Artistic Gymnastics World Championships, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Inntel Hotels Rotterdam Centre
October 24, 2010, 4:30 PM
“You should have some fun tonight, Epke,” his brother, Herre, said. “Don't come back to the hotel after the banquet.”
“Epke, don't feel like you have entertain us. You should go out with your friends,” his mother urged.
“But...” Epke tried to protest. Really, he was happy to come back to hotel after the closing banquet. He might be twenty-four and the 2010 Silver Medal World Champion in the High Bar, but he was still the baby of the Zonderland family and no one listened to him.
That it was his mother encouraging him go out to the clubs made Epke smile. Most people's mother's wanted their children to party less, not more.
Epke liked to go to bed early. He liked his well-ordered life. Training. Sailing. Eating healthy. School. He didn't get to be a world class gymnast by accident. It wasn't just talent that brought consistent high marks and medals. It was discipline.
His brothers and sister could have had similar results. They were all gymnasts and all had the necessary the athleticism. But Herre partied too much. Johan got wrapped up in his girlfriend. Geeske got tired of dieting. Epke alone had the focus it took.
Epke's father usually didn't have a lot to say but today even he was trying to get Epke to go out. “Gymnastics won't last forever Epke.” said his father. “I don't want you to regret...”
Epke interrupted him. “Turn up the TV.” The sound was down on the TV, but they all had been keeping an eye on the news, waiting for coverage of today's results.
A handsome, smiling gymnast was talking as Geeske turned up the sound.
“Look, it's Fabi, the fabulous',” Herre said, partly in English.
The interviewer smiled at the camera and said, “I'm talking with German gymnast Fabian Hambuechen, the Bronze medalist in High Bar. Fabian, congratulations on winning the Bronze today. Wonderful routine.”
Fabian nodded graciously as he responded, “Thanks, Lisa. I was pleased with my routine. Because of my injuries, I couldn't compete in the All-Around, so I'm thrilled with a Bronze in High Bar. To win a medal is always an honor.”
“Fabian, we saw you give Epke Zonderland a hug when his score was announced. So I guess you were happy for him?”
“Oh, yes. Epke was the true champion today in my opinion. He should have gotten the gold. Epke's execution was flawless. His was the better routine. It was just stronger. I was so proud of him to perform so well in his own country, with the Royal family in attendance. Sure, the Chinese had more difficulty. The judges were wrongly influenced by that. Zhang's execution was sloppy. I just didn't understand the judging. I mean, I feel my bronze was right. No complaints there. But Epke should have the gold.” Fabian was uncharacteristically serious, almost defiant.
Geeske clapped and hooted, “Go, Fabi. Way to tell it.”
Epke's mother tisked and shook her head as she said, “It's true but he shouldn't have said it.”
There was a code of sportsmanship in men's gymnastics. Gymnasts should graciously compliment their competitors. Gymnasts should not question the judges in public. Speculation and drama should be left to media to concoct. Lisa Metzger, the reporter, could not hide her surprise and delight that she had a top gymnast on camera, breaking the code. Usually these interviews had no substance, just smiles and trite patter.
“Well, folks, there you have it. Now my colleague Hans Bakker has an interview with the Flying Dutchman himself, Epke Zonderland.” Lisa's Metzger's voice was full of glee.
Epke pretended to watch the interview, but his heart was thudding too loudly to hear. His face was hot. His body was hot. Why did Fabian hug him so tightly today? Why had Fabian been hanging around all week especially during podium training? Why did Fabian say all that to a reporter? It made no sense and Epke felt... Well, Epke didn't know what he felt. Embarrassed, maybe. Whatever name he gave to the squirmy, tight, excited, sick feeling he had, it was definitely unsettling.
Epke happened to look at his brother, Herre. That was a mistake. Herre gave Epke a long look and then raised his eyebrows suggestively. Epke flushed. Herre was the only one in the family who knew Epke was gay. And Herre only knew because he guessed. Epke was barely out to himself, so how Herre had figured it out was a mystery to Epke. But now that Herre knew, he teased Epke mercilessly, subtle ribbing that the rest of the family didn't notice.
Epke had a few relationships in high school with girls. But it seemed like a lot of work and Epke couldn't see the point, so he'd stopped. Training for the Beijing Olympics had been a lot more important then. Now, he was in medical school and training for London in 2012.
When he thought about it, which wasn't often, Epke thought his disinterest in sex and dating was just about gymnastics. He assumed the reason other people seemed so interested in sex was they didn't have anything better to do. Sex and relationships would come later. After the Olympics. After he finished medical school.
Last summer on the beach after they had been sailing all day, Herre had asked Epke, “Have you thought you might be gay?” They had been talking about Herre's girlfriend.
“No. I mean yes. I have thought about it. No, I'm not gay.” Epke was surprised because he and Herre had always been close and surely Herre knew the answer to that question without asking.
Herre didn't seem to be persuaded by Epke's answer and pressed, “Are you sure about that?”
“Yes. Of course I'm sure. What kind of a question is that? I'd know if I were gay. I'm not. Not that there is anything wrong with it, of course.” Epke knew he was being defensive but he wasn't gay.
“Yeah, well, you should try boys before you write sex off completely.”
Now Epke was irritated. “I'm not writing sex off completely. I've been kind of busy.”
“No one is too busy for sex. That's just an excuse.”
But Epke was, in fact, too busy for sex. “That's ridiculous. Not everyone is as horny as you, Herre.”
Herre raised his eyebrows and said, “Epke. Think about it. Haven't you ever... I mean when I used to compete, we...” Herre tried to think about how to describe the quick friendly hand jobs and blow jobs he had exchanged with teammates.
“No! I never.... Have you?” Epke was blushing at the mere thought of it.
“Yeah, of course I have. It's just normal to experiment. You mean you never...you know... had a bit of fun with the guys?”
“No, no, no. I mean no one does.” Epke was really shocked by the idea.
Herre looked at him skeptically. “Really? Are you sure no one...? I mean we did, all the time. It was a regular thing. No big deal thing. Just a way to deal with stress.”
Though Epke shook his head and changed the subject, he thought about it a lot afterward. He was obsessed with thinking about it. Herre and his teammates had sex. Really? He couldn't get it out of his mind. Were his own teammates having sex? Without him?
Epke knew he was attractive and he wasn't insecure about it. He had modeled for the trendy Coq Sportif and everyone said he was hot. So his non-existent sex life was a choice, his choice. But now he wondered. Were the others having sex and leaving him out? Was there something wrong with him that made him unattractive?
Herre teased him every chance he got.
“Epke, Ewoud Broeksma took your picture nude. How could you have missed that black and white pictures of you flexing your muscles was homoerotic? Or that Ewoud wanted in your pants?” Herre teased.
“It was art. It was for the Olympics. It was... Pa encouraged me. Ewoud took your picture, too.”
“Yeah, right,” Herre said, as he nodded in mock earnestness. “You are completely clueless, Epke. If I didn't know you your whole life, I wouldn't believe it. Completely and totally oblivious. You missed the clue bus completely, by about 10 years.”
“I'm a late bloomer. That's what Mama says.”
“Yeah. A gay late bloomer. I'll bet you 100 Euros that when you bloom, you'll 'bloom' with a boy.”
Epke shook his head.
Herre grinned. “Hmmm. You won't take that bet will you? I thought so. I rest my case.”
That was their last conversation about Epke's sexual orientation.
Artistic Gymnastics World Championships, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Closing Banquet, Ahoy Center, 9:13 PM
October 24, 2010
As the banquet broke up, Fabian called out, “Jon, Epke! Come out with us. It's my birthday. Well, it will be at midnight, anyway. I want you to celebrate with us.”
Usually Epke wouldn't go out after these things, especially not with the German team. Drinking with the Germans guaranteed that unflattering pictures of you in compromising situations would be posted the next day on Facebook to commemorate your evening. The pictures would be of happenings you couldn't even remember through the fog of your hangover. You did not drink with the Germans if you valued your reputation and dignity.
But it was Fabian asking. Fabi, who defended him on television today for everyone to hear. Fabi, who was talented, hot, and amazing. Fabi, whose arm was now around Jon's shoulder.
Epke felt a twist of jealousy. Fabian and the American gymnast Jonathan Horton were good friends, better friends than he was with either of them.
Maybe he go should out with them. Prudence be dammed.
Epke shrugged on his coat. “Sure. Let's go.”
Jon and Fabian both looked completely surprised that Epke agree to go out.
“Awesome,” Jon said. Jon always said “awesome” because he was American.
“Awesome,” said Fabian who said “awesome” when he spoke English because they all said “awesome” when they spoke English.
“Awesome,” echoed Epke softly as he looked at Fabian.
Jon smirked, but neither Epke nor Fabian noticed.
The Germans, Epke, and Jon crammed into three taxis and headed off for the clubs.
First they went to Off Courso and stayed for a while, then they tried Catwalk. Epke couldn't really tell the difference between the clubs. They were loud and dark and smelled of sweat and stale alcohol. Epke couldn't hear anything anyone said at either place. The Germans had reverted to German which Epke could speak fairly well but he couldn't follow what they were saying with techno pulsing in his ears. So he smiled, nodded, and mostly watched Fabian. Fabian danced with everyone: his teammates… Jon.. some girls… Jon again. Epke went to the bar and got another drink. He was a little drunk, especially for him.
Suddenly Jon was at his side. “Go dance with the birthday boy,” he said in Epke's ear as he took the drink from Epke's hand and pushed him towards Fabian.
Fabian looked so pleased that Epke couldn't refuse as Fabian took Epke's hand and pulled him into the mob of dancers. Epke's inhibitions were already weak from alcohol. Now in the crush of people and din, Epke abandoned his reserve. He reached for Fabian and pulled him closer with his hands on Fabi's hips. Fabi looked up at Epke and put his hands on Epke's shoulders as his body moved closer, until they were rocking against each other. Epke might have felt embarrassed if he had been sober or if it hadn't been so dark.
There were people all around them but Epke could only see and feel Fabi. It was a rush, exhilarating and unexpected. Epke had felt this before, but only when he was competing, when the crowd was cheering. This rush of feeling was different. It was intimate and hungry.
Their faces were close, their eyes locked, groins grinding into each other. Fabi was saying something that Epke couldn't hear with the music blaring but understood. anyway Fabi was mouthing, “Want you.” Oh, god. Epke's hand gripped Fabi harder and mouthed back, “Yes, yes.”
Epke had never felt that way before—the desperate thrill of crazed lust.
Dragging Fabi to the toilets seemed like a completely sensible option. It would be quieter there and it would be more private. They could... They could what? Kiss? Fuck? Blow each other? He didn't even know. But something.
Epke had walked into his share of toilets and seen men fucking and sucking. He'd always looked away in disgust. Now he had sympathy. He had that “Now. Now. Now. NOW!” kind of wanting, the kind of lust that made a club toilet seem like a perfect place for a hook-up.
Jon and the rest of the German team appeared and started dancing with them. Epke broke away from Fabi to make room for them and the moment of pure lust passed.
Not long after that, the group poured out onto the street ready to go on to another club.
“Onward!” someone yelled. The Germans were in a raucous mood, ready for more. Jon let out an answering whoop of agreement.
Epke was suddenly tired. It had been long day. This strange fluttering in chest made him feel exhausted and unsettled.
“Hey. I'm gonna go back to the hotel. I'm tired. It's been really fun,“ Epke said loudly, to be heard over the loud laughter and horseplay. “Happy Birthday, Fabi—”
Fabi abruptly broke in, “I'm tired too. Okay if I ride with you back to the hotel, Epke?”
“No, no Fabi! No. Don't go,” his teammates protested and then broke into a drinking song.
Jon said, “Come on. Let him go. He's tired, poor baby. He'll just hold us back, the lightweight.” And the group broke into laughter.
“Bye, bye, boys. Don't do anything I wouldn't do,” Jon said to Epke and Fabian, and wagged his eyebrows suggestively.
Epke blushed and turned to hail a taxi.
Artistic Gymnastics World Championships, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Taxi on Coolsingel
October 25, 2010, 1:30 AM
The cab was quiet after the club. The rush Epke had felt on the dance floor had dissipated quickly. Fabian once again was just a guy Epke didn't know all that well, but well enough to remember that he had a girlfriend, if gossip was to be believed. Epke felt slightly nauseated by the situation.
But then Fabian looked at him with that same hot desire he had in the club and he put his hand on Epke's thigh. Oh, God. Epke's stomach clenched and squirmed.
Now what? He had no idea. Herre and he were sharing a room. Where could he be alone with Fabian?
Epke's voice came out breathless and halting. His English was failing him.
“Um ... my brother ... he is in my room....”
Fabian's face fell. “So you don't want to come ... go ... with me?” His English was even worse than Epke's.
Epke changed to German which wasn't as good as his English but he wanted to make it easy for Fabi.
“No, No. I want to go with you. But I don't have a bed. Yeah?”
Fabi smiled. “I have one. I am alone.”
God. Epke felt faint.
“Fabi. I don't know about... how you say it? Sex. Love. With boys. You know?”
Fabian was incredulous. “You're a virgin?”
“No, no, no. Not with girls. Just boys.” Epke blushed. Oh, god. He felt like he might die from the mixture of intense lust and embarrassment.
“Okay. No problem.” Fabi grinned. “That's okay. It'll be fine.”
Fabi paid the cab fare. Epke followed him in, through the lobby into the elevator.
In the elevator, Fabi reached out and stroked Epke's bicep. “Epke, you’re beautiful.”
“Don't you have a girlfriend? Viktoria? Yes?” Epke blurted.
“Viktoria. She's my friend. My cover. In English you say 'beard' I think.”
Epke was intensely relieved. He couldn't really imagine actually fooling around with someone who was in a committed relationship with someone else.
“Oh. That's all right then.”
“There's no one in my life, Epke. No one to be hurt,” Fabi said, as the elevator opened on the 17th floor. He took Epke's hand and led him down the hall.
Once the hotel room door clicked behind them, Epke pulled Fabi to his arms and kissed him in the dark. He had been wanting to kiss Fabi since the dance floor.
It was amazing. Fabi's mouth was hot, open, dirty, and aggressive. His body was hard and insistent. It was nothing like being with a girl. He smelled of cologne and sweat. Epke was overwhelmed with the feeling of it as Fabian flipped on lights. Low lights, but then they could see each other. Fabian's cheeks were bright red with excitement. His eyes were hot and wanting. God. Epke felt unsteady and overwhelmed and desperate.
Fabi looked a little embarrassed. “Uh, time out. I got to...” He took off his coat and gestured toward the toilet. “Yeah, well. Um.” He ducked into the en-suite bathroom.
Epke took off his coat and hung in it the closet. He was nervous. Even a few minutes alone to think had him wondering what he was doing here.
Fabian came out. He had clearly splashed water on his face and he looked calmer, but still embarrassed.
“Um... Epke. This is awkward but I wasn't planning on this and I don't have condoms or anything. Well. I do have stuff but not... condoms you know. I wanna, but... I don't have...”
Epke took out his wallet and took out a condom.
“You knew?” Fabi's surprise made Epke laugh.
“No. I always have a condom.”
Epke could tell Fabi was trying to figure out what it said about Epke that he had a condom in his wallet.
“I'm not a slut. I'm Dutch,” Epke said with a little shrug.
“Yes, Dutch. Careful. Um... safe. For myself and my partner.”
Fabi grinned. “Dutch are so practical.”
“Yeah. But it's good, right?”
Fabi nodded enthusiastically and then said “So does this mean you wanna 'fuck me.'” Using English words somehow made it less awkward.
Epke flushed. “Is that what you want?” He didn't know how these things went or even what he wanted exactly. He just wanted more. To get off. To be touching Fabi again.
Fabi smile was kind. “Yeah, I think it would be easier for you to be the one to … 'fuck'. Yeah? I'd like that, too. A lot.”
“Okay.” It was so awkward Epke wanted to sink into the floor except that he wanted Fabi even more than he wanted to die of embarrassment.
So he stepped closer to Fabi and pulled him close, for more kissing.
“Yes. Yeah. Good,” Fabian sighed with pleasure.
Inntel Hotels Rotterdam Centre
October 25, 2010, 7:30 AM
Epke woke up to the sound of his phone vibrating. Fabian was still asleep. Epke looked around the room in the early morning light. Their clothes were everywhere. His trousers were within reach, but he missed the call while he figured that out.
Then a text came as Epke fumbled the phone out his pocket. It was from Herre.
Do you owe me 100 Euros? Breakfast in an hour with Mama and Pa. Are you coming?
Fabi stirred and made an inquiring noise that didn't actually include words.
“It's my brother. I've got breakfast in an hour. Wanna come?”
“Yeah, and my mom and dad. They think you are kind of ‘awesome' for saying I should have gold.”
“Okay. Sounds fun,” Fabian said sleepily and snuggled up to him.
“Happy Birthday, Fabi.”
Fabian smiled and said. “It's an 'awesome' birthday so far.”