[F] 20 – Me and the coach part 1/2

I couldn’t sleep. Maybe it was the time change. Maybe it was the dull roar of the air conditioner. Maybe it was the general catastrophe of my life, but I tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable, clutching pillows to my chest, then throwing them off the bed when I got too hot.

My mind raced–thinking about the meeting next week with the lawyers, worrying about Jackson, figuring out how I was gonna begin over. And beyond that was a landscape I was too afraid to explore: the rest of my life.

Thinking about J. was my respite. The truth is that I’d been thinking about him daily for a while now, long before my marriage came to its inglorious end. He was a place I went to escape. Though we rarely exchanged words–or maybe because we rarely exchanged words–he was a blank page on which I could write the ideal protagonist.

I had a handful of things I knew about him for certain. I expanded and extrapolated on these meager facts: he was a great coach, but, more crucial, he was a positive model for boys in the process of becoming men. In my hungry imagination, this also meant he had the capacity to love deeply and meaningfully.

I knew he was intelligent and educated, a fact that was easy to discern because, unlike the other coaches my son had had over the years, J.’s team communications were unusually well-written. I’d never seen so much as a typo or even an infelicitous grammatical construction. From this, I deduced that he was well-read. Maybe he’d been raised by an English teacher.

In my daydreams, he spoke my name with that voice that could catch my ear from two fields away. If I chanced to see him with his other team, it didn’t matter how far away he was, I’d be able to recognize him by his gait and his compact, economical movements, the way you recognized someone you loved.

In this way, the story I told myself about who he was grew more detailed. I could feel myself falling in love with my own creation. This wasn’t good, because, unfortunately, playing right beneath this fantasy storyline was the truth–the bitingly cold reality that it was unlikely anything was there. That I was imagining every glance, every instance in which his attention was on me instead of the game or the practice. I didn’t want to touch that reality because the fantasy gave me a place to exist that didn’t hurt. But how much more it hurt when I remembered that it was all a dressed-up lie.

Finally, I gave up on sleep. I fumbled in the tangled sheets for my book and headed down to the pool. The lobby was empty. There was no one behind the front desk, though someone had left a steaming cup of coffee on the counter. I checked my phone. It was two in the morning. I walked through to the outdoor pool, using my room key to gain entry.

Outside, the sky was full of stars, the dark outline of the slumbering Sonoran mountains just visible. There was a bite in the air so I kicked off my shoes and sat on the edge of the pool, warming my feet in the water. The hotel tower rose up above me and I scanned the windows. Most were dark, but there were a few that were warm with lights on behind curtains. I saw the flicker of a TV in a room or two–fellow insomniacs using bad sitcoms to sink into a torpor.

I had just enough light to read, if I tilted my novel just right, so I settled in and reentered the world of Somerset Maugham.

I was deep in the English countryside when I heard the scrape of the iron gate that provided entry to the pool area. I glanced at my phone and saw it was already close to three. I had no desire to distribute my nocturnal haven with a stranger, especially at this hour, so I closed my book and started to gather my things. Then I heard my name, and I knew the voice.

J. stood there, his face shadowed by his baseball cap. Discombobulated for a moment, my brain quickly separated the speculative narrative strand from the documentary–sidelining my fantasy of him–so I could inhabit my role of parent and respond to him appropriately. He interpreted my momentary silence as fear. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I was up and saw you from my window.” He pointed to a coin of light in one of the hotel towers that loomed over the pool area. “Do you mind?”

Fully extricated from my fictional world now, I nodded and made room from him at the edge of the pool. While he kicked off his shoes and sat next to me, I scrambled for something to say to him, just as I did when I was an awkward middle schooler who found herself unexpectedly in the presence of her crush. My brain failed me. No words would come. He said nothing either. We sat in silence for a few moments.

Soccer, I wondered. He’s a coach. We have games tomorrow. He’s obviously not sleeping.

With relief, I finally came up with something to say. “Do you usually have trouble sleeping before games?”

“Not usually,” he said. He glanced over at me. “Why are you up?”

I hesitated. “I’m not sure.”

I wondered of Kayla’s admonitions to tell J. about what was happening. Now was as good a time as any, I wondered. And anyway, I’d been practicing this conversation in my mind for the last twenty-four hours. I’d tell him that my husband and I were splitting up, that it was fresh, that Jackson might be out of sorts, and that Kayla had told me that it would be a good idea to tell him because, unlike most of Jackson’s other coaches, J. seemed to genuinely care about the boys he coached, particularly their emotional and mental well-being.

Still, I struggled with the words. Surely, he must know. With such well-meaning but gossip-mongering parents, how is it efficient he didn’t know?

I turned toward him and, for the first time, looked into his eyes–no sunglasses between us, no distance, up close. I saw now that they were a rich brown and in them was an unmistakable kindness that I immediately lost myself in.

But there was also something else. He looked into my eyes like he never wanted to stop looking. I was overcome by a feeling I hadn’t experienced in decades, like I’m standing in a star shower, expectant and illuminated. My heart felt like it was pulling toward him–my entire being wanted to be close to him.

Bewildered, I tried to shake it off and reminded myself that my brain was only responding to the emotional effigy I’d created and not the real man sitting next to me. This helped ground me.

But then he started talking. “I need to say something, because if don’t, it’s going to keep eating me up inside. And I don’t mean any disrespect. Please know that. We never have to speak of this ever again, but at least I’ll have said it, and it’s out of my head, and I can sort it out.” He looked at his hands as he said this, but now he turned and fixed me with a frank gaze. He looked at his hands as he said this, but now he turned and fixed me with a frank gaze. “Is that okay?”

Though I was nervous, I tried to smile. “You just told me that you have something to tell me that’s eating you up inside–it’s like the beginning of a great novel. Of course it’s okay.”

He said nothing for a few moments, just looked at his hands. Finally, he cleared his throat. “I think I have developed feelings for you.”

How do you respond to a opinion like this? Do you confess that it’s mutual, this development of feelings? Or do you hold back, wait to see what nuances accompany this confession? In fairy tales, you run into each other’s arms, embrace, and declare your love and fidelity. In real life–in our messy, complicated real lives–there’s so much danger in a moment like this. And we both knew it.

I had no idea how to respond and instead just said the first thing that came to mind: “How do you know?”

“How do I know? How you know the sky is blue?” He shook his head. “Sorry, that’s too pat.” He said nothing, looking out over the glowing pool, the steam rising off its surface in the cool desert air. I resisted the urge to fill the silence. I wanted to know how he knew.

“How about this,” he finally said. “Whenever I see you, my heart starts racing. It doesn’t matter where I am. You walk into the dome, I can feel your presence even before I see you. Across the pitch during games, you standing there, looking so beautiful–I sometimes lose focus. And it’s been like this from the very first time I laid eyes on you. That very first day, that first game last September. You probably don’t even remember it. I was warming the boys up, and you were standing on the sideline, reading something–your hair was in a ponytail, I remember, and you were wearing a blue skirt, and you had this book in one hand and were playing with your hair with the other, and it was like the rest of the world didn’t exist. I had never seen you before that moment; I didn’t even know which of the boys was your son. You were just so beautiful. And I thought–how am I going to do this all season?”

He looked over at me now, and I saw in his eyes that look that sometimes came into the eyes of men, as different from a basic assessing glance as a marble was to Saturn. It revealed everything. I was wanted. And not just wanted, but desired–maybe even deeply desired. Realizing you’re desired by someone you desire is intoxicating. It can also be frightening. “I don’t tell you this because I want anything from you. We don’t have to speak of it ever again. I know it’s selfish for me to put all this on you, but I had to say it.”

The harsh jangling of keys followed by the brutal creak of the pool gate startled me. The night-shift custodian was halfway across the pool deck before he saw us. “Oh, sorry, folks, the pool’s closed. You’ll have to leave.”

Five minutes later, J. and I were standing together in front of the same elevator bank where, earlier than evening, he had refused to get into the elevator with me. The numerals glowed on and off as the car descended from the upper floors.

I turned to him. “Why didn’t you get into the elevator with me? Tonight, when we were going upstairs?”

“Maybe because I was afraid I was going to say what I just said out there. Maybe because I was too embarrassed to be alone with you in an enclosed space after thinking about you the way I have.”

I felt sparks dance up my spine. I leaned closer to him. “What do you think about?”

He just shook his head. The elevator door opened, revealing an empty car. We entered and the doors closed. As it rose, he moved close to me, took both sides of my face in his hands, and kissed me. I had never experienced a kiss like that in my life. There was no awkwardness, no fumbling or weirdness. It was just so right. The world was contained in that kiss.

He pulled away suddenly and stepped to the far side of the car. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.” He shook his head. “I’m in trouble.”

I walked over to where he leaned against the rail and pressed my body against his. I could feel every inch of him. I kissed him, then ran my tongue slowly along his bottom lip before gently biting it. The elevator chimed as it stopped on my floor. “There,” I said. “Now we’re both in trouble.”

NSFW: yes

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