It’s the sixties, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to be different. Eddie Baronski spent his high school years looking out for his partially deaf friend, Jack Emmons. Now that they’ve graduated, they spend their free time at Green Bay’s newly renamed Lambeau Field, taking in the practices.
When Eddie’s crush, Johnny Grant, a new Packers team member, offers him a ride home, Eddie thinks it’s the start of a grand romance. But Johnny and Eddie may not be on the same page, and love—true love—sometimes comes from an unexpected quarter.
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“Shhh,” Jack scolded, but he smiled as he said it.
“Maybe he’d be better off deaf,” Donny cracked in a soft voice, and Eddie reached behind Skip and smacked Donny lightly on the back of the head.
Jack was the unfortunate one in the group, even if his family had money. When they were kids, Jack had had a difficult time hearing, and as he’d gotten older, he’d been able to hear less and less. The other kids had picked on him mercilessly, but he never heard half of it anyway. He wore hearing aids that sometimes whistled, and in a group like this, he often turned them off because the ambient noise drove him totally crazy. Jack was also the closest person to a brother Eddie had. When the other kids had teased him, it was Eddie who’d taken them on. Sometimes he’d won and sometimes he hadn’t, but once they became friends, no one picked on Jack with impunity. And that extended even to now. Jack was his brother in every way that counted. Eddie was an only child, and while Jack had older brothers and sisters, he was his parents’ “late in life baby,” and the other kids had been nearly out of the house by the time he and Eddie had met in junior high.
“Hey,” Donny griped, rubbing the back of his head, but Eddie simply glared at him before turning his attention to the field. The guys were running play after play, practicing for the game in a few weeks. His friends all liked Bart Starr and thought he was the cat’s meow, but Eddie watched Johnny Grant. He wasn’t one of the stars of the team, but for some reason Eddie could always pick him out of the group of players, his eyes gravitated toward Grant wherever he was on the field. Eddie knew damned well why, but he tried not to admit the truth, even to himself, because after watching an hour of practice, Eddie would have to shift in his seat a few times to hide the wood he was sporting. There was no way he could admit what he was feeling to anyone in the world. But his eyes rarely left the field as he watched Johnny run plays with the other guys.
“Bart’s doing great,” Skip said from next to him, pointing out the star of the team, and Eddie nodded, agreeing silently as he watched his own star on the field. But what he thought he loved most were the tight pants and the way Johnny kept bending over all the time. Every now and then Johnny’s practice uniform would ride up, giving Eddie the fleetingest glimpse of skin before the shirt fell back into place.
Eddie knew he was being completely ridiculous, and he knew nothing could ever come of his infatuation. And for God’s sake, no one on earth could ever know how another guy made him want things he could never have. “It’s getting late,” Skip said. “Dad wants me back at the store by seven, so I gotta go.”
“Okay,” Eddie said as he half stood to give Skip and Donny a chance to scoot by in front of him. “I’ll see you guys tomorrow.”
“Okay, Mr. Whipple,” Skip quipped, jumping out of the way before Eddie could take a swipe at him. “Don’t squeeze the Charmin.” Skip hurried away and up the stairs with Donny right behind him. Once they were gone, Jack moved over, and Eddie noticed him fiddling with his hearing aids.
“Is it better now?” Eddie asked, and Jack nodded slowly as he continued to watch the men on the field. The practice wouldn’t go on for much longer. It was starting to get dark, and while they could work out under the lights, Eddie figured they’d already been practicing for hours. Sure enough, before he could say anything to Jack, the men started walking to the sidelines, gathering their stuff and headed into what Eddie knew was the entrance to the locker room.
Jack stood, and Eddie did as well, and both of them walked up the stadium seats and through the empty corridors, their footsteps echoing off the walls until they reached the outside. “Were you able to get tickets to the game next Sunday?” Jack asked as they passed by George in his booth.
“No. I can’t afford them. You?” Eddie asked, and Jack shook his head. Both of them were lucky if they got to go to an actual game once a year, and some years they weren’t able to swing that since tickets were just that scarce. They both said good-bye to George, and he waved at them as they passed. Jack walked across the parking lot to where the old car his mother had given him was parked. They called the old Cadillac “the Boat,” because the thing was huge and rode like a land yacht.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Eddie called, and Jack continued walking toward his car. He knew Jack hadn’t heard him. Jack had told him that even with the hearing aids, according to the doctors, his hearing would continue to get worse, and in the next few years, he wouldn’t be able to hear anything at all. Eventually Jack turned around, and Eddie saw him wave. He returned it and watched Jack get into the car, and heard the engine start before his friend drove away.
Eddie walked to where he’d left his bike, got on, and pedaled twice before he realized the bike didn’t feel right. Stopping, he looked down and saw that his back tire was totally flat. “Damn it,” he swore and walked the bike back to the rack. The parking lot was empty when he looked around. Eddie returned to George’s booth, but he was gone too, the gate and doors locked up tight and the only phone around was in the closed guard booth. Eddie had no idea how he was going to get home except to walk. Figuring he had no other choice, Eddie started walking. At least it was still warm, and along the way he could probably find a pay phone to call his dad. Eddie fished in his pockets to come up with a nickel and remembered he had one tucked in the corner of his wallet. Sighing loudly, he headed toward the road on the far side of the parking lot.
Headlights shone around him, and Eddie turned as a car moved in his direction and pulled up close, the convertible top down. Eddie could hear the radio playing. He noticed the deep-red paint and white scoops along the side of the impressive sports car before he saw the man driving it—Johnny Grant, in the incredibly handsome flesh. “Is something wrong?” he asked in a deep, rich voice that sounded like Eddie’s mother’s hot chocolate felt in the middle of winter.
“I got a flat tire on my bike, so I was walking home,” Eddie said, and Johnny reached over and popped the door open.
“Hop in. I’ll give you a ride home.”
Eddie hesitated for a split second before sliding down the plush seat and closing the door. “Thank you, I appreciate the lift.” He thought about asking to take his bike, but Johnny giving him a ride was favor enough.
“No sweat,” Johnny said with a smile as he gunned the engine and they took off across the pavement toward the parking lot exit. “I see you and your friends in the seats for almost every practice.”
“We’re all big fans, but can’t afford tickets very often. My dad knows someone who knows the coach, so we get to watch the practices. The guard at the gate lets us in.” They stopped at the corner, and the air in the car got real still. Eddie got a nose full of Johnny’s rich, herbal scent, mixed with a hint of soap. He wanted to lean closer and inhale deep, but he stared ahead. Damn, he was just inches from the man who gave him wood just from thinking about him. Thankfully he’d left his shirt untucked, so he could use it to cover the huge woody he was sporting right now.
“Which way, uh….”
“Eddie,” he supplied. “Straight up Military to Dousman and turn right toward town.” Eddie was trying to figure out how he could delay getting home. When the light changed, they took off, and Eddie laughed as the wind whipped his hair. He was riding in a car with Johnny Grant.