I don't go to church anymore
I know he still loves me
I know he still loves me when
I'm smoking blunts
Loves me when I'm drinking too much
He loves me then, yeah
He loves me when I do what I want
He loves me, he doesn't judge me
Yes, he loves me
—from “He Loves Me” by Brittany Howard
A late arrival goes against his nature, but Ted tries to time the walk into church close enough to avoid having to talk to anyone before finding a seat. No such luck. Pastor Mark Harrison of the First United Methodist Church of Wichita happens to stroll through the fellowship hall right as Ted, Michelle, and Henry enter the front doors. When he sees them, his face lights up with genuine surprise and delight. Pastor Mark is a sports fan and—despite Ted’s sporadic at best patterns of church attendance—a Ted fan. A good shepherd appreciates even the members of the flock who only show up for some Christmases, fewer funerals, and hardly any Easters. Those sheep have potential. And that’s how Ted feels whenever he ends up at this church: like an unsheared sheep. All itchy potential and nothing much achieved.
The pastor makes a beeline to the door and claps Ted on the back, man to man. “Well, I’ll be darned. Ted Lasso! It’s good to have you back with us, son.”
Son doesn't feel great. Not when his father has been dead since he was just one year older than Ted is now. And especially not today, which is both Father’s Day and the day he leaves his own son to fly back to London.
Ted and Michelle stand a divorced distance apart, but Ted feels Michelle stiffen up on his behalf and her own. “Thanks, Pastor,” he manages. He points his chin in the direction of the sanctuary doors and adds, “Well, we’d better grab ourselves a good pew.”
Although Pastor Mark doesn’t bother to correct him, Ted finds out immediately after that there are no pews in the sanctuary anymore. At some point in the past year or two, some committee or other must have modernized the space. There are rows of cushioned folding chairs and projector screens and a new soundsystem turned up full blast. It really has been a long time, not only for Ted, who has the excuse of living overseas, but for Michelle, who lives just a couple neighborhoods away. They’re only here today because Henry woke up after a fitful night of motel sleep and demanded church for the first time ever, church with both Ted and Michelle, a midwestern Sunday so textbook normal it hurts.
“Big guy, I don’t think we’ve ever gone to church on Father’s Day before,” Ted had pointed out while they dressed for the day. The notion only seemed normal, only seemed like something the old Lassos would do.
“I know, but we’re supposed to,” Henry muttered in a withering tone. “With Mom.”
“Pancakes are pretty classic for Father’s Day,” Ted said hopefully. “What about pancakes? With chocolate chips.”
“After church? Please?”
And so, instead of asking Henry how many of his school friends were evangelists, Ted grabbed his phone off the battered motel dresser, called Michelle, and asked her to come to church with him and Henry. Changed into his last clean button-down. And off they went.
Despite the schtick that he’s everyone’s dad—even to fatherless forty-five-year-olds with kids of their own—Pastor Mark is only about a decade further into middle age than Ted. As Ted settles into his seat, he remembers long-dormant facts with sudden clarity: Mark’s got two daughters, one who’s probably still in college and one with a husband of her own. He knows his way around a barbecue grill. He shaves his entire head as if to tell his receding hairline “You can’t fire me; I quit!” He’s made that joke during a sermon at least once.
At the start of the service Mark welcomes the flock, especially all the fathers—and, to his credit, all the people with fathers who are complicated, missing, or dead. His sermon is about fathers, too: the heavenly one and all the lumbering ones on earth. There’s an extended metaphor about a game of catch, and Ted swallows a wry, almost-teary smile at the thought that this evening he’s leaving his son behind to coach a game in which Thierry Zoreaux is the only one allowed to touch the ball with his hands.
Ted dreaded the service but now he doesn’t want the service to end because the ending gets him closer to saying goodbye to Henry. Next he’ll dread the diner breakfast, the strained but amicable conversation, but he won’t want that to end, either. After they eat it’ll be practically time to head to the airport to catch his first flight even though it still seems like there’s an eternity left before he finally lands in London tomorrow morning. He can’t wait. He doesn’t want to go. He desperately wants to go. He wishes he didn’t have to leave. He wants to be there more than anything.
During the sermon, Ted tries to listen to the words but focuses his eyes on the projector screen, training his line of sight along the right angles and long lines again and again until the screen becomes a pitch and the staticy pixels move like footballers. The words fade out as he imagines the coaching staff in a line along one of the long edges of the pitch: himself and Beard and Nate and Roy, soon, because Roy said yes to an assistant coaching position a couple weeks ago. And now it’s a still very welcome but slightly more complicated yes because of the other line, the line that runs from Roy to Keeley to Rebecca to Ted. Last night he asked Rebecca if they could sit down with Keeley and Roy as soon as possible after he gets back to London, even if it’s the day he arrives and he’s exhausted. After a lifetime devoted to sports, he’s pretty comfortable with the sensation of not knowing exactly what’s going to happen, but he’s desperate to know how the first conversation will feel. He wants out of limbo, wants the relief of being in the same room as Rebecca (and Keeley, and Roy) again. Beard headed back to London yesterday, and Ted already wants to see him again, too—after the conversation he needs to have with Rebecca, Keeley, and Roy, he’ll be able to be honest with Beard and give him a pointedly undetailed yet relievingly accurate lay of the land.
When it’s time to line up for communion, Ted stays in his seat. Michelle gives him a questioning look as she scoots past him to get to the aisle, and looks back again when she and Henry are nearly up to the front of the bread and grape juice line. But at this moment it seems okay that Henry’s gone up with her and knows his father isn’t there. It seems okay that they don’t do everything the same way. There are hymns during communion, and when he stops watching the line of people and returns to the daydream, the pitch has turned into a screen again, lyrics emblazoned across it in enormous Comic Sans. With a glorious pang, he wishes Rebecca was there so they could make fun of how jarring it is to see the words “How Great Thou Art” in such a not-great font. He imagines the sound of her laugh, although of course in church it would be stifled, and then, for at least the thousandth time since it happened, he hears the sound she made three nights ago when she made herself come, her cry clear as a bell even over speakerphone. That night he stayed on the line for hours, carried her around the motel room as quietly as possible while he found a snack, read a book, and finally got ready for bed. He told himself he could hear her sleep and ever since he’s had the dual sensation of knowing she’s right there with him and wishing she was. Wishing he could touch her for the first time and feeling, strangely, that he already has. Knowing he’ll finally get to—again and for the first time—after his last hours with this particular version of home and this particular version of Henry and the hours it takes to get from Wichita to Atlanta to London—the actual hours and the timezone magic. His stomach twists, the dread and happiness curled up together.
At the end of the service, the parishioners queue up to say goodbye to Pastor Mark and chat amongst themselves in the line. Ted finds Michelle’s eyes and points to the side exit. She nods, and they usher Henry around the crowd and out the door.
Later, but not very much later—just long enough to guzzle coffee and eat a short stack and some sausage patties and open a hand-drawn Father’s Day card—Ted stands on the airport departures curb with Henry in his arms. From their hug, he manages a quick glance inside the car. He can tell from the slump of Michelle’s shoulders that she’s taking her last minute of in-person co-parenting for a long time to wipe away some tears in partial privacy.
“I’ll see you soon,” Ted whispers over the top of Henry’s head. His chest aches. “I love you so much.”
Henry nods against his ribs, then lets go and climbs back into the backseat of the car. Ted’s vision blurs as he walks towards the sliding doors, and turns back just in time to see Michelle start to pull away from the curb, just in time for everyone to wave once more.
When Ted deplanes at Heathrow a little before eight a.m., he’s pulled into a crowd moving at the hurried, inevitable pace of a Monday morning. The plane rides already feel hazy and unmemorable. He slept for maybe an hour or two total (it’s difficult to adequately toss and turn until comfortable enough to sleep while belted into a chair), aware of the eventual sunrise even with his eyes closed.
Surprisingly substantial sunrays gleam through the windows, and Ted feels wide awake as he bounds from the bathroom to baggage claim to pickups. He wonders whether he should stop at a coffee kiosk but decides against it and chews three mints at once. His phone buzzes in his hand with texts from Rebecca, who’s sending very detailed instructions on where to locate the car.
When he finds the shiny black car, Rebecca stays in the backseat while the driver hops out to help Ted put his suitcase and backpack into the trunk—the boot, Ted remembers with delight. He thanks the driver and stands alone outside for just a moment, taking in barely visible glimmers of Rebecca's bright hair and impressive posture through the glass. It’s good she stayed in the car; there are cameras everywhere here, CCTV and paps and random strangers with smartphones. He only looks for a second before he can’t wait a moment longer and flings open the door. “Hey!” He hasn’t felt himself smile like this since his last day in London.
It’s impossible to take Rebecca in all at once. There’s too much to look at—the smile taking over her face, the serious look in her eyes. She wears a sleeveless lavender blouse and a knee-length black skirt. Her ankles cross to reveal black pumps with a low heel. She wears her hair down. Looking at her makes him feel even more travel-rumpled, but he hardly cares. Not when she’s finally right there beside him.
After Rebecca leans forward to remind the driver of Ted’s address, the car ride is very quiet. Their last in-person conversation, when they vowed to spend the upcoming season fighting for promotion, could have happened a year ago instead of only three weeks back. They’ve spent literally dozens of hours in conversation since, but those conversations felt private and free. They aren’t alone now, not with Rebecca’s driver two feet away and traffic everywhere and their bodies close together, but that can’t be the whole problem—they’ve never lacked for things to say to each other, not even once.
After a few minutes, Rebecca reaches over and plucks Ted’s hand from his lap. She squeezes it in both of hers, her thumbs pressed into his palm, and he feels the touch shiver up his spine. He scoots closer, then, as close as his seatbelt will allow.
“Thanks for coming to get me.”
“I missed you,” Rebecca says quietly, looking at their hands.
“Yeah. Missed you too.”
He realizes they’re both trying to contain themselves after the excesses of their phone calls. Trying not to be too overwhelming. It’s comforting to know why things feel strange, but not as comforting as it would feel to be past the strangeness.
“Were you able to sleep on the plane?”
“Maybe a couple hours.”
“If you’re up for it, we’re invited to Keeley’s for dinner.” Her grip stiffens around his hand.
Ted nods. “Whew, okay. Sounds like a plan.”
“Does that still work? If you’re too tired now that you’re actually here—”
“No, no,” Ted says quickly. “This is perfect.” He turns his hand so his palm faces down and readjusts so he can interlace his fingers with hers.
The silence feels better when they’re holding hands.
When they pull up to the side street nearest Ted’s flat, Rebecca looks at Ted with her hand hovering over the door handle. “I could come up,” she says tentatively. “I don’t have to go into the office today, necessarily—”
Ted beams. “Did you take the day off?” Training starts Thursday, and while he and Beard will be back in the office first thing tomorrow morning, he has nothing on the agenda today.
Rebecca grimaces, but she’s smiling. “Yes?”
They kiss as soon as they shut the door to Ted’s flat and set his luggage down. It’s tentative only at first, as they get their bearings, and the kiss deepens almost immediately. Ted’s back hits the door and his arms come around to clutch at Rebecca’s shoulders as she presses into him, kissing him harder. When their lips eventually part, Rebecca doesn’t pull away but buries her face in his neck. “I thought it was real,” she says into his skin. “I knew it was real. But I didn’t know what it would feel like to see you again.”
Ted slides a hand down her spine and presses his fingers against the dip in her lower back. “Felt a lot longer than three weeks, that’s for sure.” He kisses her temple. “Thanks for staying up so late the whole time, I- I don’t know what I would’ve done if we hadn’t been able to talk so much.”
Rebecca chuckles. “My sleep cycle is entirely fucked thanks to you. But on the bright side, we’ll be jet-lagged together.”
“You’re gonna make me stay awake all day, aren’t you?”
“In that case, I’m gonna need to start with a shower.” Ted pulls back a little and his head clunks against the wall. “Is that too much information? A lot, um. A lot happened in three weeks.” He furrows his brow. “Before—would I have told you if I were going to take a shower?”
Rebecca laughs. “I don’t know. Go shower.” She slides out from his grip and glances around the flat, her hands clasped together. She looks expectant, and maybe a little nervous. “What can I get started on for you?”
Ted thinks suddenly of the moment he approached her in her office carrying Henry’s care package. She’d expected him to ask her to post it for him. “You don’t have to do anything. You know what they say on invitations—your presence is your present. Have some tea, put your feet up, keep me company when I, ah, when I get back.”
If Rebecca blushes at the thought of keeping him company before he’s quite back from his shower, she gets her face under control quickly. He gives her a little space anyway, rushing into the familiar kitchen to put the kettle on for her and start some coffee for himself. After weeks in a motel and occasional nights moonlighting in his old kitchen, which now belongs very firmly to Michelle, this kitchen feels like a very welcoming home.
Rebecca sits down on the couch. “It’s a shame tea’s the first thing you have to make now that you’re back,” she calls. She doesn’t sound sorry at all.
They manage to pass the time until dinner: Rebecca keeps him company while he feeds several loads of laundry into the tiny machine near the kitchen, and when they venture out to the pub for lunch and a pint they joke quietly about sitting a professional distance apart, and the effort makes them laugh unprofessionally. On the street, plenty of passersby pay them notice but keep the shouts of “wanker” more or less to a minimum, perhaps because Rebecca is there, or perhaps because the worst imaginable fate has already happened. Richmond is relegated, and maybe it’s not as much fun to tease the gaffer anymore. As they walk home, hands hanging unheld at their sides but arms brushing, Ted vows to himself and to Rebecca that by mid-season the Richmonders will be enlivened again, cheering their team towards a promotion even if the miserable hope translates to swearing at Ted in the streets.
Back at the flat, they kiss on the couch. “The other night you wanted me to kiss your neck,” Ted mutters into her ear, and she looks into his eyes and points at a spot where the tendons of her neck meet her shoulder. She whimpers from deep within her throat as he presses his lips against the spot, darting against it with little flicks of his tongue, one hand on her hip and the other keeping her hair off her neck. She collapses against him and maneuvers them until Ted’s on his back, head propped against the armrest, and she’s on top, her skirt hiked up just enough for his thigh to press between her legs.
Almost as soon as they get there, she freezes, looking down at him stricken.
“You okay?” Ted asks.
“Yes,” Rebecca gasps. “Very. But—”
She doesn’t continue, and Ted ventures a guess. “Keeley and Roy. The conversation.”
Rebecca nods. “I’m anxious to speak with them. I’d rather”—she gestures at the space between them—“wait until everything’s out in the open before we—”
“Yes. Exactly. Before we have sex.” She cringes. Ted feels her torso contract within his loose grip. “Is that all right?”
“Of course it is.” He tilts his face up and she kisses him. When the kiss breaks, he takes a deep breath in and releases it slowly. “But can we stay like this for a minute?”
Rebecca grins. “Yes.” She rests her head on his shoulder and he rubs her back through the silky material of her blouse and the pacing of their breathing starts to sync. “Hey,” Rebecca says suddenly, just as Ted is calmed down enough to feel relaxed and happy instead of just impossibly aroused, just as his eyes flutter closed. “That isn’t fair. You can’t fall asleep yet.”
“You would have, too,” Ted says in mock protest, but he helps her sit up anyway. It’s just as well it’s nearly time to leave for dinner.
When they get to Keeley’s, Rebecca doesn’t ring the doorbell. She jiggles the doorknob to check if Keeley’s left it unlocked for them, opens the door, and calls “Hello!” as they make their way inside.
“Hi, babe!” Keeley yells over the sound of her own feet rushing over the hardwood floors. “Hi, Ted!”
Standing in Keeley’s front room with a hand at Rebecca’s waist, Ted briefly wishes he’d been able to check in with the Diamond Dogs before the night that’s about to occur. He feels a twinge of guilt that the topic of conversation tonight is something he may have to keep from them for a long time. No matter how mature the people involved are—the people currently in Keeley’s house, the Diamond Dogs he wants to process with—the same can’t be said for the press, and the reputation and livelihood of AFC Richmond were unstable well before the club owner, former star player, coach, and PR manager decided to draw a bunch of dotted lines between each other. He knows the Diamond Dogs would be discreet, and almost certainly kind, but a shameful little part of him considers the possibility that they might not understand why a risk like these relationships is one he’s willing to take. He’ll be quiet for longer, he decides, no matter what they end up discussing tonight.
Keeley, all stretchy fabrics and glittery blue accessories—rounds a corner and lunges for Ted, hugging him like he’s been gone for three years, not three weeks. “Well, you’re making her quite happy, aren’t you?” she whispers in his ear. When she releases him, he returns his hand to its previous spot on Rebecca’s back. But they don’t move forward into the house, because Keeley greets Rebecca with a kiss on the lips. Right at that moment, Roy appears, wearing an apron over his button-down and trousers and an almost-sheepish smile, and Ted feels everything happening around him like a pleasant punch to the stomach. He feels the energy of Keeley’s kiss travel through Rebecca and into his hand where it rests against her, but it doesn’t make him jealous. He realizes, with a certainty he couldn’t possibly have anticipated, that he wants everyone to kiss. He wants the waiting to be over. He wants everyone to kiss. If the waiting were over, they could. He doesn’t think much of the thought, which is almost certainly the work of being exhausted beyond measure. He’s been to church since the last time he slept. He’s lived through a goodbye that felt a thousand times worse than the other time he left Henry behind in America. He’s hovered over an entire ocean. He’s had a day with Rebecca. Now this.
Roy has prepared steak and roast carrots and potatoes and Keeley opens a bottle of wine and they sit down to eat right away. Ted can’t begin to articulate how grateful he is that they don’t have to stand around making small talk before dinner. Still, the real conversation doesn’t take place right away, although everyone keeps leaving room for it, looking across the table at each other during ample pauses.
“Maybe we should start by throwing out some ground rules,” Keeley says after a particularly extended quiet. She picks up her wine glass and sloshes its contents around a little.
Rebecca clears her throat and everyone looks at her. She takes a fortifying sip of her wine, then looks at each person. Face to face. One by one. “I’m the majority owner of the club. Obviously. No getting around that. And you’re all in my employ. Ted is head coach. We all depend on him. Keeley has some control over the team’s public image. We all depend on her. Roy is arguably the most famous footballer in the borough, and will now depend on Ted for the success of the next phase of his career. But here—” She sets down her wine and spreads her hand flat on the table. “We have to be equals.” She looks down at her plate. “And if I ever—ever—take advantage of my position with the club in any way…” She trails off. “Well. That cannot happen. I’ll do everything in my power to prevent it from happening.”
Ted wants to offer her reassurance, but he bites his tongue. It can’t have been easy for her to acknowledge their professional positions, and Rebecca has firsthand experience being married to a person who used—continues to use—his power to ruthlessly take whatever he wanted. He wants to hold her hand, to smile at her and tell her those fears would never in a million years come true. Rebecca isn’t Rupert. But Ted hasn’t been a part of the football club as long as the others, and other than Rebecca, he’s the person at the table with the most professional sway.
“Babe,” Keeley says softly. She reaches across the table and places her hand over Rebecca’s. “Thank you for saying that.” She clears her throat. “I’ve got a rule: no social media about any romantic stuff unless we’re all okay with the consequences.”
“God, yes,” Roy says, and the others agree. “And no deciding of any team business in this context.” He looks straight across the table at Ted. “Not without Beard and Nate.”
Ted nods in solemn agreement. “Ooh, I got one,” he says. “No creepy paternalistic vibes.” Roy raises his eyebrows, and Ted continues. “Keeley and Rebecca don’t need our permission to pursue a relationship. If anything, Rebecca and I needed Keeley’s permission to pursue ours.”
“With you,” Roy says. “One time my dad told my mum she could have a second slice of lasagna if she wanted. I was afraid for his life.”
Everyone laughs, and it’s easier after that.
“Right,” Keeley says around a snort of laughter. “And what Rebecca and I have—what we’re starting to have—it isn’t some adorable little derivative of a real relationship either,” Keeley says. “It’s an actual thing. And if anybody wants to explain bisexual polyamory to my mother, be my guest. Maybe you’ll get farther than I have.”
“It would be an honor,” Ted says, and everyone laughs again even though he was serious.
“What about this one?” Keeley says, flashing a massive grin in Rebecca’s direction. Even if it’s not for him, it warms Ted just to see it. “Only the four of us. I mean—whatever happens between the four of us happens, and nothing happens with anyone else, yeah?”
Roy nods, his mouth in a thoughtful downturn.
Rebecca laughs a little nervously. “We’ve all got full plates as it is.”
“I like that, Keeley,” Ted says cheerfully. He feels decidedly calmer listening to his friends talk. When he first got back to Kansas, it startled him to be surrounded by Midwestern American accents again, and now that he’s back here he hears Rebecca, Roy, and Keeley’s voices as accented, although he knows from experience that the strongest sense of that will fade in a few days. And Keeley’s words—he can’t explain the relief of them. Whatever happens between the four of us. Literally can’t explain, because all of a sudden he’s so exhausted he can barely see.
For a second he considers resting his head next to his nearly empty plate, and then apparently he’s done it because Rebecca says “Ted!” and Roy says “Jesus, Ted,” and Keeley says “There’s a perfectly decent sofa set right over there.”
“I’m not allowed to fall asleep yet,” Ted says, his voice vibrating against the table. But Rebecca pulls him up and drags him to the couch as Roy clears dishes and Keeley tells him she’ll shove everything into the dishwasher later. Everything is soft but firm, capable of holding him, the couch and Rebecca and then the awareness of everyone, and the sound of the movie Keeley puts on because he’s so tired it seems like even soundwaves are strong enough to hold him in place.
When he wakes up, he’s slumped against Rebecca. “Ted,” she murmurs, shaking him gently with the arm thrown around his shoulders. “It’s getting late.” He’s got Roy on his other side, he realizes. He blinks a few times, looks past Rebecca to see Keeley curled into Rebecca’s other side. On the television, credits scroll, white names on a black screen.
“How late is it?” Ted asks. “I gotta call Henry.”
“It’s all right,” Rebecca says. “Doesn’t he usually eat around six? It’s not quite four-thirty there.” Because she’s the most wonderful person in the entire world, she translates. “Almost ten-thirty here. You’ve got plenty of time.” After a night of sleep, he’ll fully re-internalize the measure of the leap from British Summer Time to Central Daylight Time. Rebecca tightens the grip of her hand on his shoulder, presses a kiss to the top of his head, and whispers “Can I take you home?”