“How could you?!?” My voice cracked at the top of my shriek, piercing both of our eardrums. I didn’t mind. It could have been the wail of a banshee for all I was concerned. Only a day ago I’d have put myself in front of a car to save him. Now I’d have taken pleasure in watching his body convulse and writhe.Â
“Look Rachel, I can explainâ€””
I cut him off. “There is no explaining!” I knew my face was growing flustered with shades of anger as I yelled, but I didn’t care. Sometimes it was right to let your temper control you.
He reached to my face to help catch the stream of tears that were mixing with dripping mascara. I slapped his hand down. For once, I wanted to feel these roll off my face and hit the floor.
I retracted my throbbing palm, pointed my finger directly at him and repeated myself with a snarl: “There. Is. No. Explaining!” I felt my throat grow tight and took a moment to swallow. “You cheated on me. It’s over!”
I heard an unnatural quiet. The air parted as my pointed finger wobbled back and forth. The goldfish in the bowl rose to the top and then re-submerged, making a muffled splash. The hum of the refrigerator cut in and out like a fading whimper. His teeth clicked together as he clenched them. The bushes outside the window rustled. And finally, my tears hit the floor and burst with a lively plop.
I didn’t want to believe it. But there was hard evidence. Miranda had sent me a video from down at the docks. His arm around her. Her lips on his. It was cut and dry, open and shut. And I had no tolerance for it.
“What did you think was going to happen, huh?!? You thought I wouldn’t find out? Is this all three years is worth to you?”
“I know you’re upset, but please calm down and listen. It was an accident, there’s moreâ€””
“No!” I paused to shake my head and clasp my hands. “Trusting you was the only accident here.”
“I made a mistake, but it’s not what you think. I still want to be with you. Just let me explain.”
“Explain? And by explain, do you really mean lie? So then, you can lie to me again in the future? No thanks. I told you when we started, you cheat, and you’re done.” I searched for some comparison. Something I could relate to right now. “It’s like that Taylor Swift song â€˜Should’ve Said No.’ There’s always a moment you could have said no. It’s never accidental.”
He stared at me, his mouth with a sudden lack of words, but his trembling eyes providing plenty. I paused and looked around as I let my body soak in the image one last time.
The patch of the ceiling that was discolored and slightly uneven from the time we painted over a stain from an erupting wine bottle. The poorly done painting of a clown that we put up only so we could laugh at it. The stack of Magic cards sitting on the countertop I had drawn numbers on to create a makeshift a poker deck.
I looked at him once more. “I still love you… No, I still love the idea of being in love with you. It’s too bad you couldn’t have said no.” I turned my back and moved toward the door. If he said anything, I missed it. I had stopped listening to his voice.
“Just remember,” I said, “it’s all your fault.”
“Players, pairings for round eight have been posted. Please find your seats!”
I braved the Magic mosh pit and found my name on the paper tacked to the wall. Table six. I hustled back through the swarming PTQ crowd to find my place among them.
I took out my Scars of Mirrodin playmat along with my deck and began to shuffle. I looked around as the crowd thinned. Where was my opponent? Finally, with seconds left before the beginning of the round, he appeared.Â Â
“Hey,” I said, outstretching my hand. “Nice to meet you.”
He nodded and grabbed my hand for a light shake, as if it was a formality he was forced into doing. He sat down and locked his eyes on mine. “Record?” he asked.
That’s a peculiar question… I thought back to the rest of the day, working out my record. “I’m pretty sure I have two losses.”
“Thought so,” he said. “I’m X-1. Will you concede to me?”
I crinkled my nose and gave him a look that was a mix between confusion and repulsion. Was he joking with me? Why would I forfeit a match to him? “Uh, what? No.”
“Since winning this tournament is the goal, having you win doesn’t help either of us. Me winning this match does.”
Huh? Maybe he doesn’t know there are other prizes too. “There are prizes for people other than first. 9th through 16th gets nine packs.
“I don’t care about packs.”
“Well, I do.”
I looked over and watched his teeth clench, clearly frustrated. It was like he wanted to say something, but couldn’t. I wondered if he was holding in a yell at me.
My mind reconsidered the situation. In sports, games, and even the workplace, people had to earn their victories. Magic was no differentâ€”I wasn’t just going to give him a free win.
He finally broke the silence.
“It is beneficial for you to concede here.”
I stood firm. “Why?”
More clenching of teeth. It seemed pretty clear now that he was mad at me. If there was ever a shot of me conceding the match before, it was gone now.
“I don’t believe in just lying down,” I told him. “You have to earn your wins. I just want to play; beat me and you deserve it.” Â
“There’s no reason for us to play. It’s clear cut who can make it!”
“Nope, let’s play.”
“Look, I’ll explain more later, but please concede.”
“Nope, let’s play.”
“I’d do the same for you!”
“Nope, let’s play.”
“Listen, I really want this Pro Tour qualification. I’ve already been to one this year, and it would mean a lot to me to go again.”
“Please start playing.”
“Look, it’s veryâ€””
“Okay, okay, fine fine. Let’s start playing.”
He finished shuffling his deck and presented. “So if the game is going to be a draw, will you at least concede then?”
I shot him a stern look.
“Hey man, no worries, lighten up! We can talk about that if we get there.”
“How could you?!?” She shrieked at me, baring her teeth. This was bad. This was very, very bad. I don’t think I had ever seen her as angry. There wasn’t much I could say, and I didn’t want to lie. I had always been truthful with her, and this was no exception. It needed to be the truth.
“Look Rachel, I can explainâ€””
“There is no explaining!” she hissed back.
Starting what I wanted to say was easy. Telling her, â€˜yes this photograph is real,’ was a pinch. I should have expected getting the rest of it out was going to be much harder.
Okay, mental note in case this ever came up again in our future: don’t say what she wants to incriminate you with before you make your point.
Of course, that assumed we had a future anyway. It might not be a salvageable situation. I’d at least have to keep it in mind for future relationships. In any case, that was certainly a misplay. I was X-1 now and had to play tight. I couldn’t afford to take another loss.
It was time for a new way to attack this situation. Maybe if I showed I still cared about her instead of used words. Let’s see… Is she crying? I looked up. Just as I expected, tears were rolling over her red cheeks. I reached my hands for her cheek.
I retracted my hand, now red and throbbing. All right, so X-2 now. Let’s hope this is a GP. I tried thinking of something to be my next move, but if she wasn’t going to let me talk it was going to be hard to convey what I needed to.
I looked back up and met her gaze. She stuck her finger straight ahead, pointing at me as if I were a witch in Salem “There. Is. No. Explaining! You cheated on me. It’s over!”
For a moment, things grew quiet. I had no idea how I was going to get myself out of this one. I looked at her, but her eyes were shut. I looked toward the window, but my reflection was distorted. Then I clenched my teeth as I saw the bushes just the windowsill rustle and caught a glimpse of flesh. Bethany was watching?
I thought back to the docks. About the way the wind whips around your head so loud you can only hear half the words people say, and how the rest of the chatter is drowned out by the seagulls.
I thought about Bethany. I thought about our times together, about how we had accidently met, and then accidently met again and again, each of us tipping Fate’s hand until the accidents were anything but. I didn’t understand her talk of mathematics, and she didn’t understand my talk of Magic, but together we interchanged pieces of the language until calculations and creatures entwined.
I was taken. She was single. I wanted a friend. She wanted something more. I didn’t kiss her. She kissed me. It was seconds, maybe a minute at most. But in today’s age of smartphones and friend networks, it might as well have been an invitation addressed to everyone.
The truth is I enjoyed the kiss. How couldn’t I? It wasn’t like I wasn’t attracted. I just wasn’t interested. I told her, never again. All of this happening is directly her fault for breaking our friendship boundaries. We needed to be friends, not lovers. But the way things were looking, I might be the one to break that rule next time.
She finally piped up, her voice still piercing. “What did you think was going to happen, huh?!? You thought I wouldn’t find out? Is this all three years is worth to you?”
I got the feeling my words weren’t going to help. I at least had to try.
“I know you’re upset,” I began, “but please calm down and listen. It was an accident, there’s moreâ€””
“No!” She yelled again, shaking her head and putting her hands together. “Trusting you was the only accident here.”
Ouch! That was a zinger. Such a shallow remark, and yet, it stung so deep. I looked out the window, toward the hiding spot in the bushes. Can I even win this? Should I just start brand new? I considered the implications of swinging the conversation to sink this relationship and bolster the one on the horizon with Bethany instead. Was that the match? Should I just concede now? My mind raced. No. I’m not going to give up now; it’s always right to play it out. If only she would listen to me! Why won’t she listen?
I took a breath and tried once more. “I made a mistake, but it’s not what you think. I still want to be with you. Just let me explain.”
“Explain? And by explain, do you really mean lie? So then, you can lie to me again in the future? No thanks. I told you when we started, you cheat and you’re done.”
She paused, and for a moment I clung to the hope she was going to reconsider. That she was going to think on it and at least hear it out. I held quiet, waiting for her reply to finish.
“It’s like that Taylor Swift song â€˜Should’ve Said No.’ There’s always a moment you could have said no. It’s never accidental.”
My eyes shook at her reply. I stared at her, trying to figure out if she was for real. Did she just quote me Taylor Swift as part of her breakup speech? Is this actually happening? Seriously?
Rachel looked back at me once more. “I still love you,” she began, making firm eye contact. “No,” she continued, “I still love the idea of being in love with you. It’s too bad you couldn’t have said no.”
My thoughts retreated, searching for a specific memory. I didn’t think of my first date with Rachel. I didn’t think of the first time I ran into the girl I would later know as Bethany. I didn’t think of any of the gifts I had been given, arguments we had, or games I had lost. My mind didn’t even touch those.
Instead, my mind went back to a Shards of Alara Sealed PTQ. It was the last round, and I was playing for Top 8. My opponent cast a lethal Cruel Ultimatum. I tapped my Obelisk of Bant, a Mountain, and a Forest to cast a Spell Snip that was only ever meant to be cycled. Instead of being furious, my opponent broke out in a grin. “Couldn’t play around that one,” he told me. “There was nothing I could do.”
I jolted my head back up just in time to see Rachel put her hand on the doorknob.
“Just remember,” she said, “it’s all your fault.”
I hurried over to the table. “How can I help you gentlemen?” The player who summoned me motioned behind him with a jerk of his bald head. I watched as he grabbed his hand and stepped out from his chair.
I had an idea what this was about from the moment he called me over. You got used to all the clues after a day on the floor. A quick glance at the board revealed a rather boring game state, and the hurried way he leapt up from the table hinted toward his situation.
His words quickly confirmed what I had suspected. “I just grabbed my hand to make my opponent think we’re talking about something. Play along. Anyway, I think my opponent is slow playing me. I was paired down, and if he draws this round he’s still in contention. I’m not. Please watch him closely.”
I nodded, pointing at an Island in his hand for good measure. “I’ll keep an eye on your match,” I assured him. Â
I watched as he climbed back over to his seat and settled in his chair. I followed him back, using the opportunity to award extra time for a ruling as a vehicle for surveying the game. Both players were sitting back on a huddled mass of Islands and other nonbasics. With time winding down, there was no end in sight.
Untap, upkeep, draw, flick, flick, flick… I switched sides of the table to be behind the player I had been asked to watch. I started to count. One, two, three… The bald player looked up at me and locked eyes, as if to say, “Do something already!” I had no reason to step in yet.
Eleven, twelve, thirteen… Eighteen I decided was arbitrarily going to be the cutoff. If it got to 18, I was going to step in. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen… “Go,” said the player in question.
The bald player reached for his top card, shooting me a look on the way to his draw step. He slammed down another land and passed the turn. I started counting again. One, two, three…
This time I was going to shorten my clock a little considering last turn. I’d step in at fourteen seconds. At only six seconds the bald player made eye contact again. At ten seconds he rose his eyebrows as if to say, “seriously?” At twelve seconds, the player I was watching cast a spell and passed the turn.
I knew I couldn’t watch this match forever. I had been assigned to grab new printer cartridges from across the room by the head judge, and I needed to get those to him before the next round. As the bald player untapped, I craned my next and caught the eye of another judge, pulling him over and tagging him in. I needed to go find those cartridges or the next round would be delayed.
Several minutes later I finished digging through crates for the famed cartridges we needed, eventually finding them and heading back. On my way back, I passed the table where the match I was watching had just concluded. The bald player was still sitting there with his friend, and they were having a conversation just loud enough that I caught a piece of it as I passed by.
“Yeah, that first judge was so awful,” said the bald one. “He should have called slow play at least two or three times. And then did you see how he didn’t even care enough that he handed it off to another player? I can’t believe how useless the judges around here are.”
“How could you?!?”
I nearly dropped the groceries I was holding to cover my ears from the noise of her comment. I couldn’t believe what was going on. How did this happen? I left his house for maybe ten minutes so I could run and get groceries to make a cake, and she shows up. And from the looks of things, she knows what happened.
I saw them through the window as I walked up and retreated over to the side for a better view. Now would be a bad time for me to just burst in. I didn’t want to get in the middle of this or even risk being physically harmed. Rachel sounded like she had some issues, y’know? Who knows what she’d do?
The bottom line is, she doesn’t deserve him. If she cared at all, she would have already known about me. In fact, she would have probably met me. Given me the “girl to girl” talk. Told me to stay away from her man. If she cared, she would have asked her boyfriend what he was up to all day. Who he hung out with in his spare time. Why he had already seen a brand new movie. But no. From what I had been told, the conversation was always about her.Â
I heard him plead through the window. “Look Rachel, I can explain.” I snorted as she promptly cut him off. Yeah buddy, you really think she’s going to want to listen to you right now?
“You cheated on me. It’s over!”
Was it really cheating? I knew he had a girlfriend. We had talked about it. And yet, he was spending more time with me than with her. Those are some mixed signals if I ever saw them. I went for the kiss and was promptly rebuffed. He didn’t do anything wrong. If something needed to change, it was Rachel’s lack of attention. This “cheating” episode was caused by her, whether she wanted to believe it or not.
I unclenched my fists to relieve my frustration, and my grocery bag dropped out of my hand, shaking the bushes and drawing attention to myself. I dropped down, hoping neither of them had seen or heard what just happened and began to gather my groceries.
My mind went back to the situation at hand. I mean seriously, if only she would listen to him. I mean, I’m not saying there weren’t some mixed signals on his end, but his intent was very clear. I paused to focus on inspecting a bag of flour that had cracked. Even with that said, I wanted this to happen, but not like this. I wanted him to eventually come to the realization he wanted me more than her. This is just uncalled for.
I stood up just in time to watch the final exchange.
“It’s too bad you couldn’t have said no,” Rachel said.
I watched as her back turned. For a moment I considered getting up, charging in, and forcing her to listen to the truth. I thought about being the heroine and risking life and limb to charge in there. My body froze. No, it’s not my place to interfere. I watched silently.
“Just remember,” Rachel said, “it’s all your fault.”
I pushed my creature forward. “Attack with my Wurmcoil Engine token.”
Travis looked up from underneath his baseball cap, first looking at the table judge, then me, giving a look that could only be read as, “Oh really?” The crowd of his friends behind him began to snicker. He slid his Tel-Jilad Fallen in front of my creature using only his index finger, moving it slow enough to draw the seconds of my mistake out. “Block.”
It might have felt better if I hadn’t made the same mistake three turns ago.
I shook my head and threw my 3/3 into the graveyard. You can’t be doing that! You just can’t be doing that. I looked at the pair of booster boxes sitting just to my right. Moreover, I looked at the envelope sitting on top, not blue as was rumored, but a perfectly bland white. I’d take the contents regardless, blue tint or no.
Travis knew how far ahead he was. He had every right to be dominating. I had heard his name before. He was the best player in the area and was hungry for an invite after falling off the Pro Tour.
He had his own personal cheerleading squad. I had nobody supporting me. He probably traveled for Magic every week. This was my first PTQ. He outplayed his deck opponents. I outopened my deck opponents.
And yet, here we were. The final two. He was mana screwed one game and then thoroughly beat me in game two on the back of scrappy infect creatures and tricks. Game three hadn’t gone great so far. He had the Spread the Sickness for my Elesh Norn, and my Wurmcoil Engine was thoroughly dismantled by a double block on his end, followed by a pair of poor attacks on mine. I had beat him down to just six life, but I could feel my chances slipping away.
I passed the turn.
He looked at the board, and I could tell he was processing it on a level I couldn’t even begin to. Despite his plush position, he wasn’t willing to give up any ground. He looked at the two mystery cards in my hand, and I could see his eyes roll through every card in the format. Finally, he settled on a play.
“Entomber Exarch, targeting you.”
I sighed and flopped down a hand of double Swamp. Travis looked up again. He smelled blood in the water.
“Grasp of Darkness your blocker. Attack, put you up to nine poison. Glistener Elf. Go.”
I knew I didn’t deserve to win this one. Still, it was a pretty good run for my first time. All those sealed deck events down at the shop had paid off. I was up a box of boosters, which is more than I had hoped for at the start of the day. It had been a very successful PTQ. I knew I’d be back soon enough.
“I think you got me,” I said, reaching for my top card.
I drew my card. I looked down at my lands. I looked at my opponent’s board. I checked the life totals. I looked at my opponent’s board again. I checked the life totals again. I tapped my mana.
My opponent went through the same visual dance I just had between the board, life totals, and back again. His friends behind him began to shake their heads in disgust. Travis flicked his remaining card back and forth, nodding his head. His nostrils flared.
Finally, he looked me straight in the eyes for the first time all match, showing a feeble half-smile. He extended his hand. “Couldn’t play around that one. Good luck on the Pro Tour!” Â
I threw my arms up in the air, fists clenched. “I did it!” Every exciting thing in my life up until that point waned compared to this. I was going to the Magic Pro Tour. It was everything I could have hoped for. I had to call my parents and all my friends. And just wait until the people at the local store heard about this one! I won a PTQ! I won a PTQ! I was going to make sure they all came to the next one. They could win one too!
This was incredible!