Chapter 3

CHAPTER THREE

I dreamt about Tony. We were lone survivors in an apocalyptic world. I’m not sure if it was caused by some anxiety tickling at my subconscious or the pot noodle I had when I got home from the pub. Either way, it was the two of us against the world – staying together against the odds. I liked the idea of that, it was romance with an edge of adventure -just like Antionette’s books. It made me wonder if my views of relationships had been coloured by reading too many Mills and Boon novels. I take a look at my alarm clock and groan, it’s already after eleven in the morning. I shuffle out of bed and put a load in the washing machine before making myself some toast. Once I’ve eaten and I’ve gotten showered and dressed, I get my equipment ready to take to the game tonight. Only I can’t – because I’ve left Caroline’s camcorder in my office drawer. I huff and grab my jacket, car keys and entry pass to the CET and drive like the devil is chasing me into Carlisle.

The traffic is demented on a Saturday afternoon and finding a parking space is like finding a four leaf clover. I end up parked two streets away from the office and almost trip over my own feet rushing along the streets of the business end of the City. Finally, I get what I’m there for and head back out. It’s already two o’clock and Caroline is coming over at four for dinner again. The only things I have in the freezer are microwave meals for one. I’m so busy making a shopping list on my phone as I exit the office that I don’t see the wall that I walk into. Not a brick wall – a wall of man. Two strong hands stop me from falling on my arse and I blink up from the phone to see Tony smiling at me.

“Hiya, Mandy. You should be more careful – I could have been anyone.”

“Hey, Tony. I’m sorry, I really should pay more attention to where I’m going.” My heads turns left and right, there aren’t any shops around here – just offices. I notice that I’ve walked right into him as he was coming out of the building next door to the CET. Again, nothing but offices there. “What are you doing up this end of the City?”

“Just a bit of business. Seeing as I’ve bumped into you, I was wondering if you want to grab a late lunch?”

“I’d love to.” And I really would. “But I’ve got so much to do.” My phone is already in my hand, so I bring up the screen to add a new contact. “Here, tap in your number and I’ll send you a text so you’ve got mine.”

He grins, showing almost all his teeth, as he takes the phone out of my hand and presses the touch screen with his big thumbs. “What are you doing tomorrow morning?”

“Sleeping, I imagine – unless there’s something you can suggest that’s worth waking up for.” I smirk at him. This is nice; this is what I’ve been waiting for – that moment of flirtation that determines how interested someone is.

“See, now I’m just imagining you in bed … that was naughty.” He hands me my phone back with a wink. “I’ll take you to lunch; we can get to know each other.”

“Well, the Robertson family seem very interested in getting to know me – I had a few drinks with Mads last night.” I send him a text telling him I’m very interested in lunch. “Just let me know where you want to meet up. Right now, I need to get a wriggle on and refill my fridge.”

We part with an awkward half-handshake/half-hug and I stop myself from skipping back to the car. Once I’m in the driver’s seat, I text Caroline to tell her my good news before heading over to Tesco to get something in for dinner. It’s been a bad summer and the weather isn’t getting any warmer now that it’s September. I consider making a casserole, but then I realise that we won’t have time to eat it after it’s had a few hours in the oven. I settle for grabbing some chicken fillets, salad and soured cream to go with the fajita kit I pick up. Over our messy dinner, I fill Caroline in on all the details of my meeting Tony. Like me, she’s interested in why he was in the side of Carlisle.

“I know he’s a writer – I wonder if maybe his agent or accountant has an office there?” She muses as she picks a baby spinach leaf out of her wrap to munch on.

“Or maybe his publisher!” The thought hits me as the words tumble from my mouth and I race over to my computer, trying to stop the filling falling out of my fajita in the rush. But my quick search on the net is fruitless. “Or maybe not.”

“Well, on Monday just poke your head in the door – most office blocks have a directory of some kind telling folks what floors all the businesses are on.”

I agree with that plan wholeheartedly. There’s a tiny part of me that thinks I shouldn’t be snooping in Tony’s business. He keeps his day-job and his pseud very close to his chest for a reason. But I’m a journalist and I hate thinking that something is being kept from me. I’ll ask him. Tomorrow when we go to lunch I’ll just come right out and ask him what he does and who he is, if he doesn’t tell me then I’ll dig deeper. The fact that Tony has made the first move, unless you count me walking into him accidentally as a ‘move’, I feel confident enough to make the most of the Hockey. No laying low, no trying to avoid Kathy’s attitude. I’m going to enjoy the damn game, go to the bar afterwards and have a few drinks. I feel that familiar anticipation as Caroline and I look at Falwaite going past from the windows of the taxi. Just for the occasion, I’ve got my tightest jeans on and a low cut top under my cardigan and jacket. Like I’ve gotten a second wind, I’m not letting anything stand between me and Tony. Not Lisette, not Kathy and, at some point, definitely not clothes.

The Falcons play at home to the Cardiff Devils tonight and away at Sunderland tomorrow. I frown a little at that, because Sunderland is almost a two hour drive away. It means our lunch will need to be squeezed in before the bus leaves Falwaite at about three o’clock. But even with the tight schedule – Tony is making time for me, and that counts for a lot. Caroline and I flash our press passes to the ticket counter clerk, it was Rita again – she raised her eyebrow at me, as if she was surprised I’d come back. Mads is waiting outside the ladies loos as we get to the top of the stairs and wraps me in a friendly hug.

“Hey Mandy! Where are you sitting?”

“Same place as last time I imagine.” I look at Caroline and she nods in confirmation.

“Oh no, that won’t do. I’ve saved two seats next to me and Kathy. Centre Ice – best seats in the house.” She grins. “I was wondering … all the footage you’ve taken of the games so far – will you be doing that all season?”

“I’m not sure but I seem to be able to get better details for the reports by re-watching it, so probably.”

“Great!” Mads gushes. “I’ve come up with this idea to do a video yearbook at the end of the season and was hoping you’d let me borrow all the games you’ve recorded so I can edit all the best bits.”

“That’s a great idea.” Caroline bounces a little on her toes with excitement. “I’m more than willing to give you a hand with the editing.”

“Absolutely, I’m totally into that idea! Anything you need, I’m happy to share.” I nod enthusiastically.

“Thanks you guys!”

Just as Mads is hugging us again, Kathy comes out of the toilets – her face looks like a stormy day. She looks at each of us in turn before flipping her hair over one shoulder and walking off toward the seating area. Mads frowns and chases after her, beckoning us to follow as she struggles to catch up in her stiletto boots. Caroline and I watch as Mads pulled at Kathy’s jacket and Kathy turns around. We can’t hear what’s said over the PA system, but Kathy storms off to sit with the other puck bunnies at the back of the stands while Mads’ shoulders sag and she turns to us. When we catch up, Mads doesn’t look sad, she looks angry.

“Is Kathy okay?” I ask, placing a hand on Mads shoulder.

“She said that, because you’re a kind of writer, and that’s what I want to do – that I was just hanging around with her until someone more interesting came along.”Mads shook her head and we followed her to the seats she’d reserved for us. “That’s a low fucking blow! She came here alone and I invited her to sit with me because no-one else would talk to her.”

Caroline and I look at one another but it’s me who speaks. “That sounds a bit … immature.”

“Yeah, well she’ll fit in just fine with the bunnies – they act like they never left school.”

We don’t discuss Kathy again as I set up the camcorder and Caroline takes out her camera. The puck drops and all hell breaks loose.

#

From the moment the Referee let’s that disc of rubber fall, it’s like watching the WWE Royal Rumble on ice. Mads had mentioned last night that there was some kind of grudge between the Falcons and the Devils, and that this game would be exciting – but I never imagined anything like this. Players were being checked left, right and centre, the puck seemed to be forgotten at some points as the Referee stepped in to break up tussles between the players. The penalty bench was still warm from the previous occupant when a new player took their place. The clock was stopped for every infraction and the twenty minute first period managed to take up double that time. It was exhausting to watch and, from the looks of the Falcons faces as they left the ice, even worse to be a part of. Mads jumped out of her seat and leaned over the barrier as the Netminder, Miroslav Blatnik, removed his glove with a pained look on his face.

“Shit, that hit must have done some damage.” Mads took out her phone and I saw she was texting Tony.

The hit she mentioned was two of the Devils taking a spill onto the crease and knocking the goal off it’s mark. Blatnik had fallen in such a way that the leg of the goal that sits in the notches on the ice pad had to be lifted off his hand. The minutes went by and Mads’ knee bobbed up and down at an uncontrollable rate. As the buzzer sounded at the end of the period break, her phone tinkled with Tony’s response. Blatnik was going for an x-ray, the Falcons would have to use their back-up Netminder, Jon Lambie, for the remainder of the game. The Devils were already one goal up and Jon was going in cold. Second period started with the Falcons going for the puck every time. Desperately trying to keep it out of the defence zone. Tony caught a sweet pass from Brent Morrison and fired it toward the Devils goal. It bounced off the Goalie’s blocker and Tony, literally, jumped like a ballet dancer over one of the Devils, crouched and ready to take Tony’s legs from under him. He takes the puck and fires it into the back of the net. He spins round on the ice in celebration and the Falcons fans break into song.

‘Twirlin’ Tony scores again doo-dah, doo-dah’

Mads is clapping like a seal on speed and grinning from ear to ear. She leans into me so she can be heard over the din of the home crowd. “People always forget Tony trained in figure skating until he does something like that. Mum wanted both of us to follow her lead, but Dad wasn’t for having it.”

Caroline and I burst out laughing and stand up with the rest of the crowd to applaud the Captain’s equalising goal. As he skates past, Tony look up at us and taps his nose before pointing at me. I smile and wave, giggling as Mads bumps her hip into mine. “That means it was for you.”

I stop clapping and look at her. “What?”

“That’s what he does, when he dedicates his goals to someone. He taps his nose and points at them. He’s always done it and every goal he’s ever scored has been for someone. That’s why he’s Captain and that’s why he’s the fan favourite.”

I blink and sit down again. Despite it being something that he does for every single goal he’s ever scored. Tony dedicating that goal to me feels special. The rest of the game buzzes by, just as violent and fast-paced as it started. Lambie puts in a fantastic effort, but as the final buzzer goes the Devils have won four goals to two. The loss doesn’t affect the mood of the fans, it was a great game and, in all fairness, the Devils deserved to win. The bar is just starting to fill up as we elbow our way through the crowd, Caroline makes a beeline for the queue for drinks while Mads and I grab a table. I feel wiped out from the excitement and full of energy all at the same time. I look under the table to make sure I’ve kicked my bag under enough that the strap won’t trip anyone up and I notice an extra set of legs. When I raise my head, one of the biggest men I’ve ever seen is engaged in a conversation with Mads. She’s looking at his bandaged hand and calling one of the Devil’s players names that would most definitely get her thrown out of church.

“They are broke, but with tape and splint – I play tomorrow!” Miroslav wasn’t for resting on his laurels. It surprised me; I was so used to footballers calling for the physio if they got as much as a bruise.

Caroline comes back over with three glasses but stops when she notices an extra person at the table. “Oh! I’m sorry – I didn’t know you’d be sitting with us. Can I get you a drink?”

“No, no. It is fine – I go and wait at bar, but I will return. Thank you for offer; you are very kind and pretty.” He grins and nods before standing and walking off, leaving Caroline speechless.

“Oof! You’re in there, pet!” Mads cackles and grabs her drink as Caroline blushes a little and tries to be sly with her glances to the injured Goalie at the bar.

I sip at my vodka and revel in the burn as the alcohol slips down my throat and warms me from the inside out. Our jubilant mood fades a little when Kathy and the other puck bunnies strut – yes, strut – into the bar like they own it. I definitely notice Caroline’s spirits plummet as the scantily clad group surrounds Miroslav, pawing at him and expressing their sympathy. I pat Caroline’s knee and tell her to ignore them. Mads nods and leans across the table.

“Trust me, Pet, they don’t see a man. They just see a notch for their bedpost. It’s never been about the Hockey for them – just the status of shagging the best players. I mean, that’s fine when you’re eighteen or nineteen but have a bit of fucking dignity, right?”

Caroline smiles tightly. “I’m used to being passed over for the skinny girls.”

I frown, Caroline is gorgeous – even if she is rounder than most. “Trust me, if a guy talks to you and laughs at your jokes the same way I do and then still goes to bed with one of them instead – he ain’t worth it, love.”

Mads nods like that dog from the car insurance advert. “Abso-bloody-lutely.”

Her smile loosens, just a tiny bit and I change the subject to Mads video yearbook to try and get the happy back. We’re so busy planning, Mads is taking notes on the back of her ticket stub, her effort at making her writing as small as possible has her tongue poking out of the side of her mouth, that we don’t notice one of the chairs being taken until Miroslav taps Caroline on the shoulder and motions that he’d like to squeeze his chair next to hers. I hold back my laughter as she practically twitters in delight and starts asking Miroslav question after question about his hand, where he was from (Czechoslovakia), how he ended up in the North of England playing semi-pro Hockey and what his family thought about it. The poor guy didn’t even realise what a thorough grilling he was getting. Drinks were drunk and refills were paid for by the time the rest of the Falcons started trickling into the bar. Even though they lost, they still get a hero’s welcome from the fans. Tony locks eyes with me and waves before making his way through the crowd to our table, but suddenly his path is blocked by Kathy. Mads nudges me.

“I know my brother is easy on the eyes, but Caroline is trying to get your attention.” She mutters in my ear and I feel my face heat up.

“Sorry!” I wince as I apologise, making Caroline laugh and shake her head.

“I was just asking if you wanted to go out after this – Miro has asked if we’ll be going to Planet Dance.”

I take a moment to think about it. Going out to a club would be fun but then I’d be in no shape to meet up with Tony tomorrow – I don’t want to be hung over for our first date. “No, I’ve got that … thing tomorrow morning. Mads are you going?”

“Always!” She raises her glass and takes a big gulp. “I’ll come out clubbing with you, Caroline.”

Caroline grins and Miro leans back, resting his arm across the back of Caroline’s chair. Tony arrives at the table and messes Mads hair before slumping into the chair next to me. He looks … fucked, to be blunt about it. His hair is still wet and he smells like Lynx shower gel. A bottle of beer is placed in front of Tony by the Falcons coach and he tips it toward Miro.

“You sure you’ll be alright to play tomorrow, mate?”

“Yes, I will be fine. Lots of tape and I won’t feel a thing. Tonight I will dance away my pain with this good lady; you will be coming with us?”

Tony shakes his head from side to side. “Nah, mate, I’ve got a very important appointment tomorrow. Don’t want to show up hung over.”

We chatter back and forth for a while, well me Mads and Tony do anyway. Miro is using every bit of his attention span to concentrate on Caroline. I’ve never been on a night out with Caroline like I was with Tracy and Nicole. Seeing this girly, blushing side of her is a bit of an eye-opener. Not a disappointing one either. When she gets up to go to the loo, I follow. She tells me all about Miro on the way there and when I see a quiet corner I pull her in.

“How far do you plan on taking this? I know you’re a big girl and you know how to handle yourself – but anything that happens after this has the potential to put you in the same category as that lot.” I jerk my head toward the group of bunnies who are fawning over Chadwick and Morrison.

Caroline sighs and glances back to Miro again. “He’s a lovely bloke, and if we end up in bed together – so be it. But if it doesn’t go beyond that, I’m okay with it. I won’t be shagging him just because he plays for the Falcons, I’ll be shagging him because he’s nice to me and I haven’t had any for five months.”

“Fair enough!” I shrug and we walk into the toilets, arm in arm. Mads had told me that there wasn’t a particular formula for working out which girls were puck bunnies and which girls were just Hockey fans who happened to end up in bed with one of the players now and again. She joked that when you’ve slept with five players, you should class yourself as a puck bunny and once you reach ten you get a set of steak knives. A set of steak knives would certainly come in handy – but I only wanted one, particular, player. And from the way he’d looked at me not five minutes ago, he wanted me too.

#

One of the worst things about having a few drinks the night before, but not drinking enough to get stinking-want-to-die-the-next-day drunk, is waking up and feeling like you’ve been sucking on cat litter through the night. I shamble out of bed and stick my head in the bathroom sink, drinking the cold water right from the tap, before opening the cabinet and popping a couple of ibuprofen to ward off any aches or pains that might decide to show up later. My work watch is the most accurate time-keeping device I own, the clock in the kitchen always seems to run a bit slow and my going out watch always seems to run a bit fast. So, when I’m getting ready for something I don’t want to be late for, my work watch is always secured to my wrist. Tony asked me to meet him at Cafe Roma, it’s one of my favourite places to go in Falwaite – not only is the coffee top notch but it’s a ten minute walk away from my flat and the pastries there are amazing. Now, I face the age old dilemma – eat heartily before the date so I don’t end up pigging out in front of a potential love interest or have a light meal so I have space for more pastry. I know what I want to do and, quite frankly, I’m at a point in my life where I couldn’t give a toss if my date thought I was eating too much.

Thinking about Roma’s pastries and smelling the bacon as it sizzles on the grill has my stomach rumbling uncomfortably. I wolf down my sandwich and slurp at my tea as I transfer the footage from last night’s game to my PC so I can watch it later this afternoon while I write my report. A quick shower leaves me an hour to get dressed and get my arse to Cafe Roma. I’ve never been on a lunch date before; it seems like a very mature thing to do. Not the kind of date that any of my previous boyfriends would have considered, all other dates have been at night. Because at night there is alcohol and dancing and the chances of them getting their end away is probably higher. When you’re in your early twenties that’s all it seems to be about – fun, getting drunk, fucking like rabbits. I know that Tony is older than me, his date of birth is next to his name on the roster, but he’s not that much older. Thirty to my twenty-six is hardly an age gap at all. But that gaping chasm in sophistication is a bit of a shock. Maybe it’s not an age thing – maybe it’s a Tony thing? He’s a writer after all (a writer of what – I intend to find out), so maybe the sophistication comes from that. Or maybe he asked me out during the daytime so I wouldn’t assume he was only interested in having sex?

I throw open my wardrobe, tossing clothes onto the bed, desperately searching for the outfit that would say ‘we can talk now but make no mistakes about what I’d like to do later’. A skirt, definitely, and heels – but not too high – and a top that isn’t too low cut but not too ‘tea with Granny’ either. Teaming up my Cuban heel, knee-high boots with my flippy skater skirt and a tight cashmere jumper sounds like a good idea. As I’m putting on a coat of lip gloss, I check my watch and squeal in panic, there are only twenty minutes until 11 o’clock. I try to calm myself down as I pull my boots on and think of simple, day-date suitable hairstyles. There’s no time for curling or straightening, so I dry my hair quickly and scrape it back into a pony tail. I lock my door with seconds to spare and trot down the street to Cafe Roma.

Tony is sitting at a table next to the window and I wave as I walk past and pull the door open. My phone buzzes in my bag as I take a seat, but I choose to ignore it until Tony goes to the counter to order for us. While I wait for him to come back, I pull out my mobile and try to hold in the ‘OH MY GOD!’ that Caroline’s text elicited from me. I had expected to hear from her when she got herself sorted. I didn’t think it would be this early, considering the drunken text I got from her around midnight telling me that she was going back to Miro’s flat. But I certainly didn’t expect to be sent ‘Biggest cock I’ve ever seen. Walking like John Wayne LOL’. Caroline has never been backwards at coming forwards with what she talks about – no subject is taboo; the woman clearly couldn’t keep a secret if her life depended on it. I liked that about her – she’d tell you if your bum looked big in it, but I wasn’t sure if I was a-okay with it in a ‘sex-talk’ kind of way yet.

“Did someone send you a dirty joke?” Tony smirks as he puts my coffee and my vanilla pastry down in front of me.

“You could say that – Caroline was just telling me about her … night out.” I put my phone back in my bag, without replying to Caroline – I had no idea what an appropriate response was to that text. “It sounds like she had a good time.”

“Good.” Tony nods. “Miro really enjoyed talking to her, from what I could see. The other girls at the rink … they don’t really talk to him – they just listen to his accent while they undo his belt.”

I choke a little on my pastry, catching Tony’s attention.”Um … well I’m sure, from a guy’s point of view, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

He sighs and sips his drink before replying. “When you’re young – like Chadwick for example, the puck bunnies are great. Most of them don’t expect much more than a tumble in the sack, sure there are some of them looking for a happy ever after, but most of them just want the status of screwing the best players. You aren’t a person; you’re just a piece of meat they can boast about being with. Then there are the ones who want more, but they still don’t see you as a person – they just want the status of being the one who ‘tamed’ the player who likes variety. The players get the kudos of shagging the best looking girls in the rink, if a relationship forms then they get high-fives for gaining arm candy.”

“It all sounds quite sad really, from both sides of the fence. I don’t think I could ever be satisfied with that kind of interaction. Even when I was young and craved every bit of attention a guy threw at me – I never slept with anyone because of what they did for a living and I’d never spend time with someone if I thought they only valued my looks.”

“I know.” Tony smiles. “I could see that in you when you gave Chadwick a good talking to in the bar on that first night. You were neither impressed nor intimidated by him and you didn’t let him away with putting you down. So … now we know why I’m here, why did you want to come here to meet me?”

This is actually quite embarrassing. I’ve never spoken to Tony long enough to get to know him, all of the little snippets about his life that make him interesting have come from Mads. “Well, you’re a very attractive man, Tony, and you stuck up for me at the training session. I liked that you did that – even though you didn’t know me from Eve at the time. And although Mads has been very forthcoming with information about you, there are some things I like to hear straight from the horse’s mouth.”

“Really?” He laughs. “And what has my little sister been telling you?”

“That you’re a writer – but you won’t tell anyone what you write. That means one of two things. Either your pseudonym is so famous, coming clean would be life changing or whatever you write has some kind of embarrassment factor for you.” I level a stare at him over the top of my cup.

“Are you sure you’re a sports journalist? Surely investigative journalism is more your style.” I raise an eyebrow at his attempt to deflect the conversation. “Is it really that important that you know all the answers right now?”

“Mads got my curiosity burning. But I can see that this makes you uncomfortable.” Yes, I really want to know why Tony won’t even tell his family how he makes his money, but not to the detriment of us spending time together. “You’ll tell me when you’re ready, if we ever get to that point.”

“So I take it Mads filled you in on the Lisette chapter?” I nod and Tony looks down into his empty cup. “She’s the reason I don’t take anything to do with the female fans and the reason that any women I do meet, don’t get invited to my flat until I know them a bit better.”

“That seems wise whether you’ve been stalked or not. It’s a minefield out there.” He nods as I finish my coffee. “So, here we are. Coffee and snacks done. I’ve never met up with a guy during the day before; I’m not sure what happens next to be honest.”

Tony laughs and leans both elbows on the table, resting his chin on the heels of his hands. “It’s only Noon, I’ve got a couple of hours before I need to get my gear on the bus. The sun is shining and there’s a park nearby, if you’re not averse to going for a walk.”

I try to remember the last time I went walking in a park. It was probably when I was at school, definitely before I was old enough to get into pubs. “That sounds lovely.”

The front of the park is full of children running to and fro between the play areas, but as we stroll further up the main path it quietens down. I smile as Tony slips his hand into mine and pulls me towards a gate with an archway over it. As we get closer I can see that the arch has ‘Pets Corner’ scrolled in wrought iron, I can hear geese and a donkey and I can smell a definite ‘animal’ scent. It’s not too strong, like when you visit a farm, this is possibly due to the number of pine trees that surround the pets’ corner. The first enclosure has rabbits and the second, guinea pigs. Tony gets closer and closer to me the longer we spend looking at the animals, and by the time we’re at the last circle of wire fencing, he’s pressed against my back as I try to get a goat’s attention. His arm is pulling me close to his side as we wander along the woodland trail and holds me even tighter when I jump at a flock of birds that fly out of a tree next to us. I bury my head into his shoulder laughing and when I lift my chin to smile at him, he’s lowering his mouth to meet mine.

Tony’s lips are soft but his touch is firm, his hand caresses my neck while his thumb gently strokes my cheek. I tilt my head for a better angle and grip the collar of his jacket tightly as he sweeps his tongue across my bottom lip. My mouth opens to deepen the kiss but the sound of other people coming towards us makes Tony pull back before that can happen. I’m dragged to the side of the path as half a dozen teenagers on BMXs race past, catcalling and whistling. We leave the park smiling and make arrangements to go to dinner on Monday night. When I get home I’m on the ‘great first date’ high and, without thinking, call Tracy to tell her all about it. She’s always the one I called after a successful date, but this time my call isn’t very welcome.

“Hello stranger.” Her voice is laced with sarcasm but I try not to let it get to me. She was my bosom buddy a couple of weeks ago, but now she won’t even answer my texts.

“Hey Trace, how’s things?”

“Fine, we’re getting along fine without you. Seeing as you’ve got your new life and everything and footie doesn’t mean anything to you anymore!”

I hold the phone away from my ear and stare at it for a few seconds. “Tracy, I explained to you that my work assignment didn’t leave me a lot of time to get to the matches. Before, going to the footie was part of my job – the fact I got paid for doing what I’d be doing anyway is a one in a million job. It’s not like I haven’t tried to keep in touch! I’ve sent you at least half a dozen messages asking after you.”

She sighs down the phone, as if I’m boring her. “Yeah, you text me … and Nicole, but it’s all hockey, hockey, hockey. It’s obvious that you’re not interested in the Rovers anymore.”

“I’ve found other interests, yeah, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to talk to you guys or spend time with you.” I realise, after the words leave my mouth, that all we ever had in common was football. Anytime we met up or went out – it was all related to football or football players.

“Well, it feels like it. You could at least make the effort to come to a match and see us.” Again, I’m being asked to accommodate other people’s schedules with them not making the offer to squeeze into mine.

“And you could make the effort to even come to the bar at the rink on a Saturday night and see me – it cuts both ways, Trace. This going to the Hockey thing isn’t just a new interest – it’s my job. I need to be there to do my job. Do you understand that?”

“Not really, I don’t see why you can’t just write about football anyway – that’s what you did for Harry. I don’t even know why you had to leave the Daily Express, Harry paid you enough.”

“It’s not about the money, Tracy. It’s about my career. The Daily Express was a great little job – but there was no way for me to improve myself. Look, we’re going round in circles here. I only phoned you to let you know how I got on with a first date.”

“Let me guess, you met him at the Hockey. You’re like a broken record, you know that?”

“Right, you’ve made your feelings quite clear. When you’re ready to accept that my work just doesn’t let me have the kind of social life I used to have you give me a call, alright?”

I hang up the phone and sag into my couch. I should have called Caroline.

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