The next morning Toby wakes up and groans in pain. His entire body aches. For a moment he doesn’t know where he is or what’s going on. He looks around himself in confusion. Then he remembers the night before. He groans, rolling over to sit up and buries his face in his hands, elbows resting on his knees. He can’t believe that he said all of those things to people that he cares about. He was rude beyond belief. He wants to apologise to Scooby as quickly as possible. Apart from that though, as he remembers what his dad and Emma said to him, he doesn’t regret a thing. Those things needed to be said, he realises, and even if it took a lot of alcohol to say them he’s still glad that he did.
His phone beeps and after glancing at the screen he realises that he needs to get going. The house is completely silent, no one’s awake yet so he lets himself out. The door shuts behind him, quietly, an ominous click that sounds final. He walks down the garden path and glances back at the house. He’s sure that he can see movement from Emma’s window, the shifting of the curtain falling back in to place. He turns away. He can’t think about her right now.
On the train he’s raking his brain, trying to remember the monologue that he’s prepared. He’s on the way to audition at the National Association of Performing Arts, just like he promised David that he would. As soon as David made the ultimatum and promise Toby had gone home and applied for the master class in acting. He’d heard back from them almost immediately, apparently David having put in a good word for him, and he’d had an audition arranged within hours. The bother of the last few days has pushed it all from his mind but he already had a monologue in mind.
His entire body still aches though, made worse with the rocking motion of the train and the knocks and bangs that he gets from other commuters. He realises that he really didn’t sleep well. Emma’s living room sofa has never been the most comfortable thing to sit on and sleeping on it was a complete mistake. He starts to regret not calling Arjan now, at least there he would have been able to sleep in a bed.
It hasn’t helped that he’s still fuming about the arguments with Emma and his dad. Everything’s still racing through his mind, each and every word. The truth of his relationship with Emma stings him, makes his eyes prickle but there’s nothing that he can do about it at the moment. He needs to push it from his mind. Instead he focuses on the script that he’s chosen and the monologue he’s planning on reading.
“Seventeen years and I’ve never taken a stand,” he mumbles under his breath.
His mind races through the script and he learns the words that he really already knows. Now though he just needs to get the emotions right, to channel the feelings that the character is talking about and make them his own. Toby thinks that he knows how the character feels, what is going through the character’s mind as he speaks. He knows because he can’t help but feel the exact same way and this time, on this day for some reason the words particularly resonate within him.
The waiting room outside the class auditions is packed with people. It’s just like the audition for ‘England’s Finest’ all over again. This time though there are girls here as well. People are milling around, quietly talking to each other, talking on their phones, tapping at their phone screens, reading through scripts and mouthing words as they go or they’re just staring in to space and looking terrified. Toby identifies the most with those who look scared out of their minds, his own legs are shaking like never before and he feels like he could be sick at that very moment. Then again, he realises, that could actually be the hangover from the night before.
One by one the people in the waiting room file out, answering the call of their name and never appearing again. Toby supposes that yet again they’re using a different doorway to leave, the choice an obvious one as it stops the other candidates from finding out more about the process. Toby wishes that it wasn’t happening that way though. He’d love to know how other people are finding their auditions and the looks on their faces when they get out. This is make or break for him, the chance to achieve his dream or just watch it tumble down around him. It’s the same for everyone here and he knows exactly how they’re all feeling.
Finally Toby’s name is called and he stands up quickly. He stumbles past people in his eagerness to get to the room and get this over with. When he steps in to the room he’s faced with a row of five people seated behind a long table. They’re all watching him expectantly and he swallows nervously, trying to fight down the rising nausea.
“Toby Arnold?” the woman in the middle says. He nods. “Good. So we asked you to perform a piece from a post 1960’s script. Have you done that?” Toby nods again, “Ok, can you tell us the script that you’ve chosen please?”
“I’ve chosen the final scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” He says, his voice shaking a little.
He clenches his fists, digging his nails in to his palm to try and calm his nerves a little. The woman in the middle of the table looks up at him sharply when he gives the name of the script. The other panel members look at each other in surprise.
“Oh…ok,” she says eventually. “We were expecting, or rather hoping for something a little more… English I suppose. And a bit more classic rather than a pop culture film. But it’s your choice.”
“It is the performance that matters at the end of the day my dear,” another panel member says from the end of the table, looking towards the member in the middle, “Regardless of the script itself, it’s the actor who gives the performance that matters, not what it is they’re performing.”
“Of course,” the woman says pointedly, glaring slightly at the man who spoke. She turns back to Toby, “Ok Mr Arnold. In your own time…”
Toby looks at them all, staring them down. He clears his throat and shifts slightly. The words are racing through his head, each sentence suddenly having a brand new meaning for him. He knows how Ferris feels, he feels it himself. Now he needs to get that feeling across in his performance. Inside Toby smiles confidently, this shouldn’t be too hard.
“Seventeen years and I’ve never taken a stand,” he says firmly, standing straighter. “Now, I’m gonna do it. I’m taking a stand against my father, against my family.”
He remembers the harsh way that his dad spoke to him the night before, the anger and hurt that ran through him at the words. He channels that in to his voice, in to his speech.
“Against myself, against my past, my present and my future.”
He pictures Emma, the way that they first got together, the way that she was always pushing him to play football, their possible future together that had been wiped out when she revealed how deep her manipulations of him ran. He speaks a little stronger now, letting the defiance come out for everyone to see.
“I will not sit idly by as events that affect me unfold to change the course of my life. I will take a stand and I will defend it.”
He feels the calmness running through him as he remembers standing up to his dad at last. He lets it wash over him, fill him up and take over his heart. His voice grows harsh and grim, filled with determination to be the master of his own fate and not let his dad keep pushing him around any more. Toby doesn’t plan on going home again, not until Anthony listens to him and accepts his dreams for what they are. He squares his jaw and goes on with the script. His voice rises, filled with the passion and emotion that is racing through him at this moment.
“When my father comes home tonight, he’s finally going to have to deal with me. Good or bad, I’m taking a stand.”
He stops and stands there, slowly coming down from his high. Just saying the words out loud, even if they are from a film and not his own thoughts, have solidified his determination to do his own thing. He feels suddenly like he’s found the strength to live his life how he wants to live it instead of listening to someone else.
The panel members are looking at him, almost expectantly and he shifts, fiddling with his fingers and the hem of his shirt.
“Is that it…?” the woman eventually asks.
“Um…. Yes?” Toby says.
“Ok, thank you,” the woman says, making a few notes on the paper that lies in front of her. “Thank you for your time. You’ll hear from us within five days.”
Toby slumps in place, letting out a deep sigh. It’s over with. But their reactions weren’t what he was hoping for. Already the panel members have turned away and are talking amongst themselves. He sighs.
“Ok,” he says quietly, “Thank you for the opportunity.”
No one’s listening to him and he walks from the room in silence. His shoulders are low, his hands and arms hang uselessly by his sides and his head is bowed. He can only look at the floor as he makes his way out.
He heads back to the train station, his entire body working on autopilot even though he’s never been here. He can’t get the audition out of his head, the way that the panel members looked at him, their response when he was done, their reaction to his script choice. He wonders if he’s completely cocked it up, done everything wrong and lost every chance to get on to the master class. They’d wanted classic and British, something long with emotion probably. And what has Toby given them? He’d given them pop culture, American pop culture at that and it had been ridiculously short. There was just one emotion too, defiance. He should have shown them more. He thinks to himself, he should have given them a longer piece, something with lots of different emotions. He knows he’s shot himself in the foot now, he knows that there’s no way that he’s going to get in to the master class. He should have looked in to the sort of thing that they wanted, that they’d expect. He should have come up with a few other ideas instead of just settling on one, the easiest and simplest one at that.
He curses to himself all the way home. He mutters under his breath. People give him funny looks and move away, leaving him by himself.
The pub is heaving with people, they’re talking and drinking, laughing and joking. Some are watching television, shouting at the rugby match that’s going on. The bar staff are being run ragged, racing to fill orders. There’s only one waitress on duty and she’s having to rush around to collect empty glasses and take food orders. There are a ton of different smells coming from the kitchen. They’re making Anthony’s mouth water, even as he tries to talk to Terry.
“So how’s the club managing going?” Anthony asks, taking a gulp of his pint, “Any exciting new prospects for the first team?”
“You know I can’t tell you that mate,” Terry says with a laugh, “Club rules and all that. Besides, knowing you, you’ll try to put a bet on or something and end up getting me investigated for inside knowledge.”
“I’m not a betting man,” Anthony says, “Then again, Toby’s Academy fees aren’t cheap and I could use the money.”
Terry doesn’t say anything, he just looks at his friend and laughs. Anthony looks at him and then starts laughing as well. They fall back in to a conversation about other things, things in their lives that have nothing to do with football. This is a usual thing for them, a bi-monthly catch up, where they talk and share and have a bit of fun in adult company. They’ve been friends since school, they’ve grown up together. They got in trouble together, chased girls together, lost their virginity together, played football together. Anthony had been there when Terry got his position as manager for Skelmerage Football Club, Terry was there when Toby was born, when Rebecca was born and when Maria left them all. They’ve been through thick and thin together and they’re as close as two men can be.
“Listen mate,” Anthony says eventually, once they’re both up to speed on each others lives, “I’m worried about Toby. He won’t tell me anything about the Academy, I just want to know how he’s getting on there.”
“I couldn’t really tell you Anthony,” Terry says, shrugging, “To be honest I’ve not been paying much attention to the Academy players, not like I normally do.”
“But you love those kids,” Anthony says sharply, “You’re normally all over the Academy training. Last year you couldn’t stop talking about the new players that you were training up and how they were all going to take the football world by storm.”
“I’ve been busy,” Terry says, “It’s this match. It’s an FA Cup match and it’s against Manchester United. I’ve got to get the first team whipped in to shape if we’re going to have any chance of making a mark against them mate. It’s massive for the club, the chance to play one of the top teams in the league!”
“Oh yeah!” Anthony says quickly, “I forgot all about it. So you’re shoving the Academy to one side? Don’t blame you really. Man U is the big leagues after all. Got to beat them, right?”
“I’ve not completely ignored the Academy boys,” Terry says, sighing heavily, “And I have been checking in on Toby a little. He’s practically my nephew after all. The coach has been telling me that he’s a bit of a slow starter. He’s not showing as much promise and skill as they thought he had. But he’s hopeful. It’s early days, sometimes the players take a while to come out of their shell.”
“Shit,” Anthony says. He stares at his pint and swirls the amber liquid around the glass. “I didn’t realise things were that bad. I’m worried about him mate, seriously worried. We used to be close, we used to talk to each other all of the time. But since he joined the Academy he’s barely talked about training, or football. All he does is sit in his room and watch films. Or he goes out getting pissed or sneaking around with mates that I don’t know about.”
“Seriously?!” Terry asks, “But you two… you’ve always been like best friends. Toby comes to you about everything.”
“He used to,” Anthony says, shrugging, “Now I don’t have a clue what’s going on in his life. I don’t know what he’s thinking. I don’t even know for myself how Toby’s finding the Academy or if he’s getting on with the training at all. I just want to know if he’s going to make it, if he’s going to keep playing and training like we’ve always planned for him to.”
“Well…” Terry says slowly.
The two men sit in silence for a while, staring at their pints and losing themselves in their thoughts. Anthony’s picturing Toby’s angry face from the other night, the words that his son spat out and the way that they left things. He wants to take it all back, really, but he knows that he can’t. Mostly Anthony just wants to talk to Toby again, to get their closeness back and to finally understand what’s going on in his son’s head like he used to be able to.
Terry is running through the years of Academy players that he’s seen. Each and every one of them he can remember, a rare talent for someone who’s faced with a job like his. He can remember the success stories and the failures equally. He can pin point exactly why the players win or fail and he knows what’s happened to all of them. He wonders whether Toby is going to fall in to the failure category or if there’s more in him than anyone realises.
“Listen mate,” Terry eventually says, making Anthony look up at him sharply, “I’ve been watching these lads go through the Academy for years, you know I have. And to be honest most don’t make it. It’s a simple fact. But they don’t make it for a number of reasons, not just one. They might not have as much skill as the other players, they might not be willing to put in the level of commitment that’s needed. They might not have the discipline to stick to the training programme, to keep going with everything. Sometimes they just have a change of heart and realise that football isn’t for them. So they back out, sit back and just let themselves fail.”
“And you just let them?” Anthony asks in disbelief, “You just let them fail themselves out of the Academy and don’t try to push them to keep going?!”
“We can’t,” Terry says simply, “At the end of the day these players are still basically kids. They’re teenagers, young, brash and impulsive. They’re at the most delicate stages of their lives and everyone’s telling them to sort out where they’re going to go in the future. We don’t like to or want to pressure them in to doing something that they don’t want to do.”
“But you’re supposed to be training the future of football,” Anthony points out, “You should push them to do better right?”
“Maybe but we can’t force them to,” Terry said, shrugging, “It’s up to them at the end of the day. Like they say, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Anthony asks, confused.
“We provide the water in the form of the training and the opportunities but we can’t make the boys take those chances unless they really want to.” Terry says.
“Seriously?” Anthony says, “Fine, I get it. But I know my son, I know he’s supposed to be a footballer, it’s what we’ve always wanted for him, it’s what he’s always wanted for himself. Right now he’s just a little confused and trying to figure out what he really wants. I already know that he wants this. Please mate, he’s just confused. Can you just do me a favour? Can you ask the coach to put a little more pressure on Toby, get him to drink the water like you were saying? Get him to work harder?”
Terry shakes his head and sighs heavily. He looks at his hands where he’s grasping his pint. His grip tightens and his knuckles turn white. The glass makes an ominous creaking sound. Anthony’s still talking, begging him to get his son to work harder. Finally Terry looks at his old friend.
“It won’t work like that,” Terry says with a shake of his head, cutting Anthony off mid sentence, “It never works like that. With any sport, any form of performing art in fact the student needs to buy in to it and want it for themselves. If we put on the pressure we could end up doing more harm than good. It’s why we purposely don’t apply pressure, trying too hard to get them to do what we want can always turn them away from it all together. We want the students to display their determination to us, to show us that they want it for themselves.”
Anthony just grunts in acknowledgment of what Terry is saying. He doesn’t agree with it even though he respects Terry. Anthony remembers, as he stares at his pint, how things were when he was young. Terry doesn’t understand how much Anthony wants this for Toby, how much Toby making it as a footballer means to him. Terry had made it, he’s played professional football back in the day. He’d gone on to become a manager after he got too old for the game. Anthony had sat on the sidelines, watching Terry’s success and never experiencing it for himself.
Anthony never made it as a footballer, he would have been great and he knows it. But his father had never supported him, never encouraged him to try as hard as possible to succeed. Instead his dad had pushed him to get a ‘real’ job as a mechanic apprentice. Anthony refused to make the same mistake that his dad had made. Instead he wants to give Toby all the support that he never got when he was trying to follow his dreams. If Toby makes it, when Anthony never did, then that success would erase the failures of the past and start their lives all over again. Anthony vows to encourage Toby as best he can.
For a moment he wonders whether he should step back though, let Toby get on with it for himself. Then he looks at Terry and remembers what his friend said, about the players showing the club that they want it. The thought is wiped away and Anthony decides that he needs to push Toby to show the club how determined he is, to show them that he really wants to be a football player. There’s a small burn in his gut, a knot of annoyance that Terry won’t ask the coach to put more pressure on Toby. They’re friends, they have been for a long time but Terry won’t do this for Anthony. It wasn’t fair. But Terry was speaking from experience, perhaps he knows what he is talking about.
“I get what you’re saying,” Anthony says eventually, “And I suppose that I can see where you’re coming from. But I don’t agree.”
“You don’t have to agree mate,” Terry says, drinking his pint, “But that’s the way we work at Skelmerage and it’s not going to change any time soon. Don’t hold it against me ok?”
“Yeah, sure,” Anthony says, “We’re old friends, I’m not going to let something like this come between us, no matter how important it might be.”
Terry smiles at his old friend. Their conversation turns to other topics and by the time that the two men part ways they’re comfortable and happy with each other. Anthony’s made his decision, it’s time to put it in to action.