Thick fog hung in the air outside the back gym door. I waited for him to emerge. Another loss, and it was all his fault.

“Stupid ref.”

He was taller than I realized…with a sadness hidden behind his striking baby blues.

A couple of my girls approached. I hoped they didn’t hear me. Our motto was to accept the game despite the tough calls. But tonight was different. The state championship depended on the final basket.

I waved and forced a smile.

“Good night, Coach Tessa.”

“Night, girls. Drive safe.”

They were two of my best players and practiced harder than the WNBA. Their execution of the last play was flawless—at least from my perspective. But that didn’t count. Only the whistle that blew mattered. I closed my eyes at the memory and let the rough brick claw my back.

“Are you waiting for me?”

My eyes popped open. He was taller than I realized, but not much older, with a sadness hidden behind his striking baby blues. Funny…I hadn’t noticed those when I screamed at him from the sidelines.

He shoved his hands into his pockets and waited for a response. The same hands that gave me a technical during the game.

“Trust me…that’s much worse than losing a high school championship basketball game.”

I straightened to my full height and lifted my chin. “You blew the game for us tonight.”

His jaw tightened at my accusation, and he shook his head. “The game is won or lost by the plays. I only call what I see.”

“Then you saw it wrong. That last call was an illegal screen and you know it.”

“It was a charge.”

He pulled his keys from his pocket and turned down the hill away from me.

I followed, determined not to let him off easy. “You robbed my girls of the state championship tonight. How dare you jeopardize their scholarships with overstrict calls.”

He halted his steps. Finally … my words stung like I wanted.

With a pivot, he moved closer.  “My overstrict calls save lives and keep players from injury. No parent or coach, yelling at me or applauding my decisions, needs to ever experience the pain of an injured child because the referee didn’t do his job. Trust me…that’s much worse than losing a high school championship basketball game.”

A sharp inhale choked back his tears. He dropped his gaze to the ground and fumbled with the keys. I looked down too. My toenail polish needed a spruce.

“Was it your kid?” I asked.

He ignored my question, slipped into his Jeep and drove away.

“Great, Tessa. You sure know how to win them over.”

I trudged to my car. Too many failures in one day. Failures with my words. With the game. With my team. This night called for some apple pie.

The bell hanging above the door to Lucy’s Diner tinkled when I entered. My usual booth, in the back corner, was occupied by a young man in a wheelchair. He sat at the end and tried to reach the ketchup bottle on the opposite side.

“Hey…didn’t you graduate from Edison High?” I asked.

The young man smiled and held out his hand. Strong grip and upper body muscles of a weightlifter. “Sure did. I’m Jake. Aren’t you Coach Tessa?”

I handed him the ketchup bottle. “That’s me.”

“What a great game tonight.  Saw you lose your cool at the end.”

“Yeah…well, that’s why I’m here for some of Lucy’s apple pie. Always makes me feel better.”

“Her burgers and fries do the same for me. My momma used to make the best homemade fries. I miss that.”

“She’s not around?”

“Died from cancer a few years ago. Probably best. She hated seeing me in this.” He tapped the chair.

“May I ask what happened?”

“Paralyzed from the waist down. An old high school basketball injury. It’s just me and Dad now.”

My stomach knotted at the revelation. It couldn’t be. That was too much of a coincidence, but I asked anyway. “Do I know him, your father?”

Jake smiled and pointed at the door. Behind me, the bell tinkled and the referee from the game approached.

“Hi, I’m Sam.” He took my hand in his. “It’s nice to meet you, Tessa.”

 

For more great sports love stories, check out the latest issue of Spark!

Meet the Author

Shannon Moore Redmon writes Romance Suspense stories, to entertain and share the gospel truth of Jesus Christ. Her stories dive into the healthcare environment where Shannon holds over twenty years of experience as a registered Medical Sonographer. Her extensive work experience includes Radiology, Obstetrics/Gynecology and Vascular Surgery. As the Education Manager for GE Healthcare, she developed an extensive medical professional network across the country.

Today, Shannon teaches Medical Sonography at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and utilizes many resources to provide accurate healthcare research for authors requesting her services.

She is a guest blogger for Jordyn Redwood’s Medical Edge blog and her flash fiction stories have been published in Splickety magazine.

She is a member of the ACFW, Blue Ridge Mountain Writer’s Group, and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. Shannon lives and drinks too much coffee in North Carolina with her husband, two boys, and her white foo-foo dog, named Sophie. You can find Shannon on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.