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The Great Quarantine Bake Off.

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2020 was testing Rebecca’s patience. Ted had moved in at the start of the pandemic as it made work easier as they were at the stage of contract negotiations and other boring negotiations. Neither of them minded the paperwork, it was just being stuck indoors for hours on end and only going out to the shop or in the garden. Lucky for Rebecca, she had moved before the virus hit and she had an extensive garden. There was a small pond at the bottom of the garden with a bench and a swing attached to the large tree. At the top of the garden, there was a patio that led out onto the expansive grass. On the patio, there was a little glass coffee table with a corner sofa and two armchairs surrounding it. A table tennis table was also folded onto the patio, a Ted impulse buy when he moved in. Rebecca had complained about it at first but she found herself using it more often during their downtime. Ted was intent on teaching Rebecca who had conveniently forgotten to tell Ted that she knew how to play. She deliberately lost their match but in the second match, she thrashed him. 

Today, Ted was upstairs doing practice with the boys on zoom. The boys were either in their home gyms or gardens doing their workouts and warmups. While the team trained in their own way, Ted Beard and Roy discussed plays for when matches resume behind closed doors in a month. Nate was unavailable to join the training as he had contracted the virus and was recovering. Rebecca was downstairs in the kitchen with a cup of tea, paperwork and her laptop. She had just finished a meeting with Higgins and was now reviewing budgets. The pandemic had not been kind and Rebecca was worried that they would have to cut down the budgets in certain areas. Number crunching was headache-inducing but it had to be done so AFC Richmond would stay afloat. The house was quiet and if Ted laughed loud enough, she could hear it from downstairs. Rebecca found comfort in Ted’s presence and she found herself enjoying some of Ted’s hobbies. Their evenings consisted of dinner, some more work before Ted would retreat to the kitchen to bake. He was adamant that Biscuits with the Boss should continue even though they were with each other for the majority of the day. When Ted was baking, Rebecca would sit at the kitchen counter and watch him. There had even been times where he would include her and ask her to help. at first, she had refused profusely, claiming that she didn’t want to ruin her favourite treat, but Ted was very persuasive and offered to help Rebecca brush up on her (terrible) cooking skills.

When Ted appeared in the kitchen, Rebecca was clad in an AFC Richmond jacket which was too big for her, her trainers on and she was rummaging through one of the kitchen drawers.  He watched her with his back pressing against the wall and a smile on his face.

“Rebecca, what on earth are ya doin’?” Ted asked, making her jump slightly.

“Jesus Christ Ted, scaring people like that is not a good idea.” Rebecca turned to face Ted with a disapproving look on her face.

“Sorry, boss. I didn’t mean to scare ya like that.” Ted held up his hand as a form of apology and shot her a quick smile.

“It’s okay, Ted. Just don’t do it again. As for what I am doing, I am heading to the supermarket and before you say anything, I know it is your turn to shop but I just want to get out of the house.” Rebecca responded, closing the drawer. In her hand was the mask that Ted had got for her. On the mask, there was the AFC Richmond logo with ‘Welton’s boys’ stitched underneath.

“Did you grab the list that I stuck on the fridge? It’s got all the ingredients I need for your biscuits and what we are cooking tonight.”

“Yes, I grabbed your list.  Is there anything else you need?” Rebecca asked as she walked past Ted into the hallway. Her reusable bags were hanging on the hook by the front door with Ted’s jackets.

“No ma’am, just be careful, okay?”

“Ted, I’m going to the supermarket, not the battlefield.”

“Well, it’s like a battlefield out there” Ted added, making Rebecca laugh as

Ted waved quickly at Rebecca before closing the front door and returning to the kitchen to make himself a latte with the fancy machine that Rebecca had bought him out of the blue. He had refused it at first but Rebecca insisted that she wasn’t taking it back, he finally gave in. Ted used it the most out of the two of them but there had been occasions where Rebecca would have a coffee during the day instead of her cup of tea as she needed that extra dose of caffeine. Ted would tease her about her sudden obsession with the coffee machine which she let slide because Ted always made the best espressos and lattes. This had prompted Rebecca to ask Ted if he had been a barista and she found out that he hadn’t but he had discovered his coffee-making skills as a teenager.

With Rebecca gone, training over and the house to himself, Ted decided to briefly look over the paperwork that had been left out on the kitchen table. He was still getting to grips with the contract side of football and how player loan spells worked. Higgins and Rebecca had been patient teachers and even let him sit in on a couple of meetings where he managed to keep quiet unless he had any questions. Everyone in the meetings had been more than happy to explain to Ted how certain things worked and how they paid players. Looking over the documents on the table and the notes that Rebecca had made in the margins of some of the pages, it was clear that the club had been hit pretty hard by the pandemic and Rebecca had noted that they would have to make some staff ‘redundant’ (a word that Ted had to google). It was obvious that the economy was going to take a hit with the country coming to a standstill but Ted had been naïve to think that it wouldn’t be extremely bad.

Latte and phone in hand, Ted wandered into the garden and made the short walk down to the pond. Ted found the spot by the pond to be calming and he often came here when he was anxious. The bench wasn’t the comfiest thing to sit on but it didn’t bother him. balancing the mug on the arm of the bench, Ted texted Michelle and asked what time was best to call (now that he had gotten to grips with the time zone difference and Henry’s online school schedule). Some weeks, Henry would call every night and during the busier weeks, he would only call once or twice. Very often, Michelle would send him videos and pictures of Henry. For Henry’s birthday, Rebecca had sent over a package full of AFC Richmond and football-related items. Henry had his own home and away jerseys with Lasso printed on the back. His own mini visor, baseball cap, whistle and AFC Richmond joggers. There was also a piece of memorabilia (that Ted had picked) from every away game that Richmond had played before the pandemic. Michelle had made sure Henry opened it up on Facetime with Ted and Rebecca. Henry loved talking to Rebecca and had always called her ‘Becca’ which she used to hate but when it left either Ted’s mouth or Henry’s mouth, it wasn’t so bad (if she was being honest, it had grown on her massively and she loved hearing it).

Sitting on this bench on an unusually warm day in April, watching the fish in the pond with a strong latte was not how Ted had expected to be spending his day. He found himself missing the Richmond training centre, the grass of the pitch and the in-person drills. He missed making his boys laugh and run stupid drills that never got old. There was so much he missed and he found himself counting the days until their first in-person training session before their first match since the pandemic started. It will be strange not seeing the seats of Nelson Road packed with the fans, singing and shouting but this playing behind closed doors would be their new norm for now. His phone vibrated but he didn’t bother to check it. He sipped at his latte and thought about how tonight’s cooking lesson with Rebecca could go. Ted had decided on a British classic known as Toad in the Hole with homemade gravy. The recipe that Ted had found was pretty simple and allowed for adjustments. The gravy part was more tricker part as they didn’t have any fat drippings so Ted had to improvise with oxo cubes either chicken or beef (it depended on what Rebecca could get at the store).

His phone vibrated again and this time he picked it up. He had a text message from Michelle and one from Rebecca. He opened Rebecca’s first as she was asking about ingredients.

Did you want both types of oxo or just one of them?

He quickly replied with: both is fine. The recipe says we can use either.

The little ‘read’ message appeared so Ted checked Michelle’s message and it looked like Ted would have an audience watching his little cooking session with Rebecca. Ted typed a reply to Michelle then put his phone in his pocket and finished his latte.

He dumped his cup in the sink, grabbed the fish food and went back down to the pond. The fish were happy to be fed as Rebecca had forgotten to do it again but Ted found feeding the fish amusing. To pass the time, Ted decided to watch an episode of Bake Off on his phone and lounge on the bench.

When Rebecca returned with the shopping, Ted was sat hunched over at the dining table with his reading glasses on, his teeth biting the lid of one of her black pens and Higgins on his laptop. From what Rebecca could make out as she carried the bags in, Higgins was telling Ted which areas of the budget could survive a cut and how to cut those areas. Ted was scribbling away in Rebecca’s notebook and was clearly asking all the right questions as Higgins was smiling.

“Leslie, is Ted bothering you?” Rebecca asked teasingly as she stood behind Ted, resting a hand on his back. To Higgins, it looked like Rebecca’s hand was on the back of the chair. To Ted, Rebecca’s cold fingers were actually very lightly brushing his back in a soothing rhythm, causing the hair on the back of his neck to stand on end.

“No, certainly not. Ted has made a little bit of progress since our meeting this morning.” Higgins said appraisingly and Ted chuckled. Rebecca’s eyebrows rose in shock but there was a smile on her face.

Higgins and Ted went back to talking business while Rebecca put away the groceries with one ear trained to the conversation. She would drop a suggestion or agree with something they said and she was always met with a proud smile from Ted. With all the groceries away, Ted had left Higgins alone and disappeared upstairs to his space to work out. Rebecca cleared the table, snagged the recipes off the corkboard and made a start on measuring out the ingredients for their dinner. Weighing out the ingredients was one of the only things that Rebecca could do correctly and she preened under Ted’s praise when she did something that surprised him. He hadn’t asked her to prepare the ingredients but she didn’t have anything else to do so it seemed logical to get a head start.

 

-X-X-X-X-

 

At 5 pm, Ted appeared with wet hair and his ‘cooking clothes’ on. His cooking clothes consisted of an AFC Richmond t-shirt and tight black fitted jogging bottoms.

“Go get changed into something that you don’t mind ruining as this is gonna get messy,” Ted commented as he stopped in front of Rebecca who was facing him with a bowl in her hand. Some of her hair had fallen from her ponytail and Ted reached up to tuck it behind her ear. Rebecca smiled shyly and put the bowl on the counter before brushing past Ted.

When Rebecca returned to the kitchen in an oversized shirt, bike shorts and her UGG slippers, Ted smiled at her and slid an apron across the counter. She quickly put the apron on and waited for her instructions after they washed their hands. The main island that stood in the middle of the room was divided into two halves: Ted’s half was closer to the oven while Rebecca’s was closer to the fridge.

“Okay Rebecca, I need you to mix the 125g of plain flour and salt into the bowl in front of you,” Ted ordered gently as he preheated the over to 220 degrees Celsius. Rebecca poured in the flour and the teaspoon of salt, giving it a quick mix with her hands.

“Alright, that’s perfect. Now I need you to make a hole in the centre so all the flour and salt is pushed up the side of the bowl.” Ted said, pulling the fridge open and getting two eggs from the carton.

“Can I crack the eggs?” Rebecca asked when Ted placed them on the counter. He gave a quick nod and watched as Rebecca cracked the eggs with precision into the jug to her left.

“Now you gotta gradually add the eggs into the centre and whisk. This is where it can get a bit messy. You wanna use the electric whisk or do it the old-fashioned way?”

Without answering, Rebecca grabbed the hand-held whisk and started whisking with her right hand while her left slowly poured the eggs in.

The whisking made Rebecca’s arm ache as getting the lumps to smoothen was harder work than she anticipated but Ted happily took over when Rebecca stopped.

“That batter looks great. You’re slowly getting the hang of things.” Ted praised, nudging Rebecca’s shoulder with his own. She chuckled and poured cooking oil into the high sided roasting tin. Ted put the bowl of batter in the fridge and grabbed the sausages.

Rebecca ripped open the packet and neatly laid out the sausages into the tin which Ted took from her and put in the oven.

“Could ya set a timer for 5 minutes?” Ted asked, closing the oven door and looking over at his shoulder at Rebecca who was staring at the counter.

“Uh yeah, sorry I was miles away,” Rebecca replied quietly, clicking the buttons on the built-in timer on the oven.

Rebecca made herself a gin and tonic and Ted grabbed a beer from the fridge. Rebecca sipped on her gin while scrolling through a playlist on Apple Music, once she found the song she wanted and connected her phone to the Bluetooth speakers in the open-plan dining room. She started to hum along to Fantasy by Mariah Carey.

The timer beeped and Ted opened the oven to turn over the sausages. Rebecca reset the timer and started singing along to the next song that played.

The five minutes quickly and Rebecca was giving the batter a quick whisk before pouring it evenly into the tin with the browned sausages.

“How long is that going on for?” Rebecca asked, leaning over Ted, who was bending down to put the tin back in the oven.

“Set the timer to 40 minutes, that might be too long but it’s better safe than sorry. We’ll have to keep checking on it. We want the batter to have risen and have a nice golden-brown appearance.” Ted closed the oven and waited for Rebecca to move so he could stand properly.

To pass the time, they cleaned up the dirty dishes, sang along to some tunes and called Henry who was excited to see how their dinner came out. Ted’s laptop was set up on Rebecca’s laptop stand on the freshly cleaned counter and he was talking about his maths lesson. Rebecca had started preparing the gravy which only took four minutes. Her first attempt was too runny, her second attempt was too thick but third times a charm and she managed to get it to the right consistency.

The toad in the hole was ready with 5 minutes left on the timer and Henry approved of the dish. Rebecca let Ted serve the plates while she got him another beer. They ate their dinner while Henry chatted and did his homework. Michelle popped up at one point to speak to Henry. Rebecca cleared her throat and excused herself, under the guise of making herself another gin and tonic. Ted didn’t seem to mind as he happily ate and helped Henry answer a hard math question. Rebecca returned and continued eating. Ted offered to the washing up while Rebecca listened to Henry read a chapter from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

The washing up was complete, leftovers packed away into Tupperware and stored in the fridge, Ted finished his call with Henry while Rebecca went out and topped up the fish food. She ventured into the living room and found Ted was curled up on the sofa, watching a rerun of Bake Off and holding a tumbler of whiskey. The other tumbler was sat on the end table, next to her recliner.

“They’re making flan,” Ted said with a hint of disgust in his voice and Rebecca laughs as she climbs into her recliner. That mention of flan brings back the memories of Ted’s semantic satiation over the word ‘plan’ which had spiralled into Ted expressing his distaste for flan.

“Stop shitting on flan. It’s a delicate dessert.” Rebecca chided playfully and Ted shot her a disapproving look before turning back to the TV.

Rebecca didn’t really pay attention to the episode. She was more interested in watching Ted who would say this disapproval or praise out loud to the contestants. She had barely touched her glass of whiskey but she had kicked off her slippers and stolen the hoodie that lives on the back of the sofa. The hoodie smelt like Ted and it was two sizes too big for her. It was one size too big for Ted as they had sent him the wrong one but neither of them cared.  Rebecca wore it the most and even slept it when the weather was colder.

The pair watched another episode of Bake Off before heading their separate ways to bed. Rebecca ran herself a bath and relaxed with the lights dim while Ted flicked through a book of British recipes and stuck post-it notes on the pages that he wanted to try next. Even though Rebecca was down the hall, Ted still texted her

Goodnight. You were amazing in the kitchen today. You should be proud of yourself. – T x

Down the hall, Rebecca was putting on her silk pyjamas when the text came through and she smiled as she read it twice before replying.

Sweet Dreams, Ted. I was only amazing because I had a brilliant teacher. You believed in me. – R