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The Learning Hours

By:Sara Ney

Rex Gunderson

University of Iowa’s Team Manager





Rhett Rabideaux is one ugly son of a bitch.

Solid as a brick shithouse, I watch him squat over the practice mat, hands braced for balance, his stance unwavering as Zeke Daniels grapples for a hold on him.

Rabideaux is one of the few on our team that can beat Daniels at his own sport.

Raising the whistle to my lips, I ready myself to blow, to end their practice sparring round, which has turned into a pissing match.

As the new guy on the team—a transfer from Louisiana—Rabideaux is still proving himself, despite his impressive record. Nearly unbeatable, his stats are worthy of the two-time NCAA champion he is, and they’re the reason he was recruited away from his university.

Iowa’s coaches wanted him. Courted him.

Signed him.

I don’t know what promises Coach made to the kid—tutors, more scholarship money, his mug on campus billboards—but it was attractive enough to lure him from the safety of one scholarship for another—and bring him to the lion’s den of his rival.

And into my house.

Rhett Rabideaux is my new roommate.

He stands six feet tall as he shakes Daniels’ hand with one swift pump. They step away from each other, backs turned, no victor—and no love lost between them, either.

I grab a few towels, holding one out for the new guy.

He snaps it out of my hand, dragging it down his perspiring face. Down the slightly crooked nose that’s been broken one too many times. Over his bruised left eye. Over the stitched-up eyebrow, a gash from having his face pressed too hard into the mat at practice last week.

The dude is a mess.

A giant, sweaty mess.

Nonetheless… “New Guy, you coming out with us tonight?”

He pauses, mammoth paws still. “Where y’all goin’?”

I shrug. “I don’t know—out. To the bars. Does it matter?” It’s not like he knows any of the bars in town, jeez. He has to go where we go or he sits home on his ass, alone.

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Word of advice New Guy: when someone extends their hand, you take it.”

I’m not going to beg the dude to come out with us, but occasionally, he’s fun to have around, and it’s nice having fresh blood around the field house.

Rhett mulls my words over. “Who’s going?”

Another shrug. “I don’t know, a bunch of us guys.”

“A sausage-fest you mean?”

“Fuck off.”

“So that’s a yes?” He laughs.

“Me, Pittwell, Johnson. Maybe Daniels and Osborne.” Although to be honest, those two are so pussy-whipped, it’s not likely. They’ll be home tonight, curled up on the couch watching chick flicks, their arms elbow deep inside their girlfriend’s pants, or snuggling, or whatever the hell it is they do.

I keep the fact that they’re probably not coming out tonight to myself.

Lucky bastards, getting laid instead.

“So, you coming or what? You can’t stay holed up at the house all weekend—your dick is going to shrivel up if you don’t get laid.”

He arches a battered eyebrow. “Who said it’s my aim to get laid?”

Aim to get laid? Who the fuck talks like that?

I hold up my hand to stop any weirder shit from coming out of his pie hole. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t just say that.”

“Whatever.” He walks away, tossing his sweaty white towel into the linen cart as he passes it and snatching a clean one from the rack on his way into the locker room.

I trail along after him.

He stops at his locker, stripping down. He shucks his shorts, peels off his shirt, and tosses a glance over his shoulder. “If I go along tonight, are you going to lay off? You’re driving me fuckin’ nuts.”

Wraps the terrycloth towel around his hips.

“No, I’m not going to lay off. I’m trying to show you the ropes, teach you a thing or two.”

“You?” He laughs. “You’ve got to be kiddin’ me. What the hell am I going to learn from you?”

“Well, for starters, you’re way too nice. Girls always go for assholes. With a face like that, you’ve got to work harder to make them want your dick.”

His lip curls unattractively. “Gee, thanks.”

I follow him to the showers.

Zeke Daniels stands under a spray of water, steam rising around him as he washes his black hair. He scowls when he sees me, turning to face the tiled shower wall, presenting us with his massive barrier of a back.

His tattoo—a rising phoenix surrounded by geographical locations—glares moodily at me, too.

“Daniels, tell the new guy here girls like dating douchebags.” The asshole ignores me, but I laugh it off—he’s always joking around, that guy. “Would you at least tell him he’s too nice to women?”

Silence.

“You know how girls are, they like it when you—”

Zeke finally speaks, grunting. “Gunderson, leave him the fuck alone, for fuck’s sake.”

Jesus, so moody this guy. “You going out tonight, Daniels?”

He grunts again, scrubbing his armpits. “Probably not.”

“Why? You watching The DUFF?”

His arms are raised above his head as he scrubs his hair, and he turns slightly to give me a narrowed side-eye. “Gunderson, why don’t you mind your own damn business?”

“Well, are you?”

“No, dumbass. I’m watching whatever the fuck I want to watch.”

Yeah right. He’s been home three weekends in a row, binging on movies with his girlfriend and playing house with the two kids they babysit.

He looks past me at Rhett and sneers. “Do yourself a favor Rabideaux, don’t let this idiot lead you around. You’re way too good to be associating yourself as his wingman.”

He shuts the water off, irritably throwing another glare in my direction. “If you’re not showering, Gunderson, climb down out of his ass and get the fuck out of here.”





Rhett





“Let’s toast to the new guy!”

Oz Osborne, a senior on the wrestling team, rises to stand at the table where the wrestling team is gathered—the entire team, packed into the dining room at some twenty-four-hour restaurant off campus for what they’re calling a ‘welcome to the team’ dinner after practice.

“Here, here! A toast,” someone else calls with a snicker.

Osborne raises his water glass in the air, shifting his body in my direction and speaking directly to me. “New Guy, we might question your life decisions based on your choice in roommates”—he shoots Rex Gunderson and Eric Johnson a grin—“and your ability to dress yourself but in true U of Iowa fashion, we officially welcome you to the team.”

He lifts his water glass higher. “Some of us had our reservations about having you”—he throws a quick glance toward Zeke Daniels, who immediately glowers—“but we’ve got your back.”

“And your front,” comes a shout.

“Until you start losing,” someone else adds under their breath.

Osborne chuckles and points to me. “He’s right. You start losing, we kick your motherfucking ass.”

More laughter. “Should we just toast to kicking his ass?”

“Everyone raise a glass to New Guy and make it quick. Daniels and I have to split—his little bro has a play at school or some shit.”

The room is filled with cheers and leers from my new, overly rambunctious teammates as they enthusiastically clink water, soda, and coffee cups over the linen-topped table, liquids sloshing onto the white tablecloths. An enormous amount of food clutters the long banquet table: pasta, hamburgers, appetizers, French fries, bottles of ketchup and mustard. A few of them ordered milkshakes and specialty coffee, and there’s also ice cream.

I curse under my breath; what a bunch of slobs. Look down at the ketchup near my fork and spoon. “Be right back,” I mutter to Gunderson, shoving my chair back and standing. “Gotta piss.”

He nods with a smirk, eyes darting around the table. “Take your time.”

I make short work of taking a leak, wash my hands, and stare myself down in the mirror. I note my downturned, unsmiling face. The bruises. The hair that could use a cut. The ears that have been crushed one too many times by my headgear throughout the past few years.

Bracing my hands against the counter, I lean in.

“What the fuck are you doin’ here, Rabideaux?” the reflection asks itself. “What. The. Fuck. Are. You. Doin’ here?”

What the fuck possessed me to switch schools when I could have stayed in Louisiana? Finished out the season a champion, started a career instead of upsetting and disappointing my parents, uprooting myself, moving halfway across the country.

For what? More scholarship money? More expenses paid? To have a face nobody wants to see plastered on a university billboard?

Has it been worth it?

I take another hard look at myself, disgusted, before straightening.

“Bat-shit crazy is what you are.” I curse to myself one last time before tossing the paper towel in the trash.

Unlock and push through the steel bathroom door.

Head back to the table full of—

No one.

I come up short to a dining room of empty tables, save for a few surrounding booths and curious onlookers, families and other patrons eating—but no wrestlers.

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