“So are you looking forward to training today?” Anthony asks the next morning as he puts a plate of toast down in front of Toby.
Toby just shrugs and starts tearing the toast to pieces.
“Come on,” Anthony says, nudging him, “You’ve got to be a little excited right? Any ideas what you might be working on today?”
“Dunno,” Toby says, his mouth full of toast, “Probably just the same thing that we do everyday.”
“And what might that be?” Anthony asks, “You’ve not exactly told me much about your training remember.”
Toby looks at his dad and his top lip curls up in a sneer. He ignores his dad and turns his attention back to his toast. Anthony slams his hand down on the table.
“Toby!” he shouts, “What have you been doing at training?!”
“Running around and kicking a fucking football,” Toby shouts. “What do you think we do?”
“Watch your language young man!” Anthony snaps, “I don’t know what you do at training, you’ve not told me a single thing about it.”
“Because it’s not interesting!” Toby shouts, “It’s boring as FUCK and I don’t wanna talk about it.”
“Well you better start talking,” Anthony says, “We’ve worked too hard and I’m paying a lot of money for your training. I want to make sure it’s going to a good cause,”
Rebecca looks between the two arguing men, her head swings back and forth like a spectator at a tennis match. With each raised shout she sinks deeper and deeper in to her seat. But she still can’t stop watching and listening.
“You’re the one that made me try out!” Toby shouts, “You had no trouble paying it out before. You said it was worth it for my future, regardless of cost. You kept banging on about how you wish you’d had the chance when you were younger. Now I won’t talk to you about training and you’re bringing up money?”
“Then tell me about the training,” Anthony says harshly, “I want to know about the training and if it’s so boring and simple why won’t you just tell me?”
Rebecca can’t watch them any more. She doesn’t like the way her dad’s face is getting all red and crumpled. Or the way that Toby keeps snarling at Anthony. He looks like a wild animal, an angry dog or something. That isn’t the loving big brother she knows. It scares her and makes her feel sick. She focuses on her toast, trying to ignore the shouting.
“Because I don’t want to!” Toby says. He shoots to his feet and leans forwards, hands spread on the table top, “It’s just the same as any other training, it just happens to have the name of a proper football club attached. It’s the same sort of training that I’ve been doing my whole life and I’m getting fed up of you asking about it. Why is it so important to you that you know every second of my day?!”
Rebecca covers her ears, bringing her knees up to her chest. She rocks back and forth, humming to herself but it won’t stop the sound of her dad and her brother arguing from reaching her ears. She rocks and hums louder and louder.
“Because you won’t tell me!” Anthony shouts, “You’re not telling me anything about the Academy and I want to know why? Why is it so boring to you? What’s boring? Just tell me and I’ll leave off but you won’t tell me so I’m going to keep going on. So… why won’t you talk to me about your training?”
“BECAUSE HE DOESN’T WANT TO BE A FOOTBALLER!” Rebecca finally shouts.
It just got to much for her. She couldn’t take it any more and she just wants the shouting to stop. She hates when anyone argues, it reminds her too much of what life was like before their mum walked away. Toby turns to glare at her but his frown slowly fades away to be replaced by a look of pure sadness and guilt. He mouths an apology to her. She smiles back shakily.
Anthony however is looking at her like she’s sprouted a second head.
“What did you say?” he asks her quietly.
“Toby doesn’t want to be a footballer any more,” she murmurs, looking at her plate, “He wants to do something else with his life and doesn’t like football any more. He doesn’t want to play it.”
“Don’t be stupid!” Anthony snaps harshly, “Go and get ready for the club.”
Rebecca flinches and shrinks back from her father’s harsh words and quickly rushes away upstairs when he orders her to. Toby watches her go and just wants to chase after her, hug her and hold her tight. He turns back to find his dad glaring at him.
“I have to go,” Toby says sharply, “I’m going to be late to training.”
He walks from the kitchen and starts pulling his things on. Rebecca watches him from the top of the stairs. He waves at her and she smiles weakly, waving back.
“Oh so you’re actually going today then?!” Anthony shouts after his son “Should I be calling the coach and seeing whether you’re actually there or should I just believe you this time?”
Toby rolls his eyes and mutters at his dad to ‘do whatever’ under his breath before he heads out of the front door. The door slams behind him again, shaking in the frame.
“Alright you horrible lot, listen up!” the coach shouts as he walks on to the pitch.
They’re in the middle of training. Toby arrived late because of the argument with his dad and he knows that Scooby wants to ask him about it. The other guy keeps looking at him and raising his eyebrows in question. Scooby’s also bouncing around more than normal, running faster, playing harder, he’s like a man possessed. He keeps smiling widely, Toby’s noticed, when he thinks there’s no one looking. The trainees all gather around the coach as he reaches the centre of the pitch.
“Gather round, gather round,” the coach says needlessly. He waves his hands around in the air to bring them in closer. Some of the players are still jogging over slowly, “Ok, I’ve got a very important announcement to make today so gather around,”
“Where were you yesterday?” Scooby whispers in Toby’s ear.
Toby jumps, he hadn’t even realised that Scooby had gotten so close.
“I’ll tell you later,” he says quickly, feeling the coach’s eyes on him, glaring.
“If I can have silence please?” the coach calls. The whispers die away, “Now, I’ve got something very important to tell you all, something very special.”
He looks around, soaking in the eager faces of the young men who are all staring up at him. He can’t hold back his wide smile any more.
“Now this doesn’t happen often so I want you all to know,” the coach says, “We are incredibly proud of this young man and couldn’t have hoped for a better deal for him. One of you has made it early in to the squad’s first team.”
A smattering of applause breaks out but most of the players are looking around at each other, trying to figure out who has broken ahead of the rest.
“Please don’t worry,” the coach says, “This young man is still going to continue playing and training amongst all of you, after all, skills needs to be practiced and built up, they don’t just appear overnight. But the owners and the manager of Skelmerage FC have been watching you all and they noticed this young man. He has an incredible amount of skill on the field already, even though he’s so young. He has shown complete and utter discipline and determination towards improving his game and he is clearly in love with playing football. I am of course talking about Scooby!”
The boys all break in to applause. Toby turns and stares at Scooby, his mouth hanging open. Scooby is going pink but he’s smiling widely. Toby smiles too and starts clapping. He claps so hard that his hands hurt and then he pats Scooby on the back, grabbing him in a hug.
“Congratulations mate!” Toby cries, “Really, well done!”
Toby gets pushed aside as the other players all come over to congratulate Scooby. He watches Scooby taking in the applause and admiration. But he’s still shaking a little, especially as more and more of the players gather around. Toby remembers what Scooby said about not enjoying being in the limelight so much. When the other boy catches his eye Toby smiles and gives him two thumbs up. Scooby laughs and seems to relax a little more.
Toby watches, grinning. Scooby really deserves this, he’s totally devoted to football and he’s really determined to become a professional player. It looks like all of the other boys agree. Toby’s surprised that he didn’t realise who the chosen one was as soon as the coach started talking. Scooby is the obvious choice really, when he looks back. The guy is so focused on becoming a footballer, on playing the game well, that it really shouldn’t be so amazing that he’s made it on to the first team early.
“Alright, alright, break it up,” the coach says, wading through the bodies to reach Scooby, “Let’s focus on what we’re all doing here and get back to training.”
The boys slowly inch away and head back to the various pitches where they were all training. Toby hangs back, watching as the coach talks to Scooby about something. The man shakes Scooby’s hand and turns to walk away. The smile drops from his face when he catches sight of Toby.
“What are you stood around for?!” he snaps, “Get back to practice.”
Toby turns and begins to jog back over to the game that he was involved in, racing through tires and bouncing balls on knees in a strange sort of relay. Scooby jogs up beside him.
“So…” Scooby says, “Where the hell were you yesterday?”
“Sorting something out,” Toby says quietly, “To do with that stunt double part.”
“Ahh right,” Scooby says. He falls silent for a moment, “So… crazy news huh?”
“Insane!” Toby says, “Seriously though, well done mate. I’m not surprised you got the spot. You’re mad about the game.”
“Thanks man,” Scooby says, red rising on his cheeks, “I couldn’t believe it when the coach told me yesterday.”
“You found out yesterday?” Toby asks, “How come you didn’t let me know?”
“Well I would have,” Scooby says, “But you weren’t here. I thought you were ill or something. I didn’t wanna text you in case you needed the sleep or the rest or something. I know it’d have to be serious for me to miss training, I figured it was the same for you.”
“Oh right…” Toby says quietly, “I guess. I just had a few other things to sort out and they took longer than I thought they would.”
“Don’t let it happen too much,” Scooby warns, “You miss any more training sessions and I reckon the coach’ll chuck you out of the Academy.”
“Point taken,” Toby says.
He races off, taking his turn on the relay. He doesn’t like the fact that he’s not telling his new friend the truth, especially after they grew so close the other day. But he knows that Scooby won’t get it. For the other guy playing football is the most important thing in his life, for someone not to feel the same probably seems completely alien and not understandable to him. It stings a little, Toby realises, to know that Scooby didn’t tell him the good news as soon as he had a chance.
“Hey Toby!” Scooby shouts when they’re all heading back to the changing rooms after training, “I’m getting some of the guys together and we’re gonna head to the pub and maybe a club after that. Do you wanna come along?”
“Sure!” Toby says quickly, not even thinking about it, “I’ll head home and change after I shower.”
Scooby grins widely at Toby. Suddenly everything feels fine again.
The pub is rammed, packed to the rafters when Toby walks in. He’s a little worried that he won’t be able to get served but as soon as he reaches the table where Scooby and some of the other boys are sat he gets a pint shoved in to his hand and his backside pushed in to the seat next to Scooby.
“Glad you could make it mate!” Scooby shouts to be heard, slinging an arm around Toby’s shoulders.
Judging by the number of empty glasses in front of Scooby, the way that he’s leaning all of his weight against Toby and the smell of beer on his breath the other boy looks to be on his third or fourth pint.
“You practicing?” Toby asks loudly, trying to make himself heard over the din of the pub patrons.
Scooby blinks at him. Toby nods towards the empty glasses.
“Are you practicing?” he repeats, “For when you get famous?”
“Oh…” Scooby says. He looks at the glasses and then back at Toby, a smile breaking out across his face, “Yeah! Gotta get used to nights out after all. Not gonna meet a nice girl in the showers am I?”
“Well you never know,” Toby says with a shrug. “Although if she’s in the showers and interested in you still then she must be blind.”
He takes a sip of beer while Scooby bursts out laughing, spraying beer across the table and holding a hand up to his nose.
“Not fair!” Scooby wails once he can breathe and speak again, “Oh jesus, that shit stings.”
“Sorry mate,” Toby says. He’s not sorry at all.
The pints keep coming, Toby handing his money to one of the older boys and staying beside Scooby. It seems that some of the other lads have the same worry that he won’t get served or might even get kicked out of the pub so they’re going to the bar for him. Pretty quickly Toby catches up with Scooby in the number of drinks that have been finished. He feels warm and fuzzy like he’s made of cotton wool and a soft cloud has settled around his head. He sits back and smiles, enjoying the feeling. He doesn’t drink much, rarely ever in fact, and he didn’t eat anything before he came out. He feels delightfully tipsy and it’s the best he’s felt in ages.
They’re heading towards a club when Scooby manages to corner Toby again. He slings an arm around Toby’s shoulders and pulls his friend close.
“So what were you doing yesterday?” Scooby asks, breathing a cloud of beer breath over Toby’s face. Toby realises that his breath probably smells just as bad so he doesn’t bother to pull away.
“I was busy,” he says quietly, checking that none of the others are looking or listening in. “I went to another audition.”
“I thought you already got the stunt double role?” Scooby asks, blinking at Toby blearily. “Or am I imagining you telling me that?”
“Nah I got it,” Toby says, “But this was for something else.”
“Something else?!” Scooby asks loudly, “What something else? Isn’t one role enough for you?”
“I don’t think so,” Toby says. He pulls Scooby in closer and starts to whisper in his ear conspiratorially. “The thing is… I think I want to be an actor and a footballer! Not just one or the other but both. So I tried out for a proper role, not just the stunt role thingy,”
Scooby pulls back and stares at his friend in shock. The others drag them both in to the club, hurrying Toby past the bouncers before they can stop them. Inside it’s dark and the music is blaring. Toby can feel it pounding through his entire body. There are faces everywhere, pretty girls looking him up and down.
He edges closer to Scooby, trying to hide himself behind his friend’s larger body. They wind their way through the people and scramble in to a small booth.
“Listen, there’s something I need to tell you,” Toby says to Scooby, shouting in his ear.
“Yeah mate?” Scooby shouts back, “What’s up?”
“I think…” Toby starts. He pauses and takes a massive gulp of the pint that one of the others has just set in front of him. He can feel the alcohol rushing through his veins, making everything fuzzy and warm, “Scooby mate, I think I want to be more than just a footballer.”
“What’d you mean?” Scooby slurs, slinging his arm around Toby’s shoulders. “What more is there than being a footballer? It’s an awesome job, why would you want to do anything else?”
“I do wanna be a footballer,” Toby says emphatically, “But I think I wanna be an actor too, like… I dunno, Vinnie Jones or something.”
“You’re joking right?!” Scooby says before he bursts out in to laughter. “You can’t do both, even Vinnie don’t try to do both.”
“But I want to!” Toby says, “I really think that I can do both and I really want to try. I’m a good actor, I might even get that proper role I went for!”
“Bullshit!” Scooby cries, “If you’re that good prove it!”
Scooby stares at Toby, watching him expectantly. All of the other boys have wandered off, drinking by the bar, dancing with the girls or slipping outside for a cheeky cigarette. Toby looks around but then just hunches in on himself.
“Come on,” Scooby goads him, “Come on, pretend to be Robert Dinero for me!”
Toby just looks at Scooby, the guy can barely focus his eyes and yet here he is, talking clearly now and sitting up straight. Toby just shakes his head, Scooby isn’t really listening, he just doesn’t get it.
“Are you talking to me?” Scooby says, gurning like Dinero, “I said, are you. Talking. To me? Come on, do it.”
“I’m serious,” Toby says, shrugging off Scooby’s nudges and shakes, “I really want to be a footballer and an actor.”
Scooby stops messing around and looks at his friend. He stares in to Toby’s eyes and Toby just looks right back at him.
“I’d tell you to give up on the idea,” Scooby says finally, “It’s a stupid idea.”
“What?!” Toby cries out, “Why?!”
“Because you’ve got talent,” Scooby says, “I’m talking real talent here for playing football. I reckon that you could go all the way to the top, just like I am. But if you’re splitting your efforts between football and acting you’re never going to be able to give either your full attention. I mean look at now. If you’d focused like I had, just paid attention and put all your effort in to playing football you could be on the first team, right next to me. But you’re not, you’re still stuck with training and you keep missing it. Acting’s already getting in the way of football and it’s only going to get worse.”
“I think you’re full of shit!” Toby spits out, his stomach burning and his eyes stinging slightly, “You’re all cocky now because you got on to the first team, you think you’re better than everyone else but you just got lucky. You’re jealous because I got the stunt double role and you didn’t. You froze up and looked like an idiot while I was able to do it and make myself look just as good. So just because you didn’t get an acting job you think no one should get one. I know exactly how you’re thinking.”
“I’m not fucking jealous!” Scooby snaps, “I seriously think that you’ve got talent, like massive talent. But you’re not focusing on it or giving football your all. I’m not jealous, I couldn’t care less that you got the part. I just did that audition for a laugh remember.”
“Whatever,” Toby says with a sneer, “You say what you want but I know the truth.”
He doesn’t wait for Scooby to say anything else. He just downs the rest of his pint, slams the empty glass down on the table and starts to make his way through the crowd. He feels a little sick now, partially from all the alcohol but also because of what he had said to Scooby. He knows he was in the right but it still doesn’t feel great. A hand suddenly grabs his wrist and pulls him to a stop. He turns, twisting in place and gets ready to give whoever’s responsible a piece of his mind. It’s probably Scooby come to have another go at him.
“Toby!” Arjan shouts, “I thought that was your ugly mug.”
Arjan smiles while Toby flounders, surprised to see his friend in the club. A moment later he recovers and grabs his mate in a tight hug. He holds on tightly.
“Hey, hey,” Arjan says, gently patting his friend on the back, “Are you ok man?”
“Yeah,” Toby says, pulling back and rubbing at his eyes. He must have something in them, that’s got to be the only reason they’re watering, “Just a little drunk.”
“I know that feeling,” Arjan says smiling knowingly and nudging Toby with his elbow. “You look knackered mate.”
“I’ve just got a lot of things going on at the moment,” Toby says with a shrug, “You know, with training and stuff.”
“You sure that’s it?” Arjan asks, staring closely at his friend, “I’ve known you long enough to know when you’re lying mate remember.”
Arjan has led Toby away from the dance floor, off to a quiet corner of the club. Toby’s head feels fuzzy, he’s struggling to focus a little and he can feel his emotions flipping all over the place. One moment he’s tired, the next angry, the next ridiculously happy and then the next he just wants to sit in a corner and cry. Toby glances out over the dancing bodies and he makes out Scooby’s figure, dancing and writhing against some girl. She doesn’t look interested, in fact Toby sees that she’s sneering at her friends when Scooby presses himself up against her back. He watches as she pushes Scooby away. Then he leans forwards and whispers something in her ear. Suddenly she’s all sweetness and light, hanging on to his arm and smiling up at him like he’s a god or something. Toby’s top lip curls and he growls low in his throat. Typical.
Arjan nudges Toby with his elbow and then when he looks at his best friend a bottle of water is shoved in to his hand. Toby opens it and gulps it down, thirstier than he realised. He sighs with relief and smiles at his friend.
“Thanks for that mate,” he says gratefully, “Guess I needed that more than I thought.”
“Well I know what you’re like,” Arjan says, “You never drink enough, even when you’re training. And I bet today was no different to normal.”
Toby chuckles. A pint of beer is set in front of him by a random waiter and he starts sipping at it. Arjan raises his pint and they clink the two glasses together. They sit in companionable silence for a while, just enjoying each other’s company and watching the dancing crowd. At one point Arjan checks his phone, frowns at the screen and shoves it back in his pocket.
“Your dad?” Toby asks.
Arjan just shakes his head and glares out over the crowd.
“Is he still hassling you about going to college then?” Toby asks again, determined to push on and talk to his friend, “I mean, it was bad the other week at the market, I can’t even start to imagine how much worse it could be in private.”
“We’ve not really talked to each other since then,” Arjan says blankly, continuing to stare out across the crowd, “When I got home I laid in to him, good and proper, told him what was going on and made him listen. Obviously he wasn’t happy and now we don’t talk to each other. He hasn’t got anything to say to me and until he listens and accepts that I’m living my life my way then I don’t have anything to say to him.”
“What do you do at the kitchen table?” Toby asks, “It’s got to be hard to get the salt from each other if you’re not talking.”
“We only speak through mum,” Arjan admits, guilt filling his face. “Anything I want to say to him or have to say to him then I tell my mum and she passes on the message. I feel bad though, she doesn’t deserve that. But until my dad actually listens to me I’m not saying a word to him. I know mum hates it, having the two of us fighting. I can hear her crying sometimes at night when she thinks I’m not listening or something.”
“Shit,” Toby says slowly, “I can’t imagine living like that.”
“I can barely imagine it and I’m living it,” Arjan points out, “Why do you think I’m out so late? I don’t like this place, I’m not actually looking to pull or get pissed. I just want to avoid my dad and stay out of the house for as long as I can. The clubs are the only place that I can think of that stay open long enough for me to avoid seeing dad. That and the music gives me the chance to get away from the constant pressure. I swear, it’s this close to doing my head in.”
Toby watches as Arjan holds up two fingers, a tiny gap of space in between them both. Arjan leans his head in his hands and rubs at his face. He sighs heavily and Toby reaches over to pat his friend’s shoulder.
“So you think you might end up moving out?” Toby asks eventually, “I mean, it can’t be fun living there.”
“I’m gonna stay put for now,” Arjan says with a shrug, “I’m out most of the day any way, working at the market. And I don’t want to try and find a flat when you never know how long I’m going to be in there for. I don’t want to fanny around moving in to one place only to move out and in to another one a few weeks later. I can’t be arsed with that crap.”
“But what about your mum?” Toby asks, “Is it fair to keep her trapped in the middle?”
“She chooses to be there,” Arjan points out, “She gets to act as middle man and talk for both of us because she wouldn’t pick a side. She won’t back my dad up and repeat what he tells me, but she also won’t stand on my side either or big me up. It does my head in a little but I get it.”
“Weird,” Toby says, frowning at his beer. “Don’t mums usually do whatever they can to keep their baby boys safe, even if that means siding against them?”
“Not my mum,” Arjan says, downing the last of his pint. He motions for another one, “She won’t pick sides but she does say that she can’t tell me what to do anymore because I’m technically an adult. I still listen to her though. She’s my mum.”
“And she’s scary as fuck,” Toby points out. “So what are you going to do about your dad then? Do you think you’ll ever talk to him again?”
“Maybe, maybe not,” Arjan says with a shrug. “At the end of the day it’s his choice. My life is my life, it’s my own thing to do with as I see fit, not for my dad to control or run according to his dreams, ideas and ambitions. If my dad can’t accept that fact then tough. Is he really a proper dad if he doesn’t support me? I’m telling you Toby, you’re one lucky bastard!”
“What?!” Toby asks, “Why?”
“Well your dad’s cool,” Arjan says with a shrug, “It’s like, you want to play football for the rest of your life. It’s not the most sensible career choice but your dad just keeps backing you up all of the time. He’s not always pressuring you to go for what he wants, to ignore your own hopes and dreams and just focus on reaching his dreams. You’re lucky.”
“Yeah…” Toby says slowly, “Lucky.”
They lapse in to silence again, watching over the club from their higher seats.