2307: Young Blood

Posted: August 27, 2012 by Kelly in stories, the world

“So Lannie, are you enjoying yourself?” David Vermeer asks me cheerily. He lays his arm around my shoulder with a familiarity he never shown me before, but which is easily explained in the way he smells like expensive booze and new sweat.

I offer him my sweetest smile, while gesturing at the party people in the penthouse. Behind them, the sun is setting over the canal. “You throw the best parties. Thanks again for that.”

Music is swirling through the room, loud, but not too overbearing. The champagne is flowing freely and I think there’s not a soul in the house that is still sober.

“It’s okay, my dear. You’ve earned it,” he laughs graciously. “Also, you’ve earned me money, so I’m glad to throw you your official victory party.”

/A business opportunity gone well,/ I can’t help but think. I’m sure Vermeer has gotten very rich over my victory in the Rookie league, after he has sponsored me in the past year. But it’s okay, I can’t be mad at him. After all, it made me rich, too. Finally money won’t be an issue anymore. We’ll be able to pay off our debts, pay the bills, and then we still have money to get married and live comfortably for a couple of years. Our problems are finally over.

My searching eyes find Walter in the crowd. He’s talking to a dark-haired man I’ve never seen before. I can tell from the way he’s gesturing that my boyfriend has had a few too many as well. But it’s cool; the champagne tastes like heaven and my victory has been a great relief for the both of us. It’s like we’re living a frigging dream. /I think I’ll pay off everything tomorrow, hangover and all. Won’t that be something?/

“It’s great,” I assure my sponsor. “Thank you for believing in me. I’m glad I didn’t disappoint.”

He grins. “I hope you’ll continue to not disappoint me for a very long time. It’s been a pleasure doing business with you. Will you be competing next season?”

I shrug and finish my champagne. I put my glass on a nearby table and turn back to him. “Not sure. My first priorities are paying off my debts and get Walter to make an honest woman out of me.”

“Ah of course,” he smiles smoothly. “And here I am, just talking about future business. Of course you want to enjoy your victory first. But be sure to invite me to the wedding, alright?”

“Sure thing.”

Some other person walks up to us and congratulates me profusely. I have no idea who the woman in question is, but she is nice enough to chat with for a couple of minutes. Time is blurring together with champagne and friendly faces, half of which I’ve never seen before. People want to have their picture taken with me. I have to sign autographs. One highly pregnant woman tells me she’s always loved the name Lannie and is thinking of naming her daughter after me. “You won’t mind, would you?”

I have to laugh at that. “Not at all. I’m sure she’ll grow up strong like me.” /Hopefully not as much of an addict fuckup, though/.

I make my way to the balcony and lean over the wide railing. It is late June and the days in Amsterdam are long and sunny. The sunset is spectacular and I find myself smiling at the colours in the sky. /A sunset over my fuckups. Tomorrow’s a new day. And from tomorrow on, we’ll have a new life./

Something moves in the corner of my eye. I whirl around with reflexes who are still too wired after weeks of battle in the arena, but the only thing I see next to me is the balcony of the neighbouring penthouse. There’s a woman standing there, dressed in jeans and a tank top. She’s holding a beer can in her hand and is leaning over the railing of her own balcony much like I was doing a second ago. Watching the sunset.

She notices me watching and looks up. I immediately recognise her face. Everyone in the whole world knows that face. She’s one of the reasons why I had to enter the Rookie league in the first place. I lost a lot of money when I bet against her chances in the Northern League. A mistake I won’t make again, I think. Rumour has it, she quit the League for good.

Valentina Marin. /Wow/.

“Evening,” I say to her, smiling.

She returns the smile with a tiny quirk of her lips and raises her beer at me. “Evening, Lannie. This your party?” her eyes flick to the open balcony doors behind me.

/Damn, she knows my name./ I bite on the inside of my cheek and revel in the feeling of being famous. “Yeah, my sponsor threw the party to celebrate my victory. Awfully nice of him.” And then, in a daring move, I add: “Want to come over? I’m sure we can spare some champagne.”

She smiles again. “I don’t think I’m quite dressed for the occasion. But congratulations none the less, it was a good victory.”

“Thank you, that means a lot to me. You’d be totally welcome, though.” I look down at my own fancy dress; a purple slinky thing that must have cost more than what I used to earn in a month, and then check out the faded and paint-spattered jeans on the six time League Champion. I grin. “Not sure those people inside would notice much. You won’t believe how drunk these people are.”

“Well, I have met David before, so I think I’ve got an idea.” A mischievous grin spreads on her face. “Alright, step back a little.”

And with the easy grace that we’ve all looked at on our televisions, the grace we all know so well, she hops balconies on the twentieth floor. As if it’s nothing. I can’t help laughing. “Yeah, I guess that works too. Can I get you a drink?”

She absentmindedly looks down at the beer still in her hand. “Ehm. One of these? David should have some Lowlands beer stocked at least, and if I never drink champagne again it’ll be too soon.”

“Beer it is. Give me a sec.” I have to take two steps before I find some waiter who is making sure nobody’s glasses are empty. In less than a minute I hand Valentina Marin her beer. /Talk about fucking surreal./ “So, are you redecorating?” I ask, just to have something to say.

Valentina’s eyes scan the room, probably looking for potential threats or familiar faces. When she looks at me again she looks relaxed. “Yeah, I… uh… moved in next door a while ago. Well, over a year actually. I can’t seem to find the right colour for the walls though. I’ve tried green, but it’s just so… green, you know?”

“So it’s cream now?” I ask, gesturing at the majority of paint splotches on her jeans.

She chuckles and looks down at her jeans. “Uh, yeah. What gave it away?”

“The upper layer of paint, mostly.” I grin. “I’m wondering though, why don’t you hire someone to do this stuff /for/ you? You should have some money left from all of your League victories, right?”

“Well, some.” She says with a wink. David once bragged about what his apartment cost, and if Valentina owns the place next door ‘some’ sounds like a gross understatement. “But why would I let someone do it right when I can fuck it up spectacularly a dozen times myself? ‘s more fun this way.”

I laugh and marvel at the lighthearted tone of our conversation. Am I really talking home improvement with Valentina fucking Marin? “More talent with guns than with paintbrushes, then?”

Valentina shrugs. “Less practise. I’m sure I’ll get better at it over time. Anyway, my life’s a little boring right now, so lets talk about interesting stuff instead. How are you feeling today, oh victorious one?”

“Very victorious, thank you very much!” I laugh. “No but seriously, it feels like a crazy hopeful dream. I really needed this one, I was on fire in the Arena… and I was really lucky. For once. Good times were had by all. And by all I mostly mean my boyfriend and me.”

“Luck had very little to do with it, sweetheart. With reflexes like yours you’re a tough cookie in any competition. Besides, luck is for silly people, I put more stock in good exercise and lots of target practise myself.”

I can feel the blush of happiness creep up my neck. “Thanks. You’re right, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Practised until I was blue in the face. I came to this kind of stuff pretty late, so I had to make up for a lot of lost time. I used to be in sales. Can’t believe that’s only two years ago.” I shrug. “But yeah, practise helps. Can you give me some secret tips of the trade, maybe?”

Valentina’s next smile is a little wry. “Quit while you’re ahead,” she says with a small laugh. “Or if you’re determined to keep going, make sure you stay on good terms with the organisation, keep your head out of the illegal drugs and don’t forget to look up.”

“Sounds fair enough.” I sip from my glass of champagne. I can’t remember when the waiter planted one in my hand. “I’m not sure if I want to continue, though. I’ve gone as far in the Rookie league as I can and I’m kind of hesitant to actually enter the Fortress, after what happened with Walter in bootcamp a couple of years ago. They nearly killed him. Made him an invalid.”

Valentina’s eyes scan the room, finding a target in Walter easily enough. “Ah. Yes, I saw the reruns of that. You should be able to pay for reconstructive surgery though, with what you’ve won here.”

The happy blush turns into one of embarrassment. “Not quite, unfortunately. I got a lot of bills to pay off. But maybe one day. If I keep fighting, maybe I could. It would take time, though. It’s hard to pay when I’m bleeding out on the floor of some Fortress though.”

“Ain’t that the truth…” Valentina says. “Although, with your skills you stand a decent chance in the Euroleague. Get some decent backers… David’s a good start, but you can go bigger. Cute girl like you… People want to like you, Lannie, and that’s a trait few of your competitors possess. Of course, if you want to live out a happy life with your husband to be then your best odds are to stay out of the League.”

“It’s kind of a mixed blessing isn’t it, the League.” I raise my glass to Valentina. There’s not much champagne left in the glass. The sunset colours it orange. “Anyway, thank you for the compliments. You have no idea how much it means to me. I’m a huge fan of yours. And for what it’s worth, I’m glad you made it out of your last match. I really thought you wouldn’t, but you did. You’re an inspiration.”

“Awe shucks, you’re going to make me blush.” There’s not a hint of colour in sight on her cheeks though. “It was a close call. Far closer than it had any right to be, but it is what it is. I’m just glad I’m out.” She glances at my nearly empty glass. “And you have no idea how glad I am I no longer get that stuff forced down my throat. Six years of overpriced champagne. You have no idea, Lannie. It’s horrible. Not to mention the fucking caviar.”

“So far the champagne and the caviar don’t bother me yet. It’s the paparazzi that’s driving me nuts. How do you deal?”

“I just threaten them with violence,” she deadpans.

I look at the other people in the penthouse from the corner of my eye. “I counted at least six instances of them snapping pictures of us so far. Wonder why they think us sharing a drink together is so interesting.” I laugh. “They must think I’m asking for advice…. which is probably right. Thanks for being a good sport.”

She shrugs. “Well, it’s not like I’ve got anything to lose in offering you a few tips and tricks, right? I’m out. Besides, I’m just warming you up right now. I fully expect you to offer your help in redecorating my house by the end of the evening.”

“I’m sure that I am better with my shock rifle than with a brush as well, so sure, let’s fuck up your wall spectacularly together. I’ll bring the booze. What do you drink?”

Valentina takes a swig of her beer. “What don’t I drink… aside from champagne.”

“It’s a date. Cream is my favourite colour.”

Valentina laughs at that. “It’s boring. Why don’t we skip painting the walls and just stick with the booze instead? We’re less likely to wreck stuff that way.” As if on cue one of the guests tumbles through one of the glass tables.

“You sure? Oh God, look at him bleed all over Vermeer’s expensive carpet.”

“I told him white carpets were a bad idea. I don’t think he takes my advice on home improvement seriously though. Clever man.”

Soon after, David spots the two of us together, after which Valentina makes a rather hasty retreat. She obviously has no intention of talking to the other party people, which makes me feel extra special. Walter, at least, is horribly jealous when he finds out about our meeting in the tabloids the next morning. “Young blood gets advice from old blood” the headliner says.

“What did you two talk about anyway?” He asks.

I let out a chuckle. “You won’t believe it, but home improvement, mostly.” I take a swig from my morning coffee and grin at the attractive young man who will be my husband soon. “She’s oddly down to earth, for a six time League winner.”

He nods. “Yeah, she would be.”

“So,” I offer. “Want to pay some bills, babe?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

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