Authors: Mercy Celeste
“Stop calling me coach.”
“Stop treating me like I’m some damned kid who’s made bad life choices.”
“You slept with Bowen Murphy. While he was your teammate—how’s that for a bad life choice? As soon as his boyfriend came home, he dumped your ass.”
“Too far, Wright. Way out of line. What was between me and Bo does not concern you.” The shower curtain opened, and Levi stepped out. He took the towel from the bar and dried his hair.
“It does when you call me by his name. I can’t help but notice we resemble. And you said you love blonds. Can’t be coincidence.”
“And since I didn’t start any of this? Or remember how this started.”
“But that’s just it. You thought I was Bo that night.”
The towel went around his waist as he stepped past the busted section of mirror and picked up his toothbrush. “And you got laid because of it. And I’m not saying I thought you were him. I’m saying you benefitted from the pain pill and the liquor and that my firing was just made public and I was at a very low point. My fucking career over when it had just started. So I had a thing with Bo. He doesn’t love me, and I’m not fool enough to try and make him love me no matter how I feel about him.”
The admission kicked Tracy in the gut. He remembered Levi saying he’d lost someone he could love. “You’re in love with Murphy.”
“I didn’t say that. And what does it matter to you anyway? We’ve known each other two weeks or something like that. Or was that high school crush thing still an issue? Do you think this is more than just the only two gay men in town finding mutual relief together? Because that’s what this is. Or was. Whatever, man. I’m not defending my past to you. And I sure as fuck never asked about yours.”
Tracy snatched his shirt over his head and kicked his flip-flops off. His shorts went next. He flung back the curtain and stepped into the shower. He’d be damned if he went home smelling of Levi’s cum. He hadn’t come here to fight with the man. He hadn’t come here to kiss him or anything else that came after kissing him either. But it always seemed to happen. And he was sick of this monumental letdown after each time he’d been with Levi. Each and every time. Levi’s past was all over this relationship.
He turned the shower off and leaned against the wall. He smelled like strawberries. Fuck, he was losing his fucking mind.
“Would you like a towel?” The curtain opened, and Levi leaned in, holding out a folded towel. Tracy preferred to lean and drip and watch the water flow slowly down the drain. “We’re going to be late for your cookout. Unless you decided you’re staying. I could wash your back.”
Tracy laughed, it wasn’t a happy laugh. The water finally all ran out, and all he had to stare at was his hairy toes. “You’re right, Levi. It’s not my business what you did in your past. I don’t know, it’s just…something about you is making me crazy. I don’t get this. Being around you. I…it’s everything. I’ve got to have or know or do everything.”
“And that’s scaring the shit out of me.” Levi sat on the closed toilet, the folded towel hugged to his chest. He bounced a leg as if he was nervous and finger-combed his hair.
“I don’t mean to scare you. Or…I’m not your coach or your father or…” He stood up and looked at the mirror again. “You and Jude had a fight, didn’t you? That’s why your hand was all scraped up. You punched the mirror because Jude’s a little prick.”
“I’ve never hit my brother. Never even thought to…until two weeks ago. Yeah, I punched the mirror. At least it’s safety glass, or I’d have fucked up my hand even worse than it is.”
“Is asking what happened out of line?” He reached for the towel and stepped out of the tub to stand on the mat in front of Levi.
Levi shrugged and continued to stare at the floor. “I told him I’m gay. He didn’t take it well. Said some nasty things. And I haven’t seen him since.”
“Don’t be, Judah and I have a complicated relationship. He’ll get over it. Or we won’t speak for five years. We’ve done it before. When he forgets we have a father and tries to fill the role.”
“I have a sister like that. But she’s the oldest and got stuck taking care of all of us while our parents worked, so it’s understandable.”
“All of us?” Levi looked up, a smirk on his lush lips. “How many of you are there?”
“Five. I have two brothers and two sisters.”
“And which one are you?”
“The baby of the family. Spoiled. Demanding. Used to getting his way. That’s pretty much you all over.” Levi stood up, his face not far from Tracy’s, the smile gone, and his face remarkably blank. “Right now this is just sex, Tracy, incredible sex. It’s all I can give you. Anything else…I don’t know, I’m used to being alone. I like being alone. You’re sexy, hot, demanding. And you do seem to push all of my turn-on buttons. Whatever else happens…” He shook his head, and his eyes filled with fear. “Please tell me this isn’t a meet-your-parents deal, because then we’d have to talk.”
“This is a 'my folks throw a cookout for the team when camp is over and I forgot to tell you yesterday' thing. You’re part of the team. And I don’t actually have your phone number to call you up and say 'Levi, we’re having a cookout, bring yourself and a case of Cokes.' Okay? Don’t read anything into it that isn’t there.”
“Fair enough.” Levi took a step toward him. He reached up but changed the angle to push his hair back at the last minute. “And later maybe. We can do this the right way.”
“Instead of like two horny teenagers. Yeah, that sounds good. And I was out of line. I’m sorry.” Tracy wanted to close the distance between them. He wanted to wrap Levi in his arms and kiss him. Promise him everything was going to be okay. The urge prompted him to dry off and dress without making this even more complicated. “So, yeah, if you’re coming, we need to go.”
Levi moved past him as he located his shirt and pulled it over his head. He dressed in silence, pulling on a pair of clean cargo shorts over briefs this time and a skin-tight New Orleans T-shirt that he tucked into his shorts. A pair of running shoes, no socks. And a stop back in the bathroom to slick something in his hair that kept it tamed and out of his face.
“We’ll have to stop on the way for a case of Cokes…God, does it have to be Cokes? Tell me there will be adult beverages available.”
“Not until after the kids all leave. It’s a school rule. Even if it’s not on campus. And I like my job.” Tracy followed him from the bedroom through the house as he searched for his wallet and keys. “Shouldn’t you turn the AC units off? What if—“
“If the place burns down, then I won’t have to worry about roasting all night. It’s a chance I’m willing to take. Let’s go. I can’t find my keys, so I guess you’re driving.” He stopped in the kitchen and pulled a bottle of wine from the refrigerator and a box from on top. He fished through the box and pulled out cash. “Wallet either. So wine for your mom and cash donation to help with the food costs.” Levi shoved the bills in his hand and walked out the door, carrying the wine.
Five one hundred dollar bills. And Levi had it just lying around the house. And he’d accused him of squandering all of his millions earlier in the week. “Fuck.” Tracy put three of the bills back in the box and followed Levi out to find him already settled in his Cherokee looking pale under his tan. As if Tracy was driving him to his execution. Somehow Tracy thought it was his own execution, but he drove on anyway.
* * * * *
As team cookouts went, this was a pretty good one. Levi had been to worse. Once he got past the meet the parent deal of actually meeting Tracy’s parents, he relaxed and enjoyed himself. The biggest surprise wasn’t the parents at all. Tracy got his blond from his mother and his size from his father. Neither shared his extreme asshole personality. His mother was quite friendly without being suffocating. The father easy with a joke. Tracy was neither witty nor friendly. Yet, Levi couldn’t stop thinking about him or looking at him or fantasizing about him. Or wanting him. It was that last part that kept getting him in trouble.
The drive up hadn’t taken long. Just ten minutes. The Wrights lived just inside the Hillsborough school district on the county road. “You actually live closer to Summerville than you do to Hillsborough. You should have played for us,” he’d pointed out as they turned into the drive up to the large farm-style house. Two stories with some gingerbread trim and a landscaped yard. Hell of a lot different than the rundown trailer park Levi had grown up in.
“My folks tried to get me a transfer since we’re borderline. The coaches blocked it. They wanted me to stay put. Anyway, it doesn’t matter; we’re all one big happy family now.” Tracy parked beside a huge red dually, and together they made their way to the back of the house where the noise was the loudest.
Rock music, laughter, girls, boys, coaches, some school teachers Levi remembered from his time served. This was more than just a team cookout.
“This sort of turned into an all-inclusive thing—first the cheerleaders, then the soccer team, staff. Boosters handle most of it. It’s a good thing. Helps to make an awkward situation less awkward.” Tracy rested his hand in the middle of Levi’s back. The gesture one that had Levi glancing around to see if anyone spotted the homos in the crowd, but Tracy was quick to move away toward the short blond woman fussing with dishes on the patio. “Mom, you don’t have to do that.”
“I know.” She swatted his hand away when he tried to take the package of paper plates away from her. “Now who’s your friend?” She looked around the patio and leaned in to whisper to Tracy. “He’s cute.”
“Mom! Okay, I’m cutting you off the Diet Coke for today.” Tracy went very pale as he followed her gaze to Levi. Levi just shrugged and smiled. And handed over the bottle of wine. “Levi Brody, Mom, and don’t embarrass him. I had to promise vile things to get him to come.”
Tracy turned beat red and ducked his head. So the big man had a soft side after all. Interesting. “Nice to finally meet you, Levi.” She held her hand out, letting Tracy have the stack of plates after all. “Tracy has talked about you so much this last week I feel like I know you.”
“She doesn’t watch football. And Dad and Britney wanted to know all about you. I’m sorry; this sounds bad.” Embarrassed looked good on the coach. Sputtering even better. And when his dad rushed over, it became worse. For Tracy. Fans. His sister and his dad were huge fans. Levi signed a program from the first Super Bowl he’d won.
“You never told me you went to that game,” he said when he and Tracy were alone for a moment.
“When do we have time to talk? And it’s not like I’m a fan. Oh hey, Mr. Brody, will you sign my boobs?” Tracy raised his voice several octaves and rolled his eyes as he crossed his arms over his chest.
“I’ve never signed a boob in my life. But for you, I’ll make an exception. But it’ll cost you.” Levi leaned in to whisper. “Do they know?”
“Mom and Dad, yes. I’ve never told my brothers or sisters. If they haven’t figured it out then…they don’t know about us.”
“And you want to keep it that way. I get it.” Levi looked everywhere but at Tracy. He forced his lungs to work when they wanted to stop. The sun seemed to dim in the sky. Fuck, what the hell was wrong with him? “I’ve done it enough. I know the drill. Talk to you later.” He took a bottle of water from the ice tub and went to mingle with the team.
The long twilight faded into night, and Tracy found himself watching Levi dance. After dinner, the kids pulled him into their groups just because he was the best dancer. He slithered and shook and shimmied…Tracy pictured the two of them together in a club or somewhere, Levi moving with him as if his body were liquid. A feeling of déjà vu settled over him as if he’d seen Levi dance before.
“You’re lusting. But who are you lusting over is the question. Can’t be one of the teaching staff. Unless Sandra Barton got a divorce without me knowing.” His next up sister Britney, the only other Wright kid still living in town, tucked her arm in his. “And I’ve never taken you for one to look at fresh young things.”
“I’m not lusting over anyone.” He dragged his attention from Levi who’d become the center of attention when he stepped up on stage with the local group and took over the microphone. “Damn, he can sing too. Fucking so not fair.” The lead singer became back-up. Levi’s baritone better suited to the pop song anyway.
“Levi Brody is a whirlwind up close. And gorgeous. Just as gorgeous as I thought he would be. And nicer. He signed my Super Bowl cap. But there’s just one thing about him that pisses me off.”
“And what would that be? I haven’t seen him do anything wrong.” Tracy tried not to rush to Levi’s defense no matter how much he wanted to.
“Nothing wrong. He’s been great. It’s that he’s not single. Or at least for not much longer. The man is t-totally in love, and I can’t stand that I never even got a chance.”
A sharp stinging pain lanced from his chest up to his brain. Agony welled in his throat. Levi wasn’t the type to fall in love. He’d said as much just that afternoon. Watching him move. Listening to him sing. Tracy wanted to be with him. To be the one he looked at. Danced with. Sang to.
“I just have one question?” Britney stepped in front of him and punched him in the stomach. Not hard, but enough to double him over. “Why didn’t you tell me, Tracy? I wouldn’t have cared. You’re my brother, and I love you. It wouldn’t have made a difference.”
“I don’t know—“ He tried to play off her comment but Levi moving rapidly through the crowd caught his attention. He was coming to Tracy’s rescue. Anger snapping in his eyes like gold lightning. Tracy shook his head, and Levi stopped, one eyebrow raised in question. Tracy stood up and mouthed the word
. Levi nodded and returned to the crowd.
“And that’s what I mean. That boy is gone on you. So much he was coming to kick my ass. And you didn’t even have the guts to tell me.” There were tears in her eyes. He pulled her close and held her.
“I’m sorry, Brit. I didn’t think…okay, I didn’t know how to tell you.”
“Do Mom and Dad know?”
“Yeah, I sort of told them when I moved back home. I didn’t want the
when are you getting married
question to pop up. Or for them to find out by accident…don’t tell Rodney.” The horror of their very religious-minded brother and what he’d say suddenly became a nightmare.