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a kind of dwell and welcome

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"Ted, have you got a minute?" Keeley asks, shutting the door behind her. That means it’s one of those conversations that'll happen whether Ted has a minute or not — being a coach involves a lot of these. But Keeley’s got an expression on her face like Roy just decided to pick up the kazoo, so Ted ratchets up his Concern-O-Meter to four.

"Sure thing, Lion King," he says, and offers her a seat. It’s late on a beautiful October afternoon and Beard’s already taken off, something about Jane and him having a date night to watch some feminist artisanal pornography. (Beard had not appreciated Ted’s observation that it’s spelled "art is anal," which hurts a little bit but love can do strange things to a man.) Nate and Will are having some sort of very intense conversation out in the locker room that Ted’s absolutely not spying on, even though it looks like Nate’s about to cry — Nate looks like that a lot of the time, so it’s probably fine.

Keeley ignores the offer and circles around the desks to crouch down by Ted’s chair, much in the same way Ted does when he’s got to tell Henry some bad news. The Concern-O-Meter goes right up to seven. 

"Ted," she says, very quiet and serious, like she’s a commentator at a golf tournament, "The Independent just sent me a press room pass request for some new guy, named Harriford Osment."

"That’s not really his name, is it?" he asks, because first things first, that’s a ridiculous name.

"His full name is Harriford Birtwistle-Pennelegion Osment the Third," says Keeley, making the same face Ted's making, "And before this he was reporting on polo and rugby league, so yeah he’s obviously a twat. But that’s not the problem."

And that’s when Ted figures out the problem. He’s a determined turtle — might take him a little longer to get there, but he’s always making progress toward the goal. "Why are they bringing in a second reporter? Is Trent sick or something?"

She shakes her head, which gets her earrings and her hair swinging around. "He’s no longer covering AFC Richmond. They’ve reassigned him. To Arsenal."

Ted still doesn’t know nearly enough about soccer and especially not nearly enough about the various inter-team rivalries, but he does know enough to know that for a Richmond guy to start covering Arsenal games is, in the words of the former VP and current Democratic nominee, a big fucking deal. "But — at the risk of repeating myself, Keeley, why? He finally get tired of covering a Championship team, or what?" Even while Ted says it, he feels guilty for saying it — Trent’s not the easiest fellow in the press room to handle, for sure, but he’s never come off as one of those types who thinks a college-level team or what-all is beneath him. He’d even done a write-up of Roy’s bunch of kids over at Richmond Primary when they’d been in the running for the Under-Nine Finals Cup last month.

Keeley makes a complicated face and gesture combination that Ted’s pretty sure means something other than what she's saying, but he’s got no clue know what that might be, so he has to go off her words, which are, "No idea. Maybe you should ask him?"

"Yeah," Ted says. "I’ve still got his email address, so I’ll just send over a letter of inquiry. Our inquiry being 'what the heck, spell check?' In the meantime, I guess we should have a cake or something for our new friend from the Independent, make him feel welcome." He lifts his voice at the end, because that might not be the kind of thing that AFC Richmond can afford to do anymore, now that they’re on a Championship budget.

"You remember how I said he covered polo and rugby league before this, yeah?" Keeley says, but she gets to her feet and makes a note in her planner. This year’s version is a very nice purple fake alligator skin (at least Ted hopes it’s fake, seems unfair to kill an alligator and then make it suffer the indignity of getting dyed purple) with the words "BOSSY GIRL AND GIRLY BOSS" in glitter on the front. "Anyway, luck for the game tomorrow, and I’m still working on getting you SkyBet's Manager of the Month for November, but you’re up against Neil Warnock."

"Hasn’t he won it like a dozen times?" Ted whines, although he got to meet Neil back when they played at Middlesbrough a few weeks ago (and that word both does and does not sound anything like it’s spelled, English English is even more confusing than American English). Neil should probably win for every month.

"Yeah, but he’s really gunning for a thirteenth, the arsehole," she says, and marches off in her stilettos that Ted’s still impressed with every day that she doesn’t fall right off of them. Back in high school, Ted had tried on the pair of heels they’d gotten for Bradley Letterman to play Mary Sunshine in their production of "Chicago" and dang near broke his ankle. Since then he’s respected anyone who can manage in those things, and also feared them a little bit.

 


 

from: lassoteed@yahoo.com
to: trent.crimm@theindependent.co.uk
subject: what the heck spell check

Hey there, Trent!

Would love to talk — Keeley told me today that you’re not covering Richmond for the foreseeable future, and that we’ve got ourselves a new guy who’s more at home during ballgames that involve horses. Which I do respect, because if I’m being honest I’m not too bad in the saddle but the thought of getting a horse to go where I need AND holding a big mallet AND trying to use that mallet to hit a little bitty baseball-sized-ball around a field sounds very intimidating to me. But he’s not as good as you.

If it’s just a question of the Championship League being more of a step down than you were liking, I understand that. But if there’s anything that’s happened that I can fix for you, please let me know. We’d miss you an awful lot around here.

 


 

from: trent.crimm@theindependent.co.uk
to: lassoteed@yahoo.com
subject: Re: what the heck spell check

Coach Lasso,

I can assure you that my transfer has nothing to do with your club's relegation, nor is there anything that Richmond has done in error. Rather, I have spoken with my editors and we’ve agreed that this is the most appropriate course of action.

I wish you all the best in the season.

-Trent Crimm
+44 3032 723956
trent.crimm@theindependent.co.uk
The Independent
Northcliffe House
2 Derry St
London 
W8 5TT
UK

 


 

"Appropriate course of action?" Beard repeats, when Ted shows him the reply the next morning. "Sounds ominous."

"Yeah, it does, don’t it?" Ted’s not sure what to say back, even though it’s pretty clear that Trent doesn’t really want him saying anything back. I wish you all the best isn’t all that ambiguous.

Still, he’s got a weird clench in his gut that’s not going away. Something’s happened and it’s costing them one of the best reporters this side of the Atlantic. "Coach, can you handle training this morning?"

"Since you called it 'training,' sure," he says. They high-five each other and Ted heads off to wherever the heck Northcliffe House is.

Turns out it’s quite a hike, so Ted ends up taking the subway, which isn’t called the subway here but even though Ted’s been to New York City all of once in his life, he still prefers "subway" to "tube," which sounds like you’re climbing into a toothpaste container. About an hour later he's at the front desk of the Independent, having a nice conversation with a very sweet young lady named Hermione. Ted doesn’t even try for a joke there because he can guess she’s heard them all.

"And is Mr. Crimm expecting you?" she asks, smiling in that way that isn’t really sincere but if Ted had to act as the first line of defense against every irate newspaper reader in town, and do it while being named Hermione, he wouldn’t necessarily be smiling sincerely a whole bunch either.

"Let’s just put it this way, he ought to be," he says.

That actually gets the flash of a real smile. "I’ll see if he’s in," she says. Ted probably should have thought of finding that out before coming all the way up here. But she’s already talking to somebody on the phone. "Hey Sophie — is Trent in? Ted Lasso is here to see him." The way she says Ted’s name startles him, especially when he remembers—

"I don’t think I told you my name yet," he says.

"Thanks," she says to the mysterious Sophie, and hangs up the phone. Then she hands him a lanyard with a badge that says VISITOR on it. "You’re rather famous, Mr. Lasso," she tells him. "I reckon most people here would know you on sight. Or on listen, at any rate."

That feels a little pointed, but then she says he can go on in and that Trent’s office is on the third floor. England’s got a weird way of naming floors, but fortunately all he has to do is press the "3" button and it seems to get him to the right place.

Another young lady is waiting for him as soon as he walks out of the elevator, looking like a little miniature Rebecca. "Hi, Ted," she says, holding out her hand. "I’m Sophie, the sports desk assistant. Trent’s in his office, I can show you the way."

"That’s great, thank you," he tells her, and they head off through a dizzying maze of hallways and big open cubicle farms and more hallways. It’s like that House of Leaves book, except for all the people yelling at each other in conference rooms and the phones ringing.

They pass through another big open room, this one with various sports posters on the walls and a dozen or so people busy at their desks. One of them looks up, sees Ted, and elbows the young lady next to him, who slaps at the fellow next to her, and by the time they get to the other end of the room pretty much everyone’s staring after him.

"So was Hermione being serious when she said y'all know me on sight," he asks Sophie, "Or are you the one who’s famous around here?"

Sophie glances back. "Definitely the former," she says. "But don’t worry."

Until then Ted didn’t know he had something to worry about, which worries him. 

Finally they get to an office door that has TRENT CRIMM on a big brass nameplate. Sophie knocks and he can hear Trent mutter something before he says, "Come in."

"Ted Lasso to see you," Sophie says, and Ted barely has time to step inside before she vanishes in a proverbial puff of smoke, shutting the door behind her. Which you can’t do if you literally vanish in a puff of smoke — hence the proverbial.

Trent’s office is a lot smaller than Ted and Beard’s, but there’s a old country house vibe to it that you don’t really get at a clubhouse. Behind him is a solid wall of bookshelves, filled to the brim with books and magazines and a lot more awards than Ted expected, although it’s not a huge surprise — Trent’s one of the best, and has been for a while now. There’s a nice rug over the carpet and the desk looks like something that the Queen might sit behind when she’s giving one of those speeches of hers.

The man himself is sitting behind it right now, though, blinking up at Ted over the tops of his glasses with his hands hovering over the keyboard on his laptop. He doesn’t say anything, just slowly takes off his glasses and puts them on the desk.

"So," Ted says, "I got your email."

Trent keeps on not saying anything, which Ted’s noticed is a trick of his. Ted’s not the biggest fan of it, but it’s effective.

He takes a seat in one of the chairs in front of the desk and claps his hands on his knees. "And I’d like to ask some follow-up questions, in the words of this journalist fellow I know."

"Very well," says Trent, all rounded out vowels — Ted still can’t tell one accent from another, but apparently Trent's is what’s known as "posh." There are other terms for it; "Oxbridge rowing team afternoon tea month in the countryside type bellend" is what Roy called him once, and even though Ted has no idea what any of those words mean in context, he gets the feeling that Trent’s the type of guy who retreats into his own good manners whenever he’s thrown off. "What can I help you with?"

"You said—" Ted has to pull out his phone to make sure he gets the exact phrasing right — "'I have spoken with my editors and we’ve agreed that this is the most appropriate course of action.’ Mind clarifying that a bit for me?"

Trent leans back in his chair. He’s one of those born leaners — Ted might go so far as to call him languid. It ought to make him seem harmless, and maybe that’s how most people see it; he can’t have gotten all the stories he’s gotten without people trusting him. But it always makes Ted a little nervous, like he's a mouse stuck in a room with a well-fed cat who's contemplating him for dessert. "Very well," Trent says again.

Ted manages to stop himself making a joke about deja vu all over again. "Whenever you’re ready," he prompts.

Trent heaves a big sigh. "I would ask that our conversation not leave this room," he says. "Would you agree to that?"

"Strictly off the record," Ted promises.

That gets him a little bit of a smile, which is nice, but he’s still hesitating, licking his lips and looking out the window like he’s trying to figure out which version of the story to run — the one where Richmond won or the one where they lost. Or the one where they tied, but Trent had to run that story for almost two months. Maybe that really is why he wanted a transfer.

"I’ve become involved with someone from AFC Richmond," Trent says, which snaps Ted right back to the conversation. "And as such, it would be unethical for me to continue covering the team."

"You’re involved with — who?" That really shouldn’t be the first thing out of his mouth. That’s wonderful, Trent, I’m rooting for you and whoever’s lucky enough to date you, but also I care about everyone on my team so you are also lucky to be dating them, which means everyone’s lucky all around is what he should say. But sometimes Ted’s brain and his mouth don’t get along so well and something else entirely pops out.

Trent licks his lips again, which he’s really got to stop doing, he’ll end up with chapped lips and nobody wants to be kissing that. Which brings Ted right back to trying to suss out who it is Trent’s been kissing. "I’d really rather not discuss it."

Ted feels a little flash of guilt — of course he should be respecting Trent’s privacy — but Trent sounds so resigned about it for some reason that Ted’s got to push just a little bit.

"I’m sorry, Trent, I don’t mean to pry — I just don’t want you to be —" Ted’s got no idea what it is that he doesn’t want Trent to be. "You all have my full support, okay? Whoever it is." 

He wants to say something else, something about how it's good he's putting himself out there again after a divorce. Ted's still not used to the idea of looking for someone else, of looking at all — it still seems wrong, somehow. But Trent's a handsome man, smart and successful, funny when you're not expecting it. Even if this new relationship takes him away from Richmond, from Ted's press room and from those little scrimmages they have next to the bus right before an away game, Ted's got to be happy for him.

"Thank you, Ted," says Trent. He picks up his glasses, twiddling around with them instead of looking up. "It isn't precisely a reciprocal understanding. But I couldn’t in good conscience continue to cover AFC Richmond with that sort of conflict of interest. Fortunately, London has no shortage of football clubs." He finally does look up and smiles, but it’s one of those Hermione-smiles, doesn’t reach his eyes at all.

"Sure, I understand," says Ted, although he's not actually sure he does — there’s a lot of information he needs to process here, such as what "a reciprocal understanding" means. "But look, I know you'd rather not discuss it, but my door's always open, okay? And if there's anything I can do to help—"

"Ah, no," says Trent, with that sort of deeply horrified politeness that English people specialize in. "Thank you all the same. Let's just leave it at that, all right?"

"All right," says Ted, a little disappointed. Trent is a friend, sort of — although Ted’s not sure journalists are allowed to have friends — but he’s someone Ted looks forward to seeing, somebody he enjoys being around. Maybe Ted’s just being selfish, wanting him to stay put. "Well, how about this — we'll be at Mae’s on Friday night. It’s Shannon’s eighteenth birthday and I promised to buy a round or two, so open invitation, if you want."

"Thank you," says Trent, although Ted can see him debating whether or not he wants to ask who the hell Shannon is. But instead Trent makes a big show of looking at his watch (he wears it on his right wrist, and for a while Ted was hopeful that he'd found another lefty, but English people are weird). He gets up and shuts his laptop, grabbing his glasses and his jacket from the back of his chair — his dark gray one with the silver check print. "I’m sorry, I have to go, so—"

"Sure, yeah, I’ll uh, walk you out. Mostly because I’ve got no clue how to get out of here on my own without a magic ball of string, and I left that at the clubhouse."

"Of course," says Trent, and they walk back through the hallways and big open rooms, including what Ted’s got to assume is the sports department. This time there’s more whispering, but Trent just strolls on through like he doesn’t hear a thing. Ted’s dying to ask but there’s something about the set of Trent’s shoulders that makes him look a little more tense than he’s trying to let on, and Ted doesn’t know what to do about that.

They get to the elevators just as Ted has a nasty thought. "You and Seraphina are still coming to the Pup Cup next Saturday, right?"

The Pup Cup was Rebecca and Nora’s idea, though Rebecca keeps saying it was all Nora’s — it’ll be just like the Puppy Bowl in the US, except with a soccer ball instead. Arlo and Chris are going to commentate and Barkingham Palace is supplying the dogs, who’ll be available for adoption afterward. Trent’s daughter was very vocal about wanting to come when she heard about it, and Ted got them tickets a few days ago.

"I think she’d disown me if I reneged on that," Trent says, sounding soft and fond the way he always does when he’s talking about Seraphina. (Ted still hasn’t gotten the story behind why Trent gave such a little bean of a kid a name like Seraphina, but before today he thought he’d have more time to ask.)

"Well, good," Ted tells him, and then the elevator’s there, a little crowded with people going off to get an early lunch or yell at a source or whatever it is journalists do. Ted steps on and makes room for Trent, but when he turns around Trent’s hanging back, his jacket still slung over his shoulder, looking like something out of a James Dean movie.

"I’ll take the next one," he says, and the doors close.

Ted hangs around the lobby for a good five minutes, but whatever elevator Trent took must’ve taken him to Narnia or something.

 


 

Trent doesn’t show up at Mae’s on Thursday. At least, he probably doesn’t. 

Ted tries his best to look for him, but Shannon’s got a lot of friends, or at least a lot of people who like drinking beer when AFC Richmond — more specifically, Ted Lasso of AFC Richmond — is buying rounds. But Shannon’s a good kid: she’s already put in an application to be Assistant Kit Person next year, and Ted’s feeling pretty good about his progress sweet-talking Rebecca into giving in. Personally, Ted would rather have her try out for the team, but there’s apparently rules about that sort of thing. He's got some calls in to the Portland Thorns, though.

Ted texts Trent on his way home.

sorry you couldn’t make it to Mae’s!  

it was a hoot and a holler

I always think there should 
be a third thing to that saying

What do you think of "a hoot 
and a holler and a hoo-boy"? 

look forward to seeing you next 
saturday though!

The only response he gets is one of those little read: 0432 notifications. Ted spends the whole day trying to decide if he should say something else, but by the time he makes a decision he falls asleep and can't remember what it was the next morning.

 


 

Ted’s in the middle of a hostage negotiation between Colin, a three-month-old bulldog, and Colin’s left shoe when Trent and his daughter roll up to the Pup Cup the following weekend. Ted’s met Seraphina a couple of times, and then there was that hectic afternoon last spring when he had to run back to his apartment and put together another birthday box for her before Trent left for the day. (Trent accepted the box with one of his little muttered "thank yous" that sound like he’s more annoyed than grateful, then squinted at Ted and demanded, "Why are you so sweaty?")

Back when she was the tender age of almost-three, Seraphina was mostly wearing the standard issue overalls or sturdy-looking dresses that could take dirt and food stains without flinching. Now at the venerable age of three-and-a-half, Seraphina’s fashion sense has apparently kicked in — today she’s got on a teeny tiny little blazer, much like the one Ted and Michelle had bought for Henry a few years back to go to Aunt Delilah’s second funeral (long story). She's  also wearing almost the same corduroy pants her dad’s got on, and a very sparkly tie that’s too far away for Ted to clearly make out, but might have unicorns. She’s a Trent Crimm mini-me, complete with a very business-like ponytail, though hers is bright blonde and topped with a tiara.

Ted finally manages to get Colin to stop crying and jogs over to where Seraphina and her dad are now sitting cross-legged on the pitch, with a couple of puppies wiggling in their laps. Seraphina giggles adorably as the puppy licks at her hands, and Trent—

Also looks adorable, as a matter of fact. He's making soothing noises at the little guy on his lap (Ted’s not sure of the breed, but it’s smaller than most of the dogs here, and looking a little apprehensive) and petting it in long strokes all the way down its back. Ted once read that puppies like that, it’s the closest thing to their mom’s tongue cleaning them up. He wonders how Trent knew about that, too.

They haven’t spotted Ted yet, so he gets his phone out and snaps a couple pictures of them. Then he goes over and sits down, making a third side of a little triangle. "Hey, y’all, you enjoying yourselves so far?"

Seraphina seems to recognize him from last season — Ted’s impressed, most kids that age really are goldfish — and shoves her puppy out of her lap in order to fling herself at Ted. "TEDDY!" she shrieks, right in his ear, which hurts a lot but it’s always nice to be warmly received. Ted gives her a hug and she uses him like a springboard to chase after the puppy (who’d understandably skedaddled after she’d thrown it off her lap like she was one of those trebuchets from Lord of the Rings).

Trent’s puppy takes its turn making a leap for him, landing headfirst on the grass but the spunky little thing’s not deterred one bit. It scrabbles up onto Ted’s lap and barks at him, tiny little yips that are fortunately not nearly as loud as Seraphina. Still, it makes Trent jump a little — Ted tries not to smile and definitely doesn’t mention it, but Trent always looks like a startled cat when he does that.

"It's all right, buddy," Ted soothes the little bundle of fur and teeth on his lap. "Or girlie, I respect you enough not to go checking." He smiles up at Trent, holding the pup up for maximum cuteness. "This one’s a good guard dog. Might make a real nice friend for Seraphina there."

Trent doesn’t look swayed; he leans back on his hands and lifts an eyebrow or two. "She seems rather more fond of you."

"Well, kids aren't known for their discerning taste." Ted lets the puppy go on the grass and it tumbles off toward where the rest of the kids and puppies and players are having fun with soccer balls of various sizes and softnesses. Sam and Dani are a little further off, doing footwork with a bright pink plush soccer ball, puppies swarming their feet going crazy. "But I get it, these things can spiral pretty fast. You get a dog, and pretty soon you've a neurotic cat, a vampire bunny and a werewolf dachshund to keep track of. That's a lot of responsibility."

"Vampire bunny?" Trent echoes, looking baffled, which on Trent doesn't look like normal people's baffled, but like he's waiting for the rest of the story to drop. So Ted tries explaining the plot of Bunnicula, although he has to consult Wikipedia to make sure of a couple plot points.

That leads to them talking about some of their other favorite books when they were kids — turns out Trent's read all the Madeleine L'Engle books, but he's never even heard of Wayside School and Ted's already compiling a book order as soon as he gets home.

"I should probably go rescue my daughter at some point," says Trent after a while, although he doesn't make any move to do so.

"Yeah, she looks like she’s in real pain," Ted observes. Seraphina has laid herself flat down on the grass and there’s about a dozen puppies crawling all over her; Ted can hear her cackling under the pile.

"She hides it well," says Trent, and Ted looks over, alarmed — but Trent’s got a little sparkle in his eye, his mouth twitching as he meets Ted’s gaze.

"Well, maybe she’s channeling it into fashion," he suggests. "Or is that tie and blazer getup your idea?"

"No, that’s a recent development," Trent says, shifting on the grass to get more comfortable. "She’s been stealing my ties, so I got her some for herself. Then she started sobbing uncontrollably because she didn’t have a 'jacket,' and upon further investigation—"

"You figured out she meant one like yours."

Trent dips his head in acknowledgement.

"Well, it’s a good look," Ted assures him. "Although personally I think you could wear the heck out of a tiara and a sparkly purple unicorn tie."

Trent doesn’t say anything, but he smiles a little, squinting into the sun.

"And anyway," says Ted, looking away, "She’s been scoring some killer looks the whole time I’ve known her."

"Ah yes, her overall phase was particularly cutting-edge," says Trent, dry as a desert with the heat turned up to high.

"I could’ve sworn they were OshKosh B'gosh, myself," Ted says. "Very fashionable, back home."

"They were, as a matter of fact," Trent replies. "Her grandmother is from Boston — she went on a spending spree the last time they were state-side."

Ted frowns, feeling like he’s missed a step. "Your mom’s American?"

Trent huffs a little laugh. "No, my parents are both English back to 1189. I’m referring to my… in-laws, I suppose you can call them." He shifts around again, his knee bumping up against Ted’s for a second before he pulls away. "They've helped take care of her, since Joshua."

There’s a very firm period at the end of that sentence, but Ted’s still at a bit of a loss. Up to now he thought Trent got a divorce. "Did Joshua um… pass away?" he asks, already flinching at the question.

But Trent seems more amused than anything else. "Oh, if only."

"Oh," says Ted. "Well, I'm sorry, anyhow."

"Don't be," says Trent. Ted glances up at him and Trent's smiling at him, just a little one, like it's something to be kept secret between the two of them.

It seems like as good an opening as Ted's likely to get. "Look, Trent, I know this is none of my business—"

"Something tells me that won’t stop you," says Trent, and the smile gets a little broader.

"It usually does not, no," Ted admits. "But… look, you mentioned before — I know you said it shouldn't leave your office, but this person you want to have a, um, reciprocal understanding with—"

"Ted," Trent says, warningly. "I did ask that you leave it alone."

"Sure, of course," says Ted, "But whoever it is, they," he decides on "they" because all he knows about is Trent's ex-husband, but that’s not necessarily conclusive these days, "Are darned lucky. And if you’ve asked them out and they turned you down, that’s one thing, but if you’ve just decided that it’s hopeless, well then I don’t really think you’ve given it a fair shot. Is all I'm saying."

Trent doesn’t say anything. Ted’s not sure if that’s good or bad.

"And I guess what I'm saying is that if you ever need a wing man, or a cheerleader, or something—"

"I really need to stop talking to you," Trent says, although he sounds more rueful about it than pissed off, and gets up to help Seraphina get out from underneath a puppy that’s about twice her size.

They disappear a few minutes later, and Ted realizes he never even asked Trent if this person he liked had shown up to the Pup Cup at all.

 


 

Ted gives Trent a week or so, makes some very discreet inquiries around the clubhouse, but it doesn’t seem like anybody’s been fielding offers for a night of romance and haircare tips with one Trent Crimm. So he shoots off another email, offering up an expose on Isaac’s decision to adopt five of the puppies from Pup Cup and the resulting need to hire a dog-sitter, a dog trainer, and a cleaning service that comes in four times a week.

This doesn’t end all that satisfactorily, since it means that Harriford Osment III (which, Ted just learned that’s how people with "the Third" in their name write it down and it’s just silly) comes knocking at his office door the next morning asking about Isaac’s decision to adopt five puppies and the resulting need to yadda yadda.

He texts Trent later that night.

some people might consider it rude
to re-gift a scoop

He doesn’t have a little avatar picture for Trent’s contact info on his phone; a quick google search provides some, but they all have him with shorter, darker hair, and it just doesn't look right. Then he remembers the pictures he got of him and Seraphina and scrolls back and forth through the two pictures. The first one Ted got shows Trent looking over at his daughter, pleased and smiling; the second was taken just as the puppy on Trent's lap managed to get him right up the nostril, Seraphina laughing and Trent making a face. Ted hovers over it, but it feels a little dangerous to pick that one, somehow. Like he'd got hold of a moment you should only get to see if you've been allowed. So he goes back to the first one and crops it, editing Trent’s profile.

There’s no new message, but on a hunch Ted checks the text chain anyway. Sure enough, read: 2349 is right there at the bottom. Ted can almost hear Trent’s voice saying it out loud.

Also rude to keep folks on read.

The little typing dots come up after he sends that, and Ted settles himself a little deeper into his armchair. He’s missed this, in a funny sort of way — missed poking the bear, seeing if it’ll take a swipe at him.

My apologies.

Busy writing up a profile on Led Tasso.

"All right, that's a heck of a left hook," Ted mutters to himself, and goes to bed.

 


 

And that’s all he gets. Ted doesn’t try texting or emailing again, figuring Trent’s got his job and Ted’s got his own work to do — if Trent doesn’t want to confide, that’s entirely his business.

Still, the press room feels off. There’s no shortage of mean questions — something about the UK makes the press real snippy, maybe it's all that godawful tea they make themselves drink — but none of them have that little twist that Trent had, keeping Ted on his toes and not just on defense. He’s tempted to call Mikel and ask if he gets a little zing in his stomach whenever Trent stands up in the Arsenal press room, asking him some question that’s going to turn the whole day upside-down. But Mikel is busy battling it out for a top-four spot in the Premier League, and Ted doesn’t want to bug him.

Maybe all Trent needs is assurances that Ted’s not going to try to play Cupid or anything. It had been a dumb offer in the first place; yenta though Ted may pride himself on being, Trent doesn’t need his help. So Ted decides to take Mohammed to the mountain, even though he’s still not 100% clear on that turn of phrase.

Tristan, who decided against re-signing with Richmond and its Championship-League pay cut, had taken himself off to Arsenal over the summer. But he’s a good kid and he’s still happy to hear from Ted, happy to score him a seat for the next home game. 

Ted gets to the stadium early enough to avoid any outright fistfights waiting in line, and ambles in with the rest of the crowd peaceably enough. Once inside he scans the seating for the press box, and on his way over he debates what kind of thank-you present he should get Tristan — man’s a fiend for those vintage arcade games, maybe he can find him a Frogger.

There’s a few familiar faces in the press box who all seem pretty pleased to see Ted when he waves from the barrier. Trent, down in the front row with his laptop and that little screen they have for the replays, doesn’t notice him yet, so Ted calls out, "How y’all doing?" as Constantin lets him in.

That gets Trent’s attention, although sighing, "Oh, for fuck’s sake," and putting his hand over his eyes isn’t the welcome Ted’s been hoping for. But Ted hasn’t gotten this far by getting discouraged at the first fence somebody throws up at him, even if this is more like the seventeenth fence Trent’s heaved in his general direction. 

So he takes the seat next to Trent and tries a smile, which is decidedly not returned. "So! This is what a game’s like up here. A lot different — down on the pitch you don’t get the height advantage, harder to see the players. Last game I lost track of Richard for five whole minutes in the last half."

Trent’s still looking at him with that sort of flat look he's got when he's waiting for Ted to stop making jokes at a press conference. "Do you need something?" he asks.

Ted shrugs. "Just enjoying the pre-game atmosphere." There’s a stack of magazines next to Trent’s laptop; the top one’s open to a big glossy picture of Mikel, looking as handsome as ever. Maybe Trent’s already moved on from his crush on whoever it is at Richmond, although that doesn’t seem like Trent’s M.O. "Doing some research on the new coach? Or new to you, I guess, Mikel’s been here a year and a half now, right? I got to meet him in March at that away game last season — nice guy, even though Arsenal cleaned our clocks."

Trent seems to be doing his level best to ignore him, hunching further and further over his laptop.

"Look, Trent," Ted says, a little quieter now. "I just wanted to clear the air, you know?"

"Clear the air," Trent repeats, still not looking up.

"Just seems like you’ve been avoiding me, is all, and I hope I didn’t say anything or do anything to make you uncomfortable, and if I did—"

"Are you trying to apologize for making me uncomfortable while I’m in the middle of preparing to write a match report?" asks Trent, still typing even as he turns to look at Ted with a fairly irritable expression, it's got to be said.

Since that’s exactly what Ted’s done, he tries smiling again. "Sorry?"

"Sorry," Trent echoes, and turns back to his laptop. The last word he typed was flarghjkl, but Trent shuts it before Ted can inquire further. "I need to go do some interviews before the game, so." And with that very unsatisfactory end to the sentence, he high-tails it out of there.

"Was he sitting on a thumbtack or what?" Ted asks. The folks around him give him looks ranging from annoyed (which, fair enough, he’s probably not supposed to be in here) to amused (which he gets a lot) to pitying (which is more than a little confusing). Ted leans over to the row behind him, where Charles is typing with one hand while texting with the other. "You know what’s going on with Trent?"

"Yes," says Charles, not looking up.

"Game’s going to start in a bit," pipes up a reporter Ted doesn’t know.

He gets the hint. "Okay, well, thanks for all the hard work you guys are doing," he says as he gets up. "Best of luck. Break a pencil."

There’s a chorus of thank-yous and kind of pointed good-byes. He passes by Sarah on her phone; she covers the mouthpiece and says, "Nice seeing you, Ted, sorry nobody can chat."

"That’s all right, I just came to talk to Trent a little bit, see how he’s doing. We miss him over in Richmond." But she’s already gone back to her phone call. "All right, well, have fun guys."

"No, seriously Ted," says Sarah, covering the mouthpiece again and favoring him with a warm smile, "Get out."

"Okey-dokey," says Ted, and gets out.

The next morning, Ted reads the paper over his toast and OJ. Trent's article about the game is great — it's always great — but there's a kind of pointed reference to Arsenal doing so well this season that even Ted Lasso attended this last game, presumably because Richmond needs all the help they can get.

Whoever Trent's got a crush on isn't going to like that, he decides with a certain amount of satisfaction as he heads out for the day.

 


 

Ted really, truly, honestly means to give Trent his space after that, but fate clearly has other plans.

Fate, the British Natural History Museum, and the RSPCA.

"This is all your fault, somehow," says Rebecca as Ted climbs into the back of her car.

"Good evening, Ted," he says, shutting the door. "Good evening, Rebecca, your dress is amazing. Why, thank you Ted, and may I say you’re looking very snazzy yourself in that tux."

"I’ve never in my life described someone as 'snazzy,'" Rebecca laughs. Her driver Liam puts the car in gear and they float out into traffic.

Ted buckles up and accepts the glass of champagne she hands over to him. "All right, I’ll work on my impressions. Besides, it’s animal welfare and museum patronage, everybody can get behind that, right?"

The Natural History Museum, in a display of cross-promotion that would make Keeley proud, is opening a new exhibit about domesticated animals in partnership with the London branch of the RSPCA. "They'll clear five million, easily," Rebecca said when she asked him to come along. And that’s in pounds, so it’s twice as impressive. Or one and a half times as impressive — Ted’s not sure of the exact currency exchange right now.

Rebecca makes a considering noise. "I suppose. And the Turners gave our last children’s benefit almost fifty thousand pounds, so turnabout’s fair play." She scrunches up her face and looks over at Ted. "Thanks again for being my plus-one."

"Any time," Ted says. "In fact, more times after this, please, tuxedos are expensive and I want to get some use out of this. So if you can get yourself invited to more fundraisers with a black tie dress code, I’d be obliged."

She laughs again. She’s been happier lately — Ted’s not sure if it’s the team winning or her dating life or just the steady progress of time putting her further and further away from Rupert Mannion, but he’s glad for her. She deserves a bunch more happiness than she’s gotten. 

They spend most of the trip to the museum discussing strategies for what to do if one of them gets trapped in a conversation. Ted proposes hand signals; Rebecca’s point that she can just text him is well-made but not as fun.

"So are you friends with these folks, the Turners?" Ted asks as they wait in line to get checked in.

Rebecca shrugs as she hands over her invitation to a nice lady at a table. "Only in the way all rich Londoners are friends, really. They’re pleasant enough — Mrs. Turner’s American, as a matter of fact. You two should get on."

"Depends," Ted warns. "I don’t trust anybody from Idaho. Whole state looks like a middle finger."

She heaves a deep sigh, the one she gives when she secretly thinks he’s funny, and they hook arms and venture forth.

Ted’s not exactly getting used to this caliber of shindig, but it’s not all that different from the potluck fundraisers their church would do back when he was a kid. The venue’s a lot nicer, and the outfits are better, and the accent’s a whole lot different, but it’s all about smiling and shaking hands and eating food awkwardly on tiny plates. He can do that.

Rebecca’s just introducing him to the Bishop of Witherspoon or something when Ted catches sight of a little blur of black and white at about waist level. There’s a fair number of kids here — no matter how fancy the gala, if you’re holding it at a museum full of dinosaur fossils it’s going to attract a certain element — but this one looks like a runaway penguin, heading for the Blue Zone.

Ted looks around for any sign of a parent (or possibly a zookeeper) and comes face-to-face with Trent Crimm: the Independent in a tuxedo. 

"Which way did she go?" he demands, before Ted can say anything other than oh.

Ted points down the hallway, and Trent says, "Come on then," like he's a shaggy-haired James Bond whisking Ted off for a movie full of adventure with a theme song by Ariana Grande. Ted makes his apologies to the bishop and a startled-looking Rebecca and goes after him.

They find Seraphina in the mammals hall with the big blue whale, poking at something she’s definitely not supposed to be poking at. She's got a little miniature tuxedo on this time, although true to form her bow tie is sparkly. "No tiara?" Ted asks, as Trent scoops her up.

Seraphina, who’s already wiggling around in protest, turns to look mournfully at Ted. Trent turns to look at him too, less mournful and more irritated. "Thank you, she’d almost forgiven me my oversight."

"Daddy, I want my tiara," Seraphina says in the wheedling tone that’s universal to all under-fives, even though Ted gets a kick out of the accent — it’s like listening to a baby Judi Dench.

"Yes, you do want your tiara," Trent says in the placating tone that’s also universal, and puts her back down. "Now, you’re not to—"

She immediately makes another break for it, shrieking laughing.

They end up wandering through a good chunk of the museum, just the three of them. Most everybody else is at the new exhibit or in the big main hall, but that means they get the place to themselves, chasing after Seraphina while she demands to know why she can’t climb on the giraffe or the moon or the giant elephant tusks. Ted can sympathize.

They spend a few minutes staring at the stuffed dodo in the avian hallway. "I don’t think it ever occurred to me that this was a real animal until just now," Ted confesses.

"I don’t think it did to me, either," says Trent, thoughtful. Seraphina’s perched on his shoulders; she’s taken off her clip-on bow tie and is mushing it under her nose, yelling "MUSTACHE MANNNNNN" at regular intervals. Ted decides to be flattered, imitation being the most sincere form and all.

"Suppose that’s human nature, ain’t it," Ted says as they amble down the hallway. "If something’s gone before you knew it was there to begin with, it’s easier to pretend it was never there at all. That way you don’t feel like you missed out on something amazing." He turns back for one last peek at the dodo. "Or something very, very silly-looking."

His phone buzzes; it’s Rebecca. 

Do I need to send out a search party?

sorry boss

trent crimm: the independent needed 
help with a runaway daughter

do YOU need a rescue?

remember the hand signals 
a shark fin on your forehead

There’s kind of a long pause while Rebecca’s replying. "Do you need to be going?" asks Trent. Seraphina immediately whines, which is still flattering but it's not like Ted can just go home with them. If Trent ever decides to make his move, Ted will have to pull the lucky person aside and give them some tips on how to get into Seraphina's good graces.

The little dots next to Rebecca's name disappear — maybe the reception’s bad in here. "Rebecca’s the one with the checkbook," Ted admits, putting his phone back in his pocket. "I’m just the arm candy tonight."

Trent gives him a look, which is ruined a little by Seraphina leaning over to try putting the bow tie under his nose. "Your salary is one point two million pounds for the season," he says, a little nasally.

"I spent it all on the tux," Ted says, fighting like hell not to laugh.

His phone buzzes again. 

No rescue necessary; it turns out the 
bishop has all the correct opinions 
about the new series of The Crown. 

The real question is why you 
wrote out Trent’s full name and title?

put it in my autocorrect last season

I see.

Kind of a weird response, but Rebecca really likes The Crown. Ted puts his phone away again. "Shall we?"

"Mustache MANNNNNN," Seraphina agrees.

She starts getting sleepy soon after that; Ted helps Trent peel her off his shoulders before she topples off and ends up carrying her for a while, Trent walking a little closer as they talk about museums they went to when they were kids, zoos and theme parks they still remember more than thirty years later.

"You must miss Henry," Trent says, during a lull in the conversation. Ted looks over at him, but he doesn’t have that reporter gleam in his eye.

Still, Ted’s leery, aware that he’s spent almost two hours with one of the most ruthless journalists in London. "This on the record or off?" he asks.

"Off," says Trent, then adds, strangely hesitant, "I didn’t mean to—"

"It’s alright," Ted says, hoping it is. "Yeah, I uh. Yes, I do. FaceTime and care packages and all that stuff doesn’t really cut it. Every time I get off the phone with him I want to jump on the next plane and fly back to Wichita, scoop him up and not let go."

"Why don’t you?" asks Trent. He’s gentle about it, but Ted still feels the sting of the question.

"Well, somebody just informed me that my salary is one point two million pounds for the season," he says. "And last season I made almost a half a million pounds. That’s a lot of money — more than either me or Michelle’ve ever made, probably more than my folks made their whole lives. You remember how you asked me once why I took this job, if it was just the money?"

"At your friend's restaurant where we nearly died?" Trent asks.

Ted laughs — he's not wrong, although poor Ollie can never know. "Yeah, whenever I start getting too full of myself I go have dinner at Ollie's. Keeps me humble. But to answer your question from back then, it wasn't just the money. But that kind of paycheck… it sands off a lot of sharp corners, you know. Made it real hard to say no, even if it was just for a season or two."

"So this is temporary," Trent says, instead of asking what particular sharp corners he's talking about. Ted's grateful; off the record or not, he's not ready yet to delve into the Lasso Family Financial Fix, as his sister Katie's been calling it. Besides, it's not like his family's troubles are interesting to anyone outside of Kansas.

Off, Trent had told him. "That depends," Ted says slowly, his heart beating a little faster. It always beats fast when he’s telling a secret — but this isn’t a secret, not really. Rebecca and Beard and Keeley and all the rest of them know, and it's nothing the press would care about, not even that turkey Ernie Lounds. It doesn’t make sense that telling Trent feels so dangerous.

It still does. Ted clears his throat and keeps going.

"Michelle — my ex-wife, Henry’s mom — she and I talked about it over the summer. Talked a lot. I mean, a lot. And we figured if Richmond can’t make it out of the Championship League this year, then I’ll’ve done my best and I’ll go back home. Wichita State’ll take us back, or take me back if Beard decides to stick around here."

"And if Richmond gets promoted," Trent says, or maybe it’s a question. It feels like something he wants an answer to. 

"Well, you tell me how much of a bonus I’ll get from that," says Ted, carefully shifting Seraphina over to his other arm. She’s not that heavy, but three and a half years old is three and a half years old. "I could probably afford my own private plane to shuttle me back and forth. But what we were really talking about is Henry and his mom moving here."

"Really," Trent says. Ted looks over at him, half-expecting him to have his glasses on and his notebook out. But he’s just got his hands shoved in his pockets, looking blandly at the big dinosaur mural they’ve washed up in front of. It ought to ruin the line of the suit, as Rebecca calls it, but Trent looks even more like a secret agent about to seduce some young ingenue. Ted wonders if Trent's made any progress with his mysterious Richmond crush yet; he should just go ask them out while he looks like this and they'd say yes in a minute. "Your ex-wife sounds remarkably generous."

"Oh, she is," Ted says, coming back to the conversation. Michelle is generous; that's probably a big part of the reason they couldn't work it all out. "But Michelle works for this, uh, well, I watched her go through school to do it but I still don't exactly understand it, but it’s called aerostructures and it's basically engineering aircraft components. She’s real good at it, and her company’s building a new plant that’ll be up and running next year in Bristol. Which apparently is in the UK."

"That’s still a long way away," says Trent, although he sounds distracted.

"Oh, you sweet summer child," Ted says, smiling even though his heart is still going a mile a minute. Maybe he’s just out of shape. "Where I’m from, any drive less than four hours is considered a day trip."

"Are there things in Kansas worth driving four hours to get to?" asks Trent, looking politely dubious.

"Just for that, you have to carry her back to the party," Ted huffs.

They’re both experts in the little kid handoff, so it’s not awkward, but Ted’s aware of all the places they’ve got to touch in order to get Seraphina from one dad to another. It’s one of those things you don’t think about as intimate until you’re halfway through it.

If Trent’s feeling flustered, he doesn’t look it; he settles his daughter on one hip, her face smashed up against his neck. "I think we'll be going," says Trent as they come into the main hall, which all this time has been just a few steps away. "Past bedtime for both of us."

"Sure, yeah, of course," says Ted, jamming his hands in his pockets. He probably doesn't carry it off the way Trent did. "But this was nice, tonight. On the record."

Trent readjusts his hold on his daughter and looks at Ted for a minute. "You know," he says, "My parents live near Bristol."

Ted wants to say something: ask what they're like, if they're retired, if Trent's an only child or if he's got brothers and sisters, what he was like as a kid, if he ran as wild as his daughter does now, if her fierce joy and laughter comes from him, even if not much else did.

"That's good to know," he says instead.

Trent looks away. "Goodnight, Ted," he says, and goes out the door into the warm autumn night.

 


 

"This Ted?" The voice on the other end is unmistakable, but she adds, "It’s Mae, down the pub. One of your lot’s drinking up all my best whiskey."

Ted looks over at the clock: it’s almost ten on a Monday night, and they've got a game on Wednesday. "Be right there," he tells her, switching off the oven. He hasn’t put the cookies in anyway, and there was a Smitten Kitchen tip that said keeping the dough out for a while uncovered might help with the rise. "Who all’s in trouble?"

"It’s Trent," says Mae, which aside from being surprising that Trent’s getting drunk anywhere, much less at the Crown & Anchor, is also surprising that Mae knows him well enough to call him by his first name. (Also that she likes him enough not to give him some sort of prefix like "that posh twat" or "that devious cunt," which aside from being very offensive are the kinds of terms Mae tends to use with most people.) "He’s not talking to anyone," Mae continues. "Just drinking, and the last time someone got alcohol poisoning at my establishment I was cleaning vomit off the ceiling, Ted, so come along."

Ted’s already out the door, which is unfortunate because he realizes later that he forgot his keys. Among other things.

"Are you wearing an apron?" says Trent, squinting up at him. He doesn’t sound slurry, but there’s a definite decrease in RPMs going on.

Ted looks down. He is indeed still wearing his apron, as well as his raccoon-themed LL Bean slip-ons. "Trying to start a new trend," he says, scrabbling at the knot in the back, which chooses that moment to become one of those knots that are un-unknottable just when you don’t want them to be. Ted gives up and sits down across from Trent.

They’re in a booth in the back room. Ted doesn’t come back here often, unless the front room's full; he likes to people-watch, stare out the big windows or listen to Mae hassle her regulars. The back room is darker and quieter, and, around this time of year, blessedly free of any Christmas decorations that festoon the front of the pub. The back room is exclusively for the sort of folks who are just here to drink and stare at a wall.

Trent definitely looks like he fits that particular bill tonight. His eyes are bloodshot and he’s got a little bit of that flush some people get after they’ve had too many. Even his hair looks bad, which still looks good on him but it’s falling short of Trent’s usual standards. Ted checks the bottle of whiskey on the table; it’s still about two-third’s full, so they probably don’t need to call him an ambulance just yet.

Even drunk as a skunk in a funk, Trent catches him looking. "I hope you brought your own, because this is mine," he says. He doesn’t move the bottle toward him or anything, just looks hard at him.

"No, of course, I ordered something for myself," Ted says.

Just then Mae’s waitress Kylie comes in with a matching bottle and a glass. She sets it down, gives Ted a pitying smile, and says, "Mae’s putting it on your tab."

"I appreciate it. And can you bring out a big pitcher of water, too? And two glasses. And maybe some chips. Your chips, not my chips — you know what I mean."

She heads off for the kitchen and Trent slumps a little bit more in his seat. "I’ve been here for a while, I wouldn’t recommend trying to catch up all at once."

"Oh, no," says Ted. "You ever see that movie, The Thin Man? William Powell and Myrna Loy, Nick and Nora?"

"I’m a gay man in my forties," says Trent, the dictionary definition of sardonic.

"Right, so you remember that scene where Nora tries catching up with all of Nick’s martinis? And then later on she asks what hit her and Nick says, 'The last martini.'" Dad got the box set of them on VHS for Christmas one year when he was a kid, and after that it was their Christmas tradition, to watch them all right in a row Christmas Day. People would come in and out of the living room, doing other things — the last few movies of that franchise weren’t the best, lots of skippable stuff — but Ted still remembers almost every word of them, all these years later. "Anyway, while I think their relationship was one of the great cinematic masterpieces of the 20th century, I’m not interested in getting hit by martinis, whiskeys, or anything else tonight." He taps the unopened bottle. "This is the last of Mae’s good whiskey; I bought it so you wouldn’t be able to."

"I can always switch to scotch," says Trent, and pours himself a triple. After a long minute, he pours Ted a double; he’s steady enough to get it all in the glasses, but his hand’s definitely got a bit of a tremble.

Ted doesn’t mention it, just clinks with him and downs the stuff. He’s more of a Jack Daniels man himself, but when in Richmond. "So," he says, trying not to cough, "You want to talk about it?"

"If I said no, would you fuck off?" asks Trent, sounding more curious than mean-spirited.

Ted considers it. "Probably not," he admits. "But hey, if you say yes, maybe I’ll eff off afterwards."

"If ifs and ands were pots and pans," Trent mutters, which either is a sign of alcohol poisoning or another one of those English phrases that are full of English words that are still impossible to translate.

"I could just take a guess. I'm getting pretty good at figuring out what's bothering y'all English people, which is just about as hard as figuring out y'all's football."

"It's not about you," says Trent, glaring at him.

Ted blinks, because the way he said that makes it sound like they're in the middle of an argument. "Why would it be?"

Instead of answering, Trent slumps a little further down, propping his head up on his fist. After a minute, he looks up at Ted and makes a little "go on" gesture.

"Okay, all right, so… you're depressed that you've got to cover Arsenal so much now, since you hate them with a red-hot fiery passion," Ted tries.

It nets him a sort of sleepy smile, like Trent just woke up on a lazy Sunday morning. "I don't hate them with a red-hot fiery passion."

"'The only thing more repugnant than an Arsenal fan when they're losing is a Man City fan when they're winning,'" Ted quotes. "And what was that one I liked? 'Arsenal's offense can often remind one of a country gentleman's hunting rifle, one he buys at great expense and maintains to exacting standards, taking it out to use with solemn ceremony only to immediately shoot himself in the foot.' I was not expecting a gun metaphor, much less to laugh at it, but you really are a heck of a writer."

Trent's head almost slips off his hand. "You read my book?"

"I read all of them," Ted corrects him. "Beard got a couple after you whupped my hiney at that first press conference; he said we needed to know how your mind worked, since you were the most dangerous guy in that press room. Then over the summer I downloaded the rest of them — even got one of them as an audiobook, the one about the Hearts of Midlothian team? You're a real good reader, too, although I did doze off a little bit while you were explaining the history of the Scottish Football Association."

He had dozed off, the first time, but over that awful summer back in Kansas he'd listened to Hearts of Gold a half-dozen times, packing up the rest of his things from the house or sitting alone in the motel room he'd gotten a few blocks away, arranging to sell off most of it. He'd whittled down the last twenty-odd years of his life to what could be put into the back of a pickup, and then drove that pickup down to Mama's house and put it all away up in her attic, next to dusty boxes that hadn't been touched for almost thirty years. Trent had kept him company, most nights, without even knowing it.

Which means the least Ted can do tonight is return the favor. He clears his throat and tries again. "All right, if it's not about Arsenal, is it — is Seraphina doing all right?"

"My daughter is a monster, as always," says Trent, although he's so affectionate with it that Ted can't help but smile. "But no, her antics have not as yet driven me to drink."

"Okay, well, at the risk of beating a dead horse, or however you put it over here—" Ted starts.

Trent puts his head on the table with a soft thud. "Oh, God."

"Is it something to do with this un-reciprocal understanding that made you quit Richmond?"

"I told you it wasn't—" Trent's still face-down on the table, so he's a little muffled, and Ted wants to reach over and touch his shoulder, get his hair out of his face — Mama still hassles Katie about her hair all the time, how she ought to pull it back, she has such a pretty face.

"You know, I've been thinking on it, though, and I think whoever it is, it's not someone at the clubhouse anymore."

That gets Trent to lift his head up. "'Anymore?'" he asks, scraping his hair back. He's got surprisingly big hands, long fingers with blunt nails, and Ted wonders if he keeps them that short to stop himself from biting at them, the way they do for Henry. Lord knows Ted's watched Trent tapping at his mouth with his glasses or his pen or his fingers enough times.

Ted rewinds the conversation a couple seconds. "Yeah, such as, perhaps this person's left the team? And in that case, I think it'd be ethically all right for you to start covering Richmond again, you know, since you hate Arsenal with a red-hot fiery—"

"Are you suggestion that I'm carrying a torch for Roy Kent?" asks Trent, looking halfway between bewildered and entertained. "The man who called me a colossal prick?"

"Well, you did write that very nice article about his niece's team," Ted says.

"Kent left a message with my assistant saying that if I ever wrote about him again, he'd shave my head with a machete and make me eat it."

"Your hair, or the machete?"

"My point being that Kent isn't really my type."

Ted puts a pin in that — he'll have to find out what Trent's type is at a later date. "Well, I wasn't even really thinking of Roy anyway," he teases. "I was talking about that fella you wrote your first book about, Martin Holbrake." It's a good book; Holbrake was the first openly gay footballer in Richmond's history, and still one of the only ones in the whole sport. Trent had gotten a dozen interviews with him to write the biography a few years back, and they'd clearly hit it off. Still, Ted wonders if Trent will spot the sarcasm here.

Sure enough, Trent gives him the exasperated look he gives when Ted's goofing around in the press room and Trent's got a deadline with no time for shenanigans. "He's eighty-two," he says. "And has some sort of reciprocal understanding with Franz Beckenbauer, if rumors are to be believed."

Ted makes a big show of shrugging his shoulders in defeat. "All right, then, well, unless it's the classic Christmas blues or something, you've got me beat." He leans back in the booth and puts on his best lay it on me expression. "Guess you're just going to have to tell me."

Trent licks his lips, the shine of it the brightest thing in the room, and after a long minute he sighs. "It’s my anniversary."

Ted’s first impulse is to reach out, offer a hug or just a hand pat, but he knows how bad an idea that would be. Ted’s a hugger by nature, but he learned a long time ago that the folks with bubbles around them usually needed to be the ones to reach out first. And Trent’s bubble is about three miles wide at the best of times.

"We met here, in fact," Trent continues, picking up his bottle and waving it vaguely around the pub. "He was a supporter and I was getting local color for some article or another. So I suppose it's rank sentimentality that brought me here tonight."

"Nothing rank about sentimentality," says Ted, and keeps his hands to himself. "I'm… guessing Joshua won't be joining you, then?"

"Joshua," says Trent, pouring himself another triple, "Is in California, where I pray daily that an earthquake drops a building on him." He pours some more into Ted’s glass, too.

"From what I understand, that happens a lot less often than the disaster movie genre would have you believe," Ted says. "Volcanoes, too. Way fewer of them in LA than you’d think." Trent smiles, just a little bit, and Ted tries to formulate his next question. "Was he — did he — hurt you?"

"Nothing so dramatic." Trent takes a sip, but at least he doesn’t knock the whole thing back. "Just the same tedious story as a million other marriages. We wanted different things, wanted to be with different people, or wanted to… be different people. It’s an awful thing when you have to perform the role someone else thinks you ought to play." He puts his glass down, tilts his head back to rest against the wall, his expression still sharp even with almost half the bottle gone now. "Don’t you agree, Coach Lasso?"

Ted’s saved from having to answer by Kylie, who reappears with water and fries. Then there’s that fifteen second awkwardness of being friendly with her while trying to keep track of the conversation, something Ted’s never been any good at. Trent, who even stone cold sober isn’t the type to be friendly with anyone, just gets himself comfortable, stretching his legs along his side of the booth. They’re long legs, and his sneakers stick out over the edge. When Kylie leaves he’s just sitting there, waiting.

"I do," says Ted. "I think." Truthfully, he's a little lost; he probably shouldn’t have any more whiskey.

But that’s seems like the right answer for Trent, who takes another sip. "It was a relief getting rid of him. Seraphina deserves better than a father who just wanted her as a bandage for a failing marriage."

Ted wants to ask where Seraphina is tonight, if she misses this Joshua guy at all. Something tells him she doesn’t; Ted’s known about a thousand children of divorce, his own son included, and Seraphina doesn’t carry any of the hurt kids have when one parent decides they’re not worth sticking around for. Maybe she’ll grow into that. Ted hopes not — but Trent’s already going to kill him for hearing as much of this as he has, so he keeps his mouth shut. 

Besides, there’s a big part of him scared that maybe Michelle’s talked like this about him, if she thinks Ted’s just chickening out of being a father now that he can’t be a husband. She’d probably be a better person to commiserate with Trent tonight — they're not much alike, but Ted can’t help but be afraid that he’s too similar to this Joshua guy, far away from his only child and not missed at all.

"Well," he manages, because this is about Trent, not him and his various hangups. "I’m glad she’s got you. Don’t think Joshua would be getting her fancy ties and tiaras."

Trent, who’s been staring down at his feet for the past minute, looks up at him, surprise and appreciation, which hits him almost as hard as the whiskey. "True," he murmurs.

Clearing his throat, Ted edges one of the water glasses closer to Trent’s elbow, where it’s summarily ignored. "If you don’t mind my asking," he says, feeling like he’s on one of those San Andreas cracks in the world, "If you’re so glad he’s out of your life, why are you sitting here alone on a Monday, drinking terrible alcohol?"

"This is Glenfiddich, you filthy American," says Trent, but he’s smiling now. "And I’m not sitting here alone, am I?"

"No, but you’re also not sitting with, you know," he says. "That person with the reciprocal understanding?" He kind of waves his hands around, hoping Trent’ll get the gist.

He does, clearly, if the way he winces is any indication. "Ted, you really—"

"I didn’t say anything," Ted protests. "I just figure, best way not to be drinking on your old anniversary is to find someone you can have a new anniversary with."

"Medice, cura te ipsum," mutters Trent.

Fortunately Ted doesn’t speak Italian, so he can’t be offended. "Or hey, what if you dated Mikel? Then you can get yourself transferred back to Richmond."

"Mikel," says Trent, propping his chin on his hand. "Mikel Arteta, the manager of Arsenal? You think I ought to date him?"

"Sure," Ted says. "He’s real nice."

"Mikel Arteta, married to a supermodel, with three children?" Trent continues. "I may be mistaken, but I believe he’s off the market."

"Oh, well that’s a bummer. His loss. Though he really does have quite the jawline. I wouldn’t throw him out of bed for eating crackers."

"What would you throw him out of bed for?" asks Trent, sudden and intense — like they’re right back in the press room and he’s about to ask a follow-up question that’ll knock Ted for a loop.

"Uh," Ted responds, with that quick wit that got him kicked out of debate club after a week.

Trent makes a sort of dismissive noise. "All right, I’ve talked about it," he says. "So as you promised earlier—"

"Ah, but I didn’t really promise, did I?" Ted reminds him. There’s a mean part of him kind of enjoying the alarm on Trent’s face at the idea that Ted might stay with him until closing time.

Then his expression hardens, and he swings his feet down to the floor. "Very well, I’ll go," he announces, and to his credit manages to stand up without too much wobbling. Ted’s impressed, even though he does have to grab Trent’s jacket and glasses and follow him out to the front.

Paul, inexplicably alone at his regular table, waves a greeting at him before noticing Trent’s condition. "Oh, dear. He need a cab?"

"Nonsense," says Trent, and trips over a chair. Ted makes a grab for him and catches him by the waist, his other hand on Trent’s arm. He’s just as lanky as he looks, whipcord muscle over a bony frame.

"Uh, yes please," says Ted, and Paul nods and slips outside. Mae, still holding court at the bar, gives Ted a thoroughly unimpressed look, which he supposes he deserves. "Trent, you think you can remember your address?"

"Seven Darnley Terrace," he replies, looking up at him, not making any move to shove Ted away. They’re close enough for Ted to smell the whiskey on his breath, feel the warmth of him under his hands.

"All right, then," Ted says, more to himself than anybody else, and manages to get Trent outside.

Paul’s already got the door open on one of those big black cars that are called cabs here in London, although they look like mini-hearses to Ted. Paul, who’s earned himself Ted’s unopened bottle of Glenfiddich tonight, helps Ted get Trent into the cab, although Trent seems to have a little trouble figuring out that he’s supposed to let go of Ted and take hold of his jacket.

"Ted," Trent says, urgent all of a sudden, looking — not like anything Ted’s seen before, not from him. Ted wants to climb in the cab with him, take him home and make sure there’s aspirin and a tall glass of water on his bedside stand. He hopes Trent doesn’t have to pick Seraphina up early tomorrow.

"It’s okay, Trent," he says. "We’re okay, okay?"

"…okay," Trent repeats, a little bit sarcastic, but the look fades.

Ted straightens up and shuts the door, which feels like a mistake a half second after he does it, but he just gives the driver the address and steps back. There’s a little bit of a drizzle starting up, but he waits until the cab pulls into traffic and disappears around the corner.

"He gonna be all right?" asks Paul, who can take both bottles as far as Ted’s concerned.

"I sure hope so," Ted answers. He’s still holding on to Trent’s glasses, he realizes. They're as nice to hold as they are to look at, but Trent’s going to be pissed when he finds out Ted accidentally stole them.

Paul shakes his head sadly, then frowns down at Ted. "You wearing an apron, bruv?"