The Making of a Star: Layton Vickles
“Layton, over here!” yelled Xavier. The Darigan Kyrii waved his arms wildly, signaling that he was open.
The plastic ball cupped in his small fist, Layton darted past their opponents before they had time to react and threw the ball at his friend. The pass was perfect; the ball slid easily into the Kyrii’s grasp, and he ran it towards the goal, which was an overturned trashcan at the end of the street.
Their opponents groaned in defeat as Xavier scored, bringing the total score to 9-1. Together, Xavier and Layton’s team of two had bested their opponents in every game. Ever since Yooyuball fever had reached their small neighborhood on the Darigan Citadel, all the young pets had been playing relentlessly. Layton Vickles and his best friend, Xavier Cray, had proved unbeatable when paired together.
“Kids!” someone called from down the street. “It’s getting dark. Time to end the game!” The young pets groaned and looked pleadingly in the direction of their parents, who were standing at the end of the street, watching the game from afar and chatting amongst themselves.
“All right, we surrender,” said the Meerca on the opposing team. “Great game, you guys.” The young pets all shook hands and promised to play again the next day.
The children headed over to their parents, talking excitedly about Yooyuball. “I want to be a great defender some day, and play in the Cup!” said the Meerca excitedly.
“Of course,” said his mother with a sad smile, knowing that the future her son dreamed of was impossible. As her son headed away into their house, she turned to Layton’s father, Jeron Vickles, and said, “Your son is the most talented one, you know. He really could be a great player.”
“He could be,” said Jeron, watching Layton and Xavier race each other up the street. “If he had some training, and some real practice....”
Layton and Xavier reached their parents at last, Layton cheering victoriously as he beat Xavier in the race. “Dad,” he said excitedly, looking up at his father, “I want to play Yooyuball in the Altador Cup someday.”
“Don’t worry,” his father promised him, “you will.” And from that moment on, having a son who was a Yooyuball star became Jeron Vickles’s ambition.
Long after the other young pets had gone inside with their parents, Jeron and his son stood in the street, playing Yooyuball. Layton was overjoyed at the opportunity to stay up late and spend time with his father, playing his favorite game; he would soon realize, however, that to his father, Yooyuball was far more than just a game.
“Let’s do that again,” said Layton for the tenth time.
“Layton, I’m tired, and it’s late,” moaned Xavier. “I can’t even see the ball anymore, it’s so dark.” The two friends were standing in the middle of an abandoned street, with only the light of a broken street lamp and the stars overhead to see by. “We’ve been at this for hours. It’s time to call it quits.”
“I can’t,” said Layton stubbornly, “I haven’t perfected this pass yet.” He knew that his father was watching from inside their house, and he wanted his father to see that he could make this pass. If I just keep practicing, Layton thought, Dad will see that I’m the best Yooyuball player there is, and then he’ll be proud of me.
“Perfect it in the morning,” moaned Xavier tiredly.
“One more time,” said Layton.
“Layton, I’m leaving,” Xavier called. He looked, sadly, at his former friend, whose attention was engrossed in sketching out another Yooyuball play.
“Okay,” Layton called absently, not even looking up. “See you tomorrow.”
“That’s not what I meant,” said Xavier slowly. Layton still did not look up.
“I’m not coming to visit you anymore,” Xavier continued. This time, he had Layton’s attention.
“What do you mean?” Layton asked. “You’re my best friend!”
“I was your best friend,” said Xavier, “but I’m not anymore. You never pay attention to me, you never listen to what I say, and you never want to do anything but practice Yooyuball or talk about Yooyuball.”
“I told you,” said Layton angrily, “I’m training to—”
“Yeah, I know,” snapped Xavier. “You’re training to be a star, I know. But Yooyuball used to be fun; it used to be a game. Now you’re no fun anymore. You don’t even notice when I’m here and when I’m not.”
“Don’t go,” said Layton quietly.
The Kyrii looked at the Hissi who was once his only friend. “Layton,” he said, “if you ever want to be my friend, and hang out like we used to, then you know where to find me. But I can’t waste my time here anymore, not when you don’t care about me, or about anything except that stupid game.” He hesitated, for a moment, and wondered if he was doing the right thing. He had known that this was coming for a long time, but he hadn’t wanted to let their friendship go.
“Goodbye, Layton.” He stepped outside Layton’s home for the last time, closing the door softly behind him.
Devastated, Layton told his father that Xavier was refusing to be his friend.
“I know you’ll miss him,” Jeron said, “but I’m sure that this is for the best. Xavier just didn’t understand how important this is for your future. I’m sure you’ll find someone to practice with who’s as passionate as you are. Now, you won’t have Xavier distracting you from practice.”
Layton said nothing, and never mentioned Xavier to his father again.
“Congratulations, son,” said Jeron. Layton, now a teenager, had begun playing for Darigan Citadel’s minor league team and had just lead his team to victory against the team from Terror Mountain.
“Great game, Layton!” one of his teammates called. Layton beamed with pride; he had trained for years, ever since he was a young child, to lead his team to victory.
“Tell you what,” said Jeron, “in honor of your victory, let’s go get some ice cream.” Layton agreed excitedly; this was his first trip to Terror Mountain, and he’d never had ice cream before. Furthermore, he and his father rarely spent money on anything that Jeron didn’t consider a necessity, so that they could afford Layton’s Yooyuball lessons and the cost of trips for games.
The two Hissis walked into the Super Happy Icy Fun Snow Shop, where the Lenny shopkeeper greeted them warmly and provided them with ice cream. They sat down on one of the stools by the countertop, and Layton pressed his wings against the cool glass, looking at all the frozen treats that he’d never even heard of.
“Your passes during the first half were excellent,” said Jeron, “but you got a little sloppy in the second half. You shouldn’t have missed that pass to Collier...”
Layton didn’t really want to talk about the game, except to bask in his victory, so he said nothing, and watched the snowflakes gently falling outside the windows of the ice cream shop.
“You never should have let them score that goal with the Mutant Yooyu,” his father continued. “You’re easily fast enough to catch that Buzz. Just keep your eyes on the ball at all times, and look for an easy opening, and chase them back to their side of the field....”
Layton followed the falling snowflakes with his eyes, seeing patterns in the way they drifted down in swirls. He took a small bite of his Double Chocolate Ice Cream, savoring the sugary taste.
“You know your greatest weakness, so you should watch out for....”
The tips of Layton’s wings moved slowly against the glass countertop, tracing the letters of the words he wished he could say. He knew that his father had sacrificed everything for him, had worked two jobs and saved every Neopoint so that Layton could train to play Yooyuball. But Layton couldn’t help feeling disappointed when, after every game, whether they’d won or not, his father went over every play, listing everything Layton had done or not done that was wrong, pointing out all his mistakes. Layton wanted to play Yooyuball, and lead a team to victory, but more than anything, he wanted his father to say the words that he’d never, ever said before: “I’m proud of you.”
“You did well today,” his father said as they left the shop, “but you could do better....”
No matter how well he did, Layton knew, his father would always say the same thing. “You could do better.”
The stadium erupted with cheers. Fans all around the Colosseum were on their feet, applauding madly. Everywhere he looked, Layton saw waves of purple and black as fans—his fans—jumped to their feet, screaming madly. Darigan Citadel had just won the match, and Layton Vickles had led his team to victory.
Layton and his teammates exited the arena and headed to the locker rooms to change. “This calls for a celebration!” Layton’s teammates cheered.
“Layton, are you coming with us?” His teammates looked at him expectantly, waiting for him to accompany them to their victory party.
“No,” said Layton, “I can’t.” He had changed out of his dirty jersey but, to their surprise, put on a clean jersey instead of regular clothes. “I have some drills to run. I missed an easy goal with a faerie Yooyu in the first half. I need to practice.”
His teammates knew better than to argue; they only shook their heads sadly and left, murmuring darkly about Layton’s obsession.
Layton left the locker rooms and headed to the practice field, which was deserted. Holding the fake Yooyu practice ball in his hands, he focused his gaze on the goal, recreating his position during the earlier game, and took aim. The ball bounded easily into the net, but Layton wasn’t satisfied. He picked up the next ball and threw again.
Over and over, until the net was filled with the fake Yooyus, Layton threw. With each shot, his father’s words rang in his head: “That was good, but you could do better.”
You could do better.
You could do better.
That night, the Altador Cup commentators featured a background story about Layton Vickles.
“What makes a star?” said the red Grarrl. “In Layton Vickles’s case, the answer seems to be dedication.”
“His teammates all insist that Vickles works the hardest out of all of them,” added the disco Ixi. “They say that Vickles is constantly practicing.”
“Furthermore,” said the Grarrl, “reports from his hometown indicate that Vickles grew up in a poor neighborhood, and his father dedicated his time to working two jobs to pay for Vickles’s training. Childhood friends have said that Vickles was destined for stardom, but it was his hard work along the way that made him the captain of a team that has won the Altador Cup.”
“Indeed,” added the Ixi, “some have said that Layton Vickles is the most dedicated Yooyuball player in the tournament. It’s such determination, dedication, and personal drive that make Layton Vickles a star in the world of Yooyuball.”
In truth, their report was only partially true. There were many things that made Layton Vickles a star, including his dedication; but such dedication was motivated, not only by a desire to succeed, but also by a desire to earn his father’s praise. Layton Vickles became a star not only by working hard, but also by sacrificing everything, including friendship, to achieve his ultimate goal: to make his father proud.