Joe lives football, always has, and he takes his coaching job seriously. He doesn’t see it as training a team to win sports, but training young men to be role models, as well as talented players. He wants them to work as a team and for a team, rather than trying to stand out as a star player. He wants them to learn, to think, to see the world beyond the allure of the NFL, because not everyone gets drafted and not every player is a star. They also must face the long-term realities of a very physical sport on one’s body. Joe is known to be one of the nicest men in the NFL, and he intends his students to carry on his torch.
Joe has also been pining for about 15 years for the man he met in college. The man he almost, but didn’t kiss. Over the years, Joe and Leslie have kept in touch, texting and emailing, meeting up when their lives allowed, but always staying arm’s length apart. This time will be different, though, since Joe has a plan. Returning to their college as the new football coach, Joe suggests that Leslie, now a famous choreographer and dancer, be recruited to help the college cheer and dance team. Joe is a retired NFL star who, due to numerous head injuries, faces brain damage and migraines. Now he coaches, but the headaches remain. With enough money to live on comfortably for a generation or two, he’s bought his mom a house and donated heavily to his college … heavily enough that they’re more than willing to scout out Leslie for their cheer program with Joe’s support.
For Leslie, life has been a cabaret. Reality TV, Broadway, Emmys and Tonys, and traveling around the world. But he has also fought tooth and nail for everything. He’s pushed his body as far as it can go and now lives with constant pain. He’s versatile, trained in various schools of dance, and has a reputation as a task master on a current dance reality show. He also still dances, performing as often as he can, knowing the clock is ticking on how much longer he can last, how little time he has to both make money and enjoy his passion. It makes him take risks, as he simply can’t give up or give into the pain. Now, closer to 45 than 35, his body is feeling the aches and pains of a strenuous life. How much longer can he keep dancing before his body gives out altogether? Teaching cheer and coach at his college sounds right up Leslie’s alley, as it was there he found his first love: dance. And met his almost second love, Joe.
It’s been 15 years of pining for both men. Fifteen years of dreaming, hoping, and wishing. If Joe and Leslie take this final step to be together to try for a relationship … will it work? Is it worth throwing away 15 years of friendship for a touch, for a kiss, for a chance?
So, unfortunately, this book didn’t work for me and the main culprit was the pacing. We enter in on a relationship 15 years in the making, so there’s no sense of tension between the main pair. Instead, it feels like we come into the story to a couple already in the midst of the settling into their grove. The relationship is taken for granted, so there’s no build and release of tension or appreciation of the journey they’ve taken to get there. All of that happened before the book even started. At this point in the story, Joe and Leslie are old friends. Best friends. And Joe wants to take it to the next level and sleep with Leslie, then move in and start building that white picket fence before Leslie escapes. But even Joe’s obsession feels hollow, as he’s talking about the 15 years of courting, chasing Leslie down, dreaming about Leslie … but I felt like I was reading the second book in a series, with no idea what had happened in book one.
The men were good friends at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end, and I couldn’t detect any real change in their relationship except they finally had sex. Likewise, there was no real character growth, since the characters end more or less where they started. The question of what is holding up the men getting together didn’t really work for me either. We get a tease of “no, we mustn’t” while they both make eyes at one another, half naked in a room. But why mustn’t they? Because they have other things going on? Classes to teach? Classes they’ll be teaching for weeks and months and years? Does this mean they should be celibate until summer? Leslie gives a line about how he doesn’t want to risk their friendship, but it rang hollow since he knows Joe’s been obsessing over him for so many years. Joe isn’t going anywhere, having moved mountains to get Leslie hired at the same college. Leslie briefly has a moment of thinking they shouldn’t flirt so obviously, but everyone in town seems to know how hot they are for each other and are completely fine with it, and Leslie is open about talking to people about Joe … so why is he afraid of people finding out about it?
Everyone’s voice also sounded the same, everyone seems equally friendly and fine with one another and shipping Joe and Leslie. The author’s writing is good, and there are nice discussions and examinations of the chronic pain an athlete endures, and how people go about living with pain — and how it affects their future, and how much of it they have left. However, the story’s pacing is very lopsided and the characters all felt very one-note. I’ll be curious to see what this author writes in the future, but don’t recommend this one as it stands.