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Central Valley
Fiction Writers

Central Valley
Fiction Writers


Excerpt from One Fine Day by Carrie Padgett

Football in the South was all Friday Night Lights and The Blind Side. Sam Hardy was determined to get back into the game no matter what. If he didn’t play for the Tennessee Titans this season, he might never see the field again. He’d be sidelined. Listed as a has-been at thirty. And he wasn’t ready to be anyone’s has been.

He was a champion, and this was his year for a Super Bowl ring, and the Titans were his team.

“We don’t have a choice, Sam.” The tension in offensive Coach Jenson Ryder’s tone could have shattered concrete. “Let’s face the facts. You’re just out of surgery from a torn ACL.” He arched a brow at Sam who sat on the table in the Titans’ Nashville training facility, his knee stretched out with an ice pack after therapy. “You know as well as I do, if you go out there without being a hundred percent, your career is over. So…you’re on injured reserve. For the season.”

He’d said it. Two of Sam’s most dreaded words. Injured. Reserve. Sam pinched the bridge of his nose and swallowed the anger threatening to paralyze his breathing. Who was he without football? Without the Titans? He’d been playing football since first grade when he started as a Tiny Mite in the Pop Warner league. Earlier if he counted throwing the ball with his father in the backyard when he was four.

Without a team he’d be immortalized in YouTube videos like Greatest Game Winning Touchdowns. Or exposés on the Greatest QB Who Almost But Never Won the Ring. No, thank you.

“Bruce?” Sam looked over at his trainer who leaned against the wall, arms folded, his expression tight. “Got any ideas? Help a guy out here. There must be options.”

“What do you want me to say?” The muscled man pushed away from the wall and made his way to the table. “The doc told you up front, torn ACLs take nearly a year to recover. And you’re only three months out of surgery.”

The cold, white tile walls in the otherwise empty training room reflected Sam’s bleakness. Since the season just ended, his teammates who were normally training—grunting and lifting—had cleaned out their lockers for the off-season.

Sam shook off the gloom of his situation with a fresh argument. “There are new methods and treatments. I read about them.” He glanced between Bruce and Coach Ryder. So what if he sounded like a kid begging to get off restriction? He’d worked too hard to be sidelined. “Erickson was back in nine months and led the Vikings to the playoffs. I can beat that.”

“He had a different injury. Never mind he’s six years younger than you.”

Thanks for the reminder, Coach. Only in football was a man of thirty an old man. Sam took a deep breath, tamping down his rising frustration as he searched for another option. He’d missed the last two months of the season and the team tanked. The quarterback who stepped into his place became a free agent and rumors swirled of the Titans drafting the college national champion quarterback, Scott Fields, from Ohio State. Just rumors, but still.

What would Sam do with a year on the bench? He’d have way too much time to think. He could give more attention to his business ventures with partner Rick Moses. Some work with his charity foundation. But when life got too quiet, when he wasn’t consumed with football, Sam remembered the vacancies in his life. His thoughts drifted toward home, toward Hearts Bend and—

“Coach, what about Dr. Morgan?” Sam gave a quick, hopefully invisible, fist pump. “She’s just down the road in Hearts Bend and a sports medicine guru. Bruce, you sent North to her.” Sam slipped off the table and hobbled toward Coach Ryder. “I want to make training camp in July.”

“July? You won’t be ready in five months.” Ryder and Bruce exchanged glances.

“Why not? By July, I’ll have been recovering for nine months. Just like Erickson.” Saying it out loud fed his hope. Made him believe this was doable.

“His injury was different than yours, Sam. We’ve talked about all of this,” Coach said. “You knew this upcoming season was a long shot.”

Yeah, they’d talked about Sam not playing but never about Dr. Morgan. Sam had been so sure he’d recover faster, beat the odds, come out stronger, that he didn’t consider the sports medicine specialist who just so happened to live in his hometown. He grew up with her sons, ate dinner at her house so many times he couldn’t count.

“You’re still pretty tender,” Bruce said, motioning for Sam to get back on the table. “Not as far along as I’d like. Some of the simple exercises cause you pain.”

“So that’s it? You’re going to stick me on IR without even calling Dr. Morgan?” He hobbled over to his gear to retrieve his phone. “I’ll call her myself. I grew up eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at her kitchen counter with her kids.”

And Hearts Bend was only thirty-five miles northwest of Nashville.

“She’s always booked. We couldn’t get Trevor North in to her last year for six months.”

Sam hobbled back to the training table and found Dr. Morgan’s number in his contacts. She’d helped him with a small injury in college.

“Call me anytime,” she’d said after declaring him healed and whole.

“Dr. Morgan, please,” Sam said with a glance at his coach and trainer. “Sam Hardy calling.”

He tried not to look all smug, because he didn’t actually know if she’d come on the line, take his personal call. She had people upon people to manage her schedule. Her call-me-anytime invitation was what, ten years old?

Since he only made it back to Hearts Bend occasionally—an Easter here, a Fourth of July there—he’d not seen the good doctor, or any of her kids, in years.

“Sam Hardy, is it really you?” Dr. Morgan’s rich contralto voice bolstered Sam’s hopes.

“Yes, ma’am, it is.” Suddenly he was fifteen again, sitting in her kitchen with her son Seth and flirting with her only daughter, Haley.

“Are you calling about your torn ACL?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said again.

She was silent for a few seconds and Sam heard clicking in the background. “How’s Thursday at two?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He smirked at Coach and Bruce. “I’ll be there.”

Today was Tuesday. She was getting him in two days later. Hashtag miracle.

“Okay, Sam, listen, if you’re my patient, you do what I say, when, where, why, and how. Otherwise, I’ll toss you out.” She paused, then continued with a bit of a laugh in her voice. “I may anyway, if you don’t return your stepmom’s calls.”

Janice. She ratted him out to Dr. Morgan? What in the world? But what did he expect. Welcome to small-town life.

“She’s my next call after we hang up,” he said, trying to sound sincere. If he said it, he’d have to do it.

Janice had been calling—and calling—about his father’s sixtieth birthday party in a few weeks, wondering when he was coming, and if he was bringing a date.

Well, he didn’t know if he was going let alone when he’d be arriving. And most definitely not bringing a date.

“Good. Now she owes me one. And, Sam, tell Bruce to give me a call. We’ll talk details.”

Sam ended the call with a look at Bruce. “She says call her.” The expressions on his and Coach Ryder’s faces were priceless. “She’ll see me Thursday.”


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