Beep! Beep! Beep! Drew rolled over in bed, rubbing his eyes. He searched for the off button on his alarm clock without avail, finally silencing it with a smack. He stumbled out of bed, threw on some clothes, and was out the door in time for his ride to school. As he opened the door of the car, he was greeted by a smiling face and a loud voice yelling “It’s march madness time!” As tired as he was, Drew could only smile at the sight of Zack. His best friend and neighbor, Zack was always cheerful and loud no matter the time or the place; on this monday morning, it was like a second alarm clock.
“What? March...what’d you say?” yawned Drew, still a bit groggy.
“Don’t you know? March Madness! Where 64 college basketball teams play to see who is the best! Everyone makes brackets and tries to predict who will win each game of the tournament! It’s so much fun!” exclaimed Zack.
Drew was quiet. He was not a big fan of sports and was embarrassed to have never heard of this tournament, which Zack had described as one of the biggest sporting events of the year. Zack, who loved basketball, was sure to make a bracket, as were all the sporty, popular kids. Drew had always wanted to be popular. Back in middle school, he had tried to become friends with the popular kids, but they never had anything in common and he was always very awkward around them, causing them to make fun of him whenever he was around. Drew realized this tournament was the perfect opportunity to catch their attention. If he made a good bracket, maybe they would finally accept him.
“So Zack,” started Drew, “How do I make a bracket?”
“You want to make a bracket?” said Zack, a surprised look on his face. “That’s awesome! You can be in our school bracket pool!”
During lunch that day, Zack filled out his bracket for the pool and then helped Drew fill out his bracket also. Mostly Drew just picked teams at random, not knowing anything about them, only stopping to change a pick if Zack made some surprised face or noise to let him know that a choice he made was blatantly wrong. When he was finished, his bracket looked nothing like Zack’s, but Zack seemed to like them both, saying that Drew’s bracket had some “interesting Cinderella picks”, whatever that meant.
“Well, the brackets look good,” said a satisfied Zack. “All we can do now is sit back and wait for the games to start on Thursday.”
The next three days went by in a blur for Drew. Everyone at the school, even some of the teachers, seemed to be waiting in anticipation for the games to start. Even Drew, who knew nothing about basketball, was getting pretty excited. He was just happy to be part of it. At lunch on the third day, Zack pulled out his phone and nearly screamed with delight. “The game is on! The game is on!”
Drew scooted over to observe the game with Zack. There were two teams playing, one wearing green and the other wearing gray uniforms. The gray team had just thrown the orange ball into the basket (I guess that’s why they call it basketball, thought Drew) and Zack moaned as if in pain. “No! Don’t them score like that!” he shouted angrily at his phone. “You guys need to win so my bracket stays perfect!”
Drew gave up watching the game after a few minutes, as he had no clue what was going on due to his complete lack of sports knowledge. But when he glanced over at the popular table, he saw everyone glued to their phones and commenting to each other about the game. Once again, just happy to be a part of this aptly described “March Madness”, Drew went back to watching the game.
Drew’s final class of the day was English. Zack sat next to him, and many of the popular kids were in his class. Everyone finished their work early, and the teacher, a basketball fan himself, decided that because everyone worked so hard, he would put on the game for the rest of class. When the game lit up the projector screen, audible gasps were heard from both Zack and the popular kids in the back of the classroom. The scoreboard at the bottom of the screen read 72-72, and there were only 2 seconds left.
“Oh no,” said Zack, looking distraught. “The 14 seed is tied with the 3 seed team, and the 14 seed has the ball. The 3 seed better not blow this game, cause I have them in the Elite 8!”
Drew, not knowing what the Elite 8 was but too embarrassed to ask Zack about it, simply stayed quiet and glued his eyes to the screen, along with everyone else in the class. He watched the blue team inbound the ball, and the guy who caught it turned and shot from what seemed like a mile away. But the ball, as if a heat-seeking missile, flew toward the hoop and went straight through the hole, not even touching the metal on the sides. As the announcer of the game went crazy, Zack put his head in his hands, and Drew turned to see the popular kids giving him a weird look. To him, it almost seemed like a look of admiration.
“Why are they looking at me like that.” Drew whispered to Zack, nudging him with his elbow.
“Probably because you somehow picked that upset to happen,” answered Zack, sounding a little bit jealous.
Drew felt a mixture of emotions all at once. First he felt shock, because he was the last person who would have expected to do anything right pertaining to sports. Immediately after, he felt pride, and then he became very excited, as judging by the looks the popular kids gave him, he was impressing them. As the bell rang to signal the end of class, Drew was feeling pretty optimistic about his chances of becoming popular.
Zack drove Drew home, and Drew never gave the games a second thought. When he woke up the next morning, and climbed into Zack’s car, he was greeted by the sight of Zack, looking more excited than he ever had before.
“Dude!” Zack shouted. “You picked every game right so far! You are in first in the bracket pool!”
“Wait, really?” Drew asked, a surprised grin spreading across his face. “This has to be some kind of joke. You’re pranking me, right?”
But when they arrived to school, Drew realized at once that it was no joke. Stepping out of the car, he was surrounded by the popular kids, who began asking him when he became a basketball expert and how he knew that all of those upsets were going to happen. He explained that he was no expert, and that he basically randomly made picks in his bracket, with guidance from Zack, and had no idea how all of his picks were right.
That day went by, and the next few days, to the utter shock of Drew, Zack and all of the kids in the school bracket pool, were more of the same. Every day, Zack picked Drew up, in awe of Drew’s picks as he excitedly filled Drew in and told him day after day that he had gotten every one right. In all of his classes, Drew had become somewhat of a celebrity, being bombarded with questions by classmates and teachers alike. This continued until the day of the final, and Drew was one game away from perfection.
At lunch that day, he and Zack were discussing what they had learned about in biology the period before when Drew felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see one of the popular kids.
“Yo Drew, do you wanna come sit at our table?” he said nonchalantly. “I’m Tony, by the way.”
“Really! Um, okay!” Drew stammered, flushing with excitement. “Can Zack come with me too? He really likes basketball.”
“Sorry dude, but there’s only one seat open.” said Tony. He did not look too sorry.
Drew was torn. He didn’t want to leave Zack, but looking over at the open chair, Drew felt as though the chair was beckoning him. In fact, he could’ve sworn he heard its voice in his head, calling out Come sit in me. It was too much to resist, and Drew got up and followed Tony back to his table, shooting an apologetic glance back to Zack, who looked away in disgust.
Life at the popular kids’ table was very different. There was a lot of talking, which was different from what Drew was used to, since before it had just been him and Zack. Also, everyone was talking about the upcoming game using what Drew assumed to be basketball terminology, since he could not understand a word of what they were saying.
“Hey Drew, how does it feel to be one game away from a billion dollars?” One kid asked him.
“What?” Drew responded, confused. There was no way the school bracket pool was for 1 billion dollars.
“You mean you don’t know about the reward for getting a perfect bracket?” Tony sounded shocked. “Warren Buffett said that if someone gets a perfect bracket, he will give them 1 billion dollars!”
“Oh, that.” Drew said, pretending he knew about it. “I don’t know, I still have one game to go. I never really thought about it.”
“Yoooo, you could give us some money! You should come to my house after school to watch the game! Everyone will be there and we can celebrate our billion dollar winnings together!” Tony said. “What do you say?”
Everyone else chimed in, telling Drew to come, and saying it would be a great time. Drew finally accepted, and they all cheered. In English, Drew told Zack that he would not need a ride home, because he was going with the popular kids to watch the game at Tony’s house. Zack responded by saying “Ok, whatever,” seemingly not caring at all. For a moment Drew felt guilty, because he was basically abandoning Zack and had not even considered asking if he could come too, but the feeling was quickly replaced by excitement.
The bell rung, and Drew was out the door, into the front seat of one of the popular kids’ cars, and on his way to Tony’s house for the game. Upon arriving, Drew followed everyone down to Tony’s basement, where they were set up to watch the game. Everyone was very loudly discussing their thoughts on the game, and they asked Drew what he thought. When Drew responded, saying he didn’t really watch basketball, they gave him confused looks, and then looked at each other as if to say Why is he here?
Then the game came on. Everyone intently watched the game, and there was not much talking. During the first half, the game was very close, and the excitement in the room was palpable. But in the second half, the team Drew picked to lose started to make a run scoring 10 straight points to take a commanding lead with only 2 minutes left. The room grew quieter and quieter as the tension grew. Finally, the game ended, and Drew’s pick had lost. The kids were disappointed, but Drew was saddened to see that they seemed much more disappointed at losing their prospect of money than that Drew had lost.
The next day, Drew was forced to ride the bus to school, because Zack texted him saying he could not bring him. In his classes, everyone was disappointed but empathetic for Drew, and Drew was feeling pretty sorry for himself.
At lunch, Drew went to the popular kids’ table, but saw no open seat.
“Guys, where’s my seat?” He asked, confused.
Tony looked at him, and shook his head. “What do you mean? Why would you sit here again? You were only here for one day because you had a perfect bracket and could win us money. Now, you have neither of those things. Sorry man.” Tony said. He did not seem too sorry.
Drew walked away, fighting back tears. He went up to Zack, who was sitting alone at their old table.
“Can I sit here again?” Drew asked, feeling awful about how he had treated his friend. Zack looked at him, saw how pitifully he looked, and nodded.
“Sorry I didn’t bring you to school today.” Zack apologized. “I felt kinda betrayed by you yesterday, and didn’t think I would be able to stop myself from being mean to you in the car.”
“No, it was my fault,” Drew said forcefully. ““I am so sorry that I left you yesterday. I guess I wanted to be popular so badly that I forgot who my true friend was. Can you ever forgive me?”
“Of course I can,” Zack said, smiling. “That’s what friends are for.”