For Evan, the world had always revolved around football. At least, it had from the moment he’d stepped onto the peewee league field at age six and met a budding quarterback named Reed Matthews. The two had been inseparable from that day forward both on and off the field. But the NFL draft had truly been a game changer for Evan. It made him a professional ball player, and with the achievement of that dream, Evan realized he wanted more out of life than just to play football.
Initially, he’d been scared to death of the draft, afraid he and Reed would be separated, drafted to different teams. Walking the red carpet at Radio City Music Hall with Reed and the other possible first-round picks had been surreal. Reed, who’d been a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, and Evan, as the winner of the Rimington Trophy for outstanding collegiate center, were among the favorites to be picked in the first round. Both of them held other awards as well: Reed as MVP of the Rose Bowl and Evan as PAC-10 Offensive Player of the Year.
They had brought fame and glory to that year’s UCLA football team, and the media loved them. All eyes were on the two guys who’d played together since they were kids and had been dubbed the “Dynamic Duo” by the press. Their success had brought agents and scouts sniffing around, and when the Los Angeles Stars became a reality, Evan and Reed made the decision that they wanted to play for their hometown.
While being scouted by the Stars at UCLA’s Pro Day and the NFL Combine, they’d made their preferences clear to the team and the media. They wanted to be together on their local team. That had upped the media frenzy around them. The Stars’ scouts gave them the distinct impression that fifteen years playing together had significance, and they seemed to view Evan and Reed as a matched set. Which was the complete and utter truth.
With the clock ticking for the Stars, who by virtue of being a new team had first pick, Evan and Reed had practically held their breath until Reed’s cell phone rang. A few minutes later, he closed his phone, grin widening impossibly as the announcement came from the stage that the Los Angeles Stars had chosen Reed Matthews as their first pick. The crowd sent up a huge roar, and the media and NFL people converged on Reed.
Evan sat in silence, fear licking like flames inside him as he felt his life changing uncontrollably. He stared at the big-screen TV, seeing Reed posing on stage with a red and blue Stars hat on his head, holding a Stars jersey with his number eleven below his last name. Evan grew very afraid that he’d just lost his best friend.
On one screen, the ESPN commentators had begun to debate the Stars’ second choice for the first round. His photo popped up while the commentators waxed poetic about his achievements. Their final prediction: Evan would be the Stars’ second first-round pick. So a few picks later on, Evan wasn’t at all surprised when his phone rang.
His walk to the stage felt dreamlike. He posed with a Stars hat on, holding up a jersey with his name and his number fifty. When he returned to the table where Reed sat, his best friend got up and wrapped his arms around him in a huge hug.
“We got what we wanted, buddy,” Reed whispered in Evan’s ear. “We’re still together.”
And that’s when the draft became a game changer for Evan. Now he was a professional football player…who was gay. Gay and the NFL had never been synonymous, but becoming a pro football player had changed Evan’s priorities in an instant. Instead of continuing on in the closet as he had throughout high school and college, he realized he needed more. He needed to tell the truth.
In the limo, on the way back to their hotel, Evan held out his hand to Reed. “Not gonna say I told you so,” he said, referring to their private bet that Reed would be chosen before Evan.
Reed dug in his wallet and slapped a fifty-dollar bill in Evan’s hand. “I don’t mind paying up. We both won. We’re going to be teammates on the Stars. What more could we want?”
Evan grunted and put the money away. He watched his best friend closely as he uttered the fateful words, “To be out.”
Dark eyes wide, Reed stared at him in shock. “You’re kidding.”
“Actually, I’m not.” Evan heaved a sigh. “I’m tired of being in the closet. I want to come out.”
“You think it will make it easier to get laid?” Reed teased, but Evan saw the flicker of fear in his friend’s eyes.
“I think it will make it easier to be myself and live my life.” Evan shook his head. “After we sign on the dotted line, I’m going to find out who does the marketing for the team and set up an appointment to talk to him or her. I’ve always thought a good PR person could turn an openly gay NFL player into a shitload of mostly good press.”
Reed sat back with a thump. “You’re kidding, right? Tell me you’re joking.”
“I’m not. But I’m not quite sure how to bring it about. Being gay doesn’t have the stigma it used to have. Celebrities are coming out all the time. I want to be out. I’m tired of secrets,” Evan said firmly.
The flicker of fear in Reed’s eyes became a firestorm. “I don’t know if I could handle it, but Len would sure love it.”
At the mention of Reed’s boyfriend, Lennox Sterling, Evan’s stomach twisted, but he kept his face neutral. “How are things with Len? This is a big change for the two of you,” he said, more to be a good friend than because he wanted to know.
“Same old, same old.” Reed shrugged almost defensively, and his glance slid away from Evan’s. He ran down what appeared to be a laundry list of issues. “Len wants me to run his family’s hotels after graduation. He doesn’t want me to join the NFL. He’s tired of hiding our relationship. He hates it when I’m on the road with the team and busy training. He hates everything to do with football. I don’t know how he’s managed to put up with it for four years. He really, really hates football.”
“He loves you.” The words nearly scalded Evan’s tongue, but he had to say them. No matter what he personally thought of Lennox, no matter how much he resented and hated the man, Len had stuck by Reed all through college. Most men wouldn’t have put up with being someone’s partner only behind closed doors. And while Len bitched and whined about it constantly, at least he stayed with Reed. Evan reluctantly gave Len kudos for that even though he personally questioned just how happy Reed could really be under those conditions.
“Yeah. I guess he does really love me.” Reed’s voice sounded almost wistful which made Evan wonder what the hell his best friend wasn’t telling him.
Later that night, after both of them had gotten drunk on celebration champagne, Evan staggered to his feet, stumbling into the kitchen area of their suite for a bottle of water. A warm hand descended on his shoulder.
“Oh, no, you don’t. It’s a party!” Reed told him jovially.
Evan shook his head. “I’m done. I’m trashed.”
Reed turned him around and eyed him critically. “Okay. We have to face the press tomorrow, so I guess you need some sleep. Bed for you, buddy boy.”
Evan groaned and dropped his head to the granite countertop. He didn’t want to face the press in the morning. He just wanted to go home. Dealing with the press was his least favorite thing about football.
“C’mon, big guy.” Reed laughed as he tucked his arm around Evan and helped him across the suite. “How tall are you again?” he teased, even though he knew exactly how tall Evan was. Their sizes were a long-running joke between them which had begun in their teens when Evan shot up faster than Reed.
“Six-six,” Evan grunted as he stumbled on the carpet. “Two ninety. You’re a shrimp next to me. You always were.”
Reed made a rude noise. “Am not. You only have two inches and forty pounds on me.”
“That’s a fucking shitload of weight,” Evan slurred. “I could toss you like a football.”
A laugh escaped Reed as he maneuvered Evan toward a bedroom door. “You wouldn’t dare. I’m now worth thirty-five million dollars, and that five-million-dollar signing bonus I’m getting is gonna buy me the hottest fucking car on the planet.”
Evan blew a raspberry at his best friend. “Fuck you, Matthews. My contract is for more than yours. I’m worth forty fucking million dollars, asshole.”
“Yeah, so what? Your signing bonus is only three million dollars,” Reed jeered as he opened the bedroom door. He helped Evan to the side of the bed and stripped the covers down.
The room spun a little as Reed tugged off Evan’s dress shirt and pulled down his slacks. Evan clutched at Reed’s broad shoulders as his friend knelt to remove his shoes. Looking down into Reed’s amused face, which was level with Evan’s crotch, Evan could almost imagine Reed going down on him. His cock stirred in his boxer briefs. Even in his inebriated state, he knew that was dangerous.
Twisting, he fell onto the bed and away from Reed. He rolled to his side, letting his thigh flop over and cover his now half-hard cock. The mattress dipped as Reed sat down beside him. Long fingers brushed his hair back from his face.
“We’re pretty lucky, you and I. We’ve got great careers to look forward to, and we have each other. Fifteen years and counting, buddy,” Reed whispered. “I couldn’t do this without you, Evan. Not any of it.”
Unbidden, his tongue loosened by the alcohol, Evan said, “I love you, Reed.”
His best friend smiled gently, his fingers still in Evan’s hair. “I love you too.”
And then Reed was gone, and Evan lay in the dark, cock aching, heart aching and tears rising to his eyes. The words he’d spoken had come from his heart, the heart that had always belonged to Reed, from the moment he’d realized he was gay at age sixteen. His friend might have thought the words had no romantic connotation, but Evan knew better.
He reached into his underwear and wrapped his fist around his cock. He stroked it, thinking of the moment Reed had knelt at his feet. He imagined Reed pulling his briefs down, his mouth opening to lick the precum from the tip of Evan’s cock. And then he’d open his mouth wider and suck the entire thing in, deep throating Evan’s hardened flesh.
With a groan, Evan’s hand sped up, keeping time with the fantasy in his head of Reed sucking his cock like a kid with a popsicle. In and out, tongue swirling, moans vibrating in his throat and along the length of Evan’s erection. A hand cupped his balls as they tightened, preparing to shoot their load. Evan bit down on his lip to stop himself from screaming Reed’s name as he came, spurting hot semen over his belly and chest.
He sucked air into his tortured lungs, his mind fuzzy from the alcohol, his body still aching for Reed’s. Evan stared at the dark ceiling and wondered how he could have achieved so much when it came to football and so little when it came to life. A tear rolled from the corner of his eye down toward his hairline and ear. Another followed. And later when he heard Len and Reed in the bedroom next door, moans and the distinctive if faint sounds of fucking making their way through the walls, more tears fell.
Evan pulled one pillow over his head to shut out the sound of the man he loved fucking someone else. He buried his face in the other pillow and sobbed, letting all his anguish out. Forty million dollars didn’t mean shit to him. He would give it all just to have Reed say the same four words he’d said earlier and mean them with all his heart.
That moment cemented his determination to come out. He couldn’t have Reed, the man he’d been in love with for years. It was a secret he’d probably carry to his grave since Reed didn’t feel the same way about him. But he was tired of secrets, and it was time to come out of the closet. The conviction grew that the only way he’d have a chance at enjoying life was if he came out. Being out and playing football were the only two things on Evan’s agenda as he entered this new phase of his life. And the PR director for the Los Angeles Stars would be the first person he came out to.