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On The Pitch

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I’ve never seen someone move like Baz Pitch. 

It’s unnatural, the way he speeds down the field, the ball flying between his feet. His footwork is superhuman. You can tell when he’s about to break away; his shoulders tense, and he holds himself at an angle, and then he’s gone. Streaking across the pitch, dribbling the ball toward the opposite goal, his hair streaming behind him. And then he pulls in on himself, just before the final kick, and when he lets loose there’s no one who can stop the ball from finding its home in the net.

I hate him for it.

We’re opposites. He’s grace, I’m brute force. He never loses possession of the ball, and I’m constantly stealing it from other player’s clutches. I pass and he receives, and then we separate again. He’s offence and I’m defence. He always wears long sleeved shirts, the sleeves pushed up just to his forearms. His uniform always hangs off him cooly — his shirt billows against his wiry frame when he runs, his shorts slide up over his compression pants. I’m always bursting out of my jerseys — my arms don’t fit, my legs are like tree trunks, I’m always compressed and uncomfortable. 

Standing next to him, I feel like a clod.

Fourth year, when I was benched because of my broken foot from falling down the stairs — I still swear he did it — I spent pretty much every day just watching him. Studying the way he moved, how he looked down his crooked nose (I did that) at the other players. How he strode, strong and fucking imperious onto the pitch. How he would make direct eye contact with me each time he scored.

In the final match of that season he did a fucking bicycle kick. Everyone in the stands lost their mind. The boys crashed into him, a mess of limbs and jumping exclamations and they hoisted him high in the air, where he once again made direct eye contact with me and just laughed. I wanted to kill him. I was the one on the football scholarship, and he was the one who danced up and down the fucking field like he was in water.

Everything he did, he did with a sneer and a smirk, and it was always aimed to humiliate me.

“Why is the school paying for you to stand there like a cow, Snow? Cover your wing.”

I hated him.

“You’re supposed to cover me, not dance with me, Snow.”

I hated him.

“I could have flown to Ibiza in the time it took you to pass to me.”

I hated him.

It was impossible to play with him and live with him. He’s not a bad roommate, but he’s always there. Always watching, always judging. Always being fucking perfect.

I made his life hell, both because of the stairs and the bicycle kick. I refused to pass to him so he’d trip me during practice. Scrimmages would end early because we’d be at each other’s throats, shouting like lunatics, and it came to a head one day when he put a badger in the shower room with me and I had to climb the sink to stay away from it.

Coach locked us in a room together and said we couldn’t come out until we were friends or one of us was dead. 

I was pretty sure I was going to die that day.

We thawed though. Slowly. Even I had to admit the badger was funny. We started to work together at drills. We pushed all our animosity into our playing. 

We became pretty fucking unstoppable.

It’s weird, being someone’s best friend and top rival at the same time. We fight like hell on the field, but now we always have each other’s backs off of it. When I was failing biology, he pulled me through it, one insult and condescending flash card at a time. (“For Christ’s sake, you’re not as stupid as you look, just focus.”)

When the boys would push him too far about being chronically single, I’d step in.

“You lot are missing something extremely obvious,” I said, slinging my arm around his shoulder and leaning into the table conspiratorially. I felt Baz stiffen; by then I had figured out he was gay, but no one else had. 

“Baz is saving himself for marriage,” I said with a wink. From beside me, he relaxed and nodded to the group of boys laughing and heckling.

“It’s true,” he said, throwing me a sharp smile. “My body is a gift.”

But he’s such a mystery. 

At practice he‘s driven, direct, cool — snapping and prodding and ferocious when needed. Outside of practice he‘s silent. He studies, he plays violin, he keeps to himself. He’s in the library or on the pitch or in our room. He eats with the guys. But thats it.

Even after seven years, I still feel like I barely know him. Sure, I know he hides crisps under the bed, and I know something bad happened with his mum that he won’t talk about. I know he’s gay, though he’s never said it, and I know he’s terrified of not living up to expectations.

But I don’t know what he wants. I don’t know what he dreams. I don’t know what brings him happiness when he closes his eyes at night.

That’s why I love him when he drinks. 

I know that sounds awful, but I always forget how inspirational drunk Baz is.

A handful of times each year he’ll go to a party and fill his year’s quota of social interaction — usually after a big win. He’d typically stand around at the corners, talking privately with people and helping usher the drunk underclassmen back before he gets sucked into a drinking game.

Baz with a few drinks in him is eloquent and ferocious. He glows from within. It’s like all the untapped passion within him bursts out and he’s all angles and smoke and fiery speeches.

I remember the one he gave sixth year, when he was made captain. The party was for him — it was mental, a captain that young, but he was the best. He is the best.

We’d jumped him and dragged him out, so he was at the party in a jumper and his training trousers, his hair damp from the shower and wearing Nike sandals. Everyone howled when we brought him in, blindfolded and cursing, threatening to tear our throats out.

But then he got shitfaced and stood on a table and delivered the most rousing speech I’ve ever heard.

“We’re not only the best weighted, best disciplined, most goddamn gorgeous team in England,” he paused as we all shouted and stamped our feet, “we’re also going to be champions. You know why, lads?”

He’d kicked off his shoes before getting on the table, and his tall, willowy build was swaying with righteous energy. 

“I’ll tell you why. Because we’ve got a monster of a forward,” (cheers for Dev), “the best fucking defensive line I’ve ever seen,” (more shouts) “and this handsome fuck, who has made our goalkeeper the most useless twat in the world!” 

He pointed right at me when he said that. Spat out the “handsome fuck” and gave me a lupine grin, and I blushed even as my mates slapped me on the back.

“And you have a captain who is going to beat your lazy arses into shape until we are a devastating force of destruction!”

He ended in a chorus of cheers that turned into the Watford fight song, and he shouted along the words from his perch above us, looking down on his team like a benevolent yet fickle god.

I hope he gives another speech tonight. We destroyed the team from Birmingham, and we’re celebrating. He’s shitfaced — well and truly pissed, but then again, so am I. I keep expecting him to take his spot on the table, to rouse us with some impassioned monologue, but instead he sticks to the corner sofa where I’ve been camped out.

“What are your summer plans?” I ask him. He sighs, shifts, and drapes an arm across the back of the sofa behind my shoulders.

“I’m going to sleep,” he mutters. I laugh — too loudly, I’m always too loud when drunk — and lean back. It’s always like this with us — all physical touch and dry comments.

“Can I join?” I joke. I see the corner of his mouth quirk up. What goes on in his head? I wish I knew what he was thinking.

“Listen, I’m doing a summer clinic,” he says, just as I start to say, “Would you want to—“ and we both stop.

“You first,” I breathe. He turns his head to look at me.

“Would you want to come to Hampshire and run the clinic with me?” he asks. Then pauses. Like he’s…nervous? I feel my stomach thudding through me. 

“Why not Dev? Or Niall? I’m the most shit on the team, you know that,” I say.

Baz tilts his head to the side. 

“No you’re not. You’re the best after me,” he says, so entirely honest and earnest that it kills me. I blush. I don’t know why; I know I’m decent. Just something about hearing him say it, finally, fills me.

“Snow,” he starts. He’s leaning forward, his dark eyes narrowed and intense.

“Do you really think you’re worst on the team?”

I shrug. 

“Snow,” he says again. “You’re brilliant. You’re brute strength. You’re an unstoppable force of chaos. I want you there. Come to Hampshire, we’ll make a summer of it.”

I feel myself grinning, glowing a bit. 

“Will your family mind?” He shakes his head.

“Why would they? You’re my best mate.”

He’s right. It’s weird that they haven’t met me.

“You’re not better than me,” I say, a cheeky grin building. “One on one, you’re not better.”

He’s ramrod straight suddenly as he grabs another shot and downs it. Christ, he drinks like a fish when he gets going.

“You, me, pitch.”

“Yes, you’re Pitch,” I say giddily. He glares at me and slaps me lightly across the face.

“This is serious business, Snow, button the fuck up.”

I expect him to stand and deliver some kind of rallying cry, some invitation to watch our showdown of the ages, but instead he just marches silently from the party, and I follow. I notice he has a bottle of whisky in his hand.

It’s a short walk from the dorm we’ve been partying in to the pitch, and it’s getting cold. Not even my protective layer of alcohol can keep the chill off.

We get to the grass and Baz kicks off his shoes, rolls up his shirt sleeves, then turns to me.

“I’m going to annihilate you, Snow,” he says menacingly. I pause.

“Uh…Baz,” I say. “We don’t have a ball.”

He blinks.

“We don’t have a ball,” he echoes. Then, with a grunt, he throws the whisky bottle aside. I think he’s going to sit down but suddenly he’s charging, running full speed at me and he hits me square in my gut, wrapping his arms around me and taking me down hard.

“What the fuck,” I wheeze. “This isn’t rugby.” I can feel him laughing on top of me.

“You cracked my rib,” I wheeze again, and he sits up and pulls his hair out of his eyes. 

“What are you, French? Stop bitching, you’re fine.”

I pull myself into a sitting position, and stare at him as I tuck my knees into my chest.

“You’re a weird drunk,” I say. He raises an eyebrow, and I shrug before I continue. “You’re so straightlaced all the time, but then you drink and it’s like this inner Baz comes out. This bloke who’s all fire and passion and you stop thinking and just do.”

“Is that a good thing?” he asks quietly. I nod.

“I fucking love drunk Baz. I live for your movie speeches and weird antics.”

“You’re cracked,” he says. But he smiles, and leans in. “Tell me more. What else do you love about me.”

It’s not a question, it’s a demand. I flush from my head to my toes, but there’s something about the chill in the air and his dark, quick eyes that are so close and demanding, and so I answer. I’ll blame this on the liquor later.

“You’re brilliant on the field. The way you move. And you’re the smartest person I know but you’re so fucking mysterious. I can never figure out what you want.”

He chuffs slightly, his cheeks puffing out.

“I’m not mysterious. I’m extremely transparent.”

I go to ask him about what, to question him further, but he’s leaned in and closed the distance between us to run his thumb along my lip.

“What do you want, Simon?” he breathes. And I don’t even hesitate, not for a moment, before saying:

“You.”

Of course I want him. I’ve watched him for seven years, I’ve studied him, I’ve gotten to know him. No one is like him. Of course I want him.

He’s on me in the blink of an eye, crashing into me, his angular nose nearly taking my eye out, our teeth clashing and lips scraping and I can taste the whisky on his tongue. 

I fall back onto the wet grass and let him kiss me. He’s as ferocious at kissing as he is at kicking, and when he breaks away for a moment I see his shoulders hunch as he prepares to go back in for the kill.

It’s more violent than we’ve ever been on the pitch.

Finally we slow and manage to stumble, drunk on whisky and each other’s lips, back to our room, where we start up again and wake up the next morning with ringing heads and swollen lips. I think he’s still asleep when I wake up, his olive skin basking in the early morning sun, his lips slightly parted. I stay in his embrace and just watch him for a moment, before I pull myself out of his bed and search for my vest. 

“If you want to forget that happened, I’ll let you,” he says quietly from behind me. I freeze.

Do I want to forget? Do I want to erase the dewy smell of dirt and the feeling of wet grass on my back, of Baz’s low laughter, the taste of sweat and whisky and the chilling trail of his whispering kisses on my neck, the sound of—

No.

I turn back to him and look in his eyes. Grey and hooded. Puffy from liquor. Uncertain. He’s wearing my training trackies, and they’re too big on him.
How does someone manage to look so perfect all the time?

I grab his sweatshirt from the end of the bed, his Watford one with his name and number on the back, and pull it over my head.

“I don’t want to forget,” I say, leaning back into him. I can’t stop smiling. “I want to fucking shout it.”

He smiles — a pure, true smile, free of angles and bad decisions, and I feel like I’m falling down the stairs again. I don’t know how this has happened, or what in my life I’ve done to deserve the look he’s giving me right now.

“There’s no need for that,” he drawls, grabbing the front of his hoodie and dragging me in closer. His mouth is sticky and he tastes like morning breath and I want to dive into him. My lungs expand and heat like I’ve just run five kilometres. 

“I’m wearing this to breakfast, unless you don’t want me to,” I say. I push a strand of hair from his face and hold my breath. I don’t want to forget, but maybe he does.

“Let’s go then,” he says, kissing me once more at the corner of my mouth. “You can’t function without food.”

He rolls out of bed and stretches — fuck, he’s graceful — and grabs a jacket and shoes before we head out the door. I pause at the top of the stairs and watch him jog down the first flight, his hair bouncing slightly, his legs carrying him quickly, and then he turns and glares at me.

“Simon. Come on,” he snaps, then takes the next flight. I follow, slowly, never taking my eyes from him.

No one moves like Baz Pitch.