Kellie and Brad Ch. 05bydrteetho©
AUTHOR`S NOTE: This is the fifth chapter of a multi-part story. Please read the first four chapters before this one to understand the whole story. Please enjoy.
She felt like a million bucks when she awoke.
Kellie beamed as she reflected on how, once again, Brad knew just what she needed and selflessly gave it to her. Gone was the paralyzing, crushing anxiety that, just last night, had threatened to consume her. Her husband (and how she loved referring to Brad as her husband!) had massaged it all away. She had a great night's sleep and woke up feeling refreshed, energized and confident that she and her team would succeed in the challenge that lay before them. She was still nervous, but this was no more than her typical pre-game reaction; she was once told if she didn't get nervous before big matches she should quit curling immediately, and she believed that statement to be the truth. It was a sensation she knew she`d have no trouble using to her advantage.
Kellie's teammates, as they so often did, took their cue from her. Jennifer, Heather and Amber did not have the same problems unwinding and resting at night that she had at first, but to some degree they were all pretty anxious this morning. But Kellie's confidence dispelled their fears and fuelled their own self-assurance. Over a power breakfast they chatted eagerly about the match, how they got there, and what might happen that night. They realized that defeat was still possible but they put such thoughts to the backs of their minds and focused on what they each needed to do to be successful.
For the rest of the day they prepared themselves for battle, metaphorically speaking. They took their practice time on the ice, in an empty arena, making note of how the rocks reacted on the ice and how that might change when the arena was packed full of people and television lights. They kept themselves loose, both physically by stretching and doing some light exercises, and mentally by talking, joking and just hanging out like good friends do.
4:30pm was the starting time for the match. Kellie, Jennifer, Amber and Heather were as ready to go as they would ever be, and couldn't wait for the appointed time to arrive.
He felt exactly the same way.
But for entirely different reasons.
Brad was preparing himself for a torturous day. There was nothing he could do at this point to help Kellie, except to just stay out of her way. So he got up early while Kellie showered, and after giving her a quick kiss he watched her leave the hotel room. He knew he wouldn`t see her until he was in the arena crowd watching the match unfold on the ice.
It was as if his massage and words of encouragement last night transferred all of Kellie`s anxiety on to him. He felt sick, and knew he would all day, at least until the final match was decided tonight, one way or the other. Yet he welcomed the feeling and would do it again if given the chance every time, because he knew his actions helped give Kellie the calm she needed to perform at her best.
In the meantime he looked for something, anything, to do to pass the time.
After completing his own personal hygiene rituals and getting dressed, he used the hotel room's phone to call his friend Russ. He asked him what his plans were to watch the match that night.
"You should see it, Brad," Russ responded. "The Sports Network has set up a big screen and all sorts of cameras and lights in our lounge. They want some reaction shots from the hometown fans during the game, so I'm packing as many people as I can in here so we can all watch. If you see her before she starts tell her we're watching and we are all supporting her 100%!"
"For sure Russ, I will," said Brad, choosing to tell a harmless little white lie instead of saying she had already left to prepare. "I wish you were here in the stands with me, though, I could use another friend in the crowd to be nervous with."
"You'll be fine, Brad. I belong here with everybody else in town. More importantly, she'll be fine. They all will, the whole team looks spectacular. I can't wait to see them win."
"Same here. Make some great TV for the people, Russ!"
The two friends laughed and said their goodbyes. Brad tried to kill some more time, but there was nothing to read or watch on television to hold his interest. He checked the clock and was dismayed to see it read only 9:30am. After debating for a few minutes whether to leave or stay, he impatiently grabbed his coat and dashed off to the arena.
As he sat in the lounge reserved for family and friends of the competitors, drinking the second of what would be at least five or six coffees before the start of the match, someone very familiar took a seat across from him.
'I must really be out of it', he thought. He didn't even notice Sandra until she sat down, and it's not like she could sneak up on him what with her having to move around on crutches, and rather awkwardly at that.
He cleared his throat. "Sorry, you caught me off guard. I wasn't expecting to see you here. I thought you'd be..."
"With Kellie and the others?" Sandra finished the thought for him. He nodded. She shrugged. "There's not really much I can do now. They're pretty well into full-out preparation mode. I felt I'd just be getting in the way. I didn't want to be a distraction, so I thought I'd hang out here."
"Sorry to hear about your injury, by the way."
She sighed. "Thanks. I hate the timing of it and all, but there's nothing I can do about it now. Just try to stay positive and cheer on the girls."
Brad smiled ruefully. "And feel your guts rot from the inside out from the nervousness."
"Tell me about it!" she exclaimed and rolled her eyes. "I'm a million times more nervous than I would be if I were playing. I don't know how you do it."
"Neither do I."
They both chuckled. Both Brad and Sandra quietly drank their coffee for a few moments. Then, rather unexpectedly, he watched her face light up in happiness.
"I'll be right back!" she chirped.
"OK, no problem."
Sandra hurried away from the table as fast as she could carry herself on her crutches. Brad heard her squeal behind him a few seconds later. Then she returned to the table with a very handsome young man. He helped her back to the table and showed himself to be a gentleman when he pulled a chair out for her to sit in. When he took his own seat, Brad recognized who it was.
"Hey. You're Marc Cornish," he said.
Marc had a broad, toothy grin on his face. "Yes sir, that's me!" He extended his hand, Brad took it and both shared a firm, friendly handshake. Marc's eyes then narrowed. "Man, I have to say, you look... familiar somehow," he said.
"Well," Brad answered, "I have been to a lot of events over the years. I've been a fan of the way you, Kevin and your team play, so I've probably met you at autograph sessions before. You know, that kind of thing."
Marc nodded, trying to remember even one of those encounters with more detail, which wasn't easy. While he wouldn't want to brag about it, he and his teammates did have a lot of fans so it was difficult to remember each and every one of them. Still, Marc knew he had met this man before, and the impression he had of him was that of a normal, all-around good guy.
Sandra watched the exchange with a bemused look on her face. "Looks like you two sorta, kinda know each other, but maybe I should make a formal introduction. Marc, this is Brad Galenchuk, Kellie's new husband."
Marc's eyes lit up. "Wow! So, it's true, you do exist!"
"Uh... beg your pardon?"
Sandra and Marc shared a laugh before she dealt with Brad's confusion. "Let me explain, Brad. Kellie, the other girls and I, we all talked with Marc, Kevin and the rest of their team a lot the weekend of the Skins Game. We had a lot in common and got along really well. Anyway, Kellie couldn't stop talking about you, so Marc made up a joke that you were too good to be true and so you couldn't be real. It became kind of a running theme for the weekend."
Brad laughed quietly as he pictured in his mind's eye Kellie doing just what Sandra described.
"Yeah." Marc smiled, but the tone of his voice turned serious. "It was funny to joke about it with everyone, but after that weekend it kind of made me think a little, too."
"Well... I have to tell you, man, it was obvious then how much she was in love with you, and Sandra says nothing's changed in the meantime. If anything her love for you is probably stronger now that you two are married. You must be doing something right, something really amazing, for her to be as madly in love with you as she is."
Brad blushed and bowed his head. "Ah, I don't know about that. I don't really know what I'm doing; I'm just trying to figure things out as I go. I don't feel I'm anyone special or anything like that."
"I think you underestimate yourself, Brad. Seriously. If I can do even half of what you're doing for Kellie, then maybe I can be the kind of man Sandra deserves."
At that moment, Brad looked up and saw the mutual look of admiration between Sandra and Marc, and he couldn't help but smile. "I guess you two are kind of an item, then?" he asked.
Marc nodded. "We really hit it off that weekend... and then one thing led to another... you know how it goes."
"I have a pretty good idea," Brad said, smirking. He then turned toward Sandra. "Do you realize how many broken hearts you'll cause if and/or when this goes public?"
Sandra giggled. "Yes, but I don't care. I've fallen really hard for Marc and I want to make this work. I just wish we didn't have to deal with the whole long-distance relationship thing."
"Yeah, I can only guess how difficult that is. But if you two care for each other as much as you appear to, I'm sure you'll find a way to overcome it."
"Yes," Marc said confidently, "that's exactly how I feel."
"Me too," added Sandra.
The two long-distance lovers looked directly at each other, forgetting about Brad's presence for the moment. Sandra regarded Marc lovingly while he brushed a stray lock of hair from her face.
"Of course," Marc whispered, "one thing people in our position have to do is take advantage of the times they have together."
He then planted a searing kiss on Sandra's lips that caused her to softly moan and swoon. When the kiss broke, she caught the sight of Brad out of the corner of her eye.
Brad was looking away from Marc and Sandra as they kissed, not wanting to stare and ruin their moment. After a few moments he looked over and saw Sandra looking at him. He tried to smile naturally, hoping to reassure her that he wasn't uncomfortable with their public display of affection.
"Brad," Sandra said, "I don't mean to be rude, but I think Marc and I need some alone time, so..."
He held his hand up to silence her. "Please, say no more, Sandra. I understand completely. I'll see you both later tonight?"
"Absolutely," Marc and Sandra replied at the same time.
Brad waved to them as they slowly left the lounge. Sandra was unable to do little more than shuffle around on her crutches, and Marc was trying his best to help her instead of obstruct her progress. Once they finally left the room, Brad stared into his coffee cup. The words that Marc spoke earlier as he was relaying how Kellie praised him so readily and effusively to people she had just met, echoed in his brain.
He sat silently, lost in his own thoughts.
Finally, it was game time.
The final match was sold out to a packed 15,000 seat arena, and a record TV viewing audience was expected. It was the dream matchup everyone was hoping for. The match earlier in the week between Kellie's and Anita's teams was very good, but the bad break Kellie suffered at the end left a feeling of unfinished business. That feeling only added to the fever pitch of anticipation for the finals rematch.
The sound of the marching band playing a traditional Scottish tune signified the start of the pre-match ceremonies. Both teams were introduced to the crowd by the booming voice of the public address announcer, and all the players joined the fans in rhythmic clapping along with skirl of the bagpipes.
Brad was fairly high up in the stands, in one corner of the arena. On his left side sat Marc, who had guided Sandra to the seat near the ice usually reserved for the team's alternate. To his right were Kellie's Aunt Linda and Uncle Victor. They were all surrounded by friends and family members of Sandra, Jennifer, Amber and Heather. Everyone gathered in those few rows shook hands and hugged each other in support and in hope that their loved ones on the ice would emerge victorious.
The opening exchanges between the two sets of rival teammates were as tense as would be expected. The women all silently shook hands with each other and generally avoided eye contact. That changed when the last two, the skips for both teams, Anita and Kellie, met at one end of the ice, in the middle of one of the sets of target rings.
Ensuring no cameras or microphones would pick up the conversation, Anita whispered trash talk into Kellie's ear. "There's no shame in forfeiting, you know. Might as well, we both know you're going to lose anyway. That trophy`s mine!"
Kellie didn`t back down from her nemesis, not even an inch. A small smirk curled from her lips. "Just bring your best game, Anita, so the world will know I beat you at your best!"
Not for the first time this week, Anita was taken aback by Kellie's new-found confidence. Clearly, this wasn't the same meek little mousy girl she used to beat like clockwork. 'Oh well', Anita thought to herself, 'it just means I'll crush her spirit that much worse when I win!"
But if Anita thought it would be easy, she had another thing coming.
Kellie backed up her recently-discovered bravado with action. She and her team started with a good game plan, and they made the shots required to put the pressure on Anita, who was forced to take only one point with her last shot in the first end.
The second end went equally as well for Kellie. She made the shot to score two points in an end that Amber, Heather and Jennifer had expertly set up for their skip. Once her rock settled in the blue, four-foot ring, Kellie stared daggers at her rival, letting her know that the game was well and truly on.
The match was as close, well-played and intriguing as everyone expected it would be.
Anita and her team recovered from their slow start to score two points in the fourth and hold Kellie to one in the fifth to reach the mid-game break tied at 3-3. Both teams gathered for a quick discussion as well as to refuel with protein bars, bananas and water.
"Whew, glad to have this break now, I need a bit of a mental reset," said Heather.
"Yeah, it's so intense and the crowd is so loud, even more so than last year," Amber added, with more than a touch of awe in her voice.
Jennifer was the first to notice the grin on Kellie's face. "What's on your mind, skip?"
"Just enjoying the moment," Kellie replied. "This is why we put in all those hours of practice and physical training, girls, it's for moments like this. I hope you're all remembering to soak this in and have fun with it."
"Oh, we are, skip, no doubt!" Jennifer exclaimed, and Amber and Heather nodded in agreement.
"OK," Kellie said, turning to matters strategic. "This game is going pretty much how we all thought it would, right? Very close, they're playing well, we're playing well. Keep focused, keep putting the pressure on them, and make good shots. If we do that we'll find a way to win."
The second half of the match was just as well-played and closely contested as the first. Both teams traded deuces in the next two ends, and then Kellie's team held Anita's to one point in the eighth, giving the latter a lead of six points to five going into nine.
Anita was fully convinced that this would be the time that she stifled Kellie`s attempt to score more than one point and quite possibly steal a point for her side. From there she figured she would be able to ride things out in the tenth and final end and, if necessary, score the winning point herself and be the hero.
These thoughts were running through her head as she slid on the ice towards the hack in preparation to throw her final shot of the end. The way this end had played out so far was more than a little nerve-wracking for Anita. After her lead placed her first rock in the centre of the rings, her team spent the rest of the end defending, trying to keep Kellie's team away from that area. Their red-handled rocks surrounded her lonely-looking yellow-handled stone, but they hadn't quite been able to move it out. Now Anita had a chance to guard her team's scoring rock by putting hers in front of the rings to close off the path. 'Now', she thought, 'this is my big chance to shove it in that prissy bitch Kellie's face!'
But her attempted guard was just a little bit off target. It left a small chance for Kellie to make a great shot to pull off a big score and take complete control of the match. Anita tried to convince herself that Kellie would either not see the chance or would be unable to execute, but she was more than a little worried about the final outcome.
Kellie surveyed the scene in the rings. The area in front of the house was littered with granite. She did not see any easy, obvious choices. She called time-out and gathered her teammates together to discuss the options.
"Not a whole lot here, girls. We could just go around this way to take our one point and tie it up and try to steal it in the tenth," she said.
Jennifer pointed to a rock just outside the edge of the rings and then to the one from Anita`s team that currently was the scoring point. "How about chipping it in off that one, skip?"
Kellie took a quick look at Jennifer's suggestion and whistled. "Tough shot, Jen."
"Yeah, it is, skip. But if you hit that front one just right, you`ll bump hers far enough over and we score four. This might be our chance."
Kellie measured the angles from several viewpoints on the ice. Jennifer was right; the shot was definitely there. But it was fraught with risk. Missing it meant giving up a point and trailing by two... or worse.
"It kind of looks like a shot we tried last year against Ontario, doesn't it?" Kellie mused, still deep in thought.
"And you damn near made that one," Jennifer pointed out.
"Yeah, damn close. But not close enough."
"Doesn`t matter, skip. You`ll make this one."
Kellie took a deep breath. She looked at Heather and Amber and asked, "What do you think, girls?"
Amber replied, "I say go for it skip! You got this!"
"It`s your call, skip, but I like taking the chance here," Heather added.
"Just like someone we know said, we practice and train for moments like this, right?" Jennifer asked, and Kellie couldn't help but smile at how her third had used her own words from earlier to provide the last bit of motivation.
Kellie started to clearly see the shot in her mind. The visualization and the ultimate confidence her teammates had in her made her believe and commit to the shot.
"OK girls, let`s do it. Be ready, I`ll be throwing the high, hard one here. Peel weight."
They nodded. Kellie held her broom down to indicate where she needed to aim the shot, and Jennifer put hers on the same spot. Kellie went down to the other end of the ice with Heather and Amber, the two younger players readying themselves for possibly the brushing effort of their lives.
The crowd cheered as one as they sensed that this was going to be the turning point of the match, that Kellie was about to try a spectacular shot in the hopes of essentially claiming victory right here and now. Brad, Victor, Linda, Marc and all the other friends and family members of Kellie and her teammates leaned forward. They were all extremely nervous. A few of them were silently praying for a favourable outcome, and one or two were even not so silent in their prayers.