A Time to Dance
by Karen Kingsbury
A Time to Dance
By Karen Kingsbury
WITHOUT QUESTION, IT WAS THE MOMENT ABBY Reynolds had waited for all her life.
Beneath the Friday-night lights in the biggest college stadium in the state of Illinois, Abby’s husband was on the brink of winning his second high-school football championship. Moreover he was about to do so largely on the talents of their older son, the team’s senior quarterback.
Abby pulled her blue-and-gray Marion Eagles jacket tighter to her body and wished she’d bought a thicker scarf. It was early December, after all, and though snow hadn’t fallen for more than a week, the air was biting cold. “Football weather,” John always said. Cold and dry, straight from heaven. She stared beyond the lights to the starry sky. Even God is rooting for you tonight, John.
Her gaze fell across the field, and she picked out her husband on the sideline, headset angled just so, body bent over, hands on his knees as he waited for the play to unfold. She could remember a million afternoons when his eyes had sparkled with laughter, but here, now, they were hard and focused. His face was the picture of concentration, lined with the intensity of the moment as he barked commands in a dozen directions. Even from her place high up in the packed stands. Abby could feel the energy that emanated from John in the final minutes of this, his most prized football game.
No doubt about it, coaching was his gift.
And this was his finest hour.
If only everything else hadn’t gotten so-
“Come on, Eagles. You can do it!” Abby’s daughter, Nicole, clapped her hands and gritted her teeth, holding tighter to her boyfriend, Matt’s hand, every ounce of her energy focused on her younger brother.
Tears nipped at Abby’s eyes, and she blinked them back. If only I could freeze time, here and now…She turned and squeezed her father’s knee. “I can feel it, Dad. They’re gonna win.”
Her father, an old man who barely resembled the dad she’d grown up with, raised a shaky fist partway into the freezing night. “You can do it, Kade!” His hand dropped weakly back into his lap.
Abby patted her father’s limp arm and then cupped her hands around her mouth. “Make it count, Kade. Come on!” Her fingers tightened into fist, and she tapped them in a fast, steady beat against her knees. Please, Lord, let him have this.
After tonight there were bound to be few moments of light for any of them.
“I kinda hate to see it end.” Her father grinned at her through wet eyes. “All those years of football together. The boy’s ;amazing. Plays just like his father.”
Abby focused her gaze on her son and the corners of her mouth lifted. “He always has.”
“Mom, isn’t it weird?” Nicole leaned her head on Abby’s shoulder.
“What, honey?” Abby took her daughter’s free hand and resisted the urge to close her eyes. It felt so good, sitting here in the thrill of the moment, surrounded by family…
“This is Kade’s last high-school game.” Nicole’s voice was thick, filled with tender indignation, as though she’d only now realized a loss she hadn’t prepared for. “Just like that, it’s over. Next year he’ll be at Iowa, and it won’t be the same.”
A stinging sensation made its way across Abby’s eyes again, and she struggled to swallow. If only you knew, sweetheart… “It never is.”
Nicole stared down at the field. “I mean, this is it. After tonight he’ll never play for Dad again.” She glanced at the scoreboard. “All those practices and games, and in a few minutes it’ll be over. Just a box of memories and old newspaper articles.”
The lump grew thicker. Not now, Nicole. Let me enjoy the moment. Come on, get a grip. Life is full of endings. She squeezed her daughter’s hand and uttered a short laugh. “We’re supposed to be cheering, remember? They haven’t won yet.”
Nicole stuck her chin out and shouted as loud as she could. “Go, Eagles, come on! You can do it!”
Abby’s eyes moved toward the field where Kade was at the center of the huddle, relaying his father’s plays to the team. Third down and eight, twenty-five yards to go for a touchdown. There was just over a minute to play, and Marion was up by three. This touchdown-and Abby could feel in her gut that there would be a touchdown-would seal the win.
“Let’s go, Eagles!” Abby clapped her mittened hands together and stared intently at the field as the play unfolded. Come on Kade. Nice and easy. Like a hundred times before…
Her strapping son took the snap and, with practiced grace, found his place in the pocket, searching downfield until he saw his target. Then, in the fluid motion that comes from being the talented son of a storied football coach, he fired the ball, threading it through two menacing defenders to land, almost like magic, in the hands of a Marion receive.
The home crowd was on it feet.
Over the din of ten thousand screaming fans, the announcer explained the situation: the Eagles had a first and goal on the three yard line with less than a minute to play.
The opposing team called a time-out, and Abby breathed in slowly. If she could savor this moment, bottle it up or capture it forever, she would. Hadn’t they dreamed of this time and place since Kade was born, first joking about it and then realizing with each passing year the chance of actually happening? Dozens of yesterdays fought for her attention. The first time she saw John in a football uniform…the way his loved her as they spoke their wedding vows and toasted to forever…Nicole playing in the backyard…the gleam in four-year-old Kade’s eyes when he got his first football…the thrill of Sean’s birth seven years later…years of meeting on the pier at the end of the day…the music that they-
A whistle blew, and the players took their positions.
Abby swallowed hard. Her family had spent a lifetime getting here-two decades of memories, many of them centered around a white-lined, hundred-yard field of mud and grass.
The crowd remained on its feet, but despite the deafening noise there was a quiet place in Abby’s heart where she could hear her children’s long-ago laughter, see the way John and the kids tickled and tackled on the Marion High field every day when practice was over. For years John had known instinctively how to involve their children in his role as coach, how to put the game behind him at day’s end. The image and voices changed, and the stadium noise was only a distant roar.
”Dance with me, Abby…dance with me.”
There they were, on the pier. Dancing the dance of life, swaying to sound of crickets and creaking boards long after the kids were asleep on nights when summer seemed like it might last forever.
A gust of wind sent a chill down her arms, and she blinked back the fading visions of yesterday. No matter how he’d betrayed her, no matter what happened next, there would never be a better father for her children than John Reynolds.
Another memory rang in her mind. She and John on the lake, adrift in an old fishing boat a year after Kade was born. One day, Abby, one day Kade’ll play for me, and we’ll go to state. All the way, honey. We’ll have everything we ever dreamed of and nothing will stop us. Nothing…”