Tigers and Devilsby Sean Kennedy
The most important things in Simon Murray’s life are football, friends, and filmin that order. His friends despair of him ever meeting someone, but despite his loneliness, Simon is cautious about looking for more. Then his best friends drag him to a party, where he barges into a football conversation and ends up defending/b>/i>
The most important things in Simon Murray’s life are football, friends, and filmin that order. His friends despair of him ever meeting someone, but despite his loneliness, Simon is cautious about looking for more. Then his best friends drag him to a party, where he barges into a football conversation and ends up defending the honour of star forward Declan Tylerunaware that the athlete is present. In that first awkward meeting, neither man has any idea they will change each other’s lives forever.
Like his entire family, Simon revels in living in Melbourne, the home of Australian Rules football and mecca for serious fans. There, players are treated like godsuntil they do something to fall out of public favour. This year, the public is taking Declan to task for suffering injuries outside his control, so Simon’s support is a bright spot.
But as Simon and Declan fumble toward a relationship, keeping Declan’s homosexuality a secret from well-meaning friends and an increasingly suspicious media becomes difficult. Nothing can stay hidden forever. Soon Declan will have to choose between the career he loves and the man he wants, and Simon has never been known to make things easyfor himself or for others.
First Edition published by Dreamspinner Press, 2009.
- Dreamspinner Press
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- 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.19(d)
Read an Excerpt
Melbourne is the hometown of Australian football, its birthplace. The two cannot be separated, even if the game has now spread to other states. The MCG is its Mecca, and the faithful congregate there to watch modern gladiators fight in a savage but beautiful ballet.
I have held a member's ticket for Richmond ever since I was eleven years old. I still have my very first one, when they were paper rather than plastic; my name, Simon Murray, is scrawled across it in almost illegible childish script. My father came to the realisation pretty early on that I was never going to be an Essendon supporter like himself, and in fact, I copped the blame when my younger brother Tim also turned against Essendon and took up the flag for Collingwood instead.
"It's every man's dream," Dad would tell me every now and again when the beers consumed throughout a game would start to take hold of him, "to have their son support his team. You boys have crushed it."
"At least I don't go for Collingwood," I would reply, as I always do.
"At least there's that," my father would sigh, and he would glare at both of us Murray boys before turning his attention back to the telly.
There wasnothing more shameful than being a Collingwood supporter in Patrick Murray's book. The bitter rivalry between Collingwood and Essendon would also flare up between father and youngest son whenever the two teams played against each other. Me, I'm much more lackadaisical. Team victories always ebb and flow. And if you're a Richmond supporter, it ebbs more often than not so you learn to become very zen about it all. I would shrug off my family's taunts during the footy season with ease while laughing to myself as I watched them become more and more twisted about their own teams' defeats whenever they occurred.
It became easier for us all when the Brisbane football club formed and the whole family united in hatred. The Brisbane Lions had the distinction of causing the demise of the Fitzroy Lions in order for them to get their own team in the AFL. The Victorian club combined with the Brisbane Bears, and our state hadn't taken it well at all.
My best friend since childhood, Roger Dayton, had been a loyal member of Fitzroy. The day the news became official, he burnt his membership card. I remember the solemnity of us, at thirteen, holding a funeral service for the team in Roger's backyard. However, Roger hadn't been able to bring himself to burn his scarf, and to this day it hangs above his bed, much to the chagrin of his wife Fran.
It took Roger a while to settle upon another team to support. The codes instilled in every Victorian child since birth make swapping a team come with more emotional baggage than a Catholic guilt spree. I lobbied for Richmond to be adopted, of course, and was very pissed off when Roger was unable to control his laughter.
In the end, he settled on Hawthorn. We still went to games together, sitting side by side in friendly rivalry, yellow and black by yellow and brown. We would give each other sly digs every now and again, but it never turned nasty between us. It would be what would help sustain our friendship when I got to share my greatest secret with him at the age of nineteen.
It was our second year of uni. Roger was dating Fran, never realising at the time that she would one day be his wife. Roger never thought that far ahead.
It was also a momentous year for me. It was the year that I had my first serious boyfriend. His name was Ian Bevvinson, so of course everybody called him Bevvo. I found him ridiculously hot, but failed to believe that anybody who went by the name of Bevvo could be queer.
At least, I believed that until one night at a uni party I found myself shoved up against a wall with Bevvo's tongue in my throat and his hand down my pants. There had been no questioning of sexuality, and once it began, I made no effort to pull away but responded just as eagerly. Alcohol helped the little courage I had. My first sexual experience with another guy was frenetic, bewildering, and over way too soon. Weak from coming, my knees could no longer support me and I slid down the wall, trying to pull my pants back up at the same time. Laughing, Bevvo joined me on the floor and finally told me his name.
I was sure this was it. I knew so little about the social etiquette of this world I was now entering. Strangely enough, once the euphoria ended my first thought was of my parents and what they would think if they knew their son had just had his brains sucked out through his dick in a stranger's hallway. That thought faded as Bevvo started kissing me again, and his strong lips, which when parted, gave way to a tongue that tasted of beer and ... well, me.
So it was only polite that I returned the favour.
We quickly slipped into seeing each other on a regular basis. And I was heartened by the fact that it wasn't just about the sex, although it was great whenever we had it. It was just that I was extremely lucky, falling into a first-time relationship with someone who wanted the same thing I did.
It was what helped me become the person I am today--that I won't put up with anybody else's crap. Sure, you have to sometimes, but I really try not to. I knew what I wanted, and Bevvo knew what he wanted, and neither of us were going to endure any sleeping around or drama queening. This would lead to Roger often accusing me of being too picky and Fran countering that just because she settled for less, it didn't mean that I should.
If it hadn't been for Fran, it may have taken Roger longer to accept the truth about me. It took me ages to work up to telling him. I didn't really believe he would turn on me; we had been friends for too long, but you always have that fear in the back of your mind.
Alcohol also helps in the spilling of secrets. And when you say it, it always sounds kind of lame. In the movies and in books there is always some flowery speech and swelling music. For me, it was the sounds of Crowded House playing in the background, beer and nausea fighting for the right to make me vomit, and me slurring, "Hey, Roger, just so's you know, I like guys."
And his reaction? "Crap, you're in love with me, aren't you?"
I think my laughter at that topped even his disdain at the thought of supporting Richmond.
Of course, that offended him. But once he got over it, he became a little quiet. And things were funny between us for a couple of weeks as he readjusted his perception of me and determined whether our friendship was really now any different than what it had been five minutes before I opened my stupid mouth. Fran, of course, made the comment that now she had a man to shop with. But I was useless in that regard, although my formerly secret love for musicals meant she could leave Roger at home and have a date regardless whenever one rolled into town.
But first loves never stay forever, so Bevvo and I were doomed, although I never thought so at the time. There was no big reason for our breakup, just an eventual drifting apart which probably wasn't helped by both of us being reluctant to tell either of our parents.
You're probably wondering why this is all important. I'm trying to give you a little background information about myself before we get to the meat of this story. To know why I did some of the things I did or why I reacted in certain ways. I'm not hinting that there's some big secret tragedy ahead, just to let you know. But let me fast-forward over the next few years.
I came out to my parents about a year after Bevvo and I split up. My parents had varying reactions, none of them too bad. I was pretty lucky. They still skirt around the issue at times, but I've learnt to live with it.
My brother Tim was fine; he'd always thought I was a bit of a freak anyway, and that just confirmed it. He said that having a gay brother made him seem cooler to some of the girls he was interested in. I don't even want to know if he played that fact up to them so he could get laid in the interest of "proving" his own sexuality. Best excuse ever.
Roger and I continued going to our shared games and still met up on weekends to watch the televised matches. But where there had been our usual manly punches and spontaneous hugs when one team scored on the other, there was now an aloofness on both sides.
And to tell you the truth, I think I exuded the standoffishness more out of the two of us, as if, in desperation, I was showing Roger that I wasn't attracted to him by keeping my hands off him. It's funny how coming out makes you repress yourself in other, newer ways. And of course, he felt my new coldness and reacted accordingly.
So, it took a while for us to return to our old selves. I don't think I could even hazard a guess as to when it started getting better. It was all so gradual and in baby steps. You know your best friend has entered the stage of über-acceptance when he tries setting you up with other gay guys he's met--no matter how wildly inappropriate for you they are.
After completing my totally clichéd Bachelor of Arts degree with the intentions of writing the greatest Australian screenplay that would revolutionise the entire industry, I soon became realistic and ended up taking a job with one of the various Melbourne film festivals while pledging to write on the side. As of now I've completed twenty pages but had more success publishing film reviews and theoretical essays. A man can dream, though.
Through luck and fortuitous circumstances I ended up becoming the manager of the Triple F Film Festival after a few years. It's not a huge one, catering mainly to independent films (and when I mean independent, I mean really independent: you have to have nerves of steel to sit through some of them), but it's amazing the amount of work you have to do all year just to produce a two-week festival in October. Roger says that I'm lucky it falls when it does or else it would seriously impede my enjoyment of the final AFL matches and therefore impede his own as well.
So there we all were. Roger and Fran officially had settled down; we had the photos of the wedding and everything to prove it. They despaired of me being fruitlessly single, although it wasn't really through any fault of my own. Okay, scratch that. It was my own fault. I tried telling myself that I was busy with work, too busy to have a love life; deep down, I was really a little scared. Roger told me that I was well on my way to becoming the eccentric bachelor uncle who all their kids would think was cool until they became teenagers and discovered I was actually a little bit pathetic.
As you can tell, Roger really knows how to put things in perspective.
But I was happy. Or at least, I told myself I was happy. And I probably was really good at fooling myself with that despite the little stab of jealousy that would rear its ugly head occasionally as I would see that look pass between Roger and Fran--you know, that look. I wanted someone to look at me that way, and I wanted to look at them in that way. But then I would brush it off and bury it deep, deep within me. The best way to deal with things is to repress them, that's my motto.
I likely would have continued on in that fashion if it hadn't been for one night and one party that I didn't want to go to but Roger and Fran forced me to anyway.
And here is where Declan Tyler enters the story.
"You're coming whether you like it or not," Roger commanded.
I ignored him and pretended to be shuffling through my briefcase, looking for some important documents which in actuality didn't exist.
"I know you can hear me," Roger said unhappily.
"Of course he can."
Without looking up, I knew Fran had returned to the room. We were in their lounge. They had invited me over for dinner, and I had come straight from work, stopping at home briefly to feed the cat and get scratched thoroughly for daring to leave her alone again. I rubbed absentmindedly at one of the wounds on my arm again, causing it to break open and seep a tiny rivulet of blood.
"Gross." Roger noted the obvious.
Fran squeezed in between us, a new bottle of wine in her hands. I hadn't even realised that we had finished the first and knew that this next glass would have to be my last if I still wanted to drive home. I didn't want to have to catch a taxi home tonight and then back here the next morning to pick up my car, and if I crashed here overnight I would really be in the cat's bad book.
"I don't want to go either," Fran told me. "But what can you do?"
"I'm not the one sleeping with Roger," I said. "I'm not beholden to his demands."
"Neither am I, and I am sleeping with him," Fran countered, giggling to herself.
"Hey!" Roger protested. "I am here, you know!"
Like I said, things have long been back to normal with us now, enough that the casual mention of the thought of the two of us sleeping together no longer made him react like Dracula pulling open the curtains an hour early.
"Pour the wine, hun." Fran threw herself back against the couch and propped her feet on the table.
Both Roger and I reached for the bottle at the same time.
"She meant me, Simon," Roger said, although I knew he wasn't being serious.
"No, I didn't," Fran said, a smirk suggesting otherwise.
"I'm man enough to back down." I held up my hands in mock surrender.
Roger sighed, and I knew he was thinking for the millionth time that it was no fun when we ganged up against him. He passed us our glasses, and we fell into a peace that only broke when Roger murmured, "You're coming, and that's it."
"I don't even know these people."
"That's the point of a party. To get to know new people."
"I don't want to know new people. I get to meet enough new people at work every day." That was true enough, and they more than exhausted my quota.
"There might be some cute guys," Roger said desperately.
I looked at Fran. "Did he just say cute guys?"
Fran raised an eyebrow, a trick I wished I could master. "I'm as surprised as you are. I apparently married a fourteen-year-old girl."
"Shut up." Roger sulked. "You know, you could help me convince him to come."
"Oh, he's coming." Fran turned to me, and I could see the glint in her eyes that told you in no uncertain terms you shouldn't cross her. "He knows he is."
And that was that. I could hold out against Roger, but Fran got the best of both of us every single time.
"So..." Roger said finally, as Fran drank from her glass. "Friday. Get here by eight. No sense in being the first to arrive."
"Whose party is this, anyway?" I grumbled, wrapping my scarf tighter around my throat to protect it from the winter winds everybody claimed blew straight up from Antarctica. I could see the fence of Melbourne Cemetery as we walked along, and truth be told, I would rather be spending the night in there than going to a shindig where the only people I would know were currently alongside me.
"I don't know," Fran replied, snuggling in closer to Roger for warmth. "Roger knows them."
"I thought you knew them?" Roger asked.
I groaned. "Aren't we a bit too old to be crashing a uni party?"
"I don't think it's a uni party," Fran said. "It's somebody's engagement party."
"I thought it was a thirtieth birthday party," Roger murmured.
"Great, just great," I said in an even lower tone of voice, which they couldn't help but hear anyway. "Is there even a party?"
"Don't be Mr. Grumpy," Fran warned. "We're saving you from a night of sitting at home and watching reruns of crappy rom-coms."
"Or talking on message boards about whatever crappy cancelled-too-soon TV show you're obsessed with at the moment." Roger laughed.
I would have given him the finger if my hand wasn't jammed so far into my pocket. "That all sounds much better than going to a party where we apparently don't even know what it's for."
Roger and Fran ignored me, and the only sounds on the street were our shoes scraping on the bitumen of the road and the clanking of beer bottles in the plastic bag Roger carried. Gradually we could hear music from a distance away, guiding us in like a buoy on the ocean.
"Okay, here's the plan," Roger said. "Synch up our watches, if we're all bored shitless after an hour we sneak out."
That sounded like a good plan to me. I agreed happily. I set my watch a little fast because I already couldn't wait to make a break for it.
"Look at Simon, that's the first time he's smiled all night." Fran sighed as she adjusted her watch.
"I can't help it if you're the only two people I like associating with on a regular basis. Or maybe that you're the only two who will associate with me."
"Oh, boohoo," Fran said dismissively. "Try to act a little suave at this party, and people might even talk to you this time."
Suave isn't really me. I'm the doofus who normally will end up spilling drinks on somebody or inadvertently insult the host's partner. Then it's time for a quick getaway and a renewal of vows to never go out again. Until, of course, the next time when Fran and Roger forget about whatever heinous social crime I committed before and force me out again.
We paused before the front door. From the sounds of it, the party was in full swing.
"Do we knock?" Fran asked.
"They wouldn't hear us," I said.
"Doorbell?" Roger suggested.
I sighed and took the initiative. The door was unlocked, and I pushed it open.
"Enter," I told my friends.
They took my lead. In the hallway we unwrapped our scarves and shucked out of our jackets, and threw them upon the bed we could see from our vantage point. It was obviously acting as a coat rack for the night.
Fran and Roger were big fat liars. They instantly found people they knew, mutual friends who I had met only vaguely. From what I could remember we had all come away from the night still uninterested in each others' existence. I circled nervously around the lounge room, the main congregating area. I groaned when I saw the first person I knew properly--Jasper Brunswick. He had worked for the Triple F a couple of years before, and he was a royal pain in the arse. I hadn't been manager at the time, but I was being groomed for eventual takeover. Jasper was one of those know-it-alls who thought he could do everything better, but really didn't want to have to do the work. I had burned my bridges with him when he drunkenly tried to seduce me one night, and my mouth had fired off before my brain had the opportunity to think of a kinder answer than "No way in hell!"
A cold war began between us and was exacerbated when I had to do some admin work and discovered that his name wasn't Jasper Brunswick at all, but Jon Brown. Yeah, I'm sure you've got him all figured out now.
He was sitting in the centre of the lounge on a red couch that had seen better days. He drew everybody into a circle around him, regaling them with tales about himself and various celebrities he had schmoozed with. Jasper had made a name for himself recently for penning a gossip column for the local gay rag. His ego certainly had recovered nicely since I last saw him.
I immediately slunk into the shadows lining the walls and made a beeline for the kitchen. I needed that beer now and had to find out where Roger had put them.
As I did so, I looked at my watch. We had only been here for ninety seconds, and I was ready to do a runner. That had to be a record, even for me.
Sure enough, Roger was in the kitchen. Anywhere there's food and beer, that's where you're likely to find him.
"Roger!" I hissed. "Beer! Now!"
He grinned at me infuriatingly. "Did you see your best mate is in the lounge?"
"Why do you think I need a beer so badly?"
He took pity on me and handed me a bottle. I twisted the cap off savagely and downed half the beer in a few huge mouthfuls.
"Pace yourself," Roger warned.
"We're only going to be an hour, right?" I pleaded.
But it looked as if I may have lost this battle. Roger wore an expression that signified he might be ready to settle in, and Fran could be seen lounging comfortably against the wall, her posture relaxed and her attitude sparkling.
I began to formulate whether I had enough money in my wallet for a taxi should the need arise, but the beer started to have an almost immediate effect on me. I'm a true Cadbury kid, needing only a glass and a half to get me going. In fact, even the Cadbury kid could drink me under the table.
"Maybe you should sleep with him," Roger said out of the blue as if he had pondered this for the past four minutes.
I almost spat out my beer over him, such was my disgust. "Are you high?"
He giggled like he had already downed a six-pack and it was affecting him already. "I don't know, maybe you should just get laid."
"Does your wife know you talk like this?" I polished off my beer and resolved to take the second one slower. I gestured for Roger to hand me another.
"When single you are," Roger said, imitating Yoda dispensing advice to Luke, "get laid you can. When married you get, make love you do."
"Oh, one of the magical gifts afforded to people who can actually get married," I said, never one to miss the opportunity to climb up on my soapbox.
"Well, if I had my way you could," Roger said, draping a casual arm over my shoulder. "But you'd also have to find someone first."
I snorted as I opened my beer. "It's not going to be Jasper Bloody Brunswick, that's for sure."
Roger peered behind us to take in the decadent form of Mr. Brunswick draped over the couch with his small crowd of neophytes sitting before him, desperate for some tenuous connection to celebrity. "Yeah, I wouldn't wish Jon Brown on anybody."
"Shut up!" I hissed. "He'll hear you!" The last thing I needed was Jasper Brunswick hunting me down throughout this party because he heard his true name being spoken.
"Do you think if you say it three times in front of a mirror, he appears and slits your throat?" Roger was obviously very amused with himself this evening.
"Are you talking about Jon Brown?"
It was Fran, who had suddenly appeared behind us and was up to speed on everything as usual even though she hadn't been a part of our earlier conversation.
"Fran!" I protested weakly.
She took Roger's beer away from him and drank the remains. "Yes, please, babe, I'd love a drink." As Roger dutifully trotted away to fetch her one, she leaned in teasingly to me and murmured, "Jon Brown, Jon Brown, Jon Brown."
I knew it was Jasper Brunswick from Fran's expression. "Three times and he appears! Watch your throat." She grinned wickedly and slunk off to find her husband.
I took a deep breath to contain myself and turned to face him. "Jasper Brunswick."
His face was flushed, and his pupils were dilated from whatever drugs he had consumed either before or at the party. He leered at me, and I grew uncomfortable under his gaze. "Been a while, Simon."
"Really?" It had seemed far too short to me.
"Mind you, I've done very well for myself since leaving Triple F."
Triple F's full name was actually the Furtive Film Festival, but I found it a bit too earnest and changed it when I took over. Plus, it made the logo look less cluttered.
"Why, what are you doing?" I asked innocently.
"Don't pretend to be thick," Jasper Brunswick said, his eyes narrowing as he tried to ready his best insult. "Although it is one of your more endearing traits. I'm sure you've seen my column."
"Column?" Thankfully at that moment Roger passed by and clandestinely pressed another beer into my hand. Three in about fifteen minutes. They would be peeling me off the floor soon enough.
"In the Reach Out."
"I don't read it."
"I find that hard to believe, Simon."
"Yeah, well, it's hard enough to keep up with publications I have to read for work."
"Can I give you a piece of advice, Simon?"
Oh, this would be good. I remained silent.
Jasper Brunswick leaned in to me and rested his fingers upon my arm. I could feel them searing my flesh, leaving the permanent mark of the devil behind. "You might want to remain on good terms with the local press. Especially when you want to get coverage of your little festival."
"We already get plenty of coverage," I said firmly, opening my beer so that his grip on my arm was shaken off. "In fact, we got a four-page spread in the Reach Out last year."
"My column could be very important in helping spread the word further," he insinuated, his breath hot and fetid upon my face. "A few pictures of the distinguished guest and the director of the festival. You can't buy publicity like that."
I winced. "I'm sure you could think of a price."
He faltered slightly and crossed his arms defensively. "Still as cynical as ever, aren't you? I'm surprised you've gotten where you are. No people skills, that's your problem."
"I have people skills," I countered. "Just not the kind of people skills you used to get where you are."
He grew even redder. I have no idea if he slept his way to the top, which is what I certainly sounded like I was implying, but to tell you the truth, I was talking more about his snaky schmooziness and brownnosing.
And to my relief, Jasper Brunswick turned on his heel and stalked back over to the lounge room, where he would no doubt find people who would fall at his feet to worship and restore his comfortable sense of superiority.
Roger and Fran appeared from where they had hidden in the pantry. "So he's gone?" Roger asked, looking around like the man in question had the abilities of a chameleon and actually blended in with the '70s-era tiling on the wall behind us.
"He's gone. Thanks for the support," I said dryly.
"I got you another beer, didn't I?" Roger asked, affronted, as if that were equivalent to unsheathing his sword and standing beside me in battle.
As if reading my mind, Fran said, "That was Lancelot's main role on the battlefield for Arthur, wasn't it?"
"No," I replied, "it was screwing his wife while his back was turned. By the way, did you know Roger tried to convince me to sleep with that dickhead?"
"Lancelot?" Fran asked innocently.
"I took it back straightaway," Roger mumbled.
Fran rubbed his back affectionately. "Idiot. Please try to find better conquests for your mates."
"I'm not looking for a conquest," I pointed out, shepherding them out into the backyard, where a small fire burned in an old oil drum.
"Last I heard, you weren't looking for anything," Fran mocked.
"Is that a crime?"
"It's certainly not normal."
"And what's normal? You guys?"
"Shut up," Fran instructed.
"You love us." Roger always got cheesy when he was drunk.
I mumbled incoherently into my feet, an admission of returned love which they could understand without knowing exactly what I said.
Fran hugged me and then pushed me off her. "Now, go away. I want to make out with my husband."
I laughed, not taking any offence, and went off to find a corner where I could hide. Luck scored me a garden swing in a dark corner that no couple had yet appropriated to mack upon. I settled in and slowly pushed myself, my beer nestled snugly in my hands. There was a small group standing off to my right, talking loudly. So it wasn't like I was eavesdropping. I wish I knew who they were, because, really, I have them to thank for this whole story. Well, unless you want to give Fran and Roger the credit for dragging me to this party in the first place. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Again.
"The Devils are gonna have another shit year, I'm telling you."
The voices were a garbled mess; beside the gender of each voice I couldn't really separate them into distinct entities.
"Nah, it's about time for them to start crawling up the ladder again."
"You said that last year. There's no way they'll finish in the top eight."
"Yeah, no finals hopes at all. They're wasted."
"They never should have allowed them to merge."
That had been the biggest controversy in the recent history of AFL. To truly make the game Australia-wide (although conveniently neglecting the Northern Territory, but as my father liked to argue, it was a territory, not a state. My reaction: "It's a bloody big block of land at the top of Australia with people living in it! They deserve some sort of team!") the AFL created a Tasmanian team. But in order to keep the numbers of teams even so that there wouldn't be any hassle in arranging games, they had to sacrifice one of the Victorian teams so that they could merge into one (Roger: "It's like bloody Fitzroy all over again!"). So we said goodbye to the Melbourne Demons, who moved down south and across the Tasman Sea to become the Tasmanian Devils.
At the time I remember being horrified at the thought that they might make Richmond merge so that they could be the Tasmanian Tigers, after one of the most famous extinct (supposedly) animals in the world, but we were safe.
So the Devils weren't exactly popular in Victoria, like the Brisbane Lions before them, because they had committed the cardinal sin of taking one of our teams away from us. Problems besieged the Devils from the very start, with two of their key players being injured in their very first season, and although one had gone on to recover, Declan Tyler seemed plagued with injury ever since. It was a favourite source of discussion on both sides of the Tasman Sea; we thought it was an act of the gods showing us that the merge should never have happened, while the Tasmanians bemoaned the fact that one of the best players in the league was doing nothing for them but to sit on the bench and occasionally run out to get injured.
I knew that Tyler would come up sooner or later, and it was sooner.
"They've taken Tyler away from us, and look what they did to him."
"I don't think it was their fault."
"What are you, a Devils supporter?"
Howls of derision floated over to where I was sitting.
"No, I'm not! Just I don't think they're going to take someone like Tyler and then intentionally injure him so they can't use him at all!"
"They should do something with him. All he does is sit on that bench and gather dust. And lard."
"He does not. He's hot."
He was, actually. But that's not important.
"Typical bloody woman. Just watching the game to perve at the guys in their shorts."
There was another frenzied protest at that. I sighed to myself at that remark as well. Women and gay guys always get stuck with that image, that they couldn't possibly be interested in the game itself--it had to be the guys. I mean, sure, it's a fringe benefit, but when the game is on the last thing you're thinking about is the bodies of the men. You're concentrating on that red leather oval ball and if it will make it between the triad of poles that will either signify glory or failure. And some of the women I've met over the years at games or supporter functions have been the most vocal and knowledgeable proponents of the game.
Those very points were raised between the arguers. I laughed to myself and swore I wasn't going to get involved. But then someone made a comment that I just had to refute.
"It's not even like he was that great a player to begin with, anyway."
Well, that was just wrong.
"Not a great player?" I made some of them jump when I emerged from the shadows. There were two women and three men, I could see that now. "You are talking about Declan Tyler, right? Winner of the Best and Fairest for the Devils two years consecutively, a Brownlow Medallist, and winner of the Norm Smith medal and the Leigh Matthews Trophy? Yeah, he really sucks as a football player."
"How many Devils fans are there at this party?" one of the men asked.
"I'm not a Devils supporter," I said, the disgust plain on my face. "I barrack for Richmond."
All five of them burst out laughing.
"Hey!" I protested. "We're about due for a final."
"You've been due for over fifty years, mate," the woman closest to me said.
I could feel someone approaching us from behind me and just assumed it was someone else interested in the conversation or a friend of one of the group. "Look, I know Tyler comes across like a bit of an arrogant prick, but you can't say he's not a great player. When he's not injured, of course."
For some reason, everybody's eyes went wide at this point. Puzzled, I raised my hands for any kind of response.
There was the sound of somebody clearing their throat behind me. "Well, thanks for defending my honour."
No way! No way this was possibly happening. I turned, hoping it was just Roger being a dickhead, but I could already tell by the expressions of the rest of the group that it wasn't.
Behind me was the man himself, Declan Tyler.
At that moment I wished that I had accompanied Roger to his martial arts classes when he went through his obsession with wuxia movies. I was no good at violence or defending against violence, should the occasion arise.
"Declan Tyler!" I heard one of the other men breathe in wonder.
"Well, great conversation," I said hurriedly. "Very nice to meet you all."
I managed to escape while the footballer in question was surrounded by the group, that, of course, was now star-struck; most of all, the man who previously had been bagging him.
I searched through the garden and the house for Roger and Fran, who were nowhere to be found. Jasper Brunswick was still in his own self-created shrine, and I couldn't help but think that at least Declan Tyler deserved the adoration he was currently receiving, because he actually did something, even if it was just kicking a ball around.
Just kick a ball around? What was I thinking? I must have been more agitated than I thought. I was hopeless at confrontations.
I burst through the front door; the yard was empty. They surely wouldn't have left without me. I checked my mobile to make sure they hadn't tried calling or left me a text; they hadn't. I beat the phone in frustration against my forehead, as if I could absorb the information I needed through osmosis.
I turned around. It was Declan Tyler, coming to punch my lights out. Crap.
"I know karate!" I said stupidly.
"Good for you," he said, a confused expression on his face. It wasn't one I was used to seeing on him; on the field he was always in control and stoic. In fact, that was his normal expression. It was like he knew how good he was, and he wasn't going to deny it, which is where I guess my presumption of him being an arrogant prick had come from.
He was a good head taller than me, and the span of his shoulders was practically a third wider than mine. He could easily fell me with one king hit. Looking confused gave him more character, it made his boy-next-door looks become even more appealing. He had to lose that gross bit of fluff above his chin, though.
"What do you want?" I asked defensively.
He jammed his hands in his pockets. Was he trying to show me that he came in peace? "I wasn't sure whether to thank you for defending my record or yell at you for calling me ... what was it again?"
"Arrogant prick," I said helpfully, before I could even think to stop myself.
He grinned. I had walked into his trap. "Most people think I'm either one or the other. It's rare to find someone who thinks both."
"Really?" I asked.
"You sound surprised."
"Well, most footballers are.... "I trailed off.
He kept his grin carefully plastered on his face. "Uh huh."
"...really nice guys," I finished.
"Stereotypes are a killer," he said. "I mean, if I was to go on what you look like, I would say you're a typical arty wanker, what with your cargo pants, your Doc Martens and your all-black wardrobe."
"Ah, but I am an arty wanker," I replied. Rule one, always be self-deprecating and get in with insults about yourself before the other party can.
"Where's your beret?"
"That's for Sundays."
Just at that moment, Fran and Roger stumbled through the front gate.
"Where have you guys been?" I demanded.
"In the cemetery," Roger replied.
"I don't want to know."
"Not what you're thinking." Fran giggled. "Get your mind out of the gutter."
It was hard to tell who was propping the other up. I think they were really just sagging against each other, and gravity was being their friend.
Roger's eyes widened. "Are you chatting up a guy?"
I flushed. Roger had just committed a major faux pas. You never outed somebody on their behalf. I mean, it's not like I hid it, but you should always be the one to say it yourself. It's just commonsense, as it also gives you the opportunity to protect yourself if the situation warrants it.
"No," I muttered.
Roger's eyes widened. "Hey, you're--"
Declan shifted uncomfortably and seemed to grow even taller. "Declan Tyler," he mumbled.
"Oh God, I don't believe it!"
"Who's Declan Tyler?" Fran asked.
Declan looked at her gratefully.
Roger began a spiel listing all of Tyler's statistics, medals, and other achievements. Fran's eyes got that glazed-over look they usually did where football was concerned. And meanwhile, for some unknown reason, Declan stood there and listened to it although he seemed somewhat mortified.
"Okay," I interrupted Roger halfway through. "I gotta go. Nice meeting you," I said hurriedly to the very tall and very imposing footballer. I then turned to Roger and Fran. "I'll call you tomorrow."
I was out the gate and a couple of houses down the street when I heard Fran yell, "Hey, what about your jacket?"
Fuck. There was no way I was going back. I would rather freeze to death. They would have to give it to me at a later stage. I shivered in the cold night air, my visible breath leading me down to Lygon Street where I knew I would stand more chance of catching a taxi.
I kept walking. I like to pretend that if you don't acknowledge a general yell in your direction, the yeller will just go away. Who's to say they were yelling for me, anyway?
Even though I had only heard a few sentences from him tonight, I knew it was Declan Tyler again. I steeled myself for the inevitable fist in the face and wished I hadn't left the relative security of my friends. And I mean relative security, because I don't think they were capable of doing much on my behalf at the moment except serving as interested, if not terribly accurate, witnesses.
I turned and saw Declan jogging toward me with my jacket and scarf over his arm. "You need these, you idiot. It's fucking freezing."
To say I was surprised was an understatement. "Uh, thanks," I said, although it didn't come out very graciously. Perhaps more bewildered than anything else. "How did you know--"
"Your friend Fran pointed them out to me when I said I would run them down to you. They looked a bit too drunk to be able to catch up."
"Yeah, they were a bit.... "I took my jacket from him. I zipped myself into it, and then took my scarf and wrapped it around my neck. "So...."
This was awkward. And strange. Very strange.
"So," Declan said again. "You're gay."
Oh, here we go. "Yes. There are gay footballer supporters, you know. I bet there are even gay players."
He began to laugh.
I shook my head, trying not to let my temper rise. "Yeah, well, I'm sure that's funny to you. Anyway.... "I turned again, eager to go, but I felt an arm clamp onto my elbow, and I was turned back to face him. Declan was definitely in my personal space now, and he had that look on his face. The look of somebody who was about to lean in and kiss--
I yelped slightly as his mouth closed over mine. I don't mind admitting I was in total shock. The night had definitely taken on a surreal trend. Declan's body pressed against mine, and we shifted backward until I felt the rough bark of a tree against my back. His mouth was firm, and his tongue pressed between my lips until they parted. I was surprised that he tasted like beer, but at the good point, before it becomes stale and a little rank. I know I'm not exactly selling the romanticism here, but I was pleasantly thrilled by it at the time. This was not the kiss of a man who was trying it on, there was no hesitation. His hand curled around the back of my neck to deepen the kiss, and his other hand slipped down my back to hold me in.
I'm not sure how long we stood there for, kissing, but my mind certainly raced through a thousand thoughts. I considered texting my father and brother, but knew they probably wouldn't be impressed with my bragging that I was making out with one of the biggest players in the league. In fact, they would probably be horrified that said player was into guy/guy, and it would probably somewhat diminish Declan's abilities in their eyes.
We finally pulled away from each other, panting slightly.
"Stop looking so shocked," he said, grinning at what was obviously a saucer-eyed expression on my face. "See, I know there are gay footy supporters."
I still couldn't formulate words. But this time I went on the attack, and he submitted willingly. We were sheltered by the low-hanging branches, which is probably why he had been brazen enough to take on such a public display. There was still a rational part of my mind that knew this stupid for him, as he certainly wasn't out to the public at large. I knew nothing about this guy other than what was published in the AFL Record. I was starting to think I was being stupid as well, but with him squashing me against a tree and claiming my mouth as part of his own, I was too weak-willed to put up any protest.
Car lights flashed in our direction, and he jumped away from me. I was disappointed and slightly offended, yet understanding. Quite frankly, schizophrenic.
I could see the look on his face clearly illuminated by the approaching headlights. He was shocked by his own brazenness, by his recklessness at outing himself. After all, he had a lot more to lose by it than I did. He had no idea of who I was or what kind of person I could be. In his mind, I could already be planning to sell the story to the Herald Sun.
I opened my mouth to speak, possibly to reassure him, when we realised the nearing car was actually slowing down. It was a taxi, and Roger was hanging out the back window. "There you are!"
He noticed that Declan was with me and that there was palpable tension in the air. "Is everything okay?"
"Fine," I said. "I take it we're going?"
But Roger was fixated. "Is he hassling you?" he asked, indicating Declan.
"No!" I scoffed.
"Hey, mate," Roger addressed Declan, fumbling with the door of the taxi to get out and confront him. I could hear Fran arguing with him.
I threw Declan an apologetic look and recognised that I better defuse the situation. And probably the best way to do that was just to go and get the hell out of there, taking Roger with me. Nothing like a friend ready to drunkenly defend your honour, thinking you were about to be beaten up when really you had been having one of the best and strangest pashes in your life. Definitely a story to gross out the grandkids.
"Get in the car, Roger," I said.
Neither Declan nor I said a word to each other. He watched me get into the taxi. As I belted myself into the front seat, Fran made some sort of apologetic sound, but I was still staring at the man outside my window. Then the taxi moved forward, and I couldn't see him anymore.
On the way home, Roger was still making threats about showing Declan Tyler that he couldn't pick on any of his friends. Fran was berating him, telling him he was acting like a six year old. And I was in a state of weirded-out bliss. And confused as all fuck.
Declan was obviously in Melbourne for the weekend because the Devils had just played the Saints at the MCG. And obviously he must have known somebody at the party for him to have been there at all. But why, out of all the possible available snogs at the party, had he chosen me? And come to think of it, why had he been so stupid? He couldn't go around kissing strange men all the time, or else his cover would have been blown by now, and I sure hadn't seen him on the cover of the Reach Out or The Southern Star recently.
I kept thinking of him the next day. There were two lines devoted to him in the back pages of The Sunday Age about how he was benched in the Saints game yet again, and nothing at all in the Herald Sun. That night on the news there was vision of the Devils getting on the plane back to Tasmania, and although I practically knocked over the television in order to see if I could make him out, all I could see was an indiscriminate mass of male blobs at a luggage carousel.
Roger tried calling my mobile and home phones; I let the answering machines take his profuse apologies, which quickly turned into intense curiosity to discover what I had been talking to Declan Tyler about.
I wasn't trying to punish Roger; I just didn't know what to say. I had never kept anything from him before (barring the obvious, of course), but seeing as I was so bloody baffled myself I wasn't sure if I could make any sense to him about it all.
Which was stupid. It wasn't like I was going to run into Declan again. Last night had been pure chance. Just one more drunken pash at a party, which would soon become for me a source of either nostalgia or shame.
I went into work the next morning with the aftereffects of the party finally starting to wear off. My second-in-command, Nyssa, came to meet me at the door as I entered.
"Your phone hasn't stopped ringing," she informed me, handing me a pile of messages.
Two from Roger. One from Fran. One from my mother. Two from film dealers, and another from a tortured artiste who needed to have her hand held through some crisis. I sighed. "Don't they know we punch on at nine?"
"We never punch off," Nyssa grumbled. "Why aren't they calling your mobile?"
Because I had forgotten to switch it back on. I winced and made it my first task when I finally made it into the sanctuary of my office. No sooner had I hung my jacket than my office phone began ringing again.
"Hello," I answered, wishing I had had time to grab a coffee. I desperately needed one. "Simon Murray."
"Why the hell didn't you call me back yesterday?"
It was Roger. The man was nothing but persistent.
"Sorry, Roger. I meant to call you back--"
"I was calling to apologise to you, but now I'm thinking you should apologise to me."
"I said I was sorry, dickhead!" It was so easy to resort back to sounding like a fourteen year old, one of the pros of a long-term friendship.
"Well, I'm sorry too, arsehole!"
We both laughed, and I sat down gratefully in my chair.
"You don't have anything to apologise for," I said.
"I was drunk."
"Shut up. Did I just imagine it, or did Declan Tyler try to beat you up?"
I shook my head and was glad he couldn't see my huge shit-eating grin. "No, he didn't beat me up."
"So he was there? Fran was trying to convince me I was hallucinating."
"He was there. And I escaped without a scratch." Although there was a very small patch of beard rash on the left side of my chin where he must have pressed too hard while ... I stopped thinking about that, no matter how pleasurable it was.
"I'm so embarrassed."
"If it's any consolation, he probably gets drunken idiots accosting him all the time in public."
"Thanks, Simon. Thanks a lot. You sure know how to be comforting."
"So we're okay, then?"
I laughed. "Yes. I will extend our friendship contract for another year."
"Good. Speak to you later."
I hung up, determined to get my coffee, but the phone rang again. I knew who it would be.
"Hey, hun," she said warmly. "Have you spoken to Roger yet?"
"I just got off the phone to him."
"Stupid boys," she murmured affectionately. "Meet you for lunch?"
"Sure." Our offices were only a block apart, and we had regular lunches together a few times a week.
"One, at the usual?"
"Yep. 'Til then."
Coffee. Now. I closed my eyes and breathed in the fumes of the freshly brewed pot as I filled my cup and said a silent blessing for Nyssa's superior coffee-making skills.
Nyssa appeared in my peripheral vision. "Agnes King called again. She wanted to move her appointment up to today."
I sighed. The tortured artiste herself. Well, one of many. "Fine. Better to get it over and done with."
Nyssa laughed. "I'm glad you have to deal with her, not me."
"If her doco wasn't so good, neither of us would."
"It's good. And it will be popular. We need the sales."
"Just maybe make the coffee for the afternoon Irish," I continued.
"Irish and Zoloft-ed up, just for you."
A phone started ringing down the hallway. We both looked at each other, and Nyssa grinned. "That's your phone, boss."
"Can't we just pretend I'm running late?"
"Nope. You're definitely on the clock now." Nyssa took her coffee and disappeared back into her own office.
Whoever it was on the phone was pretty insistent. It was still ringing, even though I was giving them plenty of time to reconsider and hang up. I took a desperate gulp of coffee, and my greeting was somewhat garbled when I finally picked up the receiver.
I swallowed properly and repeated myself.
Wrong number? Or another soulful artiste? "Can I help you, or do you want me to call in the office psychic?"
A slight pause. "Oh, it is you."
"Then you have me at an advantage, as I have no idea who you are."
The man on the other end of the line chuckled. "I would have hoped that I made more of an impression on you."
It couldn't be!
"Uh, Declan Tyler?" I said hesitantly.
"Do you always have to say my surname? You can just use the first, especially when talking to me. I know my last name."
Oh, it could be.
"Hi," I said in an attempt to be suave.
"We've already said that bit," he pointed out.
A thousand jumbled questions were causing a shorted fuse between my brain and my mouth as I struggled to say something, anything. All I could think was how?, why?, what?, and huh?.
"I don't think I said hello," I murmured. "I think I only said my name."
"Then say it."
He was definitely amused by me. If I had been actively seeking to impress him as part of the first stage of seduction, I was failing miserably.
Best just to be me then, and get it over with. "How did you find out where I worked?"
"I Googled you."
Coming out of his mouth, it sounded dirty. Nicely dirty.
"Simon Murray is a common name." I stared out the window onto the street below. I could see the Flinders Street Station just to the left of me, its gold leafing glinting a bit too brightly in the winter sun.
"Well, when I added the search term 'arty wanker' to it, up you popped." I could hear the smile in his tone.
I couldn't help smiling at myself, and I bit savagely upon my lip as if he could see it from across the Tasman Sea.
"Seriously, though. Your name was linked to the Triple F film festival--"
"That's a rhetorical tautology. Like ATM machine."
"Whatever," he dismissed. "And then I found another article with your picture in it, taken with the Premier."
"He only stayed for ten minutes," I told him. "It was a good photo op or something. Still, any publicity is good, right?"
"It all depends. Anyway, are you going to let me finish?"
"You should know, I tend to rabbit on a lot."
"Why would I need to know that?"
Dammit. He was trying to play it cool. "Well, I don't think it was listed under Google, but you're the one calling me. Finish your damn story."
He laughed again. "So then I found the festival web site, and there was your office number and mobile conveniently listed. And your mobile was switched off. So here I am on this number."
"Uh huh," I said noncommittally.
"That's it," he said, trying to hook me in.
"Come on," he moaned, "give me a break!"
"I'd be looking for a different phrase if I were you, seeing you broke your arm last year and was out for half a season."
He fell silent, and I got my first stab of fear of thinking that I had gone too far.
"Yeah, you're probably right."
I let out the breath I didn't know I was holding. "Sorry. That was bad. Stupid mouth, I said that, right?"
"I don't know. I think it's a cute one."
I could feel the blood coursing into my cheeks. "Thanks," I said inanely. "Do I return the compliment now?"
"Only if you want to."
"I don't know. You're a footballer, do you really need your ego stroked any further?"
"The press and the fans haven't been very nice to me lately, so maybe I do."
"Maybe later. So why are you calling then?"
He paused again, and to tell you the truth, when he spoke he sounded a little nervous. "Look, I'm coming to Melbourne again on Thursday for the game against Essendon. I'll have training on Friday, the game's on Saturday ... but would you want to go out for a coffee on Thursday night?"
He had me gobsmacked and speechless again.
"Are you there?"
"Yeah," I croaked.
"I thought the line had cut out for a minute."
"No, I'm here."
"So how about it? Coffee, I mean."
And Simon Murray, the very same Simon Murray who only two days before had been celebrating his single status and crowing about it, and swearing he wasn't looking for anybody, said before the moment could pass, "I like coffee."
"So that's a yes? You're being cryptic. Come on, I promise I'll use cutlery if you leave your beret at home."
"I didn't think you needed cutlery for coffee," I teased, starting to feel a little bit more in control of my senses again.
"A spoon isn't cutlery? What, do you stir your coffee with your finger?
"Well, when you promised you'd use cutlery, I was starting to think you did."
"Okay, so you're not interested...."
"Interested? Yes, I'm interested," I said, maybe a little too quickly.
"Good." And he did sound pleased. "I've got your mobile number. I'll call you."
"Hey, how do I call you?"
"Send up the Bat-Signal," he said, chuckling. "Looking forward to seeing you again, Simon."
Before I could answer, he hung up.
Like a clichéd scene in a romantic comedy, I sat in a daze for a little while with the receiver still pressed against my ear and the disconnect tone providing a soundtrack for my state of mind. The sound of a text message coming through on my mobile a few moments later jolted me out of my zombie ways, and I placed the receiver back in the cradle.
It was from an unknown number. I opened it, and it read:
Here's the bat signal.
I saved Declan's number and laughed to myself. I crossed over to the window and watched the people moving on the streets below. I wanted to crank the window open and tell everybody what had just happened, but nobody would believe me. I wouldn't believe me, if I wasn't me.
I wondered if Roger would.
The rest of the day passed in a blur. My mind was definitely not focused on what I was being paid for. Nyssa remarked on my distraction a few times, but I barely heard her. I ended up calling Fran and cancelling lunch, because I knew she would ferret whatever she thought I was concealing out of me. Roger would then kill me if she knew before he did, because she would crow about it endlessly to him (and start another one of his long-winded rants about how friends are supposed to hate their friend's spouse, not become their other best friend).
And Fran knew something was up. I had that certain tone of dorkiness in my voice. She said I sounded too happy.
I had to do laps of Federation Square at lunchtime to burn off the excess energy. Nyssa said she watched me do the circumference of the building three times before she got dizzy and actually had to go back to work to recover.
On the tram ride home I smiled to myself like a loon and got the usual wide berth that the other passengers afforded to public transport crazies.
I fed Maggie, showered, changed, and drove to Roger and Fran's house.
"It's not Wednesday," Roger said when he opened the door and saw me.
"No shit," I said, and I pushed past him into the warmth beyond.
Fran walked in from the kitchen, and her eyes widened. "Hah! I knew it! Didn't I tell you something was up with him, Rog?"
"Yes, honey," Roger said patiently.
Fran ushered me into the lounge and sat me down as if I were her child and needed to be lulled into a false sense of security to let slip what I had done wrong at school that day. I took a deep breath and began talking.
"Declan Tyler?" Roger repeated, the shocked look of all shocked looks upon his face.
I accentuated the nod.
"The Declan Tyler?"
Did I tell you I was nodding?
Fran remained impassive, but her eyes were going to and fro between us like she was watching a game at the Melbourne Open.
"Declan Tyler, the winner of the Brownlow and Norm Smith Medal?"
"And the Leigh Matthews Trophy," I reminded him.
Roger stared at me, dumbfounded. "And he's going out with you?"
"Hey!" Fran and I protested in unison.
Roger seemed to collect himself for a moment, but then was back to dumbfounded and semi-offensive. "No offence, but I mean, you have seen the girls they can get!"
Fran frowned, probably envisioning the need to cut off his access to the next telecast of the Brownlow.
"He doesn't like girls," I said snottily.
"I know, but he could be going out with a gay supermodel--"
"We get the point!" I yelled, my snottiness turning into extreme prejudice with a license to kill.
"I think you're pretty," Fran said soothingly, patting my hand.
"Thanks," I replied. "Because pretty is usually what I go for, you know."
So there they sat, my two best friends in the world, and I could have quite cheerfully wrapped them up in a burlap sack at that point and time, weighted it down with some good, heavy stones, and thrown them into the Yarra River to drown.
"Declan Tyler," Roger whispered to himself.
"Is it so hard to believe?" I asked him.
"What, that he's gay, or that he would date you?" Roger asked.
"You are such a prick," I muttered.
"I'm just trying to wrap my head around it, that's all!"
"Well, send me a telegram when you do." I stood, but Fran pulled me back down.
"Simon, you know Roger's an idiot. Don't get pissed."
I tried to stare Roger down, but he wouldn't look at me. He knew he was in the wrong, but he was still too much in shock. Then a thought crossed his mind.
"Do you think he'll take you to the Brownlows?"
I wanted to burst out laughing. Ever since we were kids it had been our dream to go to Brownlow nights. We had gone a couple of times and stood in the audience for the red carpet trying to get autographs, but we longed for the chance to get inside the actual ceremony and hobnob with the elite of the football world.
"We're going for coffee, that's it. I mean, it's not like he's out."
This made Roger look up. "He isn't?"
"Well, do you see him on the cover of DNA? Those dickheads on the footy show trying to cover up their arses whenever he comes near them on the panel?"
"Like I subscribe to DNA," he scoffed. "But what does that mean? I mean, for you."
I tried to ignore his question, as I had been avoiding the nagging little voice inside my head that had been asking the exact same thing. "What do you mean, what does it mean?"
"You know what I mean," Roger said.
"I don't know what either of you mean," Fran said, although of course she did.
"Well, if he's not out, that means a lot of sneaking around. What's in it for you?"
"It's just coffee, Rog. I'm not thinking any further than that."
"Well, maybe you should!"
This was getting too soap opera for me. Like Home and Away levels of bad. "I thought you guys were the ones who wanted me to see someone? And now that I have a date, you're acting all pissy."
Fran hesitated and then mustered up the courage to say, "We just want you to be careful."
"You have a look," Roger said.
"A look?" Now I was the one who was dumbfounded.
"Yeah, a look!"
"Describe this look."
"I don't know, look in a mirror!"
"Lately you haven't cared about dating." Fran was trying to choose her words carefully. "And now all of a sudden, you look ... excited, but trying hard to hide it. You really want to do it."
"And there's something wrong with that?"
"It's just ... he's a celebrity ... well, as much of a c elebrity as a sports player can be." Spoken like someone who didn't know one end of the field from the other. "It's not going to be easy."
"You got that right," Roger mumbled.
I stared them down. "It's just coffee."
But I knew, and they knew, that I was lying. I was looking forward to it, too much. I had no more idea than they did about what could happen. All I knew was that I wanted to go and see how it went. I couldn't really imagine any consequences; it was all too abstract.
I didn't hear from either Roger or Declan the next couple of days. My good mood had all but vanished when I met Fran for lunch on Wednesday.
"He cares about you, you doofus," Fran said over her chicken roll. "Just you two are guys, so you have stupid ways of showing it."
"It's my life," I said childishly.
"And as your friend, he will always butt into it, awkwardly to be sure, and then back off instantly," Fran replied.
"Do you think I shouldn't go on this date?" I asked, half-scared of what her answer would be.
"Of course you should." She fished a bit of scraggly looking shaved carrot out of her lunch and inspected it with disgust. "Just go into it with your eyes open."
I think no matter which answer she had given, I would have been half-scared regardless.
"So what are you going to wear?"
I looked at her, wondering if she thought I had suddenly grown a vagina in the past five minutes. "Clothes."
She sighed. "Men."
That night I could barely sleep, and I cursed myself for being so stupid. I was awake at four-thirty in the morning, and I pictured myself trying to be cool and debonair over coffee with Declan--and then falling comatose into my latte and drowning before him.
He was a footballer; he had quick reflexes. Hopefully his resuscitation skills would be just as good. I giggled dreamily while I remembered what his lips tasted like and thought that I had to stop such thoughts immediately or else I would never get th
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