|Riding the Bus
Author: Guede Mazaka
I. José Antonio Reyes
They talk a lot about what they miss from Spain, hunched together against the cold in the seats closest to the heater. Cesc sometimes fights harder to get past José and into the window seat than he does for the ball on the pitch because then he’s got the warm drafts blowing up his trouser-legs. Everyone laughs, thinking it’s funny to see the two Spanish kids diving over the seat-backs, and then they drift off into English, made even harder to learn and understand because barely anybody on the bus grew up speaking it.
José smiles at the rest of them while keeping up a constant stream of cursing in Spanish, swearing at the rain and the bland food and the crap English idea of a good tackle. When he gets stuck with the aisle-seat, he always leans in and keeps Cesc muffled off from the rest of the bus, his hands rubbing up beneath Cesc’s jacket and shirt like they’re trying to start a fire. His lips are already hot, burning across the side of Cesc’s neck so the winter chill temporarily vanishes.
The memory of the first season, when Cesc was always the one smiling a little blankly whether he had the aisle seat or not, make it hard to think past relief, and so for several weeks he curls up behind Reyes and basks in the sudden warmth.
But the thing is, he actually understands every single word that Reyes says. ‘Miss’ spat out between every irritated breath, ‘miss’ traced on the nape of Cesc’s neck, ‘miss’ in practically everything José thinks about, and damn it, the one thing a good player shouldn’t have on their mind is ‘miss.’
[“Good ball…on goal,” Cesc says one day, awkwardly, his tongue lagging in his mouth like his tired legs. Shooting practice had gone well, making him a little bolder.
“Good shot,” Philippe absently replies. Then he looks at Cesc again and grins clumsily, doing something with his hands that looks like he’s folding a paper airplane out of air. Usually he insists on English, but now he slips into Spanish with an apologetic shrug, tricking Cesc’s pride into not being offended at being explained to. “Shot…good. Goal…no. Because it didn’t go in. I need to work on that.”]
Cesc starts letting José have the window seat, which the other man gladly takes as a hunted animal to a refuge. He still mutters to himself, and gradually his words slur into the disgruntled rattle of the exhausted bus, hauling them all back from wherever, while the words in the aisle begin to make sense.
* * *
II. Thierry Henry (and Robert Pirès)
Cesc picks up French faster than he did English, since the grammar isn’t so different (English is supposed to be faster, no gender nouns and less verb forms, but remembering not to not-think-just-put those in because there aren’t any makes it take longer to speak it). And anyway, nobody needs language to look at the way Thierry moves the ball and just stare with their mouth open. The day he gets the captain’s armband isn’t going mean anything because he basically already has it.
And he’s friendly with everyone, and he’s nearly always looking on the bright side, which is a relief compared to the miserable sink into which José’s turned the seat beside him. A couple of times, Cesc dozes off on Thierry’s shoulder and wakes up with the other man’s arm securing him from falling out of the seat, Thierry’s heartbeat chuckling faintly beneath his ear. Sometimes Robert’s fingers are drifting in and out of Cesc’s hair as the other man leans over the top of the seat in front to talk quietly with Thierry.
[Philippe twists his hands expressively around each other as he nods to the pair ahead of them in line, then laughs at Cesc’s wrinkled nose. “Don’t need the gesturing now?”
“I know how to say ‘fuck’,” Cesc sniffs. Too late out of the locker room, he can see Bobby helping Thierry stuff an oversized duffel beneath the seat. Maybe he can get a place two rows down from them, if he’s lucky.]
Thierry’s goodwill is expansive and almost limitless, but Cesc’s getting more confident now about pushing. Whenever he shifts position against Thierry, Robert’s knuckles bump his cheek, or if the other man is sitting down and curving his knees around the side of the seat, Cesc runs into his feet. His chest. Him.
* * *
III. Gilberto Silva
Honestly, it was because Cesc had been settling in, and because he’d been beginning to get used to the same old, same old. He’d mostly missed getting to know Gilberto at the beginning of the season, so when the man finally returned from injury, Cesc noticed the shift on the bus. People started moving around more, taking different seats, and he…just took new ones, too.
He thinks it’s a good idea to get to know the older players, since now he thinks he’s staying. And Gilberto isn’t as present as Thierry, but his smile doesn’t have any bite in it, his arms open out to either side when he sprawls in his place, and so it’s different but not so different that Cesc has to really do anything new to sit down.
Not that Gilberto’s an idiot. No, he’s got plenty of experience, and he’s perfectly happy to share it: more generous than Thierry that way, much as Thierry probably doesn’t mean to hold back.
[Philippe rolls his eyes and yanks Cesc’s jersey higher up his shoulder. “Better get into a hard foul today if you want to cover that up.”
Cesc sticks out his tongue at him. “You’re just jealous.”
“Obviously. You’re starting to get a ‘seat’ that people’ll save for you,” Philippe laughs. He turns away, rubbing at his own shoulder. “It looks like fun.”]
Hand down the back of the track-pants while he’s hanging out in the aisle chattering away. Toes sliding up the calf. Quick pants beneath a shared blanket while everyone else on the bus is dozing away. Gilberto knows all the tricks, and soon he’s shown them all to Cesc. It is fun—till then. Nice as Gilberto is, he’s not new anymore.
* * *
IV. Sol Campbell
What a bad game can do to you is how Cesc usually thinks about it. Coming out of the locker room angry and frustrated and wanting to run back onto the pitch for another ninety minutes more because he wants to foul the hell out of somebody, anybody than because he wants to play the game over again and do everything right the second time. And Sol’s loud and complaining right next to them, and Cesc is nodding along to everything the other man says, and—and—
--and it’s funny how much blood can come from a scratch. Sol’s hang-nail digging into Cesc’s flesh so hard it’s like he’s cutting the muscle fibers apart into threads, his fingers hard around Cesc’s cock so Cesc is biting his lip to keep from screaming, pressing his face against the cold window to keep the pain of his mouth at bay, and Sol’s not even looking at Cesc; he’s got his forehead pressed into the seat in front of them as he curses about the bloody ref and the bloody fans and the bloody grass and bloody everything.
[“I don’t think it needs stitches.” Cesc hisses as he dabs more disinfectant on, trying to get out that hairline of brown in the cut. He’s not sure what it’s from, if it’s a scab or embedded mud or what, but it needs to come out.
“Stupid,” Philippe mutters. He passes the antibiotic cream, then waves around the packet of butterfly bandages while talking in all the languages he knows about how careless Cesc is. He probably doesn’t realize that Cesc’s learned about half of them now. “Everybody knows to stay away from Sol when he’s like that.”
Cesc blinks hard and a tiny, stringy blood clot pops right out.
Philippe shakes his head again. “Stupid.” He grimaces as he pokes at the clot, watching it slide around on Cesc’s thigh. “Ew.”
“Gross.” They both poke at it. They’re disgusted, but they just can’t help themselves.]
The next time Cesc walks by Sol, who’s already seated, he sees the faint rusty dots all over the seat next to the man. And he keeps on walking.
* * *
V. Aliaksandr Hleb
New guy. Not Sol. His English is terrible and Cesc doesn’t speak German, but his wrists can bend around in ways that almost make Cesc give them away a few times. He’s mostly using Cesc to improve his English, Cesc figures, and Cesc’s mostly taking it easy while he figures out what next.
He presses his mouth to the side of Cesc’s neck sometimes, and his lips are on the dry side and usually chapped. It’s actually a little more awkward than it should be, because he keeps looking at something else, never lets his eyes drop to Cesc, and Cesc is feeling lazy, so he just sits back with his hand lying on Hleb’s hip and lets his hips ride it out. It’s mindless, like enjoying the smell of freshly-done laundry, like checking the ties of his shorts one last time before he runs onto the field. Cesc lets it happen; he’s the one who carries on the cover conversation now, just blathering away in English to whoever’s nearby.
[“I bet you’re a terrible language teacher.”
“Better than you, with all that sign-language. For the longest time I thought you had some kind of nervous palsy.”
“Come over here and say that, you ungrateful jerk.”
“In English, French, or Spanish?”]
“I’m…saving this,” Hleb says one day when Cesc makes to take the seat beside him, and it’s just the weirdest feeling, like somebody yanking Cesc to a stop when he’s been spinning. Then somebody gives him a shove from behind, he snaps at them to just wait, damn it, and okay, new seat.
* * *
VI. Tomáš Rosický
Uh, stop-gap? It takes about a week for Cesc to figure out why Rosický always wants the aisle seat and always leans out like that when he’s jerking Cesc off. He almost wonders—but no, Rosický didn’t transfer till this season, way after Hleb was looking around for something else.
[“It is funny,” Philippe snaps, not looking amused at all. “Got squeezed out, huh?”
Cesc makes a face at him. “No, I played matchmaker. I was nice. I can be that, you know.”
The other man shrugs, clearly understanding but not taking the joke at all. He’s just heard back from the physios that he’ll be fit for the first team again soon, so he can’t be moody about that.]
Funny how Hleb saw nothing and got something. He just kept holding out, and lo, he receives. Really funny.
Cesc doesn’t understand that either.
* * *
VII. Jens Lehmann
This time, Cesc does it on purpose. He just wants a good, hard fuck with no strings attached, and Lehmann…well, for all anybody knows, Lehmann might really be split in the head. Maybe his separate personalities don’t talk to each other and update on what they’d been doing. Ten minutes after his fingers were stuffed up Cesc’s ass and his gigantic prick was pulsing in Cesc’s hand, he’s looking at Cesc like Cesc is a human-sized foreign object that just fell from space into the seat next to him.
[“I’m not even going to ask. I’m just amazed they didn’t carry you off the bus in pieces.”
“You’re no help with this, you know.”
Philippe steps back to eye the training cones. “Am I supposed to be?”]
Cesc’s just fucking insulted at this point. Fine, maybe he’s just not it for people, but he’s not forgettable.
* * *
VIII. Robin van Persie
Robin just flops back against the window, looking at Cesc through narrowed eyes. “I was wondering when you were going to come over here.”
“Well, I hear about you so much in the locker room that I figured might as well see what the fuss is all about,” Cesc shoots back.
The other man raises his eyebrows, but maybe looks a little more respectful. Not that it makes things much better. Robin’s good, all right, all that and a bag of chips, but if he’s super-competitive on the pitch, then he’s about ten times more with a bloody handjob. In the middle of it all, trying to cover up his grunts with his one hand and squeezing Robin’s balls with the other, Cesc has the sudden revelation that he doesn’t want to fight to be the best lay, of all things. If Robin wants it so bad, then he can just have it—
--“That didn’t take as long as I thought,” Robin pants afterward, sounding disappointed.
Cesc slouches in the chair with his hand down his sweats, scrubbing at the sticky come on his thighs with a tissue, and tries not to roll his eyes. He nearly sprains them in surprise when Lehmann’s head suddenly looms over the top of the row in front of them.
“It was damn well long enough,” Lehmann snaps. “Some of us actually like to sleep on the bus.”
“Well, some of us don’t get sleepy.” Robin sticks his chin out at Lehmann, and Lehmann starts to get that crazy mad light in his eye.
[Cesc and Philippe just look at each other, the idea just now introduced to Philippe and only now fully unfolding in Cesc’s mind.
“Ew,” they chorus.]
Last time Cesc ever goes to this side of the bus.
* * *
IX. Freddie Ljungberg
When Cesc sits down this time, he doesn’t really have any intentions or plans or ideas in mind. He just needs somewhere to sit, and after he notices that Freddie’s giving him the fish-eye, he tries to explain that to the other man.
“Well, your reputation goes before you,” Freddie finally says, still looking wary.
“Oh, for—I’m not going to! I don’t like you that way at all.”
Now Ljungberg looks insulted. Cesc can’t win. “Then why are you sitting here? Or…wait, you haven’t worked your way through everyone el—”
“I was never trying to ‘work’ my way through people. It’s not like I have a little list in my head, honestly.”
[Clothes go flying over Cesc’s head as Philippe frantically digs around, looking for his spare playing socks. “Are you sure?”
“Do I look like Robin?”
“If I squint and pretend I’m a nutty German who needs somebody to practice getting crazy on—”
Cesc finds the socks, balls them up, and throws them both at Philippe’s head.
“Well, that’s a relief.” Philippe retrieves the sock-balls from where they’ve rolled and drops them into his duffel. Then he starts poking around for something else. “I was beginning to wonder if I wasn’t good-looking enough.”
“To even rate making a pass at—never mind.”]
“Okay.” Freddie pulls out his earphones and plugs them into his ears. He’s mumbling to Cesc, his accent coming thicker and it’s odd, but suddenly it’s like Cesc has never heard a Swedish accent before. It isn’t exactly right, but then neither is German or French. “Still don’t know why me, though, but as long as it’s not that.”
Oh, God. No wonder Cesc always got it a little off. He puts his head in his hands. “No, definitely not.”
* * *
X. Philippe Senderos
“I saved you a seat,” Cesc says, sort of scrunching himself into the window corner. Well, he’s cold.
“Aw, thanks. Can’t get enough of me, can you?” Philippe flops down, stretches his legs as far as they’ll go, and starts throwing off heat like a furnace. He looked good on the pitch, easy and loose like he’d never been hurt, and he slots right into the seat like he’s been here for months and months, just waiting.
Not that he’d actually been the one to do the waiting, and Cesc’s still a little irritated at that. He pries himself out of his corner and crawls over to thump Philippe’s shoulder. “Well, you northerners.”
Freddie’s walking by them right then and he makes this funny little snort, and first Philippe twists into the aisle to look at Ljungberg’s back and then he turns back to stare wide-eyed at Cesc. “Oh, not—”
“No. Ew. So not on the list. If I had a list.” Cesc chews the side of his lip. He drums his hands on the seat-arm between them. “Well, you know, him. Not—Swedish men in general. Or any country up there.”
“That’s good to know for the Swedes. And I guess I can stop pretending to be an English guy now, since Switzerland won’t scare you off in winter,” Philippe says, digging around for his headphones, a book, a sneaked bar of chocolate, whatever. Then he looks up at Cesc, and then he blinks.
The seat-arm’s really hard, actually. It might be starting to bruise Cesc’s fingers. “But what is it with northern guys and shaving their heads?”
“I have some hair left,” Philippe objects. He’s staring at Cesc’s tapping fingers now. “If I shaved my head, would you not save a seat for me?”
Cesc makes his fingers stop. He starts rocking on his folded-up legs instead, trying to get out the cramps without really having enough room. “Why would I always be the one saving the seat?”
“’cause I was always the one speaking English?” Philippe’s kidding, sort of; he didn’t play translator like that too much. He keeps ducking his head as he pulls up the seat-arm between them, jerking it so Cesc’s hands fall off and land on the seat-cushion instead.
“Talk Spanish,” Cesc says, putting his chin on Philippe’s shoulder.
A warm arm drops around Cesc’s back, two grinning eyes are fixed firmly on him, and fingers gently press against his side. “Next time, get a seat further away from the lovebirds,” Philippe says in Spanish. He nods at the creaking that’s already started up from Hleb and Rosický. “Are they always this bad?”
“We could be worse.” Cesc smiles at the curve of Philippe’s jaw and watches it shift as the other man smiles back. “We’ll find a row.”