As Kat open the door to the mat room, the smell of cleaner mixed with manly sweat reminded her the first time she had tried out for the wrestling team.
“Hello,” Kat said, in her charming voice, extending her hand to Coach.
Coach Wallace’s face looked bewildered. “Hello,” he replied, shaking Kat’s hand.
“You know,” he continues. “You don’t have to try out to be a manager.”
“Oh, I know. I don’t want to be a manager. I want to wrestle!” Kat said, in her excitement.
“Oh, really, look here Missy! I don’t let little girls on my team, unless they’re here to help manage it.” Coach said, raising his eye brow. “Besides, little girls tend to faint when they see blood, especially when it’s coming from them!”
“Um, well, Coach you can’t really do that,” interrupted T.J.
T.J., also known as Thomas Jefferson, is Kat’s best friend. He, too, was trying out for the team. T.J. had been a regional champion for the middle school wrestling division.
“And why is that?” growled Coach.
“Because, it’s against the law. We don’t have a team for the girls, so you can’t stop her from joining.” T.J. resounded.
“You’ve got to be kidding me! A girl on my team! She’ll scream at the first sight of blood on her clothing! I can’t protect her from getting a nose bleed or a cut lip.
Kat smiled from ear to ear. “Don’t worry about me, Coach! A little blood’s not going to bother me.”
“Okay, little lady! Now, I want you to know, I’m not planning on changing the rules and what is expected. That means you will lift weights, come to all of the practices and run track. And I don’t want you to be distracting my boys!”
“Yes, sir!” replied Kat.
‘Little lady, well, he ain’t seen nothin’ yet! I’ll slam all those boys! That will show Coach!’ thought Kat.
“You won’t regret putting her on the team,” added T.J.
It had only been three years, since Kat had joined the team and it took that long for her to earn the respect of her other teammates and that included dealing with a busted lip, during one of the playoffs. Even so, it might have taken longer, if it hadn’t been for T.J. He and Kat had been best friends, since they were in kindergarten. However, last month T.J. and his mother had disappeared. Thinking of this made Kat sad. She began dragging her feet. When she realized that she was starting to tear up, she gave herself a pep talk. ‘Kat, now you can’t be gettin’ all teary- eyed. The boys are going to start thinking that you’re a weak little girl.’
Kat dragged one of the blue mats to the far side of the gym, as she started thinking, ‘well I wonder who is going to be my partner today. As long as it isn’t Slim, who couldn’t wrestle his way through an open door or stinky Peter who smells like pee, I guess it’ll be a good day. They’ve been switching my partner every day since T.J. left. I wish that they could find someone.’
Suddenly, the mat became lighter. She glanced up and stared into the bluest eyes she had ever seen. The face belonged to a stranger.
“Need some help,” laughed, the handsome stranger.
‘Who does he think he is? Just because I’m a girl, he thinks I’m helpless, like he’s rescuing me or something,’ thought Kat.
She gritted her teeth. “Thanks, but no thanks.” She grabbed both ends of the mat and yanked at it.
“Okay,” he said softly.
The stranger let go of the mat and Kat fell on her behind.
“Here,” he smiled, reaching his left hand towards her.
“Get your hand away from me!” she declared, slapping the top of it. She rose from the floor and continued to pull the mat towards the far corner of the gym. The stranger followed her. Kat placed the mat parallel with the concrete wall. The stranger continued to stare at her and Kat wondered if he was going to hit on her.
She had always been told that she was attractive. Her long, curly-blonde hair was tied into a neat ponytail, but as usual several curls had cascaded down her neck. She had peaches and cream complexion with emerald-green eyes. At that moment, she didn’t want him near her. One of Kat’s biggest pet peeves is being looked at as if she was a piece of meat.
Kat felt humiliated. Her thoughts began to consume her, ‘Uh, now the guys are going to start in on me. They’re going to go on and on about how I have the pretty boy as my partner. And he’s more likely thinking that I am just some baby doll that he can throw around.’
“What are you looking at!” growled Kat.
“I was staring at the mat. What makes you think I was looking at you? Gee, someone wants attention.”
Kat glared at him and with a sharp tongue said, “I know you were looking at me! I’m not stupid.”
“It’s not very smart to yell at someone who’s trying to help you,” Jack said, annoyed.
Kat placed her hand on her hip and bragged, “I never asked for your help! In fact, I can put all these mats out by myself and clean them by myself. I’ve done it several times.” Realizing what she just said was stupid and she got angrier. ‘Oh, why did I just say that? Everybody in the history of wrestling knows that it is a manager’s job. The only reason why I had to clean those mats was because the Coach ordered me to.’ She remembered that conversation she had with the Coach when he asked to speak with her.
The Coach had said, “I called you in to make sure I’m clear with you. I don’t want you on this team. However, T.J. does and he has great talent. I don’t want to risk losing him. On that note, you can say that you’re on the wrestling team all you want. But, I expect you to help manage the boys, too. Do you understand me?” Coach firmly stated.
“Uh, yes, sir!” Kat said those words as if someone was pulling her teeth.
The only reason I got on this team is because of T.J. and now he’s gone. I know I’ve proven myself as being part of this team. After all, I bleed just like they do! I don’t have a fit when I’m bleeding or when someone’s blood is on me. No, in fact, I can think of few boys, who managed to keep from whimpering when it happens to them, but if I did it, the roof would fall in! Kat was sad and angry and her face started turning red.
Jack chuckled and then said, “Well, I guess you’re Miss Independent!”
“Well, I guess you’re Mr. Know-It-All!” screamed Kat. She wanted to slap the wolfish grin off his face.
“I see that you two have already met. I hope you like having a new partner,” said Coach Wallace.
“Say, what?” stammered Kat. Then turning beet-red added, “I mean, uh, uh, I don’t want him as my partner.”
“Kat, T.J. is gone. You need a new partner and Jack is it,” and then added, “Put on your headgear and get ready to practice with him.”
“Coach, it’s not fair!” shouted Kat. “He didn’t even try out for the team.”
Coach Wallace raised an eyebrow and cleared his throat. This was a sign from Coach, that if Kat didn’t stop complaining about her new partner, she will be running laps. However, Kat didn’t care this time. She was going to let him have it. ‘All these past weeks, he has been giving me these stinky, weak partners so that my technique can suffer.’
Jack, securing his headgear before speaking, “Come on, powder puff, show me what you’ve got.”
Kat, full of fire, was ready to pounce on someone, so it might as well be her new partner.
Jack approached the end of the mat and stood in a sparring position. “What are you waiting for, babe?” he laughed.
‘Babe,’ Kat thought, ‘Oh, it is so on, honestly, I bet he don’t know the first thing about wrestling.’
“Oh, so you think you’re all that! I can take you!” declared Kat, as she met the challenge on the mat. Before she had a chance to think, Jack cut underneath her and slammed her. Kat landed on her back. Jack stood above her and offered his left hand. She took it and whispered, “I don’t need your help! I’m just being polite because the Coach is here.”
Kat rolled her eyes when the Coach said, “I believe you’ll learn a lot from him, Kat. You should be glad that he’s willing to be your partner.”
Kat knew she should be glad. None of her teammates really wanted to be her partner, except for T.J. Sure, she had met every one of her teammates in a practice match, but that was only when the Coach made them. Usually, everyone practiced with a partner. Most of her teammates felt that she had nothing to contribute in the wrestling arena. Kat didn’t want to admit it, but they might be right; despite showing she could bleed and handle it, just like them, or most of them!
She had hoped that there would be at least one girl trying out for the wrestling team. Last year, there had been two. But, after they spent one day on the mat and worked out with the weights, they didn’t show up again. One of the girls had broken a nail and complained about it; while the other screamed when she saw blood on a player’s shirt from a nose bleed.
‘I guess I should be glad he wants to be my partner,’ thought Kat. ‘But, he’s so-o-o arrogant!’
The Coach walked away to check on the rest of the team.
“Do you want me to show you that move I used against you? It might come in handy someday,” asked Jack.
“I already know how to do that move. It’s called a swipe. I’ve been doing it for years. In fact, I probably can do it better than you!” Kat sneered.
Jack threw his hands up in the air and made an elaborate bow in front of her.
“Well, of course your highness, you must know everything there is about wrestling,” he teased.
“Whatever! I don’t need this!” sneers Kat, removing her headgear, tossing it near the mat, and walking away.
She could hear the laughter coming from some of her teammates.
“Where are you going? Don’t you want to wrestle?” yelled Jack, after removing his headgear.
Kat continued to walk towards the exit.
“KATHERINE SMITH, practice is not over yet!” called Coach Wallace.
Kat turned around holding back the tears. “I just need to cool off. I’ll be back in a second.”
Kat headed for the exit that led outside and sat on some concrete steps. She looked at her watch and realized that she would have to wait more than an hour for her father. Kat was deciding between calling her father on the phone in the office, or going back inside, when she heard Jack’s voice.
“Kat, I’m really sorry,” he said, sitting next to her.
She glanced at his face. He seemed sincere and for some reason he reminded her of T.J. T.J. had a genuine interest about the world around him. He loved to explore the creek that used to be near an orange grove. The grove had been cleared and a phosphate plant was built. She missed their explorations together looking for buried treasure in the white soil.
T.J. and Kat still went fishing for minnows and looking for frogs. Except, when the plant was in full operation, the minnows and frogs were hard to find. The crystal water of the creek turned black and icky. Kat began to change her mind about looking for specimens, but not T.J.
“You miss your partner, don’t you?” asked Jack. “I’d heard some rumors that he had gone missing. Are they true?”
“Yeah, I believe so. But some people say that he and his mother had just up and moved,” Kat replied.
“I’m guessing that you don’t believe that.” questioned Jack.
Kat wasn’t able to speak for a few moments. She felt Jack move closer to her. Suddenly, she recalled one of her favorite bible verses which was from Matthew 7:12, ‘so, in everything, do to others what you would have them do unto you.’ Perhaps, she should not be judging Jack.
“Tell me something about him,” said Jack.
“Why?” asked Kat.
“Well, maybe, he and I are much alike.”
“I don’t feel like talking about him, right now,” declared Kat, standing up. She started to walk away.
“Don’t walk away, Kat!”
“Hey, we need to get back inside before Coach has a cow,” replied Kat. She left the steps and walked back into the gym. She didn’t want to talk to anyone about T.J. Kat expected Jack to join her on the mat. She kept looking at the doorway, waiting for him to come.
“Scare off your new partner?” asked Slim.
‘Oh, no!’ thought Kat. ‘My day just got worse.’ She felt uneasy around Slim and so did T.J. Kat knew Slim for most of her life. The first time she saw him was in kindergarten. He had been fun to play with. But, when his father had inherited some money and invested in building the plant, he had changed. He reminded her of a sneaky, weasel. It was a wonder he didn’t pass out at the first sign of blood, whether it came from him or someone else. Slim, the weasel, always managed to be nearby whenever she had a personal conversation with T. J..
“Maybe,” smiled Kat, trying to act cool.
“Oh, you think this is funny, girl. He could wipe the floor with you, easily,” retorted Slim.
‘Oh, there will be blood, you can bet on it,’ thought Kat, who did everything she could to keep from opening her mouth and letting those very words pour out. Instead, she snarled, “You want to try me?”
“Yeah, don’t be scared. I won’t want to see any blood on that pretty face of yours.” slurred Slim.
“If there’s any blood on my face, it’ll be yours!” Kat replied, trying to stare him down.
They were both in a sparring position and ready for their first move. Slim grabs for Kat’s leg. Kat does a back flip to escape from the swipe. Then she spears with a grab at his ankles and he falls down. Kat pins him.
“Get off of me, you psycho, Barbie doll!”
“Just like before, you can’t touch me!” Kat released him. Quickly, he elbowed her in the face. Kat fell backwards, tasting the blood running into her mouth. Next, Slim pounced on her, knocking the breath out of her, before pinning her to the mat. Quickly, he smeared some of her blood onto his face and clothing.
“Now, coach will never know whose blood is on whom! And before he waltzes over here, you make me sick! I enjoy messing you up just now and if you keep on sticking your nose up, next time I just might break it!”
An arm snaked around Slim’s throat and thrust him backwards onto the mat.
“That’s an illegal move,” said Coach Wallace, handing him a towel and then tossing one over to Kat. “And if you’re going to get rough with each other, wear your face gear. Now, I’ll have to go call Mr. Jones, to come and do a thorough clean-up, while the both of you better go to the clinic!”
Slim held his towel against his face, as he left the gym, not bothering to see if Kat was following him or not.
She placed the towel under her nose to stop the flow of blood and was about to get up when she saw two Jacks running towards her, before she fainted.