Seconds Away Page 24
I smirked. Rachel must have gone to the Mickey Bolitar School of Big Opening Lines. I checked the time on the text. She had sent it an hour ago. I quickly typed a killer response: Hey, you still there?
No reply. I put the phone down and dressed, staring at it, waiting for it to vibrate. I was putting on my sneakers when it did.
Rachel: Yes. Where r u?
Me: Tryouts today.
Rachel: How did they go?
Me: Fine. Who cares? How are you??
Rachel: Better. Bullet skimmed my head but caused no damage. Being released tomorrow afternoon.
Immature as this sounded, I wanted to ask her if she\'d been in touch with Troy, but a) it wasn\'t my business;and b) could you imagine anything more petty? Plus his speech came back to me:
That special girl who stole my heart is lying in a hospital bed, clinging to life.
The one who was being released tomorrow? Liar!
Rachel: Cand you stop by my house tomorrow after school?
Okay, I admit it I felt a swelling in my chest and there was a smile on my face. School ended at three. Tryouts started at five.
Me: No problem.
Rachel: My dad will be home by 4. I don\'t want him to see you so we have to make it fast.
I didn\'t know what to make of that.
Me: Something wrong?
Rachel: Gotta go. Don\'t tell anyone I texted you. No one. See u tomorrow.
I stared at the phone another minute or two and then finished getting dressed. When I got outside, Coach Stashower was waiting for me.
’’You have a minute, Mickey?’’
Coach Stashower had thick curly hair and wore a polo shirt with the Kasselton Camel, our school mascot, on it. We moved into the PE teachers\' office and he closed the door.
’’You\'re some player, Mickey,’’ he said with something approaching awe.
Not sure what else to say, I went with, ’’Thank you.’’
’’I mean, this is only one day.’’ He cleared his throat, his voice more serious now. ’’Tryouts last the rest of the week. It may have been just a fluke.’’
I didn\'t say anything. I knew. He knew. Again, I don\'t say this to sound cocky or full of myself. I say it because I know. I hate when the gorgeous girl always pretends she has no idea she\'s pretty. It is dishonest. That kind of false modesty can be as annoying as bragging. So I didn\'t say anything there was no need because it all gets said on the court but Coach Stashower knew that it wasn\'t a fluke.
’’Coach Grady is going to be working with the varsity for another hour, and he didn\'t want you to wait around for him. He also needs to think about some stuff.’’ Coach Stashower stopped then, unsure how to continue. ’’Anyway, he asked if you can come to his office tomorrow at lunch. Can you make it?’’
I tried very hard not to smile. ’’Yes, Coach.’’
’’Okay then. Go home and get some rest.’’
But I had no interest in rest. I was still flying high.
What I really wanted to do was play more basketball. I realize that this may sound obvious, but the more you play, the better you get. Plus I loved it.
I checked the clock. The pickup games down in Newark might still be going on. I could grab the next bus and be downtown in half an hour.
I texted Tyrell Waters, a junior at Newark\'s Weequahic High School, who lived on those courts: Games still on?
I realized that I probably wouldn\'t get an answer Tyrell could be playing right now but I got one immediately.
Tyrell: Yep, come on down.
I caught the bus at the Northfield Avenue stop. The bus was filled with weary housekeepers, nannies, and various domestics, who always gave this white boy curious looks. The trip from the leafy suburb of Kasselton to the grimier streets of Newark was only seven miles in distance but much farther in pretty much every other way.
The pickup basketball games were played on cracked asphalt with rusted rims. I started coming down here about a month ago because this is where the best basketball is played. You can call me prejudiced for that, but again it\'s like that false modesty thing. If you want to get better and keep your game under wraps until tryouts these urban streets were the place to go.
Tyrell spotted me coming toward him. He waved and gave me a smile. ’’I sat out a game so we could be on the same team.’’
I was pretty much the only guy from the well-to-do suburbs who made this trek on his own. When I first showed up, I had been greeted by plenty of doubt and even derision, but again that was the beauty of sports. Once we got on the court, corny as this might sound, all that stuff fell to the side. I\'ve played basketball throughout the world, most of the time in countries where I didn\'t know the language. It didn\'t matter. You bond on the court. You all speak or at least understand the same language. The other nonsense just fades away.
’’So what\'s going on?’’ Tyrell asked.
’’First day of tryouts.’’
’’How did it go?’’
Tyrell smiled. ’’Yeah, I bet. Hey, Weequahic plays Kasselton this year. That should be a fun game.’’
’’I look forward to it.’’
On the court, someone made a dunk to give his team the victory. There were always spectators at the pickup games. On the right, a group of homeless guys were cheering and jeering and placing ’’bottle bets’’ on the games. Various coaches and parents stood closer in, leaning against the fence, scrutinizing every move.
Pickup basketball is simple: winners stay on, losers sit. No one likes to sit, so the games become very competitive. Tyrell is a great point guard. He sees the entire court with just a quick glance. He fed me two down low, and we jumped out to a quick lead. We cruised from there. I don\'t remember how many games we played or how much time it took. It was all just a wonderful escape. For a little while I didn\'t think about my father or my mother or Rachel or any of it.
Darkness crept in, so someone turned on the floodlights. We kept playing. It was getting late, but I didn\'t really care. After we won the most recent game Tyrell drove the length of the court for the final basket I checked my phone. Uncle Myron had called three times and texted asking where I was. I figured it was best to call him back.
’’Where are you?’’ he asked.
’’I\'m at the courts in Newark.’’
’’Tryouts weren\'t enough today, huh?’’
This was the one thing Myron totally got. ’’I just wanted to get a little more playing in,’’ I said.
’’So how did it go today?’’ ’’Fine.’’
He obviously wanted details, but like I said, it is always better to let your game do the talking. Myron probably understood that too.