CHAPTER: 12345, 6789101112131415161718192021222324252627EPILOGUE

Toby sits at the dining room table eating his dinner. In reality he’s just picking at it, moving pieces of food around the plate with his fork, head propped up on his other hand. Beside him his sister Rebecca is chattering away about her day, spent at the local kids club where she sang karaoke for most of the afternoon.

“It was so much fun!” she cries out, “I did one song and then they kept asking me to do more! At nap time for the little kids they even got me to sing some lullabies so the little ones could fall asleep. Even some of the older kids came in to listen and they fell asleep too!”

“Wow!” their dad, Anthony says enthusiastically, “Well I’m glad that you had fun. Are you going to be ok with going there again for most of the summer,”

“I suppose so,” Rebecca says, shrugging. “They let me sit in a corner and write my own songs which is pretty cool. One of the ladies even plays the piano and another plays the guitar. They said they might be able to help me work out the music if I’m a good girl.”

“Well you better be a good girl then hadn’t you love?” Anthony says. He looks at Toby, “And what about you son? How was your first day at the Academy? Everything that you expected?”

“It was alright,” Toby says, barely glancing up from his plate, “The guys seem alright and the coaches seem to know what they’re doing.”

“And you’re glad to be there,” Anthony says, “We’ve been working on this for years. You’ve got there out of loads of applicants, you’re supposed to be there. Just listen to what they have to tell you and take all of their advice on board. And remember! Play your heart out!”

Anthony keeps chattering away about the Academy, saying how proud he is that Toby got into the event and how hard he should work to make sure that he deserves the chance. Toby tunes his dad out though, focusing on eating at least something. The idea of going back the next day makes him feel queasy, turns him off his dinner. He glances at his dad and nods even though he doesn’t know what the man is talking about now, it just feels like the right thing to do. He catches Rebecca’s eye as he looks back at his plate and he can see the frown growing on her face.

She’s always been able to read him too well, even with so many years between them. Toby’s always felt like she’s older than she actually is, she’s never been as much of a pain as some of his friends’ younger sisters. He frowns and looks at his plate. He knows that she’s going to be able to tell he’s not as excited as their dad is. He just doesn’t feel right going to the academy, even though he’s earned his place. He doesn’t feel like he fits in, like he doesn’t want to be there quite as much as everyone else. He remembers when the trials were finished and the successful people got in, the way some of the other boys, the unsuccessful applicants seemed close to tears and some even did cry with disappointment. He wonders for a moment how he would have reacted and knows that it wouldn’t have bothered him as much as it did them.

Every time that he looked around the pitch today he could just see the happiness, the joy and the excitement on the faces of all the other players. They were genuinely pleased to be there. He’d tried to smile, grin and laugh as hard as they had, tried to seem like he was as excited as they were but it felt completely fake and forced. When he was all alone on the pitch he felt much calmer, not having to pretend to feel something that he didn’t. Toby shrugs to himself. It’s all probably due to the fact that it’s the first day. Everything feels weird on the first day and there’s no reason for the Academy not to. Besides, Toby realises, he’s played and trained harder than he ever has before, he’s pushed himself further and is exhausted. It’s probably all catching up with him, tiring him out and making him feel things he doesn’t really feel.

The next day is probably going to be much better. He knows people there now, he has Scooby to talk to and hang out with. He knows what’s going on now, how things work and what’s expected of him. He’s got an idea of what the Academy involves now and he shouldn’t be dealing with any surprises now. Tomorrow has to be better than today.

Toby is laying on his bed, one hand resting on his stomach and the other is tucked behind his head. He’s watching Mean Machine with Vinnie Jones in it, examining every part of the film. He’s seen it almost 100 times by now, he supposes, he knows the story by heart and pretty much each and every one of Vinnie’s lines by now. But he likes to watch it over and over. Each time he finds some new thing to interest him, some nuance of Vinnie’s acting that he’s not seen before. He likes to watch the film, imagine how it was made and try to work out why Vinnie Jones made certain choices to act out certain scenes. Toby does that a lot, watching films and trying to figure out the reasons behind the actors’ decisions.

His door creaks open quietly and he reaches for the remote. He pauses the film and looks towards the doorway. Rebecca is hovering in the gap, peeking through at him. He smiles and waves at her.

“What’s up chuck?” he asks

“Nothing,” Rebecca says in a singsong voice as she walks in to the room. She takes a seat at the bottom of his bed, “I just kind of thought that you were really quiet at dinner, like too quiet. I mean you got in to the Academy and you’re not really that excited about it. What’s wrong?”

“Why would something be wrong?” Toby asks, poking her with his toe, “I’m just knackered. We did a lot of running around and played so much football.”

“Well it is a football academy,” Rebecca says sarcastically, “I’d be worried if you’d spent the day playing table tennis.”

Toby laughs, throwing his head back and letting his whole body go. He feels a lot better than he did before. He looks at his sister.

“Good point,” he says, still smiling a little, “So what do you want anyway?”

“I’ve been practicing a new song,” Rebecca says, turning and bouncing on Toby’s bed, “Do you wanna hear?”

Toby nods and Rebecca starts singing. The song sounds familiar and yet different at the same time. It isn’t until the chorus that he realises that Rebecca is singing Leona Lewis’ ‘A Moment Like This’. The young girl had changed it up quite a bit, lowering some notes and making others higher. She’s singing some of the lines at a different pace. He smiles and chuckles softly. She’s doing what she loves and she’s good at it.

His smile drops away and he stares up at the ceiling as Rebecca keeps singing. He sighs heavily as she draws her song to an end. He glances at her and she smiles widely, looking at him expectantly.

“It’s good,” he says quietly, “Really good Becky.”

She smiles and bounces on his bed a couple of times. Then she sit back on her heels and frowns at him, cocking her head to one side.

“But you’re not happy still,” she says. Then her face brightens and she starts to bounce again, “I know! This song has GOT to cheer you up.”

Rebecca burst out in song, rapping away to Eminem’s ‘One Shot. It sounds different, almost like she is singing the rap instead of speaking it. Toby stops sulking for a moment, relaxing and listening to the words. He always likes to listen to Rebecca sing, it soothes him in a way, reminds him of his mother. Rebecca has real skill, a talent that she’s never taken lessons for but that just seems to get better the more that she practices. Toby plans to one day pay for her to have singing lessons, maybe to even pay for her to record her own album. He’s heard her singing her own songs before, they’re even better than the covers that she does, and he would love her to finally get her own music out there. Of course in order to do that he needs to have money and right now the best chance of getting that money is to become the premiership player that his dad is convinced he can be.

For a moment Toby almost sinks back in to his dark thoughts again but Rebecca pokes him whilst she raps and he pays attention again. She’s really in full swing, enjoying every minute of singing and she’s even dancing along with her words. He starts to laugh, enjoying the fact that Rebecca’s having fun. Then he laughs at the way that she’s singing and at the song itself.

Eventually she finishes her song and Toby is still laughing. She sits back and smiles at him, proud of herself. Toby can tell there’s a little bit of relief in her face, there’s a relaxed state to her shoulders now that wasn’t there before. She looks at him expectantly, clearly waiting for him to talk again.

“So…” Toby says slowly, “Have you managed to choose your X Factor audition song yet?”

She’s been trying to figure it out for months, trying different songs, picking and choosing songs that seem to fit and then throwing them aside a few weeks later. They all know that she’s about 3 years too young to actually enter yet but it doesn’t really matter. By getting ready sooner she can ensure that there is a better chance of herself winning.

“I think I might have,” Rebecca eventually admits after thinking it through for a while. “I’m sort of stuck on three that I really do like, but I can’t choose between them. Do you want to hear them? They’re really good!”

She doesn’t wait for Toby’s response. She just starts to sing, starting off with what is clearly her first choice. But Toby’s had enough, he feels a bit happier now and just wants to go back to his film. She’s still singing but she starts laughing as Toby takes her hands and slowly pulls her from his room.

“Come on Becky!” he cries, “It’s time to get some homework done! Go on.”

“I’m singing you a song!” Rebecca cries “You’re supposed to be listening!”

Toby just laughs, gives her a gentle shove and shuts his bedroom door. He leans against the door, still laughing slightly. He closes his eyes and listens. He can hear Rebecca singing even as she walks back to her room. Her door shuts and it goes silent. Toby turns away from the door and throws himself on his bed. He sighs and wriggles around to get himself comfortable on the bed. Eventually he gets himself comfortable again, just as he had been earlier. He turns the film back on and goes back to watching it. He feels a little better now, lighter somehow.

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