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Pat was sitting in the top row of seats in the first tier surrounding the basketball court. One foot as resting on the back of the seat in front of her and her notebook was balanced on her upraised knee as she wrote comments on the players. It was Friday morning of the last week of tryout camp and she was working on a list of players she would have to release at the end of the day. The time had come for her to make the final cuts.
“Morning, Coach,” Mac Christopher said as she climbed the steps to Pat’s location.
“Morning, Mac,” Pat looked up from her writing. It wasn’t often that the owner of the Cougars came into the arena during tryout camp, so Pat knew she must have something on her mind. She waited patiently for the woman to settle into a seat next to her.
“You’re gonna ruin my fancy cushions,” Mac said of the resting spot for the coach’s foot.
“Don’t have much choice,” Pat smirked, her foot remaining where it was. “You’ve got these seats so close together anyone over the age of ten must feel as cramped as I do in them.”
“More seats mean more tickets sold, Coach. Besides, that’s why I provide you such a lavish office to work out of,” Mac said, leaning back in the seat and raising her feet to mimic Pat’s more comfortable position.
“Can’t see the players from in there,” Pat’s eyes faded back to the action on the court where Marcie and Kelley were running the players through repetitions of set plays.
“Hmm,” Mac followed the action on the floor. “Good group in camp this year,” she said, appreciatively.
“Yes,” Pat agreed. “It’s going to be hard to make today’s cuts.”
“But you’ll do it,” Mac said matter-of-factly. She paid her head coach well and she expected her to make the hard decisions.
“I’ll do it,” Pat frowned as a player completely missed an easy pass thrown to her.
“Hope she’s on your list,” Mac grunted.
“She is,” Pat sighed.
“Want to talk to you about Gallagher,” Mac said as the players were shuffled by the assistant coaches and Sherry was brought in to play offense.
“What about her?” Pat tried to sound indifferent even though her stomach had unexpectedly dropped to the floor.
“We’re heavy in the guard position,” Mac told the coach what she already knew. “What do you plan to do with her?”
Pat considered the question, it being a fair one for the team owner to ask. “I’d like to keep her through our first couple of exhibition games,” she said, watching Sherry dribble the ball from the half court line to the top of the key before passing it off. “I’m not sure if Kinsey is going to make it through the season and right now Sherry is showing more than Wendy or Amie,” she said of her other two returning guards. “And Pete can’t carry point by herself.”
“All right. You can keep her as long as you’re sure she can play at this level.”
Instead of answering, Pat watched as Kelley tossed the ball back to Sherry to set up a new play from half court. Sherry dribbled the ball up the right side of the court, midway between the key and the sideline. Pat knew what play was being run and that it called for Sherry to fake a drive into the key, then pull up to drop a pass off to Val cutting along the baseline.
Sherry reached the spot she was to make her fake, from the corner of her eye she saw Dawn leaving her defensive position at the top of the key to try to cut off her drive. She also saw that Val was having trouble getting through the defenders along the baseline. Sherry took one step straight at Dawn who, surprised by the unexpected move, froze for a moment to consider her options. That was all Sherry needed. Changing directions mid-step, she cut towards the basket. When the defense began to collapse on her, she left her feet to slice through them. As soon as her shoes retouched the floor, she bounced skyward to pop the ball over the rim into the basket.
Kelley blew her whistle to freeze the players in place. “Okay,” she growled. “Anyone want to explain where the defense was on that play?” Sherry had been surrounded by all five defensive players and had still managed to make the shot look easy.
Pat smiled knowing Sherry’s display had been purely instinct and not something that most of her other guards could have executed even if they had thought of it. ‘Great time to pull that off,’ she thought to herself.
“She can play,” Mac conceded, impressed by the performance.
“I want the same agreement for Dawn,” Pat couldn’t seem to wipe the grin off her face even when she spoke of the other player. She wasn’t yet convinced that Dawn could play for the Cougars but she was willing to give her more time since Mac had wanted the player tried out.
Mac looked at Pat like she hadn’t understood the coach’s request. “She signed this morning, Pat. That’s what I was coming over to tell you.”
“What are you talking about?” Pat whipped around to stare at the owner.
“She was on the list you sent over,” Mac explained even though she thought it odd Pat would have forgotten which rookies she had approved to be presented with a contract.
“She wasn’t on the list, Mac.” Pat’s voice was low with a tinge of anger. “I didn’t even want her in camp and I sure as hell haven’t seen anything to make me think she’ll be anything but trouble for us.”
“She was on the list,” Mac repeated, her voice soft in an attempt to calm her upset coach.
“Oh, I’m sure it was,” Pat snarled. She had turned back to face the court and her eyes, darkening with anger, were fixed on Mandy standing on the opposite side of the court talking to the newly signed player. Pat had given her assistant a handwritten list earlier in the week to be typed up for the owner. Obviously, Mac’s niece had added one more name before giving the list to her aunt. Pat released a long breath to avoid saying what was on the tip of her tongue.
“I’ll talk to her, Pat,” Mac said. She hadn’t failed to notice the person the coach’s anger was directed at.
“Don’t bother,” Pat said as she stormed to her feet. “If Dawn has signed, it’s too late to change anything. But,” she glared down at Mac who was still seated. “I want it on record that I did not approve of Dawn and that chances are real good I never would have. Any trouble she causes is your problem, Mac. And Mandy’s,” she added as she stomped down the steps to the floor, the whistle she had shoved in her mouth blaring loudly. “Sprints, baseline to baseline. Now,” she shouted when the players stopped to look at her. “That means everyone,” she glared at Dawn when the player failed to join the rest of the team. “Dawn, get moving.”
Mandy watched Dawn trot to the closest baseline to begin running sprints then turned, marching across the floor towards Pat. Before she could say anything, Mac stopped her.
“Mandy,” Mac growled at her niece. “I want to see you in my office. NOW,” she barked as her niece’s mouth opened to protest.
Pat wasn’t paying attention to the exchange; she had already gone to the opposite end of the court to consult with her assistant coaches.
“We’re agreed then,” Pat was asking Marcie and Kelley.
The three women were sitting at the conference table in Pat’s office as they discussed the cuts to be announced at the end of that afternoon’s practice session. The players had been released for a long lunch break so the coaches could make their final decisions.
“Mac has already offered contracts to Latesha, Polly and Jade. And I’ll give her the go ahead with Ashley.”
“Polly turned her down,” Kelley announced. After her morning confrontation with Pat, Mac had decided to pass the bad news on to the assistant coach.
“Any reason?” Marcie asked, amazed that someone would go through tryout camp just to refuse to sign a contract.
“Homesick from what Mac said,” Kelley reported.
“Damn,” Pat muttered as she drew a line through the disinclined player’s name on the list in front of her. “Guess that moves Sara up,” Pat wrote in the name. “That leaves one spot to fill.”
“Don’t you mean two?” Marcie asked as she reviewed her own list of players.
“Dawn signed this morning,” Pat revealed.
“What?” both Marcie and Kelley asked at the same time.
“Mac got some bad information,” Pat frowned. “She thought Dawn had my approval and she made an offer. Dawn signed the papers this morning.”
“I can just bet how, or who, Mac got that info from,” Marcie muttered.
“Doesn’t matter now,” Pat told her assistant coaches. “She’s signed and we have to deal with the situation whether we like it or not.”
“So who fills the sixth spot?”
“Either Stacy or Sherry,” Pat said.
“My vote is for Stacy,” Marcie pulled a paper from the clutter spread out in front of her to read notes she had made on the player they were discussing. “I know you like Sherry but we have too many guards. Stacy can play both forward and post and she’s made some really good progress during camp.”
“Kelley?” Pat asked the other assistant coach for her opinion.
“Hate to say it because Sherry is the hardest worker of everyone in camp but Marcie is right. Stacy provides us the coverage we need.”
“Okay,” Pat added the player’s name to her list.
“Sorry, Pat,” Marcie knew the coach had taken a liking to the play of the guard from Arizona.
Pat shrugged before continuing. She wasn’t sure why but the thought of Sherry not being on the court the following Monday morning tied her guts into knots. “We have one final matter to discuss,” Pat said. “Kinsey saw her doc this morning.”
“How bad is it?” Marcie asked. They all knew the aging guard’s knees were bad and getting worse.
“He wants to do surgery now. She wants to play one more season.”
“What do you think?” Kelley asked.
“I think we owe it to her to let her make the call.” Even though she knew she should, Pat couldn’t bring herself to cut the veteran guard loose after she had been a loyal and productive member of the Cougars for the past several seasons. “But I think we need to take steps to be ready to replace if she can’t make it through the season. I’ve got Mac’s permission to keep Sherry for the first couple of exhibition games,” just saying the words made Pat feel better. “That should give us enough time to see what Kinsey is capable of and if it doesn’t look like she’ll make it, we can offer her spot to Sherry. Any objections.”
“Sounds like the best we can do, Coach,” Kelley agreed.
“I second that,” Marcie nodded.
“Okay,” Pat added a note at the bottom of her list. “They should be getting back soon,” she said of the players. “I want to work them on stamina drills this afternoon. I won’t be giving this list to Mac until practice is over so if you see anything to change your minds, let me know.”
“You got it,” Kelley said as she pushed her chair away from the table. “I’m going to grab a quick sandwich before we get started. You guys interested?”
“Yeah, I’ll come,” Marcie stood.
“Go ahead,” Pat told her assistant coaches. “I’ve got a couple of things I want to clean up before we start.”
As Marcie and Kelley opened the door to exit the room, Mandy pushed her way into it. “Pat,” she said as she hurried into the room.
Pat growled at the use of her name by the woman.
Marcie looked at Kelley, they knew anything was about to happen and they had no intention of being around if it did. Pulling the office door shut behind them, they ran for the outer door that would take them out of the office area completely and into the corridor.
“Mandy, I’m busy,” Pat said as she retrieved the papers strewn about the table.
“But you must remember that you had Dawn’s name on your list,” Mandy continued as if she hadn’t heard.
With the papers gathered up in her hands, Pat pushed away from the table to walk the couple of steps to her desk. “Mandy, I am very aware what names were on the list I gave you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some things I have to do before practice resumes.”
“But, Pat, I just typed what you gave me.”
Dropping into the chair behind her desk Pat refused to respond.
Mandy came around the desk to stand as close to Pat’s chair as possible then leaned casually against the desk. “Pat,” she softened her voice, “I know you’re upset with me but I’m sure I can think of a way to make it up to you.” She reached out to lightly rub the back of her knuckles against the coach’s cheek.
Pat swiped the offensive hand away from her face. “Damn it, Mandy,” she snapped. “When will you get it through your thick head that I have no intentions of ever sleeping with you?” Pat’s voice grew louder with each word. “Now, GET THE HELL OUT OF MY OFFICE!”
Mandy started to say something more then thought better of it. She smiled at Pat in a way that made the coach feel as if the woman was undressing her to appraise what she discovered underneath. With a flick of her shoulder length brown hair, Mandy turned to leave as requested. She stopped when she reached the door. “Do you have anything for me to give to my aunt?” she asked, her voice sugary sweet.
“From here on out,” Pat snarled without looking up, “I’ll hand anything I have for Mac to her personally.”
“Suit yourself,” Mandy smiled then left.
Pat jammed her elbows onto her desk and dropped her head into her palms, begging her racing heart to slow down before it burst out of her chest. “Tell me again,” she asked herself, “why I put up with her?”
Sherry sat in front of her locker. She had been passing the door that led into the coaches’ offices when she’d heard Pat’s declaration to Mandy. She jammed her elbows into her thighs and dropped her head into her palms, begging her racing heart to slow down. She was sure today would be her last in camp and she was sure she’d probably never see Pat Calvin again after today. So for the live of her, she couldn’t figure out why the words the coach had shouted at her assistant had brought so much joy to her heart.
Sherry hadn’t been surprised to be called to the coach’s office after practice but she was shocked when Pat explained she would be staying with the team past tryout camp.
“I can’t promise anything,” Pat was saying. “We’ll just have to see how things go with Kinsey. If she can play…” Pat couldn’t bring herself to finish the sentence.
“I understand, Coach,” Sherry was grinning ear-to-ear. At the very least, she’d have the opportunity to be part of the Cougars for two of their exhibition games. At the most, she’d be offered a spot on the season roster. As far as she was concerned, it was a win-win situation. And when you factored in the woman sitting on the opposite side of the desk; well it just kept getting better.
“That’s about it,” Pat smiled, feeling better than she had all day. “Unless you have any questions, you can take off for the weekend.”
For an unknown reason, Sherry found that she didn’t want the conversation to end. An idea popped into her head and without thinking she asked the coach, “I was wondering if you’d like to go for a hike tomorrow? I’ve been taking short ones like you suggested and I think I’m ready for something a little more strenuous.”
Pat almost said yes, then better judgment stepped in and she knew she had to turn down the offer. “I’m sorry, Sherry, but I don’t think that would be a very good idea. With me being your coach, well,” she hesitated when she saw the look of disappointment on the player’s face. “I mean, it could… You know if someone saw us…”
Sherry was embarrassed she hadn’t thought of what it might look like to someone who saw the coach and player out on what could be considered a social outing. “Oh, jeez,” she blushed as the full impact of her proposal sunk in, “that was really dumb of me. I should have thought before I opened my mouth. Forget I even mentioned it, okay? Really, just act like I never said it.”
“Hey,” Pat laughed as Sherry rambled on. “It’s okay. Really,” she smiled to reassure her player. “If things were different, I’d love to go. There are a ton of trails I’d like to show you. Fact is, I don’t like hiking alone but because of my position it’s hard to find someone who wants to go for the love of it and not just to say they went with the Cougar coach. And, unfortunately, you’re a player and I’m the coach…”
“So bad idea all around,” Sherry said, surprised at how sad the realization she could never enjoy a mountain hike with the other woman made her.
“No, good idea,” Pat said, wishing there was a way to make it happen. “Bad situation.”
“I better go,” Sherry rose from the chair she occupied. “I’ll see you Monday, Coach.”
“Early,” Pat teased.
“Early,” Sherry nodded.
“Have a good weekend, Sherry. And take it easy on the hiking; I don’t want any twisted ankles to have to explain to Mac.”
“I promise,” Sherry crossed her heart with her index finger before bending down to pick up her sports bag off the floor. “Have a good weekend,” she smiled, turning for the door.
Pat watched Sherry go. She almost went after her to say she’d changed her mind but common sense kept her in her chair. Spinning around to the window in her office that overlooked the staff parking lot, Pat watched Sherry cross the lot to the student housing buildings where the rookies were provided lodging while they attended camp, the university campus being adjacent to the Cougar arena. She felt an emptiness that she hadn’t felt in some time, not since Karen had walked out on their relationship.
As her eyes tracked Sherry’s movement, Pat noticed a car pull into the lot and speed for the side door to the arena. Dawn jumped into the car and Mandy sped back out of the lot, squealing tires as she whip-tailed onto the street. The thought crossed Pat’s mind to put a call into Mac’s office where she was sure the owner was still working even if it was early Friday evening. After all Mandy was a member of the Cougar administration and with Dawn now a signed member of the team, any social relationship between the two would be as inappropriate as any between herself and Sherry. But at the moment, she didn’t much care. Mandy was Mac’s problem. And as far as Dawn was concerned, she would coach the player and do everything she could to make her a viable member of the Cougar team but beyond that she was Mac’s problem.
Pat spun back around to her desk. She tidied up the top of it, putting loose papers into a drawer and neatening up the various pieces of office equipment she kept on it. The last thing she did before standing was to lock the desk drawers. Then she picked up her bag, snatched the single sheet of paper lying in the printer’s tray and walked to the door. Locking the door behind her, Pat made her way to Mac’s office located on the top level of the arena. After delivering the list of players who had survived tryout camp to the team owner, Pat wished her a good weekend and walked to her car. As she walked, she thought. And the more she thought, the more Sherry’s invitation appealed to her.
There was something about the player that just seemed to bring a smile to her face whenever she thought about her, which Pat suddenly realized was more often every day. She wasn’t sure if it was the dimples the framed Sherry’s mouth when she smiled or the cute way she grinned when she completed a move that surprised everyone on the court. Maybe it was the way she looked walking into the locker room every morning in shorts, cut-off sweat shirt and hiking boots or the way she filled out those shorts.
Whatever it was, Pat liked it. The only question was, what was she going to do about it?
Sherry was surprised when the phone in the dorm room rang. She was just about to go to bed and wasn’t expecting any calls. It could have been for one of her roommates except that of the four that had started camp sharing the room, she was the only one still with the team. She padded over to the phone, lifting the receiver to her ear.
“Yes. Who’s this?”
“Listen, I was planning on a hike in the morning,” Pat rushed to say what she’d been thinking before she let her better judgment talk her out of it. As she had driven home, Pat thought of a trail that wasn’t too far from town but was relatively unused by most day hikers. In fact, on the numerous times she’d completed the particular hike, she had rarely ever crossed paths with other hikers. “Larry Creek trail. Go south on Highway 93 approximately twenty miles to Bass Creek turnoff. Drive to the campground and take the road to the horse trailer parking area. I’ll be there about nine.”
Before Sherry could respond, the line went dead.
“I’ll be there,” Sherry said to the dial tone.
Continued in Chapter Five
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