I have been working on-and-off with this multi-part story for quite some time. Too long, really, but some things take a little more time to process than others, I suppose.
There are a lot of reasons why it’s taking so long to form and finish this one, and maybe I’ll tell you all about them one day. But one of the more concrete hurdles has been that I’m not sure if it’s… smutty enough? It’s arguably very erotic in how comprehensively sensorial the narrator’s physical and emotional experience is, but it’s not overtly sexual. At least, not right off the bat. It’s more of a… really fucking long erotic metaphor on body responses and the spectrum of dom-sub power dynamics, and I’ve been worried about no one would want to read a couple thousand words from a Smut Queen that don’t have any sex in them, so I’ve let that be a point of anxiety and procrastination for over a year now…
The plan is for it to get smuttier as the story draws on, if that’s any consolation to you, dear Reader. But fair warning: this is a slow burner with a lot of contextualizing, even for me. And frankly, I’m not even sure if I’ll ever be able to take it all the way through to its end because of how fucking hard it is for me to write. It’s not a true story, but it’s not *not* true, so we’ll see how far it goes.
But I can’t deny that I need to write this story. For me, more than anything.
I ask that you be gentle with your feedback on this one.
Everything started to shift between us when I came home from school for the summer.
It had been over a year since I left the competition racket; university won out over me trying to pave my road to the Olympics. Sometimes I regret having made that choice. I didn’t learn until it was too late that higher education can be postponed without penalty. Letting go of an athletic career at the peak of your biological prime though? That can never be salvaged.
Regardless, the high of the physically-demanding training combined with the adrenaline of kicking someone in the face is something you never really, ahem, kick. And after a year of abstinence, I needed a fix. I might not have been in a position to maintain my serious competitive habits anymore, but when I talked to my old coach about arranging the odd one-on-one session in the summer, he was happy to hook me up.
The fledgling champions were just finishing up when I arrived at my old taekwondo studio. Competition season was over, but there was no rest for the die-hards. “Winners never quit, and quitters never win,” was one of the mantras that my first instructor had burned into my brain at the tender age of 7, and off-season training was just as crucial to victory as perfecting the tactical drills.
“Yo, Renault!” Darren flashed me a toothy smile as he made his way across the hall towards me.
Though he looked every bit the school’s old Korean grandmaster’s son, Darren was much more laid-back than his traditional father and he often forgot that he wasn’t a twenty-something anymore, which only made him more endearing in some ways.
Darren greeted me with his typical high five and hug combo and said, “Welcome home, kid. Go ahead and get yourself warmed up. I’ll be with you in a few.”
I knew this one as well as any of the drills we did on the mats: he had to schmooze with parents and squeeze in a quick cigarette before he could get his head back in the game for me.
The space smelled of minty disinfectant spray and the ghosts of warm bodies. I spread my toes wide as I stepped across the spongy yellow and blue jigsaw mats covering the studio floor. Nearly a year had passed since I’d last been there but my favorite skipping rope, the thin brown leather one with the polished wooden handles, was right where I left it. I plucked it from the box and set to warming up.
My bare feet were light as I skipped quietly in place in front of the wall of mirrors. My joints welcomed the warmth of freshly oxygenated blood while the sounds at the edges of the room began to fade from my halo of awareness.
It didn’t take long for my temperature to rise. I unzipped from my hoodie and tossed it to the floor. Underneath, my grey tank top had already begun to darken while beads of sweat collected at my temples, the base of my swishing ponytail, in the delta of my lower back.
A few rows of fluorescent bulbs above my head suddenly went grey. In the early days, our team had trained in a shady basement before the school graduated to this shinier new studio. And some of us who started out in that basement, like me, brought our penchant for dimly lit sweat sessions over in the move. I smiled, grateful that Darren took care to remember and indulge me.
I watched him in the mirrors as he approached me from behind with two handheld targets, one in each hand. He was dressed in his usual plain white t-shirt that hung loose on his lithe frame and well-worn black track pants, both providing a striking contrast against the dark gold of his skin. He really had no business looking as good as he did in that ensemble.
When his oddly comforting nicotine haze hit me, it was as though the last piece of our puzzle had linked together as seamlessly as the mats under my feet. It’s strange how the things you miss the most are the ones you still managed to forget.
“You warm yet?” he asked.
“You bet, Coach.”
I jumped as the echo of him slapping the target faces together rang out in the hollow space around us.
I may not have been as quick out of the gates as I once was, but it didn’t take long to find my rhythm as we settled into the familiar dance of our kicking drills. And with every kick, I grew a little faster, a little stronger, a little more precise until the top of my foot found the sweet spot almost every time with a delicious, snapping POW of connecting with the target.
Our dance evolved steadily from the light repetitiveness of a simple waltz to an impassioned tango of tactical responses. He grew relentless in his advance, forcing me to consider any and every maneuver I had in my arsenal, oscillating back and forth between my defensive and offensive options by means of some second nature.
In the early stages of my training, I felt left out for not having a label for my fighting style. Summer was known for her ace defensive game. Kara was the star “headhunter” with her very aggressive strategy that involved frequent ruthless shots to the side of her opponent’s head. Meanwhile, I just flip-flopped between the overwhelming plethora of options available to me and felt like there was nothing special about my technique as a result. It was Darren who helped me see that it was in my versatility that my strength really lied.
If I hadn’t been able to see myself in the mirror, red-faced and glazed with sweat, I wouldn’t have believed time how much time had already passed. I paused to wipe my forehead with my equally sweaty forearm and was suddenly hyper-aware of just how drenched I was. I tucked a wet strand of hair back behind my ear and let my hands fall loose down by my sides to wipe my palms on my pants.
“Get your fucking hands up,” Darren barked.
I shuddered at the intensity of his words. There was a force in his commands that always excited me as much as it made me anxious. I hated to disappoint him but sometimes I wondered if I let myself get lazy on purpose just to get a rise out of him.
Shifting the weight from one foot to the other, I nodded and mumbled a “yes, sir,” through lips nearly glued shut by concentrated saliva and shrugged my front shoulder. He took this as my obvious sign of consent—I was ready to receive whatever he was about to throw at me.
Darren was taller than me. Lanky but wiry. Unassumingly agile, with a bird-like face; his sharp beak nose and near-black eyes were shadowed by the sterile-white brim of his cap. His stance was even longer than mine, unwavering, and ominously static. But his stillness had no bearing on his speed. He glided in towards me with nimble grace, raising the handheld paddles like pantomime attacks to receive my slicing defensive kicks. I reacted before I saw it, but I was still behind the mark.
My jaw clenched and shot another shudder down my throat in response to the sharp staccato of the targets clapping together again.
“Come on, Renault. Being out of shape isn’t an excuse to slack off,” he growled. “Again.”
Whenever Darren signaled the start of the next drill, I was conditioned to turn right back on. My body’s response to the sharp crack of those targets was practically Pavlovian and I hadn’t eaten in so long.
I parried his next attack with my forearm and landed a most satisfying, ear-shocking snap on the face of the paddle in his hand. Brows furrowed, eyes firing, I released a blood-curdling scream on contact to sing my primal satisfaction and moved right through the kick into him.
Our bodies were flush. So close, his pulse beat through my body. I didn’t think about it at the time, but his cock had to have been pressing into my leg then. Sweat was everywhere, sources undetermined. Nothing but thin, damp layers of cotton separated our bodies as we clung together.
When I started to retreat, Darren reached his hand in between us and grabbed the bottom of my shirt, holding me there. He wrapped his other arm around behind me, trapping me in place. I attempted to pull away, only to snap back into him like an elastic band.
“Don’t be so eager to fly away,” he panted hot in my ear. “When you’re in this close, hold your ground and wait for the ref pull you apart.”
He released his grip on me, allowing us then to separate. “Pulling away like that just opens you up, makes you vulnerable to their attack,” Darren explained as if it wasn’t the thousandth time he had reminded me. “Don’t give it to them. Take the opportunity to reset and go back in on your own terms.”
With a quick bow of acknowledgment, I said, “Yes, sir,” and we readied ourselves again.
We danced through more drills until my head spun again, more, still. Until the sweat stopped. Until my eyes blurred over. Until the sweat doubled down. Until I thought I might throw up. Until I did throw up.
“Come on,” he barked at me while I was still bent over the sink in the corner, spitting up the fear of defeat. “We’re not done yet. Again.”
My breath clawed its way down my arid throat while my heart pounded flickering lights into the backs of my eyes. What little saliva I could muster cut like tiny blades all the way down to my guts. Every muscle was engulfed in fire.
But Darren’s harsh encouragement always fuelled me like nothing else. And again, I assumed my position. Simulating readiness despite my liquefied nerve fibers.
To retreat into that stillness beyond the waking mind and let the dance take over my body, that was where the magic happened. Beyond the anxiety, beyond the fears of failure, beyond the over-thinking and over-analyzing, the them versus me versus them versus me. Simply reacting to body flow. Following the lead, or taking it over. Either way, finding my footing and feeling my way through to surpass my opponent. Everything made sense in the clean, blank, nothingness between the movements.
I lived for it.
Drill after drill after drill. The snap of my kick whipped the paddles, echoing through the otherwise barren hall. My breath weighed heavy at the bottom of my lungs, but my feet were light on the mats. Bob, weave, lunge, kick back.
When I connected with the paddle that time, he lost his grip on it. It flew clear across the room.
But Darren didn’t skip a beat. He tossed the other paddle aside too and slid in towards me and pressed his shin into my torso to limit my options, but I pushed past it and we clinched again. Just like before, he held me in place with his forearms locked at the elbow, bracing my smaller form. He smelled of coffee dust and the faded memory of his morning cigarette; I felt his ragged breath skirt somewhere above my sweaty brow and the subtle scruff on his chin grazed my forehead.
This time I waited until he gave the word before we pushed away from each other. And just like he told me, I set up and went back in on my own terms. My back foot sprung up from the ground, crescenting in across his face. I barely grazed the tip of his beak but my big toe flicked the cap from his head. I then glided swiftly back into him, hiding in his ribcage from any possible retaliation, just as his hat hit the floor.
“Fuck me,” Darren said, taken aback. Though my face was buried into the sweat of his heaving chest, I heard the lift in his cheeks as the surprise on his face was quickly replaced with a swell of smiling pride, and he whooped his approval. “There she is!” He gave my shoulders a gentle squeeze before pulling away. “That’s my girl.”
He bent to pick his hat up and slicked back his dampened waves to put everything back into place, then raised his hands to me, requesting a high five or two. I tried to give him what he asked for, but I was spent; he wrapped his arms around me when I slumped right into him. Darren clasped my skull protectively with one hand and kissed the top of my head. I melted into him, nuzzling back into his chest.
The relationship between coach and athlete is hard to describe even to those who are in it. It was a special kind of camaraderie, but there was still a power dynamic to respect. There was trust, but it was more than that. There was an intimacy that didn’t always need words. And the only thing that came close to the thrill of winning a fight was scoring his approval.
“Not bad, Renault,” he said as he released me from his embrace. “Not as rusty as I thought you’d be.”
“Ugh, gross,” he added playfully, wiping my sweat from his palm on his pant leg.
After having spent significant amounts of intimate, very sweaty time together, and reaching such a high point of mutual adoration, it’s a wonder nothing happened sooner.