MEET THE MEDIA (15)
The paraphernalia for a press conference had been set up in the conference room. There was a raised dais with a desk, microphones, jugs of water. Louisa had organized everything. She’d handled many press conferences before. Tom was sitting at the dais, sipping water, more nervous than he’d ever been – except perhaps for when he’d first spoken to Adam at the cottage after Adam had fled.
The room was jammed with journos and reporters from all the media. There were TV cameras, video cameras, microphones, and already camera flashbulbs were popping.
The chairman of Smith & Henquist stood up.
“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for turning up at such short notice. When Tom Siedentrop retired from footy, we were ecstatic, ecstatic, to get him. He is, of course, one of football’s greatest players, I think I might say one of the best ever. I very much hope that he will continue to be the valued member, the very valued member, of our staff that he now is. Now Tom has a story to tell you, so I shan’t steal his thunder. Afterwards he’ll take questions. Ladies and gentlemen – a big hand for Tom Siedentrop.”
There was a burst of clapping. Tom stood up, his mouth dry, his prepared speech forgotten. He looked out at the sea of faces, and the avid curiosity on all of them. Even the cameramen, normally more interested in the technicals of getting good pictures, were interested. The questions on all their faces were: Is it true? How? Why? The door at the back opened, and he saw Adam come in. Louisa must have called him. Tom hadn’t been sure that he ought to be there. Adam looked directly at him and his smile was so full of love and encouragement that Tom stood straighter. He smiled back. The strain left his face.
Discarding his prepared speech, he leaned on the lectern and spoke to the group in the room as if they were all his friends. He turned the full radiance of his charm on them. It was, as usual, quite unconscious, quite without artifice.
“Well, guys, it’s quite a story, isn’t it? You know, it was as much a surprise to me as it was to you.” A shiver moved through the crowd, as they realized he was confirming the rumors. “More, I suppose. I had to get used to the idea, and I almost blew it. It’s a bit of a shock at my age to find out something so… startling…. about myself.” He smiled at them, picking out from the crowd journos he’d talked to before. “We’ve all been in love. Well, I hope all of you have been in love at least once!” His grin was infectious, and a ripple of laughter ran through the group. “After I stopped playing footy, I was deeply depressed. It had been my whole life for ten years. And my marriage broke up. But I found a friend, someone loyal and true who helped me through the darkness.” He wasn’t smiling now. His eyes were solemn. “And I realized that I had never had that before – someone whose strength I could rely on, someone who loved me for what I was. He wasn’t interested in Thomas Siedentrop, Brownlow medallist. He doesn’t even like footy! He must be the only bloke in Victoria who doesn’t. That’s the only thing about him I want to change!”
He smiled, and there were answering smiles in the audience. His expression grew serious once more. “He cared about me as a person. He didn’t seduce me. He was just there for me when I needed him. To tell you the truth,” and he was smiling again, “I didn’t know he was gay, until all the media attention over the last few days. I didn’t know I was gay. But I started to think about it and him. I understood that we were soul mates, connected more profoundly than I have ever been with anyone. It was irrelevant that he is a man. Once I took the blinkers off, I knew.” He stopped, for emphasis, and his eyes moved across the auditorium. There was complete silence. They felt that he looked at each one of them personally. “I knew he was my bloke. I knew diddly squat about being gay. But I knew I loved him. I knew I was in love with him. I understood that I’d loved him for months, without being aware of it. He completes me and fulfils me. It was like coming home after years of travelling, to comfort and love and affection – to fellowship and warmth. I love Adam, more than I could possibly say. He’s a top bloke. He’s my bloke.”
He stopped again, struggling to keep control of his voice, then said, “Our relationship is a private thing. There won’t be any more press conferences. But I wanted to have this conference because all over Australia there are blokes struggling with being bi or gay. And I want them to know that they’re not alone. I’m just so grateful that I found him before it was too late. Thank you.”
He stood waiting for the thunderous applause to stop, smiling a little shyly, looking like an endearing schoolboy rather than a man of thirty.
The questions began.
“How did you meet?”
“At the gym. Not very romantic, huh?”
“What does your wife think of this?”
The way Tom’s face hardened was obvious. His terse reply, “I don’t know!” shut off that line of questioning.
“Tom, how do you know it’s not just friendship? Put it another way, how do you know you really are gay?”
Tom smiled at the questioner, a male sports reporter he’d gotten drunk with once. “Pete, I, um, I can’t give you the details in public.” Tom smiled again, his face affectionate, remembering. “But believe me, I know.”
They laughed. He had won them over to his side.
“Do you think you are a good example to Australia’s youth?” This questioner was hostile. He was from one of the shock-jock talkback radio stations so beloved of the prime minister.
“Of course. Don’t you?” Tom’s smile was ingenuous. The steel of a man used to facing an opposing team and winning was just under the surface. “Someday a key gets turned in your heart, and you realize you’re in love with a bloke. It doesn’t happen because you’re seduced. It’s not something you choose. It just is. And every young bloke who finds that out about himself needs understanding and acceptance.”
“What about the position of the Church?” It was the same questioner. The audience stirred, half in anticipation of a barney, half in anger at the hostility and bad taste of the questions. Tom was well-liked.
“Which one is that? ‘Love one another as I have loved you’? ‘Judge not lest ye be judged’? I am my own man. I make my own decisions. Where was the ‘Church’ when I was lonely and suicidal? Adam was with me. Adam saved my life. Who was the true Christian in all this?” Tom was trying hard not to get emotional, but there was a hard current of anger underneath his words. He saw someone else waving. He was glad of the interruption. He didn’t want to debate this with a bigot. “There is a question over there.”
“How has this affected your clients?”
Tom shrugged. “One has asked that I be taken off their account. Others have rung asking me to be put on their accounts.”
“How do your parents feel about your being gay?”
“They were, um, a little disturbed at first.” This was a downright lie. They had been extremely upset. But they had listened, and his mother had cried a little when Tom had told her how Adam had saved his life. They would come round eventually. The worst thing seemed not that he loved a bloke, but that they would have no grandchildren. Perhaps he could talk to Adam about that.
“They love me, and I love them. We’re working on it.”
“What’s your position on gay marriage?”
“Have you popped the question yet?”
Tom grinned, and looked directly at Adam. “Will you marry me, Ads?”
The heads turned towards the back of the auditorium, where Adam was standing. Adam colored.
“Come here, Ads, love.”
Adam began to walk forward through the silent crowd, past the popping flashbulbs, stepping over cables and past camera tripods. When he reached the front, Tom stepped away from the lectern, took his hand, and knelt on one knee before him. “Will you marry me, Adam Weatherby Hopkinson? Will you be my bloke for always?” He looked up at Adam’s face. Anyone watching could see how much and how deeply he loved. Adam looked down at him, unable to speak past the lump in his throat.
“Yes.” He was almost inaudible.
There were cries of “Louder!” from the crowd.
“Yes! Yes, Thomas Milton Siedentrop, you rat, asking me in public like this, yes, of course I’ll marry you!” He tugged Tom off the floor, and stood looking at him in silence, holding both Tom’s hands in his. It was as if they were alone. They ignored the laughter and clapping, staring at each other, completely absorbed.
“A kiss, a kiss!” It is wonderfully ironic that cynical journalists are perhaps more susceptible than anybody else, temporarily, to a soppy romance.
So Adam and Tom kissed, their arms round each other, their bodies close. It wasn’t a chaste kiss. They pulled back and looked at each other, and then so softly that only the front row could hear, Tom said, “Love you, Ads”, and Adam, overcome, buried his head in Tom’s shoulder.
Though this wasn’t at all normal, John whispered to Louisa for champagne, and in a moment each of the men had a glass and were toasting each other. The press conference dissolved into a boisterous, friendly party. Louisa had roped in the photocopy boy, and they were opening bottle after bottle of expensive champagne for the journos. A good story and free French champagne! The reportorial mood was very positive. The chairman was extremely happy – this was all excellent business for Smith and Henquist. Yet he wasn’t that cynical that he didn’t feel a warm glow in his heart. Young love! So romantic! So full of hope!
Tom took Adam’s hand and pulled him over to Louisa. “Louisa, this is Adam. Adam this is Louisa, who is the only reason I still have a job!”
Louisa gave a little squeal, and quite unselfconsciously, flung her arms round Adam. “He’s gorgeous,” she said to Tom. Adam colored deeply. He was unused to being praised, especially in public.
“Um, thanks,” he muttered, his face scarlet. His discomfiture wasn’t helped by Tom’s grin.
Adam supposed he ought to phone his mother before the six o’clock news, but he couldn’t face it. Instead he phoned Beryl Titney from Tom’s office phone.
Her voice had gotten quavery. Adam felt guilty. He hadn’t spoken to her for months. “Adam! How nice to hear from you! So you finally found your bloke. I’m so glad.”
“Will you come to the wedding, Beryl?” As far as Adam was concerned, Beryl was his real mother. He promised himself that he would go and see her more often.
“If you can find someone to marry you, I certainly will! Now, I don’t want to nag, but have you been practising?”
Adam smiled, amused that she thought music so much more important than deviant sexuality and media mania. “Better than that – I’ve been practising like a demon, and I’ve been playing with Tom. He plays guitar. Can I bring him up to meet you?”
“Of course, dear. And if you can’t stay with your mother when you come, you know where you will always have a home.”
“Thank you, Beryl. Keep well. I’ll ring you soon.” Adam hung up before he started to cry.
When he phoned his mother, she put the phone down as soon as she heard his voice. It hurt. But he had always known that she would blame him for being gay, just as she had blamed him for being bullied at school. That’s why he had never told her. Rationality and compassion were not her strongest features. He decided to leave her to Fiona. He knew Fiona would give her much more of a skelling out than he would. But he doubted his mother would listen. She never did.
That night, Tom’s proposal and Adam’s acceptance was the first item on the six o’clock and the eight o’clock TV news. There was a brief poisonous sound bite from the Reverend Bile, and another, coldly hostile, from Cardinal Schnell, but on the whole, public reaction was amazingly positive. Adam knew that it was because Tom was charming, not because hoi polloi’s fundamental prejudices had changed. He didn’t mind. It was all right for him, he was used to it, but he knew how many sacrifices Tom had made and would go on making. The fewer he had to make, the better.
© Nick Thiwerspoon. All rights reserved.