I used to think that if I admired them from afar, nothing would ever happen. I was so very far away, and so very quiet; an invisible shadow pressed right against the wall. No one would ever notice me when I walked into a room, or sat down at my desk in class. I was sure that I was so ordinary that I blended right in to that sea of anonymous faces that floated by down the hallways; sometimes I thought that my classmates didn't even know I existed. And so by that reasoning they should never have found out that I was ever there on the roof, watching the badminton courts down below from what must have been at least a hundred meters away. But all it took was one unfortunate encounter to change all of that.
It was a day just like any other; the sun was just slowly beginning to fall from the apex of its climb across the sky and it was my last period of the school day, my lunch period. Some people hate it, some people love it, and I? I suppose I made the best of it carefully hiding my hunger until I was finally free to go off to eat, neither feeling any particular hatred or love for the delay of my meal. The roof was my usual abode; I liked the slight breeze that drifted by as I sat on the ledge by the fence, it made me feel as though I wasn't quite as alone as I actually was.
It wasn't that I didn't have any friends or anything, I'd known Roy since I was a kid and ever since the time I beat him in that race we'd practically been glued to each other's sides ; during school I was always just a couple steps behind him wherever he went. But Roy and the others didn't share the same lunch as me, they were still in class right now and even if they had I don't know if they would've agreed to accompany me up here; more likely I would have wandered off when they started doing things which I didn't feel like joining in on. And so I sat on the ledge with a clear view of the backside of the school eating my lunch to relieve my starving stomach, sometimes whilst working, at other times just watching the breeze ripple through the trees and gardens that lined the outer courtyard of our school.
The girl's badminton team practiced almost every day during fifth period in the badminton courts located at the far left of the school's back area enclosed within a transparent glass box; where the school saw the logic in purposely constructing an off school indoors badminton area I didn't know, but the transparent walls were convenient for me. I frequently watched them play; they reminded me of my sister, lean and tall with a light skip in their step as they shuffled rapidly around the courts. She'd always had that athleticism that I could never match; though I was a fair sprinter myself with a similar thin build with lanky limbs, I was a little clumsy and uncoordinated and I was always tripping myself on my own legs.
Nel had been captain of the badminton team at her school during her last two years, and I was just an occasional back-up runner on cross country and track and field. She would always be smiling in those photos with her team, leaning over her friend Ariel's shoulder with that confident grin plastered across her face as her black bangs spilled just over the edge of her eyes to frame her face with a slight grey edge of shadow. I was the complete opposite, standing stiffly in the middle row looking anonymous and straight faced in the loose track uniform with my messy black hair shorn just above my ears when I was present in club photos.
I had finished my lunch and work for the day, and was watching the games down below. The girls below seemed to be holding a doubles tournament today; they were mostly clustered around the doubles courts while two teams at a time would face off against each other. Each victorious team would be met with a chorus of cheers as the loosing team slunk off the court to be greeted by a crowd of consoling hugs and what must've been encouragement for their performance. A particular pairing between a girl who must have been the captain and another slightly taller girl was currently dominating the field; they had won their last three matches with ease and although I couldn't see their faces or hear them speak, their body language conveyed an aura of confidence and ease. I was watching the two face off against their latest pair of opponents when I met her for the first time. Well, "met" might not be the best word to use to describe it; it's somewhat difficult for me to describe the encounter now.
"So which one of them is it?" the voice was confident yet curious, and it had a sort of snarky superior undertone to it. I nearly jumped at the sound of it, and a startled expression of surprise must have crossed my face as I turned towards the source of the voice because a grin crossed hers when our gazes intersected. She was rather slim, though not enough to be called skinny, and her height was within the range which could be labelled as ordinary; her black hair was tied back behind her head into a pony tail which fell just below her shoulders and her eyes were a piercing grey. What was most alarming however was her attire; she wore the familiar light white and green top and black shorts of the school's girls sports team uniform and carried a bag for a badminton racket slung over her shoulder. Inwardly I was almost cringing at her appearance, but I tried to maintain a calm composure.
"What do you mean 'which one of them is it'?" I responded with feigned ignorance. It didn't take a genius to realize she was asking me which of the two girls below I was watching in particular.
There she was with the confident grin again, I was pretty sure by now that I was screwed. "Oh don't give me that crap, you know what I'm talking about. Don't think that you're so invisible all the way up here; your outline might be a little blurry but I can still tell that someone's up here watching us sometimes if it's a good day without too many clouds. And that observer we have up on the roof would be you, am I correct?" She was watching carefully now like a hawk watching a mouse, her eyes burning holes into my shirt.
I shrugged in defeat; she had me. "Fine, maybe it is me up here, but I don't know what you mean when you ask me 'which one of them is it'" I looked away from those piercing eyes as I finished the sentence, determined not to be stared down.
"What, you must be watching someone in particular; I mean what's the point of hiding out all the way up here if you aren't hiding or anything?" the girl looked at me sceptically.
I crossed my arms over my chest, "I like it up here, is that a problem? It's nice and sunny and there's no one else up here to bother me." I nodded in her direction, "Apart from you; you're the first one to ever come up here apart from me as far as I know."
She sat down on the ledge where I usually would have been and gazed downwards at the courtyard, seemingly ignoring my comment. I stood stiffly to the side watching wordlessly as she scanned the horizon until her gaze settled on the badminton courts and the tournament going on below. "Were you watching Evelyn and the captain play before?" she asked suddenly without turning to face me.
"Yes I was, why do you ask?" I cautiously drew up beside her, leaning my arms along the railing preferring to stand rather than sit.
There was a momentary pause before she answered, I looked out into the far back of the courtyard where the wind swirled through the autumn leaves piled along the ground. "Nothing really, I just figured that if you weren't watching out for anyone in particular then it probably would have been them who would catch your eye. They're quite good, aren't they?" I glanced over and thought I saw a sort of distracted expression on her face, but I didn't mention it; it was probably nothing.
"Yeah, they're pretty good." I paused, biting my lip; what was I even doing talking to this girl who had just appeared out of the blue, I didn't even know her name. "My sister was better though." I chanced, finally deciding to keep the conversation going.
"Oh is that so," she said rather quietly which was interesting given the confident manner with which she had introduced herself. "Your sister was a badminton player then?" she turned to look at me; most of the sharp edge had left her eyes and this time it was much easier to meet her gaze.
"Yeah," I felt a little stupid using 'yeah' over and over, but the time for using the more stiff and formal 'yes' seemed to have passed. "She was captain of the team while she was here; she looked very similar to the current captain now too now that I think about it. They share that same build, long legs and quick feet; arms that are kind of thin and lanky but carry a lot of power and a long reach."
"You can see all of them from this distance in that much detail?" she raised an eyebrow, "you have good eyes…though that's also kinda creepy if you don't mind me saying so." I shrugged off her latter comment and carefully noted how she had used 'them' rather than 'us', excluding herself from the rest of the team members, it seemed as though she was hiding something or leaving something out. That was curious…and yet why did I care? We had just met anyways.
"Well I wouldn't bother watching if I couldn't really see, now would I." I slouched over a bit further and leaned over and put a hand on the bag carrying the badminton racket that was still slung over her shoulder, her gaze shifted to include the bag and my hand at the touch. "May I take a look?" I asked carefully.
She shrugged the bag off and unzipped the zipper, handing it over to me, "Go ahead, I don't mind." She said. The racket was surprisingly light, far lighter than the one my sister had used when she was still on the team; I took an experimental swing and the racket swished through the air easily as though it were but an extension of my arm. The girl watched carefully as I swung, her eyes tracking my movements easily.
"This is a nice racket." I said carefully placing it back into the bag and handing it back to her. She seemed to barely notice as the racket passed from my hands to hers, perhaps preoccupied by other thoughts.
"Thanks…" she said placing it on her lap as she turned back towards the courts. I strode back to where I had been leaning over the railing before and she shifted slightly to the side, and motioned for me to sit. "It's a great racket," she continued from where she had trailed off as I sat myself down, "but not quite good enough to beat Evelyn and the captain I guess." She let out a sort of quiet half hearted laugh, "That's too bad, huh?"
"You played them before? I didn't see you down there when I was watching." It was true; I'd been watching the team for almost two months now and never once had I seen this girl before.
"Oh I've played against them both before, but not during this tournament so you wouldn't have seen me down there today anyways. I've known the both of them a long time, I'm proud of them, leading the team this year after working so hard to get the spot." The words were clean and honest, but there was a slight wavering in her tone of voice that gave it away: she didn't like that those two had the positions which they did. I didn't know if she was envious or anything, I didn't have enough information to draw any real conclusions; but there was enough that I could see so that I could tell that something about the situation between her and the badminton team captain made her uncomfortable.
"What's the captain's name?" I asked carefully.
She smiled slightly, "Oh so you are interested in her then."
I laughed slightly and shook my head, "No, just curious, that's all. It seems a little awkward if we both just refer to her as 'the captain' when you know her name."
"Anna's her name, Anna Everest." She paused for a moment staring back down at the badminton courts before turning back to face me again. "I'm Grace, Grace Li. What's your name?"
I hesitated for just a split second; I guess I could say we'd been quite thoroughly introduced to each other by now. "The name's Theodore, but you can call me Theo." Theodore, I had always hated that name and insisted on using Theo instead, though my sister insisted on using my full name when I saw her just to annoy me. It was too long, too awkward, and it made my already rather stiff and formal persona seem that much more impersonal.
"Pleasure meeting you Theo," Grace said offering out her hand which I shook. A bit of the confident smile which she had had plastered across her face originally when she'd first appeared had returned.
"Likewise," I replied back, unsure of what to say.
"Wanna watch them wrap up the tournament? I'm sure Anna and Evelyn are going to wipe the floor." She laughed slightly.
I nodded, a little overwhelmed with the pace at which we were moving along in getting to know each other. If Grace noticed this though, she didn't show it, instead she shifted her gaze to the courts down below and so I did the same. And so we sat there quietly watching the tournament go on below us until all of the games were over, two ghosts on the lonely windswept roof.