Emma Jordan ribbed her coach about losing the bet.
The senior captain and centerfielder leaned against Rob Mason's thick shoulder and cocked her head to the side. "Time to pay up, big guy!"
Coach Mason issued a side-eye glance and caught a mischievous grin in return.
It didn't take long for the team to join in, as they circled and whooped, Mason padded the air with a calloused hand. "Alright, alright," he conceded.
Emma nudged him with an elbow and teased, "It'll be dark soon."
Mason cracked a smile and replied, "Easy now, sister."
Then the coach lowered his bulky frame to the ground, and the Lady Redhawk Softball Team started to cheer. Emma hovered over her coach and pointed a dramatic finger, counting out each rep.
Upon pushing out the tenth one, the team celebrated, and Coach Mason collapsed to the ground with a groan. "No more bets," he said breathlessly.
Emma said playfully, "Four years together, and you're still betting against me?" She offered a hand and helped her coach to his feet.
The coach shook his head with a broad smile and put a tired arm around Emma. "I hope you saved some catches for tomorrow," he said. "Twenty-five in a row. And, I tried burning you gap to gap!"
"I got plenty left, coach. Don't you go worrying about me." Her beautiful smile beamed with confidence.
"I'm proud of you, kid. You stuck with it every year when others bailed," he said.
"The sole survivor," she said with a wink.
"Tomorrow, it's all going to pay off. Just think, we've got a chance to punch our ticket to the state tournament. Now, who would have ever imagined that?
Emma's smile grew impossibly bigger, and she answered, "I did, coach."
Later that evening, Emma Jordan sat at the dinner table with her parents. They prayed before the meal, as they always did, and then passed around dishes of mom's whipped potatoes, steamed broccoli, and meatloaf.
"What was the peak of your day?" Phil Jordan asked his daughter.
Emma chuckled and gestured with her fork. "Well, Mason bet pushups that he could burn me in the outfield. Twenty-five catches later, and he was pushing out ten."
Phil and his wife, Darla, shared a laugh with Emma.
Darla said, "He's a good sport. You're lucky to have such a good coach."
"I do know that if not for him, I wouldn't be going to college to play softball," Emma pointed out.
Her parents agreed.
Phil added, "But first, you've got a chance tomorrow to do something special together."
Emma's expression lit up at the thought.
"Are you nervous?" Darla asked.
Emma grinned and quipped, "Who me?"
Across town, around the same time, Coach Mason sat across from his wife for dinner at the local diner. An older gentleman stopped at their table and stood with a hand on the coach's shoulder. "Good luck in the game tomorrow, coach. All of us are cheering for you."
"Hope you can make it, Frank."
"Oh, I'll be there – as will the whole town. I wouldn't miss it!"
The coach thanked the gentleman and stared at the plate in front of him.
"You've not eaten much," Val Mason said to her husband.
"I'm a bundle of nerves, sweetheart. I've coached nearly thirty years for this opportunity, and now that I've got it, I'm scared to death about losing."
Val Mason offered a sympathetic look and reached across the table and held her husband's hand. "Are the girls as nervous as you?"
Coach Mason chuckled and shook his head. "Emma has them pretty loose. You know how she is – no challenge too big."