It doesn’t look like anyone’s in at Emma’s when Toby goes around the next day. But when he knocks at the door she opens it quickly.
“I saw you coming,” she admits, smiling shyly. “I was hoping you’d turn up soon.”
“How’ve you been?” he asks, shifting from foot to foot and looking at the wall just over her shoulder.
“I’ve been good,” she says, “Really good. Do you want to come in?”
Toby nods and she steps aside. He brushes past her in to the house but she stops him, a hand on his chest. He looks down at her, her eyes are wide and pleading.
“I saw the match,” she says, “You played really well. I don’t even care about the own goal. You were brilliant. My lucky number eleven.”
“I was playing as fifteen,” he says quietly.
“Oh right,” she says quickly, “Of course, silly me. Lucky number fifteen.”
She smiles at him and shuts the door. They stand there, shuffling around in the hallway.
“We need to talk,” Toby says when the silence begins to make his nerves itch to do something. “Is anyone else in?”
“No,” Emma says quickly, shaking her head, “They’re at a car boot, they’ll be a while yet.”
Toby nods and heads in to the living room. He takes a seat on the sofa where he spent the night, sitting right on the edge. Emma sits next to him, their knees and thighs pressing together. She puts her hand on top of his, where they’re clasped together in his lap.
“I’m so glad you came,” she says, smiling at him and trying to be coy. “I’ve missed you so much.”
“Then why didn’t you message me?” he asks, perhaps a little too harshly. “You didn’t delete my number so why didn’t you get in touch if you missed me that much?”
“I…” Emma splutters, “I didn’t know what to say.”
“Well I do,” Toby says. He pulls his hands free but Emma just puts her hands on his knee. “We need to talk and talk now.”
“Are you wanting to get back together?!” Emma asks excitedly, “Oh I’m so happy.”
She throws herself at him, wrapping her arms around his neck. He gently unwound her arms from around his neck and pushed her carefully away.
“No,” he says quietly, “No, I need to tell you something.”
She sits back and her face changes completely, her smile falling away and a stern, dangerous look fills her eyes.
“What do you need to tell me?” she asks quietly, her voice vibrating.
“I’ve been seeing someone else,” he says, not looking at her, “I’ve not slept with her. I’ve been seeing her to help me with my acting but we’ve got closer than I expected. And last night I slept with her. I met her before we started our break but I never cheated on you. I swear. It was her house I stayed at when we argued.”
“You slept with her?!” Emma cries. “How do I know that you didn’t sleep with her sooner than you said?”
“Because I didn’t.” Toby says firmly. “I swear I didn’t. I’m sorry that I lied to you about where I was and why I was in Manchester. I should have been honest. There was just so much going on that I needed some time for myself.”
“Ok,” Emma says, nodding her head. “I understand that. And I can see why you didn’t just tell me. I forgive you.”
She smiles at him and reaches for his hands. He pulls them back.
“Why won’t you hold my hand?” she asks quietly, “The break is over isn’t it? We’re back together again, right.”
Toby shakes his head quietly.
“No,” he says. “We’re not back together. We’re never getting back together. It’s over.”
“What?” Emma asks, “We can’t be over, we’re meant to be together.”
“No Emma,” Toby says, “No we’re not. Emma, you basically used me, made me fall in love with you only for me to find out that it’s a lie.”
Emma stares at him for a few long moments. Then her bottom lip begins to shake and quiver and her eyes fill with tears. Slowly her face collapses. She begins to sob, loudly. The sight of her so upset tugs at Toby’s heart for a few moments. He wants to wrap his arms around her, hold her close and tell her everything is going to be ok. But he knows that isn’t the right answer. He knows that’s just going to make her more confused. He climbs to his feet and heads to the doorway. He pauses there and looks back at her.
“I’m sorry.” he murmurs quietly.
He turns and leaves, Emma stays sitting on the sofa, crying in to her hands.
Toby’s phone rings as he’s heading back to the train station, ready to catch his train back to Manchester. He answers it without glancing at the screen.
“Toby?” Anthony says, “Oh thank god you’re taking my calls at last.”
“Hey Dad,” Toby says with a heavy sigh. “What’s up?”
“Look… I, I,” Anthony stammers for a few moments. “I know that I’ve been hard on you and maybe I’ve pushed you too hard. But I’m glad that you’re doing well for yourself.”
“Thanks,” Toby says with a smile, “That means a lot to me.”
“I know,” Anthony says, “And I should have said it to you sooner. Listen though, your sister really misses you. I really miss you. And with everything that’s going on at the moment I was kind of hoping that you’d come home. I mean, with the accusations of you throwing the game and everything you need to be with your family right now, people who love you and will protect you.”
“Dad,” Toby says before he stops. “Thanks, really, thank you. It means a lot to me that you’re worried about me. But I can’t come home yet. I need to do this. I need to strike out on my own. I can’t really explain why but I just feel like this is something that I need to do. I will come back though, maybe in a few weeks?”
“Of course,” Anthony says. Toby can hear his voice cracking and the disappointment, “I understand. Just remember that you’ve always got a home with us.”
“Thanks dad,” Toby says, smiling wider now, “I needed to hear that.”
They make small talk for a while before eventually Toby hangs up. He’s outside the train station and he looks up at the sign. He knows that he should probably go home, he’s just not quite ready to. And he also doesn’t want to go back to the house with Fiona is right now either. He feels like he needs to be alone, the crush of people all around him are starting to make him nervous and he’s sure that he can see a couple of blokes looking at him and scowling. They’re probably fans of Skelmerage and recognise him from the match. He sighs, shrugs his shoulders and turns away from the station.
He wanders that streets, not really going anywhere, just letting his legs take him where ever they want. It’s not too cold, not too warm and it’s actually quite pleasant, wandering around, walking past people without having to talk to anyone. He’s just a face in the crowd, a nameless passer by. He catches snippets of conversations, happiness, sadness, frustration, anger. He listens to the stories that other people are telling, the things that are going on in their lives that feel like the centre of the world to them. They couldn’t care less about his problems, the things that are disturbing him. They’re focused on their own lives and they all act as though Toby doesn’t exist. He takes a deep breath and sits on a bench, watching and listening to other people going by. It becomes a little clearer. Then his phone rings again, interrupting his solitude.
“Hey Arjan!” he says happily, “How are you?! I’ve not spoken to you in ages, where’ve you been mate?”
“Busy,” Arjan says quickly, “Guess what?!”
Toby quirks a brow. Arjan sounds excited, ridiculously excited, like Toby’s never heard him before. He can’t stop the smile that crosses his face when he hears his old friend.
“What?” he asks.
“I got a shop!” Arjan blurts out, “A proper shop.”
“No way!” Toby says, “That’s brilliant. Where is it?”
“In the shopping mall,” Arjan says, “Next to Marks and Spencer's.”
“Oh wow!” Toby says, “Way to go mate. Can I come and see it?”
“Of course!” Arjan cries, “Why do you think I’m telling you? It’s quite quiet right now, I’d love you to come and see it.”
“I’ll be right there,” Toby says.
He hangs up and rushes towards the shopping mall. He blends in to the crowd easily, falling in to step amongst them all. He’s still smiling and suddenly everything seems better with the world. Arjan deserves the shop, it’s all his best friend has ever worked for. And it gives Toby strength, realising that Arjan’s made his dream a reality and hasn’t let anyone else stop him, no matter what.
It doesn’t take long to reach the shopping mall, Toby weaves in and out of distracted shoppers easily. He stops outside the shop beside Marks and Spencer's, just where Arjan said it would be. He can see his best friend in the shop, talking to a couple of customers. Toby stands outside though, looking at the windows and the displays. It all looks so professional, he can’t believe that Arjan’s managed to do this all so quickly. There are posters in the windows, professionally printed. There are even the names of major phone networks on the posters, their logos. Everything looks so amazing, so neat. He can’t believe that this is a real shop, backed by real networks. As Toby takes a couple of steps closer he can see the various phone models in the window and lining the walls. There are recognisable models and makes there, some reaching in to the several of hundred of pounds. Toby just looks at it and blinks.
“Hey!” Arjan says, poking his head around the door. He’s grinning widely.
“Hey!” Toby says after he jumps. “Wow, well done mate!”
“Thanks,” Arjan says. He comes out of the shop and stands beside Toby, crossing his arms over his chest and staring at the display, “I can’t believe this is actually happening,”
“You can’t believe it?” Toby says, “Should I be worried?” they laugh together. Toby calms and looks at the window, nodding, “Seriously though Arj, well done. You deserve it.”
“Come on inside,” Arjan says, slinging his arm around his friend’s shoulders, “I want you to see it all.”
They walk in together and Toby slowly wanders around the shop.
“This is incredible,” he says, touching some of the various phones, “Are you really working for the networks?”
“Yeah,” Arjan says with a laugh, “Turns out they’re all too happy to work with the smaller businesses. I offer contracts and pay as you go sims. The networks are sending me actual mobiles and I’m still selling all of the accessories too.”
“Can’t turn your back on your roots ay?” Toby says, grinning widely. He stops and stares in to the back where he can see Arjan’s dad stocking the shelves. “Wow. He’s changed his tune.”
“Yeah,” Arjan says with a laugh, “That’s because he’s seen how much I’m making,”
“Seriously?” he eventually asks, “You’re making that much that he’s actually happy about this?”
“Yeah!” Arjan says loudly, “I’m making like twice the salary of a doctor already. I’d never have got even close to that for years. Now, instead of moaning about how I’m letting down the family name and not making something of myself in a respectable career he’s going around telling everyone how well I’m doing. He’s calling me his business man son.”
“Sounds like he’s proud of you,” Toby says. His heart hurts a little and he stares at a football themed phone case that he turns over and over in his hands. “Glad he’s happy now.”
“I know right,” Arjan says. “It’s great for business too. All of his friends keep coming in, asking for a family discount and stuff. Even Mr Ranjeet from the corner shop came in to get some cheap models for his paper boys, so he can get in touch with them.”
“Wow!” Toby says, looking at Arjan “That’s pretty impressive. Good job that you didn’t listen to him about going to college then.”
“That was never gonna happen,” Arjan says with a laugh. “It just ain’t me. He’s still suggesting I take a night class in business or something but I can find out everything I need to know from the internet. Push comes to shove and I’ll do an open university course or something. Learning isn’t me, we both know it.” Toby nods and grins a little. “But what about you? How’s the football going?”
“You don’t know?” Toby asks, looking at his friend quickly. “You didn’t watch the match? See the game?”
“When have I had time?!” Arjan cries. “Look at this place, it didn’t just pop up. I’ve been working eighteen hour days, seven days a week since I realised I was outgrowing the stall. Why? What happened?”
Arjan comes a little closer to Toby and looks at his friend. Toby stares right back, looking Arjan in the eye. Arjan frowns, worried and puts a hand on his shoulder.
“Dude,” Arjan says, “What happened?”
“I got suspended,” Toby says. Arjan’s jaw drops, “They think I scored an own goal on purpose. Some guy placed a load of money on it happening and then it did so the guy got a massive pay out. And because the bet was so specific and own goals hardly ever happen they looked in to it. The police are involved and everything.”
“No way,” Arjan says, “You ok?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Toby says with a smile, “It’s not the end of the world. At least football isn’t the be all and end all of my life. I’m focusing on my acting thing for now, getting really good at my craft you know. I’ve got an audition tomorrow and everything.”
“Wow!” Arjan says, “That’s cool man. Good luck!”
“Thanks.” Toby says. He sighs, “It’s just the stupid investigation. I didn’t do anything but I can’t stop thinking about it. I mean, what if I did something and somehow it links me to this guy even though there isn’t really a connection. I could go to prison I reckon.”
“Nah,” Arjan says, “They don’t lock you up for that sort of thing. Besides, we might make jokes about the plod being useless but they’re not going to put you in prison without at least a little evidence. And, if like you say, you didn’t do anything wrong then you’ve got nothing to worry about.”
“True,” Toby says as he nods his head, “I did talk to them right away and I’ve told them everything that I can.”
“There you go mate!” Arjan shouts, “They’ll see that you’re trying to help and that you’re not the bad guy and they’ll leave you alone. And in the mean time you just focus on your acting and nail the audition.”
“Yeah,” Toby says, laughing.
He feels lighter now and he hangs around for a few hours. He just talks to Arjan and Arjan talks to him. Several times people come in for phone contracts. Arjan handles those while Toby looks after the other customers, the ones paying cash or card for a few accessories. As the time passes Toby starts to see that he’s really enjoying himself. Toby watches Arjan work his customers and sees that his friend is a complete natural at this. People leave smiling and happy, they crack jokes and laugh together. Once or twice people come back that were there only an hour or so before hand to buy more things. Arjan is in his element, something that he’s created with his own two hands. Toby’s on the edges, looking in and he realises that he wants the same confidence and happiness in what he does.
“Sorry mate,” Toby says eventually, “I got to get back. Marco’s cooking dinner and he makes a mean carbonara.”
“No problem,” Arjan says, hugging Toby, “Don’t be a stranger mate. And if you ever need anything just come and find me. I don’t think I can give you a job just yet but I might be able to find something for you to do.”
“I’ll bear that in mind,” Toby says laughing, “But don’t hold your breath.”
“Yeah whatever,” Arjan says, “I’m serious though, you know where I am if you need me. I’m always there for you. And it was a lot of fun hanging out with you today. I think that old lady fancied you, you know.”
“Nah,” Toby says, “She was eyeing you up. She seems the sort to like the exotic ones.”
“Shut up!” Arjan says with a laugh. “Get back to your awesome actor life.”
Toby laughs and heads out of the shop. It has been nice to spend some time with Arjan and see how the other man has made something of his life. Toby starts to realise that if Arjan can do it that so can he.
On the train home Toby’s phone rings yet again. Toby looks at it and phones at the screen when he doesn’t recognise the number.
“Hello?” he asks, “Who is this?”
“This is Detective Inspector Marks,” a deep voice says from the other end of the line, “Am I speaking to Toby Arnold?”
“Yes sir,” Toby says quickly, “Is everything ok?”
“Yes, yes,” Marks says, “I’m just calling to tell you we’ve closed the case. I wouldn’t normally do this or say this but it was only a matter of time. I know that you weren’t really involved but we had to stick to procedure. As it is there is insufficient evidence linking you to the punter so we can’t charge you with anything. And the punter isn’t talking so we’ve got nothing. And if I’m honest I don’t think you were involved either. We’ll be leaving you alone from now on.”
“Thank you Detective Inspector,” Toby says, his smile hurting his face, “You have no idea how much I needed to hear that today.”
Toby ends the call and sits back in his seat. As he watches the trees, bushes and houses go back he stares out the window, eyes looking but not really seeing. He sighs and smiles. His mind is peaceful at last and he feels like he can finally focus on the audition. There are no other things taking up his mind; not football, not Emma and not the investigation. Toby feels like the slate has been wiped clean so that he can start over, fresh.