As we drove up to the stadium, I started to get nervous. I was worried about how people might react to me. It was only a couple of weeks since the points deduction, and although Raiders had won both of their games since and started the long haul back up the table, it was likely I was still going to be the target for people who were holding a grudge. And at the back of my mind was the other man from my memories, the one I could half-remember but couldn’t identify. Would he be here? Jay noticed I had gone quiet.
‘Just thinking. Not sure everyone’s going to be that pleased to see me.’
łYou’ll be OK. Don wouldn’t have agreed to it if he thought there was going to be any trouble. Nico says most people are OK with things, feel sorry for you after you were beaten up. I think he’s done a fair amount of PR work on your behalf, actually. He’s been looking out for you.
łYeah. You know Nico and Lis have been looking out for you for us since we moved away? Not that we knew, at first, or would have been very happy about it. Lis knows Beth really well, though. She knew, I think, that things would get mended with us, and she and Nico wanted to make sure you were OK until that happened.
‘They’ve both been amazing.’
łThat’s what friends are for – hey, don’t you dare start blubbing, we’re just about to get out of the car.
I pulled myself together. Lifted my chin to face the world.
łI’ve just got to pick up the tickets and have a quick chat with someone. Can you take Cal to the club shop, get him a flag or something? I’ll meet you by the West Stand entrance. Won’t be long.
I had been to Raiders Stadium with Dad a few times, when he was at work, and to fetch things, and on the night when he found Dec in the car park, but I had never been on match day. When we turned into the road leading up the hill to the stadium, there were people everywhere, all wearing the black and blue of Raiders, all walking towards the ground. Some people had eye-patches and scarves round their heads like pirates. I couldn’t help staring; I’d never seen anything like it. Dad had taken me to see the local football team a few times, and there was a shelter for when it was raining, and a burger van, but here, there were loads of burger vans, and places selling magazines about the rugby game, which had Nico’s picture on the front, and it was bright and noisy and thrilling.
Dad had to go and talk to someone, and asked Dec to take me to the shop to get a flag. I liked the idea of a flag; I could see people carrying them, and they had a picture of a pirate sort of person on them, the same pirate sort of person who was on their shirts and hats. I’d seen it on Dad’s and Dec’s shirts when they came home from work. Dec said it was the Raiders badge, and there were lots of things in the shop that had the badge on too.
Cal’s eyes were wide at the noise and excitement that was building in the ground. There were people wearing hats and scarves, and some of the more ardent supporters were sporting bandanas and eye-patches Beth had always been adamant that Cal wasn’t allowed to watch live rugby on account of it being too aggressive, so he’d never experienced the atmosphere of match day. I wondered what he would make of the whole occasion.
As well as the flag, there was a teddy that had a Raiders shirt on, and I stood and looked at it for long enough that Dec realised I really wanted it, and he picked it up. He also picked up a shirt from a rail, but it was a small shirt, not Dec-size, but maybe more Cal-size, and I wondered if it was for me, but he didn’t make me try it on, so maybe it wasn’t.
The shop was full of customers. I had my new bank card, which had arrived at Rose’s while I was away and wanted to do something, however small, to begin to repay people.
While we were queueing up to pay, a boy came and asked Dec for his autograph. Like he was a footballer or someone from the television. Dec wrote his name on the boy’s programme, and I noticed that people were looking at Dec, and not just because he had bruises and lines on his face, but like he was someone they wished would give them his autograph too.
A boy, a couple of years older than Cal, was suddenly at my side. He held out a match day programme and a pen.
*Please can I have your autograph?
It was the first time I had ever been asked; I tried to hide my exhilaration, and appear cool. Cal’s eyes grew wide as I signed the programme.
*Thanks. Are you playing today?
‘No, not for a while. Got a broken arm.’
I held up my bandaged right arm.
‘Enjoy the game.’
The boy went back to his place in the queue, while I glowed in the recognition.
‘Dec, are you famous?’
The possibility had only just occurred to me. Sometimes people knew Dad when we went out to the shops or Pizza Place, and he wrote his name on things, and Mum said it was because Dad used to be famous when he was young. Dec was young, well, younger than Dad, so maybe he was …
‘Ha ha, no Cal.’
‘But that boy had your autograph.’
‘I know. Some people know who I am, I guess they might have seen my picture in the papers in the last few weeks, but it’s really only here at Raiders.’
Oh, well, that was alright, then. If it was only these people, who wore things with the Raiders badge on, then I didn’t have to think differently about Dec, as if he was a famous person like Bob the Builder. As long as it was only these people, and Dec wasn’t going to get asked for his autograph when we were in Dinosaurland or something.
I paid for everything, gave Cal the flag and toy, and left with the shirt in a bag, heading over to the West Stand entrance, wondering how long we were going to have to wait for Jay.
‘I’m not sure. Shall we text him?’
Me: =How long will u b? D & C.
He didn’t reply immediately, but a few minutes later:
Jay: =On my way.
I watched the crowd, not sure which direction Jay would be coming from. I was aware of lots of curious glances from people as we waited, but nobody spoke to me. It was a long time since I had watched a first team game from the stands, and I had forgotten how noisy it was, how much the atmosphere built up, how mad the supporters were.
I felt a hand on my arm and looked round. It was Amy, DivDav’s girlfriend.
She reached up, smiling, and hugged me, kissing me on the cheek.
)It’s great to see you. God, Dec, your face!
She briefly touched the scar running by my eye and it sent a tingling shiver right through me.
)How are you doing?
‘Much better than I was. Is Dav here?’
Her face clouded as she looked away.
)I’m … er … I don’t know. We broke up. He was let go by the club too. Didn’t you know?
‘No – oh, wait, maybe it’s ringing a bell. Sorry, my head’s been a bit mashed the last few weeks. Haven’t been keeping in touch with people. Shit, Amy, I’m really sorry to hear that. How are you?’
)Oh, you know, OK. Good to see you, though. I tried to ring you a couple of weeks ago, when I heard about what happened. David didn’t have anything to do with it, you know.
‘Yeah, I know. I feel fucking awful about telling the police I thought it was him. It … er … it was Big. He’s been arrested.
Amy’s eyes went wide and she put both of her hands to her mouth.
)Oh my God! Dec, that’s completely terrible. How could he do that? I can’t believe it.
‘I know. I’m still getting my head round it. I think they’ve cleared Dav though. I should contact him … I don’t suppose you know where he is do you?’
Amy shook her head and looked down.
)I haven’t seen him since we broke up. We’re not exactly still friends. He behaved really badly to you.
Something about the way she said it made me look at her sharply. She looked back, a frown above her big blue eyes.
‘What? You broke up because of me?’
)Well, partly. When all that macho nonsense was going on, I told him what I thought. He didn’t like it much, wasn’t very nice to me about it and just carried on doing it. When I heard what he’d done to your clothes, I realised I didn’t want to be with someone who could do that. We just weren’t really meant for each other.
‘Amy, fuck, I’m sorry. I feel really bad.’
)Oh no, don’t. It’s completely better to know sooner than later. So anyway, is there something wrong with your phone? I’ve tried to get hold of you a few times.
‘My old one, yeah, it got smashed up when all this –’ I gestured to my face ‘– happened.’
)That explains it. Have you got a new one yet?
‘Yeah, do you want my number?’
We got our phones out and traded numbers.
‘Where are you watching from?’
‘I’m in West. Give you a wave!’
)See you Dec, take care.
Amy smiled and walked off, looking back at me over her shoulder. She was really pretty; I felt parts of me come awake that had been sleeping for several months. I’d liked her a lot before she started going out with DivDav, and I watched her walk away, my cheek still tingling where she’d touched me.
While we were still waiting, a lady came and talked to Dec, and she cuddled him, and while they were talking, Dec didn’t look at me once. I started to walk over to the burger van, to see if he’d stop me, but he didn’t, so I walked back, in case I got lost. He was talking and talking to the lady, and he didn’t notice me at all, until the lady went away. Even then, he stared after her. I tugged on his arm, and he looked down at me.
\who’s that lady?
I dragged my attention back to Cal, who could have flown to Timbuktu for all the notice I’d taken of him while I was talking to her.
‘Her name’s Amy.’
He didn’t tell me any more than that, because Dad came along with the tickets, and we could go in, and I had chips and shared a burger with Dec.
It was very noisy where our seats were. We were just behind a lot of people in eye-patches and scarves who were singing different songs about Raiders. They had some actions where they waved their arms about, and one of them had a drum.
The players were out on the pitch, but they weren’t playing, they were running up and down, and kicking and throwing balls. Dec said they were warming up, so they didn’t pull a muscle when they ran fast, but it was cold outside, and they weren’t wearing coats, so I wondered how they were being warm.
I saw Nico and I waved, but he didn’t see me or wave back. Dec said when the players were on the pitch, they couldn’t notice people they knew, because it would put them off. I wondered how they could not be put off by all the noisy people banging drums and singing, but Dec said they weren’t.
I looked at the pitch itself, and it looked almost like a football pitch, except that the goals didn’t have nets, the lines were different, and the goalposts stretched up really high, above the crossbar. It looked like a giant H. I wondered if the goalkeeper had to stand on the crossbar to stop a goal going in, but he would have to be very tall or jump very high, and he would have to be good at balancing.
I was just going to ask Dec about it, when there was a cheering contest. A man with a microphone was in the middle of the pitch, and there was a mascot with him, dressed as a giant Raider man, and the different sides of the ground had to shout louder than each other. I shouted as loud as I could, and the Raider mascot gave our side a thumbs up. I waved my flag as we all cheered.
They were good seats, along the side of the pitch. There were about fifteen minutes before the game started, so Jay got us some drinks from the bar. Cal was enjoying the atmosphere, waving his flag and joining in with the warm up entertainment. Lis arrived, saw us and hurried over, smiling widely. She gave Cal a big hug, then Jay, then me.
~Hi Dec, oh, great haircut, you’re looking so much better. How did it all go?
‘Good, really good. Thanks so much for taking me up there.’
~You got it all sorted, yeah?
She took a sidelong look at Jay, who rolled his eyes.
‘Yeah. Talked our arses off.’
~Glad to hear it. Sounds like it did you the world of good.
łDec is officially world blubbing champion, even worse than Matty.
~Don’t be so mean. Only real men cry.
łThen Dec is pretty damn real.
~Well it’s good to see you all. Nico wants to have a drink after, is that OK?
łFine by me.
Lis took her seat a few rows away, sitting with other players’ wives and girlfriends. The match was minutes away from starting, and the excitement was reaching fever pitch. Raiders were playing the team in second place. If they won, and other results went their way, they could move up a couple of places in the table. I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. Text.
Jay, Dec and Cal drove off to Devon to watch Raiders play, leaving me with Beth and Mum. Jay was going to be back later, so there were no worries about who was going to get me in and out of bed if I needed it, but I felt great, better than I’d felt for a long, long time. I even sat out in the armchair all morning, only going back to bed after lunch. I dozed a bit, then realised it was almost three o’clock and time for the big kick off at Raiders Stadium. Part of me wanted to be there with them, despite the fact I had never watched a rugby match, well not since those ones back when I was at school, so I winged a text to Dec.
‘Go Raiders! Have a fucking awesome time.’
Cripples Corner was obviously still operating, even at a distance, as his reply came straight back.
‘Just abt 2 start so fuck off now.’
After that, I had to content myself with imagining what was going on, but I fell asleep, then Beth woke me up and asked if I wanted to get in my wheelchair and sit in the kitchen while she and Mum made tea, and I so did, hardly minding about being sat in the sodding machine because I was in the kitchen and I offered helpful advice about chopping onions …
‘Thank you Matty, I don’t know how I’ve ever managed to chop onions before without you being here.’
… and let them know when they had the temperature too high for the sauce ‘Well, dear, I know I’ve done this hundreds of times without burning it, but I bow to your obviously superior knowledge.’
… and sampled things and told them it needed more salt or suggested herbs to add …
‘Well you can help again, sweetheart, that tastes lovely now’
… and before long, with our combined efforts and my expertise, we had made a pasta bake beyond compare.
The players ran out onto the pitch to spine-tinglingly loud cheers and chanting from the home fans. It reverberated around the stadium. I looked at Cal; his eyes were wide, taking it all in, and his face was flushed with excitement. I turned to Jay, who was also watching Cal and smiling.
‘He hasn’t been to a game before, has he?’
łNot since he was really little, he probably doesn’t remember.
‘He’s really enjoying himself.’
łCertainly is. I’ll wean him off football if it’s the last thing I do. It’s bad enough Matty and his bloody Tottenham. Can’t have my son being taken by the dark side too, whatever Beth thinks about aggression.
The match got underway, a pulsating first half with some beautiful play from both sides. Raiders’ running style was exciting to watch; Warriors had a great defence and were slick and clinical. Nico nearly scored twice – once he was tackled just metres from the line, once he was taken out in the air near the corner flag as he caught the ball. The ref didn’t see it, and awarded a line out to the opposition, to a chorus of boos. As the half-time whistle sounded, Raiders had a narrow lead, twelve points to nine, all from penalties. The applause rang out for the exciting play.
Rugby was quite different from football. It had some things the same, like the kit, the boots, and the ref, but most things were really different. You were allowed to pick the ball up, and people were allowed to run after you and pull you over. If you did that in football, you would get a red card and be sent off. Mostly the players threw the ball to each other, they hardly kicked it at all, and when they did, it was all high and loopy. And sometimes the player with the ball was pulled down and everyone piled on top of him, like it was a fight, but they were allowed to do it. And sometimes a player had the ball, and he ran really, really fast, faster than everyone else, and everyone shouted and cheered because he was about to score a goal. Nico ran faster than anyone else, and nearly got to the goal once, but was pulled down just before he could score.
Then the referee blew his whistle and it was half time, and I could talk to Dec and Dad about it, because it had been too noisy and too exciting to take my eyes off the pitch while the players were on it.
‘What did you think, Cal?’
‘I liked it when everybody shouted.’
‘It’s exciting, isn’t it?’
‘Why don’t they try to score in the goals?’
I hadn’t quite got why Nico hadn’t just kicked the ball through the posts when he was so close.
‘Well, this isn’t football, you can score anywhere over the white line. The posts are for kicking over, not scoring under.’
I didn’t quite get that either – if you could score anywhere over the white line, why didn’t they just kick the ball up the pitch as soon as they got it? That would be a goal straight away. Maybe they had to get it up high, like some of the players had done, when they’d kicked it through the posts on top of the goal. There wasn’t a goalie, but the players had to kick from quite far away, so maybe it was already difficult enough. And everyone had stopped while they did it, they hadn’t tried to tackle him or pull him down or anything. I didn’t think I would ever understand it all.
‘I like when they pick the ball up. In football that’s called a hand ball.’
That was the most thrilling thing, that the players could do things that you couldn’t in football, and it was all OK.
‘Yeah, but it’s allowed in rugby. You can also pull people down to the ground, which you can’t if you’re Theo Walcott.’
I didn’t like to think about Theo Walcott not being able to do something. I thought he was pretty perfect as a sporting hero. I wondered if he’d ever come to play at Raiders Stadium so I could see him.
‘Can Theo Walcott play rugby?’
‘Well, I guess he could, but I don’t think he’s tough enough to be much good.’
I certainly didn’t like to think of Theo Walcott not being tough enough. Did that mean that Dec and Dad and Nico were tougher than Theo? It was hard to believe. I thought about Arsenal, and how much I supported them, but also how much I’d been supporting Raiders for the first half of this game. I’d never felt anything like it, and I hadn’t realised that there would be shirts and flags and TV cameras.
‘Dec, can you support rugby teams like it’s football?’
‘Course you can, mate.’
‘Who do you support?’
I knew Dec didn’t have a football team. We cheered on Arsenal together, but Dec only liked football when I was watching it. I wanted to know if he had a rugby team like I had a football team. It had only just occurred to me that this might be possible. A world of sporting options opened up before my eyes.
‘Well, I guess Raiders are my team.’
‘I want to still support Arsenal.’
I didn’t know how to say that I was feeling like I was supporting Raiders as well. I didn’t know what ‘disloyal’ meant, but that’s how I felt.
‘But I want to support Raiders too.
‘Well, I’m not surprised, they are the best. It’s OK to support two teams, especially if they’re from different sports. Arsenal will never play Raiders, so you’ll never have to choose.’
Well that was alright then. If I could support one team from football and one from rugby, that was easy. I knew from football that you couldn’t support two different teams. I’d tried with Tottenham and Arsenal, because Uncle Matty supported Tottenham, and was always trying to get me to change from Arsenal, but it was too hard to do. But supporting a team from another sport felt OK. And of course, if you support a team, you need the proper kit, like my Arsenal shirt. I thought again about the small shirt that Dec picked up in the shop. I didn’t know if it was for me, but maybe I could ask in a roundabout way.
‘I’m going to support Raiders. Can I have a Raiders shirt for my birthday?’
‘Your birthday’s a long way off. How about you have one now?’
Dec gave me the bag with the shirt in it. Yes, it had worked. I took the shirt out and looked at it. It was missing something.
‘It hasn’t got a name on the back.’
‘Well, you have a think and decide whose name you want on the back. You can have your name if you like. It might take you a while to get to know the Raiders players and have a favourite. I can get it put on once you’ve chosen.’
Before I could think about whose name I wanted on the back, and whether I could have ‘WALCOTT’ to match my Arsenal shirt, Dad had a suggestion.
‘How about ‘SCOTT’? Has a nice ring to it on the back of a Raiders shirt again. Thanks, Dec, by the way.’
I didn’t want my name on my shirt, I wanted the best Raiders player on it, but I didn’t know who that was yet.
‘Daddy can I put my shirt on now?’
‘I think it’s a bit cold to be taking your shirt off out here.’
It was cold, and I had my hat and gloves and scarf on, and my nose was red, but I really wanted the shirt on.
‘Ohh but I want to.’
Sometimes a good wheedle worked, sometimes it didn’t. Today it worked.
‘How about you put it on over the top of your Arsenal shirt?’
I felt a bit bad about covering up my Arsenal shirt, but it was only for half of the game, so it would be alright.
Amy: =Spotted me yet?
I looked over to the crowd in the stand opposite, but everyone was so far away I couldn’t pick out faces. I couldn’t remember what Amy had been wearing. Suddenly spotted someone waving madly with both arms.
I waved back, just as madly.
The teams soon came out for the second half, and the noise from the crowd got back up to loud. There was lots of throwing, lots of running, and lots of players bumped into each other. One player had a big cut over his eye, and had to come off the pitch with blood running right down the side of his face and dripping onto his shirt. I couldn’t stop looking.
‘Will he have sewing like you did?’
‘He might need a bit. He’ll be OK though, he’ll probably play again next week.’
There was more kicking through the posts, and then the most exciting thing happened. Nico got the ball and ran really, really fast. The crowd were noisier and louder than they had been so far, it was like a huge roar, as if they were trying to push Nico along with their voices. There were some players from the other team in front of him, but he somehow wiggled past them, and then pretended to throw the ball to someone, but kept it instead, and then ran even faster and jumped over the white line. So that was how you scored. You just had to put the ball down over the line.
The crowd cheered and roared like nothing I had ever heard. We were all standing on our feet and cheering, and Nico was cuddled by all Raiders players as if he’d scored a goal.
And then a bit later, he did it again. Two more players had scored, although not as excitingly as Nico, and then Nico caught the ball while two players from the other team were throwing it to each other. Nico had to run a really long way, but he was really fast, and no one could catch him, so he jumped over the line and scored again.
If it was possible, the crowd was even noisier, and Nico was cuddled even harder. I had found my favourite Raiders player. I was going to have ‘NICO’ on the back of my shirt. Or maybe Nico’s last name, if I asked Dec what it was.
Jay went off to ‘talk to someone’ straight after the final whistle, and we agreed to meet in the bar later.
‘OK, Cal, let’s go and get you a drink. Have you got everything there? Got your Raiders toy, your flag?’
Lis came over.
~Are you off to the bar, now? Nico won’t be out for a while, but come and talk to me, yeah? I hate waiting.
We walked to the Supporters Bar together, Cal talking excitedly about the game and Nico in particular. I wondered if Cal’s Raiders shirt was going to have ‘TIAGO’ on the back before too long. We found a table and Lis and Cal sat down while I went to the bar.
*Hey, Dec. Good to see you around again.
It was Holly, one of the bar managers, who served me.
‘Thanks. Good to be back.’
*Looks like you’ve been in the wars.
‘Yeah, a bit. Getting better though.’
*Take care of yourself.
Despite my worries, people had been nothing but pleasant so far. I took the drinks back to Lis and Cal. Cal was showing his Raider toy to Lis.
Lis saw my shirt, and I asked what Nico’s last name was so I could have it on my shirt. She said it was Tiago, but I didn’t know how to write that, so I didn’t say right away that’s what I would have.
~Cal tells me he can have a name on the back of his shirt.
‘Yeah, I think I can sort it.’
~He’s considering ‘NICO’.
‘What a surprise. Will we ever hear the end of it?’
~I doubt it. I’m sure Jay will be delighted as well.
‘Jay was making a bid for ‘SCOTT’ earlier, but I don’t think Cal was impressed.’
~How about ‘SUMMERS’?
‘I don’t think that even makes the top ten, I haven’t scored nearly enough amazing tries – even if it was, that’s not the best idea just at the moment.’
~So, Dec, tell me about Christmas. How was it?
‘Really great. We had a good time, didn’t we, Cal?’
~dec was in the underneath bed. He made noises and did big swears.
Lis looked at me questioningly. I laughed.
‘I was having some weird dreams. Got a telling off from Beth, I think Cal enjoyed the swears a bit too much. But Christmas was great.’
~I talked to Beth this morning. She loved having you there. She’s really going to miss you, yeah?
‘I know, it was weird, like – I don’t know – going back in time, to before everything. They were all exactly the same. Except for having Matt and Carol there, and obviously being in a different house, but everything else kind of felt the same as it did before. They’re just so far away now. I’m trying to get my head round it all.’
~Beth said you got on really well with Matt?
‘Yeah, I did. I hadn’t really spent much time with him before, but you know how sometimes you just click with someone?’
‘We just messed around, a lot of the time. I forgot how old he is.’
~Hey! He’s only a couple of years older than me, thank you very much.
Lis tried to look offended, then grinned.
~Although the way Matt behaves is closer to his shoe size than his age, so maybe I see your point. Sounds like you did him a lot of good, yeah?
‘Don’t know about that. He was looking pretty perky when I left. Hope it carries on for him. ‘
~Did you sort things out properly with Jay?
‘I think so. We had a really long talk. I tried to explain things, but it’s so muddled in my head, I don’t know if I was making any sense. He told me how it was for him, I know my shit was the last thing they needed, with Matt and everything. But, yeah, we sorted it out, we’re OK. They’ve both been so great. And Cal here had the biggest pile of Christmas presents I’ve ever seen in my life.’
~Really, Cal? What did Santa bring you?
Cal started to list all the presents he had received. It was a long list. Lis nodded and smiled, and questioned him about them. I had seen him open most of them, and drifted off a bit.
I became aware of someone hovering behind me, waiting to talk to me. I turned round and saw Lee Brady, one of the club doctors, looking in my direction. I beckoned him over.
÷Hi Dec, good to see you. You’re looking better than last time we met. Those scars are healing nicely, bruises on their way out too. How’s that arm?
‘Pretty good, thanks. Don said you might have a look at it tonight?’
÷Are you available now?
‘Well, I’m looking after Cal until Jay gets back, not sure how long he’s going to be.’
÷Cal can come too, if he wants to.
One look at Cal’s face, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to say no. Cal wanted another look at my scars.
We followed the man downstairs and into a room, where Dec took his shirt off and the man, who was a doctor, took Dec’s bandages off and pressed Dec’s arm and made him move it up and down and round and round.
The doctor screwed up the bandages and put them in the bin, and told Dec he didn’t need them any more. Dec looked pleased. Then the doctor asked me if I wanted to see Dec’s X-rays, and turned his computer round so I could see. I’d never seen real X-rays before, not that weren’t in a film or a cartoon, and I liked seeing the inside of Dec’s arm. The doctor pointed to some of the bits and then to Dec’s arm to show where the pictures were of, and which bones had been broken. Then he clicked a button, and the pictures changed.
‘And these ones are after Dec’s operation, can you see the metal bits and the screws? They’re holding Dec’s bones together while they mend.’
I could see actual screws going into Dec’s bones. I couldn’t believe it – Dec had metal in his arm. How could we not hear it clanking like a robot?
‘Dec, have you got metal in your arms?’
‘Yeah, I can’t feel it though.’
He was being so unexcited. If I had metal in my arms, I’d tell everyone, and lift really heavy things all the time and be a superhero.
‘Are you like a Transformer?’
Dec laughed, although I didn’t know why. If I had metal in my arms I would totally change into something cool.
‘No, mate, I’m not going to change into a motorbike or anything. But I bet I set off a few alarms at the airport next time I fly anywhere.’
That sounded a bit boring, just setting of the alarms at the airport. Metal in your arms was obviously wasted on grown-ups. I could think of much more interesting things to do with it.
Cal and I wandered back up to the bar, making our way up the stairs. The quiet of the downstairs area, now the players had all gone, was soon replaced by the buzz of conversation to be heard from upstairs. We went through the door of the bar, the noise increasing as we did so. I scanned the room, to see if Jay had reappeared yet, and caught sight of him talking to someone on the other side of the room. A tall blond man who, with a jolt, I recognised.
It was Luke, from the gym where Nico had taken me that first time. It was Luke, who was the other man who had hit me with a bottle and punched and kicked me, and broken my bones, and slashed my face. It was Luke, who was the man with the brown boots. It was Luke, from my nightmares.
I reeled, stumbling into a table, knocking over some glasses.
*Hey, careful mate.
I stared uncomprehendingly at the table’s occupants. Jay saw me, patted Luke on the arm and walked over.
Dec was just staring across the room, as if there was something really scary, but I was too little to see what he was looking at; all I could see was people’s legs. Then I saw Dad coming towards us. He smiled at first, then frowned. By the time he reached us, he looked worried.
Jay looked behind him to where he had been standing. Luke had gone. Confused, Jay looked back at me.
łEr, yeah, he used to be a trainer here. Just catching up.
‘It was him.’
łWhat do you mean?
‘The other man, with Big, from when … he kicked me in the face.’
łWhat? Jesus, Dec, are you sure?
He glanced at the people sitting at the table, who were watching and listening with interest.
I looked around then, trying to see someone who looked like they might have kicked Dec in the face. Surely if Dec had metal in his arms, he could fight them, he’d win every time. But then I remembered that Dec had metal in his arms because the man had kicked him in the arm and broken it, which is why he needed the metal.
I looked up at Dad and Dec, a bit worried about having a man in the room who had kicked Dec so much he had broken his arm. Dad looked down at me as if he had just remembered I was there.
‘Hold on a minute. Cal, mate, can you take my keys over to Lis and sit with her? She’s just at that table, look. I’ll be over in a bit.’
This always happened; whenever anything interesting was happening, or people were saying anything I wanted to listen to, they would find something for me to do that meant I had to go somewhere else and not find out what was going on. I took Dad’s keys and went and sat with Lis.
‘Hey Cal. How did Dec get on with Lee?’
I thought Lee must be the doctor.
‘He showed me Dec’s bones on his computer. Dec’s got metal in his arms, like a Transformer.’
‘Wow, really? That sounds pretty cool. Where is Dec?’
‘Dec and Daddy were talking about a man, they’re over there – oh.’
I turned round to point, but Dec and Dad weren’t there. I turned back to Lis – maybe she would know something and would tell me things without making me go somewhere else.
‘Dec was saying about the man who kicked him. He saw him. His name is Luke.’
‘What? He’s here? Dec’s seen him?’
I shrugged. No one ever told me anything directly, I had to guess about things from what people said to each other.
‘I think so.’
Lis looked worried now, and looked around her. Her gaze fixed on someone across the room, and for a moment I thought she had seen the man, but I looked where she was looking, and it was Nico, who came over to us, smiling.
He kissed Lis, then sat on a chair at our table.
‘Hey you. Cal thinks Dec’s seen the man who kicked him, here.’
‘Huh, really? Where is Declan now?’
‘He must have gone somewhere with Jay, maybe to find him or something.’
‘Do they say who this is?’
‘Cal said he was called Luke, yeah, Cal?’
‘Huh, Luke. Cal, this man, he has another name?’
‘I don’t know, Dec didn’t say it.’
‘Huh. Maybe I find Jaime and Declan and see if they need help.’
‘We don’t know where they went, Nico, they could be anywhere. I don’t think we should talk about this any more, yeah?’
Lis looked at me, which I knew meant they thought I was too little to hear about what they wanted to say.
‘Huh. OK. Cal, is good to see you. Hey, you have a good Christmas?’
‘Yes. Santa bringed me a Arsenal shirt.’
‘Oh, is good, you like Arsenal. But you don’t wear the shirt, you wear the Raiders shirt, huh?’
‘My Arsenal shirt is underneath, look.’
I lifted up my Raiders shirt so the red of Arsenal showed.
‘Ha, I like this, two shirts.’
‘Cal’s trying to decide whose name to have on the back of his Raiders shirt.’
‘Oh, is good to have a name. You will have ‘SCOTT’, like you and your Dada, yes?’
‘I don’t think Cal was planning on it being a family shirt, more like a favourite player shirt.’
‘Huh, so who is your favourite?’
I felt shy saying it, so I just shrugged, and looked at Lis, hoping she might help me out. I’d known Nico for a long time, and I’d always liked him, he was funny, but I’d never cheered him on a pitch till my throat was sore before, and I was now completely in the grip of hero worship.
‘Well, he’s probably a bit embarrassed to say, it is rather embarrassing having Nico Tiago as your favourite player.’
‘Ha! I am your favourite? This is good, Cal, I like this. You can have my name on your shirt for sure. You like my tries today?’
I thought Nico had tried very hard, so I nodded.
‘I could hear Cal cheering from where I was sitting. It sounded like you enjoyed yourself, yeah?’
‘I liked when we cheered. It isn’t like football, though.’
‘Ha, no, is better, much better. Maybe Raiders is better than Arsenal?’
That didn’t sound right. Nothing was better than Arsenal, I wasn’t going to start saying any different, hero worship or no hero worship. I loved football, and I was going to be a footballer when I grew up. I didn’t nod, I just looked at Nico.
‘Well I think you might just have gone down in someone’s estimation there, Nico.’
‘Ha, sorry Cal. I forget you love football so much. How does this happen, with your Dada and Declan with you?’
‘Uncle Matty likes Tottenham.’
‘Ah, I remember. So we blame Matty?’
‘Oh give over Nico. People are allowed to prefer another sport to the one you play. Nico’s just joking, Cal. You can like football better if you want to, it’s up to you – oh, here’s Jay.’
Jay took me by the arm and pulled me through the doorway I’d just come through, out of the room and into the corridor where it was quieter.
łYou look bloody awful. What have you remembered?
‘Just that it’s him. It’s the last piece. Just seeing him, made it all fit. I’ve been trying to remember him all this time. It’s him. Fuck, fucking hell.’
I felt sick, sweaty, trembling all over, breathing hard, heart racing; all the fun of the panic attack. Jay grabbed a chair.
łHere, sit down. I’ll go and find one of the medics.
łDec, you need someone to look at you.
‘Don’t leave me on my own. Please.’
It came out as a wail. Jay looked at my face and sighed.
łOK, let me call someone then.
He pulled out his phone, pressed the screen.
łLee? It’s Jay Scott … yeah, I’m upstairs outside the Raiders Bar … no, no, just visiting. Listen, can you come up? Dec’s here, he’s a bit unwell … oh did you? … no, it’s not his arm. Could you come up and take a look? … Cheers.
He put the phone back in his pocket.
łOK, Lee’s on his way.
łDo you think you need to call the police? You’re absolutely sure it was Luke?
łJesus. I can’t believe it. He used to work here. Have you got that policeman’s number?
łDidn’t he call you the other day? It’ll still be on your phone somewhere. Let me have a look.
I pulled the phone out of my pocket and handed it to Jay. He scrolled through my call history and found the number.
łShall I call? You don’t look like you’re capable at the moment.
I nodded, gratefully, my head still spinning and the sick feeling swirling in my stomach. Jay pressed the screen.
łHello, my name is Jay Scott, I’m calling on behalf of Declan Summers … yes, that’s right … er, Dec has just recognised the other man who attacked him. We’ve got a name … yes … yes, he’s sure. No, it’s been a bit of a shock for him, he’s not feeling very well at the moment … yes, Luke Woods … I don’t know … well you can try. Dec, any chance you can talk to this guy?
I looked back at Jay and tried to push my nausea down and calm my breathing. A bit unsteadily, I held out my hand for the phone.
‘I’ll try. Hello?’
ϙHello Declan. Thank you for contacting us. Are you able to answer some questions?
‘Not sure. I’ll try.’
ϙHow sure are you the other man was this, er, Luke Woods?
‘Sure, like before.’
ϙHow do you know him?
‘He’s a trainer at a gym I went to – I only went once. He told me not to come back.’
ϙSo he’s not a friend, or a colleague?
ϙDo you know where he lives?
‘No, I only met him that one time.’
ϙWhat’s the name of the gym?
‘I can’t remember. It’s on Bridge Street.
ϙOK, Declan, thank you for talking to me. We’ll look into this and keep you informed.
I looked up at Jay and put my phone in my pocket, taking a shaky breath. Lee appeared moments later.
÷Hey Dec, Jay, what’s the problem?
łDec’s feeling a bit unwell. He’s had a shock, and, well you can see the results.
÷You have gone a bit of a funny colour.
He felt for my pulse.
÷Heart rate’s up quite a bit. You’re breathing fast too. Feeling sick?
÷I think you need to get some fresh air, deep breaths, calm down away from all the noise. Looks like a panic attack to me. What brought it on?
‘Seeing someone I know.’
He gave me a bemused look, but I couldn’t begin to explain right then.
÷OK … Jay, can you take him outside or something?
łYeah, sure. I’ll just let Lis know what’s going on, she’s looking after Cal.
He headed back into the bar, the sound of voices intensifying briefly as he opened the door.
÷I think you’ll be fine, Dec. Has this happened before?
‘Only since I was beaten up. Although, actually, something like it happened this morning.’
÷Really? What were the circumstances?
‘I got in a car to drive it. First time since I crashed.’
÷So both times set off by a bit of a shock. That’s not surprising. Get Jay to take you outside. Deep breaths in the fresh air. Keep an eye on it, come and see me if it happens again, or if you don’t feel better in a little while.
Before I could stop him, he turned and headed back down the corridor. I sat alone in the chair, unable to face going back into the bar. It was too noisy, I felt too shaky. I leaned forwards, my face in my hands.
Dad was walking towards the table, but Dec wasn’t with him. We all looked at him as he came over. He still looked worried.
‘Hey Jaime. Cal say Declan see someone he know?’
‘Yeah. You remember Luke Woods? Oh, he might have been before your time. He was an S and C trainer here a few years back. Dec’s just seen him, recognised him as as the other bastard who put him in hospital. He’s a bit wobbly, very wobbly actually, he’s having some kind of panic attack. I’m going to take him outside, see if some fresh air helps. Are you OK with Cal for a bit?’
A panic attack sounded exciting, like it might be lots of bad robots shooting guns or something. It sounded like something I’d like to see. Maybe the bad man would be beaten by the robots and I could stop feeling scared about him.
‘Can I come, Daddy?’
‘No, Cal. Dec’s not feeling very well, he needs some peace and quiet.’
‘I will be quiet, I –’
‘No Cal. Just wait here with Nico and Lis. I’ll go and get you another Coke.’
Dad went to get my drink, and I didn’t argue any more. That was three Cokes I’d had today, and usually Mum didn’t let me have one every week. Sitting with Nico and drinking sweet brown fizziness was probably better than attacking robots, which were bound to be more disappointing than they sounded.
Nico and Lis were trying to talk to each other without saying anything and without me hearing, but they couldn’t understand each other, so in the end they had to just talk properly, and not by wiggling their eyebrows.
‘Are you going to try to find this Luke bloke, then?’
‘I don’t know, baby. If Jaime wants me to. I know him, he is trainer at the gym I go to before.’
‘What, the one you left because of that – oh. God, Nico. Someone needs to find him before he …’
‘Yes. When Jaime gets back, we ask.’
It wasn’t long before Dad put my Coke down on the table, and then Nico could ask his question.
‘Jaime, you want I look for this Luke Woods? Declan he tell the police?’
‘We’ve called the police, told them his name. He was just here, the bastard. I was talking to him, he was asking about Dec, I never bloody realised. He was over there, but I can’t see him now. You can look for him if you like, he’s tall, taller than me, blond hair. Maybe grab someone who was here when he was – Freddie was around, give him a shout. I’d better get back out to Dec, he was feeling pretty ropey. See you in a bit, Cal.’
Dad walked away, and Nico stood up, looking around him. He didn’t get far, as Dad came back through the door and over to the table.
‘Dec. He’s gone. I left him on a chair just outside the door, but he’s not there. I don’t think he would have gone off on his own, he was all shaky and shit.’
‘What are you saying, Jay?’
Dad looked around the room.
‘Luke isn’t here. Hey Freddie.’
He called over to a man who was standing talking to other men. The man he called Freddie looked up and smiled.
‘Have you seen Luke Woods?’
‘You were just talking to him, weren’t you?’
‘Yeah, after that.’
‘No, sorry mate.’
Someone Freddie was talking to shouted across.
‘He just went through there, a few minutes ago.’
The man pointed to the door Dad had just come through. Dad’s eyes went all wide, and he looked at Nico.