The Big Boys Club
Declan stumbled into Dr. Anderson’s office. He was barely on time. While he composed himself, he noticed the doctor wasn’t in. His eyes scoped the room in search of him to no avail.
He propped his crutches on a cabinet and limped around. He noticed a file sprawled upon his desk. As he scanned the contents, he realized it was his own.
‘Team Training #1’ began the document. His stomach dropped. He swiftly skimmed the contents of the document. With each word, memories began manifesting before him.
“Alright, men,” Coach Johnson’s voice echoed through the gym, “I invite each and every one of you to take a good look around. Some of you barely made it on again,” he emphasized barely, “Others did a commendable job, and then there’s… Mr. Gardner.” He stared at Declan. Every eye in that gym was fixated on the newcomer. Beads of sweat began forming on his forehead.
“While Mr. Gardner didn’t exhibit the highest form of execution, or difficulty,” he reminded Declan, “the assistant coaches, and myself, all agree he does have what it takes to be part of this team. He’s proven to me that he has the work ethic to improve. Thusly, I welcome him to the collegiate team.” He pat him on the shoulder.
“Need I remind you,” he continued, “being a part of this team does not necessarily mean you will make it to Nationals, Worlds, the Olympics, or anything of the sort. More than anything, this program is geared towards entrusting you with the skills needed to be professionals, and have great collegiate careers… Ergo the name ‘Collegiate Team’” He stared each of them down.
There was a brief moment of silence as he walked up and down the line of gymnasts, examining each and every one of them meticulously.
“Now, I understand the addition of Mr. Gardner isn’t to the delight of a few of you, however… You are a unit. You are to welcome him with open arms and push him like you push each other. He is your new brother and that is how it is and will be. Forevermore. Now, before we begin training, we need to refresh Mr. Gardner here on the technical side of gymnastics.”
They sat down as he walked off in order to retrieve something from the locker room. A collective groan rang through out the gymnasium once Coach Johnson rolled out an archaic overhead projector.
“Like I said, this is more for your benefit than anyone else’s.” He tilted his head towards Declan.
“Alright, so… Skylar,” coach’s voiced boomed in an authoritative manner, “Can you explain to everyone what a “D” score is?”
“Sure, uh,” Skylar began, “The ‘D’ stands for difficulty. It starts at zero, and increases with every skill performed; some skills worth more than others, naturally. Further, the maximum value a routine can have is ten, however a routine that difficult has yet to be seen in the new, open-ended, code of points. A little history, previously, the “perfect ten” was paramount in Gymnastics, and that all changed when the FIG, aka the ‘man’ in our sport, implemented the, aforementioned, open ended system of scoring.”
“Thank you, Skylar.” Coach Johnson uttered as he unenthusiastically scribbled down bullet points.
“Alright, Thomas,” coach nodded in his direction, “Can you tell us what the e score is?”
“The ‘E’ score,” he stood up to address his teammates, “stands for execution. It starts out of a ten, and the judges deduct from it with each and every mistake. For example, my difficulty score on high bar is a 6.5, and if I were to perform a perfect routine, I’d receive a 16.5.”
Declan nodded his head.
“Further,” he continued, “although that is nearly impossible due to the fact that the judges are sadistic assholes who nit pick out the ass for no fucking reason because…”
“Easy…” Coach Johnson warned him.
“Right… Well, perfection isn’t attainable. It’s just not going to happen. So, give that dream up right now. So, just try to be the best you can be, and hope to God you get a good rotation slot, because those judges are stingy little fucks with their high scores. You always want to go in the middle of the rotation.”
“Thank you, Thomas… That was inspired. Good to see you got over that debacle at the Qualifier last year,” He rolled his eyes.
“Oh, you know that was bullshit. I stuck that rings dismount! You know I did.”
They shared a lofty laugh, and continued their technical lesson. Everything they could’ve asked or wanted to know about gymnastics was explained to them for the next few hours.
“How are you holding up?” Skylar asked Declan during their break.
It had been four hours since they’d started their first team work out. Declan was incredibly tired. His arms felt like lead. His legs could barely move… Lactic acid was a hell of a hinderance. He was defeated.
“I don’t know if I can finish.” Declan whispered.
“You can do it. It’s hard,” Skylar began, “but, you wouldn’t be on the team, if you couldn’t do it. Hell, I have rips on my rips right now.” He showed him his palms. They were heavily taped, but he could see the scarlet circles forming from beneath them.
Before Declan could respond, a harsh tone sounded off behind them.
“What’s the matter?” Tommy inquired, “Can’t hang with the big boys, faggot?”
Declan could see how visibly upset Skylar was. His skin was prickled, his jaw clenched.
“What did you call him?” Skylar gritted. Declan had never seen Skylar exhibit even the slightest form of anger. He was visibly affected by Tommy’s insult, a lot more than he personally was.
“Faggot.” Tommy retorted.
Skylar lunged at him, but Declan blocked him. Skylar fell to the floor, and looked up in disbelief.
“What the fuck?!” Skylar exclaimed.
“Look, Tommy,” Declan began. His entire being was trembling, he’d never stood up to someone in this sort of fashion before, “I get it. You don’t like me, and that’s fine.” He threw his arms up, “I can’t make you like me, nor do I really care to try to make you do so. Yeah, I know, I’m gay.” He was shaking uncontrollably, “Call me fag all you want, but I will earn my spot. Hell, I will decimate you at Nationals.” He pierced into Tommy’s eyes.
They stood at a standstill for what seemed like an eternity.
“You score less than a 9 at the next meet, and I’ll have you removed. Forcibly.” Tommy warned before he walked away.
Skylar had stood up since then. He looked back and forth between Tommy and Declan.
“You just stood up to Tommy.” Skylar shook his head in disbelief.
“Nothing, I’m just impressed.”
The rest of the day proved to be exponentially more difficult than Declan could have ever fathomed. His body pulsated as he finished their conditioning. It was brutal. How people underestimated gymnasts, he would never understand.
“Don’t forget to stretch. Decs, come by my office afterwards, alright?” Coach Johnson nodded his head towards him.
“Sure thing, Coach.” Declan responded as he got into his split.
“Why do you always stretch your over split, fag?” Tommy asked in straddle.
“So, that’s your name for me?” Declan looked back at him.
“Yeah, got a problem with it?” He cocked his head.
“No.” Declan bent his knee, whilst in split, then tilted his head back. His foot and the crown of his head met, and he pulled his foot higher.
Eliciting groans of discomfort from a couple of the guys.
“How are you that flexible?” Skylar asked him.
“I work on it. I’m not as powerful as some of you, so I have to use my execution score to my advantage. Artistry goes a long way… People forget that.” Declan smirked and stood up.
“It still looks gay.” Tommy shook his head at him.
“Why are you such a dick hole towards me?” Declan glared at him.
“Because, I don’t like faggots.” Tommy snarled.
“And? I don’t like bigots, but here we are.” Declan snapped back.
“Yo, do you wanna go?” Tommy stood up.
“I’m not going to fight you. That will get us nowhere.” Declan rationalized.
“No, but it’d let me beat the fag out of you.” Tommy spat.
“HEY!” Coach Johnson bellowed, “THOMAS, that’s enough out of you. DECLAN. MY OFFICE. NOW.” He slammed his door behind him.
“We’ll finish this conversation later.” Declan warned Tommy.
“Go fuck yourself.” Tommy barked.
“Do you have to be such a dick hole?” Skylar joked to deplete the tension.
Declan walked away chuckling, and into the office.
“Take a seat.” Coach Johnson ordered him, “You okay?”
Declan smelt a sour aroma lingering in the office. He curled his nose, but didn’t ask questions.
“Yeah, I’m alright.”
“Tommy can be like that; he doesn’t mean any harm, though. Just brush it off, you’ll impress him, in time.” Coach assured him.
Coach nodded his head, “Yes. Well, here’s the deal, we’re a little understaffed at the other gym, our sister gym, and I think you’d be a great addition to that gym. You could teach dance, in addition to take a couple lessons, do a couple individuals, you know… Teach gymnastics.”
Declan narrowed his eyes, “Isn’t the sister gym… You know… ‘Girls only’?” Declan inquired.
“Well, yes…” Coach conceded.
“I don’t know anything about girls gymnastics, though. Not to mention that I’ve only been back for a few months…” He shook his head.
“I know, but you know, now, what it takes to get back into shape. That and women’s gymnastics is easy to understand. Same fundamentals, with different rules. I already approached Skylar about it. Think about it, and get back at me. For now, you’re dismissed. Good practice. Did you enjoy it?”
“It was… A lot harder than I expected, if I’m to be completely honest,” He sighed, “but I did enjoy it immensely. Thank you so much for this opportunity. I’ll think about what you said.” Declan nodded and exited his office.
Truth was, Declan was obsessed with women’s gymnastics, he found it to be compellingly magnificent. It’d be a dream to be able to coach balance beam; he’d always been entranced when he spectated the event.
“Did he ask you about the sister gym?” Skylar asked as Declan returned to the floor.
“Yeah, how’d you know?” he inquired.
“He asked me too a couple days ago. Are you going to do it? I’ll do a couple dance classes with you, if you decide to. I should really up my artistry.” He winked.
Declan had never had someone be so nice to him without reason like Skylar was. Every time he looked at him, it was as if he radiated sunlight. He’d never seen him angry, until today, and never took anything too seriously, as opposed to Gable.
They continued to stretch in silence. Declan could see he was visibly discomforted by his hands. He had small rips himself, but none that bad. Perhaps, it was the way he chalked, or that he moisturized after practice. Who knew, it probably came down to how hard Skylar worked on bar. He wanted to be that good. Someday, his rips would have rips.
“You know what?” Declan smirked, “I think I will. Coaching would be fun. Besides, I’d get to see you in leotard.” He flirted.
“Oh, is that the only reason you’d be doing this? To see me in a leo?” He joked.
“Definitely.” Declan joked back.
They had a good laugh and finished their stretching regimens. Declan had done it; he finished their first work out as a team, and proved to himself that he could keep up with the others. It had been physically daunting, but he had persevered.
“You shouldn’t read things that are not yours.” A voice warned.
Declan’s entire being shot up. After regaining his composure, he realized who the voice belonged to.
“It’s my file. Technically, it does belong to me,” he sneered, “how do you have all of this information?” He inquired.
“I already told you beforehand, I reached out to your coach, after you were admitted here, so I could get some insight to your psyche.” Dr. Anderson confessed.
He neared the teenager, and motioned for him to take a seat on the other side of the desk. Declan tensed his jaw and hobbled over to the seat. He was visibly shaken. Why? Why all of the secrecy? Why couldn’t he just tell him everything?
In the past few weeks, he had learned to accept being here. It wasn’t as big of a nuisance as he had once thought, but now that he realized how far the extent of Dr. Anderson’s files went, he no longer felt at peace anymore.
“Declan, I know that what you read might’ve come off as invasive, but…”
“But what? Isn’t what I tell you enough? Must you delve deeper? It’s almost a step above intrusive.” Declan’s voice broke. His throat tightened.
“I just want to be able to help you to the best of my ability, Declan,” Dr. Anderson said, in recognition of the teen’s confusion. He walked around, grabbed a box of tissues, handed him the box, and leaned against the desk, “I’m sorry. I truly am. I should’ve been more transparent with you. I didn’t mean any harm by it.”
Declan clenched his jaw to regain his wits. After a few moments to himself, he let out an immense sigh. A few sighs, in fact. Finally, he simply nodded and gave the doctor a stiff grin.
“It’s okay, I understand.” A few tears trickled down his face, but he was quick to wipe them off.
Their session was cut short, naturally. As he crutched his way back to his room, tears streamed down his façade. It was one thing to rehash memories himself, but having read it on paper rocked his foundation. It was difficult to fathom how long ago that was, yet how fresh it all seemed.
He limped to his bed, and sat down. In that moment, he released the emotions he’d quelled up to that point. Everything. He muffled his cries by screaming into his pillows. He couldn’t keep pushing people away, or he would never reach recovery. That day, he began true recovery.