Updated: Apr 21, 2020
Chapter 1: Clara
Clara stared at the letter in disbelief. Yes, she had applied, but she hadn’t really expected to get an interview. After all, the Tornadoes were National Champions, and she was just one of the athletic trainers for a local university. True, it was one of the larger, more well-known universities and she had helped rehabilitate several up and coming athletes, but there had to have been hundreds of qualified applicants.
“Is that what I think it is?” Her friend and fellow trainer, Stacy, said as she leaned over her shoulder to read the paper. It had been Stacy’s idea for Clara to apply. The girl was always pushing her to do more, challenge herself. Well, she’d certainly done it this time.
“It is. They want to interview me.”
Stacy’s arms wrapped around her and squeezed her like a grape in a vice. “I knew it. I don’t want to say I told you so, but I told you so.”
Clara chuckled at those words. Stacy enjoyed being right, so being able to say “I told you so” was definitely something she wanted to say. The only problem was, she didn’t know about Clara’s past. She didn’t know that her ex-boyfriend was a wide receiver for the Texas Tornadoes. Could she really work on his team knowing that she would have to see him? And what if he got injured? Could she work that closely with him? Would he even let her?
Stacy stepped back from Clara and crossed her arms. “Okay, what’s going on? You should be ecstatic about this interview yet pensive and hesitant are more the vibes I’m getting from you.”
Clara bit her lip. Did she want to share this story with Stacy? Yes, they had been friends for the last few years, having gone through the same program at college and then ending up on the same college team, but this was not something she was proud of. “I used to date one of the players on the Tornadoes.”
Stacy’s eyes grew larger than quarters. “You did? Which one?”
A confused expression clouded Stacy’s face. “Like the boundary line that separates Pennsylvania and Maryland?”
Clara chuckled. “No, like the wide receiver for the Tornadoes, but yes, like the line. His parents have an odd sense of humor.”
“So, who broke it off?” Stacy’s eyebrow lifted as she leaned back and crossed her arms.
Boy if that wasn’t a long story, but not one that Clara was going to go into right now. “I guess I did, sort of.”
A knowing look covered Stacy’s face, and she nodded. “And you’re worried… what? That you’ll fall for him again?”
That was exactly what she was worried about, among other things. “No, not really. It’s been a few years.”
“So, you’re worried that he’s found someone else?”
Well, now she was. She hadn’t even thought of that possibility until it crossed Stacy’s lips. Could she watch him with another woman? “I don’t know exactly what I’m worried about. I guess that it might be weird, that he might not want to work with me.”
That no-nonsense look took over Stacy’s face. It was the same one she used whenever guys tried to say women couldn’t work with football players, and Clara loved it. Normally. “Honey, I’m sure he’s a professional. It’s his job to work with whoever the team hires, and if that’s you, then I’m sure he’ll be fine.
Clara hoped Stacy was right. Of course, she didn’t have the job yet, but this would be a huge stepping stone for her if she got it. She’d be crazy not to go to the interview, but then why did she feel like her life was about to get turned upside down?
The Tornado training facility was huge, and Clara felt like a tiny fish in a big ocean as she walked up the sidewalk to the front door. She hoped they had a receptionist because she didn’t want to get lost in this building. It would be just her luck to run into Mason while wandering around the place looking for the interview.
She needn’t have worried though. A reception desk was the first thing she saw upong opening the door. Large and white, it filled a good portion of the room, and was manned by not but two women with headsets attached to their ears.
“Can I help you?” the one on the right asked as Clara approached. Though her blond hair was pulled back and sprayed, a kind smile resided on her face, and her eyes were friendly.
“Yes, I’m Clara Bradford. I have an interview for the athetic trainer position.”
The woman nodded and clicked a few buttons on her computer before looking up again. “I have you all checked in, Ms. Bradford. You may sit over there until you are called back.” She pointed to a sitting area that looked more like a living room with a comfy couch, a few chairs, and a lamp on a table.
“Thank you.” Clara returned the woman’s smile and then walked over to the chairs. As she sat, she pulled out her phone. Might as well get some reading done while she waited.
She had just reached the most interesting part of the book when she heard her name being called. Stifling a frustrated sigh, she stood, pocketed the phone, and smoothed her skirt. With a smile pasted on her face, she approached the man who had called her.
He held a clipboard in his hand and was obviously on the athletic team by his attire choice of joggers and a tshirt with the team logo on it, but he looked young. She wondered if he was even old enough to be out of college. An intern then?
“I’m Clara.” She held her hand out, and after a moment and a confused expression, the man shifted his clipboard to return her shake.
“Neal, but I’m just the intern. If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to the interview room.”
Clara felt a heat color her cheeks, but it never hurt to butter up interns. She’d been one herself once, and she always appreciated the people who took the time to learn her name and treat her like a person. “How long have you been interning?”
“This is my first year, but it’s been great. The doctors are good people to work with and most of the players are pretty down to earth.”
She knew what he meant with his carefully chosen words. Some of the players had a “god” complex. It was less noticeable at the college level where she was currently working, but she’d seen it with a few of those guys, and she could only imagine how much worse it must get when people were getting paid millions to play.
“Here we are,” he said, stopping in front of an imposing brown door. “Good luck.”
“Thank you.” Clara flashed him a smile and then squared her shoulders before pushing the door open. The room inside was a conference type room with a long rectangular table and four older men staring back at her. Though she was used to working only with men, she had hoped to see a woman in the department. Of course, this might not be the whole department.
“Ms. Bradford, I assume?” one of the men asked after looking down at his clipboard.
“Yes, I’m Clara Bradford.” She smiled at the men, but none of them returned the emotion. Her courage faltered, and she glanced around for some clue as to what she was supposed to do next.
“You can take a seat,” the man said, pointing to the chair at the head of the table.
“Of course, thank you.” Clara pulled the chair out and sat down. Unsure of where to put her hands, she folded them in her lap and waited.
“So, tell us why you applied to the Tornadoes.” This man must be the man in charge as he appeared to be leading the interview and the only one capable of speaking.
“Well, as I’m sure you know from my resume and application, I am currently an athletic trainer for the University of Texas. I love my job, but I’ve always wanted to work for a professional team.”
“For the notoriety?” the man asked, cutting her off. “Or the money?”
She blinked at him. “Neither. I grew up watching football with my dad. Since the age of four, it was the one thing we would do together every Sunday.” She paused as she thought about the rest of her relationship with her father. Rocky would begin to describe it but just barely. “Since then, it’s just been a dream of mine to help the players out, so I studied sports medicine, and,” she shrugged, “here I am.”
The man in charge eyed her, his gaze stern and unflinching as if he could will the truth out of her. “All right. Well, being an athletic trainer for a professional team can be stressful. How do you handle stress and pressure?”
As long as it wasn’t coming from her father, she handled it fine. “I handle stress and pressure very well. I make it a priority to work out to relieve my own stress, and as a believer, I take whatever I have to the Lord in prayer.” She had no idea if these men were believers as well, but she wasn’t about to hide the fact. After the breakup with Mason, God had been there for her, and she would not hide her love for Him.
The men exchanged glances, but Clara couldn’t read their intent. “You do know most of our games are on Sundays which makes attending church challenging.”
Clara smiled. “Matthew 18 says that church is whereever two or more are gathered in His name. My best friend lives just outside of town, so I’m fairly certain I’ll be able to gather with her on days other than Sundays. In addition, I know there are several churches that offer Wednesday services, Saturday services, or even online services.”
The man nodded and rubbed a hand across his chin. “So they do. Okay, Ms. Bradford, one final question. Why should we hire you over all the other applicants we have?”
Clara paused. She hated questions like this. Did they want her to brag or be humble? “You should hire me because I’m good at what I do. I studied sports medicine extensively and have completed many additional training hours outside of what was needed for my degree. My passion for this is evident in everything I do, and my love for this game and for God shines through every day. I may be a woman in a predominantly man’s field, but I don’t back down easily.” She smiled as if to punctuate her point, and, surprisingly, the man smiled back.
“I believe you there.” The man stood and approached her, extending a hand. “Obviously, we have several other qualified applicants, but we’ll be in touch.”
“Thank you.” Clara shook his hand, making sure to keep her grip firm as her father had taught her. Surprise flickered across the man’s face for just an instant before his grin widened and he walked her to the door.
As it shut behind her, Clara couldn’t help but think that the job was hers. The interview had gone well, and a peace filled her heart as if this was exactly where she was supposed to be. She glanced at her watch as she headed for the parking lot. It was still early. Perhaps Tiffany would have time for an early dinner before she had to catch her flight home.