Coach Time 4I

Annie stared back at Coach Dan. An analog clock on the wall clicked several times.

“Coach, right now I’m more interested in a different variable — Double-J’s ‘history’ with his coach.”

The sound of Coach Dan’s laughter punctuated the tension in the room. “A very nice riposte, my friend.”

Annie stood up abruptly. “Coach, this isn’t a duel. I can only be captain if I’m working with you, not against you. And I think the only way we’re going to keep Double-J on this team, is if we work together. I just — ”

The door to the teacher’s lounge opened. Teresa Wang, science teacher, walked in quickly, stopped short upon seeing Annie. Coach Dan morphed back into Mr. Jacobs, English teacher, We’re just finishing up here, Oh that’s quite alright Daniel, You’re here early Annie, Hello Mrs. Wang.

Teresa walked past Annie, towards the vending machines at the rear of the room. Annie turned towards the door, was stopped by Coach Dan’s hand on her elbow.

“Can’t let you leave without breakfast.” He held up a paper plate with an untoasted bagel.

Annie looked down at the bagel, felt her mouth water. Smiling, she looked up at her coach. “Got any peanut butter?”

End of fourth coaching session

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Coach Time 4H

Coach Dan’s response was unapologetic. “Your personal life is your concern. But the health of the fencing team, that is my concern. All I’m saying is that you and Double-J have a history — the details are irrelevant, and none of my business.”

He held up a hand. “But let’s remember what lead us to this point. You came to me this morning, regarding your new position as team captain — I didn’t come to you. You’ve also explicitly expressed concerns about Double-J. And although you haven’t come out and said so, you’re asking for my help, or advice, on how to handle that young man. Specifically, how to address what is sure to be his disappointment at not being named team captain.”

Coach Dan paused, stared straight at Annie, who nodded her agreement. He placed the jar of jelly on the counter, and continued. “Before I can help you, I need to assess the situation. And to do that, I need to consider all the variables.”

“So the fact that we used to date is a ‘variable’?”

“As is your reaction, just now.”

ONE YEAR!

On the twenty-ninth day of April last year, I posted an entry for my novel for the first time in three days. One hundred days later, I took time to celebrate my having posted for my novel every day since then. Friends and neighbors — we are now at the one year mark. There were challenges along the way, but whether I was waving my iPad above my head hoping to catch a Verizon signal on the sweet pine air in Maine, or fighting fatigue during a long layover on a flight back from Hawaii, or working through a rough night on Bourbon Street to finish that entry I had started earlier in the day in New Orleans, or those dozens of times I lay in bed at my home in Ohio and suddenly realized that I had thirteen or so minutes to keep this streak alive — I somehow found a way to post something, anything, for my novel (even if it wasn’t that long) for an entire year.

Writing this novel is one of my joys in life. I don’t care what will come of it — I just want it to be written. Should I miss a day here or there will do nothing to stop the momentum I’ve built, but somehow I don’t think that will ever happen. After a year of daily blog post for this novel, forgetting to write would be as difficult as forgetting to brush my teeth. It’s just what I do. And I’m going to keep doing it.

The Three Musketeers

Finally, an audiobook that actually made me look forward to the commute to and from the office. Bold d’Artagnan, brooding Athos, daper Porthos, pious Aramis — I looked forward to each being the focal point of the narrative. There are enough supporting characters, with just the right amount of personality, to keep the story interesting throughout. The plot is complex but progresses at a comfortable pace. This is the first time I’ve experienced the unabridged novel, and I can appreciate why it has remained popular after nearly two centuries.

Update 4/29 — forgot to acknowledge the excellent performance by John Lee on the audiobook. He gave each character a distinct vocal inflection, a decision which comes with some risk. Many readers do this poorly, sounding corny and affected, but Lee’s inflections are subtle and effective, even his female voices. I highly recommend his reading, available on Audible.

Coach Time 4G

Annie spoke with an authority far beyond her years. “We need Double-J on the team. He gives us energy, drive. If he’s not at practice kicking our butts, we don’t accomplish as much as we can.”

“Yes. I can see that.” Coach Dan rose from the sofa, walked back to the kitchenette. Annie then answered his question before he could utter it.

“He also needs us. The way he talks, he acts, sometimes I think the fencing team’s the only thing keeping him in school. I’m worried about him.”

Coach Dan picked up the paper plate on which he had placed his bagel. “This is how I like my bagels, toasted but cooled. With a little jelly.” He reached for the sack of bagels on the counter. “That work for you?”

“I’m not — ” Annie caught herself. “I don’t like them toasted.”

“Very well.” Coach Dan reached into the sack, retrieved a bagel, searched the counter for the stack of paper plates. “Annie, I feel that I must bring up a subject that you might not find comfortable.”

“Go on.”

Coach Dan separated the two bagel halves, placed them on the plate. “You and Double-J have a — history.”

Annie nodded. “We dated, last spring. But we broke it off before the school year started.”

Coach Dan opened the refrigerator door. “That’s what I thought I remembered.”

“I’m sorry, Coach — I don’t see how this is relevant.”

Coach Dan looked up quickly, shoved the refrigerator door closed. He had a small jar of jelly in his hand.

Coach Time 4F

“I noticed Double-J didn’t talk to you Saturday night.” Now it was Coach Dan who was caught off guard. “He was good with everyone else — he was even dipolamtic with me after the announcement — but every time you two got near each other, he’d turn away.”

“Annie — ” Coach Dan saw the determination in her face, the same determination he’d seen in her just before her bouts. He smiled, walked over to her, sat down slowly on the sofa, motioned for her to sit as well.

He spoke like a man who had chosen his words carefully. “I’m a fool. I didn’t think this decision about a team captain would turn into such a big deal. Completely misjudged how Double-J would respond. I have — put you in an awkward situation. And I’m sorry.”

Annie smiled. “It’s OK. Miles had a few awkward situations last year — remember Tish’s mask problem? At regionals?”

“Oh!” Coach Dan shook his head.

“But Miles took care of it. I think that’s what a captain does, takes a difficult situation and finds, maybe not a solution, but a way to get the team past whatever obstacle they’re facing. I can do that, Coach. That’s what I want to do.”

Coach Dan nodded, but couldn’t get his words out before Annie continued. “But I can’t solve a problem unless I know what’s causing it.”

Coach Time 4E

“OK then.” Annie’s response was tart with impatience. “I think the team made the right decision. Rex didn’t want the job, and we needed a captain.”

“Why is that, exactly?” Coach Dan smiled interrogatively. “Why, in your opinion, does Bark Bay need a captain for its fencing team?”

“Miles graduated — ”

Coach Dan held up a hand. “Please, my friend. That is a fact, not a reason. It explains the what, but not the why. Try again.”

“It’s not a question of why.” Annie’s face looked no longer confused. “It’s a question of who.”

Coach Dan raised his eyebrows. “Come again?”

Annie stood up, her action surprising her coach. “Double-J. He thinks he deserves it, and wouldn’t stop making an issue of it so long as there wasn’t a captain. He’s been a distraction all year, and it would only get worse.”

“And now that we have you as captain, the distraction will cease?”

Annie shook her head, her pony tail shaking behind her head. “No. It will get worse. Which is why I came to see you this morning.”

Coach Time 4D

“Well I don’t think there’s many fencing teams with a captain who’s just a sophomore.” Annie’s tone was dispassionate, analytical. “So yes, I was surprised that you didn’t pick someone who was older, more experienced.”

The bagel sprang from the toaster, spwunck. Coach Dan reached into an open cupboard above the sink, retrieved a paper plate. “Two things. First if you recall from Saturday I said I’d asked Rex if he would be interested in serving as captain. You’ll also recall him saying that he declined my invitation.”

He pulled the bagel halves from the toaster, fingers jumping from the heat as he released them onto the paper plate. “Second, it’s not up to me to choose a captain. I’d rather not have a captain at all if the team couldn’t decide on one. So when Rex offered your name instead of his, and I approached the other team members and received an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response — that was how the decision was made. Not by me, but by your teammates.”

“I just can’t believe they decided on me.”

Coach Dan raised his eyebrows, nodded in Annie’s direction. “Not surprised enough to refuse. Not surprised enough to thank your teammates. No, not surprised enough to pledge that you’d serve as their captain, to the best of your abilities.”

Annie remained motionless on the sofa. Her face reminded him of that oh crap, he just asked me a question about the reading assignment I didn’t do last night expression he saw all too often from his students.

“Annie — you’ve wanted to be captain ever since Double-J started asking. I could hear it in your voice, that you felt you were more qualified than anyone else on the team. You didn’t see it as a privilege like Double-J, or an honor like Rex — you talked about the captaincy as a duty, an important job. And I could hear your frustration whenever Double-J or Rex talked about being captain.

“That is why I said you weren’t being honest with me, or rather yourself. Yes you were surprised by the timing of Rex’s offer. But when you accepted the offer, you were satisfied that the team had made the right decision.”

Coach Time 4C

Annie’s reply was equal parts surprise and indignation. “What makes you think I’m being lying to you?”

Coach Dan placed the sack of bagels on the kitchenette counter. “Oh, I didn’t think you were trying to deceive me, my friend. On the contrary” — he continued as he looked down to open the sack — “the person you’re lying to is yourself.”

He looked quickly in her direction, judged her reaction. Her expression was frozen in thought, the defensiveness she had expressed earlier now giving way to analysis. He turned back to the sack, retrieved a bagel, twisted one half to separate it from the other. Annie’s response came as he placed the bagel halves in a toaster.

“We were talking about Saturday night.” Coach Dan nodded, pressed down on the toaster’s lever. “You said you thought I might not accept when Rex said it should be me who — ”

At Annie’s pause, Coach Dan glanced back at her, smiling.

“What makes you think I was expecting Rex’ offer?”

Coach Dan nodded, turned back to the refrigerator, opened the door. “I have no doubt that you were surprised by Rex’ timing.” He peered into the refrigerator. Annie heard the sound of glass knocking into plastic. “After all, I hadn’t told anyone other than Rex that we’d be naming our fencing team captain that evening. Yes, the announcement was a surprise.”

Coach Dan rose, closed the refrigerator door. He had a short, round tub in his hand. “But really, my friend — is it any surprise at all that you were named captain?”

Coach Time 4B

Annie stepped through the doorway, stomped the snow off her boots. The already saturated entrance mat squirted onto the gray tiled floor of Bark Bay High School. Coach Dan waited for her to move forward, then raised his right foot and lightly tapped the tip of his boot twice onto the wet mat, the action followed immediately by the same for the left foot.

“Can I interest you in a bagel?” Coach Dan asked as he walked past Annie, in the direction of the teacher’s lounge.

“I already ate, thanks.” She paused outside the lounge door. “But if you want one, go ahead — I can wait.”

Coach Dan entered the lounge, motioned toward the small couch along the left wall. Annie sat, commenting that this was the first time she had ever been in the teacher’s lounge.

“Most students only come here when they’re having trouble.” Coach Dan turned, stared down at Annie, his look indicating that a response from her was required, not optional.

“No — no, there’s nothing wrong. Can I?” She pointed to the wool cap on her head. Coach Dan nodded, and she removed the cap, her brown pony-tail flowing down and falling with a bounce down on her shoulder. She flicked her head, sending the pony-tail back where it came to rest, standing pert behind her head.

Coach Dan had walked into a side room, a small kitchen area. He opened a refrigerator door. “You know, there was a time on Saturday where I thought you were going to turn us down.” He closed the door, a small plastic cyclindrical sack now in his hand.

“I thought about it, sure. You all caught me by surprise.”

“My friend” — Annie had learned over the past year that whenever Coach Dan started a sentence with my friend, it was time to pay attention — “for perhaps the first time since I’ve known you, I doubt whether you are telling me the truth.”