A/N: The story itself has nothing at all to do with the holiday, but... I just realized that by pure coincidence, I published this on Father's Day. :)
It's Friday afternoon, late, but with the the long summer days, the cool of evening is still hours away. The boys are doing drills on the football field, exhausted and sweating into their uniforms. Coach Boone stands at one edge of the field, steely-eyed behind his sunglasses, as the scorching sun beats down on his back and shoulders. His whistle is tight between his lips and blows it at regular intervals, ordering the boys to push their bodies further. Their muscles are already in agony, and he can feel their hatred for him rising up from the field like heat waves.
That's when he hears the bumpity-bump of the old station wagon's engine. He turns his head and sees it pulling up in the parking lot beyond the football field. He can just make out Carol and the girls through the windshield. They must be here for a surprise visit for the weekend.
Coach Boone sighs around his whistle, mixed emotions churning up inside him. The situation here is so tense - between the black and white students, between the players and him - and even though he's missed his family every day, he doesn't want to see them in this outdated, uncomfortable camp. Hell, even the nicest cabins are hot and sticky from racial hatred and faulty air-conditioners.
She didn't tell me they were coming.
His lips purse around his whistle, and he blows twice, signaling the end of practice for that day. The boys groan in relief as they start off the field, and he heads slowly towards the parking lot. As happy as he is to see Carol and the girls, he has to be careful about greeting them. Too much affection would set the boys snickering at him, and he can't afford to lose face after he's worked so hard to establish authority.
Dammit, baby, he thinks as Carol climbs out of the car and waves to him, you know I don't like surpises.
Then he sees the soft, familiar curve of Carol's back as she leans over to take Karen out of her carseat, and it makes him stop short. Suddenly he just wants to grab her in his arms and kiss her so badly that he wouldn't care if every boy on his whole damn team was watching.
Just in time, he tears his eyes away from Carol to notice that Nikki is running at him full-speed, a blur in a pink dress, her pigtails flying out behind her. Even though she's never been athletic, she covers the distance from the car in no time at all, and before he knows it, she's flinging herself at him, filling his arms.
"Daddy, Daddy, Daddy! I missed you so much!"
He smells her nail polish as she wraps her arms around his neck, and he can taste her strawberry lip gloss when she kisses him on the lips. Her cheek is smooth against the rough, sweaty stubble on his. For a second, he just holds her tightly against his chest. It's like he's been transported to an alternate universe. Ever since he arrived at this camp, his days have been endless replays of grueling practices, bone-breaking tackles, football fields and locker rooms crowded with sweaty, smelly players. But Nikki is a world away from that. She's the color pink and giggling and dolls and hair ribbons.
It's the most welcome change he's had in weeks, and the warning he gave himself just a few minutes ago to greet them with some reservation goes right out his head. He hugs Nikki, kisses Carol, and scoops Karen up in his arms and tosses her into the sky, which makes her shriek with laughter. He has a sudden urge to toss her up again and again, just to keep hearing that sweet sound. God, he's missed them.
He's holding Karen on his hip and has one arm around Carol, while Nikki dances in a circle around them, recounting every every single thing she's done since he left, when, over the excited babble of his daughter's voice, Coach Boone hears an entirely different sort of laughter.
He just turns his head halfway, but it's enough to see that only about half the team has cleared the football field for the showers. The other half is still on the grass, watching their coach greet his family with a variety of different expressions on their young, pimply faces. Many of them look shocked. He can see Blue's mouth hanging open behind his helmet, as he tries to wrap his mind around the fact that the coach who nearly murdered him for asking for a water break - "Water is for washing the blood off your uniform, and boy, you don't get no blood on my uniform!" - is now greeting his little girls with hugs and kisses.
But other players are snickering behind their hands at their coach's display of affection. A few even laugh openly and point at him. Coach Boone sees a few black and white boys grin and nudge each other, and he grimaces. Mocking him is not how he had wanted them to overcome their differences.
Herman, you idiot, he scolds himself.
He gives Carol directions to his cabin and tells her to take the girls there. He'll be along in a minute. He just has to give the boys a few last pointers about practice. Then he turns on the spot and quickly walks back towards the field.
It's almost funny how immediately their laughter stops. The grins freeze in place, then slide off their faces, and Coach Boone can almost hear their stomaches dropping into their shoes in fear at his approach. He's chewed his players up and spit them out for far less. Once he reaches his favorite shouting distance - right in front of them, so he can scream right into their faces...
"All right, listen up!" he yells in his most dangerous voice, and he can see several boys swallow hard, their eyes wide above the black smears of paint. "I'm gonna tell you all a little something that I hope you idiots will remember when you're men."
Coach Boone stalks in front of them, getting a good look at their faces. He wants to make sure they each hear what he says next, because it's important. Hell, it's as important as the lesson that he's been trying to drill into them all summer - that they can't judge one another by the color of their skin. He raises one hand at points to the goalpost at the end of the field.
"It don't matter how many touchdowns you score, how many miles you run, how many pounds you bench-press." His voice is loud, but slow, letting the words sink in.
"It don't make you a man. It don't matter if you grow up, marry the prettiest girl at Williams High, and make a dozen babies." Some of the boys blush at this and lower their eyes, embarrassed to hear their coach talk about the facts of life like this.
"That don't make you a man, either," he goes on. "Because any father who keeps his children at arm's length will never be a man."
The boys who had been looking down raise their heads thoughtfully, and Coach Boone is sure that his words have found their mark. "Now hit the showers," he orders over his shoulder, as he turns and walks with a smile on his face back to where Carol and girls are waiting.