“When I started playing with kids who actually cared about the sport, I found that having a life outside of activities might be moderately important. That’s saying a lot. I even had to force myself to stop mentioning football as soccer, because no one here ever says that. It’s only when you watch American commentary day in and day out that the word becomes ingrained in your head, just as tourists can get into some embarrassing situations by referring to pants when clothes shopping.”
My parents didn’t allow me to travel anywhere on my own until the day I turned sixteen. They said it was too dangerous for someone as unaware as I was, always with headphones on or watching a championship match. I have always had soccer. My parents didn’t even think I really cared about my social life until I wanted one. I guess I always put sports first, and my parents thought that was enough. The people I met at soccer when I was younger were never usually my age, and if they were, their personalities were usually a lot more competitive than mine. When I started playing with kids who actually cared about the sport, I found that having a life outside of activities might be moderately important. That’s saying a lot. I even had to force myself to stop mentioning football as soccer, because no one here ever says that. It’s only when you watch American commentary day in and day out that the word becomes ingrained in your head, just as tourists can get into some embarrassing situations by referring to pants when clothes shopping. Currently, I am walking along the streets near my house, clogged up blocks crowded with people. This city is full of shopping malls with sports stores, where high top sneakers are the hub for people spending money they don’t have, and girls practically getting drunk on new styles of lipstick.
My friend invited me to her boyfriend’s eighteenth birthday party in a bar within the heart of the city. My guess is that I look quite dysfunctional, no makeup, messy bun, Barcelona jersey (No it does not have the name Messi on the back), dirty white sneakers, and jeans. I’ve never been to this particular bar before, but no one ever cares if I’m not old enough to enter, as long as I don’t start a fight. I smile crookedly as I walk, sitting in the opposite corner of the room to my supposed friends. I take the time to watch as Kika Littlebrook is whispering to Maggie Stilton about this cute boy’s outfit (which I have to admit, is pretty cool). I see them pointing, and that’s enough to tell me about their petty conversations. What really catches my attention, however, is their mouths hovering over each other’s ears, talking to one another about how ugly the girl is that he took to the party. I don’t even need to hear what they are saying to see it in their eyes, to watch their expression grow all sharp and soft at the same time as he looks over his shoulder and winks. Art Jacobs is his name, I remember he was the first person to publicly kiss a girl in eighth grade. Ophelia Janson sits across the table from Magnus Reid. Staring at her nails as he starts talking about rugby statistics compared to football. The only reason she even came was because he invited her. The only reason he was invited was because he’s good at sports. What I’ve figured out is how that somehow ups the level of status of the person hosting this party.
“Viki.” Evelyn McNair is rolling her eyes at me from across the room, smirking as I slump over.
“Hey Ev.” Evelyn has gone to school with me practically since I could walk. We were even on the same soccer team for a while, before I got too good for her on-field dramatics. It’s her boyfriend’s birthday today, Romy James. He somehow rented out an entire bar for the occasion. God only knows the strings this guy’s parents pulled. He is also a Barcelona fan, though I don’t think he has watched a women’s soccer game in his life. I even had a crush on the jerk in fifth grade, though he made it known that that was never going to work out. He’s the type of boy that’s just dating Evelyn because of her pretty little sister, mind you Angelina’s only fourteen.
“Viktoria!” He yells, pulling me into a tight, mostly uncomfortable hug. My watch starts buzzing, telling me I have an hour to be out of this bar, and done with the whole thing. Romy’s hugs always make me feel like I should run away, that something is just wrong with the way he holds you. His arms always squeeze a bit too tight and his hands grip the top of your pants, no matter how low waisted they are. Tonight his breath smells distinctly of alcohol, his eyes glossy and his shirt color sweaty against my forehead.
“Don’t hug her like that!” Evelyn scolds. I feel Romy’s grip loosening, moving around to hug Evelyn from the back. “I’m your girlfriend, not her.” The way she says the sentence makes me tense all over again. It’s not even like Evelyn cares about my own well being. It was different when we were little, apparently, she would stand up for me. I didn’t usually even talk to her, let alone care what she thought. I guess she just felt obliged to be a nice person, though I never needed her help. When I got older, I signed with a semi-pro soccer team in the area. In a few years, I hope to play internationally. If not a dynamic personality, at least I have that.
“Ev!” Romy practically drags Evelyn out of the barstool she is sitting on. “My birthday, my choice of who to dance with!” Evelyn’s face goes from slightly uncomfortable, to genuinely excited. I hate watching her like this. Everything that defines her had now turned into the devil’s opinion of her naive soul. She twirls and dips, spinning into dizzying circles not bothered by the way Romy greedily stares at her silver necklace, or little sister when Evelyn is anywhere but a party setting.
As the night drags on further, the dancing gets more and more uncomfortable to watch. Romy has now set up his own girlfriend with another guy. Surprisingly, he doesn’t look like he’s had many drinks, standing by the barstool fidgeting with his car keys. I see him pulling up Barcelona statistics on his phone. The bright blue background of the screen flashing the familiar colors into his eyes. By the time the watch on my alarm sounds, I am the only one not dancing who is still sober. The smells of smoke and alcohol numbs all feelings in my nose. The familiar buzz of my phone vibrating makes me want to scream. I just wasted an hour of my time, in a place I hated, with people I don’t even like, for something I felt obliged to attend. Why did I feel I needed to attend? I honestly think that I just wanted someone to see that I cared. I really don’t care. I only cared about the kid who thought about other people other than herself and that stupid, immoral disaster of a boyfriend. I care about having friends who actually are nice to others, and not just me because I seem to help them out in some way. She’s the girl who plays soccer, she’s the girl with a high GPA. My emotions feel like they are about to go on overload like they sometimes do when I have an exam I haven’t studied for at 1:00 am on test day.
“Viki!” Evelyn yells at me when I start walking into the cold night air. The dark night wind flushes the redness and embarrassment into my face. I almost forgot I even heard her. “Viki!” Evelyn continues to run towards me, telling me things that were never true. She says that I hate her and that’s the reason I’m leaving.
“I don’t hate you!” I yell back through the bar door because I really don’t hate her. I just don’t want to deal with her. I don’t want to watch her melt further and further into someone she never was. I’m not due home for another hour, I just decided an hour was enough time not to seem like a bad friend. It wasn’t even her birthday party anyways, just some guy who pretends to love her.
“What do you want!” I snap. I feel my hair whip around into my face, making my mouth fill with strange, distasteful bile.
“Whoa, hold on there.” Romy looks plain. I never thought I would use that description of any person living in my city, but Romy, of all people, looks plain. His usual cocky expressive features have flattened into a straight line. His leather jacket has been taken off revealing a plain white t-shirt and jeans, and his previously gelled hair has been pushed down into a wet mop.
“S-sorry,” I don’t really know what else to say. I mean, I did yell at the wrong person, but even he knows he deserved it.
“You leaving already?”
“Yeah,” I say, my back facing his bland outfit. I have no idea where I want to walk, all I know is that I have to look convincing for him to let me be.
“Mind if I walk with you?” Leave it to eighteen-year-old boys to not understand anything relating to body language.
“Well, too bad.” I grind my teeth to stop me from hitting him squarely in the jaw. We walk in silence for a minute or so. I try to lose him, walking into large, crowded groups of people and slinking into hidden alleys. Romy’s never been a threat to my existence. I can handle him if I need too, that’s not my issue. What I really am nervous about is the fact that it’s always the girl’s issue when she hits a guy, even if he could be tried for stalking me. That’s the only reason I’m running right now. Well, that and the fact that I need a good reputation for anything I want to try when I get older. I even try climbing an emergency ladder. I feel my phone bounce in my zipped pocket as I climb. If I need it, my phone has a GPS as well as numerous calling mechanisms. No, this is not one of those stories where I suddenly have no WiFi. I have a data plan anyway. I finish climbing the ladder to an abandoned fourth story window, and sure enough, he’s right behind me. The cool night air makes my cheeks pink with cold, and red with annoyance. I sit down on the fence ledge, to make sure he doesn’t even get near me. My fists are clenched like claws across the outside metal bars. I don’t have a fear of heights.
“What is wrong with you!” I stop, frustration clouding my eyes with anger. I really just want to leave. Why won’t he let me leave? “You of all people, have decided to follow me, an antisocial, slightly reckless person, who would have given anything not to even be invited to your eighteenth birthday party!”
“Why did you even come?”
“Just stop talking. I know you, and you are going to start a sentence right now, that is not going to end for a solid thirty seconds, yet will still have no clear reasoning.” I wasn’t very good at words in the first place. This has just turned my tongue upside down in my mouth. It does not help matters when I suddenly realized that I am sitting on the ledge of a fire escape ladder, with a four-story drop below me, and a creepy guy in front of me.
“I guess I wasn’t as smart as I thought when I sat on a fence that is there for a reason, with a freaky dude in front of me who just chased me up a ladder.”
“Wipe that stupid smile off your stupid face or I will forcefully push you off this stupid balcony.”
“Then get out of my space!” I practically leap off of the fence to land right in front of him, making him stumble backward and grip the railing.
“I have nowhere to go either Viki. No place important anyways.”
“Either! I just attended your birthday party. You just left to follow me out of your birthday party. Apparently no one has decided to care enough to search for you at your birthday party. WHY ARE YOU EVEN HERE AT-”
“Viki, I get it. But think about it, do you really have anywhere to go? Do you really want to go home by yourself?”
I bite my lip to stop myself from yelling again. I don’t know why I yelled. I don’t usually unless I get into fights with my parents. It’s hard to know what to say to that. I was planning on texting my parents that I was going to walk around for a bit after maybe doing some math homework. Nah, there was no way I was ever going to do homework. Or maybe… I’ve never been the person to plan out what I am going to do. I know what I don’t want and that’s that. But right now, it doesn’t matter. I don’t understand enough about my own head right now to determine what I want. All I know is that I don’t want to know if I care or if I don’t.
“Why did you leave your party? I mean, I understand why I left but you-”
“I wasn’t enjoying it.”
My mouth forms a million questions all at once.
“Stop. Don’t ask me anything. I know what I look like and what vibe I give off and what my girlfriend loves me for, and what my friends care about. I’m not stupid.”
I raise my eyebrows. He has to know what he sounds like, some intelect who has just robbed a bank with no getaway car. Better yet, a forward by the name of Lionel Messi who thinks he’s the best player in the world when Lieke Martens exists.“You sure about that?”
His face looks solemn. A sad smile stretching across his face. I feel no pity whatsoever.
“You still haven’t answered my question. Forget that question! Why did you start chasing a girl out of your birthday party when you already have a girlfriend? Why did you make your girlfriend dance with Jackson Quinn?”
“I didn’t want to deal with it.”
“Okay Romy James. You have-”
“Okay fine! I don’t know what I’m doing here! I just wanted to talk to someone who I thought would understand.”
I don’t really know what he means by that. I know there is a lot I understand about the world in my own way, that most people really don’t get. I understand what it means to hurt, to cry, to feel deeply. I know what it means to live, and to feel failure wash away like a hurricane. There are no particular experiences that have even hinted to why I can comprehend the things I do at my age, it’s just who I am, and who I will be for my entire lifetime. I know who I am but for some reason, who I am doesn’t always feel right, and what I do with my time doesn’t always feel worthwhile.
“Okay,” I count to ten before speaking again, a trick from my third grade teacher who noticed I was good with words, but had so much to say it came out all at once. “Let’s start with the first part of your comments. What are we doing here?”
“I don’t really know, that’s why I asked you.” I was asking Romy to try and process his emotional outburst, but his brain seems to be running like a mouse on a hamster wheel.
“I’ll answer first and then we’ll see if you can follow the example.” I take a deep breath and make sure he is making eye contact before I begin. “On a basic level, I came here to run away from you. I wasn’t worried originally about heights, as I have no fear of heights. But, I realized when I climbed up here that maybe it wasn’t the best idea as you seem quite misogynistic, and similar to a stalker, not to mention your ability to shove me off the roof.”
“As I told you before, I know what people think of me.”
“One, you really don’t. And two, no interjections while the instructor is speaking please. Why do I have no fear of heights though? Why do I crave high places? I don’t like people a whole lot Romy, I hope your little brain would at least know that. I guess to me, it’s easier to try and understand others better, than for anyone else to understand me. High places allow me to escape, observe others, and feel at one with the world and city around me.” I make sure my expression challenges him to have a follow up.
“Well that was a mouthful.” He pauses uncertainly, biting his nails. “This isn’t going to come out the way my brain wants it to. Okay, I know that at least to you I’m a jerk. I was horrible to you in fifth grade, I made fun of you loads as we were growing up, and I just chased you out of my own party. Why you though? I guess you intrigue me in some ways. You always just seem so solitary, and… figured out. I know this is going to sound stupid but you always seem to have your head filled with thoughts of the future while for me, it hangs over like a black cloud ready to soak my present day body to the bone.”
I nod, looking him in the eye to make sure he understands I listened. The city noise rattles in the background of our conversation. I can still hear the bars and concert hubs down the street. It is always busy here, though the music of it is ringing in my ears no matter where I go. “I don’t think you need to understand everything yet. You don’t have to have it all planned out.”
“But I feel like I do. You know you do. You’re that girl who has it all, smart, sports phenom, pretty, and doesn’t need anyone aside from herself.”
“I guess I do, but what about after sports? After all of my passions have been lived out?”
“Then you’ll find new ones. That’s just who you are.”
I smile, and automatically feel embarrassed about it. “I am pretty distinct, aren’t I?” I look at him for a moment, and wonder how this weird, oddly sentimental, guy is having this sort of conversation with me. Me, Viktoria de Leon, the girl with shoulder length, dyed blonde hair and dark roots. The girl who looks like she has her life figured out and quite frankly does, in a different sense.
“It’s not so much figuring out your life, and more what you love. Figure out what you are passionate about, what makes you happy.” I can tell he is thinking about something only he knows after I stop talking. His face is diving into the deep late night light, to ponder my words. “For me, it’s different. I know what I love and what makes me happy, though I need to learn to love myself.” The words come out more of a whisper to me than anyone else. I don’t even think he’s listening anymore, staring out at the street lamps and down the block to the bar. I say it because I need to say it to someone. I need to have my words make sense to me in their own right.
We waited there for a minute or so, looking out at the blocks and feeling the night air across the back of our necks, enjoying the sounds of other people shouting, and other kids drinking the night away.
“I should go. You have pointed out to me numerous times throughout this conversation how strange I am for leaving my own party.”
“My opinion still stands.” I don’t leave my seat on the railing as Romy climbs down the ladders and onto the street.
“I like your Martens jersey!” He shouts from the ground. I let myself chuckle and wave back before hopping off the railing to take a seat on the floor and look through the metal bars. I have a feeling those are the last nice things he will say to me in a long while. It’s not like he’ll ever be mean again after this, but we are different people. It is more likely he will tell me nothing at all. We live different lives, and he has different friends and interests than I do. That’s just how it is, and I know it’s how it will always be. I do know one thing we have in common however, and that is our ability to persevere and grow along with the coming nights.