How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

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Chapter 26

JANUARY 2021

‘Happy New Year, Lucy!’ Brian exclaimed as the bells on the TV struck midnight. ‘Let’s hope it’s a good one for us. A fresh start.’

‘Same to you. I’m so happy you found me again.’ Lucy replied as she kissed him hard on the lips, taking Brian aback.

He was pleased that they had got back together again, but he wasn’t expecting their relationship to go any further than holding hands straight away.

Five minutes later, they were in Lucy’s bed making love passionately and seeing the New Year in with a bang. They lay in each other’s arms afterwards just cuddling in complete silence. Although this hadn’t been Brian’s intentions, he was delighted it had ended up this way. Deep down, he still loved Lucy a lot. They had been through some good times together and he would never forget how she was a shoulder to cry on when his marriage broke down and he was wandering around the seedier pubs in Shoreditch. She obviously cared for him too in her own way. His one New Year resolution was to be less boring and complacent. She was right; Martine was right; he was a boring old bastard at times and it was only right that he should change his ways rather than expect others to change theirs. There was a common theme running through his past life. One which needed to be eradicated while he still had time on his side. He had been given a second chance with Lucy and he wasn’t about to waste it. Maybe they did have a bright future together.

Lucy also thought that way. She and Brian made a good couple in the past and there was a good chance they could enjoy that again. She thought she might have been too hasty in dumping him in Los Angeles because of his ways. He was a good man; well-meaning and intelligent, and probably the best chance she would have at finding love again after her loveless and abusive marriage. She hoped Brian would change for the better, but if he didn’t, she would be quite content being his wife and being happy.

They looked at each other and smiled. It was the first time either of them had been truly happy and positive for ages.

Lucy got out of bed and made her way to the shower without realising that Brian had followed her. They squeezed into the tiny cubicle and turned the water on, covering themselves in soap and hot water.

When they had finished, they towelled each other down and got back into bed to sleep off their celebration of a new year and new beginnings.

Mijas held a big festival each year to celebrate the coming of a new year. Carlos knew the organisers well and often helped them out arranging it. This year, Martine willingly joined in and had fun putting up bunting, painting the village hall and mixing with the locals, even some of Carlos’ late wife’s family who were pleased to see Carlos happy once more.

The celebrations started around seven o’clock with a huge parade through the narrow streets of Mijas where people would throw flowers at the performers and drink cheap wine. The restaurants and bars were filled to bursting and everybody was having a great time without getting too drunk. Martine had only had a couple of glasses of lemonade so far, she was saving herself for later on and wanted to prove that she could still have a good time without the dependency of alcohol to put a smile on her face.

She loved watching Carlos getting involved in anything that was required of him. He was certainly a good man and one she wouldn’t mind settling down with one day. Knowing that her sons approved of Carlos made it easier for her. She had put them through a lot of stress over the last couple of years and she knew she had to make up for it.

By the time it was ten to midnight, everybody was having a great time and the wine was flowing freely, even Martine had drank a couple of glasses of local red, which she didn’t find particularly nice, but it did mean that she wasn’t likely to empty the bottle. Thankfully, Carlos had helped her through her booze addiction and nowadays she hardly touched a drop. Christmas at Bradley’s was, for the most part, a lovely time and nobody got off their heads with drink apart from Brian. Deciding that she could take it or leave it, she called Carlos over and asked him to bring her another lemonade.

‘Thanks, darling,’ She said.

‘You are welcome. Are you having a good time, Martine? I noticed that you haven’t drunk much. How are you coping?’ Carlos asked.

‘I’m fine, not bothering me at all. I’m having a lovely time, made all the better by being with you.’ Martine replied as she pulled Carlos close to her and kissed him. ‘Thank you for a lovely time, Carlos. And thank you for being there for me when I needed you.’

In the background, they heard the sound of the bells welcoming in 2021 and everybody toasting its arrival, followed by some lively music which prompted the locals to get up and dance. Carlos led Martine to the dance floor of the village hall and showed her how to do this particular dance. They were being encouraged by Carlos’ friends and family who clapped in time to the beat as he taught her the steps, laughing along the way.

Martine had never been happier than she was right then. It was surreal to her; never in her wildest dreams would she have expected to be dancing in the New Year in Spain with a lovely man who loved her and looked out for her. All those wasted years with Brian, she thought. Wasted years watching Jools Holland’s Hootenanny every New Year’s Eve with a glass of sherry then going straight to bed at 12:05 for five minutes of the missionary position before he rolled off her and fell into a deep sleep, leaving her unsatisfied.

Briefly, she spared a thought for Brian who by now could be anywhere. They had heard about his latest incident and how he was now out of a job, out of his home and probably heading for London. Martine secretly hoped he would find his feet again; she never hated him, just didn’t love him and she wished him no harm.

As for what Bradley thought about him, well, that was another matter. She had never seen Bradley so upset. Something about making him miss the big game because of his dad. Give Bradley time and he will get over it. Brian was another matter entirely. She worried what he would do next. He didn’t have any family or friends left in London and it crossed her mind that he could end up on the streets. Something that she would never wish on him.

Getting the hang of the dance steps, Martine and Carlos danced frantically in front of their cheering audience. When the music stopped and they bowed to his friends, she held Carlos’ hand and returned to their seats laughing. Carlos had other ideas though and led her through the rear doors to a balcony where they could see the whole of the valley lit up by fireworks and bonfires. It was a truly picturesque scene and one which would remain in Martine’s memory forever as Carlos held her tight and kissed the back of her exposed neck.

‘Feliz ano Nuevo!’ Carlos whispered to Martine as she took in the view.

‘Same to you! Thanks again. This has been a wonderful evening.’ Martine smiled.

They kissed again as she snuggled into Carlos to keep warm.

‘These celebrations will be going on all night. Shall we go back to my place for some rest?’ Carlos asked.

‘Good idea.’ Martine replied slipping her arm through his as they walked slowly up the lane to his house. Once there, he carried her over the step and up the stairs, slamming the door behind him with his foot. They didn’t stop kissing as they undressed each other and fell on to the bed where they made love for ages.

It had been the perfect way to end a perfect day, she thought as she got dressed again ready to re-join the celebrations, even though it was now 2:30am. Carlos had insisted.

Brian had also spared a thought for Martine as the bells struck. You don’t spend all those years with someone and then just forget them. But they weren’t loving thoughts he had. He wished her and Carlos well, despite feeling a bit jealous. He made her happy and Lucy made him happy, so maybe it was always meant to be.

The next day, some of the letting agents had opened for business even though they knew it was going to be a quiet day. They hadn’t bargained on Brian turning up to keep them busy though. He had liked the look of a one bedroomed flat off Kingsland Road which was reasonably priced so that was where they headed to first to arrange a viewing.

Unfortunately, without a job Brian was going to find it difficult to get a place of his own, even though he could offer a guarantor and cash up front for the deposit. Eventually, they came across an agent who was willing to remove these hurdles for the right place and ask no questions. The properties he had on his books weren’t upmarket, quite the opposite, but it was all Brian could do in his circumstances, so after viewing one of those ex-council flats on the Pitfield Estate and finding it to be fairly acceptable, he put down the deposit and left the agent to do the paperwork.

All being well, he could move in by the end of the week which suited him fine. Now he had an address, he could go to the bank with his plans.

When the Business Banking Manager at his bank heard what Brian had to say, he was sceptical to say the least.

‘So Mr Gardner, you have no experience of running a catering establishment, and yet you are expecting us to lend you a considerable sum of money to get this business off the ground?’

‘Yes, I am.’ Brian replied testily. ‘It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and now I have the opportunity. I will make a success of it, of that I have no doubt. I’ve done the numbers and as long as I don’t look for a huge salary out of the place, I am convinced we can make a good go of it.’

The bank manager peered at him over his bifocals for a few seconds. At least his client was putting up a decent amount of cash himself so if it did go wrong the bank wouldn’t be losing the entire amount.

‘Okay Mr Gardner, let’s say the bank is willing to lend you the £25,000 against the lease of the property. You say you are putting up £15,000, so that makes it a viable proposition for us. Do you have premises in mind?’

‘Yes, we do. There’s a thirty seater café on New North Road that I have registered an interest in. I’ve done my homework too. It’s in the middle of a largely social housing scheme but there’s loads of new luxury apartments going up all around the area. This will bring in lots of young professionals who will want to go to a local bistro to unwind after a long day in the City. They won’t want the local pubs that are dying on their arse because they are so rough, so the idea is to convert the café into an intimate little wine bar serving food from a small menu. It can’t fail.’ Brian explained.

The bank manager was impressed. He had indeed done his homework and he could see the logic of his ideas. The whole area around Pitfield Street, Old Street and New North Road was undergoing gentrification and there would be a need for a place like he was describing.

‘Mr Gardner, I think we can help you with this. Could we go and have a look at the premises and assess it better before we sign forms?’

Brian was delighted. His sales pitch had worked and they were now another big step towards achieving their dream. They arranged to meet at the café later that day after Brian had been to see them to put in a formal offer.

It was a busy week what with finding somewhere to live, a restaurant to buy and arranging all his finances, but it was all going to plan. He and Lucy had carried on where they left off and were acting as if the split never happened. Except Brian was making a concerted effort not to be a boring old git any more.

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