Excited athletes from schools all over the States roamed the hotel lobby in search of teammates to accompany them to the dining hall. Tonight was the big Championship banquet. The last event before the big day.
Connor and Daisy hopped out of the back seat of Grandpa Joe’s car and stretched.
“I feel like the Wizard of Oz tin man. My legs are stiff as shhh…” Connor noticed Grandma Rose getting out of the car so he decided to drop the last word, “They’re just plain stiff.”
“There isn’t very much space in Grandpa’s back seat is there?” Daisy giggled at Connor limping around the parking lot, trying to shake the kinks out of his legs.
Joe sat in the car laughing his head off. “When are you gonna quit grow ‘in, boy?” he yelled out the window. “You got the longest legs in town!”
Connor winced and Daisy giggled. “We’ll walk.”
With a repressed grin, Rose pushed through the crowded hotel lobby to the front desk and got a room. When she returned to the car she caught a second glimpse of Connor’s tin man impression. “Poor fellow,” she mumbled sympathetically as she slid back into her seat next to Joe. “Pull the car around to the side there. We’re in room 101, right in front of the pool. The kids look like they need some air. We’ll see ’em in the dining hall in ten minutes anyway.”
“Chow time, now you’re talk ’in!” Joe boomed hungrily. He left the kids to walk and drove around the corner in search of room 101.
Connor and Daisy followed a long line of hungry teens through the buffet line in the dining hall. They greeted anyone who looked familiar with sportsmanlike courtesy as they piled their plates high.
“Day, there’s the Maxwell table. Let’s go sit over there.” Connor tipped his head in the direction he meant.
“Just a sec.” She grabbed a square of cornbread. “Okay, I think I’m done.” She turned to follow him, “Wait, they have a fruit table!” She swerved towards the fruit and picked up a few pieces. Connor stood still, waiting for her. “Okay… now I’m really done.” She giggled hungrily as she returned to his side.
“I doubt that.” He grinned at her then resumed pushing through the crowd. When they reached the Maxwell bunch, Connor knocked knuckles with everyone as he moved around the table to the end. There were some vacant chairs next to Jeremiah, Jason, Andy and Maria so that is where they sat. Once seated, Connor gently took Daisy’s hand, they blessed their food and dug in.
“Try the potatoes.” Maria tapped her plate with her fork. “They’re really good.”
Daisy took a bite. “Yum.”
“Hey man, where’s Alison and Amy?” Connor passed Jeremiah a concerned look over his ice tea glass. “Who’s watching out for them while you’re here?”
“It all worked out perfectly,” Jeremiah responded in a confident tone. “Mark wanted to stay back this year with Susan. She didn’t make it to the Championship, you see…”
Maria then jumped into the conversation, “Yea, our church is having a Worship Workshop right now. Mark and Susan wanted to stay back and go to that. Mom stayed home to go to the workshop with Mark and Susan.”
“Hey! This is my story!” Jeremiah objected to her interruption then continued, “So… I asked Mark if Alison and Amy could stay with them for the weekend. Mark said it’d be fine. Maria is here with her Dad so Alison isn’t breaking the restraining order to be at the Langley house right now.”
Maria jumped back in, unbothered by Jeremiah’s objections, “Alison and Amy are gonna go to the workshop with my brother. Susan said she was hoping to have a chance to get to know them. To her, it seemed like a great opportunity.”
“Perfect set up, don’t ya think so?” Jeremiah and Jason both had big grins on their faces. They were obviously very proud of how things were going.
“So I guess, judging by the expressions on your faces, things must be going pretty good between you guys,” Connor lightly quizzed.
“Yea, I like ’em. They’re pretty cool,” Jeremiah responded seriously.
“Have you found out any more about Mr. Adams?” Connor questioned as he ate.
“A few things, here and there,” he hesitated a moment, “But not the kind of things you’re after.”
Connor looked up from his plate. “What do you mean?”
“Well, I know that Alison doesn’t want me to take her anywhere that you guys hang out. We were going to take them to the boardwalk the other night, but she refused. She said it was dangerous for you guys to be around her.”
Connor’s eyes narrowed. “Why is that? Does she mean the restraining order?”
“That’s what I asked her. She said she doesn’t want to know anything else about you guys because… well her words were, ‘what she doesn’t know she can’t tell’. She is convinced that Mr. Adams is following her around and that if she runs into him she might get scared and tell him something about you guys. So she doesn’t want to know anything about you.” Jeremiah looked down at his plate sadly. “Connor, she’s really scared of this guy, and so is her sister.”
Connor looked at Jeremiah for a long while. “I can understand that.” He looked down at Daisy’s hand that lay on the table next to his.
“What else have you learned about them?” Andy threw his thought into the silence.
“I found out her parents don’t care a flip about her or her sister. They stay out all the time with us. Their parents never call their cell phones or ask them where they have been or anything.” Jeremiah shook his head in disbelief. “Do you know what Dad asked me?”
“No, what?” Andy looked at him curiously.
“Dad asked me, where I found the ‘homeless girls’ and should he be calling child services.”
“You’re kidding! What’d ya say?”
“The truth man. I explained the whole story to him. He knew bits and pieces of it already, anyway. I just had to fill in a few blanks for him.”
“Aw man, is he gonna call child services?” Connor hoped he’d not gotten the girls into more trouble.
“Nope, he said I was doing the community a fine service by watching out for them, and the girls could hang out at our place anytime they wanted.”
“Man, Doctor Chimes is soooooooo cool.” Andy grinned. “My mom would have been flipping out!”
Then Jason spoke up proudly, “Amy is real smart. She got moved to Merrillville High School after Surfside went under. She makes straight A’s and everything.”
“So, Jason,” Andy chuckled, “Does this mean you got her to talk?”
“She talks well enough if you want to listen to what she’s saying.”
Andy’s eyes enlarged at Jason’s defensiveness. “Okay then, what does she like to talk about?”
“Her books mostly.”
Andy had a puzzled look on his face so Jason tried to explain further, “Remember, I said she was real smart? Well that’s because she reads all kinds of books from the library. She’ll talk about the books she reads, if you’ll listen that is. Most people don’t want to talk about books so she has a reputation for being unsociable.” Jason looked at his plate and sort of mumbled his last few words, “I like listening to her. She’s interesting.”
Connor’s eyes went back to Jeremiah. “Did Alison get moved to Merrillville high school too?”
“No, she was in so much trouble with the police they put her in one of those skill center places. She’s learning to cut hair. She hates it.” Jeremiah gave a little laugh then tore his bread open to butter it.
“I hate to bust your bubble boys but there still seems to be something not quite right about her,” Maria spoke out.
Jeremiah glared at her for a moment. “What’s that supposed to mean? Not everybody is cut out to be a goody-two-shoes like you Maria.”
“Hey!” Andy pointed an angry finger at Jeremiah. “Maria is not a goody-two-shoes.”
“Humph.” Jeremiah went back to his food.
“Well… she seems really sorry now and all, but I have seen another side of her.” Maria turned to look at Daisy. “Remember how she was in Coach Timber’s office at Surfside?”
“Yea, I remember that. She was really rude,” Daisy had to agree. “Alison does have an ugly side.”
“She was in trouble,” Jeremiah defended.
“Please be careful with her. I can see that you like her. I have seen her get real violent. I agree with Connor that it’s too soon to trust her,” Maria cautioned.
“You might be able help her though,” Daisy encouraged. “Remember how Mark helped Susan out? She used to be pretty mean too. Now she is so much better,” Daisy reminded everybody.
“Yea, but Susan asked Jesus into her heart. It was more than just a guy being nice to her. She made a lot of life changes. Do you think Alison is willing to do that?” Maria challenged Daisy’s optimism.
“I don’t know what she’s willing to do. I’ve never asked her. Maybe Mark will ask her about those things while she’s at his house. Wouldn’t it be cool if Alison had a chance to hear Susan’s testimony?” Daisy smiled hopefully.
“I think Alison was forced into doing all those mean things. I don’t think she wants to be like that anymore.” Jeremiah added, “I like her.”
“If that’s the case then sending her to Mark’s house will be real good for her,” Daisy continued in her optimism.
“Listen, Mark is not anyone’s savior. She will have to make a lot of changes,” Maria tried to bring some reality to Daisy’s view.
“I know that.” Now Daisy was defensive. “But Mark is a very encouraging person to be around. Plus he knows how to explain things clearly. People listen to him. He has led a lot of kids to the Lord… not just Susan.” She was now upset with Maria’s negative attitude. “You were the one always tell ’in us to pray for them.”
Connor gave Daisy’s hand a gentle squeeze to let her know it was time to stop. She looked up at him. He leaned down and whispered in her ear, “I hear you babe.” Then he turned back to Jeremiah and spoke up loudly. “Thanks for hanging out with them. That’s pretty cool of you guys. There’s not a whole lot I can do for them right now. I can’t trust Alison knowing too much about Daisy yet. Andy probably feels the same way about her knowing too much about Maria. So I’m glad you guys don’t mind helping them out.”
“It’s our pleasure, man!” Jeremiah and Jason both shouted in unison. They lifted their tea glasses high in the air. “To Alison and Amy!” Jeremiah hollered. “Our kick-butt girlfriends!” Jason joyfully seconded. The group roared laughing at the toasting words and clinked glasses, hoping that things were truly going as well as they appeared.
“Girlfriends,” Andy mumbled under his breath in Connor’s direction, “What are they think ’in?”
Connor smiled back. “Just let it ride for now, see where it goes,” was his quiet return.
When dinner was done, several sports leaders took turns giving mini speeches on Championship rules and organization. After that, the coaches left the host table and moved to the team tables to discuss the next day’s big event and answer questions.
Coach Peggy came, hand in hand, with Davis to the Maxwell table. The Maxwell team cheered for the engaged couple and gave several whoops and hollers of excitement when they saw the “hand holding” between Connor’s Dad and their beloved Coach Peggy.
“Way to go Coach Peggy!” someone yelled out.
“Coach Peggy found herself a man!” someone else yelled out.
“Good job Mr. Bailey! Does this mean you’re our coach too?” someone else yelled out.
All the kids started hitting their drink glasses with their forks making a lot of glass tinkling noise. “Give her a kiss, Mr. Bailey! Give her a kiss!”
Davis and Peggy laughed lightly through the excitement. They were not in the least bit offended by the team’s revelry. Coach Peggy knew and loved them all, and she was happy that they were happy for her. She liked sharing her joys with them. Davis was one of her joys, and she was glad that they liked him.
“Should I kiss you in front of this wild bunch of kids or not?” Davis whispered in Peggy’s ear.
Peggy chuckled nervously and turned red at all the attention. She was a bold lady and under normal circumstances being the center of attention would not bother her but this was a different kind of attention. The kind of attention that made reference to her more intimate female side. This side of her had lain dormant for a long time. Davis was the only one who had touched it since Frank. The touching of this side of her made her feel an uncharacteristic shyness but she did manage to answer Davis. “It’s okay with me… if… it’s okay with you.”
Davis leaned down and gave her a real nice kiss, and the entire Maxwell team flipped out with wild whistling, whooping, hollering, table banging, laughter and the whole nine yards. Other teams from other tables looked over at the joyous bunch and joined into what they thought to be an outburst of great team spirit. All the tables throughout the dining hall hollered out their school name. A mighty wave of team spirit suddenly ran through the place. Hotel staff stood in shock while the teams chanted their own homespun phrases of victory!
“Jam ’min Johnson takes the prize!”
“Merrillville rocks and rules!”
“Columbus flies high with the eagles!”
“Lightning fast Maxwell!”
Eventually, Davis raised his hands in the air and gently waved to the Maxwell kids to quiet down. Maxwell reluctantly obeyed. Other team tables followed them and the dining hall returned to business.
“Okay kids, you had your fun. Now, it’s Peggy’s turn. She has some things to tell you. So please quiet down and listen,” Davis instructed the kids as he took a seat next to where Coach Peggy was standing.
The kids settled down and gave Coach Peggy the kind of attention she was more used to. When all eyes rested on her she gave them the rundown of the schedule and what to expect the next day. She also told them to avoid the swimming pool and go straight to bed. The group moaned when they heard her pool rule.
Davis pinched the bridge of his nose, grinning, as he listened to all the teenage, fake drama. “No one can perform fake drama better than a teen,” Davis chuckled to himself.
Coach Peggy, being very used to teen drama, ignored it and moved on to ask, “Are there any questions?”
“You know kids are gonna be out there at the pool tonight, why can’t we?” one student moaned.
“I don’t care what you see others doing. I want you to save your energy for the Championship tomorrow. If I see any Maxweller at the pool I’m gonna drag you out by the ear and take you to your room myself. All of you live just ten minutes from the beach anyway. You can swim when you get home. Is that clear?”
Another hand went up.
“Yes, what is it?”
“When can we start calling you Coach Bailey?”
“On June 30th my name will be Coach Bailey.” Peggy smiled warmly. She’d not heard her future name out loud until now. She liked how it sounded in her ears.
Davis reached out and took her hand when she said it. He also thought it sounded nice.
“If there are no more questions, I would like to encourage you to please go back to your rooms and go to bed. Tomorrow is a big day.” And those were Coach Peggy’s last words for the night.
The kids closed with a few homemade Maxwell cheers:
Who’s faster than a train?
Who’s faster than a plane?
Fast as lightning that’s our claim!
Winning, winning is our game!
Winning, winning is our aim!
Every year it’s the same!
We’re the best, that’s our fame!
Maxwell, Maxwell, is our name!
With the helpful nudging of parents and grandparents, the kids reluctantly retired to their rooms.
Grandma Rose went straight for the shower. “Winning might be your aim but a hot shower is mine.” She chuckled.
“Yea and my aim is this here giant double bed.” Grandpa Joe stripped down to his shorts and climbed into bed quicker than you could blink. He was snoring in less than two minutes.
Connor and Daisy setup their rollaway beds and lay down, hoping they could fall asleep before the pool splashing started.
“Will it be hard for you to fall asleep?” Daisy whispered.
“Maybe, I don’t know. I’m not tired yet.”
Daisy watched him stare at the ceiling then asked, “Will you pray with me for Alison and Amy?”
“Sure, you go ahead. I’ll say an amen when you are done.” He smiled at her hopeful nature.
“Dear Lord, I saw you save and turn Susan around. I know you can do the same for Alison and Amy. Take them out of harm’s way. Show them who You really are. Help them to make the changes that they need to make. It looks like Jeremiah and Jason really like these girls too so I also ask that you protect their hearts from getting hurt. Show us all when we can start trusting these girls because we are not sure about that yet.”
“You said once, a long time ago, that if you ever had trouble sleeping that you would want me to sing for you.”
Connor rolled onto his side to get a better look at her face. “Yea… I remember that.”
“Do you want me to try?”
She sang as softly as she could so as not to wake up Grandpa but still be heard.
Connor drifted off to sleep listening to her quiet voice. Daisy’s voice got softer and softer until she also was asleep. They never heard Rose blow drying her hair, Joe’s snoring or even the few who dared to jump into the pool.