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A Time to Dance
By Karen Kingsbury
Thorndike PressCopyright © 2006 Karen Kingsbury
All right reserved.
Without question, it was the moment Abby Reynolds had waited for all her life.
Beneath the Friday-night lights in the biggest college stadium in the state of Illinois, Abby's husband was on the brink of winning his second high-school football championship. Moreover he was about to do so largely on the talents of their older son, the team's senior quarterback.
Abby pulled her blue-and-gray Marion Eagles jacket tighter to her body and wished she'd brought a thicker scarf. It was early December, after all, and though snow hadn't fallen for more than a week, the air was biting cold. "Football weather," John always said. Cold and dry, straight from heaven. She stared beyond the lights to the starry sky. Even God is rooting for you tonight, John.
Her gaze fell across the field, and she picked out her husband on the sidelines, headset angled just so, body bent over, hands on his knees as he waited for the play to unfold. She could remember a million afternoons when his eyes had sparkled with laughter, but here, now, they were hard and focused. His face was the picture of concentration, lined with the intensity of the moment as he barked commands in a dozen directions. Evenfrom her place high up in the packed stands, Abby could feel the energy that emanated from John in the final minutes of this, his most prized football game.
No doubt about it, coaching was his gift.
And this was his finest hour.
If only everything else hadn't gotten so
"Come on, Eagles. You can do it!" Abby's daughter, Nicole, clapped her hands and gritted her teeth, holding tighter to her boyfriend, Matt's, hand, every ounce of her energy focused on her younger brother.
Tears nipped at Abby's eyes, and she blinked them back. If only I could freeze time, here and now ... She turned and squeezed her father's knee. "I can feel it, Dad. They're gonna win."
Her father, an old man who barely resembled the dad she'd grown up with, raised a shaky fist partway into the freezing night. "You can do it, Kade!" His hand dropped weakly back into his lap.
Abby patted her father's limp arm and then cupped her hands around her mouth. "Make it count, Kade. Come on!" Her fingers tightened into fists, and she tapped them in a fast, steady beat against her knees. Please, Lord, let him have this.
After tonight there were bound to be few moments of light for any of them.
"I kinda hate to see it end." Her father grinned at her through wet eyes. "All those years of football together. The boy's amazing. Plays just like his father."
Abby focused her gaze on her son and the corners of her mouth lifted. "He always has."
"Mom, isn't it weird?" Nicole leaned her head on Abby's shoulder.
"What, honey?" Abby took her daughter's free hand and resisted the urge to close her eyes. It felt so good, sitting here in the thrill of the moment, surrounded by family ...
"This is Kade's last high-school game." Nicole's voice was thick, filled with tender indignation, as though she'd only now realized a loss she hadn't prepared for. "Just like that, it's over. Next year he'll be at Iowa, and it won't be the same."
A stinging sensation made its way across Abby's eyes again, and she struggled to swallow. If only you knew, sweetheart ... "It never is."
Nicole stared down at the field. "I mean, this is it. After tonight he'll never play for Dad again." She glanced at the scoreboard. "All those practices and games, and in a few minutes it'll be over. Just a box full of memories and old newspaper articles."
The lump grew thicker. Not now, Nicole. Let me enjoy the moment. Tears clouded Abby's vision. Come on, get a grip. Life is full of endings. She squeezed her daughter's hand and uttered a short laugh. "We're supposed to be cheering, remember? They haven't won yet."
Nicole stuck her chin out and shouted as loud as she could. "Go, Eagles, come on! You can do it!"
Abby's eyes moved toward the field where Kade was at the center of the huddle, relaying his father's plays to the team. Third down and eight, twenty-five yards to go for a touchdown. There was just over a minute to play, and Marion was up by three. This touchdownand Abby could feel in her gut that there would be a touchdownwould seal the win.
"Let's go, Eagles!" Abby clapped her mittened hands together and stared intently at the field as the play unfolded. Come on, Kade. Nice and easy. Like a hundred times before ...
Her strapping son took the snap and, with practiced grace, found his place in the pocket, searching downfield until he saw his target. Then, in the fluid motion that comes from being the talented son of a storied football coach, he fired the ball, threading it through two menacing defenders to land, almost like magic, in the hands of a Marion receiver.
The home crowd was on its feet.
Over the din of ten thousand screaming fans, the announcer explained the situation: the Eagles had a first and goal on the three-yard line with less than a minute to play.
The opposing team called a time-out, and Abby breathed in slowly. If she could savor this moment, bottle it up or capture it forever, she would. Hadn't they dreamed of this time and place since Kade was born, first joking about it and then realizing with each passing year the chance of it actually happening? Dozens of yesterdays fought for her attention. The first time she saw John in a football uniform ... the way his eyes loved her as they spoke their wedding vows and toasted to forever ... Nicole playing in the backyard ... the gleam in four-year-old Kade's eyes when he got his first football ... the thrill of Sean's birth seven years later ... years of meeting on the pier at the end of the day ... the music that they
A whistle blew, and the players took their positions.
Abby swallowed hard. Her family had spent a lifetime getting heretwo decades of memories, many of them centered around a white-lined, hundred-yard field of mud and grass.
The crowd remained on its feet, but despite the deafening noise there was a quiet place in Abby's heart where she could hear her children's long-ago laughter, see the way John and the kids tickled and tackled on the Marion High field every day when practice was over. For years John had known instinctively how to involve their children in his role as coach, how to put the game behind him at day's end. The image and voices changed, and the stadium noise was only a distant roar.
"Dance with me, Abby ... dance with me."
There they were, on the pier. Dancing the dance of life, swaying to the sound of crickets and creaking boards long after the kids were asleep on nights when summer seemed like it might last forever.
A gust of wind sent a chill down her arms, and she blinked back the fading visions of yesterday. No matter how he'd betrayed her, no matter what happened next, there would never be a better father for her children than John Reynolds.
Another memory rang in her mind. She and John on the lake, adrift in an old fishing boat a year after Kade was born. "One day, Abby, one day Kade'll play for me, and we'll go to state. All the way, honey. We'll have everything we ever dreamed of and nothing will stop us. Nothing ..."
Nowin what seemed like the blink of an eyethey were here.
Kade took the snap and raised the ball.
Come on, Kade. It's yours, honey. "Go, Eagles!" she screamed.
The ball flew from Kade's hands like a, bullet, spiraling through the winter night much the way Kade himself had flown through their lives, a blur of motion. Come on, catch it ... Abby watched as Kade's best friend, T. J., the team's tight end, jumped for the ball. Fitting, she thought. Like the perfect ending to a perfect movie. And she realized that everything about Kade and John and their football dayseven this final playhad somehow been destined from the beginning.
It all seemed to be happening in slow motion ...
T. J. wrapped his fingers around the ball, pulled it to his chest, and landed squarely in the end zone.
"Touchdown!" Abby's heart soared and she leapt up and down, her fists high in the air. "I can't believe it! We did it! We won!" She pulled her father and Nicole into a hug and high-fived ten-year-old Sean three seats down the row. "State champs! Can you believe it?"
On the field the players kicked the extra point and then lined up for the kickoff. Fifteen seconds more and the Marion Eagles would be state champs. The Reynoldses' father-and-son team would forever be part of Illinois prep football lore.
John, you did it ... you and Kade.
In honor of everything they'd ever beenof the beacon of light that had been their love, their familyAbby felt nothing but pure, unhindered joy for her husband.
Two tears spilled from the corners of her eyes and burned their way down her freezing cheeks.
Not now, Abby. Not when it's supposed to be a celebration. The crowd was shouting in unison: "Five ... four ... three ... two...."
As the stands emptied onto the field, a swirling blue-and-gray mass of celebration, Abby's father hooted like he hadn't since he'd been relegated to a nursing home. Sean bounced along behind Nicole and Matt as they rushed down the stairs to join the others.
Abby sat frozen in place, soaking in the moment. She searched the crowd until she found John, watched as he ripped off his headset and ran like a madman to meet Kade. Their hug put Abby over the edge, and the tears came in quiet streams. John pulled their son into a solid embrace that shut out everyone else: teammates, coaches, members of the press. Everyone but each other. Kade gripped his helmet in one hand and his father's neck with the other.
Then it happened.
While Abby was still savoring the moment, Charlene Denton came up behind John and threw her arms around his shoulders. A rock took up residence in Abby's stomach and began to grow. Not now ... here in front of everyone we know. John and Charlene were easily fifty yards from Abby, but it made no difference. She could see the way the scene played out as clearly as if she were standing beside them. Her husband pulled away from Kade and turned to hug Charlene briefly. There was something about the way John brought his head close to hers and kept his hand on her shoulder that conveyed his feelings for Charlene. Feelings he had long had for her. Charlene Denton, fellow teacher at Marion High, John's greatest stumbling block.
Abby blinked, and suddenly everything good and memorable and nostalgic about the night felt cheap and artificial, like something from a bad movie. Even the tenderest thoughts couldn't stand against the reality in front of her.
Abby's father saw them, too, and he cleared his throat. "I'll be fine here by myself, honey. You go be with John."
She shook her head, but her gaze never left her husband and Charlene. "No, I'll wait."
Her eyes were dry now, and anger pulsed through her, glazing her heart with hard, empty bitterness. Get away from him, lady. This is our moment, not yours. Abby stared at Charlene, hating her. John's voice echoed in her heart once more, but this time his words had nothing to do with dancing.
And everything to do with divorce.
This was the weekend they'd agreed to tell the kids. The weekend they would shatter their family's mistaken belief that Abby and John were perhaps the most happily married people in all the world. Abby sighed. No matter how it felt to see John with Charlene, the reality was he could talk to the teacher or any other woman for that matter. In a few months, John would be single, after all. As would Abby. She hugged herself tightly, trying to will away the nausea that swirled around inside her. Why does it still hurt, Lord?
No magic answers came to mind, and Abby wasn't sure if she wanted to disappear or bolt down onto the field and join them so that Charlene would feel too uncomfortable to stay.
I thought I was past this, God. We've already agreed to move on. What's happening to me? Abby tapped her foot against the concrete stadium floor and shifted positions, hating the way the other woman seemed unfettered, lovely and young and without the burdens of two decades of marriage. What was this feeling assaulting her? Jealousy?
No, it felt more like regret. Abby's pulse quickened. It couldn't be, could it? What was there to regret? Hadn't they both realized the place they were in, the place they were headed?
Or was this how it would always feel to see John with another woman?
Her vision clouded over, and again she heard John's voice from long ago. "Dance with me, Abby ... dance with me."
The silent words faded from her mind and she blinked back fresh tears. One thing was certain: if this was how being divorced was going to feel, she'd better get used to it.
No matter how much she hated it.
Excerpted from A Time to Dance by Karen Kingsbury Copyright © 2006 by Karen Kingsbury. Excerpted by permission.
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