If there was one good thing about what kept them separated over the coming months, it was that they were both too damn busy to think too much about it. Roger was drafted by the Phoenix Skywalkers, with great fanfare, as the #2 draft pick in the first round – after Matt Stafford, to Roger’s relief, because that meant the media shitstorm landed on Matt’s head and not his. Then he quickly found himself in in pre-pre-camp, the purely informal players’ workouts, then pre-camp, the non-obligatory-but-really-obligatory camp, then actual training camp, and it was summer and the season was nearly upon them. When he wasn’t practicing, or working out, or getting therapy for his aching body, or watching film, or memorizing playbooks, or taking advice from veteran QB James Beaumont…well, when wasn’t he doing one of those?
For Brian, the pace was no less insane. He was already on the Loggers’ AAA team, and his batting average was crazy, well over .500, a clear indication he was literally out of their league, and guaranteeing him a slot in the Show as soon as one of the Loggers’ outfielders either got hurt or went into a slump.
It was a lonely life, on the road. They spent a lot of time riding busses, most of the guys with their headphones on or texting their girlfriends or softly practicing acoustic guitars in the back of the bus.
Brian was on the bus one day, trying to read some history, taking up the Herodotus he’d have been reading in the fall if he’d stayed in school, but shit, that wasn’t bus reading. He put the book down with a sigh.
So when a hand landed on his shoulder and he looked up and saw Jeremy, he broke into a huge grin. “Dude. What. The. Fuck.” He jumped up to embrace his friend, both of them enthusiastically back slapping the other.
Jeremy grunted as the bigger man squeezed the shortstop hard. “Whoa there, no homo.”
Brian laughed and let go. “When did this happen?”
Jeremy shrugged. “Got signed late, man. Wasn’t sure it was going to happen, you know?”
Brian nodded. He and Jeremy had been like two peas in a pod at CSB, both of them coasting on an inordinate amount of natural talent, and both of them squandering their healthy young livers as fast as they could. Baseball scouts operate on instinct, and the instinct most of them had was that Jeremy was trouble. No evidence, no corroboration, just a sense they got from looking at his foxy face, his narrowed eyes, his upturned mouth, that he was…wild. Pro sports didn’t go for wild much anymore; teams preferred safe predictability over dangerous possibilities.
“Well, fuck, dude. Who’s your roomie?”
Jeremy smiled. “You are. I requested you. They agreed – they think you’ll be a stabilizing influence on me.”
Brian laughed. “That’s too good.” He lowered his voice. “My roomie – my old roomie – is a holy roller, man. He’s on his knees praying half the time. And never mind getting a minute alone with the computer to watch some fucking porn, you know? Or if I do, it’s these reproachful looks when he comes back.”
“He can smell your cum. He wants it. All those righteous types secretly want to suck cock. And we know you like guys smokin’ your pole.”
Brian laughed nervously, remembering that Jeremy knew his secret – his and Roger’s secret. “Right. Well, damn. All right.” He smiled.
That night they settled into their hotel room in Vegas – probably the worst possible town in which to have a reunion with Jeremy.
“I got my shiny silver shirt,” Jeremy sang randomly, wandering around the room in his drawers, singing into a shampoo bottle, “ready to go clubbin’ with some fine, fine bitches.” Brian noticed the addition of a few more tattoos on Jeremy’s bod, and also couldn’t help notice his chiseled abs, his golden, hairless torso, the high, tight ridges of his ass.
Jeremy noticed Brian watching, and smirked. “You may be fucking the QB, but you ain’t getting this ass.”
Brian laughed, relieved. Relieved more than he’d imagined he would be, to be with someone who knew his secret, someone who didn’t give a fuck. He realized he’d been playing along with the other guys, talking about how girlfriends suck and groupies rock, and nobody had been the wiser.
“When’s the last time you got laid?”
“February,” Brian said instantly, thinking of the last time he and Roger had been together.
“Whaaaaa….? This is July! You haven’t got your dick wet in five months?”
“Yep. Unless you count pouring Astroglide on it as getting my dick wet.”
“Ha. Well, fuck me. Brian Rauch, celibate monk. He must be one hell of a lay.”
“It’s more than that. You wouldn’t understand,” he said with a smile.
“Right. A deep spiritual connection between two kindred souls.”
“Laugh it up, fuzzball.”
“Okay. But you have got to go out tonight. I am not leaving this room alone. What kind of friend makes his buddy go out in Vegas alone?”
“There’s a curfew, Jeremy.”
“Then we better get going.”
Brian thought about it. He’d been working hard, taking extra practice, giving batting advice to anyone who’d take it, which was more and more of the young players as his batting average rose. He’d been dry, not even drinking a beer on weekends. He thought about it now – how long had it been?
And he’d been lonely, for Roger, for friendship, for someone he didn’t have to…watch himself with. Someone he didn’t have to lie to. Jeremy accepted him, however much he mocked him.
“Okay. Fine. One drink.”
“Rauch!” the coach yelled as he came off the field the next day. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Sorry, coach.” He’d dropped a fly ball, an easy out, and only his powerful arm scooping it off the grass and sending it rocketing to second had kept the Vegas team at bay.
“This is not like you.”
“I’m having an off day, I’m sorry.”
Coach Mathis looked at him. Brian had built up a reserve of goodwill with him, a reserve he was ashamed of dipping into with a lie. Well, it wasn’t a lie, was it, he was having an off day.
“Okay. You good or do I need to take you out?”
“No, sir, I’m good.”
His head hurt, but not from the booze. Jeremy had taken him straight to a strip club, which had been fine with Brian – the drinks would be watered down, and too expensive for them to have many.
Well, maybe not that expensive, he told himself after the first one. His signing bonus hadn’t been huge, but it had been an impressive $100,000, and it had been burning a hole in his pocket, yelling “spend me!” for a while now.
“You need to invest it,” Roger had said sternly on the phone when Brian had war-whooped his excitement. “That’s a down payment on a house right there. Especially now, with house prices falling.”
“But then it’s all gone,” Brian said, sad to think of his bank balance going back to zero.
“Exactly. You don’t need that money burning a hole in your pocket, Brian.”
“Okay. I’ll look around.” He hadn’t looked around at houses, unwilling to part with the money, feeling a flush of pleasure each time he checked his bank balance. But he hadn’t blown it, either, and wasn’t that good enough?
I’ve been so good, he thought after his first drink, watching Jeremy slip dollar bills between a stripper’s boobs. The beer had tasted delicious. Brian had been a steady drinker since his teenage days, and wasn’t prepared for how a drink could hit you after so long away from it, how all those refreshed and renewed receptors in his brain blossomed with pleasure at the first taste. He felt good! This was why he’d started drinking in the first place!
He grinned as he thought of “Avenue Q” again – the Bad Idea Bears were hard at work in his head. “Have another beer!” they chorused.
“Have another beer!” Jeremy shouted over the heavy metal music, and Brian nodded.
Next thing he knew, they were both at the ATM, pulling out wads of cash for private dances. It was all in good fun, right? Going in the back into a black room with two comfy chairs, each of them sprawled in one as their respective dancers gyrated in the middle of the room, then lap danced, grinding against their hardons. Brian remembered that he like to fuck women, loved to fuck them, and only the camera in the ceiling that monitored the legality of their goings-on (as well as the imminent curfew) kept him from promising this girl the moon if she’d just come to his room and suck his cock.
She rubbed harder and harder against him, the cold mechanical pistoning almost hostile, but he didn’t care, he wasn’t looking in her eyes because his were closed. How long had it been since someone had touched his cock for him? Since Roger…
He gasped as he fucking exploded in his pants at the thought of Roger in this girl’s place, Roger’s wholesome face, with the dirty mind behind it more than willing to play the part, if Brian only asked…
As soon as he was spent, the stripper was off him in a flash, accepting his last tip with a brisk smile and dashing off to the next customer.
Outside, Jeremy laughed at him. “Man, you were ripe.”
“Fuck you. You didn’t cum in your pants?”
“Hell no. These things are expensive. Guess you still like girls, huh.”
“I guess so,” Brian said. The flowers of pleasure had blossomed when watered with beer, but now they were wilting and the weedy undergrowth was taking their place – regret, fatigue, dissatisfaction.
“Hey,” Jeremy said, putting his arm around Brian’s shoulder. “It’s not cheating, you know. If it never gets past your zipper.”
“Right,” Brian agreed. But why did it feel like he’d just cheated on Roger?