In hindsight, Jamie is surprised it actually took Roy this long to punch someone on his behalf.
It’s Keeley’s birthday this weekend, and Roy had wanted advice for a gift. He was good at knowing what Keeley needed in the moment, great at making her feel loved and wanted, getting better at knowing when she needed space, but physical gifts? Yeah, the man was hopeless.
Luckily this is Jamie’s wheelhouse, and he knows Keeley’s style down to a T. So he'd bullied Roy into central London and they'd been wandering in and out of the shops on and around Carnaby Street for close to an hour. While Jamie’s definitely going to go back for that sick anatomical heart at The Great Frog for himself, they’re still trying to choose between a couple of their daintier gold pendants, or the new collection of red and tweed bags from Cambridge Satchel Co, for Keeley.
“Jamie! What do you have to say to the latest statement from the Brian Symonds legal team that the allegations are just lies from desperate attention seekers?”
Jamie and Roy are arguing their way down Regent Street. He’s halfway through saying for the sixth time that Roy should just buy both options, and Keeley isn’t going to complain about being spoiled, that Roy and Jamie both know she deserves it, the nonsense she puts up with from the pair of them, when the shouted question stops him in his tracks. He falls silent mid sentence, carefully schools his features to be as blank as possible before turning to face the photographer.
“Sorry mate, what was that?” He knows he should look down, keep walking, but he can't. He’s honestly impressed with how steady he manages to keep his voice, but can feel his fingers starting to twitch, and shoves his hands in pocket, aiming for casual. Next to him, Roy exhales loudly. He moves up next to Jamie, their shoulders brushing together. A few passers-by have stopped to watch, one of them filming on a mobile. And that’s just fucking fantastic. Whatever happens next it’s going to be all over Twitter within the hour.
“Come on Jamie, we all saw you on Lust Conquers All right?" The guy is snapping pictures, and is also wearing what Jamie recognises as a GoPro in some sort of chest harness. "You love the attention, and whatever went on with you and Brian it doesn’t seem to have damaged you much till now, especially not in the downstairs department.”
Fuck. Even by the tabloid standards it’s a pretty fucking vile thing to say, and Jamie is stunned into silence and stillness. He really should keep walking. But his brain is doing that thing where it shuts down momentarily, goes blank to give him time to catch up, and he can’t make himself move. Dissociation, that’s what Dr Fieldstone calls it.
But he doesn’t lose more than a few seconds this time round, and he snaps back out of it in time to see Roy reach the pap, grab him by the harness in his left hand to stop him from backing away, and punch him hard across the face with his right. Roy lets go of the guy's chest, and he falls to the ground, clutching at his nose with the hand that's not protecting his camera. He's shouting about assault like he hasn’t just kickstarted what Jamie can already tell is going to be a pretty fucking rough trauma spiral. Fucker.
Roy’s fist is still clenched, and Jamie can tell he’s thinking about kicking the guy while he’s down. More people are filming now though. Under the circumstances, one punch might be forgiven. It was noble, like, and Roy can afford the average pap settlement if the tosser tries to sue, but anything more than that and they’re going to lose the moral high ground.
“Hey!” Jamie darts forward and grabs Roy by the shoulder. “Come on Roy, let's just get out of here okay? Think I need to sit down, get some water or something.” It’s not a lie, not really, Jamie does feel pretty fucking shaky, but he’s also not above a little manipulation if it gets them out of there before Roy gets caught on camera kicking the shit out of this twat.
Thankfully it works, and concern for Jamie's well-being gets Roy’s attention. He doesn’t spare the guy another thought and lets Jamie pull him away. Roy slings an arm over Jamie’s shoulder and shoots a quick glance his way.
“You okay?” Jamie nods. Okay has variable definitions after all, and it’s definitely not the worst he’s felt recently.
“Yeah, yeah I’m alright.” He licks his lips, swallowing. “Thanks...for doing that. You didn’t have to.”
Roy just shakes his head as he quickly hails a black cab. “That was 100% for my own benefit. Fucking prick.”
Jamie huffs out a laugh at that. When they're settled in the back, Jamie launches back into their previous conversation in an attempt to distract them both. “Okay, compromise for Keeley. You buy her the jewellery, I’ll buy her the bags? Deal?”
Roy lets out a long suffering sigh. "Fine," he says, but he budges up to put his arm back around Jamie’s shoulders, even as he tells the cabbie to take them around the corner a few times.
“Hey Jamie,” Rebecca and Keeley greet him in almost perfect unison as he knocks on Rebecca’s door and sticks his head in. Rebecca is sitting at her desk, Keeley stands off to one side, and they both have something weird going on with their faces — a bit of nervousness, a bit of sympathy and a third emotion that Jamie thinks is anger and hopes it isn’t directed at him. He doesn’t think he’s done something to warrant it, but it wouldn’t be the first time he’d messed up without realising it.
“Hey. Got told you wanted a word?”
Rebecca gestures at the chair in front of her desk, and as Jamie sits, Keeley moves to perch on the desk edge. “Alright,” she bursts out. “There’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to come right out with it.”
Except she falls silent again, and Jamie rolls his eyes. “Just get on with it, Keels, I guarantee it’s not going to be the worst news I’ve heard this year.” She laughs at that, but it’s strained and Rebecca takes pity on her.
“We’ve heard from LACQman. You were down to do a photoshoot with them.” And oh yeah, Jamie remembers. Some ridiculous over-the-top thing where Jamie would represent each of the four scents they sell. But ridiculous was his favourite kind of photoshoot, and he was particularly excited about the ‘beast’ concept.
“Oh yeah? Did they get my Pinterest boards I sent over? Some good ideas in there, think they should pay us more. I’m basically doing their job for them aren’t I?”
Keeley’s face softens. “Yeah, they were brilliant Jamie. It’s just that. Well, with everything in the news, they got in touch to say they thought having you as the spokesperson might, well, it might be a distraction from the product.”
Oh. Well that, that actually fucking sucked to be honest. He knows that, yeah, in the grand scheme of things, it seems pretty trivial, not being able to do some stupid campaign for a stupid body spray, but Jamie just wanted things to go back to normal. He wanted to be able to feel like himself again, and he’d been looking forward to it. He doesn’t want to let his disappointment show though. He doesn’t want Keeley and Rebecca to feel bad. It’s not their fault. So he squares his shoulders and shrugs.
“Yeah, of course. I guess, I guess that’s fair enough. Umm, who do they want from the team instead? I think Isaac could really pull off some of my style ideas, though Richard is the next prettiest after me.”
But Rebecca shakes her head and gets up to move in front of the desk next to Keeley. “No, Jamie. I told them to fuck off. I told them they either work with you, or nobody else from Richmond. Plus they signed the contract already, so I said we’d still be expecting the fee they promised whatever they decide, so you’re getting paid either way. Also,” she pauses, glances at Keeley who nods encouragingly.
“Also, and this is only if you want to, I said that if they decided to drop the whole thing rather than use you, we cut ties with them entirely, go to the press, and let them know that LACQman is the kind of company that thinks victims that have gone through what you’ve gone through deserve to be treated like they're something to be ashamed of. It would be a nightmare for their PR team.”
Keeley reaches out, squeezes his knee in reassurance. “What do you want us to do babe? Would you even want to do it still, if they cave?”
“Um.” Jamie rubs at the slit in his eyebrow, considers it. “I was really looking forward to doing it actually. Kinda thought it’d be good for getting things back to normal. So. If you can bully them into sticking with me, I think I’ll still do it.” He pauses, thinks about it some more, before continuing.
“If they still drop me though, don’t go to the press. I don’t really want more people talking about me, I’m really over seeing my name all over the papers for anything other than how brilliant my latest goal was. And if they don’t use me you can donate the money to charity, something for kids. Actually let’s do that even if they do stick with me. I don’t need the money, I just want to do it to prove a point or something. So whatever happens, any money I would’ve got can go to charity.”
“Okay,” Keeley nods at him and smiles again. “Okay I’ll call them back now, be my most scary and get them to back down.” She mock scowls and he laughs.
“Yeah, really terrifying Keels. They won’t know what hit ‘em. Um. Thank you, both of you, they’re a major sponsor, I know it would’ve been easier — for you and the club — to just swap me out. So thanks for going to bat for me.”
“Of course.” Rebecca stands again. “Jamie I meant what I said, your first day back. The club is here for you — anything you need, you just let us know.”
He nods and gets up himself. “Thanks boss. See you later Keeley.”
Jamie steps out the doors to the clubhouse, squints, and pushes his sunglasses onto his face. It’s a sunny August day a few weeks back after the post league break, and Jamie is done with training for the day. He tilts his head back, eyes closed. The sun is warm on his face, and he decides to go for a walk in Richmond Park before driving back to Roy’s.
“Oi, Jamie! You and I need to have a little talk, son.”
He’s only a few steps out through the security gate out of the car park, but he already regrets his decision, freezing at the sound of the very familiar, very unwelcome voice.
He should have been on the lookout for this really. Man City played Spurs yesterday, and the North London team had somehow managed to eke out a home win. From the looks of James, he’d spent most of the night drowning his rage and sorrow, probably ended it passed out in an alley somewhere, and still looks to be half-drunk now.
“You been avoiding me son? Not answered any of my calls, any of my texts, and I can’t get close to your door with all that press around.”
Jamie keeps his face blank. He isn’t about to let his dad know he’s barely been back to his own place these last few months. James is right there in front of him now, almost nose-to-nose with Jamie, and the smell of the beer and the whisky and god knows what else is coming off him in foul waves. He's definitely kept drinking today.
Jamie’s head feels like it’s buzzing as panic rushes through his body, but there’s nobody else around, so it’s on him to get rid of his father. “I’m really not in the mood for talking to you right now, dad. Can you just leave it, yeah?”
The words are firm, but his voice isn’t, and James scoffs, shoves him none too gently in the chest.
“You’ve made me a laughing stock at the pub. My son the fag, the cry-baby. Couldn’t lie and say it wasn’t true, that you didn’t know what they were on about. Oh no, you had to go crying to the police. Now everyone knows what a fucking pussy you are.” Jamie flinches at the words, spat so close to him he can feel the spittle hit his face, and he braces himself for the next shove or worse. But it doesn’t come.
It doesn’t come, because seemingly out of nowhere, Sam has planted himself between Jamie and his dad. “You don’t get to talk to him like that.” He catches the shove meant for Jamie, but he's a tall, solid, immovable force, and he doesn’t even wobble.
James scoffs, tries to duck around him, but Sam catches him by the shoulders and pushes him back firmly. “You don’t get to speak to him, you don’t even get to look at him. You will leave now, and if you are smart, you will not come back.”
James looks like he’s ready try and fight anyway, just stupid and drunk enough to think he can actually take on the two of them, two young, fit, professional athletes, but then the sound of more voices carry across the car park and through the gate, laughing and joking around. They fall silent briefly, and then several of his teammates speak up at once.
“Shit, who’s that with Sam and Jamie? Is that Jamie’s dad?” And, “Colin, go get Roy. Now.” James, like all bullies, is a coward at heart, and he knows when he’s beaten. He sneers at Sam and spits on the pavement in front of him before turning tail and stumbling away.
“Jamie, Jamie my friend, it’s okay. Here, sit down.” Jamie seems to have forgotten how to breathe, but Sam’s hands are steady on his shoulders as he guides him to sit on the edge of the curb. Jamie’s dimly aware of Sam waving the others away, but he just leans forward, hands resting on his thigh, and takes a few deep breaths.
“Thanks mate,” he mutters, really fucking embarrassed at this point, a depressingly familiar feeling by now. “Sorry to drag you into my shit.” Sam sits down next to him, knocks their shoulders together.
“We’re a team aren’t we?” He quotes Jamie’s own words back at him with a small smile. “Your shit is our shit. I am only sorry I did not intervene back at Wembley. I think about it all the time, with so much remorse. I just wasn’t sure what to do, what you would want us to do.”
Jamie just shakes his head. “Nah, don’t sweat it. It’s hard to know what to do when faced with someone like me old man.” He turns to face Sam. “I am sorry, you know, about how I was, your first season.” Sam goes to interrupt, but Jamie stops him.
“No, no let me say it. I know it’s not an excuse, but every time I heard you talk about your dad, I just got so fucking jealous. I know that now. It made me want to lash out. And that’s on me, not you. I’m glad you’ve got the father you’ve got. And I hate that my jealousy made me act like my own dad.”
It’s Sam’s turn to shake his head. “No,” he says seriously, “Yes, you were quite unpleasant to be around. I will not pretend it did not hurt me badly at the time. But you are not your father, Jamie, you were never as awful as he is. And I forgave you a long time ago anyway. It is all water under the bridge now.”
Jamie’s not sure if he believes him, isn’t convinced he should be let off that easily, but he nods anyway. “Alright, well, Roy’s going to be out here soon, looming around the place like a grumpy mother hen. S'pose I better go and face the music.”
He pushes up to his feet, holds a hand out Sam to pull him up too, and yanks him forward into a brief but tight hug. “Thanks again.”
“Jamie, have you got a minute?”
He looks up at Higgins, who’s standing in the doorway to the changing room. Jamie gets up and follows him through into an empty room in the coaches' office suite.
“I heard that your father came round recently?” Jamie shrugs awkwardly. Higgins is a decent bloke, but that doesn’t mean Jamie is particularly keen to rehash the latest James encounter.
“I wanted to apologise,” he continues, and that does get Jamie’s attention. “Before Wembley, when you came to ask about getting him into the match. I wasn't aware of the gravity of the circumstances. Some of the things you were saying, I realise now they were red flags, and I should’ve questioned you more about whether or not you actually wanted him there. We easily could have made an excuse and said that the list was full.”
“S’fine,” Jamie mumbles. He'd been the one to ask for the tickets, after all, and starts to say as much, but Higgins stops him.
“No Jamie, it isn’t, and I’m sorry. I’ve been working on something the last few months, and it’s taken a little while to sort out, but I’ve finally got confirmation from Manchester City that they’re on board, so we’re all set.”
Jamie’s curious now, not sure what Higgins could be going to his old club about. City and Jamie have well and truly washed their hands of each by this point, and honestly good riddance. He leans against the wall, waits for Higgins to continue.
“I’ve been speaking to the other teams in the Premiership, as well as the teams we know we’ll be playing in the FA Cup. As we get further through the tournament I’ll work to get an agreement from any other teams too for future matches, but they’ve all agreed. From now on, any match we play, at any of their grounds, there will be a ban on your father attending. He won’t be able to purchase tickets in his name, and security will have his picture to stop him coming in.”
That’s…unexpected. And he can’t begin to think of how much time that would have taken. “Even City are on board?" Jamie asks. "He’s had a season ticket with them for as long as I can remember. Since before I was born.”
“Yes, even City.” Higgins nods. “They won’t cancel his season ticket fully, not without actual proof of bad behaviour, but they have agreed that any time they play Richmond, he will be persona non grata in Etihad Stadium, and barred entry.”
This is huge, and Jamie doesn’t know what to say. “Umm. Thank you, that’s. That’s really nice of you.” Sure, it won’t stop James trying to get hold of him outside of matches, but the thought that he’s never going to have to play another match knowing his dad’s somewhere in the stands, jeering at him, wishing failure on him? A weight lifts off Jamie’s shoulders that he didn’t even know he was carrying. “Seriously, I know that probably took a lot to sort. I really appreciate it.”
“Of course,” Higgins smiles at him. “Like I said I’m just so sorry about Wembley, I hope this makes up for it a bit.”
“Seriously, there’s nothing to make up, mate," Jamie says, shaking his head. "But this is fucking great. Means a lot.”
Jamie is having a no good, very bad, terrible, rotten day. Yesterday had been an off day, but instead of relaxing, Jamie had had to spend it stuck in the dreary CPS office near Victoria, going over his testimony again and again. The prosecutor had spent hours drilling Jamie with questions, pushing in the same way she’d said Symonds' defense team would, and it had been fucking traumatic, to say the least.
And then to make matters worse, Roy had finally been betrayed by his beloved kebab shop. A dodgy doner had him up puking his guts all night, so Jamie had had to take himself to work today. He was on edge, exhausted from his nightmare-filled attempt at sleep, and he didn’t even have Roy’s solid, calming presence to ground him.
So yeah, he was pissed off and temperamental. He had snapped at the team, snapped at Beard, had just managed to stop himself snapping at Will — he isn’t a monster — but eventually the team had had enough and had unleashed their secret, unflappably cheerful, weapon.
Which is how he finds himself out on the north field with Dani, taking it in turns to make increasingly more ridiculous trick shots at the goal, leaving the rest of the team on the main training pitch running drills.
“Okay, amigo, now you hit the cones in this order, red, yellow, red, blue, si?”
They’ve strung a bunch of plastic cones from the top of the goal, Jamie climbing on Dani’s shoulders to reach the crossbar, and are taking it in turns to call out a pattern for the other to hit them in. Jamie’s lost count of who’s actually winning, but he knows if he claims it’s him, Dani won’t argue.
“Easy muchacho, watch this!” He lines up four balls in a row and flicks the first three neatly at the cones, hitting them easily which makes him feel heartened enough to show off. He rabonas the final ball at the blue cone and sends it swinging on it’s rope.
“Yes!” Dani cheers, grabs him around the waist and lifts him up in victory, like Jamie’s just scored the winning goal in the FA Cup Final.
He feels the last of his bad mood fade away as Dani trips, sending them both tumbling to the floor in a pile of limbs.
“Thanks Dani. Sorry I’ve been so shitty all day.”
Dani just smiles at him, a ray of sunshine as ever. “There is no need for thank yous or apologies, it’s what friends are for. You are feeling better now though, no?”
Jamie stretches his arms up and clasps his hands behind his head, staring up at the sky — a pale blue today with a few wisps of cloud floating across it. “A bit yeah. Just had a bad day yesterday, you know? And that’s no excuse to take it out on all of you, but. I was pretty tired, pretty miserable.”
Dani mirrors his movements with his own arms, but out of the corner of his eye, Jamie sees him turn his head to watch him. “Would it help to tell me about it? I can be a, a sympathy ear?”
Jamie laughs softly, but doesn’t correct his mistake. “Yeah, maybe. I had to spend the day yesterday with the prosecutor for the case against my old coach.” Dani nods, but he doesn’t say anything, and if he knows this is the first time Jamie has brought it up with anyone at the club outside of Roy, he doesn’t acknowledge it.
“Anyway, the first half was fine. She went over the questions she’d ask me, what I should say in reply, that sort of thing. But then after lunch she pretended to be Brian’s defense. Started asking me all these questions that were actually just veiled accusations and insinuations.”
He can feel his darkness returning, and stops talking, closing his eyes. He startles slightly at a gentle touch to his shoulder. “You do not have to say anything else, not if you don’t want to,” Dani assures him.
Jamie smiles softly, “No, no it’s okay. Anyway I know she was just doing her job, trying to help me. It’s good for me to be prepared for what I’ll face. But she made it sound like anything that happened was my fault, implied I’d been asking for it somehow. Fucking hated it." Jamie didn't know a stronger word than hate, but if there was one, he wanted it.
"And honestly," he continues, "she should have done that bit before lunch, because eventually I vomited right in her waste paper basket, kept going for a few minutes straight." He winces as he remembers it. He wonders if it happens to her a lot, or if he was just special. "Funnily enough that’s when she decided we’d probably done enough for the day. But, damage was done, barely slept a wink last night and yeah, just a bad day innit.”
He hears Dani make a quiet, sympathetic sound, and suddenly Jamie can’t bear the thought of looking over and seeing pity or sadness on his usually happy face. “Right, enough of that emo shit. Bet I can do more keep ups than you, muchacho!”
And Dani is never one to back down from a challenge.
Jamie picks up the next piece of fan mail on the pile his agent has sent over. She never includes ones from autograph hunters or anything, but she knows he likes reading the letters kids send in, likes sending them a short note back, maybe a signed photo if he has any handy.
This one has a post-it note stuck to the envelope though.
Jamie - just to warn you, this one has some pretty heavy stuff in it, references a situation like yours with that bastard. I think you’d want me to pass it on to you, but I wanted to give you a heads up before you read it - Alicia
Keeley and Roy are out on a date night. They'd invited Jamie along, but he’d been tired after training and had decided on a quiet night in. He thinks about waiting for them to come home before reading it, thinks maybe it’d be best to have a support system in place, but fuck it. He’s never been a big one for thinking before acting - why break the habit of a lifetime.
He crumples up the post it note and opens the envelope, unfolding the letter inside.
Dear Mr Tartt,
I’m not sure if you’ll read this, but I wanted to say thank you.
My name’s Morgan, I’m 15, and I like to swim. I’ve always been good at it, and the last few years I've been training with this man who’s supposed to be great, the best local coach for future Olympians. And he's good at his job, but he’s also like your old coach, the one all the articles have been written about.
Anyway, I’d stayed silent for ages.. Thought maybe I was overreacting at first, and then even when I realised I wasn’t, I was scared that nobody would believe me. And then I read about what had happened to you, and the papers said you were going to be speaking at your coach's trial. I thought if you could do it, maybe I could too.
I told my mum last week. She believed me, we went to the police, and the next day he was arrested.
So I wanted to say thank you, because I know I wouldn’t have said anything if it wasn’t for you.
And well. Fuck. What’s Jamie supposed to do with that? He smooths the letter out and taps it a couple of times, thinking, before going to grab a fresh sheet of paper from Roy's printer.
Thank you for getting in touch. I’m so sorry you went through this, but I’m really glad you spoke up, and even gladder you were listened to.
You’re a lot braver than I am - I never said anything when it was happening, only when the police came to see me recently and ask directly. You should feel proud.
I know the court case is going to be difficult, if you need any support, if there’s anything I can do to help, you and your parents can email me, or, if you want to stay offline, write to me directly at the address below.
He pauses for a second, sends a mental apology to Alicia, who’s told him more times than he can remember never to give out his contact details, and sends another mental apology to Roy since it’s his address he actually scribbles at the bottom of the page.
The letter goes in the post the next morning. It feels like a totally inadequate response, but he doesn’t really know what else to do in this situation. He hopes the kid is doing okay, but isn’t sure whether or not to expect another reply.
But he gets one the next week, including a note from Morgan's mum. He sends his own reply back, and while he’s pretty sure he’s not qualified to offer any sort of emotional support to another human being, let alone a kid, in the months of correspondence that follow, he likes to think maybe he’s helping.
Today’s email is short though. Just one paragraph.
Got a date through for the court case. I checked, and Richmond aren’t playing that day. I know it’s a lot to ask, and I’ll understand if you can’t, but I’d like it if someone was there with me who understands what I’m going through.
The date, time and address are listed underneath, and Jamie pulls up his phone, checks his calendar. It’s not an off day, but he’s not really worried about Lasso or the club refusing him the time off for one day of training. He checks Google Maps and it’s a only a three hour drive from London, less if traffic is good.
And what the hell, why not. He’d said in his first letter he’d do anything to support Morgan, and he’d meant it. He’s sure Roy will be up for a road trip, keep him company. Maybe drive him back at the end of the day if it’s all been a bit much for him.
If the last year has taught Jamie anything, it’s that having people in your corner is what makes the difference in being able to cope. He can do for Morgan what Roy, and Keeley, Rebecca and Higgins, Sam and Dani, hell, everyone at Richmond have done for him.