Chapter One

 

 

JODY stood in front of the nurses’ station, finishing his daily report. The squawk of an ambulance and the sound of running feet interrupted him, announcing a new arrival at the Alta Bates trauma center in Berkeley, California. An EMT guided a gurney into the holding area bearing a football player in full gear who cradled his left arm at an awkward angle. He had streaks of mud down his left cheek, and his dark-blue jersey with the golden CAL logo hung heavy with encrusted dirt and bits of grass. A man holding a helmet and duffel bag accompanied him.

They ended up in cubicle six, Jody’s section of the ER. He glanced up at the clock and realized there were ten minutes left to his shift, so he forced himself to switch back to doctor mode after having discarded it a few minutes ago. As he moved down the hall, he raked his fingers through his hair, trying to make himself presentable. He’d been on duty for nearly twelve hours and probably looked as bad as he felt?tired and grubby as hell.

He paused for a split second, listening to voices raised in anger. When he pushed the privacy curtain aside he noticed the injured player was still in his football uniform, minus his jersey, which had apparently been cut off. His pads had not been removed, and they looked completely out of place in this setting.

Coach Brenner, according to the name embroidered on his shirt pocket, stopped talking the minute Jody walked past the curtain into the room. Whatever he’d been saying had upset the blond, who had tears running down his cheeks. He wiped them away quickly, but the two spots of color high on his cheekbones were enough to cause Jody to question what was going on.

“Is everything okay?”

“Just trying to figure out how we ended up in this place,” the coach replied. “This should have never happened.”

“Well, regardless of the whys and the wherefores, you’re here, and I’m in charge now.” Jody spoke quietly, but left little room for argument. “You need to step outside so that I can examine your player.”

The guy muttered a protest, but Jody stood his ground as he watched him leave.

The football player heaved a sigh of relief as the coach departed reluctantly, then turned his gaze back to Jody. The flush on his cheeks remained high, but the tears were slowly dissipating. Jody walked over to the sink on the other side of the cubicle, filled a small plastic cup with water, and brought it over to his patient. “Why don’t you have a sip?”

“Thanks,” the guy replied. He reached for the cup with a shaky hand and gulped the contents gratefully. The man was definitely easy on the eyes. Jody’s pulse quickened, and a burst of energy surged through him.

“I’m Dr. Williams,” he said gently, tossing the now-empty cup in the trash.

“Clark Stevens,” the blond countered, saying it as if he expected Jody to recognize the name immediately.

Jody glanced at the patient’s chart. “So you are. Nice to meet you.” He touched him on his good arm and continued, “Looks like you had a bad fall.”

“Yeah, it was stupid. I got distracted and lost my footing,” Clark replied in a normal voice, seemingly recovered from the earlier upset.

Jody started to move the player’s arm but stopped when he saw him wince. “Does it hurt when I do that?”

“A little bit.”

“It might be broken, but I’ll need an X-ray to confirm the diagnosis. I’m going to give you a shot for the pain.”

“No!” Clark was emphatic. “No shots.”

Jody could tell that the guy was frightened and still agitated for reasons other than the obvious. He took a gentler approach and said, “This is going to get very uncomfortable when you get to radiology; I really wish you’d reconsider.”

“No, I only do painkillers in extreme circumstances.”

“Broken bones aren’t extreme enough?” Jody asked, raising an eyebrow. The football player shook his head, and Jody wondered where the heck this was coming from.

“It’s your call, Clark. The orderly is going to take you up to the second floor, so you’re going to have to lie down and just relax. Is there any way we can get these pads off without cutting? I know nothing about football.”

Clark nodded and reached up to unclip the straps, but it was awkward going with one hand. Jody noticed and moved forward to help. He manipulated the clips, brushing Clark’s hand in the process, and was surprised by the sparks that flew between them. Clark made no attempt to help, seeming to enjoy Jody’s fumbling with a slight grin on his face. Jody recognized the flirty move, and he paused, seeing the football player in a whole new light.

“Tell me how to unfasten this?” he asked, unable to tear his eyes away from Clark’s mouth. It was the kind of mouth one could only describe as kissable.

“It’s the silver clip,” Clark said, moving Jody’s hand toward the center of the pads. The cubicle seemed smaller all of a sudden as the body heat and electricity between them surged. Jody found the opening and unsnapped it, freeing the pads from their tight harness. He removed them gently, unable to avoid touching the tight muscles of Clark’s smooth shoulders and biceps. They were both holding their breath by the time Jody slipped the pads off.

“Don’t move your arm,” Jody warned, watching Clark bite his lip and frown. “Are you sure you don’t want anything for the pain?”

“I’m doing just fine, Doc. Are you?” Clark asked, shaking Jody up even more with his mischievous smile.

Jody paused and contemplated the question. Was Clark yanking his chain or waiting to see if he’d bite? Who was this guy? Jody took a step back, deciding on caution, despite the attraction that had flared so unexpectedly. “I’m not the patient here, Clark. You are.”

 

 

I LAY on the gurney, watching the ceiling lights whiz by on our way upstairs to radiology. I couldn’t believe I was in this situation because of one moment of carelessness. Then again, I could. Most of the shit that happened in my life was because I didn’t pay attention. I was so fucked. If my arm was broken, I’d be benched for the rest of the season, and everyone would have a conniption fit, especially my father.

The big plus in all of this was the doc. How’d I luck out and get someone that hot? Most emergency room personnel looked like they’d seen better days. The last thing I expected to see was a stud with shoulders that belonged on a swimmer. They made his blue scrubs look like they were painted on. Throw in a pair of puppy dog eyes and a killer smile, and I knew I was in trouble. He had no right to look like that and expect a guy not to react.

I was pretty shocked that I’d given in to the impulse. I usually kept a tight rein on my emotions, especially when I was at home. Berkeley was too small and the football world too tight-knit for me to risk anything. I just couldn’t stop myself tonight. Something about the doc flipped my switch, and I was pretty sure he felt the same way. Watching him fumble with my pads convinced me I wasn’t too far off the mark.

He’s probably in shock right now, wondering what the hell happened back there. He said he knew nothing about football, so he doesn’t know who I am, but wait ’til he starts to ask questions. Then he’ll think he’s had an out-of-body experience and imagined it all. The idea that Clark Stevens actually flirted with him would be unbelievable.

I squeezed my eyes shut and the dark thoughts took over, opening the side of my personality that I kept locked up tighter than any jail cell on Alcatraz Island. It was a secret that I only let out when the pain became too much, and the longing found me surfing the Net’s many porn sites. This was the me who was completely aroused by the thought of the doc pressing his cock against mine or imagining myself on my knees while he spewed hot cum all over my face and chest. This was the Clark Stevens only I knew. The one who had yet to make any of his man-on-man fantasies come true.

On the field I’d tackle practice sleds until I dropped from exhaustion. It was the only thing that helped keep these thoughts out of my head, so I hit harder and ran faster, turning into a machine, an unstoppable one that had the world of college football sitting up and taking notice. I was voted 2002 player of the year at the Pac-10 conference last year, agents were checking me out, the NFL was salivating over my numbers, and my father couldn’t wait until my senior year rolled around so I’d be eligible for the draft. I was the guy who had the world in the palm of my hand if I didn’t blow it and let this same world know that I was gay.

 

 

THE elevator door opened, and Jody watched the orderly wheel the gurney back down the hall. He stopped pushing when Jody came closer to check on his patient. Beads of sweat slid from Clark’s forehead and a grimace of discomfort altered his perfect features.

“It’s getting worse, isn’t it?” Jody asked.

“Yeah, it is.”

“Let me give you something.”

“No codeine, okay? The stuff makes me puke.”

“Good to know,” Jody said, scribbling some notes in Clark’s chart. He asked the nurse to prepare some Demerol, and she returned with a syringe. He rolled Clark over gently, moving his hospital gown up to expose the area.

“Hey, watch out for hidden paparazzi. They’ll pay big money for a booty shot.”

“Sorry,” Jody said quietly. “I should have waited ’til we were back in the cubicle, but I wanted you out of pain as soon as possible.”

“Hey, Doc, I was just kidding.”

“I know,” he replied absently. Jody walked alongside the gurney and placed the X-rays on the view box while Clark was transferred to the bed.

“Well, is it broken?” Clark asked.

Jody nodded. “I’m afraid so. There’s a hairline fracture on the ulna, but it should heal with no problem. We need to cast it from here to here.” He drew an imaginary line on Clark’s left arm, causing goose bumps to break out all over. Jody noticed but said nothing.

“I guess I’m out for the season.”

“When does the season end?”

“You really don’t know squat about football, do you?”

Jody shook his head. “Not a clue.”

“This is the first week of November, Doc. We’re about to go into the playoffs, and the only balls I’ll be running with are my own, after the coaches get done castrating me.”

“That’s a bit drastic, isn’t it? You’ll be as good as new once you’ve healed.”

“Shit. Tell that to my dad. He’s going to think my career is over.”

“It could be if you’re a left-handed quarterback.”

“I’m not,” Clark replied without elaborating. “How long will I be in a cast?”

“Maybe four to six weeks.”

“Game over,” Clark muttered. He was a little woozy from the pain medication kicking in, so he closed his eyes, which was just as well. Jody didn’t think he could stand looking at those aqua eyes for one more minute without bending down and kissing each eyelid gently.

The phone rang, and Jody picked it up immediately. “Dr. Williams.” He listened to the voice on the other end and responded, “Yes, I’m your son’s attending physician. He has a minor fracture on his forearm, and we’re casting it right now.” Jody remained silent as the voice on the other end of the line did all the talking. Finally, he said, “No, Clark cannot come to the phone, but I’ll have him call you as soon as he’s able. You’re welcome.” Jody put the phone down; Clark gazed at him with glassy eyes.

“Who was that?” he slurred.

“Your father.”

“Of course it was.”

“He sounded really concerned and wants you to call him as soon as possible.”

“I’m sure,” Clark sighed and closed his eyes again. “And if I don’t call him, he’ll call me.”

“Don’t you two get along?”

“As long as we do things his way, we get along just fine.”

“I see.”

“It’s all good,” Clark replied before passing out.

 

 

WHEN I woke up, the doc was staring at me with concern. His eyes were the color of warm caramel, and the shadows on his jawline made him look dangerously sexy. I was flying high on the drugs, and my guard was down, so I reached out for his hand, comforted when he gave me a reassuring squeeze. I left my hand in his.

“How do you feel?” he asked, in a voice that felt like a caress.

“Like I’m drunk.”

“Are you in pain?”

“No.”

“Good. We cast your arm while you were out of it.”

I was surprised that it was all over. I lifted it and viewed the white cast. It seemed to belong to someone else; I was so physically removed from it. “Looks like you did a good job, Doc.”

“You’re fine, Clark. I’ll sign the discharge papers, and you can go as soon as your coach gets here. He was in the cafeteria last I heard.”

“Will I see you again?” I asked, pulling him back beside me and holding onto his hand. I couldn’t seem to let him go or keep the eager tone out of my voice. It sounded pretty needy to my ear, and I hoped he didn’t hear it that way.

“It’s possible.”

“Any restrictions?”

“Keep it dry, avoid bumping it, and don’t stick any sharp objects down there trying to relieve an itch. You can do more damage than good.”

“Gotcha.”

 

 

I DREAMED about Jody that night. It was a recurring dream, only in the past, the faces had been hazy and unfamiliar. This time the body that made me toss and turn had the doc’s face. The fantasy became much more intense and I woke up to a raging boner, which I took care of in seconds as I imagined his mouth moving up and down my cock.

I lay in bed and wondered where the hell this came from. It was one thing to act on the spur of the moment, like I’d done earlier today, but to actually dream about the man was something else. Being raised in a primarily male household left little room to indulge in these fucked-up thoughts. If anyone in my family found out I was harboring fantasies about my doctor, or any man, for that matter, I’d be thrown out in a second. Even my mother wouldn’t be able to save me.

I’d lost my virginity when I was thirteen, most probably because I was already almost six feet tall and looked like I was eighteen. It was hurried and over in about four minutes. After that there was an endless stream of women who passed through my life. I made it a point to sleep with as many of them as possible hoping this would keep the other feelings at bay.

Unfortunately, not one of them made me sit up and pay attention for longer than a few weeks. They didn’t stir my blood or play any part in my ongoing fantasies. I developed a reputation as a player, the ultimate challenge, the one who refused to commit.

As I got older, the women continued to throw themselves at me, and I did my best to live up to everyone’s expectations. However, no amount of dating seemed to keep the other feelings away. I still looked at certain men longer than I should have, still imagined what it would be like to have a man go down on me. These thoughts continued to plague me on a daily basis, and now the doc seemed to be the main attraction in this ongoing slide show in my head. Imagining him naked and begging was enough to get me off in mere seconds.

My sporadic visits to the ER were unnecessary, but I made them nonetheless, just to see the guy. He could have told me to fuck off, after all; he wasn’t my attending physician any longer, but he always showed up and did a cursory exam to see how I was doing. I went out of my way to wear shirts that were difficult to remove so he’d have to help me. It was a stupid and dangerous game, one that would never see fruition, but I couldn’t help myself. I was flirting with disaster but unwilling to stop. His every touch sent electrical shockwaves directly to my dick.

What kept me going was the certainty that he wanted me as well. He and I had become quite adept at touching each other unnecessarily. I could tell by the way his hands trembled by the end of each visit and his breathing would shift and become a little ragged. The last time he all but threw me out, urging me away in a voice raspy with suppressed feeling.

It was during one of my checkups that I decided to ask him out for dinner. I did it on the pretense of gratitude for a job well done. In actuality, I was throwing caution to the wind, and giving in to the impulse once again.

“You don’t need to take me to dinner, Clark. I didn’t do anything special.”

“Maybe not, but I’d like to anyway. Come on; let me buy you a meal.”

“Clark, you don’t have to.” The doc seemed very reluctant, probably in light of all that was going on with us during my follow-up visits, but I persisted, and he finally agreed.

We drove to Skates on the Bay in his black BMW. You could have eaten off the floor, which said a lot about the man. I wondered if he was this anal about everything else in his life.

“Tell me something about you,” I asked, after we got settled and the waiter brought our drinks. He was having a frozen margarita, and I had my usual Corona.

“There’s nothing much to tell. I’m just a simple Midwesterner living out his dream in the Bay Area.” His smile came easily, along with that small dimple that I noticed on the first night we met.

“Are you some kind of genius?”

“Why do you say that?”

“You went to Stanford, didn’t you?”

“You don’t have to be a genius to go there. I just got lucky.”

“Oh, come on. You were probably on the fucking honor roll in your school.”

He laughed, but I was comfortable with it, knowing he was laughing with me and not at me. It was the end of the day, and the shadow on his face was thick, giving him that dangerous look that I found so appealing. His hair fell over his forehead, and he raked it back with his long fingers in an unconscious move. I tried to imagine what that hair would feel like fanned out all over my chest. I was embarrassed by my own thoughts, so I pulled a piece of bread out of the basket and tore it apart.

“I was a good student,” he said, breaking through my train of thought. “Do you come from a big family?”

“Oh, yeah,” I replied, “There’s a bunch of us. I’m the runt of a five-son litter.”

“No kidding.”

“Yup. I’m the baby of the family, subject to all the indignities of being the youngest.”

“Such as?”

“My brothers bullied me constantly, so I learned how to fight at an early age. I also got quite good at running away from them.”

“Like Forrest Gump.”

I laughed at his comment, a picture of Tom Hanks running across the football field vivid in my brain.

A waiter arrived to take our order. “My name is Brad. What can I get you guys?”

I rattled off my usual: steak, medium rare, and a baked potato, loaded. Jody ordered some kind of fish.

“Hey,” the waiter said, sticking the pencil behind his ear and getting really animated. “Aren’t you Clark Stevens?”

I nodded.

“Dude, I’m a huge fan!”

“Thanks a lot.”

“I’ve been watching you ever since you started at Cal. Your numbers are outstanding, man.”

I could feel my cheeks burning up, an embarrassing physical trait I couldn’t seem to outgrow.

“I heard you broke your arm?”

I lifted my arm and showed him my cast. “The doc over there patched me up.”

The waiter turned to Jody. “This kid’s going places, Doc.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“I’ll be bringing your food as soon as I can.” He gathered the menus and left.

Jody took a sip of his drink. “I had no idea you were so famous.”

“This is Berkeley, Doc. Anyone who likes California Golden Bear football knows me. Outside of this area though, I’m nobody.”

“I think you’re just being modest.”

“Let’s not talk about me anymore.”

“Okay, what do you want to talk about?”

“How come your name is Jody? Isn’t that a girl’s name?”

He cracked a smile. “My real name is Jude. Jody’s a nickname that stuck.”

“Doesn’t it bother you to have a girl’s name?”

“Not at all. What about you, Clark? Were your parents big Superman fans?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, Clark Kent, Superman’s alter ego.”

“I was named after Dwight Clark.”

“Who?”

“San Francisco 49er. Best wide receiver ever. He was huge in 1981, the year I was born.”

“In case you haven’t noticed,” Jody said, leaning forward, “I’m not a big football fan.”

“I forgot,” Clark noted. “Let’s change the subject, then. Tell me about your girlfriend?”

“No girlfriend.”

“Why not?”

“I’m gay.”

“Oh.” It shocked me to hear him say it out loud. He was so matter-of-fact about it I was jealous that he was so sure of himself.

“You don’t look gay,” I shot back, immediately realizing how stupid that sounded.

Jody’s surprise was evident in the shift of his body and his raised eyebrows. He looked confused by my last statement. Finally, he cocked his head to the right. “Do you think we all wear mascara and sequins?”

“No,” I said quickly, backpedaling like mad. “I don’t know much about your world.”

“I didn’t think so,” he said, taking a sip of water and getting serious again. “Does it bother you? Being with a gay man?”

“Why should it? You don’t look gay. Besides, you’re my doctor; nothing else.”

“Right,” Jody said, never taking his eyes off mine. I could feel the blood rushing to my cheeks again. Could he tell about me? Did gay men just know about other men who were attracted to them, but too scared to do anything about it? Was I sending out some sort of signal I wasn’t aware of? My mind was filled with a thousand questions, but all I could think to ask was, “Have you always known you’re gay?”

“I knew something wasn’t right when I preferred watching Martha Stewart over Monday Night Football.” His easy tone settled my tension. “Then when I started salivating over Sean Connery’s hairy chest, I knew I had issues.”

“I’ll bet,” I replied, unable to keep the smile off my face. “Were your parents pretty cool?”

“They were, after they got over the initial shock. My father had me when he was in his late forties. He was a widower when he met my mother, and by the time I was a toddler, he was old enough to be my grandfather. He spoiled me rotten,” Jody admitted with a grin. “Dad’s never been able to stay angry at me for longer than a day, so when I came out, he took it in stride and began his quest to make me the best-educated gay man in Illinois.”

“How?”

“By keeping me disease free. He was rabid about safe sex, and I had videos hurled at me left and right. At the time, I thought it was all a little over the top, but as I got older and learned more, I realized what a loving thing he did. Mind you, this was all coming from a straight man with two grown sons. He could have just ignored me, hoping it was a phase that would pass, but he chose to be honest and open, which made an incredible difference in my state of mind.”

“You’re lucky they accept you for who you are.”

“I am. My parents were way ahead of their time. They acted like PFLAG parents long before they ever heard of it.”

“What’s PFLAG?”

“It’s a support group for parents of gay kids.”

“What about your mom? Do you two get along?”

“She’s a sweetheart, but I was always closer to my father.”

“That’s great,” I said.

He must have heard the envy in my voice because he asked, “I know we talked about this before, but you never really gave me an answer. Don’t you and your dad get along? He seemed very interested in you and your career.”

“That’s an understatement.”

“Oh?”

“Let’s not talk about him. I want to enjoy my dinner,” I said, forcing a smile. The idea of discussing my father and his obsession with my career wasn’t exactly appealing.

“Do you always shy away from carbs?” I asked, noting the lack of rice or potatoes on Jody’s plate.

He shook his head and swallowed before answering. “Not really. I just watch what I eat. I can’t afford to get love handles at my age. Once they creep up they’re hard to get rid of.”

“What are you, twenty-six?”

“I knew that French cream was a good investment,” he joked. “I’m thirty-three.”

“Big deal, you’re not that old.”

“That’s easy for you to say. You’re still in your twenties. Once you pass thirty, it’s downhill all the way.”

“Aww, come on, you look great.” Our eyes met and held, the unspoken words thick as syrup between us. My cheeks felt like they were on fire, so I quickly looked down at my food, attacking my baked potato with my fork.

“Clark?”

“Yeah?”

Jody reached across the table and laid his hand on mine. “Is there something you want to tell me?”

I yanked my hand back, scanning the place to see if anyone was watching. Jody was clearly taken aback by my reaction. His warm smile turned frosty, and he withdrew and put both his hands on his lap. I was ashamed of what I had just done, but it was too late. I wanted to say “I’m sorry.” Instead I remained silent.

The evening was ruined after that. Conversation became stilted, and I could tell that Jody wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. We finished our meal, declined dessert, and when I asked for the check, he reached for his wallet.

“Don’t, please,” I insisted. “I told you this was my treat.”

“And I told you it wasn’t necessary, Clark, but thanks anyway.”

Those were the last words he spoke that night. I wanted to say so much, yet I ended up saying nothing, an omission that would haunt me for days.