James climbed the stairs to the front door with trepidation. Outside the door, he took a deep breath, forcing himself to relax. Maybe the parcel hadn’t arrived. Maybe Laura had ignored it, seeing that it was addressed to him. Maybe everything would be all right. He opened the door, and stepped inside.
The open box on the floor of the lounge room told him it wasn’t going to be all right. Laura was sitting on the edge of the sofa, still dressed in her work clothes. She had a calm expression on her face, although she sat stiffly. His purchase rested on the coffee table in front of her.
He forced a smile and tried to keep his voice light and happy. “Hey. Sorry I’m late, Ian gave me some—”
She pointed to the box on the table. “What’s this?” Her voice had a hard edge to it.
“It’s nothing, really. Just something I bought for—”
“When we talked about it last time, you promised you would give it up. For me. For us. That you’d get rid of your childish habits and stop playing silly games. You agreed that you would put it behind you.”
He looked at the boxed chess set. He had paid a lot of money for it. The pieces were Swarovski crystal with flecks of red or white marble in the tops, and the board was made of etched glass with intricate patterns around the outside. He had stumbled across it online by accident and been captivated by its beauty. The plan had been to keep it hidden at work, so she wouldn’t find out about it.
So much for that plan.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t buy it to play, I swear. I thought the set looked pretty, so I got it to—”
“James, it’s still a chess set!”
He stared at his feet. “I’m sorry.”
“How many times do I have to tell you, James? We’ve been over this before. Chess is a game. Only children and pathetic no-hopers play games.” Laura stood and put her hand gently on his cheek, her voice softening. “You’re twenty-four now, an adult, soon to be married to a wonderful woman who wants only the best for you. It’s time to grow up and act your age. I know growing up can be hard sometimes, and we have to give up the things we loved when we were kids, but as an adult, we get lots of new fun things to do. You’ll do this little thing for your fiancée, won’t you?”