Chapter 2

CHAPTER TWO

The remainder of my working week flies by. Caroline isn’t the only one at the CET to notice the difference in my attitude. Danny came right out and said he was glad I’d finally embraced my assignment – apparently he had concerns that the quality of my reporting would be affected by my resistance to change. I was a little taken aback by that. Yes, I know that I was unhappy being pushed to write about something I know nothing about – anyone would be before they started research. But even if I hadn’t gone to the Arena and gotten to know a couple of people, I would still have done my best, I would still have researched the hell out of it and made sure I knew a hip-check from a sliding tackle. I take a deep breath and remind myself that this is all new for everyone, Danny doesn’t know how I work – he’s just read the end results.

Before I know where I am, it’s Saturday afternoon and my intercom is buzzing as Caroline arrives at my flat. I answer the door in my jeans, boots and a short sleeved t-shirt over a long sleeve one – I’m not taking any chances tonight. Caroline is dressed in a similar manner and waves a bottle of wine at me as she steps into my home.

“A pre-match warm up?” Her hazel eyes twinkle with mischief. I wonder how easily I’ll be able to keep up with the match if I’ve been drinking. I’ll already be struggling to take notes with my trusty reporter’s book and Unibond gel pen. As if she’s reading my mind – Caroline produces a digital camcorder from behind her back. “Just in case. I thought it might be a good idea to capture the game – I’ve been told it’s really fast paced.”

“Well, if the training session I went to was any indication I think I’ll need it. Especially if I’ve had some booze before watching. You’re a genius! I was wondering how I’d manage to take note of everything.”

Caroline follows me into the kitchen as I fish out two glasses and set them on the worktop. I pour while she takes her coat off and soon we’re relaxing on the couch with a Tesco’s Indian Take-away. We chatter through mouthfuls of food, I’ve never minded talking while eating but my Dad hates it. Dinnertime was quiet time in our house.

“So tell me more about Tony, I can tell you’re itchin’ to talk about him.”

I choke a little on my Jalfrezi and take a big drink after my coughing fit subsides. “What do you mean?”

“You’ve only mentioned him here and there.” She smirks. “But you get this look in your eyes when his name comes up. Is he fit?”

“Very.” I nod. “He’s an athlete, after all.”

Caroline rolls her eyes. “Oh come on, Mandy! You know what I’m looking for – I want to know how white his teeth were, how big his feet were, how big his hands were and if you noticed which side he hung to!”

I snicker like a teenager. “I have to be honest, other than noticing how broad his shoulders are and how nice lookin’ he is – I didn’t catch anythin’ else.”

I’m lying. I noticed a lot of things about Tony – the way his eyes crinkled when he smiled, they way he spoke to the other players with an authority that only maturity can bring and the way he winked at me every time he caught me staring. The fact is I have a huge crush on Tony Robertson. Another fact is that my wibbly wobbly crush is one of the main reasons I’m so excited to go to the game tonight. And from the way Caroline is looking at me, she knows I’m playing down Tony’s role in my new interest in Hockey.

Thankfully, she didn’t bring it up during the drive to the arena or as we set up the camera or even as the players skate onto the ice and the puck drops. The game is faster than I could have imagined and incredibly entertaining. The clips I’d seen of fighting and players being rougher than they should be were obviously at the top end of the violence scale. There were penalties and I gave up counting the number of times I gasped as a player was slammed into the boards. During the period breaks, Caroline and I get to know the people we were sitting next to and discuss how the game is going. Last period comes quicker than I expected and one of the Canadian forwards for the Falcons, Brent Morrison, scores the winning goal in the last ten seconds of the game and as the final buzzer goes off; the entire home crowd stands up and roars in victory.

The only word I can find to describe the feeling is exhilarated. I’m breathless with excitement as I watch the players’ line up to shake hands with each other. Caroline’s voice and her hands gripping on to my bicep pull my eyes away from the ice.

“That was fucking amazing! I want to come every week!”

With no reason to disagree with her statement, I nod and grin in response. As we make our way out of our seats and follow the throng of elated fans to the bar I hear Mads calling my name. She’s waving from the next aisle along; Kathy is behind her – smiling but not waving.

“There’s Mads and Kathy.”

I wave back and Caroline and I slow down as we get closer to make room for the two women in the crowd. We chatter animatedly about the game, Mads seems very happy that we both enjoyed it and that we’ll be back for the next home game.

“And you should come to the away games too – we have such a laugh on the bus!”

Brent’s last moment’s goal is all anyone can talk about in the bar. Caroline and I are finishing our first drink when the man himself walks in to a rousing round of applause. He’s followed by other players, ready to celebrate kicking off the season with a bang. And that’s when Caroline brings up my crush on Tony.

“So, where’s this hot Captain you were telling me about?”

Mads snickers and Kathy throws daggers at me with her eyes. “I didn’t say he was hot, I just said how nice he was to stick up for me when that other player was being an arse.”

“Yeah, you didn’t say he was hot but I could see in your eyes you were thinking it!” Caroline winks at me.

Before you can say ‘speak of the Devil’, Tony walks into the bar. He’s immediately surrounded by some of the other fans, clapping him on the back and congratulating him on a game well played. But it doesn’t take him long to work his way to our table and grab Mads in a one armed hug, planting a kiss on the top of her head. His eyes twinkle as he looks at me.

“So, Mandy Newton of the CET – how did you enjoy your first Hockey match?”

“It was amazing!” I cringe inwardly at my gushing exclamation. “I’m really looking forward to the next game.”

“Me too!” Chimes Caroline, she almost climbs over the top of me to stick out her hand towards Tony. “Caroline Foster, sports photographer for the CET. That was a great game, so much faster than what I’m used to capturing.”

He chats about the game for a few minutes before leaving to stand with the other players. I try so hard not to look at him but he is steel and my eyes are magnets, drawn to him by a force I can’t control. In an attempt to get a grip of myself, I go to the ladies and splash some cool water on my face. I close my eyes and breathe deeply as I pat the moisture away with a paper towel. When I open my eyes, I find Kathy standing right in front of me – her face pulled in a very serious expression.

“Let me tell you something about Tony.” Her voice is low and almost threatening. “He doesn’t go with women from the rink. He had a bad experience a few years ago, it was before I was friends with Mads but she told me all about it.”

“Um … okay.”

“He had a stalker, some puck bunny he’d shagged. But she thought they’d get married and have a brood of little Tonys. Apparently, she left weird presents for him outside the door of the changing rooms – Dolls with no eyes, dead flowers – that kind of thing.”

“Well, I can see how that would put him off having anything to do with the women here.”

“Exactly, and you’re a woman here. Hockey is Tony’s business, and he doesn’t mix business with pleasure anymore. So spare yourself the hurt and let it go.”

I’m completely speechless and say nothing as Kathy smirks at me then turns on her high heels and walks out. I’m still subdued when I get back to the table and I can tell Caroline knows something has happened.

“You know, Mandy, I’m really not in a clubbing mood – can we just go back to yours and watch a movie?”

“That’s a good plan; shall we finish these and get going?”

She nods and gulps down her Morgans and coke while I drain my fresh orange and lemonade. As we’re leaving, Mads grabs me to swap numbers. I can only smile and try to assure her that I’m fine when she expresses concern over my drastic mood change. I say goodbye to both her and Kathy but as Caroline and I are leaving the bar, Tony catches my arm in one of his huge hands.

“Turning in early?”

“Oh, it’s been a really long day. We were going to go clubbing but the couch is beckoning.”

“Yeah I know that feeling.” He chuckles. “Once you hit 25 it’s all downhill right?”

I just laugh in response, I think about it for a moment and realise that I haven’t been out as much in the last couple of years. Maybe he’s right?

“Well, I’ll see you at the next game yeah?”

“Oh definitely! See you around, Tony.”

I keep a fake smile on my face until we get out of the arena and into the cool night air. I call a taxi and, after I hang up, I run my hands through my hair and blow out a deep breath. Caroline waited until I’d leaned back against the wall before speaking.

“What the fuck happened when you went to the loo? You were all happy and smiles before you went then when you came back someone had shot your puppy.”

“I got warned off.” I sigh and stand straight again, watching for our taxi coming into the car park.

“What? Warned off what or who and by whom?” She seemed genuinely confused; I didn’t blame her one bit.

“Kathy, she told me to back off with Tony. Apparently I’m wasting my time because he doesn’t take anything to do with women he meets at the rink. Is it really that obvious that I’m into him?”

“Uh … yes!” Caroline snorts. “And I saw the way he looked at you too, did you see him make the effort to say goodbye to anyone else who left the bar tonight? No, but he physically reached out and stopped you from leaving without saying goodbye. He’s into you too.”

The taxi draws up and we both walk over. After checking it’s definitely our car, we both get into the back seat so we can carry on talking. A memory of my time with the Rovers pops into my head.

“Maybe he just wants to make nice with the reporter? We’ve seen it before – I’ve had it happen before. Remember Georgio, that washed-up Italian that joined the Rovers? He was a right arsehole to everyone but to me he was nice as nice can be so I wouldn’t badmouth him in the reports.”

“Yeah, I remember him. Do you really think that Tony’s doing the same thing?”

I shrug. “Anything is possible. The bottom line is that if he’s really interested – he’ll seek me out, and if he isn’t, then I quite like the idea of not having any more toilet chats with Kathy. I’ll keep a low profile and we’ll see what happens.”

“Well, it’s not very pro-active but I can see your point.”

When we get back to my flat, we avoid talking about men or Hockey and Caroline picks ‘Mean Girls’ out of my DVD collection. Somehow, watching how those girls manipulate each other and scheme against each other isn’t as funny as it used to be. Caroline leaves moments after the end credits roll and I watch the footage of the game so I can write my first match report for the Falcons game against Braehead. It’s easy because I can replay every goal, penalty and line change. I finish with a proud smile and email it off to Danny for his approval. The Falcons are away at Millerpool tomorrow night. It’s a short drive, under an hour; I wonder if I should go along just to see what it’s like. I know I’m lying to myself, I know I’m going to see if I can catch Tony’s eye in the crowd. There’s definitely chemistry between us, no matter what Kathy says. The ‘making nice with the reporter’ angle just doesn’t mesh with how the rest of the fans react to him. I don’t tell anyone I’m going. Not Caroline and not Mads, who sent me a text specifically asking if I was going. She wanted to save me a seat on the bus if I was. I feel awful as I reply to her that I probably won’t be able to make it. But if Mads knows I’m going, then Kathy and Tony will too.

#

I wake up to a very complementary email from Danny. My match report is just what he’s looking for, he likes the style of my writing and the way that my enjoyment of the game is obvious from the way I phrase things. The best way to kick off your day is: knowing that you’ve done a good job. It’s now my personal mission to be just as good at reporting on Hockey as I was at Football with the FDE. I spend the day in awe of how, in just under a week, I can go from resentment to acceptance to determination. I never thought I’d enjoy another sport as much as I enjoyed watching the Footie but now it feels like a blindfold has been taken off. Ninety minutes before face-off, I get in my car with the camcorder and drive towards Millerpool with a smile on my face.

When I get to Millerpool Oasis the car park is still fairly quiet, but I can see the two coaches that would have brought the Falcons and the Falcon fans down the A595 past Workington. Millerpool Oasis is a large leisure centre with a pool, gym and dance studio inside as well as the ice pad, so I reckon I’ll have plenty of places to stay out of sight. I walk under the huge ‘Home of the Marauders’ sign at the entrance and notice how busy it is with hockey fans milling around the foyer. Keeping a low profile suddenly seems like a lot of work but then I notice that the Oasis has a Costa Coffee concession. Drinking Caramel lattes until the puck drops isn’t hard work at all! I settle in a comfy chair and take my book out of my bag. It’s the latest novel by Antionette Hooking, my favourite romance author. She’s never written a book I didn’t like. Just as the heroine of the story is swept away from a bad situation by the hero, I hear a familiar voice.

“I need a double espresso.”

Right there at the counter, in his thermals and skate shorts, is Tony. I see his body move and know that if he turns his head one inch to the left, I’ll be right in his line of sight. Not knowing what else to do, I hold my book in front of my face and hope he doesn’t notice me.

“Is that you, Mandy?”

I close my eyes and swear under my breath. Yes, good job at keeping a low profile, Mandy. I paste a smile onto my face and lower the book. “Oh! Hi, Tony, are you ready for the game tonight?”

“Almost.” He sighs. “Simon got a little too merry last night and is still suffering.”

I can feel how annoyed Tony is, his disdain for young D-man was practically seeping from his pores. “Ah, I take it he’ll be fourth line this game then?”

Tony raised an eyebrow at me in question. “Well, we don’t have enough players for four lines, we usually only roster for three, but I get what you mean. He’ll be on the bench unless we’re desperate.”

“Oh, you should get back and … um … psych up the boys for the game.” I smile sweetly, trying not to make it sound like I don’t want to talk to him. Even though I do want to talk to him, but I have to make it seem like I don’t and I’m trying to hide it.

“Yeah, yeah, I should. Will you be in the bar after the game?”

“I doubt it.” Even I’m surprised by how quickly I respond. I cringe internally, I’m supposed to be laying low, waiting for Tony to make the moves – not pushing him away. “I mean, I’ve got to drive back and I’m working tomorrow.”

He smiles and I can practically feel my mouth water. “That’s a shame, but I understand that some people don’t get to work from home at their leisure. Maybe next time?”

“Um … yes, maybe next time. Good luck for tonight!”

“Luck is for the unprepared.” He winks at me and swaggers off toward the ice pad.

I sag into the chair, completely oblivious to how tense I’d been during our chat. It didn’t count; Kathy didn’t say that Tony couldn’t talk to me – only that I shouldn’t bother trying to get close to him. That will be hard if I only ever see him at the arena, I’m under the impression that due to Tony’s reputation for not taking anything to do with women at the games, any interactions between us will be very noticeable. I decide to cross that bridge when I come to it and pick my book back up until face-off.

My attempts to lay low fail miserably. Not only do I bump into Tony at the coffee shop, but as soon as I make my way to the away fan seating area Mads and Kathy spy me setting up my camera. It’s awkward, because I’d told Mads I couldn’t make it, and very uncomfortable, because Kathy is obviously very displeased with my presence. I apologise to Mads, she’s a very friendly girl and I like talking to her, and try to ignore Kathy through the game. It’s a hard fight for the Falcons and the tension in the rink is ratcheting up a notch with every shot on goal, it doesn’t help that you could cut the air with a knife between me and Kathy. Mads seems very uncomfortable, almost as fidgety and quiet as me, but when she goes to the toilet during the first period break – Kathy drops the gloves.

“What’s the camera for? Finding it hard to keep up?” She smirks, challenging me, taunting me, goading me to defend myself. What the hell is this chick’s problem?

I shrug. “I got so caught up in watching the game last night that I didn’t take notes. This way I can re-watch the game while writing the report at home and enjoy the game while I’m here.” Yes, Kathy, I can mix business with pleasure and if I can do it then, maybe, Tony will too.

“I write all the reports for the fanzine from memory. Everyone loves them. I’m sure you’ll get better at writing them over time, if you boss gives you long enough on the assignment.” She adjusts the strap on her top under her tiny leather jacket. The goosebumps on her chest give away how cold she really is. “That’s what’ll happen right? If you can’t write a decent report you’ll get moved to something else?”

“I suppose that might happen if I was bad at my job, but I’m not.” I wasn’t about to tell her that Danny had been extremely happy with my report from the night before. I’m going to let her stew a bit – simply because I have no idea what I’ve done to warrant her being such a bitch to me. It was fair enough her telling me not to pursue Tony, especially if she wanted to protect him from bunny boilers, but this was something different.

Thankfully, Mads came back from the toilets and Kathy decided to go to the bar to warm up with a drink. She’s still very quiet through second period but it’s a different kind of quiet. It’s the kind of quiet where someone wants to tell you something but they’re not sure what to say. Like being on a date and the guy has some oregano stuck between his teeth from his pasta, and you desperately want to tell him before he swoops in for the kiss goodnight but just can’t find the words. I hear Mads whisper ‘shit’ under her breath as she spots Kathy smiling and waving to people as she makes her way back to the seats.

“Are you seeing anyone?” Mads blurts out, looking frantically between me and Kathy.

“Not right now, no. I just broke up with someone less than a week ago. Why?”

“Tony wanted me to ask, he likes you but Kathy … she makes things difficult. She’s fancied him for ages but he keeps telling her he doesn’t take anything to do with the women at the rink after that stalker he had. You seem nice and I’d love for Tony to find someone, but I don’t want Kathy to get hurt. I’m caught in the middle here.”

I nod and tell her it’s okay. Kathy smiles at us both and tells the story of how she got chatted up at the bar by one of the marauders fans. I can smell the whiskey on her breath as she laughs at his futile attempts. I frown but refrain from rolling my eyes as I realise that Kathy is just as bad as the puck bunnies they warned me about a few days ago. She’s laughing at the poor guy because he had the misfortune of not being a player – just a fan. I’m glad when third period starts and Kathy focuses on shouting at the ref and the Marauders rather than slagging off some poor sod that decided to take a chance. It’s eerily similar to hanging around with Tracy and Nicole, except Kathy seems to hate me. I don’t engage her in conversation for the rest of the game, I just concentrate on the play until the urge for me to jump out of my seat and shout becomes too much.

After the game, I hug Mads goodbye and take the opportunity to whisper in her ear. “Tony knows where to find me if he wants me, don’t get caught in the middle. Tell him to man up or tell Kathy to get over it – take the pressure off.”

She nods and I look at Kathy, she seems a bit suspicious about our whispering session but doesn’t say anything. I drive back up to Falwaite excited but worried – it’s great that Tony likes me and wants to know about me but Mads is now in this awful position where she wants her brother to be happy but can’t achieve it without hurting her friend. Maybe that’s why Kathy has gone from giving me friendly warnings to being mean and nasty. Does she know that Tony is interested in me? I have no idea how he interacts with people usually. Was it obvious from how much time he spent talking to me or had he talked to Mads about me in front of her? The last thing I needed was to be making any enemies at the rink, and Kathy was slipping into that category without me actually doing anything. I shudder as I think about what might happen if I purposefully did something to piss her off.

#

Danny’s response to my second match report is just as satisfying as the first. It’s a shame they both have to be chopped to bits so they can fit into the small amount of column space that’s allocated to Hockey at the CET. As the week wears on and the next match looms in my social calendar, I wanted to be there, watching the game and seeing Tony play, catching up with Mads and spending time with Caroline outside work. But I didn’t want to come face to face with Kathy again. It’s silly, like being back in high school and not wanting to piss off the popular girls because they can make your life hell, so you hide in the toilets with your sandwiches rather than take the risk of sitting at their lunch table by accident. I look up from my desk as someone approaches, it’s Danny and he’s wearing a very sombre expression. My heart sinks into my shoes as he puts a piece of paper onto my desk, shaking his head.

“We got an email about your match reports.” I pick up the sheet, still warm from the printer, but before I can start to read, Danny puts a hand over the print to prevent me from seeing it. “They loved them!”

I narrow my eyes at him as he laughs his way back to the office, only when he’s out of sight do I start to read. It’s a lovely message from someone called Tommy Ironside, apparently he’s been a Falcons fan for years and never been satisfied with the level of reporting from the CET – until now. I calmly put the letter down on my desk before jumping out of my chair and doing a celebratory dance, drawing the attention of my colleagues. A few frown and go back to their work but most of them shout encouragement. Caroline pops over to see what’s gotten me in such a good mood and I show her the letter. We hug and squeal before realising how stereotypically girly we’re being. I clear my throat and settle back down into my chair.

“This calls for a celebration!” Caroline announces. “We shall have cake and caramel lattes for lunch!”

“That sounds like a plan!”

I nod, grab my bag and we make our way out of the offices to a coffee shop down the street. Over a slice of bakewell tart, Caroline tells me that she won’t be going back to the office after lunch. She has to be at a press conference to take pictures of one of the Falwaite Rovers players who got caught drink driving. I realise that, if I’d still been at the FDE, I would have been going along to it too. At first that realisation makes me a little sad that my work isn’t as high profile anymore, then I think about all the times I got letters from football fans complementing my reporting. There weren’t any. Yes, Hockey was a minority sport, yes, it got very little exposure in the press – but that just meant that the fans appreciated good reporting even more. The fact that that good reporting was coming from me made me swell with pride. It made me want to do the best job possible – it made me want to report on Hockey in a way that would make people who weren’t  fans of Hockey want to go and see a game. I want Falwaite to be a Hockey town and for the Falcons to really be celebrated for the amazing efforts I’ve seen them put in. All these people going to football matches week in and week out, standing in the rain and snow and wind for the Rovers to lose time and again – just like I used to do. Now, it’s like I’ve seen the light – the indoor lights of a cold that you can wrap up against while you watch incredible speed and skill flying across the ice pad.

Caroline drains her mug and grabs her equipment so she can make the press conference early enough to get a good spot in front of the table. I hug her goodbye; I’ll see her again on Saturday. The rest of my coffee is sipped at a leisurely pace, I really don’t have any work to do at the office, but I like to go in every day. Only going in when Danny needs me to be there makes it feel like I don’t have a full time job and using the CET’s electricity and broadband to collate all of the stats, fixtures and hockey news is always better than doing it at home. My mobile phone buzzes in my bag, whistling it’s announcement that a new message has arrived. The text is from Mads, asking if I’d like to meet up for a drink tomorrow, Friday, night.

If I ask her if Kathy will be there then I’m making it obvious there’s an issue between us. If I don’t ask and Kathy is there, then it might end up being as uncomfortable as the game in Millerpool. The last thing I want is to have Kathy making snarky comments whenever Mads goes for a pee or Mads knowing that I don’t want to spend time with Kathy. But I don’t want Mads thinking I don’t want to spend time with her too. I come up with a brilliant way around things and hit the reply button. I simply agree to meeting up and ask if it’ll just be the two of us or whether Caroline can come too. I haven’t checked with Caroline to see if she’s available – I’ll wait until Mads gets back to me before I do that. If Mads says that Kathy will be coming along, I’ll call Caroline and beg her to keep me company. Crisis averted. I mentally pat myself on the back and go back to the office.

It turns out Mads just wanted to meet me on my own. I’m not sure whether that’s ominous or just Mads wanting to get to know me one on one seeing as her big brother has taken a fancy to me. Whatever the reason, I go along to Flannigan’s pub to meet her. Flannigan’s is on the other side of town from the Ice Arena. It’s possible that it’s near where Mads lives, but it’s also possible that she doesn’t want to risk being seen with me, alone, near the rink. I’m heavy with nerves as I walk in and see her at a table near the fruit machine. She smiles and waves and it lifts me a little. I raise my index finger and point to the bar, a little alcohol always soothes me in these kind of situations. The bar is quiet and within five minutes of walking in, I’m heading to the table with a glass of house white.

“Hiya, how’ve you been?” I ask as Mads stands to hug me.

“I’ve been good, there’s a figure skating competition coming up so I wanted to blow off a little steam before the really hard training kicks in!” She grins. “How are you? I saw your match report – it was great!”

“Thanks! A competition? I’m sure you’ll do great.” Mads had told me previously that she was a figure skater – just like her mother. She always wanted to play Hockey like her big brother but none of the other girls wanted to start a women’s team and the men’s recreational teams were always a bit on the rough side with her – just for the hell of it. Arseholes. “Wasn’t Kathy available to come out with you?”

Mads looks down at her glass and rolls it between the palms of her hands. “She was … is … and I’ll be going out clubbing with her after the game tomorrow. Tonight I wanted to have a night where I could talk, y’know? Kathy … she’s a great Hockey buddy but other than the game and the players she doesn’t have a great deal of substance. I mean, I love Hockey and I’ve shagged my fair share of players but … it’s not what I am. I write for the fanzine because I want to write, just like Uncle Jim and Tony.”

“Tony’s a writer?” I almost choke on my sip of chardonnay. “I had no idea!”

Mads nods and takes a swig of her own drink. “Yeah, it’s his ‘day job’ if you like. All the players are only semi-pro, they need to earn money somehow. Tony writes books – don’t ask me which ones, he won’t tell anyone. Apparently he writes under a pseudonym – but he makes a decent living from it, so whatever name he writes under is well known enough to keep selling books.”

I nodded. “Loads of writers use pseudonyms. In fact, you’ll find most of the biggest known authors started publishing under pseuds. Do you even know which publisher he’s with? That might give us a clue as to what he writes.”

“His publisher has an office in Carlisle somewhere but that’s all I know.” Mads sighs. “He knows I want to be a writer too but he’s not much help to me if he won’t tell me anything.”

“What kind of writer do you want to be? I mean there are dozens ways to make writing into a successful career. You’ve got journalists, bloggers, short story writers, novel writers … the list can go on and on. Apart from the fanzine, what other writing have you done?”

“I’ve written a few short stories but that’s it.”

“It’s a start. So, you want to write fiction? What kind? Adventure, romance, thrillers, fantasy … erotica?” I raise my eyebrow and smirk at her, Mads doubles up laughing.

“Erotica? What like that fifty shades thing? No way!”

“I think fifty shades is an acquired taste, I didn’t think it was erotic at all but I’m not into guys telling me what to do!”

We fall into comfortable conversation, swapping little details of our lives. It’s one of the best night’s out I’ve had in recent times. It’s only after going to the Hockey with Caroline and sitting here in Flannigan’s with Mads that I realise what a boring routine I had fallen into with my other friends. I didn’t even know if we were still friends. I’d sent Tracy and Nicole texts to tell them how much I enjoyed the Hockey match and that I hoped they’d want to catch up sometime soon, but neither of them replied. They were probably busy chasing the single players from the Rovers around the only cocktail bar in the town – Reds. And that was the routine – we’d go to the match in our hats, scarves and winter boots then go to the chippy before heading over to one of our flats to drink wine and dress in skimpy outfits for Reds … and the men we’d find there. We didn’t really talk on the nights out except to talk about the match and who was looking hot at the bar. I could definitely see where Mads was coming from when she mentioned that about Kathy. I decided that this was the perfect time to bring up Kathy’s attitude to me.

“I don’t think Kathy likes me very much. When we were at Millerpool, she said some … not very nice things while you were in the loo.”

“What kind of things?” Mads looked worried.

“Let’s just say she wasn’t confident in my reporting skills.” I tried to be as diplomatic as possible, considering Kathy was Mads friend. “And I’m not sure what I’ve done to deserve it.”

Mads sighs. “Everyone knows she fancies Tony but it’s obvious, to anyone who spent any time in Tony’s company, that he fancies you. I’m sorry she wasn’t very nice to you but until she realises that she and Tony will never be a thing, there’s not much to be done. I mean, Kathy’s feelings about Tony have actually served him pretty well. The puck bunnies know he’s off limits, so there’s no chance of another Lisette happening.”

“Lisette? Kathy mentioned he had a stalker – I take it that’s what her name was?”

“Psycho bitch is what we usually refer to her as. Fucking nut job on some occasions. But she seemed so harmless.” Mads shook her head from side to side as if she still didn’t believe what had happened. “She was … frumpy, y’know? Wore lots of baggy jumpers, glasses, long brown hair that she always wore pulled into a ponytail. She never really spent time around the players or anything, then the night of the ‘Player of the Year’ dance came round. She got drunk and went back to Tony’s place, the next day when he woke up she’d made him breakfast and was making all these plans for him to meet her parents, she was wearing an engagement ring and everything. He tossed her out on her ear and that’s when the gifts started.”

“Wow.” That was pretty much all I could say to that. There were some crazy girls that had followed the Rovers, after one or two of the players mowed that grass the rest of them learned to leave well alone. But nothing to that extent. It made me understand a bit more about Kathy’s reaction to me – no matter how innocuous someone seemed, you could never really know what they were thinking.

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