It was going to be a horrible day. The teacher was making him play basketball in PhysEd class. It wasn't his thing. Not only was he an apartment child, with nowhere to practice, but he absolutely hated collective sports of every kind. Baseball, football, soccer, absolutely all sports. He tried to find the silver lining in the situation. His heart was in turmoil though, as was his brain.
"Can't I practice running with the track team?," he asked.
"Just give basketball a try, will you?" the coach answered.
To make things worse, he was going to play in front of his crush. Deborah, the woman of his dreams, had long, black, beautiful hair. She would play chess with him in the chess club. Neither of them would consistently win over the other, so it was always exciting to play with her. No one knew what would happen, who would win. Deborah was a smart girl, she wouldn't mind if he couldn't play basketball, would she? The problem was, Deborah wasn't just on the chess team. She was also on the women's basketball team.
As Tony went towards the court, a light in his head went on. Just concentrate. Just focus and try to control your limbs.
He played well. Well, at least well enough for a rookie. He felt like he was in heaven. That is, until he bent over to pick up a ball that had gone off court. His shorts ripped. Right in the butt. Sounded like a really loud fart. Embarrassment took over him. Everyone was laughing, it seemed. The coach let him go to the changing rooms, gave him a pat on his back and said: "Good job, Tony, well played."
As he was changing, he couldn't believe everything that had happened. It was just his luck, to be playing relatively well, under Deborah's watch, just to have his shorts rip right in the butt. What an embarrassment. He sat down and stared at his palms, thinking about having to leave the changing rooms soon.
He went back and sat down on the benches. It was raining outside. He couldn't make eye contact with anyone. The game ended and kids started going to the changing rooms to change. Tony got up and started walking towards the gym entrance, when a popular player went up to him to congratulate him. He was surprised, but thanked the boy anyway.
Tony opened his umbrella and was about to walk outside when Deborah came up to him.
"Mind if I share your umbrella?" Tony couldn't believe his luck.
"Of course not, come along."
They were silent for some time.
Tony started to hope she hadn't noticed his shorts ripping.
"You were really brave out there."
"Going back and sitting on the bench after your pants ripped. That was awesome."
"Sure. Listen, I know we don't have chess club today but do you want to play?"
"Great!" They smiled at each other, not knowing what else to say but each enjoying the moment tremendously.
Deborah and Tony played chess that day and every day from then on for about two months. They began dating and were soon a couple everybody liked.
Things were going great, or at least they seemed to be. Tony was in love, but for the past four days Deborah was on a chess-winning roll. He couldn’t understand why though. Before they started dating, neither of them continuously won over the other. Even after they started dating that wasn’t true. But recently, Tony seemed to be losing every game. It was starting to get to him. Maybe love was clouding his strategic intelligence? No, that wasn’t it. After all, while they were playing, it’s true they would chat and smile and sometimes even stop the game to give each other little kisses. But he always tried to focus on the game as well. What could the problem be?
Deborah was oblivious to Tony’s worries. She knew she was on a winning streak, obviously, but it didn’t occur to her that Tony would mind, let alone obsess over why he wasn’t winning.
“Everything okay, Tony?”
“Yeah, I’m great whenever I’m with you.”
“Aw, you’re so sweet. You seem worried though. Exams are almost here, right?”
“Yeah, I can’t wait for vacations.”
“Are you worried about the tests?”
“No, I’ve been studying a lot all semester, I think I’ll be fine.”
“That’s my intelligent, responsible boyfriend. You’re so mature, I love you!”
“I love you too, Deb.” She had called him intelligent. But was he? He knew he was, but he was losing at chess for some time now. Was he less intelligent than Deborah? Could he live with that?
“So, what’s bothering you?”
“I just… haven’t been sleeping very well,” Tony half-lied.
“Really? That sucks. What do you think has been keeping you up?”
Before Tony could finish trying to come up with another excuse, the bell rang and off to classes they went.
Tony couldn’t concentrate on physics. He felt stupid. Surely the fact that Deborah was smarter than him didn’t mean that he was stupid, but he felt it anyway. He was… jealous? Envious? He didn’t know the difference. I am stupid, he thought.
After school that Friday they were supposed to play again. He couldn’t take another loss, could he? No, he would focus on the game and try his best. Not try, do his best and win!
“Hey sweetie, ready for our game?” Deborah said. All Tony could hear was "ready to lose?"
Tony let Deborah start. He was intelligent. He could beat her, even if she made the first move.
Tony didn’t say much while they played. Deborah tried different topics, but soon saw he was having an off day. She left him alone and concentrated on the game.
Once he realized she was as focused on the game as he was, Tony fell into a cold sweat. He kept on thinking I can’t lose again. Not again.
Those thoughts were distracting to him. He started making errors in judgement. Soon it was clear he would lose. He had less pieces on the board, he could hardly believe he’d lose once again. Tony realized Deb was about to say “check-mate” and stood up so suddenly and nervously he made the desk turn over.
“Woah, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing, I just… just… can’t stand this.”
“Can’t stand what?”
“This…” tears were in his eyes.
“But you love chess! We love chess.” Deborah noticed he was starting to look embarrassed. Then it hit her.
“You can’t stand losing?”
Tony got red.
“That’s not it. It’s just that… that…you’re making me lose my concentration.”
“It’s all your fault.”
“Yeah. Your fault. Before we began dating I never lost this much.”
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this.”
“It’s true though, don’t you remember? All these stupid kisses make me less intelligent. They’re making me stupid!”
“What? I… I can’t believe I said you were so mature earlier today. I can’t believe this. I can’t believe you. Who are you?”
”I’m Tony and I’m smart. Too smart for this.” Tony turned and walked away.
Deborah couldn’t believe her ears. What just happened?
Once she got home, she cried a little. Tears of frustration at first, followed by tears of guilt, and finally, tears of relief. Relief things had ended before they had gotten more serious.
“You really dodged a bullet,” her friend Nicole said.
“I always knew there was something off about him,” her other friend Paula said knowingly, even though she had known nothing of the sort. Paula had even been a little jealous of Deb.
As soon as Tony got home, he knew he had made a mistake. The next day he tried to talk to Deb, but she’d have none of it. He’d lost her.