"Tell me now," Jemma said.
"Tell me now."
At last, for the first time, he said, "I'm ..." and then choked out the word that had repulsed him all his life.
He came home, and they both wept and walked around in a daze, trying to comprehend what the sledgehammer blow meant. She accompanied him to Toulouse when he returned to play a few weeks later. The marriage was hopeless, they knew, but the moment they ended a relationship that seemed so harmonious, they'd have to explain. "Tell them I cheated on you," Alf pleaded.
Jemma flew back to Wales. He cried out her name in the dark. He kept the lights on all night. He forced vodka down his throat. His body melted away, 20 pounds gone in a few weeks. The rumors about his sexuality ran wild. He came home for a test match against Australia. Reporters parked outside his cottage in Wales and pressed his national teammates, itching for the break. He walked onto the field at Millennium Stadium on Nov. 3, 2006. Jesus, thought Johnno from the opposite sideline, having returned to Australia for family reasons and now the Wallabies' assistant coach. Alf was a ghost.
It shredded Alf's heart to play rugby that way. He'd violated the code of the brotherhood, shown up unready to cover anyone's back, lied about who he was and forced them to lie in his defense. He sat in front of his locker in tears after the 29--29 draw, as Wales's coaches and officials, deeply worried, sent their team manager across enemy lines to request Johnno's help.
Johnno entered the Welsh dressing room. "What's going on, mate?" he asked softly.
Alfie blinked up at him. The little black ball, like an embolism, had traveled to a place where it would kill him if he didn't get it out, but ... but this was baring himself to rugby now, risking everything.
"Jemma and me have split," he murmured.