Author's Note: Well, here it is: the newly and completely revised edition of "Daddy's Little Girl". I've been working long and hard on this over the past few months, and have even been working with an editor in fervent hope that perhaps this could be transformed into publishable quality someday. All of the changes that have been made may take some getting used to (i.e.: point of view switch, character names, etc), but let me assure you that as the author, I have good, solid reasons for each and every one of them. I hope with all my heart that they won't be too distracting to those of you that enjoyed the old DLG (though most things – plot, character personalities, etc. – have remained the same), and hopefully that the new flow of the story will attract new readers. I'd really love to hear all opinions, comments, praise, criticism, etc, as I feel that every review could push this story closer to publication. However, I do ask that you all accept my decision about the name changes, and just take my word for it that it was something that, as an author, I just had to do. I hope that all of you can keep an open mind and think of this story as completely set apart from the old version. With that said, please enjoy, and for those of you that have read this before, thanks for sticking with me! I'm also trying to increase the amount of reviews on this version as opposed to the amount on the last version, and I'm begging you guys to help me out with that. Anyway, without further ado, I'll conclude this obscenely long author's note (assuming anyone is still reading this). Thanks, and please remember to review!
Chapter 1: Of Prayers and Petitions
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 16
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.
It was at times like this, she thought, that God probably found her amusing. She had never been a religious person, but she was praying. She was praying fervently, aloud no less, and what frightened her most was that she meant it. She'd never meant it before, but at the moment she needed guidance more than she ever had. Ever the cynic, she'd never seen the beauty in beseeching an imperceptible being for help, but as she passed the large sign welcoming her back to Eugene, Oregon, Halley Cavallari figured now was as good of a time as any to start.
The headlights glistened against the newly fallen snow as she pulled into the driveway of her old home. The house looked just the same as it had when she'd left it last, except the basketball hoop in the front yard was gone and had been replaced by a small oak tree that was bare of leaves. The sight was somewhat disconcerting, and Halley found herself wondering when and why her father had gotten that done.
The drive back from Chapel Hill had been a long one: a countless number of hours on the road with a roaming cell phone, a couple fuzzy radio stations, and prayer so ardent that she felt she'd lose her voice. Since beginning college at the University of North Carolina three years ago, she'd hadn't found the time or strength within her to come home – to tell the complete truth, there really wasn't much time for UNC's starting point guard to even get away from campus – and now here she was, sitting alone in her car in her old driveway on Christmas vacation.
It had been against her father's will to go to college in North Carolina, so far away from home. But no, Eugene, Oregon wasn't her home. It was a prison, and Jim Cavallari had been the man on the other side of the bars dangling the keys just out of her reach. Her fiery neurotic-of-a-father, known to the citizens of Eugene as their beloved "Coach Cav", had been seen as nothing less than a god from the moment he'd accepted the title of head coach of the University of Oregon men's basketball team, a program that had lain dormant for so many years that just the thought of undertaking such a task was regarded as suicide. Coach Cavallari, a man loved by many and respected by all, seemed to think differently, and sold his soul to the University of Oregon and the insatiable challenge that came with it. Since he had donned his whistle for the first time that fated rainy day just over six years ago, his devotion to resurrecting the once-mighty Oregon Ducks had been all his one track mind could handle.
And, really, all that Eugene could handle. The citizens of such a small college town tend to search for something to cling to, and since her father had arrived at the University of Oregon, basketball had been it. Coach Cavallari, a man that had waited his entire life for a high profile job, embraced his role as savior wholeheartedly. In fact, he embraced it so much that he forgot there was someone else that resided beneath the fancy suits and inspirational speeches: a father.
Perhaps it was for that very reason that Halley had grown into such a dreadfully independent person, never relying on anyone but herself and a basketball if she could keep it that way. Her mother had never offered her a hand to hold either, as she had walked out on the family when Halley had been just a little girl. Jim Cavallari had been struggling as a high school coach at the time, little Halley had been inching up on her eighth birthday, and the ambitious Meg, who had never really had it within her to be a mother, had wanted to move up in society. Apparently the stress of never having enough money finally got to her, and after months of constant emotional battles, she'd slammed the door behind her and was never seen again. She had lackadaisically argued for Halley's company, but the child had wanted to stay with "Coach". She'd always been a daddy's girl – up until a few years ago, that was. He was her father: the perpetual big, brave hero. She was just the Cavallari black sheep: Halley, the wandering daughter.
After a long moment, she finally pulled her keys out of the ignition and stepped out of the car, the prayer on her lips withering away as the bitterly cold night air assaulted her lungs. She wrapped her arms around herself and stood watching her iridescent breath lofting toward the house. Her attention then turned to the large white split-level with the luminous gabled windows, so like eyes, gazing aloofly back at her. As she stared, she was assaulted by a flood of memories. Dad and I sitting on the porch eating ice cream while he regaled to me basketball "war stories" from his youth. Dad pushing me on the tire swing that still hung from the tall oak tree in our back yard while he listened to a game on the radio. Dad teaching me how to dribble and cheering for me when I made my first basket. Basketball had always been her life, and that was all because of him.
The brisk wind (or perhaps it was the memories, she couldn't quite say) was chilling her to the bone, so finally she locked the doors to her silver Mustang – her pride and joy – and walked up to the doorway. She hesitated for a second or two, pausing to mutter her prayer one final time, and then finally rung the bell. She could hear the soft sound of footsteps coming from inside and could see his silhouette through the glass window that was stationed beside the doorway, hardly daring to believe that three years had indeed passed since they'd last seen each other. Halley felt her breath catch in her throat, and feebly made the sign of the cross – backwards, for all she knew – as the door swung open.
"Halley? You didn't tell me you would be getting here this soon! I wasn't expecting you until at least midnight," the man at the door offered, unexpectedly pulling his wayward daughter into his arms. Jim Cavallari III was not a big man, standing at about five-feet-ten, with a head full of thick light brown hair that, after forty-nine years, was finally streaked with grey. Having always been a man with a reputation of being "hard as a rock", he had never really been one to show affection. When Halley was younger, she had been the only one with the ability to break through his façade – his "Halley-girl" was his soft spot. She couldn't rightly say when and why that had all changed, but the fact of the matter was that it had, and his abnormally warm welcome couldn't help but make her feel uneasy.
"My cell phone wasn't working. I was going to call you as soon as I got on the road," she guardedly explained. "How are you doing, Dad?"
"Almost one-hundred percent," he answered, looking her over. "You look great, Hal!"
"Well, don't just stand there, come in!" he ordered lightly, and she tried to push aside the all too present feeling of nostalgia as he lead her into the familiar hallway filled with framed pictures of her as a child on the walls and closed the door behind her. She followed his retreating form past the kitchen and into the living room where a fire was blazing brightly in the fireplace.
"How's school treating you?" he asked after they were both situated on the couch.
"Great," she replied, studying him warily. His overbearingly vibrant attitude was bothersome. It was too uncharacteristic of him to be acting the way he was. "And how's the team?"
"They've gotten off to a good start – undefeated so far, actually," he explained before falling silent. He took what appeared to be an unnaturally deep breath, and she mimicked his action for lack of anything better to do. Finally, he let out an uncomfortable sigh, looked her over once more, and said, "Halley, there's something I'd like to discuss with you…"
And this would be the reason for his drastic change in attitude, she realized, proverbial warning bells beginning their frantic toll. I just walked in the door and he's already going to get on my back for rejecting his kind offer to spend my summers in Eugene.
"Dad, look, if this is anything about summer break…" she began wearily.
"No, no, that's not it at all!" he interjected. "I wanted to talk to you about the team."
Halley raised her eyebrows in surprise. "What about it?"
"Well, you see, I got a letter from your Uncle James…" he said, pulling a folded piece of flowery stationary out of his pocket and handing it to her. She looked it over for a minute, feeling her eyes widening in surprise as she read.
"James is getting married?" she asked, shaking her head in astonishment. She could hardly believe that her tubby, tobacco-chewing Uncle James had managed to find the love of his life before she'd found hers. Perhaps that's because you haven't tried, an annoying voice in her head that sounded suspiciously like her friend Kit's reminded, and she pushed it away in irritation. Shut up, Kit, she thought back viciously. It's not the time or place to discuss the fact that, for over a year now, I've been the proud beholder of a very much nonexistent love life.
"Yes, this Friday," her father said, bringing her back to the present. "You see, I need to fly into Salt Lake City tomorrow morning, but the team still needs to practice if they're going to win on Sunday afternoon. As of now we don't have a coach, and since you're home for a couple weeks, I was wondering if you could take over for me until I get back."
For a moment, Halley could do nothing but stare at him, her lips parted as though preparing for a scream. He wanted her to coach his team. His horrendous, lost cause Oregon Ducks – the very team she'd never known but still hated passionately ever since his new job had made their relationship fall apart. She shook her head and squeezed her eyes shut tightly, hoping to the high heavens that when she opened them, she would be back in her apartment in Chapel Hill waking from a terrifying, utterly ridiculous nightmare. No such luck, however. He was still there, and he was still waiting for an answer.
"Dad! I did not come here to waste my Christmas coaching your basketball team. They're you're responsibility, not mine," she concluded upon regaining the ability to speak. The idea was ludicrous to the point of almost being comical.
"Well, it's not actually…coaching, per se. It would be more like watching. All you have to do is tell them what to do, and they'll do it. They're a disciplined bunch. Won't you even take the time to think it over?" he persisted, faint frown lines beginning to form around his mouth.
Halley raised her eyebrows in defiance. "No."
"But you're on break! You have nothing else to do, do you? Your uncle's wedding is important!"
"If it was so important then why am I not going? You haven't talked to James in years, Dad!" And that was true. Her father had never shown much expertise in family relations. Perhaps she should have felt a bit of remorse for her dear Uncle James, as truly she could relate to his position, but at the moment she could only be angry with him for deciding to get married and putting such ridiculous notions into her father's aging head.
"He's still my brother! I think I'm obligated to at least make an appearance!"
"Why don't you just send him a microwave or something?" Halley suggested desperately. "You've made a commitment to your team, Dad!"
"Halley, I'm sure you know that under normal circumstances I would not even dream of leaving the team hanging at any juncture of the season – let alone right before a very important game. I've fought tooth and nail to find any way to squirm out of this, but I just can't in this case. Like it or not, I've made a commitment to your uncle."
And you made a commitment to me, too, she thought bitterly. And just look where it's gotten us. Sweeping away her thoughts, she stared straight into his piercing almond eyes – the exact same shade as mine, she noted with disapproval – and said, "Well, you're going to have to choose because I am not doing this for you. I'm not a coach, Dad. Furthermore, I really don't care one way or the other about your basketball team."
"Shut up, Dad," she said quietly, irked to no end at his use of her childhood nickname. It had been used as an endearment then. Now, it only meant he wanted something. "I'm not going to waste my break taking on your responsibilities for you just because you have commitment issues!"
He fell silent for a moment, and Halley took the time to savor the atypical stillness. Again, their home was in an uproar. The months preceding her departure to North Carolina had been categorized by a series of quite vicious disagreements – some of which bordering dangerously close to resulting in bodily injury. Now, after three long years of silence, nothing had changed. Her uncle was getting married, she wasn't invited, her presumptuous father made one commitment too many, and she was stuck with the only thing basketball-related that she truly couldn't stand: the Oregon Ducks basketball team – because it was Dad-related.
"It's not a waste, Halley," he said finally. "It could be fun, you know, if you actually let it. I'm sure you'll be compatible with all the guys – they're not a hard bunch to get along with. Besides, you don't know what you're going to do with your life, do you? You may find that you like coaching, just like I did. Give it a shot!"
She tangled her fingers in her dark curls in frustration, pulling all the way to the roots. Her father was persistent! "But I'm not like you, Dad!" she objected. "I've been trying to tell you that for years!"
He fell silent for a moment, as if he were actually considering her comment, and she found herself wondering feebly if Hell really had, in fact, frozen over here in Eugene, Oregon. "You're right," he said finally. "We are different, but can't we put those differences behind us? I need you now, Halley-girl. Please."
She sighed softly, inwardly kicking herself for succumbing to her own wishful thinking. Of course he won't be the one to relent. It will be me, just as it always had been. "Listen," she said, though she couldn't help but chuckle to herself at the prospect, "even if I do decide to do this, how would I get your guys to listen? I mean, there's no way they'll ever take me seriously. I know I've played since I was a little girl, but coaching…"
"They'll listen, Halley. You just need to show them that you have authority over them. Show off a little. Prove to them that you know everything there is to know about the game. If that doesn't work, you can always let them know who you are – they certainly wouldn't challenge you if they know you're a Cavallari."
"What do you want me to do, take them each one-on-one? And I don't know everything there is to know about the game…I'm still learning, myself, Dad," she replied thoughtfully. She supposed it would have been wrong to say that his statement hadn't some truth to it. Her father had told her once that she'd been born with a basketball under her arm, and she had been raised accordingly. Before she'd even reached her third birthday, he had made it a point to keep that illustrious brown ball as close to her hands as he could manage, and had spent hours attempting to distract her from her playtime with videos of Pete Maravich, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan. She had honed her jump shot by the time she'd reached seven, and had attended her first basketball camp at age eight – being two years younger than the rest of the campers.
That progressed into playing for numerous summer league teams, starting varsity as a freshman in high school, and by the time she'd committed to UNC Halley Cavallari was one of the most highly touted recruits in the state. Now, with three years of experience under her belt, she was estimated to have a breakout year, even topping her stats from last season of sixteen points and six assists per game. She was a Cavallari in every sense of the word – Daddy'slittlegirl. If only he'd taken the time to notice.
"Halley," he said quietly, "just give it a shot, huh? I can't back out on your uncle now."
"And so you're backing out on me?" Not that I can expect any different anymore, she noted sadly. Just as always, Dad – if you're anything, at least you're consistent.
"I'll be back on Sunday in time for the game. All you have to do is the drills that I've written down in my playbook for you…"
So he'd been banking all along that she'd give in! He's already written down her orders!
"…The guys will love you. It's just for a week, it's not like I'm hiring you on my staff…"
"What about the guys on your staff? Why can't they run the practices while you're gone?" Halley demanded, suddenly feeling enlightened, and her father sighed.
"I've been running them ragged all season long, Halley," he said softly, and she was a bit surprised at the slight twinge of remorse evident in his voice. "One of my guys especially has been struggling through some family problems, and I ended up just giving all of them Christmas week off. I figured I could just handle it on my own, since we've only got one game this week. I couldn't have very well anticipated this, you know."
Halley shook her head violently, struggling to clear away the nonsense she was hearing coming out of her father's mouth. He'd given his staff the week off and left the team in her hands? He must have been growing far more senile than she'd realized.
"If you find the job insufferable, you can just…call me on my cell phone, I guess, and I'll try to tear one of my guys away from his family to come in and take your place. Just give it a chance, will you?"
I hate you so much sometimes, she thought miserably as she looked at him then. He was same old Dad by appearance, though he had certainly undergone some subtle weathering, and perhaps it was that little bit of familiarity – just looking at him and seeing a shadow of the one person that had meant so much to her – that made her do it. "Alright, fine. You win," she relented – just as she'd successfully predicted she would. You win.
His face lit up, and Halley was mildly surprised by how genuine his smile appeared. "See, I knew you'd come to your senses! Halley, you won't regret this!" he exclaimed, and for an instant she feared he would attempt to hug her again. He lunged toward her, and then remembered himself and abruptly backed away. "Let's see, I guess I should give you a little background here…" He pulled a large pamphlet out of the magazine rack and handed it to her. Getting to Know Your Oregon Ducks. She found herself smirking at the title. What an off-kilter team.
"I don't like to brag, but I do have to admit that we have the best backcourt game in the PAC-10," he said, obviously not trying in the slightest to keep the arrogance out of his voice, and Halley felt her eyebrows shooting skyward at the prospect. For as long as she could remember, the Oregon Ducks and "best" only went together in a sentence when used in the context of "Arizona bested Oregon by a margin of eighty points". Had her father finally started the turnaround he'd been preaching was on the horizon ever since he'd taken the job six years ago, or was he just viewing the situation through green and gold-colored glasses?
"Let's do this, shall we?" the man in question asked, snapping Halley out of her ponderings and flipping the book in her lap open to an array of pictures. "This here," he began, indicating the first picture on the page, "is our starting point guard, Luke Welling, a junior. Goes by "Wells". He's got to be one of the best points in the nation, and in fact was up for several preseason awards. He's originally from Blaine, Washington, though his father's from Wales, actually. He was a McDonald's All-American, and was very highly recruited," he paused a moment and stared into space with a cringe, as if remembering just how harrowing the process really was. "Anyway, he knows what he's doing, and he runs the show almost better than I do – you can trust him. Real humble, good background, very polite. What else…oh, and he carries around a basketball wherever he goes. He's a young Pistol Pete," he explained, and Halley studied the small black and white print of the point guard's face. He was cradling a basketball in his right arm, and the smile on his face was confident. She could almost sense his enthusiasm for the game by just looking at him.
"This guy here," the proud coach continued, flipping the page abruptly, "is our wingman, Luke Jacobson, also a junior…"
"Whoa, wait a second," Halley said, holding up a hand. "I don't mean to interrupt, but you have two "Lukes" on your team?"
"Yep, don't worry about it though – they typically go by their nicknames. Jacobson goes by "LJ" most of the time. He's buddies with Wells – they're almost inseparable, which I guess can cause a bit of confusion about which Luke is which since they're always together… Don't worry though, you'll get used to it," he added quickly, she supposed in attempt to ease her skepticism. "Anyway, he's from Corvallis, which is only a couple hours from here. Let's see…he's one of the nation's leading rebounders, as well as sixth in the PAC-10 in scoring at about fifteen points a game. However, he can be kind of rambunctious – finds all the loopholes in team policy, let me tell you – but he's a good kid nonetheless."
Halley nodded, studying this time the face of the team's other Luke. His grin was full of life, and it looked as if someone had been distracting him at the time the photo was taken, because his head was turned slightly to his left and he looked to be laughing. Although she couldn't tell the color because of the awful resolution of the picture, she noticed that he and Welling as well boasted a head full of somewhat shaggy curls.
"Now Adam Rushton, a junior and our other wingman, transferred here from Marquette University at the beginning of last season. He's a real talent, and has made some great contributions to the program already in just his first season to play with us. He's first in the PAC-10 in three-point shooting, and his assist-to-turnover ratio is outstanding. He's got to be one of the toughest guys I know, and shares the duty of leading the team with Wells, even though it's only his second year in the program."
Adam Rushton's picture, horrible resolution and all, was outstanding. Halley imagined that she could almost see a twinkle in his eye if she looked hard enough. Like Welling, he had a basketball cradled in his arms, and like Jacobson, he seemed to have been distracted by someone when the picture was being taken. She could almost hear the young man's laughter through the picture.
"What? Sorry, I just…was wondering what he was laughing about," she admitted, feeling somewhat embarrassed as she realized that her face had somehow gotten positioned only a few inches away from the page as if in attempt to count each of the shooting guard's pristine white teeth.
"Oh, they were all messing around with each other when these pictures were being taken. It's a wonder any of them turned out okay, really," he explained quickly. "Now DeMario Mason, our freshman forward…"
Feeling as though the situation was spiraling more and more out of her control, Halley allowed her troubled thoughts to drift as her father rambled introductions to the pictures of DeMario Mason (whom, she swore, was an enlarged version of Eddie Murphy), the remaining starter, senior center Michael Bruce (whom conceivably could have starred in "Gangs of New York"), and the notable subs, the Australian sophomore forward Ian Wyatt, diminutive sophomore point guard Ryan Robertson, and the six-foot-ten freshman sharpshooter Zeke Novak. When she'd thought the torture to be through, she was restrained to the couch by his decision to go back to Welling, Jacobson, and Rushton and tell her the life story (from conception to present) of each. She assumed he would have continued to prattle on had she not let out a stage-worthy yawn.
"Well, I guess that's all you need to know," he decided grudgingly. "Now one more thing, Halley: try not to get too close to any of my guys, okay? After this week, unless you change your mind about staying, you'll probably never see any of them again. Furthermore, it could hurt the team. We don't want anyone left brokenhearted, do we?"
Halley quickly looked to him in disgust, startled at the absolute ridiculousness of such a suggestion. "Dad, please! I'm not a child anymore, and I certainly have no intention of getting even the slightest bit close to any of them." Or even conversing with them, if I can keep from it, she added silently.
"That's my girl," he said with a saccharine grin. "Now how about some dinner?"
Halley nodded, for really what else was there that she could do? She knew then, as darkly funny as it was, that the instant she found herself alone, she would be praying again.
One final concluding Author's Note: I'm going to try and update this at least weekly. Please review as much as possible and let me know what you think – I need as much help as I can get. Also, I'm going to try and think of questions to ask my reviewers with each update. The question for this week is: If you've read it, what did you like best about the original DLG, and what are you hoping that I've changed/left unchanged in this version? For those of you that have stumbled upon this story for the first time, what originally drew you to it, and have you liked the way things sound so far? Thanks, guys!