For the first time in Max's career, there was one minute left in a basketball game, and his team had a chance to win. The score was in his favor at 46-45, and his girls had control over the ball. Despite his continued claims that he didn't really care about winning or losing, Max felt giddy at the thought having at least one win for the season. His head seemed to float above the spectators while his stomach cramped in nervousness.
"Go!" he howled at Breanna, who held the ball. "Set up our offense, let's get a few more points so we have some breathing room!"
His girls heard, and in obvious confusion, set up the offense they'd only worked on a few times. Max had always intended to perfect the offense a bit, but after everything that had happened, he'd just never worked on it enough. It had never made any difference before that day.
As his girls stumbled on the floor, however, Max knew he was in trouble. Carly didn't break when she was supposed to, and missed a wide-open pass. Then, Hannah set up a pick when she was supposed to move to the top of the key for a pass, and the entire offense fell apart.
"Remember what we did at practice!" Max cried as he leapt to his feet. Irritably, he turned toward Brandy and spat, "Go check in. As soon as the game reaches a stopping point, you're going in."
"Me, Coach?" Brandy asked.
"Yes, you," Max replied. "Go check in, now!"
Brandy trotted the few feet to the table where the stat-keepers sat. Max waited for the action to stop, and would soon forget it. Two girls on the opposing team had backed Breanna into a corner, and none of Max's girls were making any move to help her.
A skinny girl with dyed-blue hair managed to wrestle control of the ball from Breanna, and a second later, she was speeding in a mad-dash to the other end of the floor. Max jumped up and hollered "Time out!" but it was too late. The blue-haired girl made her easy lay-up moments before the buzzer rang out. The last-minute basket to win the game probably seemed like a miracle to her teammates, but Max felt as though he was cursed.
Seven deflated teammates, one of whom had yet to see any action that season, gathered around Max. He sighed, reminded himself not to get angry, and said, "Go pick up your stuff, girls, and head to the locker room. I'll be down in a few minutes."
They looked defeated not only in fact, but also in spirit as they made their way to the bench. Max watched them go, and wondered whether he should make an inspirational speech to bring their spirits up, or if he should focus on the things they needed to improve at the next practice.
The adrenaline continued to course through Max's veins minutes after the game was over, and he could tell because of the way his left arm tingled. He still hadn't decided what he wanted to say to his girls, when his thoughts were interrupted by a beautiful, indescribable sound.
A wonderful voice was calling his name. He didn't hear the human name Max, but rather the gorgeous unknowable angelic name that had belonged to him in Heaven. As a sudden burning pain exploded across his chest, the angel felt himself being wrenched from the dead human body he'd inhabited for months.
While concerned spectators and a by-standing emergency worker rushed to the side of the dead man who had just collapsed to the middle of the basketball court, the angel ascended until he was above the gym and could no longer see. He wasn't particularly concerned about what went on below, for he was suddenly overcome with an unquestionable certainty that everything was all right and had gone according to plan.
As Heaven neared, the angel knew that he'd done great wrong, but that he'd been forgiven. All of the flaws and prejudices as pride he'd developed during his long time below were expelled, and he was filled with warmth and light and song. Content with his place and overjoyed at the good he'd helped to bring about, the seraph continued to rise until he was home.