Annika Sturm is German and has been living in England for over 10 years. Aside from working in marketing, she loves running, hanging out with her friends and has very recently started writing just for fun. As she is fascinated by football, she would love to see more open-mindedness towards homosexuality in sports in future.
This is the story of two boys, two friends, two professional footballers. One day they discover they have feelings for each other that go beyond just friendship. Suddenly the boys find themselves having to make difficult decisions with life-changing consequences. Together they embark on a tough journey against prejudice and discrimination. Can their affection for each other survive in the world of football?
This book is a work of fiction and, except in the case of geographic facts and references of football teams and tournaments, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Alex had a restless night tossing and turning. He had a number of confused and bad dreams and woke up several times during the night. Tom tried to calm him by holding him whenever Alex sat up in bed after another nightmare. By the time morning had come Alex was in a bad way, emotionally and physically. The last few days of stress had taken their toll and he had developed a fever and his whole body was aching.
Tom had organised his return flight from Hamburg with his agent as soon as he had got up. He managed to get onto a flight at nine o’clock, which meant he had to leave shortly. He watched Alex sleep restlessly and was full of concern for his friend. He placed his hand on his forehead to gauge how bad his temperature was, which woke Alex up. ‘You’re boiling,’ Tom said, stroking his cheeks gently, ‘you need to rest.’ ‘Do you have to go?’ Alex asked quietly. He tried to sit up but felt weak and dizzy. Tom gently pushed him back down. ‘I’ve ordered a taxi. You’re not getting out of bed.’ ‘Tommy,’ Alex whispered, ‘I want to take you, please.’ ‘No,’ Tom shook his head and looked serious, ‘you’re ill. You need to rest.’ Alex looked at him. ‘I wish you could stay.’ He gulped. Tom took his hand and kissed him, his face was full of empathy. ‘Me too,’ he took a deep breath, ‘now promise me you rest and let your sister look after you for the next couple of days. I’ll call you every day.’ He stroked his hair and kissed him again. Then he got up and took his bag. Alex smiled at him. ‘Thank you for staying with me yesterday. I would have not coped without you.’ Tom nodded.
‘Taxi is here.’ They could hear Anna’s voice. ‘Bye.’ Tom said sadly as he turned and walked towards the door. ‘Tommy.’ Alex said and propped himself up on his elbows and Tom turned towards him again. Alex smiled at him with gentle eyes. Tom couldn’t help himself. He stormed back towards the bed and kissed Alex again lovingly and the boys cried and laughed, both at the same time, holding each other tightly. ‘I’ll do whatever I can to make sure you’re alright.’ Tom whispered into Alex’s ear as he slowly let go off his friend. Alex nodded and smiled at him. Tom stroked over Alex’s feverish forehead one last time before he picked up his bag again. Alex followed him with his eyes as he left the room and closed the door behind him. He took a deep breath and went back to sleep.
‘Morning you.’ Anna had brought some tea and porridge into the room on a tray. Alex opened one eye and stretched in bed. He wanted to hide under the duvet. From his sister and the whole world. He felt marginally better after another couple of hours sleep but still suffered from flu-like symptoms with his whole body weak and in agony. He carefully sat up and sighed, running his hands over his face. ‘Thank you.’ He said quietly, looking at his breakfast. Anna smiled at him. ‘I assume you should be at training, do you want me to ring anyone?’ ‘Shit,’ Alex had totally forgotten about his own session, ‘don’t worry, I’ll call my agent in a minute.’ ‘I can do that,’ Anna looked through Alex’s jeans pockets and found his phone, ‘how about you have some breakfast. Is it David still?’, Alex nodded, ‘I’ll tell them you’re sick.’ As Anna explained the situation on the phone, Alex tried to eat some porridge even though he didn’t feel particularly hungry. He sipped some tea and started to feel a little better.
Anna sat down by his bed and looked at him. ‘Did you two end up chatting all night?’, she asked him, ‘Tommy’s bed was untouched. Did he not sleep?’ Alex looked at her as he was sipping his tea. ‘He did sleep,’ he said quietly, ‘we both slept in this bed.’ Anna frowned at him confused. ‘Anyway, he seemed to have got in the cab okay so hopefully he will have made his flight.’ Alex nodded as he kept eating.
‘So what happened with Em last night then?’ She asked with a hint of pure nosiness. ‘We had an argument.’ Alex said factually. ‘In front of Tommy?’ ‘Yep,’ Alex finished his last spoonful of porridge and took a deep breath. He looked at her, ‘actually, it was worse than an argument. We split up.’ ‘What?’, Anna stared at him in shock, ‘are you crazy? Why? Doesn’t she love you anymore?’, she paused, ‘or do you not love her anymore?’, Anna’s voice was full of panic, ‘well surely you can sort it all out? I mean what about Max?’ Alex shook his head. ‘Anna,’ he gulped, ‘I don’t know quite how to tell you this. And I’m hoping you’ll understand,’ he took her hand, ‘there was a reason Tommy was still with me. And there was a reason we slept in one bed,’ he looked at her intensely, ‘we’re together,’ he whispered and gently stroked her hand, ‘I love him Anna.’ His sister stared at him with wide eyes. ‘You’re….’ She struggled finishing her sentence, saying the word. Alex nodded. ‘Yes.’
Anna stood up and put her hand over her mouth in distress. She nervously walked up and down the room. ‘But that’s impossible Alex,’ she shook her head and forced a laugh, ‘you have a son. You were going out with girls ever since I can remember!’ Alex nodded. He started feeling weak and ill again. ‘Yes I know. So?’ Anna shrugged her shoulders looking at him expectantly. ‘So you can’t be g…’ She stopped herself from saying it. ‘Anna, you can say it, it’s not a disease you know.’ She sat back down by his bed and stroked over his hair staring at him. ‘You need help.’ ‘What?’, Alex laughed, ‘no Anna, I don’t need help. I’m fine,’ all he needed was Tom to come back on the next plane. He took her hand again, ‘look,’ he said gently, ‘I love a man instead of a woman. That’s all it is. It’s nothing to worry about, in fact it’s absolutely bloody fantastic,’ he smiled at Anna’s shocked face, ‘I know it’s a bit unexpected perhaps,’ he kept stroking her hand, ‘but he’s making me happy.’ He said smiling at her. Anna still stared at him. ‘Really?’ She asked him. Alex nodded. ‘Yes. Really.’
‘So you told Em last night. This is why you broke up?’ She asked. Alex’s face turned sad. He told her everything that had happened and Anna became more and more understanding. She stroked his hair and lay down on the bed listening with a mix of shock and fascination. ‘God Alex,’ she said finally, ‘do you realise how tough this is going to be for you both? As footballers? How will this ever work out?’ ‘I don’t know,’ Alex said sadly, ‘I have no idea. ‘Are you sure this isn’t just a fling? Some temporary thing that you’ll grow out of?’ Anna asked him. ‘I don’t know. It feels pretty real to me.’ He cast his eyes down. ‘And Tommy?’ Anna said. Alex looked at her. ‘What about him?’ ‘Are you sure he loves you too and doesn’t just entertain himself with you?’ Alex stared at her. ‘Yes,’ he said confidently and a touch hurt, ‘I am sure.’ Anna sighed. ‘Okay. He seems like a nice enough boy anyway,’ she giggled nervously. Then she looked worried again, ‘and what will dad say to all this?’ Alex felt ill and just wanted to go to sleep again. ‘Keep this to yourself Anna. Please. I’ll tell mum and dad when I think it’s right. No word to anyone, do you hear me? Football is a fickle business. If this gets out, it will all be over for me. Remember that.’ Anna nodded and smiled at him. ‘I promise,’ Alex sighed with relief and closed his eyes feeling weak, ‘you can stay here as long as you like,’ Anna brushed over his forehead, ‘I’ll look after my little brother. Even though he is clearly insane.’ She laughed. Alex smiled at her gratefully. ‘Thank you.’
Alex’s mobile rang and Tom’s number came up. Anna must have seen the joy in her brother’s eyes when he realised who it was. She looked at the phone and smiled pretending to pass it to Alex only to pick up herself. ‘I have to say you are more trouble than I thought young man,’ she paused and laughed quietly. Alex rolled his eyes, stretching his hand out towards her, ‘yes he’s awake. I’ll pass you over.’ She grinned and passed Alex the phone. Then she sat back down on the bed looking at her brother expectantly. ‘Hold on a sec,’ Alex said into the phone and gave his sister a look, ‘Anna!’ He stared at her in disbelief. ‘Oh. Right.’ She said and giggled nervously as she left the room.
Alex rolled his eyes again and pressed the phone close to his ear. ‘Please come back. I can’t be without you.’ He whined jokingly and made Tom laugh. ‘Hey,’ his friend said gently, ‘how are you feeling?’ ‘Pretty shit,’ Alex laughed quietly, ‘did you make it to training on time?’ ‘Just about,’ Tom hesitated, ‘have you spoken to Em yet?’ Alex shook his head. ‘No, I haven’t found the strength yet.’ ‘But your sis knows now?’ ‘Yes, erm, too many questions. I had to just be honest,’ he paused, ‘you don’t mind, do you?’ Alex felt worried all of a sudden. Tom laughed sadly. ‘Don’t be silly. Of course not.’
There was a pause. Alex painfully realised how much he missed him already. ‘Alex,’ Tom said, ‘I still feel responsible for this mess,’ he gasped for air, ‘I feel guilty and shit. I just wish I could do something for you.’ Alex smiled. ‘Tommy, I’ll have to do this on my own. It’s my mess, not yours. None of this is your fault. I have chosen you and now I have to face up to the consequences,’ Tom took a deep breath. Alex closed his eyes and lay down again, ‘what would you do if you were here now?’ He asked him grinning. Tom giggled quietly. ‘I would probably kiss you, idiot.’ He whispered laughing. ‘And catch this evil bug?’ Tom laughed. ‘I wouldn’t be able to keep my hands off you, that’s for sure.’ Tom continued. ‘That sounds good,’ Alex smiled as he imagined it, ‘the reality is that you would have to tidy the dirty porridge bowl and tea mug away before you even get close to me. And I badly need a shower, I tell you.’ Tom chuckled.
‘I’ll speak to Christine tonight.’ Tom said suddenly. Alex gasped. ‘I was hoping you might change your mind.’ ‘Why?’ Tom sounded surprised. ‘Because it will be traumatising and you have suffered enough with me already.’ Tom hesitated. ‘Alex, it’s only fair surely that we are both in the same boat, right?’ ‘I just don’t want you having to go through what I’m going through. That’s all.’ Tom sighed. ‘I have to go now. The second session starts. Make sure you rest Alex. Okay?’, Tom sounded worried about him, ‘I’ll call you again later.’ ‘Sure, bye.’ Alex hung up and pressed his phone against his mouth as he closed his eyes taking deep breaths. ‘What a mess.’ He muttered and hoped Tom would change his mind after all.
Alex slept almost throughout the whole day. His sister kept bringing him food, which he barely touched. His dreams turned feverish again and every time he woke up he was looking for Tom next to him. And sighed whenever he realised he was gone.
Finally towards the evening, he managed to get up. He called Emma several times but only got through to her voicemail. Eventually he managed to sit down for a meal with his sister. ‘Did you not have to go to work today by the way?’ Alex asked her thinking about it all of a sudden. ‘I had a job to do here today,’ she smiled, ‘and you’re quite a handful.’ Alex looked at her gratefully. ‘She won’t pick up the phone.’ He said frustratedly. ‘Well, I would leave you to suffer for a bit too,’ Alex nodded, ‘can you go to training tomorrow?’ ‘I hope so.’ Anna touched his forehead. ‘Hmm, still hot. I doubt it. You better ring your manager.’ Alex thought of Tom and how he would come home from training now to speak to Christine. To distract himself, he decided to call his manager and explained that he had had to move out of his home temporarily for personal reasons. At the same time he asked him to keep any information to the press as vague as possible until he was able to sort things out. His manager promised him his support, which Alex was grateful for.
As he was about to go back to bed, Tom rang again. Alex answered quickly. ‘Tommy?’, he asked hectically, ‘are you alright?’ He listened out for his voice but could only hear Christine’s bitter laugh. ‘Alex!’ Alex gulped as he recognised her voice. He could tell he was on speaker phone in a car. ‘Hey Christine.’ He said as calmly as possible. ‘You didn’t expect me to call you, did you?’ Alex took a deep breath. ‘Is Tommy not with you?’ He asked her anxiously and could hear her laugh again. ‘I managed to steal his phone before he noticed.’ Alex was getting more and more worried but before he could ask her about it further, she continued. ‘So who is it?’ She asked him angrily. Alex was confused. ‘Who is what?’ Christine took a deep breath. ‘Tommy just broke up with me. He told me he’s in love with someone else,’ she said in tears, ‘you’re his best friend. You must know who he’s sleeping with! Tell me Alex,’ Alex gulped, ‘tell me!’ She shouted again. ‘I don’t know.’ Alex muttered. ‘Liar!’ She screamed into the phone. Alex rubbed his forehead in despair. ‘Christine, please calm down.’ He tried to sound as gentle as possible. ‘Whoever it is, I’ll make life hell for her I swear.’ Alex gasped.
‘Christine, where is Tommy?’ ‘I left him in the house. I just had to get out. I was going through his phone trying to find any women’s names I don’t know. Any text messages. But there’s nothing,’ she sobbed, ‘who is she?’ She screamed again. Alex’s mind was racing. He decided to play along and somehow try and calm her down. ‘Christine, where are you going? You sound like you’re in your car. You shouldn’t be driving in this state.’ Christine laughed bitterly. ‘I can’t drive far enough away from HIM!’ She shouted. ‘Where are you going?’ Alex asked her gently. Christine took a deep breath. ‘To see my parents,’ she gasped for air from all the crying, ‘who is she Alex? Just tell me.’ Alex felt awfully guilty again. ‘Would he not tell you?’ He asked carefully. ‘Well. I didn’t give him much time to explain himself,’ she grunted, ‘I certainly gave him a good slap in the face though.’ She sounded pleased. Alex pulled a face at the thought of it. He was desperate to speak to him now. ‘So I’m asking you one last time Alex, I’m begging you. Tell me who she is.’ ‘I can’t.’ Alex said and rubbed his forehead in despair. He was so close to telling her. But Tom had to do this alone.
‘Fine. Be like this. I should have known better,’ she forced a laugh again, ‘you boys always cover for each other. Even now! At least you can’t speak to him straight away. Taking his phone was the best thing I could have done,’ Alex closed his eyes, ‘I had a missed call from Emma this morning by the way. Do you know what that’s about?’ She said all of a sudden. ‘What?’ Alex muttered. ‘She called me and left a message but I haven’t managed to speak to her yet. Do you know what she wanted?’ Christine asked impatiently. ‘No, I…, I…,’ Alex stammered, ‘I don’t know. Surely it wasn’t important.’ He said quickly. ‘Well it sounded pretty urgent to me. Is she around?’ Alex gulped. ‘No…,no. She’s not actually.’ He said quietly. ‘Fine, I’ll call her tomorrow. I’m here now,’ Alex exhaled with relief, ‘well thanks for nothing,’ Christine said bitterly, ‘when you eventually speak to him, tell him he’s an arsehole.’ She hung up.
Alex threw himself onto the bed and took a deep breath. His fever and illness were temporarily gone with the stress but now he felt unwell again. His mind was racing and he was desperately trying to think of ways of contacting his friend. ‘Felix.’ He thought suddenly and sat up in bed. Alex dialled his number and waited impatiently as it rang. ‘Alex?’ Felix asked half surprised, half expectantly. ‘Hey,’ Alex said quietly, ‘is Tommy with you?’ ‘Are you two telepathic as well now?’ Felix laughed in disbelief as he passed his phone over to Tom.
‘Alex?’ Alex felt relieved and lay back down in bed. ‘Tommy,’ he whispered tenderly, ‘what the hell happened? Are you okay?’ Tom took a deep breath. ‘It’s good to hear your voice,’ he said quietly and Alex wished he wasn’t ill and hundreds of miles away from him, ‘how did you know I was with Felix?’ He asked him surprised. ‘She called me from your phone Tommy. Felix was our only common ally you could have turned to,’ he paused, ‘she asked me who she was.’ Tom gulped. ‘What did you say?’ ‘That I didn’t know.’ Tom exhaled with relief. ‘That was the right thing to do. Thank you. Where the hell is she gone?’ ‘She was on her way to her parents’.’ Tom forced a laugh. ‘She totally lost it when I told her. She certainly slapped me quite hard and if you thought Em throwing a wine bottle was dramatic, you should have seen Christine. I believe not a single plate is still intact.’ ‘Tommy,’ Alex said, ‘Em has already tried to call her. She’ll find out before you know it.’ ‘What?’, Tom shouted into the phone, ‘well did you try and stop her?’ ‘She’s ignoring my calls.’ Alex said calmly. ‘Bloody women.’ Tom grunted. Then his voice turned gentle again. ‘Alex,’ he whispered into the phone, ‘I wish you were here.’ Alex gulped and nodded. ‘I know.’ He mumbled quietly. ‘How are you feeling?’ ‘Still sick.’ Alex said. ‘I’m sorry Christine dragged you into this. I’m sorry I put you into this situation.’ ‘How come you didn’t tell her?’ Alex asked carefully. ‘I didn’t get that far,’ Tom explained hectically, ‘she was hysterical.’ ‘Okay, okay,’ Alex said gently, ‘it’ll be alright Tommy.’ ‘What a bloody mess.’ Tom laughed exhaustedly.
The boys spoke for another hour until both managed to joke again. Tom felt better after their chat and Alex was reassured that his friend was over the worst now. He asked to speak to Felix before he said goodbye to Tom. ‘Blimey, you’ve got a lot to talk about,’ Felix laughed nervously, ‘how are you doing man?’, he asked him, ‘Tommy is in a right state.’ Alex sighed. ‘I knew it would be tougher for him than he expected. Is he staying with you tonight?’ ‘That’s the plan I think,’ he laughed, ‘Jesus, you know you two are so love sick, I have never seen anything like it.’ Felix shouted in disbelief and Alex smiled. ‘I’m glad he came to see you.’ ‘Yeah,’ Felix hesitated, ‘Tommy told me about Em and the whole Markus thing. I’m sorry man.’ Alex gulped. ‘It’s alright. At the end of the day it’s best that she knows.’ He laughed tiredly. ‘Tommy says he’s after Emma? He’s a sick idiot Alex’, Felix sounded angry, ‘you don’t deserve this shit.’ ‘It’s alright. He won’t get her. But there’s nothing I can do now. I’ll just deal with it.’ ‘Okay. Look after yourself. I’ll pass you lover boy again.’ Felix said and Alex couldn’t help but chuckle. His heart jumped when he heard Tom giggle too as he grabbed the phone. ‘Idiot!’ He laughed at Felix.
‘Are you okay now?’ Alex asked him gently. ‘Yes,’ Tom said, ‘better anyway.’ ‘I guess you’ll have to call me from other people’s phones over the next few days.’ ‘I know!’, Tom cursed but had to laugh, ‘will you go to bed now?’ He asked him quietly. ‘Yeah well I have tried to do just that for the last three hours.’ Tom chuckled again. ‘Okay, I won’t keep you any longer,’ he tutted, ‘feel better.’ There was a pause. ‘I love you Tommy.’ Alex whispered and closed his eyes. ‘Me too.’ Tom said quietly and the boys eventually said goodbye to each other that night.
The next day Alex felt better. He skipped his training session but was well enough to get up at least. Anna made him breakfast and they sat down together in the kitchen. Alex told her about the previous night’s events and his sister couldn’t believe her ears. ‘He split up as well now? Blimey you two must be serious,’ she paused eating some toast, ‘I wonder what the press is going to make of all this when they eventually get wind of it.’ Alex shuddered as he sipped his tea. ‘Don’t,’ he mumbled and felt panic rise in him again, ‘I was thinking of going home…,’ he paused and corrected himself, ‘to see Em later to try and talk to her. Before she tells Christine anything,’ he looked at his sister, ‘why do you women always have to be so cruel?’ Anna laughed out loud. ‘We are cruel? Who is cheating on us in the first place?’ ‘This is different.’ ‘Yes,’ Anna nodded, ‘it’s worse. You are playing in a different league. Em can’t compete with a man.’
Alex still felt dizzy and a little weak as he got in his car and hit the road. It was another cold wintery day in Hamburg. Alex shivered from the fever and felt depressed as he drove back towards his home town. He tried to think of something positive but struggled. Even thoughts of Tom didn’t cheer him up that morning as he painfully realised that their world wasn’t as perfect and safe as it used to be.
As he reached the house, Alex’s heart sank. He dreaded the confrontation but was also desperate to see his son. He slowly walked towards the front door and took a deep breath before he rang the bell. Then he opened the door with his key. Alex carefully stepped into the hall and listened out for any noises. ‘Hello?,’ he called up into the living room, ‘Em?’ He slowly went upstairs. Emma was having breakfast with Max at the dinner table. She looked tired and her face was tear-ridden as she was feeding Max. ‘Em?’ He said again quietly and cleared his voice.
‘What are you doing here?’, Emma’s mother had walked into the room from the kitchen. She looked at him in anger, ‘get out of this house!’ She shouted at him. Alex was so surprised that he couldn’t move. He took a deep breath and looked at Emma, who just stared at him in disbelief. ‘Em, please. I just want to talk to you for five minutes. Please.’ ‘You have a nerve to show up here. You are nothing but scum!’, her mother shouted again, ‘get out!’
‘Daddy!’ Max’s face was beaming and Alex took deep breaths trying to swallow down his tears. ‘Baby.’ He whispered. He looked at Emma with begging, tearful eyes and she stopped feeding Max for a moment. ‘Mum,’ Emma said gently, ‘it’s okay. Give us five minutes.’ Her mother was about to protest but then quickly walked off into Max’s room, giving Alex a threatening look. Emma sighed and nodded and Alex stormed towards his son. He picked him up, cuddled and kissed him and cried into his little jumper. He looked at Emma as he was trying to get his breath back. ‘Thank you.’ He gulped as he took a chair and slowly sat down next to her, holding Max closely.
Emma got up and walked towards the sofas. Alex followed her with his eyes. He noticed the red wine stain still on the wall, a nasty reminder of the end of their relationship. As he inhaled Max’s scent, he couldn’t stop crying quietly. He smiled at him under his tears stroking his hair and cheeks and kissed him. ‘He won’t stop asking for you,’ Emma said in a monotonous voice as she stared outside the window, ‘what should I tell him Alex?’ He got up and carefully tried to approach her again holding Max in his arms. He sat down opposite her and wiped the tears off his cheeks. ‘I’m so sorry Em,’ he whispered, ‘I didn’t mean for any of this to happen. I never meant to hurt you. Believe me, I am so, so sorry,’ he stared at her and was physically shaking. Emma looked at him and there was something gentle in her eyes. Beyond her exhaustion and pain, there was something there that gave Alex a glimpse of hope. That she may just believe him or even understand, or at least try to, ‘thank you for letting me hold him.’ He said gently as he buried his nose in his son’s hair again. Emma nodded briefly. ‘I’m doing this for him.’ She explained quickly. ‘Yes I know.’ Alex said and kissed his cheek smiling at him.
‘I called Christine.’ She said and sounded pleased. ‘I know.’ Alex looked at her. ‘Interesting,’ she paused and crossed her arms in front of her chest, ‘Christine told me she spoke to you and you clearly lied to her! Trying to protect him again, are you?’ Emma sounded angry. Alex hesitated. ‘When was this?’ He gulped. ‘This morning. She called me back.’ ‘Oh God.’ Alex shook his head and took a deep breath. ‘Oh God what?’ She shouted. ‘Nothing. I just didn’t realise you actually told her,’ Alex explained quickly, ‘how did she take it?’ He asked her. ‘Not very well, surprisingly.’ Emma said sarcastically. Alex nodded. ‘You should have let Tommy explain.’ He added quickly and then regretted his words straight away. ‘Oh yeah?’, she stood up and faced him, ‘he clearly didn’t have the guts after all!’ ‘Or the chance.’ Alex mumbled. ‘Or perhaps he doesn’t love you as much as you think he does.’ Her face was full of disgust and anger again. Alex cast his eyes down. Then he looked at her. ‘It doesn’t matter now,’ he smiled sadly, ‘you did what you thought was right. She would have found out either way.’ Emma was taken aback by Alex’s calm reaction. She looked at him and sat back down. They both didn’t speak for a moment. Alex kept cuddling Max and tried to lighten up his worried face by smiling at him. ‘She was pretty hysterical.’ Emma said quietly. Alex took a deep breath imagining the grief Tom would have to face now. ‘Yeah.’ He sighed and nodded.
‘I’m sorry you had to hear all of this from Markus, Em. I’m not proud of myself, believe me.’ Emma didn’t look at him. She laughed exhaustedly. ‘From him of all people Alex. There is something so creepy about him.’ Alex grabbed her hand. Emma stared at him. She quickly removed it as she stood up again. ‘So what’s going to happen to us now?’, Emma turned to him in tears, ‘we’re not married. I have nothing.’ ‘Em,’ Alex got up still holding Max on his arm, ‘do you really think I won’t still look after you? Who cares if we’re married or not. I will make sure you and Max are sorted out. You can keep the house if you want it? Or we’ll sell it and I’ll buy you another one. You have nothing to worry about.’ He looked at her intensely. ‘So this is it. We really have no chance anymore?’, she looked at him in tears and bit her lip in agony, ‘you won’t change your mind? And come back to us?’ Alex felt sick. He shook his head and cast his eyes down. ‘Please Em,’ he gulped, ‘don’t make this so hard for me.’ Alex looked at her and she slowly approached him. She put her arms around his waist and carefully tried to kiss him. Alex held his breath. ‘I’m sorry.’ He whispered and walked away. Emma stared at him in tears. ‘You really love him, don’t you?’ Alex nodded as he was hiding his face in Max’s hair again. ‘You should go now Alex.’ Emma walked over and took Max on her arm. Alex felt signs of panic again. He gulped as he looked at Emma’s wet face. ‘Thank you again. For letting me be with you both for a bit.’ He kissed the back of his son’s hair and turned away before the tears started running down his face again.
‘It’s a shame,’ Emma said suddenly, ‘that I clearly can’t make you happy like he can.’ Alex turned and hugged them both kissing Emma’s hair gently. ‘I’m sorry.’ He said again. ‘I know.’ She looked at him and Alex gasped at her words. He kissed her forehead and Max’s cheek and smiled at her gently. ‘Can I come back and visit some time soon?’, he asked her anxiously, ‘if your mother lets me in?’ He laughed nervously. ‘You’re still his daddy.’ She forced a smile and Alex’s face lit up. He briefly kissed her cheek. ‘Thank you Em,’ he slowly let go off them both, ‘bye.’ He kept turning around as he was walking down the stairs, waving at Max in tears.
Alex took a deep breath before he drove away. He felt weak again and was unsure whether it was the emotion or the fever. He quickly checked his phone before he hit the road and saw that he had a missed call and a voicemail from a number he didn’t know. He listened to the message and cursed. ‘Why did Em have to do this to him?’ Alex returned Tom’s call but it went straight to voicemail. ‘Hey,’ Alex said tenderly as the recording started, ‘sorry I missed you. I went to see Em and tried to stop her from talking to Christine,’ he gulped, ‘but I was too late I know. I’m sorry Tommy. Call me after training okay?’ He hung up.
As Alex started getting closer to the outskirts of Lübeck again, he was seriously wondering about his future. It felt like the boys had smashed up their lives around them but the relief was yet to kick in. And it would be the biggest test of their love and relationship yet.
Alex returned to an empty flat. His sister had left him a generic cialis online note on the kitchen table. ‘Food’s in the fridge. Hope you feel better. I’ll be home for 7.’ He smiled and checked the fridge but didn’t fancy anything. He decided to go back to bed to sleep the rest of this illness off. The sooner he would be able to go back to training and get on with some of his life, the better.
Tom called him back when he was fast asleep. He jumped and quickly grabbed his phone. ‘Tommy,’ he mumbled half asleep as he picked up, ‘you alright?’ He wiped his eyes and slowly came round. ‘Did I wake you up?’ Tom asked gently. ‘No, no,’ Alex sat up in bed and held his forehead, ‘it’s fine, don’t worry. How are you?’ Tom hesitated. ‘Yeah. Been better.’ He laughed quietly. ‘Have you got my bug?’ Alex asked anxiously. Tom giggled. ‘No, idiot. I have an ex-girlfriend who is going berserk.’ ‘Oh!’ Alex nodded still wiping his eyes. ‘Ex-girlfriend.’ He thought. It sounded so odd. ‘I’m sorry Tommy. I can’t believe Em did this.’ ‘I can.’ Tom sighed. ‘What did Christine say then?’ Alex asked him carefully. ‘Oh just what you would expect. She howled abuse at me and promised that I’d have to pay for this.’ Alex was alarmed. ‘What does she mean by that?’ ‘Oh God knows.’ ‘I wish Em would have given you the chance to explain it all.’ ‘Hmm, yeah. It’s done now though. We’ll move on,’ Tom paused, ‘did you see Max?’ Alex told Tom about the visit and he listened attentively. ‘That’s great news given the circumstances,’ Tom sounded relieved, ‘I can imagine her mother wanting to kill you,’ he giggled, ‘I’ll have to face the same hell.’ ‘She tried to kiss me.’ Alex gulped. ‘Really?’, Tom asked surprised, ‘and?’ He almost held his breath. Alex was amused at his friend’s anxious reaction. ‘What do you think, muppet?,’ Tom exhaled with relief, ‘it was strange Tommy,’ Alex continued, ‘I…, I wasn’t even tempted to kiss her,’ Tom didn’t say anything, ‘it just shows, doesn’t it?’ ‘Shows what?’ Tom still sounded nervous. ‘That I belong to you now.’ Alex whispered and he could hear his friend smile. ‘That sounds so awesome.’ Tom said gently and if both boys had been able to see each other beaming, they would have laughed out loud.
The next few days were still tough. Alex tried to pick up the pieces of his old life. The press had got wind of him having moved out and the journalists were hungry for a good story. Alex had to confirm his separation from his girlfriend and cringed at seeing himself in all the local papers. His agent was as supportive as possible and gave him some sound advice of how to handle this crisis best.
Alex’s Facebook page was full of messages for him. Some were sad, even abusive, others supportive. He had to chuckle at some girls cheering, hoping they could be the next woman for him. He shuddered. As he was surfing the internet, he even spotted an article linking Alex’s and Tom’s relationship breakdowns. ‘Old friends and ex-team colleagues both decide to move on.’ He sent the link to Tom, who thought it was amusing.
At least the cold had finally gone and the cut in his hand had healed and Alex could focus on his work again. He’d been staying at his sister’s house since the break-up but had briefed his agent to start looking for houses around Hamburg for him.
Similarly, Tom tried to cope with the new circumstances as well as he possibly could. He was living between Felix’s and Kai’s flats whilst he got an apartment sorted. The press didn’t give him less of a hard time. He had to go through the same amount of questions about his relationship breakdown. Just like Alex, he tried to focus the journalists more on his ability to play football and his objectives and performance with his club for the rest of the season than his split from Christine.
Over the next couple of weeks the boys called each other several times a day. They went through ups and downs together. Sometimes it was Tom who could hardly face getting out of bed, other times Alex was in tears missing Max so much that he didn’t know how to handle it all. Either way, they continued to support each other and promised one another that they would get through this. No matter what.
After a month Alex and Tom had finally made some progress. They had both found somewhere to live and excitedly shared pictures of their newly purchased accommodation with each other over the phone and the web.
Alex had bought a large house in the countryside outside of Hamburg. Inspired by Tom’s house in Austria, Alex now also had a pool and gym area built into it. He had Max’s room set up as a priority hoping Emma would let him stay every once in a while and was feeling content imagining Tom in his new home whenever he would be able to visit.
Tom had opted for the complete opposite. He had bought a luxurious penthouse apartment in the middle of Dortmund overlooking the whole city. He was showing Alex the view on Skype and Alex gave his friend a sneak preview of the new kitchen he had bought only according to Tom’s taste.
It felt things were finally on the up again and it would now only take another few weeks until the last international friendly matches before the World Cup were scheduled when the boys would finally be able to see each other again.
One Tuesday morning Alex was on his way to training. He got used to his new route to his club and he was in a good mood. Despite the last few weeks of mayhem he had managed to focus on his career and his performance had actually improved. He had scored in every match and was almost surprised himself. As he was lost in thought his mobile rang and Emma’s number came up. ‘Hi Em,’ he said gently as he picked up, ‘how are you?’ ‘Hey,’ she whispered quietly, ‘I’m fine…, fine’, she sounded hesitant, ‘you?’ ‘Yeah I’m alright. How is Max?’ He gulped. ‘Missing his daddy.’ She said and Alex’s heart sank. ‘Can I do anything? Do you need anything?’ He asked quickly. ‘I’m calling because I’m worried Alex.’ She sounded anxious all of a sudden. ‘Why?’, Alex was alert straight away, ‘are you alright? Is something wrong with Max?’ He asked hectically. ‘No, no, we’re fine,’ she took a deep breath, ‘I spoke to Christine just now. She called me because she wanted me to team up with her.’ Alex was confused. ‘What? What the hell does that mean?’ Emma was hesitant again. ‘What do you think it means?’ ‘I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Alex was getting stressed. ‘To sell our story Alex.’
‘Oh,’ Alex was breathing harder as it started to sink in, ‘of course. The betrayed girlfriends. Dumped by gay footballer couple. Yes that is probably going to make you millions as an exclusive story.’ He laughed bitterly. He had to pull into a car park and stop the car. ‘Okay,’ he turned cold and was full of suspicion, ‘what do you want? More money? I’ll give you anything,’ he said hectically, ‘anything. Please Em, don’t do this.’ ‘Will you listen to me you imbecile,’ she was getting angry, ‘I’m warning you about this. I’m not part of this idea. I told her that she was going too far and that she was risking Tommy’s and your professional lives,’ Alex listened silently in shock, ‘but I’m afraid she will sell the story anyway and get her dosh. I told her to leave you out of this.’ ‘Oh God, but what about Tommy?’ He could hardly speak. ‘I can’t help him,’ she said and sounded distant, ‘she’s got it all organised. You won’t change her mind, believe me I’ve tried.’ ‘Perhaps Tommy can pay her off,’ he mumbled, ‘perhaps if they talked again, she won’t…’ ‘Forget it Alex,’ Emma interrupted him, ‘she can’t wait for the revenge and to see him suffer for what he has done to her. It’s not just the money.’ Alex was speechless. His heart was racing. ‘How come you didn’t join in?’ He asked almost sarcastically. ‘Because I have a child who will have to live with this for the rest of his life if I did.’ She shouted at him. ‘I’m sorry Em,’ Alex said quickly, ‘I didn’t mean to…’ ‘Hurt me?’, she interrupted him again. She laughed, ‘yes you sound like a broken record!’, Alex bit his lip, ‘anyway,’ she sighed, ‘I felt like it was only fair that you know.’ ‘Thank you,’ Alex whispered as the full horror started to sink in, ‘thank you Em.’ She hung up.
It had started to rain and the drops gently drummed onto the roof and against the windows of Alex’s car. All he could hear was this gentle sound as he just sat and stared in shock. He took deep breaths as he tried to calm down before he rang his friend.
‘Hey,’ Tom cheerfully picked up the phone, ‘I was just about to call you to say hello,’ he laughed, ‘you alright? Bit late for training, hmm?’ He giggled. Alex had closed his eyes listening to his friend’s happy voice. He didn’t say anything. ‘Alex?’, Tom asked unsure, ‘what’s going on?’ ‘Tommy.’ Alex gulped. ‘Alex, what happened?’, Tom was full of concern straight away, ‘are you alright?’, Alex gasped for air, ‘Jesus, just tell me. Don’t do this again, now come on.’ ‘You have to speak to Christine.’ Alex forced his words out and took a deep breath again. ‘Christine?’, Tom sounded confused, ‘why the hell would I do that?’ ‘Because she is about to destroy your career Tommy,’ Alex gasped for air again, ‘she is selling her story to the press. She’ll tell them Tommy,’ Alex shook his head, ‘she’ll tell them everything.’
Tom didn’t say anything at first. Alex could hear him breathing harder with stress. ‘What,’ Tom mumbled in shock, ‘what did you just say?’ ‘Em just called me. Apparently Christine wanted to team up with her, get us both busted and them sorted for life,’ Alex explained quickly now, ‘Em called me to warn us. She didn’t want anything to do with it,’ Alex bit his lip, ‘Tommy, you have to call her. No, you have to go and see her. You have to stop her. Pay her off, I don’t know. Just something,’ he felt desperate and helpless, ‘Tommy?’ ‘Yes,’ Tom said slowly and quietly, ‘yes, I’m listening.’ ‘Do you think you can change her mind somehow?’, Tom had gone quiet again, ‘Tommy, say something please.’ ‘I, I…,’ Tom stammered, ‘I don’t know,’ he took a deep breath, ‘my God. I never thought she’d be capable of this.’ He whispered. ‘Call her. Now,’ Alex urged him, ‘Tommy.’ ‘Yes, yes. I’ll call her now.’ ‘Let me know once you have spoken to her. Will you?’, there was silence again, ‘will you?’ Alex pushed him. ‘Yes.’ Tom sounded emotionless. Without saying it, both boys knew that yet another nightmare was about to begin.
Alex couldn’t concentrate on his training all day and was glad when the session was over. He quickly checked his phone but hadn’t had any calls from Tom. Back in his house he was feeling anxious and stressed. All he wanted to do was jump on the next plane to Dortmund. As he made himself dinner he was desperately considering his options. Waiting for his friend’s call was the worst. In the end he just decided to call him instead.
‘Come on, come on. Pick up,’ he said hectically to himself rubbing his forehead as he heard the phone ring. Then finally he heard his voice, ’Tommy,’ he almost shouted into the phone, ‘what happened? Did you manage to speak to her?’ There was a long pause. ‘It’s over Alex,’ Tom sounded calm, almost too calm, ‘I can’t stop her. It’s a done deal. That’s it.’ Alex stared quietly in shock. ‘But, but…,’ he was looking for words,’ ‘but why?’ He asked with despair in his voice. ‘Revenge. Some sort of penalty,’ Tom said quietly, ‘I’ve offered her everything. Half of my money, now and forever if needs be. But she wasn’t interested. She wants to see me suffer,’ he laughed, ‘you were right all along. You thought she might go to the press. And I didn’t want to believe it.’
‘Where are you right now?’ Alex gulped. ‘At home.’ ‘You’ve been drinking.’ ‘Only a couple of beers.’ Alex was worried and alarmed. Tom had more than that, he knew him, he could tell. ‘Didn’t you feel like talking to me?’ He asked him carefully. Tom laughed sadly. ‘I’m sitting in a dark flat Alex. I can’t face talking to anyone. I’m about to lose everything,’ he paused, ‘I’m finished.’ ‘Tommy,’ Alex said hectically, ‘you are not finished. She will not win this. You are a true star, a genius footballer. People love you and they will continue to do that,’ Alex paused, ‘and besides, you will never lose me.’ Tom laughed in despair again. The boys didn’t speak for a moment.
‘If you were just here,’ Tom said more to himself and sighed, ‘things would be a bit easier.’ Alex listened to him in agony. ‘Sod this God forsaken club.’ He thought suddenly. ‘I will be there.’ Alex said assertively. ‘What?’ Tom mumbled absently. ‘I’ll take the first plane to Cologne tomorrow. I’ll be there by midday.’ ‘What? You can’t, you’ve got to go to training.’ ‘I don’t care about training.’ Alex gulped. ‘Alex, you can’t do that. The press will get suspicious of you being with me just as this bloody story is about to break!’ ‘Tommy, we’re in this together. You need me right now and I want to be there for you,’ Tom didn’t say anything, ‘you would do the same for me. I know you would.’ ‘Alex,’ Tom sighed, ‘this could be risky for you.’ ‘You don’t understand. You’re all I have,’ Alex said and almost got emotional again, ‘I’ve made up my mind anyway.’ He said quickly. ‘Really?’ Tom asked with a sad smile. ‘Yes. Really.’ Alex whispered and gently kissed his friend goodnight over the phone.