Bella couldn't remember a hotter summer. The sun felt like it was literally cooking your insides. Summers in the Deep South were always hot and humid, breaking the 100 degree mark and with humidity that felt like you were wearing a wool blanket over your head. But this summer, this August in particular, was staggering.
Yet here she sat, in the outfield of a baseball field, where her son was ironically practicing football. Full pads and helmet. This was what her friend Neil from England called American Football. Bella always laughed at him and told him to get over himself. He was in America now. "American football" is football and "Football" is soccer. And tough boys in the South don't play soccer. They wear equipment and tackle people. Even if they are only ten years old.
She worried about dehydration and looked over at Will again. He was listening intently to his coach and practicing his technique. She took his water bottle out of the cooler next to her camp chair and walked toward his coach, silently asking permission to interrupt. Coach Masen saw her and smiled.
"Will, why don't you get you some water?" He slapped the top of Will's helmet and pointed to his mother who was hovering a few feet away. Will nodded seriously and turned to run to his mother.
"You okay buddy? Not too hot?" Bella asked worriedly, taking in his red face.
Will gulped the water and shook his head. "I'm fine," he gasped between swallows. When he'd had enough he practically threw the bottle at her and ran back to Coach Masen.
Bella went back to her seat and watched the people around her. She had been surprised at how many mothers brought their kids to practice. Granted there were less than ten but it meant she didn't stick out like a sore thumb. When Will had begged to play football she had been hesitant to agree, afraid that he would get hurt. But then she thought about her brother Emmett who had played from the time he was five until he graduated from college. Emmett had never done more than broken a finger here and there. Besides, she had thought to herself, she needed to let him be a boy. He spent too much time alone or with only his mom for company.
A coworker asked her once if she ever wished that her husband was still alive. She was glad that the people around her had jumped to her rescue and scolded the woman for even daring to ask that question; of course she wished her husband was still alive! Bella was relieved that she didn't have to lie. The truth was that she thanked God every day that James had died in that plane crash. He was abusive and mean and his drinking had been escalating. She had been trying to find a way to leave him when his plane went down when Will was only six months old. The added bonus was the insurance settlement that allowed her to only work part-time.
Bella settled back and used her magazine to block the worst of the sun's rays. It was almost seven o'clock but the temperature still bordered on the triple digits. She sighed and alternated fanning and shading and wishing she was sitting at home watching the news. The only thing, other than Will's obvious enjoyment, that kept her in her chair was the pleasure she derived from watching Coach Masen.
Coach Masen was without a doubt the sexiest thing Bella had ever seen. He was tall with messy bronze hair and piercing green eyes. But what Bella found most arousing was his strength. He wasn't bulky like her brother but his muscles were evident. She would get to practice early under the guise of letting Will play with his teammates just so she could see Coach Masen get the tackling dummies out.
Tackling dummies weigh almost 75 pounds each. Bella knew this because she googled it. She thought they must be pretty light until one day she saw one of the other coaches carrying one and having to use two hands. But Coach Masen (she had only recently discovered his first name was Edward and still couldn't bring herself to call him that) could throw a tackling dummy over a fence and at least twenty yards. And every time he chunked it, he made this grunting sound that almost made her cry. She had turned down Emmett's offers to bring Will to practice because she couldn't stand the thought of not seeing Edward's sweaty biceps and hearing his slight grunt of exertion. Bella shivered at the memory in spite of the heat.
She knew he coached because his nephew, Taylor, was on the team. And she knew he wore a wedding ring, but in the five weeks since practice started she's never seen or heard about his wife. Until today.
The sun had just slipped behind the treetops when she heard a mother about ten feet away mention his name.
"… well, that's what Edward's sister told me."
Bella focused on not changing her posture so she wouldn't look like she was listening and waited for the other mother to respond.
"She doesn't even own a pair of sneakers or flip-flops?"
"Nope, and the only reason she's so skinny is because all she eats is wheat germ in her tea."
Bella wondered what the big deal was. So Coach Masen's wife didn't own sneakers and liked being skinny. It was strange but she felt sure that the Coach's wife must be a lovely person and these moms were just jealous. She couldn't imagine such a nice man, with such an easy laugh, choosing to marry a horrible person. It was inconceivable.
She looked over at Will who was now scrimmaging at defensive end. She looked past him to where Coach Masen was standing, feet apart, arms folded, pulling at his bottom lip with his fingers. She could tell he was studying Will's performance and watched as he smiled and clapped when Will got loose from his blockers and almost sacked the quarterback. She smiled and clapped too and her heart swelled when she saw Will's face. He was smiling at his coach and lifted one arm casually to return the offered high-five. Bella knew that even if his coach was as attractive as a troll, she would still be sitting here in the heat cheering him on.
Two weeks later found Bella hugging the toilet and puking. She had had a bad feeling about the Chinese buffet for lunch but ignored it. And now she was paying the price for not listening to her gut instincts: her guts were trying to fight their way out. She heard Will knock gently on the door to her bathroom.
"Mama, are you okay? Do I need to call an ambulance?" the worry evident in his voice.
It took every maternal instinct Bella had to make her voice sound strong and not shaky with the tears she felt pressing at the back of her eyes.
"No baby. I'm okay. It was something I ate. I'll be fine in a few hours. I promise."
She heard him whisper an "okay" before he spoke a little louder, "Do I need to call Coach about the practice game tonight?"
Shit. Bella had forgotten all about his practice game against another team tonight. Shit! She tried to think while she pressed her heated cheek to the toilet seat. Emmett. She sat up and called out to Will, "Can you bring me the phone? I'll call Uncle Emmett first."
"Yes ma'am." She heard him walk away and wished for the millionth time that she wasn't so alone, that she had a husband or someone to help her.
Bella reached under the bathroom vanity and pulled out a washcloth. She then used the toilet and edge of the sink to pull herself up and turned on the cold tap to wet her cloth. She was bathing her sweaty face when Will came back with the phone. She took it and dialed with shaky fingers.
"Em. Can you help me with something? Will's got a big practice game tonight and I've got food poisoning. Can you take him? I know it's short notice and all but he really wants to go and he's a starter and there's no one else I can think to call." Bella knew her voice sounded weak but she hoped that would work in her favor.
"Damn, Bells. I'm still in Miami. My flight leaves in about twenty minutes. I'll be back in Birmingham by six. What time is his game?"
"Six-thirty. But he has to be there by five-thirty. Never mind. It's okay."
"Can you find someone to take him and I'll bring him home?"
"I don't know. I'll see what I can do." She was desperate to get off the phone because she could feel another bout of sickness coming on.
"Text me if you can work it out. I'll check my phone when I land. Sorry, sis."
"It's fine Em. Look I gotta go. I'm about to be sick again." With that she hung up the phone, handed it to Will who looked disappointed and pushed him toward the door.
"Look on the fridge door for Coach Masen's number. Call and see if he can pick you up. Uncle Emmett can bring you home. Go. Out. Out." She made it back to the toilet just in time.
What seemed like an eternity later Bella heard Will open her bathroom door. She looked up at him from her vantage point where she was pressing her hot face to the stone floor.
Bella tried to push herself into a sitting position but was just too weak. "Yeah, baby?" She smiled at him, trying to reassure him that she wasn't about to die. "I'm okay. I think the vomiting has past. I'm just weak is all."
Will took a visible breath and grinned, "Good. I was worried. Um… Coach Masen is here."
Bella was relieved. He wouldn't miss his game after all. She smiled until she saw the beautiful face of Coach Masen appear above her son's head. And she wished that she could die. Immediately, if not sooner.
"Ms. Swan are you okay?" He looked genuinely worried.
Bella suddenly found the strength to sit up and smooth her hair at the same time.
"Oh my goodness. I'm okay. Just some really bad Chinese food. I think the vomiting is past. I… um… just, yeah." She stopped talking because she realized it was just making her look ridiculous.
"You think you can make it to the bed by yourself? Have you had anything to drink? You could get really dehydrated you know." He stepped around Will and squatted down in front of her, waiting for a response.
"I, um, haven't had anything to drink or anything. I was just trying to work up the courage to stand."
Coach Masen looked over his shoulder at Will, "You know if you guys have any sports drink?" When Will nodded, wide eyed, he continued, "Go get one and some crackers." When Will took off running, he added with a shout, "And a garbage bag!"
He looked back at Bella and smiled gently. "Come on, let's get you into bed." He reached out and took her hands, pulling her up and wrapping one arm around her waist. Bella was beyond mortified. She could smell the contrast between them. He smelled like coffee and soap and man, while she smelled like vomit and sweat and tears. Oh and toilet seat. Nice. Kill me now.
But she had to admit, she was as weak as a kitten and would've had to crawl to her bed if he hadn't helped her. Just as he pulled the sheet up over her, Will came back with the Gatorade, crackers and garbage bag.
"Here you go, Coach."
"Thanks buddy. Can you get her the phone too?"
"Sure," and off he ran again.
"I'll bring him home after the game is over."
Bella shook her head, "Oh no that's okay. Emmett's going to bring him home. He couldn't pick him up because his plane doesn't land in time. But he should be there just after the game starts."
Coach Masen looked disappointed. "Oh. Okay. I don't mind really, if this Emmett wants to just not worry about it."
"No. He really wants to come. He's worked with Will for years on his football skills. He loves it."
Now Coach Masen looked almost sad but at the same time like he had finally figured out the solution to a problem. "That would explain why Will knows so much then. He's really good you know. That's why he's starting. First years never get to start."
Bella face lit up with pride and she smiled, "I thought it was just me who thought he was good. Em's told me before but I thought he was just biased, you know?"
Before he could answer, Will returned with the house phone and the cell phone. "Here you go, Mom. I think you've got a text from Emmett." He turned to his coach, "I'm ready when you are."
"Thank you Coach Masen. I really appreciate it." Bella said softly.
Coach Masen looked down at her with a smile, "I think since I've picked you up of the bathroom floor you can call me Edward now."
Bella returned his smile with a blush. "Thanks, Edward. You guys have fun and sack the QB for me, okay, sweetheart?" she added, looking at Will.
Will smirked at her and briefly reminded her of his father, making her heart clench. "I'll see what I can do."
Bella looked back at Edward even though she just wanted to go to sleep. "Take care of my baby."
"Got it. Get some sleep."
She didn't even hear the front door open and close before sleep overtook her.