By Jack Orleans
Fling yourself over the pole,” Coach says.
She knows Coach likes her body, otherwise he wouldn’t say “fling” that way. He wouldn’t put so much breath into it. He says fling that way because his eyes are glued to her chest, watching her breasts arch over the pole on the up, and droop on the down, sending shocks through both of them.
There’s a tournament in a few weeks, but still, Coach’s attention isn’t normal.
He stops her before she leaves the gym. “You did so well,” he says. “Let me take you out for coffee so we can discuss your strategy.” Nobody else is invited for coffee, even though Ashley does better on the jumps. But the tantalizing hope that she may place first wins out over any qualms she has with his invitation. He puts his hand on her upper back and gently guides her out and into his car. Nothing wrong so far, though there’s a nagging feeling she can’t shake.
But it’s Coach. She’s never had a reason to mistrust him.
Coach’s car is a Cadillac. It’s white with cream leather.
They zoom past the cafe where she assumed they’d get their coffee, and she cranes her neck to watch it pass. “I want to take you to my garden first,” Coach says. “It’s just a little further south.”
He pulls into the driveway of a house whose yard is entirely planted with flowers.
“Whose house is this?” she asks.
“Oh, it’s mine,” says Coach as he gets out of the car.
She unbuckles her seatbelt, but stays put and looks out at the flowerbed. An array of multi-colored flowers—some tall, some short—are planted in a sort of spiral that culminates in the middle. Her glasses are back in her gym locker, so it’s not easy to tell what’s all planted there, but the center flower is obviously something special.
She wonders why she’s here. Why Coach wants to show her his garden.
All of a sudden she’s filled with dread, realizing she wasn’t invited here to talk strategy.
She opens the door to tell Coach she wants to leave. Her dad is expecting her at home to help make dinner for her brother.
Coach acts like he doesn’t hear. Instead he says, “Take off your shoes. I want you to feel the grass with your bare feet.”
She follows his instruction like she does at practice.
The grass tickles her ankles as she follows Coach around the spiral to the middle. She tells him again that she needs to get home.
Trancelike, Coach stares down at the single flower in the middle of the yard. He stretches his hand down to it and strips off the petals’ wax between his fingernails, then cups the petaled secret in his hands, jerking away whenever she tries to get a closer look.
“Do you know what this is?” he asks.
“It’s an orchid,” she says, wondering if Coach has lost his mind. Why was he showing her an orchid? And who would’ve guessed this stocky athletic man nurtures flowers as a hobby?
“Do you know what’s special about orchids?” he asks.
“What?” she says, humoring him, because she’s beginning to believe he’s just lonely and wants to impress someone.
“They don’t have thin roots, like most flowers,” he replies. “They have one long, thick root that juts into the soil.” He bends down again and pulls the entire plant upward, exposing a single, rigid root.
The orchid seems to contort itself away from him. It may just be her imagination, but the flower doesn’t seem to enjoy being held that way.
“Do you know why they’re called orchids?” he asks.
“Why?” she says, getting antsy.
Coach looks up and into her eyes, says, “It comes from the Greek word for testicle: orkhis.”
Her insides jump, and a small voice whispers in her head, This isn’t okay.
But what exactly isn’t okay? He’s only talking about a flower. Mr. Macho Coach is talking about a flower.
“Are you okay?” he asks.
She says, “Yes, but I really need to be going.”
“Okay,” he says, “Let’s head back.”
In the car he fumbles with the keys then makes a show about noticing the splatters of dirt on her thighs from the garden.
“You should’ve told me,” he says. “Let’s go inside and get you cleaned up first. Don’t want to send you home like that.”
She tells him it’s fine. To which he insists it’s no big deal, to which she tells him no. To which he insists she needs cleaning up and makes the decision for her by getting out of the car and walking up to the porch, turning with a smile to gesture her inside his small brown tudor house.
She sighs, her heart racing. She realizes she forgot her phone, along with her glasses, back in her locker. Maybe she can find a way to use his phone. Have someone come pick her up.
She gets out of the car and walks straight to the bathroom to scrub off the mud.
Meanwhile, Coach keeps asking what she needs. “Towel?” he says through the crack of the door.
There’s a towel hanging on a wall hook.
There’s a near-full bar of soap on the tray in the shower. It’s almost as though he’s attempting to catch a glimpse or two.
Once dried off, she opens the bathroom door quietly, hoping to find a landline to make a discreet call.
Instead she finds Coach standing at the end of the hall with a full glass of red wine held out to her. He puts it in her hand and lifts another full glass from a nearby bar cart for himself. “Let’s make a toast before we head out,” he says with a half-smile, his eyes shifting back and forth, not focusing on her.
She raises her eyebrows. “A toast?” she asks, unsure.
“To the tournament,” he declares. “Come, come. Let’s sit in the living room like civilized people.”
She sits down on the couch and stares at the clock on the mantle, checking to see that she didn’t get lodged in time. Coach pushes her glass toward her mouth. She tries to clench her lips, but the earthy wine passes onto her tongue.
She sips slow. She asks, “What year is the wine?” trying to look like a stoic. She feels stuck. Petrified.
“1988—from Edinburgh,” he says. “Oh, but you wanted whiskey right? I’ll get whiskey.”
He gets up, walks to the bar cart, returns. “You’ll like this one—Chateau Montelena.”
The scotch bubbles into the glass.
The booze burns into her. It’s the first time she’s tasted anything harder than Heineken, but it feels safer to take deep breaths and let him think otherwise.
She stares at the Venetian blinds that are lit up beside her by the sunset and says to them in her mind, Nothing’s ever happened, and nothing will.
“It’s good, yeah?” Coach says. She nods. He nudges close to her on the couch and she moves away. He moves closer, she moves farther. She’s at the edge of the couch, squeezed between an armrest and Coach’s thigh. He nudges even closer though there’s no space left to nudge. She keeps her eyes fixed on the clock.
“Coach?” she blurts out, “Can I use your phone?”
“Shh,” he says. “Just relax. You ask too many questions.” He takes a big gulp from his glass of wine.
Too many? she thinks. She feels sick. She pushes herself up to go be sick in the bathroom. Coach catches her arm, but when he sees that she’s dry heaving he lets her go.
The air feels muggy and everything around her grows distant. In the bathroom she descends into a stupor—comes to a few times to throw up, and then blacks out.
She wakes the next morning, back at home. But the button on her jeans is a bit too far to the right.
Her memory is fuzzy, but she knows intuitively that something awful happened last night with Coach.
Coach the botanist.
Coach the thief, who’d claimed her future like he’d claimed the orchid in his garden, wrenching away her chance to grow and flourish.
She sees the minute change on the alarm clock by her bed. The numbers wiggle and swirl, and then grow dim.
Jack can’t seem to fall asleep. He takes the bus late to have coffee. While taking the bus, he’s happy until someone fucks up on the bus. After, he’s happy but with caveats. He knows that he’d be awake regardless of having had coffee. He prefers to be awake and alert over awake and tired. He just doesn’t know what he wants, but it better involve lots of undeserved perks or skymiles.