I wake up to the sensation of Tony kissing along my shoulders and massaging my hip with one of his big hands. My bleary eyes make out the time on my phone, it’s well after breakfast and there’s a big chance we’re also late for lunch. Whoever coined the term ‘afternoon delight’ was a genius. I was incredibly glad that I didn’t have to get packed up and ready to go for four hours or so, it gave me plenty of time to grab a big lunch and spend some time catching up with Caroline and Mads while the boys left for Edinburgh to get a training session in before the game tonight. We relaxed in the shopping centre’s Starbucks with caramel macchiatos and sly grins as we swapped vague hints about the activities that went on the night before. It turns out that Mads hadn’t been alone last night either. While Tony and Miro were bestowing their orgasmic gifts on me and Caroline, she was chatting up a storm with a business man from Inverness.
“Could hardly understand a word he was saying but who cares when anything he says is muffled by my thighs, right?”
We got ready to leave after that, driving through to Edinburgh and parking at the rink and then taking a bus into the city centre to do some sightseeing and have some dinner before the game. Murrayfield Ice Arena was older, like Falwaite, and cold, like Falwaite. It was almost a home from home except for the interesting snack that is stovies. I’m not sure what was in it but it kept me warm through the game and I was half-tempted to ask the man at the counter for the recipe. Apparently, stovies are a bit like marmite – you either love them or hate them. Caroline hated them and spent a lot of the game calling me stovie breath. It was halfway through second period when we all noticed something.
The previous night, all the Falcons’ fans had been like a united front, but there was a distinct separation happening tonight. I realised that not one of them had said a single word to me and when I realised that – I noticed how some of them were turning their backs to me as I walked past. Caroline must have noticed my frown and she asked me what was wrong. So I told her that it felt like I was being frozen out. She hadn’t noticed any difference in the way they spoke to her, and Mads was chatting up a storm with everyone – so it was just me then? I wondered what on earth I could have done to deserve such treatment. Only the day before they had been shaking my hand and saying how much they enjoyed reading my reports and that they looked forward to seeing what else I had to say. It made me sad and angry at the same time, as soon as the buzzer went off at the end of the game I went outside and sat in my car with my laptop, trying to salvage some memories of the night before to do my job.
I saw Caroline kissing Miro and waving at him as he got on the players bus and Tony looking around. Was he looking for me? I sent him a text letting him know I was in my car typing up the report and that I’d phone him tomorrow. My report was forgotten when Caroline got in the car with me and we started the long drive back to Falwaite.
“Are you okay?”
“Not really. I didn’t notice it at first but when I did, it really hurt. It really fucking hurts, Caroline. One minute we’re all pals and then the next it’s like I’ve got leprosy!”
“Well, I think I can explain it.” She took out her phone and while we were at a red light I read the text. “Mads got Tommy Ironside to forward it to her and she forwarded it to me.”
“I can’t believe someone actually thinks that’s true! After spending time with me, these guys just take someone’s word for it that I’m stealing someone’s work, but not only that – oh no, they truly think that I’m planning on dumping Tony the day of the Christmas Cup Derby so the Falcons lose?” The Christmas Cup Derby is like the Cumbrian Ice Hockey Ashes. Every Christmas Eve, Falwaite and Millerpool played a game for a fifty year old cup.
“Yeah.” Caroline cleared her throat. “It would need to be someone they all trusted and liked for them to just swallow that pile of crap. Someone who’s claiming their work is being stolen.”
“Kathy.” I breathe out her name through gritted teeth. “Jesus fucking Christ that girl is a pain in my arse! Why the hell is she doing this? Because Tony gave her the brush off but he’s going out with me?”
“That’s pretty much the only reason I can think of.” Caroline rubs my shoulder sympathetically. “You haven’t actually done anything to her to warrant any of this. When you mentioned puck bunny politics, I had no idea it was this complicated.”
“Neither did I.”
I sigh sadly and turn up the car stereo. I’m not really up for any more conversation on this journey, fortunately Caroline smiles and nods and settles in the passenger seat for a nap. I spend the entire drive wondering how I can make people see sense and realise that Kathy is lying to them. I wonder how it’ll make Tony feel when he hears about it, or Mads – what on earth will Mads think of it all? Will she believe the lies? Will Tony? I drop Caroline off at her little house and head home to work on my reports. It was already after midnight when I started and I don’t get to bed until 5am.
Danny’s reaction to my reports was as I expected. He said they were a bit sloppy – and they were. A thought occurred to me: I had put having sex with Tony above my job. I got my priorities mixed up and now my boss is not a happy chappy. This, in conjunction with everything that happened the night before, brought me to a new low in my mood. Because I’d gotten to bed so late (or was it early?) it was well past lunchtime when I crawled out from under the duvet … again. Except this time I didn’t have Tony to sweeten things. The fridge was full of semi-healthy breakfast snacks, the kettle was boiling but, instead, I pulled a jar of Nutella out of the cupboard, a spoon from the drawer and a bottle of wine from the rack. I decided it was a ‘The Colour Purple’ kind of day. Yes, things were a bit shitty right now but I really had no reason to cry over them. Celie – now that girl had a reason to cry. Tony called at five o’clock. I had tanked the bottle of wine and had Nutella smeared over my fingers from scraping the bottom of the jar.
“Are you alright, Mandy?”
“No, not really. I’m drunk and covered in chocolate hazelnut spread. Kathy has accused me of stealing her match reports for the paper and is telling everyone I’m going to dump you the day of the CC Derby. In general, that’s pretty far from alright.”
“Yeah … Mads told me about that. You know it’s not true, I know it’s untrue … your friends know you better than that. I’m free tonight; do you want me to come round?”
I sniff loudly into the phone and gurgle out a broken ‘uh huh’. The immense relief I feel that Tony knows me well enough not to listen to a woman he’s known for a couple of years is emotionally liberating enough to cause a cascade of tears and snot. Half an hour later, he’s at my door. When I answer, he wraps me in his arms – tears, snot, chocolate spread and all. We sit on the couch, him holding me tight and I just take comfort in the fact that he’s there – it’s early in the relationship and I’m having a meltdown but he’s here for me, he hasn’t been scared off. Finally I get myself together and go and get cleaned up while he flicks through the channels on the TV. I re-enter the living room like a new woman. Fresh, clean yoga trousers and a t-shirt, hair washed and clean face.
“That’s better.” Tony smiles at me and pats the cushion next to him. “Now, what are we going to do about this mess Kathy has made?”
I sigh and shake my head. “I have no idea. Maybe I should just stay away until things blow over?”
“No.” He shakes his head. “That’s what she wants – to scare you away, to put a wedge between us. It would be easier to stop coming to the games and stuff – but it would just mean that she wins.”
“I didn’t even know there was a contest let alone a winner and loser.” I snort in an unladylike way. “What on earth makes her think that she could tell those lies and not get found out?”
Tony shrugs and shakes his head, clearly as baffled by Kathy’s actions as I am. No more is said on the subject after Tony assures me that he, Mads and a fair few of the guys on the team aren’t falling for Kathy’s scheme. We sit in comfortable silence and watch an episode of CSI that comes on. I need to go into the office tomorrow and face Danny’s scorn; even though I slept so late I’m still tired. I say goodnight to Tony and tuck myself in bed with my book. My eyes start to droop after fifteen minutes of reading the intricate plot that Antionette Hooking has woven; I’m too sleepy to be disappointed in not being able to read more.
I’m called into Danny’s office as soon as I set foot in the office. His expression is grim and I’m not looking forward to this at all. I watch him drag his feet as he walks in front of me, along the carpeted pathway between the desks and through the glass panelled door to his desk. Calmly – there’s no point getting myself in a fluster until I know exactly what this is about – I take a seat opposite him and breathe deeply.
“Here, at The Carlisle Evening Times, we take plagiarism very seriously. And any accusations of copying another person’s work and passing it off as your own are investigated fully.”
“This is about Kathy Macklin, isn’t it?”
He looked taken aback for a few moments before composing himself. “She’s contacted us here and accused you of stealing her match reports and getting them published under your name.”
“I know. The fact that I have no way to view or copy her work doesn’t seem to matter. If you want to compare timestamps from my documents to hers, I’m absolutely in favour of that.”
“Miss Macklin hasn’t supplied any of her work for comparison, I requested it but I’m still waiting. So, she’s never sent you anything to check over for the fanzine?”
“Nope.” I shake my head. “I don’t have an email address for her or a phone number – the only contact I have with her is at the rink.”
Danny nods and excuses me from the office. I bounce to my desk, knowing that Kathy can make all the claims she wants – unless she’s incredibly smart and devious, there isn’t a shred of proof to support her lies. I’ve been involved with Hockey for less than a month and I’m embroiled in scandal already, it doesn’t really bode well. But none of it is my fault, I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and get into a relationship with the wrong man. By that, I don’t mean Tony is the wrong man for me, not at all – but in Kathy’s opinion, he’s with the wrong woman. The Falcons are playing in Nottingham this Saturday night; I’m torn between travelling with them again and just having a bit of a break from it all. I know I promised Tony I would keep on going but I definitely feel like I need to take a step back.
Millerpool are playing at home that night, I decide to take a trip down there rather than just sit at home. Tony and I talk on the phone a few times between Monday and Saturday morning. I know I’m lucky to have met someone who supports me so vehemently despite only knowing me for a few weeks. Millerpool are playing Fife and I decide to sit in the away fans sections – just to make sure no-one can twist my being there into something else. I can barely understand anything the Flyers fans are saying to each other and just keep my head down, scribbling in my notebook. Mads sends me regular texts to let me know how the Falcons are doing against the Panthers. During the break between period two and 3, I’m waiting in the queue for the ladies and I feel someone nudging my back. There’s sniggering attached to it and after the third nudge, I lose the rag.
“Is there something you want or are you just being a tit?”
A stocky, ginger haired girl was smiling at me. “Just wondering what the bitch of Falwaite is doing here. You know you can’t steal from us, right?”
“Yes, I know.” I smile sweetly at her. “There’s bugger all worth stealing here.”
“Well, from what I can make out, you’re going to be helping us steal the Christmas Cup.”
I can feel my rage build and my fingernails cut into the palms of my sweaty hands. “From what I can make out, you’re a twat who doesn’t know the difference between rumour and fact. Falwaite are going to romp home with the Christmas Cup while you lot cry into your beer.”
I didn’t bother waiting for the loo; I just stormed off back to my car. I wondered how on earth something so ridiculous had travelled so far and rolled my eyes as the realisation hit me. The Internet forums. I should have known that this debacle wouldn’t have stayed confined to Falwaite and the Falcons. If good news travels fast on the web, bad news travels at light speed. I drove home as quickly as I could and opened a bottle of wine as my computer booted up. Sure enough, when I checked the sites, my name was plastered all over the Falcons forum and when I checked the Millerpool forum it was being discussed there. The fact that people who had never even met me could be so nasty about something I hadn’t even done made me more angry than sad. Who the hell are they to judge me? I panic – my reputation is at stake here – and call Tony, completely forgetting that the Panthers game might still be in play. I don’t think of that until his voice mail picks up the call and babble an incoherent message about being ‘The Bitch of Falwaite’. Caroline is next on my contact list, I know she went to Nottingham with the Falcons’ fans, and from the background noise when she answers the call – someone must have just scored.
“Mandy! You’re missing such a great game – the Falcons just equalised and there’s only three minutes left!”
I smile but just can’t seem to summon up any excitement. “That’s good, I’m glad you’re enjoying it! Remember how I was going to Millerpool tonight?”
“Yeah, did you not bother after all?”
“Oh, I went, but some girl made a few comments and I left early.” I took a deep breath and thought about how to say it. “Caroline, those rumours that Kathy started – they’re all over the forums. My reputation is seriously at stake here.”
“Oh fuck. That’s not cool. Hang on; Mads is right next to me.” There’s a rustling as Caroline moves the phone so she can relay my situation. “Right, Mads says not to worry.”
“Not to worry? Not to worry? What – does she think this’ll blow over in a few days?”
“Oh no, nothing like that. She says she’ll get it sorted. She’s got this look on her face – like a woman on a mission.”
“Well, either way, I was thinking about going to see a lawyer about the plagiarism thing.”
“That might be an idea, actually. Yeah, you should totally do that.” There was screaming down the phone, so loud that I had to hold my own phone about a foot away from my ear to prevent me from being deafened. “Oh my god! Tony just put us one up with four seconds to go!”
“Good for Tony!” I’m genuinely pleased ‘my’ guy was the one to clinch the game. “I’ll let you get back to it, see you tomorrow?”
I hang up the phone, sigh, and Google civil defence lawyers.