Hi everyone. Happy New Year to all of you and I hope you had a good holiday season. It's 2014 now and the voting has come to an end. It was a close race for first place, but only one came out on top. The majority of you voted and chose for my next story...Superheroes. Yes, many of you wanted to see a story with people in tights :).
I've already decided to name to story 'My Secret'. It's a double entendre that can mean the main character's hidden identity as a superhero, and his secret about his sexuality. I'm going to begin thinking about how I want to write the story, and I'll begin working on it once 'Is It Possible...?' is complete. Thank you to those of you that voted.
And I'm also here to announce that I'm going to need to take a break from posting on the site for a little while. To be honest, I'm confused as all hell with what I want to do with this story considering it's so different from the other stories I've done. SO I'm going to need to take a break so I can think about where I want 'Is It Possible...?' to go as a story. I'm also taking a bit of time off to edit 'Am I...?' into a longer story (I may even rewrite it). I'm thinking about submitting it for a contest to potentially turn it into a book if it does well (assuming I don't have a homophobe judging the entries) I'm helping another writer rewrite his story.
I don't know how long this break is going to be, but be sure to check for a new chapter every Monday to see if there is an update. I hope you all enjoy Chapter 5 of 'Is It Possible...?'
The rest of the day with Greg is a very...normal one. I manage to learn a little bit more about Greg, how he also volunteers at an animal shelter, taking care of injured and abandoned animals, how he likes to take walks in Griffith Park, prefers to shop at locally owned businesses rather than big supermarkets, and how he...just does everyday things.
Has my philosophy really been all wrong all these years? I mean, Greg does things I would do on a daily basis (well, I might not volunteer as much, but I could see myself doing it). And Greg's gay. A gay guy was doing things any average person would be doing. But Greg is just one guy. It doesn't mean that there aren't other gay people out there who aren't weak and do normal things.
I even spend another two days with Greg, just seeing what it is he does and spending time with him. I even find myself enjoying a lot of it and I've come to like volunteering at the soup kitchen with him. And I even think I see Greg enjoying it whenever I come and spend the day with him.
The next two weeks of practice go by in a wave of pain and exhaustion. Greg is a regular slave driver, pushing us all to the brink of physical breakdown. He's having us do things we've never even done before, working muscles we didn't even know we had. We're sometimes even spending more time in the weight room than on the ice.
I even notice that Greg's 'work till you drop' mentality is rubbing off on the Kings' trainers and even our assistant coaches, Julian Warren and Spencer Jacobs, who may look like nice men in their mid-forties but, with the new feeling Greg is giving the team, turn into what sometimes feels like the devil incarnate.
It's Friday in the third week of August and I'm pulling into the parking lot of the Toyota Sports Center, where I find a large white bus sitting outside. Today is Greg's mystery field trip day and while he did send an email out about it about a week and a half ago, no one knows where it is this bus is headed and what it is we're headed for.
I shut off my car and grab my small backpack from the passenger seat, which only has a few bottles of water and a change of clothes in it. I lock my car and approach the bus, and I find several of my teammates already standing and waiting. "Hi, Tanner."
I turn around and see Gunnar standing behind me, his ever-present smile on his face. "Hey, Gunnar," I say. "Please tell me you have any sort of idea what this whole field trip is about."
"Sorry, Tanner. I'm in the dark as much as you are."
"What are we in the dark about?"
Gunnar and I turn and see Vladimir standing next to us. "This field trip," I say.
Vladimir nods understandingly. "I know how you both feel. I was up late last night with thoughts running through my head about what it could be."
"Knowing Coach Natick, it will probably be a more severe form of torture," Gunnar says.
Vladimir and I both nod. Greg may be a nice guy when he isn't coaching, but when he's in the zone, you do not want to mess with him because he will make you sweat for it (both through the work he has you do and the glare he gives you). The rest of the team arrives in increments over the next ten minutes, all of them just as confused as I am.
Just before 9:00, Greg walks out of the sports center with a bag over his shoulder and is wearing some workout shorts and a sleeveless Under Armour shirt, very similar to what I'm wearing now but with a different colored shirt. The rest of the coaching staff and the team trainers walk out of the sports center moments later.
Greg walks up to all of us and secures his bag. "Hope you're all ready for today," he says with an evil-looking smile. "You're all going to sweat your balls off."
Yay. We all head onto the bus and quickly find seats, the coaching staff and trainers sitting toward the front of the bus and Greg climbing on last. "Um...Coach Natick?" Jonah Donahue, a fellow forward, calls out. "Where's this bus headed?"
"That's a surprise," Greg replies. "But don't worry. I'm not taking you some place where you'll all be in any sort of danger. But you all will be begging for air not long after we start."
I gulp audibly at the words and hear several of my teammates do the same. Greg turns toward the driver, pats his on the shoulder, and takes a seat in the front of the bus. The driver slowly starts to pull out of the parking lot and pulls onto the main road, and we're off to our mystery destination.
Over the next forty minutes, I see the landscape outside my window turn from the high-rise buildings and congestion of the city, to the nice homes and open atmosphere of the suburbs. It really reminds me of Beverly Hills when I was growing up, but I know we went south, not west.
The bus winds through the streets and eventually comes to a stop outside of...a high school? "We're here!" Greg calls out. "Everyone off the bus!"
Many of us confused, we climb off the bus and into the hot eighty-degree heat and look up at the school. "I bet you're all wondering why we're here," Greg says. Many of us nod. "This is where we're having our field trip. I hope you all brought sunscreen because we're going to be outside all day today."
Damn it. I knew I was forgetting something when I left my apartment this morning. "Our special guest is probably waiting for us behind the school," Greg continues. "Get all your stuff and follow me."
That's the other thing that's been scratching at the back of my brain. Who the hell is the friend of Greg's that's going to help us? We all grab our stuff and follow Greg as he walks around the side of the school. I see that this school takes great care of its athletic facilities, the baseball fields, tennis courts, outdoor basketball courts, and track field in amazing condition.
But what's in the best condition is the football field. The grass is the perfect shade of green and cut at the perfect length and the white lines that surround the field look undisturbed. I see that there is a lot of training equipment on the side of the field, much of it unknown to me. But what grabs my attention is the large man wearing a skin-tight shirt and workout shorts in the middle of the field.
I also see that there are two children running and circling him, one boy and one girl. The boy and the girl seem to be playing keep away from the man, throwing a football between them. Even from here, I can tell the man is letting the children keep the ball way from him. Something tells me that those two are his kids.
As we get closer, I notice that Greg is smiling at the man. We're about twenty feet away when Greg suddenly calls out. "How's my favorite MVP doing?!"
The man turns around and grins widely. "Gregory! Great to see you!"
He bends down and holds his arm out. I see both kids around their small arms around the man's large arm and he lifts them off the group with very little effort while holding the football in his other arm. The two kids giggle as he walks with them hanging off his arm toward Greg and Greg gives the man a firm hug when the two meet.
Once the hug's over, I get a better look at the man and see he's beyond handsome. He looks to be about my age with dark brown hair in the style of a fauxhawk with dark grey eyes and a five o'clock shadow on his face. He's about my height, but seems to have more muscle than I do that's evenly proportioned all throughout his body.
His face is damn near perfect, with a chiseled jaw that looks like you can cut stone on it, bright, white teeth, and an air of kindness and selflessness around him. I look around my teammates and see a lot of them are staring wide-eyed at the man. Is he someone important or well known or something like that?
Greg looks back at us, still smiling. "Everyone, I'd like to personally introduce you to the man who will be helping us today. He's been one of my closest friends since college, but many of you know him as the star running back for the San Francisco 49ers: Josh Rusden."
The name hits me like a freight train. Josh fucking Rusden?! How the hell did Greg manage to snag a day with him?! This guy is one of the best running backs in the history of the NFL, and he's only a few months older than me! The only reason I've didn't recognize him was because I had only seen him during football games when he has his helmet on. Josh smiles at all of us. "It's nice to meet you all," he says in a deep voice.
"There are a lot of big men here, Jade."
"I know, Aiden. They're kind of scary."
I look down and see the two hanging children on Josh's arm looking up at us, a bit of fear in their faces. Josh smiles, tosses the football to the ground and hoists the children into his arms, where they both immediately wrap their arms around his neck. "Kids, don't be rude, Josh says to the children. "I'm big and you're not scared of me, are you?"
"No!" both kids immediately say.
"And it's the same for them. They're big people, but that doesn't mean you should feel afraid around them. Okay?"
Josh smiles at the kids before looking back at us. "Sorry about these two. They both knew I was going out today and clamped onto my legs and wouldn't let go. So I brought them along with me. Hope that's okay."
"It's no problem at all," Greg says. He looks at the two kids. "How are you two?"
"Hi, Mr. Natick!" the boy says (Aiden is his name I think the girl, Jade, said). "I'm good!"
"Me too!" Jade also says.
Greg smiles and rubs the tops of both kids' heads, making them both giggle. "He should be here in a few minutes to watch them while I'm helping you," Josh says to Greg.
He? He who? My thought process is interrupted by the rev of a loud engine. Josh immediately smiles at the noise. "There he is now. He'll be happy to see you, Gregory."
The team and I look back and see a sleek black and grey motorcycle appear from the side of the school and into the back parking lot, a man in a white t-shirt and jeans with a black helmet on his head straddling it. The man stops the motorcycle and kicks the kickstand out before turning off the engine. He reaches up and slips the helmet off his head, revealing a head of jet-black hair.
He holds the helmet under his arm and steps off the bike and starts to walk toward the field. I notice that he has a smile on his face that seems to get bigger as he gets closer to us. I see that the man is the epitome of perfect, not one thing about him less than it. Even though he was just wearing a helmet, there's not one hair out of place.
His body, although smaller than mine, is nothing to be ashamed of. Muscles that look like they've been sculpted from marble rest underneath the skin of his chest, stomach, and arms. And the thing that grabs the most of my attention are his eyes. They're the darkest blue I have ever seen in my life, almost looking unnatural.
And with his smile, those eyes seem to sparkle with life. Aiden and Jade suddenly drop from Josh's arm and run in the direction of the man. "Daddy!" they both yell.
So I guess Aiden and Jade aren't Josh's kids. The man smiles, drops his helmet and gets down on one knee, holding his arms out wide for the two kids as they run into his chest. He laughs and lifts both kids up, holding both of them in each arm. "Looks like you two have had a fun morning so far," he says.
Both kids smile and circle their arms around his neck, just like they did for Josh. He looks over at all of us and looks in Greg's direction. "Gregory! It's great to see you!"
"Same here, Leo!" Greg says with a large grin.
The man, Leo, walks over to Greg and attempts to give him a hug (which is pretty hard to do when you have two toddlers in your arms). The two manage to hug and Leo walks over to Josh. "Sorry I'm late. There was a problem at the shop that happened last minute."
"It's okay," Josh replies. "I was having fun with Aiden and Jade."
Leo smiles, rises up onto his toes and...plants a kiss right on Josh's lips. I feel my stomach drop at the sight of it. "And this is Leo Trigon," Greg says. "Another good friend of mine from college and Josh's husband of six years."
I'm shocked beyond words. They're fucking married?! I look around my teammates and try to see their reactions, but...I don't see any sort of change in any of them, not even a blink. "And these two are Aiden and Jade," Greg continues, "Josh and Leo's twin son and daughter."
I look back at the kids and see that they're both smiling openly at all of us. Aiden really takes after Leo with the same black hair and blue eyes, while Jade looks more like Josh with the dark brown hair and grey eyes. "We should be getting out of your way," Leo says. "We don't want to interrupt any more of your practice time. We're fans, by the way. We hope you all have a great season."
He looks down at his kids. "Are you two ready to spend the day with grandma and grandpa?"
"Yeah!" Jade and Aiden both say.
Leo smiles and looks back at Josh. "I'm going to need your car then. My bike's keys are in my pocket."
Josh reaches into Leo's pocket and pulls out his motorcycle keys, but not without a lustful look in his eye that makes me turn away for a second. He then pulls his own keys out of his own pocket and slips them into Leo's jeans. "I'll see you later tonight," Josh says, giving Leo another kiss.
He looks down at his son and daughter. "And don't misbehave at Grandma Penny and Grandpa Paul's house, as much as they love both of you."
"Okay, Daddy!" the kids say in unison once again.
Josh grins and kisses the tops of their heads before Leo turns and walks in the direction of the parking lot. Josh watches them until they're out of sight before turning back toward the team, his face still smiling. "Okay," he says. "Looks like you're all stuck with me for the next few hours. I hope you're all ready to work your asses off."
I involuntarily gulp at hearing that. "Gregory called me about three weeks ago and asked me if I could help you all work with a bit of your training while I have an off week from my pre-season training camp. He said you all were a bit rough around the edges when it came to speed. That's where I come into the picture.
"I'm the starting running back for the San Francisco 49ers and I have an average forty yard dash time of 4.19 seconds. When it comes to speed, I'm your guy."
"So you're going to make us run?" asks Bobby.
"For some of it," Josh says. "I'm also going to teach you some drills to help control your footwork so you're more coordinated on the ice, and I'm going to help with your strength a little, but we'll work on that a few hours into practice."
"But how will running on solid ground help us on the ice?" asks Alex. "They are two different surfaces."
"All of you feel just as steady and solid on the ice as you so on solid ground, right?" Josh asks. Many of us nod. "That's how these drills are going to help. If you increase your speed on land, you'll increase your speed on ice. So, I'm going to need a few bench trials to see how fast you all are, and yes goalies, that includes you."
I see Bradley and Chad slump over a bit at the news. "You're all going to be running from one end zone to the opposite thirty-yard line," Josh says. "That's seventy yards, a little longer than the length of an ice hockey rink. I'll be timing you so I can set a baseline. Stretch out a bit and we'll get started."
Josh walks over to the side of the field, where I see a bag sitting and Greg walks over with him, the two engaging in a conversation. I start to stretch out with my teammates and step over to Gunnar's side. "Gunnar, did you know that Josh was married to a guy?"
Gunnar looks over at me, confusion on his face. "Where the hell have you been, Tanner? The whole country knows about Josh's relationship with Leo." Christ, I really do need to start watching the news more often and paying attention to sports besides hockey. "Does something like that bother you, Tanner?"
"I'm working on understanding gay people a lot more and I think I've made some improvements over the last few weeks, but I'm still wrapping my head around the idea of having a gay guy help us train."
"What gay guy?"
Vladimir has appeared to my right, stretching his arms out. "Josh being gay," Gunnar says for me.
Vladimir nods understandingly. "You know, when I was younger something like that would have bothered me. But now, I do not see anything wrong with it."
"But what about that Russian anti-gay propaganda law?" I ask.
Vladimir suddenly scoffs. "That law came into effect after I immigrated to the United States, and I thought it was bullshit. It discriminated against a group of people, and I did not support it in the least. I am glad it was struck down two years ago when people finally saw it was a terrible law."
I look over at my other friend. "What about you, Gunnar?"
"I've been a supporter of the LGBT community ever since I was a teenager," he replies. "Just because someone is attracted to someone of the same sex, it doesn't mean that they are less of a person."
"Agreed," Vladimir pipes in.
"And it's the same with Josh," Gunnar continues. "He's proven that time and time again. He's a monster when he's standing on a football field, and I've read that he's a saint when he's off the field."
I look over at Josh and Greg, who are still animatedly talking to one another. As I'm watching them, I see that the two constantly wrap their arms around one another's shoulders. And whenever I see that, I feel a burning sensation in my throat and I suddenly feel a little angry. But there's also a hint of what feels like sadness in my stomach.
Why is it I want to walk over there and...pull Greg away from Josh? I shake my head out, trying to push my thoughts away. By the time I look back, Josh has come back and is standing in front of all of us with a stopwatch in his hand. "Everyone ready?" he asks. I don't see very many responses. "Well, too bad. And if you guys don't give it your all, you're just going to run again. Everyone to the far end zone."
We all follow Josh as we cross the field and to the end zone. When we finally get there, Josh reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small tube. "By the way, do any of you need sunscreen?" he asks. "I want to make sure your iced-up asses don't get burnt on my account."
It takes a second, but every hand goes up, including mine. Josh laughs at the sight and tosses the tube of spray sunscreen to Jacques, who starts to apply it vigorously, and for good reason. It's not even 11:00 yet and it feels like it's almost ninety degrees. After a few minutes, we've all applied some sunscreen to every exposed part of skin.
Josh takes the tube of sunscreen back and pulls another object out of his pocket: a gun. I feel my heart stop of a second and I see my teammates have gone pale as well. Josh laughs hard at seeing us. "Relax, you babies," he says. "It's a starting gun. See?"
Josh holds the gun above his head and pulls the trigger, a small pop filling the football field. It's just loud enough to get your attention, but not loud enough to be thought of as a real gun. "Okay," Josh says. "Like I said before, you're going to start from here, and sprint as fast as you can from the end zone to the opposite thirty yard line. Gregory and I will be down there recording your times and Gregory will call out with that megaphone of his who'll be running next."
I look over at Greg and see he's pulled a megaphone out of his bag. "And don't get upset if someone is faster than you," Josh continues. "You're competing against yourself, not each other. Stretch out a bit more and Gregory will call out who's going first. Good luck."
Josh turns and jogs down the field toward Greg, leaving all of us waiting and stretching. "I am screwed," I hear Alex say. "I am too big for speed."
"That's why we're here, Alex," says Damon Summer, another offensive player, says. "We're here to get faster. Hell, even Bradley and Chad are being forced to do this, and they don't even move from the goalie crease for most of the game!"
"But we're doing it anyway," Chad says. "Goalies need speed too, so they can get back into the crease if they come out, or if they need to get to the bench so we can get a sixth offensive player on the ice."
Chad has a good point. When you're down in a game, getting the goalie off the ice even a second earlier than he normally would mean an increased chance for a comeback. "Ready?" we hear Greg's amplified voice call out. "First up is Dmitri!"
Dmitri takes in a breath and walks over to the edge of the end zone. He gets into a starting position and I see Josh holding the starting gun above his head. With a loud pop, the start of the next several hours of hell begins.
Fucking God, my limbs feel like they're going to fall off. I don't even have the strength at the moment to sit up straight as I sit on the bleachers on the side of the football field, dripping in sweat. And it's the same with my teammates, who look to be in a similar state of exhaustion judging by the way many of them are lying on the bleachers rather than sitting up.
I never thought I would be running so much today. Sprints, distance running, suicides, leg exercises, our legs were put to every test there is. And our legs weren't the only parts of our bodies that were abused today. Josh had us practice with football sleds, and Jesus Christ, those things are a fucking nightmare! I was surprised when Greg joined in with us so he could get a workout in. And he held up with the rest of us.
It all took so much more effort to push them than I thought it would! I feel every muscle in my body burning from exertion. I take a deep drink of water from my bottle and find a body has appeared in front of me. Josh is looking over us, studying all of us as we try and regain our breath and lower our heart rates.
Josh was doing drills along with us, but despite being sweaty, he doesn't look out of breath at all. He suddenly smiles at us. "I'm incredibly impressed with all of your performances today," he says. "I thought some of you would collapse at some point, but every single one of you managed to stay on your feet for every drill we did today. And you all lived, right?"
Barely. A few of us groan at the question, making Josh chuckle. "I know many of you aren't used to training like this, but you'll see soon that your speed on the ice will have improved. At the beginning of practice today, Gregory and I recorded your seventy-meter dash times for a baseline comparison.
"I'm pleased to say that at the end of practice, when we did the drill again, all of you managed to beat your baseline times by more than a tenth of a second. That's astounding, even by professional standards."
I'm shocked. We improved that much in just a single day? Is that even possible? "I know you're all wondering how you achieved something like that so quickly," Josh says. "Try to remember that sports are just as much mental as they are physical. If you go around thinking that you aren't as fast as you think you are, you won't be as fast.
"That's another reason why I helped you today. All of you are plenty fast already, but Gregory told me there was something holding you all back from being as fast as possible. I helped you all to see that you do have the capability to be faster than any team in the NHL. But I can't just tell you you're the fastest, you need to believe that you are.
"Keep that fighting mentality in your heads, and you'll see that you'll be faster on the ice."
"But why did you have us do those strength drills?" Ken asks.
"Strength is the same mentality," Josh says. "You all probably thought it was insanely hard to even move those sleds. But didn't it get easier to move them the more you did it?"
I think back and remember thinking that moving the sleds was easier toward the end of practice than it was the beginning. "I hope you all remember what I've taught you when the season starts in a month and a half," Josh says. "You're all dismissed." We all start to rise off the bleachers. "Except for you, Tanner. I'd like a word with you for a few minutes."
A bit confused, I relent and tell the guys I'll meet them back at the bus. They continue on without me and I look back at Josh. "What is it you'd like to talk to me about?" I ask.
"Take a seat." A bit wary, I sit down on the bleachers and Josh takes a seat next to me. He lets out a deep sigh and slouches over a bit. "I really hate it when I'm forced to get mean."
Mean? I'm about to ask a question when my breath stops short. I'm met by two blazing grey eyes boring holes into me and a jaw locked in pure fury. "I really hate it when people call me a faggot to my face," Josh growls. "But anyone who calls my family faggots I want to rip limb from limb."
What the hell is he talking about? I try to open my mouth to respond, but no words or even babble comes out of my mouth. "Ryan is my brother," Josh tells me.
Oh dear God. The look on Josh's face tells me that he wants to destroy me and eat whatever mincemeat he turns me into. "J-Josh," I stammer. "I-I'm sorry about what I..."
Without warning, Josh bends over and lets out a gut-busting laugh, a loud laugh that echoes across the football field as it erupts from his lungs. Josh sits back up and looks back at me, wiping his eye dry. "My God! You looked like you were about to shit yourself!"
I think I did. Josh continues laughing for a minute more while I sit in complete confusion. "Jesus, Tanner. You should learn when to differentiate a joke from someone being serious," Josh tells me.
"I don't think anyone could've known that was a joke," I reply. Josh just shrugs a bit. "So...Ryan is actually your brother?"
"Yup. Love him to death, as annoying as he is with being on time."
"Um...has he told you about...what happened a few weeks ago?"
Josh's genuine smile falls a bit and he stares down at the grass in front of us. "Yeah, he told me and my parents about it. He was pretty upset about what happened, seeing as how Adam talked about you a lot. But he was more upset about what happened to Cole."
A lump quickly takes from in my throat. "I-Is Cole...?" I start to ask.
"Cole's fine, thanks for asking. He just got a small cut above his eye and was a bit scared for a little while because he knew that he was going to need stitches. But Ryan told him that a lot of people think scars are cool, and Cole was back to his old self."
A small amount of relief fills my body, but not enough to leave me guilt-free. "Are Ryan and Nate mad at me for what happened?" I ask.
"Well, they weren't too happy when you called them both faggots right in front of their kid, but they both know that not everyone will accept that they're gay. They're stronger than you think, so another guy not liking them because they're gay doesn't mean too much to them. I think it hit Adam harder than it did them."
And the lump quickly doubles in size. "How's Adam doing?"
Josh sighs to himself. "He's been a bit down the last few weeks. You must've meant a lot to him for his personality to take such a steep fall. Adam's had a very warm and open personality ever since I met him ten years ago when Nate and Ryan got married, although it got off to a rocky start. He's a smiling kind of guy, but I haven't seen him smile in a while."
Josh is only making this lump in my throat get bigger and bigger. "Look, Josh," I say. "I'm really sorry about what I said to Nate and Ryan and what I did to Cole. Me knocking Cole into my coffee table was an accident and I didn't understand what I was saying when Ryan and Nate were over at my place."
"Do you understand it now?"
"I'm starting to, but I'm still fuzzy on a few things. I'm spending time with Greg and I'm starting to see what gay people do on a daily basis. It's a slow process, but I think I'm making a bit of improvement."
Josh nods. "That's good to hear. And you do know he prefers to be called Gregory, right?"
"I do, but I've called him Greg ever since I first met him in high school."
"Oh, you two were friends?"
I look down at the grass, the lump in my throat still there. "Um...no. I actually used to...bully Greg a lot back in high school and I knew calling him Greg bugged him. But now, I can't seem to break out of the habit of it and start calling him Gregory."
Josh lets out a sigh. "Gregory mentioned to me a long time ago that he had a bully in high school, but I never thought it would be a player of the team he coaches."
"I had a similar thought when I found out that he was the new coach of the Kings."
"So where do you and Gregory stand now?"
"I think we're at an understanding with one another, learning each other's role on the team while working together to make the team stronger and...maybe starting to become sort of friends? We have a history together and although he's forgiven me for everything I did, I can't help but feel horrible about everything I did to him."
Josh places his hand on my shoulder and gives it a few pats. "Well, at least you've come to understand that you were in the wrong when you guys were in high school. But I hope you guys can start to become even closer at time goes on."
I nod my head a few times. All of a sudden, the air fills with the loud, aggressive beats of 'Turn It Up!' I look over at Josh and see him reaching into his bag and pulling out a cell phone. "Sorry about this," he says.
He taps the screen once and holds the phone to his ear. "Hello? Oh, hey Brian! How's the album coming along? Well, even though you only have a few songs done, it'll sound great when it comes out. I can't wait. So what's up? Oh shit, you're kidding me. He's done? Like, permanently? Brian, that's terrible. So what're you going to do?"
As Josh continues to talk on his cell phone, I feel a buzz come from my bag. I reach in and pull out my cell phone and find a Twitter update on my screen. I see it's a tweet from Our Name Is... I unlock my phone and look over the message.
'It's with great sadness that we announce that, three days ago, our lead guitarist Mitch Cardoso chose to retire from Our Name Is...'
My stomach drops at the news. Mitch is retiring? Fucking shit. Motherfucking shit. "Oh, really?" I hear Josh say. "You've already found someone new?" I hear Josh say next to me. "Is he or she any good? Oh, wow. To get that much praise from you, he must be amazing."
My phone buzzes again and I see another tweet.
'We love Mitch and respect his decision. We've managed to find a new lead guitarist in the time since Mitch's decision. His identity will stay hidden until our next tour.'
A new guitarist so quickly? But who can replace Mitch? The guy was a fucking demon when it came to the guitar. Another tweet pops onto my screen.
'And even though Mitch will not be performing anymore, he will become a head record producer for the band with Justin Robinson.'
I breathe a small sigh of relief. At least Mitch isn't leaving the band completely. "Okay, Brian," Josh continues. "I hope you and the new guy can finish the album soon. Tell Mitch I wish him luck working with Justin. Talk to you soon."
My heart stops for a second as Josh slips his phone back into his bag. "Sorry about that," he says.
I stare at Josh in shock for several seconds. "W-Were you just talking to Brian Mosley?" I ask.
Josh smiles brightly. "Sure was."
My head practically explodes from excitement. "JESUS CHRIST!! I can't fucking believe this! I love Our Name Is...! I have every single one of their songs!"
Josh laughs at my excitement. "Brian and I have been friends since high school and we're still great friends to this day. It's the same with Justin Robinson. I remember when those two first started dating in our senior year. They were adorable together."
I slowly come down from my high. "It still sucks that Mitch decided to leave."
"Brian told me that Mitch had talked to him about it before, telling Brian that he wanted to venture into the world of music production rather than just playing music. It's a good thing he's going to still be involved with the band, though."
I nod in agreement and rise off the bleacher. "I need to get back to the bus. I'm holding everyone up."
Josh stands up with me. "Sorry about keeping you so long. Guess I lost track of time."
"No worries. I enjoyed sitting and talking with you."
Josh flashes his movie star smile and holds out a hand. "It was good to meet you, Tanner. I hope everything with Adam is settled soon. I want to see my brother in law smiling again."
I smile in return and give Josh a firm handshake. As I turn to leave, I see Josh sitting back down on the bleachers. "Aren't you done for the day too?" I ask.
"No, my day isn't over just yet. I'm helping my old high school football team get ready for the upcoming season. They should be here soon."
"Okay. Thanks for all you help today, Josh. It really helped all of us."
"Just be sure to lead the Kings to a Stanley Cup championship. And I'm glad you and Gregory are becoming better friends. When he and I first met, he had a lot of sadness in him. Getting friends really helped him to become the guy he is today. And I think having you as a friend to him will help him even more, Tanner."
I smile and turn and walk toward the team bus, where everyone sits waiting. I climb up and see Greg looking up at me. "What took you?" he asks.
"I was just talking to Josh for a little while about a few things. You and he are really good friends, aren't you?"
Greg smiles. "He was one of the first friends I made at Stanford, and is one of my closest friends even now. And even though he's one of the country's most popular football players, he's still the most selfless man I know. See?"
Greg points behind me and I see Josh standing in the middle of a large group of boys, all of them wearing football pads and looking up at Josh in awe. Josh stands and smiles down at all the boys, not even minding as every single one talks a mile a minute. "He cares about his fans," I say.
"More than anything," Greg says. "Go ahead and take a seat. Everyone's ready to head back to Los Angeles."
I turn and walk up the aisle of the bus and take a seat next to Gunnar, who seems to have passed out and is sleeping with his face pressed against the glass of the window. I take advantage of the situation and snap a quick photo of him to laugh at later as the bus starts up and we head back to L.A.
The bus pulls into the parking lot of the Toyota Sports Center and comes to a stop, bringing everyone out of their exhausted dazes. "We're back!" I hear Greg yell out. "The sooner you're off, the sooner we can finish up and get home!"
With a few grunts and moans, we all rise up with our stuff and step off the bus. Greg stands in front of us with the rest of the coaching and training staff to the side. "You all did incredibly well today," Greg tells us. "I'm seeing a lot of improvement in all of you, but there's still room to get better, and I will make sure you all will be the best in the league.
"Remember, no practice tomorrow, so be sure to rest up for Monday. We're back here, so bring all your gear with you. If there aren't any other issues we need to discuss, you're all dismissed. I'll see you Monday."
Everyone starts to disperse, when someone calls my name. "Tanner," Greg says. "Stay behind for a minute."
I turn back around walk back to Greg, leaving only him and myself. "What's up, Coach Natick?" I ask.
"Off the clock, Tanner. Gregory's fine."
"Okay, so what's up?"
"I was wondering if you're spending the day with me tomorrow. You did it last Saturday and Sunday, so I'm just checking to see what it is you want to do."
I see a small glimmer in Greg's amber eyes, almost like a dog waiting for a treat for being good. It makes me feel that...Greg wants me to spend the day with him. I think back to Josh's words from earlier. "I think having you as a friend will help him even more, Tanner."
There's also a part of me that wants to spend time with Greg. "Yeah, I'd love to," I say. "Rock's Gym tomorrow morning at 7:00?"
Greg's face lights up with a smile that causes my heart to skip a beat. "Perfect," he says. "I'll meet you there and we can go from there. But tomorrow, maybe we could do stuff you'd want to do, Tanner. Ever since we first started this spending the day with each other thing, we've only done what I usually do and you've tagged along.
"So maybe we could do what it is you want to do during the day tomorrow."
The notion takes me by surprise. "Yeah, I'd like that," I say. "Greg, I really appreciate you helping me as much as you have, despite our differences in the past."
"It's nothing, Tanner. I feel that this is helping you become a better person by you seeing that a gay guy is spending his day doing the same mundane things a straight person would do."
"But I feel like I've been taking a bit of advantage of you, so I'd like to offer you a proposal." Greg's ears perk and his eyebrows twitch a bit. "I'm going to my parents' house for dinner three weeks from tomorrow and my younger brother and sister are coming too so we can all catch up. Would you like to come over too? My parents love company and both they and my younger siblings have been asking about you. So would you be interested?"
Greg's eyebrows rise again and he thinks about it for a minute. "It sounds like fun," he says with a smile. "I haven't had a home-cooked meal prepared for me in ages."
"It's a date then."
My lungs suddenly search for air. Did that just slip out of my mouth? I feel my pulse quicken a bit and my face turns a little pink. I'm about to turn away a little when I see Greg's face. It looks to be a light shade of red and his eyes are wide. "I uh...I-I'll see you tomorrow," I quickly say.
"Y-Yeah, see you, Tanner."
I turn and hurriedly turn in the direction of my car, my face still warm from blushing so hard. I slip into the driver's seat and toss my bag into the passenger seat before pressing my palms to my eyes. Why the fuck did I say that? Could I have used a worse term? God knows what Greg is thinking right now.
My hands rub my eyes and I turn my car on and head back to my apartment. The whole drive, my face continues to burn from both embarrassment, and...something else. I can't put my finger of it, but...I think I like the way it feels. This warm feeling in my chest, the butterflies in my stomach, and pounding in my head, what is this?
My mind zones out as I drive back to my apartment and I'm back before I even know it. I grab my stuff and step out of my car and to the elevator, riding up to my floor. Still thinking things over, I pull my apartment key out of my pocket and slide it into the lock and turn it, and I'm about to open the door when I suddenly stop.
Okay, I know I locked my door when I left this morning, so why does it feel like my door was unlocked before I even got here? I very slowly open the door to my apartment and stick my head in ever so slightly. I take a quick look around and see that nothing appears to be disturbed, but the hairs on the back of my neck stand of end. Someone's been here, or might even still be here.
I slowly step back out into the hallway and shut the door before pulling my cell phone out of my pocket. I tap the screen a few times and hold it to my ear, hearing the dial tone for a few seconds as I step away from my apartment. "911," says a male voice on the other end of the line. "What is the state of your emergency?"
"Hi, I think someone may have broken into my apartment."
"Okay, may I ask for your name?"
The other end of the line is silent for a moment. "Go Kings," he says. "May I ask what makes you feel like someone may have broken into your apartment?"
"My door was unlocked when I came back after I locked it this morning. I may just be paranoid, but may I just have a police officer come back and check things out for me please?"
"Of course. Always better safe than sorry. What is your address?" I quickly tell him my apartment building and number. "Okay, we'll send an officer down there and he or she will be there in the next few minutes."
"Hope the Kings have a great season."
I hang up the phone and lean against the wall of the hallway, patiently waiting for the officer. About five minutes later, the elevator dings and I see a uniformed female officer step out of the elevator and she sees me. "Did you make the 911 call?" she asks, all business.
"Yes, officer. Apartment 1218."
She nods once and I lead her to the door. "You said you think someone may have broken into your apartment?"
"Yes, ma'am. It was unlocked when I came back even though I know I locked it this morning."
"Well, better to trust your instincts than to find someone you don't know in your home. Just stay out in the hallway while I take a look around."
I nod once and watch as she slowly enters my apartment, leaving the door open for me to see. She quietly walks around my apartment, looking for any signs that someone was here. She walks in the directions of the bedrooms and out of sight and I lean back against the wall, waiting for the all clear from her.
What I get two seconds later is not what I was expecting. "Let me see your hands!" I hear the officer yell.
"Wait, please!" a male voice yells. "I live here!"
Oh crap. I know that voice. I turn and rush inside the apartment and run toward the bedrooms. I run inside the second one and splayed out on the floor with the officer sitting on his large back handcuffing him is Adam. "Adam?!" I say.
The officer looks up at me. "You know this man?"
"He's my roommate. Or was, before he moved out about a month ago."
"Christ, these things hurt!" Adam yells. "Do you have any bigger handcuffs?"
I look down at Adam's wrists and see that they're starting to turn red from the handcuffs barely being able to close around his large wrists. "You can let him go," I tell the officer. "He has a key to the apartment and is allowed in here."
The officer nods and unlocks the handcuffs, freeing Adam's wrists and she steps off him. Adam stands up and rubs his wrists, looking to be in a bit of pain. "I take it you don't want to press charges?" the officer asks me.
"No, it's fine. Thank you anyway for coming. I'll walk you to the elevator."
The officer and I walk out of Adam's old room and out of the apartment and to the elevator. "Big guy," she says. "He seems like a gentle giant, though."
"He is when he isn't pissed. When he is pissed, he can punch you so hard your jaw will shatter. His opponents in the octagon have the injuries to prove it."
The officer laughs and steps into the elevator before the doors close. I turn and walk back to my apartment, where I see Adam standing in the middle of the living room, looking unsure of himself. "Adam, what're you doing here?" I ask.
"I wanted to talk to you."
"And breaking into my apartment was the way to try and talk to me?"
"It's my apartment too."
"You moved out."
"Yeah, well I'm moving back in."
His words surprise me. I let out a long sigh and look back at my hulking friend. "I think we need to talk." Adam nods and steps over to the couch, me following behind him, and we both fall onto the cushions. "I want to talk back what happened when Nate, Ryan, and Cole came for a visit."
Adam nods again. "I wanted to talk about that too."
I gather my thoughts together for a few moments and look down at the hardwood floor. "Adam, I'm so sorry about what I said to your brother and Ryan. I...didn't understand what it meant for someone to be gay, so I reacted horribly to finding out about your brother and brother in law. I was a dick, a douche, and an asshole.
"And I'm sorry about what happened with Cole. I didn't mean to kick him into the coffee table, but when he hit me, my reflex kicked in and I bumped him and he fell back into the table. But that's no excuse for it happening in the first place. Cole would never have gotten hurt had I just...learned a bit more about being gay when Ryan and Nate were here.
"But I'm getting help and am starting to learn more about gay people. It's a slow process and there's a lot for me to learn, but I think I'm starting to get it. I'm reworking my philosophy so that I can try and make it more accepting of other people, and although it hurts to change it after so long, I'm managing to fix it one word at a time."
I pause for a second to catch my breath. "It's really sucked not having you here, Adam. The apartment is so lonely without another person here, and...I really want you to move back in with me. I-I know what I said to Nate and Ryan was unforgiveable, but if we could just..."
My voice is cut off by two anaconda-sized arms wrapping around me and pulling me into a very hard hug. "I missed you too, Tanner," Adam quietly says.
Pure, wonderful relief floods my body and I hug Adam back, barely managing to get my arms around his large back. Adam pulls away after a minute and stares right at me. "This last month has sucked for me too. I love my brother, but hearing his alarm going off at 6:30 every morning so he can get his day started was staring to get on my nerves.
"And Cole really likes to come into my room when I'm trying to...take a nap. I love the kid, but I don't think Nate and Ryan have taught him the values of privacy yet. But at least I didn't have to talk to him after he came in the first time."
I bite my lip to keep myself from laughing at hearing Cole walked in on Adam jerking off. "I'm sorry too, Tanner. I should've told you about Nate and Ryan a long time ago. Maybe then things would've ended a bit differently when they came to visit. And I'm sorry about tackling and almost punching you.
"Ryan explained to me that reflex you have when something hits your knee in the right spot, and Cole hit the spot dead on. I felt horrible after I heard that, learning that I almost punched my best friend for something he didn't even mean to do. I just acted on instinct when I saw Cole fall onto the coffee table."
I nod a bit. "How is Cole, by the way?"
"He's still his happy, hyper self. I think when he fell onto the table he was more scared that he was bleeding than it actually hurting him."
"Um...does he...you know, hate me for it?"
Adam chuckles softly. "Cole doesn't hate anybody. He was just upset that you were insulting Ryan and Nate. He forgot what happened the second he got a lollipop after getting the stitches for the cut."
At least I didn't make a 7 year old kid hate me. "So...all is forgiven?" I ask.
Adam smiles and hugs me again, much softer this time. "Yeah, we're good, Tanner."
He and I just sit and hug for a minute or two before we slap each other's back and sit back into the couch. "At least this couch is big enough for me to sit in," Adam says.
"Was the one at Ryan and Nate's too small?"
"It's big enough for two people as long as one of them has Cole sitting on their lap. It's not big enough for a six foot eight giant whose ass is easily 30% larger than a normal person's."
A bark of laughter escapes my lungs. "So when can you move back in?"
Adam scratches the back of his head in bashfulness. "Um...I kind of already moved back in." I raise an eyebrow. "That's part of the reason the officer found me in my bedroom. I was putting my stuff back where it belongs."
"How'd you get all your stuff back here? The room was stripped bare when I looked in it the day after you moved out."
"Adam! We got the rest of your stuff from our house!" The voice comes from outside the apartment door. "Open the door! This stuff's heavy!"
Adam rises off the couch, glances over at me and walks to the door. He opens it and I see three people in the hallway, three people who, the last time I saw them, I treated like shit. Nate, Ryan and Cole step into the apartment and immediately see me sitting on the couch. "Um...hi," I awkwardly say.
"Hi, Tanner," Ryan politely says. "Didn't expect to see you here."
"It's my apartment."
Ryan makes a face that tells me he's mentally kicking himself for his lapse of common sense. I see that both he and ate are holding large boxes in their arms while Cole's holding a small box himself. "Do you need any help with those?" I ask, rising off the couch.
"Um...we still have a few more boxes outside where my car's parked," Nate says. "If you wouldn't mind..."
"Not at all. Just lead the way"
The next ten minutes pass in uncomfortable silence, with us going back down to the ground floor to grab the last of Adam's boxes and bringing them back up to the apartment. I notice that every time I look at Cole, he goes to hide behind one of his dad's legs. It makes my chest tighten seeing a little boy being so scared of me.
We set the last of the boxes down in the living room and I dust off my hands. "I forgot you had so much stuff, Adam," I say. "How much protein powder do you have?"
"Only a year's supply since that commercial I did a few months ago."
I sigh to myself and look over at Ryan and Nate, who seem to be a bit uncomfortable. "Look," I say. "I need to apologize to the both of you. What I said a month ago was disrespectful, hurtful, and overall, terrible. I was under the belief that all gay people were the weakest kind of people out there, but I was wrong.
"A friend of mine showed me that gay people and straight people are no different when it comes to things like masculinity. He's probably one of the strongest people I know and has gone through more things in his life than I can even begin to understand. I would've thought that things like that would have kept him down, but they didn't.
"No matter what you throw at him, he just gets right back up, stronger than before. That showed me that gay people can be strong too, just like straight people. I'm still working on learning how gay and straight people are no different, but I'm getting better. I'm sorry and I hope you two can forgive me for what happened a month ago."
Nate and Ryan glance at one another before looking down at the floor. "Cole, what do you think we should do?" Ryan asks his son.
I look down at Cole, who's clutching the pant leg of Nate. He slowly walks forward, looking a little scared as he approaches me. He looks up at me and I look into his light grey eyes. "Why did you kick me?" he softly asks.
Exhaling quietly, I kneel down so I'm just above eye level for Cole. "Cole, I'm sorry I kicked you, but it honestly was an accident. Here, let me show you. Come and sit on my knee."
Cole steps over and sits down on my knee, looking over his shoulder at me. "Cole, what happened when you hit my knee?" I ask.
"Um...your leg kicked a little bit and I fell into the table."
"Right. What happened was you hit my knee in a spot that makes a person kick a bit when that spot is hit." I reach around and hold my hand in front of Cole's leg, which is dangling in the air as he sits on my knee. "I'm going to give your knee a small tap. Keep it completely relaxed."
Cole nods and looks down at my hand, which I've balled into a light fist. With a quick jab, I tap Cole's knee and his leg jerks forward. There's a second of silence before I hear a giggle come out of Cole. "Do it again!" he says, laughing.
I laugh myself and give Cole's knee another tap, making it kick again and causing more infectious giggles to come out of the young boy. I grab him underneath his arms and set him back down on the floor. "See Cole? I didn't mean to kick you. But when you hit my knee, what happened to you happened to me. I'm sorry you got hurt. Can you forgive me?"
Cole smiles brightly, showing me that he's lost another baby tooth since I last saw him. "Uh huh!"
He takes a step forward and, faster than I can react, wraps his small arms around my neck and hugs me, filling my stomach with a warm, bubbly feeling. I laugh and return Cole hug before standing back up with him in my arms. "So are we good?" I ask Ryan and Nate.
The two smile at me holding their son. "Yeah, we're good," Nate says. "If our son can forgive you, we can too."
"You seem to have changed a lot since w last saw you, Tanner," Ryan says. "You seem...more open to the world and less clouded. It's a hell of an improvement from the jerk we first met."
"Hey!" I say in protest.
"You were a jerk, Tanner," Nate says in agreement.
Cole giggles in my arms at seeing everyone ganging up on me. I hand him over to Ryan and crack my knuckles. "How about we all go out to dinner or something?" I say. "I'm too tired to cook anything."
"What have you cooked besides anything that requires a microwave?" Adam asks.
"I make a mean bowl of cereal."
Adam smacks his forehead and Nate does the same. I've seen Adam smack his forehead more times than I can count, but I never knew it was a family trait. "Dinner would be great," Ryan says. "Would we be able to go somewhere where Cole can get something he'll like?"
"My friends own a great sports bar not too far from here. The food is really good and the atmosphere is even better."
"It's been a while since I saw A.J. and Ulrich, so I'm in," says Adam.
"As long as I can get a drink, I'll be happy," Nate says. "Moving all of Adam's stuff here was a chore."
"Oh man up," Adam tells his brother.
"Let me just take a quick shower and I'll be back out in about twenty minutes," I say. "It's good to have you back, Adam."
Adam smiles and gives me another crushing hug and keeping me from breathing for a few seconds. He sets me back down and I turn and head down the hallway to my bedroom. As I close the door behind me, I smile to myself, feeling the relief of having my closest friend again.