CHAPTER: 12345, 6789101112131415161718192021222324252627EPILOGUE

Toby keeps walking down the street, even as he realises that he has no clue about where he’s going to go. For a moment he instantly thinks of calling Emma and asking her if he can stay. But then he realises their conversation earlier, what she revealed that morning and the truth of how she was just using him. He doesn’t want to talk to her, he realises, he doesn’t even want to see her. Then Fiona’s face flashes in to his mind. He wants to talk to her, he needs to talk to her. He starts juggling his bags as he scrambles to find his phone.

“Toby hey!” Fiona says happily when she picks up, “How are you doing?”

“I’m doing ok,” he says quietly, “Just a little tired. How about you?”

Fiona starts rambling on about her day so far. He listens attentively, actually enjoying hearing her talk. He wonders for a moment why he hasn’t just come out and told her what’s going on. He doesn’t know why. But for some reason he wants to keep it a secret for now, the fact that he’s left home and has nowhere to go. So he doesn’t say a word.

“So…” he says slowly when Fiona stops talking, “What are you up to now?”

“We’re having a night in at the house,” she says happily, “Oh you should totally come along! It’ll be great. We can get pissed and relax and not have to worry about idiots in clubs and getting all dolled up. We would love to have you there.”

“Are you sure?” he asks hesitantly, wondering if she’s just being polite.

“Of course I’m sure silly!” she says, “I wouldn’t have asked you if I didn’t want you to come along. Oh, bring some booze too, whatever you want to drink.”

“Sure,” Toby says quietly, “I’ll see you soon.”

She hangs up before he’s barely finished talking. He looks at his phone and smiles, shaking his head. He tries to figure out how he’s going to get to Fiona’s with his bag and booze and very little money. He knows that he’ll be able to figure something out.

 

 

 

When he reaches Fiona’s house he’s expecting pounding music and people all over the place. He expects to hear laughing and shouting and screaming . But it’s quiet in the house. The living room light is on, shining through the curtains but everything is quiet on the street. He double checks the address for the house, wondering whether this is in fact the right place. It is and he eventually knocks on the door. Fiona peeks around the bay window at him and smiles, waving merrily. She shouts at him to let himself in, her voice muffled through the glass. He nods and does as she’s asked him to.

She’s in the hallway by the time that Toby’s managed to get through the front door. He’s got his kit bag, complete with clothes in his left hand, awkwardly shaped and banging against everything that gets too close. In his right hand is a Londis shopping bag, bulging and full of cans of beer. Fiona looks at the kit bag as he puts it down and grins.

“Are you moving in?!” she jokes, raising one hand.

“What?” Toby asks, distracted. He looks up and follows her gaze. “Oh that, long story.”

“Never mind that,” she says. She rushes forward and grabs his arm, “Get your bag of booze, we’re having fun in the living room.”

He smiles and follows her, stumbling a little as the cans shift around and throw him off balance. Fiona flings the door to the living room open and waves her hands around.

“Look who’s here guys!” she cries out, “Toby’s come to join us.”

The group all cheer and hold up their drinks by way of welcome. He waves back, grinning and smiling. He spots Carrie and Marco, curled up together on the sofa. John is sprawled across the floor, a bongo drum between his legs. They’re passing a spliff between themselves again. Toby takes a seat but declines the weed when it’s held out to him. He relaxes a little as he settles himself down, looking around and feeling completely at home. John starts tapping a rhythm on the bongo drum and Carrie starts reading some of her poetry. Toby sits back and lets the rhythm wash over him, the words and verses sounding almost like some ancient chanting.

Toby lets his head fall back and sips at his beer can. He’s not felt so relaxed in ages. He feels completely at home. There’s no pressure, no expectations, no things to do. They’re all sitting there, just being themselves and doing what they want. No one is telling anyone what to do, they’re just having fun together. Toby sighs happily. He hadn’t realised how tense he had been before, now he feels a dozen times lighter, despite everything that has happened today. He glances at Fiona and she smiles at him before she starts laughing as Carrie begins to do a strange dance in the middle of the living room. Toby watches and starts to laugh too.

The entire experience is surreal, like nothing that he’s ever experienced before. There is no music blaring, nothing really playing in the background except for some soft chime music, like he’s heard a few times in hippy shops. It’s calm and relaxing, soothing and just there in the background. He sighs happily.

Suddenly Fiona gets up and starts to recite a monologue. Toby thinks that he recognises it from a film that he’s seen but he’s not sure. She’s giving it her all, really feeling the emotions and conveying them across. He realises that she’s practicing her acting. Once she’s done they all applaud and then Marco gets up. He’s clutching some papers and he begins to read from them. Toby is on the edge of the seat as the story that Marco is telling them deepens. He wants to hear more and he groans in disappointment when Marco winds down to the end of the story that he’s written so far.

“Sorry mate,” Marco says cheerfully when Toby tells him this, “I’ve only gotten that far. I’ll let you hear the rest when it’s finished.”

He then quickly shushes Toby when he tries to argue and points at Carrie. She’s reciting some of her poetry now and again, they applaud when she’s finished. Toby doesn’t enjoy it quite as much as he enjoyed the story but he applauds any way. He has never really understood poetry if he’s honest with himself. They all start singing while Toby looks on, not knowing the words to the song. He enjoys it anyway and just sits back, relaxing and listening to the melody. He’s surprised by how much he’s enjoying himself, how relaxed he is. He knows that he should be worried, trying to find somewhere to stay but right now, with the gentle music, the beer in his stomach and the company he is in, he just can’t find it in himself to care.

Not once has sports been mentioned, not a single kind of sport. It’s a new experience for Toby. He’s never been to a party where sports wasn’t being discussed somewhere in the building. It’s a strange change of pace but he’s surprised to find that he actually likes that fact. There’s no pressure on him and he’s happier than ever that he took the chance to actually talk to Fiona about more than just acting.

Eventually the older people stop performing and singing and they just sit around talking. Toby mostly listens to the conversation, popping in with an opinion or a thought here and there but usually waiting until he is asked what he thinks. These people are talking about things that he’s never given much thought about before, his entire being having been focused on football until this point. It’s opening his eyes and making him realise exactly how big the world actually is. He sits there and soaks it all in.

“So John,” Marco says at one point, “Have you managed to fill that room yet?”

“No,” John says with a groan, “And my parents are going on at me to get someone in there. They’re really not happy about the idea of a room sitting empty when it could be making them some money.”

“I bet,” Fiona says as she sips at her wine, “Why is it taking you so long anyway?”

“Because no one seems right!” John cries out, “They’re all too stuck up or stuffy or just not interested in the same things that we are. I’ve tried to tell my parents that we need some one who can actually talk to us all and spend time with us but they’re just not listening.”

“What are you going to do then?” Carrie asks. She’s sitting next to Toby, braiding the longer bits of his hair, “I mean, are you going to have to try and find some students or something?”

“Maybe,” John says. He sighs and rubs his face, “I just want someone to appear and take the room off my hands.”

Toby looks at John and then at the others. Suddenly it’s like a light bulb goes off in his head, a bright flash of inspiration hits him. He’s got nowhere to stay. He likes these people and he has more in common with them than he ever thought. They have a spare room going.

“Can I have it?” he asks.

They all fall silent and just look at him. They look at each other and then they all look at John. He sits there for a moment and looks at Toby, staring at him for a long moment. His face looks serious and his brows are frowning. Toby wonders whether he might have misread the situation. Then suddenly John smiles.

“Of course you can!” he says.

Toby smiles as well and laughs for a moment. The others cheer and Carrie squeals, throwing her arms around Toby’s neck. Her sudden weight makes him tumble sideways on the sofa and he automatically wraps his arms around Carrie to keep her safe. He lies there, twisted awkwardly and looks at the young woman. She smiles at him, grinning widely and then starts to shower his face with little kisses.

“I’m so happy!” she cries out between kisses, “This is going to be great.”

Marco laughs and walks over. He leans over them and grabs Carrie gently, pulling her to her feet. She grins and giggles at him. He reaches out a hand to Toby who takes it. Marco hauls him to his feet with surprising strength.

“Glad to have you with us mate,” Marco says with a wide grin.

Then he reaches forwards and grabs Toby in a strong hug. The others laugh at Toby’s surprised face. Normally his friends aren’t quite this friendly and he’s not completely sure what to do. After a moment of panic he decides to go with it and hugs Marco back, throwing in a slap to the shoulders to make sure it stayed manly. Or at least as manly as a hug between two men can get.

“Group hug!” Carrie cries.

She flings her arms around the two cuddling men. John and Fiona laugh as well and quickly scramble to their feet and hurry over. Toby finds himself squashed between the four other people and he likes it. Finally though they break away and go back to their seats. Carrie settles herself beside Toby and returns to plaiting his hair. They start to talk about other things and time quickly flies by as they get steadily drunker and sillier.

 

 

 

“Well I think I’m going to have to call it a night,” Fiona says eventually, “I’ve got to be up sort of early tomorrow,”

“Yeah me too,” Marco says with a groan as he climbs to his feet, “Busy people have to be served coffee you know.”

“We should probably all head to bed,” John says roughly, stifling a massive yawn. “It is kind of late.”

Carrie just nods and gets to her feet as well. She kisses everyone on the cheek, saying goodnight and heads out of the door. Marco and John quickly follow. Fiona smiles at Toby and drags him to his feet.

“Come on future roomie,” she says happily, “I’ll see you out.”

Toby laughs and follows her in to the entrance hall. He heaves his back on to his shoulder, surprised by the weight. He forgot how heavy it could be. Fiona’s watching him, stood close by. He steps closer and closer. They just look at each other for a few long moments. Toby’s gaze drops down to her lips. Maybe he can stay here tonight after all. It wasn’t agreed or discussed if he could take the room straight away after all, let alone if he could stay that night. He doesn’t want to presume anything. He looks at Fiona again, seeing how beautiful she is, remembers how much he likes her and he decides to go for it. He leans towards her, his eyes beginning to drift closed as he gets closer and closer.

Then he feels a hand on his mouth instead of Fiona’s lips and his eyes jerk open. He looks at her and frowns. Her hand is still on his mouth.

“No kisses.” she says firmly.

“Please,” he murmurs gently, kissing her palm “Please.”

She looks at him and smiles softly. She moves her hand, wrapping it around the back of his neck instead. He smiles and leans in again. Their lips touch, brief and soft at first. Then Toby slants his head slightly and covers her lips with his. He kisses her hard, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulls her close to him. Her hands bury themselves in his hair, getting caught in the braids that are still there. She pulls away and they laugh. Toby rests his forehead against hers and kisses the end of her nose.

“Can…” Toby starts to say. He hesitates before taking the plunge, “Can I stay with you tonight? In your bed.”

“No Toby,” she says softly. “It’s too soon.”

She reaches up and brushes her fingers against his lips. He kisses them again. He starts to talk again but she moves her hand and covers his mouth again, silencing him. She shakes her head.

“I don’t want to move too quickly,” Fiona says, “We might be working together and I don’t want to ruin that or make things awkward.”

“But,” he starts to say and then realises that his words are muffled by her hand. He steps back. “But I’ve left home, moved out completely. I’ve got no where else to go.”

“You’re an idiot,” Fiona says. Her words are softened by the soft smile that crosses her face. “You have your own bed. Right here. Remember?”

“Oh yeah,” Toby says, “I didn’t want to just assume…”

“Nonsense,” she says quickly, coming over all posh again. Toby grins at that, “Come on, I’ll show you where your room is.”

They head up the stairs and along the landing. Fiona slowly opens the door to one of the rooms, revealing a blank walled space with an empty, unmade bed in the centre. There are no curtains on the windows and it’s filled with orange light. Fiona flips the switch and heads inside.

“I better grab you some sheets,” she says, frowning at the bed, “You can’t sleep on just the mattress.”

“Sorry to put you out like this,” Toby says when she returns with the sheets, blankets and a pillow, “I know it’s a bit unexpected.”

“It’s cool,” she says as she quickly makes up the bed, “You needed a place to go after all and you already said you wanted to live here. Besides, we don’t mind someone staying in the room for a couple of nights if they need to. And we like you so that’s a plus.”

“Yeah…” Toby says with a grin.

He flops down on to the end of the bed and sits there, rubbing the back of his head with his hand. Fiona sits beside him.

“Shit,” he says suddenly, eyes widening, “I actually left home. I actually moved out.”

“Kind of hits you doesn’t it?” Fiona says, “Don’t worry, I felt the same when I first left home. Then again by the time I moved in here I was sort of used to it.”

“Oh my god I left home.” Toby says.

He rubs his face with his hands and leans his elbows on his knees. He stares at the floor.

“Just speak to John in the morning,” Fiona says, rubbing his back gently. Toby turns and looks at her, “About rent and bills and stuff. He’s not that bad and to be honest I just think he’s going to be glad that this room is finally filled.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Toby says. He gives a soft laugh, “Jeeze, I’ve moved out.”

“Toby,” Fiona says quietly, “You didn’t… well you didn’t kiss me just so that you could have a room for the night did you?”

Toby looks at her. He doesn’t say a word, doesn’t try to say anything specific with his expression. She stares right back at him, her eyes searching his face for something. She smiles and they both start laughing quietly.

“Good night Toby,” she says, getting to her feet.

Toby stands and follows her to the door. He reaches out gently when they’re at the threshold and takes her wrist, pulling her back. She complies and looks up at him. He leans down and gently kisses her on the mouth. It’s short and sweet, barely a touch of lips against each other. He pulls back and smiles.

“Good night Fiona,” he says quietly, “Sleep well.”

She smiles at him and heads off to her room. The entire time she keeps glancing over her shoulder at him and smiling. He watches her go, leaning against the door frame until eventually her bedroom door shuts behind her and she’s gone from his sight. He sighs and heads in to his own room, shutting the door quietly. Maybe today hadn’t ended so badly after all.

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