This story is a sequel to my stories , Fast Break and Footsteps (Ghost Towning) . You may want to read the preceding stories before reading this one. Fast Break and Footsteps (Ghost Towning) can be found on my on my website – mickeyminner.com
Brenda was sitting on the bench taking a breather when Pat blew her whistle calling an end to practice. Expecting that all the players would join the others on the bench, she was surprised to see Hudson and Dimchek motioned over to meet with the coach at mid-court. She watched the pair nervously approach their coach; her curiosity quickly changing into a mixture of disappointment and resentment when the pair of smiling rookies were directed to the far end of the arena where they could cross into lobby and to the elevators that would take them up to the office of the team owner. Dolefully, she dropped her head to study the floor beneath her feet.
Using the time to gather her thoughts, Pat waited a few moments. “Another part of coaching I hate,” she muttered under her breath as she started across the floor to join her assistant coaches and address the players. “It's been a good camp,” she began when she stood in front of her team. “But now the real work begins. Those of you already on the roster can go.”
“It's early, Coach,” Val spoke up. “I'm good to keep at it.”
Pat grinned at the player. “I know you are; but go ahead and take the afternoon,” she told the veteran. “You know it'll be the only short day you'll get all season.”
“Thanks, Coach,” Jade said standing. She started for the locker room, the rest of the roster players trailing behind her.
“We have a championship trophy to defend so I expect to see all of you back here bright and early Monday morning ready to work your butts off,” Pat called to the retreating players then laughed when a chorus of groans rose from the players. Turning back to the rookies, she told them, “I want to thank you for attending camp and for your hard work. You should be proud that you made it this far. You are quality players and I'm sure that you'll find a place in this league. Unfortunately, for most of you, that won't be with the Cougars. Okay, there's no point in dragging this out… Karam, Killen, Wilson, and Jackson, stay put. The rest of you, I'm sorry, I just don't have a place for you. Before you take off, be sure to check in with Coach Stockley and Coach Gallagher— they have contact information for teams still looking to fill their rosters.
“Lots of opportunities,” Sherry assured the disappointed rookies.
Inwardly, Jackson issued a sigh of relief as the dejected rookies followed Sherry and Kelley off the court.
“Alright,” Pat smiled at the four rookies sitting on the bench looking expectedly at her. “I'm happy to offer each of you a position on our roster.”
“As reserves,” Jackson said angrily.
“Yes,” Pat responded harshly. “I told you at the beginning of camp, I only had two active positions available,” she spoke directly to the irate rookie. “There's a contract waiting for you, Jackson… if you want it. But I won't lie to any of you… you'll most likely spend the season sitting the bench for games. But you'll practice with the team and you'll have the benefit of working with some of the best players in the league to help you improve your skills. Each of you is still here because I think you have something to offer this team; you just aren't at game level quite yet. It's up to you whether, or not, you want to accept this opportunity or whether you want to try another team.”
“I'm happy, Coach. Where do I sign?” Killen said smiling broadly.
“Me, too,” Wilson immediately agreed then high-fived the other rookie.
“You need to go up and talk with Mac,” Pat told them.
“Hold on, I'm coming, too,” Karam rose from the bench and trotted after them. “Thanks, Coach,” she said as she ran past Pat, “I really appreciate the opportunity.”
“Let's see if you still think that way in a few weeks,” Pat responded with a smile. After the lobby doors slammed shut behind the trio, she walked to the bench and sat down.
“I suppose you expect me to thank you, too,” Jackson said disagreeably.
Stretching her legs out in front of her, Pat leaned back in the seat. “Not really.”
“I want to play,” Jackson informed the coach.
“I know,” Pat replied nonchalantly.
“I'm good enough.”
“Good enough doesn't cut it on this team.”
Jackson studied the woman sitting calmly a few feet from her.
Pat turned to the player. “You've got talent, Brenda. But talent alone isn't enough. You have to be willing to work and you have to be willing to give all you have one hundred percent of the time. So far, you haven't shown me that. If it wasn't for Coach Gallagher's belief that you do have it inside of you, you wouldn't be sitting here right now. I was more than ready to cut you loose.”
Stung by the coach's admission, Jackson snapped, “I've heard from other teams.”
“Good,” Pat said standing. “Then you have other options.”
“If I sign, what are the chances I'll get to play?”
“I can't promise you anything. Its basketball… players get injured; dynamics change.”
“I don't have a crystal ball, Jackson. All I can tell you is, if you sign, you will start the season on the bench. But just like every other player who wears the Cougar uniform, when we win the championship you'll be able to claim part of that trophy as your own. Because even if you never get to play in a game, your contribution in practice will help us win that trophy.” Pat looked into Jackson's eyes. “If you want the contract, go up and talk with Mac. If you don't…,” Pat shrugged, “that's up to you.”
Jackson stood. “I'll be active by the end of season,” she declared boldly.
Pat watched the defiant rookie stride toward the lobby. “Jackson,” she called then waited until she stopped and turned around. “Don't make the mistake of trying to get there by injuring another player,” she warned grimacing inwardly at the memory of Sherry's feet being taken out from under her then slamming, head first, into the floor the previous season.
Jackson smiled wryly. “I don't need to play dirty to get there,” she replied forcefully then spun about to continue her march to the lobby.
Pat considered the player's comments for a moment before turning to walk to the opposite end of the arena.
Bypassing the locker room where Sherry and Kelley were busy providing information to the cut rookies, Pat walked into her office and dropped into her chair. Leaning back she closed her eyes.
“At least, this year's camp was a bit more peaceful than last year.”
Pat pried open one eye to spy Lizzie standing in the office doorway. “Thank goodness for small favors,” she muttered gesturing for the team trainer to enter the room.
“I'd ask about your leg but it looks like your head is the problem today,” Lizzie said sitting in one of the pair of chairs in front of the coach's desk. “Headache?”
“Do you want me to get you something for it?”
Pat straightened up. “As much as that sounds like a plan, all I really want to do is grab Sherry and go out in the woods for a couple of hours.”
“What's stopping you?”
“She's still talking to the players we cut.”
“I'm sure Kelley can handle that.”
“I'm sure she can but we agreed not to let our personal relationship interfere with our work here.”
“Pat, it's the last day of camp. You sent the players home early because you know they can use the time off.”
“Your point being?”
“You and Sherry are both players. You need the time just as much as the rest of them. So go get Sherry and get away from the game for a few hours. Monday is going to arrive whether or not you sit here. So do yourself, and Sherry, and your team a favor and go get lost in the woods.”
“You sound a little too hopeful when you say that,” Pat grumbled.
Lizzie laughed. “I should be so lucky. Go on, you're right, getting out there would be good for you and your headache.”
“Oh, good, I'm not the only one,” Sherry moaned walking into the room rubbing her temples. “Mine feels like it's ready to explode.” She slumped into the other chair in front of Pat's desk. “I hate to ask, Pat, but do you think we could blow this joint early today?”
“Did everyone get set up?”
“Kelley is finishing up with the last of them,” Sherry replied.
“Good,” Lizzie exclaimed. “Now, you two get out of here.”
Sherry looked hopefully across the desk.
“Grab your stuff,” Pat told her. “Let's go find a nice place in the boonies to enjoy some quiet time. Then I'll let you buy me dinner.”
“Ugh,” Sherry groaned pushing herself up out of the chair. “Boonies sound good; dinner not quite so much. Right now I doubt I could keep anything down.”
“Maybe we should just go home,” Pat said worriedly.
Sherry forced a smile. “Nope, I'm up for your first choice. Just give me time to get rid of this headache before we talk about food.”
“Right there with you on that,” Pat said as she set about clearing off the top of her desk. “Give me a few to get this cleaned up and I'll be ready.”
“Gotcha,” Sherry agreed walking out of the room to the outer office to do the same to her desk.
“Coach,” Lizzie said to gain Pat's attention.
“Take the weekend for yourselves… it's going to be a long season.”
Pat nodded. “Good idea. Thanks,” she added with a smile.
“That's what I'm here for,” Lizzie said with a back-handed wave as she walked out of the office.
After leaving the arena, they had driven home to take showers and change clothes since their route took them right past their house. Then they continued south to Lolo and west up Highway 12 to a forest service road that paralleled the East Fork of Lolo Creek. They drove along the gravel road until reaching a spot where they could safely park off the road at a bend in the creek.
Sherry sat on the creek bank with her feet soaking in the cold water. Bemused, she watched Pat, also with shoes off and jeans rolled up, wandering around in the middle of the creek. “Aren't you afraid you might fall in a hole out there?” she asked.
Pat chuckled. “Sweetheart, the water barely covers my ankles. I doubt there are any holes around here deep enough to cause me problems.”
“What are you looking for?”
“Just looking. You never know what you might find.”
Planting her hands in the grass behind her; Sherry leaned back and raised her head to enjoy the fading warmth of the setting sun. “You're crazy,” she said closing her eyes.
“Isn't that what you love about me?”
“One of the many things I love about you.”
“Ah, looky here.”
Sherry opened her eyes just enough to squint in Pat's direction. “What?”
“Somebody is missing a shoe.”
“Hey!” Sherry popped upright as the object was tossed at her feet, splashing water on her. “And just what do you expect me to do with this?” she asked pulling a water-logged sneaker out of the creek.
“Throw it up by the truck. We'll take it home and put it in the trash.”
Sherry flipped the soaked shoe behind her. “Your bit for ecology?”
“Doesn't hurt to do what we can?”
“Hmm,” Sherry murmured leaning forward to rest her arms on her legs. “What do you plan to do about Jackson?”
“Do I need to do something about her?”
“If you ask me, it sure sounds like she was challenging you.” On their drive to the creek, Pat had told Sherry about her meeting with the rookies offered reserve contracts.
“I suppose it could have been… for her.”
“Doesn't that bother you?”
Pat gave up her search for trash. She sloshed noisily through the water then dropped onto the bank beside Sherry. “I would prefer to think of it as a boast and not as a challenge,” she said dropping her hands into the water to cleanse them of the mud and small bits of gravel covering them. “Maybe she'll stop screwing around and start to prove that you aren't wrong about her.”
“Me? What do you mean?”
“You said to give her a chance… that she might surprise me.”
“You think I'm wrong, don't you?”
“I'm with Kelley when it comes to Jackson. One minute, I think she has possibilities. Then her attitude pops up and I think we're just wasting our time with her.”
Sherry twisted her head to look back at Pat. “Then why sign her?”
“I had four contracts to fill. There wasn't anyone else worth signing.”
“You didn't have to fill all of them.”
Pat shrugged. “Maybe you're right. Maybe she will surprise me.” Pat scooted closer and slipped an arm around her lover's waist. “Okay, enough about basketball. Lizzie gave us orders to take this weekend for ourselves and I think we should do exactly that.”
Leaning her head against Pat's, Sherry reached for her hand and entwined their fingers. “Can she do that?”
Pat laughed. “Have you ever tried to tell her no?”
“I figured out pretty quick that Lizzie doesn't take no for an answer.”
“And that's why she's in charge of our training staff.”
“I guess we better do what she said.”
“Do you have ideas as to how we should do that?”
“Haven't really thought that far ahead. Speaking of heads, how's yours?”
“Nice transition,” Sherry said with a laugh. “Mine is feeling pretty good. How about you?”
“Only problem I have right now is I'm so hungry I'm ready to start chewing tree bark.”
“Yuck. Better idea, let's drive back to Lolo and stop at the steakhouse.”
“Great idea!” Pat said releasing her grip on Sherry to stand up.
“It's amazing what a couple of hours out here can do,” Sherry commented as she was pulled to her feet.
Spreading her arms wide, Pat turned toward the creek. “Mother Nature,” she exclaimed in a loud voice, “the best medicine in the world for what ails you.”
Stepping behind Pat, Sherry wrapped her arms around her waist and looked over her shoulder. “It is so beautiful,” she whispered in her lover's ear. “Just like you.”
Pat turned her head and claimed Sherry's lips. “I love you,” she said moments later gazing into her lover's eyes.
“I love you, too.” Sherry released her hold on Pat's waist to grab her hand. “Okay, lover, let's go get something to eat before you start to chew on tree bark. I'm not sure I could ever kiss you again if you did that,” she teased tugging Pat toward the truck.
“Even if I brushed them?”
Sherry shivered in jest. “Yuck!”
Pat opened the passenger door then waited for Sherry to climb up into the cab. She started to close the door then stopped and pulled it back open. “What say tomorrow we get an early start and drive down to Bannack?”
“Oh, I'd love that,” Sherry replied excitedly. The drive to the ghost town was a favorite of hers. “We could camp there over night then stop at Coolidge on our way back.”
“That's a great idea,” Pat agreed then shut the door and hurried around the front of the truck to the driver's door.
To Be Continued...
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