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when the bones are good (the rest don't matter)

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Keeley snaps a picture of Roy while he’s cooking her dinner one night soon after they’ve made things unofficially official, and he doesn’t hate it. Roy doesn’t tell her she can’t post it to her Instagram, but something inside her chest tightens at the idea of sharing this soft version of narky professional footballer with the world. She likes that it’s her secret—this man who wears ridiculous socks with his all black ensembles, plays dress up with his niece, does yoga with pensioners, and actually has his shit together. He takes care of his family, he dotes on her, and knows how to cook and clean.

About a month after they’ve been together and Roy’s a few weeks into a course of physiotherapy for his knee injury, there’s a barrage of articles about him being washed up, too old for the sport, and irrelevant. Keeley’s angry, furious on his behalf, but strangely, Roy lacks his normal rage. He acts resigned about his future playing. Somehow Roy’s even less verbal than usual, and withdraws further, not that he’d been particularly social since the team’s relegation. He’s suddenly very busy making improvement plans for the back garden. He’s given himself a deadline to sell his perfectly fine car and research a newer, better one. Phoebe’s room needs to be repainted because she’s not a baby anymore, and only he can find the perfect, yet entirely different shade of blush. (Pink will never be out of style, a direct quote from the great Roy Kent.)

Keeley lets him retreat, but only so far. She spends fewer nights at his place, until it starts to feel like she needs explicit permission to even come over.

“Are you breaking up with me?” Roy asks her when he drops by her makeshift office one day after physiotherapy. He usually sounds knackered after treatment, but today he looks it, too. There are dark circles under his eyes.

Keeley’s sympathy has been tested over the last week, and she barely manages not to sound like a sullen child. “No. Are you breaking up with me?”

“No.” He grunts. “Then why haven’t you come over this week?”

Keeley lets out a huff. “I don’t want to be somewhere I’m not wanted.”

Roy reaches out to her and pulls her into a hug. “I want you,” he whispers into her ear. She relaxes into his touch. “We’re not breaking up,” he insists. He kisses her on the top of her head. She can feel him sigh deeply, and a little bit more of the tension from his body whooshes out.

“We’re not on a bloody break then, either.” She’ll try to respect his need for space as long as he doesn’t shut her out entirely. Keeley thinks about how she told Roy she didn’t care if he was dating other people, she just wanted to know so she didn’t look stupid. It was a lie then, and now she thinks it might break her heart into a million pieces if he’s got someone else. “If you feel the need to mess around, please don’t do it behind my back,” she warns again.

“I promise. I know I’m being a tosser these days, but I am not going anywhere.”

“Okay,” she says. She holds onto him tighter.

They don’t talk about it anymore, but when Roy kisses her goodbye it’s deep and tender and somehow it feels like he’s asking for her to wait.

***

Keeley channels all her energy into work and repairing friendships that tend to suffer when she’s in a relationship. She has her own influencer career to keep her occupied, an actual day job now, plus a handful of girlfriends she hasn’t seen in ages. She’s at the Richmond club doing PR work about twenty hours a week, and goes out for drinks with other industry/WAG types at night. She hangs out in the scene, walks red carpets for B movies, and shows up for promotional events all for her fee. Keeley does a charitable photoshoot with teacup Chihuahuas in handbags for Battersea Dog & Cat Home. She’s more of a cat person, but she looks mad fit and they let her keep the wardrobe.

Keeley goes out for expensive cocktails with friends--two makeup artists, a presenter, and a model/momtrepreneur--and they applaud her for coming solo. They take the piss about Jamie Tartt and the string of exes that wouldn’t let her out for an occasional girls’ night. Her friend Celeste asks her if she’s seeing anyone new, and Keeley can’t help the small smile on her lips.

“You like this one,” her friend says.

“She likes all of ‘em,” Effie chimes in, “that’s the problem.”

Sometimes Keeley even drinks red wine at night while clutching her fuzzy pink cushions and watching Bake Off on the telly. She’s never done so much on her own before. She’s spent the better part of a decade being a professional +1. She discovers she likes her house, which is a strange observation to make after she’s owned it for two years. But it’s only ever been a place she lived in between boyfriends, a place for her to store her wardrobe, and collect the post.

Even though she’s with Roy now, Keeley doesn’t expect him to change, but she’s hoping that once he’s feeling up for it he’ll at least want to be seen with her. It’s the longest Keeley has gone without being publicly linked to someone she’s dating, and she isn’t entirely sure what that means.

They do settle into a new rhythm. She keeps things light when she calls him after a night out, not wanting to put too much pressure on him. He never booty calls her, but he’s good at reminding her she’s wanted on the weeknights they spend apart. It makes their weekend reunion that much hotter. She doesn’t like living out of a suitcase at his place, and once, she lets it slip how much she misses Roy when she goes home on Sunday evenings.

“I’ll come over as soon as I’m cleared for stairs,” he assures her.

Keeley brightens at the promise, but she knows it’s not just the stairs keeping him from her place now.

He’s still attentive to her needs even while he’s in his funk. Roy asks her how her events go, and compliments the thirst traps she posts on social media. He even offers to take her car to a garage when it starts flashing strange codes she can’t decipher from the manual. There are moments when things feel almost right between them, when she says something to provoke him and he takes the bait, but then it fizzles out, like he’s lost the fire inside. She misses him.

***

It takes a month, but Roy finally emerges from his dark mood; her Roy. He takes her out on a proper date and tells her happy belated anniversary. She’s half-shocked that he’s kept count of the weeks, but she just smiles at him and they clink champagne glasses. He slides over a box, too big to be jewelry, and wow, she’s surprised that her mind has even gone there. Jamie got her a diamond tennis bracelet after they’d been shagging on the regular for about three weeks. But that meant nothing. And this thing with Roy means everything. Whenever she thinks about their future she gets weird fluttery feelings and then gets terrified of screwing it up by moving too quickly.

“I didn’t realize we were doing gifts,” she says.

Roy blinks and his eyes communicate that it’s fine. He wasn’t expecting anything from her. “Open it.”

Keeley uses a nail to unseal the neatly taped edge and slides out a picture frame. It’s a picture of them kissing on their first date taken by the pap. It’s sexy as hell. She can feel the heat of his mouth on the hinge of her jaw and the slide of her hand on his trouser-clad arse.

“Do you like it?” He’s looking for her approval.

“I fucking love it.” She hugs the frame to her body. “It makes me want to rip your clothes off right here in the middle of this very swanky restaurant,” she admits.

Roy grunts like she is inflicting pain on him, and she knows she is, because the absolute worst slash best part is the tease.

“I’m sorry I’ve been distant this last month. You didn’t deserve it.” Roy’s voice sounds gravelly. He’s not a big talker, but when he speaks it’s because he has something important to say. She puts her hand out on the table and he takes it into his larger one. “There’s never a reason or an excuse for me to be mean to you.”

Bollocks. He’s never hotter than when he’s being emotionally honest. How dare he do this to her when they’re separated by a table of drinks and food?

And that’s the moment she decides the whole world needs to know what it’s like to be with Roy Kent. He’s not old, or washed up, and definitely not irrelevant. He’s absolutely vital, and wonderful to her, and sod anyone who thinks otherwise.

***

She’s got a ton of photos of him already and his explicit consent to post whatever she wants about him as long as it’s true.

“I knew who you were going into this.” He motions between them with his hand. “Another Instagram account won’t matter. There’s already fan accounts,” he says fan like the word has personally insulted him, “and the team account, and every dodgy pap. No one’s going to be arsed about these pictures either.”

Roy is not vain like Jamie, or pompous like Stephen, or a braggart like Ashley. But usually he’s grounded, and this Roy is not that. This is self-deprecating Roy, and Keeley’s never met him before. Even though he seems to be over his rough patch, it’s clear he’s not feeling like the great Roy Kent that he was once purported to be. Physiotherapy is going better than the doctors had expected, but Roy’s not ready to celebrate just yet. He’s no longer confined to his couch and he’s able to putter around the house like normal, but it’s still weeks before he might be cleared to resume training with the team.

Keeley drops a few innocuous posts early in the week. She just wants people to get a heads up about this new account. One is of Roy fixing the sink. He’s half covered by it, but it’s his unmistakable torso with a dark happy trail leading into jeans. The next is of his upper body with his face in profile. He’s holding shopping bags and his forearms are flexing in a way that makes Keeley’s face heat up. She’s decided to keep everything in black and white, and applies the Inkwell filter.

The account stays low key, but she’s following it and likes the photos, and it’s not so much a breadcrumb as a giant flashing neon sign, but she doesn’t care. They aren’t trying to stay under the radar anymore, but Roy’s not really into airing his private life in public for the tabloids to report. So this is kind of a soft roll out of their relationship status, if you will.

On Saturday night, when Roy’s cooking for her again in his kitchen she takes more pictures when he thinks she’s not looking. He looks like a model in his kitchen with every high-end appliance and gleaming carrara marble countertops. It’s really not impossible to imagine Roy going on to have one or two more careers if football truly is over for him. The pics aren’t exactly thirst traps, but it’s the way Roy’s not trying for the attention that makes him so goddamn appealing to look at. She posts a carousel of four pictures of him in the kitchen cooking. The final image is of him looking at his plate of food, his eyelashes fanning across his cheekbones, a smile tugging at his lips like he’s got a secret. She posts it right before they tuck in and by the end of the meal it’s got twenty thousand likes. She has to bite her tongue to keep from squealing.

***

Instead of heading back to her place that next Monday evening, she goes to Roy’s. They still aren’t spending every night together, but they’re back to being together more often than not. He pours her a glass of red wine as soon as he ushers her inside. Though he doesn’t usually indulge on weeknights, he pours himself one too. She climbs up onto the couch and settles in between his legs after she’s changed out of her work clothes. She laughs when she settles back into his warm chest.

“What’s so funny?” The vibration of his voice next to her ear sends a shiver down her spine.

“We’re matching,” she says, pointing toward their outfits of sweatsuits and thick socks. Hers are pink and fuzzy, his are black with avocados all over them. She turns and kisses him on the cheek. She snaps a quick picture of their legs propped up on the ottoman, two glasses of wine and a remote on the tray in front of them.

“How was your day?” she asks him.

“Strange.” He sounds wistful.

“How so?”

“The boys took the piss out of me,” he says with humor.

She lets his statement breathe, doesn’t trample on it with follow-up questions. She’s learned not to do that with Roy, that he’ll share when he’s ready.

“First time in a long time it’s been about something other than being old.”

“Oh yeah, and what was it about?” She pretends not to know.

“Cheeky.” He nips at her neck. “Proud, are you?”

“Hell yeah, I’m chuffed. I haven’t even checked your stats since this morning. How many followers do you have?”

“Oh, so now it’s my account?”

“Technically, yes. You can do whatever you want with it.” She swats him playfully.

“I’m not doing a damn thing with it.” Roy gives an indignant snort.

She turns to pout at him. “So you don’t like it?”

“I never said that. I said I’m not doing anything with it, but you can keep posting if you’d like.”

“How does it feel to be a social media darling?”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” he says dryly.

“Oh, let’s see what people are saying.” Keeley opens up the app to read the comments and go through his DMs. It’s a weird kind of intimacy she’s never had before, knowing that Roy doesn’t have nudes saved, that he deleted his dating apps the day Phoebe started borrowing his phone to play games. He doesn’t have his own social media accounts except for a private Facebook account that he uses just for his family. He’d told her all that the first time he handed her his phone so she could set up his Instagram account. He gave her his passcode, and said he trusted her. She told him that’s probably why his ex had made off with his Rolex.

“There’s a lot of thirsty people in the comments,” she announces with pride. A few trolls, and some sore fans calling him a wanker, but she leaves that bit out. She checks hashtags and other posts that tagged him. ”Say what you want, but the people have spoken. ‘Roy Kent is a snack!’” She cackles because she really can’t help it.

“What?”

“‘That lucky bitch,’” Keeley reads about herself in the comments. “Damn right, I am.” She blocks the twat who called her a slag, but says nothing to Roy about it. She finds some other good ones. “‘Daaaaddddyyyy!’” She exaggerates the vowels and consonants. “‘Roy Kent can get it.’ ‘Destroy me, Zaddy!’”

“Okay, stop,” Roy guffaws.

“Am I embarrassing you, love?”

He doesn’t reply, but there’s a grunt that tells her yes it’s embarrassing, but it’s alright.

“Do you want to post something of your own?”

“What, and ruin your aesthetic?”

Roy’s right, Keeley’s really set the vibe for this account. “How about I show you how to post to Stories?”

“Why would I want to do that?”

“I don’t know, it could be a fun way to engage with your many devoted fans. You can do little video clips or Boomerangs and use cute stickers--”

Roy interrupts her, “--I don’t know what you’re on about.”

She’s undeterred. “Okay, you can use your Stories to post pictures that disappear after a day. No need to worry about preserving my carefully crafted aesthetic.”

Roy hums, but it’s not a no. She’s making progress. “I’m glad you had a good day.” She pulls his arm around her tighter while she types a caption for the last picture she took of them on the couch.

“How was yours?” he asks as he kisses her on the temple.

“Good. Good.” She hits ‘Post’. “I think the ‘underdog’ campaign is really coming along. Leslie’s very knowledgeable about the business, but, like, ancient. They agree the team’s PR needs a fresh perspective. Rebecca is officially splitting his position so he can focus just on team administration and I’ll be heading PR.” Keeley can hardly keep her excitement contained.

Roy turns her to face him and he’s beaming at her. “Congratulations, Keeley. That’s brilliant. You’re wonderful.”

They kiss and it’s soft and sweet, intense and passionate, and it feels like winning. She’s never experienced that herself, but she’s dated a lot of guys who cared a great deal about a game. She knows the second-hand kind of highs and lows that come with wins and losses. But now, because of Roy, she knows the kind of despair and pain that comes with uncertainty. Roy’s prognosis is looking good, but it’s a matter of when, not if, he’ll have to retire. Keeley is in awe of Roy, because somehow he’s happy for her even when things aren’t perfect for him. And she’s sure she hasn’t been with a man like that before. That takes a kind of grace she’s never seen before, and it takes her breath away. Before she can help it, she starts crying.

“I love you. I’m so proud of you,” Roy says between kisses. He pulls back when he tastes her tears. “What’s the matter?” His brow is furrowed in concern.

Keeley looks at him startled. She’s not even sure he knows what he just said. “Nothing’s wrong,” she stammers, “I’ve just never been this happy before.”

“Me either,” Roy admits. He smiles at her, the rarest kind with teeth and everything. “I know it’s a Monday, but do you want to go out and celebrate?”

He’s already halfway standing when she grabs onto his hand. “Are you sure?” She lets her question hang there and looks at him intently.

“Positive.” He pulls her up and they head toward the bedroom. “Let’s get dressed so we can go out, yeah? Do you want to call some friends? Should I text the guys?”

She stops him right there in the hallway and pulls him down to her for a big hug. “I love you too, Roy.” They might be going too fast, but she knows they’ll at least enjoy the ride.