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Second Shot - 21. Chapter 21: A New Season

Soccer practice starts again and Jason is in for a surprise or two.

“You want to what?” Coach Slewman’s eye narrowed at the question.

“I wanted to know if there was any way I could have August 29th off from practice.” Jason repeated. This was going about as well as he expected.

“Tellerman,” the way Coach said his name told Jason to stick a fork in his request. “You know the rules.”

“Yes sir, I do. And I wouldn’t have asked if it wasn’t important.”

“What is happening the 29th that you need off so bad?” His mood hadn’t softened.

“Peter is competing at a tournament at State College.” Jason toyed with lying, but knew if he did it would only backfire. “I’ve never been to one of his tournaments before, so I wanted to go.”

“There is no, ‘my significant other is competing somewhere’ exception,” Coach reminded him. “If I made an exception for you, I would have to do it for everyone. Who’s to say one reason is better than another?”

“I understand, sir.” Jason was disappointed, but not surprised. “Thanks for listening.”

“I didn’t say no, did I?” The man’s words stopped Jason from leaving. “I suppose if you tweaked a muscle at Friday’s practice I would need to excuse you for the next day.”

Jason thought about what his coach suggested, but shook his head. “No sir, I can’t do that. As much as I really want to go, I’m not going to lie to do it. Thank you, I appreciate the offer.”

Jason was about to leave a second time when his Coach stopped him again. “Shut the door and sit down, Tellerman.”

Doing as instructed, he took a seat facing his coach. “I just gave you a way to go Tellerman, why would you turn it down?”

He couldn’t tell if Coach was mad or just shocked. “I’m supposed to set the example, not be the exception. If I fake an injury and get away with it, that would give the others the idea they could do the same. Not only would I be unable to call them on it, it would make them think I was trying to get one over on you. You didn’t make me Co-captain to undermine you.”

“What are you willing to do to go?”

“Pretty much anything legal.” Jason laughed to cover how nervous the question made him.

Leaning back, Coach laced his fingers behind his head. “Suggest something to me.”

“I can run laps after every practice.” Jason hoped his offer wasn’t accepted, but he would do just about anything to go.

“No, I can’t let you buy your way off from practice. It creates the same precedence problem. People will want to do what you’re doing, forcing me to pick and choose who can and who can’t.”

“Can I buy a day off for the whole team?”

The older man sat forward, head tilted slightly. “Explain.”

“I run laps between now and when I need off, in exchange you give the team a day off before the season starts.” Jason knew he was in for a long month if this was accepted. “That way, you aren’t playing favorites.”

“So you’re willing to run laps for the entire team to get a day off?”

Jason couldn’t get a read on the man’s thinking, but if it allowed him to see Peter compete he would. “Yes, sir.”

“This is that important to you?” He fixed his eyes on Jason.

“Yes, sir. It means a lot to me to see Peter compete, he came to most of our games last year.”

Slewman sat back again, eye on the ceiling. “I’ll think about it.”

Better than no, Jason thought. “Thanks coach.”

“Don’t thank me yet, I haven’t agreed to anything.” He made eye contact again. “Go, get ready, practice starts in ten minutes.”

“Yes, sir.” Jason tried not to smile. ‘I will think about it’ was a good sign; at least he didn’t reject it out of hand. Of course, getting what he wanted was going to hurt. No help for that, he decided, there were sacrifices to be made if he wanted to play. Add this to the list.

Jason sized up the two ‘sides.’ Darryl organized the defenders across the pitch from him and the offense. Coach divided the midfielders based on what aspect of their game he was most interested is observing. Each side had a keeper in goal.

“Listen up,” Coach yelled, getting everyone’s attention. “Offense, if you get burned by a defender sneaking past and he scores, you guys are going to run laps, got it?” Jason and his squad nodded. “And defense, you push up too far and get caught short handed, you will run laps if they score. I don’t want to hear the keeper shoulda, woulda, coulda, stopped the ball; ball hits the back of the net because you got burned, one side is running.”

The whistle blew to start the drill. Jason’s side attacked, while Darryl directed his teammates in defense. Twice the defenders made a break, forcing Jason to sprint back on one of those occasions. Fortunately his summer conditioning gave him enough of an edge to catch the defender turned attacker before he could score.

Running back on attack, he stopped for a second to congratulate the midfielder who led the attack, patting him on the butt as he ran by. Setting up the next attack, Jason dribbled up field until Darryl stepped up to intercept him. Eric was sprinting down the left side, giving Jason a target. No sooner did the ball clear his foot than he was tackled from the side.

The force of the take down caused him to jump up. This was practice for fuck’s sake. Before he reached his feet, he heard the defender say, “Keep your hands off me, faggot.”

From the sideline, the whistle blew. That didn’t stop him from balling up his fists and confronting his teammate. Glaring at him was the same freshman he congratulated a play earlier. Unless it had been his brother or Darryl smiling at him, Jason didn’t care who it was. Not only was it a cheap foul, it was deliberate and motivated by his sexuality. Before he could do anything, his teammates were on his adversary.

“Hey, asshole!” Matt, all 6’2” 200 pounds of muscle, got up in the kid’s face. Jason remembered his name was Blake. “What the fuck did you just say to Jason?”

“Calm down, Matt.” Darryl jumped in between, even as more whistles were blown. As fast as he could make it, Coach Slewman headed their way. The assistant coaches, Mike and Jerry, were sprinting toward them.

“You heard what he said!” Matt yelled, trying to get past Darryl whose nod indicated he’d heard it too.

Jason stood, silent, glaring at the kid in front of him. When he saw the look of terror in Blake’s face, he relaxed slightly. “Let it go, Matt,” he said, never taking his eyes off his teammate.

Mike got to them first, followed closely by Jerry.

“What the hell is going on?” He demanded.

Jason’s attempt to say, ‘nothing’ was drowned out by Matt’s voice. “This douche bag just called Jason a faggot!”

If Blake looked scared before, he was terrified when all the upperclassmen began glaring at him. There wasn’t a friendly face among them.

“Ease up, Matt.” Jason tried again, putting his hand on his friend’s arm. “It’s okay, really.”

“But, Jase,” that was as far as he got.

“Thanks for having my back, Matt, but it’s cool.” Jason knew if this wasn’t squashed now there was going to be a problem.

“Tellerman! Finch! What the hell is going on?” Coach Slewman roared when he finally made it, breathing hard from the effort. “Are you stupid, taking out your teammate like that? Are you trying to injure him?” This was directed to Finch.

“According to Hopkins and Minger,” Mike began, “Finch called him a . . . a faggot.” The last word was hardly more than a whisper, but everyone heard it.

Just as when Jason used the word when he came out to the coach, Slewman’s eyes narrowed and his jaw tightened. “Is that true?”

Jason felt sorry for Blake. First day of practice and he’d alienated the entire team and had Coach staring at him hard enough to bore a hole in his body.

“Sir, he grabbed my ass!” Blake protested loud enough for everyone to hear.

“WHAT!” Gone was any sympathy he had for the kid. “I never grabbed your fucking ass you lying piece of . . . .”

“Calm down, Tellerman.” Coach put a hand on his shoulder. “Easy. Breathe.”

Jason took a step back, regaining control. If that little shit thought he was going to get out of a cheap tackle and calling him a faggot by making up some ridiculous lie, Jason was going to see him kicked off the team.

“That’s a serious accusation, Finch, are you really prepared to stick to that story?” Coach Slewman sounded dubious enough that Jason calmed down a bit more. At least no one believed the bastard. “When did this supposedly happen?”

“When I tried to score a few minutes ago,” the freshman said. “He ran by me, said, ‘nice job’ and put his hand on my ass.”

“Thought you said he grabbed it,” Darryl accused.

“Minger, that’s enough,” Coach silenced him. “I’m handling this.”

Darryl nodded, then stood beside Jason.

“So Jason ran by, gave you a compliment and patted you on the butt and you called him a . . .” Coach Slewman was having trouble saying it. “You called him a faggot?”

Blake bowed his head. “Yes, sir.”

Jason noticed the dirt and grass in the kid’s brown hair about the same time he felt like he got punched in the gut. He was to blame for this. It never occurred to him that touching someone on the butt was a problem. This being the first time playing since he came out, it didn’t occur to him some of his teammates might be uncomfortable with him patting them on the ass.

“Oh man,” he stepped forward. “I’m sorry about that Blake, I only meant to say good play.”

He hoped his sincerity came through.

“What?” Darryl screamed. “Jase, you don’t need to apologize to him, he insulted you. Everyone gets slapped on the ass.”

“Everyone who does it isn’t gay, D.” Jason took another step forward and offered his hand to Blake. “I’m really sorry if you were offended, it wasn’t meant that way.”

Blake stared at the offered hand, then at the scowls of his teammates before tentatively shaking.

“You two!” Slewman growled. “My office. NOW!”

Jason tried to read his coach’s face, but could only find anger. “Yes, sir.”

He thought he heard Blake say something, but the coach’s voice drowned it out. “Run! Grab a seat in my office until I get there.”

Darryl patted him on the shoulder before Jason took off; he didn’t need to be told twice to run. Feeling Blake a step behind him, Jason increased his pace to avoid arriving together. For a few seconds, the freshman kept up, but when he started to breathe harder he dropped back.

The door to Coach Slewman’s office was open when he arrived. As instructed, Jason sat down, taking the seat furthest from the door. Breathing hard, Blake showed up a few seconds later. Glancing around, he noticed the only other seat was the one a few inches from Jason.

Trying not to add to how awkward this was, Jason avoided looking over when Blake finally sat down. Only then did he wonder why the coach insisted they run. Coach was going to be a while getting to his office. Even if he ran, something Jason knew he wouldn’t, it would still be a few minutes before he arrived.

“Listen Blake.” He didn’t turn toward his teammate. “I’m really sorry about that. It’s just second nature to do . . . that. There was nothing . . . I mean, I wasn’t . . . didn't mean anything by it.

When Blake didn’t say anything, Jason finally looked over. His teammate looked on the verge of tears. “Hey, Blake, it’s cool. Everything is going to be fine, don’t worry about it.”

“Easy for you to say.” He sounded utterly defeated. “First day here and I insult the team captain, piss off the team and get sent to the coach’s office. Great way to start.”

Despite the moment, Jason laughed. Blake turned, anger in his eyes. When he saw Jason smile, his mood softened. Sensing an opening, Jason said, “When you put it like that it does sound rather dire, but I’m not insulted, and the team will get over it once they realize I’m fine. As for being here…” He shrugged. “Yup, first day of practice and we got sent to the office.”

Their laughter lasted all of a few seconds before the sound of the outside door closing brought them back to why they were here. Coach Slewman walked into his office, shut the door and sat down. There was no anger, no annoyance in his face. Whatever he was about to say or do, he was calm, but deadly serious.

“Coach, don’t blame Blake, this . . . .” That was as far as he got.

The older man held up his hand. “Be quiet Jason.”

Again there was no anger. Something was going on that Jason did not understand. “Right now there is an accusation of sexual harassment made as well as an instance of hate speech. I can’t just brush this aside and say, ‘boys shake and make up.’ There are protocols I have to follow.”

Jason felt his stomach twist into a knot. Sexual harassment? Him? What did he do that wasn’t done a hundred times a game?

“First you, Finch.” The coach’s voice brought Jason’s focus back to what was happening. “It is your position that Jason grabbed your butt?”

Although he wasn’t going to say anything, Jason got a glare from his coach reminding him to be silent unless spoken to.

“Um, . . .” Blake struggled to find the right words.

“Do you want me to send Tellerman out of the room?” Coach Slewman’s tone let it be known he was serious. “If you do, tell me, there will be no repercussions at all from this conversation, none.”

“No, sir, he can stay.” He pushed a strand of brown hair behind his ear. At that moment, he appeared younger than his eighteen years. “Jason didn’t grab my butt sir. He gave me a pat on the ass, that’s all.”

“Were you offended by it?” The coach’s follow up question made Jason uneasy. Did he really need to watch himself all the time from now on? Why was it different if he did it than a straight player? Neither meant anything sexual by it.

“No, sir.” Blake shook his head. He looked scared and alone. If it wasn’t because of him and his sexual orientation that they were here in the first place, Jason would’ve put an arm around him to let him know everything would be okay.

“So is it fair to say you don’t want to file a claim against Tellerman for sexual harassment?” He stared at his player, waiting for him to make eye contact.

“No, sir, I don’t want to file a complaint.” Blake snuck a glance toward Jason. “I overreacted.”

“Are you sure?” Slewman’s mood softened slightly, but he was still all business. “Do you want some time to think about it?”

“No,” he shook his head emphatically. “Nothing happened that needs a complaint filed. Nothing.”

“Okay.” Their coach nodded. “Have a seat outside before you two head back to practice. I need to speak to Tellerman now.”

Once the door closed, Jason relaxed slightly. “Sorry Coach, I didn’t mean anything by it.”

Grabbing a bottle of water, he tossed it to his player. “Don’t worry about it, Jason. Nothing was going to come of it anyway. There were six witnesses who saw what happened who would testify it was a simple pat on the butt. What we just did was for Finch so he can’t say we ignored it.”

“I don’t want to file charges against him for the fag comment.” Jason flinched as he whispered the word ‘fag.’

Slewman’s face screwed up somewhat. “That’s a bit more problematic. At least four people beside you heard him call you that. I can’t ignore it. The university has a zero tolerance for hate speech.”

“C’mon coach, you can’t do that to him, he hasn't even started classes. He’ll get kicked out of school.” Why did he feel compelled to defend this kid who just called him a fag? Something about him made Jason feel sorry for him, as if he was the cause of what happened. “I mean he’s brand new, away from home for the first time, first practice and the gay guy touches his ass in front of everyone. So he over reacted a little. I’m not offended, really I’m not.”

“Jason, this is not just about you. You don’t have to be gay to be offended by that word. Just as you don’t need to be black to be offended if someone were to call Darryl the ‘N’ word.” He paused, allowing Jason to hear what he was saying. “Under school policy, I have to report it.”

“We were joking,” Jason blurted out. “There was no hate speech, just a joke between friends.”

Coach Slewman eyed his carefully, but kept quiet.

“Ask Hopkins,” Jason added. “As soon as it happened I told him to calm down and let it go.”

“If I file a report, is that what you are going to tell the board?” His face told Jason this was not a request, simply a question.

“Yes, sir.” Jason nodded.

“Ask Finch to step back in.” Slewman folded his arms across his thick chest.

Poking his head out the door, he saw his teammate seated against the wall with his knee up to his chest. “Hey, Blake. Can you come back in for a minute. Coach needs to speak to you.”

Jason tried to smile to let him know everything was okay, but he did nothing to ease the freshman’s anxiety.

Shutting the door once Finch was back, the teammates stood in front of the coach’s desk.

“Tellerman tells me you two are friends and your comment was a joke between the two of you.” Slewman held up his hand. “Let me finish before you speak. If that is true, then this little episode is over. I need to confirm that is the case.”

Finch looked at Jason who nodded at first, then said, “Tell him Blake, it was just a joke between us.”

“That’s . . . er . . . yes, sir. It was a joke, a bad one, but a joke.” Anyone who heard this conversation could tell it was a lie. Since everyone wanted it to be true, however, no one commented on what they all knew.

“Fine, I’ll consider this matter closed.” He pointed a thick finger at Finch. “But, you need to be more careful about what you say. This could easily have gotten you in trouble not only with the team, but with the school as well. Keep your jokes to yourself if anyone around you might misunderstand. Are we clear?”

“Yes, sir.” Blake finally relaxed enough that Jason thought he saw the beginnings of a smile.

“Good.” He winked at his player. “One more minute I need you to wait outside. Tellerman and I need to discuss the rest of practice. Just wait there for him, okay?”

“Yes, sir.” When he left this time, Finch seemed much calmer.

“You’re a terrible liar, Tellerman.” The older man said with a smirk.

“So I’m told, sir.”

“I appreciate that.” He jabbed a thumb at the hallway. “Not only is it less paperwork, you kept a pretty good player on the team. Now, however, you need to make things right with your teammates. They were out for blood when you two were out of earshot.”

“I’ll fix it, sir.” Jason assured him, eager to get back. “Can I swap Finch for Dorance? If we play together maybe I can nip this right away.”

“Yes.” Slewman nodded. “Tell Mike when you get back, this is my decision.”

“Yes, sir.” He smiled as much in relief as for the coach trusting him to fix things with the team. “Can I go now?”

He shook his head. “Not just yet. FINCH!” His voice was loud enough to be heard through the locker room. The door opened slowly and the young player poked his head through.

“Yes, coach?” he asked tentatively.

“We three all know what happened out there. I’m happy to accept it was a joke between friends officially, but unofficially you owe me ten laps for that. I don’t ever want to hear that word used around me, on the field, on the bus, anywhere. Are we clear?”

His good mood gone, Finch nodded. “Yes, coach.”

“Good, now you two get your butts back to practice.” Slewman reached for the phone as they left.

Jason didn’t say a word as they ran back toward the field. He didn’t know what he could say that would not come across as arrogant or gloating. Last thing he wanted was for Blake to act like he owed Jason. Finally when they were halfway across the field he asked, “You doing okay?”

“Yeah, thanks for that.”

“Consider it payback for making you uncomfortable.” Jason held out his right fist. When Blake tapped it, he knew things were better. “Go get a drink before you come back on the field, I already had one.”

He watched his teammate detour toward the sideline, while he ran toward the assistant coaches. “Hey D, can you come over here, got instructions from Coach.”

When Darryl arrived, Jason quickly recounted what happened. “I need you to tell your guys not to say or do anything,” he told his best friend. “I’ll do the same with the offense. Then Coach said I should swap Finch for Dorance for the rest of practice.”

“Okay, that sounds good,” Mike told them. “Let’s get back to practice.”

“What happened?” Darryl asked.

“Later D,” he whispered. “Let’s get practice over. I’ll tell you on the way home.”

Practice ended without further incident. Jason made a point to have two of his closest friends, Eric and Davis, go out of their way to let Blake know there were no hard feelings. Matt was a tougher sell: he was still mad.

“Thanks for sticking up for me, Matt,” Jason said after they bumped shoulders and shook hands. “It really means a lot how much you guys have my back.”

“Anytime, Jase.” Matt winked at him.

“Go tell him you two are cool, please.” Jason saw the expected resistance and added, “For me? I don’t want any friction. We’re a team and he’s part of it. If it happens again, we can all ignore him, but it won’t.”

“Okay, but only because you asked.” Matt slapped him on the butt, smirking at Jason as he ran over to find Blake.

Jason watched the two of them shake hands and tap fists before Matt went to get his stuff. He nearly jumped when Darryl appeared at his shoulder.

“Going to tell me what happened?”

Jason shook his head. “On the way home, not here. Will you wait for me when you are done?”

“Why, where are you going?”

“Going to run those ten laps with Finch.” He started to leave when Darryl grabbed his arm.

“Coach gave you laps too?” Darryl’s shocked expression made Jason shake his head. “Then why are you running laps with him?”

“I feel partly responsible.” He noted the frown he got from his roommate. “I’ll explain later, just wait for me please, I don’t want to have to walk home.”

Shaking his head, Darryl said, “You’re crazy, but I’ll wait for you.”

“Thanks D,” he called over his shoulder. When he caught up to Blake, he was putting his stuff in his bag.

“Ready to get your laps over with?” Jason motioned with his head to get started.

“Um, what are you doing? Coach didn’t give you laps.” He stood up and followed Jason’s lead.

“No, but it was partly my fault you got in trouble. This way everyone will think we both got in trouble, not just you.” He smiled over at his teammate. “Besides, I’m your captain. It’s my job to help you out. Someone needs to show you how to run laps.”

They passed Coach Slewman and the assistance as they made their first lap. Jason locked eyes with his coach for a moment, getting a small nod in return. “So tell me a bit about you, Blake Finch,” he said. “Where are you from, school you played for, favorite moments on the pitch? Anything. It will help make the laps seem faster.”

The first week of practice was always the worst for Jason, this year was no exception. In addition to the ten he ran Monday with Blake, he decided he would run laps with anyone else who earned punishment during practice. When his teammates asked him why, he told them he hoped knowing he would run with them, they would all try harder not to earn laps during practice. Unfortunately he ended up running 10 laps every day this week.

On Wednesday, Darryl stuck around and ran with Jason and the two other offenders.

“You don’t need to do this D. I chose to do this, you’re not obligated.”

“If you’re doing it, I look bad if I just go home.” Darryl sounded a bit miffed to Jason.

“That’s not fair to you, I did it without asking you.” Now he regretted what seemed like a great idea at the time.

“True, but I never asked you to stop either.” This time he smiled. “I thought it was a good idea, so I didn’t try to talk you out of it. Then I realized I was riding your coattails again. This is the right thing for US to do. This is our team, we need to lead by example.”

By Saturday they both regretted their decision. On the plus side, the number of players getting laps went down, something both assistant coaches mentioned with a smile. Coach Slewman made a point of asking Jason and Darryl every time he awarded laps if they were going to run them with the offending player. They suspected he did it to make everyone know who was making the co-captains do extra work.

One benefit to all the extra running was it had him in better shape sooner than he anticipated. More importantly, Coach granted him permission to go to Peter’s competition. He said he would make an announcement two weeks prior letting everyone know they were getting the last weekend in August free. Then he told Jason it would cost him 10 laps a day, every day, for the two weeks leading up to the day off. Stifling a groan, Jason remember to thank Coach for letting him go.

Sunday afternoon found him with the apartment to himself. Darryl went home to get some stuff from the house and Peter was helping his mom paint the guest room. His offer to help was declined immediately, with instructions to relax so he would be rested for the night’s activities. Still smiling at that comment, he put the last of his laundry away before going to play Halo.™

Still on his first game, he was interrupted by a knock on his door. Clueless who would just show up like that, he paused the game. Wearing just his boxers he called out, “Hold on let me get some shorts on.”
He almost looked at the peep hole first, but decided to hurry instead. A male voice acknowledged his heads up, making Jason even more curious who it could be.

Grabbing a shirt as well, he opened the door before putting it on. “Blake?” He realized he sounded slightly put out as he said his teammate’s name. “C’mon in.”

Conscious of who it was, he quickly put on his tee shirt.

“You sure?” Despite his question, Blake came into the living room.

“Yeah, just playing Halo. D is gone and Pete is painting the guest room at his mom’s place.” Jason tried not to eye up his teammate, especially after what happened on the first day. Blake wore a pair of soccer shorts, a Graydon soccer tee shirt and running shoes. That plus he was sweating told Jason he’d run from his dorm.

“Can I get you something to drink? Water? Soda? Gatorade?” He didn’t wait for an answer to head for the fridge.

“Gatorade would be great.” Blake stood in the entryway as if afraid to come any further.

“You can sit down you know.” Jason joked, grabbing two orange G2 bottles. “Seriously, have a seat.”

“Thanks.” Blake tentatively moved for the couch. “Nice place.”

“Don’t let it fool you into coming here next year.” He laughed. “Walls are thin, stuff is cheap and it’s not close to classes. But, it is SO much better than a dorm.”

This got the first smile from his teammate since he arrived.

“Are you okay, Blake?” Jason started to worry.

“Yeah, fine.” He nodded before draining half the bottle. “I just wanted to talk if you have some time.”

Jason turned off the game and the TV. “Sure, I’m just relaxing.”

Again Blake looked around, as if checking for something. “Is Darryl coming back soon?”

Why did he want to know that? “Not sure really. He left early, but knowing his mom as I do, she’s probably going to insist he stay for dinner.”

“Mind if we go somewhere else?”

Staring at his teammate to be sure everything was okay, Jason nodded. “Did you want to go for a run? We can stop and talk somewhere before we head back.”

Given this was his day of rest, a run didn’t sound so great, but it was the best idea that came to him.

“Yeah, if that’s cool with you.” Blake looked relieved by the suggestion. Finishing his drink he put the bottle on the counter, but didn’t return to his seat.

“Fine. Give me a chance to change and stretch, then we can go.” He chugged the last of his Gatorade and tossed the empty bottle to his teammate.

Jason didn’t know any great routes to take with a good place to stop that was not well traveled by other students. Correction, he knew one spot, but was unsure he should use it. Figuring he had nothing to lose, he led them west across campus toward Otis Street.

When they reached the small park he planned to use, Jason directed them across the playground to the grassy area with benches. Stopping at the first bench they came to, he quickly stretched his hamstrings before sitting down.

“This okay? he asked. “Not much chance of anyone from school seeing us here.”

“How’d you find this place?” Blake surveyed the park as if waiting for a mugger to jump out at them.

Feeling a bit guilty dragging him over this way, Jason looked toward Peter’s building. “See that building across the street?”

“Yeah?”

“Top floor, five windows over? That’s Peter’s apartment,” he confessed. Not waiting for a reply he added. “When we first started dating and I was hiding it from Darryl, I used to ‘go running’ to sneak off and meet Peter.” Making air quotes drew a laugh from his friend.

“This is sure an . . . interesting neighborhood,” Blake said carefully.

Jason laughed to break the tension. “You’re not thinking anything I haven’t thought a dozen times or more. So far, nothing has happened to me or my car, so it isn’t that bad.”

“Cool.” Blake nodded a few times, but didn’t seem ready to talk without some prompting.

“So, what’s on your mind?” Jason tried not to crowd him; last thing he wanted was for Blake to feel uncomfortable, again.

Drawing a deep breath, he said, “First I want to say thanks again for being so cool after the first day. Not only could you have gotten me kicked off the team and out of school, but you ran with me. I can’t tell you how sorry I am for that comment. It’s totally not me.”

“Blake,” he tried to smile reassuringly. “I thought we were past that. It was a nervous time for you, we’re cool. Was that why you wanted to talk?”

“No,” he shook his head. Jason noted the angst in his face.

“Are you in trouble or something?” This was starting to feel like he was over his head.

“No, nothing like that; really.” The force of his denial left Jason feeling a little more confident. “I just needed someone to talk to right now.”

“Okay, that’s cool.” Jason sensed something. Maybe he was home sick, or lonely. “We’re friends, that’s what we do for each other right?”

“Right.” He gave Jason a weak smile. Taking another deep breath he said, “When . . . I mean, how did you know.”

“Know?” Jason looked over, wondering if his sudden intuition was right. “Know what?”

“You know.” Blake’s difficulty saying it gave strength to Jason’s first thought.

“You mean, when did I know I was gay?” Why else would he hunt down Jason unless that was what he wanted to ask about?

“Yeah.” He refused to look over at Jason.

“Oh boy,” Jason exhaled. Why was he asking this? “In retrospect, when I was twelve, but I don’t think I understood it back then. I mean, I knew what being gay was, but I didn't think I was gay. Looking back, I knew then I was attracted to guys, I just didn’t have a name for it.”

“How did you know for sure?” Blake seemed a bit less edgy to Jason, but he still didn’t lift his eyes off the sidewalk in front of him.

Resisting the urge to cut to the ultimate question, Jason answered the question. “When I was seventeen I kissed my first guy. We met online. He was nineteen, went to college and his roommate was away. I drove an hour and a half to meet him, but it was worth it. When he kissed me, I knew for sure I was gay.”

“What happened to him?” His interest piqued, Blake looked over at Jason. “If you don’t mind me asking.”

“No, it’s fine,” Jason didn’t care, he almost never thought about Chad. “After we were, um, . . . done.” He couldn’t stop a nervous laugh from escaping. “He started asking about stuff. And, well that didn’t go so well.”

“What kind of stuff?” Now he wanted to know what happened? Jason started to think of a way to use that to tease out of him what he wanted to talk about.

“As I said, I was only seventeen at the time.” Jason wasn’t particularly proud of what he was about to say next. “Nobody wanted to hook up with a seventeen year old, creepy old men excluded. So I lied. Said I was eighteen, in college, home for the weekend. Based on that false information, he invited me over.

“When he found out I was seventeen, in high school and lived at home, that was that. Told me to check back when I was in college.” Jason laughed. “As if seventeen and nineteen were so different.

“But, the point of this is, once he and I kissed and . . .” he rolled his hand to indicate there was other stuff that happened. “After that I knew for sure. Not that I was willing to admit it.”

“Why not?” A smile crossed Blake’s face. Jason never thought Blake particularly cute, but when he smiled he was attractive. “You said you knew.”

“No way I was coming out in my house.” Jason’s mind immediately relived that Saturday morning when he told his parents. “I always knew my mom would not be okay with it and she wasn’t when she found out. Even after my first time, I still couldn’t admit it. Not with college coming, soccer team to make, it just wasn’t something I could do.”

“So,” Blake shifted position, bringing his left knee up so he was facing Jason. “When did you come out?”

“Once soccer was over my freshman year I started to hook up a bit more. Not a lot really, but compared to two times in high school, once every other month or so was more.” Jason laughed to cover his embarrassment. “It was then I knew it wasn’t going away, it wasn’t going to change.

“That admission settled what I was, not what I would do.” He couldn’t believe he was telling Blake his life’s story. Gay life story, he corrected himself. They only knew each other a week and it started with Blake calling him a faggot. “I made rules up for myself; no one local, lie about where I lived, went to school etc., that sort of stuff.”

“Why?”

Jason bit back what he really wanted to say, ‘for the same reason you’re in the closet,’ but held back. “Coming out wasn’t something I wanted to do in college. Not with soccer, my mom, school. I always thought I would wait.”

“So what made you change your mind?” This is what he really wanted to know, Jason realized. What got him to come out.

Jason shook his head at the memory of Jordan outing him to the world. “I didn’t change my mind, my ex best friend Jordan found out and told everyone he could; and those he couldn’t tell, his mother told.”

“Oh.” The disappointment there was no happy ending was clear on Blake’s face.

“Actually, it was the best thing that happened.” Jason smiled. It really was the best thing. “Peter and I didn't have to hide our relationship, most of my friends don’t care, neither does the team.”

They both laughed at the image of Monday’s practice.

“Yeah, everyone’s very protective of you.”

“I did lose a few so-called friends, Jordan among them.” Funny how he didn’t miss Jordan’s company at all. “The only bad part is my mom. We haven’t really spoken since I told her. She barely says hi to me even if she answers the phone when I call; just hands it to my dad.”

“Wow.” Blake was lost in his own thoughts so Jason decided to ask him.

“When did you know you were gay?” he asked it as matter-of-factly as he could.

“Same as you . . . .” He froze when he realized what he said.

“Easy, Blake, nothing we say goes beyond me. I won’t tell a soul, not even Darryl.” Jason dealt with someone else outing him and would never do that to anyone, let alone a teammate. “Well, maybe Peter, but that is it. Promise.”

“Thanks.” He sounded relieved and nervous. “I’m kind of like you. Known for years, tried to deny it, finally accepted it, but can’t, or am afraid, to act on it.”

“It is scary,” Jason sympathized with his teammate. “Just don’t rush to do anything. Take your time and decide what works best for you. If you ever need to talk about it or anything, just let me know.”

“Thanks.” Blake turned away suddenly. “I’m really sorry about Monday. I’ve been stressing about this all summer, you know about someone finding out and stuff. Then I freaked because . . . I really don’t know what I thought. You have no idea how embarrassed I am. To make me feel worse, you’ve been so nice to me anyway.”

“My being nice to you makes you feel worse?” Jason tried to get him to laugh he was so sullen.

“You know what I mean.” Blake smiled despite himself.

“I do, don’t worry about it.” He could feel his muscles getting stiff. “C’mon, let’s get back, or else I’m going to be too sore to run tomorrow. We can talk as we run.”

As promised, two weeks before Peter’s tournament, Coach Slewman announced he was giving everyone off the last weekend in August. Jason already told Peter, booked their room, made plans to meet Amanda and Erin, all that was left was to run his laps.

One of the conditions Coach imposed was Jason couldn’t tell anyone on the team he was paying for their weekend off by running laps. For the first time since practice started, he hoped someone would earn laps so he would have some cover. Unfortunately, his teammates were doing everything they could not to earn laps, just as Jason and Darryl hoped. By the end of practice it was just Jason out running around the field.

Darryl and the others began asking what happened. Jason gave them the answer he practiced; this was between him and Coach Slewman. Though not happy, Darryl let it go, knowing Jason was not going to tell them.

When he began running after Tuesday’s practice, Darryl appeared at his side.

“What are you doing, D?”

“Mike told me you’re running laps so we could all get the weekend off.” Darryl shot him a look of disbelief.

“Actually, I needed that weekend off to go with Peter. This was the only way I could get it off. That everyone gets a weekend free is a bonus.”

“Not if you are the only one who has to suffer for us to get it.” Darryl almost sounded angry.

“No one asked for this.” Jason felt like he and Darryl had this talk before. “Since I wanted it, I pay for it. Seemed fair to me.”

Darryl shrugged as they ran. “Maybe, but I’m going to put the weekend to good use, so I guess I will pay for it too.”

“You don’t have to do this, D.” Much as Jason welcomed the company, he didn’t want his best friend to have to suffer too.

“Yes, I do!” Now Jason knew he was mad. “I keep saying it, but you don’t hear me; you and I are a team. You have to stop trying to shoulder everything. Co-captains, remember? We’re supposed to work together.”

“Okay, I get it.” Jason couldn’t help smiling. “Thanks, I’ll work on it.”

“Good.” Darryl smiled back. “I’m getting tired of you making me look bad. Part of riding your coattails is that others aren’t supposed to realize what I’m doing.”

“Thanks for the company.” Suddenly Coach’s payment didn’t seem so bad.

On Wednesday, when practice ended, no one left the field. Eric and Matt led the rest of the team to confront their co-captains before they started running.

“What’s this we hear you two are getting us the weekend off by running laps from now til next Friday?” Eric spoke for the rest of the team.

“How did you find out?” Jason turned to Darryl who shook his head, mouthing ‘not me.’

“That doesn’t matter,” Matt said. “Is it true?”

“Yes, sort of. I needed the weekend off to go see Peter compete. Coach said he would only give the whole team a day off. Since I requested it, I had to run the laps.”

“We get a weekend off because you agreed to run laps?” Davis asked.

“Yes,” Darryl confirmed.

“Why are you running, Darryl?” Carlos asked.

“Because D and I are team,” Jason answered for his best friend. “Just as we ran with you guys, he’s running with me. No one runs alone.”

“Ok.” Eric looked back at the team. “Let’s get started.”

“Huh?” Jason stared at them. “Go hit the showers, you guys don’t have to run.”

“We’re a team.” Matt told him. “We learned that from you two. If you have to run, we’re going to run with you.”

Amid a chorus of voices all agreeing with Matt, Darryl and Jason exchanged stupid looks.

“Ok then.” Jason smiled. “Let’s get these over with.”

Someone started a drinking song, and everyone started singing along. Never had the field heard such off-key singing. Standing in the middle of the field, Coach Slewman and his assistants stood shaking their heads at the teams’ attempt to sing.

“You were right Jacob,” Mike said. “When you told me to, ‘let slip’ why Jason and Darryl were running laps, I didn’t think they would do it.”

Coach Slewman nodded. “I had a sense they would. This group is tight, and those two up front are the reason. Given the chance to pay them back, our boys didn’t disappoint.”

He kicked one of the balls toward Mike. “When they finish tell them they don’t have to run after today. Let them know I’m eliminating the rest of the laps because they came together as a team. I’m going to my office to take care of some paperwork.”

Walking slowly back toward the field house, he started whistling along with the song filling the field.

Having earned his free weekend, Jason gets to watch Peter for a change.
Copyright © 2011 Andrew Q Gordon; All Rights Reserved.
If you enjoyed what you have read, please leave a reaction and/or comment for the author!

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Chapter Comments

Cool chapter. It is nice to see how the team is like together. We had bits and pieces of how the team dynamic was before especially during when the team had a vote to keep Jason in the team but this chapter expands on that.

 

Also, I'm gonna fight Frosty for Darryl! I'm hoping I can make him swing the other way. :lol:

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On 12/21/2010 05:16 PM, Ramon said:
Cool chapter. It is nice to see how the team is like together. We had bits and pieces of how the team dynamic was before especially during when the team had a vote to keep Jason in the team but this chapter expands on that.

 

Also, I'm gonna fight Frosty for Darryl! I'm hoping I can make him swing the other way. :lol:

Haha, I'll set up the Octagon and you two can have your MMA battle, but I wouldn't mess with Frost, esp since you are gonna have an up hill battle converting Darryl :P
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Wow, I was really surprised at first at how Jason handled the situation with Blake after the name-calling incident . . . I thought he was being too nice, blaming himself too much . . . I guess he's a better person than I am :-P

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On 01/08/2011 07:48 AM, Sara Alva said:
Wow, I was really surprised at first at how Jason handled the situation with Blake after the name-calling incident . . . I thought he was being too nice, blaming himself too much . . . I guess he's a better person than I am :-P
Meh, I think Jason was and is concerned about his team and his affect on it. Making someone uncomfortable is something I worry about in my line of work, because I am out. So I try not to do things that would make others uncomfortable - so perhaps this was a bit of self projection?? Hmm :/
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Oh yes, Blake. Jason seems pretty mature in this chapter--:2thumbs:

 

Btw, didn't you have an idea for Blake for a story. You have the thread asking about short stories you could write about secondary characters from your other stories--Maybe you could write up the Blake one?

 

But then, maybe with Pieces of Purpose you don't need more ideas for short stories, lol.

 

Anyway, nice chappy. :D

 

P.S LOL Ramon and Frosty. Where do I buy tickets to that show??? :P

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On 07/12/2011 08:21 AM, AnytaSunday said:
Oh yes, Blake. Jason seems pretty mature in this chapter--:2thumbs:

 

Btw, didn't you have an idea for Blake for a story. You have the thread asking about short stories you could write about secondary characters from your other stories--Maybe you could write up the Blake one?

 

But then, maybe with Pieces of Purpose you don't need more ideas for short stories, lol.

 

Anyway, nice chappy. :D

 

P.S LOL Ramon and Frosty. Where do I buy tickets to that show??? :P

I did and do have an idea for Blake - just need the time to write it. His story won't have beat downs and coma's his will be more about his decision to come out and dealing with being gay and trying to date. But that shall have to wait for time - but I'm definitely thinking about it. :)
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I've been reading all night, thanks a lot :P No really though this story is great. I love in this chapter how the team comes together to run, they have a great bond. laugh.gif

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On 07/12/2011 08:34 PM, intune said:
I've been reading all night, thanks a lot :P No really though this story is great. I love in this chapter how the team comes together to run, they have a great bond. laugh.gif
Yeah please don't stay up all night to read it, there's plenty of time later :P - I liked this chapter for many reasons but the end was one of em. :)
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OMG!!! Talk about being a mentor on and off the field. Finch is definitely a very fortunate person and the team, that's a once in a lifetime group with an unshakeable bond! 

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On 1/23/2021 at 6:16 PM, Chris L said:

OMG!!! Talk about being a mentor on and off the field. Finch is definitely a very fortunate person and the team, that's a once in a lifetime group with an unshakeable bond! 

Sometimes a team jells. Others it doesn't. It's kind of like that at work for me. We've had some teams that were all piss and vinegar. Now the group is tight and has each other's back. I much prefer the later. ;) 

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