Isaac was twelve and walking through the park the first time he saw the Game and its Player. The man was old and scary-looking to his young mind. But he was kindly and taught him the rules. It was fascinating, complex, and overwhelming. The Player coached him gently for over an hour. Isaac only stopped when he realized it was almost dinner time and he had to run to get home.

The next time was right before Isaac’s high school graduation. It had been long enough that he had nearly forgotten that afternoon. This time the Player was waiting in the parking lot as Isaac went to his car. After a brief bit of awkwardness, they fell into a conversation about the Game and it all came rushing back. Isaac was surprised how much he remembered. In fact, he even beat the player one out of five. Again, Isaac had to rush off for dinner plans with his friends.

The Player showed up more and more often in Isaac’s college years, hanging out on the quad or in the cafeteria. Nobody else but Isaac seemed to interest him. Every time they met, there was time for at least a game or two. And every time they met, Isaac felt that he was a little better. It was good to feel good at something, especially in a period of his life when so much felt so overwhelming.

When Isaac graduated college, the Player gifted him with his own copy of the Game, hand-made. Possibly by the Player himself. The Player promised he would still come to play some times, but that maybe he would enjoy teaching someone else. Isaac considered that on many occasions. It never felt quite right, though, sharing this private aspect of his life.

The Player did show up less and less. From weekly to monthly to yearly. On Isaac’s thirty-sixth birthday, they played one set of five. Isaac won three of them. The old man smiled and said he had to leave. That he wouldn’t be back – the Game would need to be played with someone else, or not at all.

Years passed. Isaac never forgot the Game, but never played it. He held onto it, taking it from the closet to dust it off and stare at it. There was never anyone worth sharing it with, though. Decades passed. Isaac was happy and sad, as most are, through his life. He never found a true love, but he found true friends. Just never anyone he could tell about the Game. He had stopped even thinking that was an option.

In his last days, Isaac retired to a small home on the coast, still alone. He prided himself on his independence. Many had told him that he would be better off with a caretaker or in an assisted space. He refused.

One night, as Isaac stared at the sunset, the Game in his lap, he felt his heart flutter and quake. His vision began to fade. He was content with his choices, though, and he did not fight it.

His last sight was of the Player, quietly packing up the Game in front of him, a sad smile on his face.

“Perhaps next time,” he said. Then all was dark.