World Cup by Tom Morgan

Germany (2006)

Hannah said that she would come. I invited her last week, and she said yes – she said that she’d be here; But she’s not here. I even went to all the trouble of making her one of those special cards that I’ve placed on top of her seat. It took me ages. The card says: RESERVED FOR HANNAH LEE in big, bold letters, and it has an orange border around the outside of it. Orange is her favourite colour.

Maybe it’s a good thing that she’s not here. Why do I have to be Eugene, anyway?

Yes, he’s funny, and I can be funny when I want to be, but he’s the butt of the joke.  He’s a complete and utter clown. Hannah’s not going to want to be with a clown, is she? She’s going to want to be with someone tough. I’m tough. At least, I can be – I’ve had four teeth out, and I didn’t even make a fuss. I’ve got them in a small red box in my bedroom. It’s made out of plastic, and it looks like a little treasure chest. Hannah might even want to see them. they’re the only pieces of evidence to back up my (valid) claim of being tough.

Oh, there’s Bebe. Bebe runs the show. Bebe gets what she wants. Bebe’s my friend, but I don’t like her sometimes. Bebe’s in a panic because Dan Thompson hasn’t turned up yet. It’s opening night, and we don’t have our Danny Zuko.

I could be Danny Zuko. I can do a perfect John Travolta impersonation. I say this to Bebe. “I could be Danny Zuko,” I say. “I know all the lines.”

But Bebe shuts me down. “You’re Eugene,” says Bebe. “This show needs a Eugene.”

“It also needs a Danny,” I say. “There’s no Grease without Danny Zuko.”

But Bebe’s confident that Dan Thompson will turn up. “Dan’ll turn up,” says Bebe. “I don’t know what the hell he’s playing at, and I think I might have to kill him, but I’ll wait until after the show has finished.”

I’m persistent. My Grandad says I could be a politician – that’s how confident and persistent I can be. “At least let me give it a try,” I say. “Please. Just give me a chance. I promise I won’t let you down.”

“Fine,” says Bebe. “If he’s not here in ten minutes, you can be Danny.” Then Bebe storms off because she has a million other things to do. I hear her mutter something about this under her breath.

God, I hope Dan doesn’t make it. I need Dan to be a no-show, and for Hannah to turn up; Then she’ll see me for who I really am, and she’ll go out with me. Then I’ll have my first real girlfriend.

That reminds me, I’ve got to go and find Tom and see if he’s prepared to step in as

Eugene. Tom’s in the chorus. Oh, here he is now.

“Tom, come over here,” I say.

Tom walks over. It’s actually more of a waddle than a walk. He’s not fat, he’s just really tall, and his body shape is what I would describe as awkward. Tom tells me that he’d love to be Eugene and that he’d love to be in the play. I mean, technically, he’s already in the play, but he’s in the chorus, which is like the equivalent of being an extra in a film.

“It’s not set in stone yet,” I say to Tom. “You’ll only be in if Dan doesn’t show up.” “Okay,” says Tom. Then he waddles off somewhere.

It’s really starting to fill up out there. Mum and Dad are here. And Nan and Grandad. I’ve reserved them seats as far away from Hannah as possible. I don’t want them embarrassing me in front of her.

There’s still no sign of Hannah, though. I don’t understand – she promised me that she’d be here. Where the hell is she? What else is she doing on a Thursday night? Maybe she’s with Dan. Fucking Dan. First, he steals my spot as Danny Zuko in the show, then he steals my girlfriend. I know Mum and Dad wouldn’t like it if they knew that I was swearing (they’ve said, on numerous occasions that it’s not big, and it’s not clever), but I don’t care – this is really fucking important to me.

Dan’s got five minutes to get here, or I’m taking his spot in the show. I can’t believe it – it looks like I’m actually going to get to be the lead! I’ve never been the lead in anything before. The closest thing I’ve ever got to a big role was when I played Benjamin Calypso in a school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, but that was years ago. This could be my moment in the spotlight – this could change everything for me.

There’s Bebe again. God, she looks stressed. This is why I don’t direct. You’ve got a million important things to do and no-one to help you do them.

Oh, for fuck’s sake. Fucking Dan’s here. What are you doing here, Dan? Can’t you see that it’s my time to shine, Dan? Go away, Dan!

It looks like I’m back to being Eugene again. And to make matters even worse, the play is starting soon, and there’s still no sign of Hannah. God, I just want to get this whole thing over and done with.

Mum and Dad are happy for me. They say I was funny and that it was my best performance yet, but their opinion means absolutely nothing to me – they’d say I was good no matter what I did.

After Hannah was a no-show, I couldn’t bring myself to go to the after-party. Why bother? The only person I want to talk to probably won’t be there. Besides, it’s pretty clear that she doesn’t want anything to do with me.

Mum thinks I should still go and that it’s not too late. She says she’ll drop me off.

But I tell her I don’t want to go.

“Why not?” says Mum.

“I just don’t want to,” I say.

“Okay, fine,” says Mum. Then she says that I can spend the evening watching the World Cup with her and Dad. I don’t really want to do that, either. What difference does it make if England win? It won’t have any impact on my life.

I just want to go home and get some sleep. The sooner I get out of this tin-pot town, the better.

South Africa (2010)

Joining the Drama Society was the best decision I’ve ever made. Not only have I met a lot of interesting people, but I also feel like I’m developing and improving as an actor.

I’ve been cast as Vince in our production of Tape by Stephen Belber. Vince is one of the leads in the play. It’s a triple-header, so the roles are fairly equal. But I’ll be on stage for the entire play acting with my two castmates, which will be good.

The director of the play is a girl named Aimee. Aimee’s a big part of the society. She’s quite something. She’s from somewhere in America – Massachusetts, I think. I’ve never been there, but I’ve heard it’s quite nice. Aimee’s been putting us all through our paces. She’s doing it for us; she wants the show to be a big success, we all do, but Aimee wants it that little bit more. You can tell.

Aimee’s not like all the other girls from back home. They’re dull and boring, and all they care about is going on holiday or on nights out. Aimee’s passionate. Interesting. Smart. Funny. She’s interested in film and theatre, and she reads poetry. She told me about an American poet named Ron Padgett. I went to the library and took out a collection of his poems. They’re beautiful and funny and sharp and touching, and Aimee and I talk about them over coffee sometimes.

In fact, that’s what we’re just about to do now. She’s agreed to meet me at the library. We had rehearsals this morning, but now we have the rest of the day to ourselves, and Aimee’s agreed to spend some of it with me.

Here she comes.

“Hi,” says Aimee.

“Hello,” I say.

Aimee offers to get me a coffee. I say I’ll pay, but she insists. She asks me what I want, and I say that I’ll have whatever she’s having. She says okay and then goes off to get the coffees.

I think something’s happening here. I don’t know if it’s love, because I’ve never been in love before, but I feel something when I’m with her. Maybe it is love. I’m not sure if she feels it, though. She might just see us as friends. I think I might want more than that. In fact, I do want more than that. But I don’t want my feelings to affect our working relationship. The play needs to come first. I just hope I can hold off until after the play has finished.

She’s coming back with the coffees now, so it’s best if I forget about these feelings

I’m having and try to steer the conversation towards the play.

It’s late now. The library café is closing for the day. I’ve had a great time talking to Aimee and just being in her company. I think she’s had a good time, too. At least, I hope she has.

“We better make a move before they kick us out,” I say.

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” says Aimee.

We gather up our things.

“Listen,” says Aimee. “Do you want to get a drink? I mean, a real drink?” “Yeah, definitely,” I say.

“All right, cool,” says Aimee.

We head over to Falmer Bar. Aimee finds us a seat, and I go to the bar and order us a couple of beers. I tell her I’ll get these, seeing as she got the coffees. “It’s only fair,” I say.

The bar is pretty busy tonight. There are a lot of students with face paint on their faces holding flags of various nations. There’s an Algerian flag, a Japanese flag, a Serbian flag, a Nigerian flag, a Portuguese flag, and an American flag. There might even be a few others, too. They’re all watching the World Cup on the big screen in the bar. I think there’s some sort of party going on here.

As I wait for the beers, I see David Villa score a goal to make it 2-0 to Spain. I think they’re playing against Honduras. I pay for the beers and take them over to our table. Aimee’s watching the TV. She says that she’s happy for the US national team if they win, but ultimately, she’s not that bothered about what happens. I tell her that I feel exactly the same way about England.

I put the beers down on the table. Aimee lifts up her glass.

“Cheers,” says Aimee.

“Cheers,” I say.

We clink our glasses together and take a sip of beer. She puts her hand on top of mine.

Brazil (2014)

This is the worst day of my life. That may sound dramatic, but trust me, it isn’t. Aimee’s visa has run out, which means she has to go back to America today. She’s been on a student visa, and since we’ve both graduated now, her stay in this country is no longer legal.

I don’t get it. Why can’t she stay? Just because she was born on a different piece of land thousands of miles away, it means that she’s not allowed to stay on another piece of land anymore? We all live on the same fucking planet, don’t we? What difference does it make?

Aimee and I have been living together for just over a year. After I graduated, I started working at a local theatre. Aimee stayed on another year at university and did a postgraduate degree in theatre directing; But she graduated a couple of months ago, and now it’s all over. I think we both knew that this day would come, but we agreed not to think about or talk about it. Now it all seems like it’s happening so fast, and we’re both utterly powerless to do anything to stop it.

We got to the airport this morning. Aimee’s flight leaves in a couple of hours, but before she goes through security, we decided to get something to eat. Aimee’s getting the food now. She said that she would pay because she needs to spend all of her remaining British pounds. After all, they’ll be no good to her or anyone in Massachusetts.

Sitting here alone has given me some time to think. I think I’m going to ask her to marry me. That way, she can stay in the country forever. God, why didn’t I think of this before? It’s the perfect plan. I know we’ve only been together a short while, but I’m in love with her, and if you’re in love with someone, then why not get married?

Aimee’s coming over with the food. She puts the tray down on the table and passes me my chicken burger and chips and diet Pepsi. “Guess what?” I say.

“What?” says Aimee.

“Guess,” I say.

“I’m not in the mood for games,” says Aimee.

“Okay,” I say. “But what I’m about to say might put you in the mood.” “Fine, I’m listening,” says Aimee.

“Let’s get married,” I say.

Aimee doesn’t say anything; she just looks at me for a second. Then she gets up and leaves the table.

“Aimee, wait,” I say. “Where are you going?” I manage to catch up with her. “Aimee…” I say. She’s crying now. “It’s okay,” I say. Then I hug her. She buries her face in my shoulder. I don’t even care if she gets snot and tears all over my jacket – I love her snot and tears. “We don’t have to get married if you don’t want to,” I say. “But I want you to stay. It might be your only choice.”

She calms herself down. “I think we should break up,” says Aimee.

“What?” I say. “I don’t want to break up. I love you.”

“Don’t say that,” says Aimee. “You and I both know the long-distance thing never works out. Besides, I’m sure you’ll meet someone new and forget all about me.”

“That won’t happen,” I say. “I won’t let it happen. I can come and visit you, and you can come and visit me. And we can Skype. It’s only a five-hour time difference. I promise you that we can find a way to make this work.”

“But it won’t work,” says Aimee. “It never works. I think it’s best if we just shake hands and walk away.”

“Aimee, please,” I say. “Don’t do this.”

“I’m sorry,” says Aimee. “But it has to be this way.”

She takes her things and walks off towards security, and just like that, she’s gone.

I’m on my way home from the airport. It feels weird to be going home without Aimee. I can’t believe it’s over. I don’t want to believe it, but it’s already happened. Aimee will be on her way home to Boston now. I wonder if I’ll ever get to see her again.

There are some people here on the train dressed in outfits like you’d see at some sort of carnival celebration. I think it has something to do with the opening ceremony of the World Cup in Brazil.

I don’t get it – how can anyone dance and be happy at a time like this?

Russia (2018)

I’ve been in America for a couple of weeks now. I’m staying for the rest of the summer. Aimee’s parents said that they were happy to have me. We get along quite well, even though I’m not exactly what they were expecting. I think they were expecting someone from Downton Abbey or something. At least they can understand me, though. Aimee told me that she once directed an Irish actor in a Chekhov play and couldn’t understand a word he was saying.

Aimee and her parents were there to meet me at Logan International Airport in

Boston. It’s a really great and beautiful city. I’m glad that I was invited. Aimee spent last Christmas with me and my family in England. She asked me if I’d like to spend the summer with her after we’d eaten our Christmas dinner (which we ate on Boxing Day because Mum had to work on Christmas Day). I said I’d love to. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Aimee’s parents like to travel a lot and go on road trips. They’ve seen nearly all fifty states, which is quite impressive if you ask me. I haven’t really seen that much of England. I suppose I should start thinking about it. Maybe I could invite Aimee and her parents. We could go to Manchester or Liverpool or Newcastle. That could be fun.

Today, the four of us took a trip down to Maine. I didn’t know too much about Maine, other than the fact that Stephen King lives there, and it’s home to some of the best lobsters on the planet.

We ate some delicious lobster rolls at an old lighthouse that has been converted into a restaurant. I think I saw Adam Richman eat there once on an episode of Man v. Food. That would have been about ten years ago. It’s funny to think that I didn’t even know Aimee back then.

The four of us went for a walk afterwards and looked out at all the sailing boats in the ocean. Then, we went to visit Stephen King’s house. We had our photograph taken outside the gates of his beautiful Victorian-style mansion. I hope he doesn’t mind it when people visit his house. I’d hate to think that I had upset him and his family in any way.

To be quite honest, I was hoping that we would see him and his pet Corgi, Molly (or as he calls her, the “Thing of Evil”), but unfortunately, we didn’t.

It took us a while, but we just arrived back at Aimee’s house in Boston. Aimee says she’s tired from the journey and is going to take a nap. I tell her I’ll be up in a minute. To tell you the truth, I’d love to go upstairs and join her, but I need to talk to her parents about something. They’re watching some of the highlights from the opening day of the World Cup. Even though the US national team didn’t qualify, they still watch it. They love football, or ‘soccer,’ as they call it here.

When I tell them that I need to talk to them about something important, they switch off the TV and give me their full attention; And then I ask them.

I’ve got something for Aimee in my pocket. Her parents have given me their blessing. Aimee’s going to take me around the city and show me some of her favourite places. She said she wants to show me her favourite spot in the park. She said it’s beautiful and it frames the city like the perfect picture. That’s where I’ll ask her.

I know I asked her a few years ago, but I wasn’t really ready to ask, and I don’t think she was really ready to answer. I just hope that she’s ready now and that I get the answer I’m looking for this time around.

Wish me luck.

About The Author

Tom Morgan is a writer from Worthing in West Sussex. He’s been published in Dream Catcher Magazine, Clover and White, Truffle Magazine, and the 2019 Leicester Writes Short Story Prize Anthology.

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