Everybody’s Wounded


Chapter 9



No regrets.


What’s that supposed to mean?


My whole being ached. 


Is that what regret feels like?



You’d think it would be too damned cold to play rugby in Canada in late November, but you get used to it.  And it’s not like the south shore of Nova Scotia is the coldest part of the great white north.  I mean, I wouldn’t want to be playing in Winnipeg or Thunder Bay.  It wasn’t that cold.  Yet.


I actually prefer the fall rugby season to the spring one.  I mean, as far as I’m concerned, the only thing the cold really affects is how hard the ground is.  That’s what the British guys find hardest, playing here.  I gather they’re more accustomed to playing in mud.  But we’ve got blankets and warm up pants on the bench, and two layers of Under Armour under our jerseys, and you’re really only cold until you start moving.


They hadn’t started moving when Brandon noticed Laura had shown up for the game.


“She’s here!” he said to me as he headed on to the field to take the coin toss.  “Thanks, man.  I don’t know how you persuaded her, but I know you did.  When I asked her last night, she said she didn’t think she’d be able to come.  I owe ya.”


He asked her last night? 


Before I had a chance to reply, he was already heading onto the field with the ref and the other team’s captain, arms across his chest and hands tucked in his pits for warmth.  I glanced up into the bleachers and saw Laura in the middle of the gymnasts, a bright blonde pony tale amid the cluster of red and gold jackets and pants mid way up at the centre of the field. 


I wouldn’t have said anything to Brandon anyway.  I mean, I just didn’t have the heart to tell him that I hadn’t asked Laura to the game, and her presence probably had nothing to do with him, and everything to do with the gymnastics team. 


The thing is, there’s an odd affinity between the St. G’s rugby team and its gymnastics team, and that’s a strange, strange thing.  It’s not a natural fit at all.  Our sports have no cross over athletes and virtually nothing in common.  Not only do they demand different physical skills, but they have totally different psychologies, which mean they attract totally different kinds of athletes. 


Rugby’s a team sport, where the team as a whole can rise above the skills of the individual players, and compensate for individual weaknesses.  A team of mediocre players that knows how to work together can beat a team of stars who won’t, which is how that game ended up playing out.  Man for man, the other team was better than us—but they just couldn’t seem to pull it together that day, whereas everything just clicked for us.  It’s like that sometimes.


Gymnastics is just the opposite.  Individual performance is everything—stars can and do rise above a mediocre team.  When you’re actually competing, it’s just you—no one can cover your mistakes or compensate for your weaknesses.  That’s why Laura, who could have gone to a top US school on full scholarship but chose to stay closer to home, can still win gold in competition when her team doesn’t make the podium.


It’s not that team sports don’t have room for stars, or that individual sports don’t rely on the psychology of team support.  They do.  But in the end, it really comes down to the differences between primary emphasis on the strength of the group vs. primary emphasis on the strength of the individual.  The rugby guys are pretty much team players who get off on the whole “one for all” thing, while gymnasts are more individualists who, at least to me, seem to compete more against themselves than anyone else, and the team aspect is really support—all for one .


But as different as we were—and you could put all the guys on both teams in a room stark naked and have no trouble picking out who was on what team at a glance just by body type and musculature, never mind psychology—the rugby team and the gymnastics team at St. G’s were, as I said, really close.  We hung out together from time to time, and my friendship with Laura wasn’t the only deep friendship between the two teams. 


Admittedly, it started with nothing but proximity.  The gymnasts happen to train at the gym right next to our assigned weight room, and their early morning practice hours happen to coincide with the period when that particular weight room was assigned exclusively to the rugby boys.  Because so many of us live in residence, we’re up at the same time, and are often pretty much the only people in the cafeterias that early.  So we often eat together, head over to the athletic complex together, share the same locker and shower rooms.  All of which means we get to talking, and commiserating, and, well, all that bonding stuff, I guess. 


That’s one reason the teams are close.


The other is girls.  The gymnastics team is co-ed, and, man, even I could appreciate the women’s strong, lithe bodies.  And the rigours of the sport and competition had also given them a mental toughness and determination that meant they could handle the bull-headed rugby boys with one hand tied behind their backs.  By Thanksgiving, half of them were dating rugby players.


So… that camaraderie between the two teams was the real reason Laura was at the regional rugby championship that Saturday afternoon.  The entire gymnastics team had shown up to cheer us on.  But to hear Brandon tell it, it was only Laura, and she was only there for him.  And if he was happy to give me at least some of the credit, well, I could live with that.


As expected, I sat on the bench, cheering the guys on, studying the plays, figuring out the other guys’ strategies so I could share that later in the locker room.  We were on fire, playing like we had nothing to lose—which, of course, we didn’t.  I mean, no one had even expected us to get this far. 


And Bran was everywhere.  I had wondered at first if his awareness of Laura would interfere with his game, but it didn’t.  If anything, he was even more intense.  The gymnasts were sitting opposite our bench, and I was able to watch Laura some.  It was hard to tell, but it did seem to me that she was following Bran on the field. 


That’s what I would tell him, I decided.  I really liked the idea of Bran and Laura, my two best straight friends, as a couple.  I intended to give their relationship all the help and encouragement I could. 


There were maybe five minutes left in the second half, and we were up solidly by two tries when a weird catch put Jay Peterson, our blindside flanker, out with a hand injury.  I’m Jay’s backup, and I was given the nod to replace him on the field.  As I left the bench, my eye was caught by a solitary figure, tall and slender, standing alone at the edge of the bleachers.  His red scarf seemed to burn against the black of his leather jacket. 


He hadn’t been visible from the bench, which I’m sure was deliberate.  I was willing to bet that Josh had never been to a rugby game in his life, and I felt a little stab of warmth at seeing him there. 




It was hours later when Bran and I found ourselves in the corner of the student union, more or less alone with a pitcher of beer and a table full of empties.  The rest of the team had moved on to a sports bar in town that was sponsoring a victory party for us, and Bran and I would be joining them shortly.  We were waiting for the gymnasts.  They’d had a special practice with a visiting Chinese coach, but at least half of them had promised to make it back to the Student Union by nine.  We could have left a message for them to head over to the bar, but Bran and I opted to wait and head over with them.  Bran was hoping Laura was gonna come, and I was there to catch him if she didn’t. 


We were both in that delightful euphoric stage of victory, no longer sober but not quite pissed, with just enough beer in us to make the words flow free.


“Do you think she’ll come?  I think she’ll come,” he said, and he sounded sweetly hopeful and fearful at the same time.  “I mean, she came to the game, after she said she wouldn’t.  That’s something, right?”


“Right,” I agreed, not mentioning the whole gymnastics team thing. 


“Which means she might, just might, be interested,” he continued, somewhat uncertainly.


I did the loyal friend thing.  I held out hope.  “Yeah.  Sure.  I mean—she didn’t have to come, right?”


“Right.  She didn’t have to come.  Do you think she’ll come?  I think she’ll come.”


I managed not to laugh as we both stared at our beers.


“She had dinner with me last night.”




“Yeah.  Well,” he amended.  “She let me sit with her in the caf.  You weren’t there.”


Now I did laugh.  “No, I wasn’t.  And?”


“And she talked to me.  I mean—not just single words.  Actual sentences.  Looking at me and everything.”


I just shook my head.  “I guess that’s progress.”


“It is,” he said earnestly.  “I mean, it’s a long way from first base, but remember a week ago she pretty much ran away just because I asked you to introduce us.”


Well, that was true enough.


“So, Scott, if she does come tonight, will you do me a favour?”


I waited.


“If she does come, will you, um, kind of leave early?  So maybe I could walk her home?”


I couldn’t help laughing.  “Geez, Bran, I wish you could hear yourself.  You sound like a fifties teen movie.”


He laughed, too.  “I know.  But what else am I gonna do?  If I’m going to get close to this girl, I’ve got a feeling it’s gonna take some slow and serious effort.”


I thought about Laura in my room that morning, and I knew he was right.  “So she didn’t say anything about what her bad experience was, I guess.”


“No, we didn’t get that personal.  We just talked a bit about home, our families, that sort of stuff.  Actually, mostly I talked.  But she did join in a little bit.  Eventually.”


“In self defence,” I laughed.


We drank some more beer, and conversation wandered back to game highlights while we watched the door for the gymnasts.


“So, are you gonna tell me about that guy?” Brandon asked suddenly, taking me totally by surprise.


“Tell you about what guy?”


“Oh, come on Scott.  You know what guy.  The one in the car this morning.  The one dropping you off.  I was out for a little run—nothing strenuous, just loosening up, getting rid of a little tension.  I ran right by the car.  I saw you.  Didn’t you see me?”


Shit.  Shit, shit shit.  What else had Brandon seen?


I thought of how Josh and I had parted that morning.  We were up really early, and after separate showers, shared a quick and quiet breakfast in his small kitchen.  We didn’t say much.  There seemed to be both too much and too little to say. 


He’d offered to drive me back to the residence, and I accepted, because the buses were really irregular on Saturday morning.  We hadn’t talked much in the car either.  But when he pulled up in front of my place, I’d turned to him and, despite my best intentions not to touch him, found myself reaching a hand to his cheek, caressing it gently.


He was very still, and didn’t say anything.




He just looked at me, calmly.


“Josh, I need—”  I wasn’t quite sure how to express what I needed.


He nodded, raised his hand to mine and touched it with two fingers.  “I know,” he said.  “You need some space.  Some time to think.”


So he could read my mind, too. 


“Yeah,” I said, with a grateful sigh.  “But whatever happens, I want you to know, I’ll never forget last night.”


His sensuous mouth curved into a slight smile.  “Me neither, Big Guy.”


I ran my thumb along his bottom lip. 


He leaned over and kissed my mouth, not passionately but not chastely either, just kind of seriously, like he meant it.


I was the one who deepened the kiss. 


It was my tongue that demanded his mouth, my teeth that nipped and grazed, my hands that found themselves clinging to his leather-clad shoulders.  He opened to me, and his mouth had tasted like heaven.  But when we pulled apart, his control had been firmly back in place.  Only the intensity of his green eyes had given any hint that I’d reached him. 


“I’m not going to call you,” he said.  “I’ll wait until you’re ready to call me.  But do it, whatever you decide.  Because even if it’s Luc, I’m here for you.  And if it is Luc, I think you’re going to need me to be.”


I didn’t know what to say.  At that moment, I hadn’t wanted to think about Luc. 


He shook his head.  “Luc’s a big mistake for you, Scott.  And this isn’t about me.  It’s about you.  You’re a romantic.  A rescuer.  You might think you’re falling in love with him, but it’s for all the wrong reasons.  I’m so afraid you’re headed for major heartbreak if you take that road.”


I didn’t want to listen.  I pulled him back to me a little roughly and kissed his mouth again.  Then I got out of the car and slammed the door.  I hadn’t seen a soul around, but I hadn’t really looked.


“Just a friend,” I said, but Brandon just looked at me sceptically.  Clearly he’d seen something.


“I don’t know, bud.  I’m sitting here pouring my heart out to you, and you’re like a clam.  You can talk to me.  I mean, if you’ve met someone, I want to know.  I want to be happy for you.  I know you’re gay.  If you spent the night with some hot guy, you can tell me.  I’m really ok with it.”


“Well, I’m not,” I said, and I was surprised at how angry I sounded. 


Brandon looked kind of confused. 


“Look,” I said.  “I don’t believe in one night stands, ok?  A lot of gay guys screw around, but not me.  Not me.  The only guy I’d ever been with was David, my high school boyfriend.  You know all about that.”


“Uh, yeah,” he aid cautiously.  “So who was the guy in the car?”


I sighed and looked down at my hands.  “His name is Josh Templeton.  He’s a graduate student.  And I—I spent the night with him.”


Bran was quiet for a moment.  Then he said, as softly as he could, given the noise in the place, “Scott?  You wanna talk about this?”


“Not really.”


“Well, I kinda think maybe you need to.”


I didn’t say anything for awhile, and he just waited.


“Look,” I said finally.  “I’m not sure if it was a one night stand.  He doesn’t want it to be.  And I just don’t know.  Fuck.  I do know that I’m not ok with it.  I’m really not ok with it.”


Between the beer and the enormity of what I’d just admitted out loud, suddenly I just felt that burning at the back of your throat that meant you were going to cry—and I’m not really much for that. 


Pisses me off. 


Makes me want to hit something.


Bran reached across the table and put his hand on my arm.  “It’s ok, man.  It’s ok.  We can talk about this.  But not now.  Look!”


And I swear his face actually lit up.  I turned around to see the gymnastics team coming through the door of the student union.  Laura was with them.


“We’ll go for breakfast tomorrow,” he said.  “8:00.  I’ll come by your room, and we’ll go off campus so we don’t get disturbed.”


“Eight o’clock?  You expect to be up at eight o’clock? Won’t you be sleeping off the celebration?”


His eyes were on Laura as she moved across the crowded room to our table.


“I think we’re still a long way from celebration,” he said with a grin.  “But she’s here, and that’s a good first step.”


“I meant the rugby game, asshole.”


He roared.  “Just remember your promise.”

I looked at him questioningly.


“To leave early!”






I was not happy when someone banged on my door at 7:30 the next morning.  I tried to ignore it, but it just got louder and more insistent.


“What?” I yelled finally.


It was Brandon.  “Come on, asshole.  Out of bed.  We’re going for breakfast, remember?”


I glanced at the clock.  It was only 7:30.  “Go away,” I said.  “We said 8.”


But he just kept banging on the door.  I knew he wouldn’t quit, so I rolled out of bed and let him in.


“You’re too fucking early,” I said, and I meant it. 


“Well, good morning to you too.”  He looked pointedly at my naked morning dick.  “At least part of you’s happy to see me.”


I told him to fuck off as I headed for the shower.  I meant that, too.


I was feeling a little more human when I emerged ten minutes later, but not by much.  It had been a long and mostly sleepless night, as I’d tried to work through what the fuck had happened with Josh and how I felt about it. 


And how I felt about him. 


I was no further ahead now than I’d been when I went to bed the night before.


Well, a maybe little further.


I was pretty sure I wasn’t ashamed of myself for what had happened—at least, not the way I imagined I’d be ashamed if I’d allowed myself to be picked up by some guy for a night of mindless sex.  That was not what had happened.  Something about it had felt incredibly right, and still felt right now.  Or it least it didn’t feel wrong. 


When I thought of his face as I went into him, it still felt incredibly, beautifully right.  Surely that’s not how I’d feel if I’d just been indulging in some random one night stand.  I mean, I didn’t feel slutty.  I felt confused, and somehow a little…raw.  Hurt.  Maybe even sad.


But I could recognize that something real had happened between us, something that was a lot more than sex—though that had been pretty spectacular.  I just didn’t know what it was, or how I felt about it.


Was that what Josh had meant by no regrets?


“You’re awful bloody cheerful,” I said to Bran, who lay back on my bed watching me as I pulled on some clothes.  In the mirror above my dresser, I could see he still had that shit eating grin.  “I’m guessing you made a little progress last night.”


“Little being the operative word,” he said.  “But yeah.  Definitely progress.”


“What?  She let you walk her home?” I asked with a touch of sarcasm.


“Yeah.  And—”


“And what?  Hold her hand?  Kiss her goodnight?” 


If it had been any other girl but Laura, I’d probably have added ‘fuck her silly,’ but it was Laura, and if Bran had fooled around with her, well, I’d just have to kill him.


He smiled at my reflection.  “She’s so incredibly sweet,” he said, with a wistful smile that was… also so incredibly sweet.


I couldn’t help laughing.  Incredible, yeah.  But sweet was about the last adjective I’d use to describe my munchkin.  Tough.  Dedicated.  Feisty, even.  But sweet?


“So you got past the bad experience?” I asked curiously.


The smile died.  “No.  We’re a long way from there,” he said quietly.  “But I will get there.”


I turned around to look at him.  “Bran—”


He looked straight into my eyes, and was very serious.  “I know.  She’s like your sister.  And you’ll have my nuts if I hurt her.  But I won’t, Scott.  I swear, I’ll be careful.”  He laughed ruefully.  “She’s really gotten to me, you know.  I mean—I dated Vanessa for three years, and we… well, you know.  I thought I was in love with her.  But I haven’t even kissed Laura, and I can’t stop thinking about what that would be like.  I’ve just never felt like this before.”


I started to laugh.  I couldn’t help it.  He was just so fucking cute.


“Come on,” he said, standing up and heading for the door.  “We’ve got my love life heading for the right track.  Let’s see what we can do about yours.”




We went to Lucky’s for breakfast.  Lucky’s is your basic hole in the wall in a strip mall not far from campus.  Mostly it’s known for take away Chinese and pizza, but they do a great greasy spoon breakfast as well, hungry man specials.  Eggs, bacon, and mounds and mounds of toast and home fries.  Bad on a regular basis—but heaven every now and then.


We ate like only two rugby players the morning after the big game can eat.


Then I talked, and Brandon listened.


“So.  Let me get this straight,” he said when I’d finished.  “There are two guys in your life, and you need to choose between them.”


I just looked at him blankly.  Choose between them?  I wasn’t that far yet.  I was still back on square one, trying to understand them.  And me.  And how I felt about them.


“Come on, Scott, work with me here.  Either you’re looking for a relationship, or you’re looking to fuck around.  Since you’re so upset about last night, I have to assume that you want a relationship.  Besides, I don’t think you’re the type to fuck around.  Am I right?”


Ok.  That much I knew.  I nodded.


“Good.  So then the next question is, is one of these guys the right guy?”


I know it sounds kind of dumb, but I hadn’t actually thought about it that way.  I mean, in terms of whether one of them was right for me.  I was still trying to figure out what it was that they needed, and if I could be right for them.  Especially Luc, who was just so incredibly fucked up. 


I found myself thinking about what Josh had said—that if I was falling for Luc, it was for all the wrong reasons.


“I don’t know,” I said slowly. 


Bran gave me one of those straight guy are-you-out-of-your-fuckin-mind looks. 


“What do you mean, you don’t know?  How hard can that be?  You want to be in a relationship.  There are two guys you’re attracted to, and who seem to be attracted to you.  Is one of them the right guy for you to be in a relationship with?  I mean—I know we haven’t worked out the answer yet, but that’s gotta be the next question, right?”


Talk about your linear, analytical mind. 


“Yeah,” I said.  “I guess.” 


“You guess?  Fuck, man, it’s that, or you’re just thinking with your dick.  And I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt here.  I know a lot of guys who get all screwed up because they think with their dicks.”  He grinned at me.  “They’re all straight guys, but I can’t see how that’s any different.  And I don’t think you’re the kind of guy who thinks with his dick, either.”


“Uh, no.  I try not to.”


“Fine.  So here’s where we stand.  Two guys.  Number one is Josh.  You’re good friends, and last night for the first time, after three months of friendship, you had sex and it was good.”


That was all I told him.  I swear.  No details.


“Um, yeah.”


“And he’s kind of told you he’s in love with you.”




“Ok.  And then there’s this other guy—what’s his name?”


“I told you, he’s not out, man.  I can’t tell you who it is.”


He just shrugged.  “Like I care.  It’s not like I’m not gonna figure it out, you know.  But anyway, on the other hand, there’s this other guy, who’s not out.  You’re friends with him, too.  But he’s got major issues, which you haven’t really figured out yet, and you don’t really know how he feels about you.”


“I think I know how he feels…"


“How can you?” he asked.  “From what you’ve told me, it doesn’t sound like he knows how he feels himself.”


I thought about it for a second.  “Maybe,” I conceded.


We picked it all apart for awhile.  But in the end, Bran asked me two questions that really got to me.


The first one was about Luc. 


“Look,” he said.  “Clearly this guy’s got problems.  And I’ll take your word for it that being gay is somehow at the centre of them.  And I know you really like him, and you really want to help him deal with whatever it is that’s got his head screwed up.  But the question is—do you need to be in a relationship with him to do that?  I mean, can’t you just be his friend?”


It was an awfully good question.


So was the second one, which I guess was really pretty obvious.


“Don’t you think you should keep your hands off both of ‘em til you figure out what it is you want?”


Bran’s pretty smart for a straight guy.



I spent the rest of the day in my room, reading and working on a paper.  After lunch, I called my parents to tell them about the game.  My Dad was really pleased for me, especially when he found out I got to play at the end.


“Do you think you’ll be playing in the final?” he asked. 


“I’d love to,” I said.  “But I kind of hope not.  It depends on Jay’s hand.  This is his last year, and he deserves to be the one playing.”


Late in the afternoon, my cell phone rang.  It was Luc.  And, yeah, my heart did beat a little faster when I recognize his voice.  He was talking fast, and the French cadence was stronger than usual.


“Would you… would you come to dinner with me tonight?” he asked.  “I’ll pick you up and bring you back.”


I breathed deeply, and thought about what Brandon had said.  “I don’t know, Luc.  I think maybe it’s better—”


“Please, Scott.  I behaved very badly last week.  I was not fair to you.  I know that.  I’ve been in Halifax for the weekend with my brother, and it was all that I could think about.  That I was not fair to you.  Please.”


In the end I agreed, and he picked me up at six. 


All I could think about as we rode the elevator up to his floor was that just two nights ago I’d ridden this same elevator with another black haired man, and I was not the same person anymore.