Making a Splash, p.1
Making a Splash
By Sean Michael
After a scandal of Olympic proportions, Vince Dawson lost his job as a diving coach and is on a downhill slide. So when he sees Austin Brody at a local pool, diving like a trained athlete, he thinks he’s found his ticket back to the big leagues.
Austin thinks Vince is crazy for wanting him to dive competitively. He dives for beer and smokes, while working double shifts as a welder. Still, he’ll give training with Vince a shot.
But Austin isn’t willing to let Vince rule his life, and Vince—used to hopeful young athletes folding under pressure from him—finds Austin baffling… and hot. Even if they can work together and become more than friends, they still have a long way to go before they’ll be ready to compete.
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VINCE DAWSON didn’t follow diving anymore.
He didn’t watch it on TV. He didn’t look up the stats in the paper or online. He didn’t go to any of the meets, though he knew where they were, knew what cities were holding what events and when. But he didn’t know what names were in the top seeds, didn’t know who was making a good show of it and who was having a bad year. He could have guessed, based on who had been in the game when he’d turned his back on the sport three years ago.
Turned his back on the sport.
The sport had turned its back on him first. Though he tended not to admit it or even think about that much, unless he was three sheets to the wind. The long and the short of it was, Vince didn’t follow diving anymore.
Still, if he was at the pool or out on the lake, he couldn’t help himself. It was in his blood. He’d watch the kids fooling around and playing. He’d watch them dive. It was probably why he came, to watch these kids dive for the pure joy of it. Some were lousy, some tried hard, and a few had that natural gift for it, that love of speed and air and water and the ability and grace to move through them that made them shine.
August was always hot in Texas, and this year was no fucking exception. The pool was a madhouse, everyone and their uncle out there, trying to get wet and maybe beat the heat for a while. The place smelled of chlorine and coconut oil, of sweat brought up by the heat of the sun. The deck was as busy as the water. The whistles of the lifeguards were barely loud enough to be heard over the raucous noise.
Vince had brought his own deck chair, and he was lying in it, his eyes closed beneath his sunglasses, a bottle of Coke in one hand, his cigarette, this one as yet unlit, dangling from the other. He wasn’t asleep, but he wasn’t really awake either—basically kind of dozing away the day. It was too hot for anything else. Hell, the only reason he was here was because the AC in his cousin’s little house wasn’t working right, and Vince was too fucking lazy to try and fix it.
It had nothing to do at all with missing that chlorine smell, the splash of water as it was cut by a diver.
A chant of “Austin, Austin, Austin” nearly had him opening his eyes, but even that seemed like too much work, so he didn’t. The chanting stopped suddenly, as if the whole place had decided to take a collective breath at the same time. Then a cheer went up, calls and whistles, and Vince gave in and opened his eyes.
He watched as a boy climbed out of the pool in the deep end. Young man, really—skinny as anything and with legs that kept coming and coming up out of the pool. Tall and Skinny’s friends gathered around him, and he headed for the three-meter board, the chant of “Austin, Austin, Austin” starting up again.
“Austin” climbed with an easy grace and strode down to the end of the board with confidence.
Vince found himself holding his breath along with everyone else.
The kid waved to everyone, then turned around with a playful little ass wiggle. The crowd hooted and clapped, and the kid came off the board. Did a reverse three somersault with a half twist. Reached for the water and pegged it with the barest backsplash.
Fuck him raw.
Vince sat up, heat forgotten, everything fucking forgotten except that dive.
He watched, eyes narrowed, as Austin came up out of the pool again, wondering who it was and if this was a put-on. No way this was some amateur kid fooling around. No fucking way.
Austin waved as he hauled himself up, hiking up his trunks with one hand. “Okay. Okay. Somebody owes me a beer.” Someone tossed a can over, and Austin popped it, then guzzled it down. “Fucking A.”
Vince couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t fucking believe it. He didn’t recognize the kid, not at all. And the kid was old enough and good enough that he should have been under scrutiny three years ago when Vince was still coaching, when he still cared about diving.
It had to be a fluke.
“Go on, Austin! Do another one.” A little girl tugged on the kid’s arm, staring up and up and up.
“Oh, now. I don’t know….” The girl got a wink. “I’m awful tired….”
“Please! Do a handstand one!”
“Well, one more. Just for you.” That shit-eating grin was back, the long body moving easily.
Oh, yeah, Vince thought, do a handstand one.
Austin was electric, something special.
Vince stood as he watched the kid climb the ladder, moving to get a better viewing angle of the board, one that would also afford him an excellent position to see Austin’s entry. Man, the kid moved like he didn’t know it was challenging to swing all that height up on his hands on a springboard. A springboard. No one in their right mind did handstand dives on a….
Two twists. Two and a half somersaults and then into the water like a knife.
Vince was headed for the water before he could say “I don’t follow diving anymore.” He pushed his way past the kids gathering around, eyes on the tall, skinny blond. “Who’s your coach?”
“Huh?” A big pair of green eyes met his. “I don’t play ball.”
“I sure as hell hope you don’t.” He nodded toward the diving board. “I’m talking about diving. No way you picked those moves up on your own.” No fucking way.
“Nope. Practiced ’em on the trampoline.” Austin hauled himself out of the water.
“All by yourself.” He didn’t follow diving anymore, Vince reminded himself. He was done.
“Yep. I like jumping. Hell of a rush.”
“Tell you what. You show me the toughest dive you know how to do, and I’ll buy you dinner.” With a captive audience and without all the other people trying to get a piece of the kid, maybe he could convince Austin that he was exactly what Austin needed in a coach. Or at least he could if he were still in the diving world. Which he wasn’t.
“Dinner like McDonald’s or dinner like shrimp and steak?”
He chuckled. Kid was smart too. He took a mental look at his bank account and wished he hadn’t.
“Like dinner anywhere you want.” After all, he didn’t follow diving anymore, wasn’t going to get back into coaching. But if he did? This was the person he’d want to do it with. It would be worth b
“It’s a deal.” Austin held his hand out to shake.
Vince took it, the kid’s hand cool and damp, the sensation familiar. How many times had he hauled a diver up out of the water? Too many to count. Vince gritted his teeth and didn’t linger on the handshake, stepping back to find his perfect dive-watching spot again.
Austin swarmed right up the ladder, waved. Then the little fucker did Louganis’s reverse two and a half somersault in the pike position. The entry was shit this time, but still.
He had a hunch dinner was going to cost him his last dime, but, damn it, it would be money well spent if he could convince Austin he had to start competing. The assholes on the national team would shit bricks if he showed up at the next meet with this diver in tow.
He pushed his way back to the edge of the pool, there when Austin hauled himself up out of the pool. “Your entry was crap.”
“You still owe me a steak.”
“I do.” He nodded toward the street. “You wanting that now?”
“Sure. Let me go get my jeans on and shit. Oh. I’m Austin Brody. Pleased.”
“Vince Dawson. I’ll wait outside the gate for you.” He could have a cigarette and work on his pitch.
He got one and a half smoked before Austin came sauntering out of the showers, dressed in a black T-shirt and a pair of jeans, straw hat on his head. The kid lit up a cigarette on the way over, nodding to him and grinning. “Hey. Wasn’t sure you’d hang out.”
He shook his head. “I’m a man of my word.” Not to mention that every second made him want to coach this kid more. He hadn’t seen a natural diver like this since he was a kid himself. “So where do you like your steak?”
“There’s a steakhouse down the road. My aunt Jenny’s a waitress there and can get us the rolls right out of the oven.”
He gave Austin a smile. “Sounds good. I like warm buns.”
The kid hooted, blew out a big puff of smoke. “Oh, you’re clever. I like it.”
“You shouldn’t smoke, you know. Those things’ll kill you.” He pointed to his red Dodge truck, then headed toward it as he took another puff on his own cigarette.
“Gotta die of something. Nice ride.”
“She’s not new, but she’s in good shape.” He slid his hand along the hood and opened the door for Austin. He put out his cigarette butt before climbing in on the driver side, Toby Keith coming on the radio as he started her up.
“So you really never had any training?” Vince asked as he pulled out into traffic.
“Training at what? I went to welding school after I graduated. It’s good work.”
Chuckling, Vince shook his head. “I was talking about the diving.”
“Diving isn’t work. Diving is what you do when you’re not working.” Austin’s eyes were bright as anything. “What do you do?”
“I coach diving.” Used to. He used to coach diving.
“Man, that’s cool. You like it?”
“Loved it.” He was made for it. He gave Austin a wry smile. “I haven’t trained anyone in three years.”
“That’s a long time. You either got fired or got fucked over.”
“What do you mean ‘or’?” He gave Austin another wry grin, pulling into the parking lot of the Sirloin Stockade. He wasn’t going to hide what had happened to him. If he could convince Austin to train under him, the kid would need to know what everyone was going to be talking about.
“Oh, man. That bad, huh?” Austin shook his head, slid out. “Sorry.”
“Yeah, it sucked. I’ll tell you the whole sordid story over our salads.” Look at him, planning to close the deal early.
“That works.” They walked in, and a half-dozen old ladies greeted Austin as a heavyset lady came up to give the kid a huge hug.
He had to fight his smile—the media would eat Austin up, that easy charm and wicked smile. One step at a time, old man, he told himself. One step at a time. Get Austin on board first.
“Hey, sweetie. Who’s this?” She offered one square hand, her green eyes looking him over.
“Vince. He’s a dive guy. Too cool, huh?”
He smiled and took her hand, surprised at how firm a shake it was. “I saw Austin diving at the pool. He’s got some amazing talent. But I imagine you already know that, ma’am.”
“He’s a good boy. Always has been. Y’all come sit in my section. Did you stop at the house and fix that screen door this morning, Austin?”
“Yes, ma’am. I brought Uncle Jack a sausage biscuit.”
Vince sat, watching the kid interact with his aunt, listening to them idly. The place smelled good, and he realized it had been a while since he’d had a decent meal.
“You’re a good kid,” he noted when Austin finally sat across from him.
“Oh, they’re good folks.” Austin hung his hat up on the little hook by the booth. “Aunt Jenny’s a neat girl. You want tea or coffee or what?”
“I’d like a beer. I saw you had one at the pool, so I assume you’re old enough to drink?” His guess was yes, and that made Austin a bit old to be starting out, but the kid was a natural.
“Oh, hell, yeah. I’m fixin’ to be twenty-four in December.”
“Awesome.” Old to be starting out, but it meant Austin was his own man. There would be no parents to convince to overlook his own unfortunate past. “So, which do you want to hear first—why I asked you here or why I haven’t worked in three years?”
“Oh, give up the dirt first. Unless you’re an ax murderer.” Austin’s eyes danced. “That’s even cooler than old work dirt.”
Lord, this kid was all balls. Cute as shit too.
“Not an ax murderer, no.” He leaned back, smiling at Austin’s aunt as she brought them a basket of rolls. He grabbed one and started buttering it. “I was working for the national team. Second-in-command. There was this girl. Real pretty, innate talent, but a bad attitude. I gave her her walking papers, and she accused me of molesting her.”
“Oh, fuck. That sucks. Did the cops come?” Austin bit into a roll, leaning back and shaking his head.
“Yep. Spent a few nights in a holding cell. Got fired. She eventually recanted, but by then the damage was done.” He shrugged. “You want to hear the punch line, Austin?”
Jenny put two beers on the table.
He waited until they were alone again. If this was going to be a problem, right up front was the time to find out. “I’m gay and they knew it.”
Austin’s head tilted. “And they still… but you said she was a she.”
He nodded. “Yeah. She spun some bullshit about how I used it as a cover so I could make time with all the girls. Can you believe that?”
“Uh. No.” Austin hooted, shook his head. “Shit. A guy fakes being gay to get chicks?”
“Yeah. And they bought it. I think that was the worst of it, you know? I was up front and open with them when a lot of people would have hidden it, and then it was used against me like that.” He shook his head. Man, he had to be crazy to be thinking of going back to that world.
Crazy or faced with the best fucking diver he’d ever seen.
“That’s insane. Utterly fucking cracked. So, you quit coaching then? What do you do now?”
He pursed his lips and shrugged. “This and that. Nothing special. Nothing important.”
“Ah.” Austin nodded. “I hear that.”
“I guess the truth is that I’m meant to be a diving coach. It’s where I fit.” He leaned forward. “Like you’re meant to dive.”
He got a chuckle. “Yeah, it’s a helluva way to spend a Saturday.”
“A Saturday? What about the other six days?”
“Well, I work night shift. Sunday through Thursday. I sleep on Fridays, unless there’s overtime. Then I rake in the bucks.”
Vince shook his head. “You should be diving, Austin. And I should be coaching you. None of this other bullshit for either of us.”
“Now, see, this is why you need me. You don’t hire a coach and shit. The sponsors do. You get a coach who knows what he’s doing, and it’s all taken care of, and you can kiss the welding job goodbye.”
“I…. You’re fucking with me.”
“As enjoyable as that sounds, no.” He took a drink and sat forward again. “You wear their name on your gear, do some ads, show up at the occasional dinner and smile at their shareholders. In return they take care of the bills.”
“No one would want to spend money on me. I didn’t go to college. Not even junior college.”
That made him smile. “Schooling’s got nothing to do with it. It’s your diving that’ll bring in the money.”
“Our salads are coming.” Austin looked a little… flummoxed.
“I’m not conning you here, Austin. You think on it.” He smiled at Austin’s aunt. “You could eat like this all the time.”
“He’d get fat.” She winked, popped her gum. “You offering my nephew a job?”
“I’m actually trying to talk him into giving me one,” Vince told her, winking back.
“Oh. Well, good luck.”
Austin didn’t laugh at her confused expression, possibly because he looked almost as lost.
Vince held up his hands. “Yes. I’m offering him a job.”
“Excellent. He’s a very good worker. Honest.”
“Thank you, Aunt Jenny. Go.” The kid was cute with his little blush.
Vince was still chuckling as she went. “You don’t have to work that hard at it, do you? At least not to be good. I could make you great, Austin.”
“It doesn’t seem real. Hey, Austin. Come do something you like to do and someone’ll pay for it? Life doesn’t work like that.”
“I’m not saying it won’t be a lot of work. We have to find the sponsors first—and I’m a liability on that. Oh, they’ll take one look at you and want in, but they’ll try to talk you into a different coach. Someone without a scandal attached to their name. It never did get proved that I didn’t do it. She recanted.”