“I wish the World Cup could be held in a place like this. It would be so nice to be able to relax in the sun between games. Like this.” Lukas was lying on his stomach, his eyes closed but his face turned towards Bastian, also on his stomach and his head resting on his hands.
“Don’t you think it would be too hot? It’s only May and I’m sweating bullets doing nothing.”
“I’m betting it’s going to rain during every match. I mean, it’s Germany.”
“You don’t want the advantage of the home crowd? Imagine if the thing was held here in Italy and we were playing in front of a mostly Italian crowd.” A phantom shudder passed over Bastian. Playing games in countries that took football even more seriously than Germany, was tough. Playing multiple games in such a country, well, Bastian wasn’t sure he had the backbone for that.
Sometimes Bastian wished that he could be out on the field at all times, it was just a lot easier there. On the field there was a ball and it needed to get into a goal. Okay, it wasn’t quite as simple since there were the other players to be considered. Still, there was nothing that confused Bastian there.
What was confusing was how enticing Lukas’ bare back was to him, all that bronze skin with that deep dip along the spine with thick, curving muscles.
He might have been crushing a little bit on Lukas for a while but it had been like all other crushes he had had on guys, fleeting enough for him to ignore it rather than to panic about it.
Maybe it was the Mediterranean sun messing with his head, making Lukas look so good, so much like that guy his imagination conjured up when he didn’t feel like picturing girls or watching porn as he jacked off.
This was the worst moment for him to have a crisis like this. He thought he had it all sorted out in his head. Boys were only to fantasize about. That was safe and easy to compartmentalize.
While Bastian had been caught up in his musings, Lukas had fallen asleep. He looked so much younger than his almost twenty-one years. Bastian sighed and pulled himself up, watching Lukas for a couple of minutes before waking him up.
Kanye West’s Gold Digger was blaring out of the speakers but not loud enough to mask the chattering of the people at the party. Bastian was sitting alone with his beer as this was probably going to be the last night that they could allow themselves to drink freely. This was the last night they would have in the paradise of Sardinia and tomorrow they would arrive in Germany where the reality of the World Cup would be even closer.
At the moment it was hard for Bastian to even imagine feeling like the person who he was on the field. The football player who tried being focused and in charge, though sometimes his temper could get the better of him. It was even hard to imagine being the version of him that goofed around. All he felt that there was this bubble around him and the others that was about to burst. Like someone would come to him to slap him in the face.
People were mingling and dancing, some were even shooting pool in the next room but he didn’t feel like joining them.
There was no denying that playing football and hanging out with his buddies had been wonderful even though the football part, with all the training, had been supposed to be a lot of work. Still, any of the supposed hard work had been nothing, compared to the sinking relation that he was falling for his friend.
It had been one thing to ogle Lukas when he was wearing swim trunks and sunbathing. It was completely another thing to start to notice how Lukas’ smile made him tingle or how his laughter had suddenly become one of his favorite sounds. For days Bastian had tried to convince himself that this was just the sun playing tricks on him but now when it was all coming to an end, these feelings only seemed to intensify.
Miro was sitting down next to him. Bastian looked at him and shrugged.
“There’s nothing wrong per se. I just think I’m tired.”
“Okay.” There was something in Miro’s tone that indicated that he didn’t believe him but he didn’t press.
“I’m just kind of nervous about what’s ahead.”
“Yeah.” Miro’s voice hadn’t changed.
“Are you nervous?” Bastian asked, trying to deflect even though he knew he didn’t have to.
“Well, not for the matches. The fact that we are playing on home turf has me more worried. The media, you know.”
That sounded like Miro. He wasn’t there to be a big football star, he was there to score goals.
Bastian, on the other hand, didn’t dislike the press. Mostly because they were interested in the Bastian who played football and also quite a bit in the Bastian who was a goofball.
Maybe if he kept to those Bastians, it would be easier to get over whatever was bothering him.
The phone vibrated with an incoming message. Pulling his t-shirt back down, Bastian reached out for the phone and looked at the screen.
3.40 PM I’m bored!
He looked at the screen. They had said goodbye to each other only that morning. Lukas should have just arrived home like he had. He couldn’t be that bored or maybe he was. This was Lukas after all.
3.42 PM Are you even home yet?
3.43 PM Yes, 5 min ago. Am bored.
3.46 PM What am I supposed to do about that? I’m back in Munich.
3.48 PM Dunno. Something.
For some reason this felt like typical Lukas. They had played together in big tournaments before and had hung out in the past, even before training in Sardinia but now, after that trip, it was like Lukas didn’t want to let go.
3.51 PM I can’t help you. Play a video game. Pretend I’m schooling you in it.
3.53 PM I’ll try. I know it’s not going to be the same.
Bastian looked at the message for a minute and then promptly turned off his phone. He wasn’t entirely sure if he could take more of this. This infatuation had gone on for long enough.
Ever since Bastian got to that stage in his football career that he stayed at hotels when he played away games or national games, he had never got used to staying in a hotel in Germany, especially when the said hotel was in Munich. Combined with the fact that the pre-game nerves were like live-wires inside of him, he found no peace staying in his room. Jürgen had instructed them to have a quiet evening and go to bed early. Bastian was feeling too jumpy for that.
Wandering down the carpeted hallway, he found himself in front of Lukas’ room. He knew Lukas hadn’t gone to bed. The boy was a notorious night owl, even if he was in his room, he was probably playing a video game or watching TV.
Lukas opened the door when Bastian had politely knocked.
“Since when do you knock?” Lukas asked, gesturing him to enter the room.
“Uhm… didn’t know whether you’d gone to bed or not.”
“Yeah, right. Tell me another one. Come on, sit down. I’m watching Die Hard on the pay-per-view.”
Bastian felt hyper-aware of the fact that he was now sitting next to Lukas on a bed. It wasn’t the first time they had sat together on a hotel bed, watching a movie but that had all happed before Bastian had lost control over his feelings. Trying to chalk it up to his pre-game nerves, he tried to focus on the plot but it was hard when he could feel the warmth radiate from Lukas’ leg.
“Worried for the game?” He asked Lukas, hoping that talking about football would prove to be the right distraction.
“Nah, I think everyone’s gonna do their best. I just hope it will be fun game. What’s the point of playing football against a team from Latin-America if it’s not going to be a fun game?”
“Yeah. I hope so too.”
“Are you feeling the pressure of playing here in Munich? Think they want the home boy to deliver?” Lukas then asked, turning himself towards Bastian who hesitated to answer.
“I don’t know. I know I’m going to try and I think I normally do deliver.”
A smile appeared on Lukas’ lips like he had been mostly kidding.
“’Going to try’ ‘I normally do deliver’ Please, you’re going to be the captain of the team one day.”
Bastian might have given Lukas a shove for the cheekiness, secretly pleased that he could get annoyed with him, even though the urge to touch him and kiss him still lingered.
Lukas was obviously in a mood. Considering that they had just won a match and were pretty much guaranteed to move up to the knock-out stage, Bastian really didn’t get what was going on with him. Everyone else were celebrating, he had even heard Torsten and Jogi singing together earlier. The problem was that Bastian hadn’t seen Lukas in such a bad mood before so he wasn’t entirely sure how to handle the sullen boy sitting there by himself.
“I think my ears will start bleeding soon,” he said as he sat down next to Lukas. “I can’t take more of the singing.”
“Yeah,” was the only response Lukas gave.
Bastian hated it when other people pushed when he was feeling this way so he just sat there, drinking his sparkling water.
“We won the game, right?” Lukas sounded irritated.
“We did.” Bastian didn’t remember when he had heard Lukas be irritated before, except perhaps at a training session when someone else was screwing up.
“Doesn’t sound like it.”
There had been a couple of jokes in the changing room that Lukas and Miro seemed have forgotten that they were German during the game but the fact of the matter was that the Polish defense had been quite tough.
“I don’t think anyone truly thought that you were not playing your best ‘cause we were against Poland.” Bastian put his hand on Lukas’ shoulder, intending it to be a friendly, reassuring gesture. He hadn’t anticipated how upset Lukas was because he grabbed the hand on his shoulder and held tightly. It was like an alarm had gone off in his head, almost like a bomb would explode if he wouldn’t remove his hand. This wasn’t a time for his confused mind and heart though, Lukas needed this.
After a moment, Lukas loosened his grip and turned to Bastian.
“I’m gonna score against Ecuador. No matter what it takes.”
“They are going to haze me. I just know it.”
Bastian had his mouth full of a hamburger so he couldn’t comment right away.
“I mean… I don’t mind, I just like to be prepared. Are they going to dunk me in a vat of rotten fish or make me sing Celine Dion for karaoke?”
Not being privy to any hazing plans, Bastian merely shrugged. It wouldn’t surprise him that their teammates had something up their sleeves for Lukas. Two goals didn’t go unnoticed. Football analysts would rightfully also credit Miro for setting up those goals but no one was going to haze Miro.
When Bastian had finally managed to swallow the bite he’d been chewing, Lukas had managed to mention even more possible hazing scenarios.
“Are you really worried?” He then asked, mostly in order to stop Lukas’ prattling.
“I… I’m not worried,” Lukas said, a little bit unconvincingly.
Playing jokes on your teammates was pretty common and normally it was harmless fun. Maybe some got tiny dents to their dignity but it wasn’t anything they couldn’t laugh off eventually.
“Relax,” Bastian said, wanting more to finish eating his food than to placate Lukas.
“Only if they had let you in on it. That’s what’s worrying me. Do you think Miro might know something?”
“You have to ask him,” Bastian said, not telling Lukas that he very much doubted that Miro was in on it. It would probably be Arne, Metze and maybe Timo who would be the masterminds.
Lukas harrumphed, propping his head with his hand and leaning on his elbow like a grumpy kid. Bastian shrugged again and kept on devouring his hamburger.
It turned out that perhaps Lukas had been right to worry. There might not have been any rotten fish involved or Celine Dion karaoke but there was a dirndl and a whoopee cushion involved. The pictures, and the videos in particular, were priceless.
The night air was hot and humid. There were still some fans milling about around the hotel. Bastian admired them, inside the party had been going on for at least three hours and showed no signs of quieting down. Emotions were still flying high after the game. He had been secretly relieved to get off the field before the extra time and the penalty shoot-out. Then the melee had happened and he wasn’t still completely sure how that had started.
A guy wearing the team shirt, not much younger then him, had spotted him. The other fans didn’t react to the shout, seemingly all too busy with getting drunk.
“Hey,” Bastian answered, ready to give an autograph.
“That was some game,” the boy said, nothing in his hands to indicate he wanted an autograph.
“Yeah, it was.”
“Where you involved in the fighting afterwards?”
Bastian rolled his eyes.
“I honestly don’t know. I stood up from the bench and shouted something but it all happened in this adrenaline haze, you know.”
The boy nodded like he got into fights with angry Argentines all the time.
“So you like Klinsman as a coach, then?”
How honest could you be with some guy on the street? The media training prepared him for pushy journalists but not for questions from fans. He took a deep breath, he was still pissed-off about what Jürgen had been telling him to do when they were in the locker room at half-time. It wasn’t so much that he didn’t like taking directions, if that was the case, he wouldn’t be much of a team player. It had more to do with the fact that sometimes Jürgen didn’t make that much sense when he was talking strategy. Thankfully Micha straightened it out what Jürgen meant but Bastian wasn’t all the satisfied with his own game.
“He’s a very good motivator,” Bastian then said, “and I think we agree on what kind of football the team should be playing.”
“I saw the other halves were at the hotel, isn’t that a no-no?”
Bastian had always thought that banning players to have their spouses around for some significant time, was pretty outdated thinking. It should all be fine as long as they weren’t a distraction.
“Normally they are somewhere around but not all the time.”
It was good and all to have rules about the wives and the girlfriends but they certainly didn’t figure in when the distraction was your own teammate.
“Good luck against… I hear it’s going to be Italy.” The guy walked away and Bastian was left standing there, engrossed in his relation that he had just thought about Lukas like a significant other.
It was brutal. Bastian had never felt as tired when going into extra-time in a game before. The Italians had put them through the wringer during the entire game with being aggressive and overly dramatic so they sucked up their mental energy as well. Any fun that could have been had playing football at this level, was long gone by the time the 90 minutes were up.
Jürgen had gone around trying to comfort them. It didn’t do a lot of good because there are times where wallowing for a while is what is needed.
The dead silence that had been in the locker room, bled into the bus ride, into the late-night snack at the hotel where no one had much of an appetite. Some retired to the rooms very soon after that, other go down to the bar to find solace, though not in alcohol.
Bastian didn’t really know what to do with himself. He was bone-tired but he knew his mind wouldn’t allow him rest anytime soon. He would simply lie in his bed and toss and turn for several hours.
Yet he didn’t want to go to the hotel bar. The notion that his mood would improve or his sense of defeat lessen hanging out with his teammates over a bottle of soda, seemed off to him. If it wasn’t way past midnight, he would go out running but he could just imagine Jürgen’s reaction if he would find out.
The hallways were mostly empty which was probably good as he had ended up roaming them, trying to force his mind to quiet down or at least concentrate on something else than the game.
There was an alcove off one of the hallways with an ice machine and as Bastian approached it, he could hear a low murmuring. He wasn’t able to perceive what was being said and when he saw the speaker, he understood why.
Lukas was speaking on his cell phone in Polish, his voice low. Bastian had always been amused by the rapid cadence of Polish, especially when Lukas and Miro were speaking together, because it was like Miro would speed up his normal speech.
He was probably speaking with his parents. Bastian himself had talked to his parents on the phone earlier and because they were rather unsentimental folk, he got a couple of words of encouragement from them both, before they said they were looking forward to the next game.
It was hard to tell whether Lukas had a different sort of a relationship with his parents but it was obvious to Bastian that he was seeking a reassurance with them at that moment.
After a little while he seemed to have noticed Bastian lurking out in the hallway, he bid his parents farewell and closed his phone.
“Spying on me?” He asked, his voice flatter than it should be for a question like that.
“Not really,” Bastian said truthfully. “Talking to your parents?”
“Yeah, Mom. She is worried about me. She was all ‘there are ten others on the team with you on the field. You aren’t sole responsible to win or lose a game.’ I suppose she’s right in a way but when you play center forward, the goals are your responsibility.”
Bastian hummed in an agreement. That was what it looked strategically on the paper but in reality, it wasn’t this simple and it hadn’t been so simple in the game. The Italians had made sure of that.
“I know I could tell you to stop beating yourself up for the loss but I have my own little voice in my head telling me what I could have done better so…” He reached to touch Lukas’ shoulder who pull him immediately into a tight hug.
“God, sometimes I fucking hate this game,” Lukas muttered into Bastian’s shoulder.
Bastian didn’t answer, instead he drew Lukas closer into the hug.
Sometimes in football, everything lines up. You have an excellent day where you are focused and ready, your teammates seem to be in sync with you as well and then there’s the element of luck.
For some, this day might have been just an ordinary Saturday in July but for Bastian Schweinsteiger, it was already one of the more memorable days of his life; scoring two goals in a World Cup match wasn’t something that happened every day.
Actually it was Sunday already, that might have had something to do with the fact the match started at nine in the evening but Bastian wasn’t paying any attention to that. He was too busy riding a wave of euphoria.
They were supposed to leave the hotel in Stuttgart very early in the morning and it was obvious not many would catch any sleep before leaving. Everyone was still singing and shouting and thankfully the hotel staff didn’t seem to mind. Outside there were still crowds of people singing.
When Bastian had been slapped on the back for the umpteenth time by a very drunk Schnix, he decided to pull himself away from the drunkest bunch.
There was a tug at the hem of his shirt.
“Sssh, come with me.” Lukas put his finger to his lips and then gestured Bastian to follow him. Before he could ask where they were going, Lukas had pulled him down to sit in a sofa that was on the other side of a wall closing off the area they’d been partying in.
“I swear I’m not drunk and I swear I’m not making fun of you…” Lukas began. Bastian straightened his back and turned more towards Lukas.
“I… I wanted you to know that it has been so… so great to have you with me in this tournament… thing… and I know it’s gonna be so awesome next season, both of us playing for Bayern and… I don’t know what I’m saying…”
Lukas was rambling and looking nervous. Not the way he looked before taking a penalty, this was different. He wasn’t looking Bastian in the eye and he kept rubbing his hands on his tracksuit bottoms.
Bastian desperately wanted to ask him what was going on but he was growing nervous as well. He could sense his own heartbeat.
“I know we are friends, Bastian.” Lukas hardly ever used his given name.
“And we are footballers and people know us and…” Lukas stopped mid-sentence and finally looked Bastian in the eye. “I don’t know why I’m rambling this… there’s no turning back.”
Before Bastian could ask him what he was talking about, Lukas had thrown himself forwards, bracing his hands on Bastian’s shoulders and smashing their mouths together. It almost hurt, their teeth clicked together but Bastian didn’t mind at all. When his mind caught up with what was happening, he moved his hands to Lukas’ waist, holding him.
After a minute or so, Lukas broke the kiss and his lips were already swollen. The look in his eyes was questioning.
“Lukas,” Bastian managed to breathe out, “I… yeah… shit, where did all my words go? Can we kiss more? I… maybe not here?”
The smile on Lukas’ lips was a little bit sly, even though both corners of his mouth were tugged up.
“Yeah, come on. To my room, even though we have to be up in a couple of hours.”
Bastian chuckled as he pulled Lukas to his feet.
“Silly, we don’t need any sleep. What do you think they invented sunglasses for?”