Tough Love

One of my go-to writing warm-ups is to write a story inspired by three random words. This week, I was needing a bit of a break from query letter & synopsis writing, and I didn’t have enough time to dive into rewrites of book 2 of my series. But I needed a fiction fix. I tend to go through withdrawal symptoms when I spend too much time away from writing fiction. It’s really not a pretty sight, so I’ll spare you the details.

Anywho . . . below is a little story I wrote inspired by three random words one of my middle school writing students gave me. Enjoy!

Tender. Hawk. Hug.

The air thickened from the foot odor released in the athletic trainer’s domain. Stacy-Anne wrinkled her nose as her eyes teared up. “Grab dryer sheets, you imbeciles. How many times I got to remind you?” she barked at the group of soccer players.

The leader of the bunch, Tommy, gulped. He lunged for the box of no-name-brand dryer sheets on top of the metal cabinet. He yanked a bunch and handed them off to his bruised and soiled teammates. Wearily, they stuffed one sheet into each cleat, muttering their apologies for forgetting Stacy-Anne’s Cardinal rule.

The levels of oxygen evened out as the floral and mountain air scents filled the room, gently killing off one noxious gas molecule at a time. Stacy-Anne inhaled tentatively, then gratefully.

“Alrighty now, who’s next?”

The soccer players bowed their heads together before Tommy raised his hand. “I guess I’ll go.” He limped toward the table. Right away, Stacy-Anne knew his injury. High ankle strain. She could see it in the way he weaved with his limp. Again?

“Can ya get on the table, tough guy?”

He furrowed his brow and then pulled himself up on his own. She didn’t try to help him. The other kids would have laughed at that. They crowded by the exam table, watching the whole thing like hawks. Tommy was their best striker. Without him, the team would sink. Six weeks into the season, another two to go, and one back-up striker who thought dribbling the ball meant spitting on it.

“What’d you do? Trip over one of your stupid ball tricks?”

“The Maradona is not a stupid trick!” he shot back. “It helps me learn ball control!”

“Work on goal placement, dude. Your team needs to win games.” She pressed her thumbs all around his ankle. He gasped and pulled his leg in.


“No. Your hands are cold.”

“Hmph.” Stacy-Anne compared both ankles, dismayed to see swelling in the right one. His kicking leg. Sitting out the season was not in the cards for this kid, and the coach would just tell him to wrap it and take two Tylenol anyway. He was that important. That prized.

Stacy-Anne leaned back and folded her arms. She met Tommy’s eyes. He wilted. “We’re number one in our division. We’re headed to playoffs. Only five more games.”

Stacy-Anne remained silent.

“You’ve let me wrap it before.”

“That was different.”

“How?” he challenged.

She averted her gaze. “It just was.”

“Because you weren’t my trainer then,” he said.

Stacy-Anne pretended to busy herself with rolls of tape and Ace bandages she knew wouldn’t do any good this time around.

“It was a bad decision because I didn’t know the consequences.” She straightened her posture. “Now I do, and I can’t put you out there knowing that we could actually make it worse.”

“I wish you were just my mom,” Tommy said through a quivering lip, “instead of my mom and my trainer.”

“If I was just your mom, I’d give you a hug thinking that’s all you’d need,” she reminded him quietly, aware of the tuned-in team behind her.

He nodded, lowering his face. Just when she thought she’d won the battle, he lifted his chin. “An Ace bandage is like a hug, just stretchy and smelly.” He grinned. “And it would make me happy. Like a hug.”

Stacy-Anne’s shoulders dropped. Battle lost.

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