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
Sherry's eyes fluttered open. “Ugh,” she mumbled, rolling onto her side and curling one arm under her pillow while she draped her other arm over her lover's waist.
Pat playfully ruffled Sherry's tousled hair. “Good morning, to you, too, Grumpy.”
Sherry snuggled closer. “Sorry. Is it really morning already?” she asked even though bright sunshine flooding through the uncovered bedroom window.
Pat shifted to wrap her arm around her lover's shoulders. “Fraid so.”
“Then I repeat… Ugh!”
“Well, at least, it's Saturday.”
Sherry squirmed about until she could comfortably rest her head on Pat's shoulder. “Thank goodness for that. I never want to go through another Friday like yesterday again.”
Pat rolled her head to the side and kissed Sherry on the forehead. “It wasn't that bad.”
“Was too,” Sherry grumbled.
“Honey, I thought it went pretty well. The rookies showed a lot more effort. At least, some did. And the others we don't have to worry about any more. I'm actually starting to feel good about camp.”
“I keep thinking about the players we cut.”
“I cut,” Pat corrected.
Sherry propped herself up onto her elbow to look her lover in the eye. “Sweetheart, I know you keep telling me that you're the big, bad Coach but I'm not stupid. I know I have a role in this, too.” She dropped back down. “Yesterday was tough. The look on Wagner's face when she saw her name had been erased…”
“Sherry, Wagner didn't do anything to expect she'd make it past the first week. Neither did Fisher or the others we cut. I can't feel sorry for lazy players. Honey, not to sound mean, but you really need to toughen up because we have more cuts to make before camp ends. I know it's not pleasant but it is part of the job.”
“I know. It's just…” Sherry blew out a long breath of frustration.
“We cut a third of the rookies yesterday. I can't stop thinking that some of them might have made a stronger showing if they had more time.”
“We don't have more time,” Pat said annoyed. “They know what they're getting into when they come to camp,” she continued her voice rising in exasperation. “They know they have limited time to prove themselves. Damn it, Sherry, I don't have time to babysit these kids. Things are going to get a lot tougher in the coming weeks. If they don't show up for camp willing to make an effort, they've got no one to blame but themselves.
Sherry sat up. “Don't get mad at me. We promised we'd keep everything out in the open… I'm just telling you how I feel.”
Pat looked up at her upset lover and took the time to gain control of her growing anger before she replied. “I'm not mad at you,” she said forcing her voice to stay calm.
“You're mad at something.”
With a deep sigh, Pat raised her arm and tucked it behind her head. Then she locked onto her lover's eyes. “There are things about this job that suck, sweetheart. Cutting players is just one of them and, if you want to be a coach, you're just going to have to find a way to deal with that,” she said sternly.
“And if I can't?” Sherry shot back.
Pat dropped her eyes. “We both know the answer to that,” she replied quietly.
Sherry exhaled loudly as she settled back onto the bed and pressed her body against her lover's. “Dammit,” she spat out.
“Are you going to be okay?” Pat asked after several minutes of unsettling silence.
“I'm a big girl… I'll figure it out,” Sherry answered a bit more harshly than she intended. “Sorry, I didn't mean for that to sound like it did. I understand what you're telling me… it's just going to take me some time. Okay?”
Wrapping her lover in her arms, Pat kissed her on her cheek. “Of course,” she agreed. “But you're going to have to cut me some slack on some of this, too.”
Sherry forced just enough separation between their entwined bodies to be able to look into Pat's eyes. “What do you mean?”
“Cuts aren't easy for me either, honey, and I really don't want to rehash every lousy part of the job when we come home.”
Sherry dropped her eyes. “Oh. I guess I didn't think about that,” she admitted contritely.
Pat pulled Sherry back into her embrace. “I know it helps to talk about this stuff...”
“Let's not over talk it, okay? Cuts were made. As coaches, we discussed them and I made the decisions that had to be made. They're done and we need to forget them now and focus on the rest of camp and the season.”
Sherry was content to lay quietly enjoying the feel of Pat's loving arms wrapped around her even if her mind was still in turmoil. In an attempt to force her thoughts out of the cycle they were locked in, she raised her eyes to look out the window on the opposite side of the room. “Looks pretty nice out,” she commented on the sunny day developing outside.
Pat rolled her head to look. “Seems so.”
Sherry lowered her eyes to her lover. “What say we go out and find something fun to do?”
Pat's eyes widened in mock dismay as she asked, “You don't find this fun?”
Sherry poked her in the ribs, laughing when Pat yelped in surprise. “Yes, this is fun, you silly goose.”
“Then why don't we just stay in bed all day?”
Sighing happily, Sherry squirmed into a position providing even more skin-on-skin contact. “Okay, if that's what you want to do.”
“What was that?” Pat asked, her ears detecting an odd rumble.
Pat raised her head when the noise repeated. “That?” she said looking around their bedroom for the source of the growling.
Sherry laughed. “Oh, that. It's just my stomach. If you recall, we skipped dinner last night.”
Pat dropped her head back onto her pillow with a thud. “Damn, we did, didn't we?”
“One of the sucky parts of the job—coaches' meetings lasting until almost midnight.”
“Yeah, sucky,” Pat muttered in agreement.
“Tell you what,” Sherry said finding a ticklish spot under a very conveniently located rib. “I don't want to lay here listening to my stomach grumble all day so let's get showered and dressed and you can take me out to a late breakfast.”
Pat slapped at the offending fingers. “What's in it for me?”
“We'll drive down the Bitterroot, spend a few hours at Lee Metcalf to look at the birds; then I'll take you out to dinner at that steak restaurant you've been hoping to check out.”
“The one on the road to Skalkaho Falls ?”
“Is that a yes or a no?”
“Whether or not you will join me in the shower?”
Sherry laughed. “I know that's not a serious question,” she said sitting up and tugging on Pat's arms. “Get yer arse out of bed, woman.”
“This was a good call,” Sherry told Pat as they exited a small café just off the highway in Florence, a community halfway to their destination.
The café was constructed of logs and best described as rustic with a large stone fireplace situated at one end of a modest dining area filled with mismatched tables and chairs. But it was cozy with a friendly staff and food that was both reasonably priced and tasty. “I feel much better now.”
“It's a nice place,” Pat commented as they walked to the truck parked a few feet away.
Sherry climbed into the cab and settled back on the seat, content to leave Pat to the driving as she watched the scenery passing by outside her window. They had traveled a few miles south of Florence when she spotted a sign announcing the upcoming turnoff to the Bass Creek Campground. She smiled. “Hey, Pat.”
Sherry pointed at the sign. “Remember when you took me there?”
Pat gave the sign a read then tossed a quick glance at her smiling lover. “Technically, I did not take you; we met in the parking area.”
Sherry laughed. “So you do remember?” she asked thinking Was it really less than a year ago?
It was near the end of her first tryout camp and Sherry had been called into Pat's office to receive the unexpected, but very welcomed, news that she had not only survived camp but would also be offered a short term contract with the Cougars. Surprised as she was by that news, she had been even more astounded when she had impulsively suggested that the coach share a day off with her. Her request was immediately, and prudently, rejected. But later that evening she had received the phone call that changed her life.
She was about to go to bed when her phone rang.
“Yes. Who's this?”
“Listen, I was planning on a hike in the morning.”
The words had rushed out of Pat forcing her to listen carefully so she wouldn't miss any of them.
“Larry Creek Fire 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 around nine.”
Before she could reply, the line went dead.
“I remember I was scared to death,” Pat interrupted Sherry's thoughts. “I spent all night tossing and turning and telling myself I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I can't even remember how many times I started to call you back and tell you not to come. I was so sure that Mac would find out and I'd lose my job.” Pat sighed. “It was the absolute worst night of my life.”
Sherry nodded sympathetically. “Mine, too. I remember the drive down here from Missoula. I kept telling myself to turn around and go back. It was wrong. We were heading for a dangerous path.”
“It was a dumb thing for me to do,” Pat declared honestly. “I was your coach. It went against clauses in my contract… my own moral code… I knew it was so wrong.”
“But you still came,” Sherry said with a smile.
“Yeah… but I came pretty close to leaving,” Pat admitted.
Pat nodded. “I was at the parking area. As I waited for you to arrive, a voice in my head kept screaming for me to leave. It took awhile but I finally accepted what that voice was telling me.”
“But you stayed.”
“I waited too long. You arrived and I couldn't leave.”
“You could have. I would have understood,” Sherry said softly.
Pat turned to look at Sherry. Seeing the cheerless look on her face, she asked, “Would you have?”
Sherry shook her head. “No. Well, I mean I would have understood up here,” she said tapping her forehead. “But here,” she dropped her hand, clinching her fist over her heart, “I would have been devastated.”
Pat removed her right hand from the steering wheel and reached for Sherry's left hand resting on the console between them. “Me, too,” she said interlacing their figures.
“I knew we were playing with fire but, damn it, Pat, I had to be near you. I wasn't even sure why then… I just did.”
Pat grinned. “Looking back, it was so obvious. I was dopey in love with you.”
Sherry laughed. “Oh, honey, I think we both were.”
Pat sobered. “Boy, was it dumb to do that though. If Mac had found out…”
“I would have been booted out of camp, for sure,” Sherry stated wryly.
Pat thought for a moment. “What would you have done?”
Sherry shrugged. “Cried for a month; then, maybe, tried to get on with a team in Europe for awhile.” A smile slowly crept onto her face. “Then I would have marched right back to Missoula and camped out on your porch until you opened the door and took me in,” she said squeezing Pat's hand.
Pat smiled. “Believe me, you would have had a very short wait. That might have been the worst night of my life but it was sure followed by one of the best days.”
“Absolutely,” Sherry readily agreed. “I'm glad we did it, sweetheart. No matter the risk, I'm glad we did it.”
“I know it was wrong but I'm sure glad everything worked out in the long run.”
“Oh, boy,” Sherry said exhaling loudly. “And was it long. When you told me we couldn't have any contact, except for on the court, until the end of the season, I thought I'd never make it.”
“But we did.”
Sherry smiled. “Yes, finally.” She turned to look out the window toward the Bitterroot Mountains to the west. “We should go back there,” she said seeing the mountain trail with her mind's eye.
Sherry turned back to Pat. “Oh, hell, no,” she blurted out. “After this past week, my legs are too tired for that hike. A nice easy walk is what I'm looking forward to.”
“Then onward to Lee Metcalf. We're almost there.”
Pat steered the pickup into a parking area at the beginning of several walking trails in the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. She pulled close to the rail fence that separated the parking area from the wetlands and turned off the engine. “Trees are starting to turn,” she commented observing the yellow and orange coloring of leaves on several of the trees on the other side of the fence.
“Fall is definitely in the air,” Sherry concurred after pushing the door truck's open and feeling her skin react to the cool air. “Even with the sun shining, it's a little chilly out here,” she said walking around the back of the truck to join Pat who was just climbing down from the cab. “I'm beginning to regret letting you talk me into wearing shorts.”
Pat opened the back door of the cab. “We should warm up when we start walking. But, we did bring jeans and I put our jackets in this,” she said retrieving their day pack from the back seat. “Want to change?” When Sherry shook her head, Pat shut and locked the doors. Settling the pack on her back, she reached for Sherry's hand.
“Which trail?” Sherry asked with a smile.
“How about the long one out to the bridge and over to the sandbar?”
“Oh, I like that one. The river is down low enough we should be able to walk along it almost to the picnic area.”
The refuge, home to deer, squirrel, porcupine, pheasant, and visited by several varieties of migrating waterfowl, bordered the Bitterroot River. A variety of trails led from the parking area to the river. One of the trails was paved for handicap access and wove an easy path to a picnic area at the river's edge. The rest of the trails were dirt, rocky, and uneven, and wandered through pine, aspen, and large cottonwood trees to the river. After leaving the parking area and passing the portable toilet, the women started down one of the dirt paths. Almost immediately, the trail split and they veered to follow the right branch. The trail narrowed forcing Pat to reluctantly drop Sherry's hand and take the lead.
They hadn't walked very far when Pat abruptly stopped in the middle of the trail. “Look,” she whispered.
Sherry quickly spotted the whitetail buck Pat was pointing to on the far side of a small, grass covered clearing. “Nice,” she whispered cautiously stepping close to Pat to unzip the side pocket on the pack. “Make it stand there until I get out the camera,” she directed.
Pat laughed silently. “How do you suggest I do that?”
The buck raised his head to peer at the women.
“Hush. You'll scare it,” Sherry warned holding the camera out in front of her to look at its display screen. She centered the camera on the deer and pressed the button to take a picture just as the buck started to lower his head back to the grassy field.
The sound of the camera's shutter startled the buck. Its head jerked up then it turned and bounded into the trees and out of sight.
“You do know that we have deer in our yard practically every day?” Pat teased.
“It's not the same.”
“They're not wild.”
Pat laughed. “They seem pretty wild to me.”
Sherry chose to tuck the camera into the front pocket of her shorts instead of returning it to the pack. “It's not the same,” she explained nudging Pat forward. “I don't want a picture of a deer standing in front of the house… it just isn't right. Out here they're in their natural surroundings.”
Pat continued down the trail. “You know, you could just Photo Shop any pics you take of the deer in town,” she teased. “Just change the background.”
“Oh, please,” Sherry groaned pushing Pat further down the path.
Pat had found herself a patch of sandy ground next to the river and was sitting on it, her long legs extended out in front of her soaking in the warm rays of the sun. She was enjoying the sun and her view of Sherry stretched out on her belly a few feet away. “Is that really necessary?” she asked.
“Quiet,” Sherry hissed. “I don't want it to fly away.” She held the camera up to her eye and was peering through the view finder at a large bird on the opposite bank of the river.
Closing her eyes, Pat tipped her head back tilting it toward the sun. “It's just a heron.”
“And your point?”
“You've taken about two dozen pictures of it already and you're preventing me from one of my favorite pastimes.”
Sherry adjusting the zoom and took another picture. “It's a digital camera for a reason.”
“You'll fill up the memory card.”
“Doubt it,” Sherry countered as she shifted positions to get a better angle on the heron. “I can take a couple thousand with the new one I bought.”
“Oh, brother,” Pat muttered tilting her head back to expose her face to the sun.
Having located nothing in the river's water worth having for a mid-day meal, the heron spread its wings then with a slight bend of its knees and a flap of its powerful wings, the heron took flight.
“Alright, it's flying away.” Sherry watched the large, graceful bird disappear around a bend in the river before rolling over and sitting up. “Now, you can do whatever it is I was keeping you from.”
Before she got the words out, Pat had launched a fist size stone at the river.
“ That is one of your favorite pastimes?” Sherry asked after the rock hit the water with a loud plop.
Pat smiled and nodded. “Wanna give it a try?” she asked holding out another stone of equal size. “It's fun.”
Sherry laughed and shook her head. “Seriously, I sometimes wonder about you.”
“Only sometimes?” Pat asked launching another rock at the river.
“Aren't you afraid of scaring the fish?”
“Nope. Unless there is someone around here fishing… then rock tossing is frowned upon for that very reason.”
“Oh? So there are rules to rock tossing?”
Pat fired another stone toward the water. “Sure. Besides not throwing them if anyone is fishing, you also have to make sure you aren't throwing them at people… or animals.”
“Aren't fish animals?”
“Yes, but they're under the water and have time to get out of the way.”
“I'll take your word for that.”
Pat tossed another rock then brushed the sand off the palms of her hands. “Ready to head back to the truck?” she asked after standing.
“Yes.” Sherry reached for the hand being offered to her and allowed Pat to pull her up to her feet.
“Good. Cuz my stomach is beginning to sound like yours did this morning.”
Sherry laughed. “Then I guess we better take a shorter trail back to the parking lot.”
“That is definitely a good idea,” Pat agreed as she led Sherry across the field of river rocks and back to the bridge.
To Be Continued...
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