“Friday Night Lights”, Short Fiction
“Touchdown! The Greenville Groundhogs are now up 21-0!”
I sighed. This game was so dull. Early on the players on the other team had resigned themselves to the fact that they couldn’t do anything to stop us. It was fruitless. I wanted to get out of here and go on a drive or something solitary like that, but my brother Billy had begged me to come out and support him at the first game of the season. And if I let Billy down, he wouldn’t let me live it down.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like football. Truthfully, I didn’t mind the sport, even though I didn’t know a lot about it. I just couldn’t pretend that I fit in with every other high school kid in the stands, cheering loudly and making snide comments at the opposing fans, when I most certainly did not. I wasn’t like anyone at this school. I was too reserved to get invited to parties, much less go to them. Too soft spoken to say what was on my mind. Too afraid to put myself out there to get anywhere with anyone. Everyone just…passed me in the halls without a word. Like I wasn’t even there, existing to no one else but myself. And I hated it, but I couldn’t do anything about it. That would require opening my mouth and starting conversations with people. So I was perpetually stuck in this vicious cycle of my own creation.
My eyes scanned the area left to right, trying to find something to focus on. It was then that I saw her. The girl.
Well, not really girl, because she looked as though she was a junior like me. Her dark brown hair looked almost black underneath the night sky. I’d never seen her before, but she could very well go to school with me because she was here…and perhaps she preferred to go by unseen. She was standing by the fence surrounding the football field, gripping the fence for dear life with one hand. With the other hand she was holding a piece of notebook paper with writing on it. She looked like her legs would give out underneath her at any moment, and the hand that clutched the sheet of paper was shaking so badly that I could see the motion even from where I was sitting in the stands. She was wearing a black cardigan and loose jeans and white canvas sneakers. Even in that cozy ensemble, though, she was still shaking. But maybe it wasn’t from the cold.
Something about her spoke to me. Resonated with me. The fact that she was alone. The fact that everything about her screamed that she didn’t belong here. Whatever it was, I found myself staring at her in a totally non-creepy sort of way. She commanded attention, even though she didn’t seem to desire it.
At last she turned around. Her eyes darted from the sheet of paper in her hand to her surroundings. The band playing a tune to celebrate the touchdown. The various people walking around, eating greasy concession stand food and not caring about the game that they’d paid to go to. She appeared to be looking for someone, and what was written on the paper was evidently associated with that person.
I could just look at her and develop these theories because I was a good observer of people. Either that, or I had a wild imagination. But I suspected the former. Years of hanging on the sidelines as people made friends and did social things taught me how to get an idea of what someone was like without even having to talk to that person. I could tell who was a jokester, or who was a queen bee. All it took was a few moments of watching…in a totally non-creepy sort of way. I didn’t pretend that I had these people perfectly figured out. Of course they had certain aspects of themselves that they kept behind closed doors. I got the basics of who they were, though. And usually that was enough.
But tonight it wasn’t. As I continued to watch her looking frantically all around I couldn’t help but want to know her story. Who was she looking for? Why was she looking for him or her? And why wasn’t he or she here? Mystery surrounded her like a blanket seen by those who cared to notice.
Like me, I guess.
More than anything I wanted to go up to her and ask her those questions. Have a conversation with her and do something other than be by myself, faking contentment. Of course, however, I refrained from doing so. I was too shy. Too afraid of things not going the way I imagined them. Worried about rejection, even though she didn’t seem like the rejecting type.
She started crying. I could see the tear droplets glistening on her cheeks under the lights, and yet I still stared. Seeing her cry filled me with an acute sense of sorrow. Funny how the actions of a stranger could have this effect on me. Her emotions floated over to me on waves of sadness, solitude, and salty tears. Soon I felt tears of my own sliding down my face.
Eventually her eyes found mine, and we stared at each other for what seemed like eons, not breaking eye contact. Two teenagers trying to find comfort in a shared lack of belonging. I forgot that I was at a football game on a Friday night, because the world around me just sort of disappeared. Melted away like candle wax. All I saw was her and the utter despair painted across her face. She no doubt saw the gloom painted across my face. I wished I could go up to her and ease her pain, but I was just too terrified of the unknown. I felt like there was this invisible force keeping me glued to the stands. Just imagining myself making the effort to get out of my seat and approach her made me nervous, not to mention scared out of my mind. I didn’t have experience with going up to people on my own and beginning conversations, and I couldn’t start now. I just couldn’t. The uncertainty of it all hung too heavily in the atmosphere, bogging me down. And so I stayed right where I was.
Whoever she was waiting for never came.