Model BoyfriendJane Harvey-Berrick
Copyright © 2018 Jane Harvey-Berrick & Stuart Reardon
Editing by Kirsten Olsen
First published in Great Britain, 2018
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To Mum and Dad—for bringing me into this world.
Note from the authors
About the Authors
We really hope that you enjoy this story. Reviews tell us that you’ve enjoyed the story, which is fantastic! But they also helps other people to make an informed decision before buying this book.
So we’d really appreciate if you took a few seconds to do just that when you’ve finished reading the final part of Nick and Anna’s story. Thank you!
HE’S SLIPPING AWAY from me, I can feel it.
But how do I hold onto a man like him, a man like Nick Renshaw? One of the most famous sportsmen in the world, a champion.
They say that if you love someone, you should set them free.
So that’s what I’m doing—I’m letting him go, setting him free.
And praying that one day he comes back to me.
I FEEL LOST. Like I don’t know who I am, like I don’t know where I fit into this world. What’s my purpose?
I’m 33, so it’s about 30 years too early to start collecting my pension. Ha bloody ha.
I can’t believe I’m actually here at this moment in my career, my last game.
Sixteen years, and it’s gone by so fast, too fast. Sixteen amazing, testing years; teaching me, shaping me into the man I was destined to become, the man I was meant to be.
But what’s next? What am I going to do now?
When I was just breaking into my first team, a fresh-faced kid of 18, I had a teammate named Scott Nadler, who was one of the senior players. He was a great guy who guided me and gave me some good advice (starting with not to hang my clothes on his peg—players are very territorial about their spot in the changing rooms so you’ve got to earn your place).
“Enjoy this,” said Scott. “Try be present in every moment: in rugby, in sport, in life, because it can pass you by in a blink of an eye, if you let it. When your career is nearing the end, you’ll wish you could do it all over again, only better, stronger, smarter … and injury free.”
I didn’t really know what to say so I laughed.
“Don’t be daft, Scotty! You’ve got plenty of seasons left in the tank.”
Of course he hadn’t, and that turned out to be his last year of playing.
But his words stuck with me. But it was only when I was older and wiser that I really understood what he meant. All players worry about the game we just played; then we worry about the future and how we’re going to play; instead of being conscious in the now, in the present moment with all our senses—just breathe, relax and enjoy being alive. Easy to say, hard to do. It’s one of our biggest weaknesses.
It’s funny how things work out. Advice given years earlier only makes sense when your experiences have made you wise enough to truly understand what it all meant. God, that makes me sound old! But these days 33 feels ancient.
Looking back, as a young player it seemed like the seniors would always moan about recovering more slowly as they got older, always hurt, the body just not being able to do what it used to do.
They would have a laugh with us young lads, “These kids don’t know how good they have it! Take a long look, young whipper snapper, because you’ve got this to look forward to!”
Then they’d show all their ailments: bust up hands, broken noses, funny fingers that had healed crooked; always in first for physio and massages.
And now I’m one of them.
Rugby is a bloody tough game—the human body can only take so much impact, so much trauma, so much punishment, before it starts to scream No More! Even then, it’s hard to handle because, as athletes, we won’t accept it. Even when you know it’s time, you refuse to believe that your body is broken. Your mind is strong, so you carry on for as many seasons as you can. You take painkillers to get you through the games: paracetamol, ibuprofen, tramadol, cortisone injections: any concoction the doctor can give. Post-game, we take sleeping tablets or diazepam in case the painkillers wear off during the night while we sleep and try recover.
With all the injuries I’ve had, I should be glad it’s my last game, but deep down I’m not. I don’t know what I’m going to do next—midlife crisis here I come. It’s like leaving home again—I’m leaving the comfort of team sport, leaving the lads I’ve grown to call brothers, leaving the commitment, the comradery, the lifestyle, the sense of being a part of something bigger than myself. I feel empty.
Snap out of this! You knew this day would come, and there’s more to life than playing rugby. I’ve got a life with Anna. Life off the field is good.
But what the hell am I going to do?
I need to relax. My testimonial board—the team of people organising this event—have done all the hard work for me. They have arranged everything right down to the post-game meal and celebrations. All I need to do is show up at these last two weeks of training sessions, put in the work with the boys, and enjoy this game. My team and the opposition team will be made up of friends, t
eammates and former teammates. It’ll be amazing.
My last game. That sounds so weird.
I know it’s natural to feel like this, because playing rugby is all I’ve ever known. I’m institutionalized. My whole adult life has been dedicated to this, to this lifestyle.
I keep trying to get out of my own head. Who needs critics when you wrestle with your own personality on a daily basis? I’m my own worst nightmare sometimes. I swear, playing this game makes us all crazy. Probably just too many knocks to the head. I’m joking. Maybe.
I’m sure Anna would analyze it all for me if I told her. But it seems too weak to share all this crap I have going around inside me. I need to focus on the here and now, not worry about everything else.
Only one fortnight of team practices to go.
I’m nervous but not in the usual way. The testimonial isn’t about winning or losing—it’s about respect and honour among brothers.
I’ve played in testimonial games for other players. Now I’m joining the retirement list.
There are no trophies, no anticipation of winning, no disappointment of losing—it’s just about putting on a great performance.
Who am I kidding? I’m playing to win: I always do.
THE TRAINING SESSIONS had been going well all week. The lads for Nick’s testimonial were enjoying being back with old teammates and rivals, back where they’d felt most alive. Some of them were still playing professionally, but the rest were already enjoying their retirement, if that was the right word. Fit, active men in their thirties—all retired. But the competitive spirit never left them, even when they left the game professionally.
Perhaps being a rugby player is a rite of passage where the sport becomes your identity, your skin, embedded in your heart and deep in your blood—so it never leaves you.
Nick felt it—that his whole identity was wrapped up in the sport that he’d loved for so long.
He shook his head to clear the rolling, twisting thoughts.
Enough! I’m getting sentimental in my old age, he thought with a sigh.
He glanced around the locker room with a feeling of pride and gratitude as friends, colleagues and former teammates changed into their shorts, shirts and boots, and … what the hell?
He did a double-take when he saw another face from his past: Kenny Johnson.
With a jet of fury that took his breath away, Nick was sent spinning back to the day when Kenny had destroyed their friendship and killed his trust; the day he’d seen Kenny screwing his ex-fiancée. The Best Man and the Bride-to-Be.
For a split second, the sense of betrayal was fresh and raw.
As Nick stared at his former friend, Kenny walked toward him, his expression unsure, as if Nick might lunge and beat the shit out of him—an act that had landed Nick in court five years ago, with a criminal record to match.
Kenny had broken the guy-code.
Nick stared at the other man’s broken nose and worn, battered face, surprised to see remorse in Kenny’s eyes. Nick thought about what it must have cost Kenny in pride, to come here today, into the lion’s den.
The two men locked eyes, a thousand unsaid words roaring through the air, but then Nick blew out a long breath. Ultimately, Kenny had done Nick a favour by showing him that Molly was a liar and a cheat. It also meant that Nick had gone on to have a relationship with Anna, well, there was no comparison. He loved Anna with his whole being; Molly was nothing but a dark stain on his memory.
He hadn’t seen either of them in years.
One of the other players saw Kenny and called out.
“Ken, you mad sort! What are you doing here?”
Kenny forced a grin.
“Hey up, lads, you’re looking good out there. Some of you have still got it and some of you never had it, eh?”
“Piss off, Ken, you big pudding!” snorted Tufty, who was probably twenty pounds heavier since he’d retired. “I’ll show you what I’ve got!”
“In your dreams, ya sausage!” Kenny turned away, his smile fading as he met Nick’s frown. “You got time for a quick chat?”
Nick could see the hopeful expression on his face, the regret. He remembered that they’d been friends, mates, before Kenny had betrayed him. He decided that he wanted to hear what the man had to say.
So did everyone else in the locker room if the covert looks and sly glances were anything to go by. They all knew what had happened between Nick and Kenny.
“Sure, let’s go for a walk.” Then he turned to the other players. “Lads, top session! I’ll catch up with you in the clubhouse. First pint on me.”
Nick walked out of the room in silence followed by Kenny, and they headed to the Stands, staring out at the vast stadium, the rows of empty seats.
The silence grew uncomfortable as Nick waited for Kenny to speak.
“I never got to play here,” said Kenny, hesitant, awed, and Nick could hear the wistfulness in his voice. “Not like you. You’ve had an amazing career—you were always the one, old golden balls,” and he laughed sadly. “But that’s not why I’m here.” He sighed. “It’s been a long time…”
Nick nodded, but didn’t speak.
Kenny grimaced and stumbled on, his words coming slowly and awkwardly.
“I know I’m not your favourite person. I wouldn’t blame you if you hated me. If it had been the other way around, well, I wouldn’t have pissed in your ear if you’d been on fire.”
Nick turned away.
“I’d never have done that to a friend,” Nick said quietly but firmly. “Friendship means something to me, not just words.”
Kenny dropped his eyes to the ground, shoving his hands in his pockets and shuffling his feet.
“I know. Believe me, I know,” and he raised his eyes to meet Nick’s stony stare. “But I just wanted to say I’m sorry for what happened. I should have known better, I should have been better. I’m not perfect, who is? But we all make mistakes—and that was the worst one of my whole life—I lost my best friend.” He hunched his shoulders. “Anyway, so what I’m saying, the past is the past. And I can’t change it, but I want to make things right, as much as I can. I’m so fucking sorry for what I did. I’ve regretted it every day since.” He squared his shoulders. “I’m here because I want to play—I want to show my respect for your career by playing in your testimonial.” He paused. “If you’ll have me?”
Nick hesitated, seeing two roads ahead of him. He could carry on hating Kenny for what he did five years ago, or he could accept his apology and move on. It could never be the way it had been, but maybe it was time to let it go.
“Yeah,” said Nick slowly. “It’s been a long time, Ken. “We’ve known each other a lot of years. I’m not the type to hold a grudge, but what you did and what happened to me as a consequence of your actions—and my actions—can’t be undone. We can’t go back to how we were, the trust is gone.”
Kenny lowered his head, shame colouring his roughened features.
Nick took a deep breath.
“I can’t play alongside you again, we’ll never be teammates, but I appreciate you stepping up and wanting to take part. I’m sure Coach will be happy to have you in the opposing side. I’ll let him know you’re available. I accept your apology.”
Kenny swallowed as Nick held out his hand.
“Thanks, mate. That’s … well, thank you.”
“I’m in a good place now,” said Nick quietly as they shook hands. “I think things happen for a reason.”
AT THE END of the following week, Brian Noble, the coach who’d volunteered to train the teams for the testimonial, gathered them all together. Including Kenny.
“That’s the last session down. Well done, lads. It’s been a pleasure working with you this fortnight. I’m impressed … and surprised how some of you got through the last few days of training.”
He pointed at the group of older players who’d been retired a while, and they laughed, chucking towels at his head.
ickenham is a sell-out for our Nick, so if there’s ever a place for ex-teammates to settle any beef between each other, it’s on that field, in front of a sell-out crowd.”
Kenny joined in the laughter, but Nick caught his faint grimace.
It had been a challenging week for him, and a few of Nick’s teammates had given him a hard time, but he’d toughed it out.
“See you all on Saturday!”
NICK ARRIVED AT the stadium over an hour before the other players. Anna had offered to come with him, but she also understood when he told her that he needed to do this for himself.
As he walked along those empty corridors, his footsteps echoed, surrounded with all the incredible memories—the crowds, the cheers, the electric atmosphere, the emotions, the sense of pride and achievement, winning the World Cup twice, the pinnacle of his career. And now, it was the last time that he’d play here. It didn’t seem real.
The locker room smelled of pine-scented disinfectant. The team’s shirts were already hanging in place. Nick walked around the room, touching them with a sense of awe, a tug of sadness. After today, he was on the outside. If he ever came back to visit, he’d be the one watching all the action, but no longer part of it. He was benched for the rest of his life.
When he reached the iconic number 17 shirt, his shirt, he sat down with heavy thoughts, memories filling his mind.
He forced himself to think about today’s game. He was genuinely excited to play.
In theory, the game would be more relaxed than competition games, but he knew that as soon as the first bone-crushing tackle went in, as athletes, every one of them would want to win.
He picked up his kitbag and pulled out his lucky Speedos. They looked a bit threadbare these days because he’d worn them in every game since Anna had given them to him. He’d be wearing them today.
As he unfolded the Speedos, a note fluttered to the floor. He picked it up, brushing the crumpled paper flat, then reading the looping, handwritten words.
My darling Nick,
Enjoy today, my love. You deserve this. You’ve worked so hard to get here, on and off the field. Be yourself. Be amazing.