The Locker Room
In one of the stadium’s locker rooms, three members of the Darigan squad prepared for their match against Mystery Island. They were in high spirits, as their chances looked good, and their manager had finally gotten around to buying them new uniforms. Reshar Collifey sat on a corner seat, watching Tandrak attempt to wrest one of his shoes out of The Terror’s hands. Thus far, he was proving unsuccessful, as the Bruce was clinging to the object with almost hysterical glee. Tandrak was just about to start beating him over the head with the one shoe still in his possession when they heard a door open. Reshar looked over to see their captain glide into the room, a sheet of paper in hand, Kep Bonnefie close behind him.
“Stop messing around,” he snapped, as The Terror sheepishly gave back Tandrak’s shoe. “They’re bringing some fans down in a minute. Make a good impression.”
“I hate that VIP thing,” said The Terror as, beside him, Tandrak bent down to put on his shoes. “There’s no place to hide from those fangirls anymore.”
“You have fangirls?” Reshar piped up, interested despite himself.
“Well, yeah. Not as rabid as Tandrak’s, but painful all the same.”
Seeing the Jetsam’s expression, The Terror suddenly laughed.
“Keep at it, Resh, and one day you’ll have some too. What, with your rugged good looks, it’s amazing you don’t have some already.”
Beside the captain, Kep sniggered. The Terror opened his mouth to respond, but the captain held up a hand for silence.
“Enough,” said Layton Vickles, lowering his arm. “They could be here any minute.”
“Barricade the doors,” muttered The Terror.
This earned him a glare from Layton, and he shut up. Kep went to sit on a nearby bench, while Layton moved over to the wall, and Reshar busied himself with examining his gloves. For several minutes, the only sounds were the distant hum of officials talking above, and the occasional swish of fabric as one of the squad moved. Reshar also thought he could hear, when he strained his ears, the chatter of the Yooyus in their pen. He wondered which he would see first during the match. The Jetsam only hoped it wouldn’t be fire. He still had a burn on his hand from his last encounter with one of those.
“Oh no. Here they come.”
It was Kep who spoke this time. At first, Reshar couldn’t hear what she was talking about, but it soon became apparent- an excited chattering that came from one of the upper levels. Quickly, Reshar ran to join his team mates on the left side of the room, sitting down beside Kep as the chattering steadily grew louder. Layton restlessly drummed his fingers against his sling. At last their manager appeared in the doorway, accompanied by a small swarm of eager fans. At a nod of agreement from Layton, the Eyrie began to usher them in. Roughly half the female contingent made straight for Tandrak, giggling as they went, while a noticeably smaller group of Neopets headed towards Layton. Maybe half a dozen went to The Terror, leaving only two or three to stare somewhat vaguely at each member in turn.
“You Goalies don’t get much credit, do you, Resh?” murmured Kep.
“I won a medal, once,” he whispered back.
She smiled sadly. “That’s something, at least.”
He looked at her, surprised by the sudden melancholy. Then someone was approaching them, notebook in hand, and his attention was diverted. It was a young Ixi, who shyly asked for their autographs. Reshar scribbled his swiftly, and then watched Kep sign in her much more careful style, before she passed the notebook back to the Ixi with an encouraging whisper. The Ixi took it, and hesitantly made towards the gaggle of gleeful fans hovering about Tandrak, one of whom was enthusiastically complimenting his shoes. Reshar wondered how the Gelert could stand it. Kep started to strap on her sling, and Reshar turned towards her. She looked tired, he realised, her eyes faded amongst dark shadows.
“You alright?” he asked.
Kep blinked at him. “Fine. Just didn’t sleep well.”
“No. The medication’s pretty good. I was just having trouble sleeping.”
He nodded, knowing the experience well. “When I have trouble sleeping, I have a few squares of chocolate.”
She seemed distant, her eyes unfocused. Nearby, a little girl was having her photo taken with Layton. She seemed oblivious to Reshar and Kep, sitting together across from The Terror. The Jetsam nodded, finally understanding what was bothering her. He got up and went over to a slim Gelert, who stood at the back of the crowd of Shaye fangirls.
“Excuse me,” Reshar said, raising his voice to get the Gelert’s attention. “Do you know who this is?”
The Gelert looked to where he was pointing. “Kep Bonnefie, yes.”
“Would you like to meet her?”
The Gelert shrugged. “I’m fine where I am. I don’t do the 'up-close-and-personal' thing.”
Reshar nodded. “Okay. Would you like me to get her autograph for you, then?”
The Gelert paused, and then shrugged again. “Whatever. Here’s some paper.”
Reshar accepted it with a thank you, and produced a pen from his own pocket. He then returned to the bench where Kep sat, staring into space.
“Here you go,” he said, holding the objects out towards her.
She blinked, looked from them to him. Then she gave a half smile.
“No,” he shook his head. “That blue Gelert, over there. She asked for you by name.”
It was a lie, but it made Kep smile with genuine happiness. She took the pen and paper, carefully and elegantly signed her name, and handed it back to Reshar.
“Tell her I’m very thankful.”
He agreed, before carrying the paper back to the Gelert. She was talking to another fan, but glanced up as he approached. Aware that Kep was now watching them, Reshar handed over the autograph.
“Here,” he said, shifting so that his body obscured her from the Buzz’s view. “She’s very grateful.”
The Gelert took it, none too gently. “Thank you.”
She looked relatively indifferent, but soon turned away, allowing Reshar to return to Kep. The Buzz was chuckling softly, as she observed Layton and Tandrak’s attempts to coax a tiny Acara out from beneath one of the benches, while its mother stood by and scolded it. Reshar sat down beside her, just as the manager announced that it was time for the fans to leave, as the team had to warm up before their game. The Acara was finally brought out into the open by the promise of a few sweets, and promptly scooped up into the arms of his mother. Then, some more reluctant than others, the fans began to file out of the room. After checking to make sure that everything was alright, the Darigan team’s manager followed, closing the door tight behind him.
“Right,” said Layton, running an eye over each member of his team in turn. “Collifey, put on your other glove. Then you, Frein and Bonnefie practice defending against Shaye and myself. Where’s the practice ball?”
Tandrak held up a circular object, about as big as a volleyball.
“Good. Let’s go.”
Reshar slid away from Kep, rummaging under the seat for his other glove, which had fallen down sometime during the fans’ visit. As he did so, he heard her whisper in his ear:
“Did she say anything about me?”
Reshar paused. “That you’re the greatest defender she’s ever seen.”
He heard her sniff. “That really made my day. Come on, Resh. Let’s do this.”