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I would've had a peaceful sleep, but Candace Brett came crashing in through the dark walls of my dreams, to haunt me once again. And Anthony Brawley just had to be sitting on the sidelines watching. The only good people in this audience were my two best friends, Cathy Radtke and Cindy Pelayo.
As I said, I was sleeping peacefully, when SLC High School Gymnasium appeared. The bleachers were empty; except Anthony, who sat exactly where he had that same night, right on the front row. And then Cathy and Cindy sat on the top row, just as they had that game and every game, cheering me on more faithfully than my family ever had.
The referee handed my team captain, Melissa Brenard, the ball, and she held it over her head with both hands. Things began to come back to me; it had been an out of bounds play. I split ways with my teammate Lauren Byrnes ; and ran smack into Candace Brett. Unable to control my momentum, I pushed against her, basically boxing her out so Melissa could pass the ball. The referee's arm slashed, indicating the seconds. I faked out Candace and ran backwards. She caught on and ran backwards with me, following Melissa's pass to my open hands.
I caught the basketball, saw the lane and hit the ground running- or at least, I had hoped to. I hadn't noticed, but Candace had somehow jumped with me, and her big, size 9 pink foot came clamping down on my size 7 white foot. My entire body lurched toward the basket, ball half way between the floor and my hand, ready to dribble.
As every part of me except my right leg moved forward, I felt one of the worst tearing sensations in my knee that I had ever experienced.
I fell to the court hard, and the six-three post picked up the ball and shuffled as fast as a 145 girl can shuffle down the court in for a right handed layup, with the rest of my teammates sprinting after her.
The last sight I saw was Anthony Brawley, laughing and smiling, the same way he had that night, months before.
I woke up, sweating, in my bed, safe in Indiana, both hands clutched around my right knee. Quickly, I released my leg and sat up, wiping the sweat from my hands onto the sheets. I rubbed my eyes and reached over to my bedside table. Picking up my iPhone, I clicked it on to check the time.
The white numbers read 2:36. I rolled my eyes and lay back into the pillows. I had been having too many of those dreams lately. It was either that same dream over and over, or nightmares about my first day of school in Indiana, which happened in three days. But I honestly had no idea what to do about them. And I couldn't ask my mother for help, all she would do is tell me to quit basketball.
I decided sleep would be long in coming after that dream- it always kept me awake for a long time, when I dreamed it in the middle of night. So I picked up my iPhone and went through my new messages. Why people text at midnight and or later is still a mystery to me, even though I do it all the time.
I had three from Cindy, telling me the latest gossip details about the sophomore class Christmas party. I really couldn't have cared much less, but if there was something more to talk about besides what I had to complain about, I'd listen and respond. Then there appeared one from Cathy, telling me how much she and Cindy missed me, which made me suspect that Cindy and Cathy had had a sleep over.
After I had texted back, I turned off my phone and laid it face down on the table. Then I rolled over and tried to get comfortable. Every time dozed off, I saw either Candace or Anthony's smug little face staring at me. It made my blood boil.
When I finally did fall back to sleep, the rest of that night came back in another dream, but less vivid. Flashes of the medical crew crowded around me and my mom out on the floor, screaming at the referees came flooding back. Somehow through my dream, I could feel the soreness of my knee after surgery again.
The next time I woke up, my iPhone clock read 5:23. "Close enough," I thought. Normally I woke up at 5:30, but I didn't feel like trying to sleep again. I rolled out of bed onto the floor and just sat for a few minutes, questioning myself why I was stupid and got out from under the warm covers. Once my goose bumps went down, I didn't care as much anymore. I changed out of my camouflage sleeping pants and shirt into leggings and a t shirt. Slipping on my new Nike Air Max shoes, I walked out of my room and into the next, where an exercise bike sat on the polished wood floor.
Every morning I bike two and a half miles. While I pedal, I think of next basketball season, when I can come back and show the Varsity coaches at Lawrence Central High School just how hard a fifteen year old ACL tear survivor can work.
At about the one and a half mile mark, my mom walked in. Well, maybe walked isn't the right word. My mom strutted in on her five inch stilettos, perfectly curled hair, perfect make up, perfect everything, and she looked at me like I had gone crazy.
"I really don't understand why you get up every morning to do that," she commented, sarcastically. I simply kept on pedaling, but lifted my head a little and gave her a look through my eyebrows. She rolled her eyes and tossed an envelope at me.
"Here," she barked. "It's from your dad." The door closed behind her and I listened to the sound of heels on the hardwood floor. Then I took my hands off the handlebars and picked up the letter.
Envelopes are so ridiculous; you basically demolish the thing in the process of getting it open. Unless you have a letter opener, but not many people I know walk around with a letter opener handy.
After I killed the envelope, I slid out the blue letter from inside. My dad was the most spontaneous yet manly guy I had ever encountered. And that's why I loved him.
'Dear Maddie,' I read. 'Your brother is driving me up the wall. All he does is play football; he's obsessed with it. We both really miss you; it's no fun spending Christmas without all of us together. Or New Year's, for that matter.
This will probably be the last written letter I send you. Jared finally convinced me to get a smartphone for myself for Christmas. I think he gets his persuasion skills from me, but he learned the art of guilt trips from you. I told him if I was to get one, he had to teach me how to use it. But first I have to pick one! This world is so full of choices. Be glad you live in America, kid.
I hope your knee is improving day by day, keep pedaling, it really does help. I was wondering if you're planning on playing summer ball in June? I know it's a long way away, but I figured I might as well ask, before I forget.
Well, I guess I shouldn't waste anymore of your time. Remember, Jared and I miss you tons, and your Christmas package should arrive in a few days.
I sighed. My father had to be the best guy on the planet. I never really knew why my mom divorced him. But since I don't talk to either of them that much, I probably won't find out any time soon. Which is okay; I have plenty of other things ricocheting around my skull that I need to worry about.
My mother decided today would be the day that she and I go school shopping. As soon as she said it, my immediate thought was, one of us is going to die, and it's more than likely going to be me. School shopping with my mom is like suicide; she wears stilettos and mini skirts, I wear slides and sweats. And I honestly believe she is a secret member of the fashion police.
But, I thought as I pedaled, it's whatever. I got the family I got for a reason. And I couldn't control that reason.
By this time, I had finally completed my two and a half miles of biking, so I hopped off and went back into my bedroom. I picked up my iPhone and saw that there were no messages, surprisingly. Shrugging, I pulled a towel off the rack in the back of my room and sauntered into my bathroom for a shower.
I traced my finger along the bottom of my mom's Chrysler Crossfire's passenger window. Snow floated down and came to rest on the windshield. Lawrence, Indiana had to be the coldest place I have ever been in; also the most traffic-filled. The light above and in front of us finally turned green, and my mom almost floored the gas.
After getting through the light, there were a few turns and then in front of me stood one of the widest and longest buildings I had ever seen.
"Is that the mall?" I asked, shocked.
"Yep," my mother replied, chomping on her gum. The smell of it made me ill. Her hoop earrings dangled as she craned her neck, scouting out a parking spot.
I opened my door and slowly got out of the car. My track jacket didn't do much for me in the cold. I brushed my hair out of my eyes and started walking behind my mom, skipping over puddles and avoiding the brown, tire-tracked snow patches.
She led the way into JCPenney's, which was still full of red Christmas decorations, even though it was January 5th. Finally, we got to the part in between everything. I looked around and saw what seemed to be hundreds of shops and stores.
"Mom, where's the Nike store?" I moaned.
"Come on, can't we get you some real clothes for once? Look, there's an American Eagle. Come on, kid, work with me here," she complained, checking her hair in a store window.
I rolled my eyes and trailed her into AE. Okay, the stuff wasn't that bad, I'll admit it, some of it I'd call cute. But I'd never wear it. Not if you paid me. Reluctantly, I let her buy me a sweatshirt or two, and a pair of jeans, but I knew I'd probably only wear them once, if that.
But it didn't matter. She knew she could never break my fashion habits, although I always wondered why she tried.
On the way to Orange Julius, she suddenly asked, "Don't you ever worry about impressing boys?"
Of course she'd ask. My mother, the queen of attention-getting. We could all tell who had been the cheerleader/dance line captain in high school.
"No....?" I slowly replied. "Why should I?"
"Right I forgot, you're married to basketball." She smirked. "Someday basketball's going to be gone and you won't know how to make yourself social."
"I don't want to be social. I want the world to know that basketball is my now and forever until death do us part," I shot back at her.
"When are you going to learn that sports are not the only things in life?"
"Sports are the only things. Then comes winning. When are you going to learn that reality television and fashion aren't the only things in life?"
"Madeline Paige Patton, you better knock off that attitude, or I'll...."
"Or you'll what?" I knew she wouldn't do anything. My mom was too weak to threaten or punish me.
"Let's go. Luis Vuitton is just around the corner," she covered up quickly. That was one thing she actually did do well in. Covering up. As a TV star, it came naturally.
At two o'clock, she finally gave up. "Is there anywhere you want to look?" she asked.
"Yes. Nike," I said, walking away. If she replied, I didn't hear her. I turned and held up my phone, showing her we had contact. Then I disappeared around the corner.
And there it stood. My dream store. Nike. A few stores away from it, stood Adidas. Heaven on earth, I thought.
I could see D Rose's new line just waiting for me, along with the new Air Maxes, sitting in the window. I made my way through the crowd with one focus.
I reached the doors and slipped inside. Doing my best to not look awestruck, I pulled out my phone and checked the messages. Nothing. Dang, I thought, I need something to make myself look occupied.
I sauntered over to the basketball shoes and slowly went through the Hyperdunks, looking at every color possible. I thought about my shoes.. Did I need new ones? I had completely forgotten...
Down at the end of the row of shoes stood a group of guys. They weren't employees, I could tell. Probably local high school kids. But they were standing right in front, right in the way, of the lime green Hyperdunks that I'd dreamed about since they came out.
I pretended to be super-interested in a pair of hideous bright orange ones, praying to the God that put Nike and Adidas less than 30 feet away from each other that those guys would move in the next fifteen to twenty seconds. I didn't know what I was going to do if they didn't.
Finally, they moved over to the sock wall. Yes, I thought. Trying to look excited but not obvious, I slowly walked to the bright green forms of paradise. I picked one up in my hand and felt over it, touching every part of it.
And then I looked at the price. My jaw dropped. There was no way I could work that off before next basketball season. And my mother had sworn she wouldn't by me any basketball equipment ever again: I had to pay for it. I didn't have time for a job.....
My right knee was beginning tense and lock up, so I knew I needed to sit down, soon. I took one last look at the gorgeous shoes and reluctantly walked away.
On my way out, my head was down, looking at my phone, and I accidentally ran into one of the guys who had been standing in front of my shoes.
"Oh, my bad," I said, and kept walking, barely glancing at his face.
"Hey, wait," I heard from behind me.
"Where do you go to school?" he asked.
"Lawrence Central," I replied.
"Really? I've never seen you before."
"Well, I just moved here. I'm starting school in like, three days."
"Oh," he said, grinning. He had tan skin, brown eyes, and a striking white smile. "Well, my name's Ryan," he said. His friends crowded around him. "Where you from?"
"Salt Lake," I replied.
"I saw you looking at those Hyperdunks. You play?"
"Yeah. Not this year though."
I pulled up my sweatpants on my right knee and showed him the brace and the surgery scar. "ACL, MCL, everything. Torn."
A blonde with blue eyes and a Nike "Every Damn Day" shirt said, "Damn, that sucks."
I nodded, inwardly smirking. Damn must be his favorite word.
"Are you good at basketball?" Ryan asked.
"Well....I made Varsity last year as a freshman..." I said, tentatively.
"Damn," said the blonde. It was all I could do to not burst into laughter.
"Are you going to play next season?" Ryan asked, ignoring the blonde.
"Hopefully it'll let me," I replied, pointing to my knee.
Ryan was about to reply when a guy who looked very similar to him burst onto the scene and threw his arm around Ryan, smacking the blonde in the face.
"Damn, Leo, what the hell was that for?" the blonde complained.
"Oh shut up, Daniel, stop being such a pu**y. Who's this?" he asked Ryan.
Ryan laughed. "I forgot to ask."
The Leo guy let go of Ryan and came closer to me.
"What's your name, babe?"
I could smell his Axe and his gum. Way too close.
"Madeline," I replied, glancing at Ryan with a "help!" look on my face.
"But you can call me Maddie."
Ryan punched Leo in the side, and he backed away, grimacing. I gave him a thankful expression.
"Sorry Maddie, Leo takes Viagra everyday," he laughed. If Leo's look could kill, Ryan would've fallen dead.
"He's my cousin," Ryan continued. "And he likes women.....a lot of women." Ryan's face told me exactly what he thought Leo was.
Leo ignored Ryan's comment. "You wanna come over sometime? Ryan and I are having a playoffs party. You watch football?"
"Yeah I watch football. Who doesn't?"
"That's what I like to hear from a woman," Leo laughed.
Just then, my iPhone vibrated in my pocket. I pulled it out; it was my mother.
"Hey guys, I gotta go, my mom's calling."
"I'll see ya at school, Maddie," Ryan said, and waved goodbye as I walked away.
"Bye cutie!" Leo called.
I rolled my eyes and answered my phone. "I'm on my way, Mom," I said, and hung up.
Turning the corner, I saw her sitting on a bench, talking to a man who looked about forty with dark hair and dark eyes. He was wearing jeans and a Hollister jacket.
And then I saw the guy's face. And you know who he looked like? Like Ryan and Leo.
This was one of the creepiest moments of my life. My mom was most likely hitting on my new guy friend's dad. At least, I was pretty sure it was either Ryan or Leo's dad...
"My son plays basketball," he had been saying when I walked up. Great. "His name is Theodore."
Oh thank God, I thought. But he still looked almost exactly like Ryan.
As my mom stood up, so did the guy.
"Could I call you for lunch sometime?" he asked.
"Of course," my mom answered, sly and slick as a fox. Because that's what she was.
As they said their goodbyes, I began to slowly walk away. I thought about my encounter with Ryan, Leo and Daniel. It started me into actually getting nervous about impressing someone on the first day of school...ugh, no, stop, I told myself. Guys are stupid. Stop.
"Maddie Page, wait up," my mother's happy 'I just hooked up with a guy' voice rudely but thankfully interrupted my thought process. I turned to see her clicking her way towards me. I began to turn back around when the sight behind her stopped me. Ryan, Leo and Daniel and two other boys had just met up with the man my mom had just been talking to. And now they were all ogling her ass.
When my mom caught up to me, I stupidly made eye contact with Ryan.
Crap. I'm screwed.... I thought. Screwed for life.
My face burst into flames as I turned around and kept walking.
Maybe he'll forget. Maybe he didn't recognize me. Maybe he didn't know I was her daughter....maybe...
Oh stop, I told myself. If he noticed, he noticed. He probably was just staring at her ass the whole time and maybe we didn't even make eye contact, maybe I just imagined it.
A jolting pain in my knee brought me back to real life. I had been so engrossed in my thoughts I hadn't realized the curb. My mom walked ahead of me and I limped after her. Owwwww....I thought...