From Russia With Love
I'm struggling with the next chapter of The Other Side Of Things. I wrote a first draft, then another and another etc but it's still not right...So, here I am again, procrastinating and writing something else. I am a bit of an Olympics junkie, watched a lot of the Games those past weeks and this is what came out of it.
I always appreciate feedback...Good, bad or in between, I want to hear what you have to say. Enjoy and thanks for reading.
I own nothing but my ideas and words. Everything else belongs to its rightful owner.
[chapter 1 – Davai Sochi ]
The controversy started on a silly gossip website, at first it was only a few disappointed posts here and there, claiming she was unfit to represent her community, a bunch of angry people spewing hate at her via anonymous comments left on bitter blog posts. Then, it got national coverage amidst alarming reports of beatings inflicted of several members of the Russian LGBT community and people went from resentment to outrage. Politicians from both parties were invited to debate the question on every major news show, wondering if the country should not boycott the Olympics altogether.
When she understood how far it went, Bella decided to speak up publicly- no matter how much she hated it, she wouldn't allow people to speculate and voice their opinions on her behalf. Her PR staff set up meetings with various medias, both newspapers and TV networks to get her feelings on the issue out there, national coverage, with few interventions on her part.
She chose to be truthful, explained her position, how she felt it was unfair to put such a political weight on athletes whose sole focus the past years had been the games. Most of them had dreamed about the day they could compete in front of the whole world since their childhood. She conceded there was undeniable political ties to the Olympics since their creation, but the International Olympics Committee should have chosen another country to host the event, more agreeable to the IOC's principles in the first place then. Not ask athletes to give up their dream, the only goal they had in the past years, barely a few weeks before the games started.
"Maybe then we would not be having this conversation" she said firmly, keeping her voice as steady as her convictions, unwavering in front of the seasoned journalist interviewing her live on TV.
She had been used to the media frenzy for a few years now, ever since she'd been branded America's best female hockey player. It was nothing unusual for her to speak to the press by now, yet they had never been as vicious as they were today. Fuck they were nicer with her when she came out, contrary to her agent's belief...Sure, things had been tense for a while, she received her quota of threats in the mail and insulting letters for a while, but most people had been supportive and really nice to her. She received many letters from struggling teens thanking her or explaining how life was tough for them with their family sometimes, their classmates and how it helped them to see someone famous- who was recognized as a star player by every sports anchor- come out.
She was glad to make such a positive impact on young lives and made a point to answer each and every one of those letters personally. Yes, her agent had told her repeatedly that he could assign someone to do it for her but she liked the idea of helping those teens and hey, if she could give them five minutes of her time to make their day a little bit better, it was actually the least she could do. Besides, she understood very well their struggles, their doubts, the fear some of them lived with on a daily basis. She had been toying with an idea recently, something that came up on her mind every single day and which could help those kids have a better life; she wanted to build a haven where they could get safety, information, support and understanding but wasn't sure how to do it alone so she asked her PR team to set up a meeting with the first USA LGBT organization in the country and lawyers among others. Unfortunately, her training took up most of her time these days and it would be delayed until she came back from Sochi, hopefully with a gold medal to show for it.
"Yes, but surely you understand why people wonder about it? And why the LGBT community would feel betrayed, right?"
"Disappointed? Sure. But betrayed. Frankly, no. I mean, think about it this way...Would you ask the same defection of a straight athlete? No. And if you were lucky enough to get a spot on your national team for a worldwide event which happens once every four years, would you give it up?"
"I can't say if I would-" started the woman before Bella cut her short, anticipating her answer, she had done it enough to know what came next: hypocrisy. Those people didn't have a clue what it was like, yet they sat and talked on and on about what athletes should do, how they should act, what they should think. She thought it was such utter bullshit, and as usual, they all asked the same fucking questions over and over again.
"Look, I love my sport, I've been passionate about it ever since I was a little kid watching it on TV with my dad and brothers, trying to be one of the boys and playing the game with them on Sundays. I breathe hockey, I live for it...I wake up with it in the morning, I'm still thinking about it all day long with my team, hell I bleed for it regularly on the ice-"
"Of course, we all love to watch you score, Bella, nobody is denying your talent out there. But people don't understand how could you go to Russia when the government is persecuting gays. What do you want to answer to them? I understand your coming out was rather well received, I'm told you get dozens of letters every day from every part of the country..."
"They are the reason I am here with you tonight, Leslie, if it had been just a matter of throwing me under the bus I wouldn't have minded much" she replied calmly, smiling at the journalist.
"I care. A lot. I've been surprised with the amount of mail I got from people. Now don't get me wrong, it hasn't been all rainbows and unicorns, some people hate me...And it's fine, even if I wanted to, I couldn't please everyone so you know, whatever. But those kids, teens and families who reached out to me, thanking me, asking me for advice or just to tell me their struggles? Those are the ones I don't want to disappoint, which is why I wanted to speak up. I don't want them to feel betrayed or offended- believe me, that's the last thing I want. Still, I don't think my sexuality has anything to do with my participation in the Olympics. Besides tabloid fodder, of course and maybe giving people something to talk about on their coffee breaks-which is fine by me" she winked to the woman who watched her as she spoke.
"I won't give up on my dream just because I'm a lesbian. I want equality for me and my fellow gays and you can count on me to continue to be vocal about Russia's anti-gays laws, the oppression they suffer from- both physically, vocally and mentally. Just as I did when they passed the bill on gay propaganda." She took a deep breath and settled her growing nerves, waiting for the journalist to strike back with a witty comment.
"Yes, you have tweeted several times on the issue. Don't you think that is precisely why people focus their anger on you-"
"Yeah, probably, 'cause I'm sure as hell not the only gay on the team" Bella winked again, at the camera this time, smiled and reached for the bottled water at her side. She unscrewed the cap and took a gulp of sparkling water before the interview continued.
It went on for a few more minutes, she talked about her sexuality at lengths and how her coming-out impacted her sport, the reactions she got from her teammates- they put a few pictures of their tweets on display, as well as the male hockey players and athletes from other sports or tweets from celebrities. She thanked people for their support once again, gave her predictions regarding the medal she hoped Team USA would bring back home- "Gold of course, Leslie. I want to win that medal, whether I have to battle against the Canadians for it or the Swedes, I'm not leaving Russia without it"- before they let her go.
She was barely out of the studio, walking to her car as she checked her emails on the phone when her older brother called. As much as she wanted to swipe ignore the call, she knew it was pointless with Edward, he would just keep trying until she picked it up. Today was an important day, with her live interview and she had known all along that he would most definitely reach out during the day. No point in delaying the inevitable, she thought as she answered.
"How did it go?"
She chuckled and teased him. Even though he never missed her TV appearances, he always had to ask first.
"Fine. Did you see it?"
"You have to ask, little sister?" Both siblings loved to pester each other and her brother never missed an occasion to nudge her.
"So? What did you think?"
"It was good, Bells. People loved it, I've been monitoring twitter and so far you're trending-"
"Trending Eddie, really?" She couldn't help but laugh at her geek of a brother.
"Shut up, I'm cool. My kids told me so."
"Oh Eddie, wait til they grow up and you become the biggest embarrassment of their lives. Listen I have to rush, I'm late for practice. We're still on for dinner tonight?"
"Yes, my minions await your arrival anxiously..."
"OK, I'll be there, you geek. See you tonight, E"
"Be careful on the ice, Bells, I'm serious, the games are in two weeks so don't strain yourself."
"Always am, you know that. I won't. Bye." She loved her brother but he worried too much. Always had, as their mother who couldn't help but still cringe every time a player shoved her daughter against the glass and she injured herself. She stopped counting the time she went home with bruises a long time ago. It came with the territory in her sport and she bruised easily.
As soon as she hung up, she went to practice with her team, not stopping until they were wiped out. Training was rough on her team, with barely a few weeks until their first Olympics game, their coach pushed them harder as the games approached. He yelled at them to be faster, more clever in their plays and to communicate efficiently with each other. Her brother's words came back to her as she trained and yes, maybe she went with a softer touch for once when she barreled into the other players to steal the puck and score a goal, but there was no freaking way she was missing on the games for a fucking injury a few weeks before the opening ceremony.
On that day, she would stand besides her teammates and parade behind the US flag in front of the whole world. It would be her first Olympics but she was ready for that, had been preparing for them a long time and she wasn't going to settle for anything but the gold. Of course, the team wanted to make their country proud, but more than that, they wanted to achieve the goal every player strives to attain in their career. Each team would be in Sochi to get the holy grail for themselves, every member in her team knew that. Yet they firmly believed in their chances as their team was better this year than the last five years, they had the best player in the IHF championship and their star center player was on the verge of making hockey history. Bella had started to play exhibition matches for a NHL team and sports anchors were speculating on her post Olympics draft to the top teams, making her the second woman player to be drafted by an official NHL team ever and the first woman in her position-the only other one had been Canadian legendary goaltender Manon Rhéaume in the 1990's- if everything went according to plans.
Hence why there was such an inspiration to victory in Team USA's ranks and Bella knew deep down that the media circus would never abate before that. Sports anchor all over the country would continue to speculate on her sexuality in the Russian games, whether the NHL should draft a woman player and use her in official games and on the whole, her performances with her team would be under high scrutiny.
She didn't particularly mind the attention, sure it was annoying as fuck, but she was used to it so really there was nothing new under the sun.
Leaving the ice for the day, the coach had them gather in the rec room where they watched past games of every team they could be up against in Sochi. He drilled them on tactics for the rest of the afternoon before they were free to go home.
She was happy to go see her family that night. They would not come to Russia as the officials had advised them against it, which sucked for her, Bella loved having her relatives watching her games and supporting her but her mom had promised a long distance call before and after her games and it would have to do. They were going to host Olympics nights in her parents house with the whole family gathered around the flat screen to support her.
Her brother greeted her at the door with Seth, her youngest nephew, toddling behind him to hug his aunt before bedtime. The dark-haired little boy threw himself at Bella who bent over to lift him.
"Hi, little man, why are you still up?"
"I waited you, aunt Bee"
"Oh you did? Thank you, sweetie" she grinned at his toothless smile when he nodded at her. Yawning, he asked in a soft voice, "when are you back with my medal, aunt Bee?" She laughed at the cute kid, ruffling his brown hair and kissing his forehead, "soon, little man, soon".
"Good", Seth replied, closing his eyes as he sleepily laid his head against her shoulder.
Her brother took Seth from her arms, telling her to join his wife in the kitchen while he settled the toddler in his bed. Tanya was humming happily as she cooked for them, looking as beautiful as ever with her venetian blond hair cascading around her back. If there was one thing she and her brother could always count on to agree, it was women. Her brother's wife was the picture of the homemaking beauties of the 1950s with a wild streak to boot. One day she'd be lucky to find someone that beautiful-inside and out, with a fierce heart and witty mind like Edward had, someone she'd want to share her life with. Someday...maybe.
"Hey, where are your other kids? Sold them to the highest bidder?" she asked with a smirk to her statuesque sister-in-law.
She laughed and waved her wooden spoon at Bella, "I wish. They're with your parents, they should be here in thirty minutes or so."
"Oh, OK, need any help?"
"No, I'm almost finished, thanks Bella" she answered as she stirred the sauce pot.
"Alright, I can set the table, then?"
"Yeah, sure, your brother was supposed to do it but Seth wanted to watch the Special Olympics feature the local TV did on you."
"Yeah, they told me it was airing today but I was at practice. Was it any good?"
"You'll have to ask Edward for specifics, but they liked it" Tanya turned back to her and smiled, "I could hear Seth cheering for you all the way from here. He's so excited, sweetie, he talked all about it in school yesterday. He's so proud of you. They all are, you know that, right? No matter what medal you bring back."
Bella smiled gratefully at her and sighed, "yeah I know, still, I don't want to disappoint them."
"And you won't, B" her brother added when he entered the kitchen, "you're gonna do your best, right?" he asked as he hugged her.
"Of course I am."
"Then no matter what happens, we'll be proud of you."
"Thanks, but mark my words brother, I'm coming back with the gold. Can't disappoint my nephew right?" She smiled at her older sibling, bumping her fist with his as he smirked, "that's my sister!"
"Alright you two, set the table before your parents get here, please."
"Yes, ma'am" Edward mock saluted his wife, earning a laugh from both women.
Later that night, after the family had eaten diner, Alice, her 8 year old niece and Jasper, Bella's 12 year old nephew took her aside their family to give her their good fortune token for Sochi.
"Here, so you don't forget about us, when you're in Russia, Aunt B" told her Jasper. Both were so cute, almost solemnly performing the ritual as they each put a star in her hand to add to the lucky charms necklace. Their father had bought it for Bella last Christmas, to make up for a game he would not be able to attend, so it seemed only fitting for the kids' gift to complete her brother's.
"Thanks guys, I have a feeling these babies are gonna get me all the luck I need to win the Games" she winked at the kids and hugged them tight before they went back to the table.
Her parents gave Bella another star,"for all of us, so you know we're with you and we love you, sweetheart." Another teary round of hugs later, she was out the door. She felt her heart clench at the thought that the next time she'd see her family, the games would be over.
The coach wanted them to travel a week before the opening ceremony, to have time to train on the local ice rink and to cut his team off from the media circus. God knew she was grateful for that these days. Last thing she needed right now was to blew off her concentration for a bunch of gossip crazed people hiding behind their keyboards to criticize her and her lifestyle.
The days before they flew to Russia were spent training, packing, reassuring her crazy mom that she had everything she needed,- "yes, mom, I have enough underwear for two weeks"- rehashing game strategy with her father, and in essence getting her head straight in the game while paparazzi were waiting outside her apartment building to shout questions at her and watch her squirm. Fun times indeed. Her intervention had calmed things a bit but those vultures wanted to see her squirm.
As she rode in the taxi to the airport her head kept running over every possible team they'd have to beat, every stat or player move she had memorized to pass the time. She greeted her teammates when she arrived in the airport and together they boarded the plane, a joyful circus of their own. Her fellow players were excited, chatting with each other or listening to some music on their phones. Bella settled in her window seat, sighed and laid her head back. She closed her eyes, hoping to get some rest on the flight and was almost there...Unfortunately for her, Angela, their goaltender, had another idea in mind and yelled "Davai Sochi, ladies", to which the whole team started chanting "USA, USA, USA". They were progressively joined by fellow Team USA athletes from the ski team, and her dreams of sleep evaporated just as quickly. Hopefully with their hard work, cunning moves and a bit of good luck, their return flight would be just as enthusiastic. She fell asleep with nothing on her brain but dreams of victory and gold, so close she could almost taste it.