The Failing Hours Page 2

The veins in Coach’s neck strain as he fights to gain control of the impromptu meeting he’s called me into. I’m not in the mood to listen.

With nothing to add, I keep my damn mouth shut, instead giving a terse nod.

“I said, are you listening to me, son?”

I want to remind him that I’m not his son—not even close. My own father doesn’t even call me son.

Not that I’d want him to.

Jaw locked, teeth clenched. “Yes, sir.”

“Now, I don’t know where that chip on your shoulder comes from, and I’m not going to pretend to give a crap about what goes on when you leave here, but I’ll be damned if I stand by and watch one of my boys self-destruct in my gym.” His weathered skin stretches along with the grimly set line of his mouth.

He continues. “You think you’re the first prick to come through this program thinking his shit don’t stink? You’re not, but you are the first prick to come with an attitude I can’t seem to quit. You’re also one sarcastic wisecrack away from getting a fist slammed through your pretty face. Even your own teammates don’t like you. I can’t have discord on my team.”

My jaw ticks when I clench it, but having nothing to say in defense, I clamp my mouth shut.

He rankles on.

“What’s it going to take to get through to you, Mr. Daniels?”

Nothing. You’ve got nothing that will fucking get through to me, old man.

He tips back in his old wooden desk chair and studies me, fingers clasped into a steeple. Balancing on the legs, Coach taps his chin with the tips.

It’s on the verge of my tongue to tell him if he wants to get through to me, he can stop calling me Mister Daniels. Second, he can cut the bullshit and tell me the reason he pulled me into his office after practice.

After a long stretch of silence, he leans forward, the springs on his chair emitting a loud, scraping metallic sound, his arms coming to rest on the desktop. His hands glide over a sheaf of paper and he plucks one off the top.

“Tell ya what we’re going to do.” He pushes the paper toward me across the desk. “The director of Big Brothers Mentorship Program owes me a favor. You have any experience with kids, Daniels?”

I shake my head. “No.”

“Do you know what Big Brothers is?”

“No, but I’m sure you’re about to enlighten me,” I retort, unable to stop myself. Crossing my arms, I adopt a defensive pose most people find intimidating.

Not Coach.

“Allow me to educate you, Mr. Daniels. It’s a program designed to match a youngster with an older volunteer—such as yourself—that acts as a mentor. Hang out with the kid. Show him he’s not alone. Be someone dependable that isn’t going to bail. Typically, they’re good kids from single-parent households, but not always. Sometimes the kids are left alone, deadbeat dads, that sort of thing. Sometimes their parents just don’t care and they’re left to fend for themselves. Know what that’s like that, son?”

Yes. “No.”

The sadist drones on, shuffling the stack on his desk. “There’s an interview process I think you’d fail with flying colors, so we’re cutting through the red tape and pulling some strings. You know why? Because you have potential to be successful and you’re pissing it away by being a callous little asshole.”

His chair creeks in the cellblock of an office. “Maybe what you need is to give a shit about someone other than yourself for a change. Maybe what you need is to meet a kid whose life is shittier than yours. Your pity party is over.”

“I don’t have time to volunteer, Coach,” I grit out.

Coach grins up at me from his desk, the overhead lights reflecting off his thick glasses. “Too goddamn bad then, ain’t it? You either take the volunteer hours, or you’re off the team. I don’t need a smoking gun on my hands. Trust me, we’d find a way to carry on without you.”

He waits for my answer, and when I don’t immediately respond, he presses. “Think you can handle that? Say, Yes, Coach.”

I nod tersely. “Yes, Coach.”

“Good.” Satisfied, he grabs a yellow No. 2 pencil and tosses it at me. “Fill that sheet out and take it with you. You meet your Little Brother tomorrow at their downtown office. Address is on the form.”

Reluctantly, I snatch the pencil and paper off the desk but don’t look at it.

“Don’t be late. Don’t fuck this up. Tomorrow afternoon you’re going to see how the other half lives, got it son?” I nod. “Good. Now get the fuck out of my office.”

I glower down at him.

His raspy chuckle hits my back when I turn toward the door. “And Mr. Daniels?”

I stop in my tracks but refuse to face him.

“I know it will be hard, but try not to be total prick to the kid.”

Coach is a total asshole.

Not that I give a shit, because I’m an asshole, too. There isn’t much I care about these days, so why would he think I’d care about some fucking kid? Especially one being forced on me?

My friends call me merciless; they claim cold blood runs through my veins, that I’m impossible to get close to.

But I like it that way; I like creating distance. No one needs me, and I need them even less. Happiness is a myth. Who needs it? This anger brewing inside me is more tangible than any happiness I’ve forgotten how to feel, never having been anything but alone.

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