16 days to the AFL National Draft
Trevor Boss put down his cup and frowned across the cafe table. “I’ll be honest; we didn’t have you high on our list. However, when you kept showing up around some people we are interested in, we took another look.”
“Can I ask who?” Ross took a sip from his own coffee while maintaining eye contact with the Brisbane Lions recruiter.
Trevor chuckled. “Straight to the point. I like that.” He stared for a moment, a smile playing at the edge of his lips. “We’ll get to that later. I’d like to talk about you, first.”
Ross tried to hide his nervous swallow. “What do you want to know?”
“Where do you see yourself going in the draft?”
Ross dropped his eyes. “I don’t know. Probably round 4, maybe 5.”
“Then it’s good for you that our first uncommitted draft pick is in round 4.” Trevor’s tone was tinged with amusement. “Which is why we’re talking.”
Ross looked up in surprise. “You’re seriously considering me?”
“We’ve traded our first two picks to get Dayne Beams from Collingwood. Three of our remaining picks are already committed with academy and father/son nominations. We have no idea who will be available by the time we get to the middle of round 4.” Trevor shrugged. “If someone we thought would go in rounds 2 or 3 is still there, we’ll be taking them. If not, you’re a possibility.” He leant forward. “But only a possibility. You’re not high on our list, Ross, but you’re there. “
“What do I need to do to push myself up the list?”
“It’s a bit late for that.” Trevor gave Ross a hard stare. “You should’ve been putting in more effort during the TAC Cup if you wanted to be considered seriously.”
Ross grimaced. “I know. I didn’t play as well as I should’ve. Or could’ve. Julie was telling me yesterday that I needed to get out there and work for the ball more.”
“Julie Crowman from the Lilydale Leopards?”
“Yeah. I had a chat with her about my football.” Ross firmed his expression. “If I don’t get drafted, I want to play in the VFL. That’ll be my best chance to improve enough to be reconsidered for the AFL.”
“Planning ahead. That’s good.” Trevor took a sip of his coffee, his eyes never leaving Ross. “You should’ve done that at the start of the year, though, and put more effort into increasing your draft prospects.”
“If you don’t think much of me, why are we talking?”
Trevor laughed. “You’ve got me.” Still grinning, he continued. “You’ve got potential, Ross. You didn’t show many signs this year that you will live up to that potential, but I’ve been impressed at how you’ve been working over the last few weeks. Your results at the combine were better than we had expected, and your interview while you were there impressed a number of people. If you end up in Brisbane, are you going to continue that effort, or will you slacken off again?”
Ross knew he had to look Trevor in the eye as he answered. “I’ll do whatever I need to do, but I don’t know anyone in Queensland. That’s going to affect me. How much, I don’t know, but what will the club do to support me?”
Trevor raised an eyebrow, clearly surprised. “What support do you think you need?”
Ross hesitated before vetoing complete honesty. A partial truth would have to do. “Kevin’s told me about how the Swans put him up with a host family that supported him and allowed him to concentrate on his football. If I get the same and I’m shielded from distractions, I’m sure I can meet your expectations.”
“We do the same. A lot of young players find themselves interstate after the draft. All the clubs do what they can to make that transition as smooth and painless as possible.” Trevor narrowed his eyes. “How important is it that you have friends and family around you?”
“It’s important, but my mum has made sure I can live by myself if I have to. I don’t make new friends quickly, and that’s going to make things difficult, but if the club supports me, I’ll be fine.”
The prospect of moving to Queensland terrified Ross, but he did his best to hide that from the recruiter. The desire to play in the AFL was balanced by the fear of being isolated and vulnerable. He was praying that if he was drafted, the Brisbane Lions would protect him when he came out.
The two talked for another ten minutes, discussing Ross’s schooling, the training he had been doing with the Leopards, and his goals for the next year, assuming the Lions selected him. Trevor also expanded on the details of the move to Brisbane if he ended up with the club.
Trevor then leant back in his chair. “Thanks, Ross. As I said at the start, you’re only a possibility for us, and I wouldn’t want you to get your hopes up too high. Now, if it’s okay with you, I’d like to talk about something else.”
Trevor narrowed his eyes. “You’ve been training with Dave Islington. What can you tell me about him? What’s he like as a person? Any problems or conflicts?”
Ross knew he was on dangerous ground. No one had said anything explicit, but he had picked up over the previous weeks that Dave had some mental-health problems. The way the Leopards avoided certain subjects, though, told him he shouldn’t talk about them.
“He’s intense, but he’s also loyal. He can be aggressive, but the only time I’ve seen that is when he was protecting someone.” Ross didn’t say that he was the one who Dave had protected when Dave had thrown Stuart out of Todd’s party.
“Really? Tell me more.”
Ross started thinking quickly. He needed to tell the truth, but in a way that wouldn’t out him.
“It was at a party for one of the Leopards. There was this guy there—a friend of a friend, I think—who had gotten drunk. He started to get in the face of one of the other party-goers and was becoming obnoxious. Dave grabbed him and threw him out. The guy wasn’t hurt, but Dave made it clear that he wouldn’t tolerate anyone threatening a Leopard.” Ross hoped that would be enough without saying too much.
“No sign that he would’ve hit the guy?”
“None. I don’t think he’d do that unless the other guy swung first.”
Trevor nodded slowly. “Okay, what about during training? How did he behave?”
Ross relaxed. This was something he was much more comfortable talking about. “Dave was always completely professional...”
* * *
“Neil?” Liam’s surprise at seeing his boyfriend on his doorstep quickly changed to worry as he took in Neil’s expression. “What’s wrong?” He stepped back to allow Neil to enter the house.
“I spoke with my mum and dad about an hour ago.” Neil screwed up his face. “They’ve finally sold the house.”
Liam realised that while the news was expected, it was still tough on Neil to know that the house he grew up in would soon belong to someone else. “Come on through.” He took Neil’s hand and then changed his mind and put his arm around Neil’s waist instead. “When’s the settlement date?”
Neil took advantage of the increased contact to rest his body against Liam’s. “Since it’s taken so long to sell, Mum and Dad have gone with a standard 60-day settlement. I have to have everything out by the first week of January.”
Beth Bellweather glanced up as the two entered the kitchen and immediately focused on Neil. “Are you okay?”
“Someone’s bought the house,” Liam said. There was no need to explain which house that was.
“Ah...” Liam’s mother scanned Neil’s face for a moment. “Take a seat, Neil. Would you like something to drink?”
Over the next ten minutes, Liam and his mother extracted the details. Neil’s parents had received an offer a little lower than they wanted, but it would be enough to cover their relocation to a new home in rural New South Wales. Neil hadn’t been aware that they had been in negotiations with the buyer a bit over a week. The real-estate agent had managed the process, but no one had informed Neil until the offer was accepted.
Neil knew he may need to move out of the house he shared with Paul and Oliver before Christmas, depending on how many new rookies the Leopards recruited and whether they would need accommodation. He would be able to move back into his old home for Christmas and New Year, but he would have to ensure that house was emptied by the first week of January.
Liam glanced at his mother and received a smile in return. “You’re welcome to stay here for a couple of weeks, Neil,” Beth said. “That way you can wait and see what university offers you get.” She turned to Liam. “The offers come out late January, don’t they?”
“Yeah.” Liam could see that Neil didn’t want to talk any more. “Neil and I have been discussing whether we should move up to Sydney before the first round of offers comes out. I’ve told him that unless he completely messes up in the exams, he’ll be sure to get in somewhere, and he should move in with Sam and Marcus well before then.” Liam gave Neil a quick hug. “He doesn’t think he’s messed up, so we’re moving. We only need to decide the date.”
“When were you going to discuss this with your father and me?”
Liam gave her a guilty grin. “After our exams were finished. We’ve still got a couple of months before we’re likely to move. I was thinking that would be just after New Year’s, but we hadn’t made any decision.”
Beth narrowed her eyes. “Did you consider that your father may need to book time off well in advance?”
Neil’s head snapped up. “What do you mean?”
Beth smiled. “Did you really think the two of you would move to Sydney without any help? Bruce and I will be coming, too, to help you settle in. We also want to see where Liam will be living and whether he needs us to purchase any extra items.” She moved to the calendar on the wall and flipped it to the end of the year. “A road trip to Sydney starting on the 4th or 5th of January looks in order. I’ll let Bruce know so he can apply for a week off.” She looked over her shoulder and gave Liam a mock glare. “That’s right in the middle of when most people take their summer holidays, so hopefully there won’t be any problems. Otherwise, you might have to put up with your mother, without your dad to distract me.”
Neil gave her a weak smile. “You don’t need to do that, Beth. You and Bruce have done more than enough for us.”
Beth chuckled. “Neil, we were always going to do this. Now that we have some dates, as soon as Liam has had his final exam, we need to find a place for him to stay next year. We don’t want to wait too long and find there’s nowhere suitable.”
“I don’t know which universities we’ll be going to. That’s going to make picking a location difficult,” Liam said.
Beth chuckled. “Really? I thought that was going to be the easiest part.” She raised an eyebrow. “Or is an apartment within twenty or thirty minutes of where Neil’s going to be living no longer on the requirement list?”
Liam blushed. “Of course it is.”
“Sydney has a good public-transport system. As long as you’re reasonably close to a train station, you’ll be fine.” Beth grinned. “We’ll start looking seriously over the next couple of weeks. There’s no immediate rush, but I’d like to confirm a place by the end of the month if we can.”
* * *
“Alright, Roscoe, we’ve waited long enough.” Wu grinned across the dinner table at his best friend. “How did the interview go with the Brisbane Lions this morning?”
Ross shrugged as he cut the meat off his lamp chop. “Okay, I guess. Trevor made a point of saying that they didn’t rate me highly, but since their first uncommitted pick is in the middle of the fourth round, I’m a possibility if all the guys they expected to go in earlier rounds have gone.”
“That’s a fairly big if,” Warwick said. “From what I’ve heard, there are always players that were expected to go early that didn’t go until late.”
“Yeah, I know. And some of them don’t get drafted at all.” Ross sighed as he looked at Warwick. “I don’t really want to be drafted interstate. I’ll go if it happens, but I don’t want to.”
“I know.” Warwick reached out and put his hand on Ross’s arm. “We just have to wait and see.”
“Trevor gave me a lot of the details of what would happen if they pick me. He told me that I shouldn’t get my hopes up, but he spent a lot of time going through the details. I think he wants me to be prepared.”
“That sounds promising.” Ross’s mother smiled. “Is there anything we should be doing now?”
Ross shrugged. “I just need to be ready to get on a plane the Saturday after the draft. I’ll be back for Christmas and New Year’s and again for a week in January when the Players’ Association have their induction camp, so I won’t have to move everything in one shot, but they’ll want to get me started as soon as possible.” He gave everyone a sheepish smile. “Considering it’s Queensland, I’ll probably need a new wardrobe of warm-weather clothing, anyway.”
“You’re sounding excited,” Lauren said.
Ross screwed up his face. “I am...and I’m not.” He turned to Warwick. “They’re not guaranteeing anything, so I mightn’t go, but if I do, I’ll miss you.”
Warwick reached over and squeezed Ross’s shoulder for a moment. “Same for me. I know being drafted is what you want, but the uncertainty makes life difficult.”
Lauren frowned as she stared at the two of them. “Roscoe, I can see you want to stay with Warwick. Wouldn’t you be better off not going if an interstate club drafts you?”
“No!” Ross grimaced as he glanced at Warwick and then back at Lauren. “Playing in the AFL is my dream. Moving interstate may turn it into a nightmare, but it might not.” He dropped his head and started pushing his food around on his plate. “I want Warwick to be there when I tell them that I’m gay, but maybe it’ll work out even if I’m alone.”
“Any chance a Melbourne-based club will draft you?” Warwick asked.
“The only club that’s spoken to me more than once is Richmond. I had a meeting with them at the combine, but I haven’t heard anything since.”
“Your last exam was only yesterday. Give them time.” Ross’s mother cocked her head. “Though the way Brisbane contacted you so quickly does imply that they’ve got a strong interest.”
Ross had already worked that one out. Unless Richmond contacted him in the next few days, it looked like Brisbane was his most likely destination if he made it into the AFL.
* * *
After chatting on the phone with Daphne for almost an hour, Kevin glanced at the clock. It was after ten, but he knew that Warwick was often up late. He sent him a text message to check, and after a positive reply, he called him.
“I wanted to thank you again for introducing me to Daphne. We’ve got another date on Saturday night, though I’ve warned her I’m not sure what state I’ll be in. The coaches have promised us a tough pre-season, starting immediately.”
Warwick chuckled. “I know what state you’ll be in: New South Wales.”
“Idiot.” Kevin grinned. “I meant how tired I’ll be.”
“I know. What time does your training kick off tomorrow?”
“Nine, but I’ve heard from one of the other guys that the day after it’ll probably be seven. The coaches will be trying to break us, so it’s going to be tough.”
“You’ve been keeping up your training. That’s going to make a difference.”
“I hope so, but that just means it’ll take me a bit longer before I collapse. The coaches will almost certainly push us until everyone has reached their limits.”
The two continued to talk about the training the Sydney Swans would be doing and the team’s prospects for the next year. The senior players wouldn’t be showing up for another two weeks, which meant that the coaches would be able to initially concentrate on the less-experienced players. They had been talking football for over ten minutes before Kevin realised that he hadn’t asked Warwick about himself.
“How are things going between you and Roscoe?”
“Not good, actually.” Warwick’s pain was audible. “It seems likely that he’ll be moving interstate after the draft.”
“Why do you say that?”
Warwick explained about the meeting Ross had with the recruiter from the Brisbane Lions and how the consensus over dinner was that Brisbane had shown a strong interest.
“Shit! That’s good for him—great, even—but I was hoping you and he would hit it off. He seemed really keen on you at that double date we had.”
“I know he likes me, but it’s the same problem I had with you. I don’t want to get myself caught up in a relationship that’s not going to last. I originally thought he was going to be staying in Melbourne based on what he said that first night. He didn’t think his draft prospects were particularly high.” Warwick sighed. “He’s going to come out. I can tell he’s building up the courage to do so, but he wants it to be after the draft. If he ends up in Brisbane, though, he’s going to be terrified. He’ll have to go through his coming out by himself.”
“Oh, fuck. If the news leaks that he’s gay, he’s going to get swamped.” Kevin grimaced at the thought of the resulting media storm. “Any chance he’ll tell the club but they keep it quiet?”
“I think that’s what he’ll try, though we haven’t discussed it. But you and I both know that someone will spill the news. They won’t be able to help themselves.”
“Yeah...” Kevin was silent for a moment. “What are you going to do?”
“Keep going as we are but not let myself become too attached. In a couple of weeks, we’ll know what’s happening and where Ross will end up. If he’s still in Melbourne, we’ll work out where we go next. Until then, life’s on hold.”
“I remember that feeling.” Kevin made a face. “Waiting, not knowing if I’ll be drafted or where I’ll end up. I wish there was a better way, but I can’t think of one.”
“Roscoe wants to be drafted, but I think it’ll be better for him if he weren’t. Not if it means moving to Brisbane. I know how tough it is to come out. For him to do it as an AFL footballer...the pressure and stress will be unbelievable.”
“Don’t say that!” Kevin scowled, though he knew Warwick couldn’t see him. “The AFL’s his dream, like it’s mine and Deon’s. Yes, it’s not easy, and the amount of work I’ve had to do is a lot more than I expected, but I don’t want to quit, and I’m sure Roscoe doesn’t, either. Rather than want him to give up, we should be thinking of ways to help him!”
“How?” Warwick’s frustration was obvious.
Kevin thought for a moment. “Jim. Roscoe needs to talk to Jim. You know what it’s like to be gay, and I know what it’s like to be a footballer, but Jim’s the only one who knows what it’s like to be both. Jim’s the only one who can point Roscoe in the right direction. They need to talk.”
* * *
The next morning, Patrick O’Malley glanced up in surprise as the Carlton Football Club’s list manager entered his office and closed the door. “Is there something you need?”
Shane smiled. “Just one small thing. I thought it was best to go through you for this, and I know you’d want to be kept informed anyway.”
“Our club doctor’s been told about the training Ty Flanders has been doing over the last few weeks. He’s concerned that the kid may be aggravating the injury he sustained when he dislocated his kneecap. I was wondering if you had any ideas on how we can get Flanders checked out.” Shane held up a hand. “I know what you’re going to say. I want him here, too, but I want to be sure that he’s fit. The doc said that if he hasn’t been looking after the injury properly, there’s a chance Flanders will end up with a chronic problem with his knee. If so, the sooner we know the better.”
Patrick frowned as he stared across his desk. “We could just ask him.”
Shane grimaced. “We’re trying not to show our interest in the kid. Having him come in for a medical check-up is going to advertise our interest to all the other clubs.”
“Only if we’re not sneaky.” Patrick’s Irish brogue was full of amusement. “When the doctor first saw him, it was at a private clinic. Why not just get the clinic to ask him to come in for an examination? It’s been long enough that they can say they want to make sure he’s fully recovered so he’ll be ready for his pre-season training.”
“Maybe...but he’s been training for a few weeks now. He’s likely to decide he’s fine and not bother to show up. He certainly won’t treat it as urgent, and we need to know before the draft if there’s going to be an issue.”
“He will if I ask him.” Patrick raised an eyebrow. “Are you happy for me to do that? If he talks, other clubs may find out and wonder why I rang him.”
“I’m willing to take that risk. Getting him checked out is more important.”
“I’ll do it now.” Patrick reached for his phone. “Do you want to stay?”
“If you don’t mind.” Shane shrugged. “This isn’t the way we normally investigate prospects, but Flanders is a special case. I’d like to see how he handles the request.”
Patrick put the phone on speaker. After checking his computer screen, he rang Ty’s number.
“Paddy! It’s great to hear from you. I still owe you a beer; are you ready to collect?”
Patrick chuckled. “Not yet, young man, but soon. Once we get the draft out of the way, things will slow down here, and I’ll be free for that drink.”
“In that case, I’ll invite Dad along too. You guys are still interested in him, aren’t you?”
Patrick flicked Shane an unspoken question and received a shrug in return. “We’re certainly looking at him, but you know I can’t make any promises. It’s not my call as to who we pick.”
Shane smothered a snort and waved a hand to Patrick to continue.
“I know,” Ty said, “but he’d do great as a Blue. If you need anything from me to help you make up your mind, just ask.”
“I’ll do that, but he’s not the reason I called. I was concerned about you.”
“Me? I’m fine; nothing to worry about.”
“I happened to be speaking to the club doctor, and he told me you hadn’t shown up for the follow-up he recommended after treating your knee. He wanted to make sure it had all healed properly and there weren’t going to be any long-term problems.”
“What follow-up? I didn’t know I was supposed to go back to see him.”
Patrick smirked as Shane’s expression echoed Ty’s surprise. “You should’ve received a letter in the mail a couple of weeks ago. Did you forget about it?”
“I didn’t get it in the first place. Is it urgent?”
“If the doctor asked for it, you should probably do it. Why don’t you ring the clinic and see if they can book you in for sometime next week? Or, if you like, I can speak to the doctor while he’s here at the club and get it organised. He was concerned that if the knee’s not healing properly, it might affect your ability to play next season.”
“If you could do that, it’d be great.” Ty’s relief was audible. “I’d prefer this week, if possible though, because Karen and I were planning a week off next week. If that’s not possible, then that’s okay, too. Getting my knee checked out is more important. It’s been holding up fine, but I’m happy for him to confirm it. I really want to be fit for next year. I know we’re going to lose some players in the draft, but I think we’re still a good chance for another premiership.”
“I think you are, too. Okay, I’ll call the doctor as soon as we finish here and then I’ll get back to you with a date and time. What times are best for you?”
A couple of minutes later, Patrick wished Ty all the best for his holiday with Karen and hung up.
“Paddy, Paddy, Paddy.” Shane shook his head in disbelief. “You can make the most bald-faced lies sound reasonable.”
Patrick shrugged. “I wanted to give him a sense of urgency. A missed doctor’s appointment seemed like the best way to do that.” He nodded to Shane. “Over to you. Get me the details of when young Flanders needs to be at the clinic so I can call him back.”
“I’ll do that straightaway.” Shane stood up. “Thanks, Paddy. I want to draft him. I just need to cover off on all the details first.”
* * *
“G’day, Jim.” Roscoe shook hands with the Leopard midfielder before ushering him into the house. “What was so urgent that you needed to speak to me?”
“It’s not so much urgent, as that I needed to do this face to face.” Jim smiled. “Kevin’s been onto Deon, who spoke to the brat, who told me to get off my fat backside—his exact words—and come and see you.”
Ross chuckled. From what he could see, Jim’s body-fat levels were so low that there would be little chance of any fat accumulating anywhere. “And we all need to do what the brat tells us to do.”
Jim grinned. “Most of the time, no, but in this case, the three of them are right.” His face changed to one of seriousness. “Kevin’s heard that you might be heading to Brisbane, and he’s worried about what will happen if you come out while up there.”
Ross’s shoulders slumped. He waved a hand towards the lounge-room couch and then dropped into the armchair opposite. “I’m petrified at the idea. I’m sure I’ll have a nervous breakdown when it happens.”
“Then why come out?”
“Too many people already know.” Ross sighed. “It’s not going to stay a secret for much longer, and I don’t want it hanging over my head. That would be even worse, worrying when the news was going to break. I’m trying to hold out until the draft. After that...” He shrugged.
“If you do end up travelling north, we can plan ahead and make sure you have the support you need.” Jim sighed. “I don’t know of any of the existing Brisbane Lions players who have made public statements against homophobia, but I know that there are a lot of people who will support a gay player. If you like, I can make some enquiries and get you some names.”
Ross stiffened. “No!”
“Relax.” Jim smiled. “I won’t mention your name, and I’ll wait until after the draft in case it’s all academic. Luke Ball has just retired as the president of the AFL Players’ Association, but he was on this year’s IDAHO Day video that the association produced, so I’m sure he can be trusted. I can get his contact details and ask for help. If you end up with the Lions, he can get me the names of players who will support a gay teammate.”
Ross resisted the temptation to ask Jim to get those contact details anyway. Luke Ball was one of his heroes from the Collingwood Football Club. “So you think I’ll be okay?”
Jim shook his head. “Sorry, Roscoe, but it’s not going to be that easy. You’ve got my number, so you can ring me at any time, but if you come out after you get drafted, I will make sure you get the support from the AFL that you need. The AFL CEO stood up in front of the cameras back in April and committed to eliminating homophobia in our sport. The AFL Players’ Association is even more public about supporting gay rights. Neither is going to want to look like hypocrites by not doing what they can to help you. Similarly, any club that drafts you will bend over backwards. Doing anything else would result in a massive backlash against them.” He grimaced. “The problem isn’t going to be the club, even if a few players aren’t comfortable. The problem will be the media and the fans, especially the opposition fans.”
Ross nodded to indicate he understood. “My life will be in the spotlight, and some people won’t accept a gay player.”
“Unfortunately, yes.” Jim sighed. “I wish it were otherwise, but there will be a lot of attention on you, at least initially. On the plus side, if my experiences are any guide, the attention will drop off fairly fast. There will be another peak when you play your debut game, but hopefully by that stage you’ll be settled into the club and will have your teammates to support you. The worst will be immediately after you come out, when your teammates are still sorting out how they feel about things. That could be a rocky time.”
“It went okay for you...”
“Not entirely.” Jim screwed up his face. “This is for your ears only, but even though my teammates supported me when I came out, it wasn’t all plain sailing. A number of them had a problem being in the showers with me. That was sorted out, but it didn’t happen immediately. If any of your new teammates are homophobic, you might have some hassles.” He leant forward and caught Ross’s eye. “If that happens, don’t do anything yourself, but speak to the appropriate people in the club: a player welfare person or team psychologist. In fact, when you come out, ask who you should speak to if there are any problems. AFL teams are supposed to be professional. Don’t try to man up and take it. The club will have people whose job it is to resolve these sorts of problems. You’ve got more important things to worry about, like your football. Understood?”
“Got it.” Ross’s expression firmed. “I’ll need to be focused and not let outside things distract me.”
“Exactly! I’d also suggest signing with a management company before you come out. That way they can help deal with the media and filter out the requests you don’t need to worry about.” Jim grinned. “Tony did that for me. Apparently, there were several requests for nude photoshoots that I never saw.”
Ross blinked and then chuckled. “That’s something I definitely will not be doing.” He quickly sobered up. “Should I try to sign up with someone now?”
“Has anyone approached you?”
“No.” Ross sighed. “That’s not a good sign. It means that the agents don’t think I’ll be drafted.”
“They don’t know everything.” Jim smiled. “Deon’s impressed by the agent that Kevin uses, and I know that Kevin trusts Alastair McCrae, so if you get drafted and can’t think of anyone else, I would suggest signing with him. He’ll earn his money, but you’ll be better off with professional representation to offer you support. The club will do a lot, but having an agent gives you someone neutral to talk to, to make sure that what you’re doing is in your best interests. The club will be on your side when you come out, but it doesn’t hurt to have someone giving you a second opinion.”
Ross nodded. “Thanks, Jim. This is making me feel a lot more comfortable.” He dropped his head. “I was worried I would be all alone and left to fend for myself.”
“That won’t happen.” Jim’s tone was firm. “You mightn’t have your friends around you to support you, but the club will be there.” Jim hesitated before continuing. “However, because you won’t have your friends with you, you may be vulnerable to someone who just wants to be with an AFL player. You’re going to have to watch out for that. Some of them can be pretty slimy.”
Ross snorted and gave Jim a grin. “Don’t worry, I know all about that.” He sighed and looked away. “I know that all too well.” Ross shivered at the idea of encountering another Stuart.
* * *
Daphne was slumped over on the edge of her bed when she heard the knock. She looked up as her big sister opened the door.
“Daphne, do you want to talk?” Angelina asked.
“You’re not going to leave until I do, are you?” Daphne sighed and then nodded her head.
Angelina entered Daphne’s bedroom, closing the door behind her. “You weren’t your usual self at dinner tonight. Everyone noticed but didn’t say anything. I think it’s time. Let me guess: boy troubles?”
Daphne snorted. “You know it is.”
“What’s he done now?” Angelina asked as she sat next to Daphne.
“Nothing. That’s just it. We’ve been talking each night, and we’re getting closer all the time. It’s just...”
“You’re still worried about how he’ll react to you being trans.” Angelina gathered Daphne into her arms. “He already knows, so that’s the first hurdle out of the way. Take your time with the next step. The more he gets to know you, the easier it’ll be.”
Daphne dropped her head. “Do you sometimes wish you still had your little brother?”
Angelina chuckled as she gave Daphne a squeeze of reassurance. “Absolutely not. David was an annoying shit who was always going through my stuff.” She released Daphne and grinned. “I much prefer my little sister. She’s someone I can share things with.”
“You didn’t always think that way.” Daphne rested her head on Angelina’s shoulder.
“No, but I was only sixteen when you made your appearance. It took me a few months to realise how right the change was. I’d been worried that David was gay and how that would reflect on me. You, on the other hand, are my little sister, and I’ll fight anyone who even thinks there’s something wrong with you. Rod’s the same. He and I talked a lot after you became Daphne, and we both came to the same conclusion. You’re our sister, we love you to death, and we’ll defend you with our last breath if we have to.”
“Thank you.” Daphne brought her hand up to wipe away the threatening tears.
“Do Rod and I need to talk to Kevin?” Angelina asked.
“No!” Daphne forced the tension from her body. “He’s nice. He’s going to try his best. I just don’t know if he’ll freak out when...”
“And you want to find out before you give away too much of yourself to him.” Angelina made it a statement, not a question.
“In that case, I have an idea.” Angelina smiled. “Are you and Kevin getting together this weekend?”
“We’ve discussed it, but we haven’t organised anything so far.”
“Then organise it, and here’s what I suggest you do...”
* * *
“Thanks for the dinner, Mrs. Munroe.” Jim grinned. “Much better than the reheated Spaghetti Bolognese I was going to have at home.”
“It was my pleasure, and I told you to call me Ivy.” Ross’s mother chuckled. “I usually cook a lot more than the two of us need and save the rest for leftovers. It’s actually nice to not have anything left to freeze.” She smiled at her son. “Ross said that you gave him a lot of good advice this afternoon. I’m glad, because he certainly seems less stressed.”
“It wasn’t that much. More helping him learn from my experiences.” Jim chuckled. “There’s no reason he has to work out everything from scratch.”
“Regardless, it’s very much appreciated.” She grinned at Ross. “I’ve also been thinking about what to do if Ross ends up playing for the Lions. I don’t really want to live here by myself, so I had a friend do some checking for me today. It looks like I can get a decent place in one of the outer suburbs of Brisbane for a lot less than this house is worth.”
Ross’s jaw dropped. “You’d sell up?”
Ivy Munroe shrugged. “What would be keeping me here? You’ll be in Brisbane, your brother’s in Darwin, and I don’t exactly have a job that I’m desperate to keep. I should be able to find something to replace it if I move, and I’ll have you nearby.” She smiled. “Give me a reason why I should stay.”
Ross didn’t speak. Instead, he moved around the kitchen table, gave his mother a hug, and then kissed the top of her head.
Jim was grinning when Ross returned to his chair. “That will help a lot, Ivy. One of Roscoe’s biggest concerns was not knowing anyone. Having you there will make him that much more relaxed. Right, Roscoe?”
“Yeah, it will. I’ll still have to wait for you to sell up and move, but it’ll make coming out that much easier.”
Jim frowned. “You may need to come out before she arrives. The longer you wait after you’ve been drafted, the harder it’ll be. I think you’ll be better off letting the club know within the first week or two. You could ask them not to say anything until your mum arrives, but tell them as soon as you can.” He grimaced. “That was one of my worries before I told anyone. I’d been playing with some of the guys for years, and I hadn’t said anything. It gave the impression I didn’t trust them. Try to avoid that if you can.”
Ross didn’t like the idea, but he could see Jim’s reasoning. Reluctantly, he nodded his head. “Get an agent first, tell them, and then work with them on how to tell the club. Is that what you think?”
“I think it’ll be best. If you’re planning on coming out, the sooner you do it, the less internal friction you’ll cause.”
The three continued to talk as they cleared the table and packed the dishwasher. Ivy had just put on the kettle to make three cups of coffee when Ross’s phone rang. He picked it up, glanced at the caller ID and immediately felt a sense of foreboding.
“Andrew?”“Hi, Roscoe,” Andrew said in a tense and nervous tone. “Is that offer of a place to stay still open?”