Crunch Time [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Andrew Grey
eBook Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
eBook Description: When George Higgins agrees to help a soon-to-be-former professional football player rehearse for a guest appearance on a talk show, he doesn't expect anything to come of it. To his surprise, Darren White shows up on time and actually makes an effort to learn from George. But Darren has definite problems; he can barely read and sounds awful when he speaks. Luckily, George is a teacher and Darren's motivated. It's crunch time: the first rehearsal for Talking Sports is looming, and Darren and George will have to work together if they want Darren's guest appearance--and their budding relationship--to turn into a full-time gig.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, Published: 2011, 2011
Fictionwise Release Date: May 2011
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29 Reader Ratings:
Hurrying across the parking lot, George pulled open the doors to the health club, rushing inside, breathing heavily. Continuing his near-frenzied pace, he found his drawer, labeled Higgins, near the wall behind the salesmen's desks. He dropped his bag and winter coat inside. Finally breathing a sigh of relief, he walked to the front desk. "You were nearly late," Tiffany said with a slight giggle. "Do you know you walk funny when you rush?"
George almost retorted with something equally insensitive, but figured it wasn't wise to alienate one of his fellow employees on his first day. "Yes, I'm aware that my hip doesn't work quite right, thank you. It's been that way since birth," he replied calmly and evenly, keeping the smile off his face as her embarrassment became evident. "Don't worry about it," George added with a smile to diffuse the situation. "Are you going to show me what to do?"
She shook her head, long blonde hair waving around behind her. George couldn't stop himself from thinking that if she shook her head much harder, that hair could be lethal. "Joshua said he'd be right back." She turned to check in one of the members, scanning his card through the computer while George took a breather. He hated being late. And here he was, late on his first day, but he'd had an unexpected meeting after school and hadn't gotten out at his usual time.
"George." A deep voice from behind him caught his attention. "I'm Joshua--Josh. Harvey asked me to show you around the desk." Josh directed him to the computer systems. "You need to check in each member by scanning their card. The computer has a picture of each person, so all you need to do is make sure they aren't using someone else's card. Tiff, you can head out if you want." Josh smiled at the blonde, and she returned his smile before walking back through the club, while Josh's eyes bounced with every step she took, before returning his attention to George. "The lost and found is in this drawer." He pulled it out, displaying a pile of clothes, weight belts, water bottles, weight gloves, and other items.
The door opened and five guys walked in together. "Hey, George," Dan, one of the members, said as he handed George his card. "When did you start working here?"
Beep, the scanner pinged as the system accepted the card. "Today's my first day," he answered as he smiled, handing back the card. He scanned Gene's card as well, and Ivan's and Maddoc's. The last guy in the group was Lonnie, and he didn't bother with a card; he simply walked around the desk toward the locker room. "Lonnie!" George called out, inadvertently using the voice he used with his fourth-graders. Then he softened his voice. "I need your card." Lonnie walked back, handing George a single key with the scan card on it. "Thank you." George scanned it and handed it back.
"You're welcome, ya birdgazer," Lonnie chided as he continued on his way.
"Hey, Lon!" George called back. Lonnie stopped midstride. "You need to have something to gaze at first," he added, rolling his eyes.
Lonnie sputtered something, but it was completed drowned out by Dan and the guys hooting as they continued toward the locker room.
"I see you know Lonnie," Josh said with a distasteful look on his face. "The man's just crude."
"He's been my financial adviser for a few years. He's talked like that for as long as I've known him. Giving it back to him seems to be the best thing I've found to shut him up." George turned his attention to the door as other members filed in. Greeting each one, he scanned their cards and thanked them. Josh finished showing him around and then left him with instructions to call if he had any questions. George assured Josh he would and went to work. Half an hour later, he got a request from a member to update a credit card, and Josh showed him how to use the payment portions of the system. It wasn't hard, and soon George found himself exploring the system between scanning in members.
"George." He looked up to find Lonnie standing at the counter. "Why are you working here?"
George moved closer to Lonnie, not wanting to spread his business through the gym, "I need some extra money." George shrugged. "That teachers' strike wiped out a lot of my ready savings."
"Oh." Lonnie became quiet, which George knew usually meant he was cooking up some clever witticism. Instead, he said, "I'll call you tonight."
"Sure," George answered, smiling. As Lonnie left the club, George went back to work.
Finishing his short shift, George clocked out. Retrieving his bag, he ate the small snack he'd packed before heading to the locker room to change for his own workout before leaving the health club.
On his way home, he bought a sandwich, and after carrying in his things, George sat at his kitchen table, grading papers as he ate, until the phone interrupted his concentration.
"Hello." Shit. He should have looked at the display before answering.
"Hey, cockhopper. It's Lonnie. Am I interrupting an all-you-can-eat dick buffet?"
George looked around the neat kitchen, the house so quiet he could hear the refrigerator kick on. "Yeah right, Lon. You're interrupting a four-gy."
"Yeah, your dick and four fingers." Lonnie laughed at his own joke, and George said nothing because it was too true for words. "Say, I got something to ask you, but this has to stay between us." Lonnie sounded very serious, which was highly unusual. The only time George had ever seen the man serious was when money was involved--usually his own. "You can't tell anybody or I'll lose a client."
"What's so important?" George had a bad feeling about this.
"I have a client who needs help." Lonnie sighed, and George heard shuffling.
"Where are you?" George picked up his sandwich in one hand, taking a small bite before setting it down again.
"In bed. Cory's about ready to polish my love hammer and she's getting impatient." George chose that moment to try to swallow and nearly choked as he started coughing. "Can you come to my office tomorrow afternoon?"
"I can be there at four." Thankfully he didn't have to work at the club.
"Good." More rustling and a groan before the phone went dead. George looked at it for a few minutes, wondering what the hell was up before setting it aside. Whatever it was, he'd find out tomorrow, but right now he had work to do.
The final school bell rang and the kids rushed out of the room and into the halls, voices raised in excitement. Already the kids were excited about Christmas vacation. As the sound died in the halls, George straightened the room before gathering his things and heading toward the exit. He knew he was leaving a little early, but the pile of papers under his arm was a visual testament to the work he had yet to do.
Hurrying to his car, he stopped himself from rushing. Yes, he hated to be late, but he hated falling on the ice even more, and besides, his hip ached to beat the band anyway. Starting the car, George pulled out of the lot, driving toward Lonnie's office, pleading with the heater in his old car to start working. Of course, it started blowing warm air just as he pulled into the parking lot. Getting out, George pulled his coat tighter around him, walking stiffly into the quiet office where the receptionist directed him to Lonnie's desk.
Lonnie motioned him into a chair while he talked on the phone, obviously trying to soothe a client, skittish because the market had dropped. "Chris, you're an investor, not a trader, remember. The stocks you're in are solid. Do you want to sell your IBM and Coca-Cola?" Lonnie rolled his eyes. "I didn't think so. Look, the market is tough right now, but you're holding your own and doing better than most." Lonnie sounded so patient as he soothed the person on the phone, ending with an invitation to dinner in the next few weeks, before hanging up.
"Thanks for coming, George." Lonnie shook his hand before peering out through the glass walls around his desk. "Hey, Anne. Is Darren here?"
"No, I haven't seen him." The middle-aged woman sitting just outside Lonnie's office answered without even looking up from her computer screen. "Hello, Lonnie Rosen's office." George did a double take when he realized she was answering the phone, barely breaking the rhythm of her typing.
"Hang on." Lonnie raised a finger, dialing the phone. "Darren, where are you?" Lonnie got quiet for a second, but George could see his anger rising by the second. "I don't care how late you were out last night. Get your butt in this office in ten minutes." The volume in Lonnie's voice rose with every word. "I've told you before. You need me a hell of a lot more than I need you. I'm not one of your sycophantic hangers-on, and when you make an appointment, you get your ass in here on fucking time!" Lonnie was yelling by the end, and whoever was on the phone must have capitulated because Lonnie calmed down. "Ten minutes, and you better not look like shit," Lonnie added before hanging up.
"Come on." Lonnie stood up and led the way across the office to what looked like an empty conference room. George followed behind, wondering what the hell was going on. "Anne, when Darren arrives, send him in here."
"Sure thing," she answered, without looking up.
Lonnie shut the door and motioned him to a chair. "I have a problem client," Lonnie started.
"The guy on the phone?"
Lonnie nodded. "As I said, this has to remain quiet. The client is Darren White." Lonnie paused and looked at him expectantly, like George was supposed to know who that was. "He plays for the Philadelphia Eagles," Lonnie prompted, and George shrugged, not knowing anything about sports. "Anyway, Darren got injured and it may be a career-ending injury. He'll tell you it's not a big deal, but he doesn't exactly live in the real world. For all practical purposes, he's done playing football."
"Okay. How does this affect me? I can't make him heal faster." George had no idea what Lonnie expected of him.
"In about a month, Darren has a chance to guest host a sports program on Channel 4. I've heard through the grapevine that if he's good, it could turn into a regular show. Darren's local and he's played very well over the past three years." Lonnie leaned closer. "The thing is that the kid's as dumb as they come."
"Lonnie," George used his teacher voice, "that's not fair and I won't have that kind of talk. Not from you or my fourth-graders." George expected Lonnie to bluster the way he usually did, but the man simply smiled.
"Okay, but you need the facts. You have kids in your fourth-grade class who read better than he does, and he can barely write anything other than his name." Lonnie motioned to Anne. "She writes out his checks for him and he only signs them because he's not capable."
"What do you want from me?" George thought he could see where this was going and he didn't like it--not one bit.
"I wanted to ask you if you'd work with him. The kid needs help and he'll pay you for your time. I don't know if it's possible to help him at all, but I don't want him to fail, and without help, he will." George could see that Lonnie was sincere. He really did want to help the kid, no matter what he'd said earlier.
But George wanted no part of this.
"Lonnie, I...." George had every intention of telling Lonnie "No, thank you" when the door opened and a tall, broad-shouldered man wearing jeans and a T-shirt walked into the room, cutting him off. "Jesus Christ," George muttered under his breath, as a pair of the deepest blue eyes he'd ever seen met his gaze, and the words died on his lips. The other man, obviously Darren, slouched in a chair across the table from him, leaning back in his chair.
"So whatcha want, Lonnie?" He mumbled so badly George barely understood him. "I got stuff to do, ya know."
Lonnie swiveled in the chair. "Do you want that job at Channel 4?"
"I don't need it. I'm gonna be playing ball again soon," Darren said, or something to that effect. George couldn't be sure; the man's speech seemed as slouchy as the rest of him.
"No, you're not." George could hear the raw edge of Lonnie's temper. "You are probably never going to play football again and you need to face that. So, I'm going to ask one more time, do you want that interview at Channel 4 or not? I pulled strings to get it for you and I can un-pull them just as fast."
The feet of Darren's chair hit the floor and he looked at Lonnie as though he was ready to kill him. "I have to play ball. I can't do nothin' else."
Lonnie's face softened. "That's what we're going to help you with. George here is a teacher, a very good teacher, and he's going to work with you so you can do well on the show next month."
George shifted in his chair. "Lonnie." He looked over at Darren. "I haven't agreed to anything yet." He kept looking at Darren, fascinated with the man, even though he had no intention of going through with this scheme of Lonnie's. Darren obviously wasn't interested in learning anything. George suspected he'd gotten everything in life he'd ever wanted by flashing those deep blue eyes.
"I know you haven't." Lonnie looked at Darren. "So what do you want?"
Darren shrugged. "I'll give it a shot."
Lonnie's gaze turned to George. "Well, I won't." George turned away and stood up, walking stiffly toward the door. "He doesn't want to learn anything, Lonnie. All he wants is what he's always gotten: a free ride because of who he is."
"I can learn. I ain't dumb!" Darren stood up, fire blazing in his eyes, chest puffed out.
George took a few steps closer. "Then act like it! You may not be dumb, to use your word, but no one could tell from the way you speak." George stepped closer, telling himself he wasn't going to be intimidated by the much taller wall of muscle glaring down at him. "Or the way you carry yourself." George turned and walked back toward the door, looking at the stunned expression on Lonnie's face. "I'll see you tomorrow at the gym," he said to Lonnie before pushing open the conference room door.
"Wait." George stopped and turned around. Darren looked alternately at Lonnie and then at George. The huge man suddenly seemed young and small, the cockiness he'd displayed earlier evaporated. "I do want to learn. I don't want to be stupid no more."
"Anymore," George corrected. "And you aren't stupid. You just need to apply yourself." George felt the cold inside begin to melt, realizing just how much it had taken for Darren to admit that. "If you're truly interested, then be at my house at five tomorrow. Lonnie can give you the information you need." George opened the conference room door, walking through the office to the front door. Pulling on his coat, George walked through the twilight to his car and drove home, wondering what in hell he'd been thinking, agreeing to help Darren. Well, he thought to himself, Darren probably won't show up anyway. No matter what he'd said, Darren's body language spoke volumes.
* * * *
George checked the clock again, returning to his grading. It was ten 'til five. George forced his attention on his work, telling himself it wasn't likely Darren would show up anyway. So the ring of the doorbell came as a complete surprise. Getting up, he found Darren standing on his porch, much better dressed than he'd been the day before, carrying what looked like a messenger bag.
"Come on in," George said before leading them through the house to the kitchen, placing his work back in his school bag. "I'm surprised you came," George commented without malice, as he picked up a book from the stack he had on one of the chairs, handing it to Darren. "Set your bag down, take a seat. I want you to read this out loud."
"But I thought--" Darren stopped talking when George cut him off.
"I need to see where you're at, so I'd like you to try that book for me."
"Okay." Darren opened the book and began reading haltingly, stumbling over even simple words. George let him struggle for a few minutes, and though he did improve once he got used to it, after a page, Darren slammed the book closed. "See. I told you I was stupid."
"You're not stupid. You just haven't been taught how to read properly, and it's not all your fault." George hated to say it, but he knew Darren's teachers hadn't done him any favors. "Keep reading." George handed the book back. "The only way you'll improve is to do it, so I want you to read for me, and we'll work together on any of the words you don't know." George touched the man's hand to reassure him and felt a jolt through his fingers that had him pulling back like he'd been burned.
Sitting back, George listened to Darren's deep voice as he read from one of the sixth-grade reading books he'd borrowed from school. "What's this word?" Darren asked, pointing to the page.
"Sedentary. It means sitting a lot, not doing much," George explained. "Something you aren't is sedentary. You tend to keep very active." Boy, did he ever. George pulled his attention away from the way Darren looked in his tight shirt, forcing himself to focus on the task. Besides, any interest in Darren outside of helping him with his reading would be highly improper. There was no doubt in his mind that Darren was gay--George's gaydar had been going off like a fire alarm ever since Darren had walked into the house--but George had no delusions that Darren would be interested in him anyway.
George continued listening as Darren read, and he continued to stumble over words, trying multiple times to read them and fumbling again. Sometimes they were more difficult words, but mostly, they were simple words. "You can stop," George said gently.
Darren signed and closed the book, resting his head on the table. "I told you I was stupid. The only thing I was ever good at was playing football, and now I can't do that either." George heard a small sniffle.
With stunning clarity, George realized he was watching this young man's life seemingly come apart before his eyes. The one thing he loved, that he was truly good at, that he excelled at above everything else, was now closed to him. "Darren, I want to try something, if you'll let me."
Darren lifted his head, looking heartbroken. He said nothing, but nodded slowly before thumping his head back onto the table.
"Okay." George handed him a piece of paper and a pencil. "I want you to write down the words as I say them." Darren took the pencil and paper and George said a few words, some easy and some harder. Darren wrote them down and George took the paper when they were through. Darren's handwriting was definitely pinched and tentative, but for the most part he'd spelled the words right, or at least he'd come pretty close. "Look. You got almost all the words right, and you missed spelling excellent by only one letter. You did pretty well," George said with a smile. "Now I'm going to write down some words." George took a second to write as Darren watched him, expression wary. "This isn't a test and there are no wrong answers. I just have a hunch and I'm hoping I'm right." He handed the paper to Darren upside down. "What I want you to do is write down on your paper exactly what you see. Don't try to figure out what the words are because they aren't necessarily words, okay?"
"Yeah, I'll try," Darren said with no enthusiasm whatsoever.
"Darren, that's yes, not yeah, and try a little more enthusiasm." George could feel the excitement inside building. Helping kids was what he loved most, and the idea that he could actually help Darren had his heart pounding.
"Okay, yes," Darren said a little snappily.
"If you're going to be on television you not only have to be able to read, but speak properly as well," George explained patiently.
"Sorry," Darren answered and George looked at him, waiting. "I'm sorry," Darren corrected on his own, and George smiled and nodded his encouragement.
"Remember, there are no wrong answers; just write down what you see." George turned over the page and Darren started writing, tongue sticking out between his lips, pencil scratching on the paper in the quiet room.
"Here." Darren handed back the sheet. "I know everything's wrong," he added, sounding defeated.
George looked over the work and smiled. Darren had mixed up the groups of letters, getting some right and coming close with others. "Let me ask you something." George touched Darren's arm to get his attention, the warm skin against his hand making him wonder what the rest of Darren would feel like. He forced his mind back to the topic. "Has anyone ever worked with you on your reading? Did anyone ever help you when you were in school?"
Darren shrugged. "No. The coaches just cared if I could play so they helped me with the tests, memorizing answers and stuff like that. Why?" Suddenly Darren seemed interested.
"I think you may be dyslexic. It's a learning barrier and it means that the letters get mixed up between your eyes and your brain."
"You mean I'm stupid," Darren commented softly.
"No. Many smart people, including geniuses, are dyslexic, and it's nothing to be ashamed of." George stood up, walking to the kitchen counter, his temper flaring, and without thinking he banged a fist on the counter, making both him and Darren jump. "Sorry. But things like this make me angry as hell. Someone should have found this years ago, like when you were in third grade." George pounded the counter again before turning to Darren. "I'd like to have you tested properly just to confirm what I'm thinking, but if I'm right, I can help you."
"How?" Darren asked, bewildered. There was a glimmer of hope in his eyes.
"I've been where you are because I'm dyslexic too. I learned how to deal with it and eventually, with practice, I've been able to retrain my brain. If that's what this is, I can help you too."
"Okay," Darren answered. "What do I have to do?"
"Can you meet me at my school at four tomorrow?" George asked, and Darren answered by nodding his head. "Then I'll ask one of my colleagues to help test you. We'll know pretty quickly if I'm right and then we can develop exercises and things to help you."
"You mean I'm not stupid?" Darren's mouth practically hung open.
"No, you're not stupid." George reiterated as softly as he could, "You were the victim of an education system that never looked past the fact that you could play football." Darren looked up at him, confused, and George walked back to his chair, limping slightly. "Your teachers all looked past your grades and boredom because you could run fast and play well. They never did their job, which was to figure out why you were having trouble. Your coaches never helped, because all they wanted was for you to keep playing."
"Now I can't play anymore. I don't have football and I don't have an education either." Darren looked as defeated as George would have in his situation.
"But we can start to change that." George wrote down the directions to his school and his cell phone number. "Call me when you arrive and I'll introduce you to Mark. He's the developmental specialist." George stood up and Darren did the same. "Just don't be late."
"I won't." Darren smiled, big and bright, and George couldn't help returning it, hoping there would be more of those smiles thrown his way. "I can let myself out." George watched Darren's backside as he walked out of the room and it wasn't until he heard the front door close that he realized he'd been holding his breath.
With Darren gone, George made himself some dinner and settled back at the table to spend the rest of the night grading papers and putting together lesson plans. Not very exciting, he knew, but there was never enough time during the day for him to plan and he almost never got a chance to grade papers. Heck, it was only during gym and art when the kids were out of the room that he really got a chance to breathe at all.
It was only after hours of work that George felt caught up. Getting up from the table, he put his dishes away before limping down the hall to the bathroom. He needed a good soak and an even better night's sleep. But all he got every time he tried to relax were visions of Darren's bright eyes and that smile. Slipping beneath the covers, he couldn't stop himself from wondering if he'd ever find someone who would smile at him every day the way Darren had smiled just that once.