The locker room buzzed with excitement. Our big game would begin in ten minutes. My hands trembled. I slipped warm up pants over my shorts and struggled to get my hair into a ponytail. I cringed when Courtney pawed through my bag for a hair tie and nearly uncovered my test.
“Relax, Mariah. You look all tensed up, Girlfriend.”
I tried to smile but I knew full well my BFF would know it was forced. “Well it is the biggest game of my career.” I feigned a smile.
Courtney turned and grabbed both of my hands and closed her eyes. Oh great…she’s gonna pray for me.
“Okay, God. We need Mariah to relax in order for her to play her very best out there. Give us an awesome game, but most of all, let Your Name receive praise.” She let go and managed to say amen and swat my rear at the same time.
The team burst onto the court to the roar of a packed crowd. I tried to scan the bleachers to see if he was there. It made me dizzy when I dribbled and searched at the same time. It was our last game of the regular season, senior night, and scouts were peppered among fans from colleges around the state. The Lady Grizzlies were undefeated the second year in a row and ranked first in the state.
While I waited to hear my name, I tried to not ruin the flowers for my mom in my nervous grip. I could feel his eyes on me, but refused to look for him. I jumped when I heard my name over the loudspeaker.
“Next we have Ma-RI-ahhhh Coooooper,” the sports announcer waited for the cheering to stop. “Daughter of Jeff and Linda Cooper, Mariah currently leads the class with a 3.96 GPA. She’s lettered in basketball and softball, music department president, and student body treasurer. She plans to major in nursing and become a medical missionary. Her parents comment…She’s an outstanding young lady with a bright future. We know God has a purpose and a plan for her life.”
The crowd whooped and hollered. Mom wiped her eyes and Daddy’s arm pulled me close. “Proud of you Baby-girl,” his husky voice choked with emotion and caught me off guard. “You are an outstanding young lady.”
I could only stare at my toes, mind numb, heart racing…can we just start the game and get it over with? I screamed in my head.
The game started rough, but somehow I managed to push aside all other thoughts and focus on the matters of the moment: being part of the best girls’ basketball team in school history.
After the game, his hungry gaze followed me off the court. I knew he’d be waiting at my car with his handsome smile, wavy hair, and gentle touches. I suddenly didn’t feel like rushing to change. Not this time.
“Come on Mariah,” Courtney elbowed me. “The bonfire at the church is going to start soon.” She leaned in close and whispered. “I saw him here. He must really like you to drive ninety miles to attend high school basketball games and youth group bonfires.”
I felt my face flush. I couldn’t look at Courtney and was relieved when she pulled her shirt over her head and didn’t see me brush tears away.
Sure enough, I could see him leaning against my car, his truck parked next to it. He held out a red rose and pulled me in for a hug. My body was stiff and I resisted.
“What’s wrong?” He pulled me away to look me in the face.
I looked over his shoulder and saw the blanket in the cab of his truck. I knew full well what he had on his mind.
“Hop in. We have a bonfire celebration to get to.”
His hand slipped from my lower back to pat my rear. So not the same as when Courtney swatted me earlier.
“What’s the matter, Baby?” He pulled me close and tried to kiss me. “I drove all this way to see you.”
I let him hold me. He felt so good to me. My knees went weak and my pulse pounded.
“These last few weekends have been outstanding,” His raspy whisper sent chills up my spine.
When it was all said and done, the doctor patted my leg. “You did outstanding, young lady.”
“Yeah…” I mumbled when he left. “I’m an outstanding young lady. Or so they think.”
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