Sadie Morales was watching the draft and chewing on a pencil.
She had spent the better part of most of her sixteen years transfixed by all that happened in the world of basketball, but she couldn’t recall a more important, pivotal moment in the NBA. This year’s top choice had the potential to ruin one of her favorite teams, and as the clock ran down on the first pick, she anxiously waited to see what would happen, clutching a notebook and checking her own notes.
“Please, God, please, God, please, God,” her younger brother, Jacob, chanted beside her, his fingers crossed as he watched the clock. “Don’t let them pick Patterson. Don’t let them pick Patterson.”
Their mother sighed from her seat on the couch. “I hardly think a sport is worth all the prayer, Jacob,” she said, looking up from the planner where she kept her notes for the weddings she was coordinating.
The two siblings stared at her, as did their father, who simply said, “Totally worth the prayer because the Rockets? Are going to sink themselves with this kid!”
Sadie knew it was true. The obvious choice for the Rockets was David Ramirez. He was textbook perfect as far as power forwards went, and the team needed someone to fill the gap in the position. He was twenty, early into the draft after leaving college, which meant that there were more years in him, and his character was such that he could lead a team for years to come. They could build their rather weak franchise around him and actually win some championships in time. Plus, Ramirez was a hometown boy and Hispanic as well, which made the Morales family love him all the more.
And then, there was Trent Patterson.
He was seven feet tall, and he was all over the place. He was obviously built to be a center, but he played like a shooting guard, a power forward, and a center combined. Sadie was half convinced that the doofus would try to play point guard as well if he could get the ball in his hands. He didn’t seem to believe in playing one position well but worked on steadily destroying his body by playing all positions in almost a frenzy. To make matters worse, he had stayed all four years in college, depleting some of the fresh years on his joints playing college ball instead of going pro. And for a big man? That was a risky gamble to take.
Patterson didn’t seem to have a clue about any of this as the cameras focused in on his ugly mug, while he grinned like he was about to win the lottery. Which he was.
“So arrogant,” Sadie’s father sighed.
“He’s about to get paid,” Jacob said. “I’d look arrogant, too.”
“At least Ramirez is cute,” Sadie sighed. “Just think of all the publicity shots with Patterson’s goofy face splashed across them. Won’t sell tickets with the ladies.”
“I don’t know, Sadie,” her mother chided. “He’s not that ugly –”
“No, Mom, she’s right,” Jacob interrupted. “He is one, big, ugly, white dude. He won’t do anything to help the team, and –”
“Shhh!” Sadie and her father both shouted, leaning forward in their seats as the commissioner took to the stage.
“This is it,” Jacob whispered, leaning forward as well.
“And,” the commissioner spoke proudly, with a huge smile on his face, “with the first pick in the NBA draft, the Houston Rockets select Trent Patterson –”
Three of the four Morales family members let out a collective, exasperated groan. Jacob looked near tears as Sadie threw down her notebook in disgust.
“It’s over,” her father moaned. “It’s all over. It will never be the same. Life will never be the same for us.”
“Really, Josh?” her mother asked, incredulous. “How will this – a game – make any difference for us? You people are too wrapped up in this.” And with that, she flipped off the television, just as Patterson was slipping on a Rockets hat and holding up his new jersey.
As her children protested, her husband turned to her and said, very sincerely, “You just watch, Emily. Our lives will never be the same, thanks to Trent Patterson.”
And as it turns out, he was more right than he could have guessed.
Ten years later
Sadie Morales was never late.
Even during her years as an intern with the added stress of medical school, she was always on time to the workout center on off days and to the arena on game days. She took her work too seriously to jeopardize success by arriving late, and though it had been a struggle, she had been consistently consistent in all things.
Of course, it was much easier now. There was an MD behind her name and a Dr. in front of it, and for all the luxury that still didn’t afford her as a real staff member of the medical team for the Rockets, it at least freed her from the time spent in school, leaving her more time to spend with the players, getting them ready for their games.
It was highly unlikely that she would have progressed beyond the intern stage, honestly. But the franchise made a risky move during the last draft, bringing in three players from Argentina who could fill key roles on the team without threatening the salary cap, which was already feeling the weight of their big man and the supporting players he needed. Because Sadie was bilingual, and what was more, bilingual when it came to medical terms, they hired her on as a regular trainer. It helped them as far as the language gap went with the Argentinians and helped them to gain a more positive reputation as an equal opportunity employer because with Sadie, they finally had a woman on the medical staff.
And Sadie? Finally had a real parking space in the team’s backstage garage. As she parked her beat up old Mustang next to the exquisite foreign cars that the senior staff drove, she smiled to see the sign with her name on it. S. Morales.
She had definitely arrived.
Most days, she worked with the Argentina players who, although they were now speaking fluent enough American English to get by with the other trainers, much preferred her and weren’t shy about making their preferences known. On days like this particular one, though, she found that needs had shifted with some of the other players and that she would be better used with one of the “veterans.” Paul, the senior member of the medical staff and the official team doctor, gave her the news when she came into the clinic that morning.
“Which one did they give me?” Sadie asked, wondering through the roster of guys already in their thirties, with their aging knees, unpredictable muscle cramps, and general, easy fatigue as they kept up with the youngest team members.
“You’ve got…” Paul said, looking at the list, “Patterson.”
Yes, Trent Patterson. The Trent Patterson, first round draft pick so many years ago, back when he was already in questionable shape and displaying varying degrees of youthful arrogance. The Morales family had changed their opinion of him when he threw his energy into using his celebrity for good causes – charitable efforts and youth programs. He had been the poster boy, albeit an ugly one in Sadie’s opinion, for Fellowship of Christian Athletes back then, and she had been excited at twenty-two to intern for the Rockets and get to know him.
But around that same time, he stopped all of his endorsements and his support. And the loud, outgoing, over the top Trent Patterson had become… well, old. And tired, it seemed, especially to Sadie, who had worked on him more than once in her years on staff. Patterson, from a medical standpoint, at least, was never much fun, thanks to the way he still tried to make his thirty-two year old body move as if it was ten years younger. He had been forced to sit out most of last season, thanks to his knees, and the Rockets’ deplorable performance with him on the sidelines, while helpful in getting them the first pick in the draft, had only seemed to make him more determined to prove himself this season. The result had been nothing short of catastrophic, medically speaking, and all the doctors on staff were more than a little familiar with the big man’s ailments. Sadie would likely spend the great majority of the day working out all the damage he was sure to do to himself.
Paul smiled at her. “He’s not that bad.”
“He’s a nice enough guy, but he’s falling apart,” Sadie said, very simply, gathering together all that she would need to get him ready to further destroy his body on the court.
“Still a star, though,” Paul murmured. Then, with a smug smile, “I got Jeffries.”
Marcus Jeffries was another story. Young, talented, and so athletically gifted that he was unlike anything anyone had ever seen, he had been drafted as the first pick in the entire league by the Rockets and was putting up such high numbers that dreams of a championship were on everyone’s minds. With Jeffries on the court, Patterson could afford to dial down his own energy a notch and save himself some injuries.
Not that he would, though.
“Well, that should take you all of five minutes,” Sadie sighed. “When I’m done, oh, sometime next week with Patterson, we’ll see you out there.”
She made her way to the locker room, her mind already clicking through all that would need to be done before the game to Patterson. During the game, she would likely spend all of her time watching from the bench, weighing the very good odds that his boneheaded moves out there would land him right back in the clinic where it would be her job to –
She heard Trent Patterson before she saw him, as soon as she opened the door to the locker room.
“You decent?” she asked, keeping her eyes covered as she always did. This was one of the many drawbacks to being the only woman on staff, but she could bypass most awkward situations by helping the players to preserve their modesty, even if they didn’t give two rips about what she saw anyway. Especially when half of them delighted in yelling, “Hey, Morales, check this out!” as she squeezed past them all in towels, post-game. She should sue the whole lot of them for sexual harassment. With the fortunes they made, she would be able to pay off her student debt in no time at all…
“I’m decent,” Patterson answered, cutting into her thoughts. She looked at him sitting there in nothing but his shorts, already rubbing his knees and grimacing. He gave her a brilliant smile that erased all traces of the pain he was surely feeling.
“Do I get my very own doctor today?” he asked smugly. “Just like being a star, all over again.”
“You’re still a star, Patterson,” she said to him, repeating Paul’s admonishment. “Just an old one on its way to burning completely out.”
“Ahh,” he nodded.
“Hurting already, hmm?” Sadie asked as he sat up, and she moved into her standard position to check his pulse. Sadie was no short girl herself, but still, four years into working with these men, she was astounded by how big they were. And Patterson, though thinner than he should have been for his height, was one of the biggest. She knew his workout routine better than she knew her own and knew what every well- defined muscle cost him in the gym and could appreciate it even now as she stood in front of him and took it all in. Shoulders across from shoulders, even with her standing and him sitting, looking one another straight in the eyes as she stood between his legs, reaching out to touch his neck, and –
“Holy cow, Morales! You have the coldest hands in the league!” he shouted at her.
“Cold hands, warm heart,” she murmured, checking her watch. Normal. Perfect, actually. She moved her hands to his shoulders, kneading gently as she looked at him. “Why are you so tense anyway?”
He shivered dramatically. “Maybe you would be tense if someone with hands of ice was touching you like this, huh?”
“Nervous about the game,” Sadie observed, wryly, making a notation for herself in her notebook, then pulling out what she’d need to check his blood pressure.
“Nervous about my knees,” Trent said simply. “And my back. And my freakin’ head. I’ve had a headache for the past two days, Morales.”
“Well, don’t worry about your head,” she said. “There’s nothing in there anyway.”
“Har, har, har,” he deadpanned, giving her a small smile as she worked.
“You wear glasses?” she asked, knowing already from his medical history that he didn’t.
“No, perfect vision.”
“Maybe when you were drafted… might need to get that checked out. Could be why you’re having the headaches.”
He groaned. “Glasses… just like a little, old, decrepit –”
“And,” she sighed, “your blood pressure is way below normal. You might be falling apart, but your heart health is excellent. For now.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” he asked, rubbing his arm.
“Well, eventually, it might be another story. Medically speaking.”
He narrowed his eyes at her. “Explain that to me, please.”
“You’re seven feet tall, Patterson.”
“And,” she continued, “your heart has to pump blood a lot harder than most hearts because of it. Lots of distance to cover. The shelf life on a heart working that hard? Not as good as if you were, you know, normal. Your life expectancy is below average.”
He didn’t say anything for a moment. Then with great sarcasm, “You’re just a bright bit of sunshine this morning, aren’t you, Morales?”
“Dr. Morales. And you’re the one who asked.” She tilted his chin up gently with her fingers and began working on the muscles in his neck. “You’ve got to relax.”
He let out a deep breath. “I’m not going to be popular with the Argentinians today.”
“Are you ever popular with them?”
He shrugged. “Some days. But not today, since I’ve got their amor taking care of me and all.”
Sadie cringed at his accent. “Am I their love, Patterson?” she asked. She knew it already, though, that of the three Argentinian players on the roster, two of them had already declared their undying love for her, and the third, who was married, had told her she would definitely be his next wife.
“That you are,” he said. “Any guy who talks about you in the locker room risks getting his butt kicked by the Spanish speaking mafia, you know.”
“Do the guys talk about me in the locker room?”
“I sure don’t,” he said, closing his eyes as her fingers worked on the back of his neck. “Though I may be singing your praises later on. Wow, that feels good… I know why they love you now.”
“The Argentinians?” Sadie asked, allowing herself a smile now that Trent wasn’t watching. For as much work as it took to keep him in shape, she always seemed to find herself enjoying the company, despite her protests beforehand. He was easy to talk to and seemed to appreciate what she did, as evidenced by the way he kept inching closer to her even now.
“Oh, yeah,” he sighed. “You could run away with any one of them and become the queen of Buenos Aires. Those guys are like Jesus down there.”
“Sacrilege, Patterson,” Sadie chided. “No one’s like Jesus.”
“You’re right,” he said. “They’re even more famous than Jesus. Like, the biggest celebrities ever. You’d have a life of luxury if you’d go for being their woman.”
“Or,” Sadie said, moving her hands down to his shoulders as he groaned appreciatively, “I could stay here and be your woman. Same difference and all, with your celebrity here in Houston.”
He opened his eyes and looked at her. “I could go for that,” he whispered… then burst out laughing. “Seriously, are you offering to be my woman? Because I –”
“Behave,” she warned, unable to stop herself from laughing with him. “I was merely suggesting that you, friend, are the Jesus of Houston, as it were.”
“Sacrilege, Morales,” he grinned.
“You’re right,” she smiled, running her hands down his chest, checking to make sure that nothing felt pulled or strained or –
“Let’s get back to what you said about being my woman, though,” he managed, smiling and closing his eyes again.
“Lie down, Patterson. I’ve got to climb on top of you to check out your legs.”
“Wow,” he grinned at her, reclining with great enthusiasm. “This day just keeps on getting better and better!”
And the day did get better and better… until it got worse.
Sadie watched from the bench as all the players were announced and made their way to the court. Marcus Jeffries had people on their feet cheering, of course, but Trent Patterson was still the star, even as he walked out without much fanfare or enthusiasm to his steps. She caught herself watching him more closely than normal, explaining her interest as nothing more than professional concern for his health, even as he sat to take off his warm ups, then went onto the court for the tip off.
She spent the game tending to small tasks as Trent spent the majority of the clock on the court. He was having a great game, better than normal, but by the time the buzzer sounded on the final quarter, he was looking worn down. Little surprise, as he’d gotten thrown to the floor a couple of times there towards the end, when everyone seemed to be scrambling for the rebounds.
He came off the court slowly and caught Sadie’s eye from where she stood at the bench waiting for him.
“See,” he said, wincing just a bit, “this is the benefit of being a star. Having a hot, young doctor waiting on the sidelines to meet my every physical need.”
“With a nice, cold ice bath likely, given the way you’re moving,” she said, not bothering to protest when he put his arm around her shoulders and leaned at least some of his weight on her as they made their way backstage.
Once they were past the screaming fans and all the noise, he leaned down and told her, quite matter-of-factly, “I’m pretty sure I bruised my butt on that last fall.”
“Shouldn’t have even fallen,” she said. “You were the only man out there who could touch the rim of the goal without jumping, and yet you missed the rebounds.”
“Those little guys are like tight-coiled springs out there, Morales,” he said. “Six footers can just pop right up all quick like without even trying, before I can even figure out what’s going on.”
“Excuses, excuses,” she sighed.
“You try getting out there and doing it,” he said. “Not as easy as it looks from the sidelines, that’s for sure.” Then, wincing, “Seriously. My butt. All bruised up.”
“Not much we can do to help with that, Patterson,” she said.
“Can you at least look at it?”
She looked up at him in warning. “I’m not looking at your butt.”
He rolled his eyes as they finally entered the clinic. “You’re a medical professional, Morales. I wasn’t asking you to –”
“I’ll get Paul over to do it,” she said, “after your ice bath.”
“Sit down,” she said. “I’ll help you with your shoes.”
And as she worked on them, she noticed that he had grown quiet. She glanced up to see that he watched what she did, exhausted and worn down, looking so much older than he actually was. And she wondered, not for the first time and certainly not for the last time, how a man who had everything by the world’s standards could look so disappointed with how his life had turned out. Before she could dare to ask the questions that were none of her business anyway, he gave her a weary smile. “Thanks, Sadie,” he managed.
And she looked back to his feet and continued to work, comforted in a strange way by the camaraderie she felt with him, tired and worn out herself.
“No problem, Trent.”
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