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A few days after the barbecue I was in the centre of town, having just finished shopping and was packing my car. It was weird only shopping for food for one. I was still buying and cooking too much and then having to throw things out. I was thinking about getting a dog; then at least the scraps wouldn’t be wasted.
This time I’d also been to the furniture shop and had been delighted that the pieces were actually handcrafted by an elderly gent from eastern Europe somewhere. I’d put in an order for quite a lot of furniture there and picked out a couple of pieces to pick up the next day. They were mismatched but rustic and I liked them. And I hoped they’d go alright with the pieces I’d picked out at the local second hand and antique shops. I was still mostly living out of boxes, so I figured any sort of furniture would be good.
I heard someone behind me and I didn’t worry about it, since there were plenty of cars parked around. I was surprised to be addressed by my name.
“Keith, isn’t it?” I turned around and looked up at a burly guy with a jutting chin and heavy brow. He was overweight and balding and did not look friendly in the slightest. His arms were crossed over his beefy chest and his stance was aggressive. I’d seen him at the barbecue, but we hadn’t spoken.
“Yes.” I answered, wondering what he was going to say to me. I nervously and surreptitiously, I hoped, wiped my hands on my jeans.
“Saw you playing with the kids at the barbecue.” He said. For Christ’s sake, I thought. Someone else who thought being gay automatically made you a kiddy-fiddler and a freak and a pervert.
I said nothing. I was not going to give him any more ammunition.
Instead I just gave him a look I hoped was neutral.
Normally I would’ve ignored him or said something smart, but he was pretty big and mean looking. I judged it better not to.
“Play much soccer?” he asked me.
I blinked. “Used to play a bit.” I admitted carefully. “Not for years, though.”
He nodded thoughtfully.
“I’m sorry.” I said. “I don’t know your name.” If he was going to hit me, then I wanted a name to give to the police. If not, then I wanted to know who the hell he was anyway.
“Gordon Freeman.” He said with a curious nod upwards, and held out his hand. I shook it warily. He had hairy knuckles and forearms. I wondered if that was where his hair had receded to. “PE teacher at the local high school.”
“You’re good with kids.” He said to me. I couldn’t explain my jitters any more except by saying that this was definitely not what I’d expected. I felt very much on the back foot here.
“Thanks.” I said. I didn’t know. I didn’t have much to do with them, apart from seeing cousins every now and again at family occasions.
“Ever considered coaching?” he asked then.
“What? No.” He actually smirked at my surprise.
“Saw you showing Will a thing or two. We need a coach for the under sixteens and the under twelves and the under nineteens. Interested?”
“I’m not… qualified…” I managed to say. I had never thought about coaching. I’d barely even thought about playing sport again.
“So?” Gordon asked.
“I haven’t played for years.”
“Yeah. And?” I blinked at him. “Under twelves and nineteens practice after school on Wednesdays, under sixteens after school on Thursdays. They play on Saturday mornings. School has a bus we drive them out on.”
“Wherever we’re playing. Not many schools play soccer, you know? Not exactly the national sport. Here’s my number. Think about it, yeah?”
I blinked at him without much intention of ever calling him. Gordon nodded and walked away.
I didn’t think about it again, until five days later when my doorbell rang and I found five sheepish looking boys on my front step. One or two of them I had a feeling I’d seen at the barbecue, and I guessed they were probably between thirteen and sixteen.
“Hi.” I said blankly.
“Mr. Freeman said you might show us some stuff.” I blinked at the boy in the front, then noticed the peeling ball under his arm. Now this was underhanded. As if a bunch of kids their age would have come and knocked on my door of their own volition.
I considered saying no and sending them away, but then I thought about Gordon’s offer. Maybe this would be a chance to see how I actually did with the kids before I said yes or no.
“Now?” I asked. They nodded. “Yeah, ok.” I agreed. I jammed my feet into some old shoes, grabbed my keys and shut the door behind me.
The introduced themselves as we walked down the street towards the main town and headed to the oval. They were pretty friendly, two more shy than the rest. At the park two started having a mock sword fight with a couple of long sticks (and making the obligatory accompanying laser noises) while I chatted to the others.
They laughed when I told them gaziantep escort to stop, and they did, which kind of surprised me. I hadn’t really expected them to take me seriously. It didn’t take long before we’d sorted ourselves out and were playing. It wasn’t much, since there were only six of us, but we had fun and I helped them out with a couple of tricks. They wanted to chat as well as play, wanted to know why I’d come to live in a town. I didn’t mention my being gay. I wasn’t sure how their parents would take that, but one of the shy guys, tall for his age, watched me closely. I had a feeling about him.
An hour or so later they had to go to be home in time for dinner and to get their homework done. The ringleader of the group, Simon, asked if I was going to be their coach. I told them the truth; that I didn’t know yet.
They waved goodbye, and I stuck my hands in my pockets and decided to go for a walk into town before I headed home.
There was a noticeboard outside the small municipal library. I quickly found the sheet looking for a soccer coach. It was curled and yellowed and looked like it had been there a good long while. None of the tabs with the details had been ripped off the bottom. Christ, even the flower arranging group had more interest than this.
I grabbed one of the tabs quickly, hoping no one saw me.
I looked up at a shadow and found John standing behind me. His hair and skin shone golden in the late sunlight. I felt a warmth down my back and neck. I felt a thrill seeing his uniform.
He was a cop.
He wasn’t looking at me, but at the board.
Shit. He’d seen me take it. I quickly grabbed tabs off a couple more notices, shoved them in my pocket.
When I met his gaze again he seemed quietly amused.
“Settling in alright?” He asked.
“Yeah.” I answered with a nod. I was tense all over, for some reason. Jittery. I was not ready for the way he looked at me.
I nodded to him, then turned and walked away. Then I looked at the tabs in my hand. A church group. A refugee outreach program. A fortune teller. And the local sewing circle.
He was going to think I was a total nut job.
I hoped he wouldn’t tell anyone.
But still. It could have been worse.
I could have got the flower arranging tab.
The kids were back on my doorstep three days later, with another group of kids. This time we played later, chatted less. Again, they wanted to know if I was going to coach them. Again, I answered that I didn’t know yet.
As I left the oval I noticed a police car parked at the side of the road. And John leaning on the fence. He’d avoided me at the barbecue, and unless I was mistaken he’d sought me out in town, but then hadn’t had anything to say. I wasn’t sure what to make of him anymore, other than the fact that he was gorgeous and had a body which begged to be examined more closely.
“Making some friends.” He said, but his smile was warm. I smiled back cautiously.
“Guess so.” I answered.
“So you going to take Gordon up on his offer?”
“You know about that?” he gave his warm, slow laugh and butterflies spread through my stomach.
“Yeah, I know about that.” He said simply. “Give you a lift home?”
“That’s ok. It’s only about four blocks.”
“Yeah. And?” I shook my head and hopped in the car. He looked in the mirror and pulled away from the curb. He was looking in the mirror when he spoke.
“It’d mean a lot to those kids if you took the job.”
“I dunno.” I said. “I only played, never coached or anything, and that was years ago. I don’t know anything about coaching. What if I let them down?”
John chuckled at that. The sound sent another warm thrill through me. I was not supposed to get so agitated from a laugh. “Keith, they haven’t won a match in so long it isn’t even funny anymore. It’s pretty much a no pressure situation.”
Was he serious? I thought about those kids arriving on my doorstep. I did kind of like the idea of it, but I was pretty sure the reality wouldn’t be so much fun as I thought.
“So.” He said, as he pulled into my driveway. “Shall I tell Gordon you’ll do it, then?”
I wondered then, why the hell not? The whole town knew I was gay and I’d joined the ladies cooking club so I couldn’t exactly do much more to make myself look like an eccentric outsider. Except for joining the sewing circle or the flower arranging group, which I didn’t plan on doing. And this was a tight knit community. What better way to make friends and fit in than to coach people’s kids?
“Yeah, alright.” I said, feeling more confident. It could be fun.
“Great.” John said. I met his gaze and found myself unable to breathe again. There it was, that look again. The same look as when we’d shaken hands. I couldn’t mistake it now. Gay or not, he was attracted to me. Did he know how gorgeous I thought he was?
I dropped my gaze and unbuckled my seatbelt and reached for the doorhandle.
“Hey,” he said, as if wanted me to stay and chat.
“Thanks for the lift.” I said quickly, then shut the door behind me and headed up to the house.
The next time I saw Keith after his abrupt exit from my car was only a week later. I hadn’t expected to see him, given I was two towns over, but I thought I recognised his car in the car park, and as I drew closer, I recognised there was someone in it.
A figure was sitting slumped in the front seat, head against the steering wheel. The door was open.
A cold chill slid down my spine. I knew it was him by his hair, but the way he was sitting made me fear the worst.
Had he been robbed? Attacked?
As I grew closer his arm moved and he tried the ignition. All his car produced was a weak sputter. Not even a cough.
Keith made a frustrated whimpering noise against the steering wheel but didn’t move.
“That you, Keith?” He looked up quickly.
“Uh, hi.” He said, getting out and hastily rubbing his cheek as if afraid he had a mark there. I had to smile. People didn’t usually get nervous around me, and for some reason I kind of liked that he appeared to be.
“Yeah.” He was a bit pink. “I don’t know what’s wrong with it. I was just here looking at washing machines and things and now it won’t start but I had it serviced not too long ago and it’s never done this before and I know zilch about cars… It’s got to be karma.” He concluded suddenly with a look of dawning comprehension.
“What, you didn’t treat it well enough?”
He smiled ruefully and shook his head. “I smashed up my partner’s car with a golf club.” He admitted with a wince. I had to laugh.
“A wood?” I asked.
He gave me a funny look. “A golf club.” He repeated warily. I laughed again and he went redder. He was cute when he was embarrassed.
“You don’t play.”
“You can tell?” he asked sheepishly.
“Oh, yeah. Let me give you a lift home. I’ll call Frank to get your car.” Keith hesitated before he finally nodded.
We drove back to town mostly in silence. Keith seemed nervous. Awkward. I pretended not to notice. I was having enough trouble of my own.
My plan had been to avoid him. But even while I knew that was the smart thing to do, I didn’t really want to.
He made me… curious. That’s the only thing I can call it, I guess. This urge to find out more about him, see more of him. To talk to him.
It wasn’t an urge I’d had with anyone before.
“So.” I said as I pulled into Keith’s drive way. “What did he do?” Keith just looked at me blankly. “You didn’t smash up his car without a reason, did you?”
“Oh. No.” He briefly closed his eyes and drew a deep breath. “No, I had a good reason.” I waited but he didn’t say anything else. My curiosity was aroused. I wanted to know more. He changed the subject. “So what do I do about my car?”
“Happy to give me the keys? I’ll speak to Frank. He’ll sort it.” He pulled his house keys off his key ring and gave them to me without hesitation. I didn’t think he even knew who Frank was. I decided he must trust me.
I started to reverse down his driveway and he turned back to the car.
“You’re making a habit of helping me out.” He called. I had to smile.
“Maybe you’re making a habit of needing a hand.” I shot back and waved, then pulled away and drove off down the street.
And wondered what I was thinking even contemplating the idea of something existing between us.
My life was all mapped out.
I was thirty now. In another couple of years people would stop asking me when I was going to get married and leave me be and I could be whatever the hell I wanted in the privacy of my own home for the rest of my life. I could get old however the hell I liked.
I loved my job. I liked my life. And I hadn’t wanted anything to change.
The only problem was that now the existence I’d had planned was looking mighty empty.
But somehow I still couldn’t contemplate the idea of changing.
I sat in the café in the main street with the paper and a hot cup of coffee. I’d only had to wait two days for my car back after I’d broken down outside the electrical appliance shop- something had been wrong with the electrics or the battery or something, but I’d been walking around more since. Although I’d needed the car for some things.
I’d been curtain and rug shopping and I felt like I was finally going back to a home and not a half furnished house, so I decided to celebrate with a coffee and piece of pie. Although in the short time I’d been in town I was finding an awful lot of reasons for pie or cake at Jim’s. I sat in the window like I liked to do, watched people moving around out there. I had nothing to write about (or maybe I was just being lazy), so after I while I grabbed a newspaper off the stack intended for the patrons of the café and settled back with my refill of coffee to catch up a bit on the outside world.
It was the newspaper I had worked for, and I was feeling ok about reading it. It was nice to see what everyone was doing and how things had changed since I’d left the paper (with Graeme’s encouragement) over six months ago. Rob had come a long way and Pete and Mary were as steady as ever. It looked like Cashin had come out on top in the brawl amongst the sports editors. I couldn’t bring myself to read anything by Graeme.
I flipped through the paper as I shut it, froze when I saw a small headshot of Graeme I hadn’t noticed before inside the front page of the paper. It was a blow up of his staff photo. I didn’t want to look, but he was so boyishly handsome and, despite everything, I still missed him. I drank in the picture, hating myself for being so needy but promising myself that this was just a last look. My gaze fell from the picture to the paragraph accompanying it.
I don’t remember leaving the café. I sort of remember driving home, gripping the steering wheel with the newspaper still in my hand.
I went straight to the kitchen at home, fumbled in the cupboard until I found a still-closed bottle of rum. I unsealed it and drank straight from the bottle. It burned and I wanted to lean over the sink and be sick. I sank to the floor, leaning against the cupboards and tried to breathe evenly.
How could he have done this?
How could he do this to me?
I drove down the main street looking for a park. It was lunch break and I was hoping Keith might still be sitting in the window of the coffee shop. I’d seen him when I’d driven past a fair while ago, but he didn’t appear to be there now. I knew he’d often be there for a couple of hours or so scribbling in his notebooks, and I hoped he was just paying his bill or choosing a pastry and went in anyway.
“Hey, John,” the proprietor called to me as I looked around. Nope. Definitely no Keith. I didn’t like to read too much into the pang of regret that I felt. I’d given up on avoiding him, finding I thought about him too much to keep doing it. Problem was, he never seemed to be around when I went looking for him. The proprietor, Jim, beckoned me over to the counter.
“Jim. What’s wrong?”
He sighed. “You know the new guy in town, Keith, right?”
“Yeah.” I agreed slowly, my heart sinking.
“Just wondering if you know if he’s alright?”
“What happened?” I demanded shortly, not answering his questions. Let him draw whatever inferences he liked.
“Oh, it’s nothing, really.” He said quickly. “Just… he was here earlier. Black coffee and cherry pie and a newspaper. I was wiping down some of the cases and I heard him get up so I came round the counter. But he left, he didn’t pay, took the newspaper. But he looked pretty upset. Looked like he might cry.” Jim sounded awkward.
Jesus. Keith was certainly not going out of his way to slot into life here unnoticed. The coaching, fine, but the cooking group? And the tai chi? And the book lending? And his friendship with almost every woman over 50 in town? I half expected him to join that sewing group any day now.
“I mean,” Jim went on. “It’s not a problem if he doesn’t have the cash. He could tell me and pay later, right? I just thought… he didn’t look too good. “
I nodded slowly and pulled a note out of my wallet and put it on the counter.
“This cover it?”
“Oh no.” he said, shaking his head. “It’s nothing. I can’t take your money, John.”
“It’s procedure,” I lied, already kicking myself for offering to pay. “Take it. Just give us the receipt. He’ll reimburse the office. You’re reporting a theft, Jim.” Jim went red.
“Well, it’s hardly a big deal. Don’t be too hard on him- he’s obviously just a bit shaken up about something.”
“That’s no excuse.” I said as he took the note. He gave me a reproachful look but shut up and rang it through the till. I hoped this wouldn’t come back to haunt me.
I drove to Keith’s straight away, hoping he’d just forgotten to pay and walked out.
No one answered the front door. There was no noise from inside either, no quickly muted tv or music, no footsteps.
I went around the side of the house to the back yard and climbed up steps to the back veranda. I knocked again, but again there was no response. I peered in the window.
Was that a shadow on the floor? I banged on the door again and called his name. The shadow moved very slightly.
“Keith?” I called loudly, and leant against the door. It gave easily. The door was warped, didn’t seem to fit into the frame very well.
I went inside, and just as I feared, found Keith lying on the floor. He was curled into the foetal position with one arm flung out. A mostly empty of bottle of rum was in his hand, but I couldn’t tell how much he’d drunk since he seemed to have spilled a lot lying down like that. There was another bottle of rum with only a few fingers or liquid left just within his arm’s reach.
“Hey, there, Keith.” I said gently, couching down and touching his face. He jerked back with a gasp and opened his eyes. He looked confused and bleary. “You alright there, buddy?” I asked and he nodded, but his eyes filled with tears.
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