Actions

Work Header

madder than a bat in a suitcase

Work Text:

In hindsight, Roy probably shouldn’t have said anything at all. Normally he had no problem ignoring the press, especially when they started in with the personal questions.

But he was running late for the bus, saw Ted in the doorway making a hurry-up gesture, and even four seasons in, something about him still made Roy want to be contrary at the worst possible moments. So when some prick with an iPhone held out said, “Oi, Coach Kent,” he slowed down enough to hear, “is it true you and Keeley are splitting up?”

Roy didn’t bother to stop. “Yeah, and I’m really broken up about it so I’d appreciate you never bringing it up again.” He rolled his eyes. “Fuck’s sake. Idiots.”

“Danny looks distraught,” Ted said, moving back so Roy could board. “What’d you say to him?”

“Told him he’s a fucking idiot. No,” he said when Ted tried to sit next to him. It was a long fucking way to Leeds. He was not sitting next to Ted the whole way there.

“Right, sorry, I know the rules.” Ted scooted across the aisle to sit with Nate.

In his pocket, Roy’s phone buzzed. He pulled it out to read the newest message from Keeley as the bus pulled onto the road.

Safe trip, babe

He wanted to write back but he’d seen her an hour ago, still lounging in bed while he scrambled to pack, laughing like it wasn’t her fault he was running late. They’d been married nearly six months now and it was pretty fucking great. Despite the press desperately wanting to report otherwise.

Instead of typing anything soppy and pathetic, he switched to the emojis.

“Roy,” Colin’s voice came from behind him, loud and too close, “is the red heart your most-used emoji?”

“Fuck off.” Roy hit send and shoved his phone into his pocket before Colin caught anything else. “You’re benched. Diesel’s starting.”

**

The headline the next day said HEARTBREAK. Roy didn’t read the article, but that was because Ted had a strict “no reading write-ups” policy that actually made sense. They’d watch the game tape tomorrow and judge for themselves.

That didn’t stop him from venting about it. Especially the shit sideline picture of him they’d used.

“It was an injury time goal in a mid-season game that doesn’t fucking matter!” Roy yelled at Nate as they made their way through the hotel’s continental breakfast. He didn’t know how the Daily fucking Mail knew he was the one who’d made the last-minute call to sub out Bumbercatch, but what the fuck ever.

“I…” Nate blinked and then turned to face the trays of sausage links. “Sorry. I didn’t — none of us knew. I’m —“ he looked at Roy again and winced. “Sorry.”

He legged it out of the room, leaving Roy with a plate of shitty eggs and no one to eat with, which was actually kind of nice.

**

Fun run-in w the daily mail? Keeley said. With it were a crying laughing emoji and three of the upside-down smiling ones. At least she understood the bullshit he was forced to put up with.

Is there such a thing?

Another crying laughing face came back, and then it was the dots appearing and disappearing for a minute, then two, and then Roy realized he was standing in the hallway looking at his phone like a twat so he shoved it in his pocket and started for the lift.

By the time he made it to the lobby, Keeley had sent a screenshot of the headline, this time with the finer print Roy hadn’t bothered to read: Roy Kent Announces Split from Keeley Jones, Richmond Lose.

That wasn’t the only one, apparently. Roy’s eyes glazed over as he scrolled past more pics: Keeley Says GET BENT, KENT and No Love, Actually and Corner Kicked To the Curb.

Instead of replying, he hit call.

“What the fuck?” was all he could say when Keeley answered. It didn’t matter because she was laughing too hard, sounded right hysterical about it. “I’ll fix it. It was that twat, Danny, he caught me getting on the bus, I’ll find him and set —”

“No.” Keeley sobered almost instantly. “Absolutely not.”

“I —”

“You’ll just make it worse,” she said, and fuck if she wasn’t right. Roy glared at the wall. He was suddenly aware of everyone else in the lobby, the way they were all studiously not looking at him, some of the bolder ones scooting closer to eavesdrop. Roy growled and the nearest woman flinched and moved away.

“Yeah, see, making my point for me, babe.” Keeley clucked her tongue. “Come home. We’ll get it sorted.”

“Fine,” he said, and rang off before any of the nosy hounds could wring a millisecond more of gossip fodder out of him.

**

“Roy, you know, if you ever want to talk —”

Roy turned slowly, one eyebrow raised. Ted immediately held up his hands. “Right, no, I gotcha. Maybe some other time. When you’re ready.”

Roy shook his head and crammed his AirPods in and feigned sleep the whole way home.

Surprisingly, no one else tried to bother him.

**

“It was a joke,” he said, blinking at Keeley’s phone. Twitter, deciding he hadn’t had enough torture for one weekend, restarted the clip of him saying yeah, and I’m really broken up about it for the tenth time in a row. “I was being sarcastic.”

“Right, see, I know that,” Keeley stopped the video from playing an eleventh time, “but sometimes it’s hard to tell, so you can’t blame Danny.”

“I can and I do!” He was the only person Roy blamed. The one who started it, the one who ran with it. “It’s his fucking fault.”

“Fifty-fifty, yeah?”

“Fifty-fifty?” Roy was properly yelling. “All because this daft shit can’t take a joke? It wasn’t even a good joke!”

“No, and we’ll get to that.” Keeley raised her eyebrow. In her hand, her phone buzzed again, another text notification popping up. It seemed everyone and their mum had heard about the split and was checking in. Roy had turned his own phone off to avoid it all.

He tipped his head back and inhaled for a count of four, then let it out for a count of eight. “I’m sorry. It was a shit joke.”

“Yeah,” Keeley agreed and was quiet for a long moment. He turned his head to look at her, his cheek still pressed against the back of the couch. She looked back, not saying anything.

Eventually, Roy reached for her hand, squeezing once. “You can fix it though?”

“What’s to fix? It’s a dumb story that’ll just blow over.”

“Will it now?”

Keeley made a face. “How much do you think people really care about an old football coach’s divorce? Talking about it’s just going to belabor the point. We need to ignore and move on.”

He ignored the old comment in favor of asking, “Is that our strategy then? Ignore and move on.”

“Yeah,” she nodded, shifting on the couch, nudging his hip first with her knee then with her foot, “and it leaves you lots of free time to make it up to me.”

He shifted, moving until she was laid back and he could fit himself into the cradle of her hips. “Have I mentioned that I’m very, very sorry?”

Keeley arched into him. “Are you now?”

He nodded and she cupped his cheek, her fingers tracing the line of his beard. “Show me.”

He did.

**

The story didn’t blow over. At least not as easily or quickly as Keeley had made it seem.

“I wasn’t on the front page this much when I was twenty-three and shagging Estelle.”

His own face stared up at him, SAD BOY ROY stamped on top of it to make it look like he was drowning his sorrows in a kebab. Christ, he was never going to be able to go back there again.

“And why do they think I look sad?” he asked, gesturing wildly. “That’s just my fucking face!”

“I know it is,” Keeley said, kissing him. “Now you can stay here if you want but you’ve got to do it quietly, I’ve got a call with Jambys about sponsoring Colin.”

“What the fuck is Jambys?”

“Shh.” She put a finger to her lips as she popped an AirPod into one ear. “Hi, Keeley’s on.”

Roy didn’t stick around to find out anything else.

**

The rags weren’t the only ones that couldn’t get their minds off it. Ted and Beard and even Higgins kept making comments without outright asking Roy about it.

“You know, if you love something, you have to set it free,” Higgins said once after watching Roy walk Keeley to her office.

“Are you sure that’s not about wounded animals?” Roy asked, just to wind him up.

“And what are we all, if not wounded animals trying to find safety and security?” Ted asked. “Looking for —”

Roy walked out before he could finish the rest of his thought.

**

“No, I know,” Keeley was saying, “it’s crazy, but that’s what’s happening! That’s why we told The Daily Mail first!”

“I knew it,” Jamie said. Roy stopped in the doorway to her office, watched Jamie nod slowly like he was a wise old owl instead of a dumb hot air balloon with a foot that had been kissed by Hermes himself.

“I guess I just wasn’t keeping it tight enough.” Keeley made eye contact with Roy as she said it, her mouth curling into a laugh before she tamped it down. At least she was enjoying all of this. She’d had nothing but laughs since day one. “I mean, that’s what The Sun said. Not that you can believe everything you read.”

“That’s why I never read anything,” Jamie said, dead serious. “Besides, I don’t need to read to know he’s a bastard prick.”

Roy made to step into the room, to defend both his and Keeley’s honor, but she stopped him with a slight shake of her head. She was probably right; it wasn’t worth going to jail. Or worse, Rebecca’s office for a serious talking-to from her and Ted.

“You just say the word and I’ll have the lads.” Whatever gesture Jamie made had Keeley laughing for real now.

“Thank you, that’s very kind. If I ever need Roy murdered, I know just who to call.”

“Oi, Coach Roy,” Sam shouted from down the hall, drawing him away before he could hear whatever else Jamie had to say about him.

**

“Can we agree this is absurd?”

It had been a full week of what felt like non-stop coverage of their alleged split. Apparently even Rebecca had fallen prey, pulling Keeley aside and offering a neutral ear or a raucous night out on the town, whichever she preferred. “It was hard not to take her up on it, honestly,” Keeley had said, shedding her clothes. “You know she would’ve gotten bottle service.”

The allure of a night in had proved too strong in the end, even if it meant leftovers and lukewarm wine they’d forgotten to stick in the fridge. At least the bathroom was warm, the steam thick enough to cut through the winter chill that still clung to the air.

“Oh, obviously,” she said, leaning back against him. “But like, funny-absurd at least, yeah?”

Roy grunted. He didn’t think it was nearly as amusing as she did, but then again he didn’t find much amusing.

“Maybe now you’ll be more careful what you say to the press?”

Roy traced his fingertips along the tattoo on her ribs; he couldn’t see it from this angle but he had the curve of it memorized. “So this is still all my fault, hmm?”

She craned her neck to look at him. “Whose else would it be?” She pursed her lips and let him close the gap between them.

“It’s shit though,” he said after he’d pulled back. “Everyone’s talking about us but no one’s talking to us.” The only person who’d tried to ask him about it had been Ted, that first morning in Leeds. Ever since then it had been the elephant in the room, everyone apologizing indirectly or offering him shit platitudes disguised as advice.

Not that Roy wanted anyone to ask him about it. He wanted the whole thing to disappear.

Keeley snorted. “Everyone except Jamie.”

“Right.” Roy frowned, which made her roll her eyes fondly.

“Give it a few more days.” She patted his hand where it rested on her ribs. “Pretty soon this’ll all just be a laugh.”

“You already think it’s a laugh,” he said, still feeling a bit stroppy about it.

“And deep down, you do, too.” Keeley winked at him. “Come on, Jamie offered to have the team barbeque you and serve you to Manchester the next time they’re in town. That’s objectively hilarious.”

It was, but Roy didn’t want to admit it. Sure, this whole thing was funny in a certain light. It was just that Roy didn’t want to look at it in that light. Probably something to do with the guilt he was carrying around for turning the light switch on in the first place, or whatever touchy-feely bullshit Ted would say about it.

Keeley turned around again, settling against his chest and putting her feet up on the edge of the tub. Roy watched the way the water ran down them, entranced.

“Wait,” he said, his brain catching up, “he said he’d barbeque me? How the fuck would that work?”

“I don’t know, I didn’t ask! That would make me an accomplice to the crime!”

**

By the time Monday rolled around, Roy was resigned to the fact that they were going to have to ride the news cycle out. He just had to hope that someone more famous did something more stupid, and the sooner the better.

Keeley was gone when he woke, leaving only a note next to the kettle that said Went in early xx.

There’d been a bigger crowd than usual in the car park since Leeds, and they were all camped out again this morning. Roy made a quick wish that a Kardashian would announce her plans to pilot a rocket ship to space by lunchtime and powered through the throng of cameras and notebooks, ignoring all their shouts and showing them the finger until he was through the doors.

It was still early enough that the halls were quiet.

“Hi,” he said, knocking on the door to Keeley’s office as he let himself in.

She waved, mouthing good morning even as she said, “Yeah, it’s been a rough go, thank you.” Off Roy’s concerned look, she shook her head, waving him off as she said, “But I’m excited by this opportunity!”

It was another minute or so before she rang off; Roy fucked around on his phone, ignoring the concerned texts from his sister. She should know better than to believe the papers about this shit.

“Sorry about that, babe,” Keeley said once she was free. “Listen, that was — oh shit, you’re going to be late.”

“What?” He looked at his watch. It was later than he thought; she’d been on the phone a while. “It’s fine.”

It wasn’t really — Ted didn’t tolerate tardiness, and Roy made it a habit to beat the players onto the pitch. He still had to change.

Keeley fixed him with a look; she knew all that and more.

“Fine.” He pushed himself out of his chair. “Meet in the cafe for lunch?”

“I’ve a meeting,” Keeley said. “Last minute add-on.”

Roy shrugged. That was how it went sometimes. “Dinner then?”

“Yeah,” she said, leaning over her desk for a quick kiss.

If he’d known it was going to be the last time, he would have lingered.

**

We need to talk

“You know it’s never a good sign when someone says ‘we need to talk,’” he said when Keeley answered. Training had run long and Ted had them reviewing far too much tape these days, desperate to fine-tune every minute of their gameplay.

“Yeah.” Keeley sounded far away, sounded sadder than he could remember hearing her in a long time. Maybe ever. “Listen.”

It was another minute. “Babe, what’s wrong?”

“Dove called me today.”

“That girl from the shit Disney musicals?”

“What? No, the like, company. Dove, for shampoos and lotions and whatnot.”

Roy shrugged even though she couldn’t see him, sat in his office this late at night. Not even Nate was left.

“They want me to do their new campaign.”

“That’s great. Congrats!” He couldn’t think of why she’d be so upset about it; probably involved a spot of travel, something to interfere with the next run of matches or whatever.

“Right, but before you say that, the whole point is it’s like a ‘wash-that-man-right-out-of-your-hair’ thing, and they were going to use Gigi Hadid, on account of how her and Zayn split up again, but then it turns out they just got back together again and Dove felt it would be ‘inauthentic’ to use her, and then our news broke so they called me and sent over a contract and everything.”

Roy felt like the gears of his brain were grinding to dust. “Our news?”

“Yeah, about the split.”

“But it’s not true.”

“Yeah, but they don’t know that.” There was a faint noise on the other end, like Keeley was tapping away at her computer or something. “It’s a lot of money, Roy. It’s a national campaign.”

“I have a lot of money,” he said, maybe stupidly. Definitely stupidly by the way Keeley snorted and said, “Yeah, congrats. I don’t, so.”

He couldn’t keep up with the conversation. It felt like an anxiety dream. Next thing he knew, he’d be taking penalties starkers while the crowd laughed.

“We’re married,” he said, like an idiot.

Keeley sighed. “You know what I mean.”

He didn’t, not fully, but he’d heard enough of her opinions about supporting herself and having pride in her work and being an independent woman to know this wasn’t the path to take.

“This is a big deal for me, Roy,” she said. “For my career. Not doing it would be like… ignoring fate.”

He grunted. He didn’t know what to say.

Next to his ear, his phone trilled, the tell-tale sound of someone requesting a FaceTime.

“It films in two weeks,” Keeley said when she appeared on screen. “That’s not that far off. They’re planning to launch it mid-May.”

May. It was fucking March.

“It’s fucking March.”

“Roy. This is a really fucking fantastic opportunity.”

“Built on a lie!”

“It’s built on a misunderstanding. Which you started.”

“And you’re perpetuating!”

Keeley’s face went steely, determined. Usually he loved that look on her, but tonight it was something else entirely.

“You’re serious,” he said. “You want a divorce.”

“No,” she said quickly, automatically, her head shaking so forcefully that the end of her ponytail caught her in the face. “I think we just… pretend that we did for a little bit. Until the ad’s run, and then we say we reconciled and ta-da! No one cares.”

I care, he didn’t say. “Dove just sacked a Hadid because they care so much about their bloody shampoo integrity.”

“They won’t care about us,” Keeley said. “Rebecca’s got her attorney reading through the contract; it’s not like they’re going to take back the money once we’ve got it.”

“You’ve got it, you mean.”

Keeley rolled her eyes. “Don’t be a baby. Come on, you know this is a good idea.”

“I don’t,” he said. “I think this is a shit idea. I want it on the record that I hate this idea and it’s going to end badly. You want to talk tempting fate?”

Keeley bit back a smile. “You’re worried you’ll like being fake divorced so much that you’ll want to stay that way?”

Roy grimaced. She had him there. Fuck.

“So?” Keeley said, eyebrows raised. She’d had his fucking number since day one, always knew what he was thinking. Sometimes even before he did.

“Fine. I will support you through what is apparently the opportunity of a lifetime.” He rolled his eyes; this was truly a terrible idea, but what was the worst thing that could happen?

Her smile cracked wide open. “And that’s why I love you. Loved you, I guess I should say, since we’ve split up.”

Roy glared at the screen.

“Right.” Keeley winked. “Now let’s talk logistics.”

**

“Whoa, Roy, did you sleep here?”

“No.” He pushed himself up off the floor, brushing dust off his trousers. He and Keeley had been on the phone until entirely too late, hashing out the details of this stupid plan. It involved Keeley dropping two suitcases of Roy’s shit off at his old place on her way into the club. Thank fuck he’d been too busy to list it; he’d meant to after the honeymoon and never got around to it.

“The tabloids will definitely notice,” she’d said. “And that’s half the battle won!”

He didn’t know if the tabloids had noticed, but apparently Ted had, and in all their planning Roy had somehow failed to account for the Lasso of it all.

“What are you doing?”

“Roy, sometimes the best thing a man can do is accept the fact that in some situations, he needs a hug. Situations include but are not limited to: births, deaths both human and animal, drunken acts of bravery, near-death experiences, weddings, and trial separations.”

“I’m fine,” Roy said, because he couldn’t very well say, “We didn’t separate, it’s all for a laugh and some cash.”

Ted pulled back just far enough that Roy could look at him without his eyes crossing.

“It’s okay not to be okay,” Ted said.

Roy blinked and counted to three. “Get out of my office.”

**

It was almost easier than Keeley had promised it would be. The lads gave Roy a wide berth, and aside from a small pod of players who were clearly pissed at his imagined crimes against Keeley, the whole thing went unacknowledged.

And Roy made the ones who glared at him and muttered under their breath run extra laps. Jamie included. Win-win.

Sure, it was crap to go back to his old place at night. He hadn’t been since before the wedding, could hardly remember spending much time there since he and Keeley got together, even. But this was temporary, and what did it matter anyway? He slept alone in hotel rooms plenty. Six weeks here would be nothing.

He was in the middle of binning everything in his pantry that had expired more than a year ago when his phone buzzed. When he connected, the first thing he heard was a gasp and then Phoebe saying, “Mum!”

“So it’s true, then,” his sister said, leaning close to the screen like it’d make her able to see better.

Roy spared a second to promise that if he ever got the ability to time travel, he’d kill Steve Jobs before he could invent FaceTime.

“What is?” he asked, carefully keeping his face blank. His sister made the same face she’d been making since they were little, the one that said I can’t believe I share genes with someone this fucking dumb.

“You’re not home!” Phoebe said, her face crumpling.

“What are you on about? This is my house!”

She wasn’t having it, though. Too smart by far. “I want to talk to Keeley!”

When Roy didn’t say anything, she looked from him to her mum and then let out one horrible, gut-wrenching hiccup before she bolted out of frame.

“Thanks,” his sister said.

“I didn’t do nothing!”

She just looked at him and shook her head sadly.

“Listen,” he said, suddenly desperate to explain. Maybe he could tell the truth — what did it matter if just one person knew? But it was never just one person, and she’d tell Phoebe and then the whole world would know because of some primary school phone tree, and it had only been a few days anyway. Keeley hadn’t even shot her advert yet.

“Oh, Roy.”

He’d been silent too long, and now his sister was looking at him the same way she had when he told her he was retiring, like her heart was breaking for him.

“I’m fine,” he said, because he was. It was just her face was dredging up all these buried emotions.

She glanced behind her, checking where Phoebe had run off to. “I’ve got to go deal with that, but… come for dinner Sunday. We won’t talk about it if you don’t want to.” It was a lie, but a gentle one.

“Yeah,” he said, nodding. “Maybe.”

**

He didn’t go to dinner at his sister’s, obviously. When he texted, he told her he was busy with scouting reports and shit. She didn’t question it, but he could tell from her Ok. that she didn’t believe him, either.

It was just better, he figured, to spend the weekend alone, trying to remember which fucking drawer he’d thought to store the bottle opener.

Because that was the real kick in the tits, wasn’t it? That when he was here, sat about in the evenings, he had fuck all to do and no one to do it with. It wasn’t like he and Keeley spent their nights painting the town red, but Roy hadn’t appreciated how much of his time alone wasn’t actually alone until he was… alone.

It sounded stupid, even to him, and fuck off if anyone would ever get him to admit it out loud, but this shit, staring at the telly on a Sunday night just waiting until it was an acceptable time to go to sleep? Fucking sucked.

**

He persevered.

It was a week until her shoot, and then a few more after that.

He’d lived an entire life before Keeley. He could manage a few weeks pretending to be without her.

Right?

Right.

**

“I’m just saying, I don’t think it’s going to fix itself,” Ted was saying. Roy stopped in his tracks, kept himself just outside the slightly ajar door of the manager’s office. “Someone clearly needs to talk to Roy.”

“Nope,” Beard said.

“I don’t know,” Higgins sounded like he was going to be sick at any second, “I mean have you seen him lately? The poor man is heartsick.”

Heartsick? Sure, Roy was bored having to sit in his empty living room and watch old seasons of The Circle on Netflix, but he wasn’t bloody broken-hearted about it. He hadn’t changed a single thing about his routine save where he started and ended his days, and really, that was nothing to be sad about. Which is why Roy wasn’t sad about it.

“I agree,” Nate said. Fucking Nate. Fucking all of them, sticking their noses in his business where they didn’t belong.

“That’s three to one,” Ted said, and Roy didn’t need to be in the room to know he was looking pointedly at Beard. “I think you know what that means.”

The ensuing silence lasted for so long Roy considered making his presence known. It was only his respect for Beard, his one true ally in this godforsaken drama, that kept him hidden.

“Fine,” Ted said eventually, “but if he doesn’t pull out of his funk soon, we’re going to be having another meeting and I will tell you right now, the minority will not rule at that one.”

Something must’ve happened, because Ted said, “This meeting of the Diamond Dogs is adjourned,” and everyone started howling and Roy took a perverse pleasure in walking in like he hadn’t heard a word, asking, “What’s all this then? Did someone Isaac accept some bird’s proposal on Instagram again?”

It was worth it to watch the way three of them scrambled for cover.

“Yup,” Nate said, with the desperate air of a man terrible at lying. “It was on a live. From a nightclub. He said yes but Keeley —” Ted slashed his hand over his throat, but it was too late, and Roy figured he might as well play along and took a step back at the mention of her name. It made Ted wince, which was fucking ace.

Beard took over. “Handled it.”

Nate nodded. “Isaac’s pretty broken up about it though; he was in here before, nearly in tears.”

“Really?” Roy made an overly concerned face, looking around to see how many of them would nod along to Nate’s insipid story.

“Oh yes,” Higgins nodded. “He’s a wreck.”

“Should I talk to him? Captain to captain?” Roy made for the door like he was actually concerned, like he’d ever pull Isaac aside for a heart-to-heart about girl problems.

“You know,” Ted jumped in, actually standing up from his chair like he wanted to prevent Roy from leaving, “I think what he needs most right now is alone time. Right, fellas?” He looked around the room until the rest of them, even Beard, nodded. “That’s what we were talking about actually — how important it is to give people space to grieve a relationship, no matter how short or long-term it may have been. We all move at our own pace.”

Ted went quiet then, like he’d said something particularly meaningful and was waiting for Roy to cotton on to it. Like Roy hadn’t realized he was meant to be one of the ones grieving a relationship.

“Right,” Roy said after a painfully long pause. “See you on the pitch, then.”

He didn’t stick around to hear what they said after he’d gone. Whatever it was, he knew it was probably stupid.

**

He and Keeley weren’t supposed to talk. That was part of the rules: no socializing at work, no socializing outside of work. No socializing, period, basically. That extended to phone calls and texts. It was the best way to maintain their cover, she’d said, which made sense at the time.

This is shit he caved and texted Keeley about two hours after his run-in with the Diamond Dogs. He was pretty sure no one was going to hack his phone and leak his texts, no matter how excited the gossip blogs were by the divorce news.

I know she’d sent back, and then the dots appeared and disappeared and appeared and disappeared for so long that Roy considered flushing his phone down the toilet.

Keeley never said anything else. Roy went to bed at nine-thirty, ignoring the mocking voice in his head that sounded exactly like Jamie fucking Tartt.

**

Two weeks gone

While Roy was staring at his phone sorting out what he wanted to say, another message came through.

Miss you xx

There was a picture with it, right after, Keeley pursing her lips at the camera, her hair and makeup clearly done up for the shoot. Roy blinked. Right. That had been today. She was wearing a robe and not much else; he could see the shadow of her cleavage from this angle. He held down on the photo until he could like it; that would have to suffice until his brain came back online.

Not going to send one back? Keeley included a row of sad emojis, enough that Roy looked around like he was expecting someone to be hiding in the corner of his kitchen before he snapped a selfie.

The heart eyes came through immediately.

Pales in comparison Roy said back, because it was true. He was in a black t-shirt and trackies, the same as every day.

You like it?

Roy didn’t know what to say, but she was on it, like always, jumping in before he had to respond.

You’re going to love the advert then
I spent all day pretending to wash my hair
Made me wish you were here to wash it for me

Roy laughed, ignoring the swelling jealousy that a dozen crew members got to stand around while she wore a nude bathing costume and stood in a fake shower. He’d tried to wash her hair exactly once in their entire relationship and she’d had a meltdown because he used too much shampoo. Apparently there were kinds that cost nearly forty quid.

No you don’t he sent back

Maybe that’s how much I miss you

Roy didn’t know what to say to that, either. He was contemplating calling her — nowhere in the rules did it say they couldn’t talk, only that they shouldn’t because it made everything harder and more complicated, but she’d been the one to text him first, hadn’t she? — when another picture came through. This one was darker, Keeley clearly in the back of a car. She was headed home then, her hair and makeup still done up, but wearing a hoodie instead of the robe. It was hotter somehow, made Roy’s dick twitch even as he ached with missing her.

Wish u were here

In the taxi? he sent.

The ride’d go faster yeah?

Would it? Roy made his way to the sofa, if only so he wasn’t stood in his kitchen like a twat for however long this conversation lasted.

Oh yea Keeley said.
Think you know how
Driver roll up the partition pls She’d included the music notes. It made Roy laugh in spite of himself.

Be easier if you were still wearing that robe he said, pressing the heel of his free hand against his cock. Two weeks without and here he was, acting sixteen again, hard at the slightest breeze.

You’d find a way to manage she sent. Roy went dizzy with the idea of slinking to the floor of her black car, trying to get her off with only his fingers and mouth before they got back to theirs. Hers. Wherever.

I always do he said
Trouble is keeping you quiet so the driver don’t hear
Think you could manage?

The dots appeared and disappeared and Roy thought about shoving his waistband down and fisting his cock, only he wanted to see what she’d say first, wanted to keep himself on the precipice for as long as possible. Who knew when she’d text again — they still had ages until the campaign went live; he didn’t want to waste this.

Only Keeley never said anything, and after five minutes Roy had gone soft again. After twenty, he went back to doing the washing up.

It was over an hour later, when he was already in bed, that his phone lit up on his nightstand.

Sorry, R called, had to run xx

Roy didn’t respond. There wasn’t anything to say, really.

**

“Hey,” Ted said, sidling up to Roy on the sideline, “it doesn’t mean anything, right? It’s just the same as any other game.”

Roy nodded. He refused to look over his shoulder at the owner’s box. He already knew she wasn’t there, had clocked her absence the second Richmond took the pitch.

“Attaboy.” Ted thumped him on the shoulder twice before whistling to catch Colin’s attention.

Richmond ended up winning in stoppage, a beauty of a shot from Sam that had Roy looking for Keeley out of sheer instinct.

She still wasn’t there, but he knew that, so he couldn’t be disappointed.

He saluted Rebecca instead, forcing a smile as she clapped in his direction.

**

It should have been nothing — it was nothing, but because of fucking Twitter, nothing was ever nothing.

@richmond4lyfe99 IF A TEAM WINS IN A FOREST AND YOUR EX WIFE ISN’T AROUND TO SEE IT, IS IT WORTH CELEBRATING?
[picture of Kent looking to the stands, his face blank] [picture of Rebecca Welton and Leslie Higgins; the seat between them, usually reserved for Keeley Jones, Kent’s newly-announced ex-wife, is empty]
1.5K Retweets 21K Likes

“Roy,” Higgins stopped him in the hallway, “maybe don’t go on Twitter today.”

“Too late,” Roy said. He didn’t enjoy it, but Keeley had made an account for him and put it on his phone and he’d made a habit of checking it once after each game when he would tweet their results. For some reason, his “Loss” tweet after their result in Liverpool in April was retweeted by dozens of people every day.

Win he typed, and hit tweet, ignoring the way his notifications were racking up, dozens of people naming him while they talked about the pointless picture of him looking into the stands for Keeley. It had been a reflex. He navigated to the notifications tab and held up his phone for Higgins so he could see the screen:

@ibleedblue @richmond4lyfe99 if @roykentafc and @keeleyjones don’t get back together i will kill myself like romeo and juliet. the claire danes one

@jamiestart forget @roykentafc if he can’t treat her right I WILL MARRY @KEELEYJONES MYSELF

@greyh0undsl0ver Pathetic show from Richmond again. They need to fire @roykentafc and replace him with someone who can focus on the game instead of his love life

Higgins made a sad noise, not unlike a goose dying. “Have you considered deleting the app?”

It wasn’t a bad idea, actually. “Don’t know how.”

There was a minute where they stared at each other, the two of them stood in the hallway like fucking idiots, and then Higgins said, “I’ll have someone look into it,” and hurried off before Roy could say anything else.

It didn’t matter, Roy knew. The number of retweets on the original picture was growing now that the match had ended. It would be in the papers tomorrow along with some shit story about him being too emotionally compromised to coach, even though they fucking won and it would be at least three days before anyone let it go.

**

Missed you there today he sent, well enough after midnight that he felt a rush of regret the second the message showed as delivered.

“Fuck,” he said to the hollow emptiness of his bedroom, chucking his phone into the corner. If he was lucky it’d break and he wouldn’t be able to send messages or read Twitter or get sad FaceTimes from anyone in his life for the rest of time.

When he woke up, his phone was shockingly undamaged. News of Keeley’s absence from the match was on the ticker of Good Morning, Britain. At three am she’d sent a response, no emojis, just: me too.

Roy sighed and got ready for work.

**

“There he is!” Ted said, with an overwhelming cheeriness that led Roy to believe the news had grown newer, more terrifying legs.

Roy shook his head once. “We’re not doing this,” he said, and did an about-face out of Ted’s office and straight onto the pitch, where he distracted himself by having the reserves spend the afternoon running transition drills until he was tired just looking at them.

He took his time leaving — there was no point in rushing home, nothing there for him but the opportunity to cook another dinner for one or order so much takeaway that they sent him three sets of utensils.

It was sheer hope that had him swing by Keeley’s office on his way out. The building was mostly dark, nearly everyone gone home now that it was well after seven, but there was light shining from behind her slightly ajar door. He peeked inside first, trying to make sure no one else was with her before he knocked.

“I told you, Rebecca, I’m finishing this up and then I’m going.” Keeley kept typing for a moment before she looked up. Her face changed instantly. “You’re not Rebecca.”

“No.” He stepped inside and shut the door behind him. “Hi.”

“Hi.”

The room was startlingly quiet. Roy couldn’t remember if there’d ever been this much silence in the clubhouse before. He thought if he listened carefully, he might be able to hear Keeley’s heartbeat. Surely she could hear the way his was hammering away in his chest.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” she said, pushing away from her desk, tilting her head up to accept the kiss he was already bending to give her.

“No,” he agreed easily, kissing her once, twice more. God, he’d missed this, missed her. What a stupid fucking idea this was.

Keeley made a noise in the back of her throat, soft and desperate, and that was all the warning he got before she was surging up out of her chair, one hand planted against his chest so she could shove him back until he was sat on the edge of her desk and she could fit herself between the splay of his legs. He was glad he was sitting, then, because she kept kissing him until he’d gone dizzy with it.

“Jesus, Roy,” she said, panting against his cheek. Her hand was fisted in the neck of his shirt, so tight it’d probably never go back to normal.

“Yeah.” He used his palm against her back to pull her closer, let his fingertips drag rough and deliberate over the dip of her spine until he felt her eyelashes flutter against his cheek. He wanted to pull back so he could see her face, that glazed-over look she got when she was on her way to well and truly wrecked, and at the same time didn’t want to move at all.

Her hand unclenched at his neckline, her nails gliding quick and sharp over his collarbone, making him gasp. He turned toward her like a fucking plant turned to the sun, his mouth already open, seeking, the breath half-gone from his lungs as he tried to pull her even closer. Christ, he hadn’t been this hard up from a little making out since he was a teenager.

She had one knee up on the desk and Roy was trying to use his last functioning brain cell to figure out the best way to clear everything off her desk without breaking anything or stopping kissing her when there was a knock at the door.

“Miss Jones?” a voice came through.

“Shit.” Keeley jumped back. “Shit shit shit.” She started flapping one hand at Roy while she frantically wiped her mouth with the other. When Roy didn’t move she shoved his arm. “You have to hide.”

He looked around her office as if to say where?

Whoever the fuck it was knocked again and then tried the doorknob. Fuck. Roy knew he should’ve locked it.

“Miss Jones, it’s Baz. I can see the light’s on.”

Roy.” She pulled at his shirt, which had gone from sexy to, well, Roy didn’t mind being manhandled like this, but he didn’t need Baz to know about it, and shoved at Roy until he was on the floor, folded up under her desk. And just in the nick of time, apparently, because the door creaked open and she said, “Sorry! Had my headphones in, you know how it is.”

“Saw the light on,” the cleaner said again.

“Yeah.” Roy couldn’t see her, but he could hear the strain in Keeley’s voice, the fake smile. He held his breath and tried to stay as small as possible; there wasn’t much room. “Thanks for checking in.”

“You shouldn’t be here so late. I’ve already finished all the bins and the mopping.”

“I know, I’m just finishing up a bit.” Keeley dragged her computer back to the center of her desk and started typing again. “Thanks, though. I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah?”

Baz clearly knew a dismissal when he heard one. “I’m going to lock up and then I’ll pop back round.” Roy bit his lip to keep from growling. Well-meaning prick.

“No need,” Keeley said brightly and resumed typing as Baz shut the door behind him. “Night!”

Roy held his breath for three seconds, five, ten, and then let it out slowly. Keeley stopped typing and leaned back in her chair.

“That was close,” she said, pushing her chair back just far enough that Roy could see her smiling down at him, her eyes bright, face flushed. Baz was a stupid fuck if he didn’t suspect nothing. “This is why we can’t see each other. You make me stupid.”

“It ended up alright, didn’t it?” Roy curled his hand around her ankle, feeling the jut of the bone under his palm. Without coming out of his crouch he leaned forward and kissed the curve of her knee. She was wearing pink leggings; where his mouth had been, the fabric turned dark.

“Roy.”

“What?” he asked, using his hold of her ankle to drag her closer, the chair rolling easily across the floor. He planted another kiss higher on her thigh.

“Do not try to eat me out here,” she said, pushing away from him. “I have to sit in this chair all day tomorrow.”

“Yeah, that’s the point,” he said, grinning up at her. Her mouth was a straight line but he could tell she was fighting a smile. It’d take no convincing at all. “It’s been nearly a month, Keeley.”

He didn’t move, didn’t pull her closer or try to unfurl from under the desk. He stared up at her, waiting, their only point of contact his hand on her ankle. She chewed her lip and Roy thought of her texting him from the back of a taxi, all done up and high off the thrill of a photoshoot with nowhere to put that wound-up energy. He let his index finger trace the line of her Achilles.

This time, when Baz knocked, Roy jumped so hard he slammed his head on the top of the desk.

“Oh, shit.” Keeley put her hand on top of his head, soothing, but pulled back as soon as Baz let himself in.

“Miss Jones, I know you’re a modern woman and all, but we’re the only two left in the building. It’s nearly ten. I’d really feel better if you let me walk you out.”

He wouldn’t let up, they both knew. Baz was old, had been at Richmond since before Roy; since before anyone else, really. They’d bury the old sod here and Roy would gladly piss on his grave for this one, but still. He was generally otherwise one of the good ones.

He squeezed Keeley’s ankle once; as hard up as he was, it was best if she left. It probably wasn’t smart for Roy to risk walking her to her car anyway. And it was late.

Keeley sighed and closed her laptop. “Alright, thanks. Just let me get my things.”

It wasn’t long before Roy was the only one left, curled up under her desk in the pitch black with a lump on his skull and a semi.

I hate that man he texted Keeley as he slowly made his way to his car. In the morning I’m telling Higgins to fire him

**

We need to be more careful
The ads come out in like two weeks
I can’t trust myself around you

Roy stared at his phone. He knew she was right. That didn’t make it suck any less.

He changed course, stopped himself from heading down the hall to her office to see if she was stuck in for another late night, headed to the car park instead.

**

“For Roy, right?” the shithead taking his takeaway order said. “I recognized the number. You want your usual?”

“This is a new low.”

“Sorry mate, what was that?”

Roy sighed. “Yeah, cheers.”

“Alright. It’ll be there in twenty.”

**

It was fitting that the first time Roy saw Keeley after their too-close encounter was an all-hands meeting about the last third of the season: the probability of promotion, contingency planning for contracts, projections for sales. All sorts of shit Roy was forced to care about now.

“There is quite a bit to take into consideration,” Higgins was saying, “for example: salaries, ticket sales, sponsorships,” but Roy was too busy staring across the conference room table to where Keeley was sat, dutifully taking notes in her Make Magic Happen Every Day notebook.

The last time they’d had one of these all-hands meetings, Roy had borrowed her pen and written “let’s get the fuck out of here” in the margin. Sure, she’d ignored him, but now he couldn’t even sit near her. Instead, he was stuck between Ted and Beard, who had swarmed him like a pair of well-intentioned, claustrophobia-inducing bookends.

“Oooh, Higgins, it sounds like you are just listing my favorite things,” Ted said. “Only you forgot a few, you know, the doorbells and sleigh bells and what else.”

He looked to Roy. Roy looked back at him.

“Schnitzel with noodles,” Nate said.

Ted snapped his fingers together. “Right you are, thank you.”

Across from him, Rebecca rolled her eyes. Keeley had her hand over her mouth to hide her smile. She was always so easy for one of Ted’s stupid fucking segues.

Higgins cleared his throat. “If we aren’t promoted, there are three worst-case scenarios for trades.”

“Everyone dies, we lose all our starters to a massive sinkhole, aliens come and force half the team to play a pickup game a la Space Jam.” Ted held up a finger with each guess.

“Jesus Christ,” Rebecca said.

After a beat Higgins said, “There are six worst-case scenarios.”

Roy instinctively rolled his eyes at Keeley, who was still fighting back a laugh, her hand still pressed against her mouth, Her eyes shined at him, but by then he’d noticed that she wasn’t wearing her rings anymore.

He made himself look away, hoping that she hadn’t noticed him noticing.

Fuck. He felt like he’d been dunked underwater, Higgins’ voice and PowerPoint slides fading into the background. Keeley’d worn her engagement ring since the day he proposed, had spent months trying to use it as an excuse not to do the washing up because she didn’t want to take it off. And now here they were.

It didn’t matter, not really. It was only a thing, a dumb bit of metal. And it was smart, probably, to take them off. Definitely something those idiots in the press would care about. She was right to do it. He wondered how long she hadn’t been wearing them — he didn’t notice when they were fooling around, but he never noticed them anymore, they were practically a part of her. Until they weren’t, apparently.

He caught himself digging his thumb into his own ring, idly twisting it the way he found himself doing when he was having a think, and oh, fuck. He was going to have to take his off now, too, wasn’t he?

“What do you think, Roy?” Nate asked, and Roy felt all eyes in the room turn to him as he tried to pretend like he hadn’t been staring at Keeley’s hand.

“Option two, then three, then one,” Beard said. “Right?”

“Right.” Roy’s voice came out strangled. He coughed once to clear it. “Two, three, one.”

**

Even though it was just for show, even though it was just a dumb bit of metal, it still felt unbearably final to take his ring off. It took him three full days to leave the house without it, which was pathetic really.

In the end he told himself to nut up, get over it, and chucked it in with his socks — better than leaving it on top of the dresser, where it could roll off and get hoovered up or some shit — before storming off to work like a man with a vengeance.

“Whoa there, Fred Astaire,” Ted caught up with Roy on the sidelines halfway through training, reaching for the sleeve of his jumper but not actually grabbing it. “Rough night?”

Roy didn’t say anything. He knew he looked like shit, there was no use in denying it. Ted stared at him and he stared back, waiting. Usually after a few minutes, Ted would give up.

Today was different.

“HEY,” Ted yelled after a minute, belatedly blowing his whistle like he’d just remembered he had one. “PRACTICE ENDS EARLY TODAY.”

“It’s training, you utter knob,” Roy said, but Ted ignored him in favor of yelling, “TGIF!”

The lads gave up a cheer. The drill they’d been in the middle of rapidly devolved into a kickabout, their energy returned to them like they hadn’t just spent ninety minutes whinging about running.

“Hey, Coach, you okay to wrap things up here? We’re going out to lunch.”

Roy’s eyes narrowed. “What?”

Beard nodded, never taking his eyes off the pitch.

“Thanks, buddy, I owe you one,” Ted said, clapping him on the shoulder. To Roy he said, “Alright, let’s go.”

This time, when he reached for Roy’s sleeve, he didn’t miss.

**

Roy let himself be dragged to the Crown and Anchor under duress (“No, it’s best if you don’t drive, I think this is going to be a liquid-forward kind of meal,” Ted had said, and just like that they were in Rebecca’s car, being chauffeured away. “This is technically kidnapping,” Roy had said, to which Ted replied, “You think you qualify as a kid? More of a mannapping, if anything,” and then Roy had to listen to him say mannapping for ten full minutes, until it lost all meaning and they were at the pub) and refused to order when they got there.

“Two pints, Mae,” Ted said. “Each.”

Mae looked from Ted to Roy and back again. “It’s like that then, is it?”

Roy expected Ted to give her a whole song and dance, to rehash his and Keeley’s split in three-part harmony or some shit, but all Ted said was, “Yes ma’am.”

In fact, Ted didn’t say much at all, except to order them a plate of chips just as Roy was getting hungry, or another round whenever his pint was getting low. It was, surprisingly, kind of nice.

“You’re being weird,” Roy said, after half a burger and the most silence he’d ever heard from Ted fucking Lasso.

“Am I?” Ted wiped his face with his napkin. “Sorry.”

Roy stared at him, trying to focus. He was maybe, possibly, sort of on his way to pissed. He blinked until the two Teds merged back into one.

“No you’re not,” he said, because this was Ted’s plan all along, he knew it. Take Roy out, get him drunk, then get him to open up, probably by using one of his stupid patented Ted Lasso heart-to-hearts.

“Oh, Roy,” Ted looked at him sadly, right at the indent where Roy’s wedding ring used to be, the same indent he’d kept accidentally rubbing his thumb against all day, like a shitty, invisible worry stone. Roy curled his hand into a fist, shoved it into his lap. “I really, really am.”

Here it comes, Roy thought, and braced for whatever hoo-rah, win her back, love conquers all speech Ted had been working on. It had been four weeks of him minding his own business. It was bound to be a doozy.

“Let’s get you home, buddy.” Ted signaled something to Mae and the next thing Roy knew, he was being bundled into a cab. It was still light out.

**

Ted got me bladdered and ddin’t say a thing for 5 hours
FICE
FICE
FIVE
Does he think we were right to break ip???????????

Roy passed out on the sofa, dead to rights, waiting for Keeley to text him back.

When he finally woke up, it was earlier than any human had a right to be awake, let alone hungover. His whole body ached from sleeping on the sofa and his phone was dead.

He plugged it in, showered, got sick, showered again, ordered McDonald’s to be delivered, and then sat down with his somewhat charged phone to figure out what the fuck had happened.

There were five separate texts from Keeley, each of them thirty minutes apart, just a string of increasingly more question marks except for the last one which said ROY. It had apparently come after three missed calls.

His egg McMuffin and coffee arrived and Roy ate exactly three bites before deciding he might actually die. It felt like the right time to call her back.

“Are you dead?” she asked, instead of saying hello.

“Yes,” he said, aware of how gritty his voice sounded, “and I’m in hell.”

She barely laughed.

“My phone died,” he said. “Right before I did, apparently. Or right after, I don’t know, I’m still piecing together the timeline. I was…. very, very drunk.”

“I mean, yeah,” she said. He could hear people in the background of wherever she was, someone calling her name. Once upon a time he would’ve known where she’d gone at eight on a Saturday morning. For a fake split, some parts of it felt startlingly, painfully real. “It took you three tries to spell five.”

“Fuck off.”

She didn’t say anything for a bit, let the silence sit between them. Roy’s head throbbed; what he wouldn’t have given to have her sitting across from him, making fun of his decrepit body collapsing under the weight of one measly hangover.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” Keeley said eventually. “Almost there, yeah? Campaign’s live so soon.”

“Yeah.” He took a sip of his coffee and hoped it would stop him feeling like reheated shit. “I know.”

“Listen, I’ve got to go.”

“Alright,” he said. “Love you.”

There was a noise on her end suddenly, loud and close. “You too,” she said, so quietly he barely heard it. He still clung to it like a lifeline.

**

He gave himself the rest of his hangover to have a pity party and then he imagined Keeley sitting at the foot of the bed, her mouth pulled into an exaggerating frown, saying, “I’m Roy Kent, and I hate playing pretend divorce.”

Because that’s what it was, wasn’t it? Stupid fucking make-believe. He’d let himself get too into his head about it, and what good had that done? Absolutely nothing.

It was time to get the fuck over it, the way Roy Fucking Kent would do.

**

“Well look who isn’t dead,” Ted lit up at the sight of Roy in the dressing room. “I was starting to think we’d lost you for good.”

Roy refused to look at his watch. He knew full well he was five minutes early and that Ted was just being a prick because sometimes, even if he refused to admit it, Ted was a massive prick.

“You can’t start Gibson against Watford. He’s got no stamina, they’ll run circles around him and we’ll have to sub him before the half.”

“I don’t know about that.”

“He’s as out of shape as I am,” Roy said. “He’s got no business being in the midfield, especially not against a team as fit as Watford.”

“So Keeley dumps you and now you only go for fit blokes?” Jamie clomped through the room like a subtle elephant. “Seems a bit of a leap, but I get it.”

“Fuck off,” Roy said instinctively, then, “Wait, you ‘get it?’”

Ted made a considering face. Jamie looked horrified.

“You know what I meant, you senile twat.”

Roy made a face at Ted, pretending like he didn’t really believe Jamie.

Jamie scoffed. “See if I ever try to be nice to you again.”

“That’s you being nice?” Ted yelped, but Jamie was already jogging out of the room. “I’ll never understand y’all’s relationship.”

Roy rolled his eyes. “You can’t start Gibson.”

“I’ll take it under advisement. Welcome back, Coach.”

Roy hadn’t gone anywhere, but there was no use arguing.

**

Ted didn’t start Gibson. Richmond beat Watford and officially moved within six points of promotion. It would have been the biggest story in town, except the same day they won, Rupert Mannion was named as one of the key players in a massive tax avoidance scheme.

Roy found out because someone had stuck a front page reading NO PAY TO PLAY: RUPERT MANNION’S SECRET CLUB to his office door. The headlines were plastered all over the clubhouse. He could practically feel the waves of smugness floating from Rebecca’s office.

It wasn’t any of his business, though he did send her a congratulatory text. It was just the emoji of his face with the confetti and the noisemaker, but he figured it was enough. They hadn’t spoken much since the split — it was easier to let her be on Keeley’s side unequivocally than forcing her to pretend to be friends for his sake — but this was a momentous occasion.

Momentous, it turned out, was understating it, because Roy’s phone started ringing at two in the morning.

“What’s wrong?” he said, because there was no reason for Keeley to be calling him this late, not unless something had gone tits up.

“Oh good, you’re up,” she said brightly. “You didn’t answer my texts.”

“What?” Roy pulled his phone away from his face and checked his messages. There were a half dozen from her, starting with You up? and ending with more peach emojis than an adult human should feel comfortable sending or receiving. Somewhere in the middle was a picture of Keeley and Rebecca in a velvet booth, the flash on the camera making their faces look ghostly pale. “Are you at The Box?”

“Yeah,” Keeley said, “I mean, no, not now, but we were. To celebrate Rupert’s demise, obviously.”

“Obviously.”

“And now, I’m awake, and you’re awake…” Keeley trailed off, and Roy thought for a second she might’ve fallen asleep, but then she snapped to and said, “Come over,” in a voice so sure and commanding Roy immediately got hard.

It was a terrible idea. That didn’t stop him from glancing at the clock, at his trainers by the closet. He could be there in no time at all.

“Keeley?” In the background Roy could hear Rebecca’s voice.

“Shit,” Keeley said, which was one way to kill the mood.

Roy tried to put together the puzzle with only half the pieces. “Where are you?”

“In Rebecca’s guest room,” she whispered, and all Roy had time to say was, “What?” before he heard Rebecca opening the door, clearly drunk and riding high and swooping into the room, saying, “Are you on the phone? Is that him? Oh my god.”

“Don’t,” Keeley said, and there were the sounds of a scuffle, and then Rebecca was in Roy’s ear saying, “Bob? Hello, is that you?”

Roy didn’t say anything.

“Sorry about this, Bob,” Keeley said from a distance, “but I told you how Rebecca is.”

“Is it a crime to want to vet your friend’s new boyfriend? No offense, Bob.”

“None taken?” Roy had no fucking clue what was going on. One minute he’d been dead asleep and now Rebecca was going on about how wonderful Keeley was and how important it was that she be treated right.

Roy didn’t say anything, mostly hummed and tried to feel grateful that Rebecca’d never given him this kind of speech when he and Keeley first got together. It was intimidating, listening to her, even as she drunkenly went off-topic about how perfect Keeley’s skin was.

“Alright, that’s enough,” Keeley said, “if you’re waxing poetic about my pores it’s definitely time for bed.”

“It was lovely to finally meet you, Bob,” Rebecca said, so warmly Roy’s heart did a funny squeeze in his chest. He’d been so focused on missing Keeley that he hadn’t realized he missed Rebecca, too. He’d lost a whole fucking friend because of this charade, only got the chilled air of her presence these days.

“Likewise,” Roy said, trying to disguise his voice and probably failing miserably.

“Hang on a mo, yeah?” Keeley said, and Roy grunted and then had to listen to five minutes of her chivvying Rebecca off to bed. He was nearly asleep by the time she got back, announcing herself with a, “Sorry, I really thought she was asleep before.”

Roy was on an entirely different page of this story. “Who the fuck is Bob?”

“It’s you,” she said, like it was the most obvious answer in the world.

“Right.” Roy counted to three very slowly. “Why does Rebecca think you’re dating some bloke named Bob?”

“I knew you’d never be able to stop texting me, so I changed your info in my phone. That way, whenever you message me: poof, Bob.”

“That…. is the most genius thing I’ve ever heard.” Roy didn’t know what to say. Here he was, trying to hide his phone from everyone’s view while Keeley played bloody three-dimensional chess. “I’ve never wanted to sleep with you more.”

“Yeah? Tell me about it, hmm?”

He did. Got himself proper worked up over it, too, only to be interrupted by Keeley snoring.

Having a wank in the bathroom at three am was yet another new personal low.

**

It was fitting, honestly, that as soon as Roy found out about Bob, Ted found out about Bob.

“What is wrong with him?” Roy watched, disgusted, as Ted rubbed his fist against his sternum.

“Stress-induced agita,” Beard said.

Ted knocked back two pills dry. Roy left before anyone could say anything else.

Unfortunately, he didn’t follow his instincts and leave the building. He should have, but hindsight was twenty-twenty, and by the time he realized the meeting in Ted’s office was a trap, Nate was blocking the door.

Shockingly, he didn’t move when Roy glared.

“Hey now, none of that,” Ted said. “We’re here to help.”

“Are you?” Roy looked around the room, at each of the Diamond Dogs in turn. They’d been calm as could be for the past month, but Ted got wind of Keeley’s boyfriend and suddenly it was four against one.

“Yeah, of course. No man is an island, Roy. We’re here for you. Like Oahu and Maui and… what are the other ones?”

“Kauai,” Beard said. “Lanai, Niihau, Molokai —”

“That many?” Ted pulled a face. Beard nodded and held up eight fingers. Ted whistled, impressed. “Wow.”

He turned back to Roy, looking for him to be equally impressed. Roy didn’t ask what the fuck they were on about. He let his face say it for him.

Ted, the fucker, was unfazed. “Let us help you, Roy.”

“When Julie and I had a spot of trouble, we tried couples counseling. Maybe Dr. Fieldstone —”

“I do not do couples counseling,” Dr. Fieldstone said, making Roy startle. He hadn’t noticed her in the corner.

“Good,” he said, “neither do I.”

She looked at him for a moment and Roy couldn’t tell if she pitied him or thought he was a bellend. Probably both. It didn’t fucking matter.

“Is this about Keeley’s new,” he cast about for a word, couldn’t bring him to say boyfriend, “whatever?”

Ted’s eyes went wide. “You know about Bob?”

“Well he does now,” Nate said quietly.

“Yeah.” Roy shrugged. He was starting to see the thrill Keeley had gotten from this, sneaking around in plain sight. “So?”

“And you’re okay with it?”

He made a face, playing extra dumb. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

Ted looked at Beard, then at Higgins, then at Nate, then at Dr. Fieldstone. “No reason,” he said eventually.

Roy waited him out. When Ted didn’t say anything, Roy said, “Okay then,” and left.

The door was barely shut when Ted started whisper-yelling at the rest of the Diamond Dogs, but Roy didn’t stick around to hear what they were saying.

**

Keeley’s ad campaign went live on a Wednesday, which felt anticlimactic in a way. Or it would have, if Roy hadn’t seen her face plastered on a bus first thing in the morning.

Holy shit he texted her, along with a blurry pic of the bus. She looked bloody fantastic, all hair and eyelashes and the delicate curve of her neck.

You like it?

He called her instead of texting back. “It’s fucking incredible,” he said.

“Aw, thanks, Bob.”

Roy rolled his eyes. “Don’t call me that, I know you’re just sat at home.”

“I could be around people.”

“Please. It’s quarter to eight. You haven’t even finished breakfast yet.”

She chuckled, low and throaty. It was another thing Roy missed, making her laugh like that, a quiet, private thing. “Spot on, babe.”

He squinted against the rising sun. “Well, congrats on your face on the busses and shit.”

That made her laugh for real, and the sound of it made Roy’s insides feel like they were spilling out of containment.

“Cheers,” she said. “Wait till you see the one on the telly.”

**

The one on the telly was set to music, that stupid “Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” song that was, apparently, the world’s most insidious earworm, if Roy’s experience was anything to go by.

Its appearance launched them right back into the news cycle, eclipsing Rupert and his downfall, and just when things had finally died down, Roy had to deal with paparazzi shouting questions at him again.

And worse, he had to deal with Jamie shit-eating Tartt, who was apparently South Pacific’s number one fan with the way he sang the song at full belt all the time. In the showers, on the pitch, bloody whistling it on the way to his car.

It was torture, but not for the reasons Jamie thought. Well, partially for those reasons, because after the first four times that song got really fucking annoying, but mostly because Keeley looked well fit in it and Roy couldn’t do anything about it.

Is it weird if I have a wank to your commercial? he sent, in a particularly dark moment.

The eyes emoji came through first and then Send pics
PS Rebecca saw this and agrees w/me
Come on, Bob! For me?

Roy was too busy trying to figure out how to drown himself in the bath out of mortification to respond.

**

“Hey, Roy!” Ted flagged him down after training one afternoon.

“I’m fine.”

“Okay.” Ted sounded like he didn’t believe him for one second. Which was fair, because Roy was only just realizing Ted hadn’t asked. “Glad to hear it. Do me a favor, run this up to Rebecca’s for me? I’ve got a call with Trent Crimm and if there’s one thing that man hates, it’s someone disrespecting his time by being late.”

Ted held out a sheaf of papers that had SIGN HERE flags sticking out from all sides.

“Fine,” Roy said, taking them and heading up the stairs to Rebecca’s office. He hadn’t been there in ages, not since he’d last ventured in to track down Keeley for a ride home pre-fake divorce.

The door was wide open, so he didn’t think anything of knocking on it and stepping in. He wouldn’t have thought anything at all if everyone inside hadn’t fallen immediately silent.

“Hello,” he said, taking stock of Higgins in one of the chairs, Rebecca and Keeley and, fuck’s sake, Jamie, of all people, sacked out on the couch. “Talking about me, then?”

They all nodded. At least Rebecca and Higgins had the decency to look ashamed. Keeley gave him a weak smile and Roy tried not to think about how long it had been since he’d last seen her in person. Since that time in her office, ages ago now. Fuck. They’d gotten good at avoiding each other — too good, nearly. He felt sweaty seeing her again, jittery and unbalanced.

“Right.” He dropped the papers on the coffee table. “These are for you. Bye.”

“Thank you,” Rebecca said, very faintly, and so late Roy was already all the way down the steps and could barely hear it.

**

“For the record,” Keeley said on the phone later that night, “the Pink Ladies voted two-to-one for us to get back together.”

“The Pink fucking Ladies?” Roy said, pulling last night’s spag bol out of the microwave and poking the middle. Still cold. He put it in for another two minutes. “What are you, bloody Grease?”

“Kind of! It was Leslie’s idea.”

Roy snorted. Of course it was. “Do the Diamond Dogs know he’s two-timing them? Ted won’t be pleased.”

“Ted’ll be jealous he wasn’t invited, more like,” Keeley said. “And then it probably would’ve been three-to-one, us, so.”

“Same odds, basically. That’s what you get for letting Jamie Tartt into your stupid club.” Roy couldn’t even be mad, really. On some level it was nice that Keeley had people in her corner, even if one of them was Jamie and a whole duffle bag of ulterior motives.

“It’s not stupid,” Keeley said. “Do you think the Diamond Dogs are stupid?”

“Yes,” Roy said, making her laugh, this sharp, short sound like she didn’t want to admit it was funny.

“Whatever,” she said, “I think you’re stupid.”

**

“Roy, for the fifth time, I’m not going to bench Jamie tomorrow night.”

“His footwork’s sloppy and he’s been unfocused all week, but fine! It’s your funeral.”

“We are a team!” Ted yelled down the hall after him. “It’s our funeral!”

**

“Do you have any comment on your ex-wife’s misandrist campaign?” some gormless arsehole from a shit newspaper asked.

They’d won four-nil and Jamie’d had a fucking hat trick, but this twat only cared about one thing.

“Do you mean to say it’s anti-man to shower? That seems a bit much,” Roy said, and then walked out.

“Does anyone have any follow-up questions?” Nate asked, to a clamor of shouts and raised hands.

“About the match,” Ted clarified, and the number of hands in Roy’s periphery went down exponentially.

**

The thing was, after the campaign finally arrived, Keeley and Roy were more popular than ever. It was like the ads reminded everyone that they had split and, therefore, were people of interest.

Roy spent an entire week doing nothing but going from the clubhouse to home to the clubhouse to home and some idiot photogs still followed his every move.

He spent another week doing the same. Richmond won a game and lost a game and rose to four points out of third.

think this bastard lives outside my house now Keeley sent one night, with a grainy photo of a small, sad man with a camera sat on a bench outside her window.

Call the police

She sent back the eye-rolling emoji first, and then:

I called Rebecca instead
He’ll be bankrupt by noon

Roy had his own shadow waiting across the street, only he couldn’t very well get Rebecca to handle it.

Well played he said, and turned off the lights and went to bed, feeling like he had in the early days of this god-awful ruse. Like there was no point to it and it might never be over.

**

Roy wanted fresh greens. That was the real reason he’d gone to the farmer’s market on the weekend. Sure, it was in Keeley’s neighborhood, but it wasn’t like he was planning to run into her there.

He’d hoped, maybe, that he’d bump into her and it would give them the perfect opportunity to organically rekindle their relationship. Something that’d be an easy story for their reunion, whenever the newest timeline for that was. It kept getting pushed back. Roy was getting impatient.

So he’d hoped, yes, but he hadn’t known for certain she’d be there. He wasn’t stalking her or anything like that.

Though now that he thought about it, he realized at least one article was going to imply he was. Fuck.

That didn’t change the fact that she was right there in the stall with him, saying hi and waiting for him to say it back.

“Hi.” He nodded once and pretended to look at the root veg between them. She was close enough that he could smell her perfume. Her hair was in a messy bun and she had trainers on, looking about as normal as could be. Like it was any old Saturday morning. He couldn’t stop himself staring. “You look well.”

Keeley flushed the tiniest bit. He watched the curve of her mouth, the swoop of her eyelashes, felt the phantom smoothness of her skin under his fingertips. God, had it really been a month since he’d last held her? No wonder he was fucking mental.

When he reached for a potato, she went for the same one, her hand landing on top of his. It lingered just a second too long to be accidental. Roy suddenly understood the wankers in the old movies she’d made him watch, the ones jizzing themselves over seeing a bit of ankle or some such.

Keeley pulled her hand back. “You’ve stopped wearing your ring.”

There was something off in her voice. He moved down the row, putting space between them before he said, “You did it first.”

Her brow furrowed. Roy didn’t know why he was getting defensive, it wasn’t his idea to go through with it in the first place, just like it wasn’t his idea to ditch the rings.

“What?” It came out gruffer than he meant, but she was just watching him like she was looking for something, an answer to a question Roy didn’t understand.

“Nothing,” she said, gentle, soft, like he was a horse that needed settling. Maybe he was. He felt like a wild thing that should be put out of its misery. Shoot him and send him straight to the glue factory.

Instinctively he stepped towards her. In a blink of an eye he was close — too close, really. Nearby, someone gasped; seconds later, he heard the telltale click of a phone camera. Fucking hell.

For a fleeting moment, Keeley looked heartbroken, and then, like a switch had turned, she hardened, her face going sharp and steely. “You shouldn’t be here, Roy,” she said, just loud enough to be heard by the nearest eavesdroppers.

So that’s how it was going to be.

“I needed,” he cast about for the nearest vegetable, “turnips.” He was too loud, he knew, but he was shit at acting so Keeley was just going to have to deal with it.

“Sure,” she said calmly. “Those are beets.”

“I fucking know what a beet is, Keeley!” He threw it back onto the pile, feeling legitimately worked up over it. Probably because people were starting to stare outright now, rude motherfuckers with no respect for people’s private conversations in public streets. Fuck, he was so bloody sick of being the number one story. This was supposed to have been dead by now, bygones and old news and shit.

“Whatever,” he said, and turned to leave. It had been a shit idea to come here anyway. He didn’t really need any vegetables. He could order a salad from any old restaurant if he truly wanted one. He didn’t know what he’d been expecting. Like he could just show up and go back to the way things were before he opened his stupid fucking mouth?

He was so busy cursing his past self, swearing up and down and sideways that if Elon Musk ever invented fucking time travel he would pay the million pounds just to be the first one to go to the past and punch himself in the face to keep him from opening his mouth around Danny or any shitbirds that wrote for the Daily Mail, that he didn’t notice his phone going off.

Wait
Come over
Like right now, Roy

“Fuck,” he said to the empty street.

Roy.

It took a bit of espionage, slipping through the gate down the street and creeping through the neighbors’ back gardens, but he made it undetected, letting himself in the back.

He wasn’t quiet about it, but she still jumped when he said, “Hi.”

“Fuck’s sake, Roy. You know I hate it when you sneak up on me.”

He laughed. “Did you honestly think I’d come to the front door?”

“I don’t know,” she said, sounding a bit hysterical. “I didn’t think you’d show up at the market, did I? You walk right up to me in public —”

“Oi, I was there first.”

“and say hi like it’s normal fucking days, and then you sneak in through the back window?”

“It was the door.”

Keeley held up her hands like she wanted to strangle him. “You are the most infuriating man I have ever met!”

Roy could think of at least a dozen more infuriating men she’d dated, let alone met. “I don’t think —” he started to say, but then she was kissing him like it was either that or actually murder him.

He walked her backward until they hit the door and he could lift her up, pinning her there.

“Fuck,” she said, getting both legs round his waist, winding her arms around his neck. When she scratched her nails across his scalp he shuddered, an embarrassing full-body jerk that had them both groaning.

“I can’t believe you took your ring off,” she said, sounding angry and breathless at the same time.

He bit the hinge of her jaw. “I only did it because you did!”

She tugged at the hem of his shirt; Roy had to let her down to get it off, his knee was still too dodgy to multitask like he used to, but it turned out to be fine because she took the opportunity to lose her whole kit. Impressively, she didn’t stop ranting the whole time.

“God,” she was saying, even as she manhandled Roy to the ground, getting him first under her and then rolling them, “this was the stupidest fucking idea.”

He could hardly hear her, too fixated on the way she already had two fingers inside herself.

“I —” he started, not knowing where he was going with it. He made to help but she knocked his hand away and then, with a broken gasp, reached for his cock. Her hand was warm and wet and he felt like the most important parts of his brain were legitimately malfunctioning as she guided him inside her.

“Oh, fuck, yeah, like that.” Her eyes fluttered closed. He was overwhelmed, his every nerve on fire, his brain stuck on KeeleyKeeleyKeeley while she was still running full steam ahead, saying, “Why did we do this? Why am I so mad at you for it?”

“I don’t know,” he said, made honest by the fact that ninety-five percent of his brain cells were distracted by how good she felt, the familiar planes of her body underneath his and the unbearably hot heat of her. He couldn’t quite catch his breath. “Why am I mad at you? Is this even a real fight?”

He was mad at her, was the thing. But it was an irrational anger. The kind Ted would say he should imagine in a balloon and then imagine letting it go, watching it float away. Which only made him angrier, because now Ted was getting involved in the first precious naked moments he’d had with Keeley in ages.

“Of course it’s not,” Keeley said, digging her heels into his arse and her nails into his shoulders, her mouth open and gasping against his, and just like that he was coming so quickly he would’ve been disappointed if hadn’t missed her so much.

“My knee is never going to go back into place,” he said afterward, still in a disgusting puddle on the floor.

“It had a good run,” Keeley said, laughing as she made her way to her feet, slowly because her legs were still jelly. From this angle, Roy could see they were still trembling a bit. “I’m grateful for its service.”

She came back from the loo with a washcloth for him and a pillow for his leg because she knew he wasn’t going to be able to move for a good long while. Instead of disappearing again, she curled up with him, lying with her head on his stomach, one of his hands clasped in both of hers.

“When this is done I want to sell my place,” he said, studying the cracks in the ceiling, the water stain from when the pipes had burst last winter. “I should’ve done it ages ago. I hate it there. It isn’t home. It hasn’t been for a while.”

Keeley sat straight up. “For fuck’s sake, Roy,” she said, “at least wait until I’ve got knickers on to say shit like that!”

She’d said the same thing when he proposed, in the exact same outraged, mushy tone, and she’d held his face in her hands and kissed him just like this back then, too.

“You are,” she said, punctuating each word with another kiss, “the most infuriating man I’ve ever met.”

Roy grinned up at her, traced the crinkles at the corner of her eye, the shell of her ear. “So you’ve said.”

**

It was well after supper by the time he left. Sneaking out was twice as hard as sneaking in had been, made all the worse by his swelled up knee. He limped all the way back, through the gardens and past the closed-up market and the three blocks farther to where he’d stealthily parked his car that morning.

Once he was home, he pulled some flatpack boxes out of the spare closet and set to work packing things away even though they still weren’t through with the charade.

“Not much longer,” Keeley had promised, the two of them planning a reunion timeline over takeaway Chinese. It was so much better than their original plotting over FaceTime that Roy couldn’t find it in him to be annoyed at the situation. It would probably fade with the afterglow, but until then he wasn’t questioning it.

Keeley’s advert aired four times during one rerun of SVU. By the fifth time, Roy was singing along as he chucked an entire bookcase’s worth of knick-knacks into a box marked for donation. He was fairly certain he’d go to his grave with that damn song stuck in his head.

**

Roy could blame it on complacency, or laziness, or their afternoon together setting them on edge, or any number of things.

The fact was, by mid-May, they were both a bit reckless, which was probably why, when they were in the middle of yet another meeting about Richmond’s seemingly inevitable promotion, he didn’t think twice about texting her while Higgins was clicking through yet another dreadful PowerPoint.

Dinner @ mine tonight?

They’d managed it once in the past week, could probably do again if they were strategic about it. Having her over made the place less shit, at least.

In hindsight, he should’ve realized Rebecca was surreptitiously watching over Keeley’s shoulder as she responded. Rebecca was fully Team Bob, which was a fucking insult that Roy didn’t want to think too long about because he still wanted to like Rebecca when this was all over.

In hindsight, he should’ve done a lot of things.

When Keeley’s response (an unbearably simple yes pls!) came through, Roy’s phone vibrated, startling the whole group in an otherwise silent room. Roy blamed Higgins mainly, because if his presentation hadn’t been shit then people would’ve been paying attention to it and not Roy’s phone.

And then he wouldn’t’ve fumbled for it, knocked it onto the floor, and kicked it clear across the room in his haste to pick it up before anyone saw who the text was from. He should’ve changed Keeley’s name to Bertha or some shit. Fucking idiot, he was.

“Sorry,” he said, “family emergency. I’m leaving.”

“Okay,” Ted said easily as everyone else hummed goodbyes. “Let us know if you need anything.”

Roy waited until he was out of the room and down the hall to let himself breathe normally.

**

He was so stressed in the aftermath of their carelessness that he considered asking Ted to share his heartburn pills. Every day Roy braced for the whole thing to come crashing down around them, but it never did.

“I told Rebecca I broke it off with Bob,” Keeley told him over the phone. “Said he got too pushy at dinner.”

“Oi!” Roy didn’t know why he was defensive of Bob, but he was.

“Well I had to throw her off the scent, didn’t I? She’s so sneaky sometimes, I forgot how much she likes to read over your shoulder.”

Roy grunted.

“But don’t worry, I changed your name in my phone again. If anyone asks, I’m chatting with a new bloke named Alistair.”

“You’re like an evil mastermind,” Roy said, genuinely impressed.

**

Days passed. Nothing happened. Slowly, Roy let himself accept that they’d dodged a bullet.

**

“Excuse me, Coach?” Will knocked on Roy’s office door. “Coach Lasso was looking for you?”

Behind him, a gaggle of passing players said “Ooooh” like Roy was in trouble.

“Fuck off!” he yelled. “Not you,” he said when Will winced. Seasons in and this kid was nervy as ever.

“Sorry,” Will said.

Roy waited. He raised his eyebrows. After far too much silence he said, “Well, where is he then?”

“Oh, right!” Will looked over his shoulder, one then the other. “Uh, I think he said Ms. Welton’s office?”

Roy sighed. Probably another fucking promotion planning meeting. There were so many of late they were going to end up jinxing it.

Will opened his mouth but Roy cut him off with, “I’m going.”

He wasn’t superstitious, but there was a line and they were clearly flirting with it, making all these plans with their lists of potential new recruits and top-tier sponsors. There was a difference between contingency planning and outright preparing, and the latter was not on. Not when it was still too close to call and far enough from the end of the season that it could all go tits up. Roy had tolerated it so far, but enough was enough.

“I’ll sit through this one,” he said, storming into Rebecca’s office, “but after this we stop acting like we’ve got it in the bag. Brentford could swoop in at any second and then where will we be? A bunch of twats with our thumbs up our arses.”

“Thank you, Roy,” Ted said. “We’ll take that under advisement. That does sound mighty uncomfortable. And anatomically confusing, honestly.”

Roy grunted and sat himself on the couch. Ted and Rebecca were at the chairs in front of her desk. Everyone else was, apparently, incredibly late. Fuckers.

“Rebecca? Leslie said you had a Bantr emergency,” Keeley was talking as she came up the stairs. “It better not be another dick pic.”

Rebecca’s face went red. Ted outright laughed and even Roy had to fight back a smile.

“Oh,” Keeley said, stopping just over the threshold when she realized who all was in the room.

“Hey there, Keeley, have a seat.” Ted gestured toward the couch and Roy moved over even though there was plenty of room. She perched carefully on one end, making a face as Ted got up to shut the door behind her.

“What’s this? A fucking intervention?” She laughed, but there was a nervous tinge to it. Roy fought the urge to shift closer to her. “Have you got a drug problem, Roy?”

Ted laughed, fake and loud. “I think you’ll find you both have an addiction.” There was a surprising amount of venom in his voice. “To lying.”

“What the fuck?” Roy said, mostly to himself. Across the couch, Keeley looked equally confused.

“That’s right,” Ted continued, pacing in short, frantic circles, “something is rotten in the state of Richmond, and it’s you two.”

“Us?” Keeley’s jaw dropped.

“Yeah, you!” Ted pointed at them both. “Rebecca, call 911 —”

“999,” Rebecca and Roy said at the same time, but Ted was undeterred.

“Because these two liars have some pants that are on fire. And yes, I mean y’alls version of pants. You two are charred all the way down to your bottoms.”

“All right,” Rebecca said, holding out one hand. “I think they get the point.”

Roy, who had seen just enough of Led Tasso over the years to find him vaguely amusing instead of intimidating, said, “I don’t, actually.”

Ted opened his mouth.

“No,” Rebecca said. “We talked about this.”

Ted stopped, opened his mouth, reconsidered, and shut it again.

“Seriously, what the fuck?” Keeley said. “Is something going on? Did you make Higgins lie to me?”

“No!” Rebecca said, and then, “I mean, yes. But…”

“But the Diamond Ladies had good intentions, so don’t worry about Higgins’ moral integrity,” Ted finished.

He said it with a strange finality. Everyone in the room was silent for a moment.

Roy finally bit. “Who the fuck are the Diamond Ladies?”

“Only the greatest supergroup since NKOTBSB.”

Rebecca put her head in her hand.

“Who?”

“Oh, for the love of Joey McIntyre.” Ted looked to the ceiling like he was praying and then thought better of it. “No, you’re not going to distract me from the point. I’m onto your mind games, Roy Kent.”

“I’m not playing games,” Roy said. He had no bloody clue what was happening, let alone how he could be playing games about it.

“Me, Beard, Higgins, Rebecca.” Ted gestured around the room. “When the Diamond Dogs and the Pink Ladies join forces, we are —”

“Captain Planet,” Keeley said, nodding. Roy had to look at the wall to keep from laughing. She was ace at taking the piss and Ted was never any wiser.

“The Diamond Ladies,” Ted said. “But I see how you got there. Just don’t tell Nate. Or Jamie. We don’t want to hurt their feelings for excluding them.”

Roy frowned. “Excluding them from what, exactly?”

“I’m glad you asked, Roy.” Ted turned slightly. “Rebecca, if you will.”

Rebecca hit a button on her laptop and suddenly they were looking at a PowerPoint that said BAD LIAR(S). On one side of the title there was a picture of Keeley and Roy. On the other side was a picture of Selena Gomez, who Roy was disappointed he recognized.

“Now I’ll admit, you had us going at the beginning,” Ted said, as Rebecca clicked to a slide of all the original headlines about their split. Jesus, there had been so many pictures of Roy frowning on the sidelines.

“That’s my normal face,” Roy said, annoyed.

“Right.” Ted nodded. “We realize that now. Hindsight being what it is and all.”

“But things didn’t start to add up.” There was a series of slides, all with the title 2 + 2 = ?????? They said things like:

Run in with Baz late at night?
Roy hickey??
Keeley @ The Box

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Keeley said, her face pinched.

“You didn’t stop talking about Roy the entire time we were out,” Rebecca said.

“You’re confusing him with Bob.”

Rebecca tilted her head to one side. Ted’s next slide said BOB??? with a picture of Roy next to it. “I don’t think I am.”

That fucking meeting. Roy had known it’d come back to bite them in the arse.

“Which brings us to our next point,” Ted said, and clicked to another slide that said Roy @ C&A.

Roy shook his head. “I said two words that whole night.”

“That’s what worried me!” Ted was into it now, heated like it was the final minute of a championship match. “I said ‘how are you holding up, Roy?’ and you said, “It’s shit.’”

“So?”

“When I told Beard that story he whistled and then said ‘yikes.’ Yikes, Roy. And then,” he clicked again, and this time it was a grainy picture of them at the market. Roy had known they’d been stood close, but he hadn’t realized they’d been that close. And they didn’t even look like they were in the middle of a row.

Ted clicked and a bunch of arrows appeared over the picture pointing to things that were, according to Ted, “Suspicious, hmm? What are two people in the middle of a divorce doing having a nice little meet-cute by the organic parsnips?”

“Did Higgins make this?” Keeley asked

“Beard,” Ted said.

Keeley hummed; whether she was surprised or impressed, Roy didn’t know.

Ted kept clicking. There were more pictures, apparently, including one of Roy in someone’s garden, looking pathetic as he hefted himself over a low stone wall. Roy could feel the tips of his ears getting hot. This was just… Christ, it was pathetic. Not just him sneaking into his own house, but all of it. The presentation included.

“There’s one of you going, too,” Ted said. “Not to spoil the ending or anything.”

“Fine,” Roy said suddenly, surprising even himself, “we cooked it all up so Keeley could do her stupid Dove commercial.”

“Roy!” Keeley dropped her hands to the couch with a loud smack. “What the fuck!”

“What’s the point?” he said, pointing to the screen. “They already fucking know! And I hate living this lie!”

“I do too!” she shouted back. “So?”

Roy shook his head, not sure of what was going on or how to steer them back onto course. He was strangely sweaty, his jacket sticking to his arms.

“Wait.” Ted had been watching them like they were playing in a Wimbledon final. “So you didn’t get back together secretly?”

Roy scowled.

“We never split up,” Keeley said. “This one made a joke and it kind of… got away from us.”

“You got divorced as a joke?” Rebecca managed to make it sound like an even stupider plan than it already was.

“No,” Roy said. “People assumed we got divorced.”

“Because someone implied it,” Keeley put in.

Roy clenched his teeth.

“And then Dove said they’d heard the news and I would be a stellar replacement in their new campaign and it was a lot of money. Like, a lot.” She made eye contact with Rebecca directly. “Like —”

“Right, I get it,” Rebecca said, but that didn’t stop Keeley from making a gesture that apparently represented, if Roy was understanding it correctly, piles and piles of money.

Ted whistled, impressed. “An offer you couldn’t refuse.”

“Exactly,” Keeley said, pleased that someone understood. “Anyway, it was only meant to go on for a little bit. We figured everyone would forget that we split and we could get back together, no problem, only no one forgot.”

“It has been a slow spring, news-cycle-wise,” Ted said.

“And now we’re trapped and it’s killing us.”

“Secrets, secrets are no fun,” Ted said solemnly. “Secrets, secrets hurt someone.”

Roy rolled his eyes. “No one got hurt. We were both fine.”

Even Rebecca made a face.

“Did you not hear the part where Beard said ‘yikes’? Because Roy, I love ya, but you were not okay. None of us were. This was tearing our family apart! And now we find out it was all a lie? That hurts. It really does.”

“Right.” Roy stood up. “Are we done here?”

He made to leave but Keeley caught his arm. “Oi. Sit.”

He did, but mostly because it was nice to have her holding his hand again.

“We’re sorry,” Keeley said. “We figured if we told anyone, it’d get out that it wasn’t real. And then by the time we were in it, there was no way to stop, it was just like.” She leaned forward, her mouth open in a fake scream, miming a roller coaster freefall. “You know? We didn’t mean to hurt anyone.”

“Thank you,” Ted said. “I appreciate that.”

Rebecca put her hand to her heart.

Keeley elbowed Roy in the side. “Now you.”

He glared at her. She was uncowed. Didn’t even blink. After a minute he turned his glare to Ted. “Sorry.”

Ted beamed. “We forgive you.”

Whatever loosened in Roy’s chest was probably heartburn from the cheesy eggs he’d had for breakfast. It certainly wasn’t anything like a knot of guilt that had been lodged there for weeks now.

“You know,” Rebecca said after another minute of them all just sat there like idiots, “I bet we could shift the focus of the news away from you.”

“What now?” Ted turned to her.

She shrugged. “Change the story, as it were. Take control of the narrative.” When they all stared blankly at her, she said, “I could probably entice someone to do something more interesting.”

“Like pay someone to push Jamie off a yacht in Ibiza,” Roy suggested.

“Hey! Not during the season, okay?” Ted said. “Or ever, preferably.”

“Why does no one ever like my ideas?” he wondered aloud.

Keeley patted his thigh. “You’re the one whose genius idea got us divorced, remember?”

Rebecca laughed out loud, a joyful burst that had all of them joining her, even Roy. It was the lightest he’d felt in months.

Once they’d calmed down, she dragged her chair a little closer to them, reaching for the laptop. “Here’s an idea,” she said, and they all leaned in to listen.

**

The story dropped the following Wednesday, just when Roy was starting to climb the walls with how badly he wanted out.

“Oh god,” Jamie yelled, loud enough to echo through the whole dressing room. “Why the fuck would you show me that, Jan Maas?”

“I thought you would want to see,” Jan said.

“No one wants to see that, you twisted prick.”

“Oi, what the fuck’s wrong with you?” Roy stepped between them before a fight could break out. Jan Maas still had no sense of self-preservation. “Did you not run enough in training today? We could head back out.”

“Here,” Jamie said, shoving Jan’s iPad into Roy’s hands, which was not how Roy was prepared to learn that Rebecca’s secret plan had been to drop photos of Rupert naked on a yacht in St Kitts.

“I’m not saying I don’t appreciate it,” Roy said later, when he and Keeley had reconvened in Rebecca’s office with all the Diamond Ladies and a bottle of champagne, “it’s just that I’m blind now, so… Is that a fair trade?”

“Yes,” Keeley, Rebecca, and Higgins said in unison.

Ted shrugged. “They got you there, Yogi Bear.”

Roy nodded. He could acknowledge Rebecca’s gift for the kindness that it was. “To Rebecca,” he said, raising his glass.

“To Rupert,” Rebecca said, the last to join in, “for finally coming through in a pinch.”

**

And come through Rupert did. The paparazzi migrated to his neighborhood, clamoring to get pictures of him with his new, even younger girlfriend. Roy couldn’t go a day without seeing pictures of Bex pushing the baby around Kensington in a two thousand pound pram.

“Well,” Keeley said, balling up another front-page article about Rupert’s divorce (No Clubs, New Rebecca Gets All Diamonds in Flush Settlement) and stuffing it into a box of Roy’s old trophies as padding, “it’s not like you’ve got much to move.”

“Could probably carry it out the front door,” Roy said. “No one’s around to notice.”

“Thank god,” she said, and helped him move another load of boxes from his house to theirs

Surprisingly, absolutely no one cared.

**

The door to the training room burst open, startling them.

“Oops, sorry,” Colin said, shutting the door. It reopened just as quickly and he looked at Keeley and Roy, taking in the way she was sat on one of the training tables, Roy in the vee of her legs, too tangled up to break apart. His face split into a grin and he said, “Okay, just checking!”

Keeley pressed her forehead to Roy’s chest.

“They’re back together, lads,” he heard Colin yell, inspiring all sorts of whooping and cheering outside the door.

“Fuck,” Roy said, even though his heart wasn’t in it. Keeley started laughing and he pressed his mouth to the top of her head, let himself smile as wide as he wanted.

The door burst open again, this time revealing Ted. He was wearing a party hat and had one of those noisemaker things.

“Is it true?” he asked, with the kind of enthusiasm that was only twenty percent fake when it came to Ted. “Are you back together? Because Danny asked me about it during the post-game, said something about a statement being released during the first half, but I don’t know if I should believe him. You know how his sources are.”

“Get out,” Roy said. He’d finally got done with one charade, he wasn’t about to start up another one about their fake reunion, especially not one where Ted Lasso had any part in crafting the narrative.

Ted, undeterred, blew his noisemaker, the paper end unfurling directly into Roy’s nose.

“Can you please leave?” Roy felt Keeley sit up, turned to look at her and the sheer happiness on her face as he said, “I’ve got to call my estate agent to tell her to list my place.”

But Ted was too busy celebrating to care. At some point the room had filled up; people were passing around bottles, cracking them open and toasting to Roy and Keeley, to Richmond.

“This one’s for you two lovebirds,” Ted said, tapping his phone until Love On Top started playing at full blast.

Roy flipped him off, but he was smiling as he did it because it was, admittedly, kind of amusing. He looped his arms back around Keeley as she sang along and sent a text to his estate agent instead. Some things were worth celebrating.

He turned the stereo off when Jamie put on that fucking South Pacific song. He had to draw the line somewhere.