15 days to the AFL National Draft
Andrew was at home when he rang Ross, so he and Jim had driven over to pick him up. During the short drive there, Ross had told Jim about how he had spotted Andrew surreptitiously taking videos of him on the last day of classes, which raised Ross’s suspicions that Andrew might be gay. Suspicions that Andrew later confirmed. Apart from introductions and general pleasantries, the three guys waited until they had returned to Ross’s home before they started a serious discussion.
Jim was questioning Andrew McCann closely as Ross watched. “I know I’m making you go over it again, but are you sure your father knows?”
Andrew screwed up his face. “He has to! My laptop was gone, and as soon as he saw me, he told me to go to my room and not come out. He then drove off, probably to get drunk. Mum didn’t seem to know what was going on, but Dad wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t know. She knew something was wrong, though, because she didn’t question me when I said I was going to a friend’s place for a few days.”
“Surely you locked your computer.” Ross knew he’d made a mistake as soon as he finished speaking. His classmate was on the edge of hysteria and didn’t need to be chided.
“I can’t remember!” Andrew buried his face in his hands. “I might have left it open. I was running late for my last exam, and I may have forgotten. I don’t know!”
“It’s okay, Andrew,” Ivy said softly while she rubbed his back. She glared at Jim and Ross, though it didn’t show in her voice. “I don’t think we’re going to get anything done tonight. Let’s get you settled, and we’ll look at things again in the morning.”
“He can have my bed,” Ross said. “I’ll get the airbed out and sleep on the floor.”
Andrew turned to face Ross. “You don’t have to do that. I’ll take the floor.”
Ross smiled. “I think you need the bed more than I do. You’re stressed out. There’s no need to make sleeping more difficult than it needs to be.”
“You don’t mind having a fag in your bed?” Andrew’s tone was bitter.
Ross was about to reply when his mother started laughing. The three guys stared at her.
“Sorry, but I’m old enough to remember when a fag was another name for a cigarette. Yes, I’d mind if I found a fag in Ross’s bed—he knows how I feel about smoking—but there’s nothing wrong with a gay boy being there.” She gave Ross a sardonic look. “Two gay boys in his bed may be too much, but give me time and I may be able to handle that, too.”
Ross considered his mother’s unspoken hint but decided it wasn’t the right time to out himself to Andrew. He would do that the next day before Warwick showed up for dinner. Having already told his classmate that he could stay for as long as he needed, he knew it was only a matter of time before the truth would be revealed.
“It was my suggestion, Andrew. No, I don’t mind, but you’re not a fag. As mum said, you’re gay, not a faggot.” Ross glanced at Jim. “Do you know if Neil and Liam have finished their exams?”
“I’ll check, but I think they have. I seem to recall Ollie saying Neil’s last exam was today, though Neil gave me the impression last weekend that it’ll be this Friday.”
“I’ll ring later.” Ross glanced at where Andrew had his face in his hands again. “I think it might be a good idea if we went to see them tomorrow. Andrew could do with some more company.”
“Good idea.” Jim reached over and put a hand on Andrew’s shoulder. The younger man flinched but looked up. “Andrew, you’re going to need to face your father at some stage, but if you can put it off until Saturday, I’ll gather a few of the guys to go with you for support.” He smiled. “If you don’t mind getting up early on a weekend, Roscoe can bring you to the club, and once training is finished, we can head off to see your parents. How does that sound?”
Andrew’s head jerked up and down to signal his agreement, though his expression was fearful.
Jim stood up. “I think it’s time for me to go. If you need me at any time,” his eyes swept over both Ross and Andrew, “don’t hesitate to ask.”
Ivy gave Jim a hug. “Thanks for everything, Jim. I’ll see you out.”
The two left the room, leaving Ross and Andrew alone. Ross smiled. “Come on, mate. I’ll show you to my room.”
“You really don’t mind?” Andrew asked as the pair rose from their chairs.
“Of course not!” Ross hesitated and then put an arm across Andrew’s shoulders. He felt his classmate cringe and try to move away, but Ross didn’t let go. “We’ll get this sorted out, but for now, you need some rest. Your phone’s off, isn’t it?” When Andrew nodded, Ross headed to his room, gently pulling the smaller guy along with him. “Then try to get a good night’s sleep.”
A couple of minutes later, after showing Andrew where the shower and toilet were located and switching off his alarm, Ross stood in his bedroom doorway and smiled at his houseguest. “Good night, Andrew. Sleep as long as you need to, and I’ll see you tomorrow.” He was about to close the door when he was interrupted.
“Wait!” Andrew rushed over and grabbed Ross in an almost frantic embrace. “Thank you.” He lifted his head and stared into Ross’s eyes.
Ross could tell that Andrew wanted to kiss him but was having trouble building up the courage to do so. He carefully withdrew from Andrew’s grip, still smiling. “Night, Andrew.” He stepped outside and closed the door. It was only then that he sighed and rested his head on the hallway wall.
Ross looked up at his mother’s voice and gave her a wry half-smile. “Things get complicated real fast, don’t they?”
The two headed back to the kitchen, where Ivy made them both another cup of coffee. “I’m not going to sleep well with this much caffeine in me,” Ross said.
“Do you want something else?”
“No, coffee’s fine.” Ross turned his head in the direction of his bedroom. “Andrew’s got a crush on me.”
“Are you sure?”
“Pretty sure. I could see it in his eyes just now.” He turned back to his mother. “I’ll tell him about Warwick tomorrow. I didn’t do it tonight because he seems too stressed. He didn’t need any more information than necessary.”
“You’re probably right.” Ivy grinned. “Getting back to our earlier discussion, any idea on how long before I find two gay boys in your bed?”
“Mum!” Ross could feel the heat in his face as he avoided looking at her. “I was going to ask if I could stay at Warwick’s place this weekend, but if things don’t go well with Andrew’s parents I may need to stay here. Andrew might need the company.”
Ivy sighed. “I know. Do what you think is best. You don’t need my permission if you want to stay with Warwick. Just let me know so I don’t have to worry about where you are.”
Ross gave her a hug. “Thanks, Mum.” He sighed. “Now I need to call Liam and see if he and Neil will be free tomorrow. I think Andrew could do with making some gay friends.”
* * *
The next morning, Ross woke up at his usual pre-dawn time. He lay on the airbed that had been set up in the lounge room for a few moments before deciding that he would still do his usual run. Dressed in only a pair of boxer shorts and a T-shirt, he quietly entered his bedroom and headed to his drawers to gather together his running gear.
Ross glanced over and smiled at Andrew’s sleepy expression. “Sorry, mate. I’m just getting some stuff so I can go for a run. Go back to sleep, and I’ll see you later.”
It was a few seconds before Andrew responded. “Okay.” After another pause, he rolled over. “Thanks.”
Andrew’s sleepiness made it difficult for Ross to determine if Andrew was still feeling depressed or if that was his usual early-morning tone. He tossed up on whether to cancel his run but then thought that it was better to leave Andrew alone for a while longer.
Since he was only trying to maintain his level of fitness and not working on improvement, Ross reduced the length of his run. He wanted to make sure he was back and changed before his mother left for work. Despite that, he found himself running slower than normal as his mind wandered between the draft, possibly moving to Brisbane, and worrying about Andrew. He was also concerned that Warwick might misinterpret the situation, so he reminded himself to ring and explain as soon as possible. Talking to Warwick in person rather than over the phone was a better option but one that wasn’t available to him. He wouldn’t be able to get to Warwick’s apartment before he left for work, and he had already been warned about hanging around Warwick near the radio station.
By the time he finished his run, Ross was no further along in working out how to address the day. He decided he would have to see how things went and react accordingly.
After his cooldown, he stepped through the backdoor and wasn’t surprised to see his mother finishing her breakfast. “Hi, Mum.”
“Morning, Ross.” Ivy glanced in the direction of Ross’s bedroom. “Is Andrew okay?”
“I’m not sure. He woke up when I went in to get my running gear, but from what he said, I don’t know if he was sleepy or still depressed.” Ross dropped into the closest kitchen chair. “I don’t know what his family life is like, but he seems to think that he’s worthless because he’s gay.” Ross gave his mother a half-smile. “While I kept it a secret for a long time, it wasn’t because I thought I was worthless. I just couldn’t see that I could be gay and make it to the AFL.”
“His father must be pretty vocal on the subject to get him down that much.” Ivy sighed. “I’ve heard a few parents say some things over the years that weren’t particularly nice, but I never knew they were talking about you. I’m sorry, Ross. I should’ve said something when it happened, and maybe you could’ve felt safe enough to have told me sooner.”
“It’s not your fault, Mum.” Ross started to stand up to give her a hug, but his mother smiled and indicated he should stay seated. “I’m hoping some time with Neil and Liam will help give him some self-confidence.”
“I’m going to have to leave that with you since I’ve never met them.” Ivy grinned. “Indeed, I haven’t met most of your new friends. Maybe you should have them around one weekend.”
“There are only two weekends between now and the draft. That’s not a lot of time to organise anything.” Ross’s brow wrinkled as he thought. “If you come with us on Saturday morning, you can meet some of the guys after training. I don’t expect Neil and Liam to be there, but you’ll see a lot of the others.”
“I might do that.” Ivy glanced at the clock. “I need to get going. Please make sure Andrew rings his mum today. If I was in her shoes, I’d be worried about him.” She caught Ross’s eye. “Andrew did say his home phone doesn’t have caller ID, didn’t he?” When Ross confirmed it, she continued. “Tell him to use our home phone. That way he can leave his own phone off and he won’t be stressed by any texts or voicemails his parents may have left.”
“Okay. I just hope his dad’s not there when he calls. Andrew doesn’t look like he’s ready to talk to him.”
* * *
“Okay, Andrew, here’s what I suggest we do today. After we’ve finished breakfast, I thought we’d catch the train to Ringwood to meet up with a couple of friends.”
“Are they the Neil and Liam you mentioned last night?”
Ross managed to avoid showing his surprise. He didn’t think that Andrew would remember him asking Jim. “That’s right. They’re our age, and Neil in particular will understand what you’re going through. He’s been through it himself.”
This time Ross’s jaw dropped. “Yeah.... How did you know?”
“You mentioned him on the last day of school.”
“Did I?” Ross had a vague recollection of having said something. “Anyway, I think it’ll be good to know that you’re not alone. Others have had problems with their parents and survived.” Ross took in Andrew’s slumped posture before continuing. “More importantly, though, they’ll help you realise it’s okay to be gay. You’re not a faggot, Andrew.”
“That’s easy for you to say.”
The bitter tone told Ross it was time to open up. “Yes, it is, because it’s the truth. Do you think you’re the only one who hears that word directed at him? To hear how casually some guys fling it around? I hear it all the time, too. The difference is that I don’t let it get to me.”
“That’s because you’re not gay.”
“But I am.” Ross was surprised at how easily he said it. “I’ve been hiding in the closet, too.”
Andrew’s head snapped up, and his wide eyes searched Ross’s face as if for a trace of mockery. Ross smiled back. “I was sort of forced out of the closet recently when something went wrong, but the upside is that I now have a boyfriend. You’ll meet him tonight when he comes around for dinner.”
Ross didn’t think that Andrew’s eyes could get any wider, but they did. Andrew then sighed and dropped his head again. “You’ve got a boyfriend.”
This time the tone was depressed rather than bitter. Ross knew he had to be careful not to stomp Andrew any lower than he currently felt. “Sorry.”
Andrew’s laugh was full of self-mockery. “What do you have to be sorry about, Mr. Football Star and soon-to-be-AFL-player? You’re not the one who wants—” His mouth snapped shut, and he quickly turned his back on Ross.
“What do I want? I want a boyfriend, too. Unfortunately, if I get drafted interstate, I lose Warwick. There’s only been three clubs that have spoken to me more than once, and two of those clubs are in Queensland and Western Australia. Only two clubs spoke to me at the combine: Richmond and Brisbane. Only Brisbane has spoken to me since. Unless Richmond contacts me again, if I get drafted it’s likely to be Brisbane, and I lose my boyfriend.” It was Ross’s turn to slump in his chair. “I intend to come out after the draft. Too many people know now for it to stay a secret, but if I end up in Brisbane, I’ll be coming out alone. No friends. No family. Just a whole bunch of new people who want me to play football, while another bunch of people will want to either tell me that gay guys can’t play, or they’ll want to follow me around and question the sexuality of every guy I speak to.”
When there was no response, Ross looked across to see Andrew staring at him. Ross sighed. “I know I’m in a better situation than you. You could lose your family by being gay. All I’ll lose are my dreams. But it’s still painful.”
Ross forced a smile onto his face. “I’m supposed to be making you feel better about yourself, so I’m going to shut up about football. At least for now.” He grinned in a more natural way. “Neil’s been living with some of the Lilydale Leopard football players, and Liam used to play football, too, so I can pretty much guarantee that there will be some football talk today, but I’m hoping they can show you it’s okay to be gay.”
Andrew’s lips twitched, but any smile was stillborn. “Tell that to my dad.”
“Ignore him for now. What about your mum? I had the impression that she wasn’t negative.”
“She asked me if I was gay, and after I said I was, she told me that she still loved me.” Andrew’s head dropped. “But she said I should stay away for a few days while she spoke to my dad. Apparently, he’s ‘upset’.” Andrew’s sarcasm was heavy.
“You know you can stay here for as long as you need.” Ross paused and then decided not to say anything about his mother’s suggestion that she move to Brisbane. If Andrew needed a home, that might be the excuse his mother needed to stay in Melbourne, at least for a little longer. “Finish your breakfast, and let’s get moving. I told Liam I’d be at his place around ten.”
* * *
Neil narrowed his eyes while he let Liam greet their two guests. He was getting used to Ross, but the other guy was new to him, and that made him tense. Andrew was plain-looking and a little shorter than Neil, which meant he looked quite small standing next to Ross. Neil took in the darting eyes and the twitching hands and knew that Andrew was nervous.
Once the four of them were settled in the lounge room, Liam smiled at Andrew. “Roscoe only told us that you’re a friend of his from school. Do you want to play some video games? We’ve got enough controllers for all four of us to play.”
Andrew’s head snapped around to stare at Ross. “You didn’t...”
Ross shrugged. “It wasn’t my place.” He smiled at Liam. “Actually, I was hoping the four of us could chat for a bit. Neil, how are things with your family?”
Neil was suspicious. Ross already knew the answer to that question, apart from the detail of the house being sold. “Things are good. Dad’s come around completely and doesn’t mind that I’m gay. Mum’s still not accepting it, but otherwise she wants what’s best for me. She’s happy to speak to me as long as the subject of homosexuality doesn’t come up.” Neil was looking at Ross, but he made sure he kept Andrew in his peripheral vision. “Dad’s really supportive of Liam and me. He’s told Liam to look after me while we’re in Sydney.”
Liam grinned and wrapped an arm around Neil. “And I fully intend to do what I’m told.” He smirked. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Neil had to turn his attention away from Andrew as his boyfriend became frisky. “Stop it, Liam!” Neil said, though he was grinning as he tried to push Liam away. When he had a chance to look back, he saw Andrew’s eyes were wide and his face was red.
“What about your parents?” Ross asked Liam.
“They’re cool. Mum thinks Neil might be able to keep me under control—”
Neil snorted with amusement. There was little chance of that happening.
“—though Dad’s more cautious. He’s worried that I won’t be able to keep up with my rent payments once we move.”
“You’re moving in together?” Andrew asked.
Liam and Neil both shook their heads. “I’m moving in with Sam and Marcus. That’s Deon’s dad and his partner. Liam’s going to find an apartment nearby to rent.” Neil took in Andrew’s expression and realised he needed to give a longer explanation. He told Andrew who Deon was, how his father had divorced his mother and moved to Sydney to live with Marcus, and how the two had offered him a place to stay while he went to university.
“It all sounds so...” Andrew screwed up his face as he searched for the right word. “...so homey!”
“Being gay is normal,” Ross said gently. “We can have good family lives, too. That’s why I brought you here. I wanted you to see and hear it for yourself.”
“Then why have you been hiding in the closet?” Andrew’s tone of accusation was followed by a look of horror as he glanced at Liam and Neil. “What I meant was...”
“It’s okay.” Ross smiled. “They already know. As for me, my problem is that there are no openly gay AFL players. I don’t really want to be the first, but if I get drafted...” He shrugged.
“Can I guess that you’re gay, too?” Liam asked Andrew, echoing Ross’s soft tone.
Andrew stared for a moment and then nodded once. His head dropped. “My dad keeps going on about how disgusting faggots are—that they’re not real men and shouldn’t pretend to be so. He’s just found out that his son is one of them.”
Neil winced as old memories resurfaced. “What did he do?”
Andrew looked up. “Nothing so far. He told me to go to my room, and then he headed out to get drunk. Mum didn’t know, so I told her I was going to a friend’s place for a few days since my exams are finished. She bought the story, but she knows the truth now. She told me to stay away while she works on my dad.”
“We spoke with Jim last night,” Ross said. “He suggested that we wait until Saturday. He’ll gather a few of the team to go with us after training to see Andrew’s dad.”
Neil grimaced. “That’s what they did when I needed to face my dad.” He caught Andrew’s eye. “My dad was homophobic, and I was afraid he was going to kill me when he found out. He’d already hit me just because I knew Jim. The Leopards were there to make sure he didn’t do anything worse.” Neil gave him a half-smile. “It turns out my dad simply didn’t understand. When he did, he changed. Mum still has problems, but dad doesn’t. He thought his comments about gays were to warn me to stay clear of them, that they were dangerous paedophiles, but all he was doing was alienating me. We’ve sorted that out, and everything’s fine now.”
“So there’s hope?”
Neil stayed silent until he realised that the other two were leaving it to him to respond. “Yes, there’s hope. Things may not end up perfect—they haven’t with my mum—but your dad may come around. I can’t promise anything because it doesn’t always work out, but there’s hope.”
Andrew sighed and dropped his head. “Thank you.”
“I think that’s enough for now.” Ross put an arm across Andrew’s shoulders. “It’s time for Andrew to see that being gay doesn’t change who we are.” He caught Liam’s eye. “What games have you got?”
The four played video games for almost two hours—Neil was surprised to learn Ross was almost as bad as he was—before Liam’s mother called them into the kitchen for lunch. Liam was teasing Neil and Ross about some of the mistakes they had made during the game when Ross’s phone rang. He frowned at it before answering.
“Ross Munroe.” His eyes widened at the response he received.
“Sure! Anytime would suit me, so whatever’s best for you.” There was a short pause. “I’m currently in Ringwood with some friends. I wasn’t planning on heading home until later this afternoon.”
Ross listened and then started to gnaw at his lower lip while looking at Andrew. “Yeah, I can do that. I’ll see you then. Bye!”
He put his phone back in his pocket and then pumped his fist. “Yes!”
“Good news?” Liam grinned. “Not that we can’t tell, but do you want to share the details?”
“That was the Richmond Football Club. Someone’s coming out to Ringwood to talk to me in a couple of hours. If they draft me, I can stay in Melbourne, I won’t have to break up with Warwick, and I’ll have lots of people around who can help me when I come out.” He gave Andrew an apologetic smile. “Do you want to stay here, or would you like to head back to my place? I’ve got time to do that and still make it in time for the interview.”
Liam raised an eyebrow at Neil, and Neil nodded in return. “You’re welcome to hang out here, Andrew,” Liam said. “If you don’t want to play video games, I’m sure there’s something else we can do.”
Andrew reddened and dropped his head. “Umm...”
Liam chuckled. “Get your mind out of the gutter. There’s a park down the road where we can kick a footy around, or I can call Doug and see if he’d like to join us. Eastland’s not too far away if you want to go window shopping, grab a bite to eat, or maybe watch a movie. There are plenty of options; we don’t have to stay in the house.”
Andrew glanced at Ross and then back at Liam. “I’ll stay if you don’t mind. I don’t really play footy, though. I just like to watch it.”
“That’s the same as Neil. I don’t mind watching a good game, either.” Liam smiled. “I’ll see if Doug can come around, and then we’ll work out what we’ll do while Roscoe is out.”
“Thanks, guys,” Ross said. “Sorry to leave you, Andrew, but that was the phone call I’ve been waiting for. I don’t want to mess this up.”
Andrew tried to smile. “Good luck, Roscoe. I hope they draft you.”
* * *
Ty waited anxiously for the doctor to finish reviewing the reports. He had expected the doctor to examine his knee, maybe run a few tests, and then let him know the outcome. When he had arrived at the private clinic, however, he was immediately referred to a nearby radiology clinic for an MRI and ultrasound on the knee. He was now back with the doctor, waiting for the verdict.
Dr. Bosch turned from his computer screen and removed his glasses. He smiled. “Everything looks fine. There are some residual traces of the patella dislocation you suffered, but there’s no sign of any remaining structural weakness. Since you intend to continue playing football, I would suggest speaking to your physiotherapist about a set of regular exercises you can do to keep the knee strong and reduce the likelihood that this will occur again, but there’s no reason you can’t continue to play for many years to come.”
Ty grinned with relief. “Thank you. Jackie—she’s one of the team’s physios—has already given me a program to do, and she’s told me she wants to check the knee every couple of months. If she finds anything wrong, I’ll be back.”
The doctor chuckled. “I think every couple of months is being overly paranoid, but I appreciate that someone in your position can’t take chances. Good luck for next year!”
A couple of minutes later, Ty was waiting in line at the reception counter. Once the person in front of him had been served, he stepped forward, holding out his credit card. “Ty Flanders. I just saw Dr. Bosch.”
The receptionist checked her computer screen and then smiled up at Ty. “It’s already been taken care of.”
“It has?” Ty put away his cards, happy that he wouldn’t be paying but surprised they weren’t going to invoice the visit.
“Yes. It’s been charged back to the footy club.”
Ty hesitated. “I don’t know if the Leopards will pay for this. Maybe you should charge it to me.”
She peered at her computer screen. “The Leopards?”
“The Lilydale Leopards Football Club. They paid for my earlier treatment, but I don’t know if they wanted to pay for this follow-up visit.”
She shook her head. “That’s not what I’ve got here. This says it’s to be charged to the Carlton Football Club.”
Ty stared at her, not sure if he had misheard. “Carlton? The mighty Blues?”
“That’s right.” She looked up and smiled. “Are you one of their players?”
Ty shook his head. “There must be some sort of mistake. I’m with the Leopards.”
She shrugged. “All I can go by is what’s on my computer screen. I suggest you sort it out with the Blues.”
Ty thanked her and walked out of the clinic, his mind in turmoil. Rather than getting into his car and heading home, he walked around the corner to a cafe he’d noticed earlier. There, he ordered a latte and sat down, trying to make sense of what was going on. After his coffee arrived, he pulled out his phone and made a call.
“Paddy, it’s the brat. Someone’s made a mistake.”
“What sort of mistake?”
“I’ve just been to the doctor for that follow-up you told me about, but I’ve been told that it’s being charged back to Carlton.”
“Ah...I think I know what’s happened. Since he’s also one of our club doctors and it’ll be on your record that you’re a football player, someone must have assumed it needs to go on the club’s account. Don’t worry about it. I doubt anyone will notice.”
“I’m not comfortable with doing that, Paddy. You and the Blues have been good to me and Dad, and this would be like stealing from the club. Can you check it out and get it charged to me, please? I want to pay for my own bills.”
“Sure, lad. It might take me a couple of weeks, though. Can you remind me again after the draft in case I’ve forgotten? I’ll make a note of it, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
“Okay, Paddy. Thanks for this, and I’ll call you again in a couple of weeks.”
“No problems, brat. Now, I’ve got to go. I’ve got lots of work to be done.”
After hanging up, Ty finished his coffee and headed towards his car. He was feeling a lot more comfortable, though there was still the nagging sense that something wasn’t quite right.
* * *
Ross strolled down the suburban street towards Liam’s house. The interview with the Richmond Football Club had given him a lot to think about, not all of it positive.
He hesitated before he rang the doorbell, wondering if he needed to take more time to go over what had occurred or whether a distraction would be useful. After a moment, he decided on the distraction.
“Roscoe, how did it go?” Liam asked as he stepped back to allow Ross to enter.
Ross snorted as he realised he hadn’t thought things through particularly well. Of course, the guys would want to know what happened. “I’m not sure. There were good parts, but there were other bits that didn’t make me feel hopeful.”
“Come on through. Andrew is giving Doug lessons on how to play video games. After he beat Doug in every game they played, they’ve switched to a cooperative match. Otherwise, I think Doug was going to explode.” Liam grinned. “Doug doesn’t like losing.”
Liam grinned. “My best mate. He’s been my support ever since I came out. He’s a good guy to know.”
A few minutes later, Ross was sitting with Liam and Neil, while Andrew and Doug were yelling at each other as they battled against an opposing team on the Bellweather’s large TV screen. Once the game ended and Andrew and Doug had given each other a high-five for a successful mission, Doug gave Ross a quizzical look.
“Doug, this is Roscoe. He’s the one I told you about earlier.”
Doug smiled and raised a hand in greeting. “G’day, mate. Don’t let Liam introduce you to Stevo.”
“One of our classmates and a teammate on our district team.” Liam frowned at Doug. “Why shouldn’t I introduce him?”
Doug chuckled. “Stevo already goes into raptures if Kevin’s around. He’ll have an orgasm if he meets another AFL player.”
“I’m not an AFL player.” Ross made a face. “After today’s interview, I’m not sure how likely I am to be drafted.”
“It didn’t go well?” Neil asked.
Ross shook his head. “It started okay. He wanted to know how I thought I went on my exams and what I was planning to do until I get my results. He then asked me what I intended to do if I didn’t play in the AFL.”
“Why did he ask that?” Neil frowned. “That’s an odd question.”
Ross dropped his head. “He doesn’t think I’ll be drafted. He said I have potential, but I’m going to need to show I’ll work to achieve it before I can play in the AFL.”
Neil cocked his head. “Did he say you weren’t going to be drafted, or was that your interpretation of his comment?”
“He didn’t say it, but it was obvious.”
“What are you getting at?” Liam asked Neil.
“Most new draftees play in the seconds. Some play there for a long time, while others get elevated to the senior team pretty quick.” Neil smiled at Ross. “Maybe he thinks you’re one of the guys who’ll be playing the VFL for awhile before you play AFL. I remember when the Leopards played against Richmond’s VFL team, which had lots of tall players. You’d fit in well from that perspective. I wouldn’t be surprised if height was one of the key criteria for them.”
“But then why the question about what he’d do if he wasn’t playing in the AFL?” Andrew asked. When the others looked at him he ducked his head. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“No need to apologise. It’s a good question.” Doug crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow at Neil. “Well?”
“From what Deon and the brat have told me, the recruiters like to ask odd questions so they can see how the guys react. Maybe he wanted to know if Roscoe was planning ahead. Maybe he wanted to see if Roscoe was going to give up if his dreams didn’t materialise immediately.”
Ross stared, a faint hope resurfacing. “I told him that if I didn’t make it to the AFL, I wanted to play in the VFL until I could get a second chance.”
“So you could end up in their VFL team,” Liam said. “They might still be considering you.”
Ross mentally reprocessed the interview from the new perspective and slowly nodded. “It could be. I thought he meant they weren’t going to draft me, but maybe I’m wrong.”
“They wouldn’t have interviewed you if they didn’t think you were a prospect,” Andrew said.
“He’s right.” Doug smiled approvingly at Andrew. He then turned to Liam. “I know I wasn’t going to interfere, but I’ve found someone who’ll make you a much better boyfriend than Neil.”
“Come on, he understands football, he’s great at video games, and if you date him you can stay here in Melbourne. I’m guessing you consider him to be decent looking—you like Neil, after all, so you’re obviously not fussy—so what’s wrong with him?”
“I’ve got Neil, and I don’t want anyone else.” Liam pulled Neil close and then shrugged at Andrew. “Sorry. You seem a great guy, but I’ve already got a boyfriend, and I’m not looking for anyone else.” He glared at Doug. “And I don’t want you looking for anyone, either.”
Doug didn’t appear fazed. “Hey, I wasn’t looking. He just appeared and seems perfect for you. I’ll shut up now.”
“And stay shut up!”
Ross could see that Andrew’s depression was returning as his classmate’s head slumped. Ross suspected Andrew had a crush on him, and now he had been rejected by Liam, too. “Hey, cheer up. I’m sure there’s a guy out there for you.”
“Doug’s still single.” Liam smirked. “What about it, Dougie?”
Doug glared. “You know I’m straight.” A hint of something crept into Doug’s eyes. “If I wasn’t, Neil wouldn’t be sitting there.”
“Yeah, I know. Sorry.” Liam turned to Andrew. “Sorry to you, too. That wasn’t nice.”
Doug made a face. “Yeah, sorry. I shouldn’t have dragged you into things.” He nodded to Neil. “Sorry to both of you.”
Andrew waved a hand to dismiss the apologies, though his head stayed down. “It’s okay.”
“It’ll work out,” Ross said. “I don’t know how or when, but it will. Believe in yourself, Andrew. If you do, you’ll find your guy.”
* * *
“G’day! I hope I’m interrupting something important.”
Julie looked up at Ty’s cheeky grin and rolled her eyes. “You are, but you wouldn’t be unless it was urgent.” She gave him a hard stare. “Aren’t you supposed to be at work?”
Ty dropped into the seat opposite her. “I’m taking a sickie. I had a doctor’s appointment today, and since there wasn’t a lot of point in going to work for only a couple of hours, I thought I’d drop in and annoy you.”
“Mission accomplished.” Julie smiled. “What’s the real reason you’re here, brat?”
Ty’s expression went serious. “Roscoe’s got a classmate having trouble with his dad. Andrew’s staying with Roscoe for now. Jim’s organising for some of the team to go with Andrew when he goes home on Saturday. I thought you’d want to know.”
“What sort of trouble?”
“The same sort that Neil had.”
Julie winced. She had been part of the counsel of war on the night that Neil’s father had hit him. The image of Neil’s face with the large red handprint was not one she could easily forget. “Is Andrew alright?”
“For now.” Ty grimaced. “His father didn’t hit him when he found out, but Andrew’s worried. His mother’s told him to stay away for a few days. To me, that sounds like he may be in trouble.” Ty passed on what details he knew.
Julie frowned as she thought through the consequences. “I’ll inform Anne, Eric, and Colin, just in case it becomes an issue for the club like it did last time. However, I don’t want Jim going.”
Ty’s eyes widened. “Why the hell not?”
“His presence aggravated Neil’s dad; Phil accused Jim of corrupting his son. The same may apply here. Jim’s not going.” Her tone made it clear she wasn’t going to budge.
Ty’s lips were pinched, but he nodded his head. “I’ll go in his place.”
“We’ll see. I want to talk to Andrew before we make any decisions. I want to know what we’re likely to expect and whether we’ll make matters worse by showing up with too many people.” She made sure she maintained eye contact with Ty. “We want just enough people to ensure Andrew’s safety, but not so many that we stop him and his father from talking.”
Ty scowled but nodded again. “The plan is that he’ll come with Roscoe to training on Saturday morning. After training, we’d take him home.”
“Then that’s what we’ll work with. I’ll talk to a few people—including Dad—before then so we can be prepared.” She gave Ty a faint smile. “Thanks, brat. I appreciate you letting me know.”
“I’m going with whoever you pick.” Ty glared defiantly across the desk.
“Maybe.” She held up a hand to forestall his response. “I still haven’t assigned a punishment for you calling me Mum last weekend. Making you stay behind may be that punishment.”
“That’s not fair!”
Julie sighed. “Brat, we all know you mean well. You’re a great guy and fantastic leader. But this is a situation where we need to tread carefully. A young man’s family is at stake. There is no room for macho bravado.”
Ty ground his teeth. “You’re as bad as Dad. Why do you have to be so fucking right?”
Julie chuckled. “You’ve done your part, brat. It’s time to let us do ours.”
* * *
It was after seven when Warwick arrived at Ross’s home. Ross had kept him informed as to the situation, so he wasn’t surprised when there was another guy Ross’s age waiting at the house. Despite Ross’s previous assurances that Andrew was just a friend, Warwick sensed Andrew’s hostility as soon as he was introduced. He smiled warily. “I’m sorry about why you’re here, but I hope everything works out.”
Andrew dropped his head. “Thanks.”
Ross immediately put an arm across Andrew’s shoulders. “Hey, cheer up. I told you this afternoon that you need to believe in yourself. There’s nothing wrong with you, and you’re not going to have trouble finding someone.” He gave Warwick a look of pleading.
Warwick took the hint. “Melbourne’s got a great gay community, Andrew. You’re good-looking and young. You’ll be popular in no time.”
Andrew’s expression was hooded as he looked up. “In other words, faggots are shallow and superficial and are only interested in appearances. Just like my dad’s always said.”
“He didn’t mean it that way!” Ross grimaced at Warwick while still speaking to Andrew. “He meant that you’ll attract guys, and then you’ll be able to find one you’re compatible with. You’re already ahead of the game.”
Warwick was glad Ross had warned him about Andrew’s self-esteem problems. He mentally growled in anger at a parent who would do that to their own son, even if they didn’t know what they were doing.
Andrew looked away. “How many guys will I have to sleep with before I find someone?” Andrew’s tone was bitter. “That’s what my dad says faggots do: sleep with anyone with a pulse.”
“You don’t have to sleep with anyone if you don’t want to,” Warwick said, trying to be supportive but firm. “There will certainly be guys who just want to have sex, but if you’re looking for someone special, take your time. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”
“And how many guys have you slept with?”
Warwick didn’t need to look at Ross to know that he had to be careful. “A few, but not as many as you may think. There have been times when I wanted physical comfort, and I took it. But I wasn’t looking for a relationship when that occurred.”
“More than you can count, in other words.” Andrew pulled himself out of Ross’s loose clasp. “That’s all faggots think about: sex.”
Warwick stepped forward and put his hands on Andrew’s shoulders. When the young man looked up at him, Warwick smiled. “Some gay guys do; you’re right about that. But there are also a lot of us who want just one guy to spend our lives with. Finding the right one is always difficult—it doesn’t matter if you’re straight or gay—but if you look in the right places, you’ll find what you’re looking for.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You already have a boyfriend.” Andrew shot Warwick an angry glare—a glare Warwick was sure Ross didn’t see.
“Yes, he does,” Ross said. “And one day, I hope you’ll be as happy as I am. Don’t give up, Andrew. Don’t believe the lies your dad has told you. There’s nothing wrong with being gay. It doesn’t define anything more than who you’re attracted to.”
Warwick realised Andrew had a distorted view of gay life from his father. The situation was further complicated by the crush Andrew obviously had for Ross. What worried Warwick was the defensive feeling that revelation had generated. He’d been trying to keep a distance between himself and Ross until he learnt if Ross was going to stay in Melbourne. The realisation that someone else wanted Ross had ruined that plan. It appeared that his feelings were, again, ignoring his head.
* * *
Kevin grinned as he stared unseeingly at the bedroom ceiling. His concentration was on the phone conversation he was having with Daphne. “That’s all organised then. I’ll pick you up on Saturday at seven, and we’ll go out for dinner and maybe a nightclub afterwards, depending on how we’re feeling.”
“Yes?” Kevin’s forehead wrinkled as he wondered what Daphne was so hesitant about.
“My sister’s told me that she won’t be home on Saturday night. She said we could use her apartment if we wanted to.”
Kevin’s eyes widened as he realised what Daphne was suggesting. “Instead of a nightclub, you think we should go back to your sister’s place? You don’t think we’re moving a bit fast?”
“I told you on the plane, Kevin. I have to know. Please...for me?”
“You know I’ll do whatever you want.” Kevin screwed up his face, hoping he wasn’t making a big mistake, but Daphne’s pleading had broken through his reluctance. “I’d love to spend Saturday night with you. I was going to ask you in a couple of weeks, but we can do it this weekend if that’s what you want.”
“Thank you.” Daphne’s relief was palpable.
“This means changing a few other plans.”
“What other plans?”
Kevin smiled. “If this is going to be our first time, I want it to be special. I want it to be just right. That means instead of a simple bistro meal, I’m going to have to find somewhere more romantic.”
He chuckled. “Sorry, but you’re going to get spoilt. I won’t go over the top, but I will make Saturday night something we’ll both remember.”
“Hopefully for the right reasons.”
“That, too.” Kevin tried to install as much honesty and compassion into his voice as he could. “I really like you, Daphne. I may even be falling for you. I don’t want Saturday night to be a notch on the bedpost; I want it to be the start of something more. That’s why I’ve been stalling. I don’t want to mess this up.”
“I know, and that’s the same reason why I’m asking to spend the night with you. I want it to be something more, too, but I also don’t want to give myself to you and then find that you can’t live with me as I am. You understand, don’t you?”
“I do. Believe me, I do.”
Once the phone call ended, Kevin started making plans. A quick search on the Internet gave him more than enough choices for a romantic dinner for two. After a quick look at the menus and making a decision on the cuisine, he chose a small Italian restaurant in Paddington.
There were still things he needed to do, but the first part of their night together was booked.
* * *
Ross and Warwick shared a goodnight kiss just inside the house. They both knew that they couldn’t risk Ross being seen kissing another guy outside.
When they were finished, neither guy wanted to let go. They stood there, listening to each other breathing, feeling each other’s heartbeat, absorbing each other’s aroma.
Eventually, some indeterminate time later, they separated.
“Let me know what happens on Saturday,” Warwick said quietly.
“I will. I hope it works out for Andrew.” Ross sighed. “If it does, is it still okay for me to stay the night with you?”
“Of course.” Warwick smiled. “Just keep me informed so I can have everything ready.”
Ross answered with another kiss. It was later than Warwick had planned before he found himself in his car and driving home, but he didn’t mind. Ross was becoming someone special to him just as he had hoped. The only fear on the horizon was whether the draft would rip Ross out of his life.Warwick knew it was disloyal, but he was praying that Brisbane wouldn’t draft him.