Seconds Away Page 22

Ema dropped her fork. ’’The what club?’’

’’We\'re changing the name,’’ I explained.

The ’’luxury box’’ lunch table seemed in better spirits today. You could keep those guys down for only so long, I guess. Troy Taylor was showing off by spinning a basketball on his finger. He curled his arm behind his back and kept the ball spinning and then let it roll from one hand, across his chest, to the other. When he was done, everyone applauded. He bowed and looked across at me as if to gauge my reaction. I gave him nothing.

’’Hey,’’ Spoon said, ’’either one of you going to audition for that new Angelica Wyatt movie?’’

’’Pass,’’ I said.

Ema frowned hard. ’’Of course not.’’

’’I might,’’ Spoon said, ’’except . . .’’

’’Except what?’’

’’Well, suppose Angelica Wyatt falls hard for me. How do I explain to her that I\'m still underage?’’

That was enough for Ema. She got up and left.

I managed to make it through the rest of the day and headed into the boys\' locker room to get dressed for tryouts. The place was packed. When I entered, Troy and Buck spotted me and started up with the death glares.

Boy, this was going to be fun.

I would again note that I had butterflies in my stomach, but after hearing about Lizzy Sobek, I figured that I better come up with a different metaphor. Let\'s just say I was nervous. Really, really nervous.

I threw on shorts and laced up my basketball shoes.

’’Lame,’’ I heard a voice say.

I turned. It was Buck. ’’Excuse me?’’

’’Your sneakers.’’ He pointed at them. ’’Did you get them out of, like, some sales bin?’’

Snort. Laugh. Snort.

’’Um, yeah,’’ I said.

While I didn\'t think that my reply was particularly clever, Buck seemed lost by it. ’’Well, they suck.’’

’’Thanks.’’ I pointed at his feet. ’’Yours are very pretty.’’

Buck bent in close to me, his mouth inches from mine. ’’Why don\'t you do everyone here a favor and go home?’’

I leaned away. ’’And why don\'t you do everyone here a favor and carry breath mints?’’

I hurried out to the gym before he could react. Dozens of kids were warming up, stretching, shooting around. I made my way to the basket farthest from the locker room. I stretched and took a few shots. But I was nervous. The shots clanged off the rim.

From across the court, I heard snickering. Then Buck yelled, ’’Nice bricks!’’

Man, I had to relax.

A whistle blew. Someone shouted, ’’Everyone grab a seat on the bleachers.’’ So we did. Troy and Buck sat in the first row, so I made my way to the back. Coach Grady came out, and the gym fell silent.

’’Welcome, gentlemen, to basketball. My name is Coach Grady. I\'m the head coach here at Kasselton. Next to me is Coach Stashower. He\'ll run JV.’’

Coach Grady wore gray sweatpants with elastic leg cuffs and a black hoodie with a hands-warmer pouch. His hair was thinning and the few remaining strands had been grown long and plastered down to his scalp.

’’In a few minutes,’’ he continued, ’’we are going to divide you up. The sophomores and freshmen are going to Gym Two.’’ He pointed to the smaller gym adjacent to this one. ’’The seniors and juniors will stay here.’’

Coach Grady\'s voice echoed the way a voice always does in a high school gym. They are all the same. They all have that thick brick and wooden pullout benches and smell like old socks and disinfectant. I glanced around this place I so much wanted to call home. A big poster that read 1,000 POINT SCORERS snagged my eye. Eleven students in the history of this school had achieved that goal. Nine boys, two girls.

One player had even scored more than two thousand points.

Guess who?

Yep, Uncle Myron the all-time leading scorer. My eyes traveled down the list. I stopped when I saw the name EDWARD TAYLOR that was Troy\'s dad and, well, Chief Taylor. He was the second-leading scorer of all time with 1,758 points in his career. I looked down a few more names. There was TROY TAYLOR, the most recent entry, with 1,322 points and an asterisk, noting that Troy was still an active player and so that number would rise.

I sighed. It was like a list of my enemies. I was surprised the Butcher of Lodz hadn\'t scored a thousand points!

’’As most of you know, we have a stellar group of seniors returning to this team. Last year, we even won the county championship for the first time in a decade.’’ Coach Grady gestured toward the new COUNTY CHAMPIONS banner on the far wall. I counted six other county championships, the first in 1968.

’’All five starters from that team are back with us this year,’’ Coach Grady went on, ’’and when the season is over, we want to finally hang another state championship banner up on that wall.’’

Now he gestured to the two large STATE CHAMPIONSHIP banners that humbled the county ones. That\'s right Kasselton High had won only two state championships in their history, both dating back about twenty-five years. I did the math, but I already knew what the answer was going to be. Guess who\'d been on both teams? Come on, you\'ll never guess.

Dang, how did you know?

Uncle Myron. Long shadow much?

’’That\'s our goal,’’ Coach said. ’’A state championship. We will settle for nothing less.’’

That got applause, the most enthusiastic of which came from Troy and Buck and the rest of the returning players sitting in the front. The rest of us, now suddenly feeling like interlopers on the ’’chosen’’ seniors, were a tad more restrained.

’’Now, before we break down and start tryouts, team captain Troy Taylor would like to address all of you. This is important stuff, so listen up. Troy?’’

Troy rose slowly. He turned and stood in front of us and lowered his head, as though in prayer. For a few moments, he didn\'t move. What the heck was this? Troy seemed to be trying to summon some inner strength.

Or maybe he was working up to shouting ’’Ema! Moooo!’’ again.

Man, I did not like this guy.

Finally, Troy broke the silence. ’’As you know, this is a very hard time for Kasselton High and especially for me personally. A beautiful girl was shot and nearly killed.’’

Oh no, I thought. He isn\'t going there . . .

’’A girl I care so much for. A girl who cheered for this team and, well, her lucky boyfriend . . .’’

He was going there!

’’A girl who has been such a big part of Troy Taylor\'s life . . .’’

Wait, did he just refer to himself in the third person? I wanted to slap the side of his head. What a pompous gasbag. I looked at the faces of my fellow tryout-ees, figuring that they\'d be bored or sneering. But that wasn\'t the case at all. They sat in rapt attention.

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