Confession: I am not a U2 fan. But in every version of the Foxes' playlist this has been David's theme song. It got hooked into place when I heard the lines Listen to me now. I need to let you know: you don't have to go it alone. The rest of it is hit and miss, but it's still appropriate in a lot of ways. None of the Foxes have positive relationships with their fathers--half of them don't even know who their fathers are.
Anyway, I digress.
Here's a story (that took too long to write, for how short & rough it is) of how David Wymack meets Andrew's group. Takes place shortly after Kevin & Andrew's first meeting.
He caught up to them at Subway. The place was busy but not crowded, as the dinner hour had peaked an hour and a half ago. Andrew was the only one who noticed the arrival of one more body; he flicked an instinctive look David's way before turning back to the glass case in front of him. David Wymack stood off to one side, folder safely tucked one arm and hands in his pockets. He kept his eyes on the menu as if considering his options but tracked the cousins' progress in his peripheral vision.
Andrew was the first to peel away from the counter. He detoured to the nearest open booth, slid his tray across the table so recklessly it almost slid off the edge and onto one of the seats, and carried his empty cup to the drinks station. As soon as he turned away David helped himself to Andrew's table. He snagged the corner of Andrew's tray and pulled it back to a safe distance. By the time he looked up Andrew was already back, his plastic cup only a quarter full.
"Oh, perhaps I blinked," Andrew said with wide-eyed surprise. "I did not see you sitting here."
"I got here after you did." David cast a critical eye over Andrew's sandwich—bread, lettuce, and jalapenos? Seriously?—then pried open the bag of chips. He helped himself to one and arched a brow up at Andrew. "Get your drink and sit down."
"But I am no longer thirsty." Andrew set his cup to one side, plucked his chips from David's unresisting fingers, and dumped the bag onto the tabletop in front of David. A quick slap of his hand crunched most of the chips into unappetizing chunks. Andrew wiped his hand off on one jeaned thigh and sat opposite David. He gave the empty chip bag a considering look before dropping it on the floor. "Hello. I don't know you."
David leaned over, scooped the bag off the floor, and tossed it onto Andrew's tray. He glanced toward Nicholas and Aaron, who were eyeing him as they filled their cups. Aaron's stony expression wasn't promising, but Nicholas looked at least a little curious to see a stranger sitting with his wilder cousin. David turned back on Andrew, who was still watching him with a too-wide smile on his face.
"You're Andrew Minyard," David said, and rattled off Andrew's statistics from memory.
The numbers were impressive, especially considering Andrew only had two seasons' experience with the Macon High Eagles, but Andrew waved it off with a flick of his fingers. It wasn't modesty; it was apathy. Andrew took no pride or satisfaction at being first-ranked goalie in the southeast. Coach Felder had said it, but David didn't believe it until he had seen Andrew play. Andrew defended his goal like it was a minor inconvenience.
"I know all that," Andrew said, and pressed again. "I don't know you."
"I'm your new coach."
"Felder is quitting?" Andrew mimed scrubbing tears from one eye. "Alas, how sad, I'm sure an outcry was heard across the state! Ah, but I lie. No one will actually miss him. But odd timing, yes, to quit this time of year? And odd of you to waste your time with me. I am a senior, you see, and they are desperate to let me graduate. You would perhaps have better luck playing hello-how-are-you with the underclassmen. They will still be here next year. Good luck and goodbye."
David ignored the pointed dismissal. "Why don't you shut up for a moment and let me explain?"
"Hey, man." Nicholas had finally caught up to them. "We don't want any trouble, yeah?"
"Isn't that a first for you?" David asked. "What I've heard, you three attract trouble like you need it to breathe."
"You a cop?"
"He's a coach," Andrew said. "New Felder, he says."
"I said no such thing," David said. "Is Aaron coming or what? I'd like to get this conversation started at some point today."
"Oh, is he here?" Andrew asked. "Nicky, do us a favor."
Nicky looked to Aaron and jerked his chin in a come-hither. Aaron's expression didn't change but he obediently joined them at the table. David slid further down to make room, and Aaron took the spot beside him. Andrew got up to let Nicky take the inside seat before sitting cross-legged on the bench. David pushed crumbs out of his way while they got settled, trying to make room on the table for his paperwork. Aaron watched him in silence for a couple seconds, then reached out and swept all of the broken chips onto the floor.
"Glad to see good manners run in the family," David said.
"Go fuck yourself," Aaron said with more boredom than heat. "What do you want?"
"Like I said to Andrew here, I'm your new coach," David said. "The three of you are playing for Palmetto State University this fall."
"Uh," Nicky said, but it took a couple tries before he managed an uncertain, "What?"
Andrew slapped his fist into his palm in excited realization. "Wymack, David V. Foxhole Court. Last-ranked Class I school. Yes?"
David shouldn't be surprised. Considering his team's ugly reputation it wasn't farfetched to think even Andrew would recognize him with a little nudge. They played in the same state, after all. But Felder swore up and down Andrew could barely name half of his own teammates. David filed that away to think on later.
"That's right," David said. "I need a new defense line and last I heard you're still unclaimed."
"The three of us," Nicky repeated. "I think you pulled the wrong files, because I graduated a couple years ago."
"I already checked," David said. "You haven't aged out and you're not enrolled anywhere else yet. You're eligible for a little while longer."
"But I'm not—I mean, I'm just here in passing. I was planning on heading back to Germany this fall after the midget mites—uh, well—" Nicky made a hopeless gesture at the twins. His flailing confirmed what the high school counselor had said last month: neither Andrew nor Aaron had any concrete post-graduate plans. They hadn't applied to any schools and weren't employed anywhere that anyone knew of. "I've got a life there I kind of want to get back to."
"No one's keeping you here," Aaron said, a cool reminder that made Nicky grimace.
"I am," David said, and tipped his folder's contents onto the table. He didn't miss the way Nicky's gaze darted to the contracts. "Put Europe on pause; it'll still be there in five years. A free education and a chance to play with a Class I team isn't something you want to pass up."
Aaron's laugh was short and sharp. "Are we supposed to be flattered that you're inviting us to play with your trainwreck nobodies?"
"Harsh," Nicky said.
"It's true," Aaron said. "He's only here bothering us because we fit his loser profile."
David had heard a lot of rude things said about the Foxes since their inception, but few people were callous enough to say it to his face. Luckily he'd spent enough years wrangling difficult personalities that he could answer Aaron's mockery with a neutral expression and a calm, "Make the smart decision here. I'm offering you a full ride—everything from school supplies to meal plans and court gear. All you have to do is keep your grades up and play for my team. Give me one good reason why you'd turn me down."
"Is that true?" Andrew asked like David hadn't spoken. "You like us because we're losers?"
"If you were losers I wouldn't be here," David said. "Yes, I have recruiting standards, but your doppelganger here completely misunderstands them." Andrew gave an expansive gesture, inviting him to explain himself, but David wasn't waiting for his permission. "I look for people who've been given up on—people who've given up on themselves. The Foxhole Court is a place to regroup, to catch your breath and find your feet again. It's a second chance."
"It's a scam," Aaron said. "I don't know what sick pleasure you get out of watching people mock your reject team, but—"
"How curious," Andrew cut in. He propped his elbow on the table and cradled his face in his hand. "Maybe it is a marketing scheme? It must be fantastically successful if you've stuck with it this long. But Coach, oh Coach, be careful what you ask for, yes? You will bite off more than you can chew if you try to drag us into it."
David looked him dead in the eye. "Try me."
"You would put them all at risk." Andrew sounded almost admiring. "How single-minded."
"My team started paying attention to you when you spat on the Ravens," David said. "They know your reputation and they've heard every awful rumor. I told them I intended to sign you, and for the first time ever I let them vote on it. It was unanimous. It had to be if we were going to win the school board over."
"How many?" Andrew asked.
"Nine are staying on next year," David said.
"Hear that, Nicky? Nine people said we're not going to be a problem."
David corrected Andrew with a shake of his head. "Nine people said you would be a serious problem but one they were willing to live with. You three are the answer to an impossible problem. We need a cohesive defense line to rebuild our team around."
"And you came to us," Aaron said.
It wasn't quite an accusation, but David wondered what he'd missed. He'd talked to at least a dozen people at Macon before approaching his team with his decision. None of them, not Felder or the guidance counselors or the teachers, had reported any issues with the twins. They shared most of the same classes and traveled to and from school together. They complemented each other well on the court. Nicky wasn't a student, but he was the twins' legal guardian, so the principal and counselor had met him several times. Felder said Nicky came to almost every game, too, and he'd vouched for the easy relationship between the cousins.
"Yes," David said. "Your personal dramas are above my paygrade. I care about how you are on the court and I like what I see. I made my decision and I'll stand by it. Make yours, but do it fast. I won't wait forever."
"Got somewhere to be?" Andrew asked.
"The top," David said. "I'm tired of sitting around on my ass in the trenches."
"Oh, well, let us know how that works out for you." Andrew hooked a finger around the corner of his tray and pulled it in front of him. His other hand shooed David away like he was a bothersome gnat. "Goodbye, Coach David V. Wymack. I am going to eat now."
Aaron stood and gave a pointed gesture for David to beat it. David moved his stack of paperwork across the table to Nicky. Nicky leaned away from it with a quick glance at Andrew. Andrew didn't look up from where he was scattering lettuce and jalapenos all over his tray, but he smiled.
"My office number is inside," David said. "You've got one week."
He slid off the bench without another word but didn't go far. The people he needed now were in the booth right behind the cousins': Dan and Matt had come in while the trio were distracted and seized the best spot to eavesdrop. Judging by their tight expressions they weren't happy with what they heard. David didn't care. They'd been warned; they'd all been warned. Besides, it wasn't news how little disregard people held for the Foxes.
"What are you still sitting around for?" David asked them. "We're finished here, in case you two didn't notice."
"Finally," Dan said. "I'm starving."
"If you were starving you'd be moving faster."
Nicky and Aaron watched with blank faces as Matt and Dan got up to stand at David's side. Even Andrew looked up at this new development, and his smile was all teeth. Dan motioned for David to wait and turned a quelling stare on Aaron.
"Call us losers again," she said.
"You are losers," Aaron said, unashamed of being overheard. "Your record speaks for itself."
"So you're stupid and an asshole," Dan said, and put a finger in his face before he could retort. "Losers aren't people with weak statistics. Losers are people who won't try, who look at insurmountable odds and give up prematurely. My Foxes aren't losers. We put it all out there day after day because we believe there's got to be something better than this. It's not about getting there quickly; it's about sticking with this no matter how long the fight.
"We're fighters," she said with emphasis, and this time she looked each of the cousins in the eye. "We chose you because we thought you were, too. If you aren't, I'll rescind my vote. I don't have time to waste on people who are too scared to take risks."
"You must be on some fantastic drugs," Aaron said.
"It's called optimism," Nicky chipped in.
It was a funny thing to hear, because David had never considered Dan to be an optimist. Optimists believed things would pan out for the better. Dan forced her life to improve through sheer force of will and hard work. She knew nothing in life came free and was willing to shed blood, sweat, and tears to get what she wanted. It was why he'd given her his team; he wouldn't trust the Foxes in anyone else's hands.
"Oh, is that what that is?" Andrew asked. "I've never seen it up close before. Captain, how do you stay standing? Sounds exhausting, always thinking things will work out."
"It's far more exhausting to think things will stay the same," Dan said. "I've been there; I've done that. I've woken up and faced every day feeling like there was never going to be anything else. I'm over that and I'm never going back. Now it's your turn. Come with us."
"Maybe next time," Andrew said with a bright smile. "I am eating now. Goodbye."
Dan didn't look finished, but even she knew better than to push it. She looped her arm through Matt's and preceded David to the door. David sent one last look at the table, was satisfied by the way Nicky was holding onto the edge of the folder, and followed his Foxes out. Matt waited until they were in the car before speaking up.
"Think they'll sign?"
"They'd better," David said.
His temples twinged with the start of a tension headache as he turned the keys in the ignition. Finding Andrew's lot was a stroke of luck. David paid a couple guys to help him track high school Exy rankings across the US, but he handled all the South Carolina teams. David recognized Aaron's name after watching him slowly rise in the rankings these past four years. Aaron wouldn't have been his first choice—maybe closer to sixth or seventh—except last spring David turned his list one page too far and saw a new name in the goalkeeper rankings.
It might have been coincidence, but it wasn't. Andrew and Aaron Minyard were related. More importantly, they were twin brothers playing defense on the same team. Their junior year Andrew was the second-ranked goalkeeper in South Carolina and Aaron was a top-ten backliner. This year Andrew was first, with better statistics than either of David's current 'keepers. Andrew's percentages would likely drop when he had to face NCAA-ranked players, but David wasn't going to pass that talent up.
David spent the summer digging up their tapes and finding everything he could about them. What he unearthed gave him pause, not because he was swayed by Andrew's violent past but because he knew selling the school board on such a man would be borderline impossible. He tried looking elsewhere but kept coming back. Discovering Nicky Hemmick sealed the deal. Nicky was rusty but he'd had good statistics when he played backliner at Macon High. He and the twins were a complete set.
David meant what he told Andrew: the Foxes needed a solid defense line or they were finished. David's initial four-year contract was almost up and the Foxes were another rocky season away from being downgraded to Class II. The only way to save his job and the Foxes' ranking was to turn the team around. He needed a backbone to build his team around. Matt had heart-stopping talent, but he avoided his male teammates like the plague. Reggie and Damien were on a fast track down if they didn't clean up their act. He had suspicions they'd graduated past the pot the strikers preferred to harder substances, but he couldn't prove anything yet. They had until fall to sort it out before heads were going to roll.
Andrew's lot was the answer. David could feel it in his bones. Almost losing Andrew to Edgar Allan last month put more gray in his hair than the last ten years combined had. The very next day he'd sat Dan down and laid it all out for her. She'd been more excited than he was at the prospect of hauling in an entire family. Some of her enthusiasm had dimmed as the reality and rumors started to filter in, but she'd made her decision and would stick by it.
"They'll sign," Dan said.
David didn't think he was imagining the silent 'or else' following that confident declaration, but he wisely decided not to comment. The ball was in their court now. David had given them a week to respond but he honestly wasn't sure what he'd do if Andrew never got back to him. He had back-up choices, of course, who were all talented and would do well at the Foxhole Court, but he wanted—needed—the cousins to take the bait.
"Enough of this mess," David said, because he wasn't about to give himself an ulcer waiting by the phone for a week. "What are we eating?"
"Are you paying or is the school?" Dan asked. David fished the team's p-card out of his pocket and held it where she could see. "I vote lobster."
"Perfect," David said. "Beer's on me."
In the end, the beer tab ran almost as high as their food did, but David figured they deserved it after today's mess.
Saturday morning started the same as any other: David got up at four when his phone buzzed him awake, he detoured to the bathroom to piss and brush his teeth, and he headed to the kitchen just as his coffee maker finished gurgling. He'd have a mug, then go downstairs to get the paper and take his morning walk, and he'd be back in plenty of time for the morning news. It was a routine he'd adopted shortly after moving to South Carolina and David stuck to it whenever possible.
Today required a change of plans, because Andrew Minyard was sitting at his table with an ashtray and a familiar bottle of scotch. The last time David saw his Chivas it was unopened and locked in his glass liquor cabinet. Now it was well on its way to being half-empty. David wasn't sure what to react to first, the break-in or the blatant theft of his liquor. Either one required more caffeine than was presently in his system. He settled for scowling at Andrew on his way to the cabinets.
Andrew grinned in response and stubbed his cigarette out. "Hello, Coach. I let myself in. You don't mind, do you? I didn't think you would."
"That depends," David said. "Did you break anything?"
"Not yet," Andrew said. "I didn't see anything of value."
"Except the seal on my Chivas."
"Oh, yes. Except that. If you need it back it's in the trash can by your desk."
"So you do know how to use a trash can."
"I learn something new every day."
David filled the biggest mug he could find and sat opposite Andrew. "I don't remember giving you my address." The smile on Andrew's face said he wasn't going to get an explanation for that one, so David continued, "And last I checked there was a fence around this complex. Whose card did you steal to get through the gate?"
"The fence isn't that tall."
"You scaled it?" David arched a brow at him. "You could have just called my office during normal business hours. It would have been easier."
"How boring. This is more interesting, don't you think?" Andrew gestured between them. "That's important, you see. I like things that are interesting. I have a very weak attention span, Coach. Boring things are a waste of my time. Perhaps it's a side effect of this?" He twirled his finger by his ear as if calling himself crazy, but David didn't know if he was referring to his issues or the medicine his lawyer signed him up for. "I can't remember. Too much time up, up, up. Don't remember what the ground is like anymore. They say it's for the best."
"Do you agree?"
Andrew laughed. "Above your paygrade, Coach. Remember? That's not why I'm here."
"Then why are you here?"
Andrew leaned forward and motioned to David as if trying to urge him closer. "They're saying this is the end of your Foxes. One more season and you're out. They'll rebuild this place from the ground up and they'll make it in their uppity image. They'll spend the next twenty years trying to scrub your failure from the rafters and fifty years overcoming your reputation. I imagine they can't wait."
David refused to take the bait. "I said, why are you here?"
"Because I like the way you say please," Andrew said. "Noose already around your neck but you look at us and say Fuck you, I need you, but I'm not going to beg. Pride? Stupidity? I don't know. But I know that you have nothing without me. Nicky wants you. Aaron is unconvinced. Neither of them will sign with you unless I tell them it is okay. Therefore, this.
"Are you listening?" Andrew leaned back in his chair. "I don't like Exy, and I don't need a higher education. If I sign your papers it will be for the entertainment value. It's a big 'if', Coach. The papers you left are for a five-year contract. Five years! I've never been anywhere for five years. It's a miracle I've lasted two in Columbia. You really think you can keep my attention that long?"
"Yes," David said.
His immediate response earned him another toothy grin. "Such confidence."
"You haven't met my Foxes," David said. "They're interesting."
"Not a word the press has ever used on them."
"Don't believe everything the press has to say."
"I don't believe anything anyone has to say. I believe myself only occasionally."
"I can't imagine why."
"You aren't afraid of me," Andrew said. He knocked back the rest of the scotch he'd poured and got up. David watched over the rim of his coffee mug as Andrew came around the table. Andrew hoisted himself up onto the table beside David's chair and tilted forward to get right in David's face. "Curiosity killed the cat, maybe? But indulge me and my self-destructive tendencies. Why aren't you?"
"When you've lived as long as I have, you'll understand," David said.
"How is your balance?"
"I have a bad hip," David said. "Broke it in three places in a wreck several years back and it hasn't been the same since. This relevant at all to the current conversation?"
"It is a very fine line," Andrew said. "I'm wondering if you can balance on it."
"You'll have to elaborate."
"The last person who thought I wasn't worth fearing spent two days in an ICU when I felt compelled to prove him wrong."
"Don't flatter yourself," David said. "You're a fucked-up druggie with a bloody past and every person I've talked to about you has advised me to walk away. They say you're dangerous. I've heard the rumors, but I don't care how many of them are true. I can't change the past; none of us can. All that matters is what we are now and where we stand to go from here. I am not afraid of you. I never will be."
"Then what are you afraid of?"
"I'm not particularly fond of cockroaches."
Andrew flashed a toothy grin and leaned back. "Oh, Coach. How unexpected. You might be growing on me."
"I am taking a chance on you," David said. "Take a chance on me and my Foxes. Sign the contract and play on my team."
"What will you give me in exchange?"
"Aside from a scholarship and a Class I record?"
"Neither of which means much to me," Andrew reminded him.
"What could you possibly want?"
Andrew considered it for an endless minute, staring at David and through him. Finally he dug something out of his pocket and set it upside-down on the table near David's mug. It was a medicine bottle—Andrew's prescription drugs. The bottle was nearly empty. At the rate Andrew was supposed to take them he'd be needing a refill before next week was out. David looked from the pills to Andrew and said,
"I can't take you off that."
"For another two years, no," Andrew agreed. "But perhaps you'll loosen the chain a bit. Are you willing to let me off this on game nights?"
"Are you going to raze my stadium to the ground and slaughter my Foxes if you're sober?"
"Maybe," Andrew said with a shrug. "But don't fret. I wouldn't be sober, see. They knew what they were doing when they chose this drug. Find the man who made these pills and give him a medal; can't stay off them long enough to get sober. I tried it six times just to see if I could. No good, Coach. No fun at all."
"I need an able-bodied goalkeeper and a strong defense line," David said. "Why should I sign you if you want to cripple yourself on game nights?"
"You don't think," Andrew said. "I told you, didn't I? I don't like Exy. I don't like teams; I don't like teamwork. I was not born and raised to be a team player. You want me to do them any good you have to narrow the playing field. When I crash the only thing I feel is me, and I will do what comes naturally."
Andrew's smile was wide. "Fight everyone who thinks he can best me."
David said nothing for a while, weighing the pros and cons and adding up the hundred things that could go wrong with this scenario. "What if you're caught?"
"They won't catch me."
"My Foxes will," David said. "I won't let you on my court like that without warning them. They need to know who's guarding their backs."
Andrew shrugged again, like it was all the same to him. David emptied his coffee and got up for a refill. He put the coffee pot back, drummed his fingers on the side of his mug, and turned back on Andrew. Andrew was getting into the Chivas again, but now he was drinking from the bottle. David considered calling him out on it. He refrained only because he was sure Andrew was trying to get a rise out of him. David wasn't going to give him that satisfaction.
"Okay," David said. "You can come off it for game nights under two conditions: you don't get caught, and you keep your stats up. The second you start wrecking my games I'll bench you. You can go through withdrawal on the sidelines."
"So demanding," Andrew said, but he didn't sound bothered. "But fair enough for now."
"For now?" David asked.
Andrew got to his feet, screwed the cap back onto the Chivas, and shoved his pills back into his pocket. He padded out of the kitchen, taking the whiskey with him. David followed him to the front door, a little bit jarred by the abrupt end to their conversation. He wasn't entirely convinced Andrew really was leaving until Andrew was out the door.
Andrew stopped a couple feet into the hallway. "The contracts are on your desk. Nicky's number should be in there somewhere. Call him if you want to argue about the details; you bore me with it and I'll just hang up on you. Yes?" Andrew looked back at him to see if he understood, then said, "You've got my attention, Coach. Can you hold it?"
"As long as I have to," David said.
Andrew's grin was all teeth. "We'll see."
David watched until he'd disappeared into the elevator, then closed and locked the door. He went down the hall to his office and found a stack of signed paperwork on his desk. He sifted through it, making sure everything was in order, and sat down when he was done. He stared through the far wall for a few minutes. Finally he reached for his phone and dialed Dan's number from memory.
She answered on the third ring with a slurred, "It's early, Coach."
"I've got you a defense line," David said.
Dan whooped—ragged with sleep but triumphant—and David knew he'd made the right decision. The risks were negligible compared to what the Foxes stood to gain. For a moment David felt real hope: that the Foxes' chances would improve, that the ERC would give them more time, that Palmetto State's board wouldn't terminate him at the end of the next year. He forced it all aside because hope only set people up for disappointment.
"Go back to sleep," David said. "We've got a lot to talk about Monday."
"Yes, Coach," Dan said.
David hung up, sat at his desk for a little longer, and then decided his routine could kiss it. He cracked open his liquor cabinet, pulled out the most expensive bottle he had in stock, and spent the rest of the day watching recordings of the Foxes' fall games. It wasn't healthy and definitely wasn't practical, but there was no way he'd rather spend his day than reliving every moment of his team's savage efforts.