All of the impossible things of the Foxhole stories, all of the liberties I've taken, all of the convenient, self-indulgent bloodbaths--and Wymack is still one thing I find the most unbelievable. In the best of ways, but still. He is probably the only positive father figure I will ever write.
I can't tell anymore how strong his presence is in the book; I've rewritten the trilogy so many times I can't always tell how much has been left on the cutting room floor. I read and reread but I read between the lines to the dozen-odd backstories, the hundred-odd scenes I've pulled and set aside. All I can do is hope he shines through as the one piece the Fox line cannot exist without.
One Fox in particular would be nothing and no one without him. I've always loved Dan & Wymack's relationship, but every draft pushes it further and further into the background. A couple years back I tried to write Dan's story for NaNoWriMo. I never got far, just barely far enough to win NaNo, and I regret that. I wanted not only to have a "girl power" sports story but to have more time to explore their relationship. It's too personal to be father/daughter, too devoted to be coach/captain. D.W. & D.W.
Also: Dan is also the only Fox who knows Wymack's story. Wymack and Neil touch on Wymack's family in Raven King, but only in passing. Dan is the only Fox Wymack's ever felt compelled to explain himself to in full.
Here's how they first met. It's a little rough, because I've never properly edited it, but. Also, it was written so long ago the timeline is off a little bit, but the general idea is still the same.
(Dan ended the last game of her high school career with a fight, which is what Wymack is referring to)
Dan got home at five Sunday morning, and she knew as she stepped through the trailer door that something wasn't right. For starters, the trailer was clean, and Cathy had never been a tidy person. The kitchen counters were cleared and wiped down, the table chairs were neatly in place, and the living room had been straightened. On the heels of surprise was anger, and Dan wondered who Cathy had been so eager to clean for. It was almost enough for her to turn the entire mobile home on its head again, except Cathy's bedroom door was open, which meant she was alone.
Someone knocked at her door, and Dan rethought her murderous impulses. She undid the locks and yanked the door open. There was a streetlamp at the corner, so it was easy enough to see Cathy's newest suitor. He was older than Dan expected—twice her age at least. He hadn't shaved in a day or two, and he had two cigarettes going, one perched between his lips and the other safely tucked between his fingers. He was dressed in ragged jeans and a sweater that had seen better days, and he stood with a folder propped under one arm.
"I think you're lost," Dan said.
"You have a nice right hook," he responded.
"If you want another look at it, I'm happy to oblige."
"Maybe in a minute. You going to invite me in or what? I'm freezing my balls off out here."
"No major loss there," Dan said coolly. He seemed startled for a moment, and then he grinned. It was a slow expression creeping across his mouth, and Dan had the distinct impression he was pleased. She tried to shut the door in his face, but he caught it with his hand. She raised her other fist in a warning. "Fuck off."
"Two minutes," he said.
"She's asleep. I'm not waking her up."
"I'm not here for her," he said. "She said you'd be back about this time, so I've been waiting."
"You're a real creeper, aren't you?" Dan demanded. "I don't know what the fuck she offered you, but—"
"Hi, can I finish?" he interrupted. "How about I talk, then you talk, since what I have to say is infinitely more interesting?"
"How about you go home and leave me alone, because I'm not interested?"
"I'm asking for two minutes."
She stared at him, fighting the urge to just hit him in the face, and said, "Ten seconds."
"Good enough." He held out his hand but didn't wait for her to take it. "Coach David Wymack, Palmetto State University, South Carolina. I need someone to captain my Foxes next year. You feeling up to the job?"
The silence that followed that was absolute. Dan couldn't breathe; maybe it was because her heart was lodged in her throat. The stranger gazed back at her, content to wait it out. Dan swallowed hard, but there was still a hoarse edge in her voice when she said, "Is this your idea of a sick joke?"
"Jokes aren't my style." He gave up waiting for a handshake and offered her his folder instead.
Dan went through it with unsteady fingers, staring at the official letterheads and lengthy contract details. There were brochures for Palmetto State as well, and a course catalogue at the back. The man—coach—gave her a couple seconds to rifle through it before he started rattling away about some of the finer details. It was a full-ride scholarship for five years at Palmetto State. She'd never even heard of them, but apparently the Foxes were Class I.
"Dan is short for Danielle," Dan said hollowly. "My coach said universities almost never recruit girls."
"Fact," Wymack admitted.
"Fuck 'em," he said. "Gender doesn't mean anything to me. Kayleigh Day taught me how to play and I'm sure she'd have a thing or two to say about biased policies. I don't care what my school board wants—I care what my team needs. That means you."
Her mouth moved, but nothing came out. He gave her a minute to find her voice again, then asked, "You have a coffee maker in there? No? Then we're going. This conversation requires more caffeine."
He turned and went back down the stairs. Dan lingered for a moment longer, torn between disbelief and fear, and then ran to catch up.
Five a.m. was one of those rare lull hours at Jelly's Diner—after the late-night drinkers and night shift finally turned in but before most of the regular work crowd was out and about. Aside from the waitstaff Coach Wymack and Dan had the place to themselves aside. Wymack set them up in a corner booth and spread his paperwork out. Dan waved at her coffee to try cooling it off, but Wymack drained half of his like it wasn't scalding his tongue.
"Okay," he said. "I'll tell you what I need from you, then what's in it for you if you succeed. You can decide from there if it's a fair enough trade. Sound good?" She nodded, and he emptied the rest of his mug. A wave of his hand brought a waitress around for a refill, and he waited until she'd left before speaking again. "Have you heard of my school?"
"No," Dan admitted.
"Good," he said, to her surprise. He tapped his fingers on his mug, gaze distant as he thought. If he'd prepared a speech for her, he found it wanting now, and Dan wondered why he was having so much trouble finding a place to start. She wanted to tell him that it didn't matter what he said—he was offering her a way out of here. She'd put up with anything in exchange for that.
"Gandhi said, 'Be the change you want to see in the world'," Wymack said. "I don't think a man can change the world, but I know he can change his little corner of it. My corner is Palmetto State. The Foxhole Court is more than a stadium. It is a second chance. It is a halfway house for athletes who have nowhere else to go. I recruit orphans and victims and addicts and impoverished dreamers, and I give them five years to put their lives back together. Five years to learn self-worth and self-confidence and how to respect those around them. I give them the means, but I cannot show them the way. That is what I need from you.
"I can't give you a team except in name. The Foxes are a new team; this past fall was their first season. As you might expect, we have… kinks to work out." He considered that and huffed a bit. "I'm offering you a collection of talented individuals who have no concept of teamwork or trust, and no real desire to learn either one. I am asking you to help me make a difference. I need you to inspire them. I need you to lead them. I need you to make them believe. It is not going to be easy," he cautioned her. "You'll be fighting your team and your team's reputation, and the latter will take years to turn around."
Dan idly wondered if she was asleep, because this was too strange to be real. "You already have a reputation?"
"Consensus is that we should withdraw our team from the NCAA. We scored straight losses last season, including two forfeits when half the Foxes decided they didn't want to show up for the games." He dug cigarettes out of his pocket, belatedly remembered he was in a no-smoking establishment, and tossed the pack onto the table. "I don't care what the reporters say, or what the athletic board says, or what any of our rivals say, but that's me. You, as the team's captain, are going to shoulder some of that burden. You're going to be harassed for being female, for being a Fox, for a thousand reasons you can't even imagine yet. I need to know that you're going to be okay, too."
It was the second time he'd called her captain. Dan swallowed hard. "What about this year's captain?"
"Quit," Coach said breezily. "We started with eleven players last year. Two left in December. Four have made it clear they're leaving in May. I warned you: kinks." He emptied his coffee again, and Dan had the niggling sensation he wished it was something harder. "I'm recruiting six more for this year: three girls, three boys. I've edited the contract, too, to make it harder for my players to walk out on me."
"Why me?" she wanted to know. "You shouldn't even know I exist."
"That's where we're both lucky," Wymack said. "I was at your game Thursday monitoring the West Jackson goalkeeper. I saw how you played, and I liked what I saw. I spent Friday and Saturday asking around about you, getting people's opinions and borrowing tapes. Your teammates had nothing but praise for you."
Dan wasn't expecting that, and she had to look away. She hid her face in her coffee cup. The rush she felt wasn't quite pain, wasn't really pride. "Do you mean what you're saying?" she asked. "About your team, I mean. Your little foster system wannabe thing."
"Every word," Wymack said.
"Why?" she pressed. "What's in it for you?"
He considered it, and she liked him a little bit more for that. She let him mull his reasons over. "Redemption, perhaps," he said. "The ability to sleep at night."
She lifted her chin, met his stare boldly, and said again, "Why?"
He didn't answer her immediately. He studied the bottom of his empty coffee cup, searching it for answers, and finally beckoned for the waitress to refill it. He held it while she poured, cradling it in one big hand, and nodded absently when she left.
"I'm going to tell you a story," he said, carefully setting his mug to one side, "if you can tolerate me talking about myself for a while. It's a bit cliché, but it's the only one I've got."
Dan nodded, but she wasn't sure if it was encouragement or acknowledgment that he was sharing something very personal.
"My mother was fifteen when she had me. She never finished high school—she dropped out her freshman year when she got pregnant. My father was seven years older than she was and was pressured by parents on both side to marry her. When they met, he was a lousy drunk. By the time I was eight, he'd moved on to other things and brought my mother with him: LSD and ecstasy and huffers and whatnot. When I was twelve, he started on PCPs. And that… Well, let's just say he went from being angry and useless to being violent and insane.
"I was fourteen when he took my mother's eyes out with a corkscrew," Wymack said. Dan recoiled, mouth open on a horrified protest she didn't have the air for. "I beat the ever-living shit out of him and threw him out of the house. Not quite sure how," he mused. "He was a big fucker." He considered the backs of his hands as if looking for his father's blood on his knuckles, then shrugged it off as unimportant.
"I stayed at the hospital with my mother that night. The following morning, when we were talking about what had happened and what we were supposed to do next, she looked at me and said, 'Don't worry. You'll never amount to anything, either.' They were the last words she ever said to me. I moved out that same day and never looked back. I didn't see her again until her funeral."
"I'm sorry," Dan said through numb lips.
He shrugged. "I moved up to Baltimore. Lived on the street part of the time and at the local shelters the rest. I picked up a couple odd jobs and went back to school when my bosses pushed me to. Got into sports and finally found my niche. My junior and senior years I helped coach the local little leagues. I went to college knowing I wanted to be a coach, but it wasn't until Exy hit the States that I figured out what to specialize in.
"I've been coaching Exy for about nineteen years now," he said. "I started with neighborhood teams in New York City. Amazing people, but it didn't make enough money to pay rent. Worked my way into the high school systems and now I'm here, with a Class I university team. And since I have the chance to start a team from scratch, I'm going to build it however I see fit.
"Long story short, moral of the monologue, whatever: I am living proof that success is not determined by socioeconomic status," he said, stabbing the table with his finger. "I am proof that big dreams don't belong to those with the easiest means of achieving them. All it takes is heart—knowing what you want and having the fortitude to go for it day after day, no matter the odds.
"So you tell me," he challenged her, "what do you want more than anything?"
Dan floundered, but only for a moment. She'd been living with this ache for so long, she knew the words by heart. "I want someone to give me a chance. I want someone to believe in me."
"Danielle Wilds," Wymack said, speaking slowly to give his words emphasis, "I will never give up on you."
Looking into his eyes, Dan knew that was the truth. She had no reason to believe him, but she knew with every fiber of her being that he was the real thing. Her vision blurred. She blinked to clear it, and a hot tear streaked down her cheek. She scrubbed it away with an impatient hand and swallowed against the tightness in her throat.
"I don't care what anyone says about the Foxes," she said thickly. "I want to believe in the impossible. I want to be something. I want my chance to change a piece of the world. Let me have your team and I'll make of it whatever you want."
"Yeah," he said, studying her with a distant look on his face. "I think you just might."