Hurtling towards the end! Hey, where’s my regular readers/commenters? You guys no like where this is going? Where you at, eh? I miss you! I need you! I’m like Brian that way – I need the support, man!
I’m changing the cover pic to this one, just got him off dreamstime.com – it makes the football theme more obvious; you can see that he’s got jock pants on in the old cover, but subtlety doesn’t go far in a 2×4″ ebook thumbnail, amiright?
CHAPTER NINE – HOMECOMING
Brian was sweating. The receptionist smiled at him, he smiled back.
“It’ll just be a few more minutes.”
She was an older lady, who’d seen plenty of young men sweating in that seat. Some of them deserved to be nervous, some didn’t. She had a pretty good instinct about which was which. “Trust me, honey, I’ve been working here a long time. I’ve got their number. Go to the bathroom while you can, get a drink of water. You’ve got about five minutes.”
Brian laughed. “Okay. Thanks.” It felt good to get up, walk around, take the jacket off. He didn’t dare loosen the tie that felt like it was choking him. God, I’m cooking in my shell in this suit, he thought. He took a piss, stopped on the way back for a long cool drink from the fountain.
It was weird, being back at Lessing. Like being a teenager again, but not. Remembering how overwhelming and huge the college had seemed when he first got there, but also seeing now how small it was after having gotten lost on the campus at CSB, how small the baseball field and stands were after having played in the majors.
But he didn’t feel big himself, now. He felt pretty damn small. Like a kid outside the principal’s office, not a grown man about to go into a job interview.
The door opened. Coach Blaine nodded. “Come in, Brian.”
He’d imagined it looking like a trial board – himself in a chair in the middle of the room, the dean and Blaine and whoever else sitting above him, looking down at the accused. Instead, they were gathered around a nice, but not too nice, board room table. Brian took a seat, nodded, smiled. Coach Blaine was there, and the new athletic director Marlon Kane, and the dean, Jackson Hartfield, same as ever in stereotypical bow tie and little round glasses.
“Brian, thanks for coming in today,” Kane said.
“Thank you, sir.” Brian could hardly believe it himself when Coach Blaine had called him and asked him to interview for an assistant coaching job on the Lessing baseball team. He was here because Blaine had asked him, knowing it was a formality, knowing they were humoring the old guy, that they’d never ever tarnish the school’s reputation, bring on the bad press, that hiring a scandal-ridden outcast like Brian Rauch would bring.
Kane went on. “I think you know from experience what the job entails. Not just assisting Coach Blaine here with the day to day operations, but a lot of other things as well. We’re a small school, with,” he smiled at the dean, “a fairly small budget for the athletic department, compared to say CSB. So we ask our people to do a lot of jobs at once. You’d be the equipment manager, the team’s travel agent, sometimes even the laundry guy, for the baseball and women’s softball teams. And you may get called for double duty on some things for the football and basketball teams as well.”
“That’s no problem, sir. I like to stay busy.”
The dean leaned forward. “Let’s cut to it, Brian.”
Brian released the breath he’d been holding. “Okay, yeah.” Let’s get it over with, he thought.
Hartfield looked at his notes. “I’ve been doing some serious thinking about this, since Coach Blaine put your name forward. I’ve been making calls, doing some research. I called Coach Orson at CSB, who had nothing but praise for your work ethic, for your interest in helping other players. He said your coaching style was…unusual.” Brian smiled, thinking how his own warm, humorous approach would seem to Orson. “But that it got results. I called Coach Mathis, on the Loggers. Of course, he’s very upset about your substance abuse.”
Brian said nothing, knowing Hartfield was waiting for it – the boilerplate. In the three months since the scandal, he’d stayed the course he set that day at the podium, had said nothing to the media. He met Hartfield’s level gaze, stayed silent. The dean nodded, as if confirming something.
“But. He also noted how much time you spent with the other players, how acute your knowledge of mechanics was. How well you talked to guys in slumps. He said you could be a sports psychologist if you applied yourself. So. Nothing but praise, or almost nothing. What I also heard is that you have a tendency to get away with what you can get away with. And I’m not just talking about the drugs, but what the drugs indicate – an inclination to avoid hard work, to take some avenue around the grind, the hard labor.”
Brian nodded. “Yes sir. I coasted on natural talent for a long time. And when the time came that I needed to work harder, to be harder on myself, I failed to do that.”
The athletic director chimed in. “We got a letter the other day, Brian. Well, a few letters. Some angry letters from alumni that we would even think of interviewing you. But also this one, from Joe Marks, who sees some potential in you. Sort of ironic, I think, that the man with the name ‘Working Joe’ should deliver such a ringing endorsement. But he says here,” Kane put on his reading glasses, “that ‘I believe Brian is at the core a good person, a good man, with a powerful arsenal of talents that shouldn’t be lost to the sport or to the community. He needs an environment where he’s appreciated, but also where his weaknesses are known, where someone will help him work on them, not overlook or tolerate them in the pursuit of short term gains. He needs strong characters he can rely on without question, and when he has that, he responds in turn. I know that, because that’s my own story. I believe you would be making a terrible mistake if you turned Brian away from your institution.’”
Fuck. The tears couldn’t be stopped, and two trickles betrayed Brian’s otherwise stony face. Coach Blaine handed him a tissue.
“That’s a very powerful recommendation from one of the most respected men in the country,” the dean said. “Do you think you’re able to live up to it?”
For once Brian stopped and thought about it. It would be so easy to say yes, but was it true? Could he do it, keep himself together, never again do anything that would make the school look… Oh, right, I gotta tell them that.
“I believe so, sir. There’s one more thing, though. That doesn’t really make any difference right now,” he said with a morbid half laugh, thinking of his months of celibacy, “but I’m gay. So one day that’ll come out, I guess.”
The dean took off his glasses, and smiled at last. “Brian, this is a liberal arts college. The shocking thing here is if someone isn’t gay.”
They all laughed, the tension broken at last. Coach Blaine shook his head. “I never would have believed it,” he said with a smile. “Don Juan here, batting for the other team.”
Brian laughed with him. “Yeah, well, life’s full of surprises.”
The dean got up, so they all got up. He extended his hand to Brian. “The money’s not great, you know.”
“I, uh, already have that covered, sir,” Brian said, thinking of the cash he hadn’t had time to spend.
“Well, then, son, welcome aboard.”
Roger, Brian thought. I’m getting there. I’m going to prove to you…no, to myself, that I deserve you. Soon, man. We’ll be together soon.