Story:The Reunion - Part 3
The Reunion - Part 3
Written by TriangleDelta
After the night of her confrontation with her father in Montana, Catherine changed. It wasn't a complete 180; she was still cool and confrontational, and her dry, harsh sense of humour often cut a bit too close to home. That said, she didn't have that lingering, smouldering rage always burning away. She only got angry at particularly weak personal or team performances, and even then her anger showed itself more through her making biting comments than furiously lashing out.
The changed showed most on the court. What had happened between her and her father seemed to have flicked a switch. Overnight, she had regained that cold, dominating inner calm she had previously been known for. Her tactics grew less aggressive, and more analytical. She reacted less to taunts, and she passed more often.
For the first month or so of this, her teammates were relieved. Bud put her in the starting position more often, and it made practices less awkward for everybody. As time went on, though, some of the players on the team that were closer to her started to notice things. It was nothing enormous; just subtle things they'd never noticed before. Catherine hadn't just let go of that festering anger; she'd actually grown more quiet in general. She let slide comments that previously would have earned a sharp glare or a challenge from her. When she landed a basket or had a particularly good game, she was less likely to flash that satisfied, cool grin. On the occasions that she came out for a drink with the rest of the team, she was quieter. All around, she just seemed more distant.
Leading into the third of their four games against Montana that season, a few of Catherine's teammates were nervous. As far as anybody knew, she still hadn't had a confrontation with Hiro. There was always the chance that another game against the shrike could push her over the edge again.
To everybody's surprise, though, she seemed completely unfazed by Hiro's presence at the game. Even when he had another particularly strong performance against them, she didn't bat an eyelid. She might have been a bit quieter than usual, even compared to her recent behaviour, but otherwise she gave no indication of caring about him being there. After the game was finished, she got changed quickly, and was the first one out of the stadium. The same thing happened during their fourth and final game against the Howlers that season.
So the rest of the season passed. The Bikers won a playoff berth, and they managed to make it to the quarter finals before they were eliminated. The team went out the night after their final loss to drink and celebrate the season. With the off-season coming on, there was no knowing who would be around when the new season started. Between expiring contracts and trades, anything could happen in the next few months.
Catherine was one of the players that was toasted that night. She was finishing her rookie contract; it was a big deal in a player's career, and there were more than a few drunken jokes about who she would sign with now that she was 'free,' so to speak. Catherine had been quiet during most of the night's festivities, but she was particularly tight-lipped as soon as the topic of her plans for the following season came up. If anybody noticed it in their inebriated states, they certainly didn't mention it. Besides, it wasn't exactly unusual; it was normal to feel a bit of a low after the season ended.
Nobody really thought much of her silence that night until about a week later. The off-season was in full swing for the Bikers at that point, so it was a bit of a surprise for Elisa Lawless and Dylan Redfield when they received texts from Bud Borman, asking them to meet him at his office.
Elisa and Dylan weren't exactly friends, but the two of them at least got along most of the time. They arrived outside Bud's office for the meeting at almost the same time, and exchanged looks. Neither had to ask the other to know that they had no idea what it was all about. They didn't waste time trying to figure it out; Elisa just knocked on Bud's door, and pushed the door open after he invited them in.
The big bison was sitting behind his desk, tapping his fingers agitatedly along the polished hardwood. As soon as they entered, he gestured at a pair of chairs in front of him. "Take a seat."
"What's happening, coach?" Dylan's voice was a perfect balance of concern and annoyance. On the one hand, he was a captain on the Bikers, and extra meetings with the head coach weren't exactly uncommon. On the other hand, it was the off season, and he needed a break. Elisa was glad that Dylan had taken the lead on that one; she knew she wouldn't have been able to hold back her own annoyance.
"The two of you are relatively close to Miss DeMille, yes?"
Elisa and Dylan exchanged glances again. It was Elisa that replied. "I guess so. Why?"
Bud kept drumming his fingers along the tabletop for a moment, and then leaned back in his chair suddenly. He opened a drawer, and pulled his phone out of it. "Care explaining this to me?" He slid the phone across the desk towards them.
Elisa snatched it up, and Dylan sat back, eying the ocelot while she flicked her thumb over the screen. She looked bored and annoyed at first, but abruptly she sat up, her eyes narrowing. "The fuck?"
"Language, Miss Lawless."
"No, fuck that. What the fuck?"
Dylan let out a loud snort, and the other two glanced over at him. The deer raised an eyebrow. "Care to fill me in?"
Dylan blinked at that, and he straightened in his seat. "The fuck?"
Bud sighed in annoyance, but went on. "I contacted Miss DeMille yesterday to ask her about her plans." Elisa and Dylan both turned to look at Bud. The bison was drumming his fingers along the desk again, his forehead creased as he nodded at the phone. "I wanted to know how likely it was that she would accept a new contract from Dakota if offered one. She responded by telling me she intends to retire from the FBA."
"That's bullshit." Elisa passed the phone over to Dylan, and he took his turn to read it over as she kept speaking. "Catherine fucking breathes basketball. What else is she going to do?"
"I was hoping that the two of you could tell me that. Judging from your reactions, though, I guess that you're as much in the dark as I am."
Dylan kept flicking through the messages. Bud had already asked Catherine for her reasons and tried to convince her to reconsider, but she'd stonewalled him the whole time. She'd offered up absolutely no information.
At length, the deer glanced up at his coach. "So that's it? Any official statement yet?"
"Apparently she sent her official retirement to head office earlier this week. She hasn't said a word anywhere else."
The three of them sat there for a few more moments in silence. Then, Dylan glanced over at Elisa. "Alright."
"You have a plan?" Bud asked.
"You could say that." Dylan kept his eyes on Elisa. The ocelot was still glaring at the phone in his hand, looking like she wanted to smash it. The deer cleared his throat. "Hey Elisa, wanna be the bad cop?"
"Fuck yes I do. Be fun to be on the giving end of the bad cop routine for a change."
"Cool. Have fun, and try to leave a few feathers unplucked."
The ocelot pushed her chair back so hard that it almost fell over. "I'm a cat who's about to lose her shit on a bird. No promises."
She slammed the door on her way out. Dylan and Bud could hear her footsteps receding down the hallway through the door, and Bud raised an eyebrow.
"Are you sure that was a good idea?"
Dylan shrugged. "Well, what's her name would've…"
"Dylan. She's not even in the room. You know her name."
"Fine, Elisa would've ripped her a new one whether I asked her to or not. Might as well see if we can use it to our advantage."
Bud nodded slowly, though his face showed that he was still unsure. "So what comes after the, 'sic an angry ocelot on her,' stage of the plan?"
Bud's sigh was audible. "God dammit, Dylan."
When Catherine got back to her apartment after her jog that evening, there was an ocelot waiting on her doorstep. The palm cockatoo's pace slowed as she approached the small building. She rented the top floor of a home on the outskirts of Sturgis; in a city of that size, there wasn't terribly much selection. Catherine was surprised at first to find Elisa there. Catherine had been avoiding the stadium for the past few days as she thought things over. When she saw how Elisa's tail was lashing, though, and she noticed the look on her face, Catherine set her gaze.
She slowed down her jogging pace as she approached, and by the time she reached the stairs that went up to her place, she was breathing normally. The ocelot didn't give her any time to gather herself; Elisa just started in right away.
"What the hell?"
Catherine rolled her eyes, and moved to step past Elisa. "Care to clarify?"
"Don't treat me like I'm a fucking idiot, Catherine." The ocelot stepped to block Catherine's path, and the two of them squared off with each other. Elisa's voice was more leading, but still every bit as angry as she repeated, "What the hell?"
Catherine kept up her cool glare, then finally just shrugged. "Fine. I don't care anymore."
"I don't care. It's as simple as that. None of this matters."
Elisa's angry expression slowly twisted to a look of exasperation. "Please don't tell me you're quitting basketball because you're having an existential crisis."
Catherine snorted. "Please. It's just… why the hell am I even here? What do I get out of being in Sturgis, or Baltimore, or with any other team in the FBA? It's just… stupid."
"Well what do you want? I mean… fuck, Catherine, you're in the FBA. You didn't just get here because you felt like it one day. What got you here in the first place?"
The cockatoo hesitated. She opened her beak once, then closed it. When she finally found her voice, she spoke slowly. "I wanted to just… beat people, I guess." She shrugged. "Sounds stupid. But I wanted to be better than people. I wanted to prove that I could…" Her voice trailed off, her forehead creasing a bit.
When it became clear that Catherine didn't intend to continue, Elisa just sighed and rolled her eyes. "Fine. Whatever."
"No, fuck it. You're going to just give up? Fine, go ahead." She shrugged. "Maybe it's different for me. I actually worked my ass off to get here."
"Excuse me? I—"
"No, shut up. I'm sure it was really hard putting in all the work to get here, with your cozy house and your dad's fucking money and everything you could fucking want payed for." The ocelot was keeping her voice mostly level, but there was an edge creeping into it, accompanied by her showing more of her fangs as she spoke. "I fucking crawled my way up to the FBA from nothing. So go ahead and give up. Must feel nice knowing you've got your family's money to fall back on."
"That's not fair, Elisa."
"Fuck you it isn't. I fought to get here. You've never fought for anything in your life, and now that you have to, you have no fucking idea how."
Elisa pushed past Catherine, and started walking. Catherine didn't move to follow her, and she didn't call after her. The cockatoo just held her position, her crest fully raised as she listened to the ocelot's receding footsteps.
She stood there for a long time, taking deep, steadying breaths. When she finally started up the steps to her apartment, her hand was gripping the rail so hard that it hurt.
The months that followed passed quickly for Dylan Redfield. Normally the off-season was a much needed quiet period, when he could calm down and step back from the spotlight. It seemed that there were a million things going on, though. Between the gradually souring talks between the FBA Players Association and the league, and the the pressure of being the Bikers' defacto 'captain' while Ryan Malone was a free agent, Dylan had precious little time to himself. He was constantly in contact with Ben Bracy and Bud, the general manager and head coach of the Bikers, and the Players Association. He had his own personal projects that he was dealing with, too, but those he kept safely out of the public eye.
So it was a surprise to him when he came into Sofawolf Stadium one day and ran into Catherine DeMille in one of the hallways. Dylan hadn't seen her in over a month; she'd as good as vanished after her conversation with Elisa. The two of them almost walked into each other, and Catherine froze in place, looking every bit as surprised as Dylan felt. She had a black Bikers' sports bag slung over her shoulder, and a small box tucked under her arm.
The two just stood for a moment, staring at each other. It was Dylan that broke the silence. "What's up?"
"Not much." To her credit, Catherine recovered quickly. She managed to make that crest of hers go back flat against her head, she straightened her posture, and her eyes regained their default cool and dismissive edge as she looked up at him. "Just clearing out my things."
Dylan nodded slowly. Elisa had told him and Bud about her conversation with Catherine. It hadn't filled either of them with much confidence. Dylan nodded at the box and the bag. "So just like that? Clearing out your things and then disappearing into the night?"
"It's nine in the morning on a Tuesday, Dylan. That hardly constitutes 'disappearing into the night.'"
Dylan rolled his eyes. "You know what I mean. You were just going to clear out without saying goodbye to anybody?"
"That was the plan, yes."
Dylan raised an eyebrow, and Catherine kept her gaze even. At last, Dylan just shook his head. "What are you even planning to do?"
The cockatoo shrugged. "I hear that Marseilles is nice this time of year."
Dylan blinked. "The EFBL? Really?"
Catherine rolled her eyes. "What?"
"No, what? You obviously have something to say, so spit it out."
Dylan tried to hold in his grin for as long as he could, but eventually he felt it creep across his face. The hint of frustrated annoyance in Catherine's eyes didn't make it any easier to hold in. "Well, I mean, really? The European League? The second best league in the world?"
"What about it?"
"Seems kinda tame for you."
"Oh fuck off."
"No, seriously. I mean…" he shrugged. "If you want to go and be a superstar over there, go ahead. You're good enough to basically lead a team over there."
"It just seems so… boring."
"What's boring about being the best? Constantly in the spotlight?"
"Yeah, one of the best on some random team in the second best league in the world. You've never struck me as somebody that would settle for being less than the best."
"It is still the best."
"Bullshit." Dylan actually laughed this time. "You'll get bored in half a season, then come crawling back to the FBA. Probably in a worse position than you're in now."
"You think the chance to live in France won't be enough to keep me occupied?"
Catherine blinked at how fast the response was. Dylan shrugged, and kept speaking. "Look, Catherine, I have no idea what's going on with you and this stupid Hiro thing—"
"It's not about Hiro."
"Fine, whatever. But to be perfectly blunt, you're too good to play in the EFBL, and you know it. If you let Hi—" Dylan caught himself as Catherine's eyes hardened and she clenched her beak. "If you let whatever this is that's messing with you right now force you away, it's you running away. It's you losing."
Catherine kept glaring at him. He could see her fingers clenching tighter around the strap on her sports bag. She spoke her next words through a gritted beak. "Sometimes you have to admit that you've lost."
Dylan's expression shifted, and it wasn't slow. He went from teasing reproach to cool anger in a heartbeat. "You don't think that. If you thought that, you wouldn't be here right now." The deer sighed, and reached up to rub at his temple. "Let me spell it out for you. You aren't a quitter. We've seen that all season. You don't quit when things don't go your way, and you never take the easier path. And I get it, alright? I've wanted to give up sometimes. You never do, though. If you give up, it means that everybody else was right about you. So no. You don't get to 'admit that you've lost.'
"If you do think that though, I don't want you anywhere near my team. So if that's the case, run away. Have fun spending the rest of your life thinking that you gave up and lost." Dylan stretched his shoulders a bit, then stepped by her. He called over his shoulder as he walked away. "I'd say that I'll watch your games, but I mean seriously. Who actually watches the EFBL?"
The deer was scowling when he walked away from Catherine. As he made his way to the Bikers' weight room, though, the sour expression on his face slowly twisted into a grin. He had to hold himself back from whistling cheerfully. What he'd said had been true: he had very little idea about what was going on with Catherine. He'd heard a couple rumours about what had happened in Montana, but that was about it. Nobody had managed to figure out what the confrontation between Catherine and her father meant, and Catherine certainly wasn't telling anybody.
That said, Dylan still felt confident. Catherine was a bit more transparent than she thought. Dylan had seen her face after losses, or whenever an opposing point guard outplayed her, or whenever Dat Mongoste got to start ahead of her in a game. Catherine did not lose well. Even when he'd been walking away, Dylan had seen her crest rising over his shoulder.
He had only been working out for about half an hour before the door to the weight room banged open, and Catherine stormed in. Dylan exerted as much self-control as he could as he set down his weights and glanced over at her. "Yes?"
"Is that your way of saying I'm right?"
"I'm using the Bikers' training facilities until I get signed by… by whoever the fuck signs me."
"And I'm putting my posters back up in the women's locker room."
That did catch Dylan off-guard. The deer blinked, his smugness briefly dispelled. "What? I mean, uh, sure, whatever, but why are you telling me that?"
The fury on Catherine's face cracked, and this time it was her turn to grin. It was the first time he'd seen her openly happy in months. He wished he could say it made him feel better. The cockatoo went on. "No reason. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my Aspen Redfield poster anyways."
Dylan stared at her for a long moment as he pieced together everything she'd just said. Then, all at once, he yelped, "Wait, are you telling me you and what's her name—"
"Not important right now. You have a poster of my brother in your locker room!?"
"Yuuuuuuuup." Catherine turned on her heel, and started towards the door. Dylan actually followed after her, forgetting about his weights routine.
"No, you're joking right?"
"It's his Rookie of the Year poster."
Catherine reached into the box under her arm, and lifted up a rolled up poster. "UFFL Monthly."
"That's really not cool, Catherine!"
"He was the centrefold. You know, that picture with him in in all his pads and—"
"Too much info!"
"Too bad. If I stick around, so does he, captain."
Dylan finally stopped following her. She strolled away, casually waving the rolled up poster in the air. He kept staring, and finally just shook his head and turned back to the weight room. Bud would be happy, at least. All that Dylan had to do now was make sure to never, ever go into the women's locker room for any reason.