I didn't mean to get this drunk. It's not like I can take back the alcohol though, so I'm just gonna enjoy it. Already this party feels less boring and these people less lame. Except this guy talking to me, blabbering on like we're friends or some shit. I nod, sipping on my drink and wondering where I lost Brandon. I should probably go find him instead of standing here with this asshole. I down the rest of the drink, putting up a hand to mean hold on a sec. "We gotta finish this some other time, man. I, uh...I need to...not be here. Right now. So yeah." I turn and walk away. "Later, Rich."
"Rick," the guy says.
"Okay," I call back. Like I give a fuck.
Most of the guys on the team like going out a lot, but I've always been more the house party type. Brandon's the no party type, but sometimes he'll let me drag him out to one. Usually he'll just try to talk me into staying in and fucking, and usually that works. He's pretty persuasive. I wish I'd given in tonight.
I'm burning up and I almost just take my shirt off before I remember where I am and start laughing to myself. Some real shitty rap is blasting. Over my years here I've tried to learn to control the urge to laugh when I see a skinny white girl trying to shake her ass, but it's damn near impossible. I really should be more culturally sensitive, it's not their fault. Oh, won't someone think of the white girls!
...Yeah, definitely drunk. My face is tingling when I spot Brandon, cornered by some blonde. He's smiling at her. She probably can't tell, but it's the smile that means he wants to laugh at her. Not sure why he's not, since making fun of drunk chicks is his favorite party game.
Brandon just nods as she talks, looking the same way I probably did a minute ago. The corners of his lips are turned up a little, definitely holding in some laughter. I make my way over to him, grinning wide when he looks at me. His lips crack open too, smiling like he means it now. I fucking love that smile. "Hey B," I say, putting my arm around him. He looks at me funny, probably 'cause of how I stretch out his initial like beeeeee. "I thought we were using the buddy system."
"I got lost in conversation with my new friend Haley," Brandon replies. She beams at him, flipping her hair. She's cute, I guess, but her hair is bleached and crispy looking. There's a lot of makeup on her eyes, black stuff smudged around them and a mess of color on the lids. I get the feeling she thinks she's prettier than she really is, 'specially if she thinks she's cute enough for Brandon. I'm embarrassed for her. "She was giving me her opinion on Duke basketball," he laughs, arm around me now.
"Huh," I say, leaning on him. "Lemme guess, it was something like 'Fuck Duke'?"
She cracks up, way too loud. "That is so funny!" she squeals, touching my arm. I raise an eyebrow and Brandon grins. "Pretty much, though, right?" she says to him. "I told 'im I think they're a bunch of cheating, flopping sissies! Not like you guys," she adds, pointing at me. Back freshman year when I'd bring Brandon over to these things people would actually get confrontational sometimes, but they figured out pretty quick I wasn't cool with that. Now they mostly stick to lame insults, or hitting on him. Some, like Haley, try both.
"Christian, I tried to invite your friend back to my place to hang out but he's saying no. Why don't you both come over and, like, chill with my roommate and me?" It always kills me, these Tar Heel born and bred Carolina girls throwing themselves at a Duke basketball player. It also never fails to bother me, not that it should. Chances of him taking them up on an offer one day are pretty slim.
"Can't," I say. "We gotta leave."
"Oh yeah?" he asks.
"Yep. 'Member, we talked about it earlier?" If this girl didn't seem so stupid, and if I weren't drunk, I'd worry about her picking up on something from the way I'm draped all over him, the way we're looking at each other. "We should go now." I pull him away from her trap and lead him to the door, stumbling a little.
"Keys?" he asks at my car, and I just grin and pin him to the side.
"I wanna fuck right here."
"That is a terrible idea," he says simply, but he lets me give him a quick kiss. He pulls my keys from my back pocket and slaps my ass lightly, making us both laugh. "Come on," he tells me, sliding into the driver's seat. "Get your drunk ass in the car."
Brandon gets us back to my place, but he's having a hard time opening the door with me all over him. He's laughing, trying to push me off while I keep my mouth attached to his neck. I trip when he finally gets the door open and steps in, but he catches me, holding me up against the wall.
"I don't know why you make me go out with you," he says. I return my attention to his neck. "Those girls, man. It's hard finding new and creative ways to keep turning down pussy."
I grin and lean forward, giving him a wet, drunk kiss with too much tongue, too much enthusiasm. He takes control of it though, and soon I'm moaning into his mouth, trying to pull him closer which isn't even possible. I used to get embarrassed when he just made me feel like a bitch like this, but why worry about it when it feels so fucking good? I get his jeans unzipped when he stops and grabs my hands. "Shouldn't we go to your room?" Yeah, probably. I turn us around so he's against the wall and start kissing again, working his pants down without any protest.
It's kinda been a surprise to me, how much I like giving him head. You don't expect that when you hear your teammates and friends spit out 'cocksucker' like it's the worst thing a person could ever be. Brandon always puts his hands on my head but doesn't push me or anything. And he watches, biting his lip and breathing hard but not making too much noise. It's a personal challenge to draw the loudest sound out of him, a deep moan or sharp breath, a hissed swear. Nobody else's dick has ever been in my mouth, so I don't know if it's this fun all the time. I don't really plan on finding out.
He throws his head back and moans, saying "Shit, Chris," right before he comes. I get off my knees and smile at him, pulling his pants and boxers back up. He smiles back and I think he's beautiful, almost tell him so, but I'm not that drunk luckily. We've been there before. Things can get weird when I get all lame and sentimental like that.
Back when this all kinda started I'm not sure I saw it ending up this way. When we left camp I still wasn't entirely sold on the idea I was gay. I went back to dating girls with no problem, not even a little confused about whether I liked 'em or not. But I couldn't stop thinking about Brandon either, and I knew that I'd honestly never been more turned on that I had been when he'd touched me. He was driving me fucking insane, hanging out with me all the time all of a sudden, but not once trying to get into my pants again. And it wasn't like I was gonna ask for it, 'cause that'd be really gay.
I figured maybe I liked guys, yeah, but mostly I liked Brandon. Maybe more than I'd ever liked any girl. I had a goddamned crush on my best friend that I could only ignore, which was kinda difficult when he'd smile at me or sit real close. We shared a bed every now and then when he slept over, and I don't know how I survived it.
After a while it started to fade, and I found a girlfriend I really liked. Angela had dark brown skin and big, curly hair, and she liked to steal my t-shirts. When we kissed she tasted like strawberry chapstick. I taught her how to shoot the ball, and she tried to show me how to skateboard. Brandon loved her, unlike some of the other girls I'd known. I thought everything had gone back to normal, and I didn't have to worry about all that gay shit anymore.
We'd been together for a year when my AAU team went out to a tournament in California in the summer. I'd just gotten off the phone with her one night when someone started pounding on the hotel room door. "Chris, open the fucking door!" Brandon screamed. "Now! Hurry up!" I opened it and he slid past me, telling me to close it quick. But before I could, one of our teammates shoved me aside and went over to Brandon, who was trying to hide under the covers on my bed.
"Give it back."
"I don't have it," Brandon replied, laughing underneath a pillow.
"I'm not fucking playing, man, give it back!" he cried, pulling at the sheets trying to get at him. He got a hold of his foot and almost yanked him off the bed.
"Goddamn, man, I don't have it! Trace ran the other way with it. Go get him."
He frowned and dropped Brandon's leg. "He's gotta come back to the room eventually. If Trace doesn't have it I'm gonna hurt someone." Leaving our room, he mumbled, "Y'all niggas play too much."
I closed the door and Brandon started cracking up. "Uh. Do I wanna know?"
"Trace and I found his teddy bear," he said, catching his breath. "I didn't think that dude could run that quick!" I laid down next to him, shaking my head. "Don't give me that. This motherfucker has a teddy bear, and he's gonna come in here acting all hard. Shit."
"He's still got like six inches and seventy pounds on you two, though. Y'all are stupid."
Brandon turned to me, grinning. His eyes were shining and I noticed how nice they were for the first time in a while. It made my stomach drop a little. "Chris. This bear has a bow tie on." He started laughing again, giggling even, and I had to smile back at him. He let out a happy sigh, looking up at the ceiling. "Now I'm bored. What do you wanna do?" He glanced at me and I just shrugged, watching his tongue lightly wet his lower lip. He grinned and I felt my face get hot, turning red and giving me away again. Propping himself up on his elbows he leaned in a little closer. "I know somethin' we can do."
I opened my mouth to remind him of Angela, but it didn't come out. He used the opportunity to start kissing me, tongue slipping in before I could close it again. I didn't stop him, anyway, and we made out while he got a hand in my shorts. It was kinda out of nowhere, since it'd been like two years since camp. Since he even hinted at wanting to do this again. But that was all it took for me to get obsessed again, and a few weeks later I broke up with Angela who told me to fuck off and rot in hell. Brandon didn't say anything when I told him, but I think he looked kind of guilty. It wasn't really his fault that I'm so pathetic, though.
I let him start this again when we got to college, knowing that it would never be anything but sex, knowing it was just a strange part of our friendship. But I can't help feeling the way I do. It doesn't feel like just hooking up when it's your best friend, when it's a huge fucking secret like this. When he kisses me goodnight like we're fucking dating. How the hell could I not feel like this?
Brandon shocked the college basketball world coming back to school all four years, even though he always said he would every time they asked. It did him good, I think, 'cause the mix of hype and his actual performance has him projected to go first in the draft. Something even I wouldn't have predicted for him. He's a legitimate superstar already. We've all been stopped for pictures and autographs, but it's on a whole different level with him. He's gonna be huge. He'll be flashing that smile for Nike and McDonald's and whoever else, and getting millions for it.
If you ask me, though, he doesn't even want it. Talking to him about the NBA reminds me of when we were fifteen and he complained about all the recruiting stuff. Now it's NBA scouts and ESPN talking heads that make him uneasy, along with the strange process of the draft itself. I get mad, listening to him. This is my dream, and it has been as long as I can remember, and I gotta listen to the top pick complain about NBA fame and glory while I'm sitting here projected second round to undrafted. It hurts, kinda, how unaware of it he is.
I'd stop listening if I didn't care so much. But it worries me to hear him sound so fucking bitter about it all, before he's even gotten there. It's like going back to the time before we were so close, when he only seemed to range between angry and apathetic. Before basketball meant anything to him really. "It isn't worth it," he keeps saying, whatever that means.
None of the uncertainty shows in his game, and he and his team start off the season strong, chewing up their out of conference schedule. My team is struggling. We got a lot of freshmen and untested sophomores this year, and the wheels start coming off early. I'm a captain, one of two seniors on the team, and I feel fucking useless when they turn to me for answers.
We lose pretty bad to an unranked team, and I have to sit there in the press conference while coach sighs, shrugs, and shakes his head, at a total loss. "I haven't been in this position before," he tells them, "so I'm not sure where to go. They have to buy into my system."
I try not to roll my eyes in front of the cameras and reporters. Even after all this time it feels weird giving comments to the press after a game. Like, is it this serious? "I have a question for the players," one guys says, raising his pen. "What do you think you could be doing to change the direction your season seems to be headed?"
I'm about to start giving them the same old crap about staying hungry and better defense and blah blah, when my roommate Dorian speaks up. He's a sophomore, rough but talented, and way too unpolished for this media stuff. "Well, we could probably stop losing to such bad teams," he says. "And I guess to do that, we gotta stop scoring less than they do." Our other teammate on the panel covers his face and laughs, while I just put my head down. Coach calls him a knucklehead, and starts subtly trashing out heart and drive again. "That's what I deal with in practice," he tells them. "That sort of attitude. It carries over." He tries to sound like he's joking about it all, but he means it.
I wanna tell him that his shitty attitude carries over, that his lack of faith and his refusal to change what isn't working are wearing us down. But he's the coach. I know he's just frustrated and not used to such crappy performance, but these younger guys can't brush it off so easy. It's gonna be a long season.
Brandon drops by to see me after his team takes care of another game, winning easily. We don't talk about my shitty team ever, which I appreciate. Anything he'd say would only make it worse. He's hurt his shoulder, and I go get him an ice pack while he tells me about the "giant mouth-breather" who took him down during this last game.
I come back from the kitchen and put the ice pack on him before sitting down next to him on the couch. He inhales sharply when it touches his skin, and adjusts it while he lays his head on me. "Thanks, baby," he sighs, eyes closed.
I think about letting it go. I don't say anything for as long as I can stand it before finally I start laughing and I have to ask. "Wait, did you just call me 'baby'?"
Brandon looks at me with one eye open briefly, then shakes his head. "Nah. That doesn't sound like something I'd do."
"What kinda painkillers they got you on? You definitely said that shit."
Eyes closed again, he grins, head still resting on me. "Nope. You imagined that."
"Yeah, okay," I laugh. "Well, you're welcome, baby."
"Stop," he groans. "Save that for one of your groupies." He sits up and moves the ice around.
"Groupies?" I ask. "What groupies?"
"Y'know. All the girls here. The ones you're fucking, anyway."
I frown. "I'm not fucking anyone here. Haven't since freshman year."
Brandon laughs, but he seems surprised. "Worked your way through 'em all that fast?"
"No. Just not interested anymore," I say. He looks at me for a while, then his eyes dart to the floor. I said the wrong thing already, so I might as well keep going. "Why? You got groupie girls at Duke?"
"Ugh," is all he says.
"What, Duke girls?" I joke. He elbows me.
"No, girls," he replies, smiling. I mess with the bottom of my t-shirt, pulling at loose thread.
"But you are fucking other people, right? Other guys, I mean?" Brandon just shrugs at me, and it pisses me off. "How many?"
"Chris, come on," he says, head titled back and eyes closed again.
"I'm just curious. I mean, we already fuck more than most couples. When the hell do you even have time for more?"
He rolls his eyes, looking at me again. "I'm not running around messing with a whole bunch of other people or nothing. It's no big deal."
"How many?" I ask again.
"One," he replies, staring at me coldly. "Just one. Ty." Before I can even ask, he tells me about how he and Tyrell were sort of together forever ago, but it got fucked up. Now they're friends again, though, and I guess Brandon can't have a best friend without having sex with him. "I don't see the big deal here," he says, taking off the ice pack and getting his shirt back on.
I just laugh. "You're fucking an NBA player," I say out loud, but not really to him. "One you've been in love with since high school. How can I beat that?"
Brandon makes a disgusted noise and looks at me like where is this coming from? "I'm not in love with him, or anyone. Why the fuck do you even care so much?"
I don't say anything, just glance at him quick before staring back down at the floor. He knows what I'm thinking. "Well...just stop," he says in reply to my silence.
"You want me to stop feeling like this? Go out and get another fuck buddy like you? We've been doing this so long I don't even think about anyone else."
I can't believe I'm talking about this. I know better than that. Brandon's stomping around, grabbing all his stuff. He's at the door, zipping up his jacket, when he says, "Well go find someone else to fucking think about." When he slams the door, I realize it's the first time we've ever fought. The most heated it ever got before was whenever we argued over what music to play in the car. That's kinda sick, for as long as we've been friends. We were way overdue, maybe. We'll get over this. Probably.
I need to keep my fucking mouth shut.
Our season marches on, and things look like they may start to work out okay for us until our starting center breaks his foot. I almost wanna wave a white flag, it feels so hopeless with this team. It's not any better with Brandon, and I don't hear from him until two weeks after the fight. He calls me, says 'hey' real quiet but nothing else for a little while. "I don't know what to say."
He sighs. "Gotta say something though." I stay silent, so he has to keep going. "Chris...I don't think I can give you what you want."
"What do you think I want?"
"Me," he laughs. "To be with me."
"Yeah," is all I can say. Why lie?
The speaker crackles when he breathes into his phone. "I don't understand you. You were the one who told me to play along," he says. "I can't play along and be your fucking boyfriend, too."
"Why?" I ask. "How is it different from what we're already doing?"
"Because. I mean, if this whole thing got too risky to keep up, we could just end it and still be friends. But if we're together..." He paused for a while. "Chris, I'm just trying not to hurt you here."
"Maybe you should've thought of that before you started this."
"Yeah. But it's too late for that now," he says.
"So what are you saying? You're gonna be alone the whole time you're still playing ball?"
"I don't fucking know, okay?" he snaps. "I don't know anymore."
"You're gonna have to figure that out."
The other end of the line is silent for a minute or so. "It isn't fair," Brandon says. "We would never be able to just do what we want. Live how we want. We couldn't just, like...I don't know, move to some farm in Vermont and get married if we wanted."
"Wherever. You know, one of those gay marriage states."
"Iowa," I say.
"Nothing...I meant, they have gay marriage in Iowa now."
He snorts. "Either way, it's out of the picture, y'know? I don't wanna ruin everything dealing with that bullshit."
I'm not sure what I can say to him, ask him to do. I'm a borderline NBA prospect, and he's supposed to become a star. We're not really dealing with the same reality.
"I tried," he says. "I tried not to let this blow up like this. I don't wanna lose my best friend. But Chris, this just isn't gonna work."
"So what do we do?"
"Nothing. We can't do anything. I guess I'll see you around."
"Wait—" I'm saying, as he's already hanging up. Doesn't really matter. I don't know what I was gonna say.
We get a short break from basketball to go home for Christmas, though we'll have to return to playing next week. There's no such thing as winter break for us. I'm in a shitty mood the whole time, thinking about Brandon and talking myself out of calling or driving over to see him. My mom makes it worse, asking about him nonstop. She figures out something's wrong quick and doesn't let up, asking why we're not speaking, saying maybe I should give him a call. I don't know if it's a psychologist thing or just a mom thing, but she wears me down and I finally tell her what's up. "I love him," I say after the story's been laid out, minus anything about sex. "But he doesn't love me."
Mom shakes her head. "I don't believe that." She's hugging me, patting my back. My dad just messes with his computer in the other room, oblivious.
"Believe what? That he doesn't feel the same? Trust me, he doesn't."
She just smiles. "We'll see."
It's January and I still haven't spoken to Brandon since that last phone call. It's pretty weird having someone go from a constant in your life to barely existing. Just barely, because I'm still thinking about him all the time. My latest obsession is wondering if maybe he's in love with Ty, and that's what this whole thing is about. The guy bought him a car! I mean, okay, I know he's rich now and all. But still.
Starting up conference play sucks for two reasons: one, my team's still playing like garbage and coach's media meltdown continues, and two, in about a month we're playing Duke. The last reason is sort of a double punch because not only do I have to face Brandon, but I gotta do it while his team kicks the shit out of us. On our court. Maybe I'll get lucky and get injured, too.
I really wish I could just quit worrying about this shit. It's so stupid. I don't know when I turned into such a girl about this kinda stuff. Probably somewhere around the time I first let a guy fuck me.
I'm at practice, pissed off as usual. I've got nothing to brag about or anything, but I've been playing pretty well this year. But that's all for nothing if the whole team can't get it together and win, and all of our problems start here in practice. Guys picking up injuries, arguing over bullshit, or even just not putting in much effort. I guess, though, fault lies with me as a captain. Some leader. Shit was rough before the whole Brandon thing, but now I'm about as ineffective as they come. And why should these guys listen to me? What have I ever done?
There's some kid from our paper here, snapping photos of us running drills with a big, cool looking camera. I don't even wanna know what story these will go along with. I pass by him while I'm going to get some water, and decide to stop and talk.
"Oh. Um, hey," he says when I pause in front of him. "I'm with the Daily Tar Heel."
"Yeah, I figured," I laugh. "What's up?"
"Nothing, really. I go where they send me. Don't worry, I don't think they're gonna start trashing the way you practice now, too," he says, smiling. When he does, I surprise myself noticing how cute he is.
"Yeah, they've been pretty rough on us this year. Can't blame 'em though," I shrug. "So you work the sports section or something?"
"Not usually," he tells me as I'm sitting down next to him. "I don't really have, like, a regular assignment. I've always wanted to do a basketball game or something, though. Looks like fun. Great action shots."
He holds his hand out for me to shake and says his name is Aaron. He asks me a little about the team, and lets me look at the camera while he tells me about the photojournalism major. "I've always liked photography," I say. "Never really had time for it, though. These look pretty good." I give him back the heavy camera and he smiles and thanks me, offering to send me some of the shots if I want. I'm giving him my e-mail when one of the assistant coaches finally notices I've taken a break, and yells for me to move my ass over there. I grin and wave bye to Aaron, not really minding so much that I'm in trouble.
He sends me some pictures like he promised. They're great, but looking through them it's clear something's off with the team. There are some nice ones of a guy or two laughing or smiling, but mostly there's a lot of anger and frustration showing on our faces, shots of lazy layups and bad defense. It's kinda depressing.
The last part of Aaron's message is a suggestion we hang out, saying maybe he could show me some more stuff about photography if I'm interested. For some reason it hits me then that I'd been flirting with the guy. I figured he was gay, yeah, but I wasn't trying to do all that. I wonder how obvious I was, or if maybe he just has that special gaydar all gay dudes get. It's funny, I guess, how easily he and Brandon picked up a signal from me.
The guy's pretty cute, and he seems cool, so I tell him that'd be great. I hang out with him a few times when he's working on photography assignments, getting a little more bold with my flirting just to see his smooth pale skin turn pink. It's nice to be the one making someone else blush.
We go back to his place one night to "watch a movie, or something," as he said. He asks what I want to see, but I pick 'or something' and start kissing him, smiling when he says "Oh!" after I pull away. He lets me pin him underneath me, his tiny, skinny body reminding me more of all those girls than of Brandon. Ugh, Brandon. I kiss Aaron harder, putting my hands in his dark curly hair. I'm enjoying this, but it's impossible not to think about the only other guy I've ever been with. The one who, let's face it, I'm still stupid in love with. So it starts to feel weird. Aaron's pulling me against him, stronger than he looks, and it takes a sec before I can get separated. He looks so hot, his lips parted and face flushed, pale green eyes sorta dazed.
"I can't do this," I say without planning to. Just blurted out.
"Um, what's up?" he asks as I'm getting off of him so we can both sit up.
"I just...can't. Shouldn't, I mean."
"I won't tell anyone," he says, smiling. "I grew up gay in Nowhere, North Carolina. I know how to keep a secret."
I laugh, shaking my head. "It's not that. I'm sorry."
Aaron watches me for a minute, eyes narrowed as he reads my face. "It's alright. So who is he?"
My head snaps to him. "Huh?"
"Come on! I can keep this secret too."
It worries me how easily people seem to figure me out. Not going into much detail, I let him know about my friend who doesn't love me back. He says he understands, telling me about a friend of his from high school that he loved. That starts one of those conversations that changes topic a thousand times before you realize you've been talking for hours. He gives me a hug when I leave, and in my head I curse Brandon for fucking this up for me 'cause this kid's ridiculously cute.
I start to hang out with Aaron a lot, using him as a distraction from my worries about the fast approaching Duke game. He uses me as a model, always convincing me to let him photograph me in some stupid pose. As the date creeps closer, Brandon enters a bit of a shooting slump, something the announcers call him out for in every game. They exaggerate the seriousness of it, and it's not like his team stops winning, but it is pretty bad.
A week before our game I'm watching Duke play Florida State with Dorian, a few days before we have to head down to Tallahassee to play them ourselves. Duke's scoring has taken a hit with Brandon's slump, but they're still smacking them around. I watch as Brandon misses another wide open shot, his jaw set in anger as he runs to the other side of the court.
"He ain't been over here in a while," Dorian comments, popping a peanut M&M into his mouth. I shrug, keeping my eyes on the game. "You fighting?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"What about?" he asks. I just stare at him, hoping he'll take the hint and shut the fuck up. "It's none of my business, I guess. Just weird, y'know? Plus, you've seemed so...sad, or something. Different." He shrugs, balling up the empty bag and shooting it in the trash can across the room. "I was just wondering if you broke up or whatever."
Jesus fucking Christ. "What?" I snap. He flinches a little.
"Sorry, none of my business."
"No, no, no, what do you mean 'broke up'? We weren't together."
"Oh," Dorian says, eyes on the ground. "I just thought...sorry."
"Goddamn," I sigh. "Is it really that obvious I'm fucking queer?" If so, what the fuck was Brandon so worried about? Clearly everyone already knows.
"Not really," he replies, grinning. "But come on, man. I live with you. I can hear shit."
Oh. "Sorry," I say, not sure why but feeling like I should.
"We cool. And don't worry, I didn't tell no one or nothing."
"It doesn't bother you?"
He laughs. "Nah, man. It's straight. Well..." I crack up. "But no, it don't bother me. Nothing wrong with it."
"Wow," I say, genuinely surprised. It's not like my teammates and friends go out gay bashing for fun or anything, but I'd bet most of them have 'being gay' up there on the wrong list with like murder and cheering for the Blue Devils.
"You don't gotta act so shocked," Dorian says. "I'm not ignorant. I'm educated and shit." He beams at me and I just shake my head, smiling back. "So now that that's settled, I'ma need you two to make up. He's got a winning record against me in Left 4 Dead, and I need to fix that."
"Yeah sure," I tell him. "I'll work on that."
The night before the Duke game I go hang out with Aaron before getting in a work out, trying and failing to ease my nerves. I get back to my place and hear Dorian yelling as I'm unlocking the door, telling whoever he's with to "Die, motherfucker!" I drop my gym bag on the floor and freeze when I see Brandon sitting next to him. He's stopped playing to look up at me while Dorian still presses buttons furiously. "Nigga, why aren't you...oh." He notices me and pauses the game. "Hey Chris!"
I don't say anything back, just keep staring at Brandon. "Hey," he says, standing up. "I, uh...I was wondering if we could talk?"
I pick my bag up, heading for my room. "Okay. I guess." He follows behind me, dropping his controller on the couch.
"Hey!" Dorian protests as I'm closing my door. "What about the game?"
Brandon stands near my desk while I sit on my bed, waiting for him to start talking. "Ouch," he says, patting the top of his head. He means the three staples I got in my scalp after my last game. Aaron begged me to let him take some pictures of them earlier.
"Yeah. They're coming out in a day or two."
"That from the Florida State game?" I nod, and he holds up his hand to show me his taped up fingers. "They're animals." He walks over to my bed and hesitates before sitting down next to me. "So how you doing?"
"Okay," I tell him. "You?"
"Not so good," he replies, looking at the carpet. "I feel like shit." He takes a deep breath before meeting my eyes. "I'm fucking tired of playing along."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, I don't want this stupid game ruining my life instead of just being a part of it," Brandon says. "And I don't want it at all if it means losing you."
"You could have both," I say. He shakes his head.
"Not really, unless I stop hiding just to keep playing. Not worth it."
"So what do you wanna do?"
He smiles, nervous. "I want to be with you," he replies. "If you still want me."
I grin, unable to stop myself. "Yeah. Okay. I guess." He smiles back and cups my face, kissing me for the first time in three months.
"The thing is," he says, "I really do wanna stop hiding it."
"Are you ready for that?"
"I was thinkin' maybe after we're drafted."
"If I'm drafted," I mumble.
"When," he says, running his thumb on my bottom lip before kissing me again. "When we're both drafted. And then maybe we'll move to Iowa like we talked about," he laughs.
"Maybe," I say, smiling. "But I'm not living on no goddamned farm."
Duke crushes us the next night, as expected. The crowd starts to leave the Dean Dome early, a sight our team is used to by now. Brandon has another awful game, shooting three of twelve from the field. He actually grins at me when I make a three to cut their lead to 12 at the very end. I smile back, happier than I was even last week when we won a game for a change.
Now that we're together, I realize Brandon and I never really literally slept together all that much, and it's something I didn't even know I was missing out on. I always wake up before him and so I have a chance to look at him sleeping for a while. Sometimes you just wanna look at a person, admire them y'know? But Brandon's one of those "Why are you looking at me? Quit staring at me!" types that make it difficult while they're conscious. My favorite part, though, is the way I always find him pressed against me when I wake up, head on my chest or face buried in my neck, an arm around me. I get to enjoy it and make fun of him for being a snuggler.
He shifts around, waking up. He's got his arm thrown across me and his head on my shoulder when he open his eyes, frowning at the light. "Go back to sleep."
"Or, you could wake up," I laugh. He whines when I sit up. "Come on, I'll make breakfast," I say, meaning I'll pour his cereal for him.
We're sitting on his couch, watching some cartoon and eating when James comes in, wearing sunglasses and wrinkled clothes he'd probably had on the night before. He falls back against the door and sighs. "I don't wanna talk about it."
"I don't wanna hear about it," Brandon replies.
James walks over to the kitchen to get a bottle of water. "Your boyfriend's back?" he asks, looking at me. I turn my head to Brandon, who shrugs. "Yeah, yeah, he told me last week," James says, walking around the couch to sit next to him. "Way to go," he says to me. "Lock that man down." Thumbs up. Brandon elbows him, his cereal sloshing around dangerously close to spilling, but I just laugh.
James exaggerates a yawn, head tilted back on the seat. "I think I'm gonna quit drinking." Brandon snorts. "For real!" James is actually still in school 'cause of his drinking, since he'd returned after getting DUI his sophomore year right before he'd planned to enter the draft. After that, Brandon convinced him he might as well stay one more year and finish.
"What happened?" I ask.
"Man...I woke up next to this white girl from State, right? But see, I woke up 'cause her fucking redneck boyfriend came in, yelling at me all 'I'll kill you, you fucking nigger!'. I'm like, whoa, can she take some of the heat here? Damn." Brandon just watches TV as James tells his story, like this is nothing new. "Anyway," James says, "my point is, I was almost lynched over some sex I can't even remember. Not only that, it's sex I wouldn't even have had if I hadn't been so drunk, 'cause bitch was like a six at best. Maybe seven." My mouth drops open and Brandon finally looks at James, laughing.
"You're a fucking idiot."
"Basically," he replies. He's quiet for a while, then says, smiling, "Maybe I should just sleep with smarter girls."
"Well you're at Duke," Brandon says.
James shakes his head. "Nah, I need smart enough to not take a dude to the place you share with your boyfriend, but dumb enough that I can still talk them into bed." He slaps Brandon on the shoulder, getting up from the couch to go into his room. "Don't you know anything?" he asks, walking away. "Goddamn, man. It's a good thing you're gay."
We reach the end of the season, which must be a huge relief for coach. Duke sweeps us, standing way ahead at the top of the conference. During the ACC tournament, though, something weird happens to my team and we start winning. They're ugly two or three point wins, but we survive and advance all the way to the finals, where we play Duke for the third time this year. "Ain't y'all tired of us beating you yet?" James teases before the game. The crowd is clearly pro-Carolina, but that's no shock since most of the state is pro anyone but Duke. It takes overtime but we actually beat them by one point, thanks to Dorian's game winning shot. The confetti's falling and the Tar Heel blue crowd is screaming, coach standing there just stunned while my teammates celebrate like it's the first game we've ever won.
I run over to Brandon before he can head to the locker room. His shooting's been better lately, but he was off again today. He turns and smiles when he hears me calling him. I stand in front of him and grin, and he leans in a little like he was about to kiss me but stops like he just remembered where we are. "You okay?" I ask.
"'Cause we lost? It's nothing. Go enjoy it," he says.
"No, no. I meant your shooting. I thought maybe something was bothering you."
"Not at all." He takes the ACC champions hat from me and puts it on my head. "Go celebrate with your team, captain." I see a picture online later of him hugging me, right after he'd said that, illustrating yet another article about our inter-rivalry friendship. I have to laugh, knowing the photographer captured the moment he was whispering to me, "You can call me later for some victory sex."
Winning gets us into the national tournament, which couldn't have happened otherwise. We lose in the first round, but the younger guys are still riding high from the ACC championship. I'm glad to see it, because such a shitty season could've wrecked their confidence for next year.
Brandon's shooting slump doesn't let up until his team's in the sweet sixteen. They're a number one seed but people keep predicting they'll lose every round, talking about how it's been years since they made it to the elite eight, saying Brandon's maybe playing himself out of the top draft pick which is just insane. They keep winning, though, and in the final four they wipe the floor with the team favored to win it all . And like that, suddenly everyone's talking about how the championship is theirs.
Nobody told Memphis that, I guess, because they've held the lead the entire time in the championship game so far. Time's running out in the second half, and Duke's down ten. Make that twelve. Brandon's carrying his team, a few points away from a new career scoring high, but that's clearly the last thing on his mind. He looks pissed. His team looks tired. They get back on the floor after a time out, and that's when he really goes off, scoring three times in a row in a 7-0 run that cuts their lead in half. Memphis doesn't call a time out. They should've considered it, because James forces a turnover and runs down the court to slam the ball in. He's pounding his chest while Brandon and the other guys on the floor crowd him, the Memphis coach finally calling time.
I don't realize I'm grinning 'til I hear Dorian snort. "You're actually rooting for them. Traitorous motherfucker."
"Am I not supposed to root for Brandon?"
He shakes his head. "For Brandon. Not for Duke." I laugh, thinking about how I usually am just rooting for Brandon, glad when he does well even if Duke loses. But this is different, 'cause it means so much to him. It's what he stayed in school for, and now he's got a chance at it.
Duke finally gets the lead with two minutes left, and holds onto it to win the national title. His team spills onto the floor, surrounding him, James hugging him tighter than he's probably ever hugged a dude. Brandon finished with 44 points, his new high and literally half of their final total. He's named the final four's Most Outstanding Player. Dorian sighs and gets up to go to his room. "The evil side has to win sometimes, I guess," he grins. "Tell your boy I said congrats."
I'm watching post game stuff in bed later when Brandon calls. "Chris!" he yells. There's a ton of noise in the background. "We did it!"
"You were amazing," I tell him, smiling.
The noise starts to fade as he keeps talking, sounding out of breath and manic. "I can't believe it!" he says for the third time.
"So you calling to arrange your victory sex?" I joke.
"No," he laughs. "I'm calling to say goodnight and that I miss you. Ugh, hold on a sec." I hear scratching when he muffles the phone. "Chris? I gotta go. They need us for the press conference now," he says. "Woo hoo."
I grin at his sarcasm. "Behave yourself."
"Always do. We'll talk about the sex when I get back, alright? I love you! Bye."
I stare at the phone when he hangs up, like it can tell me if he meant to say that or if it was just post championship high. His face is on my muted TV, smiling wide in the footage of him celebrating with his team. I fall asleep watching ESPN, knowing he really meant that 'I love you'. I mean, he's my best friend. I can just tell.