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On The Way To Basketball Practice
Ah, it was a grey but not a bleak day, lovely in its inexorable melancholy. I knew there would be stars that night. Stars from a camper’s tent, stars from a New York kid’s apartment window, stars from the sunroof in my bathroom.
My hands were stiff and numb on the handlebars of my bike. It was an hour after school got out for a four-day Presidents’ Day weekend, and I had basketball practice. The idea of the gym – warm, bright, raucous, inviting – hurried me along.
Swiftly something small and hard hit my helmet, causing me to bring the bike to a screeching halt. (Well, no, not a screeching halt per se, but definitely a whining one.) I spun around, a look of death in my eyes.
He was standing there chuckling to himself, hands in way-too-big pockets as usual. On the ground lay a Valentine’s Day heart-shaped candy. I grinned and plucked it from the sidewalk. “’B tru’” I reported as he walked over. "That is, no ‘e’s, for whatever reason. I'm thinking it's to save an extra letter's worth of the company's valuable candy ink."
“Huh. So. You think it’s a sign?”
"The missing ‘e’ is most definitely a sign of dark things to come.”
"Shut up. You know I meant the ‘be tru.’”
“Well, you know I don’t believe in so-called signs to begin with.”
He took in my oversized white basketball shoes, my T-shirt, my baggy shorts. “So this is how you’re spending your first day of the weekend? Biking to some sports practice?”
“Basketball,” I confirmed.
He shook his head. “You’re crazy.”
“When was the last time you participated in an organized sport, _________? It might be good for you. Reinforces values such as teamwork, perseverance, coopera – ”
“Why is there a bloodstain on the tongue of your shoes?”
“It’s called a blister. You get them sometimes if you work hard.”
He laughed one of those laughs you can only see on a person’s face.
“Anyway,” I went on, “you shouldn’t be the one to criticize my use of our first day off. Look at you, slinking around throwing candy hearts at random bikers.”
“Not random bikers,” he corrected.
“Not-random bikers, then.”
“Nope. Just you.”
I feigned indifference at this, hoping my cheeks wouldn’t give me away. I must have blushed a little, though, because he was still wearing that knowing grin as he took a step closer and, suddenly, jumped onto the back of the bike seat.
“Take us somewhere.”
“If somewhere is our school gym, sure, let’s go.”
“Don’t you ever get claustrophic? Come on, I bet you have that feeling sometimes. You know,” he went on to explain, as I furrowed my brow in confusion, “when you feel like you’re swimming in some kind of fishbowl. I mean, who wants to be in a fishbowl?”
I didn’t reply.
“The train is only a mile off. If you turn around now, I bet we could make it to the five o’clock sendoff to San Francisco.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”
“Do you know the things you can do in San Francisco?”
For a few moments I let his breathing calm down, the urgency in his eyes smooth ever, his visions of the city fade. Then, quietly: “I’m going to be late for practice.”
He seemed to realize something, and slowly, heavily he got up from the seat. “Maybe another day,” he said wistfully as he began to walk off. His hands were once again lost in his pockets.
“Maybe,” I allowed. “Bye, _________.”