Updated: Oct 25
John hadn’t anticipated the number of people.
It was something he should have.
He was good at maths and had a gift with numbers, but still, it surprised him as he tried to keep up with Scott and his dad.
The sea of people parted for them, but elbows knocked into John’s side, and trainers crushed his toes. He kept close to Scott, hoping his confident stride would extend to him, but the deeper into the crowds, the stronger John’s desire to turn around and bolt grew.
John’s need to be around Scott had blinded him to the number of people in attendance, but as they stopped to be searched before entering the stadium, John spotted a sign that proudly stated the maximum capacity.
Sweat prickled John’s skin. It built under his armpits and ran between his shoulder blades. Too many people, and without Alex in his battering ram of a pushchair, John felt oddly exposed.
An irrational desire to grip Scott’s shirt at the back came and went. John kept his hands buried firmly in his jean pockets. He doubted Scott would appreciate him clinging onto him the whole game.
Breathe, just breathe.
He took a calming breath and glanced up at Scott. He stood a pillar of strength, unaffected by the sheer number of people and the swirling sea of sound that came with them.
If anything he soaked up the atmosphere. His blue eyes were bright, and he buzzed with an energy John hadn’t seen before. Everyone had the same gleam in their eyes. The same twitchy energy as they waited their turn to step through the scanner.
Everyone was also wearing blue.
The same shirts, in the same styles with the same logos and brands. The only difference came from what was on the back.
The number and name.
Scott's shirt had the surname Keane and a number eleven.
John had found a blue shirt in his closet and assumed it would be fine to wear, but he was the only person in a pale blue with no numbers, logos or names.
He stood out. He stood out more than if he’d chosen to wear a completely different colour. Gazes lingered on him and his poor imitation of a Chelsea shirt. Scott seemed to sense his unease and unwrapped his scarf from his neck.
He held it out to John. “Put it on.”
John wrapped it around his neck, and subtly sniffed in the scent of whatever aftershave Scott had dabbed all over his throat. It chipped away at the fear threatening to choke him.
Scott turned to him. “Excited?”
John didn’t want to dull any of Scott’s enthusiasm, so he nodded and forced a brief smile. The returning smile tickled his tummy, and he averted his gaze. Even with the thousands of people all around, grinning and laughing, Scott stood miles above.
“Scott, over here.”
His dad wrapped an arm around Scott’s shoulders and led him away from John.
John froze, wide-eyed and watchful. His heart sped up at the thought of Scott and his dad disappearing inside, leaving him outnumbered. The fans would find out he was a fraud. They’d shame him and turn into a baying mob, marching him away from the stadium.
Another deep breath and John managed to hold back his rising panic. He focused on Scott, the light in the dark. When he tucked his nose beneath the scarf, he breathed him deep into his lungs. It wasn’t normal. He knew his attachment towards Scott was odd, but with very little joy, and a whole lot of darkness, he clung to the only bright thing the world had given to him.
Scott and his dad posed in front of two photographers. His dad had an array of different smiles, but Scott only had one. He only needed one. The beam. It showed his excitement and joy. His dad’s smiles ranged from big toothy ones to a smile that only tweaked the edges of his mouth. The shots were shown to Scott’s dad, who gave them the thumbs up, dropped his smile, and uncurled his arm from around Scott’s shoulders.
Scott hurried back over. “Sorry about that.”
“Why did they take your picture?”
“Dad wants to be the conservative MP in our home town.” Scott shrugged. “Guess it makes him seem more down to earth. Are you sure you’re alright, you look pale, more pale than normal?”
“There’s a lot of people, that’s all.”
“The box won’t be this crowded.”
Scott lifted his chin. “Dad rented it out for us. Well, when I say us, I mean him and a load of business people, but we’ll be in there too and we don’t have to stay around them.”
“I thought this was your birthday present?”
“Dad’s killing two birds with one stone. Impressing a load of the rich and powerful, and keeping me happy.”
“Doesn’t he like the football too?”
Scott snorted. “You’re kidding right?”
“But he’s wearing the kit.”
He had the right kit. The right colour blue with the number, name and logo. He’d raised his eyebrow and muttered under his breath at John’s attempt to fit in before striding ahead.
“It’s an act.”
“He bought the shirt last week,” Scott whispered by John’s ear. “It still has the label on it.”
“Football isn’t his thing, he just wants people to think it is.”
“So, he’s popular with a whole range of people, not only the wine connoisseurs and the polo players, and the business owners.” Scott laughed. “I swear, he’ll be drinking beer and eating pork scratchings to fit in soon.”
“Why does he want to be an MP?”
“Fuck if I know. The whole thing sounds boring, sitting in parliament while they lie and scream at each other, but he’s got it in his head he wants to do it, so we’re along for the ride. Flick had to pose for photographs at her violin recital. He even set up a snap of him picking Albie up from nursery.”
“Set it up?”
“Yeah, he wants to come across as a proper family man, but it’s mum that does everything for us. Albie doesn’t even go to nursery. The whole thing is stupid.”
“Your dads a liar then.”
Darkness swept through Scott’s eyes. It didn’t belong there.
John hurried to expel it. “Sorry I—"
“Don’t apologise. You’re right. He is a liar.”
“Scott!” His dad called. “This way.”
It didn’t escape John that he’d only called for Scott and not him too. His gaze rarely fell on John and when it did, it quickly left him with a curl of annoyance on his face. John followed behind Scott, and the three of them ended up in the elevator.
"Excited for the game?" Scott’s dad asked.
John didn’t bother looking up, he knew the question wasn't for him.
Scott's smile dimmed. He nodded, but looked away from his father, instead choosing to fiddle with his phone. From John's position, he could see it was still on his lock screen.
"I invited Darren and his father."
Scott's head snapped up. "What?"
"Darren supports Chelsea too, remember?"
"But you said I could only invite one friend, and I picked John."
His father shrugged. "William is my friend, and I said there was plenty of room for Darren in the box."
The elevator doors opened, and Scott gaped as his dad strode out. He hurried to follow, but his dad didn’t lessen his stride. He pushed open the set of double doors at the end of the corridor.
Colourful Canapés and fizzling drinks decorated a long table that stretched the length of the room. There were seats, but everyone chose to stand, and they either wore a Chelsea shirt or a suit.
John clutched Scott’s scarf, rubbing his thumb back and forth over the fabric as he ignored all the eyes that latched onto him. They looked away again, but not without them expressing their disapproval.
“Hey!” Darren called, rushing over. He wore a Chelsea shirt too, and when he turned his back on John to show Scott the huge window, he saw the number and name on his back were the same as Scott’s. Keane. 11.
Darren jabbed his finger at the window. John stepped closer, focusing on the glint of silver on the stand in the middle of the pitch. The FA cup.
“In ninety minutes, that beauty will be ours.”
John frowned, running the numbers. “In 105 minutes, and that’s if they started playing right this second. You forgot about half-time.”
Darren stiffened, drawing his shoulders up high. John blinked, and for the first time realised Darren hadn’t noticed him. He had been hiding behind Scott after all.
“What are you doing here?” Darren addressed the question at the window.
“Scott invited me.”
“Oh boy,” Scott murmured, scratching the back of his head.
Darren turned around and looked at John. His brow folded as he studied his T-shirt, the pale blue plain T-shirt he’d thought would fit in. A sneer lifted Darren’s nose. “What the hell are you wearing?”
“Leave off,” Scott said. “He didn’t have a shirt.”
“He doesn’t have a shirt because he doesn’t support the team.” Darren shifted towards Scott. “What’s he even doing here?”
“Scott’s dad said he could only invite one friend, and he invited me.”
Scott’s cheeks turned red. He squeezed his eyes shut and muttered something under his breath.
“You invited him.” Darren snorted, digging his teeth into his bottom lip. “Him?”
“He hasn’t been to the football before.”
“John doesn’t like football. John doesn’t support Chelsea. John isn’t your best friend.”
“Get lost, Scott.”
He slunk to the opposite end of the window.
“Jesus John, why did you have to tell him that?”
“It was the truth. You could only invite one person, and you picked me.”
Scott sighed. “Yeah, but…”
“I never intended to hurt Darren.”
“What would you have said?”
Scott shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Yeah, you do, what would you have said? How would you have answered his question?”
Scott didn’t answer. He resumed fiddling with his phone, but John could see by the reflection in his eyes, it stayed on his lock screen.
“I think,” John swallowed the bile rising up his throat. “You would’ve said one of two things.”
“Number one. You would’ve told him, you were forced to invite me. By your mum or mine. You would’ve blamed the choice on someone else.”
“No, I wouldn’t—”
“Or number two. You would’ve said you didn’t invite him because you already knew he was coming with his father.”
The crimson in Scott’s cheeks intensified. He dropped his gaze to the floor.
“Either way, you would’ve lied.”
“Only to spare his feelings.
“You would’ve lied just like your father.”
Scott recoiled. He backed away, ending up in the centre of the huge window. His downcast eyes stayed glued to the floor, and his sun-like disposition dwindled. He dulled in front of John’s eyes, his enthusiasm, his smile, and the brightness of his gaze, all lessened as he stared blankly at his feet.
John shuffled from foot to foot, not knowing quite what to say. He took a step towards Scott, but his dad strode into view and blocked his path. He glanced at John, and through that single look, John felt the hate in his dad’s eyes. It hit him right in the chest, so obvious it made him jump and sent him away from Scott, not nearer. He pressed into the corner, eyes on the football pitch but not seeing anything.
John didn’t know who shouted it. He didn’t care. Over the next forty-five minutes, he pretended to watch the match while taking in everything in his peripheral. To his right, he saw a blank white wall, but the left side of his vision showed Scott’s dad, shuffling Scott closer to Darren and away from him.
It was so subtle, so slow, that he doubted Scott was aware of his dad’s tactics. He listened as Darren and Scott hissed in unison at a near miss, and when Chelsea finally sent a goal soaring to the back of the net, the two of them jumped up and down, clutching at each other.
Their excited chatter reached John’s ears. The recalling of past games, player stats, and scandals. The other games they'd gone to together.
John brushed away the tear clinging to his lashes. He shot a look back at the door, no longer blocked with everyone rushing toward the window to see the dramatic final minutes of the first half.
John slunk away, leaving Scott’s scarf on the table, and slipped from the room. No one lingered in the corridor and John managed to get to the elevator without anyone noticing he’d gone.
It stopped on the bottom floor, and he stumbled out, blinking against the sting in his eyes. The front of the stadium resembled a ghost town, with stray pieces of litter scraping against the pavement as the only sound. He could hear the roar of the crowds inside though, songs and chants he didn’t know, but imagined Scott and Darren would. If he closed his eyes and concentrated really hard, he thought he could hear them. Best friends.
Did that leave John as the worst friend?
The one that had upset Scott, and left his light dwindling. The one that was odd, and would never be classed as a normal person.
The vibration in his jean pocket startled him. He slipped his phone out and stared at the insistent flashes of Scott’s name. His heart sped up, but he didn’t answer. He kept the phone clutched in his hand, feeling Scott’s desperate calls.
John followed the signs for the station, darting looks at his phone every few minutes to see the missed calls stacking up. He couldn’t tell if Scott wanted to find him or to shout at him.
Where are you?
John heard the question asked in two different ways inside his head.
Concern and anger. One made his heart race, the other crushed it to a stop.
Pick up your phone, John. I’m really worried.
John slowed his stride and ran his thumb over the last few words. When his phone vibrated with a call, he answered it straight away and pressed it against his ear.
“I didn’t mean to ruin it.” He blurted. “Your birthday outing. I made you unhappy.”
“Where are you?”
John lifted his gaze to the station sign. “I’m going home.”
“What? John, where are you?”
“At the station.”
“Enjoy the rest of the match.”
“Don’t you dare hang up.” Scott’s breathing fizzled down the phone in persistent bursts. John frowned, whipping his eyes back and forth as he tried to work out why the phone kept hissing with static.
“What are you doing?” John asked.
“To catch you up, idiot. Apparently, we’ve got to do this like a dramatic movie….please don’t get on the train. I don’t think I’ll be able to keep up with it.” He heaved a breath. “Or I’ll trip on a shoelace or something, or some how fall in front of it.”
John spluttered out a laugh. “Go back inside the stadium.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Will happen with or without me watching. Me being present will not affect the result. Promise you won’t get on the train.”
John pressed his lips together in a firm line.
“Okay,” he whispered. “I won’t get on it.”
Instead, he leaned against the wall and listened while Scott panted down the phone. When he spotted him on the horizon, he couldn’t help but smile.
Scott skidded to a stop in front of him, panting for breath. He unhooked his scarf from around his neck, captured John and hauled him close enough he could smell the sweat on Scott’s skin.
He stiffened, but Scott soon let go.
“You’re gonna miss it.”
“Oh…is that the reason you came after me?”
Scott shook his head. “I came after you because you vanished, and I’d rather make sure you were all right, than watch the game.”
“I shouldn’t have said you were like your dad. You’re not.”
Scott shook his head. “I didn’t know Darren would be there. Three’s a crowd right?”
“Right,” John whispered.
“But the thing is, I didn’t want to be there with him. I wanted to hang out with you. This,” Scott grabbed the neck of his shirt. “Is second to that.”
“Why are you so nice to me?”
Scott widened his eyes. “I’m not—
“You are, and I don’t deserve it.”
“Hey,” Scott tugged one end of the scarf. “That’s the reason. You deserve to feel happy, and I could be wrong, I could have an inflated sense of ego, but I feel like you’re happy when we’re hanging out.”
John nodded. “Probably the happiest I’ve ever been.”
Scott beamed at him, and John took a moment to bask in his glow.
“Come on,” Scott said, leading the way.
“Where are we going?”
“To find a pub where we can watch the rest of the match.”
The one Scott found smelled of sweat and tension. They had to squeeze themselves inside, and the view of the TV was obscured by shirtless men with round beer bellies. John ended up in front of Scott, and he dared to lean his back against him. He closed his eyes at the warmth. Scott didn’t hold or clutch, but he stayed strong, undisturbed by the rowdy people inside the pub. He may have only been sixteen, but he stood as a solid wall protecting John's back.
The seconds on the clock ticked down.
Chelsea were on their way to extra time, another thirty minutes of oppressive tension, and stifling silence.
All until number eleven got his foot on the ball. Keane launched it at the net, and although the keeper got his hand to it, his strike was just too powerful and bent his wrist back.
The ball pushed out the back of the net, and the pub exploded in cheers, bouncing men, and flying beer.
Even John got swept up in the cheering and bouncing, and when he glanced back at Scott, dripping with beer with tears in his eyes, he’d never seen his smile so big before.
The final whistle blew.
Another cheer erupted.
John accepted the beer shoved into his hand, and Scott did the same.
They toasted, sloshing it over their hands before John had his first taste of beer.
He shuddered, pulling a matching scrunched-face expression with Scott.
John only needed one word to sum the drink up.
Chapter Seven: https://www.louisecollinswrites.com/post/the-sun-to-your-moon-7