The Coach’s Wife
by Barbara Casey
Another deafening roar exploded from the coliseum, and when it did Marla threw down her partially smoked cigarette and ground it into the polished tile floor with the toe of her shoe. Quickly she reached for another cigarette from the opened pack in her small red handbag. She lit it, sucked the smoke into her mouth, held her breath, coughed, and then slowly released it. Marla didn't smoke, but when she paced up and down the hallways of basketball coliseums, puffing on cigarettes seemed appropriate. It gave her something to do with her hands, and it helped keep her sane.
Marla Connors, recently married to head basketball coach Neal Connors, travels with her husband to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the Piedmont State University Coyote team is playing in the NCAA Finals. Marla has not been accepted by the Coyotes, that loyal bunch of fans who follows the university team, partly because she is almost twenty years younger than Coach Connors and a divorcée, but also because the fans are afraid she will distract her husband from his duties as head coach. They see her as someone who married Coach Connors just for his money. Only Gale, the older wife of assistant coach Stu Simmons, goes out of her way to be a friend to Marla.
The Coyote team is plagued with problems from the very beginning of the season, and when they finally manage to reach the NCAA Finals, it's even worse. Their center is caught using drugs, Athletics Director Charlie Morgan, who is also in Albuquerque for the games, makes a pass at Marla in her hotel room, and Coach Connors comes down with the flu. No one believes that State can win the big game.
With so much happening, Marla can't shake the feeling that something evil is taking over her life. She tries to convince herself that it is emotional anxiety left over from the abuse she experienced during her first marriage to Dr. Martin Andrews and that the stress from the tournament has brought it once again to the surface. She soon learns, however, that the evil is real and it threatens not only everything she loves, but her very life.
Illegal drugs, illicit affairs, murder, and scandal that shakes the entire university system are woven inextricably into Marla’s life until eventually she comes face to face with her real tormentor. It is only then that she realizes the full depth of her love for her husband--and his love for her.
Stu woke Marla early the next morning. Gale was nauseous and in severe pain. "The pills aren't doing any good, and Gale won't let me call the doctor. I don't know what to do," he said helplessly.
Marla put on her robe and slippers and went to Gale's bedroom. Neal got up and went to the kitchen with Stu to make some coffee.
Marla was stunned to see how sick Gale looked. During the time Marla had been staying with her, Gale had started looking better. Marla thought she might even be improving. After all, doctors occasionally made mistakes. Seeing Gale now though made Marla realize the doctors had been right. Gale would never get better. Of course, with everything that had happened, it was no wonder. She wiped Gale's face with a cool, damp washcloth and sat down next to her, holding her hand and stroking her arm.
"I don't think I can go with you to the Cottage, Marla. Not this time around anyway."
"Of course you can. We'll go there now."
Marla wiped the tears from her eyes and looked out the window. It was just getting light--that first gray light that comes with a promise of a colored, vibrant brightness to follow.
"We are in the motor boat and crossing the channel that runs between Morehead City and Portsmouth Island. It is still dark, because we want to get there before dawn. That way we can see and hear everything come alive." She continued holding Gale's hand, gently stroking it.
"The water is calm this morning, and there's a slight breeze. Our hair is blowing and the salt-water spray covers our skin with little droplets of mist. Neal pulls the boat up to the dock and hands Stu the rope. Stu gets out and ties the boat to the dock. It's just a short walk through the sand flats. You can smell the Jobellflowers. When it gets light, you will be able to see their beautiful orange-yellow color, but right now you just smell them."
"What do they smell like, Marla?"
Marla thought for a moment. "You know that mock orange bush in the corner of your yard? Well, they smell a little like that, except sweeter. Once we get past the sand flats, we walk on the wooden planks around the marshy area. The frogs are croaking. Scores of them. We hear several splashes as some of them jump into the water.
"Then we get to the yard proper of the Cottage. We walk through the moss-draped oak trees. The grass is soft and spongy, and damp with dew. We can see the Cottage. It's a rambling two-story, white frame structure. There is a peaked roof and lots of big windows trimmed in faded blue looking out to where we have just come.
"It's almost dawn now, but not quite. There is still time to make a pot of coffee. When it's made, we take our coffee out on the veranda. It's a huge wrap-around porch, and we sit in some wooden rockers, watching, listening, and sipping our coffee."
Neal and Stu came in as Marla was talking. Neal sat down in a chair across the room next to the window, and Stu lay down next to Gale on the bed.
"The first light is gray. It is the defining moment. It lets you identify shapes and forms off in the distance--the live oaks, the saw grasses, the Devil's cane. They are starting to come into focus now. And somewhere, not too far away, a single bird begins to sing. Tentatively at first, and then with a happy eagerness as other birds join in.
"Looking across the marshes and beyond where the ocean waves break, the first color of dawn appears on the horizon."
"What color is it?" Gale looked out of her bedroom window.
"It's a soft pink, almost salmon, still muted by the gray. Gradually other colors appear--yellow, violet, orange--and as they do, more and more birds begin singing. The seagulls and grebes, marsh sparrows and egrets. A flock of pelicans flies overhead in formation.
"You can see the Jobellflowers now. A carpet of yellow-orange spread out across the sand. A soft dew covers everything, and as the sun rises higher in the sky, a kind of gentle evaporation takes place which makes you feel like you are seeing everything through a lace veil. Everything glimmers, because it's a silver dawn--that perfect time of day when everything is fresh and new."
Gale's breathing was coming rapidly. "It's so beautiful," she whispered.
Marla got up, unable to hold back her tears. Neal took her out of the room leaving Stu alone with his wife. He was still with her when she died later that morning.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Originally from Carrollton, Illinois, author/agent Barbara Casey attended the University of North Carolina, N.C. State University, and N.C. Wesleyan College where she received a BA degree, summa cum laude, with a double major in English and history. In 1978 she left her position as Director of Public Relations and Vice President of Development at North Carolina Wesleyan College to write full time and develop her own manuscript evaluation and editorial service. In 1995 she established the Barbara Casey Agency and since that time has represented authors from the United States, Great Britain, and Japan.
Ms. Casey's two middle-grade/young adult novels, Leilani Zan and Grandma Jock and Christabelle (James C. Winston Publishing Co., Trade Division) were both nominated for awards of excellence by the SCBWI Golden Kite Award, the National Association of University Women Literary Award and the Sir Walter Raleigh Literary Award. Shyla's Initiative (Crossquarter Publishing Group), a contemporary adult novel (occult romance/mystery), received the Independent Publisher Book Award and also an award of special literary recognition by the Palm Beach County Cultural Council. The House of Kane (ArcheBooks Publishing) was considered for a Pulitzer nomination. Another contemporary novel for adults, Just Like Family, received “Special Recognition from the 7-Eleven Corporation.” Most recently, her young adult novel, The Cadence of Gypsies, was reviewed by the Smithsonian for its List of Most Notable Books. The Gospel According to Prissy, a novel for adults, has received excellent reviews and received an IPPY Award for Best
Regional Fiction. Warner Brothers Studio has also expressed interest. Newly released in paperback, The Coach's Wife (ArcheBooks Publishing), also a novel for adults (contemporary/mystery), was semi-finalist for the Dana Award for Outstanding Novel and listed on the Publisher’s Best Seller List.
Her award-winning articles, short stories, and poetry for adults have appeared in both national and international publications including the North Carolina Christian Advocate Magazine, The New East Magazine, the Raleigh (N.C.) News and Observer, the Rocky Mount (N.C.) Sunday Telegram, Dog Fancy, ByLine, The Christian Record, Skirt! Magazine, and True Story. A thirty-minute television special which Ms. Casey wrote and coordinated was broadcast on WRAL, Channel 5, in Raleigh, North Carolina. She also received special recognition for her editorial work on the English translations of Albanian children’s stories.
Ms. Casey's award-winning science fiction short stories for adults are featured in The Cosmic Unicorn and CrossTime science fiction anthologies. Ms. Casey's essays and other works appear in The Chrysalis Reader, the international literary journal of the Swedenborg Foundation, 221 One-Minute Monologues from Literature (Smith and Kraus Publishers), and A Cup of Comfort (Adams Media Corporation).
Ms. Casey is a former director of BookFest of the Palm Beaches, Florida, where she served as guest author and panelist. She has served as judge for the Pathfinder Literary Awards in Palm Beach and Martin Counties, Florida, and was the Florida Regional Advisor for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators from 1991 through 2003. She is a frequent guest lecturer at universities and writers’ conferences around the country including the SCBWI Regional Conference, the Harriett Austin Writers Conference in Athens, SIBA (Southeastern Independent Book Sellers Association), Florida Writers Association, and the University of Auburn, Montgomery. She makes her home on the top of a mountain near Trion, Georgia, with her husband and Benton, a hound-mix who adopted her.