Seconds Away Page 32

Lunchtime was usually spent with Ema and Spoon, but today I was supposed to meet with Coach Grady, the varsity basketball coach. Part of me was relieved about avoiding them. Don\'t get me wrong. I trusted them both with everything I had and owed them the complete truth, but Rachel had asked me not to say anything about going to see her after school. I couldn\'t just ignore that, could I?

In short, the best answer might also be the most cowardly: avoid.

As I headed for Coach Grady\'s office, I passed a somewhat familiar spot and felt a funny longing. It was Ashley\'s locker. Ashley had been sort of my girlfriend before she vanished. The Abeona Shelter that is to say, Ema, Spoon, Rachel, and me had saved her, I guess. The last time I saw her, she waved good-bye to me and left in a van driven by another member of Abeona.

Now, just a few days later, all signs of Ashley were gone. Her locker had a fresh lock on it. Some other kid had moved in, I guessed, and taken over her space. Ashley was gone as though she had never been there. I wondered where she was now. I wondered whether she was okay.

I knocked on Coach Grady\'s door.

’’Come in.’’

This was not normally an office you wanted to visit. Mr. Grady was also the vice principal in charge of discipline. If you were called to his office, it was usually to get detention or be suspended.

Mr. Grady looked at me over half-moon reading glasses. ’’Close the door,’’ he said.

I did. He invited me to sit. I looked around his office. There were no family photos, no trophies or photos of former basketball teams nothing personal.

’’So,’’ he said, folding his hands and putting them on his desk, ’’how did you feel about tryouts yesterday?’’

I wasn\'t sure how to answer that. ’’It was fun.’’

’’You\'ve clearly played basketball for a long time.’’

’’Yes.’’

’’I know you traveled around a lot in your youth, right?’’

I nodded.

’’Spent a lot of time overseas, played for a lot of different teams.’’

’’Yes.’’

’’What was the longest time you played with the same group of guys?’’

’’Two months,’’ I said.

He made a face as though he had expected that answer.

’’It\'s one of the reasons we moved back to the United States,’’ I said. ’’See, my father wanted me to have that experience to settle down and stay in the same place and play with a real high school team.’’

’’Sort of like, oh, I don\'t know, the seniors on this team?’’

I said nothing.

’’This same group of boys has been playing basketball together since the fifth grade. They\'ve won together on every level, and now, well, this is it for them. Next year they all go their separate ways.’’

There was nothing to add to that, so I stayed quiet.

’’I also explained to you recently that I don\'t like having freshmen or sophomores play on the varsity team. In the dozen years I\'ve been coaching here, I haven\'t had a sophomore on varsity yet, and this year, with five starters from last year\'s team returning . . .’’

He stopped. This was not going the way I had hoped.

’’But that said, I saw your uncle play when he was here. I know that he was a once-in-a-generation talent. After watching you yesterday, you may be that too. I don\'t know yet. I don\'t want to get ahead of myself. But my job as coach is to be fair and give everyone a chance. If what I saw yesterday was a fluke or maybe the competition wasn\'t that great, well, we will find out. But for now, I don\'t see how I cannot at least give you a shot at trying out for varsity.’’

I wanted to pump my fist and shout, ’’YES!’’ but I managed to keep my emotions in check. ’’Thank you, Coach.’’

’’Don\'t thank me. You\'ll either earn it or you won\'t.’’ He looked back down and started writing. ’’Varsity tryouts are at four thirty. I\'ll see you then.’’

I rose and started for the door.

’’Mickey?’’

I turned back.

’’I know you\'ve already had issues with some of the seniors. Guys like Troy and Buck.’’

’’Yes, sir.’’

’’They are a very tight group Troy, Buck, Brandon, Alec. They won\'t be happy with this move. If you make the team, you\'ll be taking a spot from one of their closest friends.’’

I shrugged. ’’Not much I can do about that.’’

’’Yes, Mickey, there is. We will need cohesion to be successful on the court. Try to remember that. Be the bigger man.’’

Chapter 27

When I got to the cafeteria, Ms. Owens, the teacher I liked least (which was a nice way of saying ’’did not like’’ or even ’’hated’’), gave me the evil eye and said, ’’Hall pass?’’

I gave it to her. Ms. Owens studied it as though I were a terrorist carrying a fake passport. After a few more long seconds, she grudgingly let me in. I headed over to my normal table. Spoon and Ema were already in place, though there were two chairs separating them.

’’Where were you?’’ Ema asked.

’’Mr. Grady wanted to see me.’’

’’Are you in trouble?’’ Spoon asked.

’’No. Just the opposite.’’

As I explained about getting a varsity tryout, I spotted Troy and Buck. They had changed tables so that they sat now only with boys more specifically, only boys on the varsity basketball team. I wondered whether they knew that I would join them at tryouts today. My eyes stayed on the table a beat too long.

Spoon said, ’’Your future teammates.’’

’’Yep.’’

’’You know Buck and Troy, of course. Have you met any of the others?’’

’’No.’’

’’Well, Troy is one captain. The other is Brandon Foley. He\'s at the end of the table. He\'s the tallest player on the team. Six foot eight.’’

I had seen Brandon Foley in the corridors, and I often heard his voice over the morning announcements.

’’He\'s student council president,’’ Spoon said.

’’And,’’ Ema added, ’’he\'s also Troy Taylor\'s best friend. They\'ve lived on the same street since birth and started playing together when they were in diapers, which in their case might have been last year.’’

Terrific.

As I was looking over at the table, Brandon Foley turned and met my gaze. I expected the standard mocking glare, but Brandon didn\'t do that. He made sure that I was looking at him and then he nodded in a gentle, almost supportive way.

Troy was sitting next to him. He turned to see where his friend was looking, so I quickly diverted my gaze.


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