Fall Is for Rugby (Which You Should be Watching, John)

Fall means three things to John and Rodney American college football for John, because you can take the boy out of Texas but you can never take Texas out of the boy, and European football and rugby for Rodney, because even though he's been gone from Glasgow for upwards of eighteen years, that's no reason for him to stop following his home team.

John knows slightly more about rugby and European football than Rodney knows about American football, for the simple reason that Rodney's better at explaining. Also, Rodney's cousin introduced him to a local rugby league, so on Saturdays the teams find a field that's not overrun with guys playing touch football, and John gets to watch them beat the crap out of each other in the name of sportsmanship.

That's where he is now, sitting on the grass at the edge of a field with a cooler and some snacks. He watches the teams run up and down the field today they're red shirts vs blue shirts and he knows just enough about the game to yell at the opposing team when it looks like someone's committed a penalty.

Every so often he checks Rodney's phone to see if he can get any more information on the UT/Oklahoma game, and he thinks he might have found a UT radio station he loves that Rodney's phone can do that, because his can't and is trying to listen to it when someone plops down on the grass next to him and says "Hey, cutie, why aren't you watching the game?"

John almost drops the phone, startled, and looks up to see his and Rodney's friend Penelope, who's wearing a pink cardigan over a sundress covered with pictures of lemons and limes. She has purple and blue streaks in her hair and she's sitting sideways with a big canvas bag in front of her. She nods at the field.

"How's your boyfriend doing?" she asks.

"Losing," John says.

"By a lot?"

"Fourteen points. I think." He realizes he should probably be paying closer attention so he knows exactly how far behind Rodney's team is, and how much longer until halftime. "What are you doing here? Where's Kevin?"

Penelope and her boyfriend Kevin run an organic farmstand, and John isn't used to seeing them without organic produce in close proximity. But maybe she's got a couple heads of broccoli or a bunch of eggplants in her bag.

"He's slinging squash. I had some errands to run and some time to kill so I thought I'd check out the game. You know I like to watch." She waggles her eyebrows and makes a seductive face and laughs. John is pretty sure he's blushing he can't help but catch a double entendre in almost everything Penelope says. "Oh, and I found something fun. I'm thinking we could put it on the stall at the farmer's market. Check this out." She roots around in her bag, pulls out a photo, and hands it to John.

It's a picture of someone who looks kind of like Kevin, but younger and skinnier and wearing a banana costume. He's standing next to a guy wearing a hat with bunny ears. John snickers. From the expressions on the boys' faces, neither one looks like the outfits were their idea.

"He must have lost a bet," Penelope says. She's grinning like the cat that ate the canary. "He doesn't know I found it."

"Are you going to tell him you have it before you show it to everyone?"

"I'm not sure. He's so cute when he's embarrassed." She gestures to the phone. "What are you doing?"

"I can't find the UT/Oklahoma game." John shows it to her. Penelope has the magic touch when it comes to electronics.

"Why would you want to watch that tiny screen when you can see real, live, sweaty, muddy, manly men...." Her voice trails off, and then she grins brightly at John. "Give it here."

He hands her the phone and watches her fiddle with it for a minute, before deciding that she's right, he should be watching his boyfriend in person instead.

And Rodney is something to behold tearing up and down the field, yelling directions, following his teammates' orders, tackling, running, ending up at the bottom of a pile of his fellow rugby players. Even back in their roughnecking days, when they were stuck in the Gobi, John always liked to watch Rodney when he was working, liked to watch the muscles straining in his arms and chest, liked to watch him yell orders and expect to be obeyed.

The captain of the rugby team is a guy from New Zealand, but Rodney is still out there on the field trying to be in charge, trying to order people around. He used to be crew chief, and old habits die hard.

Rugby's a demanding, brutal game, but John would know without even having to see it that Rodney's up to the challenge. He'd been roughnecking half his life before he gave it up for John and Portland and a job in construction, and he'd lived and drilled for oil in some pretty inhospitable places. He survived the desert that tried to kill him, and John knows this from intimate personal experience he's in very good shape.

And now, at the halfway mark, as the two rugby teams take a break, he jogs over to where John and Penelope are sitting, flops down on the grass, and grins up at John.

"Can't hear you cheering," he says, a little breathlessly.

"He was on the inside," Penelope says. She hands John the phone. "Here's your football. But watch the rugby. You don't know how many games your old man has left in him." She winks at Rodney, and he laughs.

It's not bad advice. John will watch the game because he's always watching Rodney and later maybe he'll find out exactly how much stamina his boyfriend has.