When Bradley returned home, he checked his phone for messages, of which there were hundreds. Mostly from his friends and former team mates, his grandparents and other well-wishers. His parents and Sam had also texted and he replied to his mum’s and Sam’s texts, but paused before replying to Brian’s. He hadn’t had a great game and he wondered if this was down to his dad hitting the news that week. Consciously, he had put it from his mind, but he was aware that it would only be just under the surface as the psychologist had told him previously.
He became annoyed at that thought; bloody parents were an embarrassment to him. He should have nothing to do with either of them again if he wanted a normal life. He realised that wouldn’t be possible doing what he did for a living, but he would have to watch them. Sr Cantonelli had already warned him about their antics distracting Bradley and he had been right. Maybe it was time to distance himself from them.
After making himself a cup of tea and a bowl of cereal, he flicked through the TV channels looking for something that wasn’t football orientated. He couldn’t bring himself to watch the game again and wanted something that helped him forget. Then he remembered that girl at Wembley who gave him her number. Would it seem a bit eager to call her that evening? Yes, of course it would. But he did it anyway.
‘Hello? This is Bradley Gardner. You gave me your number earlier.’
‘Hi Bradley, you didn’t waste any time. I’ve only just got back from the game. Thanks for calling me though.’
‘I recognised you from the Emirates when I signed an autograph for you. I couldn’t get you out of my head for days after that. What’s your name?’
‘It’s Jessica. You can call me Jessie. How are you feeling after that result? We’re pretty down about it, just wasn’t our day, I suppose.’
‘I feel bad for the fans. We let them down today but we’re up for the Juventus game. They are going to get punished!’ Bradley laughed.
‘Let’s hope so! You weren’t at your best today, we could tell. So, do you want to meet sometime soon? I live in Loughton but I’d be happy to go where you live. I bet you’ve got a massive house in Hertfordshire.’ Jessie guessed.
‘Actually, no I don’t. I’ve got an apartment on the site of the old Highbury stadium. Handy for work, you know.’
‘Wow! That’s so cool! I’d love to see it. Sorry, that sounded a bit forward. If we go somewhere public you’re going to get recognised. What do you suggest?’ Jessie asked.
‘We could drive out into the countryside. I know Loughton well, my grandparents live there. How about I pick you up tomorrow afternoon about 3? Would that work for you?’
‘Lovely! Can’t wait to see you and I promise I won’t ask for another autograph or tickets for the Champions League final.’
Jessie gave him her address and said goodnight. Bradley had a date! Despite being a fan, she actually sounded quite rounded and pragmatic. Not the usual screaming adolescent he was used to. Someone he could talk to and share confidences with. A bit like his dad with Lucy, he supposed. Except that Jessie didn’t sound like a stripper. He would find out tomorrow.
Bradley spent a leisurely Sunday morning going through the papers over breakfast and looking forward to meeting Jessie later. It certainly took the edge off of reading the match report from yesterday where he only got a rating of 6 for his contribution, which he admitted was probably fair. He was used to getting at least 8 out of 10 and mostly 10s so this one hit hard.
He heard his phone ring and looked at the screen to see who it might be. It was his dad so Bradley left it to go to voicemail. He wasn’t in the mood to speak to him right now, or anyone else in the family except maybe his grandparents.
Brian had left a short message asking him to call when he got the chance. Maybe later, he thought as he continued through the papers. He had other things on his mind right now. Bradley had had girlfriends in the past, mainly at school, and had sex a couple of times, again at school. While he enjoyed girls’ company, it wasn’t that important to him and he had consciously avoided getting in to a relationship for the last couple of years to concentrate on becoming a top footballer. As it was generally accepted that he had ‘made it’, he figured it was time to have a pleasant distraction from the day job.
That afternoon, he would drive her to the Owl pub in High Beach for a couple of drinks then maybe a walk in Epping Forest. The street where she lived was only a couple of streets away from his grandparents so he decided to pop in to see them before he met Jessie. He hadn’t seen them for ages and they always made a fuss of him.
Pulling up outside grandad’s house, the memories flooded back to happier times when the whole family would turn up and stay for a few days. Ah well, he thought, things change. They were overjoyed to see him and nan hugged him as grandad looked over his impressive new car.
They fussed over him and plied him with sandwiches and pork pies, none of which Bradley ate nowadays due to his strict dietary regime, but when the cream cakes came out he could resist no more. It was one of his childhood treats and he couldn’t let them down by refusing everything they offered.
He was waiting for the subject of his parents to come up but they were clever enough to know how to avoid it, preferring to talk about his footballing achievements and how proud they were of him. He told them why he was in Loughton that afternoon and they were intrigued. Nan wanted to know how they met, what her name was, what her dad did for a living, obviously petrified that he would make the same mistake as their son-in-law. He told them he had only just met her and this was their first date so he would let them know the answers later.
It was soon time to go and he gave hugs and promises that he would see them more often. Grandad knew how busy his schedule was and understood, but nan couldn’t understand why he couldn’t spend more time with them which made Bradley feel guilty.
Five minutes later, he was pulling up outside Jessie’s house. It was nothing out of the ordinary, a typical three bed semi not unlike hundreds of others in Loughton, with well manicured gardens and clean cars on the drive, this one being slightly different as there was a black cab standing there.
So, her dad is a cabbie then, he realised. He thought most black cab drivers were Tottenham or West Ham supporters; he was obviously different to the crowd. He marched up to the door only to see it opened before he had a chance to ring the bell. A burly looking man in his late forties smiled at him and proffered his hand to shake.
‘You must be Bradley. Well, actually, I KNOW you are Bradley! Come in, son. Lovely to meet you.’ Jessie’s dad enthused.
‘Nice to meet you too mister, er sorry, I don’t even know you’re name.’ Bradley spluttered.
He dad laughed out loud. ‘Course you don’t! Barry Tennant’s the name.’ He replied jovially opening the door wide enough for him to squeeze past.
‘Hi Bradley, I see you’ve met dad already.’ Jessie smiled.
She was much prettier than he had remembered. Probably late teens with slightly curled blonde hair that fell over her shoulders. Not too much make-up which he liked and a natural smile.
He wiped his feet and entered the house where Jessie’s mum was waiting.
‘Hello Bradley, I’m Sharon, Jessie’s mum. How do you do? Ooh, it feels like I’m meeting royalty!’ she laughed.
Bradley laughed back at her while shaking her hand.
‘Can I get you a cup of tea or something, Bradley?’ Sharon asked.
‘Don’t worry, mum, we’re going straight out. Maybe later.’ Jessie interrupted.
‘Okay, well you two have a lovely time and don’t do anything we wouldn’t!’ Sharon laughed again, nervously.
With that, Jessie and Bradley walked down the drive waving to her parents.
‘Nice wheels, son!’ Barry shouted.
As they pulled away from the house, Jessie apologised for her parents’ behaviour.
‘Don’t worry about it, my parents are even more embarrassing.’ Bradley said with a wry smile on his face.
‘Oh no! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bring that up. How stupid of me. And only two minutes into our first date!’ Jessie was turning red as she realised that going out with a personality would be different.
Bradley just laughed and told her not to worry. He had got over their antics a long time ago.
The drive to the Owl was a pleasant one; Jessie told him a bit about her and her family. They were all mad Arsenal supporters and he was their favourite player. Her dad was shocked when Bradley came over to them after the cup final yesterday, it had cheered him up no end after the result.
He parked the car in the car park which was fairly empty for a sunny Sunday afternoon. He opened Jessie’s door and held her hand as she got out of the car. They continued holding hands as they entered the pub which they found equally quiet. That suited Bradley, he didn’t want to be disturbed today.
The barman recognised him straight away and asked if they wanted a private room to sit in, which they declined. He didn’t want any special treatment, but it was nice to be offered it. He posed for a photo with the barman and carried their drinks over to a secluded table by the window offering pleasant views across Epping Forest.
Jessie was nearly nineteen and worked in a shop in Loughton after leaving school with virtually no qualifications. She never enjoyed school much, preferring to play truant and go shopping with her friends. She had never had a steady boyfriend as she was quite fussy and was fed up having to fend off all the chancers who wanted to date her that didn’t come up to her expectations.
She was an only child, her mother being told she shouldn’t have any more due to health concerns when she was born prematurely. They had lived in that house all her life and her parents were originally from Finsbury Park but moved to Loughton when the area got overtaken by foreigners, as her dad had put it.
Most of Bradley’s history was common knowledge so there wasn’t much else he could really tell her about his life. So he told her what it was like playing for Arsenal and how much he was looking forward to stuffing Juventus on Saturday. She laughed at this and said her dad will be well pleased if he was right. They had suffered as Arsenal supporters for years and since Cantonelli had taken over they were enjoying their football for the first time in years, especially when Bradley signed for them. At first, her dad wasn’t sure any player from Scotland would be any good, but he soon changed his mind once he saw him in action. Reminded him of another Scottish prodigy called Charlie Nicholas who played for Arsenal way before her time.
They carried on making small talk and enjoying a meal with drinks for hours. Bradley could see she wasn’t just an infatuated fan, she was grounded, down to earth and funny. He had to be careful who he dated as he didn’t want somebody going out with him just because of who he was, and Jessie didn’t seem to be like that.
His phone vibrated a couple of times informing him he had received voicemail messages. When Jessie went to the toilet, he checked his phone to see that it had been his dad calling. His messages were getting more and more desperate. Why hadn’t he returned his calls? He only wanted to talk to him.
He put his phone back in his pocket and promised himself he would call later on that evening.
They finished their drinks and Bradley paid the bill as they thanked the barman and headed out to the car park. Apart from a couple of Arsenal fans coming over to shake his hand, they had been relatively left alone, which was nice. It meant they had got to know each other well and Bradley could see this relationship going somewhere.
He drove her back to Loughton and accepted her offer to come in for a cup of tea. Dad wouldn’t forgive him if he didn’t, she laughed. So, another couple of hours were spent in the company of Barry and Sharon and their pet Labrador who enjoyed the fuss Bradley made of him.
Eventually, he had to make his excuses to leave as he had to be at training in the morning, so he shook their hands, peck on the cheek from Sharon, and a slobbery lick from the dog. Her parents at least had the discretion to leave Bradley and Jessie in the hallway to say goodnight.
They kissed long and passionately, but that was where it had to end. With one final kiss, Bradley said they should meet up again soon as he drove away. He enjoyed her company immensely and would certainly be in touch again soon. Hopefully, they could meet up when he got back from Madrid for the Champions League final.
Yes, that would be perfect, he thought as he headed back to North London.