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“Run it again.” I hold back my wince as Maloney and Tennyson collide. Again. Both kids have two left feet, but rather than calling them out, I wait as patiently as possible for them to run the drill for the seventeenth time.
Unless these two kids are struck by lightning that gives them superpowers, the other kids on the team are going to seriously have their work cut out for them.
There’s a screech of basketball shoes and a duet of grunts, and the boys who are making me seriously reconsider why I allowed myself to be talked into coaching the under twelves youth team fall to the court floor.
“Okay.” Clamping down my sigh, I jog on over to the boys, who are giggling and rubbing their shoulders. I’m grateful they’re finding this funny and aren’t crying. Plus, there’s no sign of blood, so I’ll take it as a win. “The two of you up.” They jump to their feet, pushing against each other, still snickering like, well, the eleven-year-old kids they are. “What’s going on? What are you struggling with?”
It’s one of the simplest basketball plays ever. Sure, Maloney and Tennyson haven’t played a lick of ball in their lives, but neither have Evans or Tucker. Now, those kids have a natural talent that’s a joy to watch. While I’ve been coaching since I was fresh out of college more than a decade ago, it’s still a hard pill to swallow when some players just don’t have what it takes.
Not a chance I’ll give up on them, though.
If they make just one well-timed pass, get one ball through the hoop, I’ll burn my throat raw from how hard I’ll celebrate with them.
Not that I blame these kids’ lack of skill at all. Collier’s Creek is a football town.
Not only that, it’s one of those salt-of-the-earth places where I’m already learning that everyone knows everyone—and usually their business. Sure, there’s a tourist element to Collier’s Creek, usually folks seeking out quaint-town living. I get it. It’s super picturesque. But despite the haul of tourists over the summer (and I’ve been warned to expect more in fall when it’s the annual Jake Day festival), it’s a real tight-knit community.
I’m just hoping I can find my place here.
I took up a science teacher position at the start of the academic year, and Principal Kendall all but salivated when he discovered I was a pro at youth basketball coaching. Add in that I spent a summer at Montview Academy, the place to be for elite college basketball players who are practically a shoo-in for going pro, and he scrambled to get a team started—thinking of the future when these kids would be joining high school.
There’s nothing like high hopes and forward planning.
Something I’m all too familiar with, since most of my life was built around the dream of playing professionally. A navicular stress fracture put a stop to those hopes, though. So, science teacher it was while I usually got my basketball fix from coaching high school kids.
And honestly, I have no regrets. Life’s been known to throw too much shit in my direction for me to waste time wondering what could have been. Staying optimistic takes work, but I try my hardest to find the joy in life.
That’s not so hard with the eager kids surrounding me.
The kids are before me a beat later, bright-eyed and eager to please. “Yes, Coach?” they say in unison, and I barely hold back my lip twitch.
“Demonstrate zig-zag slides for me.”
The boys run into position, and I call Maloney and Tennyson to stand at my side. “You boys are fast,” I say, peering down at my players, who both have two left feet. “I know you can handle this drill. You just need to be aware of your space.” I aim a reassuring smile their way. “Watch the drop step.” I point it out to make sure they’re looking in the right direction. The fact that Maloney and Tennyson keep colliding, despite the whole drill not even being a paired exercise, suggests they need all the help they can get.
Both boys are nodding as Evans and Tucker maneuver themselves. If I whipped out a measuring angle, I’m pretty confident they’re nailing a ninety-degree angle on every drop step.
“Right, opposite side of the court, and the two of you try again.” I hold my breath and try not to grimace as they get in position and start their slide. Tennyson is once again way too far over the invisible center line, but by some miracle, there’s no collision, Maloney staying true.
“Great job, guys.” A genuine smile splits my lips, and I give two loud claps. By the time this first Collier’s Creek Bisons team are high school seniors, just maybe they’ll have what it takes to kick some serious ass.
A check of the clock and it’s time to pack up. I’ve noticed the doors opening and closing a few times, meaning parents are arriving to pick up their kids. “Okay, gather around.”
The fifteen boys and three girls jog on over and take a knee.
I nod in approval. This is only our second training session, and at least they’ve all nailed this direction. I give them the spiel about hard work and dedication. I throw in the appropriate “have fun” element before adding, “Remember, today’s the deadline for volunteer coaches. If you have signed volunteer slips, place them in the box over near the door. Next week, the plan is to pick up two training sessions—one in the evening, one in the afternoon—so additional support is going to be needed.”
There are several head bobs, and I just hope I get at least one volunteer who knows what they’re doing. Hell, if they’re not helicopter parents, that’ll be a bonus.
“Training homework. Dribble and shooting those hoops, got it?”
A chorus of “Yes, Coach” fills the court, and I grin.
“Great job. Get going, then.”
The kids scramble away, racing toward their parents. As I collect my clipboard, I pause, smiling when I see Maverick Evans gathering the cones and piling them in a neat stack. He’s such a good kid. I angle to head in the opposite direction so we can meet in the middle. Reaching down for the bright blue cone, I startle at the deep “I’ll get that, Coach.”
Whipping my head in the direction of the gravelly voice, I’m met with eyes that crinkle slightly at the corners.
“Thanks.” I can’t stop my gaze from roaming this guy’s features. Not only are his eyes an incredible blue-gray, they’re also mesmerizing. Add in the way his lips are curved in a wide, friendly smile, and pulling my eyes away is a struggle.
“Will Evans, Mav’s dad.” He reaches out, and I take his hand eagerly. His warm grip engulfs mine. While I might have several inches on the guy, he’s more built, wider in the shoulders.
“Good to meet you, Will. Colton Green.” Sure, the man knows who I am considering my training shirt states my name, but Will calling me Coach Green doesn’t sit right. I reluctantly release his hand. “Mav’s doing great.”
“Definitely. There’s some serious natural sporting talent there.”
Will rubs the back of his neck, coming across as a little bashful. It’s ridiculously sweet. “Thanks. He’s really enjoying the training.”
I bob my head, keeping eye contact rather than giving in to the desire to do a slow up and down of his body. That would be inappropriate for sure, but it’s oh so tempting. “Is that all down to you? Athletic ability?” I clarify while internally reprimanding myself for my horn-dog thoughts.
Will’s chuckle takes me by surprise. Not with the fact that he’s laughing, but from the sweet gruffness of it that strokes against my skin and leaves goose bumps in its wake. The man is delicious personified, and try as I might, I can’t shake away the flush of awareness he’s sparking within me.
“The last time I shot a hoop, I realized I needed different balls to play with.”
Red spreads across his cheeks so damn fast that I’m not sure whether to laugh and say, “That’s what he said,” or check he’s okay. “I… uhm….” Will’s eyes go wide, comically so, and it’s no use; a loud laugh bursts free from me.
Cheeks still red, Will groans and wipes a hand across his face. Meanwhile, I know I need to get it together, but the heat in his cheeks is beyond adorable.
“I can’t believe I said that.”
I purse my lips and wave him off, releasing a shaky breath. “Don’t mind me.” I clear my throat, chasing away the last of the chuckles escaping. “A football man, huh?” I offer him an escape, which earns me a small smile. It looks good on him—a sweet smile and flushed cheeks.
Once again, he rubs at the back of his neck and gives a slightly self-deprecating shrug. “Back in the day maybe.”
From the way he does a brief scan of our surroundings, it’s clear that he’s being modest. Well, that and he’s probably looking for an escape from his mortification. Combined with the Wyoming twang I’m becoming more and more familiar with, he’s quite possibly a born-and-bred local.
“You played locally, for Collier’s High?”
“Nearly twenty years back, yeah.”
That at least gives me a good idea of his age. “Let me guess,” I say, unable to resist finding out as much about this man as possible. “Star quarterback?”
When his blush spreads quickly, I smile, finding everything about Will Evans endearing.
“Is that a yes?”
“All done, Coach.” Mav’s voice jolts me into awareness.
I peer down at the kid, who I now realize has the same shade of blue-gray eyes as his dad. “Good job, Evans. You got your bag?”
“Just going to grab it now, Coach.” This kid is filled with so much genuine enthusiasm, he makes cleanup and collecting his stuff sound as much fun as shooting hoops. He dashes off, and I angle back to Will when he chuckles.
“Hey, Dad. Hey, Mav. Good day?” Amusement floods his features as he looks away from his son and meets my gaze. “Should I be offended?”
I grin at his teasing tone and his open features. “Let’s take it as a win that he’s having so much fun training.”
He snorts. “True that.” Mav calls out for his dad, and Will glances away. “That’s my cue.”
I bury my disappointment and bob my head, internally rolling my eyes at myself. I’ve had the briefest of conversations with the guy. That’s it. Sure, he’s fucking delectable to look at, and while I’m picking up some vibes from the man, it doesn’t mean shit.
Plus, hello, inappropriate much—me panting over one of the player’s dads.
“Good to meet you, Will. Have a good night.” I reach out and clasp his hand, reveling in the extra eye contact the moment earns me.
“You too, Coach. Have a good night. See you next time.” And then Will walks away, resting his arm across his son’s shoulders as they head to the exit.
It takes me another fifteen minutes to lock up and get out of here, volunteer box under my arm. The high school grounds aren’t empty, though. There’s football training tonight, a sport I can respect, but it never really did it for me. The gangly frame I had while growing up motivated me to lean toward basketball, and once I’d packed on a decent amount of muscle, I spent more time than was probably healthy on a court.
I sigh at the thought and rub my hand over my face as I get into my beat-up SUV. Between a new school, a full teaching schedule, and creating a brand-new basketball team with kids of an age I’ve always actively avoided, I’m tired.
Shower, food, and bed is all I have in me tonight. Sure, I may watch a show, but it can be from the comfort of my mattress. Before I pull out of the parking lot, I eye the planning sheets on the passenger seat and wonder whether I can get away with not looking over my senior chemistry classes’ planning for next week’s experiments.
Fuck. The vision of me relaxing in bed, watching reruns of Sense8 flutters away, replaced with an image of me at the kitchen table, pen in hand, wishing it was already the weekend.
I hit the Call button on my steering wheel. “Call Cassius.”
A few seconds later, the ringer sounds through the speakers. Another beat, and he picks up. “Colton. How you doing, man?”
“Remind me why I shouldn’t have taken the job in Knoxville again?”
Cass’s loud laughter filters through the speakers. “Because it’s still in the same state as all the bullshit you left behind, and you needed as big of an escape as possible.”
Somehow I manage to snort despite how gutting and true his words are. “True that.” While “bullshit” seems too mild a term for all that went down, I really feel like this town can offer me the fresh start I crave.
My last two positions didn’t go down great when competitive asshole parents did their “due diligence” and dragged my brother’s shit out into the open.
Having a brother who is a convicted felon still serving time is always a conversation killer.
“Ha. Hardly. Even the kids with a pain-in-the-ass rep are borderline angelic.” While I was exaggerating, my last school was like a warzone in comparison. I’d take these small-town kids any day.
“So…?” He doesn’t wait even a beat before he chuckles, saying, “You’re not getting laid in tiny-ass-town Wyoming, huh?”
“Fuck off. You’re one to talk.”
“I’ll have you know I’ve been getting plenty of action.”
“Laid, Cass, laid. I’m not talking about how many hours training you do every week. Not that kind of action.” I roll my eyes, even though he can’t see me, as I drive down the main street. There’s not much open in this part of town at this time of the early evening. Mainly places to eat and a couple of bars.
“Whatever, man. I don’t earn the big bucks by living for dick action.”
“That right?” What he doesn’t add is that he’s just signed a new multimillion-dollar deal for the Minnesota Eagles, so training for him is a legit full-time job. It doesn’t mean I can’t wind up my longtime friend, though. “I thought you were the god of dicks.”
“For fuck’s sake. One comment… one goddamn comment about being the master of sticks or some shit, and it never leaves me.”
My grin stretches wide as I signal to turn onto my street. Like most locals in town, I’m as far away from the touristy Airbnbs as possible, and I managed to pick up a steal of a quaint two-bedroom townhouse. It legit takes me five minutes to drive to and from work. “If you do say stupid shit, make sure it’s not in front of those basketball-playing friends of yours. They can’t keep shit to themselves and gossip more than Mrs. Hendricks.”
“Mrs. Hendricks?” I can imagine Cass scrunching his forehead. “And you’ve got that right—about the guys, I mean.”
I don’t point out that Cass is probably worse than all his professional basketball player friends that I’ve gotten to know. We’ve been tight ever since I met the guy at Montview Academy when I was a senior and he a freshman, and while he’d gone on to play with the big boys and was living both our dreams, we still kept in touch.
Hell, after all that went down with my brother a few years back, he was one of the only friends I had. It’s been hard lowering my guard and letting people in. Folks can be judgey fuckers. One mention of my brother serving eight years, and I see it happen, almost every time: people mulling the information over, the cagey looks sent my way.
Try as I might to not let it affect me, it does every single time. There’s only so much armor I can carry before my knees buckle.
But Cassius, he’s one of the best guys I know. Funny, albeit ridiculous, and honestly, despite him living a life I can’t truly fathom, he’s still down-to-earth.
“Were you just calling to shoot the shit or are you really regretting the move?” he asks, pulling me from my thoughts.
“Just shooting the shit, avoiding the mountain of work when I get home. You good, though? Enjoying your downtime before preseason training?”
“Yeah, all’s good. Spending some time with Dylan and Mikey. Trying not to think too hard about the start of training, as there are a few new guys.” I nod as he speaks, aware of the transfers and the draft addition. “Change can be a pain in the junk, but I’ll just roll with it.”
“You’ll dominate; I have no doubt.”
“Thanks, man. Shit, I’ve gotta go. Give me a call when you finally get laid.”
“Hell fucking no. Perve. Chat soon, Cass.”
“Will do. And don’t forget to let me know what game you can make it out to. Tickets are yours. But hopefully I’ll see you before then. See ya.”
“Yeah, man. Thanks. Talk soon.”
The phone cuts off just as I pull up outside my house. I take a moment to let my car idle as I stretch and crack my neck, wondering what could have been. Am I envious that Cass got his shot and made it to the big leagues? Definitely, but I’m happy for him, and every game I watch, via ESPN or in the flesh, I’m proud as hell. But this is the hand I’ve been dealt, and despite my bitching to Cass, I like my job, enjoy teaching. I’m even excited about the challenge of bringing basketball to Collier’s Creek.
But getting laid, though…. Yeah, that would be nice.
I switch off the engine and grab the planning sheets, volunteer box, laptop, and training gear. A few steps later, I’m entering my dark house—miraculously without dropping anything—and flicking on the lights.
Nice. I shake my head at using such a lame descriptor for hooking up, but it’s been a long-ass time, and I would settle for a mediocre lay at this point.
I’ve leaned into a bit of gossip in school, so I know I’m not the only gay guy in town. Pretty sure there’s other men and women from the community around, too, but settling in has taken all my focus. Plus being a teacher in a small town comes with its own set of issues. Me fucking my way around would cause a stir, which means I expect it’s going to be me and my right hand for the foreseeable future.
An image of Will pops into my head, and I smirk. At least meeting the stormy-gray-eyed sexy-as-fuck man has given me fresh spank bank material.