The Hoops

Aug. 11th, 2012 02:46 pm
manicdak: (Default)
[personal profile] manicdak
Title: The Hoops
Prompt: N/A
Rating: PG-13
Series: This Thing That Happened This One Time
Content Summary/Notes/Warnings: Jared's back in town, making new friends and trying to get in contact with Amos.



It was his own damn fault that he found himself more often than not sitting in the trainer’s facility after practice. His arm has been suffering from tenderness around the elbow for most of the summer and on into the fall. He was pretty sure that his mechanics were off, because he was distracted. He was putting too much strain on his arm, and despite advice and coaching, he hadn’t been able to remove the mental block that had put him there.

Of course he knew that even if Amos where to come back into the picture, it wouldn’t fix everything immediately. He’d developed some bad habits that he was going to have to work hard to rectify before the season started or he ruined his arm for good. He wanted to keep his athletic scholarship and make it on his own. Moving back to Oregon wasn’t in the cards as far as he was concerned.

He was sitting unsupervised with an icepack strapped to his arm, studying a sheet of strengthening exercises the trainer had given him to do every day when he was alerted to another presence due to the sound of the creaky three-legged gait of someone on crutches. He looked up and came face to face with kid he somewhat recognized from his old life as a douchebag. He couldn’t place a name to the face, but he knew it was somebody on the soccer team. It was the only group of individuals he regularly came in contact with that he’d been hoping to avoid. He had never really got the entire story, but somehow Amos was their unofficial mascot. Jared had a suspicion that was mostly due to Amos being Mark Briar’s boyfriend as a freshman, but he hadn’t asked for details. He never really liked Amos talking about past relationships. Especially his past with Mark. Even though what they had wasn’t anything Jared would consider like a real relationship, he still felt a tiny bit possessive and just a little bit disappointed that he wasn’t the first as Amos was to him.

He was hoping the kid wouldn’t recognize him, but his hopes were quickly dashed as Alan spoke out his last name.

“Dawes,” he said. “If it isn’t the guy who chased my bro off to San Francisco.”

“I didn’t chase him anywhere,” Jared muttered, looking away. “It was a good opportunity. Who the hell are you?”

Alan snorted disbelief at him, but despite his apparent derision, he sat down on a chair not far away. “I’m disappointed you don’t remember me. Alan Ortega?”

“I didn’t chase him away,” Jared repeated, more to himself than to Alan and completely ignoring Alan’s question. He knew he was part of the reason, but he didn’t want to think about what that might mean going forward.

“Yeah, yeah.” Alan shook his head. He was looking out over the training room and not at Jared when he spoke. “Whatever you have to tell yourself, man. After what you did to him...”

“Christ!” Jared’s head shot up to look at Alan as he barked out the interruption. “How many people on this campus know about that? I never told anybody but Righty! I wouldn’t have even told him, but he was there!”

Alan opened his mouth as if to speak, but before he could, Jared continued on with his rant, unable to stop speaking once he’d started.

“I guess Amos didn’t keep it to himself. Shit. What is even the point of this.” He picked at the icepack on his elbow. “My career’s going to be over before it starts if I get outed.”

“Say what now?” Alan peered curiously at him.

“What?” Jared faced him. His eyes were wide and his cheeks flooded with color as he realized that maybe he shouldn’t have spoken so candidly to a man that he barely even knew.

“How can you be ‘outed’,” he said, “unless you were ‘in’?”

“I...”

“Damn, dude,” Alan held out the first syllable of the word ‘damn’. “You and Amos then? That would explain why he was so infuriated with you. That was some extra spicy rage he was sweating out last spring.”

“No, I.. Yes...I mean, we...” Jared hung his head and sighed at himself. “Nevermind. Mark didn’t tell you?”

“Nah.” Alan said. “Only thing I knew was that you were a jerk to my friend. Mark was actually lobbying for you.”

“Mark was sticking up for me?” Jared replied genuinely surprised. Of all the people to stick up for him, Amos’s right hand man was the last one he would have expected.

Alan was frowning then, remember something that Jared wasn’t privy to.

“Yeah. I’ve seen him in action. He’s done his fair share of jerky things, as have we all. Believe it or not, he’s been in a similar situation, but that’s not for me to share. Anyway, sorry,” Alan said.

“For what?” Jared muttered.

“I dunno.” Alan shrugged and waved his hand in Jared’s direction. “For your whole, whatever thing you’ve got going on. If it’s worth anything coming from me, it’s probably not the end of the world.”

“I don’t think you have any idea,” Jared said, “but, if you’re feeling sympathetic toward my plight, how about giving me Amos’s number?”

“I’ve said too much!” Alan shook his head and shut his mouth tight as he shook his head back and forth.

“C’mon!” Jared whined. “I just want to talk to him.”

“He’ll talk to you when he’s ready,” Alan said. “He can’t get over you if you talk to him all the time.”

Jared couldn’t restrain his mouth from dropping open, nor conceal the crestfallen look on his face as soon as Alan had spoken that final sentence. He felt like his stomach had dropped to the floor in that moment and his whole world flipped upside down with the very notion of Amos moving on. He knew it wasn’t fair to Amos; he knew he deserved to be forgotten. It didn’t stop him from feeling shattered. His chest felt tight, a deeper pain that the dull ache in his elbow could never match.

“I don’t want him to be over me,” Jared said.

The words fell out of his mouth in a plaintive whine instead of the assertive command he’d been aiming for. Alan looked at him with surprise clear on his face.

“We aren’t going to start talking about feelings now, are we?” Alan said. “Because I don’t really know you...”

“No,” Jared muttered. “I just... He never even gave me a chance to apologize, or explain.”

“Could’ve apologized all those times you hung up on him before he changed his number,” Alan pointed out. “As for explanations, there aren’t any except for pure douchery.”

“Hey!” Jared looked up at him, but quickly put his head back down. He knew Alan was right.

“I just want to talk to him,” Jared murmured. “I know you’re all trying to protect him or whatever, but I want to hear it from him that he hates me.”

Alan rolled his eyes.

“He doesn’t hate you,” he said. “That’s part of the problem.”

“I don’t see how that’s a problem when I want to be with him,” Jared replied.

“Okay.” Alan held up his hands to stop him from continuing. “I see we are going to talk about feelings after all. I’m going to have to bow out now, before we get too far down the rabbit hole and end up crying into our bowls of ice-cream while watching Beaches.”

He glanced sheepishly down at the floor then back up at Jared. “Not that I speak from experience. It was on TV! Shut-up! Let me give you Briar’s number.”

“I don’t want to talk to Mark!” Jared said. “Why the fuck would I want to talk to Mark?”

“Why the fuck would you want to talk to me?” Alan gave him a perplexed gaze as he reached into the pockets of his shorts for his phone.

“I don’t want to talk to you,” Jared said. Exasperation was clear in his voice. “I want to talk to Amos.”

“Text sent,” Alan replied. “You can get in touch with Mark. Call him the gatekeeper if you will. I don’t want to be in the middle of this, and I definitely don’t want to be on Amos’s shit list for giving you his deets. See ya later, man.”

Alan quickly hobbled from the room leaving Jared alone with his thoughts. He didn’t want to think on it any further, though. He felt like he’d done enough thinking for a lifetime, and he’d already made up his mind anyway.

Jared hopped off the table and grabbed his phone from where he had left it. He scrolled through his texts to the one Alan had left him and clicked on Mark Briar’s number. He didn’t want to go through mediation via Amos’s ex, but the only other option he could think of was staking out the design school, and he didn’t want to be that guy.

****

Mark answered the phone on the second ring, absently calling out his name as a greeting.

“Mark? This is Jared,” the voice on the other end of the phone said.

“Oh,” Mark replied, surprised. “What...can I do for you?”

“Can we talk?” Jared replied.

“What do you want to talk to me for?” Mark asked.

“Funny,” Jared replied. “That’s exactly what I said to Alan just now. He said if I wanted to talk to Amos then I’d have to go through you first.”

“Why were you...nevermind,” Mark said. “Just go talk to him.”

“Yeah.” Jared snorted. “You say that like it’s simple.”

“It is,” Mark replied. “You know where he goes to school.”

“I just don’t feel comfortable showing up like that,” Jared muttered.

“Like what?” Mark replied. “Like in public? Yeah, we know you have a problem with that.”

“It’s not that,” Jared snapped. “Is that what you think? School is school. I don’t want to interrupt him there like some creepy stalker...not after the whole phone thing. We need to sit down and talk. No distractions. You don’t even have to give me his number or address. Just, y’know...arrange a meeting or something?”

There was no reply and Jared was beginning to get the feeling that Mark hadn’t even been listening to him.

“Briar?” He said tentatively into the phone.

“Sorry,” Mark replied. “Was distracted. Look, I gotta go. Meet me at Janet’s in an hour. We can discuss this further.”

“J...Janets?” Jared replied. “You know that’s a...”

“LGBTQ friendly diner?” Mark replied. “Yes, I know. Also have the best peppermint mocha in town. If you can’t deal with me there, then...yeah, I’m not arranging shit, because you clearly haven’t learned a damn thing.”

“I’m sorry,” Jared mumbled. “I’m working on it. Janet’s is fine.”

“Great, see you there. Gotta go.”

Jared hung up the phone and closed it with a deep breath. He was about to take his first tentative steps out into the world as a gay man. He wasn't sure how he felt about that. He had been carving out a career path since his first day in t-ball, and he would have been lying to say that he wasn't wary of the consequences that coming out might bring. He'd basically come to grips with the fact that people were going to find out, but it was still a drag on his nerves. He was trying to be strong, but the truth was that he was scared to death. It was a fear for his future plans that had been following him ever since he'd felt the stirrings of his first full blown crush on one of Brooks’s ballet instructors.

He'd ignored it for years, but life was catching up with him. He could either watch it pass him by, or he could make the most of it. He was just starting to realize that maybe he could have it all, but if he had to sacrifice a part of himself, he didn't want it to be the part that loved Amos Grant.

***

Jared was trepidatious entering Janets. He’d only been there once or twice at Amos’s behest, and he knew he’d been reluctant those times too. He remembered Amos’s disappointed expressions well. Their entire relationship in the public sphere had been a series of increasingly disappointed faces. Jared hated himself for making Amos feel that way.

He took a deep breath and pushed open the door to the sound of tinkling bells. The man behind the counter waved and greeted him as he bustled around.

“Come on in, have a seat anywhere,” he said with a smile. “Someone will be right with you.”

Jared smiled weakly and mustered up a half hearted wave as he glanced around the diner. It was packed. He took a seat at the counter next to a girl in a black tank top with orange hair styled into Liberty Spikes around her head.

He found himself staring unthinkingly at the woman’s hairdo, wondering how she managed to get it to stand straight up as stiffly as it was. It was a distraction from his nervousness about being there, about having a face to face conversation with Mark Briar.

He was deep into thoughts when she interrupted him.

“Can I help you?”

She had swiveled slightly in the chair so that she was looking at him directly, breaking his unblinking focus.

“You know it’s not polite to stare right?” She sounded slightly annoyed with a wary edge to her voice, as if she’d been stared at her entire life.

“Sorry, sorry,” Jared mumbled. “I was just...”

She cocked her head to the side and gave him a harshly skeptical glare. She knew he was going to attempt a backpedal, and he knew it too. It was enough to set him on another course.

“Well, honestly? I started out just admiring your hairstyle, because I think it’s pretty cool and I just kind of spaced. Got a lot on my mind.”

“Oh.” She rolled her eyes at him. “Seriously? This is happening?”

“What’s happening?” Jared straightened up in his barstool and frowned at her in confusion.

“I think I just lost a bet with my girlfriend,” she replied. “Two years going and...what is it about me that makes you think you can hit on me while I’m sitting here minding my own business? I mean she said it would happen eventually. Even at Janet’s, some frat boy would show up and...”

“I’m not in a frat,” Jared said. “I wasn't hitting on you."

“Sure you’re not,” she said. “You like my hair? Really?”

“You coloured it to match your nails,” he said. “I just think it’s cool. That’s all. Honest.”

She narrowed her eyes at him.

“Interesting,” she said.

He was moments away from asking her what exactly she meant by that when she was interrupted by the same employee that had greeted Jared at the door.

Janet’s was decorated in the style of an old fashioned fifties diner, all in pastel pink, blue, green and yellow hues. the waiter was a blonde curly haired kid, probably no older than freshman age. He was wearing a mint green polo with Janet’s rainbow logo embroidered on the breast pocket and was beaming at them with bright blue eyes as he spoke.

“What can I get for you today?” he chirped in an impossibly cheery manner.

Jared smiled obligingly back at him before answering.

“I hear you serve a great peppermint mocha.”

“Excellent choice!” he replied, scribbled a note on his order pad and skipped over to the other side of the counter to mull over the espresso machine.

“I’m sorry,” Jared turned his head back toward the girl. “If I offended you in any way?”

“Peppermint mocha? Noticing my nail colour? Maybe you are gay after all, frat boy.”

“I’m only one of those things,” Jared said.

“Here you go!” the waiter said as he returned triumphantly with the coffee drink in hand.

“I said I wasn’t in a frat already,” Jared said. He leaned in on the counter, picked up the hot beverage and blew on it before taking a sip. He winked at the server, causing the guy to flush, then he turned to the girl who sat quietly observing.

“That--is flirting,” he said.

“Okay, I’ll believe you,” she said. “But only so the bet remains in my favor. Tell me though, do you have any intention of asking poor Bailey here out on a date?”

“Date?” Jared looked blankly at her.

“Date, rough sex out behind the dumpsters. Whatever you’re into.” She shrugged.

“Anne!” Bailey glared at her in mortification.

“Sorry,” Jared said. “I’m kind of in the midst of trying to win back my guy.”

“Too bad for you, Bails,” Anne said.

“I can take care of myself, Annie.” He frowned at her. “I’ve got customers. It was nice to meet you...”

“Jared.” He supplied his name and held out his hand. “You can call me Red.”

Bailey shook it enthusiastically before sliding down the bar to take another order.

“So it’s just me and you,” Anne said once the waiter had gone, “Red, I like it!”

“Sorry, just you,” Jared replied as he had spotted Mark at the entrance to the diner, standing there, casting his eyes around the place, searching.

Anne laughed at him.

“The Briar Patch is the dude you’re trying to woo?” she asked.

“Not exactly,” Jared replied. “I should...”

“Sure,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to stand in the way of true love.”

Jared snorted laughter. “He’s just a friend. Maybe I’ll catch you again later?”

“You’re going to wander back in here again, huh?” she said. “I haven’t scared you off yet? I mean, you were acting like a nervous colt when you sat down.”

“Nah,” Jared said. “Mark was right, this is a most excellent mocha. Definitely worth a return trip. The company isn’t bad either. Catch you later?”

“Sure, Frat Boy,” she replied.

“Please tell me that nickname isn’t going to stick,” he said.

“Sorry.” She shrugged at him with a grin. “It’s the cargo shorts with those dude-bro sandals!”

“Okay, then, Punk Rock Girl,” he replied. He waited for her response, in hopes that he hadn’t overstepped with someone he barely knew.

She threw her head back and laughed loudly at him.

“You know what?” she said. “I like you, Red.”

“Me too,” he replied. “I mean...”

“I know what you mean,” she said. “I’ll see you around.”

She waved at him and he said goodbye. By that time, Mark had found his way over to them. He said a quick hello to Anne by name.

“Making friends?” Mark asked as he ushered Jared across the diner to a two person booth nestled in the far corner.

“Yeah.” Jared smiled at him, feeling good about his personal interactions with people at school in a public setting for the first time in a long time.

“With Annie?” Mark eyed him skeptically.

“Yes,” he replied, feeling a bit insulted that people were doubting his motives left and right even though he knew he probably deserved it.

“She’s awesome,” he said. “Bailey too.”

“Who the fuck is Bailey?” Mark said.

Jared turned in the booth and pointed toward the counter where the kid spotted him and they exchanged waves.

“You mean you don’t know everybody in here?” Jared said.

Mark scoffed.

“No, Jared, I don’t know every gay person on campus. Annie’s a regular,” he replied. “We’re not here to talk about your new friends though.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Jared said. He sipped tentatively on his drink and regarded Mark over the rim of the mug.

“You don’t know what to say?” Mark frowned at him. “Why are we even wasting our time then?”

“I miss him,” Jared said. “Things aren’t going to be like they used to be.”

“Oh, really?” Mark said.

“You know,” Jared replied.

“I know?”

“Alan said you’ve been in a similar situation,” Jared said. “What about that?”

Mark blanched. He hadn’t been expecting to get caught off balance with Jared somehow having an inkling of what had gone on in his past. He cursed at Alan under his breath and sighed heavily.

“Yeah,” he said as he slumped down in the booth. “I never told the guy I was into that he wasn’t man enough for me after I’d been having sex with him all year long though.”

“Shhh,” Jared hissed at him as he glanced around the diner. Too many people for his comfort had gotten wind of what amounted to his tactless dumping of Amos as it was.

Mark gave him a self-satisfied smile, as if the shushing he’d just received was confirmation enough that Jared hadn’t changed his stripes after all.

“Come on,” Jared said. “I’m dealing with my shit just like everybody’s been telling me to do. Been talking to Righty’s dads. For christ’s sake, I just came out to two random strangers just now. Doesn’t that count for anything?”

He flailed wildly in the direction of the counter where his earlier conversation had taken place.

“Not if you’re doing because you think Amos is running on some kind of brownie point system,” Mark said.

“I’m not,” Jared said. “I swear. I just don’t want to be that guy. Just, to stand there and look at the expression on his face and know I put it there? I never want to be that guy again, and, well... Righty’s dad’s say I need to work on being comfortable with myself, for myself first, and I have been.”

“What about baseball?” Mark cocked a curious eyebrow at him.

“If baseball doesn’t want me because I love a guy then I don’t want...” He nearly choked on the rest of the sentence. It hadn’t been his intention at all when he’d opened his mouth to reply.

“Yeah,” Mark replied with a soft expression of unexpected solidarity. “I know.”

“It’s hard to admit something you’ve been dreaming of since you were an embryo, something you’re really, really great at, might not work out because...” Jared scowled and slumped further down in his seat.

“So stupid,” he muttered at Mark. “And frustrating, and depressing. Look...I’m not going to walk around campus with a bullhorn or put it in the scouting report. I’ll probably tell coach, so he’s aware when dudes start finding out. I ain’t going to hide or go on the offensive anymore like I was. I’m done with that at least. I don’t know...maybe it’s not enough for Amos. I realize it’s not fair. I can’t just give up on baseball because of what I think might happen in the future though.”

“Okay,” Mark said. “I feel you. I do, but...I’ve been in this situation. Amos... god, I hate being in the middle of this. Remind me to defriend Alan.”

“Speaking of Alan...what did you do to the guy you were into?” Jared asked.

“We’re not talking about me,” Mark grumbled.

“C’mon, I’m curious,” Jared replied.

“Fine,” Mark said. “If you must know, I very inappropriately came on to him when he had a girlfriend, and then I punched him in the face. That didn’t happen all at the same time by the way.”

“Shit,” Jared said. “Thats...”

“Awful?”

“Assaulty,” Jared replied.

“Thanks for that,” Mark replied. “As if I still don’t regret it even though he forgave me and went out with me anyway. Not that it’s any excuse for me or for you, but I was a dumfuck confused kid, with my dad...”

“Dad?”

“You know how you hear those stories about people disowning their children?” Mark raised his arms above his head. “Me! But this isn’t about me.”

“I’m sorry,” Jared said, suddenly feeling the need to look deep into his half-finished mocha.

“Don’t be sorry,” Mark said. “Best thing that could have happened to me. The guy is toxic. I got to come here with my best friend and meet some really cool people. Like I said though...this isn’t about me.”

“Maybe you should talk to Righty’s dads too,” Jared offered.

“Who says I haven’t?” Mark replied. “Look...”

“Did you love him?” Jared interrupted his thought.

Mark frowned. “My dad? Yeah. He’s my dad but...”

“No,” Jared interrupted again causing Mark to glare crossley at him.

“I mean the guy? The one you punched in the face?”

“Yeah,” Mark said, a wistful hint in his voice. “I just never told him that.”

“Why not?”

“He didn’t want me to,” Mark grumbled down at the table in order to avoid eye contact. “It’s a long story.”

“So...” Jared said. He crossed his arms over the table and tapped out a beat with his fingers.

“You want to block me from saying it to Amos?”

“I...shit.” Mark scowled at him. “How the fuck did you do that?”

“I’m smarter than your average lefty,” he replied. “Before you say anything...it’s true. I miss him. I love him. I realize that now, and you aren’t the one I should be saying it to, but if his friends want to make me jump through hoops of fire, I’ll do it.”

“You should have just gone with that stalking plan instead,” Mark muttered.

“I’m sorry,” Jared said. “And I get it. I do. You guys are family.”

“Dammit,” Mark said. He pressed the back of his head against the booth and looked up at the ceiling while he thought about what his next move was going to be.

It took him a good minute to come up with a decision, and when he did, he reached into the backpack that was sitting in the booth beside him, pulled out a notebook and scribbled something on the paper with a sharpie.

“There,” he said as the paper came free from the metal spiral with a satisfying rip. He folded it and passed it across the table.

Jared opened it curiously and his eyes lit up.

“This is an address,” he said.

“Don’t make me regret it, Dawes,” Mark said. “Because I know Amos will.”

February 2013

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