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I first saw him when he was probably in the eighth grade, the Shoppette had a program for kids where they’d bag your purchases and you felt obligated to drop money in a box for them. He was a kid with brown hair and round glasses, and a sweet smile, and I think I stuffed a buck in the box and walked out. It was early summer, my family planned traveling over Europe – living in Germany had its advantages, the great cities were only a few hours away. At the end of that summer, the phone rang, and it was Steve, known universally as Coach, reminding Will that cross country practice began in a few days.
Will was a sophomore now, his first year of competing had been somewhat frustrating for him, but he’d found a mentor and a hero in Coach, he had the worst case of hero worship I ever saw. We went to the base exchange and bought running shoes, some new shorts and tees, all the things Will wanted to be "cool," especially those damn shoes; Coach wore Asics and by God Will was going to wear them, too. We showed up for practice on the appointed day, ambling on to the athletic field, where Will ditched me to hang with the guys.
I walked up to Coach, and he grinned; he had a wonderful crooked grin, long blond hair kept in a ponytail, with gorgeous runner’s legs and the lean body of the long distance runner.
"How ya doing, Piper?" He asked, leaning against the fence beside me, a cup of coffee in hand, watching the chaos of all these kids running around like fools before he uttered the command that would bring instant silence and obedience.
"Not too bad, Coach." I stuck my hands in the pockets of my khaki shorts. "My God, where do they get the energy?"
He laughed. "I promise they’ll be zombies by the end of practice." He glanced at his watch. "Time to scare the pants off the freshmen, c’mon."
I walked with him to the center of the field. It was a gorgeous day, almost too warm for late August in Germany. Coach took a sip of coffee, then cleared his throat. "Now!" he yelled, and forty kids froze, then jogged to the pad at the end of the field, between the football goal posts and the track, and sat down, completely silent. He had their full attention. "I’m Coach Steve Miller, and no, I did not play in a rock and roll band years ago. This is cross country, we run, and we run hard, and if you’re slow, you’ll find I’m running up your butt. Practice is from three-thirty to five, every day, our meets will be on Saturday. Mrs. Halliwell, Coach Halliwell to you, will be giving handouts to you at the end of practice, with your contracts, the rules, and dietary guidelines. If Coach Halliwell tells you to jump, you better start bouncing, even you, Will Halliwell." Will was sitting next to a good looking kid who looked familiar to me, and he flushed, cutting his eyes toward me.
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