TP's 2013-2014 Baltimore Spirits Stories

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TrianglePascal
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TP's 2013-2014 Baltimore Spirits Stories

Postby TrianglePascal » August 20th, 2014, 9:06 am

Hey folks, just posting the couple stories I wrote about members of the Spirits over the past season. These ones have slightly less continuity than the ones I posted about the Thrust; it's just two stories about Catherine DeMille, and one about Corey Allen.

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TrianglePascal
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Hollow Bones

Postby TrianglePascal » August 20th, 2014, 9:17 am

She saw him coming from a few steps away. She had just caught the ball, and was turning, halfway into rising to the balls of her feet to shoot. Godric Jafet, the Biloxi Voodoo’s enormous hippopotamus center, was turning and stepping towards her, hoping to block her before she could make the shot. He had to be at least twice her weight, and all of that was hard, well-trained muscle. She knew he wouldn’t be able to stop his momentum. She had a choice: get out of the way, or take the shot.

Afterwards, she would reflect that it had been her own fault. It was the third quarter, and she’d been out of position; on the right, just inside of Biloxi’s key. During halftime, Coach Trassel had told her and Joey Cox, the Spirits’ other point guard, to push the offensive. That was what Catherine was doing. Small as she was when compared to everybody else on the court, nobody had noticed her sneaking off to the right side of the key while the rest of the play was focused on the left. When a passing lane had opened between her and Corey Allen, neither of them had hesitated. The dog sent the ball her way, and Catherine made for the layup.

So Catherine sent the ball up towards the basket, and then 330 lbs of muscle walked into her. She threw her arms out wildly as she fell back, trying to catch her fall. She fell square on her right elbow, and a sharp, undignified squawk leapt from her beak as pain lanced up the limb.

The next few minutes were hard to follow. She remembered Coach Trassel yelling at Jafet and the refs from the sidelines. There were people crowding around her, all of them seeming to talk at once while she clutched at her elbow. Soon enough, she’d been escorted away from the court, clenching her beak tight and breathing sharply. A few of her teammates wished her well as she stalked by them, the team trainer guiding her. She barely even heard any of them.

Once they were safely in one of the locker rooms, where cameras and reporters couldn’t reach or hear them, Catherine unclenched her beak, sucked in a huge breath, and then squawked out, “Fuck!”

“Oh sit down and stop complaining.” The trainer, a small and lithe margay named Jesus, rolled his eyes as he forced her to sit on one of the benches. He grabbed her arm with deft and precise hands, and held it out. He crouched a bit to get a look at the elbow, and started muttering. “Well it’s not broken. One to ten – how much does this hurt?” He reached out, and deftly flicked her elbow.

Fuck!” She bent over double, gasping for breath, and then glared over at him. “What the hell, Jesus!?”

“One to ten?”

“I don’t know… seven?”

Jesus snorted. “It’s not fractured either, then. Probably just a contusion. Now stop complaining. Lord, birds are such crybabies.” She shot him a look, and he rolled his eyes. “Sorry, Princess.” The margay stood up straight, and glanced down at her, stroking under his muzzle for a few seconds. “We’ll have to take a closer look at it in the morning, but I’m putting you on the disabled list. You’re going to be out of it for at least a week and a half, probably more.”

Catherine blanched, then stared up at him. “A week and a half!?”

“You’re the one that keeps complaining about how much it hurts, featherhead. We’ll have to scale back your training, but don’t worry, we’ll keep you working on the machines. Can at least work your legs and core. For now, keep the wing raised. I’m going to grab some ice. Oh, and next time there’s a 330 lb hippo running at you? Get out of the way, Princess.”

With that, he got up, and headed out the door. Catherine watched Jesus go, staring. The margay had a short way about him at the best of times, but that had been particularly harsh. She couldn’t be out of play for a couple weeks. In a way, she was lucky; they had all of the next week off from games, so it would minimize her time off of the court. She couldn’t afford to miss that much time training, though.

Also… well. She sure as hell couldn’t tell Jesus why she’d really been swearing. She’d gone up against larger opponents before. Hell, she’d been injured before. That said, she’d never felt that terrifying moment before, of knowing that the hit was coming, of watching. Especially not with somebody that big. She closed her eyes, and could still clearly see Jafet stepping towards her, losing control of his momentum, all of that weight and muscle and… She opened her eyes and glanced down at her hand; the good one. It was shaking.

“Just shock. That’s all,” she muttered to herself. The lie sounded thin even in her own ears.



The practice the next day was one of the most frustrating days of her life. She was almost completely restricted to using the machines; anything else posed too much of a risk of jostling her wing or making her exert it. She spent most of the morning in the weight room, doing leg presses with her earbuds turned up as loud as they would go. Her teammates, who had trouble getting along with her at the best of times, kept a wide berth.

It wasn’t until they paused for lunch that Catherine finally pulled out her earbuds. She joined the others in the small dining area set aside for the players, and took the carefully measured out servings they always gave her. She was surprised, when she sat down, to find a few of the others drifting over to her. Occasionally she would talk to her teammates, but more often than not she wound up eating alone, lost in her own thoughts. She preferred it that way.

Today, though, several of them came over to ask her how she was feeling after last night, and to see how her wing was doing. She dodged most of the questions with half answers. Sure, she would say, she was feeling alright. She would leave out the bit about wanting to punch a hole in the wall.

She was glad that neither Joey Cox or Silvia Windcreek came over to talk to her. They were the Spirits’ two starting guards, and probably the team’s two strongest players. Though she respected their playing abilities, she couldn’t help but resent them for their skill. If either of them had tried to show pity, she didn’t know if she would’ve been able to handle it. Instead, the roadrunner and the hare sat over at one of the other tables, speaking and occasionally laughing to each other.

Catherine had just finished nodding and thanking Akako, a single-tailed kitsune, for her concern, when somebody sat down squarely on the other side of the table from her. The palm cockatoo glanced over, and felt her feathers puffing up slightly as she saw Mathiyazangan Balasubramaniam grinning back at her. The squirrel’s tall, tufted ears flicked a bit as he nodded to her. “Huh, so, how does it feel to be on the other side of it?”

She blinked. She fully understood the squirrel’s thick Indian accent by this point without any trouble. It was more his actual words that were throwing her off. “What?”

“Oh don’t tell me you’ve already forgotten the hard time you gave me about my tail sprain.”

Catherine’s beak broke from its uncomfortable grimace to a hint of a grin at that, and she leaned back in her seat. She enjoyed her talks with the squirrel. He was quite friendly, and strongly devoted to the Spirits. Still, she’d managed to prod him enough to realize he had a competitive edge almost as strong as her own. “Oh no, Moby, I hadn’t forgotten. I still think you were a bit of a wuss for it, though.”

Moby, as the team had taken to calling him after many hilarious attempts to pronounce his name, just rolled his eyes at the cockatoo. “Really? You’re saying that now, with you not playing?”

Catherine just shrugged. “Sorry, I still think my elbow’s a bit more key to my ability to play than your tail is to you.” Catherine could see a few of the others glancing over at them uncomfortably, predicting an argument. She didn’t care. This was what she wanted. Some aggression.

“Right, right,” the squirrel was nodding. “Well I can’t wait to see you waving some red and black flags for us from the sidelines. Or, you know, maybe just one.” He inclined his head towards her elbow. “You are the Princess. Wouldn’t want you exerting yourself.”

“Oh please. You know as well as I do that if Jesus or Trassel were to clear me for it, I’d be pinning you in an arm wrestle right now.”

“Yes, but how convenient that they won’t clear you. I guess it does make sense. Wouldn’t want the delicate bird breaking herself.”

“Moby.” Both Catherine and Moby turned in surprise at the sharp sound of Silvia Windcreek’s voice. The silver hare was twisting around in her seat, and had fixed Moby with an intense look. “Too far.”

The squirrel tensed, and looked like he was going to reply. He hesitated, though, then deflated. “Right.” He glanced back over to Catherine. “Sorry.”

“It’s alright.” Catherine did her best to keep the aggression out of her voice. From the look on Moby’s face, though, it seemed like some had snuck through. The rest of the lunch break passed mostly in silence.

When Catherine went back to the weight room, she was clenching her beak hard enough that it hurt. She kept flexing and stretching her wing, testing how far she could push it before it hurt. True, Moby’s final words had offended her a bit, but the squirrel had insulted her less than the rest of her teammates. He’d only said aloud what the others were all thinking. Poor Catherine couldn’t play because she was hurt. She had to be more careful with those brittle and hollow bones of hers.

Slowly, over the course of the afternoon, her frustration festered and built. By the time Coach Trassel called it a night, Catherine had come up with a plan. A very simple, stupid plan.

Catherine waited until the others had left, and then she went to her locker again. Everybody was used to her being the last one to leave at the end of the day, so nobody had questioned her about still being there. She carefully pulled out her gear, and changed back into it before heading out to the court.

The space felt much bigger without anybody else there. Her footsteps echoed back at her from the rafters. She turned a slow circle as she reached the centre line, looking up into the empty stands. She let out a long sigh that felt much louder than it ought to have.

“Alright… let’s see what I can do.”

She fetched one of the balls they used for practice, and dribbled it experimentally with her left arm. As she walked over towards the freethrow line, she carefully extended her right wing, stretching it. It gave small twinges whenever she straightened it out fully, making her grimace.

As she reached the line, she tried a quick, simple dribble back and forth from hand to hand. She clenched her beak down harder every time the ball hit her right hand, sending small shocks up the limb. Finally, she caught the ball with both hands, breathing sharply. This was a stupid idea. She knew this was a stupid idea.

She stood up straight, and looked up at the basket. She carefully raised the ball, and steadied her breathing.

She shot. Muscle memory dictated the movement, her right wing straightening and pushing the ball as her fingers cupped. It was all fine until her wing reached full extension.

She gasped out a strangled squawk, and bent down. She clutched her wing to her chest, sheltering the throbbing elbow. She didn’t have to look to know that she’d missed the shot. She heard the ball bouncing away from the net, but she didn’t really care. She was too busy gasping out every curse word she knew, waiting for the throbbing in her elbow to numb.

Catherine froze, and her head jerked up as she heard one of the stadium’s doors open. She held her position, crouched at the free throw line, as she heard footsteps echoing. They stopped, and there was silence for a few seconds. Then,

“You have got to be either the stupidest or the most stubborn rookie I’ve ever seen.”

Catherine felt her cheeks growing very, very hot as she identified Joey Cox’s voice. She swallowed it down, though, and just said sharply. “I was hoping for some privacy.”

“So you could wreck your wing for the rest of the season?” His footsteps started again, echoing closer to her. “Come on, get your wing up. It needs to be raised.”

The roadrunner helped her over to the bench, and made sure she held her wing up above her head. She kept her head down as he knelt to look the elbow over, parting the feathers to get a look at the skin underneath.

“Well it doesn’t look like you did any more damage,” he finally muttered. His sharp eyes flicked over from her wing to her face, and he raised an eyebrow. “Now would you mind telling me why you were trying to do the one thing the trainers told you not to do?”

“I just don’t want to be out of training for that long.”

“It isn’t that big of a deal. It’s not like you’re going to fall behind in two weeks. Who knows? It might even be good for you. You probably need an actual break.”

“I don’t have time for a break.”

“Catherine, you’re one of the most consistent players on the team.”

She shrugged, and muttered, “Not consistent enough, I guess.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing.”

Joey kept eying her, the roadrunner’s forehead creased with thought. At length, he just shook his head. “Whatever. Look, I can’t let you just wreck your wing. Silvia and I need you on the court.”

Catherine snorted. “Right.”

“‘Right?’”

“I think you and Silvia have things under control without me.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Look, it isn’t exactly fun or fulfilling just acting as back up for the two of you all the time.”

“It’s part of the game.”

“I know.” The palm cockatoo sat back. She did her best to look serious and disinterested, though it was difficult with her wing still raised firmly above her head. “It doesn’t change how frustrating it is. Missing a couple weeks of practice isn’t going to help my chances.”

Joey kept his eyes on her for a few moments longer, then rolled them. “You know, I was drafted by the Stanislaus Thrust. I got to spend my rookie contract warming up the bench and playing whenever Buck Hopper needed some water. Believe it or not, I have a pretty good idea of how you feel right now.”

“Then you know just how annoying it is getting this talk from you of all people.”

“Yeah, I do. I think you should listen to me, though.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m not just warming the bench for Buck Hopper anymore, and you want to know how I did it.”

Catherine actually blinked, then glanced over at him. There was a grin on his face, and she immediately regretted showing her interest. He knew he had her now. Still… “Fine. What great wisdom do you have to impart?”

“Ah-ah-ah.” Joey’s grin took on an edge. “One condition.”

“Name it.”

“You’ll promise to take the next few weeks easy so you’ll heal properly.”

“Please tell me you’re joking.”

“Promise!”

“This is really condescending.”

“I just walked in on you trying to do free throws with a bum elbow.”

“…fine. I promise.”

“Good.” Joey nodded. “As for how I did it… I learned. I spent that time watching Hopper to learn and improve. I practiced against one of the best in the league almost every day for two solid years. When my contract expired, I decided…” He paused. Catherine didn’t push him. When he spoke again, his eyebrows had pulled together, knitting his forehead. “I knew that I needed to start, and that I needed to start on a team that could win. I needed a championship ring. So I went out and started looking for one.” Catherine snorted at that, and Joey glanced over at her again. His eyes had lost focus while he’d been speaking. “What?”

She shrugged. “Yeah, you went out and started looking for one. Last I checked, you haven’t won a championship yet, though.”

The roadrunner went quiet, and Catherine was starting to get uncomfortable by the time he replied. “No. I haven’t. I do have a team, though. A team I can consider my team. That counts for something.

“Now, last night you chose to take that hit.” She was surprised by the sudden change of subject, but she nodded. “The thing is, we’re birds. Hollow bones and all that. We’re frail, we can’t take a hit; I know you’ve heard it. People are always going to try to take advantage of that. When they do, there are two ways we can react. What most people will tell you to do is to get out of the way. Jesus probably told you to do exactly that last night.” Catherine nodded, her forehead creasing as she recalled her conversation with the margay. “The problem with getting out of the way is that it means their tactic worked; they know that every time they try to push you, you’ll move for them. My personal policy?” He leaned in a bit closer, and tapped her wing very lightly, just shy of her elbow. “Take the hit, but make them hurt for it. Jafet hit you last night, but you still got that basket.”

Catherine blinked, surprised. In all of the madness after she’d taken the hit, she’d completely forgotten to ask whether or not her shot had actually landed in the net. She glanced up as Joey kept speaking.

“The most important thing about taking the hit, though, is getting back up. If you wreck your wing, you aren’t playing again, period. If you can come back from that injury and play just as strong, though, that sends a message. That’s something that everybody in the league will take note of.”

Catherine considered his words. At length, she replied. “You know…” She hesitated. It almost felt wrong, what she was about to say, but she had to say it. “If you’re still on this team when my rookie contract expires, I probably won’t come back. I’ll be like you: I’ll go out and try to find my own team to lead. I’m only going to try to make it harder for you to get that championship ring.”

“I know.” The roadrunner’s face cracked into a grin again. “Like you even stand a chance.”

Catherine snorted, and Joey finally stood up. He stretched himself out a bit, then said, “Well, I think it’s too late for me to be doing any extra laps. Meet you in the lobby?”

“Sure. I promise I won’t try to lift any weights in the locker room.”

He laughed, and she got up.

As they were about to part in the parking lot, Joey stopped and looked over at her. “Oh yeah, did you watch TFSN last night?”

Catherine shook her head. “I was a bit rattled. I just went to bed.”

“Fair enough. I’m surprised your parents didn’t tell you about it.”

“I haven’t talked to them.”

Joey blinked, and raised an eyebrow. “You’re joking, right?”

“What?”

“Catherine, you got run over by a hippo last night. Your parents haven’t called you yet?”

“They’re busy a lot of the time.”

Joey stared at her for a moment longer, before holding up his hands and shaking his head. “Whatever you say. I would go and watch the FBA replay reel from last night, though. Just a tip.”

He walked off to his car. Catherine watched him getting in, then shook her head, heading over to her own vehicle.

When she got back to the condo she was using in downtown Baltimore, she left the lights off as she wandered around. She tracked down her phone easily, and checked it. She never brought it to practice or games; it was just a distraction.

When she saw that she’d received no calls or messages, she sighed and put the phone away. She fetched some left over food from the fridge, and then headed into her bedroom. There, she sat herself down in front of her computer, and started eating as it booted up.

Not long after, she’d browsed to the TFSN website, and opened the video of the highlight reel from the night before. She sat back, still eating her food slowly as it flashed through, showing all of the impressive plays from the night.

“…and one last one from the Biloxi at Baltimore game.” She sat up abruptly, leaning in closer to the screen. “Here we have Catherine DeMille, a player we haven’t seen a lot from this season. Now right here, keep your eye on Godric Jafet. Just watch…” Catherine flinched as she watched the play in slow motion, remembering the awful second of decision, and the hit that followed. She blinked when she realized the reporter was still talking. “Now let’s go back and take a close look here.” The video zoomed in, and it showed her head flicking to the side, towards Jafet. “DeMille actually sees Jafet coming towards her, and she still takes the shot. Let’s be honest here, DeMille and Jafet are on opposite ends of the size and weight spectrum for the FBA. Not to mention, DeMille is an avian, and we all know how well birds can take hits. So DeMille sees him coming, and she makes the decision to take that hit. She goes down, and she winds up sustaining an injury. Best part, though? She gets up and manages to walk off the court. I’m sure a lot of people might disagree with her choice, but you can’t fault her for lack of guts.”

The highlight reel went on a short while longer, but Catherine was sitting back, not paying attention at that point. Eventually, the stream ended, and she was left in the quiet and dark of her room. She glanced over at her phone again. She hadn’t heard any beeps, and the notification light wasn’t blinking.

She thought back to the day, and to her conversation with Moby, and sighed to herself.

“A couple weeks, eh?” She looked down at her wing, and slowly flexed the fingers. “I can do that.” Then she would show Moby, the rest of her team, and the rest of the league just how ‘delicate’ a bird she was.

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TrianglePascal
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Las Vegas

Postby TrianglePascal » August 20th, 2014, 9:22 am

Catherine played her heart out that night.

It wasn’t like normal. She always put in as much effort as she could. During practices, she pushed herself further than her trainers expected; sometimes further than they said was even safe for her body. Catherine had entered the FBA, she now realized, with too much ego and not enough to back it up. She’d easily been the best on her team back at King’s University, and she’d rarely had trouble measuring up to anybody before then. Of course, there had been Hiro back in highschool, but… well, she preferred to not think about that.

When Catherine had been drafted to the Baltimore Spirits, her agent had warned her not to get her hopes up. The FBA was a bit saturated with strong guards at the time, and the Spirits weren’t an exception to that rule. Joey Cox and Silvia Windcreek were both superstars in their own rights, and Catherine’s agent had made it clear that they were probably going to have both of the starting guard positions locked up for the entire season.

She was ashamed to say it now, after almost half a year of being with the team, but Catherine had been… less than worried about it. In fact, she remembered her feelings going into her first practice with her new team. She had fully intended to walk into the practice, show off what she could do, and blow everybody away. The palm cockatoo had spent extra time studying Cox and Windcreek’s playing styles after the draft, learning how they played and figuring out how she could outdo them. In her mind, she would be on the starting line up by the first game, and be their star player by the end of the season.

That hope had lasted about as long as it had taken Catherine to run a few drills with the team. They had started with a few suicides to warm up, and Catherine had been stunned when Cox had somehow managed to finish his first entire set before she was halfway done. True, he was a roadrunner, but she hadn’t expected him to be quite… that fast. At the very least, she’d expected him to have trouble switching that momentum, but no, he could stop on a dime and then power back in the opposite direction. Silvia easily left Catherine in the dust, too; the silver hare’s powerful legs were a blur.

That had just been the start of the day. Every warm up they did, every drill they ran, everything they did, Joey and Silvia blew her away. While they were doing a few simple passing drills, Catherine got a chance to watch some of the other two guards’ footwork and movement, and she could only stare. What had looked simple to counter on television was now blindingly fast and subtle beyond what even her sharp eyes could make out.

Catherine finished that practice on a low she’d never felt before. Sure, she’d felt worse in her life, but this was the first time that she’d really doubted her own abilities. She’d never felt so… out matched before. She’d always assumed that the FBA would be just as easy as everything that had come before it. Now she was struck by the possibility that she might just have been a big fish in a small pond. A few of her teammates had invited her to go for some drinks, but she’d refused. The palm cockatoo was the last one out of the locker rooms that night, and her legs kept wanting to cramp on her way back to her place.

The next week of training had exacted its toll on her, both physically and mentally. She pushed harder than she had in her entire life, her fiercely competitive nature never letting her rest. Every practice, though, she found herself lagging far behind Joey and Silvia. Each night, her teammates had invited her out for drinks, or just to hang out, but every time she’d refused, and veritably crawled back to her place to soak her aching muscles in the bath tub.

By the end of that first week, it had almost been getting to the point of obsession. She had been getting increasingly frustrated at her own inability to measure up to her more talented teammates. True, there were other powerhouses on the team, too, but it was Joey and Silvia that mattered. They were the ones she had to outperform if she wanted to be a starter. Even in that short time period, her frustration with herself had started turning into dislike for the two talented guards.

Again, she had left after most of the rest of her teammates that night. She had had to walk slowly, because her legs had wanted to give out under her, and her core was killing her. As such, she hadn’t noticed Joey Cox leaving the men’s locker room at around the same time that she had been leaving the ladies’ room. It wasn’t until Joey had called to her that she’d finally looked up, and groaned internally at the sight of him.

That was when something very odd had happened. The two of them had shared a short conversation, at the end of which Joey had made an off-handed comment about how both he and Silvia were impressed with Catherine’s performance. Catherine didn’t remember how she’d responded. All she remembered was how she’d felt while walking away after the exchange. At first, she’d felt frustrated annoyance that she’d had to spend time talking to the very roadrunner that was unintentionally making her life hell. Deep in the pit of her chest, though, there had been a soft burning that hadn’t left her for the entire night.

The rest of the season was a blur of practices, plane flights, and roaring crowds in her memory. All the time, though, she was practicing, pushing herself, demanding that the trainers give her more than they thought she could handle. For the first few months, she’d kept telling herself that it was just so that she could surpass Joey and Silvia. As time went on, though, she’d slowly started realizing that it was as much, if not more, for the feeling she got whenever one of her teammates, especially Joey or Silvia, took her aside to tell her how well she was doing.

She had still refused to go out with her teammates at all during that time, not for the celebration drinks or misery beers. Nobody ever questioned her, and she’d appreciated it. In truth, it was because she went home to watch over her own performances, and to further prepare herself for the next game.

So yeah. Catherine was always pushing herself, always doing her best to measure up to her teammates. At one time, she’d liked to laugh at the athletes that always talked about giving 110% during interviews. Now, she understood how they felt.

That night, though, was different.

James, Catherine’s father, was a busy man. Catherine understood this. For as far back as she could remember, she recalled him having to leave to check up on projects in odd corners of Canada and the United States. She had known, going into the FBA, that it would be difficult for her to see her parents terribly often. The combination of her father’s hectic schedule and her constant travel to away games complicated things. Again, though, she’d understood and respected that.

As such, while disappointed, she wasn’t entirely surprised when her father and mother hadn’t been able to come to the draft combine. Catherine had told herself that there would be many games that season for them to go and see. After all, Spokane and Edmonton weren’t terribly far from Vancouver, especially for somebody with her father’s finances.

Then November and December had come and left, and she hadn’t seen her parents at all. When Catherine had returned home for the Christmas break, they’d been able to spend two days together before her father was called away to ‘urgent business’ in Nevada. Her father often had such important meetings there; apparently many of his business partners either lived in Las Vegas or frequented it often. That was what Catherine told herself, at least.

Then things had continued. January and February came and went, and she rarely even got the chance to call her parents. When she did, she always got to speak to her mother, but her father was frequently disposed. During the break for All-Star Week, Coach Trassel had ordered an intensive week of training, and so she hadn’t been able to go home and visit.

By mid-March, Catherine had started feeling a gnawing deep in her chest that was entirely new to her. She was getting homesick. During the FBA’s week-long break in March, Catherine had gotten a single day off from training. On an impulse, she’d bought a plane ticket home, from Baltimore all the way to Vancouver. She’d arrived to find her house empty. Her parents, she later learned, had been in Las Vegas.

April had gone much the same as the rest of the season. The only difference, though, was that she’d had something to look forward to for once. She’d finally taken a good look at the Spirits’ game schedule, and seen that on May the 5th, they would be playing in Las Vegas. As soon as she’d noticed it, she’d called up her parents. For once, she’d gotten a hold of her father, and the excitement in his voice when she’d told him about the game had made her feel warm and excited for days.

So when she stepped onto the court that night, she’d felt electric. Knowing that her parents were up somewhere in the executive box watching her had made her jittery, but excited. She wanted the night to go perfectly. She had managed to book a reservation at one of the priciest restaurants in Las Vegas, and she had packed nicer clothes in her bag so that she could be well-dressed for the evening.

She’d pushed all of those thoughts out of her head for the game, though, and just played. And she played well. She gave it everything she had; if this was going to be the only game that her parents got to see of her rookie year, then it was going to be a damn good one. For the entire game, it was like she could feel everything happening on the court around her. She knew exactly where to move, knew when to pass and to whom. She moved and played with a confidence that she hadn’t felt since university. Every time that the Las Vegas crowd booed her, she felt her energy ramping up, felt her determination growing stronger. She knew that every time the crowd booed her, it was another opportunity for her parents to cheer and be proud of her up in the box.

She was exhausted when the game was over, but it was a good exhausted. Her teammates congratulated her on her performance as they headed for the locker rooms, and she smiled and thanked all of them. Their praise felt good. She didn’t have the time to talk with any of them, though, and they all understood why.

She showered as quickly as she could, and then spent a few minutes getting her tall crest of red-dyed feathers to sit back flat against her head. She slipped into the dress she’d brought, and allowed herself a few more minutes to put on some quick make up. She then stood back and looked at herself in the mirror. She didn’t exactly look the princess that she was nicknamed, but it was more than good enough for ten minutes’ worth of work.

Catherine was still out of breath when she stepped out of the side entrance that she and the other players used. She’d told her parents to meet her there after the game, but she wasn’t worried when she didn’t see them. She knew how difficult it could be to navigate the crowds to get out of the stadium.

The air in Las Vegas was hot, but mercifully dry after the humidity of the game. It would be nice to get into the car and some air conditioning. She checked the time on her phone surreptitiously; she knew that she’d given them plenty of time to make it to their dinner reservation, but she couldn’t help worrying. She was genuinely nervous to see her parents. She hadn’t actually seen them since Christmas, and she wanted things to go perfectly.

She was just dodging her eyes down to check the time on her phone again when she caught sight of a flash of black and red. She looked back up sharply, and she felt her stomach jump as she saw her mother walking towards her. Charlotte DeMille was dressed as marvellously as always, in a long red cocktail dress that perfectly matched the red markings on her cheeks.

Catherine wanted to act dignified and mature, but as soon as she saw her mother, a smile worked its way onto her face. She stepped past the Wildcards’ security, nodding her thanks to the burly gorilla guard, and then jogged over the rest of the way to her mother. The older cockatoo’s own face cracked into a wide smile, and the two of them met with a tight hug.

“Oh Catherine,” Charlotte murmured, still holding her daughter tightly. “You were magnificent.”

Catherine tried to think of something to say in return, but her mind drew a blank. Eventually, she just laughed and said, “I was, wasn’t I?”

“I’ve never seen you play like that. Never.”

Catherine just smiled, and finally pulled away from her mother. The young cockatoo’s cheeks were flushed a bit deeper red than usual, but she did her best to regain her composure. She glanced around quickly, and then asked, “Is dad just getting the car?”

Charlotte’s smile twitched the slightest bit, and Catherine suddenly felt herself growing tense. Her mother looked away for a moment, and said quickly, “I think your father’s going to meet us for dinner at the restaurant.”

There was a very long, awful moment of silence as Catherine stared at her mother. There were the sounds of voices and footsteps making their way over from the front of the stadium, but otherwise all was quiet. The warm giddiness Catherine had felt was slowly draining away, being replaced with a jittery, cool disbelief. She tried to swallow it down, though.

“Did the two of you take separate cars, or…?”

Her mother finally met her eyes again. There was still a smile on her face, but Catherine recognized it as the false, hollow smile she used whenever she was lying. “Let’s just get going. We don’t want to be late for the reservation.”

“Mom, where’s dad?” Catherine was suddenly very aware of her own breathing. The smile had left her face, and her crest was rising in aggression.

“Catherine, you know your father is a very busy ma—”

“What business was so important that he had to see to it on a Monday night!?”

“Catherine—”

“No. What was so damn important that he couldn’t let somebody else handle it? Or push it off to another day? Or deal with it over the phone?”

“Please don’t yell.”

“I’m yelling because I’m angry! Mom, I…” Catherine couldn’t find the words. She was trembling, her beak clenched tight enough that it hurt. Her mother was looking at her, and kept dodging glances around. The only people around were the security guards by the doors. The older palm cockatoo’s eyes were getting glassy, and her beak was clacking uncomfortably.

“Catherine, dear, you have to understand…”

“Where is he?” Catherine’s voice was cold. Hard. An odd, all-encompassing calm focus had descended over her.

“He’s a busy man, you know that.”

One breath in. One breath out. One breath in. “Is he playing?”

“Catherine—”

“Is he playing.”

“You shouldn’t judge your father. You don’t know the stress he’s under.”

“Mom, I haven’t…” She closed her beak sharply. One breath in. One breath out. “When I was a kid and you two would disappear every other week for business trips that always ‘happened’ to take you to Las Vegas, I didn’t judge him. I didn’t know better. When I got older and the short visits to Vegas started taking a few extra days, and I started realizing what he was doing, I didn’t judge him. When I was in university, and every time you told me over the phone that the two of you were in Vegas, and I could hear in your voice that…” She shut her beak again. Her voice kept getting quieter as she kept speaking. She cleared her throat, and said, “I haven’t judged him for twenty years. I can’t do this anymore.”

“Catherine, your father loves you.”

“No he doesn’t.”

“Don’t say tha—”

“No, he doesn’t!” Suddenly she was yelling again. Her mother stared at her, stricken. There were wet trails in the red feathers on her mother’s cheeks. “If he loved me, you wouldn’t be here begging for him! If he loved me, he would’ve made the effort to be here for once. For once! Do you even understand how important this is to me!?”

“Of course we do! Your father’s been excited for weeks!”

“Then why isn’t he here?”

“It’s… complicated.”

Catherine clenched her beak tighter. She could feel tears building at the corners of her own eyes, now. She swallowed, and said, “No, it isn’t. I used to think it was, but it isn’t. If he cared about me at all, he’d be here. He isn’t here, though.”

“Don’t say that.”

“I’m sorry mom. I love you. I love him, too. I…” Catherine fell quiet. She knew the words that came next. By the pleading look on her mother’s face, it seemed that Charlotte knew, too. Catherine swallowed down the lump in her throat. “I won’t be coming home for the off season. I don’t want to see or talk to either of you until dad’s gotten himself some help.”

She turned on her heel, and started walking away. She stopped when her mother called after her. Catherine could hear in her voice that she was crying.

“Catherine, we are your family.”

“You know what dad always used to tell me?” She cleared her throat, and did her best impression of her father’s voice. “‘Family comes first, Catherine. No matter what else happens, family always comes first.’” She steeled herself, then kept going. “Two months ago, a hippo ran into me on the court. A bloody 330 pound hippo. Neither of you ever called to ask if I was alright.” She sighed very sharply. “Every one of my teammates and all of our training staff was with me every day, making sure I got well and was feeling alright. Which one sounds more like a family to you?”

She didn’t turn back to look at her mother. She just walked away, keeping her head down. An awful, unbearable lightness was flooding her chest, making her feel like she was going to drift away with every passing stir of wind.

She made her way directly over to the bus that had brought her and the rest of the Spirits to the game. She was thankful to see it hadn’t left; she hadn’t been looking forward to getting a cab back to the hotel. She kept her head down as she stepped up into it, ignoring the voices of her teammates around her. She only looked up for a brief second to see where Joey was sitting. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that he was sitting on his own, a bit closer to the back of the bus. She made her way down the aisle, and then took the empty seat next to him.

She felt him glance over at her. He reached up to pull the headphones out of his ears. As soon as they were out, Catherine spoke quickly; quietly enough that only he would hear.

“Sorry.”

She still had her head down, so she couldn’t see how he reacted. He took a moment to reply. “For what?”

“Nothing.”

Again, silence. His voice was confused when he spoke. “Right. Weren’t you meeting with your parents tonight?”

“It isn’t happening.”

“Are you alright, Princess?”

Catherine flinched as he called her that. She remembered how that nickname had started; with her university teammates always calling her ‘daddy’s little princess.’ “Joey, do you think you and the others could just… not call me that for a while?”

“Whatever you say, Catherine.” She could tell from his voice that he was worried about her, and for a moment she hated him for it. She wanted to lash out and yell at him that she didn’t need his pity or his concern. She held it in, though. “I think the rest of the team’s going out for drinks. We’d be more than happy to have you along.”

Catherine’s practiced refusal came to her beak, but she hesitated. “Yeah. That might be nice. You think I’ll have time before we go out to get changed out of… this?” She gestured down at her dress, suddenly feeling very self-conscious in it.

“We’ll wait for you.”

“Thanks.”

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TrianglePascal
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Post-Game Ritual

Postby TrianglePascal » August 20th, 2014, 9:25 am

Corey finally let out a sigh of relief as he closed the door behind him. He leaned against the wall of his hotel room, closing his eyes for a few long seconds. The dog was exhausted, his muscles all aching from the game against the Thrust. It had been a good one; it had felt like the entire team had been playing well tonight, and he'd always found himself in just the right place at the right time. He'd been surprised at the end when the announcer had proclaimed him player of the game. His teammates' constant congratulations all the way back to the hotel had felt good.

As he stood there, though, he finally bit down on his lip, and held his hand out in front of his face. It was already trembling, and he knew it would only get worse.

The dog walked over quickly to the hotel bed and sat down, knowing that he didn't want to be standing. His breathing started getting shallow, and soon he could hear the thumping of his heartbeat in his ears.

They'd all been impressed. What if they expected the same of him next game? And the next game, and the next? That hadn't been skill, it had been luck, he was sure of it. He wasn't like Brax, one of the Spirits' other main forwards. He couldn't consistently put up numbers like that, but now they might expect it, now they would be disappointed when he inevitably let them down next game, they would all lose faith in him and he would let them down and...

There was a ringing. Corey's ears perked up, and he came to himself again. He suddenly realized that he was almost bent over double sitting on the bed, and that his chest was heaving. There was already a thin sheen of sweat in his fur; he'd just had a shower after the game, not an hour before.

The ringing sounded again. Corey glanced over to his cellphone. It was sitting on the table, where he'd left it before the game. He took a long, shuddery breath as it rang a third time. He forced himself to close his eyes and swallow, then reached over and answered the phone on the fourth ring.

"Hello?" His voice wavered a bit. Hopefully they wouldn't notice. If they did notice, though, what would- shut up!

"Corey? Er, sorry, is this Corey Allen?" The voice on the other end was male, and Corey was sure he'd heard it before. He momentarily cursed himself for not checking the caller display.

"Yeah, it's Corey. May I ask who this is?" His voice was almost back to normal.

"Oh, great! I was afraid I'd gotten the wrong number. It's Josh!"

"Josh." For an awful moment, Corey blanked, eyes wide as he tried to place the name. He knew a Josh... he definitely knew a Josh... "Oh, Josh Green!"

"Yeah!"

"Nice to hear from you." Corey was rubbing his forehead as memories flooded back to him. Josh had been on the basketball team at Underwood College with Corey. Images of a spry young squirrel swam into his mind. Corey remembered playing alongside him quite a bit; the squirrel had been a forward as well. "Er, what have you been up to?"

"I'm just finishing up at UDub." There was an awkward moment of silence, and then Josh said, "Actually, I'm declaring for the FBA draft this year."

Something sounded odd about that, but Corey couldn't place it. The dog realized he hadn't responded, and stammered out, "Oh, that's great! I, uh... Sorry, I'm getting my years mixed up here. I thought you were only a year behind me."

On the other end, Josh cleared his throat. "I, uh, was."

Corey was confused for a long few seconds, going over the numbers in his head. Josh had only been a year younger than Corey... and Corey had declared for the draft in his fourth year, which had been two years ago... That would mean that Josh was in his fifth yea--

"Oh." Right. Suddenly Corey remembered. Josh.

He'd been brilliant. Fast and agile like only a squirrel could be. Corey remembered watching Josh dart across the court countless times, dodging past defenders before they could react. Josh had known how good he was, too. He celebrated shamelessly after scoring points or winning games with bravado that Corey had envied. At that time, Corey had had trouble even stepping onto the court without having a panic attack.

Then... what had happened? During Corey's third year, Josh had announced he was declaring for the draft. Then, he just... disappeared. Stopped showing up for games, stopped going to class for the rest of the semester. When he came back the next school year, he was like a completely different person; quiet and reserved.

"Right, sorry," Corey muttered, shaking his head. "I'm always a bit scatterbrained after a game."

"It's alright, I know you've had a lot to think about the past couple years." There was another uncomfortable moment of silence, and then Josh said, "Actually, I kind of wanted to talk to you about that."

"The past couple years?"

"No, uh... why I'm only just finishing up here."

"Oh." Corey hesitated, then said, "You don't have to if you don't want to."

"No, uh, I feel like I should." Josh cleared his throat again, and then said, "You know when I said I was going to declare for the draft in second year?"

"Yeah. Everybody was really excited for you." Corey hesitated before asking, "What happened?"

"I, uh... Well. I told everybody I was going to do it, and everybody was excited. My aunt and uncle were proud, and they were so sure I was going to make it. You know; 'We're gonna have a baller in the family!' and all that. She even, uh..." He paused before continuing. "She told my dad. I'd barely talked to him for years. She told me that he was proud of me. Then I just... cracked." There was a long moment of silence on the other end of the phone. Corey didn't push him; the dog was too busy wondering how the outgoing squirrel he'd remembered could have 'cracked.' "I guess I just realized one night how much people were looking up to me, and how many of them there were, and how awful it would be if I let them all down, and... I couldn't take it. So I withdrew my name and just shut down."

Corey licked his lips in the silence that followed. They suddenly felt very dry. "Uh... is that why you didn't go to any classes, either?"

"Yeah. I couldn't face anybody." The squirrel gave a laugh that didn't have any mirth in it. "Stupid, isn't it? I was afraid of disappointing everybody, so what did I do? The one thing that guaranteed I would disappoint them. Anyway, I obviously failed all my classes that semester, and like you know, they kicked me off the team. I only came back to school the next year because I didn't really have anything else going for me. Then, uh... well. Then you declared for the draft."

Corey blinked. "Sorry, but what does that have to do with, well... with this?"

"Well, you... Corey, I'll be honest. When I first met you, I didn't think much of you." Corey was stung, but he didn't interrupt as the squirrel went on. "Sorry, I was a different person in first year university, but you always seemed so timid and afraid. You were great during practices, but you always choked as soon as it mattered. Then that year, you seemed to just... grow into yourself. I remember watching you during a few of the season's earlier games from the sidelines, and you were like an entirely different person. I just remember watching you and thinking, 'Hell, if he managed to get over himself, then why can't I?' That's why I came back to the team."

Corey gulped. He knew what he wanted to tell Josh. He wanted to tell the squirrel about how he'd collapsed whenever he got home from those games. He wanted to tell the story about his roommate having to coax him out of the corner because he'd become a trembling, sobbing wretch after a particularly bad loss. He wanted to explain how during each and every game that season, he'd been on the edge of just running off the court and not coming back. He wanted to tell him how Noah, the other Underwood draft candidate in 2012, and their coach from Underwood had had to hold his hands for the entire draft ceremony as name after name was called, until finally the Wildcards took him as the 48th and final pick. He wanted to tell him how he'd had to ask both the Wildcards last season and the Spirits this season that he always get his own room for away games, because he didn't want any of his teammates seeing him rocking on the bed and whimpering.

Josh was speaking again. "Look, I just wanted to call you to say thank you. You're the reason why I got back into basketball. I think you're the reason why I've even finished my degree. I don't know how you managed to overcome whatever was holding you back before, but watching you play in the FBA for the past two years has been really inspiring."

Corey still didn't reply. The dog could hear his heartbeat in his ears again, and his brain was getting jittery. Don't say that don't say that don't say that please don't say that...

"Are you still there?"

"Yes!" Corey responded a bit louder than he would have liked, and his voice cracked the slightest bit. "Uh, thanks."

"No, thank you. I should probably tell you; nobody on the team back here has forgotten about you. We're all rooting for you."

"Yeah." He was starting to feel out of breath. "Uh, look, I'm really, really tired. Good luck with the draft."

"Thanks. I hope I'll see you soon. Maybe on the court again."

Corey managed to stammer out something that sounded vaguely like 'yes,' and then he put the phone down, hard. His chest was heaving, and he had to clench his eyes shut. No, why did Josh have to tell him that, why did Josh have to say that, why did Corey have to know that there were more people looking up to him, watching, waiting to be disappointed if he screwed up...

The dog just sat there, his ears splayed flat against his head, his tail trying to tuck between his legs. He waited out the feelings, forcing himself to take deep, shuddering breaths in and out. He wasn't sure how much time passed as he sat there, shivering.

A knock came at his door. Corey sat up straight, blinking as he finally opened his eyes again. He cleared his throat, and called out, "Yeah?"

"Hey, Corey." He recognized Doral's joking, musical voice. "A few of us are going out for a late dinner and drinks with some of the Thrust's players. Wanna come?"

The dog glanced down at his hand again. It was still shaking a bit, but it was hardly noticeable now. He clenched the fingers, then took another deep breath in and out. When he didn't have any trouble, he called back, "Sure thing."

"Alright, meet you in the lobby in ten. We have to celebrate our top dog of the night!"

Corey forced out a laugh, and then stood up, stretching. He was a bit sweaty after his panic attack, but nobody would notice if they were going out for drinks. It was always like that. The anxiety never left. Never. So long as he only did alright during a game, he was fine. If he did poorly or, even worse, if he did well during a game, that was when he had trouble. Sometimes he couldn't move for hours after a game, and he was forced into thinking about everything that could go wrong. Sometimes his thoughts turned to the revolving door of foster families he'd spent time with as a kid; always just long enough to start feeling connected before having to pack up and leave again. It was after the fifth foster home that the panic attacks had started, and now a day seldom came without one.

He'd learned to control it, though. To contain it. At least until he could get off the court and somewhere safe. That was his secret. He hadn't conquered anything. He hadn't changed. Not really. He'd just learned how to live with it.

He flicked his eyes down to the phone again, and gnawed on his lip. Eventually, he picked it up, and went to the number that had just called him. He thought for a very long time, and then, he finally just tapped a few buttons. He read the message he'd written.

Thanks. Give it your best. It'll be nice to have another friend in the league.

He sighed, very slowly. He hit the send button, then put the phone down. He headed for the door, not wanting to be late to meet his teammates.


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