“Don’t worry, babe.”
Jarrod didn’t know what to say. At this stage of the night his finely sculptured footballer’s body usually did all the talking. But not tonight.
Briony wrapped her arms around him. She kissed him again and drifted off to sleep.
He lay there in the silence, looking at the freshly painted ceiling. What colour was it? Briony’s designer friend had had them agonising for weeks over which shade of white they should chose. In the dim midnight light it looked as perfect as it did in the daylight – he just didn’t really care.
His mind raced in spurts, in time with her gentle breathing.
When will the club be mentioned in the press?
What was that stuff the club doctor had given me when I was injured last season?
When was the next test result coming through?
How much is this wedding going to cost?
Will this be the phone call?
Will everything be OK?
What if I get banned?
Two years or life?
What would dad say if I got banned?
Two years or life?
The polished concrete was cold on his feet as he padded into the kitchen. He opened the stainless steel fridge wide, and stood staring at it for a while, still sleepy. There was an orange juice container in the door with not much juice left in it. He grabbed it, gave it a shake, unscrewed the lid and took a big swig straight from the bottle. There was more in there than he thought. He gave it a little shake, then finished the rest. There was a burp there, but it didn’t quite want to come out.
A tub of protein shake mix sat on the kitchen bench, lid slightly dusty. The unnaturally muscled guy on the label grinned at him through suntanned lips. Jarrod picked up the tub for the first time in weeks.
“Guess you can’t get it up either?” he said, “which is no recommendation for this crap.” He opened a cupboard door and plonked the tub into the concealed rubbish bin. The door closed softly in spite of his effort to slam it shut – that’s what expensive kitchen cabinets give you.
He picked up the kettle and filled it at the sink, then flicked it on. It was silent for a moment before starting the slow growl it took to get to the boil.
At a touch, the pantry cupboard slid out. Starting with some simple cereal, he loaded up a bowl with a fresh fruit and yoghurt.
The bowl clinked on the granite bench-top. He took his first mouthful, spilling a little milk onto the shiny black surface as he went.
“Where’s that . . ?” he said to himself, looking around before spotting his iPad on the coffee table. He scooped it up as he balanced it and his breakfast on his way to the glass-topped chrome dining table. He fired up the device.
Among the few highlighted headlines in the main news section was yet another story about drugs in sport. When it escaped out of the Sports section, you knew it was serious.
He shovelled as he read.
A player from a rival club had not failed any tests, but had effectively been forced to retire after suffering severe side effects from a concoction that his Club doctor had given him two years ago. Unable to play and only 26 years old, he was seeking to sue the Club and their staff for compensation – loss of income, damage to reputation, etc etc.
Jarrod tried to think if he’d ever lined up against the guy – but he couldn’t remember him from either of the clubs the article said he had played for.
“He might struggle to make a mill’ out of that, especially after the lawyers take their cut,” he said to himself. He tapped to another story.
A well respected cyclist had decided to come clean about taking prohibited substances in the distant past when announcing his retirement. His line was that it only happened once, and everyone was doing it, and he never failed a test. “Courageous as ever. Confirm your sport is rotten after you leave, having earned a pile of money and lied through your teeth for years. Big man,” Jarrod said to himself.
He rubbed his hand over his chest. The stubble was long enough to slow the progress of his hand across his pec’s. He’d already made the decision to return to the natural hairy look – if he could get through the itchy/spiky phase, and if he could talk Briony into it. In the time they’d been together, she’d never seen him in his natural state.
He left the iPad and the almost finished bowl of cereal on the dining table and went back to the kitchen. He took a large white mug out of a glass-fronted cabinet above the kettle and chose a tea bag from a faux-timber display box.
Briony emerged just as he poured the hot water into his mug.
“Thanks, babe,” she said through the mass of random hair that poked out in all directions from a hastily installed elastic. She was sleepy still, but looked fabulous in her clean white towelling dressing gown and ugg boots.
He handed her the steaming mug. She wrapped both hands around it and blew across the surface with her eyes gently closed while he made himself another.
“What’s on today?”
“Development day at a school. Usual thing – kicking and passing, signing autographs.”
“What time will you be home?”
“Before you, probably – I’ll go to the gym for a light workout afterwards, so home about 4.”
“I’ll pick something for dinner on my way home . . .”
“And you’re cooking!” she said playfully.
“And don’t forget, it’s wedding planning tonight!” she said.
He did the best to show only the amount of discomfort she knew about. That was the typical “What’s all the fuss for?” type of discomfort.
“I haven’t forgotten,” he said, kissing her on the cheek.
But inside, his stomach sank. The cost of this thing was out of control even if he was able to play football for another five years. But if the football all went to custard, which it could do any day, they’d have to cancel it all and have half a dozen guests over for a sausage sizzle.
He looked around the place as he walked slowly to the bathroom. It was all shiny concrete and granite with the rustic wood and metal, the style that makes these warehouse conversions so sought after. At least he’d been able to pay cash for it and get most of the renovations done as a contra deal through the Club, outside the salary cap. At least they’d have somewhere to live and Briony’s salary. He’d be able to go back to uni and finish his teaching degree – if any school would have an English teacher on staff who was a former football star turned drug cheat.
If he was one.