BBFC rating: 12A (one use of strong language, moderate sex references and moderate sexual innuendo)Author’s disclaimer: I don’t know Grealish or De Bruyne. This story is complete fiction.
Chapter 3, Optics, was here.
Jack Grealish’s phone buzzed as he ascended the lift on his way to the hotel room he was staying in. It was a text from his best friend, Ben Chilwell.
‘Gr8 game, your passes were quality. [fire emoji] [goat emoji]’
Jack smiled to himself. It was nice to feel supported by those closest to him. He pinged Chilly back a thank you, and they exchanged some messages back and forth, which included a short video of the Chelsea defender learning the piano.
They finished messaging just as the lift reached Jack’s floor. His laddish banter with Chilly caused him to take a briefly reminisce of his heady, boozy nights out with Chilwell and James Maddison.
Jack thought about how effortless it had been for him back then. Being a famous footballer blessed with, yes, he’d say it, those looks, women would swarm to him like bees to honey in bars and clubs, so it was simply up to him to decide which girl tickled his libido that night.
In the cases of the really beautiful women, who played a little harder to get, that simply meant Jack had to move out of first gear in order to get the green light from her.
It meant that, rather than just his swagger, he’d also have to employ his charm. Rather than just giving the woman a suggestive look with his irresistible doe eyes, he’d have to flutter the matching long eyelashes.
And that was the extent to which Jack had ever had to toil for a shag.
Following the Summer, the volume of girls queueing up to enjoy his form had grown exponentially. Whether they were Villa, City, or England fans. Or girls who weren’t that interested in football, but had noticed him on the telly during the Euros, and had liked what they’d seen.
Nope, Jack certainly didn’t lack charisma, and he had been coasting on that his entire life.
So it was frustrating the fuck out of him, that he couldn’t charm his teammate, Kevin De Bruyne with the ease with which he’d captivated men and women alike, simply by smiling at them.
Despite his Irish roots and having gone to a Roman Catholic school, Jack wasn’t particularly religious or spiritual. But he had to wonder if Kevin’s indifference towards him was the universe’s way of teaching him a lesson, for his cavalier attitude towards women over the years, in the name of scoring lad points among his ‘Avengers’ footballer friends.
It was as if the universe was goading him, ‘Why don’t you try the boot being on the other foot? Being treated like crap by the one you like’.
Because Jack did like Kevin. So much it hurt.
At first, Jack thought it was just a footballing crush; admiration for how Kev could bend the ball like Beckham, using his left or right foot. How Kevin’s somewhat ungainly stature belied surprising levels of athleticism and agility. How his vision enabled him to spot things no other playmaker could, and deliver the ball right to the goalscorer’s feet.
But Jack admired tonnes of footballers, and no player had ever had the effect on him that KDB was having.
No person had had the effect on him that Kevin was having.
The effect where Jack got butterflies in his stomach whenever he was in Kevin’s vicinity.
Where, if he saw Little Phil, his closest friend at City, so much as cracking a joke with Kevin, he’d be filled with a burning rage that it wasn’t him that Kevin was being pally with.
Where if Kevin didn’t respond to a comment he’d made, and instead looked at him like he was weird, it made him feel like shit.
Where, despite KDB’s continual aloof demeanour, Jack, like the glutton for punishment he was, kept trying over, and over, and over again, to bond with him.
Like right now. Jack could see Kevin fumbling in his wallet for his hotel card, getting ready to enter. Before the sensible part of his brain could tell him that he was being way too keen, Jack bounded up to KDB like a Labrador to their owner after they returned from work.
‘Hey Kevin! Great match!’
KDB nodded and gave a half-smile. ‘Yeah, well played Jack. You’re adapting to the Champions League so well.’
Kevin seemed to think that comment had fulfilled his quota of ‘being nice to Jack Grealish for the day’, because he started to turn his body away from Grealish and towards the hotel door.
‘Hey Kev,’ Jack said, obtusely refusing to read the room (or hotel hallway). ‘Wanna hang out in my room? We could watch Squid Game.’
Kevin faced Jack, slightly irked that this man wouldn’t leave him in peace. ‘I finished Squid Game the week it came out’, he said, and he sounded sharper than he’d intended.
Catching his teammates’ expression, Kevin realised he’d been unnecessarily short, because Jack looked so crestfallen that it was if the Squid Game doll herself had caught him moving when he shouldn’t be.
Not wanting to be responsible for a teammates’ hurt feelings, KDB softened. ‘But, seeing as you’re here now, we can have a beer in my room? There’s Leffes in my mini-bar.’
Jack didn’t really care for Leffes. He found them bitter and far too strong. But, if drinking sub-optimal beer was the price to hang out with his hero, Leffe him up.
Kevin’s hotel room was identical to the one Jack was in. Except, where Jack had strewn his City swag and personals all over the spare bed, there wasn’t an item out of place in Kevin’s.
Kevin took two Leffe Blondes out of the mini-bar, unscrewed them, and handed one to Jack. They clinked bottles.
‘So…’ Jack started, trying to think of something he could chat to Kevin about. ‘Are you from around here?’
‘Not too far, actually,’ Kevin said. ‘My hometown, Drongen, is about 30 miles from Bruges.’
‘The hometown of the best footballer in the world,’ Jack smiled, buttering his teammate up.
‘Well, I think Lewandowski would have something to say about that,’ Kevin replied modestly, although the shameless attempt at flattery had hit its mark, because the corners of his mouth curled into a grin. ‘And Messi of course. That goal he got against us last month was like something from his prime.’
The two men carried on talking football, and watching clips from their peers on YouTube, as they finished their first beers and went onto their second.
Kevin was about the call it a night after that, but a combination of Jack’s child-like enthusiasm as he flicked up another compilation video, and not wanting to see that sad Squid Game expression on his face again, but he didn’t have the heart to boot him out.
So they carried on drinking.
It was nearing midnight and the effect of alcohol was kicking in. Having made acquaintances with about half the girls in Birmingham in hotel rooms, Jack Grealish had developed a somewhat Pavlovian reaction, where simply the act of being inebriated in a hotel room, with another person, meant he was at risk of being in an amorous mood.
And the fact that the other person in this instance was the object of all his affections, meant Jack could sense he was on the precipice of a semi.
And he wasn’t thinking of Champions League matches.
Jack knew that the wise thing to do right now would be to extricate himself from the situation. He knew that Kev was just humouring him by letting him stay. He didn’t want to outstay his welcome.
And he certainly didn’t want a repeat of the embarrassing tickling incident, which him and Kevin seemed to have reached an unspoken agreement to pretend had never happened.
But when they’d watched Lewandowski, Messi and Cristiano compilations, they’d had a lot to talk about. They dissected the particularly audacious moments of those footballers’ play and discussed what they could do in their own training, to emulate them.
Jack had then coyly typed ‘KDB goals’ into YouTube as Kev got the third set of beers out of the fridge. By this point, there was a rosy flush across the Belgian’s features from the alcohol, which conveniently masked any blushing he may or may not have done at seeing Jack Grealish’s schoolboy crush on him, play out so transparently in front of his eyes.
Jack asked Kev to talk him through a particularly arresting free-kick KDB scored against Barcelona in 2016. Back then, Kevin was younger than Jack was now.
‘Oh, so for this goal, I noticed Ter Stegen was edging towards his right just as I was about to strike the ball, so I went to his left,’ Kevin said.
‘You make it sound so easy,’ Jack said huskily, mesmerised.
Through all KDB’s explanations, Jack had been watching his teammate talk, enraptured. But it hadn’t just been what he had been saying that had grabbed him. As Kevin spoke, Jack noticed how full Kevin’s lips were. How kissable they were.
KDB’s top lip had a clearly defined Cupid’s bow. The kind of Cupid’s bow that the girls Jack had pulled in clubs spent ages trying to recreate with makeup.
Perhaps it was the third Leffe, perhaps it was the intoxicating appeal of such a talented footballer speaking so passionately and articulately about each of his goals, but at that moment, Jack knew exactly where he wanted Kevin to place his lips.
KDB took a swig of his Leffe. In his tipsy state, some of the foam of the beer fell on his ginger beard.
Jack saw an opportunity, and took it.
‘Oh Kev,’ he purred. ‘You’ve got some of the head of the beer on you. Here, I’ll get rid of it.’
Jack placed his fingers on the left side of KDB’s beard, where the foam was. Realising that KDB couldn’t see where the foam was, Jack took his index finger and placed it in the arch of the Cupid’s bow of Kevin’s top lip. He left his finger there, and held the Belgian’s eyes for as long as he felt he could get away with.
Kevin De Bruyne’s inscrutable ice-blue eyes were the opposite to Jack Grealish’s big brown ones, in terms of how much information they divulged. Jack had no idea what his teammate was thinking. It must be plainly obvious by now that there wasn’t any beer on the cleave of Kevin’s top lip, but he didn’t seem to be resisting Jack touching him there.
If this were a girl in a bar, she would take the cue. She would see the unmistakable desire in Grealish’s eyes, and kiss him.
But this wasn’t a girl in a bar. It was his teammate KDB, who he wasn’t even sure liked him as a friend. Rushing into things wasn’t an option.
For the first time ever, Jack was going to have to take it slow.
As he and Kevin said their good nights and he made his way back to his hotel room, Jack tried to decipher the look on Kev’s face when he’d touched his top lip.
It wasn’t an overt yes, like the signals he’d been so used to receiving from women throughout his charmed life.
But it wasn’t a no. The closest thing he could describe KDB’s expression as, as Jack had grazed his lip with his finger, was quizzical. Appraising. As if to say, ‘What are you doing? OK, I’ll bite. Let’s see where this goes.’
So it wasn’t a green light for a kiss from his teammate, but it hadn’t been a red light either.