There is a first time for everything, the old adage goes.
Gary hates this adage. There are loads of things for which there is no first time, and rightfully so. For example, Gary has never in his life killed anyone, even if more than one person he crossed paths with deserved it, he has never let failure stop him, even when the going got rough, he has never sang You’ll Never Walk Alone, even when he was drunk or delirious, and he never intends to do any one of these things until his dying day.
With that last one though, he has unfortunately heard others sing it, many times. Entirely too many times, in fact. In the national team locker room and on TV, on the street, all around them like a hellish choir when they played at Anfield. Most recently at the studio.
He is also pretty sure he has heard Carragher sing it before. He must have. The bloody tune festers among his people like a disease, and he has known Carragher, in some capacity or the other, for some twenty years. The man must have been the culprit in one of those times Gary heard it being sung at the national team.
Except- as he opens the door to the lounge, and as his skin crawls and his face twists with disgust before he even knows why, and as he finds Carragher humming the melody under his breath, he thinks- huh.
As if this is the first time.
Carragher is humming the notes in his off-key, ugly Scouse voice, from where he is sat on the sofa. Printouts, a dormant iPad, an empty coffee cup litter the space around him, on the cushions and on the coffee table, and he is oblivious to all of them, including the paper he is holding in his hands. His eyes are closed. He is humming the bloody melody under his breath, and he is lightyears away.
Gary wants to kick him in the shin.
Yes, yes, the last season before you retire and the first one after it are the hardest, but does he not realise the uncomfortable spot this puts Gary in? How awkward it is to run into an acquaintance having a moment? No manners in these Scousers, whatsoever.
Carragher startles visibly. He opens his eyes, his blue-grey eyes, and for a moment this bewildered look flashes across them, the kind you would give to an imam at a church or a Manchester United captain in a Melwood shower.
He shakes his head and it’s gone.
“Sleeping on the job, were you?”
“Must have dozed off while waiting for you to grace us with your presence,” Carragher replies easily.
“Not my fault I hit traffic.”
“It never is!”
Gary smiles, almost. They would have been friends in another life. He crosses the room to sit on the other sofa so that they can start working.
“Neville,” Carragher says when they are done for the day and wrapped up in their coats, ready to leave.
Gary stops fiddling with his scarf and turns to him.
Carragher reminds him of what he used to be like a few years ago. The season before you retire and the season right after are the hardest. A perpetual twilight covers the football pitches, what you are told is still your home, studios, the streets. And you wander through all of these places, haunt these places, like a ghost stuck in between this world and the next, even as you play and give interviews and grab your new life by the horns, belonging to neither realm.
Carragher looks at him, searching his face. His gaze is sharp and he is smarter than he looks—certainly smarter than Gary gave him credit for in their playing days. Gary soldiers on through the uncomfortable seconds they spend standing and staring—he is a good person despite the rumours to the contrary—but in the end all Carragher does is to clear his throat and offer a “good night.”
“To you too,” Gary replies, and with a polite smile heads out, not bothering to wait for Carragher to join him.