Footy-14

CONSEQUENCES (14)

Tom went into Smith and Henquist, fully expecting to be sacked, and resigned to it.  His P.A. smiled at him as he came through the door, past the trendy artworks and the steel statuary.  She got up from behind her desk, and threw her arms around him.

“Oh, I’m sorry!  I shouldn’t have done that!”  she apologised, blushing.  Tom murmured something, nothing.  “But … it’s so romantic!” she said.  “Good on you, Tom.  I hope you’ll both be very happy.  Is he nice?  Oh, what a stupid question.  Of course he is – why else would you be in love with him?”

“Louisa, he’s lovely.  I didn’t know I could feel like this.  We love each other so much.”

She gave him a grin.  “You were so unhappy when you first came here.  And now you shine with joy.  Good on you both.”  She paused for a beat or two.  “His nibs wanted to see you as soon as you came in.”  She raised her eyebrows.  “Good luck!”

Tom shrugged.  “I’ve made my decision.  I know who I want.”

All the same, he went through to the chairman’s office feeling rather as if he was going to visit the school headmaster.

“Come in, come in, Tom,” said the chairman heartily.

“Good morning, John.”  Tom stood stiffly waiting for the blow to fall.

“Sit down, sit down.  I’ve had some calls, Tom.  Some calls.  ‘Blue’ wants to do a photo shoot.  ‘Bonds’ wants you to model underwear for them for the gay magazines.  Qantas wants you as their ambassador to special interest groups.  However, the Bank called and wants you off the account.  The C.E.O. is very conservative, with a big and small ‘c’.  He’s a personal friend of the prime minister, and you know what he’s like.  I also had a call from Reverend Bile.  He wants me to sack you.  So I suppose I should ask you:  are you happy here?”

“Yes, John, I’ve been finding my feet.  Look, if…   “

The chairman interrupted him.  “Don’t offer to resign, Tom – or at least hear me out.  You’ve turned out to be a surprise, I will say that.  We hired you because of all your contacts in the footy world, because of your status there.  You didn’t strike us as the usual footy thickie.  It’s always a risk when you hire someone who knows one métier extremely well and has to learn a new one.  But we often do that – Giles Keating, for example.  Catriona Eigendorf is from the arts.  Harry Spencer used to be the Managing Director of BHP.  Now I’ve been watching your progress.  When you first came here, I did wonder whether I’d made a mistake.  You were – forgive me for being so personal – desperately unhappy, even though you tried to hide it.  And it was affecting your work.  And I watched as you became better at your job, and happier.  I rather suspected that you had fallen in love.”  He smiled deprecatingly.  “And I was right.”  He smiled again.  “It seems congratulations are in order!  But your being gay – if I may say so – opens whole new markets to us.  The pink dollar is very important.  Very important.  And you are perfectly placed to help us there – handsome, intelligent, a footy hero – and gay.  So I suppose my question is, if you are happy here, would you like to stay on with us?  We need you, and you would be most welcome.”  He stopped and waited patiently while Tom gathered his thoughts

Tom was so surprised that he hadn’t been given his marching orders, that he was having trouble thinking what to say.

“Er, thank you, sir, um, I mean, John.  I should be delighted to stay.  I was just finding out that I could do this job.  Thank you for your vote of confidence.”

“Splendid!  Splendid!  And you and Mr. Hopkinson must dine with Clarissa and me on Saturday.  Louisa has our address.”  The chairman stood up, showing that the interview was over, and shook Tom’s hand.

Louisa was waiting expectantly.

“Well?” she asked.

“Not the sack,” said Tom.  “I’m to be the man responsible for the pink dollar.”  He shrugged.  “Why not?”

“Clever clogs, aren’t you?  Well, don’t get carried away.  There are twenty-five calls to make.  I’ve sorted them into urgent, necessary, and forget it.  Here’s the list.  I’ll go get you some coffee to fortify you.”

The urgent were all media.  Louisa had put a note next to the names “might as well get all the free publicity we can!  Want me to organize a news conference, and get rid of them with one fell swoop?”

Tom scribbled “Yes” next to that.

She had put the calls from Archbishops’ chairman, trainer and two board members.  Tom scribbled next to their names, “I’ll talk to these.”  There were ten names he didn’t recognize in the ‘forget it’ section, and two he did.  One was the Rev. Bile, the other a friend from school.

But before he phoned any of them, he called Adam on his mobile.

“Guess what?”

“You love me?”

“Yes, course! That’s a no-brainer, nong-dong.  I haven’t been sacked.  In fact, I think I’ve been given promotion.  I’m in charge of the pink dollar.  And we’re to dine with the chairman and his wife on Saturday.  In case you’re wondering, that’s a signal honor.  But it means we can’t go to the cottage.”

“And me without a thing to wear!  Well, guess what yourself.”

“Harry the moron has declared undying love for you?”  Tom had told Adam about his conversation with the Hon. Harry FitzHoward.  Adam had been elated at just how angry it would have made Harry, and amused at how protective Tom had been.

“No, much, much better.  Lady Tremontaine, who has squillions, assumed that I’d been sacked because of us, and was so angry at Sehnburgs that she’s taking all her money away, and giving it to me to manage, as soon as I’ve gotten my ASIC licence.  Her money alone will be enough for me to start my own firm.  And there’ll be lots of my other clients who’ll shift, too.  I won’t make a lot after expenses, but it’ll more than break even.  It gets better, Tom.  The newscast made it seem as if I’d been sacked from Sehnburgs for being gay so Orion has called for a boycott of Sehnburgs.”  Orion was the national Gay and Lesbian umbrella organization.  “There’s panic at Sehnburgs.  It isn’t just the personal money – some the instos are pissed off too.  Harry phoned me, presumably to ask me to go back, or to get me to issue some sort of disclaimer.  He couldn’t get through on the land-line and had to get my mobile number from Serena.  I just cut him off.”

“You beaut.  Hope he rots.  Listen, I’ve gotta go.  Love you, baby, so much.”

“I love you too, Tom.”

Tom broke the connection, smiling.  He sat on the edge of his desk, sipping the coffee that Louisa had brought, phoning each one of the names on the list.

Adam was also making calls.  The first one was to Fiona.  He used the land-line, reminding himself to leave the phone off the hook afterwards.  He was sick of the loonies.

“Well done, brother mine!  He’s perfect.  Beautiful, modest, intelligent and – at least where you’re concerned – gay!”

“Oh, Fee, I love him so much, and he loves me back.  You know, I think this one will last.”  There’d been loves who hadn’t lasted.  Adam had more or less given up on finding a bond which worked, with a nice man, kind, loving, generous.  To find someone who was all these things but also handsome and witty and loyal was wonderful.  And he knew in his heart that Tom loved him as much as he loved Tom.  He had the feeling that this was the big one – that he and Tom would still be together when they were old and worn – Darby and John.  Adam and Tom.  It sounded good.  He wondered how Tom would age.  It didn’t matter to him – he loved Tom anyway.  And he knew that Tom didn’t care what he, Adam, looked like.  He loved Adam for something inside, some inner quality that only he could see.

Immediately after he put the phone down, before he had a chance to disconnect it, it rang.  He picked the handpiece up, expecting it to be someone wanting to abuse him.

“Ads?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s Jas.”

Adam was silent.

“You know, Jasper Sutton.”

“Yeah, Jas, I remember.  Long time no see.”  Adam was cool.  They’d been best friends in college.  And he’d been in love with Jasper.  And Jasper had never bothered to keep in touch.  Even Adam had his pride.  In the end, he’d stopped calling.  Jasper Sutton, gorgeous Jas, with his honey-colored hair and his emerald eyes, could get fucked.

“Yeah.  I’m sorry Ads.  That was my fault.  I’m an arsehole.  I know it.  Look, could we…   could we have coffee, maybe?  I want to talk to you.  It won’t take long.”

“Why did you ring now, Jasper? Why not when I was lonely, and needed a friend?”

There was a long silence at the other end, so long that Adam thought there was something wrong with the line.  At last, Jasper spoke.  “OK.  Fair enough.  Why would you want to talk to me? I hope you and your guy are happy, Ads.  I really do.”

Adam sensed that Jasper was about to put the phone down – and he sounded as if he was almost in tears.  Adam felt mean.  He’d been given so much happiness.  He could afford to forgive.  “Wait!” he cried.   “You always were an arsehole, Jas.  But I loved you anyway.  God knows why.”

Adam could hear Jasper’s relief in his voice as he replied.  “Yeah, Ads, too right.  I’ve missed you, guy.  God, I am such a dill.”

“When would you like to meet, Jas?”

“Now?”

“Nice to be so rich you don’t have to work.”

“Lygon Street?  Where we always used to have breakfast after rowing?  The Café Università?  In half an hour?”

Adam was disturbed that Jasper hadn’t answered his implied question.  Jasper was a fast-rising lawyer with some famous city firm.  Why wasn’t he at work at this time of the day?

It had been nearly five years since Adam had seen Jasper.  He’d made the mistake of going to a Montmorency College reunion, and had found that everyone was as awful as they’d always been, just older.  Jasper, in a dinner jacket, his hair conservatively short, had been on the arm of a stunning girl, and he’d been very attentive to her.  Yet when he’d seen Adam, he’d smiled and hugged him, just as he used to do in the days when he was determined to show he was unprejudiced against gays, that he was so broad minded.  It had been wonderful to be in Jasper’s arms, to feel Jasper’s heart beating against him, to savor Jasper’s special smell.  Adam had no illusions about what Jasper felt for him, but just for that moment, he pretended.   But then Jasper had gone off with the girl (‘Amanda’, some Eastern Suburbs name), and Adam hadn’t seen him again that evening.  On the way home to his flat, as he walked the streets of Carlton and then took the tram up Lygon Street, Adam swore to himself that he wouldn’t contact Jasper again.  If Jasper wanted to contact him, he could.  But he hadn’t.

Adam decided to walk down Lygon Street to the café, instead of taking the tram.  The sky was cloudless.  There was a mild southerly breeze with a touch of autumn in the air.  The weather chimed perfectly with his profound happiness, with his sense that the world was good.

Though still handsome, Jasper looked tired and depressed.  Adam was surprised at how much he’d aged, and wondered whether he himself had also got as old.  But instead of being dejected by this thought, as he would once have been, he mentally shrugged.  Since he and Tom had connected, he had a safe warm place in his heart that no one could harm.  Jasper’s magic had gone forever.  Adam understood suddenly how much of Jasper’s looks had been a function of his own feelings for him.  Instead of seeing his old first love, he saw a man on the edge of middle-age, mildly attractive, but no more interesting sexually than any stranger, and with no ties on his heart.

As Jasper came up to his table on the pavement underneath the awning, Adam stood up.  Jasper grabbed him into a tight embrace, and when he let go, Adam could see the tears in his eyes.

“What?”  Adam asked, suddenly spooked.

“Oh, Ads.  I feel so bad.  All the time we were friends, you put up with me, and I treated you like shit.  You came to all the rowing, and I never went to anything of yours.  You kept in touch and I didn’t.  I treated you like…  a poor relation.”

Adam looked at him.  Jasper didn’t use to be so thoughtful, so compassionate.  Handsome, clever, rich people usually weren’t, in Adam’s experience.    It took your own suffering to make you understand the distress of others.

“Yeah, well, Jas – that’s been true for a while.  So what brought it up now?”  Adam knew it was time to be frank with Jasper.  He found it easy.  He was no longer in love with him.

Jasper sat down and looked away.  When he looked back at Adam, his eyes were troubled.  And guilty.  And there was too much self-knowledge in them.  That never came easy, and Adam could see the scars.  Unexpectedly, compassion filled his heart, and a piercing sorrow, that life should be so hard, that the innocent joyful youthfulness of his friend should have been blighted by all that had happened to him. He stared at Jasper as if he was seeing him for the first time.  He was aware of his own wisdom and maturity and strength, things he had not before thought he possessed.

“I saw the news report, Ads,” Jasper said, avoiding Adam’s eyes.  “And it made me think.  I recognized the block of flats, and I looked up your number in the phone book.  I had to talk to you.”

“Yeah, so?”  It was typical that Jasper had lost his phone number.

“Ads, I treated you like shit.”

“No, Jas, not that badly.”  Adam’s voice was heavy with irony.  “You were kind to me, you bought me breakfasts, you put up with me.  You went on being my friend even after you’d told everyone I was gay.”  Adam felt an unexpected well of resentment in himself.  He realized he’d waited a long time to say this.

Jasper sighed.  He looked away again.  “Yeah.  I was a bastard.  And a fool.  Can we start again?”

“Why, Jas?  You haven’t seen me for – what? – five years.  You’ve made a new life for yourself.  You’ve probably married Amanda or whatever her name was.”

“Good memory.”  Jasper’s wry grin was brief.  “No.  Didn’t marry her.  Didn’t marry anyone.”

His voice was so bitter that Adam was shocked.  He wanted to touch Jasper, to hug him and comfort him, like he’d used to when they were friends and Jasper had broken up with his latest woman.  He restrained himself.   “What’s wrong, Jas-baby?”  Despite his best intentions, Adam felt the old familiar protectiveness creep up on him.

“I’m fucking gay, Ads.”

For a moment Adam was rendered speechless.  He stared at Jasper.  At last, common sense returned.  “Bullshit, Jas.  I’ve seen you with your girls.”

“I like rooting men, Ads.  Actually—I like them to root me.”  His self-contempt burned.

Adam had never seen his friend like this.  He hadn’t the faintest notion what to say.  At that moment, the waiter arrived with their caffè lattes.  When he’d gone, Adam said, “At most that makes you bi – I saw how you fucked all those women, Jas.  Don’t give me that bull.  I know you like it with women.”

“That’s why I treated you so badly.  See, Ads, I knew I was gay.  I was afraid of getting too close to you.  I was afraid of being gay, of being alone like you were.”

For a moment, Adam was furious.  You were quite happy for me to be alone, he thought.  But the anger passed.  He wasn’t alone any longer.  And Jasper was in pain.  “But all the girls, Jas!  Mate, I know you loved them and I know you enjoyed sex with them.  Blind Freddie could see that.  You are definitely not gay.  I should know.”

“People’re one or the other, Ads.  Gay or straight.  You can’t be both.”

“Oh, total crap.  Lots of guys are both.  Why can’t you be both?  What’s so odd about it, liking men and women?  I don’t, but that’s just me.  I’m fucked up, you know that.  But lots and lots of blokes swing both ways.  Lots, Jas.  I’m sure you’re bi, not gay.”

“Like your bloke?”

“Yeah.  Something like.”  Something in Adam’s voice must have betrayed how he felt.

“You lucky bugger,” said Jasper, looking at him enviously.  This was new.  It had always been Adam who envied Jasper – his self-confidence, his beauty, his wealth, his sexuality.

“That, too,” said Adam with a coarse grin, hoping to lighten Jasper’s mood

And Jasper grinned as well, the strain leaving his eyes.  All at once, the years vanished and they were best friends again.

Adam stretched, and relaxed, ready for one of their typical long discursive conversations.  “So tell me, Jas, me old china, who’s the lucky bloke?  Go on, no secrets from me.  You always told me about your chicks.  Everything.  In excruciating detail.”  He grinned at his friend.  “I used to get hot thinking of you fucking them.  I used to imagine it was you doing me.”  It was liberating to be able to talk about it at last, to tell Jasper everything.

Jasper looked down, coloring.  “Sorry.  I was…  I should have thought of the effect on you.  I’m trying to be more thoughtful these days.”

Adam inspected his friend’s face for a moment before deciding to tactfully ignore his self-abasement.  “I have to say, Jas, I still think it’s bull.  I won’t believe it until you tell me all the details.”

So Jasper told him.  Then he told him about Fiona’s new lover.  And then he started to cry – and at last Adam did take him into his arms, and wiped his eyes with a paper napkin from the table, and stared over Jasper’s shoulder at nothing, wondering how they were going to retrieve anything from this disaster, while grief rose in him like a flood.

Chapter 1      Chapter 13      Chapter 15

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