"Someone to Watch Over Me"

[Setting: Pittsburgh, PA, O’Keefe’s Pub, Late October, 1996; POV-Bryn Jones]

“Timmy O’Reilly! You’re taking those boys of ours all the way to the state championship, I hope! Sit yourself down right here and I’ll get me girl to draw you up a cold one and you tell me how high a score you expect against those Philly boys this weekend coming up. Hey there, Bryn, didn’t see you back there at first! Welcome to you too, of course. We serve Welshmen here at O’Keefe’s.” Patrick gave me a warm smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes but I knew not to take it personally. Pat O’Keefe had bigger worries than me today.

I’d followed my boss into the crowded pub and up to the bar where the huge, burly Irishman held court. It wasn’t where I wanted to be on a Friday night–far from it– but I was more than a little concerned about this meeting between my ambitious boss and the hot-headed patriarch of the family of stellar athletes who’d put our high school at the top of every college’s recruiting list for the past ten years. Patrick O’Keefe didn’t only control his dozen children, he ruled his two brothers’ families as well, and between the three of them, they had produced over twenty outstanding soccer, football and baseball players...and counting. Add in the girls and you had quite the sports dynasty.

And now there was Danny, the youngest of Patrick’s children. Easily the most gifted soccer player among all of the very talented O’Keefe brothers, at just sixteen, he was receiving full scholarship offers from top colleges across the country despite the fact that his senior playoff season had just begun! He was certain to be voted onto the All-American High School team, barring any season ending injuries...or any other type of...how did Tim phrase it today when he threw his playbook at me? Unpleasantness?

Danny O’Keefe chose to come out of the closet last weekend, ruining his head soccer coach’s Monday. From the look on his father’s face as he led us to a corner table, Patrick O’Keefe’s Monday hadn’t been much better and I suspected that he hadn’t enjoyed his weekend all that much either.

Tim launched right into the day’s hot topic as soon as we sat down. I was grateful to see that as upset as he was, he still remembered to keep his voice down. I pushed his beer closer to him and he took a big gulp before he spoke.

“What’s up with that youngest kid of yours, Pat? This nonsense he was telling me today? The boy is better looking than anyone has a right to be, all of your boys are. He’s got practically all the girls in the school after him and you can’t tell me he hasn’t had more than a few of them. I know he has. We teachers hear the gossip.” I had troubled holding back a snort at that. Hear the gossip? They were the ones spreading most of the gossip it had seemed to me ever since I joined the staff at JFK Memorial High School. Some of them volunteered for lavatory duty just because it was prime real estate for picking up the latest scoop on the little angels. With difficulty, however, I kept up my innocent expression as Pat O’Keefe shot a look my way, no doubt trying to weigh how much I’d heard while Tim ranted on.

“So what is this nonsense? Your Danny comes into my office today spouting about being a faggot and how it’s only fair he tell me. I hope you whipped his ass for talking such shit! Right before a play-off game no less! Does he have any idea how many scholarships he’s got on a string? We...I mean, he...could go anywhere to play soccer. He could write his own ticket!”

Pat O’Keefe flushed. “He’s going to Penn, like his brothers. I’ve told you–and him– that before. And yes, he told me the same nonsense that he told you. Told his mother and me that cockamamie story over a week ago. I sent him to talk to his brother Joey up at Penn this past weekend, because I’d hoped Joey’d talk some sense into him but it didn’t work. Jamie wasn’t any help either.”

I wouldn’t think so. I remembered when Jamie and Danny were both on the team. If Jamie told Danny to be gay, that might make the kid decide to be a breeder and knock up the cheerleading squad, the two of them were that much at each other’s throats. Loved each other to the end and don’t let anyone else ever speak a word against the other when one of them was around, but they couldn’t be in each other’s presence for two minutes without squabbling. Used to drive me nuts as their coach. I remembered one time when...Tim’s banging his big fist on the table drove me out of my reverie.

“He’s not a faggot,” Tim shouted, as though saying it would make it true. He turned bright red as he saw that quite a few bar patrons were looking over at us. At a sign from Pat, the music was turned up and the bartender called out a challenge to the guys playing darts that quickly drew attention away from our table.

Seeing that Tim’s beer was gone I pushed my untouched one toward him. Tim made a quick recovery from his embarrassment and soon returned to his theme of the night–Danny’s mistaken orientation.

“Danny was the league’s scoring and points leader for the last two years,” he announced triumphantly, after taking a deep swallow from my beer, as though this somehow clinched the argument he was having with some phantom debater. Pat O’Keefe looked at him, somewhat at a loss. I bit back a laugh. I’d never been particularly impressed by Pat’s progressive thinking but even he seemed to realize that there was no connection between his son’s ability to play soccer well and his preference for men. He might regret that fact, that of all his sons, the best soccer player of them all was the fairy, but on some level, he knew being a great soccer player didn’t make Danny straight. His eyes met mine and there was rueful acknowledgment there of how stupid Tim was being. Pat sighed finally, and tried to calm Tim down.

“Well, that’s true enough. Danny is a fine soccer player...bit of a hotdog, mind you, as I’ve told him...not the team player that Joey and Jamie are...but how you coach him is your business.” That was as mild a reprimand as I’d ever heard the big man give. Normally his criticisms were bellowed from the sidelines, at both Tim and Danny. Pat’s criticisms were enough to make me wince although Danny normally just nodded briefly toward his father and tried that much harder. Tim would grit his teeth and pretend to ignore the man during the game, but cozy up to him afterward. After all, this was a very devout man who went so far as to pull his whole clan out of parochial school when the coaches wouldn’t listen to him about how to play his sons at soccer. Which brought to mind another rumor I’d heard about this weekend.

“Mr. O’Keefe,” I began, but was interrupted.

“Ah, call me Pat. I know I’ve got grandsons as old as you, lad, but we’re in a pub. No ‘misters’ unless and until a man’s lost all his teeth and his hearing so it doesn’t pain him as much.” Pat winked at me. I couldn’t help but grin back. Pat O’Keefe annoyed me in many ways, but he was a handsome devil, with no small measure of charm. Plus, I’ve always been a sucker for a big man. Sitting opposite him like this, not only could I see where the O’Keefe boys got their black wavy hair and green eyes, but I also couldn’t help responding to the sheer animal attraction of the man. He was built on impressive lines: at least six foot four, with a broad chest and wide shoulders tapering down to a trim waist, and thick muscular arms and thighs. He had to be almost sixty, yet he didn’t look a day over forty-five. Most of his sons were built along similar lines, with a few exceptions, sons who had tremendous height but long rangy muscles instead of their father’s broad, powerful build.

In contrast, Danny had a dancer’s finely muscled build, slim and wiry, but strong as steel. Of course, he was still growing, but his mere five foot nine seemed petite when measured against his next older brother. Jamie, a nineteen year old who had graduated two years earlier, was now six foot six and even he was not the tallest brother.

Seeing that the other two men were waiting for me to stop daydreaming, I struggled to bring my mind back to my question, which was a delicate one.

“Pat...we really just want to help Danny with this...identity crisis...or transition...whatever it ends up being...as best we can, just as I’m sure you and Mrs. O’Keefe do. Are we correct in understanding that Danny has your full support, to the extent that you’ve even changed Churches...that all of the O’Keefes have...to support him in his, his...” I struggled for a word or phrase that would not bother either man but quite frankly, Danny had been pretty damn blunt, and from what I heard around the neighborhood, so had Rose O’Keefe, the “real” boss of the O’Keefe clan. I finished, looking boldly ahead at Patrick O’Keefe, “...coming out as a gay young man.”

“Aw, Jeez, don’t say it like that, Bryn, I tell you, he isn’t. He sleeps with girls!” Tim was halfway to drunk, a helpful O’Keefe daughter having slipped in with another round while I’d admired her father’s biceps.

Two red dots appeared high on Pat O’Keefe’s cheeks. “I don’t know that a boy his age should be sleeping around with girls either, Tim. Or that the teachers should be spending their time talking about the sex lives of the students. Do I have to remind you the boy is just turned sixteen?”

Nice trick, I thought, wistfully. O’Keefes look older when they’re young and younger when they’re old. Wish I had some of their genes. In my family, we have baby faces until we’re forty or so and then we go straight to harmless soccer dad looks. Or rather, not so straight, as Terry would remind me. I sat at attention as Pat turned his gaze toward me. The pain in those green eyes was so deep, I felt terrible for bringing the subject up...no, actually, I felt terrible that Tim and I were there at all. This was far more important than high school soccer, or, more to the point, Tim’s ambition to get a job coaching college ball. This man was struggling with questions of his faith and was worried about his marriage and his family. We were outsiders who didn’t belong.

At least, that is what I thought at first. When Pat O’Keefe still had a measure of my sympathy.

“I...my wife...we thought it best to go to a church where all of us were welcome.” There was a long pause as Pat visibly searched for the rationale his wife had explained but which he clearly didn’t fully understand or accept. “Danny is a good boy, he gives a lot back to God through his singing and his volunteer work and his Sunday School help, and for the Father to say that our boy is going to go to Hell for something he says he can’t help...well...Rose says she won’t abide it. Now Father at the Episcopal Church, not that younger one, I’m not as taken with him, but the older one who helps out, Father Baker? Him, I could relate to, you know? He’s a very good man and he explained things to me...he and I talked a long time and he agreed with me that there’s a lot to think about. He suggested I not rush things but it makes Rose a good bit happier to be there, so we’ll be there from now on. I told my brothers and after we talked about it, they agreed to it. Father Xavier, he wasn’t too happy when I told him, but I told him I wasn’t very happy with how he talked to my Rosie. He should have known how she’d react to someone talking about her Danny like that. The boy going to hell; the idea is nonsense. Might drive me crazy but anyone can see he’s one of God’s favored ones.”

I was only slightly startled to see Patrick make the sign of the cross even as he made the sign to ward off the evil eye with his other hand. Was there ever such a superstitious people as the Celts? Even their Christianity is intertwined with the old faiths, and one sees this especially in folks like Patrick who were raised in Ireland. They probably are as at home with Samhain as All Saints’ Day, but wouldn’t realize that one was considered pagan and the other orthodox religion unless you forced them to confront it. I suspected that Patrick wasn’t quite sure, despite his words, whether his youngest son was a blessing from God, or something else altogether.

Patrick sat looking over at the large fireplace that filled almost all of one wall. I didn’t want to interrupt his thoughts, assuming he was reviewing whatever comforting philosophy the Anglican Priest had offered to counter the Roman Catholic doctrine he’d heard his whole life about abominations. Tim was nodding over his fourth large mug of Guinness. I almost missed the crafty look that came into the O’Keefe patriarch’s eyes. He looked at Tim speculatively.

“You’d hate it if Mark and Matt’s boys weren’t to go to your school, wouldn’t you, Timmy O’Leary?”

“Wha...?” Tim lifted a bleary gaze. “Tha...tha would be terr..terr.ble, Aw flul thing, Pat, jus awflul.”

“I could imagine that the next generation would be willing to go to other colleges too, somewhere besides Penn...if I were to say so, of course. Danny has agreed to go to Penn without a fuss and given up that nonsense about dancing school in New York so I can be more easy about the grandsons.”

Tim’s eyes lit up as though Christmas had come two months early. “Thas wunnerful, jus wunnerful, Pat. Knew Danny’d do bes...bes...thing,,,,Penn, jus, like brudders.”

Tim would be weeping all over me in a minute. I hated drunken Irishmen who got weepy. Give me one who got bellicose any day.

“But...you know what we have to do, don’t you?” Pat looked at Tim. Then he looked at me speculatively.

“Bryn, me lad. Why don’t you go over to the bar and ask my Mary Pat to get Timmy here a strong cup of coffee? Better make that extra strong. And get you and me each a whiskey, tell her the finest in the house, on the house, of course.”

I returned the dimpled smile that was being sent my way, but it wasn’t having its usual effect on me. I felt downright chilled by it, in fact. Patrick O’Keefe was up to something and he didn’t want me to know what it was. Fine. Tim was incapable of keeping a secret, even when he wasn’t three sheets to the wind. I’d bide my time and find out what the plan was when I drove my drunken boss home.


[Later that Night; Apartment off Liberty Avenue; POV-Bryn Jones]

“Terry, you can’t believe what those bastards have planned!”

“I will believe it, I promise, but first you have to tell me what it is.” Terrell Jennings stretched out on my sofa, wiggling his rear until he found a position that was comfortable. I think that sofa groaned in protest. I know Terrell groaned in pleasure, his arms extended above his head and every inch of his large body proclaiming his complete and utter relaxation.

Terrell believed in comfort. And pleasure. In all its many forms. When I describe Terry to people and say he weighs at least two hundred and eighty-five pounds, they usually say something like, ‘Oh my God, a whale! He must be so fat!’ But the truth is, there isn’t any fat on him at all.

He’s tall, six foot, three or four. He doesn’t know and doesn’t care exactly how tall he is. Same with his weight. All I know is, he’s big. But it is more than that mere height and weight. Terry is big in all senses of the word.. He has this huge chest and his lung capacity is something like two and a half times a normal man’s, which is handy, since he is an opera singer. His chest measures like sixty-eight or something ridiculous and he has only a thirty-eight inch waist. Of course, to many gay men, the words “only” and “thirty-eight waist” don’t belong in the same sentence, but they never saw my Terry in a tuxedo.

Of course, I may still be gay...and a bit of a size queen... but Terry isn’t still mine...at least not in that sense. First loves that we were, we’d settled into wonderful best friends while still in our early twenties. Now heading into our mid-twenties and beyond, we were great for each other, me the closeted gym teacher, soccer coach, and him the rising young tenor of Pittsburgh’s opera world, although more and more he was flying further and further from home. I knew I would lose him eventually to his talent, but for now I clung to the comfort that his large form and handsome, Jove-like features gave me. Wherever he was, was home for me. It has been, ever since we both left to make our own way through college at eighteen, me with loans and a few sports scholarships, and Terrell with his amazing voice taking every grant, scholarship and odd job he could find. We never looked back and our families sure as hell never looked for us. No matter how rough things got, and they got damn rough at times, he could always lift my spirits. As big as Terry’s body was, it didn’t begin to touch the size of the man’s heart. I’d never met anyone to compare with him when it came to his soul, for in that respect, he was a giant among munchkins. Now, as always, as upset as I was, I could feel a responsive smile start to tug at my lips as soon as he lifted one of those mobile eyebrows at me.

“Tell Papa all about it, but stop shouting. Wait, on second thought, don’t tell me, let me guess. Extra laps for all those sweet young things in their short shorts...and you’re complaining? You must be getting old, my friend. Or sick. Let me feel your forehead.”

Terrell gave a wicked laugh and reached out, grabbing for my arm to pull me down on top of him. I escaped, used to his tactics after almost twenty years of friendship. I sat on the floor and looked up at him. I composed myself, thinking again of how Pat O’Keefe seemed like two different men, the charming, out-going pub owner who could be a bit hot-tempered on the soccer field, and the cold-hearted man I’d heard scheming with Tim to teach his rebellious youngest son a lesson.

I felt a large warm hand on my shoulder.

“Nothing is that bad, Bryn. Tell me what your stupid Mick boss has done this time and we’ll figure something out to fix it.”

I closed my hand over Terry’s briefly, grateful for the grounding he always gave me. I took a deep breath.

“Remember how I told you about those students of mine who came from the same family, all good-looking, all really talented at sports?”

He nodded. “Black hair, green eyes, black hair, blue eyes, and red hair, green eyes, as I recall, and every one of them tall and gorgeous. I’m not likely to forget something like that.” He grinned at me. “Although didn’t you say some of the red-heads live in New York now? Shame. Red-heads are cute. I’ll have to spend more time in New York.” He tousled my hair, which tended toward russet.

“This is serious, Terry. Remember me telling you about the youngest O’Keefe soccer player, Danny?”

Terry frowned for a second, running his hands through his brown curls distractedly, his broad brow wrinkling in concentration as he searched his mental database. I could practically see him flipping through the huge rolodex he keeps of random facts in that brain of his–I’d often wondered how he classified the information I was always chattering on about–trivial or important? To his credit, I’ve never known him to forget anything I’ve ever told him, and indeed, his focus sharpened again in under a minute.

“Danny. He’s your soccer protégé who also is a dancing and singing protégé who has starred in the high school musical each year and he skipped a year of school somewhere along the way...he wants to go to Juilliard but Papa Pub Owner wants him to continue the soccer dynasty at Penn. While Tim O’Fool, the village idiot and head coach, wants to sell him off to the highest bidder so he can ride his soccer coattails, or should that be jersey tails, to a college coaching job...did I leave anything out?”

Terry beamed at me proudly, like a kid who’d just recited his alphabet correctly. For a man who was blessed with a voice so beautiful it made people weep for joy, and who could sing some of the world’s most complex music perfectly, and was fluent in no less than four languages, it was pathetic what childlike pleasure he took in the most simple accomplishments. His ability to remember names and people’s faces was just such a skill. Thinking about it again– how happy it made people at Terry’s concerts when he did just that, like remembering some little old lady by name whom he’d met the year before at a function– maybe he was right to take pride in such a talent.

“You’re exactly right, friend, but you’re not up on the latest news. Our boy wonder dropped a bombshell this past weekend. He’s....”

“Queer as a two dollar bill...whatever did happen to two dollar bills, come to think of ‘em?” Terry interjected.

I stared at him. “How did you know Danny was gay?”

“Elementary, my dear Watson,” he drawled, putting on a posh British accent. His accents were always better than mine. “Dancing, singing, lead in the high school musical....what else could he be?”

I glared at him. “That doesn’t make someone gay! I can’t sing or dance worth a damn and I’m gay.”

“You’re the exception that proves the rule,” my best friend informed me, patting my knee fondly. “So, your little cutie came out? Good for him. What a shock that must have been to...who? Are you telling me you never suspected he might bat for our team? Bryn, Bryn, Bryn...I need to get you out of that boys’ locker room more and into a men’s steam room.”

I flushed. “I’m his coach, Terry! And his gym teacher. The last thing I try to think about is my students as sexual creatures. It’s hard enough when I have O’ Fool as you call him going on and on about which of the boys has nailed which of the cheerleaders over the weekend. And to hear him talk, Danny has been one of the most active of our heterosexual he-men.”

Terry nodded sagely. “Ah, a high sex drive. Typical of your teenage gay male. I was like that too, remember?”

I did, actually. It made me miserable for a couple of years. I shrugged off the memory.

“The point is, Danny is a strong-willed young man. He has apparently faced down his father and each of his older brothers...with some strong support from his mother, thank goodness. I suspect she’s the real boss in that house. But while Patrick O’Keefe is being supportive of his son’s lifestyle choice on the surface, and even following his wife and son to the Episcopal Church, splitting with the Roman Catholic Church when it threaten young Danny with hell and brimstone....”

“Faith and begorrah, not becoming an Orangeman too!” Terry had assumed a thick brogue to accompany his comically shocked face. “Tisn’t enough for the mon to be forced to accept a shirt-lifter for a son, but now he must give up the faith of his fathers too?”

“It really isn’t funny, Ter. He isn’t accepting it. He plied Tim with drink...not that it took much arm twisting. Tim went there tonight begging to be told it was a mistake. Pat started out sounding quiet and resigned, spouting the party line, as set down by his wife Rose no doubt. That was as long as one of his other children was around, now that I think back on it. His oldest boy Matt or his younger daughter Mary Pat tended to be nearby most of the early evening. But once they were away, he sent me away as well in order to talk to Tim alone. That’s when he suggested Tim set about making sure word got out to the Philadelphia team this upcoming weekend about Danny...and perhaps arranging for there to be a team meeting before the game that Danny didn’t get word of.”

Terry frowned. “Explain to me exactly what you are saying, Bryn, because I suddenly seem to have become slow, or paranoid, or something. Because the only thing coming to my mind right now can’t be right.”

“You’re as sharp as ever, friend. Pat O’Keefe, instead of truly supporting his beautiful, talented, gay son, who has had the guts to come out in his senior year to his entire family and now his whole school, has decided to work behind the scenes to set him up, in a strange town, without his teammates to watch his back, in the hopes that a gay bashing by homophobes on the opposing team might change his orientation.”

“This is the man you told me God has blessed with seven sons? Maybe he feels he can spare one who falls short of his ideals? Ah, Bryn. And to think it was asked, what man among you, when his son asks for a fish, would give him a stone?” Terrell, the son of a Methodist minister, softly paraphrased the Gospel verse. He shaded his eyes with his hand; all humor was gone.

Terrell had a brother once, seven years older. He died of cancer when Terry was just fourteen. He’d loved his brother dearly, as had his father. Neither of them ever got over the loss of that first born son. It was my turn to rub Terry’s knee soothingly. I spoke softly into the room.

“I’ve never understood Pat O’Keefe’s attitude toward Danny. I’ve only been around to see firsthand for the two sons ahead of him as far as coaching from the sidelines, but I’ve seen him interacting with the other sons at his pubs...he has a couple, pubs, that is, he has more than a couple of sons as you know...and when the older sons come watch their younger brothers play, it is a nice sight to see. There are even more, because a few of them have boys almost as old as Danny. Pat seems to be a great dad to them, stern but fair, I’d say, old-fashioned in some ways, but the good ways. Spends lots of time with his kids, and puts them first, adores his wife and kids, works hard, doesn’t drink too much and gives to charity. A lot to admire.”

Terry looked at me somberly. “So this fine upstanding man would be a great fellow, if he weren’t an intolerant homophobe who isn’t above a spot of violence to get his message across?”

I shook my head. “You know, you can’t really say that. His fourth son, Joe, is rooming with this guy up at Penn, Brian Kinney, who is one of the biggest sluts from around here. Pat O’Keefe and his older boys think the world of Kinney. I’ve heard stories about how big Pat has shielded Kinney from his drunken father, kept the boy at his house during some holidays instead of having him go to his own house to be knocked around by the elder Kinney. Not that Brian is ‘out’ at home. In the part of town where he’s from, purely blue collar, steel workers and such, a father like his wouldn’t teach a fairy son a tough lesson in a roundabout way like O’Keefe is aiming to do. He’d beat him to death with his bare hands.”

“You know, I think that makes O’Keefe worse to my way of thinking. But maybe that’s my own experience talking because I never could understand how my father could preach understanding and patience to every other parent in his congregation, and come down so hard on his own children.”

I nodded sympathetically. Reverend Jennings was loved by his congregation for his sweet nature and his homilies that were filled with gentle exhortations to love one another and to judge not lest they be judged. At home, however, it was a spare the rod and spoil the child doctrine all the way.

Terry looked at me intently. “We’re not going to let that boy get hurt, Bryn. He needs someone to watch over him, and if his Dad isn’t going to do it and O’Fool keeps you and his teammates from watching his back, then I guess I’ll be going to Philadelphia this weekend.. I wonder if anyone I know is performing there?”

I felt as though a heavy load fell from my shoulders as Terrell spoke. Everything would be fine now. Not that I expected anything less when I went to him with my worry over Danny.



[Setting: Philadelphia, PA; a hotel near the University of Pennsylvania, Friday afternoon of the following weekend; POV/Danny O’Keefe]

I was just heading down the hall when Coach O’Leary called me. Given how he’d been giving me the cold shoulder all week since I’d talked to him about coming out, I was kind of surprised by how cheery he sounded. I thought maybe he’d been hitting stewardesses up for those little drinks on the plane during the short flight here from Pittsburgh. Still, I was more than ready to return to his good graces. Maybe he remembered that he was counting on me to be his shining light in tomorrow’s game, I thought cynically. Not one to ignore the star player when any scouts might be around, our Coach O’Leary, even if he abhorred his star’s perverted habits. With a sigh, I turned and pasted on a charming smile.

“Yes, Coach? You want me?”

“How are you feeling, Danny? We haven’t had much chance to talk this week, what with all the excitement of getting ready for the big game and this trip.”

I raised an eyebrow as Mr. O’Leary looked down at his feet. Was that a blush on his face? Jesus, Mary and Fucking Joseph... as Luke would say...not me, of course, not Mama’s angel...but the fucker couldn’t even offer that bullshit up with a straight face. I wanted to spit in his face, but again, I’m too good to act the way I wish I could, the way Brian would, or Red would, so I smiled sweetly and shrugged.

“It’s a shame, isn’t it?” I agreed. “But I’m fine, sir. Thank you for asking. The team’s ready to kick ass tomorrow. We’ll do you proud. Is there anything else you wanted? I was going to go for a walk around, maybe sightsee until time for the team meeting. Tucker and I are unpacked already.”

I didn’t see any reason to mention that Tuck was enjoying some privacy with his latest conquest among the cheerleaders. Coach took far too much interest in our sex lives as it was. He was fucking creepy about it actually, but I tried to ignore that aspect of his personality as I smiled innocently at him. I waited to find out what he wanted now that he was no longer looking at me as though I’d killed his favorite dog–or had been his favorite dog and was under a death sentence.

“Well, that’s a fine idea, just fine, but be sure to be back to the practice field in time for the practice before the team meeting.”

I tried not to flinch as he threw his arm over my shoulders as we reached the elevator. What practice, I wondered, even as I tried to wriggle out from under his arm without giving offense. I was relieved to see Coach Bryn come out of his room down the hall–he’d be a good distraction, I figured. But before I could call down to him, Coach O’Leary took advantage of an elevator arriving and practically shoved me onto it, stepping on with me. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought he was avoiding Bryn, but that wouldn’t have made sense because no one is more deferential to him than Bryn is, which is pretty stupid, since Bryn is actually a far better athlete and coach. Jamie says it’s politics, though, that keeps Coach O’Leary the Head Coach and Bryn just the Assistant. Dad supports O’Leary for the job even if he isn’t the best, simply because he’s Irish, and because he listens to Dad. Most of our success as a team, though, and my success as a player, comes from Bryn’s coaching, not that you’ll catch me trying to convince Dad of that. I know a losing argument when I see one.

Once on the elevator, I took the opportunity to pull free of the Coach’s arm and leaned against the wall of the small space, folding my arms across my chest, trying to channel my oldest brother’s intimidating posture. It works better when Matt does it, of course, since he’s built like a brick outhouse, but I think I got the message across. I borrowed my brother John’s cool stare for good measure. No one can stare a person down like he can. Something about the eyebrows...and I do have the same eyebrows, where I don’t have a massive chest like Matt, I had to admit, even if only to myself.

Whichever brother’s trick it was, Coach seemed to get more uncomfortable riding with me. He was flushed, sweating even, and he wouldn’t look me in the eye. Damned odd behavior, I thought.

“Well, anyway, Danny. I thought it would be a good idea to hold a short practice, shake out the kinks from traveling. So, have your walk, go ahead and sightsee, but meet us behind Franklin Field at six-thirty, and we’ll proceed to the practice field together. Here’s a diagram of exactly where we’re to meet.”

I blinked at him. “Don’t you want me to stay and inform the team?” Tuck and I were co-captains. A change in plans like this was really my responsibility to announce, along with Tuck, and I knew he was going to be annoyed by the interruption in his plans. The team meeting had been scheduled for eight. And what kinks did we have? The flight was barely an hour. We’d already practiced once today.

“No, no. You go enjoy yourself. You’ve been working hard and you should have some fun. I’ll make sure one of the others brings your gear. See you then, son.”

He waved me off in the lobby and turned to go into the hotel bar. I watched him for a minute and debated going back upstairs but decided to stick to my original plan. This had been a crappy week, so a bit of just hanging out was definitely in order. Besides, Tuck had the room tied up and I really wasn’t in the mood to hang out with anyone else right then. The other guys were still getting used to the idea of a gay teammate. Most of them had been pretty decent about it. One or two had been pricks, but those guys had been pricks before. It was just that other than Tuck, none of them were at the point where I could just show up in their room on my own without it seeming...awkward. With a girl, sure. With Tuck or a couple other guys, no problem. But on my own, it got weird. Like I’d want to fuck any of them, I thought, twisting my lips and thinking about the man I would like to fuck, or be fucked by.

Brian had been so great last weekend when I went to Penn to talk to my brother Joey. Tough, cool, but protective and caring. I felt like some kind of sappy romantic getting all misty-eyed over it, but he really did come through for me last weekend. I wanted so much for him to kiss me when we got back to the room that night, but the way he looked into my eyes so intensely, it almost felt as though he had. His hands were so warm where they clasped my biceps...I could have stood there staring into his eyes all night.

I smiled ruefully at the memory. A painful case of blueballs had detracted from the romance of that episode somewhat. Still, I’d rather wait for the right time and place...and a person who means something to me...than screw everyone who is willing, like Tuck and my brothers Jamie and Joey do.

And face it, like Brian does. I didn’t like to think about it too much, but Mark and Matt had been pretty blunt about Brian’s reputation. They had this idea that I was choosing to be gay because I wanted to be like Brian, or be with Brian, an idea I suspected they got from a few of my stupid sisters. Yeah, I chose this. I kicked at a stone on the sidewalk. It wasn’t that I wanted to be different from who I was...not really. I mean, I was what I was and couldn’t imagine being any other way. Just like, I guess, the others couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be like me. I couldn’t help grinning at the idea of one of my brothers as a gay man. No way in hell. Each one seemed more incongruous than the next.

So, if one of us was meant to be gay, it certainly was bound to be me. I just wish they didn’t think it was so... wrong. Mama could twist their arms until they came off but you can’t force people to accept something, not really. They have to do it at their own pace. Like Joey. He was fine once he got over the initial shock. Luke was great, thank God, I don’t know how I’d have managed if he had acted ashamed of me. Angel and Mary Pat were cool with it too. Mark and Matt, they’ll get there, and so will Mary Kate. The others, they might take a little while longer but they’ll be okay eventually... I think. Dad, well, I don’t know if he’ll ever be totally happy about it, but he’ll pretend to be fine with it, if only for Mama’s sake if nothing else. At least now he has a reason to be unhappy with me.

I walked around pretty aimlessly until it was time to search out the field we were supposed to practice at. I’d intended to go back for my own gear despite what Coach had said, but I’d lost track of time. There were a lot of hot college guys walking around, so I’d found a coffee shop with outdoor tables and sat down to do some boy watching and daydreaming. By the time the friendly waiter brought me a third cup of coffee, on the house, accompanied by a couple of biscotti and his phone number, I gave up on that idea. He was able to give me clear directions to Franklin Field, and promised to come root for our team the next day. It cheered me up a lot to meet another gay guy my own age so naturally. It was fun to flirt with a guy and not feel like the world was staring. It was more than fun; it was empowering. There had been times in my life when I’d sensed a sexual interest from other males. For the first time I was letting myself openly respond to it, and provoke it, and as I headed off toward the sports fields, I felt like flying. I couldn’t keep a smile off my face and I knew I was flashing it at everyone I passed, male, female, young, old...it didn’t matter. That moment in Philadelphia felt like my real “coming out.” All at once, I, Danny O’Keefe, was finally out and proud of it.

There were a handful of soccer players on the far end of the field when I arrived but they weren’t our guys so I decided to warm up by running a lap of the field. I was in jeans but they were comfortable enough to run a mile or so in and Tuck should be arriving soon with my soccer stuff. I hoped he had enough sense to bring my cleats with him since I was just wearing a pair of old cross trainers. I tossed my jacket down onto the bleachers and decided it was cool enough to keep my t-shirt on. There was a big guy sitting nearby reading a book but he didn’t look up. He didn’t look like the type to steal my jacket so I left my wallet and keys in its pockets rather than transferring them to my jeans pocket. I debated asking him to watch over my stuff for me but he seemed pretty engrossed in his book.

I felt slightly uneasy and glanced around again, wondering where the others were. Could Coach have changed his mind? It was getting slightly dark but the field had lights, I was glad to see. Deciding I was being stupid, I tucked my jacket down between two benches, so it didn’t stick out like a sore thumb, and took off. I started off slowly to warm up, then gradually increased my pace. As I passed the cluster of guys practicing, I glanced over. I was a little dismayed to see from their shirts that it was the team we were going to be playing the next day. Coach really fucked up, planning a practice at the same time and on the same field as the rival team.

Picking up my pace, I was mentally congratulating myself on not wearing anything that proclaimed my high school affiliation, when I heard footsteps coming up behind me and a voice calling my name.

“Long way from O’Keefe’s Pub, aren’t you, O’Keefe?”

Smart one, Danny. Don’t wear your JFK Memorial H.S. t-shirt, wear your pub t-shirt. My team jacket might be on the bleachers but this shirt had my last name emblazoned on the back. In the official high school t-shirt, I conceivably could have been from any one of a million JFK high schools. But the pub shirt, coupled with this long hair of mine that tended to be mentioned in the sports pages as much as my stats, would lead to one conclusion. I weighed speeding up to get back to the bleachers versus turning around to confront my fan club.

“Spying on us, O’Keefe? Pretty low, even for one of you guys from the Pitts,” a second voice called after me and a clump of mud hit me square in the back.

That decided it. I whirled around, zig-zagging as I did, in case any more mud was being flung...literally. There were five of them, ranging in size from roughly my size to twice that. I glanced over my shoulder quickly. There was still no sign of the team arriving, and that big man was still deeply engrossed in his book. I wondered if it would help to yell? But I was going to be facing these guys the next day in a game, so somehow I had to maintain face.

“Listen, there seems to have been a mix-up. I’m not here to spy on you or check out your secret defenses or whatever you think I could figure out from seeing you practice that our coaches don’t already know about you. I was told our team was practicing here tonight....” I could see that they weren’t buying it. Listening to me, I thought it sounded dumb...I didn’t believe me and I knew it was true. I ran my hand through my hair nervously.

A tall skinny guy who seemed to be their leader was watching me closely. He smirked as I fell silent.

“Misunderstanding, huh? Those suck, they really do. So here you are, the captain and star of the JFK Patriots, and here we are, thinking there should be some sort of forfeit paid for your having come onto our practice uninvited. What do you think, guys?”

“I say we kidnap him, take him hostage,” one of the beefier looking guys suggested.

“Cut his balls off,” another one chimed in, causing laughs. I stood, arms folded, feigning total boredom. Meanwhile, my mind was going through my options, which weren’t looking all that great. Running or staying here and fighting? Or, staying here and bluffing.

Running– good if I were the fastest. If they caught me, however, it meant being tackled and instantly in a vulnerable position in a fight. But, I’d be closer to help, if that big guy would get his nose out of that book long enough to either help or at least call the police.

Standing and fighting–plus side is, I can fight better than most. Down side is, at least two of these guys look like the real thing when it comes to street fighters and if we get into a real nasty fight, I risk an injury that keeps me out of the game tomorrow. Or injuring one of them seriously, since there is no way to fight nicely when it’s five to one.

Standing and bluffing–plus side is, it maintains a semblance of civility for the game tomorrow...and my skin intact. Down side...I may not be able to bluff that well.

Resorting to my best Luke impersonation, and wishing I had a six foot nine inch body to back up the attitude, I stared down the ringleader. “This is amusing as shit, but I need to get back to my team now. Why don’t we just settle it on the field tomorrow. Sorry for intruding on your practice, but it was a mistake, won’t do it again. I’ll be running along....”

It was the switchblade coming out that was my first clue that the apology was not going to work. I made the mistake of flipping my hair behind my ear to get it out of my face just then and the guy with the knife cackled with glee.

“That’s it, Tio! We’ll scalp him! We’ll each cut a lock of his hair to wear in the game tomorrow for good luck!”

“No fucking way!” I exploded, kicking at his hand as he reached toward me with the damn knife. I’d taken karate lessons for years, and was a black belt, but Luke has always told me there is a big difference between real martial arts and the type of competition karate I’ve learned. He’s done his best to teach me the other kind, what he and his best friend Redraven call the real kind, when he’s home on leave. Red has taught me wrestling and wicked knife skills. But they’re right. It’s very different using them in a real fight, with people who want to hurt you.

Or cut your hair off.

I went a bit crazy. I fought like a maniac, but it seemed like no time at all before they had me face down and were hacking at my hair with that switchblade. I was afraid to move, terrified that they would cut my neck. A knee was pressing into my back and hands were pressing on my arms, holding them down. My face was in the dirt track and I could barely breathe. Three of the guys were moaning next to me and I took some satisfaction in that but mainly I was scared shitless. Then there was a yell and the weight was gone, from both of the other guys. Just gone. I felt arms picking me up and I started to flail but a rich voice spoke in my ear.

“Hush, chief. It’s safe. You’re safe. No more fighting now. Let’s get you away from here before the rest of them get up. Then we’ll say our hellos. Poor boy...your pretty curls.”

“My jacket,” I murmured groggily. I think I must have banged my head. I was feeling really sleepy all of a sudden. I felt a rumble as the big chest answered.

“We’ll get it on the way out. A half dozen soccer players...quite a tussle. I need a drink. There’s the jacket. Now, on to my car...try not to bleed, it’s a rental.”

Yeah, whatever, I thought, shivering. My good Samaritan set me down on the sidewalk next to a green Lincoln while he unlocked the door. I swayed slightly, and realized that I was about to be sick. I leaned one hand on the back door to steady myself and turned away from the man so I could have a little privacy while I threw up into the handy sewer. I felt myself shaking uncontrollably and placed both hands on my knees as I stayed bent over, trying to get back some control.

Two big hands came down on my shoulders and I started, alarmed.

“Shh, it’s okay, just trying to give you a little support. Here’s a handkerchief, chief. Wipe your face and let’s get a move on. I’ll put the heater on in the car. You’re freezing.”

“Where are you taking me?”

“I’ll get you cleaned up and we’ll see if there’s any damage done, okay? My name is Terry and I’m a friend of...a friend of yours. But I need to discuss that in private. And we need to get away from here. Will you trust me?”

I looked into the huge man’s bright brown eyes. They were warm with concern but I could see that he was the type of person who probably laughed a lot–when not rescuing stupid teenagers. He was also really handsome. And that “gaydar” that Brian told me to develop was pinging off the charts. I hoped it was reliable and not just wishful thinking. I leaned back against the big, hard body and gave him a grateful smile.

“I trust you.”

A sable colored eyebrow flew up as he smiled to himself. “I wonder if I should return the sentiment, Sir Jailbait? Well, we shall see, first things first, and first is getting you warm and your injuries checked out.”

I didn’t bother protesting my good intentions...one, he looked like he would just laugh at me, and two, my intentions were far from good so why compound the lie? Despite how sore I felt, I bit back a grin as I leaned back in the car’s leather seat and pondered how one went about seducing someone who looked a good ten years older?

We drove to a hotel in the center of the city, which he cheerfully explained was east of the section we’d been in, known as University City, and we were now in Center City, although he referred to this specific section as the “gayborhood.” He laughed as he told me that, promising that if we had time, he’d show me the sights. That would be something; instead of attending the team meeting, I’d take a tour of gay clubs. Coach and Dad would take turns killing me. Of course, they might already be thinking I was dead, it suddenly occurred to me.

“Oh fuck, I need to get back to my team!” I sat up too quickly just as Terry jerked to a stop and the combination of the car’s sudden movement and my forward movement in the seat made all the blood rush from my head and I stupidly blacked out, slumping back.

It was just a second...I think...but once again I felt myself being lifted and cradled against that massive chest. Okay, this was not turning me on, I told myself firmly. Nothing sexy about being carried like a baby by a guy with huge, bulging muscles; hell, this was like any given day growing up in my house. I was always getting hurt and someone was hauling me up and carrying me off to get patched up.

Except it wasn’t the same at all. This man wasn’t family and I was keenly aware of that fact as he strode through the parking garage with me in his arms.

“Well, I think I’ve let you play possum enough,” that humor filled voice announced as the elevator “pinged” before opening. “I don’t mind carrying you through a parking garage but I’ll be damned if I look like Beast carrying Beauty off to his castle...by way of a hotel lobby.”

I opened one eye. “Surely you’d be cast as the handsome Gaston at the very least?”

He grinned back at me as he toppled me out of his arms. I landed gracefully despite my aches and pains from the earlier fight.

“No, I’m a tenor, Gaston’s a low baritone, bass role. Though I am handsome, aren’t I?” Terry mugged for me and I laughed. He shook his head, reaching out to rifle his fingers through my hair. Damn, I’d forgotten. My hair! I put my hands up to it and winced. His expression was instantly sympathetic.

“Don’t worry, chief, we’ll get you fixed in a jiffy. Come on, upstairs.”

He had a suite, which was slightly reassuring but not much. No sooner did he close the door than it occurred to me that I was being incredibly foolish. Not only had I wandered off from the group and somehow managed to end up at the wrong field, but I had gone off with a total stranger and was now in a hotel suite, alone with this stranger, who could be a serial killer for all I knew.

I was dead. I looked at Terry, eyes wide, trying to think of some way of getting out of this mess.

“You’re frightened,” he said softly, looking at me from the doorway.

I didn’t answer. What was the polite thing to say? Yes, of course I am? Or no, but I should be if I had half a brain?

He walked over to the wetbar and pulled out a beer for himself and coke for me. Before tossing it, he raised that eyebrow and asked, “or would you prefer diet?”

“I’d prefer a beer, but if soda is all I’m being offered than diet please. And thank you.”

He smiled wryly at me and set the coke on the cabinet and reached in again to pull out a diet coke. I caught it neatly when he tossed it at me, then sat down in the chair by the phone that he pointed to. I glanced at myself in a mirror and almost dropped the soda can.

It wasn’t the bruises on my face that upset me, it was the obvious chunks missing from my hair–I looked like someone had taken a weed-whacker to my head. I swallowed hard. That resonant voice commanded my attention, dragging my eyes away from my freakish appearance and back to the man who was either a good Samaritan or a possible serial murderer. I was no longer convinced that he could be anything in the middle–my life tended toward extremes.

“Danny, it will be okay, I promise.”

My stomach clenched. “How do you know my name?”

Terry’s smile widened as he silently held up my jacket that I’d dropped on the sofa where he’d sat down. I blushed. I’d forgotten that my name was embroidered on the front breast, along with my designation as team captain. Duh. I caught it as he tossed it at me.

“Don’t be such a slob. I knew your name without seeing it on your jacket. Remember, I said I was a friend of a friend?”

Oh, right. I put my head down between my knees.

“Danny...Danny, look at me....oh fuck it. Danny, I’m your Coach Bryn’s best friend, okay? Feel better?”

I was pulled against that wide warm chest again and I allowed myself to relax into it. Fuck it was definitely the feeling of the moment. I reached up and wrapped an arm around the strong neck, lifting my face up to brush against the trim beard that framed the strong jaw. I kept my eyes closed but I could picture it in my mind as I rubbed my cheek against that excitingly rough texture. My heart rate sped up.

“Damn, you are too much,” he breathed, tightening his arms around me and gripping my chin. Firm warm lips touched mine then, softly at first, then harder. I felt...incredible. I was kissing a man, finally, and it was amazing, like all my best fantasies only better. I pressed closer, shifting slightly so that I could wrap a leg over his, the back of my thigh resting on his large leg.

He pulled back slightly, lifting his head but still holding me close. I whimpered a little in protest and tried to pull him back. He shook his head at me ruefully. “Whoa, chief. I happen to know that hot as you are...and you are the hottest thing I’ve seen in a decade, no lie...you’re also well and truly too young for this man...fuck it all.”

Terry looked more unhappy than I felt...which was pretty fucking unhappy. I stared at him, wide-eyed.

“You’re kidding me, right?” I leaned back, making no effort to hide the boner that was tenting my jeans. I was glad they were loose, otherwise I’d be dying. Terry glanced down and something flickered in his eyes that made me even harder.

“Don’t play games with the big boys until you know what you’re getting into, chief, because you’re packing some pretty powerful weapons that could get you into trouble if you don’t know what you’re doing. Now, I want you to not argue with me, but go get a shower...cold if you have to...while I call Bryn and let him know that you’re safe with me.”

My lip was still tingling were he’d kissed me and now he was talking to me like I was a little kid. I narrowed my eyes. “Maybe I don’t want to take a cold shower,” I said, stubborn as all get out.

“Well then, I’ll take one...a long one,” he said cheerfully, slapping my leg as he stood up. He looked down from his God-like height...like that was anything new to me, I thought resentfully. Actually, maybe I would get that shower. Being reminded of how my family treated me was a mood killer.

“I’ll shower first,” I announced loftily. “You did say you wanted to call Coach Bryn, didn’t you?”

A knowing chuckle was all that greeted my sulk. I slammed the bathroom door.

Of course, a few seconds reflection under the hot water had me feeling mortified. This guy, Terry, did help me out. And while I lost a few hunks of hair, and man, was that going to need a fix soon, I didn’t get hurt, not really. I escaped with only a few bruises. It could have been a hell of a lot worse. Funny thing was, one of the things the girls had gone on and on about was that being gay might leave me open to being bashed. There were always incidents, bullies will always find a reason to pick on a person they think they can pick on, but I never let myself be bullied when I was the smallest kid in the class and I sure wasn’t going to allow it now, even if I were the only gay one, which I knew I wasn’t. But today, the first time I’d ever been jumped, it had nothing to do with being gay, and everything to do with playing sports. Just goes to show, I thought as I shampooed my mangled hair.

It was a good half hour later when I stood in the doorway of the bedroom, a towel around my waist, toweling my hair dry with a second one, and eavesdropped shamelessly on Terry talking on the phone in the sitting area. I was relieved to hear from his conversation that he really did seem to be talking to Coach Bryn, so he must be his friend. But I could hardly believe what he was saying.

“Well it took you long enough to answer, Bryn, baby! I’ve had enough time to rescue our hero, order room service, arrange for a hairstylist to make a house call...which wasn’t easy on a weekend, thank God our people understand priorities...and....What do you mean, why is a haircut a priority? Trust you to zero right in on the trivial point, love. I tell you I rescued the lad from your boss and his father’s nefarious plot, which, incidentally, didn’t really work the way they planned, but more on that in a bit, since you’d much rather hear about hair. So gay of you.”

Huh? Coach Bryn was gay? Now that was a surprise. So much for my gaydar. It clearly needed work. Or maybe he was really careful, like I used to be. I stayed really quiet. This was a conversation I wanted to hear more of.

“He got jumped. I was a little late getting there...yeah, I know, sorry. Trouble getting the rental car squared away. Anyway, I pull up and there’s this guy reading on the bleachers and he says to me, looks like that boy from Pittsburgh is going to get his ass kicked. So I say, what makes you say that? And he nods his head over to Danny’s jacket, which he’d dropped on the bleachers before heading off to run around the track. Guy says, one of the local boys saw him walking around in that jacket out front...it has his name on it. I write for the local paper, so I don’t really want to get involved but I will if I have to. Strikes me, though that you look like a big guy who could handle a few kids...seriously, Bryn, he says all that. He’s still saying it as I take off to where I see that Danny is facing down this gang of kids, but I’m not the fastest sprinter as we both know....Okay, I’m the slowest sprinter we know. How was I to know the situation would go from fine to shit in ninety seconds?”

Yeah, it kind of did, I thought, looking back at it. It seemed longer while I was exchanging punches and shoves but then, it always does.

“He’s okay, fights like a berserker. My God, if he were just a little bigger, he’d be unstoppable. But he must have taken out three or four of them before they got him down on the ground. Sons of bitches were hacking at his hair, the bastards. I don’t know why but it was scary, they had this switchblade near his head. I was terrified. I thought they were stabbing him. I just threw the kid with the knife when I got close enough. The one sitting on his back too....yeah, one with each arm. I was mad, Bryn.”

A warm feeling spread through my chest as I listened to Terry talk. He really had been upset, I could tell from his voice. He had an incredible voice, richly expressive. You felt it pour over you, like caramel over a slice of apple pie. Hmm, I realized I was hungry. I tucked my damp raggedy hair behind my ears and tossed the towel back toward the bathroom. Then I stepped forward and leaned against the doorframe casually, catching Terry’s eye. He gazed at me appreciatively. I might not be a giant like the rest of my family, but I knew that what I had looked good. Dancing and soccer pretty much my whole life gave me muscles everywhere, and being lean, they showed in ways that any gay man was bound to like. At least, I was counting on this gay man appreciating it.

“Bryn...would you still be my best friend if I become a sex offender? I mean, what’s a bit of pedophilia between friends?”

I rolled my eyes and strolled forward.

“Sweet Jesus,” Terry breathed. “You know, Bryn, he’s even more dangerous when he stops trying?...Don’t laugh at me; it isn’t funny!” I looked up, his comment clicking. But then I thought back to the other thing he’d said.

“What nefarious plot? And what did my dad and Coach O’Leary have to do with what happened today?”

“I’ll talk to you later, Bryn, little pitchers and all that. But maybe you’d better say hi before I ring off. Tell him I’m safe...and tell him to behave!”

Terry held the phone out to me and I accepted it gingerly, my mind whirling with new questions.


“Coach?” I hated how young my voice sounded at that moment. I cleared my throat and tried again. “Coach Bryn, what the fuck is going on?” Good, my normal deep tone was back.

“So it is you, I wasn’t sure there for a second. Sounded like Terrell was putting me on and pretending to be you.” Coach Bryn’s voice was teasing but he sounded like he was worried. His next words confirmed that. “Are you okay, Danny? Do you need a doctor? I’ll come to you right now, screw the team meeting if you’re hurt, I’ll take you to a hospital myself.”

“No, no, I’m fine. But...why am I here? Shouldn’t I be back at the hotel for the meeting? Or is the practice still going on?” Suddenly it struck me as an awkward silence followed my questions. “There wasn’t any practice, was there?”

He rushed to answer this time. “No, there was a practice, Danny. And it should be ending soon. I’m not at it because I was sent to look for you. Coach Tim is conducting practice and is disclaiming any knowledge of where you are, claiming he told you to go to the correct field. He forgot he told me that he planned something different. Listen, it’s a complicated story and I’d rather not tell it to you over the phone. I’ll come over and talk to you about it in person. I’m supposed to be searching for you, after all,” he finished bitterly.

“Okay, then I’ll see you here and you tell me in person,” I said mechanically. I felt numb.

Terry gently took the phone from my hand. “Bryn, I’ll add to our room service order. Take a cab and get yourself over here if you’re coming, but be quick about it. We’re starved.” They probably exchanged a few more comments but I’ll be damned if I know what they were.

The coach set me up. And my dad had something to do with it? I drew my knees up to my chest, making sure the big towel covered enough to keep me decent, and sat brooding. I could feel Terry’s gaze on me but I didn’t look up. I wasn’t in the mood for flirting anymore. The fun had gone out of it and I felt kind of sick over the whole trip. I wanted to be...not home. Somewhere else. I blinked rapidly. All of a sudden, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to be. That afternoon I’d felt like everything was turning out fantastic, and with this revelation, the bottom had dropped out of my fantasy world. I wished I were at Penn already, playing soccer with Brian and Joey.

“I’ll get my shower now. If food or a fairy hairdresser arrives, let ‘em in.”

I smiled weakly in response and Terry squeezed my shoulder briefly as he passed.

“It will be okay, Danny. I promise,” he said solemnly, brushing his lips across my brow briefly.

I picked up my chin and set my jaw firmly before looking him in the eye. I answered him steadily. “Of course it will. And... I should have said this sooner, but...thank you for your help. You’ve been great.”

Terry looked at me just as steadily, then crouched down to be level with me. He took my hands in his. “Danny, you are sixteen and I am twenty-six years old.” I started to say something but he raised my hands to his mouth and kissed them, which silenced me, surprisingly enough. He smiled gently and I bit my lip and waited for him to finish what he wanted to say.

“You are an amazingly beautiful young man, and more than that, you are sexy and talented, and I think I want to hear that voice of yours sing more than I want my next ten meals. Which, if you knew how much I love to eat, you would know how much of a compliment that is. I have no doubt that singing with you would be second only to making love with you...but only singing with you is legal for me. And I am an old fashioned boy. A lot of men will tell you this is not important, that statutory rape is not a big deal in our world, well, it is to me. I don’t think men of my age should be having sex with men of your age. Case closed. It isn’t because I don’t want to...God, it isn’t because I don’t want to...and it isn’t because I can’t think of a dozen reasons why I might make it a better experience for you than somebody younger. Hell, I can rationalize with the best of them. But I don’t ever want you to look back and think of me and rape in connection with what happens between us.”

“I wouldn’t,” I protested.

“You don’t know that. Nor do you know if your father would have me arrested, do you?”

I froze. That thought didn’t occur to me. He smiled again and hugged me to him. “I fully intend to look you up in a few years, Mr. O’Keefe...and I will have no mercy on you then, I want you to know.”

“I may be the one finding you first, Mr....what is your last name?”

“Jennings. And don’t worry. I’ll be staying in touch, chief. You need someone to watch over you.”


[Setting: Philadelphia, PA, Play-off; Saturday, Late October, 1996; POV/Terrell Jennings]

I saw the man who had to be Patrick O’Keefe at once. He was as big as Bryn had always said he was, and as good-looking. But, after having spent so much time in the company of the truly beautiful Danny O’Keefe, I wasn’t as impressed with his father’s coarser version of the same looks, and being built along the same lines, only bigger, his brawn didn’t impress either. I waited until shortly before the teams would be taking the field to walk up and sit down next to him. Two seats had been reserved for Bryn’s family and I took them, to the surprise of the surrounding Pittsburgh supporters. They were no doubt used to Mr. Jones not having any family to speak of. Ah, if they only knew, I thought, considering all the wicked things I didn’t dare do, but which would be fun to pretend to do, just to drive Bryn crazy.

I heard a faint humming just then and a broad grin crossed my face. The little chief was huddled with his coaches, ignoring me completely, but he was humming “Me and Mrs. Jones, We Got a Thing, Going On,” so strong and clear that I was tempted to harmonize with him. Bryn’s ears were bright red. He really should learn to control his reactions like that. Lucky for him, an attractive young lady was sitting down on the other side of the O’Keefe clan and she was blushing and giving my buddy the eye.

Patrick O’Keefe elbowed me, chuckling. “Looks like our Coach Jones has an admirer. Hi, I’m Pat O’Keefe,” he stuck his hand out to shake. I clasped it in my best straight man’s bone-crushing handshake. His smile grew; I must have passed the test. I tightened my grip before letting go. I saw the flicker of surprise in his eyes.

I know how this game is played, old man, I thought with grim satisfaction. With my neatly trimmed beard and expensively tailored clothes, a man like Pat O’Keefe is apt to look at me and think, sure, this man may be bigger and younger than me but he’s a city man and soft. To men like this, every encounter necessitates this return to the jungle, or frontier, or the streets....anyplace where men measured each other and decided who was the tougher man. It’s played in my world too, the universal pissing match, whether it’s two tenors going for the same role in an opera or two tops deciding who’s going to bottom in a backroom. No one wants to be face down in the mud, old man. No one expects to find out their father helped put them there.

Danny had a knit hat on, hiding his haircut. He and I had discussed with Bryn that he would keep it quiet for as long as he could. We wanted to wait and see if the other boys revealed themselves. Bryn had contacted the administration of the other school, with the help of the reporter from the stands, and it had been agreed to keep the matter under wraps to see if the boys involved said anything before the game. Danny made the decision not to have them thrown out of the game as he didn’t want to have the game decided on such a controversial issue. The administration of the other school was relieved by his decision, the reporter was impressed but slightly suspicious and was waiting for more to the story; Bryn and I knew Danny was trying to keep the rest of the story, such as why he had ended up at the wrong practice field, from getting out.

“Nice to meet you, Pat, I’m Terry Jennings. Old school friend of Bryn’s. We grew up together, went to college together, you know, whole nine yards. I’ve heard a lot about you and your boys.”

“Ah, are you a soccer player too?” O’Keefe’s face lit up hopefully. He looked at my build a bit doubtfully though.

I laughed. “No, Bryn was the soccer star, I played a little football–though you must have called it football in your day, now didn’t you? Truthfully, I was never much of an athlete. Too big and slow. I was a shotputter, discus...but mainly I was a singer in school.”

“No kidding?” O’Keefe did a double-take. “Big guy like you? What do you do to support yourself?”

“Dad!” A pretty girl sitting next to him tugged on his arm. “You can’t talk to people like that.” She leaned forward. "I’m sorry sir, my father-in-law is a dear but he thinks everyone is his son.”

“And they’re not?” Patrick smiled down at the dark haired girl then looked at me sheepishly. “My tongue runs away with me. This is Julie, my eldest son’s wife, and a blessing to us all. You’d never guess she is the mother of one of the boys on this team. She looks barely a child herself, doesn’t she?”

I shook her small hand gently even as I raised a surprised eyebrow. She smiled back at me.

“My son is only a sophomore and not quite as good as his uncles and father yet, but he’s getting there. He’s happy to have made the varsity team this year with such a good team as your friend Bryn and Coach O’Leary have fielded.”

“Hush, they’re getting ready to start! Shame Rosie couldn’t make the trip today. Though I can tell you, she’d make the boy take that stupid hat off. What is he thinking? The only good thing you can say about it is, it covers up that long hair of his.” Patrick was practically bouncing in excitement. His daughter-in-law looked at him fondly. I was surprised that he was here, but wondered if he came because he’d received a panicked call from O’Leary last night when Danny didn’t return and couldn’t be “found” by Bryn. We decided it might be a good idea to let the plotters sweat it out a bit. Seeing the young mother’s tired face, I felt a pang of guilt. Bryn had forgotten the young nephew on the team, until he’d returned from his search to find the tear-stricken boy being comforted by Danny’s roommate and co-captain. He’d already called his mother, who had spoken to her husband and father-in-law at once. Fortunately, Patrick had insisted on the mother not being told and calmed his son down by insisting that he would find his son himself. This mother must have decided to come with him in order to calm her own son.

As it was, it cut short the time we let the two men hang in the wind. Bryn announced Danny found, but managed to keep him from O’Leary by shielding him with claims of dealing with paperwork and reporting the “incident” to the authorities. Since O’Keefe drove down, he was en route and we easily avoided talking to him.

But I felt guilty about this lady. Although as soon as I looked at Danny in that hat again, I remembered that it was his father who should be feeling guilty, not me. The stylist my friend Sam recommended did an awesome job, you’d never guess the haircut wasn’t intentional, but that was the thing. Danny hadn’t decided to cut his beautiful hair. Some thugs took it from him.

The Pittsburgh team was introduced first. The team had assembled over by the side of the bleachers so we couldn’t see them until they came running out, one by one, “like professional athletes,” one mother marveled, and I could see that Julie O’Keefe was a bit choked up as her tall son ran onto the field. Franklin Field was a very large, professional looking stadium, with a full sound system, so it was quite a set-up for a high school play-off game, even if it was one of the state regionals. I found myself feeling a bit impressed.

As one of the captains and the center, Danny was introduced last. He’d tossed the hat aside, so his running entrance was quite dramatic to this stadium full of soccer fans, most of whom were expecting a second long-haired player to match the first, his friend Tucker having long hair that swept his shoulders as Danny’s used to do.

Instead, his black curls waved softly around his exposed ears, barely brushing his collar in the back. He was gorgeous, but it was a very different look from the fey beauty that I’d seen in a picture Bryn had sent to me, of a dreamy-eyed, long-haired boy with high cheekbones playing Romeo in a school play. This was a young man, determined to win.

I looked over at Pat O’Keefe and was sickened to see the satisfied look on his face. He thinks his plan worked, I thought, appalled. He must think Danny cut his hair as some sort of statement!

Before I could say anything, Julie spoke. “Danny’s hair! Oh the poor boy, what did they do to him? Rose will just die.”

Pat O’Keefe looked startled. He turned to look at her. “What do you mean? The boy finally cut his hair! Thank God. He looks like a man for once.”

The woman looked at him sadly. “No, Dad. Danny didn’t do that. He left his hair long because Rose begged him to; she loves to brush it. He never would cut it without her knowing. He’d never do such a cruel thing. Something must have happened when he was missing yesterday. Oh dear, I hope that was all. I thought his face looked a little swollen but he’s so good with make-up from acting....” Her voice faded away. “Oh dear God.” She pointed.

The other team was running out. I’ve seen some rough pranks in my day...hell, my grandfather’s told stories...but I think I paled a bit when I saw that Philadelphia team take the field. I know Pat O’Keefe did. We hadn’t wanted the coach of the other team to speak to his team or stop them in any way but we never dreamed they would do something like this.

The players were wearing headbands, and from the headbands they had hung little braided tails of long black hair. Some of them, perhaps to make sure there was no doubt as to the source of the hair, had left the hair unbraided, so the curls waved in the wind. As each player took the field, the applause lessened, until, by the time the team captain ran out, there was only scattered applause. The whispering was spreading through the stadium like the rush of thousands of birds taking flight.

O’Leary had stomped off toward the referees as soon as the second player with his gruesome headband had taken to the field, Bryn on his heels. O’Keefe got to his feet.

“I’m going down there. This is outrageous, those boys should be thrown into juvenile hall.”

“Sit, Dad.” Julie O’Keefe’s voice was firm, though she had tears in her eyes.


“Matt, your oldest son, stayed home when he really wanted to be here for both our boy and your boy because you ordered him to, but he wasn’t happy. Now you listen to me in his place, because I know what he would say right now. Look at your youngest son down there. He is holding his head up high when he, out of all of us, was the one person who must have known something like this might have happened. Him and Coach Jones, that is.” She looked at me shrewdly. “Am I right, Mr. Jennings?”

“You can call me Terry, and yes, I would say that Pat here should leave it to Danny, and Bryn, to handle. Danny looks to me to have the upper hand right now.”

He did, too. I watched proudly as Danny stood proudly aloof as chaos reigned for several minutes, his arms crossed over his chest, and his expression bored as the home team coach berated his players and they were forced to apologize. Then, as it seemed that they were about to remove the headbands to hand them to Danny, he shook his head, saying something to the coaches and referees that seemed to cause a laugh among everyone except the Philadelphia team and their coaches. I wondered what it was.

I soon found out. Danny wanted them to keep the damn headbands on so that he and his teammates could take them back by force, every time they scored, or stole the ball, or blocked a goal. Whenever they did something they deemed worthy of stealing a headband, Danny or Tucker or another Pittsburgh player, often the other O’Keefe boy, would let out a war whoop and swoop down upon another of the opposing players and his headband would be history.

It soon got to where the crowd got more into cheering the recovery of the headbands...and Danny’s hair...than it did about the score. Which, since it was a romp in favor of JFK, made sense. After the initial drama over the hair was over, Pat O’Keefe had slumped back in his seat, arms folded, grumbling about it being “a hell of a way to play a soccer game.”

Finally, I’d had enough. In the break before the third period, I tapped him on the shoulder. He looked up glumly.

“Come with me for a walk.” I tried to make it seem like a request, but I wasn’t going to take no for an answer. After a brief pause, he nodded. Julie looked at me, concerned. As I turned to follow her father-in-law down the row, she put a hand out to delay me. I looked down at her. She was surprisingly tiny for such a forceful lady. I wondered in passing what Danny’s mother was like.

“He’s an older man than he seems, Terry, and was raised with different ways. Try to be...understanding.”

I hardened my expression. “Maybe you should try that speech the other way around. Try telling him that his son is younger than he seems, and is being raised in the New World, not the old. He should try to be understanding...really understanding, not a pretense, while he sets him up behind everyone’s back to be attacked, alone and friendless. He could have lost more than some hair.”

There was pained understanding in her eyes. “I was afraid...from what my son told me. I will tell Matt, he couldn’t believe...thank you...for being there for him.”

I nodded, then sped up to catch up to where Pat O’Keefe was waiting for me by the stadium steps.

“Let’s go down to the grass,” I suggested. He shrugged but followed me down.

Once we reached a relatively private area off to the side, I turned to face him. It was apparent that here, out in the open, he was slightly uncomfortable to stand facing me, a bigger, younger man, alone. None of his sons or cronies nearby, no handy crowbar under the bar to reach for in case I got unruly. I could see the slight uneasiness in his eyes as he read my body language, which was no longer as reassuring as it had been.

“I know what you did to your son, O’Keefe, and I don’t like it,” I told him, cutting to the chase.

“And what would that be, laddie?” He was calm, still. I had to hand it to him. If I was going to fight him, this man was willing to fight. No coward, here. I smiled faintly. If he only would let himself, he’d see that Danny was a son after his own heart. I watched the boy face down a mob with the same kind of courage that this man had, but in my book, Danny’s courage was better because it was untainted with bigotry. We’d talked quite a bit, Danny and me, and when I’d promised to take him out to some clubs I knew the next time we both were in Philadelphia, it came up that some of them were in the “black” section of the city. I casually mentioned that my mother’s father was black, wanting to see if it made any difference to him, Pittsburgh’s Irish Catholic neighborhoods not being a bastion of tolerance in my experience. He’d only gotten an evil gleam in his eye and leaned forward to whisper in my ear and ask if I was going to show him if I inherited anything else from my mother’s father besides my taste in music. Bad, bad boy. I assured him that if it was summer, he would see how fine my tan was.

I grinned at the memory even as I considered how to answer his sorry excuse for a father. I thought about my father, such a good preacher, such a harsh father. He never would have done what O’Keefe did, mad as he got with me at times. I sighed, thinking about the Reverend Jennings.

“I don’t want a fist fight with you, much as it might make me feel better. You might doubt it, but I think I could do well enough to knock some sense into you, but all that would do is make Danny feel bad and you feel even. And you shouldn’t feel even, you should feel lower than the lowest for what you did.” He started to speak again and I held up my hand. “No, don’t say it. I know man. Don’t you get it? I know!”

I used what Bryn likes to call my “voice of God” voice. I am a fully trained opera singer, capitals of Europe, multi-lingual, can go chest to chest with Pavarotti, only quite frankly, I think he’s over the hill. Give me ten more years and it’s my name they’ll be saying with awe. It takes time in this profession but I’m getting there. Finally getting the attention I should be getting and going places. Which, sadly, means being doubly careful about not getting caught with tempting little off-limit pieces of ass, no matter how incredible they are. I’d pushed Danny away last night with the sense that I was saying no to something that might have been life altering...but it was a choice I’d made a long time ago. I chose to keep my relationship with Bryn that of best friends and pursue my career. I left everything and everyone behind for my art. But leaving that boy will hurt more than anything, I think. If I do nothing else for him, I want to leave some mark on his life, even if it is only a father with a raised consciousness. I deepened my voice and unleashed its resonance and power.

“You plotted to place your son in harm’s way, to deliberately place him, alone and friendless, in a strange city, in an area where you and a man whose job it is to keep him safe, knew he was likely to be set upon by others? And why did you do this? You, his father? You did this because of your lack of love and caring, your own cold heart! He should be ashamed to call you father.”

“No! You have it backward! I did that because I love him! I wanted him to find out, before it goes too far to turn back. I wanted him to see what it will be like in this life he’s chosen, what it will be like being...one of those men...alone, friendless...a victim of others.”

“You’re wrong, Dad.”

We both turned, shocked.

Pat O’Keefe spoke first. Typically, it was of the game. “You should be with your team, Danny. This doesn’t...”

“Don’t say it doesn’t concern me!” His eyes flashed. They were bright green but there was no sign of tears in them. He was angry, not weepy. You go, boy, I cheered silently.

“I wasn’t beat up because I’m gay, Dad...and yes, I’m gay. Don’t you dare flinch. Those jerks didn’t say one word about my being gay, I don’t think they knew. They were pissed because I was at their practice, which I wouldn’t have been if Coach O’Leary hadn’t sent me there. I understand that was your bright idea. I can’t have those guys punished because I don’t want anyone to investigate too much into how I ended up there, do I? It’s bad enough I have to come up with some excuse to mom for my hair that won’t upset her. I don’t think I can bear letting her know about this. Can you? Do you honestly think my being gay is worse than trying to have me beat up?”

His father ran his hand through his hair. I had to shake my head. I doubted that these two would ever know how much they shared. When Danny tipped his head to the side as he asked his last question, his father looked like he took a punch to the gut, and it struck me that maybe his father did see the resemblance. Or maybe, I thought, with a flash of intuition, Danny resembled both of his parents.

“I never meant to hurt you, boy,” the man whispered.

“God help me when you do, then,” his son answered harshly. “I’ll get back to the team now. But just know, Dad. When Terry here came to help me, several of them were holding me down with a knife to my head. I’d fought as hard as I could, but I couldn’t get up. I thought they were going to kill me. And all I could think of was how upset you and mom were going to be. Joke was on me, huh?”


Danny turned to look at me, ignoring his father.

“I trust that you have no intention of hurting my father?”

“Is that what you would like?”

“It would upset my mother,” he admitted, “so I’d consider it a personal favor if you would refrain.”

I smiled. “You’re going to owe me a lot of favors by the time you’re done,” I pointed out.

He grinned impishly, all trace of formality gone. “I’m rather counting on that.”


[Epilogue-Two Years Later–Philadelphia; POV/Terrell Jennings]

Pittsburgh’s JFK Memorial High won that game, of course. All the headbands were collected. I was given one by Danny “to remember me by” when we said our farewells the next day. O’Leary was offered a job coaching at a small state college, but lost it after one year following a nasty sexual harassment claim. Well-founded, I’m sure.

Danny’s father and he came to a kind of peace, according to Bryn, who was promoted to head coach at the high school, with the blessing of the O’Keefe brothers and their wives. For a brief time, Danny and I stayed in touch through emails, but he became very busy with his dancing...and his dance instructor...and slowly we lost contact. It seemed he ended up being much more bisexual than I would have suspected. Or, as Bryn cynically commented, when we got together for dinner one evening the following summer, not every potential older lover takes the high road. I thanked him for the back-handed compliment, smacked him lightly across the face for daring to imply I was old, and then asked him to tell me all the dirt on Danny and his thirty-something femme fatale. By the end of the evening my jaw hurt from the effort of pretending to smile. Either that or from clenching my teeth.

I had performed at Carnegie Hall last month and my career was right where I wanted it to be. I was scheduled to perform in a Wagner festival to finish off the summer, head to Europe in the fall, and life was absolutely...flat. I leaned back on the sofa and debated turning on the television versus going out to a club.

I must have dozed off because a knock at the door made me jump.

“What is it?” I called out sharply. I hadn’t ordered any room service and wasn’t expecting anyone.

“Room service.” The deep voice had a slight southern accent, not uncommon in Philadelphia, where you found a good many southerners who migrated North–still looking for that better life, I supposed.

“Sorry, you must have the wrong room number, I didn’t order anything,” I answered, a little less grumpy this time, now that I was waking up.

“I think you’ll find that you did, Mr. Jennings, sir, it just took so long to arrive, you may have forgotten,” the attractive voice responded, amusement overriding the respectful tone.

No longer bored, I got to my feet and padded over to the door. Swinging it open, I was...speechless.

Danny strolled right in, wheeling a cart. I whistled at the sight of him bending over to push that little service cart...and my, did that outfit do things for his tight little ass. I leaned back against the door, letting the lock click behind me.

“Dear Lord, what a difference two years can make,” I breathed. “Tell me you’re eighteen...you are eighteen, right?”

He rested that fine ass on the edge of the cart and tipped his head as he turned to consider me.

“Why Mr. Jennings, sir, how kind of you to ask. As a matter of fact, I turned eighteen ten days ago and guess what? You’re my birthday present to me.” Deep dimples appeared on either side of his face. It struck me that during the weekend we’d known each other, it had been intense, and meaningful, and I’d seen many sides of Danny, but I’d never seen Danny smile like this. It was transformative. I reached out my hand and rubbed my thumb along one of those amazing dimples.

“My God, you’re a beautiful man, aren’t you?”

He laughed, a deep, rich laugh. “You mean you didn’t have an inkling before? You were interested in me for my soccer talent? I never would have guessed!”

I looked a little more deeply into those green eyes of his and I saw that there were more layers of cynicism and hurt there than there had been two years ago. Bryn had been right; that ballerina had done some damage. My decision, as hard as it had been and as much as I doubted myself later, had been the right one. I pulled my boy close.

“You wouldn’t have guessed because it wouldn’t have been true, chief. You were a beautiful boy then and now you’re a breathtaking young man, but you’re more than your looks and you’ve always been that to me. If you hadn’t, I would have rationalized a way into your pants two years ago...instead of which, I’m trembling here hoping you’re here to woo your way into mine.”

He wrapped his arms around me, his eyes noticeably brighter as he lifted his face. He’d grown several inches over the two years, and looked to be about six feet tall now. He was a comfortable height for kissing, but I waited until he tipped my head down to meet his lips.

No longer tentative and shy, his mouth expertly met mine, his tongue tasting my lips, exploring the shape of mine before gaining entry and continuing its investigation. His hands were busy unbuttoning my shirt as he pressed me back down onto the sofa, straddling my lap, kissing me breathless the whole time.

As he progressed from my mouth to my neck, sucking on my neck while he rubbed his hands over my chest, driving me insane...my neck and my nipples being in my top three erogenous zones...number one was getting a pretty good work-out from the way he was grinding away on my lap...I tried to grab hold of him for a second to call a time-out.

“Danny...whoa...hold on a second!”

He looked up from my chest, his eyes dark green with passion. “Aren’t you glad to see me, Terry?” he asked, his voice husky. I barely recognized him in that second. I half expected his eyes to glow red, not green. I spoke without thinking.

“That bitch did a number on you, didn’t she, chief?”

In a flash he was off my lap. His shirt, which he’d shed somewhere along the way, God he had a perfect body, was being put back on even faster than he’d taken it off. I’d never seen him so angry, and angry was a mood I’d seen him in before. Before he could dash out of the room, because I knew if he left there was no way I was ever going to catch a fast thing like him, I moved to block the door. He was fast but I was the original immovable object. I slid to the floor and leaned against the door, folding my arms.

There. Now there was definitely no way he was getting out. He glared down at me, frustrated.

“You’ll have to talk to me,” I told him. “I’m too damn big for you to move. And now that I’m down here, you won’t be able to trip me.”

His lips twitched. Ah hah, gotcha, I thought, satisfied. As long as Danny still had his sense of humor, all was not lost. Gracefully, he assumed a cross-legged position on the floor, which I looked at admiringly. I don’t think I’ve sat cross-legged since I was five.

“Okay, now. What I said was stupid. But what you were doing was jumping the gun, son.” He looked at me with raised eyebrows. I nodded my head emphatically before continuing.

“You may be the hottest piece of ass since...well, since I don’t know who. Since David slew Goliath I suspect.” He grinned. Only two gay boys who were raised in the church like we were could appreciate that analogy, I thought, grinning back at him. “Anyway, as I was saying, you are undoubtedly hot, and I undoubtedly am thrilled down to my Ralph Lauren boxers to see you, looking so fine...and tall too...”

He blushed adorably...he really was the cutest thing. I couldn’t help stealing a peek at those abs of his...he’d left his shirt open...damn, did he have a set of abs on him to make a grown man weep or what? I trembled a bit as I tried to keep my focus. That wretch saw me looking and had the nerve to drift the fingers of his right hand slowly down his chest and over his belly....I tore my eyes away.

“You know, men have burned at the stake for less,” I warned him.

“It does feel warm in here,” he answered, smiling sweetly at me, sure of himself again.

“I am an opera singer,” I told him in a dignified tone. “When I told you I want to be wooed, I meant it, damn it.”

“I want to woo you, Terrell,” he said, lowering his voice, getting to his knees, and coming closer.

“I don’t think you understand, though, Danny,” I tried to finish, finding it hard to continue with those deep green eyes looking into mine, that warm tan skin just inches away. The black hair was shoulder length again and it brushed against my chest, teasing my senses. God, I wanted him, this man. “I want you...the man you are, the person you used to be, the man you’re going to be...I want to be a part of all of that, to be something special that you can carry with you always.”

That incredible smile came back then for a moment before his face grew serious. “I do understand that, Terry. I’ve always understood that because it’s already true and always has been, ever since you found me face down in the mud and picked me up. You helped me stand up again when I was so afraid, and you stayed with me until I found the courage to stand on my own again. And you’re right. When you refused to take advantage of my youth, I didn’t completely understand, not until someone else didn’t refuse. But then the lesson you taught me, the same lesson another man who cared about me tried to teach me, finally got through my thick head. Telling me no can mean you care more than saying yes.”

He rested his head against my forehead for a long moment. Lifting it, he spoke again. “I want to make love to you tonight, Terrell Jennings. But first, we’ll go to dinner at a really good restaurant. One where we can go dancing. I want to go out dancing with you. Maybe to a piano bar afterward, where we can both sing, together and apart. We’ve never sung for each other. And then we’ll come back here, and if you’ve been wooed enough by then...I’ll get my wish and I’ll make love to you. How does that sound?”

I tilted my head, mimicking his stock move. He smiled, recognizing it.

“It sounds perfect...assuming you have a more appropriate outfit for said wooing stored on that cart somewhere.”

He laughed. “I am never without the appropriate outfit for any occasion, Terrell.”

“Then let the wooing begin.”

Springing to his feet lightly and reaching down a hand to me...God bless his limber little heart...Danny looked at me wistfully as he asked, “I don’t suppose you’d want to get a head start on any of the love-making now...just for practice...and then the wooing, of course.”

I looked at that toned torso and then glanced toward the nice fluffy duvet on the king sized bed in the bedroom right ahead of me.

Two years was an awfully long time to be noble.

“I still get dinner, dancing and singing afterward...and more love-making?” I asked, just to make sure.

“Absolutely. Even better, because I’d be less anxious, kind of like having a dress rehearsal,” he said boyishly.

“More like an undressed rehearsal,” I pointed out.

That double dimpled smile really was irresistible. We didn’t get to the wooing until the next day, but it was well worth it. Damn, was it worth it.

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