12 days to the AFL National Draft
Julie smiled at the young man standing next to her. “Relax, Andrew. We’ll do what we can to make sure it all works out.”
Andrew stared out over the football oval where a dozen players were training. “Thank you.” His reply was quiet, almost fatalistic.
“Before we work out who is going with you to see your parents, can you tell me a bit more about what has you worried? Is your father going to hit you?”
“No!” Andrew screwed up his face. “At least, I don’t think so. If he was going to do that, he would’ve done it when he first found out.”
“That’s good to know.” Julie smiled. “In that case, we only need one big guy for protection. We’ll take Paul.” She was still trying to work out who else should go. Besides herself and Paul, she wanted one more person. More than three people would be intimidating, but just the two of them wouldn’t give Andrew enough support. She had already vetoed Jim, and she thought Ty was too much of a risk if Andrew’s father made a comment that could be construed to be a criticism of Jim. Roger, the team captain, would have been ideal, but he wasn’t available. He had family commitments that took priority.
Andrew glanced at her before returning his attention to the players. “Who’s Paul?”
“My brother.” Julie pointed to the player who was working with Ross on a contested-marking drill. “That’s him over there.”
“I thought you were the coach.”
Julie chuckled. “I am. I’m also Paul’s big sister.” She smiled past Andrew to Henry. “It was a matter of some debate as to whether the head coach should be related to one of the players, but Paul and I keep our personal and professional lives separated. We worked together without a problem during the past season, so I expect that will continue.” She brought her attention back to Andrew. “However, in this case, being family may help you. A brother and sister accompanying you should create a better impression than a random bunch of guys.”
“Julie’s comment about separating personal and professional lives could be useful for you, too,” Henry said. “From what I’ve been learning in my short time here, your problems with your father may be on just the one subject. If you can keep your personal relationships separate from the family relationships, it may give everyone the breathing space needed to come to a resolution.”
Andrew sighed. “I don’t know whether my dad can do that. All he’ll see is a worthless faggot.”
“Then what you need to do is make sure he sees his worthy son.” Henry smiled and clapped Andrew on the back. “Not everyone in my generation understands what it means to be gay. I’m certainly still learning. Give him time.”
Henry’s comment resolved Julie’s dilemma. “Henry, are you doing anything immediately after training? If not, would you be free to go with Paul and me when we take Andrew back to his parents? Maybe you’ll have some luck getting through to Andrew’s father.”
“Me?” Henry’s eyebrows rose. “Why me?”
“As you’ve said, you’re part of the same generation. You’ll have a better chance of appreciating both sides and working out the required compromises. More importantly, you’ll hopefully help us avoid any misunderstandings.”
Henry thought for a moment and then nodded. “I’ll let Deidre know I’ll be late.”
“How does that sound, Andrew?” Julie asked.
“Sounds fine.” Despite the positive words, Andrew’s tone indicated he didn’t anticipate a positive outcome.
“We’ll get this sorted out.” Julie put a hand on his shoulder for reassurance. “If not today, then later on. One thing you’ll learn is that the Leopards don’t give up. We keep trying until we succeed.” She grinned past him to Henry. “And once we’ve done that, we keep going, because there’s always another goal to achieve.”
Returning her attention momentarily to football-related matters, Julie watched Ross working hard on the oval. As she had anticipated earlier in the week, his efforts were a step up from those of the previous weeks. He was showing he could do what’s required to make it as a professional football player, but Julie had never doubted his potential. The question had always been if he could do work at the required level consistently. This first session after her talk with him was a positive sign. It remained to be seen if he maintained that higher standard.
* * *
A stark-naked Ty with a towel draped over his shoulder stormed into the showers. “Fuck!”
Jim frowned from the left-hand-side showerhead where he was washing soap off his arms. “What’s wrong, brat?”
“Julie won’t let me go with her when she takes Andrew home.” Ty jabbed a finger in Paul’s direction. “I want you to tell me what happens as soon as you can.”
Jim looked from Ty to Paul and back again. “Why Paul?”
Paul grinned sheepishly while washing his armpits. “Julie asked me if I’d go with her. Apparently Colin and Anne suggested that unless there’s a threat of violence, Julie should only take two Leopards. I won’t be doing much talking, if any. I’m there as the muscle, just in case. Since the brat’s upset, I’m guessing they don’t think they’ll need any more than the two.”
Jim narrowed his eyes at Ty. “Obviously, you’re not the other Leopard, and I know it’s not me. Who is it?”
“Henry.” Ty almost spat the word as he moved to the shower next to Ross. “She thinks he might be able to talk some sense into Andrew’s dad since they’re about the same age.” He turned to Ross. “Are you going?”
“No.” Ross let the hot water run down his back. “I didn’t think that was a good idea.”
“Why the hell not? He’s your mate, isn’t he?”
Ross flinched but didn’t say anything. He didn’t want to admit that he was too scared to go.
“Brat, leave him alone.” Jim’s expression was just short of a glare. “Roscoe’s right for multiple reasons. For starters, the only benefit he could realistically provide is moral support, because I doubt Andrew’s parents will otherwise pay a lot of attention to him. Also, any guy showing up with Andrew may get accused by his father of being gay. Paul, at least, can say he’s there as Julie’s brother.” Jim smirked at his taller teammate. “He’s also had lots of experience at turning down offers for dates from guys.”
“He has?” Ross stared across the communal shower to where Paul was soaping his arms. Having showered with football teammates for years, he was used to seeing fit naked guys, but he didn’t often get an excuse to give one a good look. Ross thought Paul was moderately attractive, but there was nothing special about him that Ross could see.
Paul chuckled. “Joe at the radio station would try to ask me out every time I was there for the morning show. It was a running gag all year until the last show when he told me I was too late, and he’d found someone else.” Paul glanced at Jim. “Is he still dating Alan?”
“As far as I know. I haven’t heard otherwise.”
Ty started to rub shampoo into his hair. “I still think that Julie should let me go with her.”
“Brat, drop it!” This time Jim was scowling. “Leave it to Julie. She’ll look after it without letting her emotions get the better of her.”
Ty scowled back. “Fine!” He then glared at Ross—Ross didn’t know why—before smirking. “Since we’ve started to talk about dates, I believe someone had a hot date this week…”
“Wh…what are you talking about?” Ross shut off the water and headed towards his towel in case he needed to leave quickly. He trusted the guys, but he didn’t want to discuss his private life.
“Warwick spoke to Kevin, who told Deon, who blabbed it to me.” Ty grinned. “Since there’s a good chance that the story has been distorted in the process, why don’t you tell us the truth? Were you really offered a multi-million dollar deal to play for Brisbane?”
Deon glanced across the room at the mention of his name. “I never said that! I said he’d been interviewed, and Brisbane seemed keen on him.”
Ty shrugged. “Whatever.” He smiled at where Ross was beginning to towel off. “When were you going to tell us?”
“In two weeks, after the draft.” Ross made a face. “Until then, it’s only talk. Brisbane only have three picks they could use on me, and there are a lot of other guys they could select. I’m more hopeful about Richmond. They’ve got six free picks.”
“Richmond?” Ty blinked. “No one mentioned Richmond to me. When did you speak to the Tigers?”
“Thursday afternoon.” Ross turned his back on the others as he dried his groin area. “I was told I’m probably not good enough for the AFL, but the fact that they spoke to me must indicate that they’re interested.”
“Richmond would be good,” Jim said. “That’ll mean you can stay in Melbourne.”
Ross glanced over his shoulder. Jim gave a small nod, telling him without words that he was there for him. Ross hesitated and then nodded back. He had less than two weeks to go before he found out where he would end up. He knew he had Jim’s support for his planned coming out, but it would be a lot easier if they were in the same state when it happened.
* * *
“Good morning, Mr. McCann. I’m Julie Crowman, this is my brother Paul, and our friend Henry Aurian.”
Mr. McCann’s response was dismissive. “Oh, hi.” Andrew’s father peered past them. “Andrew?”
Andrew stepped out from behind Paul. “Hi, Dad,” he said in a barely audible voice.
Russell McCann scowled. “Get inside and wait for me.” He looked at Julie. “Thank you for bringing him home, but I need you to leave. I’m sorry to be so rude, but Andrew and I have a lot of things to discuss.”
Julie held out an arm to stop Andrew from moving past her. “I’m sorry, but until I know Andrew is going to be safe, we’re not leaving.”
“How dare you!”
Henry and Paul both stepped forward to intervene, but Julie didn’t need their help. She pushed her face up to Russell’s. “I’ve seen what happens when a father hits his son. I’m not going to stand by and see it happen again. Calm down, Mr. McCann, or we’re leaving…with Andrew.”
Russell McCann’s hands clenched into fists and then opened again. He stepped back. “Then come inside. I’m not going to hit him, and I’m insulted that you think I would.”
Julie nodded as she moved past him. “Andrew said you wouldn’t, but I’m not willing to take the chance.” She pulled out her phone and showed him a picture. “I saw this in person. I don’t want to see it again.”
Andrew’s father took a step back, an expression of shock on his face. “Who…?”
“Neil Rosewood. He was famous for a while back in May when he left home to escape his father.” Julie maintained a hard stare while Paul, Henry, and then finally Andrew, entered the house.
“The faggot who ran away to a football club?” Russell McCann looked past her, a softer expression appearing on his face for the first time. “I’ll never do that to you, Andrew. You know that…don’t you?” The doubt in his voice matched the expression on his face.
“I know, Dad, but I don’t know what you will do.” Andrew’s head was bowed. “I don’t know anything anymore.”
“Andrew…” Mr. McCann’s move towards his son was aborted when Paul stepped between them.
“I’m here, honey.” Andrew’s mother appeared from a doorway further down the hallway. “Why don’t you all come into the living room and make yourselves comfortable.” She smiled at Andrew. “It’s good to have you home again.”
Andrew raced forward and gave her a hug. She beamed before ushering him into the room.
A few minutes later, Andrew was seated between Julie and Paul on the couch, facing his parents. Henry was off to the side, observing both groups.
“Thank you for looking after Andrew,” Mr. McCann said. “He didn’t need to disappear, but thanks for giving him a place to stay.”
Julie gave him a half-smile. “He wasn’t staying with us. He was staying with a school friend, but the friend asked for our help. That’s why we’re here.” She leant forward. “I should introduce myself more fully. I’m one of the coaches from the Lilydale Leopards Football Club, and I was there the night Neil Rosewood showed up after being hit by his father. He ended up at the house my brother shared with a couple of other players, and Paul called me in. That’s why the two of us have a personal interest in making sure Andrew stays safe. We don’t want to see any kid go through what Neil experienced.”
Russell McCann glanced at Henry. Henry smiled. “I’m also one of the coaches at the club, though I only started a couple of weeks ago. However, even in that short time I’ve had my eyes opened. The Leopards are like one huge, extended family. They look out for each other and help those who need it.” Henry waved a hand in Andrew’s direction. “Your son needed help, and the Leopards have stepped in to give him what he needs.” He chuckled. “Julie had to put her foot down, because otherwise you’d probably have a dozen football players here today, all trying to make sure Andrew was okay. They’re that protective.”
Andrew’s father gaped at Henry and then back at the three on the couch. “Andrew, I…”
Mrs. McCann completed what her husband couldn’t say. “Andrew, honey, your father and I have been talking a lot over the last couple of days. There are things still to be sorted out, but we both still love you. That hasn’t changed.”
“Your mum’s right.” Andrew’s father smiled, though Henry thought it looked strained. “You’re still our son. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’ll never turn my back on you. I’ll get you the help you need, I promise.”
“Help?” Andrew’s initial tone of surprise turned to disgust. “I’m a faggot, Dad. It’s who I am. I’ll always be a faggot. There’s nothing you can do to help.”
“No son of mine—”
“Stop it!” Henry’s outburst drew everyone’s attention. “Andrew, if your father is anything like me, he doesn’t understand what it means to be gay. I’m starting to learn from the guys at the club that it honestly doesn’t mean much unless you let it, but your father doesn’t even know that. Yes, there’s a lot for the two of you to work out, but for now, concentrate on one thing and only one thing…” Henry paused to make sure Andrew was paying attention, “…your parents love you, and that’s the most important thing for any family. Life may not be perfect, but having people who love you means you can live without perfection.”
He caught Russell McCann’s eye. “Your son isn’t who you thought he was, but he’s still your son. He has his own life to live, and you and I both know it’s not always going to be pleasant. But if he has the support of a loving family, he’ll get through the bad bits. Love your son and take your time on other matters. It’ll all work out in the end.”
* * *
“Thanks, Henry. I’m glad you came along.” Julie shot him a smile before returning her attention to the road.
“My pleasure. Russell’s not a bad guy; he’s just out of his depth.” Henry chuckled. “A little like I was at my first job interview with the Leopards when Anne mentioned that there was a player that receives special treatment, and I naturally thought that it was Jim since he’s gay. They quickly corrected me, but that left me floundering.”
“Who receives special treatment?” Paul asked from the back seat. “I haven’t noticed anything.”
Julie scowled. “We’re not discussing this. We can talk about Andrew and his family, but we’re not discussing the team.”
Julie could see Paul’s frown in the rear-view mirror, but he nodded his acknowledgement of the order. “Do you think he’s going to be okay?” Paul asked instead.
“I hope so. His dad’s not going to hit him, at least. What do you think, Henry?”
“I think it’ll work out in the end. They’ve still got a lot of issues to sort out, one of which is Russell needs to curb his language. I could see Andrew flinch every time his father said ‘fag’ or ‘faggot’. Sometimes he used the words as a put down, but other times I suspect he only used them because he didn’t have anything else in his vocabulary. Russell’s got a lot of work ahead of him if he’s going to restore Andrew’s self-confidence.”
“I noticed the same thing,” Paul said. “That’s why I invited Andrew to visit our house next weekend. It’s pretty hard to be depressed when you’re around Ollie and Helena.” He grinned. “They can be too much at times, but neither will put up with someone being a wet blanket.”
“Is Neil going to be there, too?” Julie asked.
“I’ll have to ask him, but it doesn’t matter if he’s not. Andrew just needs time with people who don’t care that he’s gay.” Paul cocked his head. “Do you think Andrew would like to come to the draft party?”
Henry interrupted before Julie could respond. “Please don’t call it that. I’ve seen too many young kids broken because they thought they’d be drafted but weren’t. Don’t make it sound like being drafted is a done deal.”
“We already know that,” Julie said. “We picked up four players who missed out last year, and we’ll probably pick up one or two again this year. While Deon may be an almost certainty to be drafted, no one, including him, is assuming it’ll happen. We’re all going to get together to watch the draft and see what happens. The Leopards will be there to either celebrate Deon becoming an AFL player or to support him when he’s disappointed again. We’ll be ready for both scenarios, though we’re all hoping for the former.”
“Is Roscoe going to be invited, too?” Paul asked.
“I haven’t heard, but I expect the brat to ask him.” Julie grinned. “Ty knows what it’s like to miss out. Roscoe doesn’t have his hopes up too high, but the brat will be ready if none of the clubs pick Roscoe.”
“Are you going to give him an offer if he’s not drafted?” Paul asked.
Julie scowled at Paul’s reflection in the mirror. “You know I’m not going to discuss this with you, Paul, so why are you asking?”
Paul held up both hands in surrender. “Sorry. It’s just that I like the guy. He’ll fit in well with the rest of the team. But it’s your call, not mine.”
Julie pursed her lip. Normally, she and Paul kept their professional relationship separate from their familial one. She had blurred that line when she invited him to go with her to see Andrew’s parents, but it was time to make the boundary clear again.
“Paul, enough! I may be your sister, but I’m also your coach. Some things I will not discuss with you. Henry, once the pre-season training starts, if Paul opens his mouth again, have him run laps until he’s learnt to keep his big trap shut. Got it?”
Both guys indicated their agreement. During the silence that followed, Julie mulled over the pros and cons of signing Ross. She agreed with Paul on Ross’s ability to fit into the team, but she needed to decide based on more than that one factor. Her biggest concern was still whether he would put in the effort required. He had done a good job that morning, but she wasn’t going to offer him a contract based on only one training session.
* * *
“Hey, Warwick.” Ross had his phone tucked into the crook of his neck as he started to pack an overnight bag. “Andrew’s gone home, and it looks like everything is going well, so I’m definitely coming to your place tonight.”
“That’s great! I’ve made plans, but I didn’t finalise anything until I heard. I’ll get onto things now.”
“What sort of plans?” Ross paused in his packing so he could pay full attention to what Warwick was saying.
Warwick chuckled. “While we could go out for dinner, I know you didn’t want any fuss and certainly didn’t want any attention, so we’re eating in. I’ve got the menu planned; I just need to buy some of the ingredients.”
“Don’t go to too much effort. I’m happy with something simple.” Ross pulled a shirt out of the wardrobe and tossed it onto his bed.
“This is going to be our first night together, Roscoe.” Warwick’s tone was tender. “I want it to be something special.”
Ross could feel himself blushing as a smile took over his face. “Thanks, Warwick. I want it to be special, too. Is there anything I need to bring?” He headed to his underwear drawer to find something he hoped Warwick would like to see him wear.
“Just yourself and something to get changed into for tomorrow. Do you have a time you need to be home by?”
“Nope. Mum said I can stay as long as I want.” Ross paused, wondering if he should say what else his mother had told him. Deciding he didn’t want to think about it anymore, he continued. “She also said I could stay tomorrow night, if I wanted.”
“I’m sorry, Roscoe, but I have to work Monday morning.” Warwick sighed. “Maybe next weekend we can have both Friday and Saturday night together.”
Roscoe cringed. “My turn to be sorry. I’ve invited Andrew here for dinner next Friday. Mum and I want to make sure he’s okay at home. I told him he can ring at any time, but we thought he might need some time away from his parents by the end of the week.”
“I understand,” Warwick said, though Ross could hear a reservation in his voice.
“You can come, too. Mum would love to see you again.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.” Warwick’s reluctance was clear. “Andrew and I didn’t really get along at dinner on Thursday. I don’t really want to go through that again.”
“You won’t. Andrew asked me last night to pass on his apologies, though to be honest, I think it was more my fault than his.”
“What do you mean?”
Ross sat on the edge of the bed to make sure all his concentration was on Warwick. “Andrew wasn’t in a good mindset that night. He’d been worried about what’s going on with his father, and he didn’t have anyone else to turn to except me. He admitted that he’s had a thing for me for the last couple of years, so staying at my place was some added stress on top of his family worries. Then he learnt that I’m also gay—which must’ve made his mind spin and his hopes rise, only to have them crash and burn when he found out I have a boyfriend. Soon afterwards, you came around for dinner. He admits he was a little jealous.”
Warwick scoffed. “A little? If he thought he could’ve gotten away with it, he would’ve had me dead and buried before the end of the main course.”
“Anyway, he’s apologised and asked me to tell you. I should’ve told you before now, but I didn’t think it was that important. You’re my boyfriend, not him. I’m just not interested in him in that way.”
“Thanks, Roscoe. Okay, we’ll play Friday night by ear. For now, how about we plan on dinner at your place, and then back here to mine for the night?”
Ross grinned with anticipation. “Sounds good to me!”
* * *
“Have fun, brat!” Jim pulled Ty into a bear hug. “Try to relax and enjoy yourselves.”
“Thanks, Dad.” Ty grinned as he was released. “Karen and I don’t intend to do too much. We’ll probably spend most of the week in our room.”
Karen snorted, though she tried to keep her amusement from appearing on her face. “We’re not going to spend all week in bed. There are a few places I want to see while we’re down on the coast. Aireys Inlet is supposed to have some interesting places to visit.”
Tony smiled at the young couple. “Ty, forget about football for a few days and remember that Karen needs something to take her mind off her studies now that her exams are over.”
“I’m sure I can think of something.” Ty smirked as he slipped a hand around Karen’s waist. “As for you two, no traumatising Deon or Ryan. Keep your bedroom door closed.”
Karen laughed when Jim and Tony both blushed. “I don’t believe it. Is sex all you guys think about?”
“Alex is a bad influence on us,” Tony said, trying and failing to appear innocent.
“Alex is wonderful, even if he might be worse than you guys. Sometimes, I wonder how Ethan puts up with him.” Karen stepped out of Ty’s grasp and gave both Jim and Tony a kiss on the cheek. “We’ll see you next Saturday. And, since Tony mentioned the subject, Alex’s exams have finished, too. You guys should take some time with him and Ethan. Why don’t you go back to MANdatory one night?”
Jim cocked his head at Tony. “That’s not a bad idea.”
Tony smiled as he pulled out his phone. “I’ll check if they’ve got plans for tonight. It might be good for you to get out, too, since with Ty gone you won’t have any babysitting duties.”
“Hey!” Ty’s look of indignation was spoilt by his grin. “Deon’s the baby in the house, not me.”
Jim waved a hand to dismiss him. “Go. You’ve got close to a three-hour drive ahead of you. Stop wasting time.”
Ty’s smile faded away. “Don’t forget to let me know if anything happens with Roscoe or Andrew.”
Jim nodded. “Of course.” He tilted his head towards the car. “Now, get lost!”
Ty grabbed Jim for a final embrace, bumped fists with Tony, turned to Karen, and raised an eyebrow. “Shall we go?”
She rolled her eyes. “About bloody time.” She waved to Jim and Tony and climbed into Ty’s car.
The only sounds inside the car for the next few minutes were from the radio. Karen watched Ty as he silently drove towards Ringwood and the start of the freeway.
“It’s tough for you—leaving the guys, I mean,” she eventually said.
Ty looked like he was about to argue but sighed and nodded instead. “I’ve been with them for almost a year now. I had a few days away at Christmas time, but I wasn’t really part of the group back then. This will be the longest I haven’t seen them since Dad read me the riot act back in February and kicked my arse into line.”
“We’ll be back in a week.” Karen reached over and rested her hand on his thigh.
“I know, but there’s so much going on that I feel guilty leaving them.”
“You’ll be back for the draft. There’s no way we’re going to miss that.” She smiled at him, even though she knew Ty’s attention was on his driving. “We’ll be there for Deon and Jim, just in case.”
Ty grimaced. “Deon, I think will get drafted. Dad…I don’t know.” He flicked her a warning glance. “Don’t tell him I said that. I want him to make it to the AFL, but most of the clubs have been pretty quiet. I think his chances of being picked in the main draft are pretty slim.” Ty grinned. “I’m not going to tell him, though. As far as he’s concerned, I expect him gone in the first round.”
“Why do you want to do that? Don’t you think that’s playing with his hopes and dreams?”
Ty shook his head. “Dad’s got his head on straight. He knows when I’m not being realistic, and he won’t take me seriously.” He sighed. “But I really hope he makes it. He’s had a great year.”
Her reply was gentle. “So have you.”
Ty scowled. “I know my place. I’m a Leopard, and that’s who I’ll stay. The fact that none of the AFL clubs have said anything tells me that they agree.”
Karen kept her disquiet hidden. She knew what Ty really wanted. Seeing him burying his own dreams was painful. She understood that to cope he was hoping to live his dreams through his teammates’ success in the AFL. She just wished he didn’t need to do that.
* * *
Kevin wiped his hands on his jeans. With the Sydney Swans pre-season kicking off, he hadn’t had as much spare time as he had expected. The previous year, as a new draftee, he had come in partway through the pre-season, and the club had eased the newcomers into the exercise program. This time he was experiencing the required workload from the beginning, with no time to acclimatise. That meant that the shopping he had hoped to do earlier in the week was being done on the Saturday afternoon before his date.
Kevin already had the condoms, and he had ordered a bouquet of flowers to be collected in an hour’s time, but there was something else he needed for the night’s activities. After picking a chemist a long way from anywhere he was likely to visit in the future, he started his search.
It didn’t take long for him to find the section where the lubricants were kept, but he didn’t see the one he had used the night he was with Geraldine. He stood there, trying to decide if the brands stocked were acceptable.
“Can I help you?”
Kevin knew his face was red as he turned to the young woman who had asked the question. “No, it’s okay. Just looking.”
“If you need any advice, just let me know.”
“Sure.” Kevin kept a forced smile on his face as he walked away. He had never felt more embarrassed in his life. Discussing what sort of lubricant to use for anal sex with a complete stranger—and a female, in particular—wasn’t something he wanted to do. As he left the store, he realised there was only one person he could ask for advice. Given the nature of the conversation he was about to have, he looked around for a semi-private spot to call Warwick.
“G’day, Kev! How’s things?”
“Er…hi, Warwick.” Kevin glanced around to make sure no one could hear the phone conversation. “I need your help.”
“Where do I get the right lube for…you know?”
There was a distinct pause before Warwick responded. “What do you mean, the ‘right lube’?”
Kevin could see someone approaching so he moved away and lowered his voice. “I’ve just been to a chemist and they didn’t have the stuff that I used when I was with Geraldine. Do I need to go somewhere else, or is what the chemist has okay?”
Warwick chuckled. “Well, it depends…”
Kevin ground his teeth. “Please…”
“The lubricant you get at a chemist is generally for vaginal sex. It can be used for anal sex, but you’ll need to use more. You can get lube specifically designed for anal sex from adult stores.” Warwick amusement faded. “Does this mean that you and Daphne…?”
“Yeah…. We’re spending tonight together, and I want to make sure everything is right. I don’t want to stuff things up.” Kevin pulled a face. “When I didn’t see the brand that Geraldine had, I wondered if there was something special about what we used. I don’t want to make a mistake.”
“You can generally get K-Y Jelly from a chemist. Use that; it’ll do the job. Just be generous.”
“Thanks, Warwick.” Kevin gave a huge sigh of relief. “I appreciate this.”
“I take it there was no one else you could call?” Warwick’s tone dripped amusement.
“What do you bloody well think? How many people do you think I know that…?” Kevin cut off what he was going to say as someone walked past him.
Warwick laughed. “I understand. This is just not the sort of call I expected from you.”
“I didn’t know what to do!” Kevin made a face. “I want tonight to go right. I want her to see that I can look after her the way she deserves.”
“It’s okay, Kev.” Warwick’s soft voice showed support. “I hope it goes well.”
“Me, too. I’m nervous. If I mess things up, I think she’ll dump me.”
“Just show her who you are. If she dumps you after that, she’s not the right one for you.”
Kevin sighed. “But she’s the one I think is right for me. That’s why tonight is so important.”
“Well good luck. Get the K-Y Jelly and use lots. When you get the chance, have a look around for lubricants explicitly listed as being for anal sex, but you can use what you get from the chemist.”
“Thanks, mate.” Kevin could feel his tension draining away.
“Anytime, Kev.” Warwick’s tone went serious. “Just remember what I told you before. Go slow and keep checking with her to make sure she’s okay. Don’t hurt her by going too fast.”
“Hurting her is the last thing I want to do. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.” Kevin could see a small group of guys heading his way. “I’ve got to go. Thanks, Warwick!”
“No problem, Kev.”
A few minutes later, Kevin was standing at the chemist’s checkout counter with the tube of K-Y jelly. He didn’t say anything as he handed it over to be scanned, but he knew his face was as red as a tomato.
* * *
Ross stared at Warwick’s kitchen table in disbelief. A white tablecloth, two candles, a single red rosebud in a slender vase, crystal wine glasses, and a decanter of red wine were not what he was expecting. “I said I was happy with simple!”
If there was one benefit from the surprise, it was that it replaced the growing nervousness that Ross had been feeling in anticipation of his first sexual experience since that one night with Stuart when he was sixteen. His shock at the preparations Warwick had made had wiped any trepidation from his mind.
Warwick chuckled as he slipped an arm around Ross’s waist. “This is simple. I left off the violin player, I’m keeping it to a three-course meal, and I decided we didn’t need to start with champagne cocktails.” He smirked. “I could’ve gone a lot fancier.”
“Violin player?” Ross picked on one item because the full set was too overpowering. He put his arm around Warwick and pulled him close for a one-arm, thank-you hug. “You’re joking, right?”
“Nope. A friend of mine plays and will do the full-blown romance serenade at restaurants for a suitable fee.” Warwick gave Ross a light kiss. “I want to wine-and-dine you, Roscoe, before we retire for the night. We can’t go out in case we’re seen together, but that’s the only concession I’m making.” He frowned. “Damn, I knew I forgot something.”
Ross surveyed the room again. “What? You’ve done more than I ever expected. I don’t see anything missing.”
“A waiter. I’m going to have to keep leaving you as I prepare and serve the courses. I should’ve had someone to at least serve the meals to us.”
Ross laughed. He pulled Warwick in for a tight hug and pressed his lips firmly against Warwick’s. Taking control, he ensured they enjoyed a long and passionate kiss. Ross wanted to show his appreciation for what Warwick had done. They were both panting by the time Ross let go.
“I’d better start getting the starter ready or we’re not going to get much eating done.” Warwick smiled. “If that was a precursor for later on, we’re both going to need some sustenance.”
Ross’s smile wavered as his nerves returned. “Now that I think about it, a leisurely meal might be the best way to start the night.”
“Not too leisurely.” Warwick moved to the table. “But before we start, I think a toast is in order.” He poured enough wine from the decanter to fill each of the glasses a third full. He handed the first to Ross and raised the second. “To someone special.”
Ross smile returned. “To you and me.”
They touched glasses and took a sip. Their smiles widened into grins as they stared into each other’s eyes. Warwick was the one who looked away first. “Time to get dinner started.” He waved a hand towards the table. “Take a seat, and I’ll be back soon.”
Ross declined the offer and moved over so he could watch in admiration as Warwick prepared their meal.
* * *
Daphne smiled as she slowly shook her head. “You’re unbelievable.”
Kevin grinned. “And you deserve it all.”
“The flowers were a pleasant surprise, though they definitely made a good impression on my parents. But this…” She waved her hand, taking in the restaurant. “This is too much.”
“How?” Kevin took her hand. “I could’ve gone for somewhere much more up-market, but I didn’t want to go over the top. This place is not too expensive, but sophisticated enough to show that I feel you should be treated right.” He kissed her fingers. “You have no idea what you do to me.”
Daphne’s smile disappeared and her head dropped. “Kevin, I know you’re feeling something now, but—”
“Shush” Kevin said quietly as he used his free hand to put a finger on her lips. “Don’t expect this every weekend, but when I can, I’m going to take you out and show you that you’re someone I care about a lot. Later tonight, I’m hoping I can settle your other concerns, but I’m sitting here now looking at the complete picture, and I’m loving what I see. You’re smart, gentle, compassionate, and overall simply wonderful.”
“But you…you could have anyone you want.”
Kevin smiled. “That sounds good to me. I’ll have you.” He grinned as he waved a hand at her menu. “Do you want to pick something so we can get onto more important things? Now that I’ve met all of your family, even if only for a few minutes, I want to know more about them.”
“Okay.” She lifted her menu and then frowned. “Aren’t you going to have a look, too?”
“I don’t need to.” Kevin shrugged and gave her a sheepish grin. “I know it’s not particularly romantic, but I sat down with the club’s dietician yesterday, and we worked out what I should have. Eventually, I’ll be able to do that myself, but since I hadn’t been to this particular restaurant before, I printed off the menu from the website and went through it with him. He gave me a few choices, and what to avoid.”
Daphne’s eyebrows rose. “Is that normal?”
“Watching what I eat is. I can get away with the occasional non-diet meal, but most of the time I’ve got to be careful. Making sure I stay fit and don’t get too fat is my responsibility, even if I have people who can give me advice.”
“That must be tough. Not being able to eat what you want.”
“It’s what I’m used to.” Kevin smiled. “My coaches started harassing us about what we ate almost three years ago when I was seventeen, and that increased in the year before I was drafted. Since then…” He shrugged. “So many parts of my life are dictated to me. Not only what I eat, but how much sleep I should be getting, how much fluid I need to consume, and what to say to the media if we’re ever asked.” He grinned. “We even get told what to wear most of the time. We get into trouble if we’re at an event and not wearing the right clothes.”
Daphne shook her head in disbelief. “I never knew.”
“It can be tough, but I’m doing what I love doing: playing football. It’s a small price to pay.” Kevin nodded at her menu. “And for someone I’m coming to love, tonight’s not even a small price. Going out with you is what I want to do. I will need to balance that with my football, but you’re important to me.
“Now pick what you’d like to eat. This is only the start of the night.”
* * *
Late that night, Ross sat naked on the couch, his legs pulled up his chest. He was shaking. He had been taken by surprise, and he didn’t know what to do.
“Roscoe…” Warwick entering the living room and sat down next to Ross. The only piece of clothing he was wearing was a pair of boxers, which Ross couldn’t help notice were on back-to-front.
Ross immediately shuffled away. “Don’t touch me!”
“Roscoe, I’m sorry.” Warwick handed him his briefs and T-shirt. “I didn’t mean for that to happen.”
Ross pulled on the clothes, twisting to hide as much of his body as possible from Warwick. “Do you even care? You were using me!”
“I didn’t!” Warwick turned away. “I care about you. I care about you a lot. So much so that it scares me.” His voice dropped. “I don’t want to get hurt again.”
“You? You’re worried about getting hurt?” Ross stood up and glared down at Warwick. “How do you think I feel right now? As for you caring about me…if that’s true, why the fuck did you call out his name?”
Warwick dropped his head into his hands. “I’m sorry.”
“So, all this time you were thinking about him.” Ross was furious. “I take it I’m just some convenient fuck toy that you can use while pretending that I’m him!”
“That’s not true!” Warwick glanced up and then lowered his head again. “Okay, I’ve got feelings for Kevin, but tonight was for you. I did all of this to make you happy. I didn’t want to do it, but you wanted to experience what it’s like to be loved before you get drafted and probably disappear out of my life completely.”
Ross seized on one phrase. “You didn’t want to do it. That’s fucking great! Why couldn’t you have told me that before?” He scowled at the slumped form on the couch before turning away. He wanted to punch something—anything—but he knew it would be wrong. He struggled to control himself.
“Because I couldn’t deny you what you wanted. I couldn’t stop myself.”
“I’m going home.” He headed toward the bedroom to collect his bag and the rest of his clothes.
Ross spun around and glared at Warwick’s anguished face. “Please, what? What the fuck do you want to do to me now? Pretend I’m Kevin so you can get yourself off? Well, fuck you!”
“You’ve already said that. It doesn’t make it better!”
“I know you won’t believe me, but I wasn’t thinking of him. I was only thinking of you.”
“Then why the fuck did you say his name?”
“Because I’m scared.”
The unexpected answer partly yanked Ross out of his righteous rage. “Scared?”
“That I’m going to lose you.”
“That doesn’t make any fucking sense.” Ross’s anger started to return, but he waited. He could see that Warwick was trying to explain, and something made him want to listen.
“Kevin offered to be my boyfriend until he returned to Sydney. I turned him down because—”
“Wait! Kevin did what?” Ross’s mind was spinning.
Warwick’s face didn’t hide any of his emotions. “He knew I liked him, that I wanted him, so he offered. I told him that I didn’t want a boyfriend with a built-in expiry date.”
Ross was surprised that Kevin would do that, though knowing that Daphne was transgender made it believable. “What’s that got to do with tonight?”
“I had to move on. When I realised you’re gay, I thought I could have a hot boyfriend who I could be with without worrying about when he was going to leave me. You gave me the impression that you didn’t think you’d be drafted, and even if you were, ten out of the eighteen clubs are in or around Melbourne, which is pretty good odds.” Warwick’s head dropped. “Then I learnt you may be heading to Brisbane.”
“I still don’t get—”
Warwick held up a hand to interrupt. “I tried to back off, to not let myself get caught in another relationship that wasn’t going anywhere, but I was too late. I was already falling for you. That’s why I couldn’t deny you when you asked to stay the night. I wanted to wait until after the draft so I would know if we had a future, but you wanted this now…”
Ross moved back and squatted down in front of Warwick, his eyes never leaving Warwick’s face. “But why did you say his name?” This time there was no accusation in his voice. Ross just wanted the truth.
Warwick grimaced. “I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking about him, even if you don’t believe me, but maybe my subconscious was trying to push you away, to stop me from getting any more hurt.” He sniffled as tears started to fall. “It looks like it got its way.”
“You never thought of him?”
Warwick screwed up his face. “Not then. I did earlier while we were having dinner, but that’s because tonight’s his first night with Daphne.”
“How the hell do you know that?”
A weak smile appeared on Warwick’s lips. “He rang me this afternoon to ask for advice on what sort of lube he should use.”
“It’s his first time?”
“With Daphne.” Warwick dropped his head. “I hope he hasn’t fucked things up like I have.”
Ross sat there, thinking it over. He could see how distressed Warwick was, and despite his own diminishing anger at the betrayal, he sensed that he had been told the truth. He didn’t know how long he watched Warwick sob, but the other guy’s pain touched him. He reached out and put a hand on Warwick’s bare leg. “What does Kevin mean to you?”
“He’s a friend. For a while, he might’ve been more than a friend, but nothing eventuated. We finally realised that it wasn’t going to happen.” Warwick shivered. “But I can’t turn my feelings on and off like a switch. Yes, I’m still fond of him, but I’m fond of you, too. You’re someone I thought I could start something with…until I found out that you, too, may not be staying here.” He looked up, his face full of pain. “Please believe me. I didn’t want to hurt you, but when I found out that you may disappear, I think that made me try to protect myself.” His head and voice dropped. “I didn’t succeed. I’m falling for you, Roscoe, but I don’t want to deal with you leaving me.”
Ross stared at the almost naked guy in front of him. He’d been thinking that Warwick could be something special, but he hadn’t thought ahead to what would happen after the draft. Warwick’s anguish made him face up to the fact that he had been selfish. He hadn’t considered what Warwick wanted to do about the impact the draft would have on him. “I’ll stay, at least for tonight.”
Warwick blinked, an expression of uncertain hope appearing. “You will?”
Ross nodded. “I’ll sleep here on the couch, but I’ll give you another chance. You hurt me, Warwick. Don’t do it again.”
Warwick wiped a hand across his face as his eyes searched Ross’s face. His mouth opened as if to say something but closed it with no words spoken.
Ross realised that the next move was up to him. He stood up, held out his hand, and gave Warwick a tentative half-smile.
Warwick’s grasp was tentative, as if he expected Ross to pull away at the last moment. Ross wasn’t going to do that. He tightened his grip and half-pulled Warwick to his feet.
Ross had received a nasty shock, and it would be some time before he could fully trust Warwick again, but there was one thing he did know: Warwick cared for him. He was willing to sleep on the other matters and discuss them with Warwick in the morning.
* * *
The next morning, Kevin smiled as he gently swept some stray hair away from Daphne’s face. He had perched himself up on one elbow so he could watch her sleep.
Kevin knew Daphne wasn’t good-looking. She was at best average in appearance, but he didn’t care. He found her interesting and fascinating, and the more time he spent with her, the more he was certain he wanted to be at her side. He was hoping that his efforts the previous night had alleviated her fears.
The sex had been good. Unlike Geraldine, Daphne hadn’t objected when Kevin took some time out to explore the parts of her that remained from when she was a male. Kevin hadn’t made too much of a fuss about her penis, but he also made it clear, he hoped, that he wasn’t disgusted. As far as he was concerned, it was part of her, and he had spent a lot of time worshipping all of her parts. He silently thanked Warwick for his advice on how to make love to the girl he was lying next to.
Daphne’s eyelids flickered. “Kevin?”
He leant over and gave her a light kiss on the lips. “Good morning. I hope you slept well.”
She yawned and then smiled. “I did. Thank you.”
Kevin used his free hand to stroke the side of her face. “Are you happy now?”
“I am.” Daphne closed her eyes and purred as Kevin continue to caress her face and neck. “You were wonderful.”
“I’m glad. Now will you be my girlfriend?” He grinned. “Or do you have more tests I have to pass?”
“No. No more tests.” She smiled at him. “You’ve showed me you love me as I am. That’s all I needed.”
“That’s all I wanted to do.” Kevin’s hand slipped down her body and under the sheet. He licked his lips. “Do we have to get up just yet?”
“I need to go to the toilet, but I can come straight back.” Daphne didn’t move immediately. Instead she gave a heavy and contented sigh. “Don’t go away,” she said as she rolled out of the bed.
Kevin glanced at the bedside table to make sure the K-Y Jelly was close at hand. Reaching over the side of the bed, he pulled out another couple of condoms. He was anticipating having a late breakfast.
* * *
Ross woke to the sound of crackling bacon and the aromas of fresh coffee and a cooked breakfast. He sat up and glanced over the back of the couch towards the kitchen.
“Morning, Roscoe.” Warwick’s tone was full of uncertainty.
“G’day, Warwick.” Ross hesitated and then stood up, painfully aware he was still only in briefs and a T-shirt. “I’ll have a quick shower and get dressed.”
“Okay.” Warwick’s eyes were wary. Ross knew that Warwick didn’t know what was going to happen. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m not over it,” Ross said. “But…can we move on? We need to talk about things but not just yet. We’ll talk over breakfast.”
Warwick nodded. “I’ll do whatever you want.”
Ross continued to think while he was having his shower. He couldn’t help reflect on his thoughts of the previous night, about how he hadn’t been paying attention to what Warwick wanted in the relationship. Warwick had fucked up big time, but Ross wasn’t blameless. In hindsight, he had pushed Warwick further than he should have.
When he returned to the kitchen, he noticed that the two settings at the table were positioned so they were opposite each other, unlike the previous night for dinner when they had been closer together. “Smells nice,” Ross said as he sat down.
“Thanks.” Warwick pulled a number of dishes out of the oven and placed them in the middle of the table so they could serve themselves. “Roscoe, I—”
Ross held up a hand. “We moved too fast. Yes, I wanted to experience things before the draft just in case I ended up away from here, but that wasn’t fair on you. I didn’t realise that. I do now.” Ross made a face. “You hurt me, but if I end up interstate, I’m going to hurt you. I won’t want to get into a discussion about which is worse.”
“Then what do you want?” Warwick’s lips were trying to flick up into a smile, but Ross could see that his heart wasn’t in it.
“To wait. To see if we can salvage something.” Ross grimaced. “I don’t fucking know, except I really cared for you. I liked being with you. I was desperately looking forward to having sex with you.”
Warwick gave a sigh of resignation. “So it’s over.”
“Do you think we can try again?” Ross wanted to reach across the table but he couldn’t make himself do it. “Go back to dating, with no sex until after the draft and we know where I’m going to end up? I really don’t know what’s going to happen there. Brisbane and Richmond have gotten my hopes up, but both have also told me that there are a lot of other guys in front of me in the line. In less than two weeks, we’ll find out if we can have a future. Can we put things on hold until then?”
Warwick screwed up his face. “I’ll try, but I don’t want to get too close and then lose you.”
“I understand.” When Warwick seemed surprised, Ross shrugged. “I experienced it last night. I let you get close to me, and then I lost that feeling. I don’t want to go through that again. I don’t want you to, either.”It seemed strange even to him, but Ross didn’t want Warwick to disappear. It would be awhile before Ross could trust Warwick enough for them to become intimate again, but if he stayed in Melbourne, he wanted to see if they could recapture that feeling.