I shift gears once again, formulating my next question in what is easily becoming the most compelling interview I’ve ever had the pleasure of conducting.
I’m not thinking in terms of potential awards down the line — although I’m sure Richard definitely will be as soon as he reads Scott’s compelling story — but enlightenment. My own as much as everyone else’s as Scott literally takes me step by step through his difficult journey to be who he really is, to be true to himself for the first time in his young life.
I can only hope the words I write do him the justice he deserves, that everyone struggling with their sexuality deserves.
“When did you know?” I ask Scott point-blank.
Scott gets my meaning. He’d have to have a rock for a brain not to, and, as I’ve said before, he’s no dummy.
Far from it.
“It’s not so much when as it is how,” he absentmindedly corrects me, deep in thought. “I can’t really pinpoint the when of it, to be truthful, because there’s not really a time I can actually remember NOT feeling the way I do. I used to ask my moms why I couldn’t be like ‘normal’ boys and like girls in that way, but they’d always tell me in that matter-of-fact way of theirs that I was a normal male who happened to be attracted to other males instead of females just like they were normal females who happened to be attracted to each other instead of males. After a while, they finally got through to me. I couldn’t argue with their logic because it made complete sense to me, y’know? They’d always tell me that we can’t help who we love. We just … we just … DO.
“But it scared me — not knowing if any of my friends felt like me, not knowing if any of my friends would understand, not knowing if any of my friends would continue to be my friends if they knew the truth about me. The real honest-to-God truth. So I kept it to myself and continued living the lie until I just couldn’t do it anymore, friends or no friends, and consequences be damned.
“In the end, I had to do what was best for me because the deceit — the lies — were killing me from the inside out.”
Just then, as if perfectly on cue in a Broadway play, two of Scott’s teammates quietly stroll into Coach Thomas’ sardine can of an office.
I eye the door nervously, ready to bolt from the incredible shrinking room (pun very much intended) but wanting — no, needing — to see for myself whether his teammates really do care about him and support his decision to come out to the whole world.
I’ve never been a fan of small spaces, nor am I fond of being surrounded by people in said small spaces. But I stifle the urgent need to hoof it the fuck up on out of here, determined to see this interview through, sardine can and all.
I’ll be able to gauge for myself whether there is absolute truth to Scott’s and Coach Thomas’ staunch claims of complete solidarity across the board because I plan on blitzing the newcomers with a string of frank questions designed to throw them off of their game just in case they were up all night rehearsing exactly what they were going to say to me this mighty hot mess of a morning.
I certainly wouldn’t put it past them — or anyone else in their shoes, for that matter — to do just that, although they have not given me any reason thus far to make me think they’re being even the teensiest bit untruthful. Call me a cynic all you want, but no one wants to say or do the wrong damn thing when they’re being interviewed because in this unforgiving age of technology, every single misstep is instantaneously out there for the whole fucking world to see, to criticize, to mock and so on and so forth. Forever and ever and ever. And believe me when I say that they’ll never, EVER let you forget it, either. Even — make that especially — the people nearest and dearest to you.
I narrow my eyes then, watching the quartet squirm under my calculating scrutiny.
I knew it! I just knew it!
If you know ANYTHING at all about journalists — other than the glaringly obvious fact that we will ALWAYS gravitate toward free food and booze like a wake of vultures, the key word here being FREE — then you know we LOATHE that recited shit! There’s nothing worse than a perfectly memorized politically correct vanilla-filled spoon-fed quote that covers just about any pertinent question we can possibly ask on a particular subject without offending anyone. It’s like citing a news release verbatim — B-O-R-I-N-G as all fucking get-out and insulting not only to my intelligence, but to that of our readership, as well.
So game on, grasshoppers! The master is only too happy to school you all in the ways of interviewing.
“You all right, Piccolo?” Coach Thomas, ever the Southern gentleman, asks, frowning at the myriad of emotions that I’m without a damn doubt broadcasting across my telltale face.
Everything is just fucking peachy, pal.
“Of course,” I respond with a snarl, instantly indignant. “Why wouldn’t I be?!”
He holds his hands palms out — I suspect he’d be waving a white flag, too, if he had one handy — as he lowers his head in preparation of a tirade that never comes to fruition simply because my husband will take one look at my face when I get back to the office and know I misbehaved. Badly.
That’s one war I am most decidedly UNWILLING to start, mainly because it’s downright petty and I pride myself on being the consummate professional whenever I’m representing the Daily Herald. The newspaper’s stalwart reputation for its consistent, unbiased reporting — plus its long-standing relationship with the readership as a trustworthy source for news in the far-reaching community — are vital for us to continue thriving as a brick-and-mortar business. Particularly when so many of our print journalism counterparts across the country have downsized so drastically in favor of going almost exclusively online in recent years, you practically can count their pitifully miniscule staffs on one hand. I thank my lucky stars every single day that it hasn’t happened here.
I forcefully focus my attention back on Coach Thomas, who’s still looking at me as if I’m going to shoot up the place postal style. Or pounce like a ravenous lioness stalking a zebra herd. Or, quite literally, try to bite his head off as a female praying mantis is apt to do to any male in her vicinity.
Dang. Give me a little credit here, buddy. I do possess SOME self-control, despite the fact that I am absolutely, positively seething on the inside and most likely — OK, OK, most definitely — not hiding it well on the outside. You have my husband to thank for my restraint. And me, to a much lesser degree.
As it is, all four are eyeing me with trepidation.
I don’t like being played, even when people have the best intentions at heart. And the odds of the two newcomers just happening to show up while I’m right in the middle of interviewing Scott being purely by coincidence are slim to none. Nothing that well timed ever is accidental.
“Sorry,” I say slowly, trying to maintain a calm demeanor even though I just as suddenly really want to bolt from a room that seems to be closing in on me like the Death Star garbage compactor scene from Star Wars — arguably one of the greatest movies of all time — in which the main characters are in imminent danger of getting crushed to, well, death. “I have this … this thing about small spaces. So if I seem a little on edge, that’s why.”
Not to mention the whole pregnancy thing, but I’m not sharing that information with them unless they ask me outright. They’ll certainly be tip-toeing around me once it does become glaringly obvious, IF they ever do figure it out before I give birth.
It also doesn’t help matters that I’m in a room with a handful of males who probably have no clue about the intricate workings of the female psyche. Three are way too young to know any better — well, perhaps Scott has a fairly good idea since he does have two moms, but I’m not going to waste my time waiting for Godot on that one — and the fourth may be an adult, but he’s still single and therefore not yet learned in the ways of the labyrinth that is the ever-changing female mind.
But I’ll save that topic for another day, so I’ll have to do my damnedest to push my pissy mood aside and get back to business as usual.
Senior quarterback-strong safety Lance Ripley and junior tailback-linebacker Danté Powell stand quietly behind the seated Coach Thomas and Scott, waiting to share their well-practiced thoughts with me, I’m sure.
“What brings you two here this morning?” I ask the duo with barely concealed sarcasm, already knowing the answer but deciding to play it as dumb as they’re willing to buy into without giving myself away … too terribly much … for now.
“We just, you know, had a new play we wanted to run by Coach,” Lance offers on the fly.
“Yeah,” agrees Danté, hands down the quietest person on the team and the worst quote ever … unless you’re not interviewing him.
“Is that so?” I inquire, getting ready to spring my trap. “What’s the play?”
Lance and Danté shuffle their feet nervously, unable or unwilling to meet my eyes.
“Oh, I get it!” I add, clapping my hands like a fucking trained seal on display at SeaWorld to feign my excitement as I force a smile I don’t feel and continue to go along with their not-so-clever ruse. “It must be one of those fancy surprise plays!”
They nod their heads vigorously, relieved to (hopefully) think that I seem to be falling for a story with more holes in it than a single slice of Swiss cheese.
Damn. A few slices of Swiss cheese and ham piled sky high with romaine lettuce hearts on whole wheat bread slathered with mayonnaise sounds fucking GREAT right about now.
The more I think about it, the yummier it gets … and the hungrier it makes me.
Hmmm. Perhaps I can sweet-talk Richard into going for a quick grocery store run with me soon. As in TODAY soon. It’s worth a shot, anyway. Especially since he knows firsthand that sending me shopping for food all by myself while fungry is a really, really, REALLY bad idea.
I’d put one hell of a dent in our weekly grocery budget, that’s for sure. Not that we’re in dire straits or anything. Not even close. Still, that’d be a scary-ass grocery bill by the time I pulled up to the checkout with my overflowing cart full of junk food. Enough to give someone a coronary, certainly. Financially as well as physically.
I clap my hands again, more to snap myself out of my food-driven fantasy than to further convince Danté and Lance of my gullibility concerning their sudden, well-timed appearance in Coach Thomas’ office.
The four of them already are looking at me as if I’ve gone crazy right before their very eyes — I can’t say I blame them, given my off-the-wall hormonal behavior of the past few minutes — so I look down at the seemingly jumbled scribbling in my reporter’s notebook that is decipherable only to me, lest my expressive hazel eyes unequivocally give away the fact that I’m wise to their deceptive little ploy. That is, if I haven’t already blown it. I have the world’s worst poker face, which most assuredly is the REAL reason for their shared nervousness.
Good. Serves ’em right for fucking with a hot, hungry pregnant woman.
Not hot as in sexy. Hot as in sweaty.
“Are you going to use this top-secret play in your season-opener at Man o’ War County next Friday?” I try and just as quickly fail to ask as innocently as possible, referring to their first football game of the year on Aug. 25.
I try with all of my might to appear unaware as the moment draws nearer for me to call all of them out on their bullshit, but I don’t think they’re buying it anymore. If they ever did at all.
Their collective silence is response enough.
I’m through playing this game anyway.
Even I can hear the bite I keep trying to contain in my own voice. And if I can, they sure as hell most certainly can. Which means it’s past time to drop the pretense and move in for the kill.
So to speak.
I look up then, piercing each of them with my best go-to-hell look before letting them have it.
In a civilized manner, of course.
Still, I’m not about to let them off the hook without enjoying watching them squirm a little bit more first.
“Is it an end-around?” I press, spouting off the first of several well-known trick plays. “A double reverse? A hook and ladder? Or — oh, oh I know — a flea flicker?! It’s a flea flicker, isn’t it?! I knew it!“
The four of them gape at one another, shrugging their shoulders in a valiant concerted effort to keep their stories straight so they don’t contradict themselves.
Not so fast, boys.
“Well, which one is it, then, if it’s not a flea flicker?” I continue in a tone as smooth as satin.
“All right, you got us, Piccolo,” Coach Thomas folds first, unwilling to continue the deception game.
Damn right, I do.
“No offense,” I sigh, my irritation waning, “because I know you guys mean well, but Scott’s story deserves so much better than robotic news release answers that you’ve been rehearsing like you’re trying out for the school play or studying for a test. You’ve been open and honest with me up until this point, so let’s not ruin that vibe, OK?
“If you’re not down with that, then this interview is over.”
Take it or leave it, guys.
“You play to win, don’t you?” Coach Thomas murmurs, eyeing me with renewed respect.
“Is there any other way?” I counter.
He doesn’t answer. But then, there’s really no need.
“So,” I resume the interview before our time runs out and the school day begins, “Lance, can you tell me what went through your mind when Scott came out to the team? What was the very first thought that popped into your head? And just keep in mind that I’ll know if it’s a rehearsed answer, so no pressure, m’kay?”
Lance looks to the others for reassurance before nervously glancing my way.
“It’s all right,” Scott encourages him. “Just be honest. The truth won’t hurt me. You know that.”
It’s just the gentle nudge Lance needs.
“I was like, ‘Cool, it’s about fu … frickin’ time he told us,'” confesses Lance, who can pass for Vanilla Ice’s clone right down to his annoying voice — only with a Southern drawl, his douchey take on the pompadour hairstyle that never moves from using a gallon of hairspray (or whatever the fuck it is he puts on it) every day in the same manner my darling husband enjoys caking on his precious damn hair gel, I’m certain, and his atrocious retro wardrobe choices like harem pants or anything with shoulder pads. “I guessed that he was gay a long time ago because we’ve known each other our whole lives and he’s my brotha from another mutha — my bad, two muthas — but I was afraid to say anything before he was ready to tell us. IF he ever DID decide to tell us. You know how dudes are — we don’t go around talking about our feelings and shi … crap like chi … girls are always doing, you feel me?
“Excuse my language, Mizz Granger, but there ain’t a damn thing wrong with being gay. As long as Scott’s happy, that’s all that matters to me and the rest of the team. He’s family, and we’ve got his back. Telling his story to you like this to write up in the paper takes a lot of bal … guts because there ain’t too many people out there who have the kind of love and support he does, you know what I’m sayin’?”
A lone tear escapes Scott’s eye quicker than he can wipe it away without any of us noticing.
“Cryin’ ain’t nothing to be ashamed of, man,” Lance tells him. “You’re my hero, and I ain’t just blowin’ smoke up your aaa … butt, either.”
Scott begins crying in earnest as the quiet Danté voluntarily speaks up for the first time in, like, EVER in my presence without me having to prod him for half and hour just to get a short, crappy, barely usable one-sentence quote out of him.
“Well, you know, uh, Scott telling us he’s, you know, uh, gay just brought us all closer together as a family,” stammers the ever-so-chatty Danté, who looks like a young Denzel Washington and — no lie — causes every female to do a double take every single time they see him because the resemblance is so great to his just-as-strikingly-handsome-but-far-more-famous doppelganger.
I groan inwardly at the terrible quote.
Some things never change.
“Did his admission catch you by surprise, or not, and how did it make you feel personally when he told the team?” I ask, pressing him for something a little more interesting than the “uhs” and “you knows” that constantly come out of his reluctant mouth. “Did it make you or anyone else uncomfortable knowing and if so, in what way? If not, why not? Did it change the way you feel about Scott or how you view him as a person?”
“You ask too many questions,” he observes not for the first time in our association, causing me to wonder if he truly is the shy kid he makes himself out to be or if he’s just been toying with me for shits and giggles.
“Kinda comes with the territory,” I wryly note, arching my brows as I give him my best mom (to-be) stare.
“I wasn’t surprised because I saw Scott kissing another dude when I went to see Suicide Squad at the Bluegrass Drive-In last year,” Danté hesitantly divulges, shocking the rest of us with his bombshell confession. “I was surprised when I saw them making out in his VW bug, sure, because I wasn’t expecting to see THAT kind of show, if you know what I mean. I was heading over to his car after I recognized it to see what was up with him because I asked him earlier that day if he wanted to catch the flick with me, but he told me he had other plans that night. So I was pretty pissed when I saw his car there and thought he blew me off because he didn’t want to hang out with me or whatever. Man, was I ever wrong! But I didn’t say anything about what I saw to anyone because it wasn’t my place or my right to share his business with everybody else. I figured he’d tell us when and if he was ready.
“It took you long enough, man, but I’m glad you finally did. I was personally relieved when you told us because knowing what I did and keeping it to myself all this time was like having a monkey on my back that I just couldn’t shake off no matter how hard I tried. I can’t speak for anyone else, and I won’t, but knowing about you before everyone else didn’t change my opinion of you because you’re still the same old Scott I’ve known forever and you didn’t all of sudden morph into a monster the next day.”
Scott swiftly overcomes his momentary astonishment to react to his usually closed-mouth teammate’s whopper of a secret.
“How did you know for certain it was me and not someone else?” blurts Scott, clearly still rattled.
“Come on, now, only one person I know drives a VW bug with the license plate, RUFFKIX, Scott,” Danté nips that argument in the bud. “I didn’t know what to think at first, I’m not gonna lie to you, because I’d never seen two guys kiss like that before. But once I got over the shock of what I saw that night, it all began to make sense to me. Everything kind of started to click. It wasn’t any one thing you said or did in all the years I’ve known you; it was more what you DIDN’T say or do. While the rest of us were always talking about girls and, uh, showing off in the locker room, you never joined in, now that I think about it. All that time, it was US making YOU uncomfortable instead of the other way around.”
“I’m sorry for springing all of this on you instead of talking to you about it first, man, but I’m glad you trusted us enough to tell us so you don’t have to suffer in silence anymore. We’re brothers, and that’s never going to change. I’m proud of you, and I’m honored to stand by you. I can only hope to be as courageous as you someday.”
Mine isn’t the only mouth hanging wide open right now.
“Dam … dang, I didn’t think you had that many words in your vocabulary, Danté,” Lance ribs his teammate.
“Some people are worth the effort,” Danté says, glancing meaningfully at Scott.
Can’t refute that logic.
Here are the links to the first four chapters of Icing the Kicker in case you missed them and are interested in reading them: