Check And Mate

Coarse, oily black hair untamed by any comb topped Harvey’s head. Horn-rimmed frames with window-glass lenses obscured his eyes. Three rolls of flesh nestled around his huge cheeks, and his five foot nine inch frame barely squeezed into his XXXL jeans and Star Wars T-shirt. When he sat down at the table, his chair creaked a loud protest.

Denise gazed at him, her heart almost cracking in two.

 

“Did you see the trailer for The Crystal Skull?” Bruce asked, taking his seat across from his opponent. A large button on his chest proclaimed Frodo Lives.

Harvey’s eyes lit up; at least, Denise supposed they did. “Does that look awesome or what? Spielberg, Ford and Lucas together again!”

“I thought it looked pretty lame,” Steve cut in, his long, multicolored scarf threatening to drape over the pieces.

“No way, man!” A chorus of voices began heatedly discussing the merits of the latest Indiana Jones saga. Denise seized the opportunity to heave a sigh, her eyes still fixed on her greatest love. Ever since she and Harvey had sat beside each other at an organic chemistry lecture and he’d raised his hand to correct the professor, she’d been in love. Unfortunately, he spent his free hours gaming, using his computer and eating. Girls apparently didn’t figure into this list.

“Come on, dinkwads, let’s play,” Harvey said, drumming his fingers.

“Cool chess set, Harv,” someone said, nodding. “I didn’t know you could get Monty Python.”

“I ordered it from England.” Harvey smirked at Bruce. “Your move.”

Bruce thought, then moved a killer rabbit forward. Silence descended over the room, broken only by whispers about tomorrow night’s D&D game, Doritos crunching and Pepsi being slurped. Denise rested her chin on her hands, elbows on the table, peering at Harvey through her untrimmed mousy brown bangs.

“You see the new Narnia trailer, Harv?” Steve asked, unwrapping a king-size Snickers bar. “What’d you think?”

Harvey frowned and shook his head, studying the board. “Not bad. But The Golden Compass is a much better series. Pullman’s more substantial than C.S. Lewis.”

Denise made a mental note to read Pullman’s books as soon as possible. She really should be studying her biology, but she couldn’t pull herself away from her dream man. Unless… “Harvey, would you like to—”

“Goddamn!” Harvey roared, pounding the table with a resounding crash. “You asshole! Why’d you take my pawn and not my bishop? It was right there waiting for you!”

“Because I know what you’re up to, dumbass.” Bruce leaned back, grinning.

Denise settled back into her chair, removing her glasses and cleaning the fog from them. She knew it was hopeless, yet she couldn’t give up. Harvey exuded intelligence, even if his social skills were still lacking and his looks substandard. If only he’d pay attention to her, he’d be perfect.

A loud knock sounded over the raised voices.

“Must be the pizza. Somebody get the door.” Harvey leaned over the board, examining his position.

“I’ll do it,” Denise offered, and got up, ignored by everyone. She opened the door and took the pizza boxes, giving the guy a generous tip. If she was lucky, she’d get paid back at some point.

The guys descended on the pizza boxes when she put them down, Harvey ahead of the rest. “Mm. Pepperoni, ham, sausage and bacon.” He smacked his lips, taking a huge bite. Grease dripped onto his hand.

“Come on, Harv, it’s your move,” Bruce said, grabbing a slice and swinging into his chair.

“All right, let me think.” Harvey studied the pieces, cramming more pizza into his mouth.

“Hey, are you seeing the new Star Trek film this summer?” someone asked.

“No way!” Steve said, shuddering. “What a farce.”

“Way!” Harvey bellowed, his mouth stuffed and his face reddening. This started another free-for-all about which series was best, Trek Classic or TNG, with everyone debating furiously except Denise. She stared longingly at Harvey, who had finished his pizza and outshouted the rest. He banged the table again, making the pieces jump.

“Oh, shit,” he said, turning back to the game. “Where was that pawn?” The blood drained from his face, and he clutched his chest, his eyes bulging.

“Harvey?” Denise rose, her heart pounding. “What’s the matter?”

Harvey managed to squeak out over the sudden silence: “…hurts…” He collapsed, knocking the table and scattering chess pieces everywhere.

“Jesus, what’s wrong with him?” Bruce cried as everyone else clustered around Harvey, staring in horrified fascination. “He’s screwed up the game!”

Harvey lay, twitching like a beached whale, gasping in loud heaves. Galvanized into action, Denise shoved a pair of guys in Yu-Gi-Oh T-shirts aside and knelt beside him, grabbing his shoulders.

“Harvey!” she yelled into his waxy ear. “Are you OK?”

Harvey’s only response was another noisy wheeze. Denise yanked up his T-shirt, revealing an immense pair of man boobs, and formed a fist, thumping on his chest.

 

A steady beep awoke Harvey. He opened his eyes to find himself in a hospital bed, an IV tube snaking from his elbow.

“About time you woke up.” Bruce lay down his Spider-Man comic book and rose.

“What…” Thoughts pushed slowly into Harvey’s brain. “What happened?”

“Don’t you remember? You collapsed, man. You had a heart attack.”

“A heart attack?” Harvey tried to sit up, but failed, sinking back onto his pillow.

“Yeah, it was awesome. I’ve never seen anything like it. You would’ve been a goner if Denise hadn’t been there.”

“Denise?” Harvey frowned; then it came to him. The tiny girl with the soft voice who’d hung around for the past few weeks. “What’d she do?”

“She gave you CPR. She really worked on you, pounding your chest, giving you mouth-to-mouth, the whole bit. The paramedic said she probably saved your life.”

“Really?” Harvey remembered her more clearly now. Mousy, but kind of pretty. She’d helped him when he’d missed a couple of lectures because of gaming. And definitely female. Not many of them could stand him.

“Yeah. You know, the doctor said you really should change your diet. Lay off junk food and get more exercise. Man, I’d hate to have to do that. I love pizza. Do you think…”

Harvey ignored Bruce, his thoughts going back to Denise. She’d actually saved his life—and given him mouth-to-mouth, apparently. Too bad he’d missed that. Maybe he did have a chance with girls. Denise seemed like a good one to start. But he’d have to get in better shape, first.

 

Immediately upon his discharge a week later, Harvey began his campaign to win Denise. He bought a set of weights and used them faithfully, not giving up even when his muscles shrieked in agony. He ran around the track every day, rain or shine. He ditched the junk food and ate more salad, although he hated it.

Denise didn’t come around any more, which relieved Harvey no end. He wanted to surprise her. At last, after a month, he’d dropped fifteen pounds and put on some muscle. He couldn’t wait any longer.

Armed with a bouquet, he marched up to her door, dressed in his cleanest plaid shirt and khakis, his hair washed and combed for once. He knocked on the door, his heart racing.

After what seemed an eon, it opened, and Denise peered out at him. “Yes?”

“Hi, Denise.” He swallowed hard. “It’s me. Harvey.”

Her mouth formed an O. “Harvey?” She blushed.

He held out the flowers. “I wanted to come say thanks. For saving my life.”

“Oh! How sweet!” Denise took the bouquet, inhaling it in a deep breath. “Thank you.”

“Well, thank you,” Harvey said awkwardly. Mentally crossing his fingers, he cleared his throat. “Um…I also kind of wondered if you’d like to go see the new Adam Sandler film with me tonight. It’s supposed to be really funny.”

Denise’s blush deepened, and she blinked. “You’re asking me for a date?”

“Well, I, uh…” Now Harvey’s cheeks reddened. “Yeah. I guess so.”

“Oh.” Denise smiled, and Harvey’s heart leapt. At last, his first real girlfriend!

“Well…” She paused, looking him over. He waited with bated breath.

“That’s awfully nice of you, Harvey. But I’m afraid I’ve got a date.”

“You do?” Stunned, Harvey stared at the young man who now stood beside Denise, his massive body filling the doorway. His spectacled eyes regarded Harvey with amusement, and he swept his blond bangs back.

“This is Bill,” Denise said, gazing at the dumpy boy with adoration. “He’s a paramedic. I met him when he came with the ambulance for you.”

“Hi,” Bill said, offering his hand to Harvey. His grip felt like a dead jellyfish.

“Bill’s a pre-med, too,” Denise went on, taking Bill’s arm. “He’s majoring in chemistry, like me, and we had such a nice talk in the ambulance. I just couldn’t say no when he asked me out.” She looked back at Harvey. “If it weren’t for you, we never would have met. Thank you.”

“Uh, sure.” Harvey muttered a goodbye, walking away in bewilderment. Screw this dating stuff. He got out his cell phone and dialed Domino’s.

********************

I wrote this back in 2009. Some of the references have dated a bit, but I think the gist should be clear.

The original title was En Passant To Check, which a chess expert suggested. I don’t know why it took me until today to find the obvious title. Hope you enjoyed it!