Love On 4: Love on the Pitch

Neil Plakcy

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Warren Updegrove’s best “friend with benefits” is Thom Lodge, a geeky grad student who tutored him in math when he was a struggling undergrad on the football team. After playing in the NFL for a year, Warren is released from...
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Warren Updegrove’s best “friend with benefits” is Thom Lodge, a geeky grad student who tutored him in math when he was a struggling undergrad on the football team. After playing in the NFL for a year, Warren is released from the team and returns to South Florida, where he drinks too much and loses his pro conditioning. When he meets former Olympian Victor Ragazzo and joins Victor’s gay rugby team, he falls hard.

But will Victor’s baggage bring down their budding relationship? Will Thom ever step off the sidelines and declare his love for Warren—or watch his BFF ruin his life with a jerk?

  • Note:
    Love on the Pitch (Love On..., #4)
Excerpt
Why had he made such a big deal over the pictures with Thom? So somebody took a dick pic of him when he was passed out. If he’d been awake and drunk, he might have jumped into the competition voluntarily.

There was something more to it, he knew. He was drinking too much, not exercising, not caring about his body or his life anymore.

He had anticipated getting released from the team in Jacksonville. He wasn’t stupid, though studying didn’t come easily to him. He could see the signs. He wasn’t getting to play much, even in scrimmages. And no matter how hard he’d worked, he knew that he didn’t have the natural talent that some of the other guys had.

Getting cut was still hard. To realize that the dream he’d had since he was a kid, of playing in the NFL, was over. Within a few weeks he understood that there was nothing else, no new dream to replace the old one. Thom was the one who had pushed him to get the job at the gym, he remembered.

He started out taking new clients at the gym in rotation with the other trainers, and he worked hard, analyzing their strengths and weaknesses, developing fitness plans with them. A lot of those first clients never came back, once they realized how hard it was going to be to get in shape. But Warren held on to a few of them, and they referred others, and he had a pretty good client roster for a while. But then he’d begun to lose interest, and the clients had sensed that and started dropping off or switching to other trainers.

The week before, his boss had called him in. “I don’t know what’s wrong with you, Warren. You’ve got your head up your ass, and you’re losing clients. That’s not good for them, for you, or for our business. I’m taking you out of the new-client rotation until you show me that you want to get back in the game.”

Warren had nodded dumbly and walked out. Without new client referrals, his income was going to be cut in half at least, and within a month or so, he’d start having trouble paying his bills. He was sharing a house with another trainer and a guy who put up ceilings, and if he couldn’t cover his share of the rent, he’d be out on the street.

Thom had convinced him this party would be the remedy for his malaise, that he’d have a good time and get charged up again. Instead he’d gotten drunk and pissed off Thom.

By the time he reached his place, he wanted to crash. But he forced himself into workout clothes and drove to the FU campus. He did a couple of laps around the track, and then a couple of stadiums—running up and down the steps until sweat was pouring off him and his legs were wobbly.

He was slumped on a bench when a couple of guys from the football team came in. He watched them on the field, setting up a practice scrimmage, and he wanted to go down there and join them so badly it made his stomach hurt.

But he resisted. Those days were gone.

He had to find something else to do with his life. Should he go back to school, get a master’s degree in something?

He shook his head. More school wasn’t for him. And he knew he didn’t want to be a coach. Somehow he didn’t think it was right, a gay guy spending all his time around naked teenagers. Not that his interests ran that way, but all the negative stuff he’d heard when he was growing up had become ingrained in him.

But what else was there? He tried to think of someone he could call, a friend he could talk things through with. But his only real friend was Thom. And he sure as hell wasn’t going there.

He went back to the house and threw his workout clothes into the dirty laundry basket, then took a shower. When he got out, he carried the basket to the laundry room and was relieved to find that nobody had bogarted the washer. He started loading his clothes in, and when he picked up the jeans he’d worn the night before, something crinkled in the pocket.

He pulled out the business card the rugby dude had given him. His name was Victor Ragazzo, and instead of a company name, the card read Property Inspections. The address was on North Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale. He stared at the card for a minute, remembering the guy’s fit body, the way he’d carried himself like an athlete. Warren needed that in his life, an outlet for all the aggression and competitiveness inside him.

Rugby. Maybe.

He threw the rest of his laundry in the washer and went back to his bedroom, where he opened his laptop. He watched a couple of rugby videos, and he felt his adrenaline rise. What was that term the guy had used for the position Warren would play? Something about a hooker?

No, the position protected the hooker. He looked it up and found it was called the loose head, and then watched a couple of videos of guys pushing together, grabbing on to each other, and he had to admit, it made his dick jump.

Hell, he needed the exercise and the motivation of being part of a team. He typed out a quick e-mail to the address on Victor Ragazzo’s card. Don’t know much about rugby, but I’m willing to learn, he wrote. Then he hit Send.

The dude must have been checking his e-mail on his phone, because a message came back almost immediately. Meet 4 dinner 2night & talk? Call me.

Why not? He dialed the dude’s number. “Hey, it’s Warren. We met last night.”

“Crazy party, huh?” Victor said. “I don’t get down to South Beach much.”

“Neither do I,” Warren said. “It’s not really my scene.”

“I hear you. Lots of pretty boys who care more about what they’re wearing than what goes on between their ears.”

The “pretty boys” comment surprised Warren. He’d pegged the guy for a jock, not a brainiac. And his vibe had been all male. “I’ve got a job this afternoon in Wilton Manors,” Victor continued. “But I should be done around six. Can you come up this way?”

“Sure. Tell me where and when.”

“There’s a sports bar on US 1 between Sunrise and Oakland Park. Left side of the street. Can’t miss it. Six thirty?”

Warren agreed and hung up. A sports bar? So the guy was a jock after all? He wished he could call Thom and talk it over with him. But no, that door was closed. At least for a while.

He put on the white jersey he’d worn in Jacksonville at home games, with his name in a half-circle on the back over his number. It was a little tight over his gut, a reminder he had a way to go before he was back in playing shape. A pair of jeans, running shoes with white socks. At the last minute, he put on a silver-and-rope bracelet he’d bought soon after moving to Jacksonville because another player had one like it, and Warren thought it looked masculine.

He realized as he drove up the Turnpike to Lauderdale that he was nervous. Fuck, it wasn’t like this was a date or anything. He was just going to talk to another jock about playing sports, right?

He felt immediately at home when he walked in the door of the bar. The walls were hung with pennants from all the local teams, there were ball games and golf games playing on the big-screen TVs, and groups of guys clustered around pitchers of beer, cheering the teams and razzing each other.

He stood in the doorway for a minute, absorbing it all. Then he saw Victor waving at him from a table in the corner. He was dressed like he’d come from work, a collared shirt and khaki pants, and he had a big pilsner-style glass of beer in front of him.

Warren negotiated his way through the crowd. Victor stood up and offered Warren his hand to shake. “No trouble finding this place?” he asked.

“None at all.” Warren liked his grip, strong and solid, not like the limp fish so many gay guys had. He slid into the booth, and Victor sat back down.

“I’m glad you could make it,” Victor said. “I’ve been struggling to get a team going down here, and it’s hard to find the right guys.”

The server came over, a tall guy in a Heat jersey. They ordered a platter of nachos and a draft for Warren. After he left, Victor said, “I played rugby in college, and then for the Gryphons, a team in Philly. But after I moved down here, I couldn’t find the kind of team I wanted to play for, so I decided to put one together myself.”

Victor looked like a typical jock, from his Dolphins T-shirt to his ball cap, backwards now. Warren gave in to his indecision and said, “Can I ask you something?”

Victor picked up his beer mug. “Sure.”

“Are you gay?”

Victor put the mug down. “Is that a problem?”

Warren shook his head. “No. But you should know that I am. And you might not want a gay guy on your team.”

Victor laughed. “Warren. Did I neglect to tell you that I’m putting together a gay rugby team? If I did, I apologize.”

“A whole team?”

The server delivered their nachos, and Victor scooped up a chip full of salsa. “There’s a whole league, Warren. An international league. A couple of dozen teams in the US alone, with others in Europe, Australia, even South America.”

Warren shook his head. “I had no idea.”

“It’s called the International Gay Rugby Team and Board, though we’re very open to anybody who wants to play in a nondiscriminatory atmosphere. I have a half-dozen guys lined up already, a couple of them straight. We fool around on Saturdays at a field down the road from here. But I need a big guy like you to play loose head.”

“I’ve never seen a game in person, but I watched a couple of videos this afternoon. I still don’t understand what that means, loose head.”

“Let me give you a quick primer on rugby,” Victor said. “Maximum of fifteen players to a side. The field is called a pitch, and we play two forty-minute halves. The goal is to score points with either goals or tries.”

“Tries?”

“A try is actually worth more points than kicking the ball over the crossbar and between the posts. The player has to be in the goal area either holding the ball and touching the ground, or on the ground over the ball.”

He passed a couple of printed sheets of paper to Warren. “These are some of the basics. You can read about the game when you have some time.” He leaned back against the wooden booth. “What do you do for a living?”

“Personal trainer at a gym in Kendall,” Warren said. “But I don’t think I’ll be there much longer.”

“Really?”

It was like something burst inside Warren, and he began to tell Victor everything he’d been feeling. “My undergrad degree is in recreation and sports management, because that was what a lot of the guys on the team chose. I didn’t think my major mattered because I was determined to play in the NFL. And I did, for a year in Jacksonville.”

“That’s awesome,” Victor said. “I recognized the jersey.”

“Wasn’t so awesome when I got cut,” Warren said. “I looked around and realized that I didn’t want to be a coach or work at a county park or anything like that. The only thing I really knew how to do was work out.”

He picked up his beer. “I came back to Miami because I went to college here. A friend suggested I look into personal training, probably just to get me off his couch. But I suck at it. And now I don’t know what else to do.”

“I hear you,” Victor said. “My degree is in construction management. But I figured out real fast that twelve-hour days, outside in the Philly winters, wasn’t for me. I floundered around for a while until I stumbled onto what I do now.”

“What is that?”

“When people go to buy a house, they need an inspection before they close,” he said. “Somebody experienced to come in and point out all the problems. I get to work my own hours, meet different people all the time, use what I learned in school and on the job. And it gives me the time and flexibility to organize rugby.”

“That’s awesome,” Warren said. “I wish I could get into something like that.”

“You’ve got to follow your passion, dude. Figure out what you really want from life and go for it.”

That was the trouble, Warren thought, as he drove home later that night. He knew what he wanted—to play in the NFL. But that was done. What did he want now?

Copyright © Neil Plakcy

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