This is the last post for a few days, guys and gals. #1, I’m behind on homework (curse you, football, for being so good), so I gotta catch up. #2 I need a breather before the next scene, because…
#3: the next scene is…THE BIG ONE. And it’s going to be long. And it’s going to be hot. I’m going to make sure it’s damn good. That it’s the best love scene I’ve ever done ever. So grease up and get ready cuz it’s coming at ya 🙂
The team had a ritual, initiated by Antoine Phoenix a few years earlier. The evening before the last game of the season, they gathered together at the home of whoever had the largest television. Then they watched “Troy” to fire up for the game.
All the more appropriate this year, Roger thought with a grin, as the Trojans got sacked in the movie. The whole team shook the foundations of the house when they shouted along with Brad Pitt: “IMMORTALITY! TAKE IT! IT’S YOURS!”
On game day, you could almost smell it, the pheromones of tens of thousands of young people released in a cloud above the stadium, a delirious sense of expectation at what was to come, what could be. The Barbarians! To the Rose Bowl! It was a lock if they could defeat USC today.
Roger had managed a moment alone with Brian before he left for the stadium early in the morning. “Come by and wish me luck,” Roger had said.
Brian was there at the crack of dawn, knowing Roger’s eagerness to get going. “Hey, this is it, dude. The big day.”
Roger shook his head. “No, the second biggest.”
Brian watched his friend, saw something he hadn’t seen before. Roger had always been a rock, a solid dependable dude with a modest smile and a kind word. But this guy…this was Brad Fucking Pitt, this was Achilles, ready to kill everyone. He knew the famous picture now, the one of Roger outside Jayce’s service, but this, this was even fiercer, darker, more powerful.
“You’re gonna win,” Brian said, and it was the tone of it that made Roger look up at his friend, surprised. It wasn’t encouragement – it was an indisputable statement of fact.
Roger nodded. “Yeah.”
Brian opened his arms, and Roger entered their embrace, the last cell in his battery pack charging up from the energy, the heat, he was getting from Brian. He just…stayed there. And Brian didn’t let go. It was like landing on a perfect little tropical island, just long enough to replenish supplies before the long voyage ahead. He didn’t need to think about what it meant, what it might mean later. His mind was still focused on the day ahead, and all he had to do was let his body take what it needed, Brian’s strength, Brian’s love.
Brian had never been a giver, had never had a model for that behavior, had never had a chance to learn. But he knew he was one now, that he’d give Roger all he needed. He would hold his friend till the stars fell if that’s what it took to make him happy. It wasn’t sexual, but it was…sensual. To hold someone that long. To be held in return. It was…deep.
Finally, it was Roger who broke it off. “Okay. Time to go.”
“Knock ‘em dead.”
Roger nodded. “Yeah.” Another fact.
He shook hands with USC’s quarterback Mark Sanchez before the game. “Good luck,” he lied.
“Thanks, man, you too,” Sanchez replied, and the civilities were over for the day.
Big game, big day, young men – a perfect formula for a case of nerves. But Roger’s glacial calm settled over his teammates. He was like Henry V at Agincourt, Elizabeth I against the Spanish Armada. Great Princes are not like other men, and other men know it, and follow them.
“We know the record,” Roger said to the team before the game. “USC has been the monster truck of football this year, trampling their opponents by 30, 50, 70 points a game. But you know what? So what. Those guys who lost? They weren’t the Barbarians. They were just some guys. That’s why they lost. They’ve got the Barbarians at the gate now, and you don’t have to be a History major to know how that turns out. On three. One, two, three.”
USC got the ball first, a quick three-and-out, their nerves not settled yet. Roger started at the 20 yard line and methodically, surgically moved the ball down the field, employing conservative, low risk plays, short passes, end runs, drives up the middle. No need to throw long bombs and risk interceptions, just yet. But it was USC they were up against, and on their first drive they had to settle for a field goal, to go up 3-0.
Sanchez found his footing, threw some long bombs – he got lucky in Roger’s estimation, but sometimes it’s about luck. 33 yards pass for a touchdown, and USC was up 7-3.
Roger was ready to really huck the ball now, had lulled the defense into thinking he was scared to do it. 45 yards downfield, his receiver reached up. The ball tipped off his fingers, and into the hands of a Trojan.
Shit, Roger thought, moving to his left in case he was the last man between the Trojan and the end zone. His linemen crashed into their opponent at the 50 yard line, and the impact forced the ball out of his hands. It bounced once, and landed joyfully back in Roger’s arms.
The Trojans’ backfield had slacked off, thinking their job was done, the ball long gone in the other direction. Roger casually trotted to the right, the crowd noise and the scrum on the left drawing their attention to the site of the fumble. Then he ran for it.
Ran for his life! Once they woke up and realized Roger had the ball again, it was too late, he was in the end zone. 10-7, Barbarians ahead again.
The rest of the first half was a war of attrition, each side trying to wear out the other’s defense by keeping them on the field as long as possible. Then, right before halftime, the Barbarians on 4th down with 30 seconds to go, Roger held the ball for a fake punt. The kicker kicked the air as Roger tucked the ball and ran through a hole in the line for three yards and a first down. Then they ran the clock to 0:03 and kicked a field goal. Barbarians up 13-7, and bettors everywhere crying in their beer at the thought that the sure bet of USC -14 was looking less and less likely to pay off.
Brian sat in the stands with Cherish and Marcel, who’d somehow managed to carve enough time out of their schedules to learn the basics of football. His throat was hoarse from shouting and cheering, and Cherish’s bones were sore from Brian’s ecstatic bear hugs. The DMAA was coursing through his system, keeping his foot tapping through even the slowest parts of the game.
“Beer’s on me,” Marcel said, getting up at halftime. “I’m up $200.”
“What?” Cherish squeaked.
“I have a cousin in Vegas. I put money on the first half, Barbarians +7. He’s in the sports book now,” Marcel said, checking his text messages. “Should I roll it over, Barbarians +10 in the second half?”
“You’re kidding,” Brian said. “The bookies think we’ll do worse in the second half?”
“It’s USC, right? They’re not going to quit.”
“A close game, second half, I don’t know.” Brian said at last. “Your money.”
“Wrong attitude,” Cherish said. “Do it.”
Marcel smiled. “Yes, ma’am.”
Roger was even better after halftime. He was in the flow, dialed in, and Marcel was in luck. A long bomb to a wide open receiver. Barbarians, 20-7. He paced the sidelines, shouting encouragement at the defense, clapping them on the backs when they held USC to a field goal at the end of the third quarter. 20-10. He tore out onto the field, ran the ball, slid for a first, ran it again. He wasn’t afraid to get hit, he got hit, didn’t feel it. Adrenaline and testosterone and dopamine surged through his brain, and he was Henry V, this was Agincourt, his passes were like the arrows that rained down on the French, slaughtering them. 27-10. 34-10. The visitor’s fan section was like a funeral in the midst of a wedding party.
But it was college football. Insane rebounds were normal. Sanchez started to get his game together, but too late. 34-17. A field goal for the Barbarians, 37-17. The Barbarians’ defense held on USC’s next two possessions.
Three minutes left in the game, and everyone could do the math. A three score game. Barring Roger politely handing the ball to the defense and stepping aside to let them score, the game was over.
Everyone slowed down, Roger took a knee; no point in anyone getting hurt now. The clock was his lock, any number remaining on it holding back the tide of celebration in his mind until it hit 0:00.
When it did, all hell broke loose. This was what I do it for, he thought, the fans streaming onto the field, his teammates bouncing up and down, and yeah, holy crap, old school, picking him up and carrying him around. All the shit I give up, all the things I go without, this is why, this moment, nothing’s better than this…
A flicker of doubt at that came over him at the thought of Brian, but was gone again, swept away by the inexpressible joy of victory. And the knowledge, sure now at last:
I’m going to the pros.
“I know there are a lot of guys in contention, and it’s an honor to be considered, but right now I’m focused on the bowl game ahead of us, whatever that may be, and that’s where we’re going to keep our heads at.”
“Roger Ehrens, thank you and congratulations again.”
“Thanks, Holly.” And he dashed off the field. It was bullshit, all of it – he knew there was no way he’d get the Heisman, being a West Coastie, and that the Rose Bowl was where they were headed. But he knew how to play the media game, too, because that’s also what it took to make it in the pros.
Coach Orson got them calmed down, reminded them they still had finals to take for school, still had a bowl game to prepare for, don’t slack now. “And do this for me. Don’t go out tonight and get shitfaced and do something stupid.”
Roger was more than happy to have a couple of Cokes with the guys after the game and slip away, sunglasses on, disguised in the shirt, khakis and cap of an assistant coach – people see what they want to see, their eyes glide over what they’re not looking for, and the Decepticon got home safely, taking the long way, avoiding the frenzied campus celebrations.
He was still flying on adrenaline as he fell on the bed. It was the best game he’d ever played, and he wanted to account for it, wanted to think about why, exactly what he’d done to make it happen, how to repeat the formula. And like any superstitious athlete, he took an inventory of what he’d done the night before, the day of, what he’d worn, had he shaved or not.
A knock on the door. He wouldn’t answer it, knowing it was bound to be one of his floor mates, wanting to congratulate him. Then his phone buzzed with a text from Brian.
Open up it’s me.
Roger smiled. Brian knew him well, well enough to know that he’d be back in his room and not out on the town. He opened the door, still grinning.
Brian was drunk. Or high, or both, his eyes wide and wild and glazed. His hug this time was fierce, crazy, the back slaps too hard. “Dude! Fuckin’ A! Holy Shit!”
“Thanks, thanks,” Roger said, wanting to get out of the embrace this time, to get back to the state of mind he’d just been in.
“Fucking awesome! I could kiss you!” Brian grabbed Roger’s head in his hands and kissed him on the lips. Just for a second, almost comically.
Roger reeled. As it did when he was getting ready to throw the ball, time had slowed down, seconds like hours, time to ponder every motion of every player, to predict with supercomputing speed who was going where and when they’d get there. In slow motion Brian’s massive hands had cupped Roger’s head, his eyes closed, his lips together, then they were planted on Roger’s, so soft and silky, in contrast to the hundreds of sharp little stubble hairs grazing his face, telling Roger that Brian hadn’t shaved that morning. Brian’s heat, the smell of beer on his breath, the man smell of him, all in two seconds and over, but it was like a lifetime to Roger.
“And I did!” Brian roared, not even noticing the shock on Roger’s face. And when he did, he laughed at it. “Aw come on, you liked it.” There was something wrong with his crooked grin, Roger thought.
“No, dude, don’t.” Roger tried to break away but Brian had him in his grasp.
“I know you like it,” Brian laughed, turning the suddenly boneless Roger around, pushing him against the wall, pinning him there. “You’re the fucking champion, man, and here’s your ‘hero’s welcome.’”
Roger could feel Brian’s mass against his back, his big cock up against his ass, could feel himself respond. This isn’t what I want, he thought. Yes it is! the dark part of him said. It’s exactly the way it should be, drunk straight boy having his way with you…
Roger started to cry. Tears of exhaustion, of grief, of loss. The knowledge that he was definitely going to the NFL, that he was definitely facing years of this, of yearning, of loneliness. The sense of Brian slipping away from him, laughing at him, making Roger’s affection, Roger’s love for him, into a…joke.
Brian froze. He’d just been fooling around. Right? Had been trying to make it funny, that Roger’s gayness was no big deal.
“Don’t,” Roger sobbed. “Let go.”
Brian jumped back like Roger was on fire. “Shit, dude. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…”
“You should go,” Roger said, not turning around.
Yeah, it’s like falling, all right. The moment when the trap door opens and you’re weightless, in flight for just a second, until the rope snaps tight and you’re dead. Brian fell for just a second.
“Oh shit,” he said, and the snap was the sound of his realization. Roger was in love with him. With worthless, unloveable Brian. And he’d just taken a giant crap on that.
“Yeah,” Roger laughed, snuffling, walking away, still hiding his face. “Oh shit is right. Now you know.”
“Dude. I…I didn’t mean to…”
Roger turned around, smiling, angry. “Lead me on? I know that. I’m sorry you found out. I never wanted you to know.”
“I…” Brian was speechless. “I’m not gay.” The words sounded hollow in his mouth, sounded stupid, too late to take back.
“I know that!” Roger snapped. “Get out. Just…get the fuck out, Brian. Leave me alone.”
Brian wanted to cry, couldn’t cry, the booze and the drug blocking the pain, the feelings. But they weren’t chemically capable of blocking the shock.
“Okay. I’ll…I’m sorry.”
Roger sat down on the bed, got a tissue, wiped his eyes, blew his nose. “It’s been a long day.”
“Yeah. I know. I’ll…I’ll go. I’ll call you.”
Roger laughed mirthlessly. “Yeah. Sounds good.”
Brian had no more to say. He wanted to, but what was there? He left.
Roger sat there, unmoving. The ghost of Jayce sat across from him on the other bed, laughing at him. Dude, why don’t you just suck his dick? It’s what you want.
“He’s my friend,” Roger said aloud. “Was.”
Jayce shrugged. Well that’s over with, isn’t it? Might as well have some fun.
That thing. That the top tier athletes have. The ability to focus. To get all robotic and slam the great iron gates shut against emotion. Roger shut them now. I have a bowl game to get ready for. I have finals to take. Fuck! I have to present with Brian on that project.
Slam. Fine. Do it and be done. Then he can run away screaming. Not before then. I need that A.
After all, he had a reputation to keep up.
Brian drove his old beater of a car up the coast. Just…drove. He got to Point Reyes, parked and walked down the path to the beach. It was cold, so cold, foggy, windy, but that was fine, kept the other people away, gave him the beach to himself.
He found a big rock to sit on, the cold stone freezing his ass. But the sea air cleared his head, let him think. Let him feel.
Finally, a tear. The dam he’d built against them, all his life, cracking. He could feel it coming, the pressure of it, a lifetime of deferred pain. It was what he deserved, this punishment – feelings were punishment, after all. Feelings were pain, what other feelings were there?
He knew the answer to that. The feeling he had being with Roger. The love. The friendship. The affection.
I’m not gay, he replied. I like chicks. I like fucking girls.
Yeah, but you don’t love them.
He had to ask himself why he’d done it. Why he’d really kissed Roger, why he’d pinned him to the wall, pressed up against him, felt his ripe round ass as it clenched, responded. A joke. Yeah, right. You wanted to make a joke of it. In case he rejected you. Then you could both laugh it off. He wasn’t supposed to fucking cry, wasn’t supposed to love you back.
“Oh my God,” he said out loud, with only the seals on the beach to hear him. It was true. It seemed irreconcilable, being straight and loving Roger. Wanting to be with him, physically. All the way. To make love to Roger. Like you never have with anyone.
He unclenched, relaxed, let acceptance flow over him. I’m going to make this right. He’s my friend, I’ve been an asshole, but I’m not going to lose that. I’ll convince him to forgive me. He has to forgive me.
He just has to.