My 5th Nifty story and as always I welcome your emails, comments, critiques. You can read my other stories by looking me up (JJ) under prolific authors. Enjoy! And Support Nifty. -JJ jj.writer76@yahoo.com

 

 


What Grows in Winter

Chapter Six: On Your Mark

 

The steam felt amazing.

Mark sat naked in the sauna with a bottle of Gatorade and a towel draped over his head letting the warmth and the moisture penetrate his aching muscles and calm his queasy stomach. He was glad Jacob had this sauna and a weight room. Even though he had the day off, he still needed to get his daily workout in... hangover notwithstanding. Last night he drank way more than usual and he needed to burn off those calories. He didn't do great on the cardio, but the weights and core exercise were up to snuff and this sauna was a great cure for an aching body that was sweating alcohol. He thought about last night and how far he'd come in the past few years.

Some guys love working out and "the burn" and they thrive off of the sensation of torn and aching muscles. Mark did not. Sure, he pushed himself as hard as he could in the weight room and on the field, and his body was proof. But he would never "like" the feeling. Working out, weight training, stretching, cardio, cross-fit- they were all necessary evils to achieve what Mark really liked: stiff arming a d-end to gain an extra three yards on the rush for first down. Seeing the refs move the chains was the greatest feeling in the world.

When he was still fighting through puberty Mark had to face two realities. One was height. He didn't want to be short, and when hair started growing in private places and his voice deepened, he was sure a growth spurt would hit. It did... but then quickly subsided. Mom took him to the pediatrician, a fact which made him feel even smaller. Sitting in a waiting room with a bunch of children was embarrassing. He was 14 for Christ's sake. He had hair under his arms. And to make him feel even smaller the doctor pointed out a few harsh facts: Mark had size 9 shoes. He had small hands. And his cranium, which had stopped growing, was proportional to the rest of his body. Sure, there was a chance he could start growing like a weed- the doctor said he'd seen it before- but it was likely that he was pretty much done. 5'8'', maybe 5'9'' was where he would end up. Mark was miserable. His dad was an imposing 6'2''. Mom's recessive genes were winning the battle playing out in Mark' body and his self-image.

The sports loving pubescent kid went home and sulked. He knew he didn't have much future in basketball. He wasn't a great shot, either, and the possibility of a short point guard who only has ball handling skills getting a chance to play in college wasn't realistic. There are short baseball players, but he didn't like baseball as much. That left football, and watching Reggie Bush and Wes Welker and Jordy Nelson and a whole slew of amazing athletes- some only 5'7''- succeeding and excelling gave him a burst of confidence and optimism. He would be short, and nothing could change that. But he could become faster and stronger. Oh yes, faster and stronger he could do.

Dad was on board- anything to help his 14 year old son get out of his funk. They searched online and looked for the best way to gain muscle and mass and speed, and with rigorous daily training and a new, healthy, protein rich diet, the father-son team began hitting the weights. Every day after work dad would come home and they'd exercise for 90 minutes before a dinner. At first Mark's mom didn't like the idea. Eating dinner at 8pm? What were they European? But she gave in, and with an extra snack for Mark's young sister and brother to tide them over till dinner, and the DVR set to record Dancing with the Stars, the family rearranged their schedule to help Mark achieve his dream.

It was some months later when Mark had taken his siblings to a Saturday matinee that Mrs. Mason admitted the evening workouts were a good idea. No, a great idea. No, the BEST idea. When was the last time she and her husband had sex at 2pm on the floor? What had gotten over her? She was pushing 50... but her husband was becoming hot. Again. No gut, strong arms, a tight butt which she slapped hard while he nailed her with the energy and stamina of their high school days. Yes, working out was good for everybody.

Mark was considerably faster and stronger, and he easily walked onto the varsity team his junior year of High School starting off as a gunner for special teams, then impressing the coach with a few carries during second half blowouts. By the end of the year he was all-state and being carefully watched by a few programs. Ok, not powerhouses like Michigan and USC, but fuck them anyway, Mr. Mason said. You go to the school that gives you the best offer and where you feel comfortable and make those pricks angry they didn't give you a serious look.

Those were consoling words. Choosing college was hard, but it wasn't his only preoccupation. No, Mark had a second reality facing him, and it began surfacing more and more as his body and hormones became that of a man. The most obvious moments were every time the team changed and especially showered. Mark was realizing he was gay.

He had been with girls before. Being a football player, and a recruited player with youtube videos and articles in local papers made him somewhat of a hometown hero. Hell, he got free food at the DQ- probably the greatest perk of fame Fortville, Kansas can offer. The locals loved him. Growing up his parents taught him respect for others, especially girls, and he was much older than most guys when he had his first kiss. But as he became "famous" more girls began to notice, and kissing led to touching and that led to other things. Girls surprised him by unbuttoning his pants and pulling out his cock without prompting or his pleading, as most guys said they had to do. Sweet, muscular dark haired Mark was ripe for the plucking, and he'd be touched and jerked and sucked. It always felt good. It always got him hard. But when he was alone in his room touching himself at night, he didn't think about the girls. He thought about the guys in his weight training books, the players in the locker rooms, Jeb who had low hanging balls and a furry ass; Pete whose cock was thick but short, Jimmy who still had very little body hair and really tight abs, Tucker who had a full chest of hair at 17. He thought of them putting on their jocks, adjusting their packages and inserting a cup down their pouch, and how they would dress each other, strap each other's shoulder pads and protection touching, pulling, tugging one another. He remembered Ryan and Bryce sharing the same bar of soap in the shower, imaging them kiss.

Those thoughts made him hard... and also uncomfortable. As all the guys talked about what chick they fucked and who has better tits and as they would huddle together on the bus or in the locker room to watch videos of two women eating each other out on someone's phone, Mark knew he was different. Sure, he would watch and comment and laugh like the other guys... but it didn't make him hard, it didn't arouse him, it didn't interest him. Worse, the guys would always say how this was gay or that was gay and don't be a fag... words that would scare and intimidate him, and he would think what if they knew I was one? What if they knew I was gay? So Mark kept quiet. He played along. And more than anything he channeled his confusion and frustration in to working out and practice convinced that, in the same way he improved his broad jump and his vertical leap, he could improve this about himself too. It just took practice.

Five years later Mark was at his peak athletic performance, and there were even hints... hints... that he may get asked to the NFL Combine. Crazier things have happened. The NFL did have several stars who were under 5'10'', and Mark was having a great college career. He was stronger and faster and better than he'd ever been.

Still gay.

Friends would ask about why he never dated or hooked up. Football parties had the hottest sorority girls and cheerleaders galore and Mark was a campus star and could have his choice. The local news frequently commented on him, he did a morning show, and his best runs had been on Sports Center and ESPN.com. Kirk Herbstreit said he was one to "watch out for" during College Gameday. He was cute, built, sweet, popular, and his stock couldn't be higher. "Get some ass", "get some pussy", "you need to get laid" were common jabs.

Several months ago he went to bed with Teresa Welch... and literally he went to bed with her, pretending to be "so drunk" he passed out pretty sure that she would take a picture of them in bed and post it. She did, and Mark asleep on his stomach was photographed showing his back bursting with rippled shoulder muscles tapering to a neat "v" at the waist where Mark's firm, plump and hairless white ass prominently popped out above the sheet. Teresa loved the attention too much to admit they hadn't done anything, and Mark pretended to be annoyed at the photo which went viral. Instead, he relished the chance to keep his cover intact. The only fallout was from the coach who told him to "keep his fucking shit together because I don't want anything distracting from what your scholarship has you here to do, you got me kid? Now go- wind sprints for 5 minutes." Mark apologized, but inside he was thrilled to be one of the guys. Later that night he got a call from his parents who were "disappointed" to see this on Facebook. Mark apologized, and inside he was devastated to have to lie to his father about something so big.

He was convinced his dad's disappointment would be greater if he found out his son was gay.

Often that juxtaposition of incredible success and incredible deception brought Mark to the small campus non-denominational chapel where he sat and thought. How can I be so good at something, when everyone said I was too small... and such a liar about something else? How can you have made me talented at one thing but then tell me this part of me isn't good? Am I a good liar? Am I a good person? Years of this was weighing on him heavily.

With his roommates gone he knew it was safe to jerk off to the video on manhub.com. The guys in the video looked about his age and seemed so normal and clean cut- like he could pass them in the quad any given day. But what they did, and the pleasure with which they did it... it made Mark think that maybe someday he could do it, too. Fuck a guy. Suck a cock. Kiss. He couldn't now... not at school. Everyone knew him. But he was growing tired of hugging his pillow pretending it was a warm body. After he cleaned up his mess he put the ice sleeve back on his shoulder to help with the pain, popped two Advil and continued to review footage from the game on his computer. It was Sunday night and they had entered the bye week: two whole weeks to rebuild some strength and mentally focus. Around 11pm he went out to the balcony for a quick smoke, and that's when he saw his downstairs neighbor Patrick with another guy. Patrick was cute and gay, and a few times Mark thought about trying to talk to him, but he determined the risk too great. He couldn't talk to anyone.

Then he heard Patrick's conversation, and he knew he could tell him. He knew he had to.

Seeing the young man leave, Mark determined now was the time. Leaving everything he went downstairs, knocked once on the apartment door and walked in. Patrick was in his bedroom and yelled out. "Yeah?"

"Hey man it's me. You have any beer?"

Patrick came out to the living room unsure of whose voice it was. "Oh, hey Mark." He was surprised. They were friendly, but not this friendly, not "let's hang out friendly". He'd never come over before. Huh... "Yeah I got some I think." He pulled two Natty Lights from the fridge and gave it to the football hero expecting him to take them and leave. Instead he opened it and sat down. Now Patrick was really surprised.

"My fucking shoulder is killing me."

"Yeah, that was a nasty hit. Ref should have thrown the flag. Gavin totally lead with his helmet."

"You saw the game?"

"All of them. Yeah. I love football."

"Hmm."

Patrick smiled. "Gay guys can like football" he said with a laugh.

"No, no that's not what I mean at all. I just... well... it's cool you come. That's all."

"The bye this week will help your shoulder. You ice it?" Mark looked at him. "I'm a physical therapy major. Want to do sports injury rehab."

Mark smiled. "Yeah I've iced it a lot."

"How do you sleep?"

"Huh?"

"Position wise. Like, do you sleep on your side or on your back?"

"I don't know. I just sleep. Why?"

"Well tonight you shouldn't sleep on your stomach like this." Patrick demonstrated putting his hands around a couch pillow. "You don't want your shoulder extended out all night. Try to sleep on your back if you can. It will heal faster."

Mark just nodded. "Ok."

They sat in silence for a few moments sipping their beer. It was awkward. Patrick had no idea why Mark had come over, why he was drinking a beer in his living room, and why he wouldn't leave. There was something in the air: heavy, urgent, impending. Was he failing out? Was he in trouble? Finally he broke the silence.

"Do you need something, man?"

"Nah, I'm good" Mark said. "See ya." He chugged his beer and left.

"Night, man." Patrick sat there for a second confused. "What...the...fuck...was...that?" he whispered to himself.

Mark came back on Monday night, and he had his beer in awkward silence and then split. On Tuesday Patrick didn't get home until late. His roommate left a note:

P-

Mark Mason stopped by- he said you owed him a beer.

-Allan

(PS- you hang out with Mark Mason?! WTF dude get us better tix)

Mark stopped by AGAIN? What was going on? But then, rereading the note something occurred to him. What was it about him that Patrick needed? It wasn't football skills. It wasn't academics- they weren't in the same classes. They hung out in different circles. There was only one possibility... one possibility why Mark would seek him out and be so nervous.

Mark is gay.

Alright, Patrick thought, time to find out for himself and maybe put Mark out of his misery. Wednesday evening around 10:30 he grabbed a 12 pack and knocked on Mark's door. He opened wearing black shorts and an Underarmour sleeveless shirt. His surprised smile was a clear sign he was glad Patrick stopped by.

"Want a beer?"

For about 10 minutes they drank in while making small talk about school, plans after graduation and the football season. When they opened their second beers Patrick decided to take a step forward. They talked about dating. Had another beer. They talked about pressures in relationships. Had another beer. High school social life versus college. A 5th beer was shared over what they look for in another person. They finished the 12 pack talking about college sex and hook ups, and with a nice buzz going, Mark broke out a handle of rum and a two litter bottle of coke. And that's when it came out.

That's when he came out. For the first time.

Some tears, a long hug, words of encouragement, a promise that it's not as hard as he thinks... and he can live life on his own terms. Mark hinted that he wished he knew more people like them to talk to and spend some time with. He never let on that he heard about Patrick's weekend plans, but he had discreetly invited himself. He had a 6 hour practice Saturday but then the team was off until Monday, and on his first free weekend in months we would hang out with 1 guy he sort of knew, 1 guy he only saw from a distance and 2 strangers that he had more in common with than all of his friends.

He hadn't been this excited in a long time.

Mark offered to drive to the farm on Saturday afternoon saving TJ a trip out to campus. During the hour long ride he thanked Patrick for the invitation and for listening to him on Wednesday night. Patrick assured him he was not alone, and that the group of guys he was going to meet could relate to his situation (especially TJ). Being with guys who come from the same place you do, Patrick said, would be very good for him. And it was.

The introductions were pleasant and Mark was surprised to find Jacob and TJ so down to earth. They offered him a beer before dinner as they watched highlights from week 8 on ESPN, and Jacob and TJ were slightly star struck asking him questions about the team and the season. They created a friendly, light hearted environment that made conversation and openness easy.

"What a predicament. All that hot athletic ass on the field and in the locker room... and you just want to reach out and grab it all" TJ joked. "Fuck that must be tough!"

Mark had never heard it said aloud so bluntly. He was at first taken aback. Then he realized he was safe. "Yeah, it can be really tough."

"Who's got the biggest dick on the team?" he asked. Jacob punch him on the shoulder. "What? It's a legit question!" Patrick looked around unsure if he should say. "Well?"

Eddie picked up his I-Pad ready to search. "Tyrell Parker" Mark said with a laugh.

He watched Eddie poke a few buttons and then laugh. "He's hot."

"Lemme see" was said by three people simultaneously all reaching for the I-Pad. Mark laughed. This could be fun.

"Figures it's not an Irish guy" TJ said. The room was quiet. "What? Oh don't be dicks about it. It wouldn't be a rumor if it weren't true. I showered with a lot of guys in the academy. Black guys are hung the most. Irish guys are cursed. WHAT? It's true. Mark back me up" TJ pleaded fearing that people began to misjudge his observation.

"It's... pretty true. I don't know about the Irish guys. But I'll just say I don't know one black guy on the team that does not have a big dick. Not one."

"What do they say about Native Americans I wonder. Patrick?" TJ said laughing. Before anyone could respond Jacob intervened.

"Over the line, TJ! Over the line!" he shouted. Everyone laughed.

When the room was silent again Patrick whispered loud enough for everyone to hear "I'm not complaining." The comment was met with "ooohhhh!!!!"s from everyone and Eddie turning red.

"See I think what straight guys don't always realize that gay guys don't stop being guys. We're just as crude and stupid. We just keep it among ourselves. But we're still guys" TJ said to Mark in one of his teaching moments.

"Not all of us are crude and stupid, TJ" Jacob said getting up. He kissed TJ on the head and went to the bar to get more beers.

"Hey since we are being all honest injun, let me ask you something" Eddie said.

"Did you just say `honest injun'?" Jacob asked perplexed. Eddie just ignored him.

"So what was with the picture of you passed out naked in bed?"

"Yeah I saw that too" TJ said.

"I sent it to you, babe" Jacob said.

"Yeah that was big on campus for a while" Patrick affirmed.

Mark turned a little red. "I may need to finish this before telling the story" he said before chugging his beer. "That was taken by this girl who we call `the bus' because everyone on the team eventually takes a ride in her. I was trying to keep a cover, I guess. Guys were always asking me why I wasn't getting any, why I wasn't hooking up, and I don't know, I guess I got nervous people were suspecting something. I knew if I hooked up with her it would get broadcast to the campus. I didn't expect the photo though. That was a surprise. But in the end it gave me even better cover cause I could tell guys something like "oh shit man after that photo I'm really careful and I don't trust anyone". So now I can keep girls at bay and it's legit. It's all still a lie, though. That's the tough part."

"That's the mental torture we all put ourselves through before coming out" TJ confirmed. "I went through the academy, same thing. Got to the point of somehow convincing myself I couldn't be a cop and be gay. We've all made ourselves miserable at some point."

"How can I run a farm and be gay?" Jacob affirmed. "Farmers are tough, manly men. I have to take over 5 generations of this place? I can't do that and be gay. That's how I made my life miserable for a while."

"I just remember being nervous people would treat me differently, and sometimes they do. But it's nice to see who's a good person and who's not. It's like my own litmus test" Patrick added.

"Yeah, that's kind of where I am. Honestly you guys are the only ones who know about me. I just don't know what will happen when everyone else finds out."

"You'll learn who your friends are" TJ said.

"And some people will disappoint you. Some will surprise you" Jacob added. "Some may even hurt you."

"My father beat me" Eddie said bluntly. The confession stunned Jacob and TJ, and Patrick and Mark looked at him with compassion. "I never told you that" he said to Patrick "but Jacob and TJ know. He did it a lot, but the day they found me I had left home because he beat me so bad. He saw me with someone and waited for me to get home, and then he surprised me with it... like he had planned it. He knocked me down with a punch right here" Eddie said making a fist and tapping his left eye socket "and then here" he said indicating his lip. I fell almost unconscious and he had a small leather strap, the kind they use to sharpen straight razors, and he knelt on my back so I couldn't move..." Eddie's eyes began to fill and the emotion of relieving the story took over his beautiful face contorting it to express hatred and fear that up until now had been absent in the room. TJ sat next to him and put his arm around him but Eddie bravely continued "and he whipped me again and again and said the most horrible things to me, like he didn't know me, like I wasn't his son. And then he just left. He got up, like he had done his deed, and he just left me there."

Eddie put his head down and tried to fight off the tears. TJ hugged him around the head and pulled him into his shoulder and the room fell silent save the sound of muffled sobs. They looked on as big, burly TJ gently rocked the young man and patted his head. Jacob sat on the other side of him and broke the silence. "But now Eddie lives here, and we are all better for it. Especially me and TJ. And my tractors" he said patting Eddie's knee.

Eddie picked his head up and smiled away a sob. Wiping his eyes on the back of hand he apologized to the band of brothers for bringing down the mood. "Don't apologize, Eddie. It's good for you to get it out so you can move on. That's what we all need to do."

"My situation doesn't seem as bad any more" Mark whispered.

"Only reason I tell you is because if I was built like you I wouldn't have been afraid. People may try to hurt you, and you can let them. Or you can fight. I think you'll fight" Eddie smiled.

"You worried about your prospects? You know, going pro?"

"No doubt" Mark added. "And not so much what the players think. I can live with some locker room bullshit, and I think I can prove myself on the field. But I think I'm more worried that people won't take me seriously if they know I'm... like that. Like you can't be good at football and be... gay."

"No one will blame you if you don't come out, Mark. Just know that. Yeah some people may hint at it and activists may think you should become the poster boy of their movement, but here, among your friends, none of us will judge you for doing what you need to do to get ahead" Jacob said.

"You want to play in the pro's then you need to do what you need to do" TJ said.

"Yeah but isn't it a total double standard that some guys have 5 and 6 baby mommas and aren't married and are always seen in strip clubs but Mark can't be gay?" Patrick said incredulously.

"Of course it is" Jacob agreed.

"And it's bullshit" Eddie said. Mark nodded.

"It is bullshit. Welcome to being a minority. I mean we've made a lot of progress in the last few decades but we aren't there yet" TJ said.

"You could be a trailblazer. Not saying you have to; just... you could be" Eddie suggested.

"You could" TJ said. "Or you could do what I do which is get in, be great at it, and then if you decide to come out prove to everyone that gay s just like everyone else. Other cops were amazed when I came out. But I'm a better cop then most, and had already proven myself. It's not "in spite of" being gay or "because" I am gay. I'm a great cop. Period. AND I'm gay. That's the mentality America needs."

"OK, before this gets any heavier, let's go eat" Jacob suggested. "We've got all night to talk and I'm starving."

After a lengthy and joke filled dinner, Patrick and Eddie cleaned the kitchen and Jacob, TJ and Mark returned to the den to watch football. Mark had several texts and emails from teammates and coaches and he needed to make it clear he was paying attention to what was going on, but between hitting the send button he was drinking, laughing, and joking with his new friends. And he realized he wasn't acting any different than he normally does. He just wasn't hiding anything. He was himself... fully himself. It felt really, really good.

The alcohol flowed freely that night, and gradually the PAC-12 and other west coast football games became less interesting and Guitar Hero battles ensued. Soon music was blaring and laughter was non-stop. Mark was impressed that TJ, being by far the tallest and biggest of the group, was also the best dancer and he laughed heartily at his "Gangnam Style" for being so perfectly spot-on.

Sometime after 1am drunkenness turned into sloppiness, especially in Patrick and Eddie. Jacob threw some frozen pizzas in the oven for the hungry boys and that brought the night to a close. Eddie and Patrick headed upstairs laughing and touching, and TJ saw the look in Mark's eyes as he watched them. It wasn't envy, no, it was... yearning and aspiration. It was... sad. Jacob hadn't noticed as he was loading the dishes into the sink. It made TJ sad for him.

"Yeah?" TJ called out when he heard a knock at the door a few minutes later. Mark opened wearing shorts and a tee shirt. He saw TJ already in bed and could hear Jacob in the bathroom brushing his teeth.

"Hey sorry I saw the light was still on... I um... I just wanted to say thanks. For tonight. For everything you guys said to me. You can't imagine how much tonight helped" Mark said humbly.

"Nah it's all good. I'm glad it helped. You're in a tough situation, no doubt. None of us are famous, so none of us had so much outside pressure to deal with. I feel for you, man. I really do" TJ replied.

Mark just smiled. "You guys are lucky to have each other."

"Gets kind of lonely doesn't it?" Mark nodded with a little chuckle. "Hey babe?" TJ called. "Mark's staying with us tonight. Come on, get in" TJ said pulling the covers aside. Mark looked surprised. "Come on, he's got a king bed and you need a night to sleep with some guys. Just sleep, man. Just sleep."

Jacob came into the room listening to TJ and his love for his boyfriend grew even stronger. TJ had a really soft, almost teddy bear side. It was hard to believe sometimes he was a cop... and sometimes when he was in uniform it was hard to believe he could be so sensitive. "I always sleep like this cause I get cold" said Jacob who was wearing boxers and tee shirt. TJ sleeps in boxers and no shirt. You sleep how you want. Come on, get in the middle" Jacob said.

Mark smiled and stepped out of his shorts and got into bed. As he was sliding over TJ grabbed him and put his arm around him pulling the start athlete's head onto his chest. Jacob turned off the light and getting into bed he lifted up Mark's outside arm and snuck his head against his chest. Mark let out a soft groan in delight. He had never felt such physical contact from another man before. Sandwiched between his two new friends he felt a warmth and love he'd never before experienced.

"Mark either there's a baseball bat in the bed or you're poking me in the leg with your hard on" TJ said bluntly.

"Sorry" Mark said timidly. Jacob laughed.

"Shhhh... go to bed" he said.

Mark couldn't fall asleep. He was too happy. Tomorrow he may regret so much drinking, especially when he was on the treadmill. But he'd never regret this step he took in his personal and private life. Feeling the warmth of Jacob's breath against his chest, his own face nuzzled on TJ's strong chest rising and falling with every breath, the roughness of his full chest of hair against his cheek, Mark discovered something about himself. He was gay, and he was comfortable with it. Tomorrow may be difficult, and one day he will have to deal with the world's reaction to his honesty. But for now, tonight, he was with two new friends who knew him and accepted him completely. Tonight he accepted himself. Finally.

The steam felt amazing that next morning after his work out. Sitting there in the sauna, muscles sore but spirit strong, knowing he had to get back to campus, Mark was a tiny bit sad. He liked his new friends, especially TJ, and he would have enjoyed another day or two with them. Complete honesty and openness suited him.