For Love & Basketball
Matchmakers' Book Club - Book 2
“I would like to call this meeting of the Matchmakers’ Book Club to order. Let’s get the business out of the way and then focus on the fun,” I state from near the fireplace at the Ramirez home.
The ladies’ chatter decreases upon my announcement, and they gather around the living room.
“I would like to welcome our newest member, Rosalina Gugliotti. Lina captured the heart of one of our community’s most eligible bachelors and has been invited to join our sorority of sorts.”
Shock materializes on Lina’s face. “The list is a real thing?”
The group of ladies laugh, and Willa adds, “Welcome. We pride ourselves on keeping our matchmaking a secret.”
Lina turns to her sister-in-law. “Were you in on it the entire time?”
“I may have offered a nudge here or there. However, you and Tino didn’t need our help at all,” Willa replies.
The group erupts in laughter.
I continue, “For those of you who are new to our group, allow me to share our purpose. Initially, our group started as a gaggle of nurses and EMTs to de-stress from the rigors of our profession with a book club and girls’ night in. Over the years, it evolved into a girl gang of epic proportions. Not only do we host events for the local children’s charities, but we keep tabs on the most eligible singles in our community. Our matchmaking book club was created in good fun, and the tradition has continued for the last five years.”
“Along with the purpose of our group, the rules for inclusion on the list have evolved. Inclusion consists of a few factors balanced against one another. First, an attractive package is a must. Also, candidates and admitted bachelors or bachelorettes must be a member of our first responder community, including police officers, firefighters, and EMTs. Most importantly, we attempt to keep the list secret until after he or she has been legally wed. It has come to my attention a few younger members of the YPD are aware of our group and have attempted to learn the inner workings. So far, they’ve failed. The secrecy must be maintained. The last thing we want is our fun to be thwarted. Now I open the floor to all members to suggest additions to the list.”
“I realize this is my second time joining you, but I suggest Callan Craven of the YPD to replace Gugliotti,” Scarlett suggests. Scarlett is an exception to the legally wed rule. She warrants an invitation due to her profession as well as her engagement to Zack Smithson, an honoree on the YPD list.
“Any other suggestions?” Carly asks.
The room is silent.
“With no other potential candidates or objections, Callan Craven will fill the YPD list vacancy. Now the floor is open to suggestions for our next couple. The group shall discuss amongst themselves, and we’ll vote silently on the way out. The chairperson will then enlist members to foster the selected honoree.”
“Séamus Penn,” one member suggests aloud. “He would be the first EMT we’ve attempted to match.”
Several members nod in agreement. The smaller groups in the room break into discreet conversation.
As I walk around, I hear Kelsey inform Rosalina, “We have the list, and we work from that. If we see an avenue to assist a person on the list, we do.”
“I have a suggestion, but it may seem off the wall to you,” Willa whispers.
Maggie and Kelsey speak in unison, “Davis.”
“How…?” Willa asks.
“Tabi is your lifelong bestie. Of course you want her to be happy.”
I make my way around the room, listening for suggestions. I overhear other names, like Lachlan Hagen and Landry Reed. A smile blossoms on my face. It would be nice for my brother to find a partner.
Before I call the ladies to order again, Kelsey Ramirez pulls me aside. “I received a request from a community member. How they know about our group, I don’t know, but the suggestion is coming from an outside source, not someone in this room.” Kelsey shares the information, and I ponder how to pull off the special request from an unlikely source.
“It’s going to take some extra members to pull it off, but I think it’s doable.”
“Good, they both deserve it, and for the requestor to see their connection and be willing to push them along, it’ll be worth it,” Kelsey replies.
Kelsey retakes her seat.
I call the group to order again. “We have received a special request unlike any we’ve had before. I’ll speak to those who are in a unique position to assist this couple and allow voting on other suggestions as well. The suggested honorees are here by the box. Please vote on your way out.” I share the book for next month and the sign-ups for the charity football game hosted by Santino Gugliotti, which is being held in the late summer instead of early fall this year.
“I shall read the names, and then we can move on to our book discussion. The list of potential honorees reads as follows: The York Police Department list includes Callan Craven, Zachary Smithson, Lachlan Hagen, Donovan Davis, and Piper Montgomery. Former honorees are William Ramirez, Grant Washington, Luca Cappelli, and Santino Gugliotti.”
Kelsey Ramirez, Maggie Washington, Willa Cappelli, and Rosalina Gugliotti smile as I read their husbands’ names.
I continue reading aloud, “The York Fire Department list includes Bradford Collings, Alden Rhodes, Aidan Madden, Landry Reed, and Mia Arden. No former honorees to date. Lastly, the EMTs in York County include Séamus Penn, Jude Pascal, Hollis Booker, Lexington Soren, and Lacey Ransom. No former honorees to date.”
We spend over an hour chatting about the book selection and then go our separate ways with the understanding of our united goal to pair up unsuspecting members of our community.
I hustle to the precinct and meet up with my partner for the day. Lately, Cap has been sending Gugliotti with me to the high school since Smithson was promoted to the detective division. Today though, it’s me and Smithson.
“Let’s go, Smithson. We can’t be late.”
He grumbles, “Craven, you’re too much of a morning person.”
I shake my head. Honestly, mornings are not my favorite, but I relish in completing my workout before shift. “You were as well until your engagement to a certain stunning brunette.”
Smithson smiles at me. “You’ll understand when you find the right woman. The last thing I want is to leave Scarlett in our bed for a long morning run. There are plenty of other more… pleasurable ways to pass the time before work.”
Jealous. I’m straight up green with envy. “I hope you’re right.”
“You would have to go on a date or two to find the right woman.”
“Do I? You knew Scarlett was the one for you when you spilled coffee on her.”
“Yet it took you nearly two years to make a move.”
“Also true. I guess the question is… who’s your unsuspecting coffee girl?”
“Haven’t accidently spilled coffee on her yet.” I’m looking for an all-encompassing love that brings peace to my heart and soul. Sappy, I know.
Smithson laughs and drives toward the school where he checks in with Michelle at the front office. Today we’re hanging with the students for an end-of-the-year breakfast and planning for the summer. The student council, along with the athletic boosters, have provided an enormous amount of food and beverages while the kids hang out or play basketball and volleyball in the courtyard. Gugliotti has requested we recruit some of the rising seniors for his charity flag football game. It’ll help with the manpower as well as earn them community service hours for their graduation requirement.
Smithson and I split up. As always, I’m drawn to the basketball game. It’s my favorite sport to play and watch. Cap purposely assigns me extra duty at the high school games when he can. I appreciate it.
“Hey, OC, you joinin’ us today?” Caden calls from the top of the key with a ball set against his hip. He’s the star point guard heading into his senior season at York High. Caden deemed “Officer Craven” overly formal when we met, so he calls me “OC” instead.
“Sure, if you’re willing to go easy on me.”
Caden and Kyla laugh.
“No need for us to go easy on you. You can hold your own despite your age,” Kyla quips. She’s the point guard for the girls’ team and a highly touted recruit for a perennial top twenty-five school.
“Exactly how old do you think I am, Miss Walton?” I set my phone on the player bench.
She shrugs. “Maybe thirty?” The question in her voice indicates her belief she may have offended me.
“Close. Thirty-one is old? Good to know.”
Both grin, and Caden checks the ball to me.
“For the record, it’s unfair to have both of you on the same team,” I admit.
“She’s not that good,” Caden goads her.
“I’m better than you,” Kyla retorts and rolls her eyes.
They’re dating, and he’s trying to knock her off her game. Frankly, their skill sets are strikingly similar.
“Prove it. You can switch teams with James,” Caden throws down the challenge. Kyla and James trade places.
I pass the ball to Caden who passes it back. It takes Caden one swipe to steal the ball and dribble out to the three-point line. Kyla is in his face almost as fast as he stole the ball from me. Caden fakes right, but Kyla doesn’t bite. He pulls up for the jumper, and Kyla blocks the shot. Their classmates cheer for Kyla and jeer Caden.
The couple continue to play one-on-one for a few plays until the principal calls the students over for an announcement. Mrs. Kisel raises her hand to quiet the groans for interrupting their morning fun.
“Thank you. A few brief words, and I’ll let you get back to your breakfast and activities. Detective Smithson and Officer Craven are here to chat about the charity flag football game and opportunities for the upcoming school year to prepare for college with the resource program. Please speak to them before you head into class.”
A chorus of chatter surrounds us. We have nearly an hour before the students need to head inside. I appreciate her assistance.
“So, OC, what do you need for the flag football game?”
“We need some volunteers to help set up, man the concession stand, distribute team jerseys, and collect the donations.”
“We’re in,” Kyla answers for both.
Caden laughs. “We should see when it is first, Ky.”
She wrinkles her nose at him. “True. When is the game?”
“It’s July 15th.”
“That’s on a weekend, right?” Caden asks.
“We’re in,” Kyla repeats.
I grin at them. “Here’s my card in case you don’t already have one. Please email me so I can send you the community service slip for your parents to sign.”
Caden takes the card. “Thanks, OC.”
I see a lot of myself in Caden—not only the basketball prowess but the desire to achieve something great for his family. I’ve only seen his mom, an older gentleman, and another older woman. His mom is a fixture in the stands and impossible to miss. I don’t think she’s ever missed a game. She keeps to herself, despite her son’s athletic ability. She’s a professional of some kind, always dressed in a suit or dress clothes, complete with high heels. Her strawberry blonde hair is similar to Bella Thorne or Isla Fisher. In short, she’s stunning from a distance. We’ve never actually met. I put them together when she joined Caden on the court for the all-league, all-state, all-region celebration over the wildcat logo at center court at the end of last season. Some would say she’s standoffish. I prefer to think she’s private. One look at her and I see a strong woman who has overcome an obstacle—or a few—in her past. Obstacles she refuses to allow to define her future.
The bell rings and pulls me back to the present. The students grumble but dutifully head into the building for class.
Smithson jogs across the court. “How many did you wrangle?”
“Same. Now we can focus on team practices instead of logistics. We need to win this year. The guys from the fire department can’t win twice in a row.”
I laugh. “Truth. When is the next practice?” It’s more like a light workout and drinking under the guise of flag football.
“Saturday at noon, I think,” Smithson answers.
“Are you going to be able to get out of bed?”
“I’ll do my best.”
I chuckle as we enter the building and take a stroll through the halls in opposite directions. Near lunch we meet in the cafeteria and hang with the students. After some not-so-great food, I head to our office adjacent to the guidance department and take a seat.
Smithson joins me shortly thereafter. “Are the days here always like this?”
I frown. “What do you mean?”
“Fulfilling and fun.”
“Yes to the first part, sometimes to the second part. What happened?”
He shares the story of his chat with a group of sophomores looking to set up a peer group for students in need of support for summer employment.
“Sounds great, except this summer might be tight considering it’s already late May,” I share.
“I agree, and they’re aware. They plan to have it ready for next summer.”
“I’m impressed with their desire to find employment, as well as their understanding this year will be difficult.”
“Me too. I didn’t care about any of that when I was in high school.”
“Same. I was only worried about basketball and girls,” I admit.
We spend the rest of the day chatting up the charity game and secure three more volunteers for Gugliotti. Overall, it was a great day.
With the funds from last year’s game, we were able to provide open gym time and an intramural basketball league for those who simply want to exercise or lack the skills to earn a varsity spot. With the support of the park department, we held a hiking trail cleanup in the spring. We also coordinated assistance from a college counselor to help with entrance essay writing as well as paying application fees after a show of need by any student. We helped ten students apply to college who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to do so. The plan with this year’s donations is to expand those programs.
The community resource officer position was Luca Cappelli’s. However, he moved to the crisis unit with the state police. Davis, who was Luca’s partner, lacks passion for the position. It’s simply an assignment to him, so Cap has been assigning him elsewhere. Davis also applied for the same position as Luca, but there hasn’t been another opening. Since then, I have been working with Gugliotti. When I joined the force, it was to help people. While I have other shifts too, I enjoy these at the school the most.
After the last bell rings, Smithson and I make our way back to the precinct.
“Yo, Craven!” Greyson shouts as I enter the locker room.
“Hey, Greyson. How was desk duty today?”
“Not bad at all. I snagged a date with a hottie from the university for tonight,” he replies. “Wanna tag along for her friend?”
Hell no! I’m too old for a college girl. “No, thanks. I have plans.” I don’t, but I’ll create some to avoid the position of Greyson’s wingman.
“Suit yourself. She’s hot.”
“Maybe next time.” Never going to happen.
I change and drive toward the gym, despite going for a run this morning. The temperature outside has me changing my mind. I opt to shoot hoops at the court near my townhouse instead of lifting. Ideally, I’ll have the court to myself for an hour or so before the pickup games begin. Nearly two hours later, drenched in sweat, I exit the court and head home. I have a shift tomorrow and Saturday but have Sunday off. Perhaps a solo hike of Mount Agamenticus will pass my free time.