“Pick a hand,” said Coach Lasso, who had both behind his back.
Trent wanted to play along—fatherhood must have really changed him. But he’d come on an unkind errand to a kind man, already had a twisting snake of dread in his gut though this was usually one of his favorite parts of the job. Indulging Coach Lasso’s earnest face and silly game wouldn’t make things any easier. “Coach Lasso,” he said instead.
“Come on, Trent, left or right?”
“Coach Lasso,” Trent repeated, “would you care to comment on a report that Rebecca Welton hired you in the hope that doing so would lead to Richmond’s ruin?”
Lasso’s warm face went wary. He dropped his arms—Trent had forfeited the game, he supposed—and set the items on the desk: a small envelope and, Trent was fairly sure, a sewing kit. He’d broken eye contact, and how he sat at his desk; there was no gesture at a chair for Trent. When he looked back up, his face had gone placid, eyebrows slightly raised.
“Or that she sabotaged you repeatedly?” Trent continued joylessly, “including by hiring a photographer to record you with Keeley Jones and by returning Jamie Tartt to Manchester City?”
Lasso appeared entirely unsurprised by the news, but he didn’t say a word. Trent was a knot of curiosity and unacceptable guilt, and the man just went back to his computer. Trent was almost impressed. More troubling, he was almost relieved.
When Coach Lasso played a bit of game footage on his screen, speakers blaring, Trent accepted defeat. The noise only lasted a few moments. After, the silence filled the room; Trent cleared his throat to break it before he spoke, at the same speed as he wrote it down: “Coach - Ted - Lasso—did not - respond - to request - for - comment.”
Lasso looked up, gave a little nod. Trent could leave now; he’d allowed himself to lose the round already, and there would be other sources. “Off the record,” he said, “you don’t seem surprised.”
Ted Lasso looked him over slowly, like someone completely different had come into the room. But what he said was, “I don’t see how I’d help anyone by talking to you off the record about this, Trent.”
His name in Ted Lasso’s mouth was a worry, or a worry stone. And Trent couldn’t give him a reason, he just wanted to hear—anything, any reaction at all, he’d take rage over this studied blankness. He cleared his throat again. Ted Lasso offered him honesty a couple times and here he was, acting green, starving for it. “I think,” he said, knowing he ought to keep in what he was about to say but finding he was going to say it anyway, “There’s one obvious reason, which is if you have anything to say that might change how I approach the story.”
“Change how you approach the story,” Ted muttered. He could have been considering, except what he said next was, “You’ll pardon me, Trent, but that’s bullshit.”
Progress. Trent offered a pleasant, “Excuse me?”
“You know as well as I do that it doesn’t matter how you approach this story. ’Cause the next day, Ernie Lounds’ll have his hands on it, and every other sports reporter in this country.” He shook his head, and when he tilted it back up, he looked a lot closer to angry. Trent didn’t reach across the desk, and he didn’t look away. He was counting that as professionalism now, apparently, since it was all he had to count. “You know full well—” Ted Lasso looked at him accusingly, a punch—“you know full well how this country’s press treated Rebecca for daring to leave an abusive husband, God, Trent, you’d think the woman was a war criminal.” He blinked. “Maybe worse, honestly, I bet they’re more generous with American presidents.” Shook his head. “Disgraceful,” he said, and Trent wasn’t sure whether he meant the press or the presidents. “And now you want to drag her name through the mud for an old story.”
Trent frowned. As far as he knew, he was the only one who’d heard about this, the only one likely to; he certainly didn’t think he was behind. “How old?”
“Rebecca told me a few weeks ago,” Ted said impatiently, “it’s got to have been at least a month now since she finished the whole apology tour.” Which—
“She told you?”
“Came clean, apologized, said I could go to the press with it. You’ll see I didn’t do that, Trent. Don’t see why I should do it now, when she’s been nothing but supportive ever since.”
Privately, Trent couldn’t call a few weeks all that long. But the other thing, the part where Rebecca Welton had admitted a mistake, he—well, there was a lot to make of that. A flimsy excuse, probably, if he wanted it, if he was willing to believe Welton really wasn’t a danger to the team any longer. A rethinking of Rebecca Welton’s character, possibly, though he wouldn’t be going overboard with that. And a rather extraordinary statement about the man in front of him, if, even losing, he managed to inspire that kind of devotion.
“You can go now, Trent,” Lasso said shortly. But when Trent stood up, he added, “Take these,” and handed over the envelope. “Tickets to the Pup Cup.” Then Lasso shook his head and shoulders in obvious annoyance and added, handing over the sewing kit, “Take this, too. You’ve got a seam loose on your jacket, been bugging me for weeks.”
Trent accepted it with a blink. Then—what was he going to do, admit to being touched by the gesture, apologize for doing his job?—he said, “Thank you, but I’m afraid you’ve severely overestimated my sewing skill, Coach Lasso.”
Ted—Lasso—lifted his hand from the desk just slightly, as though he were going to take the sewing kit himself, fix the seam himself—Trent shivered, and Lasso dropped his hand. “You’ll find someone,” he said. “Bye, Trent.”
Trent didn’t have anything to say, to smooth over taking his leave. Not thank you, certainly, and goodbye seemed horribly final. He coughed out a right and walked out of the locker room, hand full of thread.
When Ted saw Trent Crimm of the Independent at the Pup Cup—after a couple weeks of not seeing him in the press room, long enough he’d stopped worrying each morning that he’d see Rebecca’s face at the top of the sports section—he had to stop to let his insides do an unexpected pirouette. He owed Trent Crimm a thank you, a serious one, if that story was gone, and an apology if that favor to Ted was why he hadn’t been around. Also, he kinda—well, he kinda missed him. The press room wasn’t as interesting with him gone. And then Ted saw him with that little stringbean of his, Trent thinking a blazer and tie was normal clothing to wear to a Saturday out with puppies, Seraphina therefore thinking a tiny blazer and little sequined tie was normal clothing to wear to a Saturday out with puppies, Trent giving long, soothing pets to a little one while he watched Seraphina giggle—it felt good, warm. They were people Ted liked to see. He hoped they’d want to see him.
Trent looked up. Inclined his head with some kind of old-fashioned graciousness that on him seemed perfectly normal. Ted was starting to realize that standing still in the middle of the room could come off a whole lot like staring, and also it turned out he really wanted to talk to Trent, so he wandered over. He was going to say something corny, like fancy seeing you here or hello Trent Crimm from the Independent, but he was saved by Seraphina shouting “Teddy!” and tossing a puppy off her lap in a rush over to hug him around the legs. He hadn’t really expected Seraphina to remember who he was, but if a kid was gonna remember anybody, it was probably gonna be the person who gave her cookies, he figured. He bent down to hug her back, but he got out all of “Hey there, kiddo,” before she was off chasing the puppy and he was squatting on the ground, looking over at Trent Crimm.
Ted had to think of his knees, sit down in some proper stationary way. It felt a lot more permanent, harder to escape, sitting ass on the grass, as some people might say. What people, he wasn’t sure—“Good morning, Coach Lasso,” Trent said.
Ted could have really used one of those puppies about now, to keep his hands busy, plus they were great for the nerves. “Good to see you, Trent,” he said, because it was.
Trent drawled, “Likewise, I’m sure.” He was still giving the puppy those nose-to-tail strokes, and that twisted something up in Ted’s belly. He’d never really thought of Trent Crimm as calming before. Still didn’t, to be honest, but here he was, calming. Ted could’ve used a bit of that.
“Look, Trent, I want to—” Trent didn’t offer any I’m going to stop you there; in fact, he looked curious. “I want to thank you, if I’ve correctly—interpreted—”
“You made a valid point,” Trent replied smoothly. “It seemed I’d rather missed the story.”
He’d been the first one to it. The only one, clearly. Ted knew what a favor looked like. “Well,” he said, “I really appreciate you. Miss seeing you around the clubhouse.”
“Yes, well,” said Trent. “If I was going to be”—he glanced around, see if anyone was listening, the guy wasn’t subtle at all, and then he looked down at the puppy in his lap—“making choices like the one I made, I could hardly claim to be—well, I’ve been reassigned to cover Arsenal. Which is technically a promotion,” he added dryly, and looked up into Ted’s face.
“Well, then congratulations,” Ted said, even though he knew Trent hated Arsenal. Everybody knew Trent hated Arsenal; he’d written about how much he hated them in at least two of his books. “Good luck with Mikel, man, guy gets results but he sure does look like one of those vampires from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you know what I mean, I’m always a little nervous around him.”
After the thing about the vampires, Trent had let out a shouting laugh that scared the puppy from his lap. His halfhearted reach after it brought him closer to Ted, within arm’s length. He looked over at Ted and smiled. Just a regular smile, and it was enough to make Ted feel forgiven, open up his chest a little bit. “I’ll confess Mikel Arteta runs a much less...unconventional press room,” Trent said.
“Well, if you get bored, we will welcome you back with open arms,” Ted said. Illustrated it with a gesture. Trent looked down, no pleased smile or anything, and that was fair, maybe he didn’t like being reminded about breaking the laws of journalism. To change the subject, Ted said, “You fixed your shoulder.” Trent’s confused little twist to look down at his shoulder, like he needed to see it to figure out what Ted meant, was pretty cute; that wasn’t something Ted was in the habit of thinking about journalists, and it wouldn’t, he figured, be a very good habit to get into, but here was Trent, cute. “Your jacket shoulder,” he clarified.
“Took it to a tailor, I’m afraid,” Trent said. “I didn’t want to find out what would happen if I tried to do it myself.”
Ted had meant to do that for him, had planned on it until Trent came in with that particular story. Now he thought they could have left on better terms. He could have sewn it up right there, saved him the time—
“I appreciate you pointing it out, though,” Trent said. “I obviously hadn’t noticed.”
Ted nodded. “Yeah, well,” he said, “you’ll have to train Seraphina up to spot that kind of thing.” The child in question was currently being smothered by puppies, but since they could hear her giggling from underneath the pile, Ted wasn’t too worried. “Or find yourself someone special to notice things like that.” Trent cleared his throat, but he seemed fine. Looked around for a puppy. “I mean, somebody’s gotta stop you walkin’ around all frayed, Trent, your jacket’ll come right off on the toothpaste tube.”
Trent’s brow furrowed at that for a moment, which was kind of fun. “Yes, well,” he said, looking back up, “in this case someone did.”
That wasn’t exactly what Ted meant, he meant someone he had around all the time, but it would be rude to push. A puppy came up behind Ted, who rolled right over onto his belly to play with it. It was a little brindle thing, floppy ears, and Ted talked nonsense to it while he rubbed its sides. Trent reached out for a pet—he really was right there, huh, Ted hoped he didn’t mind he’d rolled so close—and the puppy pressed its head up into his hand. Ted could feel Trent’s arm above him, his shoulders twisting; for a moment he thought of Trent’s hand landing on his back, thought he’d bend up just like the puppy. But then it zoomed in to try to lick his face and he was tilting away, chuckling at the dog and hearing Trent laugh above him on the pitch, and everything had been stitched up just right.