JESSY TURNER was between swimmers when he walked into the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center at UT, looking for Coach Jeff Samuels.
Jeff had called with “an opportunity.” It could be anything from a job offer to a lead on a new swimmer who needed a private coach to someone who was looking for private lessons for their tyke; there was no telling with Jeff.
The man’s office was empty, so Jessy made his way through the huge complex down to the pool. He was stopped in his tracks by the show going on in the water. The kids were swimming laps, going hard, and lane three was smoking. His form needed work, but fuck, he was flying through the water like a damned fish.
Jessy hadn’t seen someone with that much raw talent in too fucking long. He sat in the stands and watched.
Dark hair, long, long arms and legs—the kid moved and moved, and fuck if he just didn’t keep going, digging up more and more energy.
“Kid’s going to burn himself out.” Jeff’s voice sounded at his shoulder.
“I’m surprised he hasn’t already. You gonna rein him in sometime soon?”
“Nope. You are.” Jeff gave him a grin. “You remember Doug and Jamie Gauliet? The all-American freestylers that were killed off the coast? That is their son.”
He whistled low. “Comes by it naturally, then.” He felt that excitement shiver up his spine, the one that said he was on to something special. “So I am, am I? You offering me a job or handing me the next Olympic champion on a silver platter?”
“I’m handing you the kid. He’s got a scholarship. He swims my meets. You get the use of the pool and facilities for training. There are already two sponsors lined up—good money, but they want you.”
“You okay with losing the coaching opportunity?” Jeff was a good man. A good coach, but this kid needed one-on-one. Still, Jessy needed to hear it from the man himself.
“Shit, Jessy. This kid? Needs 24-7 care. He’s got more energy than anyone I’ve ever met.” Jeff nodded out to the water where the damned kid was still going. “He can do that for hours, then get out, down an entire pizza and two-liter.” Jeff chuckled. “Then he’ll either throw up from nerves or get in the pool and do it again.”
“Twenty-four seven, yeah?” Jessy nodded. “I’ll give it some thought.” Like he was going to do anything but jump at the chance to coach this kid. He was already planning to get the kid off caffeine, put that energy to efficient use.
His place was big enough to move the kid in, the pool a good size, perfect for training. They could come into Jamail Hall a few days a week, train with the rest of the UT team.
“If you don’t want him, let me know soon. I don’t want to lose him to UCLA.”
“Let me go talk to him. I’ll let you know before I go.”
“Sure. His name’s Mike, by the way. Sweet kid. Don’t terrify him.” Jeff winked and blew the whistle. “Frank, Aaron. Up and out. To the weight room.”
He snorted. Terror was how you got them to follow the rules.
The kid was the only one left in the pool, and Jessy slowly made his way down, crouching at the end of Mike’s lane.
A pair of the biggest, darkest eyes Jessy’d ever seen blinked up at him, smiling. “You lost? Coach is… uh… probably in the weight room.”
“I’m not lost. I’m Jessy Turner. You can call me Coach.” He held his hand out to the kid. “You’re Mike Gauliet, right?”
The kid had a strong handshake, firm. “Yeah. That’s me. Nice to meet you.”
“You look pretty good out there. Been swimming long?”
“Only since before I can remember. I’ve been racing for ten years.”
“Where?” The kid was still moving, kicking his legs idly. Man, that energy was something else.
“North Texas youth league. North Texas juniors. Plano High. UIL All-State team.”
“Yeah? You’ve worked with some good people, you know that?”
“Yeah.” The kid smiled, eyes lighting up. “Coach Nevins is the absolutely coolest. Well, Coach Samuels is close.”
Jessy nodded. Those were good names. And the kid obviously appreciated the coaching, knew a swimmer needed direction. “Coach Samuels thinks you’d benefit from some one-on-one attention. What do you think?”
Mike tilted his head. “I…. How does that work? I mean, Coach wouldn’t be my coach?”
“Nope. You’d go to meets with the team, represent UT, but he doesn’t have the time to give you what you need, knows you’ll reach your full potential with me.”
“Uh. Well. How do you get paid? The school?” Mike blushed, pulled himself out of the pool. “I don’t mean to seem stupid, I just don’t know how this works.”
Jessy nodded. “Fair enough. You’ve get sponsors who pick up the tab for all your needs. Food, board, airfare, coaching, everything. Samuels says you’ve got a couple on board already.”
“I do? Okay. What do I have to do? I mean, I pretty much swim and try to go to class sometime.”
He laughed. “Well, I’d like you to move in with me. I have a place here in Austin. Got a pool, weight room, whirlpool. Everything you’ll need. And if you’re serious about school, that’s cool, but you’ll need to drop down to two classes, three tops. No way you can put the swim time and class time in if you’re taking a full load.”
“Oh.” Mike gave him a head tilt, a smile. “No offense, man, but I don’t make decisions without my coach, you know? I don’t know you. Wanna go find Coach Samuels?”
“I like to hear that, because if I become your coach? My word is gold.” He stood and headed toward Samuels’s office, trusting Mike was following.
He heard the slap of Mike’s feet, the kid following, then getting distracted to grab a towel, then following, then taking a longing look at the soda machines, then following.
He knocked on Samuels’s door, ducked his head in. “You got two minutes for the kid and me?”
Jeff nodded, smiled. “Come on in.”
Mike nodded, leaned against the wall. “Hey, Coach.”
“So Mike and I have talked, but it seems he needs to talk to his coach before making any decisions.”
Jeff chuckled, red curls bobbing with it. “Smart, Mike. Very smart. Jessy’s the best, kid. You need him; you’ll soar with him.”
Jessy nodded his thanks. “Better tell him the bad stuff too, Jeff. My last swimmer fired me for being… I think the word he used was unbendable, only it had a few more adjectives thrown in for spice.”
Jeff chuckled, nodded. “Jessy’s a hardass, Mike, and you’re not used to that, not really.”
Mike shrugged. “I just want to swim. I want to break Spitz’s record. That’s it. If you think this is the right thing, I’ll try it.”
“I expect a hundred percent commitment, kid. My job is to tell you when to jump; yours is to ask how high and then do it, so to speak. If you honestly think I’m steering you wrong, you can talk to me about it, but if I don’t change my mind, we still do it my way. You think you can handle that?” He wanted this kid, wanted him bad, but there wasn’t much point in both of them going into this if they weren’t both committed. “You listen to me, you work for me, and I will take you to the top of your field and keep you there for as long as possible.”
Those dark eyes met Jeff’s, looking for something. “I’m not real good at the shut-up thing.”
“No, but you are really good at the do-what-you’re-told-while-you’re-bitching-about-it.” Jeff chuckled and winked.
Jessy laughed. “If I quit every time a kid bitched about the rules? I’d be dirt poor and not have a single swimmer to my resume.”
“Oh. Okay. Cool.” Mike gave Jeff a grin, wicked and mischievous. “He says I can drop a class. No more evil biology, baybee.”
“I didn’t say you could, I said you had to. It’ll mean giving up the scholarship, but, Jeff, you said two main sponsors already, right? The kid’s bills should be taken care of, and he only needs, what? One or two classes to stay on the UT team?”
“He has to be half-time. Six hours.” Jeff looked at Mike. “You stay in the bio class and you can take the other hour as a swim course. That means only having to be in class two days a week and a serious core class done. You’re half through the semester….”
Jessy nodded. “Once the biology is done, it’s done. What’s your major?”
Mike opened his mouth, but Jeff chuckled. “Currently? Forgetting class because he’s in the damn pool.”
“I like a kid with dedication. You’ve made a smart move, kid, teaming up with me. We’ll turn that dedication into gold.” There was no doubt in his mind of it.
“Cool. Cool.” Mike looked at the clock, blinked. “Man, I gotta hustle. I promised Alex I’d help with the water babies. He’s buying pizza after.”
“I hear you puked, Mike, I’ll pull you out of the pool for a week. Don’t overdo.” Jeff looked at the kid over the top of his glasses.
“Okay. Yeah. Sure. I.” Mike held one hand out to Jessy, bouncing. “How does whatever we’re doing happen?”
“We start today after this… water babies thing. I’ll help you move your stuff into my place. You tell me where you’re staying and I’ll meet you there at three. Oh, and Mike? Enjoy the pizza—it’ll be your last one.”
“You gotta be kidding, man. Pizza? My bread and butter. I’m a college student. It’s what we’re made of.” Mike bounced out, head popping back in. “Oh. Right. Jester Center. Room 214. Roommate’s name is Chen. See ya!”
Jeff, the old bastard, was fucking chuckling.
“I take it the hyper thing is par for the course?” It made sense really; the kid had to have a lot of energy to swim like that.
Jeff nodded. “From what I can see, he’s like a wind-up toy. He goes and goes and goes and then crashes hard, sleeps like the dead, then starts over. Coach from Plano said the kid’s been in the pool six to eight hours a day for ten years.”
“Cool. I like not having to worry about getting them into the water.” He held his hand out to Jeff. “Thanks for the tip, Jeff. He’s a real find.”
“Hey, not purely philanthropic. He’s going to win us some serious points at meets.” Jeff shook his hand, smiled. “Is he going to come to team workouts? Or should I expect not to see him for a while?”
“Give me your schedule and I’ll work at least a couple a week into ours. If we don’t show the first couple of weeks it’s because he needs time to settle into the new routine, but we’ll eventually start making it.”
Jessy grabbed one of the blank pages out of the paper feeder in Jeff’s little printer and nabbed a pen. “I’ll need the team workout schedule, the meet schedule, a list of current sponsors, copies of any paperwork with them, the kid’s school papers.”
Jeff nodded, started digging through a file cabinet. “I have that—plus his PBs, his times, medical records, and the spare key to that deathtrap he calls Bonzo.” Jeff stopped, chuckled. “Oh, God. I can’t wait for you to meet Bonzo.”
“What the fuck is Bonzo?”
“Little yellow crotch rocket. The kid loves it.”
Jessy shook his head. “How come they always like the fast, dangerous rides?”
“Because if they didn’t get off on the rush, they wouldn’t race.”
He nodded. “All right, if you think of anything else I need, put it aside and I’ll pick it up next time I’m here. I’m going to go talk to the admissions office and deal with the scholarship stuff and then pick him up at Jester Center. Thanks again.”
“Have fun. If he calls crying, I’ll let you know.” A huge file was handed over to him.
Jessy took the file. “If he doesn’t in the first week, he won’t.”
He nodded to Jeff and headed out.
It looked like he was employed again. And Mike was the real deal; he could feel it in his bones, knew it just from watching the kid swim a few practice laps in the pool.
He was looking forward to this.
HE NEVER could sleep in a new place. Hell, without Chen’s snoring? He might never sleep again. Mike finally gave up at dawn, got dressed, and sucked down a soda before heading down to the pool Coach had shown him the night before.
He slid into the water and started going, comfortable and easy backstrokes, one lap after another.
He had no clue how long he’d been going when he saw Coach Jessy waiting at the other end of the pool.
He waved, stopped when he reached the edge. “Mornin’. How’re you?”
“Okay. Little wigged about the whole-new-place-all-of-a-sudden thing, but okay.” He gave his new coach a grin. The man was built, solid and strong, fierce gaze. Mike had logged in last night, searched the web a little, and found out he was lucky. Coach was considered real up-and-coming. Made him nervous as fuck.
Coach nodded. “You’ll get used to it soon enough. I want you to think of this place as home, okay? How many laps have you done?”
He shrugged. “I started at five….”
Coach frowned. “That’s almost an hour. From now on you count your laps. Hell, from now on they’ll be set. Fifty crawl. Fifty fly. Fifty back. Etcetera. You need to start focusing on the wall, and you can’t do that if you aren’t paying attention to your laps.”
Focusing on the wall? O-o-o-okay. “I wasn’t really training, Coach. I was just… swimming.”
“No such thing anymore, kid.” Coach held out his hand. “Come on out. We’ll eat and I’ll go over the rules, set up a schedule with you.”
He reached up, let Coach help him out of the water. “I brought some Rice Krispies from the dorm. I’ll share, if you want.”
Coach shook his head. “Nope. No more Rice Krispies. You want cereal, I’ve got some homemade muesli, or shredded wheat’s good, or Cheerios. Everything else has too much sugar.”
“What’s muesli? It sounds slimy. And man, I’m not fat, yeah?” He looked down, tilted his head. Nowhere near fat.
“Muesli is not slimy. It’s oats and nuts and dried fruit, raisins and shit. And nobody said anything about you being fat. The stimulants, though? You don’t need those. So less sugar. No caffeine. I’m going to up your carb and vegetable intake. Fruits are good—you get hungry and want a snack, you can have fruit. No chocolate, no chips. Minimal meat.”
“No chocolate? Dude! That’s unreal.” He wasn’t going to give up the sodas either. In fact, he wasn’t even going to discuss that. “The muesli shit, though? That sounds good.”
“No chocolate. Full of sugar and caffeine. Empty calories. And the muesli is good. I make a mean vegetable omelet too.” Coach led him into the little kitchen with its bar seating. “You want to try the muesli out this morning?”
“You know caffeine is a wonderful thing, right? I mean, I burn the calories off….” The man was going to starve him to death. “And sure, I like crunchy. Do you put milk in it?”
“Yep. And if you’re hungry, you eat. Fruit, dry muesli, vegetables. I’ll even make sure there’s some fresh stuff kept cut up in the fridge along with something to dip them into to keep it interesting. Caffeine is a quick, sharp high that fades as fast and, frankly, you don’t need the extra hyping.”
Coach poured him out a huge bowl of muesli, filled it with milk, and put it down in front of him. “You like orange juice?”
Mike put the towel down on the barstool and sat, stirring the cereal stuff and looking at it. Didn’t look bad. “Yeah. Does anybody not like orange juice? That’s like not liking peanut butter.”
Coach laughed and poured him a large glass of orange juice. “I hate peanut butter.”
“That’s un-American.” He dug into the cereal, humming along to the tune in his head.
That earned him another laugh. “I’ll make a note of that.”
Coach poured himself a bowl of mini-shredded wheat with milk and a cup of coffee, before sitting next to him. “You been doing any training with weights at all?”
Mike shook his head. “No. Coach Samuels and me? We tried, but it didn’t work for us. I get distracted.”
“Yeah? I’ll keep that in mind, but I’d like to give it another try. A half hour a day or so, to give you something out of the water.”
“Okay.” He nodded. He liked using his body, liked having something to do.
“All right. You’ve got an hour-and-a-half biology class on Tuesdays and Thursdays at ten. I’ve spoken with the admissions office and dealt with the other courses—they need your John Hancock on the paperwork to officially drop you off the scholarship program. You have to report to the pool at Jamail Hall at noon on both those days to work out with the team, and that counts as your other course requirement to keep you on the UT team. What strokes do you favor?”
“It depends. I race the 100, 200, and 400 IM, 200 and 400 freestyle, 50 and 100 breaststroke, 200 and 400 butterfly. I want to try the 800 backstroke, but Coach Samuels thinks I’m more of a sprinter.”
Coach chuckled. “You mean you haven’t met a stroke you didn’t like. Are you actually racing all those in the same meets?”
“Sometimes. Depends on whether other guys need the race, mostly. Sometimes on my stomach. Coach Samuels told you about my stomach, huh?” It didn’t happen all the time, but it happened enough—too much water, too much stress, add a little food and some nerves and upchuck-city.
Coach nodded. “That’s one of the reasons for the diet. You throw pop and pizza on top of a lot of racing, and your stomach’s gonna throw it back.
“I think nine or ten races at a single meet might be too much, but we’ll let you race them for now, see if the new training and diet help with the stomach. We’re going to set up a schedule. Up at 6:00 a.m.…. Breakfast. You start swimming at seven. Fifty laps each of your strokes followed by a break of stretches and fruit or a glass of juice. A half hour of resting. You can work on your homework or read or whatever as long as it’s resting.
“Back in the pool for fifty more laps of each stroke, more stretching and lunch. A half hour of working the weights and then we’ll run mock trials in the afternoon. Tuesday and Thursdays will be exceptions obviously.”
“I don’t know if I can eat and then swim, Coach. Not in the morning.” He finished his cereal, about half the juice. “But I’ll try. When are your days off?”
Coach gave him an incredulous look. “Days off? How long have you been swimming, boy?”
He tilted his head, confused. He hadn’t asked about his training; he’d just wanted to know when to leave the man alone. “Ten years.”
“You ever take a day off?”
“From the water? Nope.”
“There you go. I won’t be taking days off either. And you can have a light breakfast if you can’t keep a decent one down. But even if you spend fifteen minutes eating, you’ve got forty-five minutes before you hit the water—and I find you in the pool before 7:00 a.m. and there will be repercussions—but if you have time, you should be fine.”
Man, he was going to have to write all this down. Something must have shown on his face because Coach gave him a grin. “I’ll type the schedule up in the computer and print out a copy to keep on the fridge.”
“Oh. Cool.” Mike smiled back, that smile of Coach’s infectious. “I’m not stupid, but I can lose track of time. What happens in the evenings?”
“You’ll get used the schedule and it’ll be second nature. You have any suggestions for the evenings?”
“I watch a lot of movies. Hang out on the computer. Swim, if I can’t settle. Normal stuff.”
“All right, let’s leave it open for now. I don’t mean to be your warden, but if you want friends over or to go out, you have to go through me.”
“Chen’s my one good friend. Oh, and I volunteer on Thursday afternoons with Alex.” He thought Alex was an utter babe. Totally straight, but a guy could watch.
“Doing what exactly?”
“I help the little kids in the low-income day care learn to swim. Or at least how not to drown. Alex’s girlfriend runs the program.”
“Excellent. Community service is good. And the Thursday schedule is already screwed, so that works.” Jessy gave him a look. “What about you—you got a girlfriend? Because I have rules about that too, I’m afraid.”
“Rules?” Oh, man, he so didn’t, but he didn’t want to get tossed out because he was gay. Then again, he still had his scholarship now….
“No sex a week before meets, no late nights, if the girlfriend interferes with the swimming, you’re cut off. I need to meet her, she’s got to be a part of the team.”
“And, uh. If I say there’s not gonna be any girls?”
One of Coach’s eyebrows went up. “You into celibacy?”
“Uh. No. No.” He blushed dark, stood. “But I’m not into girls.”
“Oh. Did Samuels know?”
“No. I mean, I don’t think so. It’s a problem, huh? I can go back to Jester, man. No sweat.” Hell, most of his shit would go in Bonzo’s saddlebags.
“No, it’s not a problem, I was wondering if Samuels picked me for you because he knew it wouldn’t be a problem. You should know that I’m not into girls myself.”
“Oh.” He blinked, found a smile. “Well, right now? No boyfriend either. So the no-sex thing? I can hang.” Jerking off wasn’t sex.
“Excellent. And you’ll let me know if the no-boyfriend status changes.”
“Yeah, well, me and Bonzo? Not exactly stud magnets, but I’ll let you know if it happens.”
“Yeah, about Bonzo. No riding during swim season.”
“No way. You’re talking fucking months!” This, he’d fight for. He’d built that little bike up from the ground.
“It’s too dangerous.”
“You haven’t even seen him.”
“It’s a crotch rocket, right? Too dangerous. Unless you’ve added the features to turn it into a Volvo.”
“It’s a solid bike. I did the classes. I passed the tests. I’m a safe rider.” He was already tired of the argument.
“We’ll revisit it in a month once you’re settled into the routine. Until then it’s off-limits.” Coach’s face was closed, brooked no arguments.
“So what? I’m on the bus until Halloween?” He sighed, nodded. He’d have to see if Chen could give him a ride back Thursday nights. Hell, maybe they could study. “It’s bullshit, but I’ll do it.”
“I’ll drive you wherever you need to go.” Coach leaned in. “I’m going to be your shadow, kid. Get used to it.”
“Look. I just wanna swim. You know, up and down the pool. I’m not complicated.”
“Then we should get along fine.” Coach checked his watch. “We’ll take this as your first rest period—you can go do a round of laps after a half hour or so.”
“Okay.” He washed out his bowl and headed to unpack, to hang posters, to listen to his music blaring in his ears and try not to worry about whether he was doing the right thing.