Yuri Karamov liked to read. At least more than he liked board games. It wasn't something that I could have imagined occurring within the limitations of this universe. Which is why I had even tried to laugh off the ridiculous number of books that lined my shelves. The little I knew about him, primarily his inadequacies when it came to reading, made me believe that he would judge me for my love of books, and that it would make me unrelatable to him.
I didn't want him to see me any differently than he did Millin Ibranov. In fact, I wanted to be even closer to him than Millin.
So I stayed pensive and quiet when he would interrupt our game of chess by looking over at the bookshelves. Quick glances that would have gone unnoticed—even mistaken for blinking—had I not been so engaged in him. But there they were, happening more frequently by the minute. It made me feel unsettled. I couldn't concentrate on explaining the roles of the different chessmen.
- They're not all mine you know, I said at last when I felt like I had to address the third presence in the room. His eyes flicked back to the board. I moved my knight into an offensive position. I couldn't make it too easy for him. Yuri was a fast learner.
- The books, I explained when he didn't look up. He moved a pawn in my direct line of defence.
- Have you read all of them? He asked.
The small acknowledgment of the books in the room granted him unspoken permission to turn his head fully towards the bookshelves for the first time since our game began.
- Whose are they?
- Some my father's, some Eline's...some just for taking up space.
- And yours?
His look pierced me and I faltered. My words stumbled over themselves before they left my tongue.
- Not-...I...I have some, I said flustered.
- How many? I couldn't understand the reason for his interest. Was he making fun of me? Did he think it was uncool?
I clenched my teeth.
- I want to play another game, I said, changing the subject. I held his gaze, waited for him to object. He didn't. Chess hadn't been something he had been enjoying. He had barely paid any attention, and however much I pretended, I found no stimuli in playing against him. I saw all the checkmate positions within minutes of either of us having drawn the first move.
I packed away the chess board with his help and set up mine and Adriana's favourite board game: Sink the Ship, hoping it would hold his attention.
I explained the rules of the game and we started playing. The first to sink the other's ship with twelve passengers had won. I enjoyed this game because it required strategical thinking, yet what made it fun was the risk and jeopardy that came with throwing the dice.
Half-way through the game, Yuri stood up to take off his jacket. His eyes glowed fiery with competitive energy. I laughed at the forceful way he pulled his sleeves off. I still thought I would win but Yuri had had a lot of luck on his side and was catching up to me. He had sunk five of my passengers, and I, seven of his. His sudden winning streak had inflated his hubris.
I had offered to take his jacket and throw it together with mine on the bed when we had settled in—it was the polite thing to do—but Yuri had insisted he keep it on. He had looked uncomfortably hot at times, but not a single complaint had left his mouth and I hadn't insisted any further.
He hung the jacket on the back of his chair and rolled the sleeves of his school uniform—a white shirt and a blue cardigan—up to his elbows. The alabaster skin on his ventral forearms lay exposed to the light. He was so pale. I was transfixed. The veins in his arms encircled like vines up his translucent skin.
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If We ExistGeneral Fiction
🏆A 2018 Wattys Winner🏆 Two boys, one ethnically segregated town. Two sides, one war. Yuri Karamov's existence is like Schrödinger's cat, simultaneously both dead and alive. In Ru Konstantin's mind, Yuri is still the same vibrant young man he was w...