Toby wakes up with a groan and rolls over, trying to get as far away from the bright sunlight as he can. He decides that maybe he is part vampire, the sun makes him hurt all over. He briefly wonders why he left his curtains open last night when he knows that the morning sun always wakes him up too easily. It’s shining right on his head and he can’t escape. Eventually he can’t fight back the light and he blinks himself awake. For a moment he is confused. This isn’t his bedroom, he can’t remember where he is. Then it all comes back to him in a rush of images and words and he remembers. He groans and rubs his eyes, leaning his head on his legs. The memories of the fights that he had the day before and the fact that he’s left home makes his head pound, adding to the pain that’s already there thanks to his morning hangover. He knows that he shouldn’t have drank so much last night.
He finally gets out of bed when the pressure of his bladder gets too much. He smiles as he looks around the room and he realises that it’s his now, properly his. There’s a swing in his step as he heads to the bathroom and it’s even stronger by the time that he comes out. He can smell coffee and bacon brewing from somewhere downstairs and he decides to follow his nose, his stomach growling hungrily. He still feels a little sick and his head is pounding but he knows that a good bacon sandwich will work wonders. As he reaches the kitchen door he can hear pots clattering and the sound of soft jazz playing on the radio. He can’t hear voices though and he wonders who’s in the kitchen.
It’s John, stood by the oven flipping bacon in a pan. He’s wearing a frilly pink apron and a pair of boxers.
“Nice apron.” Toby says as he heads in to the kitchen. “Very you.”
John looks over his shoulder and grins at Toby. He hands the younger boy a mug and nods his head towards the kettle.
“Help yourself,” he says, “And don’t diss the apron. It’s the best present that I ever got.”
Toby laughs and then groans. He pours himself some tea from a pot and adds his milk and sugar. He feels quite a lot sicker now and his head hurts. It seems that he’s been caught in another wave of his hangover. He settles himself down in a chair and rests his head on the cold table. Eventually he pulls himself up and takes a sip of his tea, groaning again but this time it’s in pleasure.
“Yeah, I know the feeling,” John says. “We got a little carried away last night.”
“That we did,” Toby says, drinking more, “Are those things always that mental?”
“Not really,” John says, shrugging, “Normally we don’t drink quite as much. Good night though right?”
“The best,” Toby says with a wider grin. He’s starting to feel more human, “I can’t remember the last time that I had such a good time in a house.”
“My friend,” John says, turning to the table with two bacon sandwiches on plates, “You have not lived a good life if that is the case.”
John puts one of the sandwiches in front of Toby and then takes a seat, digging in to his own with relish. Toby pauses and looks at the sandwich.
“Eat it loser,” John says, “If you’re anything like me you need a decent breakfast when you’re hungover.”
Toby laughs and starts to eat. He groans in pleasure as the salt and the grease hit his tongue. For a while the kitchen is filled with only the sounds of eat and drinking, the occasional moan as the two men enjoy good food. When they finally finish their breakfast Toby pushes his plate away, leans back and rubs his stomach.
“That was so good,” he says happily, “I can’t remember the last time I had a bacon sandwich so good.”
“Just what you need the morning after the night before,” John says as he wipes his mouth, “It was a good night before though wasn’t it?”
“The best,” Toby says with a laugh. He hesitates for a moment. “But is it really ok that I’m taking the room?”
“Of course,” John says, frowning in confusion, “You’re a cool guy and like I said last night, I’ve been trying to fill that room for ages. You’re welcome to it. All I need is like… £100 a month or something? Just so I’m making a bit of money off it. I know you’re barely out of school and you don’t have a job yet so it’s cool.”
“Wow,” Toby says, surprised, “Thanks mate.”
John grins at him and then takes the dishes away, getting them all cleaned up. Toby is about to get up and help when his phone rings. It’s Emma. His head starts pounding again. He groans, this time with annoyance. Dealing with her is the last thing that he wants to do, he’s barely started feeling better from his hangover and arguing with her again is going to make it so much worse, all over again. There’s nothing for it though.
“Hello,” he says blankly, “What’s up?”
“Where were you last night?” Emma snaps.
“Well good morning to you too Emma,” Toby says sarcastically, “I’m good thanks, how are you?”
“Cut the crap Toby,” Emma says harshly, “Just tell me where you were last night.”
“I was at a friends,” Toby says, frowning now, “Not that it’s any of your business since we’re on a break.”
He looks over at John and rolls his eyes. John smirks and nods, clearly he knows the feeling well.
“You don’t know anyone who lives in Manchester,” Emma says sharply, “So where were you?”
“How the hell do you know I’m in Manchester?” Toby asks loudly. He feels a cold chill settle in his stomach and the nausea starts to rise again.
“I followed you,” Emma says, “I was-”
“You what?!” Toby shouts, “What the hell do you mean that you followed me?”
“You didn’t come home!” Emma shouts back, “You went to Manchester on the train and then you didn’t come back. What were you doing Toby?”
“What?!” Toby asks, quieter now, “What’s wrong with you? I don’t have to answer to you any more, you’re not my mother, or my girlfriend now. It’s seriously creepy that you followed me.”
“Who is she?” Emma snaps, “Who’s the girl you spent the night with?”
“What are you talking about?” Toby asks confused.
“You’ve got to be with a girl,” Emma says quickly, “You’ve not been answering my calls, you’ve been distant with me, you wanted to take a break. What else am I supposed to think? What are you up to Toby?”
“You followed me to Manchester!” Toby shouts again, “You have no right to tell me how to live my life.”
“You’re my boyfriend!” Emma shouts back, “I have the right to know if my boyfriend’s cheating on me don’t I?”
“Look, I don’t want to talk to you about this right now,” Toby says as he glances at the clock. He sighs, “Emma, I’ve got training, I’m going to be late as it is. I’ll call you tonight.”
“I’ll believe that when I actually get the call,” Emma snaps.
She’s about to say more, Toby just knows it. If he lets her keep talking they’ll be arguing for hours. He wasn’t lying when he said that he was going to be late for training either. He hangs up, cutting Emma off mid sentence. He sighs, rubs his face with his hands and heads up to his new room to start getting ready.
His hangover is almost completely gone by the time he reaches the Academy. The fresh air and the walking really helped to clear his head and despite one particular sticky moment on the train, when a baby’s nappy exploded in the toilet of the carriage and filled the area with the stink of poop, he feels much better. He changes in record time and he’s out on the pitch within moments. He spots Scooby straight away and heads over.
“Hey mate,” he says quietly, “Can we talk?”
Scooby looks up. He looks really serious, a frown on his face. It smooths away into blankness though and Scooby just nods. The pair head over to the fence around the training pitches and Toby leans against the fence.
“Listen mate,” he says, “I’m really sorry about the other night. I shouldn’t have said what I did. It was your night for celebrating your success and I probably ruined it.”
“Nah,” Scooby says with a shake of his head, “You didn’t ruin it, you just said some stupid shit while you were drunk. It happens to all of us at one point or another.”
“I really am sorry though,” Toby says insistently, “I was a complete dick and I feel so bad about it.”
“Relax,” Scooby says, “Don’t worry about it. I get it, really I do. There was something bugging you and I said some mean things too, we were as bad as each other.”
“You were a bit harsh,” Toby says with a grin, “But then again I suppose that I probably needed to hear those things. It wasn’t the first time I heard them and it wasn’t the last either. I just… I guess I’ve just got a lot of stuff going on in my head right now and I got a bit confused and upset.”
“It happens,” Scooby says, shrugging, “Let’s just forget about it. We’re good mates, even though we’ve only known each other for a while. Our friendship is too deep for us to fall out over some drunken argument.”
“Yeah,” Toby says. He brightens up and smiles at last, “Yeah, you’re right. You don’t hold that crap against me and I don’t hold it against you. Besides, I still need your help with my game.”
“Sure thing,” Scooby says, laughing, “Your volleys are shit.”
They start to head off towards one of the pitches.
“By the way,” Scooby says as they walk, “If it had been you stealing my girl or something it would have been a whole other story. I don’t give a shit about that bros before hoes crap.”
“True that,” Toby says, laughing loud.
They spend most of that day of training practicing Toby’s volleys. Scooby is really skilled with them, able to control the ball like it’s just an extension of his own body. Toby’s a little envious really, when he sees the ease with which Scooby demonstrates. He gets more and more annoyed when he tries it himself, after Scooby makes it look so easy, but he just fails. Scooby’s actually a better teacher than Toby expected. He takes things slow, explaining things step by step and showing Toby ever part of the move. By the end of their training session for the morning Toby doesn’t have it down quite as well as Scooby does but he’s much better. They break for lunch and have a bit of a rest.
“Mate,” Scooby says, as they eat, “I really need you to help me.”
“What’s up?” Toby asks, looking at his friend.
Scooby doesn’t reply. He just sits there, staring at his sandwich. There’s a frown on his face and Toby doesn’t like it. He’s usually so happy, all smiles and friendly banter. To see Scooby looking so serious… it makes Toby uncomfortable and gives him the sense that something is wrong in the world. He wants to help straight away, even if it is to try and get that look off Scooby’s face.
“Will you help me with the acting thing?” Scooby eventually asks.
“What acting thing?” Toby asks, confused.
“You know… the scared thing I’ve got going on,” Scooby says in a whisper.
Toby looks at him for a moment, seriously confused. But then he remembers the audition a few weeks back and the way that Scooby froze up and turned in to a completely different person.
“I’m scared mate,” Scooby admits, “I might end up playing for the first team in the match coming up and I know there’s going to be cameras there. It’s Manchester United for fuck’s sake, there will be cameras, no doubt about it.”
“Just think of the game,” Toby says, shrugging, “Treat it like any other match and you’ll be fine.”
“I know I won’t be though mate.” Scooby says.
He looks at Toby and he realises that the other boy is actually on the edge of tears. He’s struggling to admit this to his friend. And just like that Toby knows that Scooby is completely petrified. And Toby knows how much strength it’s taking Scooby to admit this to him.
“It’s all going to go wrong,” Scooby whispers. “Even now, just thinking about playing and about all of those cameras… it makes me want to run away and throw up. But I can’t even move. I just know that there’s going to be the whole world watching and they’re going to see me and I don’t think I’ll even be able to step on to the pitch.”
“Jeeze,” Toby says slowly, “I didn’t realise it was that bad.”
“Please,” Scooby begs, “Please will you help me out with this? Will you teach me some of your magic or something and help me get through this?”
“Of course mate,” Toby says, patting Scooby on the shoulder and rubbing his back, “Of course I’ll help you. This is your big chance, a once in a lifetime opportunity to live the dream. I’m not going to let your stupid head screw it up.”
Scooby grins at Toby at that and suddenly the world is back to normal. They spend the rest of the afternoon running laps and doing some defence work. Despite the fact that both of them usually play up front the coaches insist that everyone work on all areas of the game, even if it isn’t their strong suit. Toby knows that’s because sometimes people are better suited for different positions than the ones that they’ve always played and they would never know until they try it. He’s happy that he’s fairly decent in defence, that his dad made him practice and play in different positions.
A pang of sadness hits him when he thinks about his dad and he just freezes. A shout and a nudge from Scooby gets him moving again. As they continue to play Toby is surprised by how much he actually misses his dad already, and Rebecca. But he knows that can’t go back, not yet. He focuses on the game again when Scooby shouts at him and they play better than they ever have. Toby even tries a few of the volleys that his friend has taught him and is over the moon when they actually work and turn the game in his side’s favour.
After training Scooby and Toby head to a nearby cafe and hang out for a while. They talk about Scooby’s problem and Toby tries to find out exactly why Scooby is so scared of the cameras. It’s not really clear but he thinks that he knows how to fix things for Scooby and make it all a little easier on his friend. He’s actually surprised, in truth, that he knows the tricks that he tells Scooby, he didn’t even know that he knew those things.
“The thing you’ve got to remember is,” Toby says, “Not everyone’s going to be as football mad as the people in the stadium. They’re all there to watch the match and watch their team win. They’re the hard core fans and they’re watching you in person. The people at home, watching on the TV, they’re not the super fans. They’re the ones who watch maybe just because they like football or there was nothing else on. They’re not watching you, they’re just watching grown men chase a ball around a field,”
“Are you sure that you love football,” Scooby jokes.
“Yes I’m sure,” Toby says, smiling, “Anyway, just forget about the cameras and everyone who’s watching you. And if you can’t do that then think of someone, anyone, that whenever they’re watching you play a match, when they’re there in person, that makes you play extra hard and the best that you can. You try to show off for them really, show them that you’re a really good, serious footballer. Is there anyone like that for you?”
“Yeah…”Scooby says after a moment of thought. He looks at Toby and smiles, “Yeah, there’s someone like that. My granddad. He gave me my first pair of boots and took me to watch my first game.”
“Well there you go,” Toby says with a grin. “Now, when you’re playing and the cameras are all focused on you, don’t imagine that there’s all these people watching. Imagine that each and every one of those cameras is sending the picture straight to your granddad and he’s watching you, where ever he is and cheering you on.”
Scooby thinks for a moment and then he smiles.
“You know what mate?” Scooby says, “I think that could really help. Do you have any other ideas or advice?”
Toby start reeling off suggestions and Scooby listens closely, right on the edge of his seat. Eventually though it’s time for them both to go home, demonstrated when Scooby gets a text from his mother, wanting to know where he is. When they part ways they’re good friends again, their bond reformed and stronger than ever. They’ve both realised that they need each other really, need to be able to lean on and depend on the other if either of them are going to be at all successful. Toby walks towards the train station, and his new home, with a smile on his face.
His phone rings just before he gets in to the station itself. He groans when he sees that it’s his dad. Probably trying to get him to come home. He sighs and answers it any way, despite knowing that there’ll probably be another argument and demands for him to return.
“Toby?!” Anthony says quickly, “Toby is that you?”
“Yeah Dad, it’s me,” he says with a sigh. “Who else would it be? “What do you want?”
“It’s Granddad,” Anthony says.
Toby’s blood runs cold and he stops walking. People tut and glare as they walk around him.
“Is he ok?” he asks quietly. He tries to prepare himself for the worst but he knows that anything his dad tells him is going to be bad.
“He’s in hospital,” Anthony says, “They say he had a fall or something. He’s ok for now,”
“Oh thank god,” Toby says, “When can I go and see him?”
“He’s in Ward E6,” Anthony says, “Visiting hours are between 6:30 and 8:30pm. I’m going to be there at 7:30. Try to get there as soon as you can.”
“Sure,” Toby says with a nod even though his dad can’t see him. “I’ll get there as soon as I can.”
Toby hangs up and turns on his heel. He strides towards the bus stop, feet moving quickly. He needs to get to his granddad as soon as he can. His heart is racing and he flings out an arm to stop the first bus he sees. He has to get to his granddad.