Two unlikely people bond over shogi and their hatred of Valentine's Day.
Author: White Aster
"Stupid holiday," the man at the bar grumbled.
"Yeaaah...." the woman in glasses next to him sighed. She had two empty beer glasses in front of her, and her head had slowly been heading for the bar ever since the first. Her glasses were pushed a bit crooked, skewed from the way she was laying her cheek on her hand. "S'not like it means anything, right?'
"Exactly!" The stout young man thumped the bar to illustrate his point. "Something the flower arrangers and candymakers made up, if you ask me. All that chocolate and pollen and pink hearts. As if today's anything special compared to any other day."
"And everyone feeling all happy because someone sent them some chocolate or a mushy card that they probably didn't even write themselves." He nodded decisively at his beer.
"Or some flowers!" the young woman interjected, raising a finger in a slightly unsteady gesture. "Private Connelly got SIX different kinds of flowers! From six different people!" She grumbled. "You couldn't even see her desk. Looked like a greenhouse explur--explud--exsch--" She lifted her head, as if that would help her enunciate. "Ex-plo-ded. Yeah." Her cheek thumped back onto her hand, her other hand reaching out to doodle aimlessly in a bit of water on the bar.
The man snorted. "Sounds like our office. The Colonel got so many flowers that Fury was there for fifteen minutes and started sneezing his head off. The First Lieutenant started having him run errands just to get him out of the office. He said that it didn't help much, because all the other offices were the same."
The woman nodded sagely, brown hair flopping in front of her glasses. "I mean, it's not that I WANT flowers! I don't! Most of them make me sniffly, and they're pretty for a bit, and then they wilt and die, and wouldn't it be better for a symbol of love to be...I don't know...a PLANT or something. A LIVE one. Something that'd at least LIVE for awhile...." She considered for a moment. "Though I wouldn't mind chocolate."
The man looked over at her. "Really? What IS it with women and chocolate? I mean, yeah, it's good, but it's not all THAT."
"I dunno. S'good. With a bit of coffee. I always liked it cuz I didn't get it much. Was a treat." She sighed, watching her fingers splat in the small puddle of condensation they'd found. "Should just go BUY myself some, rather than waiting for some stupid MAN to buy it for me. Why should I care, right? Wouldn't want any guy's chocolate anyway. They give you chocolate and then they figure you OWE them, the slobbery jerks. Or they figure if they give some to some geeky four-eyed girl that she'll be so grateful that she'll boom, fall over backward." Her voice turns indignant. "That happened to me once! I was all excited because this cute guy gave me flowers and chocolates, and then he cornered me in the schoolyard and tried to get his hand up my skirt."
The man looked over at her. "What happened?"
The woman sniffed, pushing up her glasses a bit unsteadily with one finger. "I whacked him in the face with my book. It was Ginnis' 'Compleat Anatomy'. Weighed at least twenty pounds. Knocked him right out."
The man blinked, then sniggered, and after a moment she giggled into her hand with him.
"Yeah," he said, taking a sip of his beer. "Men are pigs."
She reached over to pat his hand vaguely, mumbling, "I'm glad you understand."
"Oh, I do, believe me. You wouldn't WANT to know what guys say in the locker room when there're no women around."
The woman pfffffted dismissively and sighed. "Why do men only like women like Private Connelly? I mean, yeah, she's pretty and has a REALLY big--" her hand makes an expansive gesture around her sternum in demonstration "--You Know, but she's DUMB. And she's MEAN, too! I mean, she got all those presents and she was laughing about how half of them are from guys she's stringing along and doesn't even really LIKE!"
"Well," the man said, contemplatively, rubbing a hand over his spiky red hair. "Mostly it's because guys think with their di-...uh...hormones." He considered. "And we're dumb and don't know the first thing about women."
His drinking companion snorted. "What a load of bull hockey. Women aren't all that complicated. I mean, we just want someone who'll be NICE to us. That's all. All the chocolate and flowers and love poems in the world aren't gonna help you if you're not NICE."
The man looked skeptical. "Yeah, right. I know LOTS of nice guys who can't get a date for shit." He held up a hand, as if to forestall a protest. " No, no, no, women want a guy that's tall and handsome and buff--"
"Oh yeah?" the woman rallied. "Well, men want a woman who's pretty but not SO pretty that she'll deserve someone better, someone smart, but oh no, not smarter than them--"
"--and RICH. Cripes, if you're rolling in it, you could have only one leg and look like a mangled crow and women'd fall all over you--"
"--and independent, but not TOO independent, because men certainly wouldn't want a woman who won't drop everything to iron their shirts or darn their socks or cook dinner--"
"--and really, what do women have against a guy being smart? Oh sure, they SAY they want a smart guy, but then they expect you to let them win at shogi. I mean, what's the POINT?"
"--an', an'...wait...shogi?" The woman raised her head to peer over at her drinking companion. "Did you say shogi?"
The man stopped, in mid-rant. "Uh...yeah. Why?"
She perked up a bit, her head rising from her hand. "You know how to play?"
"Sure. My grandpa taught me."
"Really? That's so neat! I've read about it, but I've never met anyone who could actually play!"
He blinked at the small miracle that a little excitement and a smile did to her face. Oh, sure, her hair's still spiking up a bit uncontrollably, but heh, who's he to talk, eh? "You play shogi?"
She ducked her head a bit. "Well...like I said, I've read about it. I know all the rules, and some strategies and stuff, but like I said, I've never known anyone who plays, so I've never actually PLAYED."
Second Lieutenant Heymans Breda, his disdain of the holiday notwithstanding, was more than bright enough to take advantage when fate actually deigned to smile upon him. "Well...I've got a board back in the barracks. I mean, it's like a five minute walk. I could go get it and...we could play?"
"Really?" If he thought her smile was bright before, now it was incandescent, like one of the Colonel's explosions. Though without the smoke and ash and all. She nodded vigorously. "That would be wonderful! If...if you don't have anything you were going to do tonight?"
Breda laughed. "You mean other than get drunk here and whine about the holiday? Not really. How 'bout you?"
She smiled sheepishly. "Same thing."
"Heh. Ok...well...I'll...go get the board then." Breda reached for his wallet, dropping a few bills on the bar for his drink. He reached back for his overcoat, pulling it on. She was still sitting there, smiling at him eagerly, and he couldn't help but hear a small voice in the back of his head muttering about yeah, right, like she'd still be here when he got back. He cleared his throat. "Oh...we never really introduced ourselves. I'm Heymans Breda, by the way." He reached out his hand, a bit awkwardly.
She didn't appear to notice, her two excited hands trying their best to engulf his as she shakes with him. "Oh! I'm sorry, you're right. My name's Scieszka. It's very nice to meet you."
Her hands, his brain ruthlessly catalogued, weren't really soft. Very dry, actually, but they didn't shy away from his handshake like some women he'd known, and that was a welcome change. After what was probably a minute, he coughed, dropped her hand, and said, "I'll be right back. Don't go anywhere!"
"I won't! It's taken me this long to meet someone who plays shogi." She beamed. "I won't miss the chance to play! Oh!" Her smile turned impish. "And don't worry. I won't expect you to let me win."
Breda felt something alarming happening in his chest that he ruthlessly refused to categorize. "Right. Be right back!" He fled out the door, took a deep, steadying breath of the cold night air, and then pelted off towards the barracks. It was a five-minute walk, but he could get that down to a two-minute run. Easy.
It wasn't until after Scieszka beat him handily in five games straight that Breda thought to ask, suspiciously, just how MANY books she'd read on shogi.