Calling the Ball
CL Mustafic © 2018
All Rights Reserved
Strong hands gripped Henrick’s slim hips and lifted him, effectively breaking the connection between him and the man beneath. Henrick slumped forward to land on the broad chest of his current lover, Klaus, who easily rolled them to the side before completely disengaging and getting out of bed. Henrick sighed and rolled onto his stomach.
“Going to shower.” The way Klaus said it made clear there wasn’t an invitation for Henrick to join him hidden in the words—not that he’d expected Klaus to ask him to share the shower, but a change in routine wouldn’t hurt.
Henrick grunted in acknowledgment and folded his arms under his head as the shower started in the adjoining room. He was beginning to drift off just a little by the time Klaus emerged from the bathroom, vigorously rubbing his short brown hair with a towel. Klaus threw the used linen onto the bedroom floor before bending to retrieve his boxers. Henrick watched as the muscular man pulled them up over long, well-toned legs, but then to Henrick’s surprise, Klaus sat on the bed, stretched out, and leaned against the headboard near Henrick’s feet. He reached for the remote and turned on the television.
“Are you going to shower?” he asked, as he settled on a sports channel.
“Mmmm, probably, but don’t want to move yet.” Henrick almost purred when Klaus started stroking his thigh absentmindedly as he watched the sports news.
“Wore you out, did I?” Klaus couldn’t hide the hint of pride in his voice. Henrick snorted but nodded—never hurt to stroke a man’s ego a little. “Rest a bit then.”
Henrick was once again half-asleep when Klaus’s softly muttered “What’s the jackass done this time?” startled him awake.
“Who?” Henrick knew Klaus was passionate about his football and followed several of the players on his favorite teams.
“Alessi. That ass is in trouble again.”
Henrick studied his bed partner’s profile as the sports news anchor’s voice announced in the tone – of what Henrick thought was barely disguised glee—they reserved for bad news.
“Valentino Alessi, the bad boy of the Bundesliga, is at it again. This morning, headlines across Europe were accompanied by pictures of the league’s number-one striker entering a hotel room in Rome with two girls who, upon further investigation, turned out to be underaged. Articles in both the Sun Times of London and the Morning Press of Rome detailed the entire event from when Alessi met the girls in the hotel restaurant until he exited their hotel room over two hours later. The girls’ names haven’t been released, since they are minors, but so far the children’s parents have not responded to repeated requests from the media as to their awareness of the incident. Roman police chief, Antonio Scalari, said in a statement to press that the situation is being looked into, and if it is deemed necessary, the appropriate charges will be filed. This isn’t the first time Alessi’s come under fire for his indiscretions in the bedroom. It’s only been a year and a half since Paulo Gianotti stepped…”
“I hope that bastard gets what’s coming to him,” Klaus growled, drowning out the news anchor.
“I’m sure they need to wait until all the facts are in before they can hang the man.” Henrick pushed himself up and got out of bed. He was no fan of Valentino Alessi, but he wasn’t ready to pronounce guilt on the say-so of the media. “I’m going to shower now.” Klaus waved him away and turned his attention back to the TV after only one quick glance at Henrick’s ass.
After showering, Henrick was prepared to dress and leave since that was how his hookups with Klaus usually went, but he was surprised to find Klaus still lying on the bed in his underwear when he’d finished in the bathroom. Henrick stepped up to the side of the bed next to Klaus and looked down at him. “Aren’t we leaving?”
Klaus put a finger inside the towel cinched around Henrick’s waist and pulled him closer. “I thought maybe we could order some dinner from room service. We need to talk.” One hand wandered across Henrick’s hip and then back to squeeze one of his ass cheeks.
Henrick didn’t like the sound of that. Neither the getting a meal together after sex nor the “we need to talk” was anything Henrick wanted to hear out of Klaus’s mouth. They never spent any time out of the bed together after sex unless it was on the rare business trip they took together where they ended up sharing a room. The last time they’d needed to talk, Klaus told Henrick he was dating Lydia in accounting. So needing to talk never meant anything good. The two things combined caused a deep sense of foreboding to creep into Henrick’s body.
“You don’t have to buy me dinner to tell me it’s over.” Henrick tried not to sound upset at the prospect.
Klaus released Henrick’s ass and grabbed his hand instead as he tried to turn away. “Who said it was over?”
“Did you rent the room for the whole night?” Henrick asked as his breath quickened.
Klaus frowned. “I did because I thought it being Friday and all that we could make a night of it.” He made it sound as if it was something they did all the time.
Henrick shook his head. “No, the last time we spent an entire night together was when you convinced me that you dating Lydia was just for your public image so it wasn’t really cheating when we were together.” The sour taste in his mouth proved just how dirty it still made him feel to be fucking a man who was in a relationship—fake or not. If Henrick had been in Lydia’s place, he wouldn’t see it as any less than cheating on Klaus’s part.
Releasing Henrick’s hand, Klaus turned to sit on the side of the bed. “It’s not cheating. I’m not in love with her, and you know that. But I can’t get anywhere with the company if I’m not on track socially. Do you think I want to be stuck in this position forever? If I want to move up, I need to do something that will make it easier for me to do so.”
Henrick turned away from Klaus because he knew what they needed to talk about now, and he didn’t want Klaus to see the tears he knew would come after Klaus said the words. “Okay, so tell me what it is exactly you need to do to get that promotion you want so badly.”
Klaus cleared his throat, a nervous habit that meant bad news was on its way. It was one Henrick knew all too well. “I’ve asked Lydia to marry me.”
Henrick deflated, and his shoulders sagged under the weight of rejection. It was what he’d expected but had hoped wouldn’t happen. “So that’s it then. This was supposed to be some kind of last hurrah before you went off to find wedded bliss in the arms of a woman you claim to have no feelings for.” He couldn’t pretend that he didn’t care because he did—a lot.
Suddenly Klaus was behind him. Henrick tried to step away, but he was no match for the powerful arms holding him against a sturdy body almost twice his size. “Henrick, there’s no need to be so dramatic. Nothing has to change between us. I still want you, and I can always get away to meet up with you.” As if that was the answer to all the problems Henrick had with him marrying Lydia. Henrick realized Klaus just didn’t get it.
He struggled, but Klaus wouldn’t let him go free. “Klaus, let me go. If you marry Lydia, this is the last time you’ll be with me. I won’t fuck a married man. You know I had issues even when you were just dating her, but once you take vows I can’t in good conscience help you cheat on her.” Klaus finally released him with a little shove that made him stumble before he caught his balance.
“You can’t blackmail me into not marrying her. If it’s you or her, then I’ll choose her,” Klaus spat bitterly.
“I’m not trying to blackmail you. I knew this thing we had was just sex. You were never in it for anything other than getting off as often and as quickly as possible. You made that abundantly clear, but I’m still not going to be your something on the side when you’re a married man.” Each word that came out of his mouth stabbed him a little deeper because he’d hoped one day Klaus would change his mind and actually want a real relationship.
“You’re being unreasonable, Henrick. What difference do a few words and a couple of rings make?” Klaus rubbed at his stubbled jaw in obvious frustration.
Turning to look Klaus in the eyes, Henrick wanted to make sure his words were heard clearly and understood fully. “They make a world of difference to me.” They meant his dream of one day being the one Klaus chose to have a life with was over. He’d have to stop kidding himself about there being anything behind those occasional soft looks Klaus gave him. He needed to move on because now that Klaus had actually said he’d choose Lydia when push came to shove, he knew he would never come in first in Klaus’s life, and surely he deserved to be number one in someone’s life.
“You’re making this all about you. What about what I need? Do you ever think about how difficult this is for me?” Klaus sounded like a petulant child.
The anger rose hard and fast in Henrick’s chest. “Are you kidding me? All I ever do is think about what you want. You wanted to keep this on the down low, so I haven’t told a single soul about who I’m always sneaking out to see. For over two years now, I’ve kept your secret. You wanted to keep this thing between us just physical, no emotions, just meaningless sex, and I went along with that too. But you’ve crossed the line now by asking me to do something against my morals, so what—so that you can have the best of both worlds?” Henrick wanted to throw the question back in Klaus’s face and ask, What about me? What about what he wanted? But he didn’t because he knew Klaus didn’t care about anyone except himself.
He’d kept his voice low to avoid sounding shrill and hysterical, but he could feel himself balancing on the edge of a cliff. Bending to pick up his discarded clothes, he knew he needed to get out of the room before he said something that would reveal his feelings to Klaus. It didn’t matter how hard he’d tried to keep his emotions out of the bedroom, somewhere along the way he’d fallen in love with the big clueless oaf. If Henrick were being honest, Klaus’s obliviousness to his feelings hurt more than his finally choosing Lydia.
Klaus grabbed ahold of Henrick’s shirt as he tried to pull it over his head, making him scowl at the other man, but Klaus didn’t let go as he started talking. “Just stay for a bit. We can talk this through, and you’ll see that I’m not asking you to do anything more than what you have been doing. I like you, Henrick. I enjoy the time we’ve spent together. I realize I should have given you more to keep you happy with our arrangement. I’ve been selfish. I see that now, and I’m prepared to give you more of what you need. We can spend more time together, not just fucking; maybe we can catch a movie or a game, sort of like a date.”
Klaus’s voice had taken on a wheedling quality, which Henrick hated because he almost always gave in to it. Not this time, he told himself, as he ripped his shirt out of Klaus’s grasp. He wanted to scream that it was too little too late in Klaus’s face, but he held back. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea. What if someone starts questioning you hanging out with the gay guy from the office? What will your wife think of that?” Henrick sneered instead as he pulled the shirt on. After jamming his legs into his jeans, he buttoned them with trembling hands as he waited for Klaus to say something more.
“Maybe you should just think about my offer and get back to me.” Klaus crossed his beefy arms over his chest and leaned against the wall as if it was no big deal that he was breaking Henrick’s heart.
“Oh, I’ll think about it all right.” Henrick’s anger boiled over into rage, and he needed to get out of there, away from Klaus to somewhere he could let his emotions out. “I’ll think about it while I’m out cruising for a new cock.” He stuffed his socks into his jeans pockets and his bare feet into his shoes before turning on his heel and opening the door.
“You’ll regret leaving like this, Henrick. I know you have feelings for me—”
Stepping into the hallway, Henrick slammed the door on whatever else Klaus had been about to say. He was done hiding in the closet with someone who didn’t even love him enough to make it worth the hassle of keeping it a secret. After exiting the hotel, he flagged down a taxi, gave his address to the driver, and sat back in the seat to avoid conversation with the cabbie so he could think. He needed to fix his life. He had plenty of friends and friends-with-benefits all over Europe, but that wasn’t enough anymore. Henrick wanted someone who would put him first for once—someone who loved him more than everything else in their life. Was that asking too much, just to be the most important thing to one person? Henrick didn’t think it was and made a vow right there in the back of that cab. Henrick Kohler wasn’t going to settle for second best any longer.
Valentino Alessi slumped into the soft leather of the big chair. He knew why he’d been summoned to his agent’s office and also why the team manager was there, looking constipated while he waited for Tino to get comfortable. His agent leaned forward, elbows on the desk and hands clasped beneath his chin. Tino braced himself.
“Okay, Tino, let’s hear it. Why are there pictures of you going into and then, after a time long enough that it suggests you were not just signing a couple of autographs, coming out of a hotel room with two underaged girls on the cover of every tabloid from here to Sweden?” Bernardo Calivari asked the question even though he’d already heard the story from Tino earlier.
Bernardo was naturally Tino’s first call after being awakened at seven the previous morning by the ringing of his phone to find it was a reporter wanting an exclusive on the next chapter in Tino’s scandal-prone career. Bernardo was only having Tino repeat the story for the benefit of the team’s manager, Martin Trumm, who’d flown into Rome just to meet with them so he could hear Tino’s excuses in person. It was a show and Tino knew he had to play along.
“They came up to me in the hotel’s restaurant and asked me if I’d go back to their room to meet their little brother who’s terminally ill. I went. The parents were in the room with the kid. All you have to do is call them and ask.” Tino was concise and to the point as he watched Martin’s face for a reaction, but the guy was unreadable as always.
“You know who that family was, right?” Martin asked.
“I do now.” And Tino knew why there was such an uproar because Herr Friedberg was the owner of one of the most successful snack food companies in Germany, but he was also a very private man. When he met the man, Tino had no idea he was in the presence of such power and wealth. The family had been polite, and the young boy was just as starstruck by a famous footballer as any other eleven-year-old boy Tino had met.
“Then you know that if this turns sour you’ll be in a very bad position,” Martin said.
“Like I said, all you have to do is call Herr Friedberg, and he should be able to tell you he was there along with his family when I went into that room.” Tino had no idea why making a phone call to clear his name seemed to be such a hardship for the two men.
Bernardo cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention. “I’ve already tried contacting Herr Friedberg’s office in Berlin but was informed that he’s handed operations over to his partner for the time being. I asked if there was a way to get in touch with him, but I was informed that Herr Friedberg and his family have taken a vacation to their private island. The only way to contact them there is to send a message along on the ferry that goes out to the island carrying supplies every other day, but the man himself left instructions that they are not to be disturbed for any reason.” Bernardo pulled a couple of papers out of a stack and looked at them before he shook his head and lay them back down. “Apparently his sickly son has taken a turn for the worse, and the family has gone there to grant his final wish to visit his favorite place one last time. I’m not sure how reliable my source is on this last bit, but I’ve been told that the boy is not expected to live much longer, and I don’t think it would be wise to try to contact—”
“But just a quick call couldn’t hurt,” Tino interrupted. He knew it was selfish, but he was only thinking of all the crap about to come his way over the press’s allegations if something wasn’t done quickly.
Bernardo’s lips turned down in a frown as he looked at Tino. “The man’s son is dying, Tino. I realize this will be harmful to your reputation, but I believe we must wait until Herr Friedberg returns. Though a phone call will save you from this”—waving his hand over his tabloid-covered desk, Bernardo made clear what he was talking about—“interrupting a family granting their child’s last wish will make you seem cruel and heartless, and that may do more damage to your reputation than you can reasonably recover from.”
Tino sighed and let his head drop back on the chair. Bernardo was right, but it just added to the big mess the situation was bound to become. No, not a mess—a complete catastrophe—if his name wasn’t cleared right away. Tino had only been trying to do something nice for a sick kid, and now he was looking like the world’s biggest slimeball who fancied a bit of underaged flesh. “Fine, then what should I do?” Tino asked without looking at either man to indicate to whom the question had been directed.
“Well, the GFA has already convened and decided that a suspension is the appropriate course of action on their part until you can prove these allegations are false,” Martin said. Tino sat up and sent a glare in his direction. He couldn’t decide if Martin was happy about the news, or if the slight lift of the corner of his mouth was just his disgust showing.
“So I’m out, then, until we can clear my name.” Tino had figured as much when Martin hightailed it to Rome on the redeye, but he’d still held out hope.
Martin nodded. “It’s best if you lie low for a bit.”
“And what exactly should I do to accomplish that? No matter where I go people know who I am, and add to that the reporters have already started following me around, so how do you propose I lie low?” Tino was agitated, but he had to keep his cool. Clenching his fists so his fingernails bit into his palms helped a little.
“Take a vacation; go see your family. Just stay away from the reporters and keep your nose clean,” Bernardo said as Martin nodded in agreement.
They’d obviously discussed Tino’s fate before he’d joined them and decided he should hide out instead of facing the press. It pissed Tino off because he believed it only made him look guilty, but handling these sorts of things was what he paid his agent to do. It was Bernardo’s job to determine what was best for Tino’s career, and even if Tino detested the advice, he usually took it and came out better for it.
“Fine, I guess you have it figured out. I don’t even know why I needed to drive all the way in here. You could have just emailed me my directives,” Tino said with a small amount of animosity.
“Tino, you know I’m only looking out for your best interests, and a scandal like this could carry over even after your name has been cleared. You were already under the microscope after the Paulo fiasco. One would think you’d have learned your lesson and made sure nothing you do can be misconstrued by the press. Remember our little talk about looking over your shoulder at all times?” Bernardo asked.
“Yeah I remember. I also remember how that one ended.”
“Me too. You came out of that one looking like a saint, but it put your love life on their radar. You should have known that you, plus a hotel, plus a couple of nice-looking young women would draw them to you like flies to shit. Now, you need to just give this some time to blow over. When we hear anything about Herr Friedberg’s situation, we’ll make sure we waste no time in getting a statement from him. Until then, Tino, son, take my advice and try to stay out of the spotlight.” Bernardo stood and rounded the desk to stand in front of Tino.
“What your agent is really trying to say is, keep it in your pants for once, and everything will eventually work out. They always do for guys like you,” Martin said snidely.
Tino nodded and bit his tongue. Getting into a pissing contest with the manager of his team was not going to get him anywhere. “Fine, I’ll go.” Tino stood and shook Martin’s hand quickly and then turned to Bernardo. “Please let me know as soon as there’s any news.” He shook Bernardo’s hand, but the big burly agent pulled him into a surprise hug.
“You’re a good boy, Tino. I know you’re telling me the truth and you know why I do, but to clear your name in that way would only do more damage than good,” Bernardo said into Tino’s ear low enough so Martin couldn’t eavesdrop.
Pulling out of Bernardo’s arms, Tino inclined his head to acknowledge he understood. “I know. Don’t worry. It never even crossed my mind.” He assured his agent with a smooth lie, but he had thought about coming out and ending the speculation on the matter and clearing his name at the same time—that being gay was at least better than being thought to be a pedophile, but apparently he’d been wrong.
Bernardo looked relieved as he smiled. “Okay, well then, I guess we’re done here for today. Tino, let me know where you decide to go, so I know how to get ahold of you.” Bernardo made meaningful eye contact with Tino before turning to Martin. “You and I still have a bit of business to attend to.” Martin nodded and took the seat Tino had vacated.
Tino knew when he was being dismissed, so he went to the door but hesitated before opening it. “I think I’ll take that vacation you mentioned.”
“That’s good, Tino. Go get some rest and try to relax a bit,” Bernardo said, but his tone was dismissive, telling Tino he’d already moved on to the next order of business.
Tino left the office building and waited for the valet to bring his car around to the front. The smile on the guy’s face as he pulled up in Tino’s Lamborghini made Tino grin in return. The guy jumped out and held out the keys. “This is the greatest car ever, signor Alessi,” the young man said enthusiastically.
Tino took the keys, dug in his pocket for a tip, and handed over the bill he’d fished out. “Thanks for taking care of her for me.” Tino slid into the driver’s seat of the low-riding car.
“No problem, signor Alessi.” The kid put his hand on the door as if to shut it but then leaned down to make eye contact. “You know I don’t believe what they’re saying about you on the Internet.”
Tino tried to make the wan smile on his face look a bit more believable before he said, “Thanks, that means a lot coming from a fan.”
The kid chuckled. “Oh I’m not a fan. I’m a Real Madrid guy all the way, but I still think it’s crap. Have a nice day, signor Alessi.” He slammed the door before Tino could respond to his little dig.
Tino pulled onto the crowded narrow street and headed out toward the interstate. He decided to drop by his family’s vineyard, but it was only a short stop on his way to his final destination. He was going to take a vacation as soon as he could get it set up, but he figured he may as well see his family.
He had plenty of time to think on the drive across the country to his parents’ vineyard outside of Bari. Tino was too young to be thinking about retirement. At twenty-nine, he was at the peak of his career, with at least another five years of playing to look forward to, but the thought of being able to live his life free of public scrutiny was getting more and more appealing with every passing kilometer. He came to one decision he believed would make his life feel more real to him and decided there was no time like the present to start making some changes.
He hit the button to turn on his Bluetooth and another to call his parents’ house. The ringing on the other end of the line filled the small interior of the car with sound. After four rings, Tino was about to give up hope that his call would be answered, but the ringing ended abruptly and a laugh came down the line.
“Hello, Tino, is that you?” his mother’s voice asked after the laughing stopped.
“Yeah, Mama, it’s me. What’s going on?”
“Oh, nothing. I was just cooking dinner and your niece decided to help. The flour canister is still a bit bigger than she is though.” Another chortle, and then after a short pause, the mirth was gone when she asked, “So what’s new with you?”
“Mama, I know you’ve seen the papers.” He hated the way she worried about him over the things they said in the papers, but it was something he’d learned long ago he had no control over.
“I have seen the papers, but you know we never believe what they write about you.”
“I know, Mama, and I’m happy you don’t. Listen, I’m heading your way right now. I’m about an hour away, but I was wondering if it would be possible to get the whole family over tonight.” Tino’s palms were sweaty on the wheel as he waited for her answer. He was really going to do it if she could gather everyone on short notice.
“Oh I’m so happy you’re coming for a visit, and of course, I can get everyone over, but I need to go so I can make some more tortellini or there won’t be enough. See you soon, honey,” she said before abruptly hanging up.
Tino smiled a real smile for the first time that day. It was just like his mama to forget her phone manners when there was about to be a food shortage. Tino turned on the radio and switched the station from the sports news channel to one that played rock-and-roll music. He hummed along, feeling at peace with his decision to finally tell his family he was gay. He needed their support in case things took a turn for the worse and the situation got ugly. How was he to expect them to stand behind him if they didn’t know what they were up against?