There's a storm coming.
It rumbles north, incessant, deep; moans over the city, crawling over the landscape. Starved. It brings with it a guard of smoke and cloud, and rain tails close by - trails of silver thread. I don't doubt it will arrive here, soon. Storms are common, and although many curse the weather, I fall in love with it.
I fall in love with storms.
Holograms of pale blue and indigo that flicker before your eyes; holograms that appear and disappear and return in your head again and again. A bone structure holding up the sky. Scaffolding that falls and rises and falls, finally.
"Storm," Seiji says quietly, eyes staring upwards blindly. The specks of rain beginning to fall tumble over his nose and across his cheeks, resting on his eyelashes and dribbling over his lips. He shivers. "Big storm, coming."
I nod in agreement. "Will you play through it?"
Alistair replies, "Yeah," a flat smile follows, "You sure you don't want to play? If you stand still, you'll probably get wetter."
"Absolutely sure," I say icily. We continue walking in a pack, as if this will somehow shield us from the weather. It doesn't. Most of us are already feeling the cold seep through our t-shirts, slow and taunting. I don't quite understand what it would take for the coach to just let us wear hoodies, but apparently it's a thing. We have to just walk around in nothing but summer clothes. My arms absently wrap around my body, pulling as much heat towards me as I can. But there's no comfort here, where the wind whips all warmth away.
We assemble on the edge of the soggy pitch, and I stare at it blankly. This school must be off their heads. If they're so damn rich, they could at least have the decency to let us play inside. After all, it won't just be out team getting wet - it'll be theirs as well. I get a little consolation out of that.
The Coach is looking ruffled. His eyes leak frustration, and his mouth is set so thinly that it is less of a mouth and more of a straight line. "They better hurry up," he mumbles, pulling the hood of his jersey tighter. "Bastards."
Alistair cracks a smile at that. "Coach really hates Mr Grey," looking at me, he adds, "He's the other team Coach."
"Oh," I comment vaguely, for lack of something better to say. After all, I couldn't care less about teacher rivalries. They're petty, and probably to do with something sporty.
Lightning flickers in the far distance, and I see the other team. They're just coming across the other side of the pitch, and I realise they probably walked form the other half of the school - just emphasizing how big the building actually is. It must crescent all the way around the sports pitches, but I can't really see anything because of how dark the sky is.
Coach raises his head, and gestures with something like a wave. I wonder why he really does it, because the other team are quite obviously not going to wave back, and they know we know they're here. Maybe it's out of trying to look respectful, but I doubt it. I think Coach is nervous. He rubs at the back of his neck, and then a takes a few uncertain steps forward to greet Grey.
I make sure to stand right at the back of our team, completely hidden from view behind Cael and Seiji. There's something almost menacing about the other team, even though I can barely see their faces. Their uniforms are a deep, bloody indigo and white, and they all wear smart jumpers because their coach is quite obviously not as stupid as ours. And we're all standing in t-shirts. I feel humiliated. I want to tell everyone that I don't belong on this team, that I'm not as much of a moron as I look like, but at the same time, I want to shout that this is my team and it doesn't matter that we wear t-shirts and have an awkward, waving coach. I decide it's probably best I stay at the back.
Grey shakes hands with our Coach, and runs his eyes over our team - primarily our dripping t-shirts.
"Perhaps you'd like to go back and put something warmer on?" Grey asks coolly, a wry smile tugging at his lips.
Coach answers for us. "No, not at all. We're fine as we are."
I watch as Raf closes his eyes for a few second and brushes his hand over his forehead in embarrassment. I can tell he wants to ask Coach if he can do the talking from now on.
"We'll have a good game," Grey says, clapping the nearest boy he can reach, which happens to be number six - the tiny, terrified one. Six lunges forward at the sudden pressure, and then scrambles to the back next to me. His breath is irregular, like he can't possibly believe he actually made contact with another human. I can empathize.
Six looks up at me, and I realize, in surprise, he's at least a head below me. "You're on the bench with me, right?" he whispers, almost in a conspirator's kind of way.
He nods back. "Good. It's so humiliating being on the bench by myself."
Alistair brushes passed my shoulder. "He's number three, Hira. And just stand over there next to Coach."
I watch as our team begins to stretch by the edge of the pitch - I've only just noticed the stark white lines that mark the corners. That's how heavy the rain has begun to fall. The other team flash in the perimeter of my vision, smoky purple punctuated by ash white numbers. Their gaze keeps travelling over to us, seizing up the team and narrowing their eyes. If they've played us so much, I'm surprised they haven't let their guard down yet. Maybe that's what makes them so successful.
Behind me, Coach is still grumbling to himself just under his breathe, fumbling for his pockets to shield his freezing hands. I wonder if he's even thought about how we feel with even less on. My fingers are frozen stiff, the joints and knuckles turning white. I move them around to try and keep the blood flowing, but nothing seems to work. The cold bites me inside-out, the loose folds of my sports clothes doing nothing for me.
Six looks at me side-long. "You wouldn't want to play this match. Their team's vicious, you know."
"I don't want to play any matches."
"Then why are you here?"
"I enjoy observing from a distance."
Number six raises an eyebrow, but it kind of goes wrong, because half of his nose scrunches up with it. "That sounds a bit creepy, you know."
I'm glad the rain shields my ears turning pink. "No, it doesn't."
"It kind of does, you know."
I clench my fists, and turn to look at him. "I don't know, actually. And shut up."
He cowers away, blinking furiously. His apology is whispered quietly, and I can tell he's shocked I snapped at him. He probably thought I'd be the friendly guy who he could sit on the bench with and chat to. The thought of being a bench-warmer with someone like Six (someone who I don't even know the name of) irritates me.
Coach rests a hand on my shoulders. "Watch carefully. The first few minutes of the game are important."
My mouth drops into a straight line. "Okay."
I see very little happening. There's ten players on the court, and they're looking very alert and interested and intense. And I don't know if I've mentioned, but I really hate intense people. The kind that always looks you right in the eye when they're talking to you, and who says very deep meaningful things with nothing after them, and you have to say something back like Oh or Okay or Cool. Alistair stands near a goal, and he looks very Alistair-ish. Cael is in the middle, and his eyes glimmer cruelly and I wonder if he's purposely in the middle because he looks so constantly evil. Seiji is near the back too, and contrary to the way his face usually looks like it is falling asleep, his mouth is upturned and he looks incredibly alive.
It annoys me.
I watch out for Number Three on the other team, but they are on the other side of the pitch, and I struggle to make out the numbers. Their faces are blurs. Alistair's gold hair is like a beacon in the darkness, and I think he may be turning his head to look at me, but I'm not entirely sure. Cael's green eyes are cat lights, and there's one member of the other team - possibly number 10 - who is the tallest on the pitch. He's got huge, broad shoulders, and close-cut dark hair.
There's a referee by the Court - a swinging whistle bouncing against his chest, and a waterproof bunched up around his head and up to his chin. He brings the silver piece to his lips, and then blows sharply and quickly, and a bright ball skyrockets into the air.
Cael is so fast his legs streak faster than the rain, but I can see - even with all my inexperience - he hasn't jumped quick enough. The other player in the middle is in the air first, and he has the ball before I can quite register what everything is happening. My eyes are too slow. The ball is in one player's hands and as I try and assess the situation, the player no longer has the ball. I have to keep moving with it, or I'll miss everything.
It's not really going back and forth, more side to side. I'm so focussed on the ball that the other players are nothing. I have no idea where Alistair is, and as for Number 3, I'm clueless.
It's possibly one of the most confusing, bewildering experiences I've ever had. Perhaps I should focus on one player at a time, and then try and find the bigger picture. I'm not sure. Even just thinking like this, and I've blanked out five minutes of the game.
"Coach?" I move slightly into his line of vision.
He's not listening. His eyes are moving with expert speed, and his hand fists in his trousers, clenching and un clenching. His mouth is slightly open, like he's out of breathe, and his breathing is irregular.
His head turns to me, but his gaze is never averted. "What?" His voice snaps.
"I was wondering if you could give me a commentary on the game. I'm very confused."
"I have to learn how to play," I say briskly.
Coach flicks his tongue over his lips. "Seiji is half asleep - look at the bastard. Cael is too slow to jump- That moron number 10 has the ball. I wouldn't be surprised if- Raf's doing okay. What on earth-? Watch as number 1 from the other team picks up the ball there- Incredible. Cael is doing nothing, quite literally-"
"You can stop," I interrupt. "I get it." In fact, my mind is growing fuzzy. His commentary is so focused on the players, and not basketball, that none of it makes sense. He clouds everything, even his words, in emotion. That's not how you coach - is it?
I narrow my eyes, and clear my mind. The ball is very close to the goal on our side, which means - I believe - they might try and score. Glasses Boy is right beneath the goal, his arms stretched high, with Raf and Seiji close by. Alistair seems to be hovering a bit further back, which appears pointless, but he looks like he knows what he is doing. Cael seems to be even further back, standing next to Number 10. Why? Number 10 is huge, but he won't get to the goal fast enough to help out his team. Shouldn't Cael be helping Glasses?
I grit my teeth. Perhaps I'm missing something. I guess, if Glasses or Seiji or Raf get the ball, they'll need someone to pass to. But can't they move fast enough to just pass to each other? Focus. Who has the ball? Number four from the other team. Brown hair, light tan, and weirdly shiny teeth because he's wearing braces. He's looking around, passes to- I stop. Four passes right behind him, to where Number 10 is waiting. Cael is desperately trying to get the ball, to time his jump correctly, but not only is he about half a head shorter, he's also not jumping at the right moment. Again. 10 has the ball, and he even has time to take a few seconds to calculate how to throw the ball correctly.
It soars high - higher than anyone could possibly reach, and I feel a little sick in the pit of my stomach. It'll go in. I know it will. And it does. Just drops through the hoop and hits the ground, like the whole thing never even happened. And the whistle pierces the pitch, and Raf grabs the ball, spinning around.
He slams it forwards, and it's breaking up the very air as it pummels into Alistair's waiting hold. And Alistair is gone, through the rain, and Number 10 is there, yet again, with Cael a few steps behind. Raf and Seiji are running forwards but glasses is too far back to even try and catch up, and Alistair has literally no-one to pass to. I can see, no, feel, even from here, panic setting in. If he loses the ball now, the other team will definitely score. I cringe for him. He's going to lose the ball.
Just as I think Number 10 is going to block Alistair, he shoots right and left, until he's further across the pitch than he was before. Maybe I underestimated him. Raf is shouting something at the top of his voice, but I can't hear it. His words are carried away. I think Alistair hears, though, because he swirls halfway round so his eyes meet mine. They're blank, and Number 4 rips the ball from Alistair's hands.
I stifle a cry, and thank the weather for being so loud the Coach and number six can't hear me.
I don't know whether or not it's allowed, but Number Four literally punched the ball out of Alistair's hands, so hard Alistair stumbled backwards. I know, over the years, we've evolved basketball to be a mixture of sports - new rules have been added, certain types of violence molded in here and there, with terms and conditions of course. But I don't really know. I can't help but feel it's unfair. I don't know basketball, or sport, whatsoever. I only know what little I've picked up, and I shouldn't even be thinking about it.
This whole game is wrong for me. Why am I analyzing it? I'm only here for Alistair and number three, for myself, really.
I don't care.