“YOU’RE IN THE STATES NOW! You have to watch at least one football game while you’re here.”
That’s what Liam had said when he tried to convince Darren to see his football match.
“You can be my good luck charm,” Liam had continued. “Don’t they have this thing with four-leaf clovers in Scotland?”
“That’s Ireland,” Darren had mumbled.
“Well, those are minor differences,” Liam had said. He had given Darren a big smile, and once again, Darren had noticed how white his teeth were. The guy could be a model for toothpaste commercials, for all he knew. “Can you come, please? It’s the first game of the season, and I really need my good luck charm.” He lowered his voice when he continued, “There are rumors that a scout from the Jaguars might watch the game.”
And although Darren had no idea who the Jaguars were or why they were important, he had said yes. That’s how he’d ended up here, watching a football match from the bleachers while Liam was running across the grass in a uniform that made him look even sportier than he already was. This was what Darren had always seen in those American high school movies: one school playing against the other, cheerleaders on the side, a cheering crowd, and guys who looked just like Liam on the field running after a weirdly shaped ball.
The only difference with those movies was that this seemed more fun in those movies. Now that Darren actually had to watch from the side without any knowledge of the sport or any friends to share the fun with, it was rather boring.
He sighed. So, this was the American life.
“With only five minutes until half-time, the Sharks will have to find a way to turn the tides if they still want to have a chance at winning the first game of the season against the Bulls,” a reporter over the speaker announced, who wasn’t as bothered by the deafening feedback squeal in the middle of his sentence as the crowd was. Everyone around Darren – Darren included – put their fingers to their ears at the same time.
The distraction caused Darren to lose sight of the ball for a second, but when a guy wearing a red shirt on the left side of the field jumped high in the air, his attention was immediately pulled towards the action, and he saw how the ball was caught by the guy. As soon as that happened, the same guy started running towards the other side, dodging opponents as he went. Darren wasn’t sure if it was Liam, but the guy was wearing the right shirt, and through his helmet, Darren could see a hint of a dark complexion similar to Liam’s, and for the sake of wanting to be proud of his host brother, he assumed it was.
A drone came whizzing past across the field, following Probably-Liam as he ran to the goal. Or the line. Darren wasn’t sure, but he knew that Liam probably had a purpose for running this fast in a specific direction, and the purpose – like in any sports – was winning the game. Although so far, the Bulls didn’t have any issues in that area: they were ahead of the other team with 18 points. Even to someone with minimal knowledge of American football – or no knowledge at all – that sounded like a lot.
The buzz of the drone became quieter until Darren could hardly hear it anymore as it moved away from him. He’d heard from supporters behind him, a woman who seemed to know as little about football as he did and who asked her companion everything that puzzled her, that the drone had a camera and that the game was being broadcasted on a local network. Although Darren was excited that his host brother and his team were getting some recognition through the broadcast, why someone would voluntarily watch this bewildered him.
“McCosta, the right!” the coach from the Bulls yelled from the sidelines.
Darren saw how the sprinting guy’s head turned ever so slightly to the right, then changed his direction to dodge another player he hadn’t seen until that point. So, that was McCosta – Liam McCosta.
Because he’d successfully avoided the last player in a blue shirt, he had a free pathway to score, and the audience already stood up in anticipation of that moment. It took only two seconds for all of them to start cheering loudly, deafening Darren when they did. And through the sea of bodies around him, blocking his view, he could see the cheerleaders standing up and doing a routine, and Liam’s teammates running up to him to give him a hug.
No, this was definitely not Darren’s scene.
However, Darren also didn’t want to disappoint his host brother by leaving after not having known him that long. He also knew that Liam was right: he should venture out into this new world. Now that he was on exchange for a year to the States, he should experience it to the fullest – and American football was a part of that. A small part, but a part nonetheless.
And the alternative was sitting at home, which wouldn’t be much better, so Darren accepted the fact that he would be sitting here for the next hour and decided to make the time more bearable the only way he knew how: by getting out his sketchbook. He flipped through the pages of old drawings: his twin sisters Keri and Brielle on one page, a picture of his family on holiday in London redrawn on the next, covers of women’s magazines further down, and a few quick sketches of different body postures. After that, he had about a hundred empty pages left. The first one he came across was the one he put his pencil down on.
Then came the next issue. As the crowd around him stood up collectively in anticipation for another move by the Bulls, Darren was pondering on what to draw. He tended to go for portraits, but he imagined the girl next to him wouldn’t appreciate it if he would randomly start studying her face and copying it onto the page.
Still, he couldn’t help but glance quickly in her direction. She was standing up, cheering loudly and laughing with – who Darren assumed to be – her friend next to her. Her light, almost white hair and pale skin made her an interesting figure to look at.
“Who are we even cheering for?” the girl yelled.
Another person who didn’t know anything about football. Darren should find solace in knowing he wasn’t the only one.
“The red ones, maybe?” was the answer the girl received from her friend. The girl shrugged and laughed at the stupidity of their conversation.
Darren zoned out of the conversation and the crowd around him, and focused on the sketchbook in front of him. He lightly sketched out a generic face shape that he used as the base for all of his portraits while he was still unsure of what to draw.
It’s in that moment that he heard a loud buzz. A wave of disappointment hit the crowd, and some of them sat down while others grabbed their stuff to walk away. It was half-time, Darren concluded. He looked out on the field, trying to find Liam, but the whole team had gotten together and they all looked identical in their uniforms that gave them wide shoulders and a sporty appearance.
On the screen, lots of hearts appeared, and the people that hadn’t left the bleachers to get a snack seemed to get excited in anticipation. Realizing he still hadn’t drawn a single thing like he had set out to do, Darren found himself captivated by the surprise of what was about to happen.
Then, two words appeared: KISS CAM. The hearts became the background for an image of a scene that was familiar to Darren: it was the bleachers he was sitting on right now. The camera had zoomed in on two people sitting a few rows in front of Darren, who were taken aback when they realized their faces were magnified on the big screen, but they soon realized what was expected of them. Even though both of them were far into their seventies, they leaned in and gave each other a kiss, the outstanding joy expressed on their faces with big smiles.
That was the inspiration Darren had needed. The few seconds the kiss cam gave him to study the two faces before moving onto another couple were put to use, and once they had disappeared from the screen, Darren started erasing the base he’d already put down and replacing it with two ovals that would, with a few hours of work, become the happy, old couple he’d just witnessed.
He’d quickly decided to leave out the tacky background with pink and red hearts, and instead chose to solely focus on their faces that were imprinted in his mind. Both of them had round faces, but while the man had small, blue-grey eyes, she had sparkling brown ones. Their wrinkles had mostly formed around their eyes, acting as reminders of all the smiles they’d shared over the years.
Darren started out the way he always did: he laid down some basic shapes on paper with thin lines. He put down the shape of the face, where the eyes and other features of the face would be, and the outline of the hair of both people. As much as he could remember was immortalized on paper, so he would still be able to continue the drawing when his memory wasn’t as accurate on the imprint he was trying to draw.
He lost himself in the activity to the point that he forgot he was working outside, on the bleachers, where he had been bored out of his skull just a few seconds ago. His sketchbook was doing exactly what he hoped it would do: it was an instant cure to the boredom he’d found in the game.
He turned the page, put a few strokes down, closed his eyes to recall the image of the two people kissing, and went on to sketch with renewed inspiration. As he worked from top to bottom, slowly adding in more and more details, he saw how the people came alive in the black and white granite of his pencil.
That is, until a big guy on his right poked him in the side. Darren had almost put a thick line down that would have ruined his piece, and he wanted to grumble at the possible destruction of his art, but instead of expressing his emotions, he turned to the nudging guy.
“Look,” was all he said. When he lifted his arm to point at something before him, he revealed a sweat stain underneath his armpit on his light grey shirt.
Darren looked. The big screen that he hadn’t looked at since the old couple had disappeared from it showed something else: a girl with light, almost white, long hair, pale skin and a bright yellow or green top, and a dazed-looking guy with light brown hair that had been subject to the wind’s games, giving it a messy and tousled look. His face was identical to the face that he saw in the mirror every morning.
That’s when it dawned on him: the guy on the screen was Darren. In all his confused glory.
Darren turned to look at the guy again, unsure of what to do. This time, the guy pointed at Darren’s left. “Go on,” he said. “This is your chance.”
Chance of what?
Slowly but surely he looked in the opposite direction, knowing what he would see there. It was the girl from the screen. The screen that said KISS CAM. Did that mean he was supposed to kiss her now?
She looked at him and raised her brows in an “I don’t know how we ended up here”-way, but she was laughing at the same time. Her friend on her left had her hands on her shoulders and made sure she had a good view of what was about to happen by leaning to the side. All around Darren and the girl, people turned to them in anticipation.
While time didn’t exist when Darren was working in his sketchbook, it seemed to slow down in this moment. The kiss cam didn’t leave them alone and around them, people started saying, “Kiss,” louder and louder, until the whole crowd joined in. Darren got a friendly pat on the back by the guy that had made him aware of the fact he was on the kiss cam in the first place, but all this time, Darren couldn’t move. He just looked at her. Kissing her wasn’t an option, he thought, but he didn’t see any other way to get out of this situation. Run? Hide under the bleachers? Just sit still and hope no one noticed him? I’m on a billboard-sized screen, there’s no way they won’t notice me.
“There we go,” the girl said then. She chuckled, scooched a little closer, and leaned in.
Before he could protest, she closed her eyes and her soft lips touched his. The whole crowd, including the guy in the grey shirt on Darren’s right and the girl’s friend on their left, burst out in energetic excitement. Darren still sat frozen.
He didn’t even have time to process it, because the kiss didn’t last more than a second. He pulled away in shock, and she opened her eyes again – while his had never been closed. When she saw that his bewildered facial expression hadn’t changed since she’d leaned in, her smile turned into a frown.
“A smile wouldn’t hurt,” she said in her silvery voice. “You just got kissed!”
He was too mesmerized by her big, blue eyes to respond, but his body relaxed. Maybe he shouldn’t make such a big deal out of it; she clearly didn’t mind having kissed a stranger. Perhaps this was all part of the American life that he had come to experience as an exchange student. This was all part of the adventure of living abroad.
When he still hadn’t answered her, being both paralyzed by her and the people around them that still hadn’t taken their eyes off them, she said, “Let’s do that again.”
He could only think of one thing that she could be getting at. She confirmed his suspicion before he had the time to think over what he should do, and this time, she held his head in her hands as a way of stopping him from moving away. There was nothing he could do except surrender.
Around them, the cheers of the mass of people swelled up with each millisecond passing. Darren felt his cheeks redden at the attention the crowd gave them, and in an attempt to shut the world around him out, he closed his eyes. He suddenly realized what was going on: he was kissing a girl – or actually, a girl was kissing him. He felt her hands on his cheeks and the grip she had on him while softly exploring his lips with hers. Even though he was forced into the situation, she wasn’t forceful in her actions. Rather, her touch on his lips was soft and gentle, and she moved slowly.
When the sketchbook that had been laying on his lap suddenly slid down and fell to the ground, he became aware of his frozen posture and the fact that she was doing all the work while he sat there, unmoved. He should be doing something, right? His hands just hung down his sides and his head was stiff, but suddenly, the urge to do something overwhelmed him. So, still unsure if it was the right thing, he relaxed his body and went along with the kiss. He leaned in, turned his head slightly and let his lips do the work in a way that seemed to go naturally.
She seemed surprised that he didn’t resist anymore, and it caused her to smile. The grip she had on his cheeks loosened somewhat and her smile separated their lips for a short second before she pulled him closer again.
If he would be asked how long the kiss lasted afterward, he wouldn’t be able to tell you the truth. Maybe it was three seconds, maybe it was ten. Whichever it was, time didn’t want to get in the way of this semi-magical moment and stopped for a while. Only when the girl’s lips slowly parted from his did the couple become aware of their surroundings again. While they had been able to shut out all sounds, the shouts wouldn’t be ignored any longer. Everyone was looking at the boy and the girl, even the football teams that had returned to the field to continue the game, and they were whooping at the sight of the second kiss that, without a doubt, overrode the first.
Darren’s cheeks flushed, but the girl wasn’t done yet. She turned to the crowd, grabbed Darren’s hand, and held their hands in the air. Victory, the gesture said.