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Written by IllaRouge and Shataivian

Wednesday, March 6th. Las Vegas, Nevada. Huntsville vs. Las Vegas. The score at the end of the night: Huntsville Mayors120, Las Vegas Wildcards 135.

Lisa ran up to Emina, heading toward the locker rooms, after their game against Huntsville. "Hey. Ms. Emina?"

The confident squeak caught the cross fox's ears. She turned and looked down. "Yes?" Her teammates walked farther into the tunnel.

"Oh. Uh, good game." Lisa held out her hand to shake Emina's.

She looked reticent at the sudden gesture, but she relented. She held her hand out and took Lisa's. "You as well." She turned to leave.

As Emina turned to walk away, Lisa debated whether or not to stop her. It took her a moment, but before Emina could get too far Lisa called out to her. "Hey! Actually, I was kinda hoping I could talk to you about something."

That explained it. Emina paused and made a half-turn. "Oh? About what?"

Lisa said nothing and averted her eyes. All she did was pull the collar of her compression top down far enough to show Emina the scar on her neck.

Emina glanced quickly. She nodded before making sure that no one was around. "In private would be best. Maybe over dinner or at your apartment."

"I wouldn't mind going back to my place, actually. My Dad is there, but I don't think he'll butt in." She stood subconsciously waiting for Emina's approval.

Emina, not much for expressions, still looked concerned. "No, I think dinner would be best," without explaining her reasoning. She nodded to the locker rooms. "I'll get changed. Meet in the parking lot?"

"Um, sure. That works, too." Lisa turned and started to hop and jog down the hall towards her locker room in a jolt of nervous energy. "Oh," she said turning back around. "Thank you. You know, for doing this."

The fox didn't respond, not quite yet knowing what was to come of the conversation. She headed back for the locker room. She messaged her partner for a quick pick me up.

After a while, Emina stood in the nearly empty lot. She stood with her hands in her pockets. She wore a workout shirt, dark, not having expected to entertain company after the game.

Lisa came jogging in her long, double-breasted white winter coat. "Hey! So, there's a great barbeque place nearby I tend to take people. If you're vegetarian or vegan I know this great little Indian place that can work."

Emina chuckled at Lisa getting down to business. "You think I'm vegetarian?" She held up an arm and flexed a little.

"Well, it's not that unheard of," Lisa pouted. "So, barbeque it is."

Emina smiled. "Whatever you prefer, little one. I'm not picky when it comes to restaurants." She bent down and picked up her bag, shouldering it.

"It's not far." Lisa pointed off in a specific direction, and the two set forth. "So," she continued. "I can't believe how huge you are! Like, I mean, you really put some hard work in."

The cross fox huffed at the compliment, albeit with a smile. "It's what I do, outside of basketball, that is." She looked down at the mouse. "Though it seems you take your training seriously as well."

"Yeah. Well, I'm trying to. There are enough distractions going on that are really making it hard." She put her phone back into her coat pocket and kept her hand there. "I like school. That's kinda my go-to after basketball, but yeah." Lisa was struggling to keep the conversation going.

The fox put her large hand on Lisa's shoulder. "Don't worry. I'm not much for small talk either." She patted and resumed walking. There weren't many people around as they headed for the restaurant. "So, you wanted to talk."

Lisa nodded. "Yeah. I did. I can't imagine people don't mention your... your scars. My Dad wants me to act like I showed the world my scar on purpose, like it was all some big stunt. That's why I performed that dunk in Winnipeg. But I never wanted anyone to see it."

Emina nodded. "Some have the luxury of hiding their scars." She looked down at the mouse. "I'm guessing your scars are from a past you would rather forget."

Lisa stayed quiet.

Emina wouldn't press. "Mine, too." For a few moments, there was only the sound of their footsteps. "But trust me, we don't forget. We're not geared for it." She adjusted her bag. "So the only other option is to live with the scars. They aren't going away. Neither do the questions."

Lisa kept her gaze at the ground. "But...I've tried that. I tried wearing it like a shield. If I own up to it, it can't hurt me. That's how it was supposed to be." She looked up. "But all I ended up doing was handing everyone my kryptonite. How are you supposed to stand in front of everyone like that? How do you stand up to it all?"

Emina raised an eyebrow. It was becoming clearer to her what was happening. "Ah, I see." She stopped. Holding out her arm, she gestured to her scars with her opposite hand. "You see these as swords or shields, yes?"

"That's what everyone says they should be."

"Everyone will always have opinions on the scars they see in other people." Emina turned her arm; in the sodium lights of the street, they had little shadows, showed their ridges and texture. "But scars are a part of us. Inherently, they're neither good nor evil." She looked at Lisa. "They're memories."

Lisa's eyes started to well up. "But I don't want those memories. I don't want the reminders. Besides, no one knows what those memories are. They just have their assumptions and judgments to go off of." She fought to hold back any other tears.

"Then how could they possibly use those memories to hurt you?" Emina sighed. Using her index finger, she traced along one of the scars on her forearm. "Her name was Alja. We had the same handler, when Bosnia was Bosnia. Three bodies. That was our quota." She paused, taking a long breath. "I met mine that month. She did not. I got this one for not keeping her in line. He used a pocketknife. He did it until the lesson took." She closed her eyes and did not speak for a while. After another sharp breath, she looked back at Lisa. "So, you may use this against me, or pity me, or judge me, or make assumptions. It does not change that this memory is mine."

Lisa stood dumbfounded. "I... Holy shit. You're absolutely right. I would have apologized and felt bad and compared myself to you and... That's never not going to be a thing, is it?"

The fox shook her head. She lowered her arm. "You have to carry that weight. It won't feel fair, but it's what you do." She took a few more deep breaths to calm herself. "For me, I want to be physically strong. At times, it's all I can do to keep the memories at bay."

"Does it ever bother you? The questions?"

"Sometimes." Emina shrugged. "But they'll happen."

They approached a restaurant called 'The Alligator.' Before entering, Lisa stopped in front of Emina. "Sometimes I feel like I'm being such a child about these things. Like the answer should be obvious, but... Ah! I know my story doesn't compare to yours, and I know I shouldn't compare and--you see where I'm going with this?" She sighed. "I feel like such a mess. Like I'm too scared to let it go or something."

Emina nodded. "But you're young. What should you expect?" She smiled. "I was a teenager by the time you were born. You'll figure it out. But whoever you do this for, you have to do it for you."

"Yeah." Lisa opened the door to the restaurant. "I know."

"But really, you're young. I've had more than a decade longer to find a balance."

"My Dad is the one trying to get me to 'seize the moment' to sorta get ahead of all this," Lisa chuckled softly.

"In all fairness, this will never, should never be his moment." They stepped into the restaurant. The server greeted them, letting them know it would be a few minutes. Emina looked back down to Lisa. "It took me until only recently to find that kind of strength. My parents never pushed me, not before I was ready."

"Do you wish they did?" Lisa shook her head. She started to fiddle with the silk scarf around her neck. "I'm thankful my Dad is here, but I'm worried I'm gonna make a mistake. I just don't know if the mistake would be from listening to him or not listening to him."

"Well, does listening to him involve obeying him?" Soon, they were led to a table. Emina asked for water as they sat. "My parents had suggestions, but ultimately, I needed to do what I needed to do. That involved living with them for many years after I graduated. That also involved leaving and putting myself in the draft in my early thirties."

Lisa asked for a glass of water as well. "Well, I don't have to 'obey' him. I think he means well. He sorta gets how the limelight works. Sorta. I think it would at least be good to consider his help." She started to rub her face with both hands. "I wish I could just take it all back. Just say, 'Hey! Don't do this or it'll be much worse for you later!'" She forced a chuckle. She stopped, realizing she never explained what the scar was from.

Emina simply nodded. "We all have that thought. But you have nowhere to go but forward."

When the waiter came back with their waters, Lisa asked for a cup of coleslaw and told Emina to get whatever she wanted.

Emina ordered some chicken, plain. She folded her arms on the table to better fit in the small seats. "Focusing on making something of what you aren't proud of is more useful than wishing for a time machine."

Lisa laughed. "I guess I can't argue with that." She leaned in. "So, tell me. How do you manage? What's your strategy to cope with the staring and the questions? How do you cope with the assumptions?"

"Working out, playing basketball, and not answering any questions I don't feel capable of answering in the moment," she said plainly.

"Yeah, but, I mean..." She stopped. "Okay." She rested her elbows on the table and ran her fingers through her short hair.

Emina tried to smile. "I don't think you're asking the question you need to ask."

"The question I want to ask, I can't ask. You can't tell me what I should..." Lisa started to shake her leg. "It's like I want to just explode. Like one moment, I feel like I've got this, and the next, I just want to scream and say, 'Fuck everything.' Like, why the hell did I choose the FBA if I didn't want the attention?" She finally looked up at Emina. "What was it like? In the beginning? What was it like before you learned how to manage?"

Emina held out her right arm. There was another scar along her wrist that she didn't have to explain to others. "Difficult. It still is. But once I discovered bodybuilding and basketball, I coped with those. They were how I survived until I got a better handle on myself."

Lisa kept her eyes locked on her wrist. "Were you alone?"

"Yes and no. I never left home much as a teenager, so my parents were downstairs. My mom is a worrier, so she checked on me."

"What did she say?"

Emina smiled. "She just hugged me. Yelled to my dad to call an ambulance."

Lisa swallowed her breath and held it under her rib cage. Her jaw started to tremble, and her neck stiffened. "I'm glad you got to walk away from it and come out on top." She took a breath to try and compose herself. "I can't imagine what that would have been like for you if your mom hadn't of hugged you. Sometimes it's the little gestures that help us move forward, huh?"

Emina saw something. Their food came, but neither of them touched it. They sipped their waters as they struggled to find more to say. She didn't want to say anything. She held her finger up. "Would you excuse me for a moment?" She moved to stand, seemingly heading for the bathroom.

"Yeah. Sure." She let out a sigh.

The cross fox was gone for several moments. In truth, she was mentally preparing herself; this wasn't normally a thing she did. She didn't need to ask what had happened in Lisa's aftermath. She knew somehow.

After a few minutes, Emina returned. She approached Lisa from behind. Her massive arms gently wrapped around the mouse's shoulders. She squeezed. "I'm sorry no one did this when it mattered."

At first, Lisa jumped at the surprise hug from behind, but she settled into the idea of it once she realized what was happening. Her brow furrowed. Her eyes began to dart around at nothing in particular. She became acutely aware of her breathing. Something in her head told her she needed to cry, but she couldn't. Instead she felt rage bubbling inside of her. Not at Emina. Emina was the only one to see what Lisa needed. Her body started to shake and her breathing quickened. She tried to thank Emina, but by the time Lisa opened her mouth, all the sound in her was gone.

Emina just held her position for a while. She didn't dare move, for fear of recognizing those around them that were likely casting glances. But someone needed this. She remembered how much she had needed it.

Lisa brought her hands up and placed them on her forearms, hugging her back. It was all she could muster at the moment. Tears finally started to flow. "Emina," she squeaked out.

Emina patted the mouse. She was never much for affection, much less physical, but this felt important. She let Lisa get in a good cry; it brought her back to those feelings back then, not of desperation, but calm.

"Damnit," Lisa laughed. "God damnit." She just continued to laugh.

Emina just kept on hugging. She glanced over to see the waiter approaching. She shook her head, and they were left alone. She wanted to say something profound, yet this was enough. She drew back just a little to get a read on Lisa. "You okay?"

Lisa nodded. "Yeah, I'm okay."

The fox gave a final reassuring squeeze. She unwrapped herself from the embrace and sat back down.

Lisa looked off towards the wall and wiped her nose. "It should have been him," she muttered. "I should have gotten this from him. But," she lifter her head to face Emina. "I'm glad it came from you. I don't know anyone who would get it quite as intimately."

Emina chuckled at the choice in words. "I don't know much about intimacy, but I just remembered what my mom did, somewhat."

"Damnit," she laughed. "I came into this ready to take notes and stuff. Wasn't expecting this."

Emina shrugged. "It's a personal journey. You aren't going to workout until four in the morning because you don't have the same baggage."

Lisa rubbed her face. "Maybe I should," she joked. "Get huge? Actually, I have been enjoying the gym lately."

"I wouldn't recommend it if you like anything else." She smiled. "It's a lifestyle. And if you like eating what you want, also not recommended."

"I had to give up coffee. Does that count?" Lisa laughed. "Actually, I haven't completely quit. Don't tell my trainer, but I still get my frappes from Steerbucks."

"I can't remember the last time I had something like that."

"That's probably a good thing." Lisa sat stirring the ice in her water for a few moments. "Why does it feel like it's not enough? Why do I still feel..."

"Empty?" Emina shook her head. "Because you haven't done what you need to do." She pointed to her wrist scar. "You're still whenever gave you," to Lisa's neck, "that."

Lisa nodded. "Yeah." She took a deep breath. "I need to get out of the past." She thought for a second. "And look towards the future. I think I know what I gotta do. Might upset my Dad. Or make him happy. We'll see."

"Doesn't really matter what it does to him." Emina was plain-faced. No words of wisdom beyond that.

"Yeah." Lisa started to perk up. "Yeah! You're right. You're so right! Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Okay." She continued like this for a bit before realizing she wasn’t really saying anything. She was formulating. Plotting. She figured there had to be one good way to get both her and the public past what had happened to her.

Emina looked at the table. She didn't quite feel hungry. It seemed they were not necessarily there for dinner. "Just do what you have to. Survive."

Lisa looked down at her coleslaw. "Maybe coleslaw isn't the answer for survival? Actually, to be honest, I'm not sure why I ordered this. Isn't that funny? I'll take care of the bill. It's the absolute least I can do."

That made the fox laugh. "We're both millionaires, but I appreciate the gesture. Maybe we make the waiter's night and get out of here."

Lisa rubbed the back of her head. "Yeah. God, that's just so odd to say. Maybe we can leave them a crazy tip or something."

"That's the plan." Emina reached into her bag and pulled out a wallet. She slipped a hundred underneath her plate. She got up without much ceremony and looked for Lisa to do the same.

Lisa slid out of her seat and followed behind the giant fox. Once outside Lisa lifted her head to the sky. "I think I'm gonna." She stopped and started again with more confidence. "I'm gonna hold a press conference. I think that's exactly what I need."

Emina looked up along with the mouse. It was a clear night. She huffed a sigh of approval. "Then do it for you."

Lisa nodded. "Hey. Thank you." She wrapped her arms around Emina as best as she could and squeezed tight. "I'm glad we did this."

Emina returned the gesture with a one-arm hug. "Glad I could help."

"Okay," Lisa said pulling out of the hug. “I think I'm gonna head home and work some things out. Besides, I don't want to keep you out all night."

The cross fox smiled, choosing not to reference a late night workout to come. "That's okay. I hope your conference goes well."

"Yeah. And, seriously, if there is ever anything I can do to help you, please let me know. Really. I owe you."

"Just work on you. That's all anyone can ask."

Featured Characters

Lisa Belle DuPont Emina Ferhatovic

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