Did I say GO GIANTS yesterday? Let us not speak of it. Ever again. That is all. Well, at least Tony Romo got sacked twice in a row, that was nice.
So here’s another episode of “Given The Circumstances.” Happy Monday!
“NO. You didn’t carry the Y crosswise! Don’t you see? You have to transept the thingamie! God! It’s so obvious!”
Jeremy cracked up at Brian’s impression. “Dude, that’s insane.”
Brian shrugged, accepting the joint from Jeremy. “I can’t believe I have to take more math classes. At Lessing? If I’d stayed there? College Mathematics and I was done.” He inhaled deeply and held the smoke until he had to release it with a mighty cough.
“And this is the fucking tutor?”
“Yeah. He’s a total asshole, one of those people who was just, I don’t know, born doing math or something. And he thinks, you know, it should be totally easy for anyone with a brain. And get this! When he graduates? He’s going to be a math teacher! All ready to verbally assault a whole generation of mathematically inept kids.”
“Way.” Brian shook his head, took a pull off his beer to refresh his smoke-parched mouth, leaning back into the dirty old couch. Jeremy and his friends had filled this old house chock full of thrift-store, Craigslist and put-out furniture. And since it was in a not-so-good part of Oakland, it was probably for the best that everything not nailed down wasn’t worth stealing. The Cal Bears were blurrily running the ball down the field on the old giant tube TV that was too heavy to steal (the cable box had been encased in a steel frame nailed to the wall). The house’s greatest advantages were that the rent was cheap, and the dope dealers were all close by.
“So did you get the message from ‘that’s nice Deere’?” Jeremy asked him, flipping the channel away from the 66-3 slaughterfest.
“Yeah.” The email had contained a spreadsheet of GPAs for the team for the last thirty years, along with an exhortation to beat it this year by at least .2 points – real inspiring stuff. Brian was already feeling disappointed with Coach Deere’s style – remote, cold, the Great White Father By Appointment Only. He’d seemed so awesome, so organized and professional when Brian had met with him before deciding on his transfer. But then, Brian thought, maybe I was just blinded by the big-school glamour, maybe I was just prepared to love everything about CSB.
“Is he like that with me because I’m sitting out or…”
“No, man,” Jeremy said, reaching into to the mini-fridge next to the couch and handing Brian a fresh beer. “He’s not a hugger, you know? Real cerebral dude. Not an inspirational guy.”
Brian sighed, took the joint again. Jeremy had given him the full regimen to clear it from his system before a drug test – cranberry juice, lots of water, four aspirin before a surprise test. He missed Coach Blaine’s warm, affectionate style, his permanent availability.
you wouldn’t be smoking a joint if Coach Blaine was in charge, the little voice said.
“Game’s almost on,” he reminded Jeremy, silencing the voice.
“Right.” He switched to ESPN2 for the Barbarians’ road game against UNLV, bound to be an easy win for Roger and his team. “So Roger’s got some weird-ass friends.”
“Huh?” Brian said, two steps behind in his thought process as the weed thickened his skull.
“The flamers. Your little tour group last week.”
Brian laughed. “Oh, those guys. They’re okay.”
“Bunch a queers, it’s pretty strange, a quarterback hanging out with them.”
“Roger’s a gentleman and a scholar, man. Serious student. They’re all history nerds.”
“Umm…” Brian said and they both laughed. He clearly wasn’t, was he, if he was getting totally baked on a Saturday afternoon, with homework due Monday that he hadn’t even started yet. The second week of school had been intense – it seemed to Brian that professors liked to assign 100+ pages of reading, and a five page paper, right out the gate just to see who’d drop the class.
“I can hook you up with a guy. Custom papers. They’ll pass the plagiarizer.”
Brian knew what he meant – Turnitin.com, the slacker’s enemy. Jeremy had got caught plagiarizing himself last semester, taking a paper he’d written for one class and reusing it for a second class. Which was only a finger-wagging violation, at least the first time.
How much? Brian wanted to ask, but Professor Ehrens flitted across the screen on the back of his forehead, and his casual words, “I know you won’t.” He knew Brian would do well, wouldn’t let him down.
And Roger. His buddy Roger, the straight-A, straight-arrow dude. Brian didn’t think he could bear a look of disappointment from him either.
“No, man. I’m good.” A little relief came with the answer. He would go back to his dorm after the game, stop at the store and get a couple of Red Bulls to cut the fog. Then he’d buckle down and carry the goddamn Y crosswise.
After handily thumping UNLV, Roger and the Barbarians had their first win of the season under their belt, and winning, as always, felt good. Roger told himself he should take the campus smiles, from students and teachers alike, with a grain of salt – one day the hero, the next day the goat. He’d conducted himself well in his first post-game, on-field interview, sweat still dripping off his face from the Vegas heat as the microphone lady asked him about his performance (damn if he could remember her name – she was pretty and he’d probably know it if he was straight). The boilerplate answers about team effort and a great game by the other team rolled off his tongue like honey.
“You’ve got a matchup against Hawaii next week on the road, and then a bye week. How will you prepare for your game against Stanford in week 5?”
“We’ll watch a lot of film, we’ll work hard, and we’ve got a home field advantage, and you know we’ve got the crowd behind us here. I’m confident those things will carry us to victory.”
“Roger Ehrens, thank you, now back to the guys in the booth.”
And yet, the sweetest taste of victory had been when he’d finished dressing and checked his cell phone. Amid the congratulatory texts was one from Brian, and that was the first one he read. Way to go man we are proud of you. His heart soared to think of Brian watching the game, cheering him on.
He shouldn’t have had time for friends, really. For football, there was the maximum official twenty hours of team workouts and film watching, plus at least that much unofficial time spent off the clock with the guys, doing even more workouts and film watching (YouTube had been a godsend to anyone wanting to circumvent NCAA time limits on football-related activities, as film watching could now be done anywhere, anytime). Then there was class, homework, History Club, and occasionally sleep.
But he made time for Brian. Sitting next to him in Ital Ren, he relished every time Brian said something in class, as it gave him the opportunity to stare at him for more than a second. Slouched in his chair, absurdly large for the little desk attached to it, ball cap down low over his eyes, those legs, God, those legs! He would give anything just to touch them, stroke them, feel their firmness and weight and… No, no no.
He was at Atilla’s with Cherish and Marcel when Brian walked in, like the sun coming out. Cherish and Marcel looked at each other with practiced neutrality, no need to even raise an eyebrow. One drunken night their sophomore year, Roger had blurted his gayness to them, and the secret had bonded them all tightly, a society of three dedicated to preserving it.
Brian shook hands all around as he sat down with his soda, knowing that the subject matter with these three would require his full brain power and that beer was therefore not a good idea.
“Well,” Cherish said, standing up and Marcel rising in her wake. “It’s good to see you. Have a good night.”
“Yeah, you too,” Brian said, a little hurt.
When they were gone, he had to ask Roger. “So, they don’t like me, do they?”
“Why do you say that?”
“Lately they always get up and leave when I show up.”
Roger swallowed. Shit, they had figured it out. He felt ashamed that he’d kept this secret from them, even though, obviously, he hadn’t kept it very well. They were leaving the two lovebirds together.
“No, they like you. They know we’re working on the class project together. And that, you know, we’ll probably talk jock stuff.”
Brian thought about Jeremy’s comments. “So you must take some shit, huh, from the team? Hanging out with a couple of gays?”
Roger laughed. “Oh, Marcel’s not gay. I know, looks that way, right? Actually, he had a huge crush on Cherish our freshman year. Took him a long time to accept that she’s a lesbian, and be her friend.”
“Huh. Yeah, it totally looks that way. ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that,’” he smiled, quoting the ‘gay panic’ episode of Seinfeld.
Roger smiled, but he had to ask. “So are you, you know, uncomfortable with that? Gay people?”
Brian shrugged. “I guess so, you know, we don’t grow up around that, being jocks, right? And everything around my house was faggot this and faggot that. And there’s not a lot of sensitivity training at Sally Hansen Elementary, you know? Hey, did you go to the Johnson School? Is that why I never knew you when we were kids?”
Roger acknowledged his attendance at the private school, not wanting the subject to change, wanting to dig deeper, but afraid to know any more. Brian seemed typical of the young men of the times, not flaringly homophobic, but not someone who was going to run out and embrace your specialness either.
I’m an idiot. If I even told him I was gay he would freak…out. Just…just be his friend. But his dad’s voice in his head asked him, how good a friend can you be with someone from whom you’re keeping such a big secret?
Not now, Dad, he begged, letting the conversation turn away from that deeper, darker channel.
Another win, this time at home against Hawaii. 2-1 was pretty good, but there was no time to slack off. Week 4 was a bye week, and then it was the Big Game against Stanford. That would be the team’s real proving ground, and Roger’s. He knew the NFL was sniffing around, and this would be the tame that could turn their attention toward or away from him.
All the same, a week off was a week off and Brian wouldn’t take no for an answer when he invited Roger to a baseball team party at Jeremy’s house. He was tired from the long trip to Hawaii and back, barely time to see anything or enjoy the island’s beauty, and yes was just easier than no.
Roger swallowed hard, standing outside, seeing all the guys on the porch macking on the sorority girls, hearing the loud, aggravating Emo/Screamo music on the giant speakers propped in the windows. It wasn’t like he hadn’t been to a party before, but somehow, a party with Brian there was different. He would have to watch himself, ration the looks he gave his friend, “keep ‘em separated.”
Roger weaved his way through the crush of people who stopped to high five him, touch him, hail the conquering hero. There was Brian, head and shoulders above the crowd, easy to find. As if he could feel Roger’s eyes on him, he turned, saw him, and waved him over.
“Hey, man, this is my friend Jeremy.”
“How’s it going,” Roger said, and Jeremy gave him an aggressive handshake. Roger looked into his eyes, locked with them…he saw Jayce there, the narrow, calculating look, the sexual heat, that his body, his face, responded to almost instinctively.
“Good, great job last week.” Jeremy hadn’t caught on to Roger’s response, his own senses dulled from a good dinner of Percocet and Jager. But he noticed as Roger’s eyes darted away from his instinctively, trying to conceal his attraction to the bad boy, and thus giving away more than if he’d just kept his eyes on Jeremy.
“Thanks, looking forward to seeing you guys in action,” Roger replied.
“Well,” Jeremy said, the corner of his mouth curling up a bit as some animal part of him responded, stirred, his cock not terribly prejudiced about what kind of hole it got to stick itself into. “We can arrange that.”
“Yeah,” Roger said, straight-faced now, “I’d love to come to a practice.”
Jeremy blinked; had he misread Roger? Of course he had, this was the fucking QUARTERBACK. He wasn’t a queer. Maybe just a little skittish. Which Jeremy could recognize, accept, it being the standard personality of more than one talented pitcher.
“Well, get yourself a beer, have a good time,” Jeremy said, moving on as he spied a buxom girl drunkenly trying to figure out how to work the keg tap.
“Thanks, see ya.”
Brian had watched the interchange as well, noted its strangeness, the way Roger had seemed somehow…affected by Jeremy, like he reminded him of someone. But almost like he was…nah. Impossible.
“So you going to play Mormon Boy tonight, or are you gonna have a beer with me?” Brian said, draining his red Solo cup, his head nodding with the music as M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” got everyone screaming and cheering, the oddness of the encounter washed away by the song’s opening hook.
Roger thought about it. His last drink had been the sip of Laphroaig he’d had with his dad years earlier. But the idea of standing here, feeling like a geek next to Brian, stuffing down his feelings was unbearable. “Sure, I’ll have a beer.” I can just stand here with it and at least look normal, he thought.
“Yeah! I corrupted you!” Brian slapped him on the back and went to get him a beer.
Which tasted awful, Roger thought, sipping it. Budweiser or something equally crappy by the keg. But the thing about awful beer was that it quickly killed your taste buds, allowing you to drink more of it. And the thing about standing at a party with a Solo cup was that for something to do, you kept drinking out of it. Soon Roger had a buzz.
A drunk chick rolled up to them. “Are you guys brothers?”
“Why do you ask,” Brian said, winking at Roger. But it was kind of true, wasn’t it? They were both tall, brunette, athletic, with clear bright eyes – Roger’s blue, Brian’s brown, but still. “You think you could tell us apart in the dark?”
“Haahahaa!” she gurgled, before tripping on herself and falling down laughing.
Brian rolled his eyes at Roger. “Let’s get a refill!” he shouted over the music.
My judgment is impaired, Roger thought dimly, grinning and following his friend through the crowd to the kitchen, already reeking from the beer spilled around the keg.
“Can we go outside?” Roger yelled. “There’s enough pot smoke in here to make me fail a drug test.”
Brian laughed. “No shit, huh!” He’d already sucked down a joint himself before Roger’s arrival. He led the way to the back yard, empty save for a couple of smokers. There was a dilapidated two-kid swing set that they sat down in, the rusty chains protesting Brian’s weight but not giving out just yet.
Brian pushed off, sticking his legs straight out ahead of him as he swung forward, just as he’d done when he was a kid. “Remember this?” he asked Roger after a minute of companionable silence.
Roger nodded, swinging in the opposite rhythm from Brian, back when his friend was ahead, tick tock, tick tock. “Sure. Great memories.”
“Huh. Lucky you. My memories are mostly of ass beatings by my dad, or my brother.” He paused, stopped swinging. “I envy you.”
Roger stopped too, snorted in disbelief. “Me? Why?”
Brian shrugged. “Shit, you know, your perfect life. Your dad is so awesome, you’re a straight A student, you’re the star quarterback.” He laughed. “Man, the only thing you don’t have is a girlfriend. What’s up with that?”
The lie came to Roger’s lips, the excuse of his insane schedule, the fact of wanting it to be special the first time, all the items on the list that he knew would get people nodding, accepting it all. But the complicated script fell apart in his hand as he opened it, turned to ashes, blew away. To lie to Brian was just…inconceivable.
And sure, it was the booze that uninhibited him. But it was exhaustion, too. He was suddenly sick of it, the lie, the burden. How can you say he’s your friend, that you have feelings for him, if he’s just another person you deceive?
Brian laughed. “Yeah, right. That’s a good excuse. No, seriously. Why don’t you have…”
They had both stopped swinging, sat there two feet away from each other, and as Brian looked in Roger’s face, saw the pain, the fear, the fatigue, he knew it was true.
Good, Roger thought. Now you’ll run away. Now you’ll run inside and shout it on the rooftop. Now it’s over. It’s all over! I can…rest.
Brian suddenly remembered Roger’s look at Jeremy’s comments, the way the mask had dropped. He was…turned on! By Jeremy! Fuck!
“Dude,” was all Brian could say. “Wow.” Then he laughed. “You think Jeremy’s hot, huh.”
Roger looked down at the ground, defeated. “Was it so obvious?”
Brian paused. “I bet he’d do it. He’s a fucking perv, that one.” Brian’s eyebrows lifted. “Oh, shit, dude, that’s not what I meant. I wasn’t calling you a perv. I just meant, Jeremy, you know, he’s pretty twisted…fuck! That’s not what I meant either!”
Roger had to laugh. “I know what you mean.”
Brian was silent a minute as the facts set in, the shock clearing the beer-and-pot fog from his head. “Wow,” he said again. “So that’s gotta be a major fucking suckage, keeping that to yourself, huh. What with the football team probably freaking out if they knew.”
Roger felt like a gambler who’d just gone all in, and won. The relief and the exhilaration were indistinguishable. Brian was taking it…well. He wasn’t running for the roof.
“Yeah. It’s not something I tell, well, anyone. Marcel and Cherish. And you.”
Brian swallowed. Roger trusted him with his secret. He was…trustworthy. In this guy’s eyes. This guy! The fucking superstar! Trusted him!
Brian got up. “Come here, dude.” He opened his arms.
Roger thought he’d cry with relief. He got up and let Brian enfold him, hug him, and this time he didn’t let go. And it wasn’t even sexual, it was just…comforting. This was what he’d really been starved of – not lust, but affection. Human contact. Male contact, undeniably. But…brotherly love. He’d been an only child, and now it felt as if he had a brother.
“I love you man,” Brian said. “I don’t give a shit if you’re queer.” Brian had brothers, but they had never been family – just rivals, competitors, enemies. “You’re my brother,” he said, and it was true, he realized, Roger was what a real brother was supposed to be.
“Thank you,” Roger whispered, burying his face in Brian’s chest. He felt warm, safe, renewed. He could do this. He could keep going.
“Hey faggots!” Jeremy shouted. “Get your asses in here! It’s time for beer pong!”
Brian and Roger laughed, broke away. Brian grinned. “You like the bad boys, huh?”
Roger chuckled. “Yeah, man. I do. That’s my real dark secret, I guess.”
They went inside, arms around each other’s shoulders, real, true friends now. For life, Roger swore. No matter what.