Swoosh! Part 2 (Chapter Five of the Novella, “Ducky”)

   Swoosh! Part Two

The coach blew her whistle. Robin knew little about basketball but what Joni did must have been simple because she didn’t miss even one. The sound of basketballs bouncing echoed in the gym.

“Okay, alright. Ducky, I didn’t know you could shoot left-handed.”

“I’m ambidextrous, Miss Granger. I can bat left handed, and I can swing a driver left handed, too. I just never do.”

“You golf, too?”

“Yes, Miss Granger, at Dad’s club. They wanted me to go on an amateur tour for juniors. With everything I have going on, I didn’t have time.”

“What’s your handicap?”

“Oh, I don’t have one. I play scratch.”

Ms. Granger put her fingers to her necklace and fiddled. “You know I coach the girls golf team. I have my clubs in the car, after this we can go out back and hit a few.”

“I’m pressed for time today, Miss Granger, I’m going downtown after this to check into USA Boxing at the PAL Center. It’s a gym…”

“I am very familiar with PAL. I’ve coached ball for them. Boxing, huh?”

“I’m dreaming of the Pan Am games in two years. I have a lot of training to do in the meantime.”

“Let’s split up and do some half-court three on three. Girls! Stretch out for a second while I talk to Ducky.”

She walked Joni to the bleachers near Robin. “Ducky, there’s no money in boxing for girls. There’s the MMA, that’s coming along, but I hear that’s hard to get into and brutal to stay. There’s big money in basketball. Basketball is where the money is. You can get Olympic gold on the basketball squad, as well.”

“Yeah, but they pick from the WNBA!”

“Well, get in the WNBA!”

“That would be…2022, my Senior year in college. That might work out if a team picks me up in the draft. But, yeah, I can get in the Olympics in soccer, too, I know.”

“I would be lying by omission if I didn’t tell you this, but you can go to the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020 on the USA Women’s Softball Team, the summer Olympics.”

“What? There’s softball in the Olympics now?” Ducky’s face went red and she shouted and pumped both fists. Robin perked up and smiled. She smiled even though she was still angry about Yolanda. She loved to see Joni so happy. She still reached for the Kleenex and had them ready. Good news brought tears, too.

“The summer of 2020. I would be ending my Sophomore year here at UDub.”

Miss Granger smiled big when she heard that news. U Dub was what the locals call the University of Washington. It was Joni’s plans from the start to go there. She could attend college and commute across town to home.

Robin just realized, she’s planning her future now, right now. I need to get down there! She gathered her math work and her purse and stepped down the three bleachers to her and Miss Granger. She stood on the bottom bleacher and was the same height as Joni for once.

“Ducky? What’s going on?” Robin asked.

“Oh, Robin,” Joni said snapping out of her thoughts, “Miss Granger, this is my girlfriend, Robin. Robin, Coach Granger. We were going over some things coming up soon. I just found out that the Olympics will include softball in 2020 in Tokyo. Isn’t that something?”

She just introduced me as her girlfriend to an adult. Now, that’s something! She did it as calm as anything, like it was normal. Robin thought. “I heard you talking about maybe dropping boxing?”

They talked for a few minutes about what motivated Joni to train to box. It wasn’t money, but the competition. Kim walked in to the conversation and noted that Joni had the firmest toned body she had ever seen.

“We’ll go for five minutes,” Miss Granger announced. “Kim, Yolanda, and Ducky versus Georgia, Hannah, and Deirdre.”

“No,” Joni said. “Georgia, Yolanda, and Hannah, versus me, Kim, and Deirdre.”

“That puts all the starters on one side,” Miss Granger said.

“We’ll be fine,” Joni said nodding.

“We’ll flip for possession,” she said and dug in her pocket for a coin.

“No, I’ll tip-off against Yolanda,” Joni said.

“Okay, if you insist,” Miss Granger said.

“What are you doing, Ducky? She’s got you by two inches and her arms are longer than California,” Kim said.

“I got this,” she said.

The two girls faced off in the circle. Miss Granger brought the ball between them in her palm with her referee whistle in her mouth and her stopwatch in her hand. She blew her whistle and tossed the ball. Joni crouched as Yolanda went high. Joni sprang up.

Her hand shot up past Yolanda’s outstretched fingertips. Joni tapped the ball to Kim, Kim passed to Deirdre, the team’s backup point guard.

“Kim take post, I’ll set you up!” Joni said and got the ball back from Deirdre. Kim ran to the post position under the basket and Yolanda met her there. Joni, dribbling the ball, motioned with her head to Deirdre to block Georgia. Deirdre ran toward Joni but she didn’t wait on Deirdre to set, instead she used Deirdre’s motion as a block to dribble and curl around her and dribble-drove to the basket. Joni pulled up seven feet short of the basket knowing that Yolanda would pivot around Kim to come block her. She passed the ball around Yolanda’s waist to Kim and Kim went up for a layup. It was all smooth as silk.

“That’s how you do a pick and roll, people,” Coach Granger said. “Yolanda, you let your girl get behind you. Ducky had the choice to shoot or pass to the open post. Learn from this.” Yolanda nodded. Miss Granger never missed an opportunity to teach.

Yolanda took the ball out. She in-bounded to Georgia who dribbled to the top of the key. Joni medium-guarded her, not too close, but not loosely either. This one’s got skills, Joni thought. Georgia’s head was constantly looking for opportunity. She’s not a leader, Joni thought, she’s looking to pass, not score. Her eyes! NOW! Everything slowed down for Joni. Georgia curled her arms for a pass to Hannah as Hannah cut around her defender. Joni leaped into the passing lane and tipped the ball up. She caught it, dribbled twice, turned, and squared herself to the basket. She jumped and shot! Swoosh! The three-pointer hit nothing but net!

Kim and Deirdre clapped, “Nice shot, Duck. That was an NBA three!” Deirdre said.

Yolanda took the ball out for her team again and Joni covered her this time for the inbound. She figured they needed a score and since Yolanda was the team’s leading scorer last year, they would go to her on the inbound. It was sort of a trick play. The person inbounding throws it in, runs under the basket, and gets the ball back and lays it up. It is sneaky because nobody thinks about the person inbounding the ball.

Joni raised her arms in front of Yolanda and gave her a tough time getting the ball into Georgia, but she finally did. There is only five seconds to inbound the ball and she got it in just before Coach called the turnover. Just as she thought, Yolanda ran straight to the post and Georgia lobbed the ball to her high around the rim thinking Joni couldn’t get to it. She leaped up and tipped the ball away from Yolanda’s fingertips and out to Kim in the wing. Kim shot it and it went in. Miss Granger looked at her watch. She blew her whistle.

“Time!” she shouted. Let’s change and get out of here. We have to close up.”

“Shut-out,” Joni said. She meant that the other team didn’t score.

“Goaltending!” Yolanda yelled.

“No, that was not a shot. Georgia plainly passed the ball to you. I rule pass,” Miss Granger said, and that was that.

Robin followed them into the locker room. She wasn’t going to let another kissing thing happen without her there to stop it. Kim trotted up behind her. The locker door opened and they all went inside.

“Come out for the team next year, Duck. I heard you say that you were going to drop volleyball anyway. Shit, with you out there at the two or three, we would be unstoppable,” Kim said. She stopped at one of her three gym lockers and pulled off her tee shirt. She sat in her sweat pants and black sports bra. Robin sat beside her. Georgia came over. She was on the other side today. “Hi Robin. Duck, you got quick hands. I had you pegged as a loose cannon. I would not have thought it, but you’re a team player. I loved the way you set up Kim, twice. I’m with Kim. Come out for the team next year. We could take state.”

“I’m considering it, G. I love basketball, always have. I have many other loves and I’ve got to weigh things. I can’t say for sure, but I’m leaning to ‘yes’ right now,” Joni said. Some of the girls clapped. Robin looked over at Yolanda and she didn’t clap, or look up at all. She just laced her shoes.

After detention, they caught the bus. They found a seat as it pulled away from the stop light. “Streetlights people,” Robin said.

“What’s that?” Joni asked. She had been daydreaming.

“It’s nothing. It’s from an old song. It talks about city life, that’s all. I can play it on the piano.” Robin smiled up at her. She smiled back and leaned in close to her. “I love to hear about your music. It takes me to another world, out of the gym into a magic place I’ve never been.”

Robin leaned in to her, too. “You know, you can be very poetic sometimes. It just floors me when you do that,” Robin said. Her face was only an inch from Joni’s. They kissed lightly.

“I’m ready for the second thing,” she said. Robin grinned slyly.

“I can’t wait. I know exactly what that will be, tonight,” she said.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you. Did you ever say anything to Yolanda about that kiss? You said that you would handle it.”

“I did handle it. It’s over, I hope.” Joni said.

“What did you say to her?”

“I didn’t say anything, I didn’t have to,” Joni said. She looked down at Robin. “It’s like this. Yolanda was the leading scorer on the basketball team this year. She is a senior next year so that means it is her team, she is the captain of the team. That is a very big deal. When we started the three-on-three, I changed Ms. Granger’s plan to flip for first possession to jumping center. You saw Yolanda and I jump for possession.”

“Yeah, I remember, you got up high and beat her. That was great!” Robin said.

“That was the first payment for what she did,” Joni said, “the next payment came when I faked her out of her position in the post and set up Kim for a lay-up. The third and final payment was at the end when I went up and tipped the alley-oop pass from her out to Kim and Kim scored.”

“You showed her up. That was how? You paid her back with basketball?”

“Yolanda was queen in everyone’s eyes, at least she thought so. Now she is not. What I did was huge. I hurt her pride and she might retaliate. I don’t know how petty she is. This is a serious matter, Robin. It could come to blows.”

Robin’s face lit up, she looked up at Joni and smiled. “I get it. All the gushing everyone did over you in the locker room added fuel to the fire. This was politics. They knew didn’t they!”

Joni nodded, “Welcome to team sports. Even though they didn’t see the kiss, they still rubbed it in. I don’t think they like Yolanda. I think she uses her position over them and that makes her petty.”

“I unwittingly played a part. My presence rubbed her.”

“Just more pettiness, my love,” she said.

“There is way more to you than meets the eye, Ducky. The more I get to know you the more I respect you,” Robin said. “You have a level head.”

“Thank you. That’s what Dad says,” Joni said and turned to look out the front. Robin reached up and pulled the cord for the driver to stop at the next corner. Across from the corner facing them was a sports facility, baseball fields, and tennis courts.

“I smell gym lockers,” Joni said.

“This is our stop,” Robin said chuckling at what Joni said. They stood as the buss’s brakes squeaked as the bus stopped.

“I’m glad you know all the busses,” Joni said as they stepped off at the corner.

“I’m glad you’re a rich white person because I don’t have bus fare,” Robin said. They laughed. Joni turned her to her and she raised Robins chin.

“Never let that bother you, ever, okay? Because it does not bother me in the least, got it?”

Robin closed her eyes and nodded. “Let’s go.” They walked the half block to the main building of the sports complex. The sign out front read Police Activities League, Sandra K. Watterson Park, Seattle WA.

“I’ve been in a couple gyms downtown and they were dumps,” Robin said.

“What were you doing in the gym?” she asked with a laugh.

“My old life, don’t ask, please. I’m glad that we didn’t go back there. I was worried for a while,” she said.

“As you wish,” Joni said as she opened the door and went they went inside. There was a reception area and she and Robin went to the desk. On either side of the reception desk were steel double doors with push bars that lead into the gym. No one was there so they waited for a minute or two. Joni yelled, “Anyone here?”

“Just a sec!” a man’s voice yelled back. They heard a door close. A stocky man in his early fifties, black curly hair, chubby, with a double chin, came to the desk wearing a sweat shirt and a white towel around his shoulders. He looked up at her and down at Robin. “What can I do for you ladies today?” He had a New York accent.

“I want to train to box,” she said.

“Is that right? What about you?” he asked Robin. She shook her head.

“No thank you,” she said, drawing out the words with feeling.

“No thank you,” he said and laughed, “I like that.” He turned his attention back to Joni. “You’re a big girl, what, six feet?”

“Six feet two,” she said and grinned.

“Your kind of cocky, that’s okay, I’ve dealt with cocky. But you’re too tall, especially for a girl,” he said and he put the back of his hand under his chin. “From here, down to your waist, here,” he said and put his other hand at his belt line. “You present too big of a target. Your body is long in this area. Shorter, squattier girls would pound you to death in your middle. Putting it bluntly, your breasts will take hits. A developing girl doesn’t need to have her breasts pounded like that.”

“My breasts!”

“Yeah, they get bruised, and sometimes lacerated. Wrapping and tapping them every day before training sometimes doesn’t help. You don’t want the damage.”

“You’re making me angry! You’re crossing a line, sir! For one thing, I don’t have any fucking breasts, and two, isn’t that my call?” Joni leaned into him breathing fire. Her big brown eyes glared at the man.

“Okay, you just walked in here so I’m going to tell you once that there is no foul language allowed in here. The next thing is, boxing is all about physique. And that means your body. I have to talk about your body and you have to listen to it, so grow up!”

Joni jerked off her sweatshirt and walked to the end of the counter. “Come hit me. Come over here and hit me in the chest!”

He laughed, “My hands aren’t gloved. I could hurt you.”

Joni walked over to the door to the gym, shoved it open with both hands and went inside.

“Where are you going?” the man asked.

“To get some gloves!” she yelled from inside the huge gym.

“She’s got spunk!” the man said.

“You don’t know the half of it. You should see her hit a softball!” Robin said.

“A soft…wait! That’s not…!

Robin laughed. The man ran after her. He slammed open the door to the gym and yelled, “Ducky stop!”

Everyone stopped what they were doing. She stopped and stood erect and slowly turned, her long blond hair in her eyes. She looked around and everyone stared at her. The gym was silent.

The gym erupted. “Ducky’s here!”

One of the fighters in the ring slipped under the ropes and hopped off the ring and came to her. He was the same height as her. He wore protective head pads and gloves. He took out his mouthpiece and grinned, others joined around. “Ducky, I watched you in that interview and you did that double fist pump, and I told my wife, I said ‘Damn, Elise, come look at this girl’s shoulders!’ I knew you were big, Ducky, but I didn’t think you were this big!”

Joni had her sweatshirt in her hand and dropped it. She still had on her sports bra. She smiled, and did the double over-head fist pump. The fighter laughed, “See! See! What did I tell you!” Everyone clapped. “You going to start working out here, Duck?”

“I don’t know yet. There’s an issue cause I’m a girl.”

The man from the front desk joined them. “It’s not because you’re a girl, Ducky, it’s because you are such a tall girl. It’s like I told you. It would be dangerous because your midsection would be such a big target.”

“What Jeff says is true. Tall men have the same problem. Their middle is a big target, too. There have been some very good tall boxers, but they train to their body. They need to be able to use their reach to keep the shorter opponents out of range. It doesn’t work all the time because your opponent is training to get past your reach. It’s a chess game.”

A couple men and two women members dragged out a big wooden box from the back room. They were happy to meet Joni. One of the women stepped up to her and gave her a hug.

“You don’t know how good it makes me feel to see girls do well in sports. I help coach little league softball, girls’ softball, and I’m telling you Ducky, after what you did, you became all these girl’s hero.”

“If you don’t mind, and if you have a minute or two, we’d like you to autograph some of these softballs for the girls. Whoa! What did I say?”

Joni turned to Robin teary-eyed. She was already digging her purse for the Kleenex.

Robin gave her some Kleenex and rubbed her back. Robin looked at the group and said, “She cries very easy. She cries when she’s being complimented.”

Ducky sniffled, “Of course I’ll autograph some softballs!” She started bawling.

The girls’ coach teared up, “Oh, Ducky, you’re getting me going!” She started crying. Robin gave her some Kleenex, too.

A few minutes of sniffles, Joni nodded to Robin that she was okay.

“Let me ask you this, Mr. Jeff. If you are unwilling to train me to box, why not just train me to spar or something. I just want to train to box so bad!”

“You could just go through the training and not box, but I don’t see the point in that. Ducky I look at your physique and do you know what I see?”

“No, Mr. Jeff, what do you see?”

“I see a body designed for basketball. You have a Cadillac of a basketball body. I’ll bet you can jump like a gazelle.” Jeff said.

“She played a game today and slapped a ball away from the basket,” Robin said smiling.

“Not goaltending, I deflected an alley-oop pass to the post player!” Joni said to set the record straight.

“Ducky, you can’t legally touch anything in here until we get permission paperwork signed by your folks. You’re not eighteen yet and there’s a liability issue. But if you want to come in and go through the boxing training regimen, we can put you through the paces, but I want to talk to your folks first. Let me go get you my business card. I’ll be right back.”

“Ducky, my name is Shawna, and I’m a patrol officer for the Seattle Police Department,” the softball coach said. “If you would show up at the girl’s practice and give them a few pointers on their swing and how to catch and basics like that, they would be over the moon! It could make an enormous difference in their lives, even motivate them to stay in school, turn things around for them. What about it?”

“I would love to, Shawna. My time is tight, but give me a copy of the schedule. Let me get my phone. She dug into her bag and got her smart phone and handed it to Shawna. The other guy with Shawna handed Joni some black felt-tip pens. She looked down at the yellow balls and grinned.

“That’s a lot of softballs,” she said and chuckled. She picked up one and wrote, Ducky Donald, and another, and another. Shawna got out her phone and took pictures of Joni autographing the balls, Robin, and others joined with their cameras. She smiled for them all.

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