"Great, Marcus! You keep playing like that and we might just win the next tournament!" Chaz shouted across the court.
"Okay, everyone, come gather around." Chaz waited for all 11 team members to huddle around.
"Guys, you are playing well. Your defense is brilliant, the ball control is outstanding, and you have all been putting in a lot of hours practicing, but just remember all that wonít help us if you canít keep your tempers in check. If you blow out at the refs you are off, if you get into a fist fight with another player you are off. We canít loose any amount of players, so please guys keep your tempers down. Are we going to nail these pumas to the wall?" Chaz shouted.
"Yes, coach!" they all shouted just as loudly back.
"Well then, get your chairs back into storage and hit the showers. Last one at the bar buys the first round." Chaz smiled at the guys as they came past and high fived her. She was proud of how far they had come in the last 6 months. It had been hair raising in the beginning because none of them wanted to work with a woman coach, but at the 2nd practice Chaz got into a wheelchair and played a game with them. She gave as hard as she got and showed she was more than qualified to coach them; that day she had won their respect.
Marcus was her problem child. He was an arrogant hot head and constantly got into trouble on the court and off the court. He was a newcomer to the world of paraplegics and wheelchair basketball and was also still convinced he could walk again. He hadnít accepted the doctorsí prognosis. Months of rehab hadnít cured him yet either. He was a T12 complete and would never again feel anything from the chest down. Chaz would have to work extra hard on him. He was gorgeous with a well built upper body and the most stunning beautiful eyes so she didnít mind putting in the extra time with Marcus. She doubted her boyfriend, Jimmy, would be too happy about that. "Jimmy," Chaz smiled as she thought of him. He was a breath of fresh air in her life and had been for the last 5 years.
Chaz was so deep in thought that she hadnít seen him come in. She bent to pick up the basketballs when the wet snout of Jimmyís seeing eye dog caught her on the ear.
"No, Charma, not my ears," Chaz laughed.
"Hi, honey," she said and touched Jimmyís left arm so he knew she was on the left. He moved his head in her direction and Chaz leant forward for a kiss. Jimmy put his hand on her cheek and ran his fingers gently down her neck.
"Hi, beautiful!" Jimmy smiled while his lips were still on hers.
Chaz couldnít believe how independent Jimmy was. They lived together 3 blocks from the club. He worked two blocks from the house and everything around them was within easy reach so Jimmy walked everywhere. He knew every inch of sidewalk in this town Ė well him and Charma. He was handsome even more so than Marcus except his deep aqua blue eyes were never looking into her soul. His love came from his body, not from his eyes.
Jimmy was blind from birth and he had lived in the dark all his life. Chaz loved him more than any worldly possession she had.
"Can we have a drink with the boys and then go home and make dinner?" Jimmy asked moving his hand from her neck to her elbow.
"Sure! Let me grab these balls and pack them away then we can go into the bar so long." Chaz smiled.
"Great. Charma and I will wait right here for you." He bent and stroked Charmaís ear.
Chaz picked up the balls and headed towards the storage room.
She put them on the rack and turned just as Marcus came in with the chair to save.
"Hey, youíre playing very well these days. Iím impressed by your performance," Chaz said.
"Thanks, coach," Marcus looked sad and wasnít his usual arrogant self tonight.
"Are you okay, Marcus?" she enquired.
"Yes, Iím fine." Marcus pasted a fake smile on his face and turned his wheelchair to head out the door, but Chaz caught his chair from behind and stopped him from leaving.
"Marcus, I want you to know you can always come to me if you need to talk or let go of your anger. Just because I am able to walk doesnít mean I donít know what youíre going through. I know your fiancť, Taryn, walked out on you and things have been tough since your accident, but here you have friends and family that would bend over backwards for you. Just let us in a little and let us be there for you. Okay?" Chaz smiled at him and squeezed his shoulder. Marcus looked up at her and let a tear roll down his cheek.
"Will I ever find happiness like Jimmy did with you?" he asked.
"Well, to be honest, I found Jimmy. Heís blind and Iím the one that tripped over him at the coffee house. Lucky for me he didnít see how embarrassed I was and how see through my blouse was with the coffee all over it. My embarrassment was more due to him trying to rub off the coffee from my blouse but having his hands all over the wrong places. But yes, you will find happiness. Look at Leon: His wife of 10 years left with both his kids after his accident and now 8 years later he is married again to an even lovelier person who would put her life on the line for him. Just donít look for it, because it will find you and it could even be right in front of you without you realizing it. Just be patient. Give yourself time to heal." Chaz bent down and gave him a hug and then proceeded to walk out the door.
Jimmy was close by. Chaz touched his arm. "Ready when you are, handsome,"she joked with him.
Jimmy took her hand and bent to lift the harness for Charma to lead.
"That was a really nice thing you did back there, Chaz. Every morning I wake up and think I couldnít possibly love you anymore than I already do, and then you surprise me and I just love you even more. Marcus certainly does need a lot of cautious treading and you have done wonders so far." Jimmy was glowing with pride for her and Chaz couldnít be happier. Well, she could if heíd ask her to marry him.
Chaz and Jimmy went to the bar and chatted while they waited for the boys to join them.
Chris was the first. "Hey, buddy," he said as he slapped Jimmy on the shoulder. "How you doing?" he asked as he positioned his chair under the table.
"Great, thanks, and yourself, Chris?" he responded.
"Always on top my friend, always on top. If you know what I mean." Chris said in a stage whisper.
"With you, Chris, I donít doubt it." Jimmy laughed. They started ordering drinks. 30 minutes into it and everyone was at the table drinking, talking, and laughing with Chris still making jokes and entertaining the crowd.
A man theyíd never seen in the bar before was sitting in the corner watching them. He was frowning and throwing back one drink after another. No one paid any attention to him, though.
Jimmy got up, "Iím going to the bathroom, donít let Marcus steal my space." He joked and touched Marcus on the shoulder as he passed by him.
"Yeah, you better watch out, old man. Pretty soon Iíll be stealing your girl, too. She needs some young blood." Marcus laughed and touched Jimmyís hand on his shoulder.
"Donít worry, my friend, she only has eyes for you. Her world begins with you and ends with you. Us young bloods donít stand a chance."
Jimmy bent towards Marcus "Iím not that old Ďyoung bloodí, I can still give you a run for your money." Jimmy was only 2 years older than Marcus but this was the friendly banter they enjoyed.
"Youíre on buddy. Just say when." Marcus laughed. Chaz was glad to see the spark returning.
She watched Jimmy and Charma weave their way to the bathroom and her heart swelled even more with love. Chaz turned back to the group and continued chatting about strategies.
The man in the corner stumbled to his feet and made his way over to their table.
He put his hand on Chazís shoulder catching a handful of her hair in the process.
"Now, why would a knock out like you be hanging with a bunch of no goods like this? Come, Iíll show you what a real man can give you."
Chaz gave a nervous laugh "A real man? You? Please these guys are more Ďrealí men than youíll ever be. Now please remove your hand off me or Iíll be forced to remove it for you." Chaz tried to sound calm and intimidating. The boys started to raise their voices all directing comments at the unknown man.
"Please baby, my hand is only the beginning of what will be touching you." He slurred, the man couldnít stand very well and ended up lunging forward and butting his head into Chazís face.
"Oh for heavens sake, will you just get off me now? Dammit, now Iíll have a blue eye thanks to you, damn idiot." Chaz got up from her seat just as the man lunged forward again this time knocking her on top of Leon. Marcus grabbed the guy by his arm and pulled as hard as he could to move the guy backwards.
"Get off me, you half minded asswipe." The man yelled at Marcus who then proceeded to land a hefty punch to the mans gut, this brought the man to his knees where Marcus then got hold of his hair. "There! Now weíre on the same level." No one had noticed that Jimmy was now back and asking what the hell was going on.
"Chaz?" he shouted.
"Iím here, sweetheart. Itís okay. Iím fine."
"What do you mean youíre fine? What is going on?" he asked again.
"This stupid idiot tried to pick me up and then started falling all over the place after insulting everyone, knocked me flying when he fell, but Marcus has hold of him now. Iíll probably have a beautiful blue eye in the morning, Dammit" Chaz muttered again.
"You piece of trailer trash! How dare you?" Jimmy was angry and when he got angry everyone stepped out his path as he was rather destructive. Next Chaz saw Jimmy had the drunk by his collar and was pulling him up off his knees and chocking him. He moved towards the door not knowing if anything was obstructing his path or not but he was determined to get this flea bag out the door. He made it without falling and at the door he released the guy and started beating him.
"Never set foot in here again or you will be destroyed!!!" Jimmy yelled at him. He turned and walked back to the table. He grabbed Chaz towards him for a hug, feeling her face he asked, "Are you okay?"
"Yes, Iím fine my love. Please donít worry about it, Iím fine. Are you okay?"
"YeahÖ he didnít get a punch in. Sorry, guys. I just get so mad when someone hurts my baby that I want to kill," he explained.
"Hey, you donít have to explain. We all feel the same, donít we boys?" Leon looked at around at his fellow teammates. A chorus Ďyeah for sureí made itís way around the table.
Chaz smiled, "So, you guys do like me after all." She laughed as she sat back down.
"Well, boys, it has been a real blast but I think I am going home. I will see you all at practice on Thursday." Chaz took Jimmyís hand and started at one end of the table to say goodbye. Chaz bent to kiss them on the cheek and Jimmy then shook hands with them. This was their ritual for months now and it had always worked well for them. Marcus was the last one. She bent down and kissed him on the cheek.
"Are you sure youíre okay?" he whispered as he held her face in his hands.
"Yes, Iím fine. Iíll just look like Iíve been in a bar brawl, though." Chaz smiled and patted his shoulder as she straightened up. "Take care and call me anytime, okay?" she finished off and stepped aside to allow Jimmy to shake his hand.
"Thank you for watching out for Chaz." Jimmy said as he let go of Marcusí hand.
"Always, my friend, always." Marcus was sounding a bit hoarse, Jimmy thought.
Heíd think about it later. Right now he was going to take his lady home and feed her.
Jimmy snapped his fingers and Charma jumped up to stand at his side. Jimmy bent down and felt for the harness, then lifted it and commanded Charma to go forward, without Charma I think Jimmyís world would have been very different.
"Youíll get your just desserts Mister, thatís no lie," the beaten drunk yelled at Jimmy as he they walked out the Pub. Little did Chaz realize what was in store for them both.
To be continued...