Guest author Ben a.k.a. Rien102 continues his story in the latest part of The Prodigal Daughter Returns.
London Colney, Wednesday 7 July 2039, present days
When Penny got out of the minibus, she saw the Arsenal logo on the brick wall by the main entrance. She went straight to it and slowly, delicately, passed her left hand over the sign, caressing it. She sighed and murmured: I never thought I’d be yours again old friend… Jon and Max followed her and stood on both her sides, staying silent. The trio stood in silence for a few seconds before going through the now open door of the main complex.
Once inside, a group of people was waiting for them. In the forefront was one of the two Managing Directors of the club, Kim Franssen. Welcome home Penny, Jon and Max!
Thank you, ma’am, said Penny for the three of them.
I thought that it would probably be appropriate to let you see them before going any further… said the executive. The group parted and in the back, stood ten former Arsenal Ladies players and coaches. Penny recognized them all and she felt the emotions coming up fast. Before she even could recover from the shock, all the women came to her to give her hugs. Some tears were shed in those first minutes at her new job. All the women came to her with the same bit, that had a taste from the olden days: Welcome home Sarge!
Both Jon and Max were seeing something they never thought possible; Penny was drowning in emotions, in public, and it wasn’t rage! Even when Villa made her a little ceremony for her departure, she didn’t shed a tear! If they found it funny, they also noticed something else: The manager of one of the biggest club in England, who was a woman, was met by another woman who was leading the ship as Managing Director. For them, to have Penny as a manager was no problem at all… If it ever was, it was long gone… but today, they thought they were part of a bit of history. They looked at each other and both smiled. As they looked away, they saw the executive come to them and offering her hand. They both got greeted personally. Welcome to Arsenal. We’re happy to have you with us she told them. It was Max that spoke first.
The pleasure is ours ma’am. We can’t tie our shoelaces without mum so, we follow! The three of them laughed.
Once all the welcoming was over, Penny, Jon and Max got treated to a little tour of the facilities. She was surprised, and happy, to see that one of the people in charge of the facilities was a former Arsenal Lady; Sue Chambers. Cameras from Arsenal TV followed them and numerous pictures were also taken. After all the touring was done, Max went back to the Data Analysis Center to meet his boss and co-workers more thoroughly and Jon went to see the staffs that were already working with the squad outside. As for Penny, she had to go to a meeting with the club’s management.
The meeting ended at lunch and Penny was escorted toward the player’s cafeteria. Padraig Roche, the remaining Fitness coach, was waiting for her at the door. He would present the players and staffs who were there. She knew almost all of them, for playing against them with Villa; tunnels and post games handshakes does that. Lots of players got up and came to her, offering a handshake and presenting themselves. About twelve had come when, in front of her, stood Diego Pearce. She couldn’t keep it to herself: You’re already here you lazy ass!!! she said in a stern voice, so loudly that all in the place could hear. What the hell was that? Quarterfinals only??? Pfff!!!Even sooner than me!!!
Sorry boss! My manager didn’t want to meet you… we caved! he said with a big smile. Both of them started to laugh. A few seconds later, Diego started to speak again. The tone was now subdued, full of sadness. It was like our last CL Final together boss… Everything perfect until the last tap… Four frameworks, two outward nets… Just nothing wanted to go in… Even during the shoot-out… She saw the pain of the souvenirs in his eyes, which were becoming a bit glossy. I’m happy to see you here boss… he said before hugging her tightly, his head now engulfed in her shoulder and hair from her long ponytail.
I’m happy to be here my boy… she answered, stroking her player’s hair gently while wearing a comforting smile.
The embrace between the two lasted for at least fifteen seconds. The sight of this 6”2’, 180lbs, man and the 5”11’, 150lbs, the woman was something to watch... All in the cafeteria got to see a deep connection between the two but mostly, they all saw the respect Diego got for this woman with steely eyes. When he finally broke the hug, he wiped his eyes before lifting his head up to smile at her.
Jon, from his end, felt something creep in him. Penny, the woman who took this boy from the Academy when he couldn’t even shave yet, was looking at a world class midfielder, a superstar in all respect and scales, who, in turn, was showing her all the respect he could offer his boss who pretty much made him who he was today. Jon’s thoughts slipped toward the shock that would hit the squad, which was witness to this embrace, during their first team meeting with her after lunch, especially following such a display of affection…
All is done as I asked? said Penny to one of the facilities’ attendant.
Yes, ma’am. Just make me a sign and we’ll start the song.
Will it play loud?
Oh yes, ma’am! said the attendant with a devious smile. Just like a concert! She returned the smile.
She went to her office to fetch the trophy replicas she had asked for. There was one for each of the competitions she had won: Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup, Europa League, Champions League and Nations League. All were sitting on a little metal cart. Jon entered her office while knocking on the door. She was wearing a devilish smirk. Can you roll the cart? she asked.
Sure, Penny. You’re certain you want to go at it that way? he asked. He was having doubts about the little stunt.
You bet I am Jon! she answered defiantly. Even more so since Diego gave me that kind of a hug! She started to walk without saying another word.
The pair arrived just outside the room. The door was closed and the attendant was standing by it, waiting. This meant that all were inside. She made him a hand sign. The attendant talked into his talkie and three seconds later, the song started blasting in the room! Penny had chosen an old song that was her dad’s all-time favourite: “The Trooper” from an ancient heavy metal band: Iron Maiden. The song was the story of a single cavalryman dying during the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade. She let the first two bars play and then she opened the door. The music blasted through the open door and she worked hard to repress the smile that wanted to imprint on her face. When the first words of the song started to be heard, she entered, with Jon and the cart in tow.
Her facial expression was radiating arrogance and defiance. She quickly turned toward the table that was in the front of a whiteboard where the lyrics were projected, just like a karaoke machine. She didn’t look at anybody in the room and she had insisted that Jon do the same. She walked along the wall, watching the whiteboard at the same time. She was walking more slowly than usual; she wanted to reach the table only at the start of the second verse. She knew it was theatrical to the hilt but she wanted to leverage, and fast. When she arrived at the table, she stood, immobile, while showing her back to the players. She was looking at the second verse lyrics on the board while Jon was rolling the little metal cart with the replicas behind her, where all could see them. He then joined her, turning his back on the players too. During the guitar solo, she felt a cold shiver down her spine; she liked the silence in the room, apart from the song of course. She turned toward the players as the last verse started. She brought her crutch in front of her and put her left hand to lay on her right. Once turned, she was looking more arrogant than she ever did, more than she ever thought she could, really…
The last verse was almost over now and she saw that the players were not looking at her, but at the lyrics on the whiteboard. There still was some surprise on their faces, even after three minutes of the song playing. She saw one player flinch at the one before the last lyric of the last verse: And as I lay forgotten and alone. She worked harder to keep her demeanour. The song ended abruptly; there was no fading out in death… She only let two seconds pass before she started to speak.
Get so close, near enough to fight… Get so near, yet so far away… Fitting words for you guys, don’t you think? Her voice was a tad aggressive, on purpose. She wanted to hit them where it’s supposed to hurt: their pride. I won’t die forgotten… she continued while picking the EPL trophy replica in her hand and lifted it for all to see. Two seconds later, she threw it across the room down to the floor. I got four of those… She repeated the gesture with the FA Cup replica. Three of those I got too… Her stare was as arrogant as she could make it. She took each replica in succession, without hesitations, saying the number she won every time, just before throwing them away. The replicas were all lying on the floor now. And you? Got so close, near enough to fight… Got so near, yet so far away… She caught the eye of Diego who was looking at her; he was in pain she saw. She knew he could take it, he won some of those with her before…
The real question though is unanswered! Were the managers not up to the task or was it you… Her stare was piercing and she was seeking every single pair of eyes in the room. …that weren’t up to the task? Where you badly led or are you nothing but chokers? Nothing but a bunch of wimps who are not strong enough to finish the work? She saw that some took the last phrase very badly; she was happy with that. Next year, this club is going to Europe. For that, I will make you discover the three keys to go there: Work, work and more work! You think you have worked hard to get here, right? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet! I can guarantee you that I am the real cast iron bitch who will ride your ass until you drop dead! I will also make you show, for all to see, how good you can really be! I did it before, multiple times! Just look at all those trinkets on the floor… She knew she was skating on paper thin ice now… I have nothing to prove to anyone now ‘cause all know I can do it… But you? She was scanning the room. She saw that a lot of them felt the gauntlet she had thrown at them; it was a painful experience. She let the words sink in for five seconds before she started to walk back toward the door.
Halfway there, she stopped and looked at the players again: And for all of you who planned to come see me, crying to leave ‘cause you want to go to a club that is in a continental competition? I only have this to say: you will leave only when I know you are a choker or a wimp, not before! She turned and walked for the door again. As she was passing it, she added, loudly: Don’t you have a gym session to go to right now?
Once outside, she looked at her watch. The entire meeting lasted a grand total of seven-minute, including a four-minute song before she started to speak. She was wearing a satisfied smile as she was walking toward her meeting with the analysts…