By Neil, 21 November 2017 #
“But surely it’s weird in the changing room? Don’t they think you’re looking? I mean, you are looking, right?”
Isaac jumps right in with the question everyone gets around to eventually, grinning and holding my gaze with an impish frankness that acknowledges the furtive, unrequited glances I used to steal at him in changing rooms before moving away.
I laugh to cover the blush that betrays me every time. “I try not to. It takes a lot of willpower.”
“Oh my God, no!” He explodes in amused outrage. ” You’ve got to! Make the most of it! Our man on the inside!”
A neat, balding man sitting alone with his pint glances up at Isaac’s exclamations, the other inhabitant of the pub not taking part in a weekly quiz we spent about six months regularly embarrassing ourselves at; an indefatigable drag queen steamrollers on with a music video round, despite the only current participants being a giggling couple and a team of clueless bar staff.
“Did they just know?” Isaac persists. “Or did you have to tell them?”
In truth I’d hoped that Facebook would do my dirty work for me, accepting the flurry of friend requests that came after the first couple of games I played. I’d scored in both, which was a relief as they were mostly younger and nippier than me, old teammates of my vintage having largely succumbed to family life, from what I heard. They still seemed genuinely surprised, though, when, worried that if left too long it would seem as though I’d been hiding it, I clunkily dropped an ex-boyfriend into conversation as we clattered away from the sports centre, the clench of anxiety inside my chest no less for having done this dozens of times before.
It wasn’t long into the next week’s game that I knew it was going to be okay. Sweeping me up in the celebration for a move I’d barely had any part in, Ali, a lanky youngster from Govan who’d been one of the chattiest since I joined, pulled me in with a long, sweaty arm and planted a kiss squarely on my forehead before sprinting back down the pitch.
I’d made it pretty much every week since then, occasionally gathering to watch the match in a pub or a night out at the weekend too, although of course I clicked with some more than others: Lukasz loved to talk politics with me and we’d often have to be ushered out, still arguing, long past closing time, whilst Ali took to greeting me like a long-lost brother even if we’d seen each other the night before, over-powering my tentative, platonic pats with repeated, enveloping hugs. One or two were more cordial, smiling and chatting whilst a certain taut circumspection lingered beneath the surface, but in time even this seemed to dissipate.
There was some locker-room talk but it was pretty tame compared to the ribaldry I remembered from Rainbow FC, Isaac and the others giving their full and frank assessments of our opponents. Maybe they were inhibited by my presence but I didn’t get that impression, behind the odd joshing there was a quiet sense of conservatism about sex. Walking by ourselves one evening, Lukasz awkwardly expressed discomfort with some long-running banter about one lad’s fictitious infidelities to me. “But I don’t want to seem like a dick, you know?” He ventured, flicking me an anxious sideways glance.
“But you can’t not be thinking about it?” Isaac was warming to his theme. “Getting all hot and bothered together the whole time: look at how many of our teammates hooked up! You’re fixating on what you can’t have again. It sounds to me like this is one massive self-sabotaging displacement activity, designed to ensure you never get laid.”
“I can get that on Grindr,” I deflect him, “But they never go for a pint with me afterwards.”
Away from them, of course, it’s a subject my mind gnaws away at, the guilty flashes of half-formed lusts, the fear that these are breaking some undeclared rule, thought crimes that threaten to bring it all crashing down, but when I see them this evaporates.
I’m not saying it isn’t lurking there: that when Ali drapes a long arm around my shoulders in the club, pulling my ear so close to his mouth that I’m momentarily brushed by his fringe, desire doesn’t bubble up at the familiar onion tang of his sweat, but as he slurs excitedly about how much he wants the girl he’s started dating to meet me, it seeps away again, like the tightness between my shoulders, to leave something more precious.
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