Story:Tightlacing

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Tightlacing
Written by IllaRouge


Rosalie always spent a while lacing her shoes. It was her moment of focus before each game, the time where she was able to shut things off in her mind and center herself. She didn't think about the plays that the team had planned in the session before they were to go out; those thoughts entered around the time she was in the tunnel. She didn't run through her pre-game stretches and drills; that was usually for the shower in the hotel room before she got to the stadium. Nor did she consider whether or not she was fit to play; the trainers and doctors had already signed her off with a clean bill of health.

It wasn't necessary, but every lace was undone. She looped the laces through each hole, tugging them until they were taught, each aglet smooth between her fingers. Her mind started to sink into the cold quiet she was used to in her routine, but things kept cropping up. Her groin injury; a month sitting on the sidelines, unable to help her struggling teammates; a month out of the game, unable to share in the revelry of an eight-game winning streak, small hopes of the playoffs rekindling as the team started to coalesce into a manageable unit, from the constant trials of the Demon Coach, to the soft reassurances of the arisen blue fox. Unnamed doubts kept sidelining her already rattled brain. She gritted her teeth and let the laces fall to the floor.

"For somevone so practical," came a voice, making Rosalie snap her head up, "joo sure do take a long time to tie joor damn shoes."

Hildegard never entered a room quietly, but with how lost the bison had felt up to that moment, the coach didn't need to. Rosalie felt her jaw hanging, and she snapped it shut, reemerging into the world of the conscious. She bent lower and laced up her shoes quickly, her routine a failure for the sake of not being able to focus like normal.

"For someone so controversial," making eye contact with the hyena-rabbit, "you sure know how to point out the faults in others."

It was this unbreakability that Hildegard admired in Rosalie. As eager as she was to acquire the player in the off-season, Hildegard never failed to appreciate how headstrong the bison could be, the distinction coming from a headstrong person in her own right.

The facilities were familiar to Rosalie, but this side of the building was a stranger to her, like a person she thought she recognized in a crowd, only to find out that it wasn't whom she thought it was. Each visit back to Biloxi to play on her former home turf filled her with determination, but as she mildly reeled from not being allowed to engage in her pre-practice ritual, the locker rooms felt more foreign than they ever had.

"Don't think I didn't notice that you've kept the other Typhoons out of here. Looking to have a talk?"

Hildegard smirked. "Not vone zhat joo veren't expectink." The lockers faced each other, with parallel benches in front of each set of lockers. Rosalie, seated on one, was tall enough that she was able to prop her foot up on the opposing bench. She lowered her foot to let Hildegard take her place across from her player. "But I am known to surprise, ja?"

"That you are. What's this about, coach?"

The hyena-rabbit seemed surprisingly relaxed. Normally, she'd be slapping someone on the back, telling them to get their head in the game, threatening them with metaphoric harm, a few mentions of a tank here and there. So when she broke eye contact and looked down at a partially unrolled sleeve, then when she worked methodically to reposition it back above her elbow, it set Rosalie on edge; strange, that the calm would be such an upsetting feeling for the normally headstrong bison.

"Vell, like I said, it is nossink zhat joo do not know." She finished rolling up her sleeve, and her gaze rose to meet Rosalie's. "But maybe it is zhat joo are not admittink it to joorself yet. I haff faihss zhat wir vill come to some understandink."

This puzzled Rosalie. This already felt like a conversation that she should be having with Tazel, not with the hard-assed coach before her. She felt an imaginary tightness in her chest, some tinge of reluctance for the conversation coming.

"I'm listening."

Hildegard leaned forward, elbows resting against her knees, hands folded. "I vanted to apologize for zhis season."

With a raised eyebrow, "I'm sorry, could you repeat that?"

"Nein." Of course she wouldn't repeat an apology. "Zhis has not been an easy time for zhe Typhoons. No season has been vhat I hoped to accomplish vhen I came here, but zhis vone has been particularly troublink, ja?"

Rosalie nodded. "I could say that I expected more when I decided to leave Biloxi."

"Zhen wir are in agreement zhere." She offered nothing that sounded like a jab, but the both knew how much this acquisition was built up by all parties involved and uninvolved. "I am not here to try und vin joor allegiance or Freundschaft." She changed positions and erected her posture. "I am also not here to promise joo anyssink more zhan vhat I can control."

"If this is a pep talk, coach, I have to tell you that it isn't going very well."

Hildegard chuckled. "Ja. I cannot claim to be zhe easy type. Mein mere," always that slight French flair for that word, "alvays said zhat, how joo say, Empfindlichkeit...sensitivity, zhat is zhe vord, does not run in our family."

"I'm shocked," Rosalie found herself able to joke.

"Vatch it," she warned. Opting for this kind of strategy was not the sort of thing Hildegard found comfortable to do. She demanded some measure of easing in. "Joo know, mein Vater, he is zhe sensitive man. He vould give his Portemonnaie, ah, wallet, to a mugger if could know zhat zhey needed zhe money first. He is a very nice man."

The dynamic sounded eerily familiar, but Rosalie was still not sure what all of this was adding up to. "I take it you model yourself after your mother."

"In some vays, ja, but zhey are bohss in mein mind vhen I admit it." She tapped her painted claws against the bench. "But mein Vater, he vorks very hard to make ozhers happy, no vone more zhan mein mere. Und she can be brutal. She does not know how to give compliments, but he still tries. Ausdauer, persistence, zhat if somessink I can say zhat I haff learned from him. I may not know how to please ozhers, but I understand vhen zhey try to make people happy."

"He sounds like a good man," she commented. "But you sell yourself too short sometimes, Hildegard. I've seen firsthand what happens when you try and please others, you old softie."


Valentine's Day never did much for Rosalie. She wasn't part of the cynics that declared it Singles' Awareness Day, but neither was she so emboldened by a particular day that she felt the need to make it anything more than what it was. Years with Bart, her love for her daughter, they made days universal for her, little more than anniversaries and birthdays taking her attention.

But this was her first Valentine's Day as a married woman. Today, she was on a shuttle bus with her teammates from the airport to The Fireplace, Lorain's basketball arena. She felt like an old woman in steadying herself so she could walk to the locker rooms. Spraining one's groin made even the most basic of movements nearly impossible without help. She was on a regimen of swimming to help strengthen the muscles again, and she'd gotten to the point where she could hobble around, albeit without too many trips up or down stairs; a single knee bend was enough to make her hiss in pain. As she held tightly to a railing to walk down a short flight of four stairs to the locker room, she thought of what she wasn't doing: spending time at home.

She thought about requesting the day off, already benched due to her injury, but Hildegard did not seem the sort to feel sympathy for such trifles. Klaus made no such move to see his wife and daughter, nor did Hildegard herself allow extra time to herself to see her new girlfriend. Rosalie, on the other hand, so incapacitated still kept herself loyal to her sport.

The day itself still held little emphasized meaning to her, but somehow, given her marriage was still shy of its first anniversary, the loneliness felt more pronounced. She sat with the team, listened to the pre-game pep talk, even imagined what she would do if back in her favored forward positions, yet her mind couldn't stay on the game. Tallahassee was doing so poorly this season that doubts couldn't help but crowd up in her head. At the same time, Biloxi was faring better, though not to a degree that felt as though her move was a complete failure in judgment. Eleanor and Ruth still chatted frequently over Snype, while Rosalie arranged for visits both in Mississippi and in Florida, when Ruth's health would allow for it. So on that front, she was solid; she still felt as though she were being a good mother.

Then what was this nagging feeling? Sure, teams were expected to have unexpected ups and downs, though Tallahassee's was trending toward the extreme; at least they weren't going the route Plymouth had.

As the team stood and chanted something or other, Rosalie got on a head start to make it to her seat. A nice security guard had pointed out the elevators for her after she'd made the harrowing journey down those four stairs. The elevator on this level was down a different hallway than the tunnel, and a few of her teammates got a chance to pat her on the back before they headed for the floor.

Klaus cupper her shoulder a little longer as she passed. "Chin up, Rosalie. It'll be a good Valentine's yet," and she swore the Doberman attempted a wink.

Last out of the locker room, like always, was the coach. "Rosalie!" she called. The bison was nearly ready to turn the corner. "Einen Moment, bitte," giving Rosalie pause, the hyena-rabbit rarely one to say please in any language.

"Yeah, coach?"

"Joo seem sad tonight, more zhan usual."

Rosalie sighed. "It's nothing. I'm all right."

She wanted to turn and leave, but that was too much to expect from Hildegard. "Joo could haff requested zhe night off, Bison."

Since when did Hildegard care about that kind of stuff? "I need to be here for the team," Rosalie reassured herself. "A day is a day, no matter what's supposed to be special about it."

Hildegard nodded. "Ja, vhich is vhy joo should make it special, because joo haff somevone to celebrate mit." She crossed her arms and chuckled at the bison's stalwart nature. "Go up to zhe skybox. Zahra had an extra ticket."

"Zahra? The supermodel?"

"Ja."

"The one you're dating?"

Hildegard sighed. "Wie auch immer!" She didn't like to talk about her personal life. "Zhere is a seat for joo up zhere."

It was nice seeing her coach trying to please her, but, "That's okay, coach. I'd rather sit with my team."

"Joo vould be." Rosalie stopped one last time. It was normal for the coach to be offhanded, but it seemed like she was going out of her way to not say something.

"Hildegard?"

"Joo young players all tveet joor personal lives like no vone can see it."

"Hildegard," Rosalie said, more insistent.

"I had two extra tickets for zhe skybox."

"Hildegard."

She laughed that laugh only hyenas can do. "Oh, save zhat big personality. It von't vork on me." She waved her off to the elevator and turned her back. "Go save it for zhe people zhat joo go soft for, Eibischbison," marshmallow-bison. She reached into her pocket and tossed something shiny over her shoulder. Without any effort, Rosalie cupper her hands, and a key landed gingerly there, as if planned.

Rosalie felt that her engine was red-lining. She spun around and walked patiently as impatiently as she could, damn groin. She reached the elevator, and that impatience began to well up in her chest. She had little question about the key, because as soon as the door opened and she stepped in, she saw that the Skybox, marked by an 'S' and two stars, had a key required for the button to activate. She slid the key in the slot, felt each tumbler clack into place, and turned it. The S lit up, and with a simple press, Rosalie ascended.

The elevator was no slower than any other she'd ridden, but with all of the silent promise that awaited when she reached the top floor. She'd later question the uncharacteristic gesture of Hildegard, if her assumptions were correct, but right now she felt like Tweeting at Klaus to shake him up; he must have known.

Where time felt like it had slowed to a crawl was when the doors were opening. Rosalie thought little of the lavish adornments of The Fireplace's skybox, the suited furs and expensive food and drink spread, the optimal angle with which to view the impending game. Instead, her eyes just locked onto the miniature bison standing before her, a little more dressed up than she usually was, and waiting in the wings behind Eleanor was a taller hyena, wearing that impossible grin that Rosalie always found simultaneously infuriating and endearing.

"Happy Valentine's Day!" the young bison called.

Rosalie started to tear up. "Happy Valentine's Day," she said, "both of you."


Hildegard ignored the compliment, really ignored any critique or exaltation of herself that didn't have to do with basketball. "Don't make zhis about me, Smoot. Zhere is somessink zhat is bohzerink joo, somessink joo cannot take onto zhe court."

"Or what?"

"Joo vill fail." Her eyes grew intense whenever the subject of winning or losing came into the conversation. "Und I cannot just let zhis team fail for no reason."

"Hildegard, we've talked about this. I think this was a good move. I didn't expect it from you, even when you promised, but you've gone to bat for me. That day Eleanor was sick, when Bart got rear-ended. Who knew you'd be understanding like that?"

"Smoot."

"I mean it. Things are stable. Eleanor is happy, Bart is happy--"

"But joo are not." This got Rosalie's attention. They sat for a few seconds without talking, as if they were trying to feel each other out. "Joo are not happy, and normally I vould not care. Brad is unhappy, give him some attention. Velox is unhappy, wear him down until he sinks more shots. But joo, joor Ungluck, joor unhappiness, it makes joo Scheisse on zhe court."

Rosalie's ears lowered. When she started, she was top notch, and since then, though not the worst, there were some disparities that many had noticed in her playing. "I'm not doing poorly," she justified.

"But joo know joo are a champion." Rosalie's heart skipped. "How many players do I say zhat to?"

"I've never heard you say that."

"Genau, but I believe in zhis team." She balled up her fists and leaned forward again. "It bohzers me how much zhis team vorks und how much wir deserve. I believe it more zhan anyssink. But joo," pointing at the bison, "are not a matter of belief. Joo did not come here because of fate. Joo came here because wir bohss know vhat zhis team are capable of."

Rosalie furrowed her brow, determination showing through her discomfort. "Yes," she said simply. "And I want to be a part of it."

Hildegard slapped her knee. "Zhere it is!" She laughed just once, a solid blow. "Zhat is vhat is makink joo unhappy, ja?"

The bison expected no psychology session before her first starting game back, yet Hildegard forced a disquieting issue out of her. "I haven't been a part of this team's successes yet." She shook her head, that tamed mane of hers echoing her movements. "This team has potential, even if we're...behind Biloxi, but I'm used to being a big presence, the big presence. Maybe I'm too proud for my own good. I didn't expect to be what I've become, I suppose."

Hildegard stood up. "If anyssink, joo are not proud enough." She straightened her blazer, and it occurred to Rosalie that her coach had begun to wear more skirts lately. How long had her hair been short? "I vork hard to bring talent to zhis team. I'm even willink to break rules if it means gettink players on zhe right track." Hildegard contacted Rosalie in the midst of contract renegotiations, against the league's standards. "I brought joo here because joo could haff as big an impact on zhe team, as much as joo had on Biloxi and more."

"And since I've been gone, the team has been on a winning streak."

"Do joo ssink zhat has anyssink to do mit joo?" She put her hands on her own hips. "Zhis team is constantly tryink to figure itself out. Joo are tryink to find joor place on it." She held her hand out to help Rosalie stand. "Zhere is nossink joo can do to disappoint joor husband und daughter. A player must alvays been zheir own harshest critic, so I do not haff to vorry about zhat mit joo." She sighed. "Maybe zhis is Tazel speakink, but joo haff to let joorself feel zhe vins of zhe team. Use zhat ego of joors, ja?"

It was a short version of a longer conversation that Rosalie needed to have with herself, yet it was an opening. As proud as she was, she'd fought for so many people that she had lost sight of what it was to fight for herself. She wanted to give Eleanor the best life, honor Bart for his help and sacrifices, even show up all of those that had wronged her back in Buffalo, Wyoming. But when did she give herself the chance to be selfish? What did she wanted out of Tallahassee? How much work could she put into making both this team and herself a success? Not knowing where her allegiances to herself took root just yet, all the while feeling that tonight the world would see a new Rosalie, a more determined Rosalie, she took Hildegard's hand and stood.

"I keep having to thank you, Hildegard."

The hyena-rabbit scoffed. "I vant ssanks like I vant a cold." She grinned. "I am selfish. I vant vhat zhis team deserves."

Rosalie nodded. They headed for the tunnel and to the start of Rosalie's return. "And wouldn't it be poetic to continue our winning streak in the same place it started." The two shared a laugh.

The night would signal a strong return, even if the impending retirement of Lucas Dupre, which they would hear about in the coming week, may have given Biloxi the edge. Rosalie would feel proud of her performance all the same, knowing this was a new time for her career. All the same, she needed time to see that she was a star among stars.

"Hey, can I ask, did Tazel come up with the idea to bring Eleanor and Bart out?"

Hildegard chuckled. "Nein. It vas me."

Rosalie walked behind the coach, always purposeful in her movements. There was one last sigh she needed to let out quietly so Hildegard wouldn't hear her. She knelt down and let the hyena-rabbit continue along ahead of her. Rosalie nimbly worked to undo the overly tight laces she'd done up earlier. Methodically, she slid each lace out of its various holdings, snaking around in a preordained pattern before they fell limp to the floor. Her eyes narrowed as she redid the laces, her mind as quiet as it had been in a month.


Featured Characters

Rosalie Smoot Hildegard Tetreault The wikipage input value is empty (e.g. <code>SomeProperty::, [[]]</code>) and therefore it cannot be used as a name or as part of a query condition. The wikipage input value is empty (e.g. <code>SomeProperty::, [[]]</code>) and therefore it cannot be used as a name or as part of a query condition. The wikipage input value is empty (e.g. <code>SomeProperty::, [[]]</code>) and therefore it cannot be used as a name or as part of a query condition.


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