Story:Before and After - Braydon
Before and After - Braydon
Written by TriangleDelta
August 20, 2016 - Black Bay, Ontario
The steady electric guitars of Three Pistols were just opening when Desdemona felt Braydon shifting behind her. He slid his hands along the covers of his bed, and the muscles in his chest flexed against her head as he took a deep breath.
"Alright, I need a breather."
Desdemona grinned, not looking back at him. Instead, she kept watching the live broadcast on the TV as Gord Downie strutted across the stage, his bright silver pants reflecting blinding beams of coloured light into the camera. She made a big show of yawning, and in doing so pressed her head back more firmly into Braydon's fluffy stomach, causing him to choke on his breath. "Nope. No breathers, man. You invited me to watch this with you, so it's gotta be perfect."
Braydon let out a breathless laugh. "Right. And 'perfect' means I don't get to breathe?"
"Perfect means you have to be my pillow. Rules are rules."
Braydon snorted, and the otter's paw came down and gave a playful shove at her head. Desdemona laughed, and then slid off. She sat up fully and stretched, glancing over at the otter. In the dim light coming off of his TV, she could just make him out, sitting on his bed with his back against the wall. In the intense heat of the late summer, he was just wearing a loose tank-top and some light shorts. There was a faint glisten to his fur, no doubt from the heat and stuffiness in his small room.
It was always like that. Even when Desi visited during the winter, the otter's small room managed to feel stuffy, almost suffocating. Still, it was… nice. She could never put her finger on it - something about the space made her feel relaxed. Maybe it was just the idea that the room was a small space for just her and Braydon, but she had no idea. Probably it was just because it was hard to feel anything but chill with somebody when their underwear was littered on the floor.
"So…" Braydon said, and his tone immediately made her tense. He was going to ask questions. "So like… Ottawa."
"Fuck, Braydon." She rolled her eyes, and then forced herself to focus on the TV screen again. "Not during the Hip."
She could feel him tensing next to her. She waited, her eyes still trained on the concert. After a few moments, though, his arm hadn't relaxed next to her, and she had to hold in a sigh when he spoke again.
"Well, like… you have to be excited though, right?"
"I guess. I dunno." She let herself slouch some, her knees slipping off of the edge of his bed. "Can we just talk about it some other time?"
"But like, you leave in less than a week." He let that sentence hang in the air, clearly expecting a response. Desi just scrunched herself down into his blankets, and slouched further. The stuffiness of the air was becoming more noticeable. At last, Braydon sighed, then sat up, pulling his back away from the wall. "Come on, Desi. Please don't box me out."
"I just want to watch the concert, okay?"
"Oh please, you don't care that much about it."
"Says fucking who?"
"Weren't you and Simon the ones complaining about how overblown the Hip are?"
"I-" Desi stopped, shooting a look over at him. He just left his eyebrow raised at her. At length, she sighed, then muttered, "Look, I say a lot of shit around Simon."
Braydon snorted, and Desi narrowed her eyes on him. To her look, he just laughed, and said, "Hey, you're the one that said it."
She kept glowering at him, but he didn't look away, and that grin never left his face. At last, she sighed, and muttered, "Why is it so important that we talk about it now?"
This did make Braydon hesitate. The otter waited a moment or two, clearly trying to pick his words. At last, he just shrugged. "Well like, we don't really talk anymore."
Desi outright laughed at that. "Bullshit. I spend almost all of my time with you lately."
"Well yeah, but we don't really talk, y'know?" To her confused look, he just rolled his eyes. "We practice. We get together and we practice, or we play, or… whatever. We don't really talk, y'know?"
"Well what's there to talk about?"
"I- Desi, you're moving to Ottawa. I'm moving to Sudbury. That's kinda a lot to talk about right there."
Desdemona opened her mouth to reply, then hesitated. Braydon was looking back at her with that open look he always had on his face. She sighed, then jerked her head over at the TV. "Okay, yeah. That's a lot to talk about with the concert on."
Braydon nodded. "We could always go for a walk? It's hot in here, and I think they're projecting the concert by the marina?" He paused, then shrugged. "I mean, if you want to. I know that's sort of—"
"No. I mean, uh, yeah. Let's go. It'll be dark enough by the time we get there that nobody will recognize the six and a half foot perch."
Braydon snorted, and the two of them rolled off the bed. Braydon switched off his TV, and then they made their way out of his room, and out through his family's home's screen door. Desi slid on her sandals, but Braydon just went barefoot as they stepped into the dark. The pavement was still warm underneath them as they wandered down the front path, and then out onto the street. At this time of night, it was deserted, so the two of them wandered along through the middle of the street.
The two of them didn't speak for the first little while. They wandered from patch to patch of light from the streetlamps, the warm air of summer cooling around them. Every now and again, Desi would glance in through the windows of the houses they were passing, and here and there she saw the Hip playing on the tv. Admittedly, she was annoyed that she was missing it, but… well, there was nothing else for it.
"So…" Desi finally spoke, her voice feeling loud in the calm background noise of the night. "The whole moving thing."
"Yeah." Braydon kept pace beside her, neither of them looking over at each other. "So what are we actually… doing, you know?"
"Well what do you want?"
"You mean aside from not having to make a decision and just continuing as we are?" Desi snorted at his answer. "I don't know. I mean, I want to stay together, but do you really think that's something that you'll want to do?"
"How do you mean?"
"Well like… ever since you got back from H2O, it's like basketball is all you can think or talk about."
Desdemona shrugged. Up ahead, they started hearing the sounds of the concert drifting towards them through the streets. "Well I mean… come on, we're both going to play basketball at school. And competing against those other people at the tournament was wild. They were all just… so good. Like, it made me want to be better."
"Right, and I get that, but what about everything else?"
"Well what about everything else?" She shrugged. "I still hang out with Simon sometimes, and otherwise I'm getting to spend my time practicing with you. What else could I want?"
Braydon sighed audibly as they started up the hill to the park. Up ahead, they could just make out the top of the screen. It was a big, open space that was sometimes used to project movies during the summer months. Over the past week or two, it had also been used to show the occasional bit of Olympic coverage, too. Much like every other tv in the city, though, it was now tuned into the Tragically Hip concert. Arranged across the grass were a few hundred denizens of Black Bay, sitting on fold up camp chairs and blankets. A few of them had drinks with them, which the couple of police officers in attendance were dutifully ignoring. Here and there, kids were off on their own playing in the park.
The two of them made their way over to an empty bit of grass towards the back of the crowd, and took a seat. Braydon shot her a look, clearly asking if she wanted to lean against him or lie on him, but she gave a quick shake of her head. She wasn't ready for that kind of public affection yet.
As they settled down to watch, Braydon leaned over and whispered.
"So are you looking for a practice partner, or are you looking for a boyfriend?"
She shot him a look, and raised an eyebrow. "We've always talked about both of us trying to make the FBA one day. Why can't the answer be both."
"It totally can, and that's still the plan." Braydon inclined his head. "But for it to be both, you need to start treating me like your boyfriend."
"Dude, we hang out, I bring you over to my parents' place—"
"We hang out and play basketball, and then you invite me over to your parents' place after basketball. Hell, even when we go over to my place, it's just because we were out playing basketball too late for you to head home. I just…" He sighed, and glanced ahead at the screen. "I'm sorry, this is dumb and really selfish, but I want to go on a date with my girlfriend."
She stared at him for a bit, and the otter kept his eyes stubbornly straight ahead. She didn't know how to answer, and she was glad that he wasn't pushing her to. She tried to think back over the past two months, trying to recall a time that she'd actually gone out with Braydon for something other than a practice session. Hell, she tried to think of the last time she'd actually just hung out with Simon, even since their conversation in The Dredless. Certainly they'd gone to a concert, or to the movies, or even out for lunch some time…
But no. Ever since she'd gotten back from the H2O competition, she'd been in full basketball mode. Avoiding the water and the questioning looks from people who knew her and who'd seen the coverage of the game, or even the random strangers who knew her as that tall kid who hung out on the shore all the time.
Her fingers drummed along the grass. Braydon was still staring up at the projection, and the opening lines of Bobcaygeon were just starting to play. She glanced back to the screen, and was surprised to see that a number of people had gotten up at the empty space in front and were dancing, to what would probably be one of the few slow songs of the evening.
Desdemona let out a long, long sigh. Then, she reached over and grabbed Braydon's hand. She felt him tensing, but she ignored that as she slipped her long legs underneath her, and rose up to a standing position. She gave a tug on the otter's hand, forcing him to start standing.
"Alright, come on."
She gave another gentle tug, and he rose to his feet. She pulled him forward, around the side of all the lawn chairs and the people seated on blankets. She didn't look back at him as she drew him up to the front, and into the group of others who were dancing and swaying.
Finally, she turned to face him, and he had an eyebrow raised at her. She sighed, then pulled him in closer to her. One of her hands went to his shoulder, and the other slid into his hand. His face was suddenly quite close to hers, and she forced herself to meet his gaze.
"I think this is the part where you start leading," she muttered.
He blinked. Then, his hand slid around, and came to rest on the small of her back, just above her tail. He met her gaze, and then said, "I have no fucking idea how to dance with a partner."
"Me neither. Start leading."
He snorted, and then the two of them started moving. It was slow and awkward, and in no way in time with the beat of the song. Desi even found herself stepping into Braydon once or twice, sending the shorter otter stumbling back and laughing. Desi could feel the eyes on her, but she forced herself to just focus on Braydon. She was pretty sure people were staring at him just as much as they were at her.
Eventually, he just gave a small pull on her, and drew her in flush against him. He rested his head on her shoulder, and she could feel the soft fur of his cheek rubbing against the crook of her neck. Their steps were slow, still out of time with the song and each other, but easier to correct.
The song gradually wound down, and gave way to the sound of fireworks. Up on the projected screen, the audience in Kingston was rising for a standing ovation. Even out amongst the blankets and the lawn chairs in Black Bay, a number of people were applauding. Some of the other dancers made their way back to their seats while the Hip made their way off the stage, but Desi and Braydon remained where they were, swaying to the sound of the applause through the speakers. A number of other couples were doing the same.
Braydon shifted, just enough to nuzzle in against her neck.
"So I'm taking this as a, 'fine, take your damn date you big baby.'"
She snorted. "Pretty shitty date. We get into an awkward conversation and then slow dance to the least-danceable band of all time?"
She felt more than heard him laugh. The two of them swayed for a bit longer, and then he spoke again. "…so what do you think?"
Desdemona swallowed. "I think I'm going to try. I want to make this work."
His fingers slid up from the base of her tail, and rubbed along her back through her shirt. "Okay. So… we're still on?"
"We're still on. I want to be with you, and I want both of us to make it into the FBA." She hesitated, then added, "Besides, we'll at least get to meet up whenever our teams play each other and I get to kick your ass."
"Oh, bullshit." He was laughing again. "You go to one major international tournament and draw media attention and suddenly you're hot shit."
"Please, I was hot shit long before before that. You're just jealous that you have to play catch up now."
The sustained applause up on the screen jumped in volume and energy. Desi and Braydon pulled apart, then glanced up at the projection to watch the Tragically Hip making their way back onto the stage and heading to their instruments. A few moments later, the opening chords of New Orleans Is Sinking rang out, hard and heavy. Desi sighed.
"Most obvious encore in history?"
"It's up there. So…?"
In answer, she pulled away from him, still holding his hand. She gave him a hard yank, and then the two were dancing again, this time not even trying to keep close to each other.
October 20, 2018 - After the BGR @ WPG pre-season game
It caught Desdemona by surprise when Simon said he wasn't going to come out with her and Braydon after dinner. Of course, her parents had politely said they were going to bed so that the three younger members of the group could go out to the bar together. Simon had always been down for some fun, though. He'd given some awkward excuse about being tired, and Desdemona could have sworn that she'd seen a look pass between him and Braydon. Immediately afterwards, though, he'd headed back to his room in the hotel, the perch moving quickly.
Braydon and Desdemona chatted casually as they walked along the streets of Winnipeg. It was unseasonably warm, and so both of them were just wearing light jackets. Desi had the same dress that she'd worn to dinner earlier that day, with her leather jacket on overtop to mask the broadness of her shoulders. She was a bit overdressed for the bar that they were headed to - a bit of a dive joint that she, Braydon, and Simon used to frequent when they occasionally took road trips out to Winnipeg to take advantage of the low drinking age. She wasn't worried about how showy she was being, though - she was riding high that night, and if anything she wanted people to stare.
Soon enough, they were both seated at a table in the back of the crowded bar, an empty pint sitting in front of them. Now that Simon and her parents were gone, she and Braydon were discussing the game in more detail, leaning into specific plays. Eventually, she paused to down the last of her beer, and sighed.
Desdemona glanced over at Braydon. He was leaning back in the booth, an eyebrow raised at her.
"That's what it looks like." She leaned back herself, and gave a nice long stretch. "Was a bit of a whiplash getting traded so quickly, but uh…" She trailed off, then shrugged. "Bangor feels good."
"You sure you aren't going to get bored?" The otter had a hint of a grin on his face.
"Dude, I'm playing in the fucking FBA. How could I ever get bored?"
"Because I know you."
She rolled her eyes. "Right, right. And I could never, ever be happy with what I've got right now."
He shrugged back, but seemed content to drop the topic. The two of them sat in silence for a little bit, but Desdemona found her eyes wandering back to the otter again and again. She knew it hadn't been that long since she'd last seen him - a few months, really, when she'd last been back at home before heading out for the draft. Still, that had been such a whirlwind that she could barely remember much of it.
At last, she sighed, and then muttered, "Alright. So what team do you think I would be happy on?"
"Well that's the whole thing, right? I don't think it's about what team you'd be happy on. I think it's more about what team you would feel…" He searched for a word. "Fulfilled on."
She drummed her fingers along the the table. "Why do I feel like we're going to need another drink for this conversation?"
He laughed at that. "For the conversation? Or as an excuse to get another drink in before you head back to the States and you aren't legal again?"
He grinned, and raised a hand over towards the bar. Desi downed the last of her beer, then sat back as the bartender dropped off new pints for each of them. When he left, she leaned forward again, steepling her fingers and raising an eyebrow at the otter. "Alright, come on, what team do you think I should be on?"
Braydon took a long, thoughtful sip of his drink, then inclined his head. "Tallahassee? Isn't their coach basically the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket?"
Desi snorted. "And you think that's what I need?"
"Oh hell no, but I think it's what you want."
"Now there's a fun line." She waited for him to reply, but he didn't. He wasn't meeting her gaze, either. His eyes were fixed on his beer, which he busied himself taking another sip from. She tapped a finger on the table, and then asked, "Alright, so in that case… what about you? When you declare for the FBA, what team do you want to be on?"
He paused at that, and seemed to consider his answer for a few moments. Then, he put his beer down too delicately, and cleared his throat. "I'm not."
Desi blinked. He still wasn't meeting her gaze, but he wasn't focusing on his beer, now. Instead he was just looking down at the stained table. "Wait, what?"
"I'm not declaring for the FBA draft." He forced himself to look up and meet her gaze, and then shrugged. "I don't want to."
"But…" She kept staring at him. "This is what we were going to do."
"They changed? Dude, we've been talking about this for years! When did they just 'change'?"
As Desi's anger grew, she could see the hesitant look on his face growing harder. His voice was low when he spoke. "Don't fucking do this, Desi."
"No, we're fucking doing this, right here, right now." Her hand came down and slapped the table. A few of the other patrons at the bar turned to look at the sharp sound, but they glanced away just as quickly. "This has been the plan. For years. We were going to do this, we were going to do it together. I want to know what the hell happened that made you change your mind."
"You did." That drew Desi up short. She stared at him, blinking in surprise. His eyes were fixed on hers, now, and his voice was level. "Desi, we said we were going to do this together, but you said you were going to try to make us work. And like… we were already barely talking before you decided you were going to declare this year, but ever since you decided… frig, this is all you ever have time for anymore."
"Because that's what it takes!" She tried to bring the glare back to her face, but she was having trouble. It was all so unexpected, and her shock was drowning out her anger. "There was no way that I was going to pull this off if I wan't totally fucking focused on it."
"Yeah, you're right." He hesitated for a long moment, clearly weighing his next words. At length, though, he just let them out. "But watching you devote so much of yourself to this, I just sort of realized that, like… that isn't what I want for my life."
She kept staring at him, and he met her gaze. Both of their beers sat forgotten on the table in front of them.
"Fine." She forced herself to swallow, and then repeated, softer this time. "That's fine. So like, what's the plan now?" She trailed off, waiting for him to speak. That uncertain look was coming to his face again. Desi kept speaking, trying to fill the silence. "You've got two years left in your degree. By that point, I'll be done my rookie contract, and I'll hopefully get a longer term contract somewhere, so you can come and—"
"That's not what this is." His voice was quiet again, but it was enough to make her words get caught in her throat. "Look, Desi, I'm happy for you that this has happened, and I want you to be happy, but—"
"Fucking… come on, Braydon."
"No." His voice was still too soft, and Desi found herself hating him for it. "We've tried to make this work for the past two years, but it isn't. You have your priorities."
"That was because I was trying to get into the league!" She was speaking too quickly, but she didn't care. "Look, now that I'm in, I'll have more time— I'll make more time!"
"How many times have you called me since you got drafted, Desi?"
Desdemona blinked. Braydon didn't continue, and his expression didn't change. At length, Desdemona spoke. "I, uh… There's been a lot to do. I've been busy."
"I know." He took a very long breath. "I can't do this anymore."
They lapsed into an uncomfortable silence, neither of them breaking eye contact. The sounds of the rest of the bar drifted back over to them - the low buzz of conversation, the occasional drunken laughter at bad jokes, the sound of Fifty-Mission Cap coming over the radio.
Finally, Braydon sighed, and spoke. "I think what you want is to join a team that'll beat the shit out of you, because you think that's what you have to do for some reason. I think what you need is to find something that makes you happy. And honestly? Maybe that's what Bangor could be for you. I just… fuck. I really hope you'll let it."
He hesitated for a second, tapping his finger against his half-full beer. Then, the otter inclined his head. "Uh… want me to get the cab fare back to your hotel, or…"
"No." Desi replied. She was still staring ahead, trying to look through him more than at him at this point. "I think you should go."
Braydon opened his mouth to answer, but stopped himself. He glanced around, and then nodded. The otter stood up, and brushed off his shirt. Then he bobbed his head again, and stepped by her. She didn't turn to watch him go.
It was quite a while later that she finally got up. She left cash on the table to pay for their drinks, and then walked stiffly out the door. A few people glanced over at her - a six and a half foot tall yellow perch in a leather jacket was hard to ignore. She just hoped that none of them had recognized her.
Instead of catching a cab back over to the hotel that she'd booked for Simon, her parents, and herself, she walked, her eyes steady the entire way. She did stumble a bit when she recalled why Braydon wasn't staying at the same hotel - he'd casually said that he would just organize his own arrangements. He'd known. Of course he'd known. He'd probably been planning it for a while.
She made it back to the hotel well after dark, and went up to her room. Once she was inside, she pulled off her jacket, then lay down on the bed in her street clothes. Her suitcase sat open on the room's other bed, her blue Tides jersey tossed carelessly into it.
Desdemona lay there for a while, staring at the ceiling and thinking. Then, at last, she checked the clock. It wasn't quite midnight yet. She sighed, then fished her phone out of her pocket, where it had been digging into her thigh. She flicked over to the messenger, and started tapping.
A few minutes later, there was a tapping at the door. Desi got up, and opened the door, hoping she didn't look as miserable as she felt. "Sorry, I'm sorry it's so late."
"It's fine," her mother said, rubbing sleep from her eyes. She was wearing her clothes from earlier that night, no doubt having slid them on after she got Desi's text. "You forget that I used to play shows 'til 1 in the morning and then go out partying after. So what's with the 'mom advice' request?"
Desdemona stepped back into her room, and her mom followed her. She was rubbing at the back of her neck, trying to think abut how to phrase her question as she sat on her bed. "So like… you talk a lot about what it was like, y'know, being on the road."
Her mother took the chair in the room, and flashed a grin over at her. "Well of course. They're good stories - why wouldn't I tell them?"
Desdemona forced herself to grin back, even though she felt like doing anything but. "Right, right. But like… you never actually talk about, uh… when you stopped."
Her mom blinked at that. "Well… I mean I never really 'stopped.'"
"No, no." Desi shook her head. "I know, you still record and release stuff, but, like… you stopped doing the whole rock'n'roll go on tour and party all night thing. Like, at some point, you decided to come back to Black Bay, and you and dad got married, and then you had me, and…" Desi realized she was babbling, so she forced herself to closer her mouth. She cleared her throat, then continued. "How did you decide that?"
Her mother kept looking at her for a bit, clearly thinking the question over. Then she shrugged. "I… really don't know what to tell you on that. For a long time, touring and seeing the world like that was exciting and fun. Going back home for a few months a year was enough, and it was enough for your dad and I. Over time, that part of it stopped being as fun as fulfilling, and I started finding myself wishing for that time at home more. At some point, the balance tipped, and I just kind of decided…" She shrugged. "I needed to come home."
"But how did you, like… how did you keep yourself focusing on the fun? While you were out on the road and stuff, how did you make sure that it wasn't just work?"
"Well that's easy. I surrounded myself with people I could get along with and who cared about me while I was on the road. They were people I could work with, but it was just as important for me to be able to get along with them. Hell, you've met some of my old touring bandmates. We still keep in touch."
"But-" Desi stopped herself, searching for the words. "That's not… how did you and dad… and like, your family, and your fucking recording contracts and all that fucking…" She trailed off, and forced herself to take a few deep breaths. When she glanced up again, her mother was looking at her, the teasing look shifting into something a bit more concerned.
"Come on Desi, what's up?"
Desdemona thought about that for a moment. Then, she shrugged, and muttered, "I think Braydon just broke up with me."
"Oh." Her mouth was forming a perfect 'o', and she didn't say anything for a bit after that. Then, "Well fuck."
"Oh you're a professional athlete now, I'm allowed to swear in front of you." She rolled her eyes. "So this is a new one for me. Is this one of those things where I should be spreading nasty rumours, or asking your dad to go and have a gentlemen's duel with him? What are the parent protocols on this?"
"Mom!" Desi repeated, but she was laughing this time. "No, fuck, no."
"Okay, good. I'm terrible at gossip, and I'm pretty sure Braydon could take your dad."
Desdemona rolled her eyes, still smiling, then let herself flop back onto the bed on her back. She took a deep breath. "No. I'm fucking pissed and I really wanted to just punch him in the face, but…" She clenched her jaw, then forced the words out. "I think he might be in the right on this one."
Her mother let those words hang in the air for a bit. Her voice was gentle when she finally did speak. "Right. I'm assuming this is related to your question earlier?"
Desdemona nodded, not sitting up or looking directly at her mom. "Yeah, pretty directly."
"Right. Desi, it's…" Her mother stopped, then tried again. "You're nineteen. You've got plenty of time. If Braydon decided he needed something else, then… well, that's his choice. For now… you're a professional basketball player. You've achieved something that lots of people only dream about. Celebrate that for a while, and then you can start thinking about the big and the small questions of what comes next."
"But what about right now? Like, I'm still… Braydon was right. He said that I wasn't finished pushing myself just because I've been drafted now. I don't think I'm going to stop anytime soon."
She heard her mom getting up out of the chair, and then stepping forward. The older perch's hand came down on her shoulder, and kneaded at it. "So find the people on your team who can do that with you." She gave a small squeeze, and Desdemona sighed. "Is this the part where you tell me that you hate when I'm right?"
"You're my mom. It's your job to be right. Right now I'm just pissed that I think Braydon was right."
Her mom snorted. "Are you going to be alright?"
"I think so." She paused, then nodded at the ceiling. "That's a lie. I'm fucking miserable. But I'll get there."
"That's the way it goes." She pulled her hand away, and then walked towards the door. Desdemona heard it open, and then her mom's voice drifted over. "I know that I already said it, but it was incredible watching you play tonight. I do think you've got a good team with you."
"Thanks. Good night, mom."
"Good night, Desi."