“What’s next?” I asked.
Brandon had headed into the change rooms while we stayed outside. A half-hearted suggestion to go to the club rooms died an early death. A couple of Brandon’s teammates had arrived shortly after Sharon had knocked out Wayne, and the terse conversation that followed had left us wondering how welcome we would be.
I glanced around and saw Drew’s and my parents nearby. They were still giving us a semblance of privacy.
“Brandon’s not expecting us to stick around, so we could head off,” Joe said.
James flicked a glance at Sharon. “I think we should wait until he comes out.”
Sharon smiled. “Thanks, James, but I doubt I’ll have any problems, if you want to go.”
“We need to make a decision fast, guys. Here comes trouble,” Drew said.
I looked in the direction he was staring and I saw someone who seemed vaguely familiar heading our way.
“Brandon’s dad. What the fuck does he want?” Joe asked.
“Trust me,” Drew whispered. He moved over next to James and draped an arm across his shoulders. James’s surprised expression disappeared after Drew spoke softly, and then James nodded.
My wondering what was going on was terminated by the arrival of Brandon’s father. Up close, he projected a stern image. His face looked like it was set into a permanent mold of disapproval, and his body language gave me the impression he considered it beneath him to be standing before us.
“Hello, Mr. Kennedy,” Angus said.
Brandon’s dad grunted an acknowledgement before narrowing his eyes at Drew and James. “I want you two to stay away from my son. I can’t stop him, but it’s not in his best interest to associate with your sort.”
Drew looked up and feigned shock. “What, AFL players? What’s wrong with football?”
Mr. Kennedy scowled. “Don’t be smart with me, punk. You know what I mean. Brandon’s got a real chance to make something of his life, and you could ruin that for him. If you’re capable of thinking of someone other than yourself, do the right thing and keep away from Brandon.”
“Mr. Kennedy,” Angus said, tentatively. He paused until he had the older man’s attention. “What do you mean about a real chance? What’s happened?”
“Brandon’s just been told that he’s to try out for the under eighteen state squad. It’s not going to be easy, and he could easily be kicked out on character grounds. Like being associated with that sort.” He flicked a hand towards Drew and James.
Angus grinned. “State squad? That’s great news!”
“Which is why I don’t want him to throw it away by associating with undesirables. Can I count on your help, Angus?”
Angus’s gaze flicked towards Drew. “Strong loyalty is a good reference for any team player. Brandon’s got nothing to fear there.”
James crossed his arms. “Brandon’s got more character than anyone else I know. If they kick him out because of his friends, that’s their loss.”
What I was about to say disappeared at James’s vigorous defence. Given what I knew of the history between James and Brandon, I found James’s comments surprising.
There was a ripple of agreement with James’s comment from the rest of the group. Drew, however, was made conspicuous by his silence. He waited until there was a break in the sound.
“You’re saying that the selection committee are homophobic and won’t like the fact that Brandon has a couple of gay friends?”
“I’m saying that when it’s a tough choice between who to keep and who to drop, players with questionable friends are likely to be the ones who miss out. This is an opportunity that doesn’t come by every day, and I don’t want you to mess it up for him. Keep away from my son.”
Drew nodded. “Done. I won’t have anything to do with Brandon while he’s trying out for the state team. In return, I’ll expect you to stay out of his private life and let him concentrate on making that team.”
“Drew, what the … heck do you think you’re doing?” Peter asked.
“Returning a favour to one of my best friends. If staying out of his life is what it takes to give him this chance, then that’s what I’ll do.” He glanced to his side. “James, come on. Let’s go.”
James seemed confused. Drew said something quietly to him, and then went over to speak to Sue. After a quick peck on her cheek, Drew headed to where his and my parents were waiting. James followed.
“I’m glad to see someone showing some common sense.” Brandon’s father glanced around the remaining group and then turned and marched away.
“Arsehole,” Joe muttered.
“I’m not arguing,” Peter said.
“Excuse my ignorance, but weren’t we watching an under twenties game?” I asked.
Angus took pity on me. “It was, but Brandon’s eligible to play under eighteens. His club doesn’t have an A grade team in that competition, though, so he would never have been picked for the state squad if he played in his own age group. He told me that was one of the reasons they promoted him to the under twenty team — to give him a chance to play at the A grade level and maybe get noticed by the state selection committee. “Angus grinned. “And it looks like they were right.”
“But why did Drew walk off?” Peter shook his head. “He should know that what Brandon’s dad said was a load of rubbish.”
“I think I know.” Sue turned to me. “Drew said to make sure Brandon’s dad doesn’t find out about you. That’s why he walked off with James. He’s pretty confident Mr. Kennedy doesn’t know that he and James split up a year ago.”
Drew’s earlier actions were explained. I could see that Drew wanted me to be a conduit to Brandon when needed, though I didn’t see the point. There was no way Brandon’s father could know what would happen at school. Then the light dawned. “If Brandon’s father thought I was gay, Brandon wouldn’t be allowed to come to my party.”
Sue gave me an odd look before she nodded. “Exactly! If I know Drew, he’s got no intention to pay any attention to what Brandon’s dad wants, but he’s not going to make waves. He’ll keep a low profile until all of this is over.”
“At least as low a profile as he’s capable of,” Joe added. “Which is probably not that low.”
Sue chuckled. “True, but at least he’ll try. Brandon’s life at home is tough enough as it is. Drew doesn’t want to make it worse.”
“I think the sooner Brando’s out of that house, the better,” Sharon said, staring after her boyfriend’s father.
“You’re not telling us anything we don’t know.” Angus sighed and kicked at some loose turf. “But he’s got nowhere to go. Not yet. Not until he finishes school.”
* * *
“I don’t think you should play rugby, Rick,” Mum said as we drove home from the game.
I rolled my eyes while wondering if she would ever see me as anything except a little kid. “I wasn’t planning on it.”
“Just as well. One trip to the emergency department was enough for me. I don’t want to see you lying unconscious in a hospital again.” She glanced back at me. “And the same goes for Drew, too. I don’t want to see either of you hurt.”
I sobered. “Me neither.” I realised how far Mum had come, to be able to make that statement. She was starting to treat Drew as part of the family.
I started thinking hard about what had happened at the game, and what it meant to Drew. I also thought about how he hadn’t wanted me there because of the risk. I realised that for Drew, having a partner wasn’t just something that would make him happy. I wanted to be with Claire, but I didn’t need her. But I could see that for Drew and other gay guys, having someone to go home to after being verbally, and possibly physically, abused was more than just a nice-to-have.
When he had given me the chocolates just over a week before, I had sensed that he needed me. It was dawning on me just how much he might need someone to hold, or someone to hold him. For the first time, I started to seriously consider the possibility of staying in a long-term relationship with Drew. I cared for him — I already knew that — but could I, should I, keep on pretending to be gay? How much was I prepared to sacrifice for him?
It wasn’t something I could say out loud, but in my own completely platonic way, I did love Drew. I loved the way he was so spontaneous. I loved the intensity with which he did things. I loved the way he cared for me and for his friends. I even loved the attention he showered on me, though it made me uncomfortable.
I had no problems being in a relationship with Drew. I could look at my parents and see a couple that liked being together, that liked sharing things, and that just fitted together so well. I could do that with Drew.
It was only the sex thing that was making things difficult. Being honest with myself, it wasn’t just the fear of having sex with Drew, it was also the fear that I wouldn’t get to have sex with a girl. I knew what I wanted in that department, and Drew had the wrong parts.
My thoughts were still stuck on that issue when my phone started to ring.
“G’day, mate! Let me guess — you didn’t look at the caller ID before you answered.”
“G’day, Drew.” I laughed. “Yep, you’re right. I was too busy thinking about things.”
“Don’t do too much of that. I’ve heard it’s bad for your health.”
“Too much of what?”
“Thinking. Just enjoy life without worrying too much about what’s going to happen next.”
I smiled. Drew had me analysed pretty well, apart from my sexual orientation. “I’ll try.”
“Anyway, I need a sympathetic ear. I just got chewed out by Brandon.”
Drew sounded cheerful, so I doubted he was upset. But it did fit in with what I had been thinking about, so I was happy to listen. “What happened?”
“He rang me to let me know about the state squad, and wasn’t impressed when he found out his dad had already told everyone. He was even more annoyed when I told him I had agreed to stay away from him.”
“Didn’t Sharon tell him about that?” I thought that she would be the first person Brandon would try to pass the news on to.
“Apparently not. He said she just kissed him and told him that was wonderful. Anyway, he started yelling at his dad — I think they were in the car driving home — and then back at me. It took me a while to get him to understand that I was trying to make sure his dad didn’t find out that you’re gay, too.”
“Look on the good side, Drew. Think of how much worse it could have been. If you had been in Brandon’s physical presence, he probably would have gotten violent.”
“Some comfort. Brandon told me that he’ll take care of me at school tomorrow, and then he yelled at his dad to stay out of his private life.”
“Brandon’s good at taking care of people,” I said, trying to project an innocent tone.
Drew laughed. “Yeah, but it’s not always nice for the people being taken care of.”
“Do you think Brandon could miss out on the state team because of you? I mean us.”
There was a short pause. “I don’t think so. Yeah, there’s certainly a degree of homophobia in rugby, but there is in football, too. Even so, Brandon told me that there’s been a gay player at the top level in Australia, and I know that some AFL players have come out against homophobia, even if none have come out of the closet. It’s a chance — it only requires a few old-fashioned idiots on the committee — but I don’t think it’s as bad as Brandon’s dad made out.”
“What about the other guys on the state squad? Will he get hassled like he did today?”
There was a longer pause before Drew answered. “That’s really bothering you, isn’t it? There are idiots everywhere, and you can’t do much about them. Brandon knows what’s important. You can’t live your life worrying about what scum like that might do. Just a sec.”
I heard a muffled conversation, so I guessed that Drew had his hand over the phone’s microphone. While I waited, I thought about what he had said. I knew I tended to worry more than was probably healthy, but, as the saying goes, sometimes you’re not being paranoid; sometimes people really are out to get you. I had experienced it and I knew it could be true. I still had to learn that I wasn’t in that place anymore. I knew it intellectually, but it still hadn’t completely sunk in emotionally.
“Sorry about that. Rick, you have to remember you’ve got friends. Friends who will stick by you, no matter what. Friends you can turn to when you need help. If you get hassled, just tell someone. Between me, Brandon, Angus, Peter and Joe — and probably Sharon, too — there’s no need to be afraid to be who you are. We’ll all stand up to the Phils of the world, and people like those two fuckwits after the game today. Okay, we may not be with you at all times, though I don’t mind trying, but you’ve got a safe haven. Use it. Trust us to have your back, and don’t let the bastards grind you down.”
I had to smile at Drew’s intensity, but he had hit a nerve. I was afraid to be who I was, but no longer because I didn’t want to be ostracised again. If it was only that, I could have come out and said I was straight. I was afraid for exactly the reasons he told me I should — our friends. Besides not wanting to hurt Drew, I was afraid I would lose him and the rest if I came out. Would they still accept me after they learnt about the deception?
“Thanks, Drew. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
That was the literal truth. Drew was special. My problem was deciding if he was special enough for us to remain a couple.
We chatted about nothing much until Dad drove the car into our driveway.
“It’s time to go, Drew. We’re home and I’ve got to go inside. I can’t do that and talk, too.”
“Damn crutches! I’m going to be a lot happier when that cast of yours comes off.” Drew laughed. “Okay, I’ll let you go. Bye, Rick!”
I had a smile on my face as I put my phone away. Chatting with Drew had been a good antidote for the worrying thoughts I’d had earlier.
I took my time getting out of the car, so Mum and Dad were already inside by the time I hopped up to the front door. I frowned when I saw that it was shut, as I didn’t have my keys with me. My parents should have left it ajar for me.
I rang the bell for someone to let me in, silently fuming at their thoughtlessness. The door opened almost immediately.
“G’day, Rick. Fancy meeting you here!”
“Drew?” If the crutches hadn’t been holding me up, I would have fallen over.
He grinned as he let me in. “Dad dropped me off on the way home, and I was waiting on the porch when you got home. Didn’t you see me?”
I shook my head. “Why? I thought you had homework to do.”
His smile slipped away. “I do, but I could tell that what happened at Brandon’s game’s been bothering you, so I talked Mum and Dad into letting me come over for an hour or so. I’ve already asked your mum to make sure I don’t stay too long.” He smiled. “How about we go to your room and relax? I even promise to keep my clothes on.”
I laughed. “Okay.” I held out an arm to invite him in for a hug, and he quickly accepted.
I took a deep breath, inhaling Drew’s scent, hoping it would start to excite me, but I was disappointed. Drew was a great mate, a fantastic friend, and someone whose company I thoroughly enjoyed, but I was missing the last step required if I was going to try, really try, being in a relationship with him. Despite that, I told myself I had to make the effort. Drew deserved it.
An hour later, we were both lying on my bed, watching the end of another Babylon 5 episode. The credits had just started to roll when Drew paused the DVD.
“You know you can talk to me about things,” he said.
“I know, but I’m okay, really.”
“Maybe, but I can tell that something’s bothering you. You’re doing a good job of acting cheerful, but you seem distracted.” Drew slipped a hand behind my neck and gently pulled my head onto his chest. I could hear his heart beating. “You don’t have to keep things in, Rick.”
I sighed and let the heartbeat soothe me. “It’s just… today opened my eyes to some things I hadn’t seen before. I’m still processing what that means.”
Drew kissed the top of my head. “Sometimes, you think about things too much. Okay, today wasn’t all pleasant, but it’s not that big a deal. Does it really matter what those sort of guys think, when you’ve got people like me, Sue, Joe, Peter, Claire, Brandon and Angus all on your side?”
“I think I’m a coward,” I said, barely above a whisper. I wondered if I was about to finally tell the truth.
Drew gave me a quick squeeze. “You’re not a coward! I heard about how you stood up to Phil with Brandon. That’s not the act of a coward!”
“I think I am.” I started to steel myself for what I had to do.
“No, you’re not. And I can prove it. Who’s the scariest person out of all our friends?”
That was easy. “Brandon, when he’s in a bad mood.”
“And how many people in the world can call him Marlon and get away with it?”
I chuckled. “Two that I know of.”
“You and Angus. I’m not brave enough to do it, but you are. You’re not a coward, Rick.”
That’s different. There was no point explaining it. Instead, I tried to work out how to lead into the conversation we had to have.
“Speaking of bravery, I need your help,” Drew continued.
“Yeah. Brandon’s going to kill me tomorrow, and I need a way to stop him. Any suggestions?”
I laughed. “He’s not going to kill you.”
“He said he was, and he likes to keep his promises. Please? I need your help.”
“What do I have to do?”
Drew kissed the top of my head again. “Thanks, Rick. I owe you one. Or I will, after you’ve done this for me.”
I started getting nervous. Drew was up to something, but I had no idea what. “I’m not promising I’ll do anything until I hear what you’re suggesting.”
“Well, as I see it, the traditional way to placate angry monsters is with a virgin sacrifice. I don’t qualify, so I’m looking for a volunteer to go in my place. How about it, Rick? Would you sacrifice yourself for me? Or would you prefer to lose the virgin part of the requirement, instead?”
I quickly rolled on top of Drew and then moved my knees up so I was sitting on his stomach, facing him.
He grinned at me. “You need to move back a bit, if you’re going for the second option.” He started to push me to where he wanted me, but I grabbed his wrists and wrestled them back onto the bed. I had the advantage of position and it wasn’t long before he was pinned beneath me, his face just below mine. Both of us were grinning.
I saw in his eyes what he wanted me to do next, but I had told myself I wouldn’t kiss him until I could do it honestly. I released his arms and dropped down so I was lying on his chest and my head was next to his on the pillow. “Drew, there’s something…”
“Shh…” he said and then kissed me, lightly at first, and then with increasing passion.
I let him, and tried to reciprocate. I told myself I had to learn to enjoy it if I was going to stay with him. At that moment, I realised that my earlier resolve to tell him the truth had disappeared.
“Drew, about what you asked earlier…”
“Yes?” he asked in a contented murmur before nuzzling my neck.
“The answer’s yes.”
He stopped what he was doing and rocked back so he could look me in the eye. “What’s yes?”
“Yes, I’d sacrifice myself for you.”
Drew stared for several seconds, his eyes glistening. He raised a hand and wiped it across his face. “Damn! I was hoping you’d go for the other option.”
I chuckled and pulled him to me. The other option still scared me, but one day soon I would either have to tell him the truth, or fully commit myself to him.
I couldn’t see any middle ground.
Copyright Notice — Copyright © May 2009 by Graeme.
The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form — physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise — without the author's expressed permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.
Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.
A special thank you to Ray, Kel, C James and Shadowgod, and also to everyone at The Mail Crew. The help they have given me with this story has been fantastic. Special kudos go to Aaron and Rain of The Mail Crew for doing a brilliant job of editing. I can thoroughly recommend their website to all teenagers who are gay, lesbian, bi or not sure.