Sequel: Stronger
Status: Finished.

Tongue Tied


After three years of swearing I would never set another foot into Burton’s Aquatic Center, just outside of Downtown Pittsburgh, I was standing- against every fiber in my being that was screaming for me to go back home and hole out in my apartment- at the same navy blue and gold painted pool house that had taken me in as a second home shortly after my fifth birthday.

The place hadn’t changed in the years since. Paint splintered at the edge of the Pitt Panthers mural that was painted on one of the back walls, and the bottom bleacher in the parents section still had the huge baseball bat shaped dent that I had left shortly before I had pushed this place out of my memories. The indoor area still smelled too strongly of chlorine—a scent I had learned to love when I was in my childhood ages, but now it burnt my nose and made me sick to my stomach.

Burton’s wasn’t as bittersweet as I thought it was going to be, it was more bitter-get-me-the-hell-out-of-here.

The stares, or at least what my self-conscious believed were stares, began to make the pit in my stomach knot. I walked past the coach’s offices and onto the deck to where Jack, my former coach stood, a whistle was tied around his neck, and his typical stonewalled face pursed into a small smirk as I made my way closer to where he was standing beside the jump blocks.

“If I can be honest with you Mutt, I figured you wouldn’t even bother showing up around here.” His bemusement made me sick to my stomach as I rolled my eyes. If it hadn’t been for the “important” voicemail he had left me two days ago, I would have never even bothered showing my face around. To say that I wasn’t exactly liked around these parts of town (or a couple places between here and Beijing) was an understatement.

“I just couldn’t stand not being around here, Jack.” I mumbled sarcastically.

“You should come back here then sometime, and swim.” He offered and quickly I shook my head. If I hadn’t gotten back in the pool voluntarily since everything had happened, I wouldn’t be starting to now.

“I’ll pass this time. So what did you call me down here for? I do have a life, y’know?” The corners of my mouth turned up in a small smirk, letting him know I was joking.

“I have a favor of you,” he asked slowly. I raised my eyebrows; I wasn’t exactly one for favors. “More of a proposition…” I didn’t much like the sound of this.

“If it involves getting back in the pool again, don’t even bother wasting your breath. I’m not doing it. I gave this all up three years ago.” Before responding back to my statement, Jack blew his whistle and called for the end of practice.

“Just follow me to my office.” He responded as the girls from his training got out of the pool. Begrudgingly, I followed him down the tan office to his hallway. I knew he was trying to get me back in the pool again, but I was retired. And I wasn’t coming out of it.


“Caroline, I called you down here today because I have a big favor of you. Actually, the city of Pittsburgh has a huge favor of you.” After handing me a glass of water, and sitting back down at his desk, he began to speak of this “favor” and until I knew exactly, and one hundred percent what it was, I wasn’t going to agree to any terms and conditions.

“The city of Pittsburgh has a favor of me?” I bit back incredulously. “The last time the city of Pittsburgh had a favor of me, they asked if I would go on the Today show and apologize for being an embarrassment to their great city.” While I was being mostly sarcastic about the second part, it was in a way true. I wasn’t exactly in favor of the favors I was asked of.

“You know of Mario Lemieux, correct?” He asked, and I rolled my eyes. Jack knew that I knew Mario. Having growing up right next to Pittsburgh’s great, and babysitting his kids since they were infants, I- and my family- had gotten to know the Lemieux family very well. “He is the one who called in this favor, then.” I was confused. Mario called in a favor? To Jack? What on earth could have possibly been happening that he couldn’t call me- or at least my parents- and ask for this favor?

“Okay, so Pittsburgh doesn’t have a favor for me, it’s Mario. What is it?” As much as I was skeptical about this whole favor deal, I was a little more relaxed, for some reason, knowing Mario- another familiar face- had something to do with it.

“To put it basically, the Captain of the team had a concussion about a month ago. Two bad hits in separate games, and it left him pretty wonked out. Since the hits he hasn’t been able to exercise at all. Yesterday he was cleared to have light exercise, and the neurologist recommended that he start with swimming because it can be therapeutic and relaxing, while still working out your muscles.” My neurons inside of my head weren’t exactly connecting as they probably should have been, and I felt like I was left out in the dark. Why was I even there in the first place if he needed a swim coach? I wasn’t one of those.

“Sidney Crosby?” Jack nodded. Vaguely, I knew of him. By the time I was grown up and out of my own childhood residence, the man they called ‘Sid the Kid’ had moved in, and that seemed to be around the last time I saw the Lemieux’s. College, swim, family, and graduate school had been all more important than taking care of a couple of brats. When I had accepted a swimming scholarship to the University of Florida in Gainesville, I didn’t see much of my family for those four years. A lot of things had changed between now and then.

“Mario knew you were doing physical therapy, and asked if I would speak to you about it. He figured that somehow, someway I could talk you into it being your former coach.” I shook my head. This wasn’t something I was interested in.

“I don’t want to do it, Jack.” I let him know flat out.

“I figured you’d say that, Mutt. I figured I would have to beg you, and convince you to come aboard.”

“There’s no need for that. I just don’t want to do it. I’m busy right now with work and everything right now.”

“You can’t keep running away from your problems, Caroline.” The way he merely spoke those words made my blood boil. That wasn’t what I was doing.

“I’m not running away from my problems, Jack.” I huffed, taking a long sip from the water glass. “I’m staying clear away from them. Hence retiring. I don’t want to swim anymore. There are too many bad memories I don’t want to rehash.” The glare I was receiving across the wooden desk was dully noted, and I pursed my lips, trying not to fight back all the emotions I was feeling.

“Swimming wasn’t your problem Caroline, you know that. You just let it become another problem. Let it pull you in, and spit you back out all mangled and depressed. Believe me, I know. My bleachers that you took a baseball bat too know.” I hated when Jack was right; even if it was just 0.001% right.

“What’s the deal then? What do I have to do?” At that moment I couldn’t even believe I was letting those words be even uttered out of my mouth. Jacks mouth turned into a slight grin, but before he could even turn it shit eating, I stopped the ball from going out of the park. “I’m going to think about what you say, and then base my decision.”

“Everyday, or every other day, dependent on scheduling. I want you to get Sidney in the pool and do light workout stuff. Things you do at the VA PT center. Slowly, he’ll be able to work up. You should only be here a couple of weeks, and then you move on back to your life. No coming out of retirement, just helping your coach out.” He was guilt tripping me.

“And what exactly do I get out of this deal?”

“Obviously you’re going to get paid--” I shook my head and cut him off.

“Honestly, I don’t care about the money. You know that. I want to be able to use the pool. For recreational purposes, no training me or anybody else. But for exercise for me.” Surprisingly, he was for that.

“Actually I think that’s a pretty good idea. Get you back into shape, and you’ll be able to finally take over my job.” Even though I knew it was meant to be taken as I joke, I raised my eyebrows as I shook my head.

“No way, Jose. Told you I’m done with all that. Physical therapy is the only time I get in the water, and that’s for a good cause.” He grinned, shaking his head and taking a long sip from the water bottle perched on the corner of his desk.

“So does that mean you’ll do it then?” I took a deep breath, turning the time between his question, and my answer into an agonizingly long space of time. Finally I shrugged my shoulders nonchalantly, and got up from the chair I had been occupying.

“Guess you’ll have to find out if I show up tomorrow.” I replied back slyly as I made my way out of his office- the same way I had many times before- and out towards the lobby. I knew I was leaving Jack with a flabbergasted look, and no answer to probably a question that he had to report back to Mario on. But this was swimming, and there really weren’t any rules on how to play fair.
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Hello all :)

I've written and rewritten this story about a dozen times, and I'm finally (semi) happy about how this is going. The end isn't my exact favourite, but I wanted to get it out for y'all to read. Let me know what you think by commenting and subscribing. I promise you it will get better.

Also the '~~~' means that there is a break in time/place or such, just to let you know.