Because of him I almost didn’t bother going out for the team when I transferred to Briar, but I knew the program’s reputation and had heard good things. Coach Jensen was a relief. He can be hard on us, but he’s never malicious. Never so focused on sport he forgets he’s coaching real people. One thing I’ve never doubted is that Coach Jensen cares about every one of these guys. Even busted Hunter out of jail last semester. For that, we’d follow him anywhere, toenails be damned.
“Alright, that’s it for today. I want everyone to check in with the nutritionist and make sure you’re clear on the meal plans for the next few weeks. We’re going to be pushing ourselves harder than we have all season. That means I want you guys taking care of your bodies. If you’ve got bangs and bumps, get with the trainers and have them evaluated. Now’s not the time to hide any issues. Every man needs to know he can count on the guy next to him. Okay?”
“Hey, Coach?” Hunter speaks up. He sighs, cringing. “The guys were wondering if we could get an update on the mascot situation.”
“The pig? You idiots are still on about the damn pig?”
“Uh, yeah. In the absence of Pablo Eggscobar, some of the boys are experiencing withdrawals.”
I snicker under my breath. Not gonna lie, I kinda miss our stupid egg mascot too. He was a cool dude.
“Jesus Christ. Yes, you’re getting your damn pet. Sometime in August, last I heard. There is an absurd amount of paperwork involved in the acquisition of a swine for non-agricultural purposes. Okay? Satisfied, Davenport?”
“Yup yup. Thanks, Coach.”
We all start getting up to leave, conversations breaking out while guys head for the doors.
“Oh, hang on,” Coach booms.
Everyone halts, like good little soldiers.
“Almost forgot. Word’s come down from the higher-ups that our attendance is required at some alumni grip-and-grin Saturday afternoon.”
Groans and protests erupt.
“What, why?” Matt Anderson calls from the back of the room.
“Oh, come on, Coach,” Foster whines.
Beside me, Gavin is pissed. “That’s bullshit.”
“What’s a grip-and-grin?” Bucky asks. “Sounds like we’re supposed to be jerking them off or something.”
“Essentially,” Coach replies. “Listen, I hate these things, too. But when the provost says jump, the athletic director says how high.”
“But we’re the ones doing the jumping,” Alec protests.
“Now you’re getting it. These things are all about kissing ass for cash. The university counts on these little dog-and-pony shows to support things like athletics and building you princesses fancy training facilities. So get your suits pressed, comb your hair, for fuck’s sake, and be on your best behavior.”
“Does this mean I’m going to be getting my ass pinched by rich cougars?” The whole room laughs when Jesse raises his hand to speak. “Because I’m cool with taking one for the team, but my girlfriend is the jealous type and I’m gonna need a note or something on letterhead if she asks me about this.”
“I’d like to go on record as stating I find this premise sexist and exploitative,” Bucky chimes in.
In a flat tone that suggests he’s well sick of our shit, Coach digs his fingers into his eyes and recites from what I assume is Briar’s code of conduct.
“It is university policy that no student shall be required to behave in an unethical or immoral manner, or that which may conflict with their sincerely held religious or spiritual beliefs. The university is an equal opportunity institution based on high academic achievement and does not discriminate on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, economic status, religion or lack thereof, or the temperament of your girlfriend. Satisfied, everyone?”
“Thanks, Coach!” Bucky says with an exaggerated thumbs-up. Dude is going to give him an aneurism one of these days.
But Jesse and Bucky aren’t that off base. There’s something fundamentally broken about a system that has us paying fifty grand a year to still be treated like prostitutes. Those of us who aren’t here on a free ride at least, like myself.
If there’s one thing I’m good at, though, it’s playing the boy toy.
I’ll say this much for these bunch of goons, we sure clean up nice. The team came looking sharp in our best attire on Saturday afternoon. Beards trimmed. Hair gelled. Bucky even plucked his nose hairs, as he made sure to inform us all.
The alumni luncheon is being held in Woolsey Hall on campus. So far, it’s consisted of listening to a bunch of people get up and talk about how Briar made them the men and women they are today, giving back, school spirit, blah, blah, blah. The assigned seating cards have split up the athletics department, along with representatives of the Greeks, student government, and a handful of other notable student organizations, among the many tables with the alumni guests. Mostly it’s been smile, nod, laugh at their bad jokes, and tell them, yes sir, we’re taking the championship this year.
It’s not all bad, though. The food’s decent and there’s plenty of free booze. So at least I’ve got a little buzz going.
No matter how good I look in a suit, though, I still feel like they can smell it on me. The stench of poverty. The hospital stink of new money. All these rich assholes who probably spent most of their college years snorting coke through hundred-dollar bills from trust funds that have been earning interest since their ancestors were involved in the slave trade.
Seven months ago I showed up at Briar a punk-ass kid from LA. Exactly the type the good folks of Ivy institutions prefer to have mopping their floors rather than attending classes. A stepfather with deep pockets, however, does wonders for one’s image in the eyes of the admissions board.
Yeah, I clean up nice, but shit like this reminds me I’m not one of them. I’ll never be one of them.
“Mr. Edwards.” The older woman seated next to me has what looks like the entirety of the Queen’s jewels hanging off her neck. She slides one boney hand over my thigh and leans into me. “Would you be a dear and see if you can rustle a lady up a gin and tonic? Wine gives me a headache.” She smells like cigarettes, peppermint gum, and expensive perfume.
“Sure thing.” Hoping she can’t pick up on my relief, I excuse myself from the table, thankful to break away for a bit.
Outside the main ballroom I find Hunter, Foster, and Bucky at the cocktail bar, where the catering staff is packing up after the hors d’oeuvre reception.
“Can I bother you for a gin and tonic?” I ask the bartender.
“Yeah, no problem.” He starts pouring the drink. “More bottles I empty, less I have to carry out of here.”
“Gin and tonic? Bro, when did you become my grandmother?” Bucky jokes.
“It’s not for me. It’s for my cougar.”
Hunter snorts and sips his beer.
“Please don’t laugh. A couple more gin and tonics and she’ll legit be trying to hop on my dick.” I nod at the bartender for permission, then steal one of the Stellas he’s got sitting in a box on the floor.
“From what I hear,” Foster says, “your dick’s been pretty busy this week.”