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The Slav Defense

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She won.

She’s beaten Borgov. He gave her the black king. The game was hers. She did it and finally she felt like she found herself.

 

Beth is flying back home, still clad in her with queen attire and she finally feels at peace.

She won, she did it, she belong to the top of the chess-world, she was not an orphan anymore she has a team and a family, she finally found people who loved her for her, and maybe she learned to love herself too. No matter how shitty the hand the fate dealt her, no matter the bad choices she made; she burned and raised from her own ashes like a phoenix.

 

Still high on her win she fall asleep whit a smile on her face, replaying the match with Borgov in her mind, thinking about analyzing it with Benny, he called, after all, it has to mean something.

 

And then the plane begun to tremble.

 

Beth wakes up suddenly.

 

“There are severe turbulence, Miss Harmon” says Mr. Smith, her government handler “it’s better if you close your eyes”

 

-Close your eyes- Beth smiles with a strange sense of deja-vu - everything started that way, with Beth closing her eyes.

She found herself thinking about her eight years old self, that scrawny ugly kid who somehow found a way to the top of the world; how everything could have been different if only she wasn’t consumed by rage and loneliness, how could her life have played out if she realized that she wasn’t alone and that was a good thing, where she’d be now if they didn’t start her on “vitamins” when she was eight, maybe she could have spared herself a life of addiction or at last she could have learned some other coping mechanism.

 

She really wished she had known how everything would play out, how far in her life she’ll come and how she could do it without the pills and with this last thought she close her eyes and fall asleep again.

 

The next time she wake up Beth isn’t on a plane, she’s in a car, on the backside of a car she never forgot, there is a smell she never forgot sweat, smoke, leather and death.

 

She’s in the crashed  car with her dead mother and the car is still smoking.

 

Beth is paralyzed with shock, she’s numb, but somehow the survival instinct take hold and she start to get out from the car.

She’s in shock and her mind is numb and at the same time working faster than ever.

She look down and see her dress, the pale mint one with her name embroidered and feel the weight of her long braided hair, she start panicking.

Her throat starts tightening, she hyperventilates and her pulse skyrockets.

Her mind is telling her that somehow she is in her eight years old body and what if she’s really eight again?

She was alone, again.

She was an orphan, again.

What if she’s lost everything she know? All her chess knowledge? No! she worked too hard to finally beat Borgov, to becoming the best there is, to find herself, to find peace, how could everything disappear?

She start replaying the match with Borgov in her mind, slowly, to be sure that is still there, move after move and after that she start to recite all the opening and then replays every historical match she’s ever studied and every game she’s ever played with Benny.

The more she play the more her breath pattern normalize.

Meanwhile she’s been checked by paramedic and now is sitting in another car with an ugly woman who’s talking to her.

Beth is lost in her mind, going through the analysis of Luchenko vs. Tal when some of the woman’s world get to her

“You understand, dear, your mother's passed on? You know what that means, don't you? Passed on?
Well…I'm sure she's gone on to a better place, and, someday, you'll get to see her again”

that moment that she realize what the woman said Beth begins to cry, silently.

 

She has lost her mom, again, and for the first time since she remembers she’s mourning the loss of Alice Harmon. The last time ,when she was actually eight, she really didn’t understand enough to mourn her, but this time the grief is overwhelming and she can’t stop crying; wave after wave of tears she mourns her mother, Alice.

 

Alice was a math genius, a prodigy in her own right but she was also unstable and paranoid. Was she really mad or was she driven mad by the misogynistic oppressive academic world? Beth really stared to relate to her mother when she found herself in a man’s world and start being better than them all. However it was never enough, the press never could view her more the a little girl who played a man’s game and they were always asking about what she was wearing, when and who she was going to marry, when she was going to have a baby, she’s defeated Borgov for Christ sake!

She remembered that time at the lake, was she trying to drown herself? Or was she just escaping her loud mind? She kinda understood the living in the trailer in the middle of nowhere, she understood the loneliness of a life where no one understand you, she felt that way too until she met Benny.

So she cried, silently she cried, for her mother, for herself, for all the women out there fighting for the right to be better than the man in their chosen field; she cried for a woman she finally in some way understood, for a woman whose mind disconnected from reality because couldn’t live in it anymore, not even for her daughter.

 

The more she cried and connected with her departed mother the more a knot in her stomach eased up and the burning anger was slowly replaced by sadness.

 

Beth swears to herself to never succumb to her mind, but to do this she need friend and family and this time around she swear she’ll be better, she will appreciate them e she’ll be lucid and sober  and will ask for help when needed.

 

After a while Beth analytical mind takes over- if she was stuck here this was a second chance, the chessboard just resetted and she knows the outcome of all the moves she’s already made, there is no way she’ll make the same mistake twice, she is going to play differently; she is gonna live a better life, she is gonna keep the loved one closer, she is gonna put the chess world on fire, and she is gonna defeat Borgov again, and this time maybe Benny will be in Moscow with her.

 

The car stopped in front of the Methuen Home and Beth steeled herself, it was time to punch the clock and to go get to her Methuen family; she was ready and the game was on.

 

 

 

Author Note: first of all if you read all of that thank you kudos, comment and constructive criticism are really appreciated, that said, this is my first fanfic and English is not my mother tongue so I apologies for eventual error.

The work was inspired by the amazing  Giuoco Piano https://archiveofourown.org/works/27713695/chapters/67828777 I read the time travel trope and I needed my version of it.

This is gonna be a Beth/Benny fanfic just so you know,  and there will be angst mainly because  Beth is gonna work on all her issues, ambitious I know, but I promise you a Happy Ending.

let me know if it was worth the time spent reading

Kudos to all

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 1

 

“Welcome Elizabeth” Says Mrs. Deardorff.

Beth follows her inside the orphanage and begins to falter. The last time she walked this hall she was at the lowest point of her life, she was a mess and just realized to have lost the only father figure she didn’t realized having, it’s overwhelming.

 

Everything is too big. Was this place always so cold? Was the blue of the walls always so dull? Was this place always so dusty?

 

“You’re all fucking cocksuckers!” Jolene voice ground her to reality, Beth almost grins, shakes her head and refocus on Mrs. Deardorff who leads her to her first bed, the one near the bathroom; it’s quite the downgrade from the luxury bed in the Moscow’s hotel.

“I know that, at this moment, all you’re feeling is loss. But after grief brings you low, prayer and faith will lift you high... high enough for you to see a new path for yourself. I think, Elizabeth, you’re going to find a much different life here, a better one than you might have had.”

Beth head is in shambles, her thoughts are scattered around, she feels like a ghost, out of her mind, disconnected. Is she really here? Is she gonna wake up in a moment and be on the plane to New York? If she’s really here, why? How? For how long? Is she gonna retain her memories? Is she gonna be able to change things? Is her life really happened? Did she imagine everything? Has she lost her mind ? Did she take something and is now hallucinating?

Right now, it really doesn’t matter.

If she’s really here, though, Mrs. Deardorff got one thing right, she sees a new path, she is gonna have a different life, a better life, she is gonna make things right this time, starting making sure she will not become a junkie at the tender age of nine years old.

While Miss Lonsdale cuts her hair and Mrs. Deardorff dresses her and threaten to burn her dress, Beth feels the anger resurface: they are the first people who’s trying to mold her to fit their idea of what she should be, depersonalizing her, they are trying to conform her to their standard, trying to make her less then herself and something she’s not and she will never be.

Her mother worlds ring in her head:

“It takes a strong woman to stay by herself, in a world where people will settle for anything, just to say they have something.”

Beth thinks she finally understood and promises herself that she will be strong and she will stay true to herself, she won’t settle for anything.

She is gonna be a radical.

With the last thought a glint of mischief appears in Beth eyes and an unexpected wave of sadness hits her, she is gonna miss her Jolene, the one who grew up with her, the girl in the other room is not her, she will not remember teaching her how to play squash, or how she covered for her with Miss Lonsdale all the time she was late. It is sad that she lost her Jolene but she has another chance, she is gonna befriend her, she is gonna get her sister back, and maybe this time she’s gonna be a better sister too.

“One more stop” Says Mrs. Deardorff leading Beth toward the queue of girl waiting for their pills.

“The green ones are the best” Caught up in her schemes Beth jumps hearing Jolene and stops herself just in time before hitting her on the arm, this Jolene doesn’t know her, not yet, and still if everything is gonna follow the script of her previous life, she is already watching out for her

“What are they?” Beth hears herself saying.

-“Vitamins”

-“Magic vitamins” Says another girl that Beth never bothered to get to know.

-“What’s your name, girl?”

-“Beth”

-“Jolene.
I were you, Beth, I’d save the green ones up for the nighttime. Otherwise they turn off just when you need ‘em to turn on. If you know what I mean.”

Beth almost tears up, Jolene is here, she’s not her Jolene, but she is here, Beth is not alone.

-“Your mother and daddy dead?
What’s the last thing they ever said to you?
I ask everybody that one. You get some really fun answers.”

-“I don’t remember.”- Beth almost tells her the truth, but stops. Jolene is gonna be her sister, Beth is going to make sure she’ll be, but right now she has to remember that she’s talking to a virtual stranger, to an angry twelve years old stranger.

As Beth gets to the front of the line, Fergussen hands her the paper cup with two pills

-“Green is to even your disposition. Orange and brown’s for building a strong body. Take them both.”

The time seams to stop-that’s it-Beth thinks- right here, right now it’s the time to forge a new path, to make a different choice -the moment is huge, the pivotal point of her life, she takes a deep breath, takes the pills but doesn’t swallow them, and turns to leave.

Beth spits the pill and puts them in the pocket of her dress, and just like that it’s done, the first step toward a different life is done and now it’s time to go to dinner and to get to know her sister again.

-“You looks ok, you didn’t take the vitamins, good girl”- says Jolene when Beth sits in front of her in the cafeteria.

-“Thank you, what’s exactly is this?”

-“Fish, far as we know it, we eat it every Friday.”

The rest of the conversation flies over Beth’s head, a little smile graces her lips, her mind is calm for the first time since she was on the plane, this is like every other meals she’s had in this place: the food tastes like cardboard, Jolene is right there and the noise of about thirty people dining wash over her. Beth just basks in the moment and for the first time feels like she could do it, she could change her life, she could take the word by storm and she won’t be alone.

That night, however, is another story.

Beth lays awake in her bed, listening to the girls in the other beds coughing, turning and muttering, the green pill she didn’t flush down the toilet tempt her.

The ringing phone in the distance, the voices down the hall and the shadow on the ceiling are making her feel jittery.

 The reality of the last 12 hours comes down to her.

It was just this morning she was on a plane to New York, she just conquered her toughest opponent and Benny and the boys were waiting her to celebrate, now she’s eight, she’s in the orphanage and her mother just died.

The lure of pill induced oblivion get stronger.

Just for tonight,-Beth rationalizes -she had an impossible day after all.

The uncertainty of the situation is making her head spin, everything is so confused.

This morning she was a queen and now she’s a pawn again. Has she lost all the progress she made in her life? Looking at the noisy room and the scratchy sheets Beth is afraid so.

If is just a mind trip, why she would just relives one of the worst day of her life?

Doesn’t matter, she is here now, she just has to deal.

She could just take a pill.

Another wave of grief hit her, and Beth is crying again.

She almost takes the pill but her mother’s words remind her to stay true to herself, and she stops.

It’s been seven months since last time she took a pill, or drunk anything.

The craving is getting worse, but she won’t succumb to the lull of artificial peace, if she wanna change her life, she can’t give in, can’t hide herself in the haze of the pills or of the booze. She is going to stay true to herself and face everything with a clear head, starting with her emotions, no matter how raw and exposed is making her feel; she owes it to her mothers, both of them, to herself and to whoever or whatever sent her back, and so she cries and she grieves her mother, her old self and the life she left behind.

Drained by the tears and the craves, around midnight, Beth finally falls asleep, still clutching the pill.

 

 

 

Author Note:

AAA desperately in need of a beta if someone is up for it

The part in italics are taken directly from the script of the show

I’ll try to post or at least have it written down a new chap every Saturday/Sunday

As always let me know what you think

Kudos to all

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

 

When Beth wakes up, she is still in the orphanage.

 

She feels lighter, the confusion of last night has been replaced by a newfound calmness and determination.

 

She knows three things:

 

  • No matter how or why, this is her life now and she’s gonna live it.
  • There’ll be scrambled eggs for breakfast.
  • She could do everything she’s set on doing with a clear mind.

 

Beth flushes the taunting green pill down the toilet and goes to breakfast.

 

The renewed determination came with impatience. She may be a grandmaster who is used to calmly planning every move in advance but her emotions are still all over the place so she is impatient.

 

As it always did in situations like this, time seemed to slow down.

 

Beth can’t wait to meet Mr. Shaibel all over again, can’t wait to see him in the flesh again, to play against him again. She checks the clock every two minutes waiting for the arithmetic lesson, and when it finally comes, she does the calculation even faster than last time and sits tautly on the edge of the chair, vibrating with excitement, hope and fear while waiting for Miss Graham to acknowledge her completed worksheet and send her off to the basement to clean the erasers.

 

After five minutes, Miss Graham finally shoos Beth to the basement and she sighs in relief; it takes all of her willpower to not immediately jump out of her seat. She instead walks away as calmly as she could.

 

Standing in front of the basement door, Beth stops to compose herself. Downstairs sits her mentor, the first adult who believed in her, the first one to discover her talent and nurture it, the one who gifted her chess and taught her things about life too; the man she loved like a father and who followed her life like a proud parent and loved her from afar; the man she never thanked.

 

The redhead is excited to meet him again, but anxiety lurks behind her like an unwanted shadow. What if they won’t have the same relationship just because she's experienced with chess in this timeline? What if she fucks everything up?

 

Beth shrugs off her anxieties as if they were a mere jacket.

 

Because no, she will do better this time. She will listen to him, she will keep in touch when she inevitably leaves and she will get him the recognition that he deserves.

 

With a deep breath, Beth opens the door and descends to the basement. The scent of humidity and cleaning supply invests her, and she’s hit by nostalgia. This is the place in which she discovered chess, a big part of herself; the first place in which she felt in control, the first place in which she tasted victory.

 

She stops, for a moment, behind the corner to take in the sight of him, leaning on the chessboard pondering his next move with a scowl on his face. He is sitting on the metal stool near the furnace and the lonely bulb over his head barely enlightens him, just like she remembers.

It’s time to make her move.

Beth gets herself under control, scolds her feature in her game face and gets closer to him studying the chessboard.

 

Beth still doesn’t know how to talk to people, especially when she cares about them but this is a familiar territory, this is chess, this, she already knows, she can do.

 

“What do you want, child? You should be in class.” Mr. Shaibel harshly tells her.

 

“Knight to H3 and it’s mate in two.” Answered Beth without missing a beat, her heart throbbing in her throat, her palms sweaty, she’s made her opening.

 

Mr. Shaibel studies the chessboard for a couple of interminable minutes then looks up at her in surprise and mild annoyance. “Do you know how to play, child?”

 

“Yes.” The years of maintaining a blank face behind the board allows her to remain impassible. “Do you wanna play?” Beth asks hopefully.

 

“I don’t play with strangers.” She knew he’d say that but it still stung.

“I’m not a stranger, I live here. I’m Beth Harmon.” She introduces herself all over again, sticking her hand out like she’s done countless times at tournaments.

 

“William Shaibel.” The old custodian shakes her hand, amused by this ratty little girl who has the mannerisms of an experienced chess player.

 

“One game,” he says nodding towards an old milk crate in front of the chessboard “And I’m playing white.” For the first time since she found herself back in the past, Beth smiles. A real smile, one that reaches her once glassy hazel eyes.

 

“Thank you, Mr. Shaibel.” She sighs out, almost tearing up, finally putting this regret to rest. It’s the first time she’s ever thanked him, too late and it’s not even her Mr. Shaibel, but it’s the most she can do.

 

Beth clears her head and focuses on the game.

 

There is no clock, no audience, no money prize, no elo ranking.

 

It’s just a game, they are playing for the fun of it.

 

Beth slowly relaxes her posture, uncrosses her ankles and enjoys the game, just like when she was playing the old men in that park in Moscow.

 

It’s beautiful.

 

It’s peaceful.

 

It’s exhilarating.

 

It’s over in less than 20 moves.

 

Mr. Shaibel is a solid player, but she’s a grandmaster.

 

“Another game?” The man asks her, awed but determined to win this time.

 

“I have a geography lesson in 5 minutes but I can come back tomorrow.” She smiles at him, a small flicker of amusement flashing in her eyes.

 

“Hurry up then, kid,” He is a little put off by the situation “But I want a rematch soon.” Mr Shaibel  says dismissing her with a wave of his hand and giving his attention back to the game they just played, Beth just smiles and scuttles back to class.

 

“What’s with the Cheshire cat grin? Are you nuts for geography or something? You’re almost late!” whispers Jolene when she gets to class. The older girl glances at her with a teasing smile, curiosity shining in her eye.

 

“I was playing chess with the custodian.” Beth replies, slightly breathless considering she just rushed to class.

 

“And that’s what’s making you grin so hard?” Jolene asks incredulously. “Girl, your cheeks look like they’re gonna explode. Stop it.” She mocks, in an oddly friendly way.

 

“Yes, it was a good game.” Beth answers dreamily. Her cheeks were starting to hurt but she just couldn’t stop grinning.

 

“If you say so, cracker.”

 

That night, Beth easily dumps the pills of the day into the sink and plays several games on the ceiling until she falls asleep.

 

 

The next day, Beth goes to the basement after lessons and finds Mr. Shaibel still studying their game from the previous day.

 

“You shouldn’t have taken the rook.” She announces her presence by offering him criticism, a small smile decorating her features.

 

“Yes, I see that now,” He says with a concentrated frown. “You came for a rematch?” Beth just nods and sits in front of the board.

 

After realizing he’s just lost the third game in a row, Mr. Shaibel topples his king. “How?” He asks her, awed and a little disgruntled.

 

“A friend of mine taught me.” Beth smiles a sad smile and he doesn’t push any further. Instead, he asks, “Will you come back to play with me?”

 

“Yes, I will. We could play every Sunday and every Thursday, no one is gonna miss me in the chapel.” She tells him, trying so hard to mask her excitement. Mr. Shaibel hesitantly nods, not convinced and sends her to dinner.

 

Weeks go by and Beth finds herself a routine inside the organized life of the orphanage. She plays with Mr. Shaibel twice a week instead of going to the chapel, focuses on her lessons, actually does her homework and spends time with the other girls when she is supposed to do so. The lessons are even more boring than she remembered now that she’s not high off of drugs, but she found herself interested in some of the literature the English teacher loves so much. Jolene teaches her how to play volleyball and they complain together about the perfect little blonde girls who are readily adopted, causing them to get closer.

 

Jolene, being her extroverted self, somehow befriends all the new girls who arrive. Beth instead keeps to herself, she didn’t know how to relate with her peers last time around, and this time she finds it even harder, actually being 21. Things get easier when she stops thinking about herself as 21 and starts to enjoy being 8 and carefree again. She realizes that right now she doesn’t have to provide for herself, doesn't have to pay taxes, do the dishes or worry about groceries. She could rely on the caretakers to take care of her, not well, not warmly but at least, efficiently and at the best of their ability.

 

The food is awful, the place too cold, the clothes worse than she remembered and the days start blending all together. The addiction doesn’t disappear overnight, but it gets better. The routine helps her resist the craving, but the boredom is her new worst enemy. Now that she lets herself face her emotions, the urge to take the pills hits her when her mind goes blank with boredom and the single thought that circles back and forth is how she itches to numb her mind.

Sometimes the lights are too bright, the noise too loud, the food’s smell too strong and she really yearns for something to dull the sensations. No matter what though, every day she throws away the pills and day by day, it gets easier.

 

At nights, Beth lays awake in her bed and thinks about her life.

 

She’s still overwhelmed by everything that has  happened to her. It is, after all, the first time since Alma died that she stopped and had the time to absorb everything.

 

She thinks about Townes and their almost friendship, about the twins and how they were her first friends and supporters in the chess world, about Beltik and how she broke his heart, about Benny and how everything went south with him. Both of them were primadonnas, stubborn and proud but she was too naïve, too angry, too eager to prove herself and too ignorant of the way of relationships.

 

Beth swears to herself that this time she is gonna do better, she is not gonna take the fact that he is the only person who can match her mind for granted, no matter how much alike they think. Benny is not a mind reader, she’s gonna talk to him, trust him and she’s gonna keep him. She really misses him and those kinds of nights cement her resolve to do things right this time.

 

Some other nights, Beth thinks about Alma. How she was stuck in her life, how she tried to fill the annihilating void that ate her from inside, how bleak her life was, trying to keep up the façade of  a perfect little housewife for a man who didn’t care. She thinks about the pain of losing a child and how she tried to cope with alcohol, soap operas and tranquilizers.

 

She realizes that Alma started to live again when she stopped trying to be what the others wanted her to be and began to be the person and the mother she wanted to be. She found a new purpose for herself and regained her will to live.

 

Her biological mother, Alice, once told her,

 

“The dark's nothing to be afraid of. In fact, I'd go as far as saying there's nothing to be afraid of. Anywhere. The strongest person is the person who isn't scared to be alone. It's other people you got to worry about. Other people. They'll tell you what to do, how to feel…Before you know it…you're pouring your life out in search of something other people told you to go look for. Someday, you're gonna be all alone, so you need to figure out how to take care of yourself.”

 

Alice was right worrying about people trying to tell her what to do, and how to feel. They had driven her to suicide, and the same kind of people had slowly driven Alma to die inside while she strived to be someone she wasn’t and so she abused pills and alcohol.

 

But Alice was wrong too. Beth is not going to be alone. She found, and will find, people who love her and support her no matter what, and people who will help her to stave off social pressure and prejudices.

Beth definitely knows how to take care for herself. She’s not afraid of the dark nor is she scared to be alone but she doesn’t have to be. She will have a family and friends who she will stand with, not for the fear of being alone but because she genuinely cares for them, and they will want nothing but friendship and love in return. She is gonna live her life in spite of what the world thinks, even if it is her mother.

 

Beth thinks longingly about the day Alma will come get her to bring her home again.

 

 


 

 

Months go by between relaxed chess games, nightly self-reflections and daily mischief with Jolene.

 

It's a Sunday evening when Beth finds Mr. Ganz in his pinstriped suit and black tie, waiting for her in the basement.

 

“This is Mr. Ganz, from the chess club.” Mr. Shaibel nods towards the man.

 

“Beth Harmon.” She offers him her hand, just like she’s done months before with Mr. Shaibel. Mr. Ganz raises his eyebrow, smiles amused, and shakes the offered hand. Beth rolls her eyes inwardly and looks at Mr. Shaibel who is suppressing a smirk.

 

Chess club?Beth asked, purposely ignoring Mr. Ganz for the time being.

 

We play at a club.Mr Shaibel shrugs.

 

I’m also the coach of the high school team. Duncan High?Adds Mr. Ganz “Would you like to play me a game?

 

As an answer, Beth goes to sit down on the milk crate. Mr. Shaibel eases himself into a folding chair beside the board as Mr. Ganz takes the custodian’s usual stool across from her.

 

It’s an incredible thing to watch. In a handful of steps, Beth changes from an innocent 8 year old girl to a totally different person. She sat with her spine straight, ankles crossed, elbows on the table, fingers intertwined and an enigmatic smile. At that moment, she didn’t look like the awkward,  little girl she used to be when she was actually 8 years old. No, instead, she looks powerful.

 

Mr Ganz reaches forward in a quick nervous movement and picks up one black and one white pawn, cups his hand around them, shakes them together, then extends both arms towards Beth, his fists clenched.

 

She chooses black.

 

“Sorry.” He murmurs as the small smile never leaves her face.

Beth never really liked Mr. Ganz, she always thought that he looked down on Mr Shaibel, with his clean suit and his high school job. It’s gonna be funny to destroy him at chess. He plays Pawn to E4, she plays the Sicilian. Mr. Ganz calmly moves the knight to F3, then looks up to her and finds himself staring in Beth’s brown unblinking eyes. He starts to squirm.

 

She plays flawlessly, and exploits the first weak move he makes, she’s like a shark that smells blood. It’s over in fifteen moves, she absolutely annihilates him.

 

Mr Ganz is speechless, Mr Shaibel looks at her proudly, Beth just smiles. The victory is satisfying but she wants more.

 

“Well…You certainly know the game, young lady. Do you have a team here?” The defeated man praised. He looks at the small child in front of him in awe.

 

Beth shakes her head slightly, “No.”


Mr Ganz smiles in disbelief and curiosity, “Then where do you play?”

 

“Down here.” Beth says matter of factly, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. Mr Ganz chuckles in response,“Mr. Shaibel said you play a few games every Sunday. What do you do in between?”

 

Beth gives a small smile, “I live.”


“But how do you keep up?” Beth just smiles and shrugs.

 

“Do you want to play another?” She asks, hungry for another victory.

 

Mr Ganz is hesitant. Mr. Shaibel looks at him. “Now or never, Mr. Ganz.” She quips.

 

“Alright. It’s your turn to play white.” He acquiesces.

They start again. After the first few moves, he nods. “The King’s Gambit.” Mr. Shaibel’s attention is divided between the board and Beth, he is fascinated. This time it’s over even faster. “Mate in three.” Beth knows there’s a hint of smugness in her voice but she couldn’t help it.

 

Mr. Ganz stares at the board. She demonstrates, looking up at him as does Mr. Shaibel. Mr. Ganz topples his king, shakes his head in disbelief. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

 

Mr. Ganz is awestruck, he gives her the doll just like last time and leaves. Mr. Shaibel hands her a book; Modern Chess Openings.

 

“I think that’s a more fitting present for you.” He smiles and this time, Beth’s thank you is heartfelt, and she impulsively and uncharacteristically hugs him. He blushes, chuckles and awkwardly pats her on the head. “You’re welcome, child, now go.” He shoos her away with a fond smile.

 

When Mr. Ganz comes back with the camera and takes the photo, Beth asks him for a copy.

 

 

Author Note:

Longer Chap, hope you like it.

Thanks to bitchotine who smoothed out all the angles.

As usual let me know what you think 

kudos to all

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

 

The day of the simultaneous at Duncan High came and Beth was bursting with excitement, she couldn’t sit still, and it was annoying Jolene.

 

“Knock it off, cracker. You’re making me dizzy.” Jolene huffed out with an eye roll.

 

“I just can’t wait to play the simultaneous.” The buzzing redhead says, the small grin on her face telling her friend exactly how she felt.

 

“Are you nervous?”

 

Beth shakes her head.

 

“Well girl, we still have four hours and then lunch before you go so tone it down, ok? Lots of girls around here are really jumpy lately, and you’re making them even more so. I think it’s the withdrawal, things have been tense around here since they stopped giving us the green pills. Are you going through withdrawal too? You’re so edgy.” Jolene asked, a quizzical brow raised.

 

“No, I don’t think so. I’m just dying to play chess with 12 people at the same time.” Beth tells her, relaxing slightly.

 

“You’re madder than a hatter, aren’t you?” Jolene shakes her head, not understanding what she’s excited for.

 

 

 

“Do you play the King’s gambit?” Shirly Munson, the girl who accompanied Mr. Ganz, asked her.

 

“No.” Beth can’t tell her that that’s a bad opening when you play against people who know what they’re doing. There’s no way an 8 year old who had never played against professional players could know that, so she just answered monosyllabically.

 

There’s no Jolene wishing her luck this time.

 

American high schools are all the same. The half colored walls, the endless rows of lockers and the unique smell. Sweat, dirty laundry, disinfectant, low quality food with a hint of freshly sharpened pencils, Beth can go on for days.

 

She takes a deep breath. The scent is somehow comforting, and step by step, she easily switches to her public persona. She walks with purpose, like she owned the place, the adrenaline coursed through her veins, head held high, spine straight, and enigmatic smile.

 

She’s thrilled, she missed this; the adrenaline, the calm that descend on her mind when is set on finding the best path for winning.

 

Beth loved to play with Mr. Shaibel, but she simply lived for this.

 

Her need to win, that was dormant in the previous months, comes back with vengeance. She’s hungry for victory. She is gonna play viciously, mercilessly, she will come out triumphant.

The room starts to fill with insolent students with their loud voices, colored sweaters and haughty attitudes.

 

Her opponents have arrived, and one by one they all look down to her, clearly thinking that she shouldn’t be here, that it’s a joke, she is not only just a kid, but a girl. Beth knows that look well. It's a mixture of annoyance, pity, disbelief, dismissal and superiority. It’s one of the things she didn’t miss. Now, she is angry too.

 

The little redhead smirks and waits for them to take their places, she will annihilate them.

 

“Take your seats and be quiet, please,” Mr Ganz chastises them. “Charles Levy will take Board Number One since he’s our top player. The rest can sit wherever. There will be no talking during the simultaneous.”

 

“Do I start now?” Beth asks candidly, she decided to act as a little innocent girl just to annoy them further, but her eyes are cold as ice.

 

“With board number one.” Mr Ganz answers.


“And then I go to the next one?” she continues ingenuously.

 

“That’s right.”

 

Beth steps over to the first board where Charles Levy sits. She picks up the king’s pawn and moves it to the fourth rank. He glares disdainfully at her, undoubtedly thinking that’s a waste of his time, and how this entire game is beneath him. She ignores him, but her wish to see him humiliated grows stronger.

 

She goes from board to board making the same move. At one point, she hesitates seeing no response and to keep up the charade, she looks at Mr. Ganz and tilts her head questioningly.

 

“They can’t respond until you’ve opened at every board.” He offers readily.

 

She nods and continues making her opening move on each board.

 

Beth systematically destroys them. She moves like a butterfly, moves gracefully from board to board. She just glances at the chess boards and moves, like an afterthought, like she is just casually passing by and not playing 12 games simultaneously. When she ends the round of the boards, they are still frustratedly pondering their moves.

 

It’s a mesmerizing sight.

 

Every time she glances up more students filled the room, all of them whispering in awe and she would be lying if she said she didn’t miss it. The recognition, the grudging respect, the shocked and impressed looks, and even a little bit of fear.

 

Her adversaries topple their king one after another. Some of them with desperation, some of them flushing with rage and shame, some of them with awe. Charles Levy topples his king with his head bowed, shocked.

It’s glorious.

 

She really missed the thrill of a good win.

 

This time, she’s done it without the help of those blasted green pills. Her mind is clear.

 

Everybody in the room is applauding her. It’s reinvigorating.

 

She is drunk on this feeling.

 

In the orphanage, Beth runs into Jolene with another girl while making her way to Mr. Shaibel.

 

“Hey Jolene, I won. They gave me a box of chocolates, do you wanna come down to Mr. Shaibel with me?” asks Beth grinning like a madman, eyes sparkling and a spring in her steps.

 

“Not now, I’m showing Samantha around” says Jolene curtly before leading the other girl away.

 

Beth is still too keyed up on her win to notice her tone, she just shrugs and flies down the stairs to share the chocolates with Mr. Shaibel.

 

“What surprised me was how bad they played. They left backward pawns all over the place, and their pieces were wide open for forks. They didn’t see the most basic trap, a few of them tried stupid mating attacks but I took care of them. I played the queen’s gambit on all the boards, maybe next time I could use a different opening for every game, well if they invite me back. They didn’t seem too happy that I beat them. This boy, Charles Levy? He was supposed to be the best. I had his pieces tied up in ten moves. I mated him in four more with a knight-rook combination. Mr. Ganz told me that I beat them all in just under an hour.” Beth vomits out excitedly. Sitting in front of the custodian while eating the chocolate. He smiled proudly at her.

 

“When I got there, they were all looking haughtily at me like I didn’t deserve their time. Things changed after I beat them all, one of them whispered ‘It can’t be possible, she’s just a little girl’ like me being little or a girl mattered.” She added, hands clenching with barely contained rage.

 

“Don’t listen to them, child. They are just envious of you. You’ve got something they can only dream of; talent. You are astounding. You are going to be a grandmaster one day, and they’re gonna pretend to be happy in an unsatisfying life with boring wives deluding themselves that they are living the American dream. Looking down at people who don't conform to their warped version of normality. You are not normal, child. You are extraordinary. Don’t let them tell you otherwise.” Beth tears up and Mr. Shaibel continues.

 

“People like you have a hard time. Two sides of the same coin. You've got your gift and you've got what it costs. Hard to say for you what that will be. It could be enduring those kind of idiots for a while, it could be loneliness,” He stopped unsure if it was his place to continue. “You've got so much anger in you,” She consciously unclenches her fists. “And you’ve got so much sadness in your eyes. Sometimes you seem so far away, but you have determination too and the sacred fire of someone who’s doing what they are born to do. Don’t forfeit your birthright for those idiots but be careful to not burn hard and fast.”

 

Beth is moved by how much he really understands her and she’s barely holding back tears. Mr. Shaibel wordlessly shoos her upstairs, he’s already talked too much for today. She takes a handful of chocolates, slides the box his way, clears her voice and says, “You can take the rest.” With a tremulous smile and a nod to the janitor, Beth walks up to the dormitory.

 

Finding Jolene already in bed, she hands her the chocolates.

 

“I saved you some chocolates, Mr. Ganz gave it to me for my victory.” Offers Beth, smiling.

 

“Well, good for you” Jolene responds with biting sarcasm and just turns away in her bed.

 

Beth is transfixed. She didn’t understand what happened, why Jolene was angry with her. She just wanted to share her victory with her. With nothing else to do, Beth puts the chocolate on the nightstand and goes to bed.

 

She is restless, the day was filled with emotion and she’s still new at dealing with them. She absolutely refuses to cry. She wants a drink. Badly. Or a pill. Luckily or unluckily, depending on the point of view, they stopped giving them tranquilizers a few days ago. All the overwhelming emotions from the day drained her, but she can’t sleep, she’s antsy. She turns and tosses and stares at the ceiling. She asks herself how such a fantastic day could end so disastrously, if she is fated to always end up alone, what’s she done to Jolene to make her angry.

 

“Do you think you’re special now?” Beth looks at her friend in shock. “Do you think some rich family is gonna adopt you just because you beat a bunch of teenagers at chess?” Jolene spits out bitterly, still facing away.

 

Beth wants to scream at her, but then she remembers that she is the grown up and that Jolene is just scared. So she takes a deep breath and speaks evenly. “Nothing's gonna change, you know? It’s just like you with sports. You know how to play volleyball and I know how to play chess, simple as that.”

 

It’s not really the same thing. Chess is what she is, but Beth remembers her Jolene telling her about being jealous of her for having something, and about the fear of being abandoned by Beth too, after spending so many months getting closer, she was sure that she was a lifer like her.

 

Beth, despite the hurt, keeps her voice steady and goes on. “No one is gonna come and adopt me right away, just because I know how to do one thing; and even if someone miraculously comes tomorrow to adopt me, I swear I’m gonna find a way to keep in touch with you. You’re my family now.” She promised with conviction. It will be another five years before Alma will come to take her home after all, and she will always be there for Jolene anyways.

 

“No one’s ever told me that I am phenomenal at something.” Jolene croaks out.

 

“You’re phenomenal at a lot of things; sports, knowing bad words, befriending people, looking out for me and being pissed off at the world.” This earns Beth a tearful chuckle.

 

“Jolene.” Beth calls her.

 

“Yes?” She answers, sniffling.

“Do you wanna learn how to play chess?” She whispers.

 

“Do you wanna teach me?” The older girl asks incredulously, finally turning around to meet her eyes.

 

“Sure,” Beth shrugs, she’s always wanted to share chess with her sister. “Do you want the chocolate now?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

They spent the night talking about the simultaneous, the boys she beat, the new orphan, the boring film projected the previous day, all while eating chocolate and laughing.

 

In the weeks that follow, Beth tries to teach Jolene how to play chess and discovers that meanwhile she is good at remembering the position of the pieces, she can’t, for the life of her, think more than two moves in advance. Beth even tries to show her the beauty of chess playing for her one of the most spectacular Luchenko games, that keeps her attention for about three minute before Jolene looks at her with a fond smile, shakes her head and goes outside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a year before Mr. Ganz comes back, asking Beth for another simultaneous. She asks him if she could bring Jolene. They go together. This time when Beth looks up from the boards she finds Jolene supporting her in the crowd. A warm feeling spreads in her chest.

 

This time, she played 12 different openings and one of the guys gave her a slightly better match than last time.

 

After another smashing victory and another box of chocolates, Shirly Munson came to say hello, accompanied by three other girls.

 

“It’s always an incredible experience to see you playing, Beth.” Shirley tells her kindly.

 

“Thanks, I guess. this is my sister, Jolene.” Beth answers, and introduces them to her best friend.

 

“These are Amanda, Janet and Georgia. They’re news members of the chess club,” Shirley goes on. “It’s a pity we had to wait such a long time to organize this simultaneous.”

 

“Well, it’s not as if you don’t know where to find me.” Delivers Beth sardonically.

 

“Sweet Jesus! You don't know?” Janet nearly shrieks.

 

“I don’t know what?” Beth is starting to get a bad feeling about this.

 

“Mr Ganz tried repeatedly to invite you back for another match but the school governors blocked him because they say it was unbecoming for our students to be beaten by a little girl. The truth is that the school newspaper wrote a piece about you and Charles Levy, board number one, remember? He was outraged seeing his failure on the front page. Since his father is an influential man and the governors didn’t want to displease him. We had to wait for him to graduate to invite you back.” Shirley explains, the frown on her face apparent.

 

Beth is shaking with fury. Fists clenched and eyes ablaze.

 

How dare this asshole deny her her right to play? This misogynistic bastard, with an ego too big for his head, negates her the simple joy of playing. He was the first of a long series of men who tried to tell her what to do, tried to make her give up chess. Beth can’t give up chess more than she can’t stop breathing. It hurts every time, though. She is seething. She hates feeling impotent, because right now she can’t do anything about things like that. The magnitude of her battles against the world hits her. Beth almost falters, but then she reminds herself that she has already done it and she is gonna do it again. This time she knows, she is sure, she belongs at the top of the chess world and surely, it won’t be a prepotent son of a bitch to stop her. She was going to ascend the Olympus of chess players and the Charles Levy of the world were going to keep living their sad pathetic life with the illusion of grandeur and squalid power play against the ones who couldn’t fight back. Her resolve settles back in place. She takes a deep breath and returns her attention to her sister.

 

Jolene is a lot louder in her outrage. “Those fucking cocksuckers!”

 

The school girls are scandalized.

 

“Jolene.” warns Beth.

 

“Aren’t you mad, cracker?” The poor girls are even more scandalized by the insult thrown so casually.

 

“I am, but screaming like that could only bring us trouble.” Beth whispers calmly.

 

“But it’s not fair!” Jolene protests.

 

“As if we didn’t know life was unfair.” Beth comments sardonically.

 

“It still sucks, though.”

 

Jolene's rage makes her feel better. “It still sucks,” Beth acknowledges. “But I’m going to be a grandmaster and they will remain nothing but insignificant hindrances” She adds with confidence, eyes shining with passion.

 

The girls in the room were impressed by her chess playing from before, and now they are all a little awed at her boldness and resolution to make her way to the top of a male dominated world. There is something akin to pride and respect in Jolene’s eyes.

 

Shirley clears her voice and hands her old copies of Chess review. “If you’re gonna be a grandmaster soon, you have to study. Here, they’re old copies of Chess review. It's not much but there are enough interesting matches printed, no one is gonna miss them.”

“Thank you” Beth answers sincerely, taken aback as she caresses the papers reverently. She missed reading news of the chess world and having actual matches to study. They’re not the Shakhmatny Bulletin but they are something new to analyze, and maybe if she’s lucky, she’ll find a few of Benny's articles.

 

It will be a bit like hearing him talk again. She really misses their talks.

 

“And here is the article about your first win,” the girl continues, giving her last year's school paper, “Would you sign my copy for when you become famous?”

 

Beth is speechless by all this support and the faith this girl, who she’s met only twice, has in her. Dumbfounded, she signs her first autograph.

 

She is gonna win for them too, Beth decided. This time she definitely is not alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the following years Beth plays 10 more simultaneous games. All of them with a clear head, but the news of her victory never goes further than the school papers.

 

Mr. Ganz, maybe feeling guilty about the Levy’s debacle, starts to bring her all the Chess Review articles he can find.

 

Beth keeps playing with Mr. Shaibel, but every time she comes back from an exhibition at the high school, she starts studying everything she can as she obsessively tries to stay on the top of her game. In a couple of weeks, she eventually relaxes again.

 

Jolene starts to get why Beth is so excited when she plays. Not about chess, but about the tension, the adrenaline and the exhilarating feeling a good win brings. The two of them are even closer this time around.

 

So, life goes by, until the day a ’57 Dusty Rose Chevy arrives at the orphanage before breakfast.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

 

“Wonder who they're here for.” Jolene says, taking the first drag of her cigarette.

 

Beth doesn’t hear her this time, her eyes are fixed on her mother. Alma, clad in her pale blue button-up cardigan and a matching long skirt, exactly as she remembered her. When their eyes met, Beth smiles. The redhead is invested by a myriad of emotions; elation, happiness, longing, disbelief, nostalgia, fear and sadness.

 

She was elated to see Alma alive and smiling (she yearned for this moment since the first night back), she was happy she was finally going home, but she was sad to leave Jolene and Mr. Shaibel.

 

Everything was going to change.

 

Just like last time, Beth takes a shower, is reprimanded for being late and is given a headband. She quickly composes herself and enters Mrs. Deardorff’s office.

 

The conversation goes exactly like last time, but Beth’s mind doesn’t process half of it. Her heart is beating furiously, her gaze never leaves Alma and it takes all of her willpower to not run to her just to hug her tightly. When Mr. Wheatley asks her if she’s called Elizabeth or Betty, Beth returns all of her attention to the present, smiles politely and answers courteously. Despite loathing the man, she still needs him to sign the adoption papers.

 

“You should go pack.” Mrs. Deardorff tells her and Beth sighs with relief.

 

She was scared that they weren’t going to come, or that even if they came, they weren’t going to  adopt her. She was scared of somehow changing things too much.

 

Beth, still in a daze, returns to the dorm to find Jolene. She takes a seat on her bed, looking a little lost. “Jolene?”

 

“Hm?”

 

“Remember what I told you that night so many years ago?”

 

“That we’re family and that if you were to get adopted, you would find a way to keep in touch? Yeah I remember, cracker.”

 

“Well, I’m going to. Keep in touch, I mean. You only have a year left, and then you can apply for the Physical Education scholarship the girl from the chess club told us about. You’re phenomenal at sports, remember?” Beth smiles, her eyes glazing.

 

“I remember.” Jolene’s pretty brown eyes were lucid with unshed tears.

 

“Here, something to remember me by,” Beth hands her a patch of fabric with her name embroiled, “It’s from the dress I had the day I came here. My mom made it, and I stole it from the dress cabin before Mrs. Deardorff could throw it away.” By now, Jolene is openly crying.

 

“It’s the only thing you have from your mama, I can’t take it.” She starts, baffled, but holds the fabric reverently.

 

“I know, but I want you to have it, so you won’t forget me.” Beth replies stubbornly.

 

“As if I could.” Jolene snorts, her cheeks shining with crystal tears.

 

They hug each other tightly. Beth packs all of her books, all of the chess review articles, and the other few things that she owns and goes down to the basement.

 

“Mr. Shaibel?” She calls out, her voice quiet.

 

“Yes, child?” Came the wise voice she’s known all her life.

 

Beth sniffles with a smile, “I got adopted.”

 

The old custodian’s eyes dimmed sadly. “Oh,” he replies, “I suppose it’s goodbye then.”

 

“Mr. Shaibel?”

 

“Yes, child?”

 

“Do you think we could meet somewhere once in a while to play chess? In a park maybe” Beth asks hopefully. The custodian was befuddled but his eyes brightened considerably.

 

“We could do that.” A tiny smile crept onto his lips.

 

And for the second time in her life, Beth hugs him and then runs away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Home sweet home.”

 

Entering her home again is a weird experience for Beth. She takes in all the details she forgot; the horrible sun shaped mirror, the awful emerald drapes and the dreadful knick knacks on the mantelpiece she replaced with her trophies.

 

Everything is different but just the same.

 

A train of memories hit her, each image overlaying the others. Memories of things that will come to pass and memories of things that she swore will never happen. Still in a haze, she stops in front of the prints with a lump in her throat.

 

“Those are Rosa Bonheur prints. Not originals, of course.” Alma pipes up from behind her.

 

Beth is unable to talk, her emotions choking her. So she just nods and smiles tearfully. She missed those stupid prints, they were so Alma. She couldn’t believe she was here. She’s home and her mother is right there with her, happy and healthy, smiling at her.

 

When Alma shows the redhead her room, Beth finally gives in and leaves the suitcase on the floor and hugs her.

 

The older woman is startled but after a moment of hesitation, hugs her back.

 

“Thank you.” She croaks out.

 

“You’re welcome, dear.” Alma answers, patting her back lightly, looking pleased.

 

After a minute, Alma clears her throat and releases her, feeling a bit self-conscious.

 

“Alright, I’ll let you unpack and get settled in. Just give a holler if you need anything.”

 

Beth locks the door, and jumps on the bed, laughing happily and crying in relief. With a grin, she tears the canopy of the bed. She’s finally home.

 

Next morning, she overhears Mr. Wheatley leaving for work. ‘Good riddance,’ she thinks and goes down the stairs. It’s time to start bonding with her mother.

 

“It's early, dear. You don't have to be up for another hour yet. Must be all the excitement about your first day of school.” Alma tells her.

 

“I actually never went to school.” Beth shrugged, she decided that this time she will be more open and forthcoming with Alma. She owes her, and maybe they could develop an early bond.

 

Alma is a little shocked, but has a lot on her mind so she didn’t dwell on it. Beth’s eyes never leave her. “Please stop gawking, dear, you're making me nervous.”

 

Beth can’t help herself. She knows she’s staring but she wants nothing more than to sit beside her mother.


“You're very good.” She tells her truthfully, getting closer.


“This was Grandmother June's piano. I've played since I was younger than you. I'd always had it in my mind to one day play in an orchestra.” The older woman says, a wry smile creeping onto her tired face.


“Probably still could.” She recalls the moment Alma played in front of the crowd in Mexico, the joy on her face.


“Mmm. As luck would have it, I've also always suffered from a terrible case of stage fright,
which does not bode well for an aspiring performer. And then I got pregnant.” Hearing it the second time did not make it any easier.


“You have a child?” Beth asks anyway, knowing that this is one of the moments that will define their relationship. This time there is no jealousy or fear behind this question, just a lot of pain and sadness.


“We did, yes.” This time, Beth sits beside her and puts her head on Alma’s shoulder. The redhead inwardly hoped that she wasn’t overstepping.

 

There really isn’t anything else to say. They sit in silence for a while. Both of them lost in their own thoughts, taking comfort from the easy silence and the warmth of their almost embrace.

 

When Alma asks the redhead if she wants her to walk her to school, Beth gladly accepts. She never had a parent walk her to school before, Alma never had a child to accompany to school and Beth really didn’t care about the opinion the other teenagers were going to have of her.

 

Alma is beaming the entire time, and babbles about inconsequential things. She tells Beth how she loves animals, about grandmother June, about the last Reader’s Digest issue. Beth just walks with her, a grin never leaving her face. Nodding appropriately, simply basking in the experience of being escorted by her mother the first day of school, arm in arm.

 

“We’re here, dear. I’ll see you after school.” Alma says, waving her off.

 

“See you then, ma’am.” Beth’s brown eyes were gazing at her mother warmly.

 

Once in class, Beth lets the mockery roll off her back. She really doesn’t care about her classmate’s inane opinion. This time around, she is going to excel in school, and maybe skip some classes ahead, before starting to travel around America. Playing chess, enjoying life.

 

Mr. Wheatley came back for a day. His easy dismissal of Alma and the beer comment makes Alma’s good mood abate, and the comment on Beth’s clothes spur the next day’s shopping trip to Ben Snyder’s.

 

Beth looks longingly at the chess set but dutifully follows her mother upstairs. If reliving her life taught her something, it was patience. The shoes are too big and the blouse’s fabric is as scratchy as some of the orphanage’s dresses. She endures them knowing that soon, she’s gonna come back to buy the black a-line dress and the checkered one displayed on the mannequins on the ground floor. She has developed an understandable aversion for the pinafore dresses.

 

Beth really hates not having control of her own life, but today she can’t do anything about it. Tomorrow though, she is gonna steal the last Chess review, putting in motion the next step of her life.

 

Coming back from school and clutching Capablanca’s biography, Beth is full of nervous energy. She knows that another pivotal moment of her life is coming about.

 

“How was school?” Alma asks her.


“Boring, I already knew almost all of the material covered.” Alma’s impressed and Beth really wants to elaborate further, but at this moment, she is a little too tightly wounded, waiting for the next minute to happen. She starts to fidget on the stairs, then forces herself to climb another step, holding her breath.


“Where are you going?” The redhead composes herself in a moment and turns to answer her mother.


“I'm gonna replay some of the matches in this book.” She manages an almost bored tone, hiding her frantically beating heart.


“But you don't have a board.”


“Not yet but for now, I can replay them in my head. It’s good mental exercise.”


“Well, some physical exercise could do you good. Will you run over to Bradley's for me, and pick up three packs of Chesterfields?”


“Yes, ma'am.”


“I'll write you a note. You look a bit youthful for smoking, yourself.” Beth grins and almost skips to the store.

 

She takes a deep breath and just like last time she buys the cigarette pack and steals the magazine.

 

Once she was outside, with Chess Review securely in her hand, all the tension of the day slowly drained away. It’s done, another step on the right path.

 

Beth runs home, she has a letter to write.

 

Things with Alma proceed slowly. Sometimes she engages Beth in conversation, tentatively reaching out for Beth only to immediately retract back to herself, even if Beth is always there responding to her.

 

Looking into her mother's eyes and seeing the longing and the confusion is one of the hardest and most frustrating things Beth has ever done, second only to seeing her looking lost in front of the television, beer in hand and untouched ready dinner tray.

 

Beth knows that right now, she can’t reach Alma, she can’t free her until they connect.

 

The day Alma sends her out to fill her prescription of Librium, Beth dutifully goes, even if she knows that the drugs are slowly killing her mother. She is powerless to do anything else. The thought of stealing half of the pills never crosses her mind.

 

The redhead really can’t wait for the Kentucky State Championship to begin.

 

Sometimes, when Beth can't stand the situation anymore, she goes walking to get rid of the frustration. She found that physical exercise really helps her calm down. She walks mindlessly around until she can lose herself in the repetitive movement, then she lets whatever emotion she’s dealing with wash over her and let her mind process it until the only thing that remain is the sensation of her feet hitting the ground.

 

“You're home late.” Alma says, curiosity in her eyes and voice.


“I was out walking.”

 

“Alright then. Good night, dear.”


“Good night. Oh, um…I'm gonna be late again tomorrow. I have something after school.” Beth says hesitantly.


“Have you joined a club?” Alma catches her eye, and raises an eyebrow.


“I'm playing in a chess tournament.”


“I won't argue that broadening one's social life is important for a girl your age. I just wonder whether a dance class or a girls' club would be better for making friends. I hear Fairfield has pretty good ones.”


“The tournament will be an ideal place to make friends, it goes until Sunday.”

The night before the tournament, Beth is calm, all the nervous energy from the previous day evaporated. She feels settled, tomorrow she is gonna return to her reign, she’s gonna meet the twins and Townes, she is gonna return to her people, even if they don’t know her yet. Tomorrow is going to be the first step of her chess career. After this tournament, the chess world will hear about her.

 

She plays a few games on the ceiling then easily slips in Morpheus’s arms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Henry Clay High School is exactly as she remembers, just like any other high school hosting chess tournaments. But this one is special, this is where she’s gonna start the better part of her life, she is going in alone but she is gonna come out with her first title and hopefully, a few real friends.

 

Beth looks fondly at the twins from afar, a frame of the three of them laughing at a tournament pops in her mind. She refocuses herself on the present and with confidence, strides to the registration desk.

 

“Do you have a clock?” Matt asks her, his blue eyes meeting her brown ones.


“No.”


“We have a clock-sharing system. If your opponent doesn't have one, come back, and we'll loan you one. Play starts in 20 minutes. What's your rating?” Matt drones boredly.


Beth would love to give her last rating that was 2950 counting the Moscow tournament, but right now, “I don't have a rating.”


“Have you played in a tournament before?” Matt asks, puzzled.


 ‘Yes, I’ve been playing for years.’ She wants to say, but instead lets out a (dejected),“No.”


“Are you sure you wanna do this?” He’s hesitant but Beth just smiles enigmatically.

 
“I'm sure.”


“We don't have a women's section.” Matt warns her and she rolls her eyes.


“I'll put you in beginners.”


“I'm not a beginner.” She protests like last time.


“Doesn't matter. If you're an unrated player, you go in beginners with people under 1600.” Mike finally looks at her.


“Is it against any rule for me to be in the Open?” She argues, her head tilting.


“Not exactly.” Mike seems even more unsure about it.

 

“Then put me in the Open.” The smirk never left her lips.


“There are three guys in there with ratings over 1800. And Beltik may show up. They will eat you alive.” Mike goes on, but Beth just keeps grinning. Yes, someone is gonna be eaten alive, but it’s not her.


"Harmon." Mike was amused, he thinks he’s humoring a little girl who’s gonna have her heart broken. He doesn’t know how wrong he is.

 

She is in. Entering the gym, the smell of the parquet invests her, Beth takes a deep breath and walks aimlessly through the aisle of cheap chess boards, taking all in; the chatter, the anticipation, the dusty air, the plastic pieces.

 

When she finally catches sight of Townes, the butterflies in her stomach that she expected weren’t there. The crush she had on him faded into strong affection, Beth will always love him like you can only love your first love, but she wasn’t in love with him. The redhead decides to approach him in the same way she did the first time, she supposedly knows nothing about tournaments after all.

 

“Are the matches played at random?” she asks ingenuously.


“Oh, not at all. Uh, they arrange it by ratings on the first round. After that, winners play winners,
and losers, losers.” Towns is surprised, uncertain and a little bit amused.

 

“I’m Beth Harmon.” This time, she introduces herself.


“Well, good luck, Harmon” He said honestly, smiling.


“You, too.” She smirks subtly, ‘You’ll need it.’

 

Beth finds her chessboard and waits with trepidation for the tournament to actually start. It’s the worst table in the gym, near the coffee’s distributor. It's maddening but she has to choose her battles right now. Just like last time, she’s paired with the only other girl.

 

“Hi, Annette Packer.” The girl extends her hand to shake.

 
“Beth Harmon.” She remembers this girl. She was the one who came back from college just to meet her, to tell her that her winning and conquering the male dominated world of chess was something for her. That Beth inspires her, even though she found Beth at the lowest point of her downward spiral. Beth had vowed to herself to do better by this girl and by herself; this time, if she’s coming back, she won’t find a washed up 20 something, but the inspiring player Beth knows she could be.

 

The game is over in less than 15 minutes.

 

Beth feels like she owes something to this girl.

 

“Do you wanna go over the game together?” She offers.

 

“You mean analyzing it?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Don’t you have to turn in the sheet?”

 

“I’ll bring the sheet to the desk and you’ll reset the board?” Beth tilts her head in question, a small smile playing on her lips.

 

“Sure, I’ll wait for you here. But how will you remember the moves without the sheet?” Annette asks, bewildered.

 

“I remember them.” Beth shrugs with nonchalance, leaving an awed Annette.

 

Beth walks up smugly to the twins and hands over her sheet.

 

“What do I do with this?” She asks, keeping up the pretense that it’s her first tournament.


“Is your match over?” Matt asks in surprise, checking his watch, mirrored by his brother.


“Yes, I won.”  She replies casually.

 
“That was fast.” They stared at her incredulously.


“I told you I was good,” She quips cheekily, “ So what do I do with this?”


“Circle your name and drop it in the basket.” The twins were left speechless.

 

Returning to the gym, she crosses paths with a surprised Townes. She gives him a genuine smile  and returns to Annette.

 

“You came back.” The girl exclaims, surprised.

 

“I told you I would.” Beth responds, a bit taken aback.

 

“Are you sure it’s worth your time?” Annette felt a bit self-conscious. After all, she lost in 8 moves.

 

“Yes, I always analyze games even if I win, to find any weaknesses.” Beth reassures her. “And us girls have to stick together, don’t you think?”

 

Annette nods, still a little embarrassed. She and Beth start replaying the game, analyzing move after move with Beth explaining which moves were bad and what she could have done instead. In 20 minutes, she had already played 3 different developments of the opening Annette used analyzing the pros and cons of each one.

 

Beth is in her element, she didn’t realize until now how she missed discussing the game with someone else who at least understands what she was talking about. The analysis readily turned into a lecture. Beth became more animated the more she talked. She really missed sharing her passion with a kindred spirit. She just started discussing pawn structure and how to develop them from the opening Annette used when a haughty man approaches them.

 

“What are you silly girls shrieking about? Don’t you know this is not a hair salon?” He asks with a sneer.

 

“Chess.” Beth deadpans, staring the male down as if he was a pest.

 

“Sure, ‘chess’.” He says with an air of superiority, air quoting the word chess as if he doesn’t believe them.

 

“What do you want?” Beth asks icily.

 

Before the imbecile could answer, the referee called for the next matches to start. Beth glares disdainfully at the man before proceeding to ignore him.

 

“See you later, Annette.” She excuses herself and walks to her next table.

 

Beth easily wins the next three games, enjoying the thrill of new opponents after so long, and if she plays a little more viciously than necessary, no one could really blame her.

 

She approaches the boards with a determined stride, then sits there poised like a queen, chin on her intertwined hands, small smile and sparks in her eyes while destroying her opponents one by one. She plays like her old self, all attack and no prisoner. She grins so hard, her cheeks hurt. She’s back.

 

“Dinner break. Next round is at six o'clock. Then, three more tomorrow. Final round is Sunday, 11 a.m.” Mike tells her when she turns in the last sheet, surprised at her undefeated status.


Towns stops her this time too. “Harmon?”

 

Beth turns to face him, surprising him with the small elated grin on her face.

 

“Keep it up, kid.”

 

“Oh, I will.” Beth whispers back.

 

That night, when Alma asked her how “her thing” went, Beth eagerly started to recount all of her games and Alma listened, not really following but pleased by Beth’s evident glee, amused by her animated tale.

 

Everything was well.

 

 

 

 

Author Note:

Hi, hope you liked the chap, as always let me know what you think.

I'm really sorry I missed last week update but I had an exam so I didn't really had time to write. I have another exam next month so I have no idea if I’ll be able to keep the weekly schedule, but I will try, I promise.  

Benny in finally coming in next chap so stay tuned ;)

Kudos to all