It was freezing. There was literally no reason she should be standing here staring out Ted’s window at the morning greyness instead of being in Ted’s bed. With Ted.
Ugh, he was rubbing off on her in the worst ways.
Ted apparently agreed with her – on the first point, probably not the second – because half a heartbeat later she heard him getting out of bed behind her.
“What are you worrying about?” he asked quietly.
She turned to face him, arms crossed tightly, mouth twisting. He’d stayed on his side of the bed, enough distance if she needed it.
“About – what people will say,” she admitted. “Mostly I’m envisioning the tabloid headlines. I haven’t come up with anything genius yet, but I’m guessing they’ll begin with ‘Randy Rebecca.’”
“Well,” Ted said. “At least they’ll have to stop calling you ‘Old Rebecca’ if they don’t want to spoil the alliteration.”
She snorted. “Right. Silver lining.”
He crossed the room slowly, serious now. “I’m sorry you have to worry about that. I’ve seen too much of y’all’s press over here to tell you not to. But I’ll do whatever you want, if there’s any way I can stop it.”
“Guaranteed, the spin will be either that I only kept you around after a losing season because I want your body –“
He’d come close enough that she could smack his chest, which she did. She’d made the decision to keep him on months before they started this (if she was honest with herself it hadn’t even been a decision; the idea of him leaving was just intolerable), so it was a safe joke, between themselves at least.
“Or,” she continued, “that I’m just so insatiable and unprofessional that I insist on being serviced on demand by my employees.”
Ted’s hands were sliding around her waist, pulling her into him. There was an energy radiating off him, under his veneer of calm, that she was surprised to realize was a rare bit of real Ted Lasso anger. From the fact that he put his face against her shoulder for a while before speaking she guessed that he was rejecting several things before he finally said, “Once people realize it’s only one employee it can’t be that bad, right?”
What was it his wife had said? “Constant optimism”?
For her part, Rebecca could appreciate someone who was capable of containing his rage. Of course it was her extensive appreciation that had gotten her into this situation in the first place. “Right,” she said. “We’re going to get ahead of this.”
“You’re already ahead of me,” he murmured. “What do you mean?”
“If we aren’t completely open, it’ll look as if we’re sneaking about and that will just be more tawdry. We need to just – tell them everything. The team, the press, whoever.”
“Everything?” Ted repeated, in a maddeningly sexy drawl. Literally, it made her mad how sexy it was.
“Maybe not everything,” she relented. “We might leave out some of the fine details.”
“I do recall the details being mighty fine.” His hands were rubbing up and down her sides now, his mouth close to her neck. Damn the man, he was going to lure her back to bed after all.
“Today,” she said before she could lose her resolve.
Ted pulled back to look at her. “Today?” he asked.
“Okay.” He ran a gentle thumb over her lips and made her shiver. “Today. What’s the plan?”
“‘Today’ is as far as I’ve gotten.”
She really should have anticipated it would go this way.
She’d been in her office for less than half an hour and Keeley was two minutes into what was probably a ten-minute monologue on the advisability of letting one player at a time “take over” the club’s Instagram for a day, when Keeley suddenly broke off and said, “Have you got beard burn on your neck?”
Rebecca panicked, slapped a hand over the side of her neck, and said, “No.” Which, to be fair, was true.
“I . . . don’t.” Christ, how bad was it? She had looked in the mirror this morning, after all.
“Give us a look.” Keeley lunged over the desk and pulled Rebecca’s hand aside. “That is one hundred percent, grade-A!” She rubbed it with her fingertips, which stung.
“Ouch,” Rebecca said, and smacked her hand away.
“See? Unless you’ve got scabies or something, which I doubt, tell. Me. Everything.”
She was going to murder Ted. Notwithstanding that she’d already decided to tell everyone everything anyway.
Rebecca opened her mouth, chickened out, and said, “There’s nothing to tell. Must be some kind of a-“
Keeley, quite rightly, ignored that and said, “Was it like a hipster beard or just some mad fit rugged type with like, sexy stubble? Ugh, please say it wasn’t another old man, because honestly, I haven’t figured out what your type is yet but it can’t be that.”
Rebecca winced and tried to steel herself. “Keeley –“
Oh, it was worse.
Rebecca’s eyes widened, and as Ted came through the door she jerked her head quickly in Keeley’s direction to alert him that someone was there. But via some insane Ted magic, he already knew.
“Biscuits for the boss,” he said cheerfully, placing the box on her desk with a fairly smouldering look that only she could see. She was forced to roll her eyes and look away in mock irritation.
As opposed to the actual irritation he’d apparently left on her neck. Wanker.
“Annnd,” he said, pulling a second box out of his bag, “for Miss Jones.”
“No, really?” Keeley took the box with a delighted expression. “How’d you even know I would be here?”
“An angry bird might have mentioned you had a meeting planned.” He grinned at them both, then said, “Okay, well. Should probably . . .”
“Yes,” Rebecca said desperately.
“I’ve got – you know, the team . . . that I manage. So I’m gonna go . . . manage that.”
He backed halfway across the office before turning and fleeing with a quick, “Okay – see y’all later!”
The door closed behind him.
“Okay, that was weird, right?” Keeley was twisted around in her chair watching him go. Then she turned back to Rebecca, whose studied casual air was apparently a dead giveaway. “Oh. My. GOD.”
Rebecca buried her face in her hands. When she peeked through her fingers, Keeley was just pointing at her with her wide-open mouth forming soundless words.
What finally came out was, “J’accuse!”
Despite, or perhaps because of, her nerves, Rebecca couldn’t help laughing.
“That’s MOUSTACHE burn, you – you – legend!”
“Legend” was unexpected. Though not, she had to admit, unwelcome. Was Ted that much of a white whale? It hadn’t occurred to her that she might be the one perceived to have made a conquest. Then again – Keeley.
Keeley was so excited she was half out of her chair. “You – you – you lassoed Lasso!”
Rebecca swallowed the last giggles and deadpanned, “Yeehaw.”
Keeley rocketed completely out of her chair and ended up in the open space of the office, doing some kind of triumphant victory dance that Ted himself would have been proud of. “I can’t believe it!” she finally said, still bouncing. “I mean you’re both brilliant and I love you both to absolute bits, and if you weren’t such incredible friends I would definitely have given it a go, with either one of you frankly – actually –“
Rebecca suddenly had the horrible presentiment that she was about to hear the word “threesome,” so she hastily interjected, “But you’re so happily with Roy now, so –“
“Right,” Keeley said, coming back to earth. “Roy would not be up for a fourway with the gaffer and the boss. Good point.”
“I think I just had an aneurysm,” Rebecca said to no one in particular.
“Is it serious?” Keeley asked, her tone sobering.
Rebecca blinked for a moment, prepared to explain that she was, in fact, joking; but then she understood. “Yes,” she said, her own tone landing squarely in soul-baring territory. “Yes, I – I really think it is.”
“Wow. Just, wow.” Keeley sat down again, one hand over her mouth. “You know, it’s just – I love you both so much but I always thought you were so different . . . now I think about it, though – wait. Wait. Was it when you told him about – you know, the photos and trying to totally sabotage the club and all? Did you have a massive shouting match and then shag each other’s brains out?”
“We did not, and no you do not get to take any credit for this.”
“I’m gonna take a little credit, because if you hadn’t come clean to him then this couldn’t have happened.”
That was fair, so Rebecca shrugged.
Keeley leaned forward. “So?”
“So, you’ve got to give me something here! How is it?”
Now Rebecca was definitely blushing. She waved her hand in self-defense. “No. No. I’ve never asked for details about you and Roy.”
“And don’t think I haven’t noticed, by the way. But we can talk about me later. Right now is about you, telling me, in the sanctity of girl talk . . .”
“No!” Rebecca said, laughing.
“Come on, one word. You can give me one word.”
Rebecca was thinking about it, and Keeley could tell.
“Eh? Come onnnnn . . .”
Rebecca sighed, grimaced, and said, “Inventive.”
Keeley’s jaw dropped, and she said, “Okay I lied, you can’t leave it there.”
“Are we talking like – positions? Or kinky stuff? No judgement.”
“Positions,” Rebecca managed to choke out.
Keeley grinned in awe. “Go Ted.”
“It’s mad honestly, we’re in our forties; one of these days we’re going to do ourselves an injury.” The floodgates having briefly opened, Rebecca took a deep breath and collected herself.
“Shit,” said Keeley, impressed. “Wait’ll social media gets ahold of – oh, shit. Shit.”
“Exactly,” Rebecca said. “I think we need your help.”
Keeley snapped into professional mode so quickly it was nearly audible. “Right. What’s the plan?”
“The plan was ‘ask Keeley what the plan is.’”
Ted’s face when he walked into his office was eloquent enough that Beard just said, “Right,” and started texting. Mere moments later both Higgins and Nate hustled in.
“What’s the crisis, boys?” Higgins asked.
Beard gestured to Ted with an open hand. Ted just looked back at them all, mouth half-open but no words coming out.
“Oh God, is someone dead?” Nate asked.
“No, no, this is a bona fide Diamond Dogs lady issues summit,” Beard said. “At least, I think it is. I’ve never seen him like this.”
“You’re having another lady problem?” Nate guessed.
Ted had to wet his lips before he managed to speak. “It’s not a problem. Exactly. It’s . . . it’s kind of a problem, yeah.”
“Is there going to be something in the tabloids?” Higgins asked carefully.
Ted pointed at him. “My man Higgins getting to the point.”
“All right, all right.” Higgins’s face was as careful as his tone at this point. “How old was she?”
“What? No – look, I didn’t have another one-night stand and I did not do anything illegal,” Ted said. “I don’t think. Not that familiar with the laws over here, come to think of it. But it’s not anything like that. We’re talking about consenting adults.”
“More than one?” Nate asked, his eyes wide.
“No – no, Nate, man – adults as in me and one other adult.”
“Oh.” Nate did look slightly disappointed. “I’m happy for you anyway. I guess.”
Ted thought about how Rebecca had started to blush just a little, when he was in her office with Keeley that morning, and said, “One is plenty, believe me. One is great.”
“Is it someone we know?” Higgins asked. “Not the boss’s friend, again?”
Before Ted could answer, Roy walked into the office, took a look around at their faces, and said, “No,” and turned on his heel to leave.
“Wait wait wait,” Beard called. “This is important team business this time.”
“Ted is having a lady problem,” Nate said in a meaningful undertone. Then he added, “I know that sounds like he is in fact a lady having –“
“The only way his love life is team business, is if it affects the club,” Roy interrupted, sounding predictably pissed that he’d had to say it. Every word punctuated, he asked Ted, “Does it affect the club?”
Ted looked at them all, knowing he was about to drop the bomb that would turn this into the club’s problem. “Yes.”
“Fuck.” Roy slammed the door. With himself on the inside, which Ted honestly hadn’t expected. “Fine. You’re gay.”
Ted hadn’t expected that, either. “That wouldn’t be a lady problem. And also wouldn’t affect the club.”
“People are arseholes, you never know. Did you do something illegal?”
“Then the only way this could affect the club . . .” Roy’s mind worked quickly while they all watched. “Most of the team are single, for frankly obvious reasons, and you wouldn’t go for someone else’s wife or girlfriend anyway.”
“I would not,” Ted agreed. “Not because they’re anybody’s property, but that doesn’t make it okay to get involved in cheating.”
He really should just come clean now, but he’d gotten sucked into this mystery solving thing they were apparently doing.
“Is she a player?” Roy asked. “On one of the women’s teams?”
“Why the fuck am I guessing?” Roy said, echoing Ted’s own thoughts. “I don’t know who there even is that would be a problem – there’s no one here –“
“Right, I mean, other than Ms. Welton,” Nate laughed.
“Right, which would be mad,” Roy said with his own laugh.
But Higgins had gone white and was staring at Ted like he’d seen a ghost.
“Higgins?” Beard asked. “You okay, buddy?”
Higgins opened his mouth a few times, but nothing came out.
All of a sudden Beard started, and turned to stare at Ted.
“Oh my God,” Nate said slowly.
“Have you all gone mental?” Roy asked.
Higgins finally found his voice and said, “I don’t know if my job just got a lot easier, or if I’m about to quit and flee the country before the carnage starts.”
That turned out to be enough of a hint for Roy, whose eyes widened as he shouted, “Are you COMPLETELY FUCKING INSANE?”
Ted gave them a strained smile and a shrug.
Beard was grinning, though. “I like it,” he said. “Your complementary vibes are kind of obvious in hindsight.”
“It . . . could work,” Higgins agreed slowly.
“Work?” Roy echoed. “Our manager is shagging the boss, and you –“
“Hey,” Ted said. “Careful.” Just that, but he let the warning note be heard loud and clear. They could call him crazy all they wanted, hell, he probably was; but they would not reduce his and Rebecca’s relationship to something cheap. Not in this office.
In the silence that followed, the chemistry of the room changed. Beard looked a little more delighted. Higgins’s eyebrows lifted. Roy looked down, rubbing his forehead. “Fuck,” he said. “Okay. Yeah.”
“So – what’s the problem?” Nate asked.
“She’s gonna take a bollocking in the press, that’s the problem,” Roy said. “You’ll be fine, even if they didn’t all think you were a wanker already. But a female owner, she’s got no leeway.” He sighed. “Look, I’m up for whatever we can do to protect her, but – what can we do?”
Ted waved his hand around the office. “That’s kind of what we’re here for. Now, Rebecca thinks maybe it won’t be so bad if we get everything right out in the open. As a firm believer in honesty as the best policy, I hope she’s right. But how do we do that?”
His face was getting hot. He was actually blushing, just because he was finally talking about her to them.
A phone dinged. Roy pulled his out of his pocket and looked at it. “Never mind. Keeley’s got a plan.”
“She told Keeley without me?” Ted asked, incredulous.
They all stared back at him. Beard spread his hands to indicate the group.
“Right,” Ted said. “Fair point.”
“Anyway I doubt she told Keeley anything,” Roy said. “Keeley has a way of –“
“Incoming,” Beard said. There was a flurry of noise in the locker room and then Keeley burst into the office, ran straight to Ted and threw her arms around his neck.
“I fucking love you,” she said, punctuating that declaration by actually kissing Ted on the mouth before she backed off. “Are we having a war council, yeah?”
“Take a seat, councillor,” Beard said, gesturing to his desk.
Keeley hopped up onto it and said, “You’re lucky I’m here. Her upstairs was about to call a press conference or something. Can you imagine?”
“Been trying not to,” Roy said.
“Oh, hang on, forgot something.” Keeley rearranged her expression, eyes going hard. “Ted.”
“Oh. Oh, right.” He’d actually never had one of these before. It was sort of fun. “The shovel talk. Lay it on me.”
“You would be a part of this club for all eternity,” she promised, still glaring. “Or at least, part of the pitch.”
“I get you, and I appreciate that,” Ted replied.
“Good.” After holding his gaze for a moment, she broke and smiled. “All right. The plan is simple.”
“Simple is good,” Ted said, nodding.
“Simple is very good,” Beard agreed.
They all looked to the open door, in which Rebecca stood framed. From the expression on her face, she had expected to find him alone, or maybe just him and Beard. Frozen and wishing he could help her, Ted watched her assess the situation.
“Right,” she said. “I assume this is about . . . any chance I could leave now, and pretend I was never here?”
Roy, Nate, Beard, and Higgins all looked at each other, back at her, and chorused, “Yeah.” “Yeah.” “Yeah, boss.” “Absolutely.”
Ted really loved them.
“Cheers,” Rebecca whispered and backed out of the door, pulling it shut after her.
“Okay,” Keeley said after they’d all watched her leave. “Luckily, Ted’s never treated Rebecca the same as everyone else anyway.”
“Hold on,” Ted protested. “Yes I have.”
“Ted,” Keeley said. “No one’s saying you haven’t been respectful and professional or done anything inappropriate. But you can’t tell me you’ve treated her the exact same way as if – Higgins was the boss. You have, frankly, acted as if you noticed that she was a gorgeous single woman of your own age – in the most respectful way possible.”
“Till now, apparently,” Roy muttered.
“I –“ Ted found himself totally taken aback. “Did I?”
“Come to think of it,” Nate said quietly. Beard shrugged.
“Judging by the results, she didn’t mind,” Keeley said. “And actually may I congratulate you on choosing a gorgeous woman of your own age. So basically the whole town is already used to Ted being this polite, you know, fucking fit and really cute white knight around her . . .”
It was called being supportive, but Ted raised an eyebrow and let it go.
“I’m gonna be sick,” Roy said.
Keeley ignored him. “So here’s what we’re gonna do.”
After training, Ted called a locker room meeting. The team stood or sat around the room, still buttoning shirts and throwing stuff into their bags. Higgins and Beard were in the back; Nate right up front, giving Ted an awkward thumbs-up. Rebecca was standing next to Ted, which was – completely normal, right? she was the boss.
He took a second to think about how, all along, he’d always had such a warm feeling whenever she was standing next to him. It hadn’t – whatever point Keeley might have, it hadn’t always been romantic, but he’d come in wanting to be her partner and he liked when she reciprocated that.
Well, now he was going to blush again.
Ted gave his rehearsed little speech about how everyone had been working hard and it was a tough season for everyone and et cetera, et cetera, so therefore everybody was going to the pub tonight and drinks were on him and the boss. He’d called Mae, who was annoyed but said they could all come as long as they didn’t destroy the place and the cops weren’t called. The players cheered; he said, “Class dismissed,” and then he looked, as planned, at Rebecca.
There was panic in her eyes. It was not part of Keeley’s carefully orchestrated, casual reveal for him to reach for her first, but she looked so nervous. So he brushed her wrist with his hand and then encircled it gently in his fingers. Giving her a tiny nod, he raised his eyebrows to say “your move.” She forced a smile, which probably no one but him could tell, and then placed her hand on his chest and kissed him on the cheek before crossing the locker room to the door.
There was an absolute silence in the locker room until she was gone, which was then broken by the sound of approximately twenty young men saying, “Oooooooohhhhhhhhhh . . .”
Ted forced a smile of his own and said, “All right, all right.”
There’ll be basically three responses, Keeley had said. A third of the team won’t give a shit. Another third will just be excited that mum and dad are together. That had hit a tender spot for Ted, for the obvious reasons, but now looking into the wildly grinning face of Dani Rojas he acknowledged the point.
It’s the last third you have to worry about.
There were a few wary faces. It was Sam who came up to him amid the general bustle of guys packing up, and said, “Coach. I don’t want you take this in a bad way.”
This, Ted could handle. “Son, if you’re about to threaten to bury me under the pitch you can skip it. Miss Jones took care of that already.”
Sam’s face broke into its usual affable expression. “Oh good. I much prefer to be supportive of both of you, at the same time. Because it’s her team, but it’s your team too.”
Ted patted him on the shoulder. “No one’s gonna have to choose sides, Sam. I appreciate you.” He looked around and clapped his hands together. “All right, let’s go. I promised Mae we’d get in before the crowd.”
Keeley’s instructions for the evening at the pub had been, “Just be normal. I realize that’s challenging for the two of you, but just like try to act like a regular couple, yeah? Except pretend there are kids watching. No snogging. No sneaking out to the alley. Just try not to look like you’re going to your deaths. Stop looking at me like that, Ted, if I had a mirror you’d know what I meant.”
“Christ, I’m going to pass out,” Rebecca whispered as they climbed out of her car, a decent distance between them.
“No you’re not,” Ted said. “We’re gonna do just what Keeley said, and it’s all among friends, and it’s going to be fine.”
She grabbed for his hand as they entered the pub. That was normal, right? She could do this. It wasn’t as though she’d gone basically her entire life without ever actually being part of a normal, affectionate couple. Oh wait.
Ted ordered pints, and they sat in a well-lit corner with the team all around them, and they listened to stories and trash-talk about the other Championship clubs, and after a little while Ted put his arm around her shoulders and the world didn’t end, so she put her hand on his leg and no one made a crass remark, and it was . . . fine. It was fine.
After half an hour or so Keeley sat next to her – snuggled in close so that Rebecca was in a very comfortable Keeley and Ted sandwich, which led to some mental images that were much less comfortable – and handed Rebecca her phone. “Phase 2 is a go,” she said.
Rebecca was looking at a post on Keeley’s Instagram, a few photos of the team drinking pints and clapping each other on the back. Rebecca was visible in a few, as was Ted, but the shots were framed so you couldn’t tell they were actually beside each other. The last shot was a selfie of Keeley and an only slightly annoyed-looking Roy. The caption read Drinks with the bosses! (heart emoji) (heart emoji) #AFCRichmond #RichmondTillWeDie #myboys #ladyboss #girlpowerftw. The post had over a thousand likes already.
“Okay,” Rebecca said. “These are good.”
“Uh-huh. Now here.”
Keeley swiped, and now Rebecca was looking at – actually, a heart-stopping photo of her and Ted. His arm was around her and she was holding his hand on her shoulder. They were facing each other, both laughing. They looked stunningly happy. Keeley leaned over and swiped to the second photo in the post, in which they were in the same position but Roy was visible on the bench beside Rebecca and they were both looking at him, listening intently to something he was saying with great animation.
(As Rebecca recalled, he had been expressing his disappointment at the film version of A Wrinkle in Time).
The caption on this post said Are these 2 the absolute cutest? I’m DYING. #ded #powercouplegoals #ladyboss (heart emoji) #AFCRichmond #RichmondTillWeDie.
It had 1242 likes. 1243. 1246.
“Look,” Keeley said, clicking to expand the comments.
Heart in her mouth, Rebecca scrolled down.
who are they
that the american bloke?
holy shiiiiiiiiiiit are you kidding me
(heart eyes emoji)
that's fuckin adorable to be fair
gaff can geeeeettttttt it
did we know about this??????!!!!!
wait is this for real
wanker (heart emoji)
Rebecca handed the phone back to Keeley. “I think I get the idea.”
“Everything okay?” Ted asked.
“Brilliant,” Keeley replied, leaning over Rebecca to answer. “They think you’re adorable.”
“They think you’re a wanker,” Rebecca said, patting his leg.
“Yeah but they already thought that.” Ted reached over, fingers making a gimme motion. “Let me see?”
“Hold on, not done.” Keeley nudged Rebecca with her shoulder. “Selfie. Come on.”
“What, you and me?” Rebecca did a quick check of her hair and lipstick in Keeley’s selfie view before allowing her to take a shot of them beaming, cheeks pressed together.
“One looking at each other,” Keeley instructed, holding her phone out and thumbing the camera button. “And, one with a Ted photobomb. No, looking at the camera. One, two – normal smile please, Ted. One, two –“ She clicked the button again. “Oh, that one’s great. Posting . . .”
Rebecca looked over Keeley’s shoulder as she typed the caption Fucking love her! #galpals #ladyboss #girlpower. “And what is this doing?” she asked.
“We’re getting them on side,” Keeley said. “We want them to think you and Ted are cute AF – which you are, thank God – but we also want them to be Team Rebecca. Before anybody gets a chance to say anything shitty in the press. You know – just. Like. That.” With a satisfied look she showed Rebecca her phone.
Three comments in a row said sod rupert; fuck rupert srsly; 2 right.
“Wow,” Rebecca said, then, as the next comment appeared, read aloud, “‘Team Old Rebecca.’ Lovely.”
“On side,” Keeley reminded her. “Here, Ted.”
Ted took her phone and started swiping. He was smiling initially, but then his entire face softened and looked thunderstruck, and she knew he’d seen the photo of the two of them. “Wow,” he said softly. “Wow – this post has over two hundred comments. And only about . . . fifty of them are just calling me a wanker. ‘Gaffer totally pulled.’ What does that mean?”
Rebecca looked back at him silently, and felt Keeley doing the same.
“Right, obvious. Um . . . “ He swiped a few more times. “‘I’m dying. I’m dying.’ Boy, a lot of these people are dying. Hashtag ‘cute old people.’ Well, okay. Wanker. Wanker. Getting the drift there. ‘Do they have a couple name.’”
“Oh, God,” Rebecca said, sinking back against the wall. “They’re going to come up with one, and it’s going to have ‘wanker’ in it.”
Ted was still scrolling. “They seem to have settled on ‘Lasston.’ That could be worse.”
“Ooh, that’s not bad,” Keeley said. “Phone? I want to check Twitter.”
“You put it on Twitter?” Rebecca asked.
“No, I just want to check the Richmond hashtags and see –“ Keeley held up her phone and read triumphantly, “‘Does hashtag AFC Richmond have an official hashtag Team Mum and Dad? According to Keeley Jones’s Insta, looks as if they might. Hashtag lasston’. – Okay. We’re not on my feed anymore. If it’s going to get ugly, it’s going to get ugly here.”
Rebecca bit her lip as she watched Keeley read. Ted’s arm was around her again, holding her tightly against him.
“Well?” he asked.
Keeley nodded as she read aloud. “‘Guess now we know how you keep a job after relegation.’ Some – frankly abusive stuff that’ll end up getting removed. Couple appearances of the words,” she winced, “‘consolation prize.’”
“If the words ‘randy Rebecca’ don’t appear somewhere, I will give you a thousand pounds,” Rebecca said.
“That’s a bet I’m winning so far,” Keeley said. “Here now. I mean some of these are just heart emojis, but here’s – ‘Good on them,’ that’s nice. ‘I heart hashtag Team Mum and Dad.’” She laughed. “Here’s one that just says, ‘aw, wanker’ and then a heart.”
“It’s nice to be loved,” said Ted.
“Money shot!” Keeley exclaimed. She held up her phone so they could see the screen, and recited, “‘OMG, is this what finally gets me to a hashtag AFC Richmond match?’ That one has thirty-seven likes so far.”
“Oh my God,” Rebecca said, legitimately stunned.
“Didn’t think I could bring us out actually ahead, did you?” Keeley said with a grin. She went back to scrolling. “I don’t want to jinx it or anything but I think we’ve caught lightning in a bottle here. The positive comments are – shit, Rebecca will not be paying me a thousand pounds.”
Even though she’d absolutely expected it, Rebecca still felt a tiny bit sick. Ted squeezed her shoulder.
“But on the whole the positive comments are way more than the negative ones. Look, someone even posted a picture they took of the two of you at the game last week.”
“What?” Rebecca said. She hadn’t thought the scrutiny would have started before they even went public.
“The tweet says, ‘When I took this I just thought it was cute, didn’t know it was’ – in all caps – ‘THAT CUTE’. It’s when Ted went up to the box at the half.” Keeley showed them the photo, which featured Rebecca leaning down out of the box and Ted looking up at her.
“Hey, look at that,” Ted said. “Any replies?”
Keeley took her phone back and looked. “Just someone saying ‘I ship it!’ with a bunch of heart emojis. That’s it.” With great ceremony she locked her phone and put it in her pocket. “I have created the couple of the year. Anybody comes for you, they’ll get dogpiled so hard they’ll feel like a dead fox.”
“Keeley,” Rebecca said, an unexpected lump in her throat.
Keeley smiled. “Yeah. I know.” She kissed Rebecca on the cheek and squeezed her hand. “I am both an incredibly talented brand manager and a fucking terrific friend. And my glass is empty.”
“On it,” said Ted. He stood up and took Keeley’s empty glass from the table, then turned back and bent down to kiss Rebecca, chastely but properly, on the mouth. She held him for a moment with her hand on the side of his face, actually enjoying the eyes she could feel on them for once, before letting him pull away and go up to the bar.
Somewhere out in the pub, someone whistled and a voice she didn’t recognize yelled, “Oi, wanker! Took you fucking long enough!”