By the time that Toby is walking home he’s swaying from side to side and everything around him is blurry. He’s struggling to see straight, things keep moving around in his vision or turning in to two or three identical things. He says as much to Arjan while they share a taxi home but his best friend just laughs at him. Toby starts chuckling as well, not sure what it is that he’s supposed to be finding funny but knowing that he likes the feeling that laughing gives him.
Eventually the taxi driver reaches Toby’s street and drops him off at the bottom, refusing to go up and get stuck in the one way system that the council put there for some reason. And so, at one in the morning Toby finds himself staggering back to his home, weaving from side to side on the dark and empty street. Once or twice he bumps in to a dustbin, left out on the curb ready for pick up the next day. They scrape across the ground or fall over with a loud bang. A few lights come on in nearby houses and Toby squints at the windows, sure that people are looking out him, watching him. He likes the attention though, he smiles, waves and does little bows before he continues to head on to his house.
He’s sure that he’s as silent as a mouse when he lets himself in. He even tries to shut the front door quietly, shushing it when it bangs a little. Then he starts giggling to himself as he realises that he’s talking to an inanimate object. He stumbles around, tripping over shoes and bags that are littering the hallway. It’s quite dark and he’s really struggling to make them out. He swears quietly and starts giggling again. Suddenly the light flicks on and Toby cries out, his hand shooting up to cover his eyes.
“Turn it off,” he whines. “Owww!!”
“What the hell are you playing at?!” Anthony snarls, stamping down the stairs towards his son.
Toby blinks at his dad, his eyes tearing up from the sudden light. Everything has been so dark until now and the sudden brightness is sending pain flaring down his optic nerves. Anthony is wearing a pair of lightweight sleep pants and has bare feet. His dressing gown is hanging loose from his shoulders and the flash of hair through the gap tells Toby that his dad has nothing on on his top half. His hair is sticking up in every direction and his eyes are puffy from sleep. Anthony stops on the bottom step and stares down at his son.
“Where the hell have you been?” he demands again.
“I went out,” Toby says, pulling at his shoe and almost stumbling over, “Scooby got on to the first team so we went out to celebrate.”
“Oh so you actually went to training then?!” Anthony says, “Wonders will never cease.”
“Shut up,” Toby mutters.
“What did you say to me, boy?” Anthony asks, his voice low and harsh, dangerous.
“I said shut up,” Toby says a little louder, staring his dad in the face. “All you ever do is moan about training or talk about training or ask about training. I’m sick of hearing about fucking training!”
“Because right now it’s the most important thing in your life,” Anthony says, “And I want you to know that, remember that and focus on that fact. You just keep fannying around doing other stuff though and treating this all like some big game.”
“I can’t forget how important training is,” Toby say, getting right up close to his dad. There’s only an inch or so between their faces, “How could I forget how important training is when you’re reminding me three times a day, ever day?”
Anthony glared at his son. Toby breathed hard, practically panting. A rush of happiness fills his stomach as he realises that he was finally saying the things that he has been dying to say to his dad but has never had the courage to until now. He wonders how far he should go, how many truths he should spill and exactly how purple he can make his dad turn. Anthony frowns as Toby breaths on him and he makes a loud sniffing noise.
“Have you been drinking?” he asks suddenly.
All the words that Toby was about to say dry up. He freezes and stares at his dad. How did he know?
“You reek like a brewery!” Anthony shouts, “What the hell?! You’ve been at training all day and now you turn up, completely hammered. You’ve got training again tomorrow, or should I say, today. How the hell are you going to cope feeling hungover all day?”
“I’ll manage,” Toby says sullenly, “It’s not like I’m going to be the only one hungover.”
“You know I don’t like you drinking,” Anthony says harshly, “And yet, here you are, pissed as a fart and barely able to stand up. What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking that I wanted to have a little fun!” Toby says loudly, “I was thinking that I wanted to forget all about football and training and just do the sorts of things that normal teenagers do. That includes going out and getting drunk and coming home stupidly late.”
“Being drunk and being hungover aren’t cool things to do,” Anthony snarls, “they’re for losers and layabouts. I raised you to be better than this, to be responsible and act like an adult. But you’re like a completely different person now, what the hell is going on?!”
Toby doesn’t say a word. He stares at Anthony and sneers at him. Anthony grabs Toby’s chin in a hard grip and shakes his head a little. He pulls his son closer to him.
“If you’re drunk you’re going to be crap at training,” he says loudly, making Toby flinch, “If you’re hungover you’re going to be crap at training. We have not spent years getting you to this stage in life only for you to go and throw it all down the toilet. I’ve told you before, I don’t want you drinking and if you want to drink then you can’t have too much. Alcohol interferes too much with your performance. I’m not going to let you wreck everything because you want to get pissed.”
“Oh you mean like you did,” Toby says loudly, pulling himself free of his dad’s grasp. “You don’t want me turning in to a teenage alcoholic like you did and throwing it all away. You wanted to be a football player, you could have been a football player but you went around getting drunk every night and then eventually the bottle was more important than the ball. Right?”
“You don’t know the half of it my son,” Anthony said sharply and loudly, “And I didn’t have half your talent. You’re throwing it all away and I’m not gonna let you make the same mistakes that I did.”
“Well you see, I’m not you,” Toby says, “I’m me. I’m not going to get hooked on alcohol because frankly, I don’t really like the taste that much. And right now, I don’t like how I’m feeling while I’m drunk that much either. Everything’s all spiny.”
“If you don’t like it then why the hell did you get drunk?!” Anthony roars
“Because I want to be normal!” Toby shouts back, “I want to act like a normal teenager and go out and do normal teenager things. I want go out at the weekends and get drunk, I want to go to the cinema with my friends on a weekday, I want to spend a day or two lounging around in my room. But all I do is go to training and then go to the gym because that’s what YOU are saying I have to do.”
“I’m telling you to do these things because you need to do them!” his dad says, “Do you think Ronaldo spends days on end watching films on his sofa? Do you think David Beckham skips training because he wants to go to the cinema? Do you think Wayne Rooney goes out and gets drunk every weekend?! No! They don’t, they focus on the game and getting as good at it as they can!”
“Bullshit!” Toby shouts, “They all go out and have fun, they do things that they want to do all the time. They have time off in between training and gym sessions. For fucks sake there’s always pictures of drunk footballers in nightclubs all over the papers every week. They get to have time off and live their lives. You’re treating me like some bloody prisoner or a child who needs it’s day planning out for it so it doesn’t go crazy or something!”
“You can’t be trusted!” Anthony says harshly, “You’ve already shown that you can’t be trusted to do what you need to do. You skip training because you can’t be bothered, you go out and get drunk because you want to be ‘normal’, you plan on going to training and being a waste of space while you’re hungover. Those aren’t the signs of an adult, those aren’t the signs of someone who’s serious about being a footballer! That’s the behavior of a child, a spoiled and stupid child!”
“Fuck you!” Toby shouts. “I don’t have to stay and listen to this! I can go and stay with friends or something. I’ve got those and guess what?! Their parents let them have friends over to stay, even during the week!”
Toby glares at his dad for a moment before spinning in place and storming over to the front door. It would be much more effective if he weren’t swaying from side to side as he walks. His fingers slip and scramble at the lock to the door and eventually he gets it undone. He flings the door open, letting it crash against the wall behind it. Toby glares over his shoulder at his dad, stumbles through the door and over the front step before striding off down the street. Anthony goes to the door and watches him go, shaking his head with disappointment at his son’s behavior.
It was Toby shutting the door that woke her up. For a moment Rebecca doesn’t know what’s going on, or why she woke up. Then she hears Toby stumbling around downstairs, giggling and whispering to himself and she remembers. Toby hadn’t come home at dinner time like he usually did. Their dad hadn’t been happy about it but after a phone call he seemed a bit more relaxed. Still though, Dad hadn’t wanted to listen to anything that Rebecca had to say to him so she eventually gave up and went to her room. By the time that Dad came to tuck her in to bed Toby still wasn’t home and she was worried.
She told Dad that she was worried about Toby and he said that he wasn’t worried. But she could tell that he was, his eyes were all wrinkled in the corners, like he was crying but there weren’t any tears. And he kept frowning at the wall, looking like he did when he was watching the football results on TV and waiting for bad news. He was actually worried about Toby even if he pretended not to be.
Now though Toby is back. He sounds a little funny, like Dad does on Christmas Day sometimes, all giggly and slurry. Rebecca doesn’t care though, she’s just glad that her brother’s back. She sits up in bed and gets herself ready to jump out of her room at him, surprise him and make sure that she gets at least one good night hug from him.
Then she hears Dad stomping past, muttering loudly about time and drinking. She frowns and then the gap under her door starts to let light in. Dad put on the hallway light. That’s when the shouting starts. It’s angry, angrier than she’s ever heard before. They’re saying mean things to each other, such horrible horrible things. She doesn’t even need to go and crouch at the top of the stairs to listen in. They’re that loud that she can hear them clearly, even in her room with the door shut. Tears start to prickle at her eyes, they feel hot and itchy. There’s a lump in her throat that won’t go away and her mouth is wobbling. She shrinks back in to her bed, laying down and pulling the covers back over her shoulders.
She lays there, head on the pillow and listens to them, shouting at each other, arguing, calling each other names, swearing. She stops trying to hold back the tears and lets them fall. They leave trails of cold wetness in their wake, collecting under her cheek and creating a damp spot on her pillow. She doesn’t care. Then she hears the door slam open and then after a little while she hears it slam shut again. Her dad’s feet pound up the stairs heavily. There’s no sound of her brother following and suddenly Rebecca realises that he hasn’t stayed home. He’s gone somewhere else. She can still hear her dad walking around on the landing, like he doesn’t even care that Toby’s ran away. Rebecca starts to cry in earnest and although she’s trying to be as quiet as she can a sob still manages to slip out. The floorboard in front of her door creaks a little and she quickly rolls over on to her other side. She hears her door lowly slide open, the bottom brushing against the carpet. She holds herself completely still and scrunches her eyes shut. Even through the lids she can see the warm glow of the hallway light, bouncing off her walls and mirrors. She hears her dad sigh, and then shut the door again, leaving her in darkness once more. She breathes out quietly.
She rolls on to her other side again, facing the door and watches the gap at the bottom. Eventually the light turns off and she hears her dad start snoring a few minutes later. It’s not fair! He’s just gone to sleep as though nothing has happened. Toby’s out there somewhere, staying who knows where, sleeping in god knows what and their dad has just gone back to sleep like it’s no big deal? She starts to cry harder now. Her whole body shakes but she tries to hold in the sounds of her sobs. It’s painful, all she wants to do is let the sound out, to let her dad know how much he’s hurting her. But she won’t. Instead she cries and cries and holds in the true depth of her hurt. Eventually blackness comes and she slips into sleep, the salt of her tears drying on her face.
Toby stumbles along, trying to think of where he can go. Normally he would call Arjan and ask to stay with him, but after what he’s heard tonight the last thing he wants to do is stay there. It would only cause more trouble between Arjan and his dad and it would probably annoy his mum too. With everything else that’s going on with that family Toby doesn’t want to put any more strain on her. He can’t call Scooby either, their argument earlier has left a bitter taste in Toby’s mouth and he doesn’t want to speak to him right now. He’s clearly jealous that Toby has talent and is trying to ruin it for him. And he can’t call Fiona either. It’d be weird to call a woman he barely knows and ask if he can stay there. Besides, the trains aren’t running this late and he’d never be able to get there. He doubts that she’ll come and pick him up either. He realises that he doesn’t even know if she drives.
There’s only one person he can call. He pulls out his phone and squints at the screen, trying to make it stay still long enough for him to find the right number. He ends up closing one eye and holding the phone close to make it look straight for him.
“Hello?” Emma’s voice says at the other end of the phone.
“Hey Em,” he says softly, “Listen, my dad’s kicked me out and I was hoping I might be able to crash on your sofa tonight.”
Emma doesn’t say anything. For a moment he thinks that she might have fallen back to sleep.
“Isn’t there anywhere else you can go?” she asks, “It’s really late and I don’t think my parents will be too happy.”
“Oh come on,” he whines, “Your dad loves me, he thinks I’m amazing since I started at the Academy, he keeps going on about me being the next Rooney, I’m sure he won’t mind.”
“Toby,” Emma says hesitantly. She sighs, “Fine, come over. Don’t knock on the door, just give me a ring when you’re outside. I’ll come and let you in.”
“Thank you thank you thank you.” He says enthusiastically, a little too loudly, “You’re the best girlfriend ever!”
“You mean fiancee,” she says, “Remember, we’re engaged now.”
“Oh… yeah,” Toby says quickly, “Of course. You’re the best fiancee ever.”
She hangs up and Toby shoves his phone back in his pocket. He rambles off down the street, swaying and stumbling. The air is helping to clear his head a little now.
By the time that Toby reaches Emma’s house he’s feeling a lot clearer. The fog is starting to lift and his stomach rolls with regret as he remembers how he spoke to Scooby that night. He also feels a little sick when he realises that he’s essentially left home and how rude he was to his dad. Toby can’t help but feel a little relieved though, he’s finally gotten all of those things that were making him angry off his chest and out in the open. It’s like a stopper has been released from a bottle and he’s finally let the things that he hated out and released the pressure. Still though, there’s a cold feeling in his chest as he tries to think of what to do next. Mostly however he’s just exhausted. He wants to lie down and sleep, forget everything and just let the soft inky blackness roll over him.
He stops outside Emma’s front door and raises his hand to knock until he remembers that he is supposed to ring her. He fumbles with his phone but before he has a chance to hit the call button the door flies open and Emma is there, glaring at him. She looks half asleep though so the image is less than intimidating. He smiles gently at her and reaches out to hug her. She holds up a hand though, placing it on his chest and stopping him from coming any closer.
“Why did it take you so long?” she hisses at him, “Normally you’re over in just a few minutes. It’s taken you half an hour tonight.”
“Come on,” Toby whines, “It’s cold out here and I want to sleep.”
“Why did it take you so long?!” Emma insists.
“I had to keep taking a piss,” Toby spits out, “I’ve had way too much beer and I kept needing to stop and nip in to alleyways to let it all out. Happy?”
Emma looks at him for a few long minutes. Toby hops about in place, rubbing his arms while he tries to warm himself up. Finally Emma stops staring at him and smiles, reaching out to pull him to her in a hug. He sighs in relief as he steps in to the warmth of the house and her arms. The door shuts, a little too loudly for his liking.
“What happened?” Emma eventually asks as they head in to the living room, “Why did you call me? Why not one of your other friends?”
“Scooby’s not talking to me,” Toby admits, collapsing on to the sofa, “And Arjan’s got enough on without me adding extra pressure. Besides, who else would I want to call? You’re my girlfriend, I’m supposed to call you before anyone.”
“I suppose,” Emma says, sighing. She sits beside Toby, “So why isn’t Scooby talking to you? I thought you were good friends.”
“We had a stupid argument,” he reluctantly says, “He got on to the first string team, as a reserve. And I got that audition thing. He told me I should just give up on acting and focus on the football. I told him he was just jealous because he can’t act and it just sort of blew up from there.”
“Oh Toby,” Emma says softly. She reaches out and pulls his head on to her lap, stroking his hair soothingly, “How do you get yourself in to these situations?”
“What situations?” Toby asks, rolling over to look up at her, “I never argue with my friends. I think we were both just drunk and said stupid shit, that’s all.”
“I mean with the audition,” Emma corrects him, “I mean seriously? What kind of footballer acts as well? It’s not done and now you’ve found yourself stuck between the two.”
“I’m not stuck though,” Toby says, “I’m doing the things that I like, that I want to do. Why would that make me stuck? I’m lucky!”
He stares up at her. She’s not looking at him, even as her fingers run through his hair over and over. The movement usually lulls him to sleep but he’s too angry and confused right now, emotions running through him, adrenaline pounding so fast that the tiredness has completely disappeared. He just can’t understand why she’s saying this stuff, it’s not what he’s thinking in his head and usually she knows.
“I think…” Emma says slowly, “I think that Scooby might be right.”
“What?…” Toby says. He sits up and turns to look at her, “What are you saying?”
“I think Scooby’s right,” she says, more firmly, more confidently now, “You should stop thinking about the acting, just ignore it all together, and focus on the football.”
“Why are you taking Scooby’s side?” Toby demands, “You’ve never even met the guy and you’re agreeing with him? You’re supposed to be my girlfriend and support me, not some other guy.”
“You’re supposed to be a footballer,” Emma spits out, “That’s what you’ve always wanted to be and what you’re supposed to be. It’s what everyone knows you for. Why do you think I got with you in the first place?!”
She stops and stares at Toby in shock. She quickly covers her mouth, staring at him wide eyed, like she’s trying to trap the words in her mouth before they can escape. It’s too late though. Toby stares at her, anger rushing through him. His blood pounds, he can hear the beat of his heart in his ears.
“What?” Toby asks, his voice quiet and harsh.
Emma flinches slightly and looks away.
“What is that supposed to mean?” he asks again.
She takes in a deep breath and turns to look at Toby. Her face is blank, emotionless. Toby has never seen her looking like this.
“You being such a good footballer is why I got with you in the first place,” she says blankly, staring straight through him, “It was really the only attractive thing about you. I started to like you more and more but the original reason that I got with you was because we all reckoned that you could become a footballer and go all the way to the top. So I decided that you would be my boyfriend. And then you were.”
“Why would you…? Why?” he asks, shaking his head. “Why would me being a good footballer make you want to be with me? Is that why you’ve stayed with me all this time?”
“Of course not,” Emma says, her voice suddenly harsh, “I like you plenty enough now, even love you I suppose. But the fact is that back then, and ever since, since I was 14, I’ve always dreamed of myself as a WAG. I’ve only ever pictured myself as a WAG. And you were the fastest and easiest way to get that.”
Toby stares at her, his mouth falls open. The anger fades away, leaving nothing but a cold black emptiness inside. He feels sick, drained, like he’s been punched in the stomach. A knot of chilly coldness settles in the pit of his stomach and he swallows hard. Emma isn’t looking at him, she’s looking away.
“That’s why you need to keep playing football,” she says firmly, harshly, “I’m going to become a WAG, it’s my dream, and to do that I need you to become a top premiership footballer. You’ve got to reach for the dream you’ve always had and ignore everything else, just like you always have, just like your dad and me want. Just give up on this acting crap and focus on the stuff that really matters.”
“Are you serious?” he asks, his voice suddenly getting a little louder. Emma quickly shushes him, “Is that seriously all you can think about?! Don’t you want me to be happy? Don’t you want me to reach my dream?!” she tries to respond but Toby waves a hand to silence her, “You actually have the nerve to sit there and tell me to give up on something I want because it goes against what you want? Why the hell should I even put up with you? Do you even love me or are you just saying that to get your dream?!”
“Of course I love you,” she says.
Her voice is shaking though, uncertainty plain to hear. Anger boils up inside Toby.
“I don’t know how you can even say that to my face,” he hisses out, “If you loved me, you’d want me to be happy, you’d want me to do what I want to do and ignore your own selfish desires, just like I usually do for you. I love you with every bit of my body and heart and now I find out everything is a sham, it’s always been a lie.”
“I love you!” Emma says quickly, her voice a little clearer and firmer now. She clings on to his arm, “I really love you and I do want you to be happy. And I know that being a premiership footballer will make you happy. But you won’t get there unless you focus on just that.”
“Oh shut up,” Toby says suddenly, yanking his arm free from her clawing grasp, “You’re not saying that to be honest, you’re saying that to please me and keep me on your side. Well you know what? It’s time for you to find a new dream, one that relies entirely on you, not someone else doing the work for you. What gives you the right to tell me to give up my dream just so you can reach yours? It’s lazy and selfish! You’re lazy and selfish!”
“How dare you?!” Emma snaps, jumping to her feet, “I don’t know why you’re saying all of this but I’m not going to listen to you any more. I don’t know how you dare call me lazy! I have been there since we were fourteen. I’ve been at football matches, at training, I’ve stood outside in the wind and the rain and the snow, cheering you on, just like a good girlfriend does. And now you’re calling me lazy?!”
“Exactly! You were there because it made you look good,” Toby says, sneering, “You went to matches and training because it’s what a WAG does. You just wanted to look like the loving, dutiful girlfriend. You weren’t there because you wanted to support me, or because you liked football. You were there playing the role that you wanted. Maybe you should think about becoming an actress, because you’d be a good one. Oh wait… that’d be too much work and you’d actually have to do it all yourself. Maybe not.”
Emma glares at him for a few minutes. Then she turns away, her hands by her sides. Her entire body is shaking.
“I’m not going to listen to any more of this,” she says quietly, still turned away, “I’m going to bed. Hopefully tomorrow you’ll be in a better mood and might actually listen to sense for a change.”
Emma stomps off upstairs. Toby watches her go. He can hear her talking to someone, probably one of her parents. Then the house falls silent and he hears her bedroom door shut. He sighs and settles himself on the sofa. He wiggles around, trying to get comfortable, pulling a cushion under his head and dragging a blanket over himself. Eventually he sighs and just flops on to his back. He lays there, one hand behind his head and stares up at the ceiling.
He just can’t understand it. Why has everything gone so wrong? Is he really the bad guy here? He just doesn’t understand why everyone is so against him doing what it is that makes him happy. He can’t understand why they’re pushing their goals for him, on to him, making him reach for their goals rather than the ones that he comes up with by himself.
With those thoughts racing through his mind he finally fades in to sleep.