#10 - Fitting in

"Alicia, I'm going to count to zero."

"Come on. I know you're feeling it."

"I'm not 'feeling it.' I'm tired and I—"

"You went to bed at, like, ten last night."

"Alicia, seriously, get the fuck out of my room. I'm not going for a run this morning."

"Aw, come ON. We totally had fun yesterday."

"Alicia. I will tell you one more time. No."

* * * * * *

"So, do you make your clothes?" Alicia chirped, her voice relaxed and steady as if she were laying on the couch instead of fifteen minutes into a brisk morning jog.

"No, but I...I learned to do alterations," Whitley fared only marginally better than the previous day but, once again, allowed the conversation to continue as a distraction from her fatigue.

"Oh, I absolutely could teach you to make clothes, and armor too!"

"I don't need armor. I need shoes more than anything."

"Where do even buy shoes? Do they make heels in size fifteen?"

"Size seventeen in women's," Whitley croaked, struggling to manage her breathing. "I wear men's sandals, which are easy to find, but decent dress shoes are harder especially flats."

"Why?"

"Because drag queens don't wear flats."

Alicia guffawed, startling Whitley. The only thing about Alicia more unusual than her musculature was her surprising variety of laughs which ran the gamut from boisterous to shrieking with no predictable pattern.

"So, what about you?" Whitley asked, hoping to lessen her burden of the conversation. "When did you start working out?"

Alicia tapped her lips. "Well, I've always been active, but I got into weights for track my freshman year. I didn't love track, but it got me doing cardio, and I was pretty good at pole vault."

"From your Instagram, it looks like you were more than pretty good."

"You checked out my Instagram? I'm flattered!"

"I saw that photo of you with the trophy."

"Oh yeah, I won state. Twice, actually," she said casually. "After that, I quit to have more time for cosplay, but I kept lifting weights. My brothers lift too, but I'm stronger than them, except for maybe Scotty. He's a little beast."

"Sounds like it's in your blood." Whitley searched for another question, but couldn't come up with one in time.

"Do you have any siblings?" Alicia asked. Whitley took a sudden gulp of air, pausing briefly before answering.

"I have a twin sister. Fraternal."

"Is she tall too?"

"No."

"What's she like?"

Whitley said nothing for a moment, choosing her words carefully. "Different from me. We're not really in contact much."

"Why?"

"...you said you make armor?"

"Oh yeah! Have you heard of worbla? It's awesome..."

* * * * * * * *

Krysta had asked Whitley if the house needed any changes to make her feel more comfortable, and Whitley had requested an adjustable, extendable shower head. Titled to its highest angle, the faucet sprayed her squarely in the chest, forcing her to drop down to her knees to wash her hair. Fortunately, she'd had time to unpack her toiletries, most importantly the thick, extra-long towels she'd pilfered from a Hilton she'd stayed at during the volleyball national tournament. She wrapped one around her waist, a second around her torso and a third around her head, before walking back to her room.

Scanning her wardrobe, Whitley weighed her clothing options for the first meeting with the volleyball coaching staff. While she owned a handful of long fancy dresses for banquets, fund-raisers, and awards ceremonies, she had few options for business casual attire. Her knee-length skirt was in a box of clothes being mailed to her, and she had yet to repair her only pair of custom order dress slacks she'd inadvertently torn at an NCAA awards ceremony after-party incident. Without over-thinking it, she settled on a pair of tan khakis (modified into capris), a short-sleeved white blouse, and some decidedly metrosexual men's loafers.

Her father had advised her to do a little research before meeting the coaching staff, seeing as she'd been hired more by virtue of her celebrity than actual coaching experience—of which she had none. Over a five-egg omelet, three slices of toast, and a pile of bacon she perused the NU volleyball pages, noting their respective records of 13-16, 15-14, and 10-19 over the past three seasons. They had no good news on the recruiting front, with playoff-regulars NSU snatching up most standout players from the region. They also had a distinct lack of diversity, with their sole players of color being last year's Filipino freshman redshirt libero, a tall mixed girl that reminded Whitley of herself a foot shorter, and Koga, a Hawaiian alumni of the program who, according to the website, had recently been hired as an assistant coach.

And now me: Assistant Coach Valentine.

Volleyball had come about as naturally to Whitley as breathing, and she didn't know where she would even start as a coach. In fact, the entire idea of leadership roles made her stomach turn. Her joining the volleyball coaching staff was supposed to be a supplementary activity to get her the full-time hours she needed to get benefits. Now, she had to prove somehow it was worth both her and the team's time to let her keep the job. Afraid she would lose her appetite, she shoveled the last of her breakfast into her mouth, sat back, and sighed, still staring blankly at the screen in front of her.

What are you going to do, teach them to be tall?

"Don't sigh like that. It is depressing."

Whitley turned around to see Krysta enter the kitchen wearing only dark blue skinny jeans and a massive black bra. It was better fitting than what Krysta wore for modeling, but still designed accentuate her cleavage. She pulled on a purple scoop neck t-shirt and dropped her sweater and laptop bag into one of the kitchen chairs. "You going to campus?" she asked, as she checked the kettle.

"I have a meeting with the coaching staff, and I'm supposed to stop by the writing center."

"Want to walk there with me? I have a few math tutoring appointments this morning."

"I've had quite enough of my feet on the pavement for the day, thanks."

Krysta chuckled. "I warned you about the jogging."

"She's not going to let up, is she?"

"Nope, you may as well get used to it."

"Did she ever try to get you to jog?"

"Jogging is not practical for me," Krysta said, gesturing down at her chest. "Too much excess baggage and I'm not exactly aerodynamic. She has successfully wrangled all of our past roommates, so you may as well keep at it. Consider it a free workout program with your rent." Krysta tossed a breakfast bar into her bag and dropped a tea bag into her travel mug before her eyes caught the wreckage of Whitley's meal. "Looks like quite the feast. Did you eat the rest of the eggs?"

"And the bacon. I'll get more, don't worry. Dad gives me three hundred a month for food. I think he likes the fact that I keep growing. He wants me to be the next Kerri Walsh." Whitley noticed a perplexed expression on Krysta's face. "USA beach volleyball player? The tall one? No? Don't worry about it. Anyways, he'll invest in anything that keeps me associated with sports."

"Well if you need extra cash, you might think about tutoring."

"It's crossed my mind. How much do you charge for tutoring?"

"$75 an hour," Krysta said as she poured the water into her mug.

Whitley's jaw dropped before she nodded with realization. "Titty fee?"

Krysta pulled on her sweater and hoisted her laptop onto one shoulder before turning back towards Whitley. "Sure. That...and I am really, really, fucking smart."

"I hate you," Whitley said, before chugging the rest of her coffee. Krysta smiled and waved as she headed out the door.

* * * * * *

Northshore University was a mid-sized private university with a state-of-the-art athletic facility, thanks to its generous alumni donors. The gray and blue school colors had a clean, regal look to them, likely intended to reflect NU's prestigious sports history and commitment to high academic standards. Over the last decade, however, the school had earned a less-than-stellar reputation as a party school for rich kids, with more sports recruits opting to attend the less-expensive (and more diverse) Northshore State twenty minutes due south on the interstate.

Since the position had come packaged with the writing center job, Whitley had neither met nor spoken with either of the two volleyball coaches. From the little bit of research she'd done, Whitley knew Coach Richter graduated from NU a little over a decade ago, though was not particularly a standout player. She'd coached at the high school level for a couple of years followed by a short stint at a local community college before being called up to replace the former NU coach who'd been fired for stealing money from the department budget.

Coach Richter's office was upstairs near the women's locker room, directly adjacent to the Assistant Coaches' office with a second door connecting the two. Whitley peeked in to find Coach Richter studying game footage on a large monitor mounted to the wall. Whitley knocked, and the stocky blonde woman with short, cropped hair stood to greet her. The coach's face lit up with astonishment at the sight of the seven-foot Whitley before she forced a stern, neutral expression.

"Come in," she said, her tone lacking cordiality. "Watch your head."

Whitley considered several smart-assed responses before going with the less combative "I always do." She ducked in and enveloped the visibly uncomfortable Coach's hand with her own, before having a seat in an ergonomic office chair not remotely sized for her frame. The office was new and impeccably clean, with the sole items on the desk being a Franklin Covey planner, a laptop, and two framed pictures that faced outward: one of Richter as a college player, and a second of her celebrating the 2004 division championship with her teammates. On the wall was the current year's schedule and a flat-screen monitor. Coach Richter immediately delved into the recent history of the NU volleyball program and pelted Whitley with questions about her experience at Durrenburg, all the while making remarkably little eye contact.

Either she has some psychological aversion to giants, or—

"...we'll see how you fit in."

—she doesn't know what I'm doing here either.

Whitley heard a knock behind her and turned to see the other Assistant Coach slip in from the adjacent office. Whitley immediately recognized the Hawaiian girl who'd graduated from the program a couple of years back. Coach Richter gestured her in.

"Whitley, this is Assistant Coach Koga Nakahara. She made it through several rounds of rigorous interviews over many qualified candidates to earn a spot as our Assistant Coach and lead recruiter. Coach Koga, this is—"

"Whitley Valentine!" Where Coach Richter was apprehensive about Whitley, Koga's eyes glowed with enthusiasm. She took Whitley's hand, shaking it vigorously.

"It's an honor to meet you! I was thrilled when I heard you would be joining us. Durrenburg was my top choice back when I applied to college because it was my dream to play for Coach Maddie Grace."

Whitley was taken aback. "Um...thanks. I'm sorry, what was your name again? Coach..."

"Just 'Koga' is fine. Also, I know it was almost a year ago, but congratulations on your national title! Those thirty-seven kills you had in the championship game were unbelievable, particularly against a team like Nebraska. I'm shocked you didn't play for the women's National team last summer. I mean, I know Coach Grace played on the team back in the day, and I'd heard you were practicing with—"

"I failed the drug test."

A horrified look flashed across Koga's face as if Whitley had just pulled her pants down and peed on the floor. Whitley looked over to Coach Richter who had put her hand over her mouth but did not change her expression.

"It's okay, it was only weed," Whitley continued. "Not, like, cocaine or anything."

"Anyways, I'm thinking you could focus on our hitters," Koga said, anxious to change the subject. "Maybe get them to play more aggressively at the net. We have an athletic squad, but we're weak on defense. You've been to nationals, so I'm sure you've seen some impressive—"

"One moment, Coach Koga," Coach Richter said, straightening up in her seat. "Ms. Valentine, I value integrity from both my players and my staff. I expect my people to make smart decisions and think before they act. While I respect your accomplishments as a player—in fact, it's the only reason you're here—I won't abide you being a distraction, rather than a contribution. Is that understood?"

Whitley let the uncomfortable silence hang in the air for several seconds. "Yes, ma'am."

"I would prefer 'Coach Richter' and not 'ma'am."

"Ok."

While Coach Richter waited for what Whitley assumed to be an apology of some kind, Koga, still standing near the door, squirmed with visible discomfort. Though Coach Richter likely would have waited indefinitely, Whitley opted not to prolong Koga's agony.

"Your libero doesn't anticipate," Whitley said, pointing at the screen.

"Excuse me?"

"You've got two blockers in the air, and she's flat-footed with her palms down. Rewind that last point." Coach Richter did so, and all three watched the screen as a spike ricocheted off of the hands of a blocker and right past the libero, who dove for the dig but reacted too late. Coach Richter frowned at the screen while Koga bit her lip in anticipation.

"Well thank you for your contribution, Ms. Valentine. I look forward to hearing more from you at practice on Monday. In the meantime, I have an athletic department meeting in ten minutes. Coach Koga, please show Ms. Valentine to the assistant's office." Whitley stood up, watching as Coach Richter again visibly struggled to hide her awe at Whitley's towering form. She turned and followed Koga out the door, glancing back at the last moment to catch a staring Coach Richter, who promptly looked away back towards the monitor on the wall. When they shut the door behind them, Koga, who'd been holding her breath, exhaled loudly and took a few more breaths before looking up at Whitley.

"You probably should have led with that last part."

"You mean, instead of the drug test thing?"

"Yes."

"I know."

◄#9 - Settling In