by Vincent Berg
Copyright 2016, Vincent Berg

Taylor knocked on Coach Peters' office door, cradling a book under his arm.

"Coach, got a minute for an old friend?"

"Taylor! Get in here. You're just the person I was hoping to run into."

Taylor grinned, striding forward and presenting the book to his old coach. "I've got yet another yearbook for you to sign. You may have to search for an open space, though, it's pretty full. The section for the football team is filled. The team's signatures match their egos. They mostly scrawled across the page."

Fredric Peters idly leafed through the pages, noting the large number of signatures across each section. "You can't blame them for their confidence. You're the one directly responsible for most of it. As you know, I'm retiring this year, and you've allowed me to leave on a high note. We've set many records this season, and many will last a long time. Most yards gained, total season passes, most interceptions, and need I forget, the season championship."

"I'll plead guilty on that charge, your honor. But you've got to admit, they earned it. They are a phenomenal team."

"Only because of the fire you lit under their feet. If you're ever interested, you've got a future as a coach. You understand what to say to each player to get one-hundred and ten percent. You've also got a real eye for strategy."

"I've learned from the best, sir."

Peters raised his glasses, studying him. "Come on, you know better than that. You've got a native talent matched with a strategic eye and a tremendous intelligence. Now that I'm retiring, you can quit with the 'coach' business. Call me Fredric. I hope you'll consider me a friend in the future."

"Absolutely, Fredric. You've been a real inspiration and I'm sorry to see you moving on."

Peters waved his concern off. "It wasn't that I didn't see it coming. After a lifetime of hard living and eating the wrong foods, my health isn't the best. It's time for me to slow down, and more importantly, quit getting so riled up over each game. From now on, you'll find me sitting in the park, doing Yoga and Tai Chi, munching tofu."

"Knowing you, you'll get worked up over eating tofu and bean sprouts for the rest of your life."

"Honestly, I'm ready to retire. I need to slow down and get to know my wife again. I've been ignoring her for too long. But you've exploded this past year. We were surprised when you first came out, and shocked when you and Jacob got together. You represent two extremes. You're a no-nonsense tough guy, while he's a creative social creature likely to break into show tunes at the drop of a hat. But somehow, instead of strangling each other, you complement one another. Jacob has truly brought out the best in you."

Peters had been rumbling through his desk drawer looking for a pen. When Taylor started to protest his praise, he lifted it out and waved it like a symphony conductor's baton. "Don't argue with me, young man. You know it's true and you're no longer allowed to rile me. Before you were shoved out of the closet, you were an introverted loner. You worked with everyone, but hardly said a word about anything besides school or football. Once you and your boyfriend got together, you broadened and became a complete human being. What's more, you expanded his world as well.

"You were both destined to graduate with honors. That much was a given, but everyone in the school are your fans. If the school board allowed it, the two of you would have been elected Homecoming King and Queen. Hell, even those who objected to two Homecoming Kings cheered when you and Jacob danced together. Rather than waging battles you wouldn't win, you picked your battles, winning the fights you could while influencing those not ready for change.

"You've helped everyone on the team, carrying people off the field and nursing wounds. Jacob led every team fundraiser, as well as leading the cheerleaders and his friends in cheering us on. In exchange, you've helped sell out every play and band recital during the year. The two of you are like a one-two punch. You've blossomed under each other's tutelage. Before you got together he hung out with the other music, drama and glee club nerds. Afterwards, he expanded into every aspect of the school. When someone was injured, on or off the field in whatever sport, you both helped with their recovery. You're a hell of a physical therapist, while Jacob boosts their spirits and brings the flowers and jokes."

Running out of steam, Peters located a place to sign. Taylor thought he'd found a reprieve, but his coach was only getting started. "You're the valedictorian this year, and you're both being honored for your contributions. You've both gotten full scholarships to the same Ivy League university. You've both coached people through their heartbreaks and cancers. And for someone who's just gotten into their first relationship, your romantic advice is … spot on."

Taylor couldn't corral the blush creeping up his neck. "I just emphasize honesty and investment. You can't be good at anything if you don't put in the time, and you can't expect to be understood if you don't stand up for yourself and your partner. It's about pride and honor. If a relationship can't thrive with those two things going for it, then it wasn't much of a partnership to begin with."

Having signed the yearbook with a flourish—on the Auto Shop page—Coach Peters handed the book back to Taylor. "I see you accomplishing tremendous things, and not just in football. You'll have no problem with college. You've got the study habits, and you'll develop contacts you can use your entire life. You've also got a great head about most things. If you don't understand what you're doing, you'll figure it out. I have no doubt you'll make it onto a professional football team, and baring any unexpected injuries, you'll do well. The world is your oyster, and it's yours to crack. With Jacob by your side, there will be no stopping either of you."

"Thanks for that, sir. I was hoping to slip out without quite such an effusive display, but as you said, I deserve to wear my awards with humility. Your praise is making me so self-conscious I'll be humble for the rest of my time here." Taylor extended his hand, and Coach Peters pumped it in an enthusiastic handshake.

"I'm sure I'll see you in the future, sir. If nothing else, I plan to attend homecoming and reunions. I've got a lot of friends here."

"I'll expect it, but just in case." Peters took out a business card, turned it over and jotted down his private phone number. "Contact me anytime you plan to return, and I'll be sure to be here." He stopped, glancing at Taylor. "Whatever happened with your family? Did they ever come around? Do you talk at all?"

"Sadly, no. They've no longer trying to sabotage me, and they watch my games, but I'm still persona non grata in my house. With luck, they'll relent over time, but for now, I'm still dependent on the Morgans."

"Well, into every sunny day a little rain must fall. If they're your only disappointment, you're doing well. Give them time, but if they can't support you, ignore them. You need people who lift you up, not tear you down."

As Taylor left, feeling a strange combination of pride and embarrassment, he met Jacob, waiting outside.

"How'd it go?" He caressed Taylor's cheek, wiping a tear about to drop. "Emotional?"

"Yeah, but I was expecting it. Although Peters isn't usually emotional, he often gets carried away at goodbyes. By the way, he thinks the world of you."

Jacob laughed. "Yeah, everyone does. You've got to admit, I'm a delight." He slipped his arm into his boyfriend's. "Anyone else, or can we head home and read each other's signatures?"

"I think home. I always get hot reading about how successful my boyfriend is."

"You and me both," Jacob said, giggling like a little girl. There was no changing him, and Taylor would fight anyone who tried. "Say, since school is over and everyone is gone, how about we visit the team's showers and … have a little fun splashing around?"

"You're so bad, but you're on, partner!"

To Be Continued ...

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