put pressure on my development. That way, I don’t have any way back into the game.”
I’m not a hundred percent sure I understand exactly what he means, but I’ll figure it out when I take a closer look at the game.
“I see,” I mumble to myself, looking down at the board.
Mr. Gary turns in his seat to address Suzaku.
“So, what about it? Do you want to play some shogi with me?” His eyebrows raise as if to taunt us. “I can even play shogi with you and chess with Ayato at the same time, if you want?”
Suzaku sits up straight with a sigh.
“No, I don’t think so. To be honest, I don’t think I’m going to enjoy it. It looks cool to be able to play well, but I just don’t think it’s for me.”
Well, I expected that, but I appreciate the honesty in his answer.
Mr. Gary gets up and twists his torso in a stretch.
“That’s cool. Just remember that this club is open for you at any time if you change your mind.”
“Besides,” I interject, “that is not how I want to get my first win against you, Mr. Gary.”
He giggles, then takes a quick look around the room, presumably to see if there is anyone that wants his attention, and then he turns back to me.
“Then let’s play another game, one-on-one?”
“Maybe in a minute, I’d like to work through this game first, if you don’t mind?”
“Hahaha! You’re even analysing your games now!” Mr. Gary laughs, “I’d better be on the top of my game or else you really are going to beat me soon!”
I laugh softly at his response. Suddenly, a set of heavy footsteps thud from just outside the club door. Sure enough, the door flies open shortly thereafter.
“Mr. Osborn. A minute, please.”
It’s Mr. Miyazaki, the head of our year and also our maths teacher.
Mr. Gary’s face snaps into professional mode in an instant. He makes his way over to the door quickly, excusing himself from the classroom. The door closes behind him, as if sealing his fate. The tension in the air has become palpable as we can all make out Mr. Miyazaki’s raspy voice through the wall. I can’t make out his words, but the aggression therein is clear. What is Mr. Gary in trouble over this time?
Soon Mr. Gary reappears with a nervous laugh.
“Hehehe, sorry guys, I have to go. I trust that you’ll lock up the clubroom as always. See you all tomorrow.”
He scoops up his belongings from the counter and waves as he departs. A few seconds of silence pass before the rhythmic clicking of shogi pieces resumes. Someone, presumably Takiya, makes a comment under his breath.
“That Miyazaki always has to ruin everything.”
The room seems to collectively agree, but apparently only he had the courage to vocalise it.
I turn to Suzaku.
“What’ll we do now?”
He takes out his phone and looks at the screen for a second before answering.
“I told Saori where we were and she said she’s on her way here, so…”
I expected him to not want to hang around much longer. I will have to analyse my game at a different time. Now it seems like everyone knows about our venture to the Shogi and Chess Club anyway, despite my intention to only tell Suzaku. Oh well.
As we leave the room, Suzaku bows and I wave at Takiya in goodbye. We’ve hardly reached the stairway when we run into Saori.
“So, the two of you were playing shogi together?”
“Not quite, I just joined to check out the club,” Suzaku answers almost immediately.
“Oh? Neither of you ever want to accompany me to the library, but you’ve been sneaking off to play shogi together? I see how it is,” Saori mock-pouts.
“Maybe that’s because you just walk up to random people in the library and recommend obscure manga to them. I want no part in that, thank you.”
Suzaku launches an accurate counterattack, moving forward to catch up to Saori. I fall in behind them to make way for a student coming the other way.
“Pfft,” Saori blows a raspberry at Suzaku, “you’re really that embarrassed to share the stuff you like? That’s why I don’t consider you a true fan. If it is something you really like, you should want to declare it to the world, shouldn’t you?”
“No, that’s just you.”
“You’re so lame,” Saori says as she crosses her arms.
I take the opportunity to speak up.
“That aside, where are we going?”
Saori drops her upset act, turns around and starts walking backwards to answer me.
“Misu should still be at his club, so I thought we could head over there and wait for him to finish. It’s not every day that we all meet up after school like this, after all.”
“You know where his club meets, right? We can trust you with navigation?”
“Leave it to me!”
Shockingly, we get to where the soccer club is practising without getting lost. The three of us wait beside the field where Misu and the other club members are busy with some practice exercises that I can’t be bothered to figure out. I choose to initiate some conversation while we wait.
“Did you manage to find any new manga at the library?”
“Not really,” Saori sighs, “but I did find a novel that looks very interesting.”
“Is that so?”
“Yeah, take a look!”
Saori produces said novel from her bag and hands it over to me. It looks like a typical mystery drama, but the cover is flashy enough that Saori would definitely be drawn to it. Suzaku leans over to glance at the cover, then decides to address Saori.
“You realise that you have quite a lot of school work to catch up with, right? If you get taken hostage by this novel, you’ll have a repeat of what happened this morning.”
“Wah, why do you have to be such a buzzkill? I’ll be able to catch up on homework and read this story! I won’t let it consume me as usual, watch me!”
“You’re quite enthusiastic about this,” I add, amused by how similar her fake outburst is to how Misu often makes a scene out of anything.
“Enthusiastic about not doing homework, maybe. I wish I was more like you, Ayato.”
My brow furrows for a second before I straighten myself out and respond.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you enjoy doing homework, right? Surely you do. Why else would you spend all of your spare time doing it? You’ve never been late on homework either. Remember when you were two whole chapters ahead one time? I wish I could enjoy homework that much.”
You’re wrong. I don’t enjoy homework. In fact, I hardly enjoy any of the work we’ve done in school. You just assume I enjoy doing it because I always have it done on time.
“I don’t think you should envy me for that, because it’s not true.”
My voice comes out sounding far more serious than I intended. Expecting Saori to interject, I look towards the field where Misu and the others are practising. She doesn’t reply, however, she just looks at me with a slight frown - a rather uncommon look for her.
I decide to elaborate, seeing as she seems uncertain of what to say.
“It’s not that I enjoy homework. I’ve just gotten into the routine of doing it, that's all. I don’t enjoy it any more than you do.”
“Hm,” Saori’s expression returns to normal. “You could’ve fooled me.”
“Ayato actually has a hobby, you know?” Suzaku speaks up.
“Huh? He does?”
“Yeah, he plays chess. I learned that today at the club.”
“Seriously?” Saori doesn’t really seem too surprised, despite acting like she is. “That’s cool, though. You sometimes read manga or play games that I recommend, but it never felt like you were really into it. It’s cool that there’s something you can be passionate about. It’s more than this guy has.”
Saori nudges Suzaku with her elbow.
“Hey, I’m passionate,” he retaliates. “I just don’t want everybody to know about it like you do, you weirdo.”
After we share a brief laugh, I add one final comment to the discussion, since we can see the practice finishing off.
“I wouldn’t say I’m passionate about chess, it’s just something that caught my attention recently.”
“Oh, please, he almost beat Mr. Gary today.”
Suzaku, you snitch. I was ready to drop this topic, but now you’re bringing it back.
“Woah! That’s impressive!” Saori turns to me. “Isn’t it?”
“Not really, I’ve never managed to beat him before. I’m still learning.”
“He’s still lying, he was analysing opening games and stuff, he’s totally a pro.”
Damnit Suzaku. You’re not the only one who doesn’t want to tell the whole world of their interests.
“Hey!” Misu pants as he jogs over to us. “You guys waiting around for me?”
“Yeah, but we’re about to leave. Get changed!”
Saori activates ‘mom-mode’ - a particularly effective way of teasing Misu.
Misu departs to the changing room, reappearing about a minute later.
“I must be pretty important if I get my own entourage, right?”
“Yeah, right,” Saori scoffs, crossing her arms. “We happened to all meet up anyway, so we thought that we might as well wait. It’s not because we like you or anything, baka!”
“Hehe, whatever Ri. I’ll grab my bike, then we’ll head out.”
Even though it is quite rare for the four of us to all leave school together, there’s nothing too special about it. We are all acting the same as we always do. The sky is a splatter of gold and the things that were shaded this morning are now shimmering in the sunset - just the typical scenery on my way home as of late. I have to admit, though, it’s kinda nice to have some company for a change.
After walking for a few minutes, Suzaku greets us and crosses the road to the right. Now that I think about it, Misu could have been home by now if he rode his bike. Despite this, he seems content to keep walking with Saori after I greet them and take my leave.
And so I’m right back on the normal route home.
As usual, I let my mind rest while walking. After I get home, I normally eat dinner and then start with homework and revision - so this is the only time I really get to clear my mind a bit. Somehow, there aren’t many people about, especially not considering how many there were this morning. In fact, the route is eerily quiet compared to usual. It’s a bit odd, but there could be a number of reasonable explanations for it.
A car comes around the bend, intruding on the previously motionless image of the road ahead of me. At least now it doesn’t feel like I’m in an abandoned city anymore. I follow the car with my eyes until I notice something very out of place - a lamppost protruding from the middle of the road in the oncoming lane, clearly in the car’s way.
The car is not slowing down at all. There's going to be an accident.
“Wait! STOP!!” I scream as loud as I can.
It still doesn’t slow down or change course. It keeps going and going and going.
My body tenses up, as if bracing for impact…
But nothing happens.
The car just drove through the lamppost like it wasn’t there. No impact, no sound, no carnage. It just carried on. And now, there is nothing there… The road is perfectly smooth.
What the hell? What just happened? What did I just see? Why was there even a lamppost there?
There was definitely a lamppost in the middle of the road. I saw it. There was no way I could possibly miss it, but it’s not there now. There’s nothing there. There wasn’t an accident.
I’m frozen in place for a whole minute, staring at the part of the road where I expected to see a horrific accident occur.
But nothing happened.
But something should have happened.
What the hell just happened??