The high school gym buzzed. Cheers and groans. Excitement and anxiety. Only two more points to win.
Ellie hit the volleyball down the baseline. The defender dove, her arm straining to make contact. A blocker stepped in front of Ellie blinding her sight line. Ellie jerked her head to watchthe ball, but her curiosity vanished as she awkwardly reconnected with the floor.
Ellie looked down. Her right ankle twisted, cracking under her weight as she landed on her opponent's foot. Rolling over the uneven surface, she struggled to find balance, grasping at the net for support.
She missed it. She fell.
Ellie's entire body weight crushed her thin joint. Tears burned in her eyes as her small bones struggled against the pressure. The tendons and ligaments peeled away from the bone. Her muscles stretched beyond their limits, ripping away from each other. The searing heat of pain burned through the joint. Someone was yelling.
Through the anguish, Ellie recognized her own voice crying in agony. Sobs choked her. She gasped for air, but each sharp breath shook her body, jarring her bones. The cold, hardwood floor taunted her as she crumpled to the ground.
“Dad,” Ellie whispered, searching the bench for her coach but unable to see through the tears. From somewhere unseen, two long arms slipped beneath her and pulled her up. She relaxed into the familiar scent of her father's cologne. “It hurts,” she cried, struggling to calm the tremors.
“I know,” he said. His arms were strong and reassuring. His voice never falter as he spoke to his athlete. “We'll get you to the training room and have them wrap this up for you.” He walked quickly through the gym door.
“Can I play?” Ellie asked, watching the court shrink over his shoulder.
Coach swallowed. “You're done.”
Ellie leaned back. She looked at the face of her coach. Hard. Honest. No sympathy or concern. Just the truth.
Ellie forgot about the pain in her ankle. She forgot about the crowd in the gym. She closed her eyes, whimpering. Her heart, so full of hope mere moments ago, burst. There would be no championship for her now. Her eyes snapped open as the reality sank in.
“My scholarship?” she asked. Panic threatened to suffocate her. “College?”
Familiar brown eyes looked at her. The edges softened. Moisture glistened. Ellie's father looked back at her. “You're going to school,” he said.
“But the money...”
“We'll find a way.” He carried her down the hallway, his footsteps echoing in the deserted tunnel.
Ellie rested her head against his shoulder. Her ankle throbbed. Her heart cried. But somehow, from somewhere, her spirit stirred.
She looked at her father's tortured face. He had been here before. She knew he was reliving his past, remembering his lost championship, his missed opportunity. Then she smiled.
“You met mom in the emergency room, didn't you?” she asked.
Her father smiled. His eyes brightened. “She was so cute in that red and white apron.”
“God took something awful and used it for something wonderful,” she said.
Ellie sighed. “Maybe I'll meet my husband today.”
Her father's step slowed as he held his eighteen year-old daughter tighter. Then he smiled at her. He winked. “I'll see if the doctor makes house calls.”
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