The party at Zelo’s is over, and just as Rafa is heading for a car to take him back to the hotel, Roger catches up to him. “Hey,” he says, touching Rafa’s elbow. “Do you want to walk? It’s not far.”
It’s a beautiful night, still warm and fresh from the Mediterranean spring day. The moon is a crescent over the sea. “Yes, okay,” says Rafa, and Roger smiles.
The end of a party is very different from the beginning. The paparazzi are gone, the red carpet rolled up and put away. Roger and Rafa can stroll from the venue through quiet streets, where shops are shuttered while dim light spills from the windows of restaurants onto the pavements. Here and there they are followed by curious eyes but for the most part they are left alone.
“It’s a long time since we talked properly, Rafa,” says Roger. “How are you?” He doesn’t ask in that way so many ask these days, people who are at once wary of being considered intrusive yet too curious not to intrude. He asks because he really wants to know.
“I’m fine, Rogi,” says Rafa. He shrugs. “I think.”
“Good,” says Roger, and he means that too.
“How’s the knee?” asks Rafa.
Roger stops and bends his knee, standing on one leg, as if to demonstrate it. “Seems fine,” he says. “Looking forward to getting back to it. Playing again. Then I’ll really know.”
“Always the thing with knees, no?” says Rafa. “Wait and see. Looks good, no? Looks fine.”
“I trust your expertise,” says Roger, nudging him as they walk on.
Out in the harbour, the sea is dotted with the lights of yachts and buoys, and the soft hush of the waves washes over them. From the marina comes the hollow knock of moored boats against jetties. “Is beautiful here,” says Rafa, taking a deep breath of the sea air.
“Yeah,” agrees Roger. Somehow, without even really noticing it while they talk, they end up turning up the hill towards the club. Over the fence they can see the pointed tops of marquee tents pale in the soft lights of the city. “Hey,” says Roger. “Have you ever seen the court at night?”
“No,” says Rafa. “Only late matches, but not really night.”
Roger grins at him. “Do you want to?”
Rafa imagines it, the calm emptiness of the court at night, no light but whatever is reflected in from the city around them. “But it’s locked,” he says. “Is there someone who can let us in?”
“Come on, Raf,” says Roger. “Did you never climb a fence as a kid?”
“Are you serious, Roger?”
“Come on,” says Roger. “Let’s try this way.”
He takes Rafa by the elbow, leading him down a sidestreet that rings around the centre. “This is crazy,” says Rafa, but he lets Roger lead him.
They go through a tiny alleyway between a tall apartment building and the old stone city wall. “Here,” says Roger. He points up at the wall. “We climb over here and then over the other side, then we just get over the fence. Easy.”
“Is too dangerous,” says Rafa. “What if we get the injury?”
“Come on, Raf,” says Roger, putting his arm around Rafa’s shoulders and squeezing him. “We can do it.”
“We can just call someone, no? Ask to let us in?”
Roger heaves a theatrical sigh. “Where’s your sense of adventure?” he says. “Vamos, mi amigo. Let’s go.” He lets go of Rafa and puts his hands to the wall, finding a foothold and starting to climb.
“This is a bad idea, Rogi,” says Rafa, but he already knows he’s going to do it. He waits till Roger gets to the top--it’s not high, it doesn’t take long--and follows him up the wall. The climb isn’t as difficult as he’d anticipated. The wall is old and the stones are worn, and there are enough gaps in the mortar to get a good grip with his hands and to push up with his feet. The slope on the other side means that the grass is just a small jump down, and Roger is already halfway towards the fence. He climbs up the chicken wire and then down along the wall the other side. Again Rafa follows him. Soon they’re standing on the practice courts, dark and still in the night.
“See?” says Roger. He’s grinning, his eyes shining. “I told you. Easy.”
“I telling you,” says Rafa. “This is a bad idea.”
“Probably,” says Roger, but his excitement is infectious. Rafa can’t help grinning back.
The arena itself is at the other end of a path through the courts, so they follow it, staying to the shadows. “Do you think there are guards?” says Rafa.
“Maybe,” Roger says. “I’ve never broken into a tennis club before. Have you?”
Rafa snorts a laugh. “No,” he says. “How will we get into the centre court?”
“I don’t know,” says Roger. “Maybe climb a tree, get onto the stands?”
In the end, they don’t even have to climb a tree. Scaffolding for outdoor lighting lets them climb up onto the top of the temporary stands erected in Rainier for the tournament, and from there it’s easy. Down through the seating and onto the court. It’s not covered, but the net is down, and the space is eerie and silent and dark.
“This is amazing,” whispers Roger.
“Sí,” Rafa whispers back. He doesn’t know why they’re whispering, but it’s maybe the same reason he wouldn’t raise his voice in a cathedral. Some spaces are too great to try to fill with a single voice. Some places make you want to show reverence.
Roger takes his hand and leads him out to the middle of the court, where the centre of the net would be. They stand and look around. “You have eight of these,” says Roger, quietly. He’s grinning, as if he’s thrilled that Rafa has so many, even though some of them involved his own losses.
“Yeah,” replies Rafa.
“Maybe you’ll get another one.”
Rafa shrugs. “Probably not with Novak,” he says. “But I gonna try, no? Anyway, maybe you’ll win.”
Roger shrugs. “Maybe,” he says. The night sky is clear overhead, awash with stars, and the air is cool and salty. The smell of clay damp with dew rises from the court. The whole place feels pregnant with possibilities and echoes with memories of the past. Rafa leans against Roger just to anchor himself here in the present. Roger pushes back, gently, as if he’s feeling it too.
“I miss when it was just us,” says Roger. “Just you and me and no one could touch us.”
“Yeah,” says Rafa. It’s nothing he’d ever usually say, fearful of sounding arrogant, but here with Roger it seems alright. “Feels like a long time ago.”
They lapse into silence again, lost in nostalgia, maybe. Drifting in memories.
Then, suddenly, the silence is broken. “Qui est là?” comes a voice from the shadows of the club.
“Oh shit,” says Roger, grabbing Rafa’s hand again and running to the shelter of the stands. A guard is coming down the steps from the clubhouse, his torch cutting through the darkness, light landing and dancing on the court.
“Is okay, Roger,” whispers Rafa. “We just say it’s us, no? They probably think it’s weird but okay.”
“Rafa, they’ll wonder what we’re doing here together at night,” replies Roger. “Come on. I have a plan.”
Rafa briefly wonders if they might have had enough of Roger’s plans for the evening, but he’s being pulled along anyway, creeping the other side of the boards around the court. While the guard is checking the stands, Roger drags him up the steps and into the clubhouse. The corridors inside are dimly lit and apparently empty, but no sooner are they halfway towards the front exit than they hear more guards ahead of them.
“Shit,” says Roger again. He pulls Rafa to the nearest door, wrenches it open, and drags him inside, closing the door behind them.
It turns out to be a closet of some kind. It would be a large enough space, but it’s full of equipment of some sort. Rafa digs his phone from his pocket and switches on the torch. They’re surrounded by vacuums and mops and shelves full of cleaning equipment. It looks like they have extra stuff in for the tournament. There’s barely enough space for the two of them to stand without knocking into several vacuums and presumably drawing the attention of all the guards in the entire place.
“Roger,” says Rafa, thinking of just that. “Why are we hiding?”
“Turn your torch off, they might see.”
“Why is that so bad?”
“Because, Raf, come on.” Roger looks a little conflicted. “What will they think, the two of us there on the court at night, together?”
“Probably is worse if they find us in a closet together, no?”
Roger makes a choked sort of sound, and then he takes Rafa’s phone and turns off the torch, pressing it back into Rafa’s hand. Rafa shifts against him when he slips it back into his pocket and he hears Roger swallow. That’s when it dawns on him.
“Oh,” he says. “You worried they think we are....”
“Yeah,” says Roger.
“But why would they…?” And then a second thing dawns on him. All of Roger’s touches, his gleaming eyes, his smiles. Taking his hand and bringing him to Rainier in the dark. He becomes acutely aware of the fact that he is pressed against him, chest to chest, thigh to thigh. He notices his breathing, slightly fast, as if his heart is racing. In the heavy silence he finds the sensation is contagious.
He swallows past it. “Have they gone?” he whispers.
“I don’t know,” says Roger. “I don’t think so.”
Rafa is frozen, half wanting to move away, half wanting to push closer. For so long he has refused to let himself think about Roger that way, but now his mind is flooded with thoughts of Roger’s body, his elegance, his broad shoulders, his mouth. The easy way they touch. The way Roger looks at him.
Outside there is a clamour, as guards pass by. Someone says, “Quelqu'un at-il vérifié les moniteurs de sécurité?”
“Shit,” whispers Roger. “They’re going to check the security monitors.”
“They gonna see us.”
“Yeah, probably,” says Roger.
That’s when the absurdity of the whole situation hits them. Rafa feels a laugh bubbling up, and tries to swallow it, but he can’t. He begins to shake with the effort to stay silent, and soon Roger has caught it too. They cling on to each other in the dark, guards rushing to and fro and calling to each other outside. Rafa smothers his laughter against Roger’s shoulder, pressing his face into his jacket. Roger does the same, gripping onto Rafa’s shirt.
“Oh shit,” whispers Roger, when the waves of laughter finally die down. “I’m so sorry, Raf. This was all my stupid idea.”
“No, no,” replies Rafa. He finds Roger’s forehead and presses his own against it. “I come with you, no? I choose. Easy not to come but I wanted to.”
“Yeah?” says Roger. He loosens his grip on Rafa’s shirt, his palms pressing against him now, holding him.
“Yeah,” says Rafa. There is no real need for them to be standing so close, he knows. Not like this, forehead to forehead, clutching each other. And yet neither of them moves away. Rafa feels a calm fall over him, a certainty. This is the Roger he’s known for so long, the Roger he used to gaze at and dream about. The Roger who got married and had children and yet who still looks at him with a potent mixture of fondness and desire. Until now, it’s seemed like an irreconcilable contradiction to Rafa, something he could not navigate, so though let Roger look, he stopped himself from entertaining thoughts of him in his arms, pressed against him, kissing him. He has always preferred reality to fantasy.
And now, here they are.
“Is this why you bring me here, Rogi?” he whispers.
Roger’s fingers tense. “I… no, I didn’t plan, you know. I didn’t know…”
“Roger,” says Rafa, hushing him. He brings his hands to Roger’s face, finding his mouth in the dark, and kisses him. After a moment, Roger sighs into it, opening his mouth, leaning back against the wall and bringing Rafa with him, both of them lost in it. Rafa’s head is swimming, nothing real to him but the feel of Roger, the taste of him. The pounding of his heart in his chest. And Roger must be equally overwhelmed, because neither of them hears anyone outside until the door is flung open.
They break apart, blinking against the light, a little dazed. It takes a moment to register Željko Franulović, the tournament director, standing there, staring at them in astonishment.
“Ah…” says Roger.
Rafa bites his lip and steps back, hitting against a vacuum cleaner and sending a series of mop handles toppling like dominos.
For a moment, the tension is too awkward to break, until somehow Željko manages. “Roger?” he says. “Rafa?”
“Željko,” says Roger. He seems to be at a loss for anything further.
“We… it’s…” Rafa tries, but it’s futile.
“The guards called me,” says Željko. “They told me we had intruders. Then we saw you on the security footage.”
“Right,” says Roger.
“We climb the wall,” adds Rafa.
“May I ask why?” says Željko, delicately. “And why you are in this closet…?”
Rafa looks at Roger, and Roger looks at Rafa, and suddenly they are gone again, laughing, tears in their eyes.
“Sorry, sorry,” says Roger, through giggles that keep erupting from his chest.
“Is not… is not a usual thing,” says Rafa.
“I see,” says Željko. He stands looking at them awkwardly while they dry their eyes and sigh. “Well,” he says, stepping back. “Perhaps you’d like to come out? And,” he adds delicately, “it seems best if I show you out the front door and we say no more about it.”
Roger steps out of the closet into the corridor, and puts his hands on Željko’s shoulders. “That would be perfect, Željko, thank you,” he says.
Rafa nods. “Yes, thank you.”
Željko shows them to the door of the club that leads out onto the street. “I would have let you in, if you’d asked,” he says, turning his key in the lock. “And we would of course have left you your… ah, privacy.”
“Next time, I promise, we’ll call you,” says Roger.
Rafa just smiles and nods in a way he hopes is reassuring. Željko raises his hand in farewell as he closes the door behind them, still looking bewildered. Roger and Rafa stand on Princess Grace Avenue and take deep, steadying breaths of the night air. Small bubbles of laughter still erupt now and then, but after a moment, once they’re alone, the air thickens again.
“I want to kiss you again, Rogi,” says Rafa.
Roger turns to him, the streetlights gleaming in his deep-set eyes. “I want you to kiss me again, Rafa,” he says.
They walk the final five minutes to the hotel shoulder to shoulder. If they walk closer than they need to, and if they find their fingers entangling momentarily now and then, there’s no one around to notice.
It seems to Rafa, as they near the hotel, that the night is particularly crystalline, that the amber light spilling from the hotel doorway is particularly warm. They step into the elevator and the doors slide smoothly shut. Roger leans towards him but Rafa murmurs, “Security camera somewhere, no?” Roger sighs and steps back, and then even the waiting seems something to be savoured. To look at Roger’s face, his browny greeny eyes, his unmistakeable nose, the stubble he’s let grow a day or two, his enticing, flat-lipped mouth, and know that soon he can kiss him again. His body, lean and gorgeous and strong. Rafa wants him more than he knows how to say.
So he closes the door to his suite and says it with his own body, with his own mouth. He presses Roger to the wall, fingers entwined on either side of his head, and kisses him and kisses him. Tiny whimpers escape him at the feel of it. They curl around each other, pushing jackets to the ground and kicking off shoes. They grind against each other, stumbling towards the bed, and finally fall together naked against cool sheets.
“Why have we waited so long to do this?” Roger whispers, pressing kisses to Rafa’s collarbone, to his chest, running his hands all over him.
Rafa groans. “You got married,” he says, throatily.
Roger raises himself on his elbows, looking down at Rafa. “We understand each other, Mirka and me. We have an arrangement.” He kisses him again. “What about Xisca?”
Rafa thinks of her, the years she’s put in for him, because sometime, someone said he’d need a girlfriend. “I love her,” he says. “She’s my friend.”
“Friend,” says Roger, as if he’s testing out the word. Then he smiles and kisses his way down Rafa’s chest, his taut stomach, and takes his cock in his mouth.
Rafa lights up with sensation. It’s as if their bodies have existed so long in mutual awareness that now, when they finally come together, it’s like one long, slow, drawn-out crescendo of pleasure. The awkwardnesses of sex don’t matter: they laugh when Roger’s foot gets tangled in a sheet, and when they roll over only just avoiding crashing onto the floor. Rafa runs his fingers through the hair on Roger’s belly and Roger squirms with tickles. “Stop, Rafa,” he begs breathlessly, and Rafa obliges, his turn now to fill his mouth with Roger’s cock.
And on, late into the night. The feel of Roger’s cock inside him, stiff and thick, as he rides him. Roger’s hand clasped around his dick, jacking him off, making him come, and then flipping him onto his back and fucking him till a minute or two later he follows Rafa into shuddering, blissful climax. Dozing an hour or two in each other’s arms and then rousing for more.
“Oh god, Rafa,” says Roger, after round two. “I’m gonna be so tired tomorrow.”
“Mmmm,” says Rafa into the crook of his shoulder. “Is worth it, no? For this.”
Roger’s agreement is heartfelt.
Morning breaks, greeted by the squawks of gulls and the rumbling of early traffic in the streets below. Somewhere the shutter of a truck is raised and voices call out to each other. Rafa stirs, sliding out from under the sheets to the bathroom and then he tiptoes back again, curling behind Roger and wrapping his arms around him.
“Morning,” murmurs Roger, turning and taking him in his arms. He smells spice-tinged with sweat and sex and Rafa inhales deeply.
“Morning,” he says.
And that’s all they say for some time. These quiet hours, before the alarm goes, before Toni starts banging on his door to start the day, this is the time for sleep. Rafa lies with his head pillowed on Roger’s shoulder, Roger’s breath a steady rise and fall, lulling him back into half-dreams.