Not the Only One
DISCLAIMER: Yada yada yada. This story is pure fiction, all names and characters are made up and any similarity to real persons is not only a coincidence, it's damn eerie! Of course, I make no claims about the sexuality or opinions of the real athletes who are mentioned in this story. You'd have to ask them yourself.
Part FourQuébec City, Québec - March 16, 1999
The rhythmic beats from the club music were barely audible in the alleyway, muffled by the walls and further drowned out by the cold Canadian wind that swirled around me. I was sitting on a box at the end of the alley my face in my hands trying to get control of my turbulent life that was already spinning wildly out of control. I wrapped my jacket closer around my body to try and keep warm.
"Nick?" I looked up and saw Matt, standing there, his hands shoved in his pockets and his shoulders slouched as he wondered why he was out here..
"Hey, thanks for meeting me outside. It was way too loud to try to talk to you in there."
"No problem, what's up?" he asked.
I opened my mouth to say something. No words came out. I struggled to try to find a way to begin.
"I guess I should have brought my coat," Matt said laughing as I struggled to get the ball rolling. "What's going on?"
"I guess I wanted to talk to you about something... you know, that thing."
Matt shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. "What thing?"
"That note I gave you..." I said trying to jog his memory. "Earlier... on the bus ride up here?"
His face turned red and he stared down at his feet. "I don't care," he quickly said.
"You don't care about what... about the, the thing?"
"I don't care if you're gay. You're still my best friend." I quickly looked around me as he said the g-word aloud. I wanted to be sure no one was within earshot. I spied a couple of girls headed on their way to the club walk briskly down the street at the end of the alleyway, but they would have needed superhuman hearing to have heard our conversation. "Its cold in here, let's go back in," he said.
I felt relief that he hadn't reacted in a negative way, but I was a little disappointed, too. The note had told him that I needed to talk to him, that I was sick of holding in the secret, and needed to confide in someone. It hadn't mentioned how hopelessly in love I was with him though. I didn't need to foul up those waters. I had given it to him on the ride up on Wednesday. It was Saturday night already and he had had plenty of time to digest it.
"I really wish I was dead, Matt. You can't understand how shitty I feel."
"It's fine, Nick. Come back inside and hang out. You're going to get sick out here."
Matt wasn't even making eye contact with me. He was shuffling his feet along the ground and moving from side side to keep warm. He had grown up a lot since I first met him three years ago. He was now a lot taller, almost six feet and had filled out considerably. He was muscular and strong, and hard as hell to knock off the puck. His light blond hair was now highlighted with streaks and was spiky and longer than it was when he was younger.
"Matt I need to talk about it."
"There's nothing to discuss," he said. He was starting to get angry.
"Bullshit, do you know how I feel? Do you know how scared I'd be if someone found out? Matt can't you..."
He cut me off. "Look, Nick, I don't want to talk about it. If you are its fine, just don't mention it to me."
"I need to talk to someone!" I shouted, frustrated.
"Then find someone else. I always sort of suspected it anyway. I wish you never would have given me the stupid note." He turned quickly around and started to head back to the club.
"What the fuck, you're supposed to be here for me!"
"Look, I'm sorry, but I don't want to talk about it! We're still friends but just don't bring it up again ," he called over his shoulder. Tears began to run down my cheek.
"Matt," I cried out to him softly, but he was too far away by not to hear. "What the fuck I am supposed to do?" By now I was sobbing uncontrollably. My best friend had just turned his back on me the one time I needed him most. I was glad he still wanted to be friends but I needed a shoulder to lean on. Unfortunately I wasn't getting one.
Sovereign Ice Arena, Trenton, New Jersey - February 25th, 2000
Our last-second goal was announced after time had run out and people were starting to shuffle out of the silent and disappointed arena. "Bandits' goal, scored by number 28, Nick Brewer. The goal was unassisted." I head loud whoops and hollers as my friends celebrated my goal. "Time of the goal at 19:49 in the third period. That's number 28, Nick Brewer, at 19:49 in the third."
I had never been banged so many times on the helmet in celebration. "There you go, Nick!" "Way to go Rocky!" "Huge goal, baby! Huge!"
My smile was ear to ear as my teammates knocked me again again on the noggin to congratulate me.
"Thanks, guys! Nice game Franticek," I said congratulating out netminder.
He winked as he skated by on his way off of the ice. "Thanks for popping that one, Nick. I needed that win!" he said in his heavily accented English. I skated off the ice myself and started to head towards the lockerroom. An attendant grabbed me by the arm as I walked by.
"Hold on fellow, they gotta announce your name for the three stars," he told me.
"What am I supposed to do?" I asked.
He rolled his eyes, "Rookies! Skate out their when they announce your name and wave. Then come back off."
I heard the announcer start. "Ladies and Gentlemen, it's time for the Dave Levi's Chevrolet's three stars of tonight's game. For the Trenton Titans, with a goal, number 32 Stu Rockney." There was some minor applause from the few loitering fans and those who were still working their way out. "For the Trenton Titans, with two goals, number 50, Jason Brooks." More applause. "And the number one star of tonight's game, with a goal and an assist, from the Jackson Bandits, number 28, Nick Brewer." I skated quickly out onto the ice and waved my stick as the attendant had instructed me. I heard a chorus of boos and catcalls as the fans scolded me for ruining their night. I noticed my friends and parents waving and cheering for me still in their seats. I raised my stick at them to acknowledge them and pumped my arms. Then I quickly turned around and headed back off the ice. "Levi's Chevrolet is proud to make a donation of $100 to the Trenton Memorial Children's hospital in Nick Brewer's name."
"You still suck, chump!" I heard and looked up to see a fat man with a beer in his hands and a Titan's jersey leaning menacingly over the railing.
"Meet me in the parking lot, you fat slob!" I shouted to him as I quickly ducked into the tunnel to avoid any retaliations of thrown beer on his part. I raced towards the lockerroom, still exhilarated with my game-winning goal.
After a brief talk from our coach congratulating us on the tough win but reminding us of what we did wrong, we hit the showers and then got dressed to leave the stadium and head towards the airport. All except me.
"Be good Nick, and stay out of trouble," the coach called out to me as I headed out of the lockerroom to meet up with my friends.
"Thanks coach, see you in Florida!" My parents and friends were waiting for me in the hallway outside of the lockerroom.
"Oh, great game honey!" my mom, said reaching up to hug me.
"Yeah bitch!" my friend Mike yelled and raised his hand to slap me five. He covered his mouth after he realized he'd just sworn in front of my parents.
Matt engulfed me in a huge bear hug. "Great game buddy! Every shift you had out there was awesome!"
"Well I was playing for my fans," I said smiling.
We went to a restaurant after the game and got a light snack. I drank about 10 glasses of water trying to replace the fluid I had lost. My parents left us with special instructions that we were all to be in the hotel by midnight, or there would be hell to pay.
We headed to a pool hall to play some billiards..
It was there that I finally got a chance to talk to Matt. I had just finished my fourth game and decided I'd had enough and sat over by the bar sipping a coke.
"Hey buddy," he said sitting down on the stool next to me. "Could I could a Coke?" he asked the bartender.
"How's it going?" I asked, glad at the opportunity to finally talk to him.
"Man, its all so surreal! Watching you play out there, its amazing. Did you ever think it'd happen?"
"I've been dreaming about this since was a kid," I said.
"It must be awesome. I'm not going lie to you. I'm jealous as hell!"
"Well the hockey's been great lately but I'm still pretty lonely down there. And when I wasn't getting any ice time I was miserable."
"So you're not seeing anyone?" he asked. I was surprised at his question. This really wasn't something we ever talked about. I lowered my voice.
"No, I don't know anyone down there."
"Why don't you try to going to some special clubs, maybe you could meet someone that way."
I shook my head. "First of all, this is Mississippi, we're talking about. Not California. Secondly, what if someone I knew were to see walking into one of those places? I'd probably be off the team in a second."
"Yeah, I hear you there. You definitely gotta keep it on the DL." He strummed his fingers on the table, "How long how have you really known?"
"About being..." I shook my hand sideways, uncomfortable saying the word.
"I don't know. Since I was little I guess. How long have you known you were straight?" I said countering his question.
He nodded his head. "Good point."
"Could I ask you a question?"
"Yeah, what is it?" I asked.
"How come all of a sudden you're deciding to talk about this?"
He laughed and took a swig from his drink. "I don't know," he said placing the glass back down on the counter. "Maybe I've been a little unfair in the past..." He stopped as my friend Mike walked over towards.
"Its 10 minutes to twelve. We'd better get home;" he said. I glanced down at my watch and nodded. But my mind was going around in circles at Matt's willingness to open up a bit to me.
Simsbury, CT - April 20th, 1999
The booze was racing through my veins making my head spin, as Matt flew around the corner in his dad's mini van. The case of beer was now half empty in the back seat. I was on my way home with a couple of friends from our team from a Hartford Wolfpack game, a minor league hockey team. I was in a shitty mood. The Wolfpack had lost and Matt had been acting like a prick to me all night. Kurt was yapping in the back seat in the best of moods because of the beer. He hadn't shut up the whole ride home and I was starting to get annoyed with him as well.
"Give me another one, Kurt," I slurred. Without losing a beat, Kurt reached into the case and handed me a Miller Lite, continuing his story the whole while. I cracked it open. The beer gushed out and some spilled on the floor of the mini van.
"Asshole, don't spill in the car!" Matt yelled at me.
"I'm sorry, dickhead! It was shaken up. Why don't you stop driving like a maniac!" I retorted. To spite me Matt flew around another turn and the centrifugal force knocked my head into the window.
"You guys, you need to just chill out. You're sho uptight shometimes," Kurt slurred and then picked back up on his story. He finished his joke with a punch line, something about some queer on his knees in a bathroom stall.
Matt laughed out loud. "Ha, fucking, faggot queerbag on his knees." The blood was rushing angrily threw my head but I just took another sip of my beer and said nothing. He was in a shitty mood because we was the DD. Fine, be that way. But I didn't get all testy when I had to drive.
"Matt, could you stop at that gas station? I need to piss," I asked.
Matt flew by the station not even slowing down a bit.
"Thanks, asshole!" I told him. He didn't say anything, he just ignored me. "Just cause you gotta drive doesn't mean you have to be a dick. I don't get all bitchy when I drive!"
"Just cause you're drunk doesn't mean you have to act like a retard."
"What the fuck have I done?" Matt just stared straight ahead ignoring me. I turned and looked out the window at the trees zooming by.
"Whoa, whoa," Kurt piped up from the back seat. "Let'sh behave gentlemen," he slurred, reaching out to both of us and patting us on the shoulders.
Our other friend Kyle laughed. "Can't we all just get along?" he joked. Another ten minutes passed by icily. "Yo, Rykers, stop at this McDonald's so we can get our eat on!" Kyle said.
Matt slowed down and pulled into the driveway and parked. I got out of the van slamming the door behind me and chucking my beer into the woods behind the McDonald's. "Yeah that's real smart, asshole," Matt called out to me. "You're going to get us caught." I stormed into the McDonald's ignoring him.
By the time I got back from the bathroom they were already ordering. I got a Big Mac meal, supersized. We sat down in a booth and chowed down. Kurt slurred out a story the whole time. If it had been me talking Matt would have told me to shut up. But he was laughing at Kurt's jokes and ignoring my attempts to reconcile the little fight we were having. We finished our meals and headed back to the car. Kurt called out shotgun first and triumphantly piled into the front.
Matt had ignored me the whole meal and I was fuming. I was fuming and drunk. Not a good combination. Matt came over to the car and got in. As he walked past me I threw him a stiff shoulder to knock him into the car. It wasn't hard, but it sent him off balance and he banged into the car.
"Oh, look at me! I'm drunk! I'm cool, yeah, I'm so awesome!" he taunted me. And climbed into the car.
"Oh look at me! I'm awesome, too!" I shouted through the open window. "Yeah when my friend has a problem I ignore him." I tried to stop myself from spilling my pent-up feelings but it was like a floodgate was opening up. "Yeah I'm such a good friend. My friends can always confide in me if something's on their mind!" Tears were beginning to well up in my eyes and my hands were clenched into fists. Ever since that night in Québec things had been icy between us. Sure we were still friends and he didn't act any differently in front of me, but he refused to discuss it with me. When I needed someone to talk to in the worst way he wasn't there for me.
Matt and ignored me and put the key in the ignition, not caring a bit. I didn't think. I just reacted.
My fist went straight into the side of his head. I didn't punch him as hard as I could but it still snapped his head back. He threw the door open and leaped at me. I just stood there with my fists still clenched not believing I had just punched my best friend. Kurt's mouth was dropped wide open as he stared at the two of us through his drunk and blurry eyes.
Kyle hadn't gotten in the car yet and raced over to us as Matt plowed into me hard driving me onto the pavement. He started punching me furiously in the stomach. I grabbed my head with my arms and started mashing my hands in his face.
"Knock it off you two!" Kyle yelled jumping into the fray. He was smaller than both of us and was unsuccessful at breaking up the two of us. "Get over here, Kurt!"
Kurt finally snapped to attention and raced around the car to us. By the time they got us separated both of our noses were bloodied and our faces were all scratched up. "What the hell is wrong with you two!" Kyle yelled at us.
I was crying uncontrollably as I yelled at Matt. "I needed you and you weren't there for me!" I screamed. "I'm all alone and you wouldn't help me." Tears were streaming down my face and my nose was dripping blood into my mouth as I yelled. "How the fuck do you think it feels! I don't have anybody I can talk to! Nobody! You're not there for me! You're not there for me! I needed you man!" I tore away from Kyle and started walking away, sobbing uncontrollably.
"Nick where are you going?" Kyle called out to me.
"Home!" I called out over my shoulder.
Kyle laughed. "You're going to walk all the way to New Milford?" I was supposed to be staying at Matt's house tonight. New Milford was more than 45 minutes away, by car!
I wiped the tears from my eyes and kept on walking. Surprisingly I heard the van start up and pull away.
I stumbled down the road, swaying from side to side but not from the alcohol. I was crying uncontrollably and was absolutely miserable. I wondered how my life had gotten so fucked up. What was a 16 year old gay kid to do when he couldn't turn to his best friend? I had all of these feelings coursing through my body and not outlet to release them. Ten minutes later as I was walking down the road I recognized Kyle's truck as he pulled up to me on the road. He also lived in Simsbury. "Get in" he offered. I climbed into the truck and Kyle drove away. "Listen, you can stay at my place man, or I can drive you home if you want."
"I'll stay at your place," I mumbled. I had finally stopped crying and my nose had stopped bleeding. I sniffed, trying to dry up the tears.
"Something you want to talk about?" he asked.
I wasn't sure if I wanted to tell Kyle or not. We were pretty good friends, but not best buddies. "No, let's just drop it," I told him. We drove back to his place in silence the rest of the way.
Mississippi, Coliseum, Jackson Mississippi - March 20, 2000
"And the number one star of tonight's game, with 3 goals and an assist, from your very own Jackson Bandits, number 28, Nick Brewer!" the announcer yelled over the loudspeaker. The appreciative fans scattered throughout the arena cheered and applauded my efforts in tonight's' dramatic, come-from-
behind win. I raised my hand and drank in the moment of glory. I was having an incredible second half of the season and had been promoted all the way to the first line. Agents were calling me like crazy to try and get me to sign with them. But I was happy with the one I had, and didn't have any plans to desert him now.
As I skated off the ice I heard a boy's voice call out, "Can I get an autograph, Nick?'
A little boy wearing a Bandits' jersey was leaning over the railing holding out a permanent marker. "Sure, little buddy!"
I grabbed the pen and he turned around revealing my name and number on the back of his jersey. I was taken back a bit. I was starting to actually get real fans. Grinning wildly I stood on my tiptoes so that I could reach the back of his jersey. "What's you name fellow?"
"Sam," he replied.
"To Sam, thanks for supporting us. #28, Nick Brewer," I scratched out onto his jersey and then handed back his pen.
"Thanks a lot, Nick!"
"No problem." Several other fans had noticed me signing Sam's jerseys and rushed over to me with outstretched pens and pads of paper demanding their own autographs. I signed several more and then quickly made my way back to our lockeroom.
I got home to my small and cramped apartment, hanging my jacket up on the rack. I noticed the answering machine blinking and pushed the button. A robotic voice said, "You have one new messages."
Then I heard a familiar voice, "Hey Nick it's your old coach, Ron. I've been watching those points pile up underneath your name. Just want to touch base with you and see what your plans are for June 24th. You know what that date is, I hope? Call me back."
I quickly grabbed the phone and dialed Ron's number ( I knew it by heart!), my chest thumping with excitement. I sure as hell knew what happened on June 24th! I heard him answer, "Hello?"
"Hey Ron, it's me, Nick!"
"Hey Nick, how'd you guys play tonight?"
"We won again!"
"Wow, you guys are finally climbing out of the toilet. What's the mood, is there any chance you can grab that final playoff spot?"
"Probably not. We've just got too much ground to cover."
"And so how did you do?"
"A hat trick plus an assist!"
"Holy cow," he shouted. "Great job! That's why I called you earlier. Do you know what happens June 24th?" he asked.
"I sure do. The NHL entry draft!"
"You got it kid. I've been talking to your agent and we both agree on one thing."
I gulped as I asked him, "And what's that?"
"You'd be crazy not to go. We both agree you're ready."
I closed my eyes and grabbed on the table to support myself. I held the phone to my hear and tried to keep from collapsing with excitement. "Nick, are you still there?" Ron asked.
"Yeah," I finally replied. "Its kind of a bit crazy. Holy shit, the NHL!"
"I think you're a solid first round pick," Ron said. "And you'll get a nice salary boost and and probably an impressive sign-on bonus, too. It'll be a hell of a lot better than $8000 a year."
I'd been living on the stipend well enough, since my parents helped me out with rent and food money. My expenses weren't too great since I had very little free time off of the ice. Plus, when I traveled with the team all my meals and boarding was paid for. This summer I already had a part-time job set up at a golf course back in Connecticut so I could earn some savings. I'd be working there for a couple of months before playing in a tournament over in Europe.
We talked a bit for longer before I finally hung up the phone. I collapsed on the bed, exhausted. I set my alarm clock for 5:15 and fell asleep, visions of the NHL dancing through my head.
TO BE CONTINUED
Comments are always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks guys for those of you have taken the time to write. I hope to hear from more of you. Penguins fans need not apply. Ah, just kidding! Sort of...