Kellie and Brad Ch. 04bydrteetho©
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth chapter to a multi-part story, I would suggest reading the first three chapters before this one to understand the whole story. Please enjoy.
She hated airplanes.
She had ever since, as a seven-year old, she went on vacation to Florida with her family over March Break to visit Disney World.
The vacation itself was fine. Great, even.
But on the return trip, the plane carrying Heather Nelson and her family, among others, experienced significant turbulence. Buffeted by strong air currents and unexpected pop-up storms, the plane bounced and jerked around enough to make Heather sick to her stomach and complain to anyone within earshot of her.
That was bad enough. Then it got worse.
Just when it seemed the turbulence was over, suddenly and without warning the plane seemed, to Heather anyway, to dive-bomb straight downward for several seconds. The pilot later said over the loudspeaker that the plane only lost no more than a few hundred feet in elevation and they were never in any serious danger; he apologized for the discomfort and bumpy ride, but they were now in cleaner air and the rest of the trip would be smooth. Turned out he was right.
However, in those few seconds Heather was convinced she was going to die. She let out a blood-curdling scream that no one on that plane could ever forget. Despite the best efforts of the stewardess and her own family, she was inconsolable the rest of the flight. She cried in relief when the plane landed and she walked again on solid ground, and she made a vow to herself never to board a plane ever again.
She kept to that vow. Until recently.
Because, the further along she progressed in the sport of curling, the more she realized it would be impossible to fulfill this childhood vow. Canada is a massive country, and there are curling fans all over the land, so to be fair the officials running the sport had to schedule the events in every region of the country. And competing at an elite level requires getting on a plane and flying to these cities.
So because of her talent in and love of curling, Heather managed to overcome her childhood fears to get on these planes when required, but only just. The fear was still debilitating enough to reduce her to a nervous wreck each flight. Even the slightest bounce caused her to shake in terror.
She tried everything she could think of to cure herself of her fear of flying. Therapy. Medication. Hypnosis. None of it worked. It certainly didn't help her state of mind once Anita Morriss and her former teammates found out about her fear; they were either dismissive or insulting towards her for it, depending on their moods. She briefly wondered again why she agreed to join them in the first place.
'Thank goodness things worked out as they did,' Heather thought to herself as she tried to distract herself in any way possible. She was sweating out another flight, this time to the city of Calgary where this year's Canadian women's curling championships were being held. The rest of her new teammates... Kellie Galenchuk, Jennifer Janik, Sandra Morgan and Amber Janik... were also on this flight, along with several of their friends and loved ones who were there to cheer them on.
Joining Kellie's team really had been a godsend for her. Missing out on playing time was a setback, but she was young and had her career well in front of her, so if anything it was just a temporary issue. She was fast becoming true friends with her the new teammates she hadn't already known.
Heather felt Kellie was just as talented an athlete as Anita but was light years ahead as a skip in terms of passing on her knowledge to her teammates; she was learning so much from her skip and was starting to see her as a mentor in the game. She was also impressed with how Kellie led the team yet was just one of the girls at the same time. Sandra was serious about her physical fitness and her sport but was down to earth and a genuinely nice person to be around.
Meanwhile, Amber was bubbly and fun. Heather smiled as she recalled watching over time how Amber had grown from childhood friend Jennifer's annoying little sister to a fine young woman in her own right.
Her smile then grew larger in spite of her current surroundings as she thought more about Jennifer. The two were the same age and grew up in the same neighbourhood, becoming inseparable as they attended school and curling lessons together as kids. They remained the best of friends throughout high school, and as they progressed through university and throughout the junior and professional curling ranks, their relationship grew even closer.
Much, much closer.
Maintaining the closeness was difficult when Jennifer moved away to the small town where Kellie lived to join her team, but somehow they managed. Unfortunately, tension built up between the two of them soon after Heather hooked up with Anita's team. The two skips became heated adversaries, and the teams butted heads frequently. Jennifer hated how Anita bullied and intimidated Kellie, and she knew Heather was too good a person to condone these tactics.
Jennifer at times pleaded, and at other times angrily demanded, that Heather quit her position on Anita's team, but Heather didn't feel secure enough in herself to make that move. She also tried to rationalize her skip's behaviour, trying to convince herself it wasn't all that bad. It took Anita's attempted seduction of Brad for Heather to see the light and realize she had to take action.
The fact that Jennifer had threatened to completely sever all ties to their relationship if she didn't do so... well, that might have provided some extra motivation. Heather could never tell whether this was a promise or an idle threat, but she didn't want to risk taking that kind of chance. She loved Jennifer far too much to ever be without her.
Now that events and good fortune worked out in their favour, everything was right in their relationship again.
Well, almost everything.
Right now Heather wished that Jennifer would hurry the hell back from using the washroom so she could hold her and be close to her again. It was just about the only thing that kept her sane on airplane flights these days.
Plus, there was something on her mind that she really wanted to discuss.
As Heather was thinking of how to say what was on her mind, Jennifer was walking down the aisle. She returned to her seat to find Heather much in the same position as when she left: her eyes closed, her arms tightly hugging herself, rocking back and forth slightly, an ashen look on her face.
"How are you holding up, babe?" Jennifer asked.
Heather opened her eyes and shrugged. She then took hold of Jennifer's hand and laced their fingers together. "Better now that you're here with me."
Jennifer said nothing, instead softly kissing the back of Heather's hand to let her know she was there to support her.
The two were silent for a few moments until Heather was ready to talk.
"I've been thinking."
"Is that good or bad?"
Heather gave Jennifer a questioning look. "I'd like to think that it's good!"
"Sorry. Please, go on."
"Well... Kellie and Brad's wedding was so wonderful, wasn't it?"
Jennifer smiled. "Yes, yes it was."
"And it's so great that they can proclaim their love so freely to everyone, right?"
"Uh... yeah." Jennifer didn't know exactly where Heather was going with this line of conversation, but she had a pretty good idea, and that made her nervous.
"Don't you want the same thing for us?"
Jennifer sighed. "Heather... we've talked about this."
It was Heather's turn to sigh. She rested her head on Jennifer's shoulder. "Oh Jen, I know. And I understand where you're coming from with this, really I do. I guess I'm just impatient. I want what Kellie and Brad have, and I want you to want those things too."
"Heather, I do want those things. For us. I'm... just not ready yet."
"Will you be ready soon?"
Jennifer's stomach churned at Heather's question. She truly loved Heather and would do anything for her. However, she was still worried about what the reaction would be when she admitted her true feelings to the world. Not so much about the public at large; haters gonna hate, as the kids say these days... or at least that's what Jennifer thought the kids said these days.
It was the reaction of the other important people in her life that concerned her. Namely, her parents, her sister Amber, and her other best friends and teammates, Sandra and Kellie. She didn't want them to think any less of her because of her life choices. She didn't think they would, but with some things you could never tell, and sometimes otherwise normal and well-adjusted people hid their hatreds and prejudices very well until forced to confront them.
At the same time, Heather deserved an answer to her question. She deserved to know that their relationship was real and honest and right, not one to be treated like a shameful secret. Truth be told, she wanted that as much for herself as she did for Heather's sake.
Jennifer knew she had to reconcile these two feelings in her mind. But she really didn't want to have to think about this right now. When the two had this discussion before, Jennifer asked to wait until after the curling season to do what she needed to, and Heather had agreed. It seemed the combination of Kellie and Brad's wedding and her usual emotional state when on a plane had brought Heather's desires back to the surface again and led to her putting Jennifer to the test.
And Jennifer found herself quite afraid of failing that test, because she had no idea what she was going to say at that moment. None at all.
At that moment, the light and chime went off to warn everyone to fasten their seatbelts, and the captain announced over the intercom to say they were beginning their descent into Calgary, there may be some slight turbulence as they fly through a pocket of wind but it should be no big deal and thank you for flying with us and so on.
Heather looked worried and applied a death grip on Jennifer's arm, her question forgotten for now. Jennifer winced but accepted the tight hold Heather had on her. She talked her companion through the whole descent, assuring her that she was here, she wouldn't let anything bad happen to her and everything would be fine.
The plane landed without incident. Heather exhaled deeply and relaxed her grip on Jennifer. With tears in her eyes, she turned to look at her life-long friend and mouthed the words "thank you". Jennifer kissed the top of Heather's head and cradled her in her arm.
She held her that way until the plane finished taxiing down the runway.
She was a details girl.
When she wasn't curling, Sandra Morgan's day job was handling logistics for a local trucking company. She had a mind for minutiae and was always super-organized. She applied those organizational skills to everything she did, and she credited this as the key to her being successful at her job, an excellent curler at the second position, and a very fit, athletic woman.
While she was proud of herself for having these skills, she was at times a little miffed when people assumed there was no personality behind them. She knew that sometimes people with highly developed organizational skills were viewed as joyless fact freaks. Sandra was realistic; she knew she wasn't naturally bubbly and constantly outgoing like her teammate Amber. But she also knew that she had more to offer than her obvious detail-oriented skills and loved showing people that she wasn't just an emotionally cold number-cruncher.
Funny thing is, if she were completely honest with herself, she would admit that's exactly what she was tracking towards as a child.
It wasn't until her parents steered her towards curling that she started to break out of her shell. Sandra's parents figured her analytical mind would enjoy the angles and strategic elements of the sport, and they also figured that being placed on a team would force her to open up and develop her social skills by interacting with other people. They were right on both counts, and Sandra was eternally grateful to them for introducing her to this wonderful sport.
She had been with Kellie the longest, as both of them had grown up in the same small town. It was natural to pair them together as they were far and away the best curlers in town, first as girls, then as women. They practically grew up together, both on and off the ice, riding together the highs and lows. As close as they were to their other teammates, they leaned heavily on each other in particular. Sandra was especially gratified to be the one to tell Kellie, at a time soon after she first dated Brad, that her fears she was losing control of her team were unfounded; Jennifer, Amber and Sandra were as solidly behind Kellie as they ever were.
Naturally, the team took notice of Sandra's logistical strengths, and in one of a series of efforts to make everyone feel like an even more important part of the team, Kellie asked her to handle much of the details necessary to help an elite curling team function, such as travel arrangements and team registrations. She happily agreed, and did such a good job at keeping them on schedule the others often referred to her as their little drill sergeant. She accepted their good-natured teasing and returned it with interest.
Sandra was intensely proud of her success. She was part of a championship team seeking to repeat, with teammates that were also her best friends, in a system that on and off the ice allowed her to maximize her talents. She couldn't ask for much more than that, other than to demand of herself to do her part to see her team's success continue.
And so it was that Sandra, Kellie, Jennifer, Heather, Amber and their combined entourage boarded their flight to Calgary on Thursday morning, to give them two full days to acclimate to the admittedly minor time zone difference. In addition, after landing, arriving at the hotel and taking some time to settle in, she arranged for the team to take care of all registration with the tournament officials at the earliest opportunity. Sandra believed it would set the proper tone for the week if they were first to register, though she couldn't quite explain why; it was just a feeling she had.
So far, everything was going according to plan. Almost too well, Sandra thought, suddenly convinced something was about to happen to throw them off track.
As if on cue, out of the corner of her eye Sandra saw Anita purposefully stride into the room. Sandra leaned over towards Kellie, who was speaking to the head tournament referee and facing away from Anita, and warned her that the rival skip was here, using the words that started with a joke years ago.
"Code red! Code red!" she whispered.
Kellie turned towards Anita, hands on hips, ready to confront her if necessary. But Anita ignored her, instead stopping directly in front of Tom Brewster, the head tournament referee.
"I'm placing an official complaint and playing this tournament under protest! I demand you take action!" she barked.
Tom was born in Scotland, and despite living in Canada for nearly 20 years, still spoke with a distinctive Scottish brogue. He was fair and friendly but at the same time had a very no-nonsense attitude, and he detested people who lobbed frivolous accusations.
Safe to say, Anita was not his favourite person in the world.
"And what seems to be the trouble, Anita my dear lassie?" he replied wearily.
"Don't patronize me Tom! Kellie has an illegal player on her team and she needs to be removed immediately!"
Tom turned to look at Kellie. "Do you know anything about this?"
"No Tom, I have no idea what she's talking about."
Anita continued her protest, jabbing an accusatory finger towards Kellie. "Oh don't you play dumb with me! Tom, you know damn well Heather has been the lead on my team for a couple years now, and all of a sudden here she is with Kellie!"
"Uh, Anita, you fired Heather, remember?" Kellie responded.
"Yes, I do seem to remember hearing you rather unceremoniously dumped Heather from your squad, Anita," Tom chimed in.
Anita tried to lie her way out of the corner into which she painted herself. "I didn't want to do it; Heather was a big part of my team. I only felt I had to because her friend, and Kellie's third, Jennifer, kept tampering with my team, pressuring her to quit. I had no choice."
Kellie shook her head. "That's a total lie and you know it! Jennifer and Heather have been friends for a long time. If you really think we'd take advantage of that to get Heather to switch teams, don't you think we would have done that a long time ago?"
Out of the line of sight of everyone else, Jennifer and Heather shared a panicked look and moved closer together. Jennifer never told Kellie about her constant requests for Heather to quit Anita's team, because she was afraid something like this might happen and she didn't want to implicate her skip into any such charges.
Fortunately for them, no one thought to ask them what happened in their own words. Even more fortunately for them, Tom wanted no further part of this argument.
"Ach, Anita," he said, "Kellie's right, your complaints sound like a giant pile of shite to me! Bottom line is, you did not enter any sanctioned event in this season with Heather as part of your team before now, and Kellie has properly followed the rules in adding her as a teammate, so you have no right to ask me to disqualify her. My decision is final! Now, ladies, if you'll excuse me..."
With that, Tom left the room, intending to find a nearby pub with comfortable chairs and nice cold beers.
Kellie couldn't help but allow a small, self-satisfied smile to cross her lips.
Anita scoffed. "Whatever, you nerd. That fat bastard was practically kissing your ass. If he bothered to do his job, he'd know the truth, just like we all do. Isn't that right, Heather?"
Heather glowered at her former skip but said nothing.
Anita rolled her eyes and got right into Kellie's face as she continued her rant. "You know what, it doesn't matter. Do you honestly think I really cared whether or not I won that argument? If you're so desperate that you need to pick players from my discard pile, you go right ahead!"
Kellie returned Anita's glare with a boldness that shocked the brash blonde, though she tried her best to hide it. "You've always had a terrible attitude," Kellie said quietly. "Great curler, but terrible attitude. You've been able to get away with it for so long, but I always thought one of these days it would be your downfall. Well, this is that time, and Jennifer, Sandra, Amber, Heather and I will make that happen."
Anita was furious. She snarled at Kellie, "Stay the hell out of my way, bitch!" She then shot a look of disdain at Heather. "And keep that lezzie slut out of my sight!"
Kellie was pleased to see Anita so flustered. Usually it was her nemesis that riled her up, it was nice to have the shoe on the other foot for a change.
All of a sudden, her attention was distracted by a noise from behind her. She turned to see Heather crying and running out of the room, with Jennifer following closely. Amber and Sandra looked at each other, then at Kellie, who nodded at them as if to say go ahead, try and find them and I'll be right there. Kellie took one last look at Anita, who seemed to be enjoying the chaos she caused. Kellie just frowned and ran to catch up with her teammates, hopeful she could nip this mini-crisis in the bud.
Sandra shook her head as she ran with Amber in search of Heather and Jennifer. Not for the first time, she thought to herself, "Why do people have to be so damn... unpredictable?"
"Heather? Wait up! Heather!!"