Teach Me How To Fall
A/N: Hey guys. I'm trying something new with this story and doing a complete A/U. This story takes place in an alternative PPL universe. A never existed and Emily never dated Maya. I'm sure you'll notice many characters and situations that are similar though and hopefully I will do a good enough job so you get a picture of who everyone is and what their backgrounds are.
I plan to make this a many chaptered fic so... stick with me :)
I checked my reflection in the glass of the door before I entered the building; I hadn't made much of an effort this morning as I'd woken up late. My hair was still slightly damp from my shower and I now regretted not putting any makeup on the bags under my eyes. I knew it didn't really matter though, I was back in the place where people didn't really care what you looked like… skill was much more valued than looking good was.
It felt strange to be walking the route I knew so well towards Coach Dawson's office after 4 years away. The place hadn't changed much except for a few more team photos hung on the wall of the deserted corridor I was making my way down. The same smell I had somehow fallen in love with freshman year filled my lungs as I passed the entrance to the changing rooms and reached the familiar door I had knocked on nervously many times.
I knocked much more confidently this morning despite the unsettling sense of déjà vu.
"Come in" Coach Dawson's voice brought a nostalgic smile to my face; it was so strong and deep for a woman. She had mastered the art of intimidation that was for sure, I used to dread hearing that voice shout my last name but now I was no longer a student here it only made me smile. I remember telling my parents when I came home from college for Christmas vacation that she was the scariest woman I had ever met in my life, but I realised after a while she also had the best heart. She knew the importance of discipline but all the girls on the team had common respect for the coach who dedicated her life to make us champions.
I pushed the door open and the woman behind the desk looked up to see her visitor. Her face changed when she saw me and she stood up with a smirk.
"Emily!" She greeted me and beckoned me over to her.
"Coach!" I smiled back and accepted the embrace she was offering, she patted me on the back the way my dad did when he hugged me.
"I didn't think you would make it until afternoon practice" she seemed happy that I was here early.
"I came back into town last night, I know how much you appreciate someone who makes an early start" I joked and she laughed and held her hands up as she replied.
"Finally, I've made an impression on someone!"
It had been a long time since I had been in her company and I was thankful that the four years I had been away had been long enough that I no longer felt like a naïve teenager in her presence, I felt somewhat of an equal to my old swimming coach, almost.
When I had called her 2 months ago I wasn't sure what sort of response I would get. She had been supportive when I had my accident last year and she had tried to use her contacts to arrange the best rehab team for me, but when it became clear that the rehab wasn't going to be much use and that I wasn't going to be able to swim professionally anymore, I subconsciously, or consciously I'm not sure, cut ties with my old swimming life.
I'd been surprised when instead of accepting my idea of coming back to Stanford to volunteer and try and get some coaching experience she had offered me a chance to join the coaching team as an assistant coach, it was everything I could have hoped for now I could no longer swim like I wanted to.
"How are you holding up?" She asked with that concerned edge and I knew exactly what she was referring too. I knew she understood unlike some other people how hard it had been for me to give up my dream. People didn't realise that it meant redefining everything in your life, letting go of the person I had always been and trying to find another path for my life. Not everyone understood… but I knew Coach Dawson did, aside from my parents she had been the one who had believed in me the most.
"It's a lot better now" I replied, unsure if I was being honest or not. It was better now … but it was hard to come to terms with the fact that 4 years ago I was stood in this very room with the whole world at my feet… and now I was stood begging for a job to teach other people how to be superstars. I had already talked to her about this on the phone and I was thankful when she didn't press the subject any further.
"I'm happy to have you here Fields, I think you'll be just what the girls need right now"
I smiled at the compliment even though I was starting to feel a bit nervous about my ability to coach and mentor these girls who were not really that much younger than I was. I had forgotten how talented Coach Dawson was at reading people when she gave me a reassuring pat on the arm.
"I need to see some of that confidence you had the day of National Championships when you won us that title" She reminded me of one of the proudest moments of my life and I felt my confidence grow a little. I was good once… I was awesome.
"You got it" I gave her my game face and she nodded as she rubbed her hands together.
"Plus, I won't be giving you any responsibilities you can't handle yet… you need to learn how to float before you can swim" She loved swimming analogies.
"I can't wait to learn" However much this was never my plan I couldn't deny that it was exciting, I couldn't wait to throw myself back into the world of swimming again.
"Come on, we'll get your t-shirt sorted… the girls will be at the pool for morning practice soon"
I nodded at her instruction and followed her out of the office, just like old times.
"I'm not drinking this" Shana held the coffee out in front of her as if it contained toxic waste.
"It was only half a sugar I swear, I stopped pouring as soon as I remembered you were sweet enough without sugar already" I flashed my eyelashes at her and I got a snort in response.
"Nice try" she rolled her eyes. "Why would you ruin coffee with sugar?" It was like she was talking more to herself than to me. I grabbed the offending untouched drink out of her hand and quickened my pace so I could catch up with Brooke.
"Brooke, would you care for a coffee, Queen Shana over there is too good for my coffee" My team mate laughed and accepted the drink.
"Let me guess, sugar?"
"Bingo" I laughed as Shana caught up with us and continued to whine about her lack of pure caffeine.
We were used to early starts by now, Coach Dawson had pushed our practices even earlier this last year so we could maximise our time in the pool, but even after 2 years of early morning college swimming… caffeine was greatly appreciated to wake me up.
The changing rooms were hot and stuffy this morning and I ditched my nearly finished beverage in the trash before I got myself undressed into the red and white swimsuit. Shana was still moaning beside me about something I was no longer listening to, she was often too much to deal with in the am.
"Jeez McCullers what happened to your ass" She pointed at the darkening bruise I had forgotten was there until just now. "You've not been having kinky sex again have you?" She raised one eyebrow.
"Shut up" I laughed at her suggestiveness. "I fell off my bike" I answered honestly.
"If you say so" she shrugged her shoulder with a confident smile.
"Why are you staring at my ass anyway you perv?"
"Don't flatter yourself, it's nothing I've not seen before" She flung her hair over her shoulder with a wink and walked in the direction of the training pool with her trademark confident swagger, I couldn't help but laugh.
Being the only gay girls in our team meant people assumed things about me and Shana, they assumed our flirting was more than what we both knew it was, they assumed that there was something going on. There wasn't.
Well maybe there was one incident... two If you count the time at Halloween I remembered with a snigger… I didn't see how it was my fault Shana had access to the hottest Halloween outfits as an employee.
Shana had seen my ass before… and other parts of me. It was alright between us two though, we knew where our boundaries were and we knew that the drunken hook up that happened freshman year was not something to get hung up on. Shana was hot but she was so far off my potential girlfriend radar it made me laugh when our teammates suggested it, and I knew the feeling was mutual.
I checked the bruise (which was more on my thigh than my ass but I knew Shana just liked saying the word) and it definitely looked worse than it felt. I needed to be more careful on my midnight bike rides, especially when rain was involved.
I joined the rest of the girls who were stretching at the pool side starting on my own perfected stretch routine.
"Moring ladies" Coach Dawson's booming voice was enough to wake up anyone who hadn't had any coffee this morning.
"Coach" Everyone greeted in their usual polite but 'Its-still-ridiculously-early' tone.
I'd made my way over to Shana now and she pointed at my bruise as I approached mouthing the word 'kinky' at me again as I mouthed back a half-hearted 'fuck you'.
"I have someone to introduce you to" The stretching stopped at her words and everyone looked up to see who the person in question was.
My eyes fell on the brunette woman who was standing next to Coach Dawson rocking back and forth on her heels. She was wearing a Stanford swim shirt that staff members wore but I took note of the fact that she didn't look that old.
"This is Emily Fields, she'll be joining our coaching team here as an assistant coach" The older woman introduced and the brunette, Emily, gave a small wave to the group of swimmers. "Nice to meet you all" She said simply. She seemed slightly nervous but as Coach Dawson carried on speaking she seemed to ease up.
"A Stanford graduate and one of the best swimmers I've seen pass through these waters" She shared a genuine fond look with the new assistant coach and it was almost funny to see how kind Coach Dawson was to this woman, she was obviously fond of her. I could see why she would be; just by looking at her you could tell she was the sweet 'girl next door' type of girl. Just Dyke Dawson's kind of girl I could imagine Shana's crude comment about our coaches assumed sexuality.
The girl's mouth was turned in a polite smile and she was responding to Coach Dawson's compliment modestly.
"Such a good swimmer she ended up right back where she started before she even hit 30" I heard Shana whisper into my ear and I rolled my eyes at her assertion.
"Shhh, she seems nice" I found myself defending this woman for some reason, she was pushing her hair back with her hand now and I noticed just how thick and long it was. I tried to guess her age and I settled on no more than 26.
"Put your eyes back in your head McCullers, one pretty girl and you go all goo-goo eyed"
"Fuck off" I whispered back in Shana's direction and despite the blush that was creeping onto my cheeks we both laughed lightly, I hadn't even noticed the fact that I was indeed checking her out.
"McCullers, you want to share the joke with the rest of us?" Coach Dawson's voice snapped me out of my laughter and I met her eyes apologetically.
"Sorry coach" she didn't say anything else; her stare was enough to end the matter.
Coach Dawson clapped her hands "Right, enough introductions…Swimming time" she ended the little meeting with a wave of her hand and we returned to what we did every morning. I moved to follow the rest of the girls to the edge of the pool when my name interrupted me.
"McCullers run to my office and get me the clipboard on my desk" It was obvious that I was going to be made to regret my little laughter session. I nodded and pulled my sweat pants back on, I wasn't going out into the corridor like this.
I felt eyes on me and I moved my head to find a pair of brown eyes looking at me, Emily Fields looked away quickly when I looked back at her. Shana was right; she was pretty… very pretty. I let my eyes wander down her body just to confirm the fact that she was indeed as hot as first thought. Confirmed.
I looked away before anyone would see the slight blush that was creeping onto my cheeks. I laughed to myself as I made my way to the office. What can I say? I have a weakness for pretty women.
"Emily freaking Fields" The voice saying my name was a familiar one and I swung around to see my college friend Hanna walking through the bar to greet me.
I got up off the bar stool to run and give her a hug, she embraced me energetically and swung me back and forth. "I missed you!" She said in her usual excited tone.
"I missed you too Han" I had moved out of California when I had graduated to follow my swimming career, when I had the accident last year, I could never quite face moving back to the place I loved so much so instead I'd moved home to Philly for a while.
Hanna was from California so it was only natural for her to stay here once she graduated, she was working at a fashion magazine, she was still running errands and making coffee but it was the start of what she had always wanted to do.
"I can't believe you're back, I'm so happy you got the coaching job… must be fun to boss people around?"
"I'm only an assistant coach" I laughed, knowing Hanna she probably thought I had walked right in and now ran the whole of the swimming department. "But yeah, me too it's great to be back!" It was my first full day back in the state and I already remembered why I had fallen in love with it here. I missed the weather but I missed my life here and Hanna the most. Out of all my friends I had met at college she was the person I had grown closest to, when I turned up freshman year and found I was sharing a dorm with a fashion crazy blonde who never stopped talking I thought we wouldn't get on… but she is now my best friend.
"How was your first day anyway?" She was bubbling over with energy like normal as I passed her the drink I had ordered for her. "Was it weird going back as a coach?"
"A little" I answered honestly. "But I think it'll be good… once I get used to it"
"You'll be great" she reassured me with a smile. "How's moving into the apartment going? I've bet you've not had a chance to sort anything out"
"Not really, my flight got in late last night and I've told Ben to leave me to unpack my things when I get back tonight."
"I bet he's happy you're finally back for good and moving in with him?"
"He is, long distance was getting hard for us" I admitted, because it really was. There was a point after my accident when I was at my lowest that I thought I couldn't do a relationship, especially not a long distance one. But Ben understood… he gave me space and let me deal with what I had to.
It had been 4 years since I first went on a date with him, senior year… god that seems like a lifetime ago. Back then he was a college basketball 'superstar' jock and I was the star of the swim team, how sad that seems now.
He was now working in Insurance, a job in an office neither of us thought he would ever have… and I was back at Stanford coaching. Real life doesn't always happen like you imagine when you're young and hopeful I contemplated.
I must have been lost in my own thoughts as Hanna's hand waving in front of my face snapped me out of my thinking.
"Sorry" She was asking me something. "What did you say?"
"I said are you excited to finally live together officially? It about time after 4 years… do I hear the church bells ringing sometime soon?" Hanna raised her eyebrows with a smirk and I shook my head quickly.
"No way" I shook my head. That was the last thing on my mind right now. It was going to be a big enough step moving in together; I needed no talk of marriage to freak me out even more.
Hanna laughed at my expression. She more than anyone knew the issues I had with letting people into my personal life, It had taken Ben 5 attempts to get me to go on a date with him and even more for me to finally let him call me his girlfriend. Now he had I was better, I liked the feeling of being with someone and I was lucky to have a guy like Ben… but marriage… I shivered. There was no need for Hanna to buy a hat just yet.
"Oh I never asked how did your date go with… what was his name.. Callum?" I changed the subject.
"Caleb" Hanna corrected and straight away I knew it was a hit, I'd only seen this dreamy look on her face a few times in our friendship… and most of the time it was when she had just bought a new pair of shoes. "It was great; we're seeing each other again tomorrow night. He's so not my usual type but he just… he has something about him"
I was glad he wasn't her usual type, her usual type normally meant asshole.
"I'm happy for you Han you deserve some good luck" we both said cheers to that and brought our glasses up to meet with a small clink.
"I actually missed this place" Hanna said as she looked around the bar. It was quite a small place but it always seemed to be busy due to its close location to campus and its good drink deals. As a young student it was the place me and the team used to come to celebrate whenever there was something worth celebrating… sometimes that included just the fact most of us had good fake ID. I knew it wasn't high end enough for Hanna to visit on her own, she was more into fancy restaurants and wine bars these days… but I knew she had a soft spot for this little old place just like I did.
"Remember that time we were here with Spencer and she won that arm wrestling competition with like 5 guys" Hanna nearly choked on her drink at the memory I described.
"Oh my god, I'll never forget the look on their faces when her skinny arms turned out to be made of steel" We both laughed at the memory of our friend. We had met Spencer through Aria who was in a few of Hanna's classes in freshman year. The four of us became good friends instantly and I suddenly wished the girls were here now. Aria was doing an internship in Europe though and Spencer was… Spencer was somewhere in the world doing Spencer things. She was difficult to keep up with that girl.
"So, another drink… or do you have to head home?" Hanna asked with puppy dog eyes after we had been talking about memories of the four of us for a few minutes.
I checked the time. "One more, Ben can wait" I laughed and Hanna seemed happy with this answer.
"Come on Andy you can do better than that" I used the nickname Shana hated, but Shana and Anderson got boring so I often shortened the girls last name.
"Paige you're really not helping me concentrate" She was getting angry as she took one more go and completely missed the ball she was aiming for. She passed the pool cue to Brooke with a huff and sat back down on the old couch in the corner. "I hate playing pool with you" She glared at me and it just made me laugh even more.
I bent down to take my go and find the best angle, I hit the ball I was aiming for and the small ball fell into the pocket I was hoping it would. "Are you willing to take on the machine which is Paige McCullers" I asked to Brooke with a cocky smirk.
The small girl gave me a confident look and rolled the cue in her hands. "Don't be so cocky McCullers, you've never seen me in action"
"Go ahead" I pointed to the table and indicated for her to take a shot. I appreciated the fact that the girls on the team were all competitive. It wasn't fun to win against someone who wasn't really that bothered about winning, and It was even more frustrating when people would pretend they 'let you win'… no one on the team would ever admit to that. That's the reason I got on so well with the girls I swam with, they understood me in a way I had often been misunderstood my whole life.
At high school I would describe myself as a bit of an outsider, it wasn't that I wanted to be… I just never found anyone I could be myself with. Maybe I was a little aggressive too I thought guiltily… apparently I had a field hockey penalty named after me. High school was a difficult time for me, with realising I was gay and losing my mom… I struggled with the whole 'enjoying the high school experience'. I tried not to think too much about those days as it only ever made me sad.
Brooke and Shana were not only my team mates and roommates but my best friends and I knew that they had my back with anything, but I still had never told them the truth about everything I had gone through. It just wasn't my style. I didn't do talking about feelings… I did swimming and running and riding. That was who I was. I was happy with who I was now, I was proud of how far I'd come and how well I was doing. The past could stay as the past for all I was concerned.
"She shoots, she scores" Brooke was doing a little dance with the cue as she gave me a cocky smirk herself.
"Oh it's so on" I laughed and picked my own cue back up.
"I hate you both" Shana said from her position in the corner and we both ignored her as I took another go. We were waiting for a few others to join us at the bar. Some girls from the team and Brooke's boyfriend Sean was bringing some of his friends in a bit. The bible crew as Shana dubbed them. I had nothing against Sean, he was a great guy and he made Brooke happy, he spent a lot of time round at our apartment and I had grown to really get on with him… but his friends were a bore and so republican it hurt my democrat heart. They never really approved of us using our fake ID to get drinks… but it never stopped us.
"Oh hello coach hottie" Shana had put the drink she was sipping down and raised her eyebrows in the direction of the bar.
I looked up to the far side of the room away from where we were having our game of pool and saw the woman we were introduced to this morning stood at the bar with a blonde girl. She wasn't dressed in the t-shirt and sports shorts anymore; instead she was wearing a sleeveless silky top and tight black jeans with boots. 'Coach hottie' was very accurate.
"What was her name again?" Brooke had taken a look in her direction and decided to return to taking her turn at pool.
"Emily Fields" I answered quickly, still looking at the woman.
I heard a snigger from Shana and Brooke and I turned around curiously. "What?" I asked innocently.
"Someone was paying attention" Shana gave me a mocking glare and I shot my usual 'fuck you' glare right back at her.
"She better not say anything to Coach Dawson about these" Brooke pointed to the beers we were drinking. We were all still a few months off being legal to drink and Coach Dawson was very keen on ensuring we stuck to the rules.
"She's not really paying us or these much attention so don't fret" Shana answered in that self-assured way she had. She glanced back over at the two women "You reckon that's her girlfriend?" Shana loved to assume everyone was gay.
"There's no way she's gay" Brooke beat me to answering and Shana almost looked offended at Brooke's certainty.
"And why not?"
"She just… doesn't give that vibe" She elaborated.
"And Paige and I do?"
"I like that" Shana seemed smug at the fact she gave a gay 'vibe', I had to laugh.
"I agree with Brooke, no way she is"
"Well… you know what I say…" Shana began. "Gay until proven straight" Me and Brooke finished her favourite saying with a chuckle before I returned to beating her small ass at pool.
I excused myself to the bathroom after 2 more drinks and I could already feel my head had been affected by the alcohol, I knew I should probably head home soon. One more drink with Hanna never really means one more drink.
I pulled my phone out of my purse and sent a quick text to let Ben know I wouldn't be too late. I felt a little bad on him as I had planned to make us dinner, but I was sure he would understand that I needed this catch up with Hanna badly. It had been too long since I'd seen my best friend. Ben had visited a lot when I'd been home but Hanna was too busy at work to take enough time off.
I pushed open the swinging door to the ladies room and noticed a girl stood at the wash basin fixing her hair in the mirror with one hand. I made my way to the nearest cubicle in the small bathroom.
"Coach Fields?" The girl spoke cautiously like she wasn't entirely sure of her words or how to say them.
I turned round and nodded my head slowly, "yeah" I'm sure I looked unsure myself, I wasn't used to hearing my name with 'coach' attached to it.
Now she had turned around I recognised her from the girls on the team, she looked different in her normal clothes…she looked much older. She was wearing a t-shirt with a black waistcoat and the look suited her.
"McCullers, right?" I asked, remembering how Coach Dawson had addressed her.
"Paige McCullers" She stuck her hand out and I took it in a light handshake. She had a strange sort of confidence and a small smile on her lips.
I cursed myself for feeling a little awkward. I wasn't sure how to act in this situation, was I supposed to be formal or ask why she was in a bar when I was sure she wasn't of age yet? The idea felt crazy to me, I was only 5 years older than her at the most, plus the fact that I did exactly the same when I was in college. I was meant to be some sort of role model now, a teacher… I wasn't meant to be making friends. But I couldn't escape the feeling that this girl could swim better than I could right now, I felt very unqualified to pretend otherwise.
I realised suddenly that I was still holding this girls hand and I let go a little bit too quickly. She gave me a curious look but that smile was still there. I didn't know why I hadn't said anything yet. Moron. I'm gonna make an excellent coach with this mouth on me, I thought sarcastically at myself.
"Nice to meet you properly" she dipped her head a little as she spoke.
"Likewise" I smiled back politely.
"Anyway...I'll let you pee…" She nodded her head in the direction of the cubicle and I remembered my initial reason for coming into the bathroom in the first place.
"Yes… yeah thank you" I said. Thank you… did I just thank her for letting me go pee?
"See you at practice tomorrow" I found my voice again as I made my way into the cubicle with a small smile her way. She had an interesting way of lingering eye contact that made me feel a little flustered.
"See you then" she replied as she made her way out of the bathroom, I heard her leave as I sat down.
I was 25, If I couldn't handle talking to one girl in a bar… how was I going to manage coaching an entire team full of talented swimmers… I really needed to learn the trick of this coaching thing and I knew that started with having confidence in myself. I wasn't just some random person teaching these girls, I swam for three years after college… I was one step away from making it big. I had a lot to offer.
I just had to keep telling myself that so I would believe it.
This is just a short introduction chapter, I hope you enjoyed it so far. Would love to hear your comments. - Thanks.
Also: Just a note to any readers who read my other story Begin agian. It's not been updated for a long time and I'm sorry about that, I'm taking a bit of a break with it until I can tackle it with creativity again. Thanks!