Like a breath of ethereal frost, he materialized from the mist, beneath the tree she so often frequented. There, he stood with his back turned to her—an unassuming, unimposing figure not much older than she. She’d seen him there repeatedly, though still a vague visage among others unnamed and unknown, drifting in and out amid the regular gatherings under the tree’s wide, sheltering branches.

Now, he’d come into sharp focus.

And she couldn’t look away.

She strode through the grass and through the bustle of others, over to where a small circle of young ones sat listening to him, behind a wooden chessboard with ebony and ivory pieces. She paused to listen, too, unwilling to interrupt. Though the words themselves meant little, this figure once ambiguous to her delivered them with a kindness and a subtle grace, imparted his skill and knowledge through a calm confidence and an affability laced with a wry humor.

They all enjoyed his instruction—

—igniting in her a spark of intrigue. How had she not noticed him before?

Eventually, the young ones dispersed—running off to other activities hidden elsewhere in the shadows of the sheltering tree—and he began to take his leave from the chessboard. She stepped forth—directly into his path.


He stopped short. Blinked.


“Seen you here before,” she said. “Many times.”

He gave a nod. “Been here for a while,” he replied.

“Oh?” She cocked her head. “How long?”

He shrugged. “Ages.”

“Well”—she smiled—“I’m glad. It’s nice to see familiar faces at the places you go to. You know: constants. Thank you.”

He blinked again, then stuck out his hand. “Charm.” His voice matched his name—smooth, polite.

“Hope.” She shook his hand.

For a quiet moment, Charm scrutinized her, then asked, “Hope, do you play chess?”

Hope grinned, boldly stepped up to the chessboard, and moved forth a single, ivory pawn.

“Yes.” She turned toward Charm. “And I’ll see you next time.”

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