Green Bay, Wisconsin, 1966
EDDIE pedaled his bicycle as fast as he could across the bridge and out toward the south side of town, thankful to be away from the factory and out in the fresh air.
“Hey, Baronski, you should get a car,” one of his co-workers teased as he passed Eddie by, the rumble of the powerful engine almost enough to knock him off his bike.
“Yeah, yeah,” Eddie called as he continued pounding the pedals as fast as he could. He wished he could afford a car. He was saving for one, but he hadn’t had his job long enough that anyone would extend him the credit, at least not for the one he wanted, and he wasn’t going to buy someone else’s problems, not like his mom and dad always did. Pedaling on, Eddie continued down Military Avenue, and the stadium, his destination, appeared on the horizon.
The recently renamed Lambeau Field had been built a decade earlier, and it was the undoubted pride of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Eddie’s dad had even bought a few shares of stock in the Packers when they were offered for sale a few years earlier, and he’d given them to him because no one was a bigger Packer fan than Eddie.
Pulling into the largely empty lot, he glided through parking spaces that would be filled with Fords, Chevys, and even a few Edsels come game day. Eddie coasted across the acres of pavement until he got close to the gate. After jumping off his bike, he placed it in the rack and walked to where the guard lounged in his little booth.
“Hey, George,” Eddie called as he passed by. “Am I too late?”
“Nope, they started practice ’bout an hour ago,” George said with a wave as he let Eddie pass through. Eddie made his way along empty corridors and up vacant stairwells, then down toward the field, where three heads bobbed as they watched the team practice. Eddie walked down to them, stepping sideways down the row of seats before sinking into the one next to Skip.
Eddie’s best friends were Skip, Donny, and Jack. The four of them had met the first day of junior high, and they’d been friends ever since. “How’s the world of toilet paper?” Skip asked, the way he usually did. Eddie’s dad had gotten him a job in one of the town’s many paper mills, and he’d been placed on the line that made toilet tissue. So, yes, his job was to make the stuff everybody used to wipe their butts. Of the three of them, Skip was the one who really had it made. He worked in his dad’s furniture store, and everyone knew that someday he’d take it over. Skip was twenty, and he already had his entire working life laid out in front of him. Eddie did too, but his future was doing a job that made his head want to explode from sheer boredom.
Donny leaned forward in his seat, looking down the row toward him. “You missed a great pass play,” he told Eddie. “I think they’re going to run it again.” Eddie nodded and said thanks as Donny handed over a can of soda. Donny was Skip’s younger brother, by ten minutes, and Skip never let him forget it. Donny also worked in the store, but while Donny had a head for numbers and worked in the office, Skip worked as a salesman and got closer to his father’s heart every day. Not that Donny cared. He could make numbers sing and was truly wasted in a downtown Green Bay furniture store.
“Shhh,” Jack scolded, but he smiled as he said it.
“Maybe he’d be better off deaf,” Donny cracked in a soft voice, and Eddie reached behind Skip and smacked Donny lightly on the back of the head.
Jack was the unfortunate one in the group, even if his family had money. When they were kids, Jack had had a difficult time hearing, and as he’d gotten older, he’d been able to hear less and less. The other kids had picked on him mercilessly, but he never heard half of it anyway. He wore hearing aids that sometimes whistled, and in a group like this, he often turned them off because the ambient noise drove him totally crazy. Jack was also the closest person to a brother Eddie had. When the other kids had teased him, it was Eddie who’d taken them on. Sometimes he’d won and sometimes he hadn’t, but once they became friends, no one picked on Jack with impunity. And that extended even to now. Jack was his brother in every way that counted. Eddie was an only child, and while Jack had older brothers and sisters, he was his parents’ “late in life baby,” and the other kids had been nearly out of the house by the time he and Eddie had met in junior high.
“Hey,” Donny griped, rubbing the back of his head, but Eddie simply glared at him before turning his attention to the field. The guys were running play after play, practicing for the game in a few weeks. His friends all liked Bart Starr and thought he was the cat’s meow, but Eddie watched Johnny Grant. He wasn’t one of the stars of the team, but for some reason Eddie could always pick him out of the group of players, his eyes gravitated toward Grant wherever he was on the field. Eddie knew damned well why, but he tried not to admit the truth, even to himself, because after watching an hour of practice, Eddie would have to shift in his seat a few times to hide the wood he was sporting. There was no way he could admit what he was feeling to anyone in the world. But his eyes rarely left the field as he watched Johnny run plays with the other guys.
“Bart’s doing great,” Skip said from next to him, pointing out the star of the team, and Eddie nodded, agreeing silently as he watched his own star on the field. But what he thought he loved most were the tight pants and the way Johnny kept bending over all the time. Every now and then Johnny’s practice uniform would ride up, giving Eddie the fleetingest glimpse of skin before the shirt fell back into place.
Eddie knew he was being completely ridiculous, and he knew nothing could ever come of his infatuation. And for God’s sake, no one on earth could ever know how another guy made him want things he could never have. “It’s getting late,” Skip said. “Dad wants me back at the store by seven, so I gotta go.”
“Okay,” Eddie said as he half stood to give Skip and Donny a chance to scoot by in front of him. “I’ll see you guys tomorrow.”
“Okay, Mr. Whipple,” Skip quipped, jumping out of the way before Eddie could take a swipe at him. “Don’t squeeze the Charmin.” Skip hurried away and up the stairs with Donny right behind him. Once they were gone, Jack moved over, and Eddie noticed him fiddling with his hearing aids.
“Is it better now?” Eddie asked, and Jack nodded slowly as he continued to watch the men on the field. The practice wouldn’t go on for much longer. It was starting to get dark, and while they could work out under the lights, Eddie figured they’d already been practicing for hours. Sure enough, before he could say anything to Jack, the men started walking to the sidelines, gathering their stuff and headed into what Eddie knew was the entrance to the locker room.
Jack stood, and Eddie did as well, and both of them walked up the stadium seats and through the empty corridors, their footsteps echoing off the walls until they reached the outside. “Were you able to get tickets to the game next Sunday?” Jack asked as they passed by George in his booth.
“No. I can’t afford them. You?” Eddie asked, and Jack shook his head. Both of them were lucky if they got to go to an actual game once a year, and some years they weren’t able to swing that since tickets were just that scarce. They both said good-bye to George, and he waved at them as they passed. Jack walked across the parking lot to where the old car his mother had given him was parked. They called the old Cadillac “the Boat,” because the thing was huge and rode like a land yacht.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Eddie called, and Jack continued walking toward his car. He knew Jack hadn’t heard him. Jack had told him that even with the hearing aids, according to the doctors, his hearing would continue to get worse, and in the next few years, he wouldn’t be able to hear anything at all. Eventually Jack turned around, and Eddie saw him wave. He returned it and watched Jack get into the car, and heard the engine start before his friend drove away.
Eddie walked to where he’d left his bike, got on, and pedaled twice before he realized the bike didn’t feel right. Stopping, he looked down and saw that his back tire was totally flat. “Damn it,” he swore and walked the bike back to the rack. The parking lot was empty when he looked around. Eddie returned to George’s booth, but he was gone too, the gate and doors locked up tight and the only phone around was in the closed guard booth. Eddie had no idea how he was going to get home except to walk. Figuring he had no other choice, Eddie started walking. At least it was still warm, and along the way he could probably find a pay phone to call his dad. Eddie fished in his pockets to come up with a nickel and remembered he had one tucked in the corner of his wallet. Sighing loudly, he headed toward the road on the far side of the parking lot.
Headlights shone around him, and Eddie turned as a car moved in his direction and pulled up close, the convertible top down. Eddie could hear the radio playing. He noticed the deep-red paint and white scoops along the side of the impressive sports car before he saw the man driving it—Johnny Grant, in the incredibly handsome flesh. “Is something wrong?” he asked in a deep, rich voice that sounded like Eddie’s mother’s hot chocolate felt in the middle of winter.
“I got a flat tire on my bike, so I was walking home,” Eddie said, and Johnny reached over and popped the door open.
“Hop in. I’ll give you a ride home.”
Eddie hesitated for a split second before sliding down the plush seat and closing the door. “Thank you, I appreciate the lift.” He thought about asking to take his bike, but Johnny giving him a ride was favor enough.
“No sweat,” Johnny said with a smile as he gunned the engine and they took off across the pavement toward the parking lot exit. “I see you and your friends in the seats for almost every practice.”
“We’re all big fans, but can’t afford tickets very often. My dad knows someone who knows the coach, so we get to watch the practices. The guard at the gate lets us in.” They stopped at the corner, and the air in the car got real still. Eddie got a nose full of Johnny’s rich, herbal scent, mixed with a hint of soap. He wanted to lean closer and inhale deep, but he stared ahead. Damn, he was just inches from the man who gave him wood just from thinking about him. Thankfully he’d left his shirt untucked, so he could use it to cover the huge woody he was sporting right now.
“Which way, uh….”
“Eddie,” he supplied. “Straight up Military to Dousman and turn right toward town.” Eddie was trying to figure out how he could delay getting home. When the light changed, they took off, and Eddie laughed as the wind whipped his hair. He was riding in a car with Johnny Grant.
Eddie stopped his leg from bouncing in his excitement. He kept glancing over at Johnny, trying not to be obvious, but really wanting to get a good look at him. His heart pounded so hard whenever Johnny looked at him, Eddie thought he would have a bruise in the middle of his chest. The football player’s smile was damn near breathtaking. Eddie had never thought men could be beautiful, but Johnny certainly was, or maybe he was handsome. His mother had always told Eddie that men were handsome and women were beautiful. There was definitely nothing womanly about Johnny Grant, that was for flipping sure. He was the manliest man Eddie had ever seen up close, all shoulders and chest and arms that filled his shirt sleeves. By comparison, Eddie thought he looked like a child.
“You looked great today at practice,” Eddie said, trying to come up with something to say to break the silence and at the same time didn’t make him sound like an idiot.
“Coach didn’t think so,” Johnny complained, “though sometimes he rides us just to make us try harder.”
“You caught that long pass seconds before you were gonna get clobbered,” Eddie said, remembering how Johnny had looked with his body all stretched out as he reached for the ball. He could see that image in his mind, stored away for later like the pictures in one of his mother’s photo albums, except this picture would have a very different purpose from his mom’s pictures of him taking his first steps, that was for sure. Eddie’s cock throbbed in anticipation of having some time alone with his imagination, and he shifted slightly on the seat to make sure nothing was showing.
“That was luck,” Johnny replied, and Eddie shook his head.
“You did that same thing two weeks ago during the same kind of play,” Eddie told him, and Johnny slowed down, glancing over at him with a quizzical look on his face. Eddie wondered what that expression meant, and he suddenly felt incredibly exposed, like he’d just revealed how closely he’d been watching Johnny. God, does he know why I know that? He was being ridiculous. Johnny knew that Eddie often watched practices, so he’d remember certain things. Just be cool and everything will be fine. That was if his heart didn’t explode first.
“You watch the practices that closely?” Johnny asked, and damn it all if Eddie didn’t feel himself blushing. Eddie nodded and turned away, hoping Johnny couldn’t see his red cheeks.
“I don’t get to the games much, so I tend to pay attention to the practices.”
“So you know all our plays really well?” Johnny asked, his eyes narrowing slightly.
“Yeah,” Eddie said with a shrug. He knew every play and where each player should be. “On the long running play, you keep going a little too far and the quarterback is having to overthrow to get the ball to you.” Eddie wondered if he’d said too much when he saw Johnny’s face cloud over.
“How would you…?” Johnny began, trailing off as they stopped at a light. “You know, you’re probably right. I’ve always been fast, and it never occurred to me that I could be a little too fast.” Johnny smiled at him, and Eddie’s heart jumped slightly.
“Glad I could help,” he said as the car began moving again. Eddie directed Johnny to his house, and Johnny parked the car at the curb. Eddie got out, and closed the door. “Thanks for the lift.”
“I’ll see you at practice,” Johnny said, looking at him for longer than Eddie would have expected. Eddie felt his heart jump slightly, and a fluttery feeling bloomed in his stomach. He’d felt it before, and up ’til now it had always unnerved him and he’d immediately gotten away. It usually happened around nellie boys, guys he suspected were… well, like him. But to have that same feeling around a man like Johnny was both surprising and exciting.
“Yeah, I’ll see ya.” Eddie returned the bright smile and stepped to the curb, watching as Johnny’s car screamed down the street, round taillights shining when he slowed before squealing his tires as he turned the corner. Once the car was out of sight, Eddie headed up the walk and into the house.
“You’re just in time for dinner,” his mother told him as he walked into the kitchen. “I was just about to call your father.” She opened the oven door and pulled out a casserole dish. “Did I hear a car pull up?”
Eddie grinned because he couldn’t help it. “I got a flat tire on my bike, and you’ll never guess who gave me a ride home—Johnny Grant.”
His mother carried the dish to the new Formica table and set it on a stack of hot pads. “Am I supposed to know this person?” she asked, returning to close the oven door, and then handing Eddie the plates and glasses to put on the table.
“He’s one of the Packers’s receivers.” Eddie rolled his eyes but made sure his mother didn’t see it. She hated when he did that, calling it eye sass. His mother, Rose, was only four foot eight, while his father was a few inches shy of six feet. Eddie definitely was a combination of them both, ending up somewhere between them in the height department, but where his mother tended to be rounded, Eddie was beefier like his dad.
“How were you planning to get your bike?”
Eddie set the places at the table. “I’ll call Jack and see if he’ll give me a ride so I can pick it up after dinner.” Eddie set the last place, and his mother called his father to the table. Eddie hurried to the bathroom to wash up, and by the time he returned, his parents were both waiting for him. He sat down, and they all bowed their heads as his father said a prayer. Then they began to eat, sharing the usual dinner conversation about what they did that day. Eddie talked about the practice and getting a ride home from Johnny, but he rarely talked at all about work. Once he started working at the plant, he’d noticed that his father never talked about his work in one of the other paper mills in town either.
After dinner was over, Eddie’s father went into the living room, and Eddie heard the familiar sound of his dad’s feet plunking on his ottoman and then the sound of the television. Eddie cleared the table for his mother and then picked up the wall-mounted phone.
“Is Jack there, Mrs. Emmons?” Eddie asked when she answered.
“Just a minute,” she said curtly, the way she always did when she was on the phone. In person she was one of Eddie’s favorite people, and every time he came over, she plied him with her baking.
“Hello,” Jack said when he picked up the phone, and Eddie waited for him to adjust his hearing aids. Talking on the phone was much easier for Jack because it was a single point of sound and he didn’t have to filter out the background noise.
“Jack, I have some news you won’t believe. Can you come pick me up? I got a flat tire on my bike and had to leave it at the stadium.”
“Okay,” Jack agreed. “I’ll be right over.” Jack hung up, and Eddie told his mother where he was going to be before walking outside. Jack pulled up a few minutes later, his huge car easy to spot a mile away, and Eddie got inside and slammed the door closed.
“So what’s your big news?” Jack asked as he drove.
Eddie shifted so he was speaking right at Jack. “After you left, I realized I had a flat tire, and I was getting ready to walk home when a car pulled up next to me. He must have seen me walking and offered me a ride.”
“Who?” Jack asked excitedly.
“Johnny Grant. He gave me a ride home in his convertible.”
“You’re shitting me,” Jack said.
“Nope. He really did give me a ride home. We talked about football, and I told him what I thought about him running too far, and he actually listened.” Eddie did not tell Jack about the fluttery feeling he had the entire time, the way Johnny smelled, or the fact that he was even better looking in person than Eddie had ever imagined. There was no one he could tell about that. No way, no how. Those feelings were his biggest and deepest secret.
“That’s so cool,” Jack exclaimed excitedly as he continued driving. They pulled into the stadium lot and up to the gate. Jack helped Eddie load his bike into the trunk, and they headed back. “Wanna stop for ice cream or something?” Jack asked, and Eddie nodded.
They each got cones at Kroll’s near the stadium, and then Jack drove him home, and parked in the driveway while Eddie got out. “Do you need a ride from work tomorrow?” That was Jack—always willing to help out a friend.
“That’d be great. Thanks,” Eddie told his friend as he backed away from the car.
“Okay, see ya then,” Jack said, accompanied by his usual wave, and then he backed out of the drive. Eddie went inside. Seeing his dad asleep in his chair, Eddie told his mom he had an early shift, then went right to his room and got undressed, and showered quickly before going to bed.
Between the covers, with the lights out, Eddie’s mind wandered to Johnny and what he would look like beneath his uniform. It was a familiar fantasy, but today he’d gotten more of a glimpse, and Eddie added Johnny’s scent and the way he smiled to the mix. Rolling over, Eddie reached for the box of tissues he kept under the bed. His mother was a bit strict about certain things, including what she called self-abuse. Taking out one of the tissues, Eddie set it next to him as he kicked off the covers—it was too warm anyway—and closed his eyes, calling up the image he’d been using for weeks now, except instead of standing on the football field, Johnny appeared in his bedroom, prowling toward the bed, football jersey hanging off his shoulders, cock dangling between his legs. No words were ever spoken. This was always a silent seduction, and it was Johnny who was going to take him. Eddie shivered slightly as the imaginary Johnny came closer to the bed. Eddie closed his hand around himself, stroking sure and hard. He’d never so much as touched another guy, so his fantasies were always images and what he hoped things would feel like. “You want me, don’t you?” Johnny said, and Eddie gasped because his fantasies had never talked before. Johnny had a deep, rumbly voice that had Eddie shaking as he stroked harder, sliding his fingers over the head of his cock. His fantasy Johnny told him all the wonderfully amazing things he was going to do to him, and Eddie moved his hand faster. Gripping himself tighter, he imagined what Johnny’s lips would feel like around him, as hot as summer, sucking him hard.
Eddie groaned deeply and used his other hand to stifle any more noise as he stroked faster and faster, the bed vibrating beneath him as the pressure built higher and higher. His fantasy sucked harder, and Eddie lost it, coming hard all over his stomach.
His eyes drifted closed, and he let himself float for a few minutes, trying to control his breathing, while his fantasy faded into the reality of his bedroom. As he listened for movement in the house, he heard the sound of the television drift in. Eddie reached for the tissue beside him and wiped himself up, grabbing a second one to take care of the mess, before wadding them in a sheet of old paper and throwing them in the trash. Then he rolled over and closed his eyes, satisfied for a while, but still wishing he had more than just a fantasy to spend the night with.