A curt trio of knocks smacked the hospital room’s door. Gabby looked up from her scattered newspaper, and lowered the financial pages to her blanket-covered lap.
The door opened, and a pair of loafers slapped the sterilized tiles.
“Mr. Anderson,” said Gabby, straightening against the puffed pillows.
He held up a wrinkled hand. “Don’t get up.”
“I have the reports here, if you wanted to go over them.” Gabby’s her heart thumped, creating a corresponding sprint on the monitor by her bedside.
A thin smile crept across Anderson’s withered lips. “Why else do you think I’m here?”
“I know, sir. I don’t mean to leave you stranded.”
Anderson halted a stride from the mattress, his suit as crisp as the bed’s tucked sheets even with the box nestled beneath his arm. Adjusting his gilded frames, he cast a bespeckled gaze over the illuminated equipment. “They’re taking care of you?”
“Yes,” said Gabby, “they’ve been very kind.”
“Do they know what it is?”
She blew out a frustrated breath. “They haven’t quite nailed it down I’m afraid.”
“Is this what hit you during the stockholder’s meeting?”
Gabby winced. Her stomach gurgled with the reminder of nauseous waves and scowling suits sitting around the meeting room’s table. “To a lesser degree, yes. I think so.”
“The health insurance is covering it?”
“As far as I know.”
Gabby drew a deep breath. “I don’t think I’ll be discharged before the meeting, however.”
Anderson frowned. “It’s that bad?”
Gabby clutched the newspaper, the crinkling underscoring her nod. “But I’d be happy to go over the figures.”
For a few heartbeats, Anderson drummed his fingers against the box beneath his arm. “Well then, we better discuss them now.”
The tension in Gabby waned. Folding the newspaper, and gathering the other sheets, she set the heap aside. “They’re in my briefcase.” She shifted on the mattress before a dizzying wave sent her sagging into the cushions. Closing her eyes, she fought for a deep breath. “Just…give me…a moment.”
“Take your time,” said Anderson, his voice drifting from across town.
The world swirled behind Gabby’s lids, and she clawed her fingers across the sheets.
“Should I call a doctor, Gabrielle?”
“No, sir.” Opening her eyes, Gabby forced a grin onto her lips. “If you could just get me my briefcase, I don’t think I can manage getting up right now.” She gestured toward the cabinet tucked in the corner.
Striding across the room, Anderson swapped the box tucked under his arm into the pit of the other, and opened the door.
“It’s at the bottom.”
Gabby grimaced as Anderson shoved aside her coat, and the suit she’d been wearing when admitted after her initial collapse. Hefting the mahogany case from the chest, Anderson closed the cabinet, and returned to her bed.
“Thank you,” said Gabby. She unclasped the latches, and dug inside as if after a Christmas present. Retrieving her tablet, she activated the screen with a single swipe. “You see here—”
Gabby glanced up at Anderson, towering above her like a wasted birch, and then to the lone chair tucked by the window. The metal frame and cushion contrasted with the massive, leatherback seat waiting behind Anderson’s office desk. Following her stare, Anderson pivoted and collected the seat, drawing it close to her side.
“I’m sorry sir,” said Gabby. “I’m sure I could ask them for something more comfortable.”
“It’s fine.” Anderson set the box on the bedside table, and leaned forward. “Go ahead.”
Gabby shifted, ensuring he had a clear view of the screen. Diving into the quarter’s numbers, she covered the new acquisitions, shares sold, and the influence of the rollercoaster market on the company’s investments. As she reached the final charts, however, her vision tunneled and she halted in order to catch her breath. Pressing a hand to her chest, she forced suddenly muddy air through her lips. Her arm trembled, and she lowered the tablet before it tumbled from her weakened grasp.
“Don’t push yourself, Gabrielle.”
“I’m…not. A…moment.” The room swirled, creating a kaleidoscope view of the cabinet, door, and Anderson’s deep wrinkled frown. Closing her eyes, Gabby fell back into the pillows.
At the edges of her consciousness she heard Anderson rise, and the door open. Hurried footsteps returned, and fiery hands touched her arms and throat. Plastic covered her mouth, and a crisp breeze brushed against her skin as a blur of voices chattered like static.
Like a window being opened, fresh air entered her lungs a moment later. Wilting into the cushions, Gabby gulped until her breathing steadied.
Opening her eyes, Gabby found Dr. Milton at her bedside, grim smile on his lips. She touched the plastic dome strapped over her mouth, and followed the cord to the tank beside the physician.
“What is this?” Her question echoed as if she shouted from the base of a well.
“Oxygen,” said Milton. He leaned over, and withdrew the mask with an unblinking stare. “Are you feeling all right?”
“We’ll keep it close, okay?”
“I’ll check back with you in an hour or two.” Milton patted her hand and pivoted. His turn revealed Anderson, hovering by the door.
“You can stay, but don’t let her push herself too hard,” said Milton.
“Yes, Doctor,” said Anderson.
Milton exited, and the clack of the door shutting lingered.
“I’m sorry,” said Gabby, her face flushing. “I can finish—”
“You’ve done enough,” said Anderson, coming back to her side. “Now it’s time to rest.”
“Rest?” Gabby chuckled. “I haven’t been able to do that for years.” She reached for the tablet lying on the bedside table, but Anderson placed a hand on her wrist.
“Try this instead.” He withdrew the box, set alongside the slumbering piece of technology.
Gabby accepted the box with both hands, wary of its weight and her own brittle strength. “What is it?”
Anderson drew the lone chair back and sat. “My grandfather gave it to me when I was a boy. I was hospitalized with pneumonia for weeks.”
“That sounds terrible.”
“This helped,” said Anderson. “Go on, open it.”
Gabby unlocked the box. Within, a tiled board glittered with squares of ivory and onyx.
“The pieces are inside.” Anderson lifted the lid, revealing the corresponding pawns through kings tucked in individual, velvet-padded squares.
“It’s beautiful,” said Gabby, reclaiming her breath. “But…I’m afraid I’ve never played before.”
Gabby shrugged. “I’ve never been one for games. My nose was always in the math problems or a calculator. I guess that’s why I can’t stop now.” She gave the newspaper a pat.
“I’ve never known you to back down from a challenge. I didn’t think you’d start now.”
Gabby grinned. “Are there rules?”
She searched beneath the lid, and then the storage space on the other side. “Where?”
“In here,” said Anderson, knocking his finger against his temple.
“Are you sure, sir? You have a busy schedule.”
His grin returned, this time wrinkling his cheeks and glittering in his eyes. “Why do you think I’m really here?”
Gabby blinked away an initial wave of confusion, and then met his steady gaze. “All right. How do we begin?”
With a satisfied nod, Anderson plucked the pieces and began assembling them into rows. Gabby watched intently as he set each into place and then explained how each moved across the board.
“Sounds simple enough.”
“Indeed.” Anderson shrugged off his suit coat and draped the garment on the bed. Waggling his fingers over the board, he set one pawn into motion.
Choosing her own piece, Gabby countered and the game began. At one point, Doctor Milton arrived. Without interruption he checked on her vitals and marked her chart, before departing again with a faint hush of his lab coat.
At the start of the fifth game, Gabby caught the noon chimes from the church across the street. The flag from her digital calendar sprang up in her thoughts.
“Sir, you’re going to be late.”
“They won’t start the meeting without the CEO,” said Anderson, placing his knight.
“Did you want to go over anything else?” She cast around for the tablet.
Anderson stood, and donned his suit coat. “I can handle them. You just worry about your next move.”
Gabby closed her gaping mouth, and followed Anderson as he exited. She stared at the door for a moment, before drifting into the pillows. Sliding the newspaper from the bedside table onto her lap, she gave the columns a glance before putting the sheets aside, in exchange for contemplating the remaining pieces on the sixty-four squares.