Promise Me No Love, Just Chess

Promise Me No Love, Just Chess

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“It would be easier without love,” she said, in a hesitant voice that betrayed temptation.

“No love, I promise … just chess,” replied Damien. And for the first time in years, he wasn’t so certain he could keep his promise …

Josephine met Damien at a local chess pub when she was 17 and he was 28. They instantly connected over the game and the peculiar sense of humor they both shared. But in his eyes, she was just a kid. And in her eyes, he was already an old man, not to mess with. Plus, he had a girlfriend, Emily.

Over the next 3 years, Josephine and Damien gathered regularly at the nearby Starbucks to have tea and play chess. They were both experts at the game, challenging each other to the core. Often, they were the last customers to leave the Starbucks, tipping the waiters to buy a few more precious minutes of chess, after the closing hours.

“Quick bullet game?” Josephine challenged Damien to a one-minute timed chess game, unwilling to pack up the chess set. To that, Damien folded his fingers into a pistol and aimed at Josephine’s heart. “Ah, drop your drama, cowboy. Don’t you know, I’m invincible?” Josephine smirked, making her first move and pressing the chess clock. “Die!”

“I think you’re forgetting something, M’Lady. I’ve got a secret weapon,” Damien winked, making his move in return. His ‘secret weapon’ were his quick hands that, unlike those of Josephine, moved much faster and with more precision. This allowed him to beat Josephine at most of the bullet games. Those hands enticed Josephine’s imagination at the most troublesome times – right during the game.

Eventually, the two chess players got accustomed to being kicked out by the Starbucks staff after hours, who, although found the chess couple pleasing and amusing to watch, wanted to go home and sleep.

It did not take long for Josephine to start feeling ‘fireworks’, each time she got together with Damien to play chess. A feeling she fought with all her might. His deep, brown eyes, bubbly personality, and out-of-control long curly hair were too much for her to ignore. But she always knew it was wrong to view Damien in any other way than a chess buddy. “He is with another woman,” she kept reminding herself, trying to extinguish those fireworks.


While Emily was beautiful and intelligent, she could never understand Damien’s obsession with chess. She was not a chess player. “I still don’t see why anyone would want to spend such precious years of their lives on a game. I get that it’s good for memory and brain development and all, but you’re not a child anymore. Just look at the hermit you have become, although a sexy one! With all this time and energy, you could have done something much more meaningful with your life, like advancing science, or medicine. You’re an engineer, you can still make the world a better place to live …” Emily would go on and on about this until Damien would kiss her lips to quiet her down. He took no offense in this little spiel of hers and, paradoxically, found it arousing.

Josephine, on the other hand, related to Damien’s passion for chess like no one else. For she, herself, was obsessed with the game. She knew all about the dedication, the countless hours, and the burning desire it takes to master chess. But, most importantly, she understood the attraction of the game and the unavoidable addiction to it that follows. The immense gratification one gets when one finds a winning move; the adrenaline rush that fuels the body and mind during intense combat; the delicious, satisfying release that follows a victory; or, the agony and stupefaction that follow a loss - Josephine experienced it all.

“After centuries of wars, and our innate instinct for survival, being a warrior is in our DNA. And what makes chess so attractive, is that it is a peaceful combat, with no bloodshed.” That is how Josephine explained her addiction to chess to a few ignorant souls. But what she overlooked was that humans also come equipped with a spectrum of emotions, almost all of which can be felt while playing chess. Even love …


The day came when on her 20’th birthday, Josephine was too jolly and a little too drunk to fight back her wicked imagination about Damien. She decided to let it run loose and burn in hell for it, guilty as charged later. In her mind, she let Damien kiss her lips. She felt his embrace and … only a few minutes into this imagery, her fireworks exploded into the most flamboyant extravaganza. Josephine resolved to confess to Damien the next day. After all, she noticed that he too was now undeniably attracted to her.

They met at their usual spot at Starbucks. “I want to tell you something, cowboy.” Josephine began …

“Hold your thought”, Damien interrupted, as if he knew what was coming. What went unspoken between them, spoke louder than any words. But alas, “Emily is pregnant,” followed.

“What? …” Josephine gasped in horror and disbelief.

Her fireworks never reached the sky that evening. They were now extenuated forever. An imaginary, dark cloud appeared hovering over her head. It would follow her for years to come, obscuring the sun until one day a miracle happened.

“I mean … congratulations! Are you excited?”

“I’m excited to be a father … although, this was totally unplanned.”

“What are you going to do now?”

“Marry her, of course!”

“Marry her? Do you love her?”

“She’s pretty, and nice, and will be a good mother.” Damien avoided the question. This is not how he had envisioned his love-life.

“But do you LOVE her? Do you want to spend the rest of your life with her?”

Damien quietly nodded his head, as if trying to buy time to formulate a proper answer. “It’s the right thing to do, Jojo. And anyway, what do you know about love, kiddo?”

What did she know about love at 20-years-old? Nothing. All Josephine “knew” was the feeling she had that one day, she would fall head over heels for a man and would have a family with him. As such, she wasted no time on casual dating and romances. None of the men she met up to that point gave her heart a tingle … except Damien.

“I know enough not to get myself into trouble,” responded Josephine. But in trouble she was. For even though deep inside she always knew that nothing could ever happen between her and Damien, she had her doubts. But now, after this news, there was nothing left to doubt. Or was there?

“Listen, Jo,” said Damien at last. “It was hard for me to play chess against you in the last few weeks. I don’t know about you but I’ve felt some …”

“Shhh,” interrupted Josephine. “Don’t tell me. I’ve already read this in your eyes weeks ago. There will be no turning back if you are to speak now. Better to leave this in ambiguity … and maybe one day, we can be like ‘I didn’t say anything!’ And we can play chess as if nothing had ever happened!”

“You are right. A momentary lapse of judgment on my part,” said Damien, shaking his head. “Till ‘one day’ then … maybe,” he whispered with a gloomy, yet hopeful smile.

Little did they know that their ‘one day’ was farther away from them than the stars.


The chess buddies did not meet once for the next five years. Damien got caught up with the wedding preparations. And the arrival of his son turned his life upside down. He was a devoted father but struggled in his role as a husband. Yet, he sincerely gave his marriage all he had.

Josephine, in return, shut down her wild imagination factory. Each time she thought about Damien, she forced herself to learn Russian, as a punishment. Two years into it, she became quite fluent.

As for chess, she was unable to find a worthy opponent whose schedule would blend so seamlessly into her busy life. Playing online lacked the intense passion she enjoyed so much while playing over-the-board with Damien. And if she couldn’t be passionate about something, it was not worth pursing. As such, Josephine let her chess gradually die a slow death.

The time worked in her favor. The more days that passed from their last encounter, the easier it was to deal with the eternal dark cloud above her head, a feeling that still stubbornly followed her around. But, Josephine had to move on. She knew she would meet her ‘the one’ someday if there ever was such a thing. She grew more confident that Damien wasn’t him.

The day after Josephine’s 25’th birthday, she received an unexpected text message from Damien. “Happy belated! Miss your face. Want to play some chess?”

And just like that, in an instant, Josephine’s confidence evaporated into a few Russian swear words. All the effort she put into getting over him was now in jeopardy. Her fingers typed ‘yes’ on her iPhone much faster than her reason screamed ‘NO!’.

Read Part 2 here


*** Praying for Peace ***

Jojo and Damien are now running a Fundraiser for Save The Children to support the children of Ukraine. Please donate if you can: PlayChessAndSaveLives

Thank you!

Former Canadian Girls Chess Champion (1999 tied for 1st, 2001 1st place)

Busy mom of two

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