Saying thank you is enough

I’ve learned a few things in the past year.

We might not be able to control everything that happens to us, but we can damn sure choose how we react.

It’s OK to ask for help.

You don’t owe anyone for helping you.

And you’re never going to be able to pay any of those kind-hearted people back by buying them things, giving them money or making some other grand gesture.

A simple thank you IS enough.

We all have our pride. I don’t like asking anyone for anything, nor does my husband, Stuart. I’m sure you don’t, either.

But sometimes we have to swallow our pride and ask for help, and that’s just what we did.

If it weren’t for our amazing friends, Stuart’s family back in Scotland and my family in the States, I don’t know what we’d have done.

A little more than a year ago, I didn’t think life could possibly get any worse for my family.

In a perfect fairy-tale world, it would not.

We would have gone about our business as usual, happily living our quiet, peaceful lives, and everything would have been hunky-dory.

But the reality is that it could, and it did, get worse.

So much worse.

Most of you know that Stuart had a massive heart attack last year, that he underwent bypass surgery, that he was recovering. Blah, blah, blah.  Yada, Yada, Yada.

Problem fixed, right?


It was only the beginning of a hellish year we’d all like to forget.

About two months after his surgery, Stuart went to work for Canada Post. As many of you know, he is also diabetic and the circulation in his right leg was blocked and required a stent a couple of years ago. But what most people don’t know is that he nearly lost his foot then. He contracted diabetic heel from a small cut that turned into a huge wound, but with aggressive treatments, his doctor was able to get the deep tissue to regenerate and heal.

Unfortunately, our good fortune didn’t last.

The circulation in that same leg got blocked again, and the result was devastating.

Stuart developed gangrene in his toes at first. And then it enveloped his entire foot.

I’m going to spare you all the gory details because I would not wish what he went through or what our son, Kiefer, and I witnessed on anyone.

It was horrible, and even that is a severe understatement.

After getting another stent, Stuart’s condition worsened rapidly.

Watching the man you love suffer, lose nearly 30 pounds and be unable to lift his head or eat or walk is something I will never forget all the rest of the days of my life.

And still, he tried to take care of ME.

I fell on the ice and broke my leg at the knee Jan. 19, the day after Stuart got his second stent. He was still in the hospital, waiting to be discharged, so he limped over to the emergency room to wait for the ambulance carrying me.

We couldn’t take care of each other anymore, so I pushed my pride aside and asked for help.

The response was overwhelming.

Whatever we needed, all we had to do was ask — housework, grocery shopping, ready-made meals, rides to and from the hospital, well wishes, kind words and even kinder ears as well as other means we’ll never be able to repay with anything but a heartfelt THANK YOU from my family to everyone who was there for us.

Sure, we didn’t tell everyone that Stuart underwent an emergency amputation on Valentine’s Day, four days before our 14th anniversary. Nor did we tell many people that shortly after his right leg was amputated at the calf, his kidneys failed and he was on dialysis for six weeks.

It’s just not the kind of thing you plaster all over social media.

Altogether, Stuart was in the hospital for two months and 13 days at St. Catharines General, Welland County General and finally the Hotel Dieu Shaver before coming home April 25, two days before my birthday (Best present ever!!!).

I cannot even begin to describe how wonderful it is to have my family back together again, even though we drive each other bonkers on a daily basis. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A friend recently told me that Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on our blessings. I am most grateful to say that we are blessed with wonderful friends and family.

Thank you.

Grateful to be giving thanks

I never gave a single thought to what life might be like without my husband until 40 days ago.

Everything changed that late August day.

It was like someone had yanked a rug out from under our feet and sent us all sprawling in different directions.

I was lost, devastated and terrified.

I couldn’t comfort my husband or our son because I couldn’t stop crying long enough to even make an attempt. For the first time in my life, the fixer and realist in me didn’t know what the hell to do.

All I wanted was for my husband to be home and healthy and safe.

Kiefer, our normally carefree, energetic and chatty son, fell silent and grew up in the blink of an eye. There was no protecting him from the cruel reality of life anymore. Not after this.

And Stuart, my partner and often my better half, just lay there scared and helpless … and mortal. For the rest of my days, I will never forget the hopeless look in his eyes, his lifelong fear of hospitals notwithstanding.

We’ve had our share of bad luck and hard times in the 15-plus years we’ve been together and the 13-plus we’ve been husband and wife, but we always managed to bounce back because we dug our heels in and persevered.

Nothing could have prepared any of us for a massive heart attack we never knew he had until an angiogram Aug. 30 revealed four blocked arteries, one of which was 100 percent and two others 70 percent each.

And nothing certainly could have prepared us to hear more than one doctor tell him how lucky he was because they sure didn’t know how in hell he managed to survive a heart attack of that magnitude.

His heart, itself, was working at a mere 35-to-45 percent capacity.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Stuart was doing all of the everyday, normal things we all do without a second thought while his heart was functioning at less than 50 percent.

And none of us knew it until the day of his angiogram.

Maybe now you can understand why his doctors were so flipping shocked he survived.

Somebody, somewhere was watching over him. I’m convinced of it.

It was a slap in the face, a wake-up call, a reality check — whatever you want to call it.

It’s the kind of shit that only happens to other people until it doesn’t, until it’s you who’s fighting for your life, until it’s your family who’s dealing with tragedy.

I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, not even my worst enemy.

Growing up, we think we’re invincible until, one day, we wake up to find out just how mortal we really are in this topsy-turvy gig we call life.

Fortunately for us, Stuart underwent successful double bypass surgery and he has been recovering well since coming home Sept. 11.

There was nothing routine about that operation, either.

What you may not realize is that the surgery, which took just over three hours, consisted of his veins being surgically removed from both of his legs and grafted to his heart in order to bypass the blockages (hence the name). His sternum was cracked open so the surgeons could get to his heart and do what needed to be done. A machine was hooked up to his heart and lungs to do the breathing for him while his surgeons did what they could to help him.

There was nothing they could do about the artery that was 100 percent blocked, though not for lack of trying. His cardiologist said the artery was narrow to begin with, so not much blood ran through it in the first place.

Again, not the kind of matter-of-fact information you want to hear, but I at least did find some small comfort in the fact that his doctor was not concerned about it.

The surgeon’s calm, pleased demeanor and smiling face when he found me, Kiefer, Stuart’s best friend and his girlfriend in the waiting room afterward told me all I needed to know before he ever spoke a word.

My husband was going to be OK. He was going to live. Our house would feel like a home again because he would be in it, once more completing the family we created together so many years ago.

And after having him home for one month, you’d think by now that the hardest part has long since passed.

You’d be wrong.

This is just the beginning.

The lifestyle changes we’ve made are drastic but necessary for Stuart’s continued health.

For OUR continued health.

This means not smoking, maintaining a healthy diet and exercising.




Without fail.

This isn’t like getting over a common cold, a nasty virus or a bout with the flu.

There is no reverting back to bad habits or cheating a little here and there because doing so can and will result in death.

There. I said it. The D-word.

I take nothing for granted anymore.

When you’ve been through something so utterly life-changing, it really puts everything into perspective. You learn who — not what — is truly important to you.

To me, my husband and son are EVERYTHING, and I am grateful for them.

I am also humbled by the kindness and compassion and love shown by our amazing circle of family and friends, as well as the top-notch doctors and nurses who took care of the man I said “I do” to nearly 14 years ago.

And what better holiday to celebrate them than Canadian Thanksgiving, itself, eh?

We truly are blessed.

“Icing the Kicker,” Chapter Seven

After their ambush — sorry, unscheduled meeting — that gives the campy Syfy TV movie 2-Headed Shark Attack new meaning, my plan to give Coach Thomas a nudge in Mandy Jo’s direction doesn’t seem all that pressing anymore.

Frankly, I just want to get the hell out of here right now.

Especially with my cell phone buzz-buzz-buzzing nonstop as Richard goes from frenzied texting to outright calling me, no doubt getting my voice mail that most probably is full from all of the messages I’ve never checked in the year I’ve had the damn thing because I don’t know how to access them and I don’t want to listen to my husband lecture me as he painstakingly shows me how to go about it for the bazillionth time.

It’s an ongoing battle of wills that I’m determined to win. He gets his snotty English way the majority of the time, so I’m hellbent on winning this one little-bitty skirmish. I know it’s petty and selfish of me to not answer my phone right away when I know good and well he’s trying to contact me out of concern, but he needs to understand that what happened last year is highly unlikely to ever again occur in our lifetimes, that it was a fucked up, one-time deal.

Besides, he can’t seriously expect me to come running every damn time he snaps his fingers. I am his partner — his equal — not his dog, and he can stew a few minutes longer while I chat with Coach Thomas.

Then again, he did warn me from the beginning that this — US — wasn’t going to be easy. And he did enumerate his faults in a last-ditch attempt to give me an easy out before we were in way too deep to turn back, although we already were way too invested in each other before either of us was willing to admit it a mere year ago.

Oh, hell, who am I kidding? I am being a superbitch and I really should answer my phone, if for no other reason than to ease his mind. I’m not single anymore and I have to learn to balance my stubborn need for independence with the knowledge that he IS my husband, my other half, that I do answer to him just as he answers to me.

Hey, I never claimed to be perfect, OK? This being married thing is going to be a lifelong work in progress for the both of us, especially since neither of us is used to having to answer to anyone.

I immediately search for the phone in my black hole of a purse until I feel its vibrations and snatch it up among all the debris that needs to be cleaned out of it.

“Hi, honey,” I say slowly in my most soothing tone of voice while holding the phone slightly away from my ear just in case he starts yelling from the get-go. “I’m so sorry I didn’t answer my phone. I know how you worry about me, Richard, especially with a baby on the way now. I was just in the middle of a surprise meeting with Scott’s parents and I didn’t want to be rude to them, so I put my phone away in my purse after I texted you. I hope you’re not too terribly upset. I know how horrible I’ve been to you lately — especially this morning — and I’m really sorry.”

He doesn’t go on a tirade, instead sighing his palpable relief because he knows my apology is genuine

I really can be an inconsiderate bitch sometimes. I’m going to have to make it up to him, somehow. I know! I’ll cook him a romantic dinner tonight. He’ll like that. Yeah, that’s just what I’ll do!

“I’ll be on my way back to the office shortly, love,” I continue. “I just need to talk to Coach Thomas about one last thing and then I’ll be on the road. I promise I’ll be real careful and watch out for deer. Love you.”

After hitting the “end” button to disconnect our call, I focus my attention back to Coach Thomas, who is looking quite dumbfound at the moment.

“What’s wrong?” I inquire as I gather my belongings and carefully get up from his comfy office chair.

“You … you’re … having a baby?” he stammers. “Did I hear that right?”

Well, shit.

“Um, yeah, but you didn’t hear any of that,” I reluctantly confirm. “I mean, yeah, I guess you overheard our phone conversation. But it’s not public knowledge. Yet. At least, we’re not ready for it to be public right now, if you catch my drift.”

He nods.

“How far along are you?” he questions me. “If you don’t mind me asking?”

Of course, I do, but I answer him against my better judgment.

“Fifteen weeks exactly,” I murmur proudly, unable to hide a secretive Mona Lisa smile — if you’ll forgive the unintended pun — at the prospect of becoming a mom for the very first time.

Wow. Shit just got real with that admission.

Still, I can’t completely contain my excitement. Funny, isn’t it, how my hormones are all over the fucking place? And it’s still early in the day, at that.

“So, uh, have you spoken to Mandy Jo lately?” I ask in a lame attempt to divert him from my not-so-secret-anymore pregnant state. “And can you tell me where I might find the nearest bathroom? Pretty please?”

After he discloses the closest facilities to me and I do my business — Damn my waterfall of a bladder! — I meet him outside the fieldhouse doors.

He locks up the fieldhouse and walks me to my car as I give his ugly-ass orange truck my very best impression of Richard’s everyday disdainful once-over of MY old beater. I wonder if my loving husband would appreciate my ability to mimic his expression so incredibly well, although I somehow doubt he’d ever admit it to me. He’d probably lecture me on my bad behavior, instead, and take me to task over my innate loathing of everything Auburn, but I simply cannot help something that comes as natural to me as breathing.

As it is, Coach Thomas’ smirk is a mile wide as he takes note of my open book of a face.

“Your husband told me to call him if you said anything hateful about Auburn, but I’ll have to tell him you actually behaved yourself for once, even though I could tell it was killing you to be quiet the minute you walked into my office,” he confesses before howling with laughter.

I just glare at him with all of my might, hands on hips, tapping my feet for all the good any of it is doing, until his guffaws finally subside to chuckles.

“It’s nice knowing I have a fellow Auburn alum on my side,” he reveals what I’m already deducing for myself. “We need all the help we can get with you and your Roll Tide, this and Roll Tide, that. We know how crazy you Alabama fans are, bless your little crimson and white hearts.”

Oh, no, he didn’t just use Roll Tide so blasphemously, or have the audacity to bless MY heart! Lawd, if you’re listening, please grant me the strength NOT to make verbal mincemeat of this man right where he stands!

“I will behave, I will behave, I WILL behave,” I chant out loud, just so he knows I’m trying my damnedest to keep my promise to Richard.

I am SOOO burning the no-longer-romantic dinner I’m making for Richard tonight! I’m going to char some chicken to a nasty crisp since it’s the closest thing I can come to their precious cry of War Eagle. Not that I’d ever intentionally harm an eagle or any other living creature, mind you. But I sure am going to scorch me some store-bought chicken all the way to hell and back for that sneaky, lowdown, dirty Auburn graduate of a husband of mine! You better damn believe that! And perhaps I’ll give him the silent treatment for good measure.

You simply do NOT mess with the hallowed Roll Tide reserved ONLY for die-hard Alabama fans like myself. You don’t see me running around hollering War Eagle, THIS and War Eagle, THAT like some yahoo who doesn’t possess a lick of common sense, no siree! Some things, you just don’t do OR say, not that either one of them has the good sense to know THAT, bless THEIR awful little orange and blue hearts.

I’m so damn mad, I could spit. But I don’t because that would be unladylike and as much of a tomboy as I fancy myself, some things are beneath even me. Not to mention my mom would smack me down in a heartbeat if she ever found out her daughter did something so un-Southern-belle-like.

“And to think I was going to try to fix you up with Mandy Jo,” I inform him indignantly, sticking my nose up in the air and sniffling purely for effect. “But on second thought, maybe she shouldn’t date someone so underhanded. Humph.

Coach Thomas snickers, clearly not buying my put-upon act.

“You think I have a chance in hell with her?” he wants to know, all of a sudden serious.

“Yes, I do,” I answer just as seriously. “I’m pretty sure she likes you as much as you like her, but at the tortoise pace you’re both moving, nothing is EVER going to happen. So I thought I’d give you a little push in the right direction. She’s not a sports fan AT ALL, but she loves animals, photography, anything and everything to do with history or culture, chocolate, wine, books, movies and Conway Twitty. Just sayin’.”

He gives me a wink.

“Good to know,” he grins.

And just like that, we’re co-conspirators. But I’m still more than a little irritated with him AND Richard for tag-teaming me in such a shady manner.

“But you also didn’t hear any of that from me,” I tell him just in case he decides to go blabbing to Mandy Jo about me trying to set them up, as well as to remind him of our earlier conversation that Richard and I would prefer to keep under wraps for as long as possible.

Not that I think he will, but you never know. Sometimes, you have to spell it out for men.

“Oh, and one more thing,” I say as I open the door and slowly get into my car.

“What’s that?” he asks.

“Roll Tide!”

I slam the door and start the car quickly so anything he might say in response is muffled by the engine, gleefully satisfied that I managed to get in the last word.

I smile cheekily and wave as I drive off, watching him shake his head, unsuccessfully attempting not to laugh.

Saying Roll Tide isn’t misbehaving, exactly.

Alabama fans also use it as a greeting, so they can take that back to Cow College and graze on it!

“Icing the Kicker,” Chapter Six

The interview is unofficially over.

The group breaks up as Danté and Lance hotfoot it to the main school building in hopes of making it to their first class of the day before the bell rings.

Scott, meanwhile, lingers behind with Coach Thomas.

It ran longer than I initially expected, but DAYUM if this isn’t going to be one HELL of a story!

I already have the green light from the four of them to use everything, right down to Danté seeing Scott kissing another male at the Bluegrass Drive-In a year ago, although that person’s identity will not be disclosed to anyone. Including me. Scott made that abundantly clear right after our interview.

I can live with that, and good on Scott for respecting the unidentified party’s right to his privacy. While Scott really seems to be embracing his sexuality now that he isn’t keeping it a secret anymore, not everyone is ready to be dragged out of the closet before they’re comfortable doing so of their own accord. If ever.

“Um, Miss Granger?” Scott says nervously, quickly shifting from foot to foot like I used to as a kid doing the pee pee dance whenever I had to wait my turn because the nearest bathroom was occupied. “I meant to tell you earlier, but, uh, my moms want to talk to you before you write the story. They’re going to meet you here. They’re on their way right now and should be here shortly.”

There’s a saying about the bottom of your stomach dropping out, or something to that effect. That’s the way I feel this very moment. Y’know, the feeling you get when you’re in an elevator and it’s as if part of your body is plummeting while the other half freezes in place whenever it moves up or down? Yeah, THAT. At least, in my experience.

The last thing I need in the entire fucking world is a confrontation with two mama bears who are totally against the Daily Herald doing Scott’s story when I should be on my way back to the office right this second so I can help the others get the sports section done for deadline later on this morning. Scott’s mothers are not just opposed to my involvement, personally, but to that of anyone who is affiliated with the paper in ANY way. THAT is exactly how vehement they are about protecting Scott. And as I mentioned earlier this morning, who in their right mind can blame them for wanting to keep him safe?

“I’m really sorry, Miss Granger, but they insisted,” he adds. “You know how moms can be.”

Yes, I certainly do, having grown up under the watchful eyes of the formidable Meggy Granger. My dad might be a retired Navy SEAL, but Mom is the boss and all of us know it.

“It’ll have to be quick,” I concede, but only because I’m too hot, tired and fungry to argue my way out of meeting with his moms. “I really need to get to the office, but I’ll give my, um, boss a call and let him know I’m going to be a little later with this, uh, bonus interview.”

I dig around my purse until I find my cellular in its usual resting place at the bottom of it and proceed to clumsily text Richard, something I rarely do because I find that dialing a telephone requires far less effort. Knowing Richard as well as I do, he’ll be prowling and growling around the newsroom right about now instead of sitting at the desk in his office as he impatiently awaits my arrival. As it is, I’m taking the coward’s way out by texting him when I’d rather hear his voice, but I’d much prefer to hear it when he’s not ranting and raving about me not being there for deadline even though the others on our four-person sports staff can handle themselves just fine. It’s a matter of principle to him, and there’s just no budging him from his rather, um, vocal stance on it, either.

My phone, which is set on “vibrate,” shows that I have yet to miss any texts from my husband. Today, anyway. That will change drastically in the near future, but I decide to do what I always do before getting inundated with his messages by putting the phone back into my purse and unintentionally — with the exception of this one time — forgetting about it.

“I’ll stay with you for the interview, of course,” Coach Thomas reassures me more than I care to let him know. “No guests are supposed to be in any of the school buildings without permission and supervision, but I’m sure you’re already aware of that, Piccolo.”


I’m just glad I don’t have to face Joyce and Jill Ericsson alone because this is one interview I’m dreading. I was hoping to take the chickenshit way out by talking to them over the phone later on instead of having to deal with them in person.

I know they’re going to try to dissuade me from writing Scott’s story, but that’s not going to happen. I’ll simply reiterate to them his desire to share his tale with others who might be enduring the same struggles as him. If that doesn’t deter them, I don’t know what will, short of me requesting Coach Thomas to pull Scott from class to confront them, himself. I don’t like having to resort to those kinds of tactics, but I’ll do whatever it takes to ensure his story makes it into print. And online, of course. Can’t forget about the fucking Internet.

“Thanks, Coach, I appreciate the moral support,” I reply tartly, as Scott hastily exits the office, which now has a MUCH less claustrophobic feel to it

“It’s the least I can do,” he says, ignoring my sarcasm. “You’re going to have your hands full with those two.”

As it is, they’re standing in the doorway, causing a panic within me that’s so great, I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep my shit together a second time. And judging by the apparent displeasure on both of their faces, there’s no mistaking that they overheard Coach Thomas’ remark.

The claustrophobic feeling that just left me also is back in full force merely by their presence in this room.

We both get up from our chairs simultaneously, him to offer them seats as all Southern gentlemen are apt to do and me to shake their hands — gestures more out of habit as a result of our respective upbringings than anything else. Once we get through all the social niceties and are once more sandwiched in our seats after Coach Thomas manages to snag a third chair, I address the reason for their visit in hopes of keeping this impromptu meeting as short as possible because I can already hear the phone vibrating from within my purse on the desk.

I ignore it, determined to get the fuck out of here, and soon! I have enough on my plate without having to worry about my husband’s short fuse when I get back to the paper — IF I ever DO make it in this morning, what with all of these spontaneous visits to Coach Thomas’s office and all — but you better damn believe I give as good as I get. IN SPADES. I’m just not in the mood for one of our legendary knock-down, drag-outs in the newsroom because he doesn’t like having me out of his sight AT ALL after I nearly got killed in my own office a year ago. If he had his way, I’d be permanently chained to my desk with him holding the only key to the lock.

As for the fiercely protective Joyce and Jill Ericsson, both are in their early 50s but can easily pass for 30-year-olds. They’re in excellent shape due to their jobs as rural carriers for the Ruffian County Post Office, walking almost as much as they drive on a daily basis. They also play in an adult soccer league in Bluegrass, so it’s no surprise that they look as good as they do.

There’s no doubt whose blood Scott shares, either, as Joyce’s azure eyes measure mine. She’s as tall as her son and has a similar athletic build. She also sports the same sun-bleached hair, although hers falls all the way to her waist. Jill, on the other hand, is a few inches shorter with dark, shoulder-length hair and striking tiger eyes reminiscent of Sophia Loren, but those physical differences don’t make her any less Scott’s mom than Joyce.

They’ve done an exceptional job of raising him to be the outstanding young man he is today.

“Look, I know the two of you don’t want me to do the story on Scott — you’ve made that crystal clear more than once — but please understand that I didn’t pressure him into doing anything he didn’t want to do,” I tell them, mentally crossing my fingers, toes, arms, legs and eyes that I’ll finally get through to them this time. “Remember, Scott is the one who approached me, not the other way around. And he did it because he trusts me to tell his story. I just wish you would, too, because I’d never do anything to hurt your son. Please believe that. Go ahead, ask Coach Thomas. He’ll vouch for me. I have no agenda whatsoever. I only have Scott’s best interests at heart, and I truly believe his story can reach so many people who might be going through the same thing as him but just don’t have the outpouring of support that he does.

“I’m not doing this to make a name for myself; I’m doing this because I KNOW in my heart that it WILL make a difference for the better in somebody else’s life. Who knows? It might even save someone’s life, and that’s why I think it’s so important to share his story with everyone. Don’t you think so?”

There. See if you can argue your way out of that one.

I fumble around in my purse for effect until I make contact with my trusty tape recorder, making a big production of pulling it out and putting it on the table to let them know loud and clear that I’m ready to share their responses with everyone. Not that I think it will ever come to that since I know they don’t want to come across as a couple of assholes hellbent on holding their son back, but they DO need to know that I refuse to be cowed by them.

My only hope is that they don’t see my very real fear of them because, as I keep pointing out, everyone knows I make the best poker opponent because of my famous (in)ability to remain stoic in all situations … at all times.

And yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is sarcasm at its finest.

Fine,” Joyce seethes.

Shew! That was easier than I expected. If you consider easy facing two moms who look as though they hate your guts simply for doing your job.

OK, so maybe, just MAYBE hate is too strong a word.

“If anything bad happens to our son because of this story, we’re holding YOU responsible, Miss Granger,” Jill leans in menacingly close to warn me, “so you better hope for your sake that it doesn’t.”

I swallow. HARD.

OK, OK, so perhaps hate isn’t too strong a word, after all.

“Duly noted,” I quip, unsuccessfully attempting to lighten the atmosphere

Instead, the two women give me even chillier glares than the ones they’ve been giving me nonstop since their unanticipated arrival before rising from their chairs and walking out of the office single file without uttering another word.

Fuck me running! Talk about intense mama bear syndrome!

I hope I never run into those two in a dead-end alley, not that I’ll ever be stupid enough to give them another chance to corner me like that again.

Guess I don’t have to worry about getting any quotes from them for Scott’s story, either.

You know what, though? I think I can live with that.

I can most assuredly work around it.

“Icing the Kicker,” Chapter Five

I shift gears once again, formulating my next question in what is easily becoming the most compelling interview I’ve ever had the pleasure of conducting.

I’m not thinking in terms of potential awards down the line — although I’m sure Richard definitely will be as soon as he reads Scott’s compelling story — but enlightenment. My own as much as everyone else’s as Scott literally takes me step by step through his difficult journey to be who he really is, to be true to himself for the first time in his young life.

I can only hope the words I write do him the justice he deserves, that everyone struggling with their sexuality deserves.

“When did you know?” I ask Scott point-blank.

Scott gets my meaning. He’d have to have a rock for a brain not to, and, as I’ve said before, he’s no dummy.

Far from it.

“It’s not so much when as it is how,” he absentmindedly corrects me, deep in thought. “I can’t really pinpoint the when of it, to be truthful, because there’s not really a time I can actually remember NOT feeling the way I do. I used to ask my moms why I couldn’t be like ‘normal’ boys and like girls in that way, but they’d always tell me in that matter-of-fact way of theirs that I was a normal male who happened to be attracted to other males instead of females just like they were normal females who happened to be attracted to each other instead of males. After a while, they finally got through to me. I couldn’t argue with their logic because it made complete sense to me, y’know? They’d always tell me that we can’t help who we love. We just … we just … DO.

“But it scared me — not knowing if any of my friends felt like me, not knowing if any of my friends would understand, not knowing if any of my friends would continue to be my friends if they knew the truth about me. The real honest-to-God truth. So I kept it to myself and continued living the lie until I just couldn’t do it anymore, friends or no friends, and consequences be damned.

“In the end, I had to do what was best for me because the deceit — the lies — were killing me from the inside out.”

Just then, as if perfectly on cue in a Broadway play, two of Scott’s teammates quietly stroll into Coach Thomas’ sardine can of an office.

I eye the door nervously, ready to bolt from the incredible shrinking room (pun very much intended) but wanting — no, needing — to see for myself whether his teammates really do care about him and support his decision to come out to the whole world.

I’ve never been a fan of small spaces, nor am I fond of being surrounded by people in said small spaces. But I stifle the urgent need to hoof it the fuck up on out of here, determined to see this interview through, sardine can and all.

I’ll be able to gauge for myself whether there is absolute truth to Scott’s and Coach Thomas’ staunch claims of complete solidarity across the board because I plan on blitzing the newcomers with a string of frank questions designed to throw them off of their game just in case they were up all night rehearsing exactly what they were going to say to me this mighty hot mess of a morning.

I certainly wouldn’t put it past them — or anyone else in their shoes, for that matter — to do just that, although they have not given me any reason thus far to make me think they’re being even the teensiest bit untruthful. Call me a cynic all you want, but no one wants to say or do the wrong damn thing when they’re being interviewed because in this unforgiving age of technology, every single misstep is instantaneously out there for the whole fucking world to see, to criticize, to mock and so on and so forth. Forever and ever and ever. And believe me when I say that they’ll never, EVER let you forget it, either. Even — make that especially — the people nearest and dearest to you.

I narrow my eyes then, watching the quartet squirm under my calculating scrutiny.


I knew it! I just knew it!


If you know ANYTHING at all about journalists — other than the glaringly obvious fact that we will ALWAYS gravitate toward free food and booze like a wake of vultures, the key word here being FREE — then you know we LOATHE that recited shit! There’s nothing worse than a perfectly memorized politically correct vanilla-filled spoon-fed quote that covers just about any pertinent question we can possibly ask on a particular subject without offending anyone. It’s like citing a news release verbatim — B-O-R-I-N-G as all fucking get-out and insulting not only to my intelligence, but to that of our readership, as well.

So game on, grasshoppers! The master is only too happy to school you all in the ways of interviewing.

“You all right, Piccolo?” Coach Thomas, ever the Southern gentleman, asks, frowning at the myriad of emotions that I’m without a damn doubt broadcasting across my telltale face.

Everything is just fucking peachy, pal.

“Of course,” I respond with a snarl, instantly indignant. “Why wouldn’t I be?!”

He holds his hands palms out — I suspect he’d be waving a white flag, too, if he had one handy — as he lowers his head in preparation of a tirade that never comes to fruition simply because my husband will take one look at my face when I get back to the office and know I misbehaved. Badly.

That’s one war I am most decidedly UNWILLING to start, mainly because it’s downright petty and I pride myself on being the consummate professional whenever I’m representing the Daily Herald. The newspaper’s stalwart reputation for its consistent, unbiased reporting — plus its long-standing relationship with the readership as a trustworthy source for news in the far-reaching community — are vital for us to continue thriving as a brick-and-mortar business. Particularly when so many of our print journalism counterparts across the country have downsized so drastically in favor of going almost exclusively online in recent years, you practically can count their pitifully miniscule staffs on one hand. I thank my lucky stars every single day that it hasn’t happened here.


I forcefully focus my attention back on Coach Thomas, who’s still looking at me as if I’m going to shoot up the place postal style. Or pounce like a ravenous lioness stalking a zebra herd. Or, quite literally, try to bite his head off as a female praying mantis is apt to do to any male in her vicinity.

Dang. Give me a little credit here, buddy. I do possess SOME self-control, despite the fact that I am absolutely, positively seething on the inside and most likely — OK, OK, most definitely — not hiding it well on the outside. You have my husband to thank for my restraint. And me, to a much lesser degree.

As it is, all four are eyeing me with trepidation.

I don’t like being played, even when people have the best intentions at heart. And the odds of the two newcomers just happening to show up while I’m right in the middle of interviewing Scott being purely by coincidence are slim to none. Nothing that well timed ever is accidental.

“Sorry,” I say slowly, trying to maintain a calm demeanor even though I just as suddenly really want to bolt from a room that seems to be closing in on me like the Death Star garbage compactor scene from Star Wars — arguably one of the greatest movies of all time — in which the main characters are in imminent danger of getting crushed to, well, death. “I have this … this thing about small spaces. So if I seem a little on edge, that’s why.”

Not to mention the whole pregnancy thing, but I’m not sharing that information with them unless they ask me outright. They’ll certainly be tip-toeing around me once it does become glaringly obvious, IF they ever do figure it out before I give birth.

It also doesn’t help matters that I’m in a room with a handful of males who probably have no clue about the intricate workings of the female psyche. Three are way too young to know any better — well, perhaps Scott has a fairly good idea since he does have two moms, but I’m not going to waste my time waiting for Godot on that one — and the fourth may be an adult, but he’s still single and therefore not yet learned in the ways of the labyrinth that is the ever-changing female mind.

But I’ll save that topic for another day, so I’ll have to do my damnedest to push my pissy mood aside and get back to business as usual.

Senior quarterback-strong safety Lance Ripley and junior tailback-linebacker Danté Powell stand quietly behind the seated Coach Thomas and Scott, waiting to share their well-practiced thoughts with me, I’m sure.

“What brings you two here this morning?” I ask the duo with barely concealed sarcasm, already knowing the answer but deciding to play it as dumb as they’re willing to buy into without giving myself away … too terribly much … for now.

“We just, you know, had a new play we wanted to run by Coach,” Lance offers on the fly.

“Yeah,” agrees Danté, hands down the quietest person on the team and the worst quote ever … unless you’re not interviewing him.

“Is that so?” I inquire, getting ready to spring my trap. “What’s the play?”

Lance and Danté shuffle their feet nervously, unable or unwilling to meet my eyes.

“Oh, I get it!” I add, clapping my hands like a fucking trained seal on display at SeaWorld to feign my excitement as I force a smile I don’t feel and continue to go along with their not-so-clever ruse. “It must be one of those fancy surprise plays!”

They nod their heads vigorously, relieved to (hopefully) think that I seem to be falling for a story with more holes in it than a single slice of Swiss cheese.

Damn. A few slices of Swiss cheese and ham piled sky high with romaine lettuce hearts on whole wheat bread slathered with mayonnaise sounds fucking GREAT right about now.

The more I think about it, the yummier it gets … and the hungrier it makes me.

Hmmm. Perhaps I can sweet-talk Richard into going for a quick grocery store run with me soon. As in TODAY soon. It’s worth a shot, anyway. Especially since he knows firsthand that sending me shopping for food all by myself while fungry is a really, really, REALLY bad idea.

I’d put one hell of a dent in our weekly grocery budget, that’s for sure. Not that we’re in dire straits or anything. Not even close. Still, that’d be a scary-ass grocery bill by the time I pulled up to the checkout with my overflowing cart full of junk food. Enough to give someone a coronary, certainly. Financially as well as physically.

I clap my hands again, more to snap myself out of my food-driven fantasy than to further convince Danté and Lance of my gullibility concerning their sudden, well-timed appearance in Coach Thomas’ office.

The four of them already are looking at me as if I’ve gone crazy right before their very eyes — I can’t say I blame them, given my off-the-wall hormonal behavior of the past few minutes — so I look down at the seemingly jumbled scribbling in my reporter’s notebook that is decipherable only to me, lest my expressive hazel eyes unequivocally give away the fact that I’m wise to their deceptive little ploy. That is, if I haven’t already blown it. I have the world’s worst poker face, which most assuredly is the REAL reason for their shared nervousness.

Good. Serves ’em right for fucking with a hot, hungry pregnant woman.

Not hot as in sexy. Hot as in sweaty.

“Are you going to use this top-secret play in your season-opener at Man o’ War County next Friday?” I try and just as quickly fail to ask as innocently as possible, referring to their first football game of the year on Aug. 25.

I try with all of my might to appear unaware as the moment draws nearer for me to call all of them out on their bullshit, but I don’t think they’re buying it anymore. If they ever did at all.

Their collective silence is response enough.

Not surprising.

I’m through playing this game anyway.

Even I can hear the bite I keep trying to contain in my own voice. And if I can, they sure as hell most certainly can. Which means it’s past time to drop the pretense and move in for the kill.

So to speak.

I look up then, piercing each of them with my best go-to-hell look before letting them have it.

In a civilized manner, of course.

Still, I’m not about to let them off the hook without enjoying watching them squirm a little bit more first.

“Is it an end-around?” I press, spouting off the first of several well-known trick plays. “A double reverse? A hook and ladder? Or — oh, oh I know — a flea flicker?! It’s a flea flicker, isn’t it?! I knew it!

The four of them gape at one another, shrugging their shoulders in a valiant concerted effort to keep their stories straight so they don’t contradict themselves.

Not so fast, boys.

“Well, which one is it, then, if it’s not a flea flicker?” I continue in a tone as smooth as satin.

“All right, you got us, Piccolo,” Coach Thomas folds first, unwilling to continue the deception game.

Damn right, I do.

“No offense,” I sigh, my irritation waning, “because I know you guys mean well, but Scott’s story deserves so much better than robotic news release answers that you’ve been rehearsing like you’re trying out for the school play or studying for a test. You’ve been open and honest with me up until this point, so let’s not ruin that vibe, OK?

“If you’re not down with that, then this interview is over.”

Take it or leave it, guys.

“You play to win, don’t you?” Coach Thomas murmurs, eyeing me with renewed respect.

“Is there any other way?” I counter.

He doesn’t answer. But then, there’s really no need.

“So,” I resume the interview before our time runs out and the school day begins, “Lance, can you tell me what went through your mind when Scott came out to the team? What was the very first thought that popped into your head? And just keep in mind that I’ll know if it’s a rehearsed answer, so no pressure, m’kay?”

None, indeed.

 Lance looks to the others for reassurance before nervously glancing my way.

“It’s all right,” Scott encourages him. “Just be honest. The truth won’t hurt me. You know that.”

It’s just the gentle nudge Lance needs.

“I was like, ‘Cool, it’s about fu … frickin’ time he told us,'” confesses Lance, who can pass for Vanilla Ice’s clone right down to his annoying voice — only with a Southern drawl, his douchey take on the pompadour hairstyle that never moves from using a gallon of hairspray (or whatever the fuck it is he puts on it) every day in the same manner my darling husband enjoys caking on his precious damn hair gel, I’m certain, and his atrocious retro wardrobe choices like harem pants or anything with shoulder pads. “I guessed that he was gay a long time ago because we’ve known each other our whole lives and he’s my brotha from another mutha — my bad, two muthas — but I was afraid to say anything before he was ready to tell us. IF he ever DID decide to tell us. You know how dudes are — we don’t go around talking about our feelings and shi … crap like chi … girls are always doing, you feel me?

“Excuse my language, Mizz Granger, but there ain’t a damn thing wrong with being gay. As long as Scott’s happy, that’s all that matters to me and the rest of the team. He’s family, and we’ve got his back. Telling his story to you like this to write up in the paper takes a lot of bal … guts because there ain’t too many people out there who have the kind of love and support he does, you know what I’m sayin’?”

A lone tear escapes Scott’s eye quicker than he can wipe it away without any of us noticing.

“Cryin’ ain’t nothing to be ashamed of, man,” Lance tells him. “You’re my hero, and I ain’t just blowin’ smoke up your aaa … butt, either.”

Scott begins crying in earnest as the quiet Danté voluntarily speaks up for the first time in, like, EVER in my presence without me having to prod him for half and hour just to get a short, crappy, barely usable one-sentence quote out of him.

“Well, you know, uh, Scott telling us he’s, you know, uh, gay just brought us all closer together as a family,” stammers the ever-so-chatty Danté, who looks like a young Denzel Washington and — no lie — causes every female to do a double take every single time they see him because the resemblance is so great to his just-as-strikingly-handsome-but-far-more-famous doppelganger.

I groan inwardly at the terrible quote.

Some things never change.

“Did his admission catch you by surprise, or not, and how did it make you feel personally when he told the team?” I ask, pressing him for something a little more interesting than the “uhs” and “you knows” that constantly come out of his reluctant mouth. “Did it make you or anyone else uncomfortable knowing and if so, in what way? If not, why not? Did it change the way you feel about Scott or how you view him as a person?”

“You ask too many questions,” he observes not for the first time in our association, causing me to wonder if he truly is the shy kid he makes himself out to be or if he’s just been toying with me for shits and giggles.

“Kinda comes with the territory,” I wryly note, arching my brows as I give him my best mom (to-be) stare.

“I wasn’t surprised because I saw Scott kissing another dude when I went to see Suicide Squad at the Bluegrass Drive-In last year,” Danté hesitantly divulges, shocking the rest of us with his bombshell confession. “I was surprised when I saw them making out in his VW bug, sure, because I wasn’t expecting to see THAT kind of show, if you know what I mean. I was heading over to his car after I recognized it to see what was up with him because I asked him earlier that day if he wanted to catch the flick with me, but he told me he had other plans that night. So I was pretty pissed when I saw his car there and thought he blew me off because he didn’t want to hang out with me or whatever. Man, was I ever wrong! But I didn’t say anything about what I saw to anyone because it wasn’t my place or my right to share his business with everybody else. I figured he’d tell us when and if he was ready.

“It took you long enough, man, but I’m glad you finally did. I was personally relieved when you told us because knowing what I did and keeping it to myself all this time was like having a monkey on my back that I just couldn’t shake off no matter how hard I tried. I can’t speak for anyone else, and I won’t, but knowing about you before everyone else didn’t change my opinion of you because you’re still the same old Scott I’ve known forever and you didn’t all of sudden morph into a monster the next day.”

Scott swiftly overcomes his momentary astonishment to react to his usually closed-mouth teammate’s whopper of a secret.

“How did you know for certain it was me and not someone else?” blurts Scott, clearly still rattled.

“Come on, now, only one person I know drives a VW bug with the license plate, RUFFKIX, Scott,” Danté nips that argument in the bud. “I didn’t know what to think at first, I’m not gonna lie to you, because I’d never seen two guys kiss like that before. But once I got over the shock of what I saw that night, it all began to make sense to me. Everything kind of started to click. It wasn’t any one thing you said or did in all the years I’ve known you; it was more what you DIDN’T say or do. While the rest of us were always talking about girls and, uh, showing off in the locker room, you never joined in, now that I think about it. All that time, it was US making YOU uncomfortable instead of the other way around.”

“I’m sorry for springing all of this on you instead of talking to you about it first, man, but I’m glad you trusted us enough to tell us so you don’t have to suffer in silence anymore. We’re brothers, and that’s never going to change. I’m proud of you, and I’m honored to stand by you. I can only hope to be as courageous as you someday.”

Mine isn’t the only mouth hanging wide open right now.

“Dam … dang, I didn’t think you had that many words in your vocabulary, Danté,” Lance ribs his teammate.

“Some people are worth the effort,” Danté says, glancing meaningfully at Scott.

Can’t refute that logic.


Here are the links to the first four chapters of Icing the Kicker in case you missed them and are interested in reading them:

“Blindsided,” Chapter One

“For fuck’s sake!”

I wake up with drool all over my pillow. Again.

“Must have been some dream,” I mutter to myself as I turn over to sit up, careful not to squish my yawning calico cat, Stinky, as she peers up at me with her sleepy green eyes. “But damn if I can remember any of it.”


My cat comes by her name honestly. She can pass some rank gas.

Stinky usually sleeps on my legs under the covers every night, unless I end up facedown in the pillow like this morning after doing a lot of tossing and turning. I sleep in my birthday suit, so I learned the hard way to start trimming her claws on a regular basis. That definitely is a mistake I won’t ever make again. I had scratches for weeks when I rolled over on her.

Good thing it was my legs instead of my breasts, though. I wouldn’t have been able to wear a bra, which means I wouldn’t have been able to leave my apartment. I don’t do the boobs hanging out in public thing — EVER. I do pride myself on having SOME standards.

But, getting back to the subject at hand, Stinky thankfully doesn’t miss her super long claws, nor does she require much need for them. She seems quite content being a house cat, and my little “Queen of the Domain” will go right back to sleep after I leave for the day.

“Prrrowww,” Stinky sounds off at me, making her first demand of the morning.

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” I say, giving her head a scratch to her purring delight. “Breakfast. Just give Mommy a few minutes, Stinky-dink.”

I sigh loudly as I take the damp sage pillowcase off and swing my legs over the side of my pitiful looking double bed, mentally trying to prepare myself for the day ahead of me.

Work. I dread it. Well, not my job, itself. More like my boss. Let’s just call him Dickhead. I do. Not to his face, mind you, but everyone else at work knows exactly who I’m talking about when I say it. I wouldn’t have a problem with him if he didn’t take such great joy in making the rest of us so miserable, me more than anyone else because of my big, sarcastic mouth.

He could benefit from a lesson or two in people skills and compassion. He has neither.

My name is Piccolo Leighton Granger. I’m a sports writer for the Bluegrass Daily Herald in Bluegrass, Kentucky. I’ve been there for five years now and was quite content with the quiet routine of my life until Dickhead came along and ruined everything a year ago. Now, it feels like all I ever do is hide from him half the time and quarrel with him the other. At least when I’m at the office and he’s there, too. It’s a different story when he isn’t around. The atmosphere almost has a sedate, relieved feel to it when he isn’t there, but that’s generally only on weekends and at night during the week.

I’m frankly astonished I haven’t been fired for, uh, sassing him as much as I do, although I sometimes grow weary of our ongoing feud.

And yes, my parents thought it would be cute to name me after former Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo.

Like me, Mom and Dad are huge sports fans and all three of us love football with an almost frightening passion. After watching the made-for-television movie Brian’s Song about Brian Piccolo’s battle with cancer and his friendship with fellow Bears running back Gale Sayers, my parents were relentlessly determined to name their firstborn, and only child, Piccolo whether I was a girl or a boy. You obviously can guess what they had.

I gave up long ago trying to get everyone to call me Leigh simply because my first name, well, lacks femininity. But I sure as hell don’t allow anyone to call me “Pick,” which was Brian Piccolo’s nickname. The last person who called me that got a black eye courtesy of yours truly.

I was quite the tomboy growing up. Still am.

I shake myself out of my reverie and finally unwillingly slide off the bed onto the filthy, crappy tan shag carpet that covers my entire one-bedroom apartment, with the exception of my kitchen and its hideous circa 1970s plaid-like linoleum floor. I don’t know who did the decor in this place, but it sucks balls.

I moved here almost a month ago and ended up not having to pay the security deposit because the place was so fucking filthy. I spent a couple of days scrubbing down the apartment and eventually gave up trying to clean the carpet. I can’t tell you how many times I emptied the carpet-cleaning machine I rented, but I threw in the towel after hours and hours of changing out dark brown, dirt-filled water. The filth on the carpet still turns my socks brown, but at least it’s not the black from when I first moved in here.

I make my way to the small bathroom adjoining my bedroom, Stinky right on my heels. I glance at my bedside clock in passing. 6:35 a.m. Yep, I have enough time for a quick shower. Just.

I have to be at work at 7 on the nose. I’m always on time, but I push it on occasion. Today, I think, is going to be one of those close calls.

I can’t stand not having my morning shower, though. It helps to wake me up. I run the water as hot as I can stand it. I don’t have to worry about that bill anyway. My utilities, water and all that other crap are part of my $350-a-month rent. Not bad at all, especially since I have central air and heating. I’m all about comfort.

I push aside the shower curtain and turn the water on, tossing the dirty pillowcase into the laundry hamper beside the sink, grab a towel and washcloth from the cabinet above the toilet and step into the tub. As usual, Stinky follows suit, jumping up on the ledge as she always does in hopes of swiping another one of my razors while I’m trying to shave. My razors, for whatever reason, always end up underneath the stove. I’ve found 12 under there so far, along with one dead mouse. Whatever makes her happy, I guess.

Five minutes later, and a few failed swipes by Stinky, I wrap my towel around me and stroll out of the bathroom to my walk-in closet to find something comfortable to wear on this already hellaciously hot August day. July just ended, but August and September by far are the hottest months of the year here in the western part of the state. The humidity is so thick, it’s hard to breathe sometimes. No joke. Nothing can penetrate this horrific hot stretch. And, what’s worse, I sweat like a woman in the throes of menopause year-round.

I eventually settle on a sleeveless yellow sundress that doesn’t stick to all of my curves, and do I ever have MANY, although covering them up never deters men from staring. But the dress is nice and light and I don’t have to wear pantyhose, which is a bonus. I’ll do just about anything not to have to wear pantyhose. They were made to torture a woman, just like bras and high heels.

After dressing — including the daily struggle to get my over the shoulder boulder holder on over my watermelon-like chest, which is even more challenging when I’m already drenched in sweat from the hot shower — I quickly brush my teeth and run a brush through my wavy, shoulder-length carrot-orange hair. I don’t bother drying it. Never do. The humidity will take care of that within five seconds flat of stepping outdoors, if that, not to mention the frizzy mess it no doubt is going to make of my poor hair.

I look once more at the clock. 6:50. Just enough time. It takes me five minutes, sometimes less depending on traffic, to get to the office downtown.

Before I can get into that ghastly kitchen of mine to grab some canned food for Stinky, the phone rings, making me jump about a foot in the air and damn near landing on the poor, unsuspecting cat circling my ankles. The ringer has one setting: Scare the shit right out of you. The same evil people who invented bras, high heels and pantyhose probably are behind that contraption, too.

“Hello,” I say with a guarded half-snarl.

Anyone who knows me at all has enough sense not to call me this early. I am not what you’d call a morning person, and anyone who has even the smallest hint of a smile on their face before noon knows to steer their chirpy, cheerful little selves clear of me until such time. Which means it can only be one person.


“Go to Bluegrass High School immediately!”

I hate it when I’m right.

His is the last voice I want to hear first thing in the morning. Actually, EVER. I hate everything about his snobbishly snotty English accent. Makes me want to punch him right in his Limey balls, but I can’t because, well, I have a reputation to uphold as a Southern belle. And because I can’t afford to lose my job.

“Why?” I ask.

“There’s been a murder.”

I take a deep breath. I’m at a rare loss for words, trying to digest this information.

“Shouldn’t you be calling James?” I ask after a few seconds of silence.

James Reliant covers what I like to refer to as the cops and courts beat.

“No,” Dickhead says impatiently. “This isn’t the time for daft questions. Just get over there. You know those people.”

I take another deep breath, trying to stifle my irritation, even though my curiosity is piqued and my composure shaken at such an unusual request. I don’t do dead. At all. Ever. My skin isn’t thick enough. I’m way too emotional, too empathetic. I don’t have the stomach for it. I cover sports, not death. I go to games, not autopsies. I talk to coaches and athletes, not grieving people and criminals.

“I only know the coaches and athletes over there,” I say, making one last attempt to get him to send someone — anyone else — but me.

“Which is precisely why I want you there,” he says. “The victim was a coach.”

Was. A. Coach.

My brain keeps regurgitating those ominous words, dissecting them. And I still am unable to fully register them. Not yet. I just can’t fathom murder entering my little sports world here in Bluegrass, or the whole of Derby County.

“No,” I reply, “No, no, no, it can’t be!”

Who would kill a coach?!

That someone would do so seems preposterous. But then, I keep hoping I’m back in my bed simply dreaming about all of this … this … this horror! But it’s true, and I sure as hell ain’t dreaming! Besides, any dream with Dickhead in it constitutes a nightmare. In this case, it’s a horror movie come to life.

I force myself to snap out of my daze, to face this unseemly reality.

I can hear the police scanner in Dickhead’s office going bonkers in the background. I know all of the coaches at Bluegrass High. My mind is scrambling. Who? Who? Who could it be?

“Listen, Piccolo,” Dickhead yells so loud that I have to hold the phone away from my ear, “snap out of it and get your arse over there!”

All of that deep breathing isn’t working. I’m going to hyperventilate! I’m going to freak! I’m going to pass out! And then he’d have to get someone else. Now there’s a thought, I frantically reason with myself.

“All right,” I say unevenly. “Will you at least tell me who it was?”

His scanner is going haywire again. Lots of static. Lots of unintelligible talking. At least from my end.

“Lester Smith.”

The varsity football coach. The school’s all-time winningest coach. A living legend (in his own mind, I always joke, or used to, I should amend). A winner. And an asshole to the nth degree. Coach Smith and Dickhead would have been perfect for each other. A match made in hell.

And now Coach Smith is dead?!


It’s unfathomable! It’s unthinkable! It’s unbelievable!

Coach Smith did whatever it took to win. No matter who he hurt. No matter what the cost

No one ever got in his way. No one ever said no to him.

The man always did as he pleased without consequence.

Until now.

“Blindsided,” Chapter Two

I hang up on Dickhead without uttering another word. He’d have done the same to me, not that I give a shit. Besides, I have more pressing matters haunting my wary mind.

“Coach Smith must have really pissed someone off this time,” I babble to my uncaring, still-hungry cat. “I’d hate to cross that person.”

Perhaps developing thicker skin isn’t that hard.

“Sorry Stinky,” I say regretfully, hurrying into the kitchen, “it’s going to be dry food today because Mommy probably isn’t going to be home until late, if at all tonight.”

I grab a huge plastic container from one of the cabinets and heap dry cat food into it. Stinky drinks out of the toilet, so I never have to worry about water. I just leave the seat up.

“Mommy loves you,” I croon, giving her head one last scratch before grabbing my purse and keys from the dining room table and rushing out the door.

The humidity never ceases to amaze me. It’s like ramming a car full speed into a brick wall. Today is no different.

I half walk, half jump down the cobweb-blanketed stairs of the two-story building like the everyday obstacle course they are to me. I have an irrational fear of spiders, so I always zig-zag up and down the stairs to avoid walking into the webs or, worse, spiders. The mere thought makes me shudder despite the heat of the morning.

I open the door to my two-tone, piece-of-shit 1994 Ford Tempo, turn the key in the ignition, flip the air-conditioning on full blast and drive slowly out of the trailer park/apartment complex. If you can call only two buildings with two apartments on the second floor of each a complex. It’s like the apartments randomly were placed smack-dab in the middle of a trailer park.

The garbage dump for the entire place is right where my apartment is, and then there are train tracks just beyond the wrought-iron fence behind my building that allow me the pleasure of listening to trains blaring their horns all night.

Funny thing is, I’m starting to get used to the trains. They’re almost comforting in the quiet of a lonely night. Especially when you’re a big scaredy-cat like me. I must admit that I check my closet and under my bed every night because I’m afraid of the bogeyman. Or something along those lines. Not that I will publicly admit it to anyone, but there it is.

I know Dickhead wants me to hurry, but he’s never had to drive through this place. There is no such thing as driving fast through here because the seemingly endless speed bumps are mountainous and quite easily will destroy a car’s undercarriage. Plus, there are lots and lots and lots of kids. And then, of course, there also are all kinds of criminals running around here.

I have to laugh every time I read the paper’s daily police blotter or I’d go mad. The address to this trailer park shows up more than any other in the police news, which really is sad. In addition to all of the kids, it’s infested with drug addicts and small-time shoplifters, among all of the other various and sundry crooks. And don’t let me get started on all of the, shall we say, suspected meth labs.

“Probably why my rent is so damn cheap,” I mumble as I reach Lexington Road.

Luckily, no one ever bothers me. My car and apartment always are left alone. Who knows? Maybe they cased both and figured I have nothing worth stealing. The only possessions I have of value to me are my cat (she really owns me, not the other way around), my rather extensive book collection and my nutcrackers, which I keep in a small climate-controlled storage unit with the rest of my Christmas stuff since there’s just not enough room to fit it all in my apartment.

But I digress …

I turn left on Lexington like I’m heading to work, but a quarter-mile down, I jump onto Interstate-65 South. Bluegrass High is three miles away, literally just off the interstate.

A smoke sure would be nice right about now. But I quit when I first moved into my apartment, and I’m determined that it will be for keeps this time. I know I’ve said it all of the other times I tried quitting before that lasted for all of one day; however, I mean business this time. Seriously.

But damn, there still is nothing quite like having a nice smoke when you’re under a lot of stress. And this is one of those rare times since quitting a few weeks back that I find myself craving my beloved Doral Menthol Full Flavor 100s.

I happily smoked for nearly 10 years, but after turning 33 in May, I seriously began toying with the idea of quitting … for good. Especially when I found myself thinking that I’d maybe like to have children of my own someday. I’m not involved with anyone, not for a while now, but children definitely are a welcome possibility in the future.

Of course, there must be love and a significant other involved in the making of a baby, in my humble opinion. I refuse to do any of that artificial insemination crap. It’s just not for me. It’s too cold and impersonal. My best friend, Kayla Brand, did it, and her son is fine. But he doesn’t know his father, and never will. I don’t know how I’d feel about that, my child not knowing his or her father. And I’m sure Colt, Kayla’s son, is going to have lots of questions Kayla won’t be able to answer when he’s older. I just hope Kayla is honest and forthcoming with him when that time comes.

I’m thankful for my parents. They never lie to me, nor I to them. I just can’t fathom the not knowing. I don’t fault Kayla for her decisions. She’s a fantastic mother to her 3-year-old son. I guess I really just don’t understand. But that’s me. And who, indeed, am I to judge her or anyone else?

Yeah, my mind tends to wander. A lot. It’s almost like I’m mindlessly babbling inside my own head -– oh, the irony –- just so I won’t have to think about Coach Smith. As intense as my dislike for him while he was alive, I could never wish this on him. My heart aches for his family. I can’t begin to imagine their pain. I hope I never do, selfish though that may seem.

As I near the exit for Bluegrass High, I turn on my blinker. The high school is the first right off the exit ramp.

There’s an endless array of flashing lights from every imaginable emergency vehicle and law enforcement agency. It’s surreal, like something out of a Mary Higgins Clark mystery novel. She’s by no means graphic to the point of disturbing or disgusting in her writing style, because I just can’t handle every single little gory detail, but I love the strong female protagonists featured in the majority of her books. I identify with them, with their strengths, even their weaknesses.

Perhaps I should start reading books by the likes of Edna Buchanan and Patricia Cornwell. My friends from my book club keep telling me I should, but other than Clark, I tend to gravitate toward sports and romance novels. I like biographies and autobiographies, too. But Buchanan and Cornwell sure would come in handy right now. Their strong female characters in their respective book series –- a crime reporter and a medical examiner, from what my friends keep telling me –- already would have assessed the situation and been asking questions while I continue to act like a greenhorn who’s never interviewed anyone or written a story.

But I just don’t do real-life whodunits, murder, crime, whatever. Reading is one thing. Living it is another.

I’m at a loss. I feel lost. I don’t even know where to begin.

What’s the protocol? Who should I talk to first? Who do I NOT talk to? How do you even talk to a person in mourning?

Reading Clark did me absolutely no good, at least as far as how to prepare myself for this very sobering situation. My usually sharp, quick mind is drawing a blank from all of those books I stayed up so late night after night reading from start to finish. I apparently learned fuck all. Either that, or my mind is so scrambled that I just can’t grasp anything. That has to be it.

I know how to deal with tearful coaches, athletes, family members and fans, but only after losing or winning a big game. Not death, and certainly not murder.

This doesn’t even come close to comparing to my everyday job. This is real, and I’m about to get a crash course in how to become a cops and courts reporter.

I’m not looking forward to this at all. I just want to crawl back into bed and go back in time, but I know I cannot. Like it or not, for better or worse, I have a job to do.

I turn into the school’s driveway and park to the side of it because the entire lot is cordoned off with unmistakable yellow police tape that clearly states, “Police line. Do not cross.”

This is Arabian country. The Arabians. That’s the nickname of Bluegrass High School’s sports teams.

“The rubberneckers sure are out early,” I note to myself in amazement, estimating about 100 or so onlookers already milling about on my side of the police tape, gossiping and craning their necks trying to see what no one ever should have to see, “and so, un-damn-fortunately, are the vultures.”

I always refer to TV and radio personalities as “vultures,” especially the ones here in Bluegrass. Many of them seem to have a “whose-life-can-I-ruin-today” mentality, and they all revel in it. I never can understand why those people relish another person’s misery. I can’t stand them. Now you can understand why I hate Dickhead so much. He’s just like them, except he treats the people who work for him like shit and probably gets off on it, too.

But more about that later.

I have bigger bass to hook on my fishing line than to stand here and think about TV and radio assholes. And Dickhead, of course. Can’t forget his sorry ass. No siree.

I grab a small handheld reporter’s notebook and a couple of pens out of the glove compartment before exiting the car. I keep a shitload of them in my Tempo because, well, you just never know when you’re going to need them. They sure are handy to have around when you’re in a hurry.

Like today.

“Deep breaths,” I remind myself. “Deep breaths. You’ll get through this. You’re a reporter. Just be confident, and if you don’t know something, hunt down someone who CAN give you the answer. You’re great at being relentless. You’re a bulldog. Treat it like a game. You’ll be fine. Just treat it like a game and don’t make it personal. You can do this. You’re strong.”

And perhaps I’ve listened in on way too many coaches’ pregame speeches designed to motivate their teams. Why, now, do they seem paltry in comparison as I prepare to face what will be the biggest event in my life to date?

I’m anything BUT pumped up for this.

Here goes nothing.

“Blindsided,” Chapter Three

I sure as hell need a smoke right now.

I can’t even chew the gum I keep in my glove compartment because who’s going to take a person smacking on that stuff seriously? I wouldn’t. Plus, it’s just plain rude to chomp on a piece of gum and blow bubbles when I’m out on assignment. There’s just something so … so juvenile about it.

Ironically enough, I feel like I’m a freshman in high school again as I force myself to start walking toward the police tape and all of those gawkers. I look hard for a familiar face, any familiar face, and my eyes finally settle on Josh Isley, our head photographer at the Daily Herald.

It’s a running joke at the office that Josh was born with a police scanner in his brain, cameras in each of his eyes, a notepad in one hand and a pen in the other.

He’s been at the paper 15 years now, which makes him 37. I think.

Josh definitely must have been a Boy Scout growing up because he always is prepared for anything. His minivan has everything you possibly can think of stored in it, and then some. If World War III ever starts — not that I hope it does — he’ll be ready for it. No kidding. He is the epitome of what every Boy Scout should be, and that’s what makes him the best at what he does. We know it and he knows it, and the paper is damn lucky to have him.

The shit of it is, Josh looks nothing like a Boy Scout. He reminds me more of a hippy. He’s a tall, husky guy with nondescript features who wears his long, brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. The most noticeable thing about him is his loud Hawaiian shirts. They’re his calling card. You can pick him out of a crowd almost immediately like I just did. Shirts like that tend to stick out like a sore thumb in Kentucky. This IS the South, y’know, and we just don’t do Hawaiian shirts.

Josh is sporting a red and white one today, reminding me –- sort of –- of my beloved Alabama Crimson Tide.

He takes one look at me with those eagle eyes of his and lets loose a loud laugh that makes his whole body jiggle.

I love that laugh, but I’ll never tell him why.  It reminds me of my grandmother, may she rest in peace. She had this wonderful laugh that could make my most foul mood disappear within seconds, it was so heartfelt and joyful. I miss her, and my eyes mist a little at the memories Josh evokes with his uninhibited laughter.

“You look like you could use a good puking” is his greeting.

See what I mean? He misses nothing.

Subtlety isn’t one of his strong points, which is why we get along so well, although you might think differently if you ever listen in on our conversations. We’re a lot alike in that aspect — what you see is what you get, and neither of us hides it.

“Fuck off,” I say nervously for his ears only, trying unsuccessfully to brush his comment aside with my blatantly false bravado.

“Makes you wish you hadn’t quit smoking, huh?” he asks.

The smartass is a mind-reader, too.

“Ya think?” I snark at him.

I’m feeling more churlish and sarcastic than normal, but with good reason. I give Josh one of my famous go-to-hell looks and leave it at that.

“So, would you mind getting me up to speed?” I ask, all sober-faced and businesslike now. “I have no clue who to talk to, or even where I should begin. I feel so damn green. I really wish James was here. I’m just a sports writer, for crying out loud! James would already be driving back to the office right now, dictating the story into his tape recorder, or something. Where the hell is he?!

Josh smiles.

“Guess you forgot, huh?”

I’m drawing a blank.

“Enlighten me, please.”

Josh shakes his head and rolls his eyes.

“Do you ever get tired of living in your own little world?” he asks.

I do tend to get so embroiled with work that I’m usually the last person to know all the latest office gossip, but I don’t have time for that shit. Unless, of course, it’s a bitch session involving Dickhead’s latest ruthless rampage. I always have time to bitch about him. No one despises him more than me.

Before I can reply –- or slug him –- he holds his hands up in mock retreat and refreshes my obviously blank memory.

“He took a leave of absence to write the book he’s been researching for the past two years,” Josh re-enlightens me

Oh, yeah. Duh me.

Nothing like a brain fart to make me feel like a Grade-A dumbass.

“Geesh, I forgot all about his book,” I say, recovering from my stupor of stupidity.

His leave of absence is effective today, which is a Friday. Only the fifth day of an already hellishly hot August.

Double duh on me!

James is writing a book about Kentucky’s politicians, but with his very own special spin on them. James is a highly intelligent guy. Same age as me. Glasses, skinny, thinning blond hair, shrewd eyes that never miss anything while always measuring everyone.

He’s a cross between Bill Maher, Dennis Miller and Richard Belzer, all of whom are, or have been, sharp-witted stand-up comedians and actors who know their politics frontward and backward. He has the same biting, sarcastic sense of humor and outlook on life as them and, really, the only way for James to go is up. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins a Pulitzer Prize sometime in the near future. He’s already been nominated for a handful for his reporting, which is second to none.

Honestly, I’ll be surprised if he comes back to the Daily Herald at all.

And since we lost our sports editor two months ago when he -– Bob Gallant –- just up and walked out one day after getting bawled out by Dickhead one time too many, there only are two of us left to keep the department going. I don’t know about Jackson MacKinnon, the other half of our “dynamic” sports-writing duo, but I sure as hell am getting burned out doing it all AND putting up with Dickhead’s bullshit every day.

Something has got to give before we both work ourselves into the ground. I know Jackson already is at the office paginating — newspaper speak for putting together the sports pages — for today’s section in the paper.

“Hello? Anyone in there?”

Josh is waving his hands in front of my hazel eyes.

“Sorry,” I say, the heat in my embarrassed face covering my many freckles with a telltale shade of bright red.

I’m spacing out WWWAAAYYY too much today.

“Who’s in charge?” I ask him, switching back into my best reporter mode whether I want to or not.

Josh smiles and then points to a youngish-looking plainclothes guy yapping with that what’s-her-face bitch from WBIT-TV who thinks she’s all that and then some, and that antiquated son of a bitch from WSOB-AM talk radio who thinks all women should be barefoot and pregnant, hence my nicknames for them: Bitch Face and Antique Man.

Great, just great. This day can’t possibly get any worse.

“Thanks, buddy,” I say with a hint of sarcasm as I start to walk away from him, trudging slowly to the people I’m going to start referring to as the “Three Musketeers.”

I’m beginning to feel more and more like I’m awaiting my turn at the guillotine in the midst of the French Revolution.

I really, really, REALLY do not want to be here.

“This really is going to be a fucking long day,” I bitch to myself.

“And, no,” Josh calls after me, “they haven’t released any details whatsoever. Just in case you were wondering.”

He always has to have the last word.

Of course, I meant to ask. I just forgot. Again.

I give him the middle-finger salute behind my back.

Everyone surely can hear his ensuing guffaws for miles.

Oh well. I never claimed to be perfect. But it’s not normal for me to be so … so completely out of it, so slow on the uptake. What the hell is going on with me?! I really must be out of sorts having to step out of my comfort zone, but then again, who wouldn’t be?

I keep going until I reach the plainclothes guy. He’s still talking to Bitch Face and Antique Man, but I apologetically — sort of — interrupt them long enough to introduce myself to Plainclothes.

“Aren’t you a sports person?” Bitch Face asks, a bored expression on her face.

Antique Man just stares at my breasts with blatant interest. Figures. What a pig!

I ignore them both because I know myself too well. Under normal circumstances, I’d say something sarcastic. But today isn’t normal, and I don’t have time for their petty crap. Well, let me amend that I’m trying to block them out. It’s working. Kinda-sorta.

Plainclothes holds out his hand.

“Piccolo, it’s nice to finally meet you,” he says, shaking my hand firmly. “My name is Jason Stuart. I’m the media liaison for the Bluegrass Police Department. I read your stories all the time.”

Great. He’s a sports fan. Yippee.

You can tell a lot about people just by shaking their hands. His are very strong, very dry. Good. That goes a long way with me. There’s nothing I hate more — unless we’re talking about Dickhead — than limp, sweaty handshakes. They’re just CREEPY.

Maybe we’ll get along famously. Still, I cross my fingers in case I’m wrong.

Sometimes, you just can’t read a person by their handshake. Cases in point: Coach Smith and Dickhead. Both have, uh, had strong, commanding handshakes. The rest, or at least the bare bones of each relationship, you know. But more on those later.

“Nice to meet you, as well,” I reply.

Jason doesn’t seem to miss James at all. It’s almost as if he’s been expecting me. That can be a good thing. Maybe.

“So,” I continue, “do you have any details involving Coach Smith’s death? Has it officially been ruled a homicide? Anything at all you can tell me would be great.”

My voice is on an even keel, leveling out, concealing my attack of nerves. Perhaps I’m starting to get the hang of this, I hope.

I perch my pen on the first page of the brand new reporter’s notebook, ready to start scrawling all over it — illegibly to everyone but me — as soon as Jason gives me some useful information.

“Yes, it is definitely a homicide,” he says.

No kidding. Really?! I kind of figured as much.

Still, I wait.

“But we’re not disclosing any further details right now, other than to say that the police department’s crime-scene technicians are gathering evidence to help with the investigation,” he continues.

Back to Square One. Thanks for the helpful info, asshole. Now, how about giving me something USEFUL.

“Sorry,” he tacks on meaninglessly.

OK, so maybe I’m wrong about the getting along part. He does have a nice handshake, though. I’ll give him that.

“No problem,” I say through clenched teeth, struggling with all of my might to keep my sarcasm at bay, although I’m sure my facial expression is giving me away since I’m the world’s worst liar. “Thanks anyway.”

It’s impossible to fake sincerity when all you really want to do is smack someone upside the head, so why bother trying?

“Do you have a cell number so I can contact you when we do have more information to release to the media?” he asks, almost as if it’s an afterthought as he turns back to Bitch Face and Antique Man.

“No, I don’t.”

I leave it at that. What else is there to say? He’s no good to me, regardless. But the look on his face is comical, as if he can’t believe that there still is someone on this planet who does not own a cell phone. I don’t believe in them, never have. I don’t want one. I don’t need one. If you want to reach me, call me on a landline phone. Otherwise, fuck off.

He recovers enough to hand me his business card. That’s something, at least, for all the good it will do me. Useless, but better than nothing, I suppose.

I just give him a half-ass smile and shrug as I go about my business. Now that I know his job is nothing more than to be a useless piece of shit wasting precious taxpayer dollars, I’m going to have to get my story the hard way.

With some trepidation, I expel a sigh as I steal a glance at the group of rubberneckers.

It’s as good a place to start as any. Someone around here has got to know SOMETHING.

I head toward them, not sure what to expect.

I need answers. Fast.

I’m running out of time, a luxury not afforded to the newspaper business when you’re on a tight deadline and everybody is breathing down your neck, awaiting the final story to go in that day’s edition so we can put it to bed, or, in layman’s terms, so it can go to press.

I can just feel Dickhead’s dragon breath on the back of my neck as I race to write Coach Smith’s story. IF I ever DO get something worth writing. Otherwise, the story is going to be a bunch of platitudes from his assistants and the school administration. In other words, a useless pile of shit.

And with those final foreboding thoughts, I really CAN use a good puking, after all.

And a smoke.

I hate it when Josh is right.

“Blindsided,” Chapter Four

“Hello,” I greet no one in particular, hopelessly hoping for a response, any response.

I plod onward, unsure how I manage to keep my voice from quivering.

“My name is Piccolo Granger, and I’m a reporter with the Daily Herald. Did any of you by chance see or hear anything unusual? Did you notice any unknown vehicles or visitors in the parking lot? Did any of you have any contact with Coach Smith? Anything, anything at all will be helpful.”


Everyone just looks at me, silent, shrugging, murmuring amongst themselves.

I really should tell Dickhead to stick it where the sun don’t shine and go back home. I don’t need this shit. But, unfortunately, I DO need my job. And he knows it, the merciless bastard.

And so, ever the consummate professional while in the public eye, I continue to chip away at the throng of gawkers.

The result is the same.


From the looks of them, not many — if any — of them actually work at Bluegrass High School. That much, I do know, being a frequent visitor of the school and all. I recognize a few of the sports parents, but they’re not talking. I’m relatively sure at least one person in this crowd is the proud, albeit nosy, owner of a police scanner and hot-footed it to the school as soon as he or she heard whatever the code is for homicide.

The only code I DO know is 10-46, which stands for personal-injury accident. We have lots of car accidents here, unfortunately. Kentucky’s Drive Safe campaign is a joke. The state motto should be “drive reckless,” instead of “united we stand, divided we fall.” But that’s a debate for another day.

My frustrating helplessness, on the other hand, is chewing away at my confidence and threatening to swallow it in one humongous gulp, but I can’t force these people to cooperate.

I’m starting to get frantic. I cannot go back to the office empty-handed. That’s not even an option.

The bile rises in my throat as I struggle to tamp down a wave of hysteria.

I need something for Coach Smith’s story, or I might as well just go home and call it a career at the Daily Herald. I’m sure Dickhead will be lying in wait for me, expecting me to fail, the rat bastard.

Contrary to popular belief and my constant sardonic running commentary, I DO care about everything I write, down to the most minute detail. Maybe a little too much, according to my colleagues.

More important, I care about the people gracious enough to tell me their stories regardless of my own personal feelings. I never, ever refer to anything as my story. It’s not about me. I am merely the messenger, the storyteller. Nothing more.

I love talking to people, just not today is all. Not when it involves death. Not when it brings murder into my world. And especially not when it involves someone I know.

Even Coach Smith.

I can’t begin to imagine the scene of the crime, the horror of it all. Nor do I want to envision it. Sometimes, it’s better not to know all of the sordid details. But in this case, I HAVE to know so I can do my job right by presenting all of the facts in his story.

I shake my head as if to dispel any images that might creep into my mind like an unwanted guest sitting on my doorstep. Let me just say again: I do not do death at all.

Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I see Amber Hardy walking toward the “Three Musketeers.”


I make a beeline for Amber like a blitzing linebacker about to sack a quarterback on his blind side.


Amber is an English teacher and the varsity softball coach at Bluegrass High.

No one, not even my best friend, knows of my friendship with Amber away from the softball field. And we’ve been keeping it that way for five years.

It sucks, but we just don’t want to deal with any conflict-of-interest accusations. Some of the coaches and parents around here tend to get a little touchy if they think for one second that you like someone better than their kids, or you’re showing bias if you develop a friendship like the one I share with Amber.

It’s a catch-22 all the way around. But that’s life here in good ole Derby County, and that’s the way it always will be, unfortunately for the two of us. Which really is too bad. She’s a great person.

“Hi, Coach Hardy,” I greet her breathlessly in my bid to reach her before she gets to the “Three Musketeers,” giving nothing away.

I manage to head her off before she gets to them. Barely.

The look on her face tells me I’m going to get the break I need to start telling Coach Smith’s story. But she plays it off well enough so that the others remain clueless. For now.

“Hello, Piccolo,” she says. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

Funny story: You and me both.

“Long story short: The person who’s supposed to be here is on sabbatical, leave of absence, whatever you want to call it, writing a book,” I retort, “so they sent me, instead.”

I smile ruefully.

Amber doesn’t respond.

She keeps giving me this … this look, as if she is just seeing me for the first time. Or seeing me in a new light. Or sizing me up. Or knows something no one else does, like some kind of dark secret. Or a mixture of all four.

Then again, maybe my mind is just playing tricks on me for shits and giggles.

I’ll find out soon enough. We have a code that needs no words.

Her look tells me that we’ll meet up at our usual place — Thoroughbred Park — which gives us all the privacy we need to talk without anyone noticing or recognizing us.

We literally talk for hours on end there. It’s been our meeting place, if you will, since running into each other at the park by sheer chance one night not too long after I began working at the Daily Herald. Both of us were walking the gravel track, which we always refer to as our thinking time rather than part of our exercise regimen, and we struck up a conversation that lasted for hours like we were old friends catching up on the day’s events.

“Is the other Coach Hardy inside?” I ask, motioning my head toward the school’s main building.

The “other” Coach Hardy is Amber’s husband, Shane. He teaches phys ed, coaches the varsity baseball team and is — well, I suppose WAS is the case since sometime late last night or early this morning — one of Coach Smith’s varsity football assistants. Shane coaches the linebackers.

Shane and Amber, both of whom hail from Indiana, will be married seven years in September. They’re both 31. He’s the only other person who knows about our taboo friendship. He’s an all-around good guy, very deserving of Amber. Just my humble observation, for what it’s worth.

“Yes,” Amber confirms, bringing me out of my reverie and back into a reality in which I no longer wish to partake. “He’s being questioned by the police right now. It could be a while, though.”

She takes a deep breath, something I’ve been doing all damn morning, and lets loose a slow, heartbreaking sigh.

“He found Lester in the fieldhouse,” she continues, referring to the athletics building that adjoins the school’s football stadium.


I remain quiet and keep my expression neutral because I know her well enough to realize she needs to keep talking as a means to cope with the fact that one of her fellow co-workers, not to mention someone she knows — sorry, knew — personally, has just been murdered.

Fuck! Too late.

Bitch Face and Antique Man apparently have dog ears. So does Jason.

Antique Man is practically running to his car to get his monstrosity of a tape recorder that looks like it’s at least 100 years old. Bitch Face, meanwhile, is scrambling to get the attention of her cameraman, who is in the midst of shooting footage of the ever-growing crowd of spectators.

Jason looks at Amber and me speculatively. Nah, he can’t be that smart. Or can he?

“That’s all I know right now,” Amber says, her eyes telling me otherwise as Bitch Face and Antique Man attempt to clamor for her attention. “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to get out of here.”

I nod. I understand all too well.

“You OK to drive, Coach Hardy?” I ask, trying to come off as nonchalant as possible in my concern for my friend’s well-being while the “Three Musketeers” eavesdrop.

“Yes, thank you, Piccolo,” she responds. “I’ll be fine. I didn’t see anything, thank God. Shane is really taking it hard. He asked me to meet him at home and wait for him since, well, you know. I … I just can’t believe it.”

Amen to that.

I take her cue to leave as Bitch Face and Antique Man sputter questions I know she won’t answer.

Jason continues to watch us, keeping mum.

“Thanks for your time, Coach Hardy,” I say loudly, walking toward my eyesore of a teal green — yes, teal green — car with its white, yet-to-be-painted trunk.

“I’ll call you from the office in about an hour-ISH,” I say casually over my shoulder to Jason, not quite wanting to meet the eyes of a man who might not be as dumb as I think.

I don’t foresee the school or police having a news conference before the paper’s 11:30 a.m. deadline. And I doubt very seriously that the police department’s liaison will have any new information for me, although Jason may prove to be a problem if he uncovers my friendship with the Hardys.

I have all of Coach Smith’s info to do a biographical piece on him to honor his memory despite my misgivings in my personal, everyday dealings with him while he was alive, but I’ll wait and see what Amber has in store for me first.

This can be a good thing.

I crank the tunes in my hoopty — slang for a piece-of-shit car — at last settling on “Mama, I’m Coming Home” by Ozzy Osbourne from his No More Tears album. It’s my all-time favorite of his, even though I was only 8 when it came out in 1991. My musical tastes are eclectic. I have my parents to thank for that.

Or this can be a bad thing.

The day looms over me. It seems endless, unsympathetic, unyielding, taunting.

Time to find out.

I drive away from the morning’s ugliness at the school, taking a right and turning toward downtown Bluegrass via Whirlaway Road, the city’s main drag, strip, drive, whatever you want to call it.

Another few minutes, and I’ll be pulling into Thoroughbred Park. Ever since Secretariat Park was built on this side of town roughly six years ago, Thoroughbred is pretty well deserted. Which suits Amber and I just fine.

Except this time, I feel like I’m skulking about. Like the super secretive meetings between Bob Woodward and the source he referred to as “Deep Throat” during the Watergate scandal from the early 1970s. Woodward and Carl Bernstein, both reporters for the Washington Post, blew the socks off of the Nixon administration with their amazing investigative skills that eventually resulted in the president’s resignation in 1974.

The movie, All the President’s Men, and the book of the same name written by Woodward and Bernstein give me chills.

I shiver. The not knowing weighs heavily on my mind. This is not going to be a lighthearted chat with Amber. I just can’t shake my unease.

I turn right onto Thoroughbred Drive and park on the side of the road about a half-mile down. I briskly walk the remaining quarter-mile to the park entrance. I won’t see Amber’s gold 2016 Ford Focus for another 10 or 15 minutes because we don’t want anyone to get suspicious. She may park further down the road, which is covered by trees. You can’t see anything from Whirlaway Road, and that’s precisely why we always meet here to catch up on everything.

I veer off the road onto the gravel track to wait for Amber. It’s as good a time as any for a walk to clear my head. This is one of those times I wish I was anything but a reporter.

Whatever Amber is going to tell me may put her in a very bad position. With me. Her husband. The school. Everyone. Everything. And yet, she’s risking it all anyway. For me.

Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

Whatever it is, I can handle it. So I walk as I wait, trying unsuccessfully not to overthink everything.

Still, I have a feeling my smoke-free days are about to end.