“What’s your story?” Coach Deere asked Brian.
“What do you mean, sir?” Brian had learned early that the Great White Father, as the team called him behind his back, preferred the honorific. Just calling him “Coach” seemed a little too familiar, they supposed.
He’d been summoned to the Throne Room on the last day of the semester. He’d spent the afternoon at an informal batting practice, just a bunch of the guys swinging at a ball on the last day they’d see each other before the Christmas holidays. But Brian had batted with a little more focus, a little more fervor, than the other guys. Had laughed with them at their jokes about the Home Run Derby, even as he knocked ball after ball out of the park. Had joined the upperclassmen jeering the younger guys as they scrambled over the fence to retrieve the balls.
“Your performance has been more than satisfactory for some time now.”
Wow, Brian thought, that was about the highest compliment you’d get from this guy. How had he earned that?
“And I’d like to know what’s changed.”
Well, sir, my gay lover, the quarterback, has really given me a fresh perspective on life. I want to be worthy of his love, and to be honest, having my cock in his ass several times a night and seeing the look on his face when I plow the fuck out of him has really made me feel like a fucking rock star every minute of my day.
“Well, sir, I’m friends with Roger Ehrens, and his performance, his dedication, have really inspired me to do better.” And when it comes to these situations, he’s taught me how to bullshit with the best of them.
“I had my doubts about you for some time.” Coach Deere looked like Tom Coughlin, if Tom Coughlin never lost his temper. “But your…off field issues seem to have settled down. And nobody can argue with your performance in practice. Or your grades. Now, I respect the rules that keep young men from randomly skipping from school to school in search of better athletic opportunities, but honestly, I think it’s a crying shame that you won’t be playing for us in the spring.”
Brian shrugged. “You can’t fight City Hall. Or the NCAA,” he grinned, his smile fading at Coach Deere’s still-stern visage.
“I hope you realize how important an education is, especially now. With the…decline.”
Right, decline, Brian thought. Several months previous, the economy had taken the most colossal dump since the Great Depression. People were still in shock, emerging from the wreckage and standing around the site of the crash blinking, waiting for someone to come up to them and say, “You’re bleeding.”
“I can guarantee you that a young person with college degree is always going to make more than someone without that degree. And baseball, professional sports in general, is a risky proposition.”
“Yes, sir,” Brian said, trying to unpack the hidden messages he could feel, taste, in this sidewinding disquisition.
“I would hate to see you lured by the bright lights, the glamour, only to find yourself at loose ends all too soon. You know how many young men go pro, and how many of them never even make it in A Ball, never mind make it to AAA Ball. And the percentage of that who make it to the big leagues is infinitesimal.”
“I imagine the day I have to make that call is a ways away, sir, if ever.”
Coach Deere blinked. “Not as far away as you might think. There’s…interest in you. From the pros. I just want to warn you about that.”
Warn me! Brian thought with a surge of excitement. “Thank you, sir.”
“You’re a good man, Brian. I’ve seen you working with the other players, taking the time to help them learn. The younger men look up to you. Your style with them is…a bit unorthodox. Certainly more informal that mine. But you have a future in coaching. Another reason to complete your degree, I think.”
It was Brian’s turn to blink. He had never heard Coach Deere compliment…anyone. Ever! Maybe this was how he did it, in private. So nobody else’s feelings got hurt.
The Majors. Brian had heard it from Roger, from Coach Blaine, from the other guys when he hit three or four or five homers in practice. “Yeah yeah right” had been his response until now, laughing it off. But Deere? If Deere thought he could go…
Then the bubble burst. “But, sir, they can’t touch me till I finish my junior year.”
“Or, until you turn 21. I believe you just turned 21, didn’t you?”
It hit Brian like a ton of bricks. Reaching 21 hadn’t meant much to a young man with a good fake ID, but suddenly it meant the world. All the NCAA’s restrictions were no longer applicable, he had reached the magic age in which nobody could legally tell him what to do with his life… Suddenly everything was different.
That night, bursting with excitement, he told Roger the whole thing over pizza and soda – Brian had given up booze, at least for now, at least till he could get through finals. And Roger’s happy smile every time Brian ordered a Coke instead of a Corona was enough to get him drunk anyway.
“I’m not surprised,” Roger said. “You’ve got an amazing talent. And now that you’re applying yourself, my God, Brian. You can go as far as you want.”
Brian blushed. “Thanks, man. You too, you know. After the Rose Bowl, right? They can touch you. Give you the invite to the Combine.”
“If I go pro now. Skip my senior year. Which I’m not going to do.”
“You’re going to finish, for sure?”
“Yeah. Maybe even take the team to another bowl game next year.”
“Hell yeah. BCS Championship, mothafuckas!” Brian shouted, forcing an embarrassed Roger to high five him.
“You’re staying, right?” Roger said.
The appeal in his face, his voice, made it clear to Brian. “I…” Shit. He realized with a thud that going pro now would mean leaving Roger behind here at CSU. Going pro would mean A Ball, always on a bus, living out of a suitcase. “No,” he said firmly. “I mean yes. I’m not going if you’re staying.”
It wasn’t just the pepperoni pizza that gave Roger a sudden surge of indigestion. He watched as the light went out in Brian’s face, the light that the possibility of going pro now had given him. He was going to have to sit out this coming spring of 2009, and then what? Another year of sitting around, waiting for Spring 2010? That felt a million years away at their age, and Roger knew it.
And it would be my fault. My selfish fault that I couldn’t let him chase his dream. It broke his heart to see Brian’s face, like a little boy finally, painfully, refusing that marshmallow on offer, entirely against his nature.
Then Brian smiled. “Come on. Let’s go back to my room.”
Roger wanted to object, to say, we’ve been “back to your room” too many times lately, someone will catch on. But tonight wasn’t that night. Brian needed him, needed to hold him, and he needed to hold Brian.
While you still can, a little voice said in his head.
Brian drove to the Rose Bowl game, picking Professor Ehrens up in Santa Vera before swinging back to Pasadena. Roger had already flown down with the team earlier in the week, and Jacob had used up his discretionary income on the Heisman trip, so this was a low-budget adventure.
Driving down the freeway, Jacob shocked Brian by saying, “So here we are, the two men in Roger’s life.”
Brian laughed. “Yeah. That we are.”
“Roger tells me you may be going pro soon.”
“I was thinking about it. There’s some interest. But…if Roger’s staying for his senior year, so am I.”
“You know, the two of you will be separated eventually.”
Brian nodded, the grim reality of that statement known but not acknowledged, not out loud. Professional jocks didn’t play where they wanted to play, they played where they were sent. “But not yet,” Brian said with grim determination, hands tight on the wheel, eyes straight ahead.
Jacob almost sighed. It wasn’t his place to tell Brian what he knew.
“I’m going to go into the draft,” Roger had told him at Christmas, after sending Brian to the store for eggnog and other unnecessary items. “I’ll finish school, I swear, Dad. I’ll get it done in the offseason, when other guys are golfing. But…if I don’t, Brian misses his chance. He won’t go if I don’t.”
Jacob considered this. He knew what it was to give things up for love, but this seemed… “This seems a little impulsive. Unlike you.”
Roger smiled, a gleam in his eyes that Jacob had never seen before. His son had always been well-adjusted, but never…happy, not like this. It was as if Brian had reached deep inside Roger and found a light switch only he could flip.
“I guess so. But you know I’m ready.”
“Another year of college ball would season you, put you higher in the draft.”
“All the more reason not to stay,” Roger grinned, and Jacob laughed. The higher his draft status rose, the more likely it was by draft math that the previous year’s worst team would get him, and he’d end up in some godforsaken city.
“And I presume, since you sent him to the store before telling me, that Brian doesn’t know?”
“No. I’m going to tell him after the game. That’s when they can start coming in on me about the draft. I’ll need your help, Dad. I’m going to need an agent, and a financial guy, and a press person, and the whole nine yards.”
“I don’t know about any of that, you know.”
“No, but you know people. You know bullshit when you see it. You can help me screen them.”
“So this is a done deal. You’re not asking my advice.”
“No. I’m sorry.”
“I just…you should think about this. You’re young, you’re in love for the first time, you’re being carried away by the winds of that experience. Two years from now, you and Brian may not even be together, you’re young people, young people are fickle, things change, you’re still changing, both of you…”
“No,” Roger said firmly. “This is it. This is forever.”
Jacob repressed his sigh. He wouldn’t say what his parents had said to him when he’d married young, “You’re making a mistake!” as if they could see the future. It hadn’t been a mistake, they’d been in love and stayed in love until she’d died… But never mind that.
“You know I’ll support you no matter what decision you make.”
“I know, Dad.” Roger hugged him. “And thank you.”
Now, as he watched his son’s lover driving them to the game, he thought silently, Brian, do not fuck this up.
The Barbarians won the Rose Bowl, and after the team celebrated, Roger celebrated with his father and Brian, and celebrated yet again in Brian’s hotel room – the team curfew no longer an issue, of course.
The sex was slow, deliberate, lazy. Roger was exhilarated and exhausted, and Brian could read it; this was no time for wild thrashing. They spooned, Brian’s big arms around Roger, his fingers lazily tracing patterns on his perfect soft skin, gently pressing his cock into the crack of Roger’s ass.
“Your cock is like an iron bar,” Roger said, reaching back to stroke it. “Seriously. It’s so hard, there’s no give to it.”
Brian chuckled. “All the better to fuck you with, my dear.”
Roger laughed. “Are you the big bad wolf?”
“You know I am,” Brian whispered in Roger’s ear, spitting in his hand and pushing his fingers into Roger’s ass.
“I have something to tell you,” Roger said.
“But I want you inside me first.”
Brian smiled. “Sounds good to me.”
Gently, slowly, given the lack of lube, his cock made its way inside Roger. He shifted, wrapped one leg over Roger, held him tighter, using his embrace to get deeper inside.
Roger half-sighed, half-groaned with pleasure. “Oh God.”
“So what do you want to tell me,” Brian said, kissing the back of Roger’s neck.
“I’m going to go to the Combine. Into the draft. This year.”
Brian froze. “But…what about school?”
Roger pushed his hips back, distracting Brian with the pressure of his ass, his motion, working Brian’s cock.
“We’re both going pro. Now, while we can.”
Brian wanted to argue, but the grip of Roger’s asshole was so sweet, so distracting… He laughed. “That’s why you’re impaled on my cock right now, isn’t it. So I’m too fucking turned on to argue.”
“And are you?”
“Yeah. But you shouldn’t…you can’t…” Fighting every instinct, every desire, he started to pull out of Roger. “Don’t do this. Don’t make a decision like that because of me.”
Roger reached back and grabbed Brian’s ass with his right hand, his throwing arm, and used its power to stop him from pulling out. He pushed, hard, and Brian couldn’t help but move back inside him.
“I made it for us. For both of us. I love you. Fuck me.”
“Oh shit,” Brian moaned, lost in desire, in joy, exhilarated by…everything. Roger loved him, he was going to be a major league ball player, his cock was right where it ought to be… Everything was great, everything was going to be perfect…
Fuck me¸ Roger thought, now, now before we’re a thousand miles apart for who knows how long… And with his own fierce urgency, he rolled onto his stomach, taking Brian with him, taking the burden of Brian’s weight on top of him, as if carrying his friend, his lover, on his back, a burden, no burden at all.