Roger was about to quit the locker room for his hotel and room service when he saw Rafa's match on the television bolted to the wall. A glance at the score turned into a decision to watch this one point, which turned into a slow sinking onto the bench behind him.
He drew one foot up and propped his chin on his knee. Rafa was doing well, no doubt. Third set, 5-3. His opponent looked confused to still be in the match at all, not an uncommon look for Rafa's opponents lately.
Someone sat down next to him, and Roger jerked his head round. He always felt faintly awkward about watching Rafa's matches in public, as if he were watching some sort of specialized, niche-market pornography.
Feli Lopez nodded to him briefly and then looked back to the screen. Roger let his eyes be drawn back there too. There was something magnetic about the way Rafa played. Feli, silent and intent beside him, seemed to feel the same.
In the break, Rafa sat down and reached between his legs for a water bottle that wasn't there. He found them a second later, moved aside under the bench, and called one of the attendants over. There was no sound, but Rafa's frown and short, angry gesture were easy enough to read. Roger frowned as well. For Rafa, that was equivalent of getting in the boy's face and screaming at him.
"Is he all right?" Roger said.
"What do you think? Keep looking."
Roger did. Rafa was not all right. There were no more outbursts, but there were no fist-pumps either, no expression on his face at all, even after he won. The on-court interview was painful to watch. It was painful to participate in too, judging from the interviewer's over-wide smile. Rafa's answers were short, and his gaze kept drifting toward his interviewer's hideous tie.
"What's wrong?" Roger said quietly, more to Rafa, who couldn't hear him, than to Feli, who could.
"He won't say. Not to me, not to Carlos. Not even to Tomeau. Toni says leave him alone, but--"
Roger nodded. But how could they? That wasn't Rafa.
"You talk to him, huh?" Feli said. "At least he will not yell at you."
He got up and walked off, leaving Roger to wonder if that request had been the entire reason he sat down in the first place. Also, yell? Rafa yelling at his friends? It was nearly impossible to imagine. He'd never seen Rafa yell at anyone.
Maybe five minutes later, Rafa walked into the locker room and right past Roger without a smile or a nod or any indication he knew Roger was there. He made straight for the showers.
Roger scuffed at the floor with the toe of his shoe. Maybe this was a bad idea. Rafa did not look like he wanted to talk. He'd never ignored Roger like that before, no matter what, though Roger was abruptly and uncomfortably aware that he'd done it to Rafa once or twice.
He pulled his water bottle from his bag and took a long drink. When in doubt, hydrate. He could phone Rafa later. That might be better. Safer. Less confrontational.
Rafa came back just then, towel-clad and blank-faced. Roger waited until he was dry and dressed.
No smile, still. Roger felt a little ill about that. Rafa always smiled. "Is everything...okay? With you?"
Roger smoothed his hands over the wood of the bench. Moisture from the showers had cracked the varnish into peeling shards, sharp-smooth under his palms.
"Everything is not okay," Roger said. "You want to-- to talk about it?"
Rafa turned to look at him finally. "No. Don't want to talk. Feli put you up to this? He think, what, I not be mad for you asking, because you the great Roger Federer, no?"
Roger couldn't think what to say to that.
Rafa went on. "I don't want you ask. You not my friend, okay? Don't hardly know you. Not for real. Not close. Don't want no one to ask. Just want be left alone."
He turned his back and started packing up his bag. Roger shouldered his own bag and got out of there. His chest was tight, and his face was hot. It was absolutely shocking how much it had hurt to hear that, so much so that he barely knew how to think about it.
Someone tried to stop him in the hall--for a photo, autograph, interview; he didn't know. He pushed past with a muttered apology. He felt like such an idiot. Rafa was right; they hardly knew each other. Except Roger had thought of Rafa as his friend. Until just now.
He asked his driver to take the long way to the hotel while he tried to sort his head out. It was an overreaction on his part, surely. He was too used to Rafa being...Rafa. The comparison to an overgrown puppy was difficult to avoid, and maybe that was the whole problem. It was easy to forget there was more to him than that, even if Roger seldom got to see it.
Roger played Halle, and Rafa played Queens. Roger didn't see him again until Wimbledon, at least not in person. He watched a few of Rafa's matches, enough to know that whatever had been wrong in Paris was still wrong.
Rafa's precise line of three water bottles grew to four. He retied his headband after each set. He picked at the laces of his shoes. He played vicious, frightening tennis. He didn't smile.
Roger had thought he was over what Rafa had said to him. It was not a fun memory, but it didn't make him feel quite so crawlingly stupid and queasy anymore--until Feli sidled up to him on the practice courts to apologize.
"I heard what he said to you. Wanted to say sorry then, but you left so fast. I didn't think--he always so nice to you." Feli shrugged.
"He's always so nice to everyone," Roger said, fighting not to snap. The knowledge that someone had heard Rafa say those things to him made it really quite a lot worse. He took a deep breath. It wasn't Feli's fault. It wasn't anyone's fault. They were all adults, more or less. At the very least he and Feli were adults. Rafa was only just 23, and he'd always seemed younger to Roger than he was. Which meant, if anything, Roger should be more forgiving toward him than less.
Even knowing that was true, he couldn't bring himself to talk to Rafa again that day, or the next. The matches came one after another, and it was easy to focus on that. Rafa was playing up to his new standard, deconstructing his opponents and winning in straight sets almost every time. He faltered against Roddick, but it was only a glitch on his way to the final.
Roger met him there on Centre Court for the fourth year in a row. Roger had done his best to shake off last year's defeat, but he was never entirely successful at that sort of thing. The loss poked at him, dragged his heart down, and he couldn't help thinking how much worse it would be to lose to this new Rafa who wouldn't even smile at him.
It was a bad way to start the match. Not just bad, but dangerous. It made him clutch the handle of his racket too tightly, made his footwork stiff. Not a lot, but microseconds counted when he was playing Rafa.
The pall clung onto him until the end of the first set. He sat down, took a bite of banana, and looked at the score board, which read 6-1. He'd known that, of course. But now he stared. He'd just won the first set, 6-1. Against Rafa, who had played his way through the quarters and semis like some unstoppable machine. Roger was playing well, but not that well. Not 6-1 against Rafa Nadal well.
He wanted to lean back the few inches that would let him see Rafa on the far side of the umpire's chair, but every camera would pick that up. If there were answers to be had, he'd get them afterwards.
The second set went to tie break. Roger won it 7-6. The third set he won 6-4.
It was all over in two hours. He held the cup up over his head. The roar of the crowd was too loud to register as intelligible sound. He felt it on his skin.
He felt also Rafa's presence next to him, a good two feet away. It was strange to have Rafa stand with him and not be well inside his personal space, worse than the lack of smiles.
Rafa stalked into the locker room, and Roger followed right on his heels. Rafa walked straight back to the showers, turned one on, and got in. He stood with his eyes closed, face tipped up to catch the spray. His clothes darkened slowly as the water drenched them.
Roger watched him for a few seconds, half-expecting some sudden collapse. When nothing happened, he went to fetch Rafa's shower bag and towel. He hung the towel up on the hook beside the shower stall and hesitated, hand raised, inches from Rafa's shoulder. Water droplets clung to his skin.
Rafa turned to face him and blinked rapidly, either surprised to see him or just trying to clear the water from his eyes. "Roger."
Rafa took the bag and looked down at it like he couldn't figure out what it was.
"I thought-- Your shampoo and things. I thought you'd want them." Roger pushed sweaty hair out of his face and dragged a hand over his mouth. He was back to feeling like a fool, which was at least familiar territory.
Rafa set the bag down on a tiled ledge. He rubbed his hands together. "Those things I say to you, they are bad things."
"It was none of my business. You were right."
"Not right. Maybe true, but not right to say. Not nice."
"You don't have to be nice all the time."
Roger shrugged. He did try. "Not all the time."
Rafa dragged his shirt off. It landed with a sodden plop on the shower floor and left Roger feeling still more awkward.
"I should go," he said.
"The first set," Rafa started.
"Not so good." He looked at Roger from between the wet streaks of hair clinging to his face. "Sorry."
"Everyone has off days."
Rafa wrapped his arms around himself and bit his lip. "No. Roger. Rogelio. I am sorry."
Sorry for more than just playing poorly, Roger interpreted. "It's all right," he said. "I don't-- It's okay. Really."
He held out his hand, and Rafa grasped it briefly. He gave Roger a tiny smile that made something inside Roger unknot. He held Rafa's hand tighter in relief and then let go abruptly when he heard someone moving nearby.
"I should get washed," he said.
"Do you want," Roger started. "Ah. Will you be around tomorrow? We could have lunch? And...not talk about it?"
Rafa's smile was a little bigger this time. "Yes, okay. I want to have the sushi. But you will have the press tomorrow."
Roger ran through tomorrow's likely schedule in an effort to see where lunch might fit, and then gave up. "The day after?"
"The day after is good," Rafa said.
"I'll make reservations."
They both nodded for a few seconds too long, and Roger went to get his things.
They went to Nobu. Rafa met him there at two, dressed in jeans and a very pink shirt. "Hi," he said. "Hello. How are you?"
"Pretty good," Roger said. "I just won this big tennis match, you see."
Rafa smiled at him properly, with teeth, and Roger hadn't fully realized how much he'd missed that.
Inside, they were shown quickly to a table by the window. The place had its usual hush. Rafa sat opposite him, hands clasped on the polished wood.
"You order, yes? I like it all."
Rafa had some of everything, even the octopus, which Roger had mostly ordered as a dare. They talked about golf and Roger's last game with Tiger Woods in Dubai, and, strangely, about clothes.
"I think maybe I should do it better," Rafa said. "The clothes. The dressing up."
He looked so serious. Roger fought to keep a straight face. "A new suit maybe?"
"Something like that. You do not buy yours in the stores, huh? They make them special for you?"
"You could try Harrods. Or I do have a tailor here. I could give you his name."
Rafa peered at him through the mass of hair that seemed inevitably to end up in his eyes no matter how often he pushed it back. He bit at his thumbnail.
"Or take you down and introduce you," Roger said.
Rafa grinned at him. "You would do that? Don't have to be nice all the time, you know."
"For you, I don't mind."
But when they were done eating, all they did was wander along rain-spotted sidewalks. Rafa had set his jaw when the bill came and said he would pay. Roger hadn't thought it would be wise to argue.
There were a lot of stares. People stopped them for autographs. One woman looked back and forth between them, over and over, as if one or both of them would surely vanish the instant she glanced away.
"They don't believe it, no?" Rafa said. "The two of us together. Think they must be mistake."
"It does seem unlikely, I suppose."
"Roger," Rafa said, and then stopped.
"What is it?"
"Is unlikely, no? We are unlikely. Together."
"As friends you mean. Or--colleagues."
"Colleagues, what does this mean?"
"Someone you work with." Roger frowned. "A--a business partner. Sort of." But that wasn't exactly right either.
"We are more than this." Rafa said it like he was very sure of it.
"But not friends," Roger said, a bitter note in his voice that he hadn't intended. "No, I'm sorry," he said, off Rafa's wide-eyed look. "But you were right. We don't really know each other very well. There's no time, is there? Practice, physical therapy, tournaments. It-- It isolates you, to be so busy."
"It isolates you," Rafa said. "Always there are people around me, even when I am stupid and push at them. You, not so much."
"I have people," Roger said, aware of how defensive he sounded. He had to stop this. "It's easier to travel with a small group. I hate to inconvenience anyone. And of course Mirka is always with me."
Rafa shot him a cross look. "This is press conference answer."
It was the appropriate answer, which was, yes, exactly the same thing. He took in Rafa's face and the expectation there, the assumption that Roger would be honest with him.
Roger shrugged. "My whole life is tennis, and the people who aren't a part of that--I don't know. I don't relate to them so well. The people I knew from school, I haven't seen them for many years."
Rafa turned to face him fully, looking so stricken that Roger replayed what he'd just said in his mind in case he'd mentioned a sudden death in the family and hadn't realized it.
"Not no one? From when you are little?"
Roger shook his head. He thought of Marco, but he knew Marco mostly from the tennis, too. A simple no was easier.
"This is not the same!"
"Perhaps not. It's how it is, though."
Rafa stopped in the middle of an empty square with rosebushes all around the edge. His eyebrows were scrunched up together, and his mouth was twisted. "You want to know why I am so messed up since Roland Garros?"
"Yes," Roger said.
"I ask Xisca to marry me."
Roger winced. "And she said no."
"She say she want a normal life. Say she never gonna have that with me. Like I am not normal guy anymore. Like--" He jerked his hands up and let them fall to his sides. "Like I am not good enough guy to make up for being so good at the tennis."
"I'm sorry." Roger laid a hand on his shoulder, just a momentary touch, only his fingertips getting enough contact to feel the warmth of Rafa's skin. "It's not an easy life. Maybe harder for the ones who have to watch from the sidelines."
Rafa turned his head back toward Roger, eyes hidden by hair and shadows. "You are the only one I tell this."
Roger blinked. "I-- Thank you."
Rafa nodded sharply. "I have to go. People waiting, you know. Please be well."
Rafa took his hand and shook it once, squeezing down tight. He walked off. Roger watched him go and then stood a minute longer trying to work out what had just happened.
It was no good. He called his car instead, and then made another call while he waited, tucked into a doorway, face turned away from the street.
A woman's voice answered. "Taikomochi Temps, how may I direct your call?"
"I'm looking for an assistant, someone available in the next hour."
"Have we had the pleasure of your business before, sir?"
"Yes. The name is Ace." It was a ridiculous name, but he hadn't expected to need a code name the first time he'd called them. He hadn't had a lot of time to think one up.
"Yes, sir. I have your profile. The gentlemen we sent you last time is available. Would he suit you?"
Roger remembered only a general impression of young, slender, and blond. "I'm looking for--" He closed his eyes and shut out both thought and embarrassment. "--someone older. Late thirties, early forties. And tall. Taller than I am, if that's possible."
The sound of nails clicking on a keyboard came across the line. "I think I have just the man for you, sir. In the next hour, you said?"
"Half hour, ideally."
"That can be arranged."
He gave her his hotel and room number and rang off. He'd gotten used to these calls over the years, but this one made him itch a bit. He rubbed now-damp palms against his pants. Taller than him, older than him. Why not just say 'Someone to top me hard,' and get it over with?
And the other thing that made him itch, of course, was the way Mirka had made sure to tell him she'd be out shopping all afternoon. He hadn't expected to call the agency after his lunch with Rafa. It was a little disturbing that she apparently had expected it.
The hired car pulled up to the sidewalk, and he walked down across the grass and climbed inside. He tapped his nails against the window. It was probably coincidence. She'd known he'd call them before he left London. Today was as good a day as any.
It was a short ride to the hotel. The rain picked up from an occasional drop to a heavy, wet splatter that broke against the windshield like a barrage of water balloons. The doorman held an umbrella over him as he moved from car to awning-covered door. Roger tipped him, as he'd tipped the driver, as he would tip the man from Taikomochi, despite the ruinous rates they charged.
He remembered very clearly a time when people didn't open doors for him, when his clothes didn't magically turn up laundered and pressed in his room, when dinner wasn't just a phone call to room service away. He didn't remember it as being either worse or better, but the sheer difference of it struck him sometimes. Like now, as he headed up to the Royal Suite to wait for his high-priced call boy.
His call boy's handle turned out to be Rex, which was really too much.
"Look, it doesn't have to be your real name, but pick something not Rex for me to call you, please. I will laugh an inappropriate times."
The man's mouth turned up at the corner. He was, as requested, taller than Roger at about 6'4", deeply tanned skin, dark hair, maybe Italian. Very white teeth. He leaned against the back of the sofa and made it look even smaller than it was.
"Is that right, Ace?" he said.
"Roger is fine."
The man shrugged. "Bobby."
"It's nice to meet you, Bobby. Would you like a drink?"
"Nah." Bobby pushed off the couch and crossed to where Roger stood in two long strides. He put large hands on Roger's shoulder and ass and pulled him in tight. "We can just get started, yeah?"
Roger nodded, wondering where all his breath had gone.
Bobby found the bedroom without Roger's help and walked him backwards to the bed. He pushed Roger down with a hand to the middle of his chest.
Roger stayed, and got to watch Bobby strip, which was a pretty thing to see. He was built solidly, arms and shoulder packed densely with muscle, like--well, like Rafa. The comparison was unavoidable. He might be Spanish as easily as Italian. He had an odd grace, too.
"Do you play sports?" Roger asked him, as his underwear hit the ground.
"Rugby. Best game in the world."
He pulled Roger bodily up against him without giving him a chance to answer. His chest was solid as leaning against a brick wall. Roger put his hands on Bobby's skin and swallowed.
He didn't do this a lot. London, New York, Paris, Dubai: they all had branches of the agency. The other cities Roger visited did not. The lack of frequency maybe explained why this wrecked him every single time.
He was already so hard he ached, holding on tight to Bobby's upper arms as Bobby pushed a thigh roughly between his legs. Roger ground his hips forward, trapped cock dragging over hard, smooth muscle. Roger bit his lip and did it again, and again, just riding Bobby's thigh until he thought he could come like that. Easily.
Bobby laughed softly and grabbed two handfuls of Roger's shirt. "Hey, can I rip all your buttons off?"
Roger blinked at him. "What?"
"You know, like in the movies. Always wanted to try it."
"You're new at this aren't you?"
"You got a point?"
"No, no. Feel free."
It took Bobby two tries, but Roger's shirt did give, finally. It ripped down the middle with a rasp of fraying cloth and the patter of little buttons hitting the wood floor. Bobby grinned and yanked the remains off, busting the cuff buttons as well. His hands moved over Roger's chest and sides. The whole thing was hotter than it should be. Roger pressed closer to him.
"Damn, you got a nice body," Bobby murmured. He ran his hand flat across Roger's stomach and down, dipping into his trousers. He had them down around Roger's ankles in about three seconds, and Roger stepped out of them. His underwear joined them. Bobby put a hand on his cock, and Roger made a noise embarrassingly close to a whimper.
"You want me to fuck you," Bobby said. He didn't even bother making it a question.
Bobby bent down to speak in Roger's ear, voice low. "You want this in you, yeah?" He rubbed his cock, hot and hard, against Roger's hip.
Roger held onto his shoulders and closed his eyes. "Yes," he said again, but it came out shakier this time.
"Get on the bed, hands and knees."
He obeyed, and waited, and tried not to think. He'd asked for this, after all. It was unusual for him. His type, if he had one, ran to pretty faces and slim bodies and young men who wouldn't dare tell him what to do, even while they were fucking him.
Bobby returned to kneel on the bed behind him. Roger didn't look back. He let his head hang down as one slicked finger slid into him.
"You don't do this a lot, huh?" Bobby said.
"Five, six times a year. Not more."
"I better make it good then."
Another finger pushed in beside the first, cool and thick. Roger closed his eyes. He could feel his cock standing up hard against his stomach, pulsing with his heartbeat.
Bobby's hand rested flat at the small of his back. "Is this enough? You want to feel it, right?" Bobby bent over him. Roger could feel his cock rubbing against the back of his thigh, faintly wet. Bobby's teeth caught his ear lobe and tugged it. "Maybe for a couple days, huh?"
Roger swore and dropped down to brace himself on his forearms. Bobby grabbed at his ass, palmed his cheeks with both hands and spread them. Roger had the barest hint of warm breath, and then Bobby licked across his hole, hot and wet, and Roger stifled his moan against the sheets.
"You don't-- You don't have to--" He gave up, shaking his head and grabbing at his own hair as Bobby did it once more.
"With a hot-ass like you, I don't mind," Bobby said, and then he shifted. There was the crinkle of a condom being opened, and then head of his cock pressed hot and firm between Roger's cheeks and inside.
Roger groaned, long and low. Bobby's cock was big, and felt bigger still as it opened him up. Bobby's hands came to rest at his hips and gripped hard. He shoved in, one sharp inch at a time, until Roger was gasping and his knees were slipping under him.
For the time it took to work Bobby's cock inside him, Roger wasn't aware of much else. Just that heat and pressure and, finally, when Bobby was far enough in, the dull ache of pleasure as he got the angle just right. He got it right on the next thrust, too, and the next, and Roger's pinpoint focus extended to his own cock, still hard, now wet at the head when he reached for it.
Bobby took his wrist and pinned it to the bed. Quite a risk, Roger thought, for a paid professional. It was a distant thought. Much more immediate was the choked sound that escaped him and Bobby's hand on his cock, jerking him off, fast and rough. He lasted less than a minute. Bobby carried on fucking him as Roger's body sank bonelessly flat on the bed.
Hard thrusts rocked him, pushed him against the sheets and the wet, sticky patch that spread out over cloth and skin. He closed his eyes and felt Bobby tense behind him, inside him. Bobby's hands clenched on his hips and he shoved in once more with a low sound, almost a growl.
"Damn," Bobby panted. "Damn. Fuck."
All Roger managed in return was a faint mumble directed into the sheets. He wanted it again. Already. Christ. He shook his head.
"You can shower if you want to," he said.
"Yeah? Hey, thanks."
Bobby pulled out and patted Roger's ass before he got up. Roger heard the sounds of the condom being tied off and dumped in the trash. Bobby moved almost soundlessly to the bathroom and left the door open. Roger lay still and listened to the gentle rainfall sound of the shower, smelling the steam as it crept out into the bedroom.
Bobby left soon after with a larger-than-normal tip. Roger showered as well and got housekeeping to change the sheets.
By the time Mirka got back from her shopping, he'd called his agent and his mother and had settled in to Tokyo Drift on pay-per-view, a decision he regretted more the further into the movie he got.
Mirka dumped her bags on the floor and stooped to kiss his cheek. "Did you have a nice time?"
"Oh, yes. Rafa's a good guy."
He squinted up at her and frowned. "How do you always know?"
She sat on the arm of the sofa and pulled her fingers through his hair. "You look different."
"Hm. Lighter? I would say glowy, but that makes you sound pregnant. Did they send Eric again?"
Eric, that had been his name. "No, this was Bobby. He's new. Before he left, he asked me if hookers really don't kiss, or if that's a myth."
She raised her eyebrows. "And your answer, o wise one?"
He shrugged. "I told him he should do what he wanted to do."
"That's what you tell everyone," she said, with a fond smile.
"Well, it's always true, you know? Always good advice. Are you going to show me what you bought?"
She leaned down to brush her lips lightly over his. "Yes. Order me room service, I'm starving. Something with fish. I'll go change and show you my dress."
He'd just finished phoning room service when his cell rang. It was Rafa.
"It's me," Rafa said. "When you leaving for Toronto?"
"I come with you, yes? Fly on your jet."
Roger blinked. "Yes, all right. Sure."
They arranged the details, and Roger hung up, feeling like his insides had been given a good shake. Of course, Rafa was welcome to travel with him. There was plenty of room. But it was something Rafa had only done up to now as a last resort. Something had changed, and Roger didn't know what it was.
Roger's jet hoisted itself into the sky as the sun sank toward the horizon. Rosy light spread out over the tarmac below and glared hellishly in Roger's eyes until he slid down the blind. He tilted his head to watch the ground fall away out the opposite window and then watched the clouds until they'd reached altitude.
And then Rafa flopped into the empty seat beside him.
"Hi," Rafa said.
Roger smiled at him. "Hola. Como...ah. How are you?"
"You only know the dirty Spanish, no? Like the Swedish."
"Not only. It's just memorable! Shut up."
"Cállate," Rafa said.
"Means shut up." Rafa grinned at him.
"Tais-toi, is French."
"What about Swedish?"
"I don't know that one in Swedish."
"You are no use at all," Rafa told him, still smiling.
"Yeah, yeah." Roger let his gaze drift back to the clouds. "So, you couldn't get a flight?"
"I just think to spend time with you."
"Oh," Roger said. It came out softly. He felt a bit winded. He had nothing to follow that, but it didn't matter. Rafa asked him about Switzerland's chances in the World Cup this year, and the next thing he knew, Toni came by to say he'd made sandwiches and did they want some.
They did, and Rafa put his away at light speed, along with half a large bag of Lays. Roger watched him lick salt and crumbs away from his fingertips and felt something uneasy turn over inside him.
He said unkind things about Spain's football team to distract himself, and Rafa threw chips at him.
"Hey, hey," Roger said, picking up stray chip bits and eating them. "No call for violence here."
"Fighting words," Rafa said, with a grin.
"How about fighting that doesn't involve vacuuming after?"
Rafa scrunched up his nose. "What means vacuuming?"
"Ah...cleaning the floor?" Roger made vacuuming noises and gestures, and Rafa nodded.
"I know. Arm wrestle!"
"What?" Roger said, breathing out a laugh.
Rafa folded down the table between them and landed his elbow on it, hand held out towards Roger.
"Crazy." Roger shook his head, but took Rafa's hand anyway.
"Place your bets now," Toni said, watching them over the top of his magazine.
"Five euros on Roger," Mirka said. She didn't even look up.
"I think you will lose that one," Roger told her.
She did look up then, and came to lean over the back of Rafa's seat. "Ooh. Doesn't this look fun."
Toni set his magazine down in his lap. "Five on Roger, as the young lady said."
"Hey, hey!" Rafa glared at him. "You can't bet against me."
Toni seemed to feel he could, and Benito joined him.
"Bad people," Rafa muttered. He squeezed Roger's hand just a little, and Roger's heart jumped.
"I'll bet on you." Roger said it mostly to see Rafa smile at him, and it worked.
"Okay! You say when we go," he said to Toni.
"Three, two, one...now."
They were using their right hands, and even so Rafa almost slammed Roger's arm to the table with the first hard push. Roger watched his muscles shift and strain, tendons and veins standing out sharply on tanned skin.
He dragged his eyes up to Rafa's face. Rafa was watching him. Their eyes met and held, hands gripped tight and wavering back and forth.
Roger knew Rafa was strong. He just hadn't known that strength so intimately up to now. The force of the ball hitting his racket was entirely different from the feel of Rafa's palm on his and Rafa's fingers curled around his hand. Roger focused in so hard on that, on the faint dampness of skin on skin, on the gentle bite of Rafa's nails, that he failed to realize he was winning until Rafa's hand hit the table.
Roger held it there, blinking, as all the resistance drained away and Rafa's muscles went loose.
Rafa squeezed his hand again. "You lose bet," he said.
"Not really a fair match, my right against yours."
Rafa smirked. "You think your left against my left gonna be any better?"
"Probably not," Roger admitted. "How about if I buy everyone a drink and we call it even? And when I say buy, I mean go and get from the mini-fridge."
"I want Coke," Rafa said. "I like the small glass bottles if you have them. Oh, and more chips."
Roger smiled and shook his head. "Right. More chips, of course."
They had more chips. The clouds skimmed by underneath them, occasionally shrouding the windows with featureless grey. About halfway through the flight, people started to abandon books, magazines, and iPods and pull out the pillows.
An hour later, Roger was the only one left awake, or so he thought until Rafa came to slump into the seat next to him. Rafa spread his legs wide, heels dug into the floor.
"You tell anyone my secret?"
"That you're a potato chip fiend?"
"Roger. You know."
"Of course I didn't."
Rafa nodded. "Is strange, you know? How it mess me up. Like she say I never gonna have good life, like..." He scrunched his face up into one of those shapes that suggested his skin must actually be made of Silly Putty. "Don't know word. Profecía?"
"Prophecy," Roger guessed.
"Yeah? Ah, good. I like it when they are easy."
"You will though. Have a good life. It doesn't matter what she says."
Rafa smiled at him. "This is your prophecy?"
"I like yours better."
"It's the truth. I promise you, Raf."
"I just don't want to end up in broom closet with Swedish bikini team while some girl I don't know having my baby, no?"
It took Roger a few long seconds to work out that tangled reference, and even then he had to stop himself from smiling. "This girl you don't know, how is she having your baby?"
Rafa shoved at his shoulder. "You know what I mean. I want--want be like you and Mirka. So close, you know? So good together." He put his stocking feet up on the seat and wrapped his arms around his knees. "You already know her when you my age."
Roger considered his own love life and the utter wreck it would be if Mirka wasn't who she was. He was in no way qualified to be giving Rafa advice. Except, maybe, the standard advice.
"You like tennis, right?"
Rafa rolled his eyes at him.
"Right, obviously. So, you keep playing, stay happy, do what you want to do. You'll meet someone. Someone who wants to be with you no matter what."
Rafa rested his head on his knees, turned sideways to look at Roger. "You really think this or you just saying?"
Rafa's hair was falling across his face, catching on his lips. Roger gripped the seat arm because otherwise he was going to brush it away for him.
"I really think that. I can't see how it could be otherwise."
"You're a good guy, Rogelio," Rafa said softly. He sighed and shifted so his body was wedged tight against Roger's and his head rolled onto Roger's shoulder. "Okay. I try to sleep now."
He shut his eyes and, to all appearances, was asleep in seconds.
Roger did finally give in and smooth his hair back from his face. "You are a very odd man, Rafael Nadal," he whispered.
Toronto was hot and sticky, with air you could swim in, but at least they had saved his suite for him this time. Rafa was staying in the same hotel and thus so were all of Rafa's friends. Feli waved Roger down in the lobby the day after they arrived.
"Hey, you want to hit with me?"
Roger blinked. Why? was on the tip of his tongue, but he swallowed it down. "All right. Sure."
On the practice court, warming up, he wondered what the media would think of this. They always seemed to make something of his choice of practice partner.
Feli met him at the net before they started. "He looks better. Did you get him to talk to you?"
Roger shrugged, unsure what to say. "A little, maybe. It's been months, too. Everything gets easier with time."
"Yeah, but he doesn't know that yet. Too young, no?"
"Not too young. Just maybe...not enough things that he's needed to be easier."
He wasn't even sure that made sense, but the shadow on Feli's face and the downward cast of his eyes said that maybe it did.
"Yeah, that. Not protected. Just lucky."
"Lucky," Roger agreed. He hoped Rafa would keep being lucky. He wondered in what ways Feli had not been lucky, but that was none of his business.
"Right. Okay. Let's get at it, no?"
They did. Feli was a good practice partner--for about half an hour until Rafa came by and kicked him out. A torrent of Spanish passed between them, of which Roger caught not one word in ten. He'd been studying, too.
"Fine, fine," Feli said. He came over to where Roger was leaning on the net. "Gonna go hit with Carlos, looks like. You have fun."
Rafa served him a sunny smile and a ball that probably topped 100mph. The smile was good to see, and Rafa wore it more often than not as they bounced the ball back and forth between them. Less good were Rafa exclamations in Spanish, accompanied by a twist of his mouth or a wriggle of his eyebrows.
"You know I don't know what you're saying!" Roger protested. More than once.
"You learn! I gonna teach you."
"I'm getting some water," Roger said, and let Rafa's next ball go by him.
Rafa followed him over and sat next to him on the bench, close, very close. Shoulders touching close. Roger would've shifted away but he had no bench left.
"Going to teach me, huh?"
"Sure. You must be easy student. You already learn three, no? And the dirty parts of Swedish."
"Not just-- Stop that."
Rafa grinned at him. "You know agua?"
"Yes, of course."
"Dáme el agua. Means give me." He made grabby hands at Roger's water bottle.
"You've got your own!"
"It's way over there!"
Roger gave in and handed it over. While Rafa drank, Roger looked down at the press of their thighs together and remembered Rafa sleeping against his shoulder for hours on the flight over. It meant nothing. That was important to remember.
Rafa was this way with some people, with Feli and Moya in particular, and probably with his friends at home. He touched people. Apparently, Roger was now one of the people he touched. It was disconcerting as hell.
The fans seemed to love it. There were a few people sitting on their friends' shoulders to get pictures. His mind presented him with an image of Rafa trying to climb on his shoulders, and he covered his mouth to hide a smile.
Rafa nudged him. "What?"
"Nothing, nothing. It wouldn't make sense. Back to it?"
"Yeah, in a second."
Rafa drank more of Roger's water and let his hand rest on Roger's knee. He squeezed there briefly before he popped to his feet. "Okay!"
Roger had to admit, it was good to practice with Rafa. Useful. Not much point getting some lefty from the juniors when he could have the lefty. Practice with. Not have. He wasn't even thinking that.
"Rogelio, you not having attention!"
Rafa also yelled at him more than the juniors did. Roger smiled to himself and gave him a salute.
They went at it for maybe another hour before Rafa decided it was time for lunch.
"You want to come get seafood with me and Toni and Rafa Maymo?"
"Sorry, I'm meeting Mirka."
"Okay. See you tomorrow, yes?" Rafa bounded off without giving Roger a chance to reply.
Roger went out the opposite way, texting Mirka as he walked. If anyone asks, we have plans for lunch.
Anyone like who?
Hahahahaha. Do we actually have lunch plans?
Shhhh. Room service?
See you in five.
It wasn't as if he didn't want to be around Rafa. Or Feli. They were nice guys, both of them. Rafa was great. Roger liked him a lot. It was just--Rafa all over him was nearly as bad as Rafa ignoring him. Just in a completely different way. That he didn't want to think about right now. Because he was too hungry. Yes.
He was grateful for the dim cool of the hotel room. He stopped just inside and leaned against the door until Mirka told him to go take a shower.
When he came back there were sandwiches and little side salads of microgreens. Dark dots of balsamic vinegar pooled together on the edges of the snow white plates and oozed over onto the snow white napkins.
Mirka kissed his cheek as he sat down.
"Why are you avoiding Spanish people? By which I assume you mean Rafa."
"Not just Rafa. Well. Mostly Rafa," he admitted. "I think he's decided we're friends now. He's a bit intense." He bit into his sandwich. It had soft brie in it and some kind of spicy ham.
"Decided, huh? And you don't get a choice, I take it?"
"I don't think I do, no. I like him," Roger added quickly. "You know that."
Mirka nodded solemnly. "I know that. You say that in interviews all the time. I'm generally standing quite close by, you know. Setting up your next manicure appointment."
He rolled his eyes at her. "I've only told you a thousand times you don't have to do any of that. And also my nails are not that long."
"They're longer than mine right now, Rogelio. And you were telling me about Rafa."
"You cut yours abnormally short. I don't like the tips of my fingers touching things, it's weird. That's what nails are there for. Ah. Anyway."
She was smirking at him.
"Anyway, Rafa, yeah. He's all--up close and personal, all of a sudden. In my space, stealing my water bottle. And my hitting partner."
"I thought you were hitting with Lopez?"
"I was. Rafa came along and traded dance partners."
"Huh." She frowned very slightly, a faint crease between her brows, and sucked on her lower lip. "Did something happen in London?"
Roger shrugged and took another large bite to delay his answer. It felt odd having a secret he couldn't tell her. Odd and wrong, but it was still impossible to wish Rafa hadn't told him.
"We were talking about--friendship, I suppose. I mentioned I wasn't close with the people I went to school with, you know, childhood friends, and..."
And that was when Rafa had told him. Practically in the next breath, like an invitation into Rafa's head and heart and life. Roger wondered if he were still the only one who knew.
"...and he's been around more ever since. I know how he feels about the people from his village, these people he's known his whole life. I think he's trying to make up for me not having that. Maybe." He frowned. "It sounds unlikely, doesn't it?"
"Rafa's an unlikely person all around. Did you see that US Open presser last year with him trying to gnaw his thumb off?"
"I think you're unnaturally obsessed with men's hands. Also, wait, you watch his pressers?"
"His and Andy's, when there's nothing on TV. They're better than Survivor, those two."
"Anything's better than Survivor."
"You're only bitter because that guy you liked got kicked off."
"I never liked Survivor. I watched it with you because I'm a good person."
"You totally liked that guy."
"I liked seeing him without his shirt on. That's not the same thing."
"I think it is for you, a bit. You're kind of a girl like that."
"Shut up," Roger mumbled to his sandwich. It was the best he could do, because unfortunately she was right. He wasn't very good at casual sex. He got attached. And so, the prostitutes. Sex workers. Whatever he was meant to call them these days.
She waited until he was done chewing and leaned over to kiss him, tasting faintly of ham. She moved to straddle his lap without breaking the kiss, and his hands went automatically to her ass. Her lips were very soft, and he could feel the slick, waxy slide of her lip balm.
"I like your hands best," she said.
He slid them up under her shirt. "Yes?"
He pushed his hands up over the curves of her waist and stomach to cup her breasts. Her bra was lacy, a little scratchy, catching on the rough skin of his palms. He traced his fingers over the scalloped edges where fabric met silk-smooth flesh.
"Do I have a thing?" he asked.
She snorted and ground down against his stiff cock. "A thing?"
"Not that thing. Appointment thing. Reason we shouldn't have sex right now thing."
"See, you say I don't have to do all this, but if I didn't you probably wouldn't even show up for your own matches."
"I would be lost without you. Can we fuck now?"
She smiled. "Yes. As long as we're clear on that."
"How about right here?"
She stood and reached under her skirt to slip her panties off. They fluttered to the floor, light silk and lace. He remembered buying them for her. She pushed his hands away from his belt and unbuckled it for him, unzipped his shorts, dragged and pulled at layers of cotton to get his cock free.
One stroke with her hand and then she moved to straddle him again and sank down onto him in a slick, easy rush. She clutched at his shoulders and let out a tiny gasp, head tipped back.
"Jesus," he muttered. He gripped her waist and let his head fall forward.
She laughed, breathless. "Surprise."
"Good surprise. Very, very good." He braced his shoulders against the chair back and rocked his hips up.
Her hands tightened, curling into fists around the fabric of his shirt. She moved slowly, riding him, leaning back as her hips slip forward and down, over and over. When he spread his hands out over her back, she leaned hard into them, head thrown back as she moved, letting him hold her up.
He moved one hand to the inside of her thigh and stroked up, thumb pressing hard against her skin, skimming along the crease of her thigh and hip, and higher. She made a low, almost guttural noise when he touched her clit, rubbing lightly at first and then harder, aware of the slick slide of his cock and the feel of her and very little else.
"Harder," she said, and raised herself up and snapped her hips down hard. It sent the pad of his thumb skidding almost roughly, and she pressed forward into that as well, stilling, face flushed. He kept his thumb moving as she clenched around him, but lost it when he came, pitching forward to breathe against her hair, holding her close.
Crushingly close, he realized, as his thoughts started to come back. But she wasn't complaining. Her arms were wound around his neck, and her foot rubbed against the back of his calf.
"You have a dinner thing," she mumbled. "You want to do nothing till then?"
"More sex nothing or movie in bed nothing?"
"Both? There could be chocolate cake, too."
He smiled and stood. She wrapped her legs around his waist, and he shuffled both of them slowly into the bedroom.
The dinner thing included Rafa. It also included Feli, Carlos Moya, Djokovic, both Andys, and a handful of other players. It was basically a press conference with the promise of food afterwards. Roger's eyes were aching from the flashbulbs by the time they filed into the private room at the restaurant--Roger hadn't caught its name, something with "Apple" in it. At least there was no grappling, and Don King was unlikely to sneak up behind him.
Mirka was seated across from him, Rafa at his right hand, perfectly placed to steal his calamari.
"I didn't order those for you," Roger said mildly.
"Mine is not here yet, and I'm hungry."
"You didn't get calamari. What did you get?"
"I hate mushrooms. Get something I can steal next time if you're going to eat all my squids."
Rafa smiled at him and fed him a cluster of tiny, deep fried tentacles. Roger was so surprised he let him do it. Rafa's fingers brushed his lips, rough and very warm.
He glanced over at Mirka to find her coughing into her napkin, eyes shining with laughter. He kicked her ankle gently under the table and made a face at her.
"So, Rafa," she said, with a bright smile. "Have you seen this new movie, Dragon's Teeth? I hear they shot it all on Mallorca."
"Oh, yeah! I saw some of the filming. Unbelievable, so interesting."
The two of them launched into a discussion of films and lighting and the effect of settings on the plot, and Roger could only stare back and forth between them, very much like watching a match. He'd had no idea either of them were this interested in the subject. Rafa, okay, he didn't know that much about Rafa really. But he knew Mirka. He didn't think he'd ever known anyone better than he knew Mirka.
It was strange to watch. Unsettling. He went to the men's room instead. It had too many mirrors, and he schooled his expression so he wouldn't see a hundred Rogers frowning back at him. He was washing his hands when Feli walked in.
"Roger," he said, and then stopped.
"Look. About Rafa."
"He is...sometimes a little much, no? Not in a bad way," he added quickly. "Just a lot, if you're not used to it. But he's a good guy. I wouldn't want you to think bad things about him."
"I don't think anything bad about him. Promise. He's, yeah, intense, but. I'll get used to it, you know? It's just a lot to have up close all of a sudden."
Feli nodded. "I know. Force of nature. Sorry, I just wanted to say."
He took a step closer. Roger raised his eyebrows in question. He was already back against the counter, leaning, so when Feli stepped in, he had nowhere to go, even if he'd had the presence of mind to move at all.
Feli kissed him. He put a hand on Roger's cheek and leaned in and pressed their lips together. He licked his way into Roger's mouth. Roger let him. Didn't just let him, but grabbed at the front of his suit jacket and hauled him closer. Feli swore, and his hand slid round the back of Roger's neck to hold him there.
The door creaked. They stumbled apart, too late. Rafa blinked at them, cheeks pink and eyes wide.
Feli had the gall to look relieved when he saw who it was. "Just leaving," he said, and ducked out.
Rafa followed him.
Roger stared at his many reflections. They were all frowning again. "Shit," he said.
The next morning, he snuck out to practice with Stan, which was an immense relief. Stan was easy. Stan never fed him calamari or kissed him. Unfortunately, Stan only had two hours free, and Roger lingered too long in the locker room. Rafa descended on him like the wrath of God, assuming God liked to go around wearing a towel and nothing else.
"You are cheating on Mirka!" he hissed. "With Feli! Feli!"
"It was one kiss, and for heaven's sake, keep your voice down."
"Huh. Some kiss."
"I already told Mirka."
Rafa blinked at him. "Oh. You tell her whole thing?"
"Yes. He followed me in to the men's room and kissed me. End of story."
"Not end. You kiss him back."
"I told her that, too."
"Oh." Rafa dropped onto the bench beside Roger and bit at his thumbnail. "She forgive you?"
"She wasn't upset."
"Love you no matter what, huh?"
"I hope so."
"You not going to kiss Feli no more, right?"
Roger hesitated too long.
Rafa grabbed his knee. "Roger, this you can't do! Is not right. You know is not right."
He was leaning closer. Roger could feel his warmth. His fingers were strong, pressing into Roger's skin. Roger shook his head sharply.
"This is not your business! I'm not--" He stopped.
Rafa was glaring at him, arms crossed, jaw jutting out and set stubbornly.
It wasn't his business. And Rafa's love life was definitely none of Roger's. And yet Rafa had told him about Xisca, told him and no one else.
He sighed. "Fine. But we're not having this conversation here. Get dressed."
They went up to Rafa's room. Roger put the chain lock on. He got a bottle of water from the minibar and paced.
"All right. Look."
"What look?" Rafa prompted, after a few seconds.
Roger dropped to sit on the bed opposite him. "She said it was all right. She said I could do it again. We have--an arrangement."
Rafa's eyes went very wide. "You have the gay sex with men, and she know?"
"Not--often." Not with anyone but prostitutes for many years. How did he say that to Rafa, whose eyes already looked fit to fall out of his head? "Anyway, I probably won't. It's not smart to get involved with other players."
"But she no mind? If you sex with Feli?"
Roger suddenly wondered if she would. She'd said she was fine with it. She'd looked fine with it. But it was different from the agency guys. He actually knew Feli, for one. They would keep seeing each other, keep playing each other. He had played guys he'd slept with before, but-- It was one kiss. That was not an indication Feli even wanted sex. Right.
"That's what she told me."
Rafa frowned hard at the far wall, like he might burn a hole in it. "I never know anyone who have this kind of relationship."
"I'm not surprised."
"But you two very happy." He transferred the frown to Roger. "No?"
"Yes. I love her very much."
"And with the guys, no love?"
Roger pushed his hands through his hair. "There hasn't been much opportunity for that sort of feeling to develop."
Rafa wrinkled his nose at him. "What?"
"I've been sleeping with prostitutes," Roger blurted.
"What!" Rafa shot up off the bed.
That was the last word Rafa said for a few minutes that Roger understood. Well, nearly. He had picked up a bit of Spanish, so call it one word in ten. Most of them were obscene. Roger sat and waited for him to be done.
Eventually Rafa sat down beside him, hard enough to make the bed creak and bounce. He gave Roger a pleading look. "You are just messing with me?"
"Sorry to disappoint."
"Not disappoint." Rafa knocked his shoulder against Roger's. "Surprise. Sorry."
Roger shrugged. His face felt hot. The floor was fascinating.
"But it's not right!" Rafa burst out.
Roger put his face in his hands. There was quiet for a long time, presumably while Rafa readjusted his world view to include Roger Federer fucking prostitutes. Jesus Christ.
"You not arguing," Rafa said.
"I'm supposed to?"
"I think you would. Tell me why it is not wrong."
"I don't know that it isn't wrong."
"And you do it anyway?"
"Why? Why not normal guys?"
"Too much risk of someone going to the papers after."
"And not this risk with hookers?"
"Not the ones I--" He stopped, because use suddenly seemed like a bad word. "It's a very discreet agency," he finished.
"Feli would not tell," Rafa said, after another long pause.
"I know that."
"So why not smart? Smarter than hookers."
"Would you please stop saying hookers?"
Rafa made a discontented noise and scuffed his foot against the carpet. "Feli's a good guy. I know he like you."
"For fuck's sake, don't start trying to set us up," Roger snapped.
Rafa ducked his head and muttered an apology.
Roger ground his teeth together. "I'm sorry," he said, aware he didn't sound very sorry.
"Just, you know, he say things sometimes. Like to watch you practice, especially without shirt on."
"I am just telling you!"
They glared at each other, close up, Rafa's knee pushed against his. Rafa's glare relaxed into sheepish smile.
"Is good to fight sometimes, no? And then start over."
Roger let out a breath and pushed his hands through his hair. "Okay. But don't say anything to him about this. Not to him or anyone."
"I promise. Keep your secret always."
Their shoulders were touching, too. Roger leaned into the contact, just a little, and let Rafa prop him up. Now that it was all over and everything seemed to be all right, it was a bit of a relief that someone else knew.
He saw Feli next in the hall outside his room at seven in the morning. He'd opened the door to get the newspaper and room service tray. There was tea, coffee, honey, toast, newspaper, and Feli. Feli slouched against the wall. Everything else sat neatly on the tray. Roger stuck the key card in his pocket and stepped out, letting the door click closed behind him.
"Hey," Feli said. He had his hands shoved deep in his pockets. His head was tipped down, and he was looking up at Roger through his lashes. He looked like a GQ cover except for the t-shirt. It was red and yellow and had a slogan in Spanish. From the words he could understand, Roger strongly suspected it meant "Tennis players do it with balls."
"Hi," Roger said.
"Rafa told me--ah. Some stuff."
Roger tensed. "Stuff?"
"About you and Mirka."
Not about prostitutes. Good. Although, was this much better? He'd had no time to think about this. Or, more accurately, he'd had time and deliberately hadn't thought about this.
"So it's cool?" Feli said.
Roger didn't know if cool was the right word, but Feli wasn't actually waiting for an answer. He slipped an arm around Roger's shoulders and eased him back against the wall. The second kiss was harder than the first. Feli's chest pressed against his until Roger felt at a loss for air.
"Don't know," Roger said, mixing his signals badly by saying it right against Feli's lips.
"I'm just two floors down."
Feli's cock was hard and pushing against Roger's thigh. They needed, at least, to get out of this very public hallway.
Feli's room was a mess, both beds empty and unmade, clothes exploding out of suitcases in all corners. Roger wondered who he was sharing with, but only briefly.
"This isn't," he started. "I'm not--"
Feli ignored him, probably because Roger was pushing him back to the nearest bed at the same time.
"Shit," Feli groaned, as Roger got his jeans open. "Yeah, yes. Will you--"
Feli bit his lower lip, which made it even fuller and wetter. Roger wanted to bite it, too.
"Suck me?" Feli said.
Roger ducked his head to hide a smile. He wondered how much was that request was about getting his dick sucked and how much was about seeing Roger Federer doing it. It didn't seem polite to ask, and Roger didn't mind it anyway.
He slid off the bed and to his knees. Might as well do it right. And he was right, because Feli's eyes widened and his cock jerked the second Roger's knees hit the floor.
"How long have you been thinking about this?" Roger asked.
Feli edged closer and nudged his cock against Roger's lips. He grunted softly. "Long enough. A while, okay? You look good."
He pushed into Roger's mouth, hot blunt head sliding against Roger's tongue. Roger let his eyes close and gave a little sigh. He liked this, and he didn't get to do it a lot. He felt like an idiot offering the agency boys blowjobs.
Feli's cock fit nicely in his mouth, stretching his lips, but not too much. He pushed his tongue against the head, and Feli's hands dug into his hair. Bitter-salt pre-come pulsed over his tongue.
"Roger." Feli said his name like Rafa did, with that soft G. Roger closed his eyes and sucked harder.
The denim of Feli's jeans was warm and so soft under his hands that it felt almost like skin. He ran his thumbs along the inner seams. Feli's muscles moved under under them, tensed and loosened, and his hips rocked forward.
Roger held him down and took him deeper. It had been so many years that he almost gagged, but his old skill came back with the second and third dip of his lips toward the base of Feli's cock.
Above him, Feli was muttering in Spanish, hands in Roger's hair and on his face and at the back of his neck. He gasped when Roger sucked hard at the head and tugged at Roger's hair.
Roger, given the choice between swallowing and going back to his room with come on his shirt, swallowed. Maybe not the best choice, but a generous and selfish one at the same time. He liked the taste, the way it filled up his mouth, the way Feli's eyes went wide and staring all over again.
Feli's hands dropped limply to his thighs. They looked at each other.
"You want--the same?" Feli said.
"I want to fuck you," Roger told him.
"And then what?" Rafa demanded.
"Jesus Christ, what do you think!" Roger turned toward the window and put his face in his hands.
"How I know? Feli tell me nothing!"
"I just said he kissed me in the hall and then we went to his room! You can't guess what we did next? Really?"
"Is early in the morning for that, no?"
Roger blinked out at the grey sheen of rain on concrete. "What, you never wake up with-- You know what, never mind. I don't want to know."
"I mean for the sex, not for--by yourself. I don't know English word."
Roger glanced over his shoulder. Rafa looked perfectly calm, sitting on his bed, hands flat on the red and gold duvet.
"Do you know it?" Rafa said.
"Masturbate," Roger said. "Jerk off."
"Ah? Okay. Jerk it off." Rafa made a face. "It sound painful. Anyway, different if you waking up with someone right there. Different from go out and meet and go to other room on purpose for sex."
"Oh. I guess. He was just...right there."
Rafa frowned at him. "What if someone else right there?"
"I didn't mean it like that!" After so many years of sticking strictly with the agency guys, he hadn't given this thing with Feli a whole lot of thought. But then, it had been years, too, since anyone--any man--had come on that strongly. Maybe that was all it would've taken. From anyone. Okay, anyone reasonably good looking who he felt pretty sure he could trust. It was still not a fun thought to have.
"Hey, Rogi." Rafa patted his shoulder. "You mad?"
"No. Just thinking."
"Good. More thinking is good."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Means just doing these things and no thinking gonna get you in trouble."
Roger wanted to say: Who the hell are you to be giving me advice? But he didn't say things like that. He bounced his forehead off the windowpane instead and kicked at the baseboard.
"You mad now," Rafa said.
"You thinking, who is this kid to tell me how to do things? He too young, too straight, know nothing."
"I wasn't," Roger said, hoping he didn't sound as guilty as he felt.
"Uh huh. You do the blowjob?"
Roger turned around to stare. Rafa was standing so close that even when Roger backed up flat against the window there wasn't more than six inches of space between them.
"That's none of your business."
"I want to know. I never do the gay sex. What's it like?"
"If you're straight, pretty bad, probably."
Rafa snorted. "This no answer."
"Rafa! I am not having this conversation with you! Are you doing this to mess me up in tennis?"
Rafa gave him the rubber eyebrow. "Eh? Mess you up how?"
Roger sighed. Of course Rafa wasn't doing it to mess him up. Rafa wouldn't do that. "No details," Roger told him firmly.
"You tell Mirka details?"
"If she asks, yes."
"Huh." Rafa's lower lip edged outward into the beginning of a pout. "If you tell her--"
"Rafa!" Roger stared at him helplessly. Rafa stared back, arms crossed over his chest. Their eyes met and held. Roger broke first.
"Oh, god. What do you want to know?"
"You like to give the blowjobs?"
"Yes." Facts, Roger thought. He just had to stick to the bare facts.
"It does not make you not breathe?"
"No, it's--it's a skill. You learn how to do it better so you don't choke."
"Does not sound fun. You like it why?"
"I don't know, does it matter?"
"I try to understand."
"Understand what? It's sex. It just depends on what you like."
Roger blinked. Rafa didn't.
"I don't know why," Roger said. "It just feels good. I like making people feel good. And. And how it feels in my mouth." This might actually be worse than the the talk his mother had with him at sixteen about the birds and the bees.
"Control," Roger said, and then wondered where that had come from and also why it was such a surprise. He always wanted control.
Rafa frowned. "Control, with some guy pushing his dick in your mouth?"
"Most people don't do any...pushing. Unless you say it's okay. Or they get carried away. Or--" He shrugged. "Anyway, you're the one with your teeth around their favorite body part if they get too pushy. They know that."
"Feli get too pushy?"
"No. He was very polite, mostly."
"He might have given me more warning at the end, but that's hard sometimes." It was getting less difficult to talk about this. Roger wondered if that were a bad thing.
Rafa grunted. "I talk to him about it."
"Because! Jesus. Personal boundaries, Rafa."
Rafa made a dismissive gesture. "These not for friends, not real friends." And that left Roger basically no defense when Rafa asked him, "You like him? You want to do it again?"
"No. I mean, yes, I like him, and the sex was good, but I don't think I want to do it again."
Rafa nodded. "This is good, I think. You two both too high maintenance for be together."
Roger gaped at him. "Rafa!"
Rafa smirked at him. "Roger! What? Is true, no? You want try to deny it?"
Roger took a deep breath to say--something--and let it all out again. "Mirka says that about me. Sometimes."
"She is smart woman."
Roger nudged him aside and sat on the bed. "Will Feli be upset?"
"Eh. I think no. I think he amazed it happen even one time."
"I fucked him afterward."
"You like this too? For the control?"
"Maybe that's part of why. It feels good too, of course. Not so different from doing it with a woman."
"You can do it up the butt with girls too."
Roger was starting to feel like he wouldn't have any working part of his brain left by the end of this conversation. "Have you done that?" he said.
"No. Have you?"
"I--don't think I should say."
"This means yes. Means you do it with Mirka and want to keep her privacy."
Roger tipped back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. "Don't you have any secrets from your friends? At all?"
"Still I tell no one about Xisca. Only you."
"No secrets from me then? Come on, not even one?"
Rafa was quiet for a moment. "When I am ten, I steal two chocolate bars from the store. Never tell nobody till now."
Roger smiled and closed his eyes.
"And also one time when he is drunk, I let Feli kiss me with tongue."
Roger sat up so fast it made him dizzy, or maybe that was from the sudden mental image of Feli and Rafa making out. "What!"
Rafa shrugged. "We are doing Playstation and he lean over and kiss me, and I let him."
And now Roger was almost glad he told Rafa about the details of his sex life, because it meant he got to ask. "Did you like it?"
"I dunno? It is weird. He had the stubble, very scratchy. Taste like beer and fruity drinks, stick his tongue in my mouth. First he is yelling at Playstation, then kiss, then fall over and snore.
"Did he say anything the next day?"
"No. I think he forget."
"Did you ever want to do it again?"
"No really, no. Feli is good guy, but good for hanging out, Playstation, clubs. Not for kissing."
"And he's the only guy you ever kissed?"
"Yes, only one. And he do the kissing, not me."
There was silence for a little while after that, and then Rafa said, "You and Mirka want to come to dinner tonight? Is me and Feli and Carlos and Nando. There is a seafood place where they show the football."
Dinner was loud and fun, and Feli didn't kiss Roger in the men's room again. Everything seemed to be back to normal.
They flew into LaGuardia for the US Open on a Wednesday night. Roger went out with a few (non-Spanish) friends.
"It was an accident," Roger explained the next morning.
Mirka gave him an eyebrow nearly as good as Rafa's. "How can singing New York, New York be an accident?"
"Going to the karaoke bar at all was an accident. Definitely the tequila was an accident." He lay flat on his back in their wide bed in the Carlyle. The blackout shades weren't quite closed, and one stray beam of sunlight worked its way through to make him squint and wince.
Mirka pushed the curls off his forehead and smiled down at him. "You are so much trouble. I knew I should've gone with you."
Roger grunted and turned his face to her shoulder. "You smell good. Are there Pringles?"
"Pringles are not a hangover remedy."
"They work for me. And Coke."
"All right, your highness. Pringles and Coke, coming up. Hopefully not literally."
His phone rang while she was gone. "Hello?" he said.
"Rogelio! You want to go hit?"
"Rafa, it's early."
"Is not early, is almost ten. You get drunk with those guys last night?"
Roger put a hand over his eyes. "Maybe. Talk quieter, my head hurts."
Rafa made an exasperated sort of clucking sound. "I got to watch you all the time, no?"
Mirka reappeared in the doorway, watching him with obvious amusement.
"It's early, I am not practicing till later, and I have to go and eat Pringles now."
"Pringles is not hangover food!"
"Goodbye, Rafa." He hung up and looked at Mirka. "You know, sometimes it's like having an extra girlfriend. Who needs to shave twice a day."
Mirka laughed at him a long time before she handed over his Pringles and Coke.
Roger won his semifinal match against Andy Roddick. He walked off court with the feeling that if he put too much bounce in his step, he might leave the ground.
Rafa had won against Andy Murray earlier in the day. This would be their third major final this year. If Roger won, he'd be number one again. He was trying not to think about that, but it was difficult. After almost five years, he'd felt like it would last forever. Like it should last forever. Stupid, but there it was.
If he won this year, it would be his sixth. In a row. More than Sampras. More than anyone. Like the Wimbledon last year that had gone all wrong. Nike had made him shoes with little fives on them. Like the ones last year for--no, really, he wasn't thinking about that.
His phone buzzed. It was Rafa.
"Roger! You win! You want to have dinner tonight?"
Roger sank onto a bench and smiled into his hand. Only Rafa. "We're playing tomorrow, you know? The final. Big deal."
"You have to eat, no?"
"The press will have something to say about it."
Rafa made a noise Roger had learned signified dismissal and scorn and humor all at once. He'd heard Toni make it too. A family trait, maybe.
"You don't think it's a little weird?" Roger suggested.
"Eh. We don't play for beat other guy's face in the dirt. We play for win, play for do our best, do good tennis."
Roger knew all that. He was also pretty sure it would be weird anyway. Oh, well. "All right. Eight?"
"Yeah, okay. Where you want to go?"
"Come to my room. We'll order something."
"Mirka won't mind?"
"She's going out."
"She leave you alone, night before the final?"
"I asked her to."
"What? Why? You want to be alone? Why you not tell me that?"
"Because I won't be any fun. Fair warning."
Rafa made the noise again. "Whatever. Okay. I come at eight."
He did come at eight, promptly. Mirka had left half an hour before, taking Roger's parents and sister with her. "So you can sulk in peace," she'd said, and kissed him
He hadn't told her Rafa was coming over. He hadn't told anyone. He wasn't sure why. He just didn't want to.
"Hey," Rafa said. "I tell Toni I am out with Feli. He say not to come back too late."
"He'd think it was weird, huh?" Roger said.
Rafa nodded solemnly. "Yes. Weird. He no like it so much, how we are friends."
They stood and looked at each other, just inside the door. There was a big vase right behind Rafa's head, and his face was haloed with white and pink peonies.
"Is it okay?" Roger said.
Rafa put a hand on Roger's shoulder and squeezed. "It is okay."
Roger got the door when their food arrived, and Rafa hung back, out of sight.
It was stupid. As if he had no right to be here. Roger was glad he was out of sight, which was also stupid. They weren't naked and rolling around on the bed together. They were only having dinner. The two great rivals. The night before one of the biggest matches of the year. Roger sighed and overtipped and carried the food to the couch himself.
"What is it? Rafa said.
"I see it's fish. What kind fish?"
"Bass with this lemon parsley sauce. It's good. There's other stuff, too." Potatoes, it looked like, and maybe some kind of eggplant thing. He hadn't been paying a lot of attention when he ordered. He wasn't paying a lot of attention now. He'd sat down closer to Rafa than he'd meant to. It would be rude to move now.
He sat and forked fish into his mouth and felt the warmth of Rafa's thigh against his. There was plenty of room on the couch. He ought to just move.
It didn't seem to bother Rafa. He was eating with one hand and channel surfing with the other. He flipped through the news, a rerun of Lost, some old comedy show, and settled on a nature documentary with lions eating gazelles.
"During dinner?" Roger said. "Really?"
"Ah? You want to change it?" Rafa picked up the remote again, but Roger pushed his hand back down.
"No. It's fine."
"A little gross maybe?"
"You no like the fishing."
"I haven't been that much. But I'm not crazy about sticking hooks through tiny fish, no."
"Or taking the guts out."
"Not that either."
Rafa patted his knee and looked back at the television. "When I take you, I will do that part."
Roger found himself smiling, but it only lasted a moment. It was the ghost of last year's Wimbledon getting to him again. It was the reason he hadn't gone out tonight. It was the reason he was crazy to be here, tonight, with Rafa.
They ate their fish and watched lions savage gazelles. Roger tried hard not to see it as a portent of any kind.
"You okay?" Rafa said, when they'd moved on to chocolate almonds from the minibar.
"I warned you I wouldn't be good company."
"Yes. You said. Why is this?"
Roger shrugged one shoulder. When he let it down again, it was somehow closer to Rafa's, touching.
"I don't want to lose to you tomorrow," Roger said. This honesty thing was addictive.
Rafa was quiet a few seconds, and then he said, "This is the way things are, no? One of us must lose."
Roger looked over at him. Rafa was looking straight back. Their eyes met.
"I want it to be you," Roger said. He'd never said that to another player in his life.
Rafa smiled at him. His hand was on Roger's thigh somehow. "I know this, Roger. Is not terrible, dark secret."
Roger looked back at the lions. "Feels like it. A little."
"I want you lose, too. I never even make it to the final here before. I want the trophy, no? Want this tournament. I only get it if you don't. Is the way it works."
His hand was very warm, squeezing lightly, fingertips pressing hard into Roger's thigh.
Roger closed his eyes. When he opened them again, his Gillette commercial was on. "Good," he said.
He put his hand over Rafa's. It was meant to be only for a second, but Rafa turned his palm up and took Roger's hand in both of his. Rafa looked at his palm and ran his fingers over it, along its lines and over its rough patches. Roger watched him do it, unable to look away.
"Good hands," Rafa said. "Like Toni's, like my father's. Strong."
"Can you read palms?" He tried to say it lightly. It didn't work.
"No man knows the future, no?"
"No. I suppose we just have to wait and see."
"Yes. Wait and see, and try our best."
Roger laughed a little at that, but not much because Rafa still had hold of his hand, which was not funny at all. Rafa's thumb rubbed over his callus again and again, and Roger felt a stir of interest from his cock. He thought firmly about the time his sister shut him in the fridge until it went away. The smell of partially rotten cabbage right by his nose made for an especially strong memory, which was good, because Rafa didn't stop for a long time.
This time, Rafa hit it into the net. The scoreboard changed to 15-13, and Roger fell to his knees, unsure he'd be able to get back up. He closed his eyes and lifted his arms up. With an unusual respect for the drama of the moment, lighting arced across the sky, and the rain came down.
Roger stumbled to his feet, instantly soaked. The crowd was hysterical, on their feet, even as a thousand umbrellas bloomed in the downpour. Roger walked to the net and straight into Rafa's arms.
"Sorry," Roger said into his ear. "Sorry."
"No sorry." Rafa's lips brushed his temple. "Very happy for you, Rogelio. Very happy."
Rafa was smiling when they pulled apart far enough for Roger to see. Roger smiled back, and they walked to the umpire's chair together, as close as the net between them would allow.
Heavy raindrops hit the ground and spattered on their shoes and socks and up their legs. The court was slick and slippery. Roger bent down and touched it. It was warm, like skin. Roger wanted to stay there, keep that contact, maybe for a long time.
Instead, he signed things, drank water, and finished his banana. He saw Rafa doing the same a few yards away. People came to talk to them both about getting out of the rain, but Roger didn't see the point. He was as wet as it was possible to be already.
The trophy ceremony was put off for half an hour to see if the rain would let up. Eventually, Roger did let someone guide him back to the locker room. His hand felt cramped from signing, and he was shivering. It didn't seem to matter. He'd never taken drugs in his life, but he felt high, floating, ungrounded, and so happy he thought it might be dangerous.
He took a short, very hot shower, put some dry clothes on, and tried to think what on Earth he could say when they gave him the trophy.
Rafa sat down next to him. "Hi," Roger said. It was physically impossible to wipe the smile off his face.
Rafa was smiling just as broadly back at him. There was a beat of silence, and then Rafa put his arms around Roger and squeezed hard. "Fifteen!" Rafa said.
Roger squeezed back, hard enough to make Rafa let out a surprised squeak of air, and he didn't let go afterward. He'd been not thinking about that part, but it was fifteen. More than Pete. More than anyone.
"The greatest," Rafa said softly in his ear. "Best ever."
People would be saying that to him in interviews for the next--forever, possibly. He'd have to think of something suitable to say, but right now he just held Rafa tighter still and said, "Yes, yes."
Rafa kissed his neck and then his mouth. He curled his fingers into Roger's wet hair and looked at him, wild-eyed and close up. Roger put a hand on his cheek and pressed their lips together again. He wanted more, and it felt almost like his right after this triumph. It felt natural.
"Mr. Federer, Mr. Nadal?" someone called. "The rain's let up."
Neither of them let go immediately, which was stupid. Roger felt like reality was on hold, like things could and should be just as he wanted them for now. Luckily, Rafa seemed to have more sense.
"We be there, one minute!" Rafa called.
They looked at each other a second longer. Rafa kissed him firmly and pulled him up, blushing. "Come, we go now. Get your trophy."
The interviews the next day were insane. They lasted from five in the morning till half past dead at night. On the way home from the Late Show, or the Late Late Show, or possibly the Really Stupidly Late Show, he dropped off to sleep on Mirka’s shoulder.
She herded him up to their room and into bed. Between the sheets with her warm body against him, smelling still warm and sweet under the faint odor of doing too much in hot weather, he remembered.
“Rafa kissed me,” he said. “I’m sorry, I forgot.”
“Mm,” she said, and kissed his forehead. “I’m pregnant.”
Roger blinked at her. He could see the glimmering curve of her cheekbones, the only part of her face that stood out in the dark room.
“How? Well--” she paused. “I’m not afraid to tell you there were aliens involved.”
A brief, convulsive laugh shook him, and he held her tighter. “How long.”
“About three months.”
“You didn’t say.”
“I wasn’t sure until just before we left to come here.”
He nodded. His mind was suddenly filled with little pink and blue things, stuffed ducklings, teddy bears, booties. He didn’t know if he’d had any of those things when he was young, but they were there in his head anyway.
“We’re having a baby?” he said.
She touched his lips in the dark. “Yes. We’re having a baby.”
“I love you.”
She laughed and kissed his mouth, her fingers still pressed between their lips. “I love you, too.”
Roger’s last thought before he slept was: I should tell Rafa.
In the morning, with Mirka breathing softly next to him, things seemed more complicated. He propped himself up on one elbow and looked down at her. Her eyes opened only a few seconds later.
“What is it?” she said.
“You’ll marry me now, right?”
She shook her head, eyes closing again. “I’ll marry you after the baby.”
“But--” The only argument he could think to make was that it would be a bastard, which seemed an unkind thing to say about his own child.
“The wedding dress I want has a corset top. I’ll need to have the baby and lose the baby weight. Also, you should sort things out with Rafa.”
“He’s not-- I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
She patted his chest, eyes still closed. “I know. I also know that Rafa is only twenty three, and he’s a sweet boy, and you need to be clear about your intentions with him.”
“What do you mean? There’s not-- You’re pregnant. We’re getting married. There’s nothing else. The end.”
She sighed. “You are very Swiss, Roger.”
“You’re Swiss, too,” he muttered.
She opened her eyes. “So. You will stop with Rafa, with all the men. Never get a cock up your ass again as long as you live? That’s what you’re saying? Because I can buy a strap-on, but I don’t think it would be quite the same.”
Roger could feel himself blushing, which was just so stupid. “I’ve never had sex with Rafa! It was one kiss! Barely a kiss.”
“And I am saying that this is a bigger issue than just Rafa.”
“There is no issue!” He pushed back the covers. “I have to get to practice.”
He wasn’t scheduled for practice, of course. He was scheduled for twenty billion more interviews. He got down to the lobby and had to go right back up and change. Interviews happened. He talked and smiled until his jaw ached. Mirka went with him. She didn’t say a word about their conversation until the last one was over.
“I’m only asking you to be realistic,” she said.
“How is cheating on my wife and the mother of my child realistic?”
She only sighed at him and didn’t say anything else.
Roger didn’t want to be realistic. He wanted to be happily married and normal. He also wanted to talk to Rafa. He rubbed at his eyes. It wasn’t looking good for normal.
His clothes were creased and a little smelly. He’d been in them too long. He stripped and headed for the shower as soon as they hit the room.
Mirka stepped in behind him a few minutes later. She put her arms around him from behind. Her stomach still felt completely flat. He wondered when that would change.
“I don’t mind sharing you, Roger,” she said softly. “Sometimes I think you’re a bit much for any one person to handle. But I would mind losing you. I will not let you make stupid rules that--”
“Stupid rules like monogamy?”
She pinched his nipple, kind of hard. “I wasn’t done. But yes. Stupid rules like monogamy that will end with you lying to me. You don’t lie to me, Roger. You’re the only man in my life who hasn’t done that.”
Guilt ran him through like a spear, a spasm so physically painful that his shoulders hunched as he curled around it.
“I had dinner with Rafa the night before the final.” The words ran together. “I didn’t tell you, I’m sorry.”
She was quiet a few seconds. She kissed his ear. “You’re forgiven. But you see? That’s how it starts. I don’t want that. I--” Her voice wavered. “I can’t deal with that. Life isn’t fairy tales and Cinderella weddings and happily ever afters. Life is like tennis. It’s fucking hard work. If it were easy, there’d be no point.”
She laid her hands over his belly, like he was the one who was pregnant. He covered her hands with his.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m probably confusing you. But what I’m saying is that the rules are stupid. If you want to be with Rafa, be with him.”
There were some tears after that, mostly his, but they were both used to that. It still seemed to Roger at best an inappropriate time to start a new relationship. It seemed also that he’d inadvertently chosen the worst person possible, but when he told Mirka that, she shook her head.
“I know why you think that, and obviously it would be a big thing if it got out, but the worst person would be someone you didn’t really like, or who didn’t really like you. And I know Rafa does. And the rest of it--yeah, it would be a big thing, but would it be any smaller if it were anyone in the top twenty?” She shrugged. “I don’t think so.”
Maybe she was right. The whole thing still spelled out DOOM behind Roger’s eyes in letters the size of the Hollywood sign. Privately, he resolved to do nothing either way. It would pass, and that would be that, and if he had to go back to the agency that wasn’t the worst thing in the world.
His resolution lasted until Rafa cornered him at a press event two weeks later and apologized for kissing him. He looked straight into Roger’s eyes, painfully sincere and said he hoped they could still be friends.
Roger gripped his arm and pulled him into the coat closet without thought or intention and kissed him, hemmed in by silk and slick summer trenchcoats. Rafa held onto the lapels of his suit jacket and moaned into his mouth, and Roger felt his hope of a normal life fade away like a dream.
They pushed deeper into a forest of a designer labels. Roger felt a wall at his back, and Rafa pushed against his front, Rafa’s hard thigh between his legs. Roger clutched at his hair with both hands and shuddered as he rubbed against it.
“She’s pregnant,” Roger said, with the worst timing in the known universe.
He stopped, and Rafa stopped. They breathed hard into each other’s mouths.
“Shut up,” Rafa said, and kissed him, mashing their lips together, teeth catching, noses bumping. “Shut up, not now. We are doing this now, I don’t want to know, don’t tell me. Don’t.”
“All right. Shh. All right.” Roger cupped his face with both hands and gentled the kiss, tongue sliding into Rafa’s mouth, licking along his lower lip.
Rafa worked Roger’s pants open and then his own. With pants and underwear around their thighs, they pressed together, stomach to stomach, cocks caught between. Rafa ground against him, tried to hitch one leg up to his hip and failed, caught the tight stretch of fabric. He whimpered into Roger’s mouth, and his fingers dug hard into Roger’s upper arms.
Roger’s heart was beating too fast, and sweat pricked at the back of his neck. His cock ached as it slid against Rafa’s, both of them hard and hot with the beginning of slickness as they rubbed against each other. He smelled perfume carried in on someone’s coat, the mustiness of closed space, the clean smell of Rafa’s skin. He buried his face in the crook of Rafa’s neck and closed his eyes.
“Roger, Roger...” Rafa’s lips were close by his ear, his voice barely a breath. His hand came around both their cocks, and Roger could feel not just his calluses, but blisters as well. Mirka was right. Tennis was fucking hard work, but it was worth it, not for the wins, but for everything, every day he got to play. Every day he would wake up with Mirka and their children. Every day he would to see Rafa smile at him or kiss him or-- It was all worth it.
Rafa probably didn’t understand why Roger was laughing as he came, but he laughed with him afterward, sweaty and flushed and looking delighted in the dim light.
Between kisses, they searched through other people’s pockets for tissues to clean up. Rafa finger-combed Roger’s hair, and Roger did his best with Rafa’s, but it looked about the same now as it had when he’d arrived at the party.
“Everyone’s out there,” Rafa whispered. “I never do this with so many people around before.”
“Fun, you know?”
Rafa nodded and kissed Roger yet again, like he couldn’t stop.
“We’ll have to stop,” Roger said. “When we go out there. You know that, we have to be normal.”
“I know,” Rafa said. The smile dropped from his eyes, though it lingered at his mouth. “I know, you said. She is pregnant, and we--we can’t.”
Which was not what Roger had meant, but it was a safe place to leave it. Rafa kissed him again and slipped out. Roger waited a few minutes to follow him and spent the rest of the party wondering if he was the only one who could see the kissed and bitten flush of Rafa’s lips and the shine in his eyes.
Rafa lost the next day in the first round of Shanghai. Roger didn’t see him again until the next tournament, and then only briefly. He didn’t think it was his imagination that Rafa was avoiding him.
In Paris, Roger checked into his hotel, left Mirka with room service and her feet up, and went to practice. In the locker room, Feli Lopez hit him in the face.
“What?” Roger said, backing up and sitting down. “What? I mean--” His custard-filled doughnut, hard to find in Paris, had squirted yellow goo all down his front. “What?”
“He finally told me about Xisca,” Feli said, “and then you, in a goddamn closet, and you drop him right off like he smells, just like she did! What’s wrong with you! Ow, shit!” He cradled his hand against his chest. “Why is your face so hard!”
“I can’t believe you hit me!” Roger felt his jaw. The skin was hot. It would probably bruise, which would be fun to explain at his next presser.
Feli sighed and sat down beside him. “God, we are both such girls.”
“No. Mirka would’ve hit you back. My mother would’ve too.”
“Yes, mine as well.” He sighed again. “Why would you do that to him? He’s such a good kid.”
“I didn’t do anything to him.”
“Sure. I said he told me.”
“Did he tell you he’s been avoiding me since Shanghai?”
“I wonder why.”
“This is going to be my fault no matter what, isn’t it?”
“Yes. And you’ve got custard on your face. And fuck you.”
Feli left. Roger wiped his face and changed his shirt. He sat with his shoes on but untied and tried to think what to do. People moved around him, conversations in five different languages, but no one spoke to him. He wondered if the bruise was visible yet. Locker room gossip spread fast.
It seemed to have spread faster than usual. Rafa appeared in the doorway, out of breath and clutching the door frame as he stared straight at Roger.
“Roger-- Did he really--”
Everyone had entirely stopped pretending to change or wrap racket handles or lace their shoes. They were watching the show, and their faces said they thought it would be a good one.
Roger stood up, wiped his face just in case--this wasn’t a thing to say if there was any chance of remaining custard--and did something he almost never did; he threw his weight around. “Could we just have a moment, please,” he said. “Alone.”
A few of them looked like they’d balk, but Sam Querrey and Juan Martin loomed quite effectively, and in the end eleven professional tennis players in various states of undress filed out into the hall and closed the door behind them.
Rafa stood against the wall. His eyes were wide, and he had both hands over his mouth, gnawing, improbably, on his own palm.
“Well?” Roger said.
Rafa came over to him in a rush and cupped his cheek and touched his bruise. “He really hit you. He show me his knuckles. I am so sorry, Roger. But I no can believe you send them all away! Like they kids and you the teacher!”
He looked scared for a moment and then laughed, and then went back to gnawing his palm.
Roger took his hand and pulled Rafa into his arms. Rafa held onto him hard, grabbing onto the back of Roger’s shirt. Roger kissed his temple and tried to think what to do.
“I-- I think I am in love with you,” Rafa said. His voice was muffled by Roger’s shoulder, but the words were clear enough and so was the pain in them.
“Rafa--” Roger could only kiss him, hands framing his face, aware of the ticking clock over the door and the irritated players out in the hall. This was not the time or the place for this, if there was a time and place.
“I know,” Rafa said between kisses, “is bad, you love her and--the baby--”
“Hush,” Roger told him. “Shh. Not now, okay? Later. Please.”
“I don’t even mean to say it, sorry.”
“It’s not bad. Don’t be sorry.” Roger hugged, probably too tight if the little oof noise Rafa made was anything to go by. “Come to my room, all right? For dinner. Seven?”
“But you will.”
He did. Roger heard it from Mirka, later, that Rafa had shown up promptly at seven. Roger himself was in a bar two blocks away, in a corner booth, with his hat pulled down over his eyes.
He had been there since shortly after his practice. Hiding. From everyone he’d thrown out of the locker room so he could kiss Rafa--and he wished he knew how obvious he’d been about that--from the press, who’d got wind of Feli punching him, from Rafa. Most of all from Rafa.
What could he possibly say? The only good response was I love you too, and Roger wasn’t honestly sure he did. He was pretty sure he could, given a little more time, but that wasn’t enough.
So he’d left it to Mirka to sort out, like so much of his life. It had been her idea, and admittedly it was probably the best way to assuage Rafa’s guilt, but it did nothing for Roger’s guilt. He felt ill with it. Or maybe that was the margaritas. He’d had several.
He was licking salt off the rim of his latest when a man sat down across from him. It took three or four blinks to resolve the man into Rafa. He wore a pair of Mirka’s sunglasses and had his hair slicked back into a short ponytail.
“You have paid for this?” Rafa demanded, nodding to the margarita.
Rafa took his wrist and dragged him up and out of the bar.
"Where are we going?" Roger hissed, as Rafa stuffed him into a waiting taxi.
Rafa poked him. "No talking."
They rode in silence through a blur of dark streets until the cab stopped in front of a small hotel. There were no doormen, no awning, just a sign over the door and warm light spilling out onto the wet sidewalk.
They both got out. Rafa paid, and the cab rolled away. Together, they looked at the door, with its inset of stained glass and its wooden handle. Rafa wheeled away and strode off down the street.
"I want a hotdog! You want a hotdog, Roger?" He stopped short and did not look back at Roger. His back was stiff. "I mean pretzel. Not hotdog."
Roger caught him up and put a hand on his back, pressed until Rafa started walking again. "I know you didn't mean hotdog to be a metaphor for dick, so I'm going to assume you didn't mean pretzel to be a metaphor for--"
"No! No, no, no, I did not mean this." He heaved air in and out of his lungs and let his lips flap on the exhale. "I am little nervous."
"We don't have to--"
"I want," Rafa said quietly. He bought his hand up to rest on Roger's shoulder. His grip tightened. "I want."
Roger swallowed, mouth gone wet and throat dry, heat in his chest and a heart rate more appropriate for playing against Rafa than taking a night stroll with him.
"I want too," Roger said. He touched the curve of Rafa's waist, just for a moment, and then let his hand fall away. "You and Mirka, your talk..."
Rafa shook his head so hard his ponytail whipped back and forth. "Too much talk tonight already," he said. "Roger." He stopped and put both hands on Roger's chest. They were warmer than the night air, hot, branding.
Their eyes were at a perfect level, but Roger couldn't see much more than shadows and reflected light there. He tipped Rafa's face to a better angle, and it was just the right angle, and then they were kissing. Rafa's lips were full and dry, and his tongue was in Roger's mouth, and they were kissing out on the street, like anyone, like they could do that.
They broke apart with a mutual gasp and looked around for the cameras. There was only an empty street, a lot of puddles, an uninterested pretzel vendor at the end of the block.
Rafa caught Roger's wrist in his hand and pulled him back toward the hotel.
They went straight up. Rafa already had the key.
Inside, Rafa pressed Roger against the door, against the wall, against one post of the four poster bed. He curled his fingers into the neck of Roger's shirt and pulled it down to suck and lick and scrape sharp teeth against Roger's skin. He put hard, broad hands on Roger's hips and held him right there, shoulder blades pressed outward by the post fitted against his spine.
Roger pulled off the ridiculous sunglasses Rafa was wearing, but that was all he managed to do. He stood still and breathed in shaky gasps as Rafa pulled his shirt up and touched his stomach, touched his ribs, dragged cheek and lips over one nipple and then the other. He let Rafa push his shirt up until it tangled over his head and caught his arms.
"Yes, there," Rafa said, and he stared.
The seconds stretched, and Roger started to free himself, but Rafa caught his wrists and held him still.
"Wait," he said. "Wait. I never get to look at you. I want always to stare and I never can."
Rafa stared, and Roger let him. He left his arms trapped by cloth and by Rafa's firm grip, and he looked at Rafa, too. It was true; they never got to look. Someone was always watching.
Roger felt himself get harder under Rafa's gaze. His cock pressed against the front of his pants until it was an obvious bulge. There was a matching one in Rafa's jeans.
"I want to suck you," Roger said. "Is that all right?"
Rafa's eyes went wide, and he nodded rapidly. He yanked Roger's shirt free with so much force it lost a button.
Roger shook his head and got on his knees. Right there, at eye level. He leaned in and pressed his mouth against denim. He could feel the heat of Rafa's cock and smell it and very nearly taste it. Rafa made a noise that sounded like pain. Roger could see his hands curled into fists. He looked up. Rafa's eyes were closed.
His jeans were button-fly, and it took too long to undo them, to press them down around his thighs and pull his underwear down as well so his cock stood up, thick and flushed and wet already. It had stuck to the white cotton of his underwear, and the first thing Roger did was take it in hand and lick that fluid away.
"Roger. Roger." Rafa's voice was desperate and hoarse. "I no-- take long. Please."
Roger licked him with long, wet, slurping swipes of his tongue, curling it around the head until Rafa's hips were jerking forward at the end of every lick, until his hands hovered over Roger's hair, barely touching.
"I want," Rafa said. "I want, I want, please."
Roger felt his own cock jerk, harder still and pressing against his zipper. He took Rafa in his mouth and sucked. The taste washed over him and filled him as skin and heat and that unique soft hardness filled his mouth. He slid his lips up, and down, and up, and Rafa's hands were in his hair, tightening. Rafa's hips were pushing at him, and instead of pushing back, Roger let him, took him deep and swallowed around him. Rafa went still and stiff, and then Roger was swallowing more than just his cock.
He went softer. Roger kept licking him and pressed one hand to the front of his own pants. He rubbed himself slowly, just a tease.
"Don't," Rafa said, and then he was kneeling too, pushing a hand over Roger's, hard.
"Oh god please," Roger said in a rush.
Their eyes met and held, even though it made getting Roger's pants open a ridiculous, fumbling effort, even though their hands tangled and knuckles knocked against each other. Roger stared right into Rafa's eyes as Rafa got a hand around him and started to stroke him. He felt he must be showing Rafa everything. He felt too open, exposed and squirming, but he didn't look away. He didn't want to look away.
He could feel it building in his whole body, chest and thighs, throat and wrists and cock. Rafa just kept his hand moving, and Roger's hips were jerking up toward it, getting closer and closer. Rafa's eyes were very dark. Roger could see little gold specks in the brown of his iris, off center spots, small imperfections. Rafa's other hand braced on Roger's thigh, and Rafa leaned in still closer.
Roger had to close his eyes when he came. He didn't want to, but it went through him like a shock, and he couldn't help it. A second later, he felt Rafa's forehead pressed to his, and he was gripping Rafa's shoulders hard as he rode it out.
He could feel Rafa's breath on his face, and even his own breath, coming back to him, bouncing off Rafa's skin. Little by little, he started to feel other things: Rafa's hands, one gripping his thigh, one sticky and hot on his hip. He felt the air conditioning chilling his back and the growing ache in his knees from the position.
He sat back on his heels. Rafa was watching him with hope and tentative happiness, and Roger thought, Oh, I do love him too. It seemed so simple and obvious after everything that he started to laugh. More of a giggle really, unfortunately high pitched.
Rafa's almost-smile grew into a grin, and Rafa hugged him hard, sticky hand planted right in the middle of his back. Roger hiccuped and tipped them both sideways onto the floor. They lay there and grinned at each other until Roger's face ached. He didn't want to stop. He could feel it sliding off his face, tried to keep it and keep this little bubble of unreality with it, but it was gone.
"We can stay tonight if we leave at five," Rafa said. "Mirka worked it out. She say she will call Toni for me."
Roger's eyebrows shot up of their own accord. "Well. I knew she was brave."
Rafa dropped his eyes. "You have more interviews. In the morning."
"There's always more interviews."
"And I fly home tomorrow before the next tournament."
Roger nodded. He knew it would be hard. He knew it, Rafa knew it. He just hadn't wanted to be reminded of it so soon. He picked himself up off the floor and offered Rafa a hand. "Let's get clean before bed."
They showered, set the alarm and climbed between soft, clean sheets. Rafa couldn't seem to figure out where to put his knees and kept jabbing them into Roger's thighs and smothering more giggles with the palm of his hand. Mirka was right; he was very young.
Roger finally pushed him onto his side and pressed up behind him until their knees lined up. Rafa leaned back into and twisted his neck round and gave Roger a wet smooch, half on and half off his mouth. "Good night, Roger," he said, put his head down on the pillow, and started to snore three minutes later.
It wasn't loud. At some point, Roger stopped hearing it at all, though he kept a hand on Rafa's side and felt the rise and fall of his breath as he drifted more slowly into sleep.
The city was quiet at five, golden and dark by turns as the buildings blocked the sunlight or let it shine. They took a taxi to a diner four blocks from the hotel, got breakfast, and then it was time.
"Come up with me," Roger said, suddenly desperate not to lose this so soon.
"Is bad, bad idea."
"I know. Do it anyway."
This was all a bad, bad idea. Rafa did it anyway.
Roger slid the key card in, waited for the green light, entered to the sound of voices.
"No," Mirka was saying. "Look, these three days here, it would work."
Roger and Rafa stopped just inside the door and took in the sight of Mirka and Toni sharing a breakfast of bagels, cream cheese, orange juice, and a box of breakfast pastries.
"Hi," Roger said. He gave her a little wave.
"Hi, honey. We're almost done here. We won't always be able to manage the same hotels, it would look weird, but I was thinking after the WTF, we could... Roger? Are you listening?"
He was listening. He was listening to his pregnant girlfriend plan out a holiday with his boyfriend for them, all while Toni Nadal sat and licked powdered sugar off his fingers like this was something normal, something that could actually happen.
Roger looked at Rafa and grinned. Rafa's mouth was stretched wide with joy as well. Roger caught his hand and squeezed, and when Roger crossed the room to kiss Mirka, he pulled Rafa with him.
Much later, after the twins were born, after the wedding and the honeymoon, Roger played another exho on Mallorca. It was a good excuse for dinners out and too much wine, and he finally tackled Rafa on the subject of what exactly he and Mirka had said to each other while Roger was hiding in a bar with a bad hat and too many margaritas. Mirka had told him a lot of it, but not all of it, he was sure.
He poured Rafa more wine and pushed the plate of calamari toward him. "Well?"
Rafa frowned. "She say, if I hurt you, she move all my water bottles out of order before every match. And make my socks all one size too big. Forever."
When Roger was done snorting red wine into his sinuses and dealing with the ensuing coughing fit, he said, "Yeah, that sounds like her."
Rafa nodded. "But it is all right. I never will do that."
Roger smiled and caught his hand under the table, just for a moment. He squeezed once and let go, and their talk turned to the tour schedule, the twins, the next tournament. Beyond the late night visits to each other's hotel rooms, beyond careful, stolen kisses and handshakes at the net that lingered a second too long, they had a life shared out between them, a friendship that didn't fit the rules, but fit them very well never the less.