It’s time to learn a little bit more about Del Cooper, the person, as opposed to Del Cooper the manager.
She’s had a secret for as long as she’s been in professional sports, and while it’s not exactly a secret-secret, she’s always felt it’s been nobody’s business but her own.
So set ups from her well meaning friends often don’t go as planned.
You'll find out through other pieces why she's so protective of this side of her, but for now I wanted to share a little bit of who Del is outside of her career - and maybe lean into a little bit of a meet-cute situation.
This was one of the times that Del was nervous.
She could tell you everything about that night, if you asked and she wanted to. Could and would are actually very different things, though.
It was an ambush, really. The type of thing, a planned outing with friends, a surreptitious set up. She should’ve known from the start even, when one of her girlfriends had suggested one of those low lit, quiet bars with Edison lights, hanging ferns and vines, and no televisions over their tried and true dive bars. Asked her to dress up, maybe a little make up, something other than sneakers with her jeans (Del chose a pair of flat booties instead).
Except it hadn’t been the intended target that Del had gotten nervous over.
Her friend Liz had meant well, when she had organized the whole thing, inviting a couple of their old teammates, new and old faces Del hadn’t seen since she’d moved clubs the summer before.
Liz introduced Drew with the kind of knowing smile that almost gave it all away. She should’ve winked to top it all off. Del, this is Drew, he’s the new physio for the squad, you just missed him. Oh look, now you two have to sit together - Drew will you help her with her jacket?
The ruse was up before the server arrived with her first round, although Del thought she probably should’ve ordered two in one go because that would’ve helped her get through the awkwardness of this ambush. And maybe sent some message to her assigned set up partner that she wasn’t a woman he wanted to be with. Truly, it was only awkward for her, as everyone else seemed to be enjoying themselves and the company while Drew and Del sat uncomfortably squished together in the large booth - unsure of where to start the conversation. Stops and starts - “when did you start —“ “we must’ve just missed each — “ “how are you finding things —.” Awkward chuckles, staring into their drinks.
Del tried to find the words for him - “You seem really nice but you’re not my type” came to mind — and she had opened her mouth to let him down gently when she heard it.
“Thanks, y’all, for waiting for me, I had to run home and change out of my scrubs and it turned into a whole thing.”
Del had been so wrapped up in feeling awkward and uncomfortable that she had missed the woman striding in and sliding herself next to Drew, whose face brightened to see her and they shared a hug before he turned back to Del.
“Del, this is my sister Quinn, she lives here in the city so I invited her out with us - she doesn’t get out much.”
Quinn smacked Drew’s shoulder swiftly and turned to Del - that was when the nerves hit. Quinn. A punch to the gut, a sudden thundering in her chest. She ordered a gin and tonic as soon as the server breezed past and reached across Drew to shake Del’s hand. “It’s a pleasure, Del.”
She felt like a fish, one of those gaping carps that would swarm to the surface of a lake at the first sign of food, as she struggled to put words together. Drew leaned back and Del leaned in to shake Quinn’s hand, an awkward laugh coming out of all of them.
“Likewise,” Del finally managed. Rosemary, and cashmere, and Del realized it was her perfume, still in the air, lightly, even as her wrist moved away. Their eyes lingered there for a minute and even in the space of time that it was, Del knew she was a goner. As far as she was aware, the whole bar had gone silent, everything had moved away and if Drew hadn’t been in-between them, he probably would’ve disappeared too.
(Quinn would probably tell you differently, if you asked her later).
Del found it almost impossible to get her bearings and she’d hardly started on her first drink. She asked the siblings to give her a little room to let her out of the booth — “going to wash my hands!” — and took a deep breath to try and wrangle in the muscle pounding against her ribcage as she headed towards the bathroom.
“What the fuck,” she murmured to herself as she washed her hands, dabbing water on the back of her neck to cool her off, calm her down. This was going to be a normal, if uncomfortable evening, and now at least she had a reason to let Drew down gently.
Sorry dude, it’s not you, it’s your sister, also came to mind.
The worst part, though, was the unknown. Obviously Quinn hadn’t been privy to the set up either, was just here for the drinks and the company and to visit her brother who was now in town with his coworkers - the squad of women players Del happened to know as well. Drew could get away with it because Liz hadn’t exactly been very good at hiding the set up. Quinn… well she was an innocent bystander. For all Del knew, she was a straight innocent bystander.
Del had to play it cool. Cool, something she could do. She stared at herself in the mirror, fixing the bun her hair was in, taking another deep breath. She could play it cool, she could be cool, she tried to tell the nerves in her stomach to get them to calm down.
She might need that second drink after all, but she could do it.
Del took another deep breath, and marched back out with all the confidence she could muster. Drew started to get up and nudged at Quinn to move as he saw Del approach but she shook her head, waving them off.
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll just sit on the end,” she said, sliding in carefully next to Quinn, feeling a flush rise to her cheeks. Drew slid over her drink as he scooted closer to the center and Del smiled at them, flicking her gaze at Quinn. They shared a nervous smile and Del felt that muscle in her chest flutter - briefly.
Play it cool, Del Cooper, she told herself. She leaned in and shifted her focus, asking Quinn about her life - why was she in the city, what did she do, what did she want to do, what did she like. Just started a residency at the Children’s hospital, Quinn told her. Just graduated med school, wanted to be a pediatrician, wanted to help kids. Had always been too wrapped up in becoming a doctor to have time for much else - especially sports, despite her brother’s career path.
Del shared, too. Her path into playing professionally, how that standard was different for women as opposed to men. Her plans to go into management once she retired — she had already started the work towards earning badges. The bar had fallen away and the group had quieted, to her, even as the night wore on. They shared appetizers and laughter, and Del tried not to seize up again every time Quinn accidentally brushed her hand or her knee against her own.
She was so dizzy with it, with the night and with Quinn and maybe the drinks too, that it took Quinn’s nudge to break her out of the haze.
“We should go, they’re closing up,” she said and Del looked around, suddenly aware most of their group had peeled off and the bar’s lights were about to come on. Drew and Liz were the only ones left, knowing glances of their own as they saw what had happened. Del gathered her jacket sheepishly, laughing, and they walked carefully out.
“Maybe, when you have another free night, we can hang out again,” Del mentioned, pulling on her jacket after they stepped out of the bar, taking a second before meeting Quinn’s eyes. She pulled out her phone from her pocket, ready to order a ride back. Quinn nodded, sweeping her own hair into a ponytail and taking out her own phone. “Yeah, I’d like that, let me get your number.”
That flush found Del’s cheeks again, hot from the alcohol too, and they traded cell phones, entering in new contacts. Quinn had added a green heart emoji next to her name.
“So you know it’s me.”
She winked, hugged Del, and went off to join Drew, walking down the end of the block.
Just as quickly as she had come into the world, she was gone. Del was dumbstruck again, smiling sillily at the green heart emoji.