Chapter Thirty-Two: Where the Heart Is

Simon Liberthine shivered, despite the warmth of the day. He looked quite a sight in the football shirt and shorts Lauren had found for him, apparently left behind by her ex-boyfriend, clearly a shorter and wider man than he. He had wanted to play in goal, thus sparing himself exertion, but Jason had cheekily taken the position upon seeing his foster father’s discomfort, forcing him to the front. Israel Bolt stood at the side as referee, and seemed extremely amused by Simon’s behaviour.
‘What’s the matter, you never played before?’
‘I’m not a sports type person. I’ve played polo and croquet, that’s about it.’
‘Well lah di dah Mr. Englishman.’ came the chuckled response from the opposing team captain, before kicked he ball hard in the general direction of Jason’s head.

‘Yay! Go Jason, go Jack!’ cheered Lauren from the sidings. She was sitting beside Bianca, who was trying not to giggle too much at Simon’s embarrassment. The game soon got off to a bad start, as a failed pass resulted in Simon being tackled and nearly crushed by Liam Cranham.
‘Play on.’ called Bolt Sr., chuckling.
‘Oh come on… that was a foul…’
‘You’re playing in the big league now Mr. York.’ replied Cranham, breaking through a score of defenders but failing to swarm past Jason.
‘Big leagues my a…’ Simon muttered, before being brought back to the real world as the ball sailed past his head.

As Jason’s team scored their first goal courtesy of Leonard’s friend Roger, Lauren whooped and passed a can of fizzy drink to Bianca.
‘So, you getting on okay here in the big city?’
‘Oh yeah… it’s great.’
‘You don’t feel homesick or anything?’
‘Oh no… believe me, if you saw the last place me and Jason were living, you’d understand why.’ Bianca then added hastily. ‘And you’ve been so accommodating with us, helping Jason get a job and letting me work in the club…’
‘Hun, forget about it. You guys are like family now.’
Bianca smiled at her, as Simon ran up the field with the ball, pursued by several teenagers who all looked stronger than the older man. I survived the sorcerers war, I can win a simple little football match.’ thought Simon. He ran at full pelt towards the goal and nearly knocked out the goalkeeper with a fierce kick that rolled past the line, much to the delight of his teammates. A thought came to him, and he had to suppress a chuckle at the accompanying mental image. If only Bernard and Griffon could have settled their differences like this, things could have been quite different.
‘Oh shut up Jimmy.’

An hour later, when the game was over and a fatigued Simon had received multiple pats on the back for scoring six goals, he walked up to Jason, who was equally exhausted from his considerable, though fruitful, exertions.
‘Good show Jason. And you too Mr. York. Perhaps we can all get together for a beer sometime.’ said Israel Bolt, shaking Simon’s hand.
‘I’d like that, thank you.’ He smiled at Bolt and walked away.
‘I’d have to echo that Jason. Good job today.’
‘Thanks.’ He walked up to Simon, and spoke in a whisper. ‘Seriously, thanks. I know you didn’t have to do this…’
‘Hey, I had fun today. And don’t mention it.’
Jason’s thanks had suddenly brought Simon Liberthine back to Earth. He was the Arbiter, notorious for being distant and businesslike; in fact his job required it. But after all, wasn’t he also a priest, a man who had to become closer to his brothers and sisters in God in order to save them? He thought he had lost his humanity many years ago, but maybe now it was finally beginning to resurface. Perhaps he could allow a little to warmth to come into his life.
‘So, are you gonna stop dithering or are you gonna come for a late lunch? My treat.’ Simon barely registered Lauren’s questions and replied with a simple ‘Sure’. She regarded him with concern.
‘Are you alright, you look…whacked out.’
‘Oh yeah, I’m fine. Lunch, great, excellent, I love lunch.’ Fortunately, Lauren didn’t seem to mind his babbling, and just laughed.
‘You do act funny sometimes.’ She turned to Bianca, who was in the middle of giving Jason a congratulatory hug.
‘Hey, you two. Coming or what?’
‘Let me just get out of these clothes.’

Jason and Leonard were the last ones to leave the changing rooms, and they sat talking about the match while they finished getting dressed.
‘Hey, Len, thanks for letting me come today.’
‘Hey don’t worry about it Jason. Why wouldn’t I invite you, you’re my best friend.’
After everything he had been through, Jason could do nothing but smile at that.
‘Hey, did you see that Violet girl Roger came with? Beautiful. I tell you, everyone’s getting tied up except me.’
‘What about me?’
‘Oh… I just assumed you and Bianca…’
‘Oh no…no…’
There was a pause before Leonard asked:
‘So does that mean that I can ask her out?’
There was another pause and a thump.
‘Ow. I’ll take as a ‘no’.’

After packing up and saying goodbye to the other players, Simon, Lauren, Jason and Bianca made their way to a small café near Central Park. While Simon and Lauren went off to order, Bianca and Jason sat quietly at their table.
‘It seems so long ago, doesn’t it?’ asked Bianca, suddenly breaking the silence.
‘Those days.’ said Bianca with a whisper.
‘I try not to think about it. This place is our home now… and I don’t know… but I kinda like it here.’
‘Well, anything’s preferable to the Facility.’
Jason murmured in agreement. ‘I wonder how Lewis and Patricia are doing?’
‘They’ll survive. They’ve got each other.’
‘Do you think they realise that?’
‘Lewis certainly does.’ Bianca smirked playfully. ‘He never looked at anyone else.’
‘Well, that’s love for you I guess. It can thrive in even the most heartless place.’
‘Lunch is on its way guys!’ called Lauren, walking over to them with a plate. Behind her, they could just about make out Simon, his face hidden behind a stack of plates, glasses and snacks that wobbled dangerously as he walked.
‘Need any help S…Dad?’
‘Oh… only more than you can spare.’ deadpanned Simon, collapsing into the chair as soon as he had placed all the plates on the table. Lauren grabbed her glass and piped up chirpily:
‘Well, I say we all drink to a day well spent.’
‘And many more.’