6 days to the AFL National Draft
Julie stepped into the gym and immediately frowned. Ross was the only person present, and he had too much weight on the bar to be safe. His inclined-bench-press technique was good, but if he lost control she knew he could seriously injure himself.
She quickly slipped into the spotter position and prepared to assist if needed. She gauged his level of fatigue and made a decision. “Four more, and then you stop. Breathe through them and push through the pain. I’ve got the bar if you can’t do it.”
“I don’t need help!” Ross said through gritted teeth.
That raised warning bells for Julie. She’d seen the symptoms before and knew there was trouble. “Tough shit. I’m here, and you’ll do what I say. Now, four more!”
Once Ross had finished his set, Julie took the bar from his hands and placed it on the rack. Ross sat up and glared at her. “I was fine!”
“You’re here because we’re allowing you to be here. If you piss me off, your access will be revoked, and you can kiss goodbye to any chance of playing for the Leopards if you don’t make it into the AFL.”
Ross crumbled before her eyes. “Please…I just want to work out.”
Julie sat down on the closest bench. “Roscoe, I recognise the signs of someone who’s pushing weights because they’re avoiding something.” She smiled and waved a hand to indicate the empty room. “We’re alone if you want to talk. If it’s the draft, you don’t have much more time before you find out what’s going to happen. The last thing you want to do is injure yourself just before you start with an AFL club.”
Ross didn’t meet her eyes. “I don’t think I’ll be drafted. Wu and Lauren seem to think the same. They’ve cancelled their Schoolie’s week trip so they can be here for me.”
“You don’t think that’s so they can celebrate with you?”
Ross shook his head. “They changed their mind after Richmond told me they didn’t think I was good enough. I’m not getting drafted.”
Julie made a guess. “You don’t think you’ll be drafted…or you don’t want to be drafted?”
Ross’s head snapped up. “Wh…what? Of course I want to be drafted!”
“But you’re scared of the consequences.” Julie cocked her head. “I believe you’ve also been approached by Brisbane, but you’ve just started a relationship. If you head north, you lose your partner. Is that it?”
Ross grimaced. “It’s complicated.”
“Life often is, more so for you. But sometimes talking it out can make a difference.”
“No team is going to want someone who needs help.”
Julie frowned at the negative tone. “Bullshit!” She kept her amusement hidden, as Ross’s expression showed his shock. “A team is built on helping each other. On and off the field. If you haven’t learnt that about the Leopards, you’re singularly unobservant, and I don’t believe that.” She narrowed her eyes. “There’s more going on than just pre-draft nerves. What is it, Roscoe? Boyfriend problems?”
When Ross stiffened, Julie wished she could take back those last two words. She had been trying to avoid explicitly stating she knew he’s gay. She almost let out a sigh of relief when Ross’s shoulders slumped and he nodded his head.
“He’s scared I’m going to leave him. I’m scared I’m going to leave him, too. We’ve been talking a lot about it for the last week, and it’s putting a real strain on our relationship.”
“I can appreciate that. Sorry, but I don’t have any words of wisdom for you, Roscoe. You’re just going to have to wait. At least you know it’s not going to be for much longer.”
“I know, but I hate it. I just want it over and done with. It’s like my life’s on hold until I find out.”
Julie chuckled. “Yeah, I know what that’s like. I had the same problem when I first applied for a job here with the Leopards. I had to wait while they made a decision, and I couldn’t do anything until I knew.” She smiled at the young man. “But overworking yourself isn’t the answer. By all means, keep exercising, but do it in a controlled way.” She hardened her expression. “And if I ever catch you trying to lift too much weight without a spotter again, I’ll kick your arse all the way to the other end of the oval and then back again. Got it?”
Ross grimaced and then nodded. “Sorry.”
Julie cocked her head. “The break for our guys is over next week, and we start pre-season training on Wednesday. There’s also an optional training session on Monday, mainly for those who have been missing those Saturday sessions you’ve been attending. After that, we’ll be training on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights. Would you like to join in, even if it’s only for a couple of sessions? That will give you a controlled environment to let go of some of that nervous energy.”
“Sure!” Ross smiled as he started to relax. “That would be great. Anything to keep my mind off next Thursday night.”
“I thought you might like the idea.” Julie gave Ross a stern stare. “And in case you’re wondering, this does not mean that you will have a position here if you’re not drafted. I still need to see you putting in the effort required before I’ll consider you.”
Ross grimaced. “I understand.” He looked away. “This last year of school has been extremely stressful for me, and I allowed that to affect my on-field performance. Brisbane and Richmond have both told me the same thing: that I have to show a willingness to put in the work required.”
Julie stood up and slapped him on the shoulder. “You can do it, Roscoe. I’ve got faith in you. You just need to have faith in yourself.”
* * *
Peter looked up at the tap on his shoulder.
“Free for a coffee?” Lee asked.
“Sure!” Peter pushed away the keyboard and rose to his feet. He stretched for a moment to relieve the tension from being hunched over his desk for too long. “Let’s go.”
A few minutes later, they were seated in the café with their coffees. Peter grinned across the table. “What’s the grapevine got for me today?”
Lee chuckled. “Actually, today is the day you contribute to the gossip mill.” He leant forward. “How did your meeting with Luke go yesterday?”
Peter hesitated before responding. It had taken almost a week for Luke Beveridge—the new head coach for the Western Bulldogs—to call him in for a private meeting. While some of the content of their discussion could be shared with Lee, there were portions that Peter was sure Luke wouldn’t want to become public knowledge. “Overall, pretty good. He’s happy to have me here, which is one worry off my back. I had one person tell me to expect to be sacked.”
Lee snorted. “Tell me who, and I’ll see whether I can return the favour.”
“No need for that.” Peter smiled. “I think he was just trying to warn me of the possibility, not threaten me.”
“If you say so.” Lee took a sip of his coffee, his eyes never leaving Peter. “What did you and Luke talk about?”
“My job, naturally. There’ll be a few changes from what Brendan had told me to do, but overall it’s the same basic plan of attack.” Peter chuckled. “He did give me some homework. I’ve got a set of DVDs he wants me to watch over the weekend with an emphasis on particular sequences of play.”
Lee nodded. “He’s done that with most of the coaches. We’re going to have a new battle plan for the games, but I think most of the emphasis will be on attack, not defence. Your part won’t change that much.”
“That’s what he told me.” Peter cocked his head. “What else is he planning that he didn’t tell me?”
Lee laughed. “Not a lot. He’s only been here a week, and while he’s hit the ground running, there’s still a lot of catching up to do. As I understand it, his priority is on next week’s draft. He’s spent a lot of time with Jason discussing the prospects.” He narrowed his eyes. “I believe there are some Leopards on that list. Did he talk to you about them?”
“He did. He was asking about our defenders and who I would recommend.” Peter grinned. “I said either Paul or Todd would do a great job if picked, and that I really wouldn’t want to separate them.”
Lee frowned. “Aren’t both of them fairly old?”
“Twenty-three.” Peter shrugged. “Just coming into their prime as football players, though they’ll stand out if they went in the main draft. Luke didn’t say, but I think he’s looking at them for the rookie draft.”
“What about the Leopards in line for the main draft? Who did you and Luke discuss?”
Peter lied through his teeth. “We talked about Ollie, Charlie, and Deon. Deon’s out, now that we’ve got Tom Boyd, but Ollie and Charlie are still possibilities.”
Lee nodded slowly. “Any idea on when they might go?”
“We didn’t discuss that. I think Luke just wanted to get a feel for what they’re like, since he hasn’t had a chance to meet any of them.” Peter chuckled. “With all the prospects in the draft, there’s no way he’s going to be able to see more than a handful before next Thursday. He’s having to trust Jason’s judgement on who we’ll take.”
Peter carefully kept quiet about the main person he and Luke had discussed. Ty’s name was being kept from all the potential draftee lists accessible within the club. Only Peter, Jason, and now Luke knew that he was a prospect. That had made Luke uncomfortable, which was why over half of their meeting had been taken up with Peter trying to sell Ty to the Western Bulldogs head coach.
* * *
Neil was having dinner with Liam’s family. With Paul working Friday and Saturday night and Oliver spending most of his time with Helena, having dinners with the Bellweathers had become the norm.
“Do you boys have any plans for next week?” Bruce asked.
“Nothing special, Dad.”
“Apart from Thursday night, when we’ll be in Lilydale to watch the draft,” Neil said. “The football club has arranged to show it in the clubroom, and I think most of the team is going to be there.”
“In that case, I have a proposal to make.” Bruce grinned as both Neil and Liam looked at him warily. “I’ve been speaking to Sam and Marcus, and since it looks like you two have done as much house hunting as you can do online, why don’t you go up to Sydney for a few days to inspect some of the places you’ve found? Marcus said you can stay with them.” He nodded towards Neil. “They’ve got your room ready for you, so you can check that out while you’re there.”
Liam frowned. “When would we go? It’ll take me a couple of days to drive up and another two to drive back. That only really leaves us a couple of days, if we’re going to be back by Thursday and still be in a fit state to enjoy the night. And if I take the car, what will Mum use to get around?” He pulled a face. “I know we have to go there at some stage, but wouldn’t it be better to wait until there’s nothing else going on so we can have more time to find somewhere for me to live next year?”
“We know, but Marcus has finished up on a major project and wants to take a few days off next week. He’s offering to drive you around to check out places, as well as give you some local advice about the sorts of neighbourhoods you’ll be looking at.” Bruce smiled. “As for the driving, your mum and I thought we’d pay for a couple of airfares. I checked online, and I can get cheap tickets that leave on Sunday and come back midday on Thursday. How does that sound?”
Neil and Liam exchanged wide-eyed looks. When Liam raised an eyebrow, Neil nodded.
“That sounds great, Dad. Neil and I will need to get a few things organised, but thanks!”
Neil noticed Liam’s mother turning away and raising a hand to her face. “Are you okay, Beth?”
She sniffled. “Yes. It’s just that it’s beginning to sink in that Liam’s growing up and is about to leave home. I had originally thought he’d be staying home for a few more years while he went to uni or got a job, but all of a sudden…” She pulled out a handkerchief and wiped her eyes.
“Hey, people leave home at my age all the time,” Liam said. “In fact, leaving home to go to university is the norm in the US.”
“It’s not the norm here.” Bruce smiled at Liam as he reached over to take his wife’s hand. “But just because it’s not the norm, that doesn’t mean it’s not right. For you two, this is the right thing to do. We’ll miss you, but hopefully you’ll be able to come home a few times each year.”
“We’ll do our best.” Liam smiled at Neil. “But we’re not making any plans too far ahead. Going to Sydney is going to be a big change for both of us. There’s going to be a lot for us to learn.”
* * *
Warwick was nervous as he rang the doorbell. While they had been talking on the phone each night, this would be the first time since the previous Sunday that he and Ross would be face to face.
The disaster on Saturday night still haunted their relationship. Ross seemed willing to move on, but Warwick couldn’t forgive himself that quickly. He didn’t know if Ross knew he had lied about not thinking about Kevin, but that was a lie he intended to take to his grave. In his own mind, Warwick justified lying to Ross because he hadn’t been thinking of Kevin in the way that Ross would’ve assumed.
Warwick had feelings for Ross, but he also still had some feelings for Kevin. The former were stronger than the latter, but at a completely inopportune time he had wondered whether Kevin was enjoying Daphne’s company as much as he had been enjoying Ross’s. That had led to the slip of the tongue that had derailed the evening. Warwick still didn’t know if his subconscious had tried to sabotage their relationship. Instead, he was trying to move on, to rebuild what he had with Ross while simultaneously praying that Ross would remain in Melbourne.
“Warwick!” Ross smiled as he opened the door. “Come in.”
“It’s good to see you again.” Warwick tried to smile back, but he suspected his nervousness was showing.
Warwick tried to examine Ross’s expression as surreptitiously as possible. There seemed no reservations that he could detect, which brought a small amount of relief. Warwick knew, though, that Ross was capable of hiding at least some of his feelings, if needed. It was a skill that every closeted young man developed if he wanted to stay in the shadows.
As soon as the front door was closed, Ross moved up and brought his lips to Warwick’s. Warwick was initially tense but quickly relaxed into the kiss. He tentatively wrapped his arms around Ross and was rewarded by Ross doing the same. They remained that way, enjoying the moment, until he felt Ross start to move away.
Ross grabbed his hand. “Dinner’s about to start. Mum was just waiting for you to get here.”
The smile on Warwick’s face relaxed into something more natural as Ross led him to where the kitchen table had been set. Ross’s mother was busy pulling something out of the oven, but she paused long enough to grin at him. “Have a seat, Warwick. Dinner will be ready in a couple of minutes.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Munroe. Whatever it is, it smells fantastic!”
She chuckled as she carried a large ceramic dish in a pair of oven mitts. “It’s a chicken casserole, one of Ross’s favourites. Now sit down and start serving yourself while I get the other dishes.”
Instead of following her instructions, Warwick glanced at the third guy in the room. Andrew was watching him, though it wasn’t with the snarl he remembered from the week before. Before Warwick could say anything, Andrew stepped forward and stuck out his hand. “Hi, Warwick. I’m sorry about last time. I was rude and out of line. Can we hit the reboot button?”
Warwick was cautious, but when he flicked a glance towards Ross, Ross smiled and nodded slightly. Warwick didn’t smile, but he shook Andrew’s hand. “That sounds fine to me.”
The initial chill between Warwick and Andrew slowly thawed as dinner progressed. Ross didn’t push them to interact, but he gave both of them ample opportunities to do so.
“How are things at home?” Ross asked Andrew during the main course.
“Okay, I guess. Mum’s fine, but Dad…” Andrew made a face. “He can only discuss things for a short time before he either changes the subject or leaves the room.”
“At least he’s talking about it.” Warwick grimaced. “For one of my friends, his father won’t even go that far. The subject is still taboo at home two years after he came out.”
“Do you think things will get better?” Ross asked.
“I hope so.” Andrew shrugged. “Who knows? At least he’s largely stopped making abusive comments about faggots.”
“Gays,” Warwick said firmly. “Get used to saying it, Andrew, because a lot of people will take offense at the F-word.” He smiled and continued in a gentler tone. “And I think it’ll be good for you to say it, too. I’m guessing you still use that word in your mind.”
Andrew blinked. “How…?”
“I’ve seen it before.” Warwick screwed up his face as he stared at his dinner. “Guys—and girls—who have only ever heard abuse from their parents. They’ve heard it so much that they start to believe it. Self-hatred can be dangerous…” Warwick’s eyes became unfocused as he recalled one particular event from his past. He was only brought back to the present when he felt a hand on his arm. He glanced across in surprise to see Ross looking concerned.
“You zoned out,” Ross said.
“Sorry. I was just remembering someone I knew from a couple of years ago. He…” Warwick closed his eyes. “He…tried to kill himself.”
Ross’s mother gasped. “Is he okay?”
Warwick gave her a weak smile. “The last I heard he was happy and in a relationship, but that was over twelve months ago, so I don’t know. He moved interstate, and we eventually lost touch.” He sighed as he contemplated the food in front of him. “At least he’s a long way from his parents.”
Ross stared at Andrew. He opened his mouth, but closed it without saying anything.
Andrew smiled. “I’m not that bad. Dad used to get me down a lot, but he’s only said a couple of negative things all week. He’s also gone out of his way to tell me that I’ll always be his son. He’s not going to wash his hands of me.” He sighed and looked away. “I’m not going to be the son he wanted, but I’m still his son.”
“Enough of that!” Ross’s mother’s scowled. “Ross isn’t the child I wanted either, but I still love him, and I wouldn’t want him to change.”
“I’m not what you wanted?” Ross seemed stunned. “You’ve never said anything to me before. What have I done wrong?”
She chuckled. “Absolutely nothing, but when you were born I wanted a baby called Rachel. I already had a son; I wanted a daughter, too.” She grinned across the table at Ross. “But somehow, I don’t think you’d look good in a dress.”
The laughter from the others at the table broke the tension. By unspoken agreement, the conversation moved onto other less emotive topics.
It was as Ross’s mother brought out a shop-bought cheesecake for dessert that the subject that had been at the back of Warwick’s mind all evening was raised.
“Warwick, Ross tells me most things.” Ivy Munroe gave her son a sardonic smile. “I used to think he told me everything, but I found out recently there can be exceptions. Anyway, he’s told me both of you are concerned about what will happen if he’s drafted to Brisbane.”
Warwick grimaced. “Yeah…” He caught Ross’s eyes. “I’m hoping he’ll stay here, but if he doesn’t, I’ve done some investigation. I’ve googled the list of radio stations in the Brisbane area.”
Ross’s eyes widened.
“I can’t promise anything, but I’ve started sending them my resume, asking if they have any vacancies for a sound technician.” Warwick gave Ross a half smile. “It’s a long shot, but if they do, I might be able to move to Brisbane, too.”
“You’re doing that for me?” Ross smiled. “If you can get a job up there, that would be a great weight off my mind.”
Warwick reached over and gave Ross’s hand a squeeze. The impulse to investigate options in Brisbane had come as a surprise to Warwick. He had never contemplated doing the same for Kevin, and he took that to mean that his feelings for Kevin were never as strong as the feelings he now had for Ross. In hindsight, he knew he never had a chance for a long-term relationship with Kevin. His AFL-playing friend had made it clear he preferred girls, and while Warwick had ignored that at the time, deep down he’d realised it wasn’t going to work out for the two of them.
“What about the TV stations?” Andrew asked. “They’ll need sound technicians, too.”
“I thought I’d start with radio.” Warwick shrugged. “It’s what I know best.”
Andrew’s brow wrinkled as he brought out his phone. “I want to check something.” He started typing.
“When did you decide to do this?” Mrs. Munroe asked.
“I thought about it yesterday, and today I decided to do something about it.” Warwick gnawed at his lower lip as he stared at Ross. “Nothing will happen fast, so even if I get an offer, I won’t be able to move for several weeks, but if there’s a chance of getting a job near you, I’ll be there. I promise.”
Ross leant over and gave Warwick a quick kiss. “Thank you. You have no idea how much this helps. Even if it doesn’t work out, you’ve tried.”
“There’s also another option,” Andrew said as he put away his phone. “The Brisbane Lions have their own media division that includes producing videos. You could apply for a position with them, too.”
“They wouldn’t offer him a job just because he’s my boyfriend.” Ross made a face. “They can’t afford to employ the partners of all their players.”
“They may make an exception for the AFL’s first openly gay player.” Ross’s mother smiled at him. “There’s no harm in asking.”
Ross shuddered. “I don’t want to be someone special. I just want to be a footballer.”
Andrew shrugged. “It’s only an idea.” He gave Warwick a half-smile. “I’m hoping things will work out for the two of you. Roscoe deserves someone who will give him the support he’ll need.”
Warwick stared back for a moment and then smiled. He reached out and took Ross’s hand. “Thanks. I hope it all works out, too.”
* * *
Alastair McCrae stopped reviewing his notes and put away his iPad when he spotted Kevin and a tall, young woman approaching. They had agreed to meet for a Saturday lunch before Alastair headed to the airport to fly home to Melbourne. Alastair had been in Sydney for several days, meeting with both Sydney-based AFL clubs regarding players he managed who were about to start the last year of their current contracts. Kevin was one of those players, though in his case the discussions were only preliminary.
“Alastair, this is Daphne.” Kevin’s smile at his girlfriend told Alastair that this girl was not just a passing fancy. “I wanted you to meet her.”
Alastair shook Daphne’s hand and then frowned at Kevin as he sat down opposite them at the small café table. “While I can see how much she means to you, is this the matter you said you had to discuss face to face?”
“Not directly, though it’s related. You didn’t fly up here just to see me, did you?” Kevin frowned. “I said it could wait until the next time you were in Sydney and had some time free.”
“No, I had a few meetings I needed to attend. I’m flying back this afternoon, but I have a couple of hours.” Alastair cocked his head. “I hope that’s going to be enough time.”
“That should be plenty, though I don’t know how much follow-up is going to be required.” Kevin made a face. “I thought this time I should let you know of a potential issue before it makes the news.”
Alastair cringed as a multitude of scenarios ran through his mind. “What have you done?”
Kevin chuckled. “Relax. It’s not that bad.”
Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the waiter who took their lunch orders. Once he was gone, Kevin glanced around to make sure they couldn’t be overheard. “Alastair, I trust you. After that incident at the start of the year, I trust you a lot. It took me awhile to convince Daphne, but she’s agreed that you should be told.”
Alastair stared at Daphne and made a guess. “You’re pregnant?”
Kevin grinned as he took Daphne’s hand. “No. That’s not going to be an issue for us.” His amusement faded. “I don’t know how to talk about this, so I’ll jump straight in, and I hope you both forgive me for being blunt. Daphne is not her original name. The name on her birth certificate is David”
Alastair’s eyes widened. “Does that mean…?”
Kevin nodded. “Daphne’s transgender. If the news gets out...” He shrugged. “I thought you should know so you can be prepared.”
“Thanks.” Alastair’s tone was a mixture of sarcasm and shock. “I’ll say now that this shouldn’t affect your football career, but you never know.”
“What do you mean?” Daphne asked.
Alastair hesitated. “I don’t know if it’s rude to ask, but how far along are you? You know, with changing to become a female.”
“I’ve been on hormones for three years now. I haven’t had any gender alignment surgery yet.” She glanced at Kevin. “I’m not sure if I will. That’s something to decide in the future.”
Kevin smiled and then gave her a quick kiss. “It won’t bother me if you never do. As far as I’m concerned, you’re fine just the way you are.”
Alastair narrowed his eyes as he considered the consequences. “How many people know?”
Kevin shrugged. “On my side, only two people: the guy who introduced us and his boyfriend. Neither will say anything.” He grinned. “And that reminds me, there’s something else I need to talk to you about.”
Alastair rolled his eyes. “One thing at a time please, Kevin.” He smiled. “Let’s get this one out of the way first.” He raised an eyebrow at Daphne. “Who knows on your side?”
Daphne grimaced. “That’s the problem. Besides my family and friends, there are also some ex-friends and everyone who was in school with me when I first started coming to classes as a girl.”
“A lot of people, in other words.” Alastair settled back in his chair. “Are they ex-friends because you’re transgender?”
Daphne nodded and dropped her head. Kevin immediately let go of her hand and pulled her in for a one-arm hug. “I don’t usually tell people because I don’t think they need to know, but some find out anyway…and don’t handle it well.”
Kevin gave Daphne another squeeze of reassurance and then looked across the table. “That’s it in a nutshell. Nothing may happen since I’m not exactly high profile, but the more I play, the more chance I’ll get noticed. Since I want Daphne with me at club social events, sooner or later someone will work it out.” It was Kevin’s turn to narrow his eyes. “I’m not going to try to hide her away or keep our relationship a secret. I’m proud of Daphne and the fact that we’re dating. That part’s not negotiable.”
Alastair held up both hands in surrender. “I wouldn’t ask that of you.” He smiled at the young couple. “I hope things work out for the two of you. I won’t lie; this is going to cause complications, but you already know that.” He pinched his lips while he thought. “I need to ponder this some more. There’s no need to rush, so let’s take our time and work out what we do. The first decision will be whether to let anyone in the club know. I’ll think on that overnight, and I’ll give you a call tomorrow with my thoughts. Ultimately, it’ll be up to you to decide, but I’ll offer my advice.”
“Thanks, Alastair.” Kevin’s relief was audible.
“Now, you said you had another issue for me.” Alastair’s lips curled up. “I hope it’s not as curly as the last one.”
“Maybe.” Kevin grinned. “You know how I mentioned the only two people I know who know about Daphne are the friend who introduced us and his boyfriend?”
“Well, the boyfriend is in the draft. He doesn’t have an agent yet, so I was wondering if you were interested.”
Alastair’s jaw dropped. He recovered quickly as he focused all his attention on Kevin. “Is the fact that he doesn’t have an agent because he hasn’t picked one, or because he hasn’t been approached?”
“He hasn’t been approached.”
“So, he’s a long shot. Not one of the big names.” Alastair stared across the table as a name jumped into his mind. “Is it Jim Henderson?”
Kevin chuckled. “Nice guess, but no.”
Alastair started tapping the tabletop as he thought. “I’m certainly interested in representing him, but I won’t be able to do much to help his draft prospects this late in the year. If I’d known about this earlier, there are some people I could’ve spoken to, but not now.”
“What do you mean?”
“A gay player would be media dynamite. The opportunities for the club, both positive and negative, are explosive. There are some clubs that will handle it better than others. As long as he’s a decent player with potential, I could’ve worked it so those clubs would treat him being gay as a positive factor in their recruitment strategy.” Alastair frowned. “He’s obviously not out at the moment. Does he have any plans on coming out in the near future?”
Kevin nodded. “Probably soon after the draft. Jim Henderson has told him he should have an agent coordinate with the club for how to do that.”
“How many people already know?”
“Too many. That’s why he’s thinking of coming out. He doesn’t want it hanging over his head.” Kevin grimaced. “He’s already had one person try to blackmail him. He’d prefer to be out than to go through that again.”
“Blackmail?” Alastair scowled. “Some people are sick.” He cocked his head. “Are you going to give me his name?”
“Not without his permission. I’ll call him when we finish here and ask him if I can tell you. I think he’ll say yes, but I don’t want to jump the gun on this one. He’s already anxious enough about the draft and the prospect of moving interstate and away from his boyfriend. He doesn’t need the added stress of being told that I’ve outed him to someone he doesn’t know.”
Alastair nodded. “Okay, thanks. I’ll look forward to hearing from you soon. You can also give him my number, and he can call me directly if he prefers.” He grinned. “Any more surprises?”
Kevin laughed. “Not today.”
* * *
“Welcome back, brat, Karen!” Deon rose from the couch that he had been sharing with Clarissa. “Do you need a hand with anything?”
“Since you’re offering, I’ve got a ton of washing that needs to be done.” Ty grinned to show he wasn’t serious and grabbed Deon in a bear hug. “It’s good to see you again. You, too, Clarissa.” Ty stepped back and cocked his head at his teammate. “Have any more AFL teams contacted you in the last week?”
Deon shrugged. “I’ve had a couple of courtesy calls, just asking how I was doing, but nothing serious. How was the trip?”
“Bloody fantastic!” Ty slipped an arm across Karen’s shoulders. “It was great, just being the two of us.” He glanced around. “Is Dad home?”
“No, he’s out with Tony.” Deon smirked. “Did you see much of Aireys Inlet or was the weather so bad you had to stay in your hotel room the whole week?”
Karen chuckled. “The weather was great. It bucketed down the day we arrived, but the only other day it rained was Thursday, and that was at the end of a stinking hot day.” She grinned up at Ty. “We did see a lot of our hotel room, but we went out a reasonable amount, too.”
Ty shrugged. “I don’t know about the weather being great—most days weren’t that warm—but it was certainly pleasant. We did all the usual touristy things and even went swimming once. Karen wussed out the other days. She said it was too cold outside.”
“It was too cold.” Karen rolled her eyes and gave Clarissa a wry smile. “That didn’t stop Ty from going for a swim most days. He said it’s a good recovery exercise.”
“He’s right,” Deon said. “The bayside AFL teams are often in the water early on a Monday morning after a match, even in the middle of winter.” He raised an eyebrow. “I’m more interested in what sort of activities he was getting up to that he needed to recover from.”
“None of your bloody business.” Ty grinned. “Anything interesting happen while we were away?”
“Not a lot.” Deon smiled at Clarissa before looking back at Ty and Karen. “Neil and Liam are off to Sydney for a few days to do some house hunting. Clarissa suggested that we tag along. I wouldn’t mind seeing Dad and Marcus again, but we’re not sure if we can afford the trip.”
“Won’t you be staying with Sam and Marcus? That’ll mean you’re only paying for the airfare.”
Deon shook his head. “We need to find somewhere else. Neil and Liam will be there, and the apartment isn’t big enough to cope with six people. It’ll struggle with four.”
“Especially since I’ll need a room to myself. I’m not sharing a bedroom with a bunch of guys.” Clarissa chuckled at Deon’s expression. “You know I’m waiting. Nothing’s going to happen until we know if we’ve got a future together, so grow up and stop pouting.”
“I agree with her.” Ty grinned. “Pouting makes you look like a baby.”
“Brat!” Deon glared for a couple of seconds and then laughed. “Okay, I’ll grow up.” He sighed as he turned to his girlfriend. “Sorry, but I just don’t see how we can afford two hotel rooms. If we can’t share, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
Clarissa chuckled. “One room would be okay as long as it had two beds. But remember, I have minimum standards. A backpackers’ hostel isn’t going to be good enough.”
Ty cocked his head as an idea occurred to him. “Why don’t you ring Kevin and ask him if he can put you two up or if he knows someone who can?”
Deon blinked. “Why didn’t I think of that myself?” He grinned. “I’ll do that now.”
* * *
Alastair was almost home when his phone rang. “McCrae Sports Management, Alastair McCrae speaking.”
There was a pause before the caller responded. “Er…hi. Kevin Scanlan suggested I call you. He said you were interested in representing me.”
Alastair’s attention snapped to the conversation, retaining only enough concentration on his driving to ensure he didn’t have an accident. “If you’re the guy that Kevin mentioned at lunchtime, yes, I am.”
“That’s me. I don’t know how likely I am to be drafted, but if I am, I’m going to need help almost immediately.”
A smile appeared on Alastair’s lips. He could hear the tension in the young man’s voice and suspected that was the reason for the obvious oversight. “If you tell me who you are and which team you played for, I can give you my opinion on your draft prospects.”
“Oh, sorry. Ross Munroe. I played for Eastern Ranges. I was at the state combine with Deon Bradshaw.”
“The name rings a bell, but I don’t remember you. I’m driving at the moment, but as soon as I get home I’ll look up my notes.” Alastair grinned. “AFL rules require me to inform your club before I contact you, but since you contacted me and the season’s over anyway, I think I can ignore that for now. Just don’t tell anyone.”
He received a nervous chuckle in response.
“Now, Ross, which clubs have spoken to you? That will help give me a feel for how things may turn out.”
“Before the combine, I had three clubs talk to me more than once: West Coast Eagles, Richmond, and Brisbane. Since my exams, I’ve met with representatives from Richmond and Brisbane. The guy from Brisbane spent a fair amount of time on how the relocation will work if they draft me, but both clubs made it clear that they’ve got a lot of other people ahead of me on their list.”
“They all say that. Very few clubs will make a commitment beforehand.” Alastair put his indicator on and turned left. He was driving largely on automatic while his mind evaluated Ross’s situation. “The Richmond president, Peggy O’Neal, was in the anti-homophobia video that the AFL Players’ Association produced earlier in the year. If they draft you, I think you can be confident that she’ll get you any help you need. Unfortunately, with less than a week to go, it’s too late for me to have a quiet word with her. She’s in administration and not involved in the draft process, but I may’ve been able to get her to influence things if there was a line-ball decision to be made.”
“What do you want me to do?” Ross asked.
“For now, nothing. I’ll do some preparation so once we know who drafts you, we can hit the ground running.”
“And if I don’t get drafted?”
Alastair hesitated. He’d been in the position more than once of having to console one of his players who missed out on making it to the AFL. He knew he had to be careful to avoid playing with Ross’s emotions. “Then we look at other options. You’ll still be available for the draft next year, and that gives us twelve months to make the clubs take another look at you. Don’t forget that the TAC Cup teams can play a small number of nineteen-year-olds. I’ll need to take a look at who’s likely to be playing for Eastern Ranges, but there’s a chance we may be able to get you into the TAC Cup again next year and give you another chance to show what you’re capable of. No promises, because while I know the people to speak to, I don’t know how much competition there’ll be for the limited number of nineteen-year-old spots.”
“I’ve been speaking to the Lilydale Leopards about playing in the VFL next year if I’m not in the AFL. Julie’s not promising anything, either. She says I need to show that I’m willing to put in the effort required.”
“That’s going to be true regardless of what we do. I may need to speak to the Leopards to see if it’s possible for you to play for them and in the TAC Cup, but we’ve got time to work out the details.”
“So, if I miss out this year, I’m still a chance for next year?”
Alastair grimaced as he knew he needed to temper Ross’s hopes. “It’ll be harder next year, but if you’re capable of doing work and are willing to do what it takes to show that to the clubs, then yes, you may get a second chance.” He chuckled. “Does this mean you’re willing to sign with me?”
“Definitely! What do I need to do?”
“We’ll do this by the book. When I get home, I’ll send an email to Eastern Ranges to let them know that I’ll be contacting you. Are you going to be free sometime tomorrow to meet up?”
Alastair and Ross organised a time and place. By the time they had sorted out the details, Alastair was pulling into his driveway. He thanked Ross and then ended the call.
Twenty minutes later, he was staring blankly at the signed football jumper memorabilia opposite his home-office desk while mentally reviewing the options. His notes from the TAC Cup games he had watched indicated that while Ross showed potential, he hadn’t shown that he was going to live up to that potential. Alastair’s gut feeling from his notes was that Ross would miss out on the draft, though that was tempered by the fact that two clubs had contacted him after his exams were over. In Alastair’s mind, the key to Ross’s future if he wasn’t drafted was whether Ross used that disappointment to step away or to step up.
If Ross wanted to play AFL football, he would need to demonstrate the desire and for that determination to be shown on the football field during the next season. Alastair would do what he could to give Ross the opportunities, but it was up to Ross to take them.
* * *
Kevin licked his lips as he savoured the rich gravy. “I haven’t had a lamb roast for a long time. This is wonderful!”
Daphne’s mother smiled. “Thank you, Kevin. We try to have a roast every one or two weeks if we can. You’re free to join us, if you like.”
“If I can, though I’m going to have to watch what I eat the rest of the time if I do. I’m not supposed to eat this much, but I couldn’t help myself. A roast is one of my favourite meals.” Kevin grimaced. “Unfortunately, I’m not always available on weekends.” He gave a self-deprecating chuckle. “The weekends are workdays for me.”
Mr. Silverton laughed. “And you’ll probably be interstate a lot of the time, too.”
“Not so much at the moment, but yes. If I can break into the senior team, I’ll be away a lot more often.”
“Is that going to make things difficult for you and Daphne?” Roderick asked as he reached across the table to serve himself some more roast potatoes.
“It shouldn’t.” Kevin gave Daphne an apologetic smile. “It’ll mean we can’t go out regularly on weekends, but if I’m travelling, it’s usually only for two or three days.” He turned to address Daphne’s brother who was sitting opposite him. “We usually travel the day before a game. Coming back, it could be the same day or the next, depending on what time the game is scheduled to finish and where it’s at.” He grinned. “At the moment, because I’m generally playing in the seconds and not the senior team, most of my travel is between here and Queensland, and that’s not every week. If I play regularly with the seniors, I’ll be doing a lot more travel, but I’ll also be making a lot more money and Daphne could possibly come with me on some of those trips.”
“Subject to schoolwork.” Daphne smiled. “But that would be nice. Speaking of school, a couple of Kevin’s friends from Melbourne are moving to Sydney. They’ve applied to go to the same university as me.”
Angelina’s attention snapped to Daphne. “Football players?”
Kevin chuckled. “One is, but not professionally. And they’re more friends of a friend, though I’ve met them both.”
“And they’re a couple, so don’t get your hopes up, sis,” Daphne told Angelina. She grinned. “And even if they weren’t, you won’t stand a chance.”
“Why not?” Angelina mock-glared across the table at Daphne. “I’m better looking than you, and you got yourself a hunk. Why can’t I?”
“Because you’re the wrong gender. They’re a gay couple.” Daphne laughed when Angelina pouted. “Don’t worry, sis. You’ll find someone. Just be patient.”
“Why are they coming here for university?” Daphne’s father asked.
Kevin took Daphne’s sideways glance as a signal that it was his turn to answer. “Neil had problems with his parents when he came out. He’s been offered a place to stay up here while he goes to uni, and his boyfriend is following him. In fact, they’re flying up tomorrow to do some house hunting.”
Roderick frowned. “Back up. If Neil’s been offered a place to stay, why are they house hunting?”
“Neil and Liam won’t be living together. Neil’s going to stay with Deon’s dad, and Liam’s looking for a place nearby.” Daphne smiled. “I hope they get into Sydney uni. They’re a nice couple.”
“We’re going to go out for dinner with them on Monday night,” Kevin said. “I’m hoping Deon and Clarissa will be able to make it, too, but the Wembleys weren’t keen on them staying with us when I suggested it.”
“Who are Deon and Clarissa?”
“Deon’s the mate of mine that I used to play football with back in Melbourne.” Kevin grinned. “I’m also hoping that by this time next week, he’ll be an AFL player. There’s been a lot of interest in him from various clubs, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he’ll be drafted Thursday night.” He made a face. “Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to be with the Swans. I think he’ll be gone before the Swans get a chance.”
“Clarissa’s his girlfriend,” Daphne added. She bit her lower lip as she stared at her parents. “Is there any chance Clarissa and Deon could stay here for a few days? Deon wants to see his dad again before the draft, and Clarissa wants to help Liam find a place for next year.”
“I don’t know…” Daphne’s father frowned at her and then gave his wife a questioning look. “Why isn’t Deon staying with his dad?”
Kevin knew this question would come up. “Overbooked. Deon’s dad had already offered to house Liam and Neil, so there was no space for Deon and Clarissa.”
“Clarissa could stay in Angelina’s old room, and Deon could stay in Rod’s,” Daphne said before her mother could speak. “Please? It’ll only be for a few days, and we’ve got the spare rooms. Deon has to head back on Wednesday.”
“Why are you so eager?” Daphne’s mother asked.
Daphne took Kevin’s hand. “I could say it’s because Deon is one of Kevin’s best friends, but it’s because I’m being selfish.” When everyone around the table expressed surprise, Daphne sighed. “Next year, I’ll be going to university…and sooner or later, I’m going to see someone I knew from school last year. When that happens, I want trusted friends nearby. Clarissa is good friends with both Neil and Liam, and I like them, too. When they find out the truth, I don’t think they’ll freak out. I’m hoping that if someone yells abuse, they’ll stand up for me. That’s why I’d like them to make Sydney uni their first preference for where they’d like to go. If I spend a few days getting to know Clarissa better, she might put in a good word for me.”
Kevin hadn’t realised how insecure Daphne was about going to university. In all their previous chats, she had been eager to start her degree. He leant over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Our training grounds aren’t that far from the university. If you ever need me, just call. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” He smiled. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to have lunches together, too. As for Neil and Liam, we can talk to them on Monday night. I think they’ll do it if we ask. From what they said at the party where you met them, Sydney uni is already one of the places they’re interested in.”
It was another ten minutes of questioning and discussion before Daphne’s parents agreed to host Clarissa and Deon for a few days. Kevin immediately sent a text to Deon to let him know of the offer. Thirty minutes later, he had a positive reply.
Kevin had training commitments with the Sydney Swans, but he mentally reorganised his schedule so he and Daphne could spend as much time as possible over the next few days with Clarissa, Deon, Liam, and Neil. He wanted to do that for Deon, anyway, but Daphne’s needs made it even more important.