To all my readers, I'm sorry for not being as present on GA as I want to be. For those who don't know, I'm a first year grad student and although I enjoy what I study, the adjustment has been challenging.
Make no mistake, writing is still one of my biggest passions, however due to school I've been unable devote the time and effort I believe stories deserve. Due to this, this will be my last story update until the week of May 20th. I apologize if that decisions upsets anyone, but my current story deserves a proper ending, and I just can't deliver on that with my current schedule.
To make up for this, I give you a chapter I've been tinkering away on over the past few months. A few of you asked for it over the summer, and I hope it lives up to expectation. Blinded felt like my first real success here on GA. Without you readers supporting and encouraging me, I wouldn't have dared to dream up or write my last few stories. Thank you. I'll never forget that.
--20 years later--
There’s always a nervous energy that fills me before a speech. Heart racing, palms sweating, hands shaking, it’s the same spirit that made me fall in love with basketball. The same spirit that’s kept me alive my whole life. The same spirit that’s kept pushing me forward.
I took a deep breath as I reached the podium and looked out to a crowd of close to two hundred parents and kids. I’ve run this camp since I graduated from the University of Michigan sixteen years ago, but it’s never once lost it’s meaning to me. It’s never once felt like just another job.
“If twenty years ago you would’ve told me the changes that happened in my life. If twenty years ago you would’ve told Cy Walker he’d be adopted and graduate both High School and College, well you’d be lucky if you walked away without a knife sticking out of you.” I announced, making sure to take another breath as some laughter rumbled out from the crowd.
“That’s who I was. I was hard headed, and short sighted. I didn’t care what the future held, because I had an idea of what that future meant. I was foolish enough to think I knew what life had in store for me.” I lectured as I began to grow serious. “And talking to many of you young men and women before we began, I could see that same foolish spirit is still alive amongst you.”
“You think you know what’s coming your way. You think you’re ready for it. You think you’re big enough and bad enough to take life on.” I challenged, beginning to scan the crowd. “But let me tell you something, you’re not. And that pisses you off. Even right now, listening to me say that, it makes you angry, doesn’t it?” I paused to let my question sink in. “Because the thing is, you’ll never beat life. No matter how big you are, no matter how strong you are, no matter how smart you are, you will never beat life.”
“So what can you do?” I asked, pausing once more. “You can learn to stop fighting it. You can learn to give into life, and let it carry you to where you’re meant to be. Because fighting life, all that’s doing is creating anger inside of you. Anger that’s going to weigh you down and destroy you.”
“Some people look around this camp, and all they see is basketball. What they don’t see is the challenge. The challenge to leave all that anger behind, and be a part of something bigger. The challenge to change. And let me tell you right now, change is scary, but it’s how you survive. You come here Monday morning with an open mind and I promise you, you will change. I promise you, all that anger you’re feeling, it’ll fade and what takes it’s place, that’s up to you.” I nodded my head, as the parents in the crowd tried their hardest to get some of their kids to applaud to my speech.
Whether they take my challenge or not, I’ll make sure this camp is one of the hardest thing’s they’ll go through. We don’t just teach basketball fundamentals and life lessons here. We push campers the hardest they’ve ever been pushed. We teach them the hard way, they’re not invincible, because if they don’t learn that now, well I’m scared to think of how they will.
Tak made sure to land a supportive pat on my back as he walked past me and towards the podium. “Thank you, Riley, for such a great speech.” Tak began, taking over the microphone to run the camp orientation once again. “What he didn’t tell you, is that he was once a counselor here. That he built this up from a basic charity camp, to something much more. But you’ll all learn that for yourselves this summer.” Tak smirked as he glanced over to me and received a stern stare. “But that’s enough about him for now, instead let’s go over your daily schedule, if you check the folder you were given,”
As I listened to the same rundown Tak gives every summer I couldn’t help but look out into the crowd and stare at the man sitting in the front row. His hazel eyes cutting through everything around me, just like they always have. It’s amazing how so much time could pass us, and yet he barely looks any different. As he saw my stare focusing in on him he gave me subtle nod of support.
I mimicked the motion before looking over to our son sitting just right of him. He noticed my stare but diverted his glance to his youngest uncle. Yet I couldn’t help but take in all his features. His neatly styled dark black hair, and brown eyes all balanced out by the youthful freckles on his face. We adopted him when he was five, just seven years ago tomorrow, and despite what he might think, that moment means the world to me.
I tried my hardest to redirect my attention to Tak, but it seemed no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t. Thoughts of my family bounced around my head for the remaining forty minutes, until finally we were set free.
“You did great man.” Tak supportively patted me on the back once more as we walked off the small gym stage.
“Same to you.” I nodded my head, but kept my eyes on my family.
“I think this is going to be a hard group to break in.” He began to analyze as he looked around the crowd.
“We’ll get through it.” I cut off, before he could voice any doubts. “We always do.”
“With you in charge, how could we not?” He teased, but got no response back. “You good?” He asked, but as he followed my stare, backed off. “Oh, I get it. I’ll catch up with you later.”
“Yeah,” I accepted, grateful he had taken the hint.
“Hey there.” Carter began as I finally reached him. “That was a great speech, right Grayson?”
“Yeah.” The young boy forced out, looking to me then quickly away.
I let out a short breath, but Carter grabbed my attention back before I could say anything. “It feels like this camp just gets bigger and bigger every summer.” He observed as he began to scan the gym. “You and Tak really should be proud of it.”
“It’s got a long way to go.” I lectured, thinking about all the improvements I still want to make.
“You’ve been saying that every summer since High School.” Carter giggled as his smile grew.
“Excuse me,” A young voice interrupted, instantly grabbing Carter’s attention. “Mr. Walker-Williams, can I, can I get your autograph?”
“Of course.” Carter quickly answered, reaching into his pocket and taking out the sharpie he always seemed to carry around. “That’s a nice jersey you’ve got.” Carter teased as the boy turned around and exposed the number 8 below a familiar white nameplate.
I couldn’t help but notice Grayson proudly watching Carter, as if this was the first time we’ve experienced this.
“Alright,” Carter finished up. “You’re all set to go.”
“Thank you!” The boy shouted before excitedly running back into the crowd.
“I think that’s your cue to leave.” I warned, knowing the swarm that would chase Carter once people found out he was still in the crowd.
“I don’t know, it was just one kid, I’m sure it’ll be fine for now. I’ve got another,”
“Carter.” I interrupted with a stern stare. “You’ve got a game to prepare for. Go ahead, we’ll see you there.”
“About that,” Carter hesitated as he glanced down to Grayson then back up to me. “I was talking to Aaron this morning, and he said if you drop Grayson off with him, that he could take him to theater rehearsal and hold onto him until we can pick him up.”
“Carter,” I began once more.
“Aaron has to take Lilly anyway.” He quickly interrupted. “It’s not like we’re inconveniencing him.”
“It’s not about that.” I warned, feeling Grayson watching us both closely.
“I know.” Carter sighed with a nod.“I’ll call Aaron and tell him to forget it.”
“What?” Grayson began to whine. “That’s it?”
“Yup.” Carter nodded as I shot him a confused look. “Sorry kid, I tried.”
“That wasn’t trying!” Grayson complained, beginning to grow louder. “You gave up right away!”
“Watch who you’re talking to.” I scolded, shooting him a cold look.
“Sorry.” Grayson pouted, immediately forcing his head down.
“It really is fine if he misses a game Riley.” Carter began once more. “He made a commitment to his theater group and it’s not like he’s never seen me play.”
“It’s not about that, this, it’s an important weekend, alright?” I reminded Carter. “He misses games all the time, he can afford to miss a practice for once.”
“Practice has been over for a month, they’re rehearsals now.” Grayson corrected, still refusing to look up.
“Whatever.” I shook off, looking back down at him. “We’re going to be together as a family this weekend. Whether you like it or not.”
Carter shot me a disappointed look as he gave Grayson a light tap on the back of the head. “I’ll see you both tonight.”
“You will.” I reinforced before landing a light kiss on his lips. As Carter began to walk away I looked down towards a sulking Grayson and exhaled a deep breath.
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Grayson warned, still not daring to look up. “Can I go sit in your office?”
“Go ahead.” I sighed, grabbing a set of keys out of my pocket and handing them to him.
The conversation seemed to play on repeat in my head as I spoke to parents and helped clean up the gym. One day Grayson will understand where I’m coming from. One day he’ll understand how important this weekend is.
“You sure you’re alright?” Tak asked as we put away the remaining chairs.
“Yeah.” I lied, trying to focus on wrapping up work the fastest I could.
“Grayson seems pretty pissed at you and Carter.” He observed, seeing if he could get me to open up.
“He’s pissed at me.” I explained, happily taking the bait. “Cause God knows everything bad that happens in his life is my fault.”
“That seems a bit, dramatic.” Tak teased, seeing how far he could push me.
“Well that’s how it feels.” I complained in a sigh. “Grayson doesn’t see that I’m the one always around. Carter does his best, but when basketball season hits he’s only home for three or four days a week, and that’s if we’re lucky.”
“So Carter’s the fun Dad?” Tak poked, happy to let me rant.
“It’s not that.” I tried to dismiss. “It’s just, it’s different when you’re with a kid day in and day out. And I ain’t trying to shit on Carter here. He’s a great Dad,”
“You just feel underappreciated?” Tak guessed, trying to save me the words.
“You miss having Carter around all the time?”
“You hate that you can’t relate to Grayson?”
“Why you guys always saying shit like that?” I snapped, shooting him an angry look. “Like that helps how he feels about me.”
“How does he feel about you?” Tak asked, finally growing serious.
“Just forget I said anything.” I grumbled, throwing the last fold up chair in a metal cart and walking towards the hall.
“He looks up to you, you know?” Tak called out as I tried to make a quick escape. “Maybe that’s what scares you the most!”
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and keep walking. Tak doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. Grayson doesn’t look up to me, he tolerates me until Carter gets home. That’s just the way it’s always been. He’ll never admit it, but deep down I’m just too rough for him, and I don’t see anything changing that.
“Yo.” I called out, forcing my office door open to find Grayson playing around on the computer at my desk. “Ready to go?”
“I guess.” Grayson sighed, standing up and slowly following me back out.
I glanced back at him and went to say something, but nothing came to mind. Just like usual, I have no idea how to talk to him.
“You sure you don’t wanna join us this summer?” I finally managed out, drawing an eye roll from him. “It’s a fun camp.”
“It’s a boot camp.” Grayson corrected. “And you know I don’t like basketball. Besides, I’m doing the theater camp at school.”
“You don’t like basketball, or you don’t like to play basketball?” I asked, but received an even more frustrated look than before.
“Which answer gets me in the least trouble?” He mumbled to himself.
“You can like what you like.” I argued, forcing eye contact with him.
“Doesn’t feel that way.” He complained as we finally reached the car.
“Look, if theatre practice is really so important that you want to miss Carter’s game, fine.” I surrendered as I started the engine.
“Rehearsal!” He cried out in a loud voice. “I tell you that every day, and every day you forget!”
“Rehearsal, sorry.” I repeated in a defeated sigh. “So you’re going to that?”
“So you can guilt trip me all weekend?” He asked, putting his head right back into his phone.
“Watch the attitude.” I warned as I tried my hardest to keep my temper. “I’m trying to work with you here.”
“By putting me in a lose-lose situation?” He pressured, picking his head up and staring at me. “Either I go to rehearsal and feel like crap for missing Pop’s game, or I go to the game and feel like crap for letting my friends down. I can’t win here!”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize theater meant that much to you.” I tried to back off, realizing how genuinely angry he had grown.
“You pick me up from rehearsal every day!” He shouted, too far past his temper to control himself. “You’ve been to my plays! Did you even watch them?”
“I watched, I just,”
“Don’t believe that theater can be as meaningful as basketball?” He asked, making sure to stay on my case.
“I never said that.” I defended, starting to feel my own anger boil.
“You didn’t need to.” He exhaled, falling fully back in his seat. “And then you insist this is a big weekend.”
“This is a big weekend!” I boomed, trying my hardest to split my focus between the road and him.
“For who?” He asked, refusing to back down.
“For all of us!” I shouted in an angry tone. “I’m trying my fucking hardest here, alright? It’s not easy, and you giving me shit for confusing the words practice and rehearsal doesn’t help! You’re not happy to be a part of this family, that’s fine, but don’t put that on me!”
As he heard my words he turned towards the window and refused to look back. I exhaled a deep breath, before letting silence fill the car. Every now and again I would hear a sniffle escape from him as we both struggled to calm down.
“I’m sorry,” I began as guilt swarmed my brain.
“I don’t want to talk about it.” He quickly shut down, still hiding his face. “Just, I am happy to be a part of this family, okay?”
“We’re happy you are too.” I exhaled, before racking my brain for something to say. I opened my mouth but nothing came out, just like every time before, I let him down as silence took over once more.How can I talk with the kids I coach so easily, but not with my own son? It doesn’t matter if they’re on the Lake Michigan basketball team, or the Southside camp, I never run out of words for them, but when it comes to Grayson, well I never seem to have any.
The rest of the car ride from the High School to the United Center was quiet. Every now and then I’d glance over to Grayson, but he never dared to look back. Even if I could think of anything to say, he wouldn’t want to hear it.
Maybe there was a time when we were close, back when me and Carter first brought him home. Back when he thought my job coaching Lake Michigan during the school year, then a charity camp during the summer was cool. But that time is long gone. The idea of going to High School where I coached used to excite him, but now, well I think that’s his worst nightmare.
As we pulled up to the arena and turned into the VIP lot I finally saw Grayson sit up in his seat. He put his phone away and observed everything around him. This always seemed to capture his attention the most, the flashy cars and clothing. That was his world.
“You want your jersey?” I asked, reaching into the back seat and feeling around.
“I guess.” He sighed as I finally found the two bright red shirts.
“We gotta get you more than just Carter’s jersey.” I teased, tossing him his jersey as I threw on one with an older style.
“Sure.” He answered, not putting much thought into it.
“Or I gotta start wearing Carter’s jersey more.” I continued, trying my hardest to start a conversation. He turned and shot me a suspicious look as he forced the jersey over his head. “What’s that for? I wear Carter’s jersey sometimes.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wear his jersey.” Grayson said as he forced his door open and slipped out of the car.
“I wore his Michigan jersey all the time after I stopped playing.” I explained, thinking back to our college days. To no one’s surprise we wound up at the same university, living together like we were a married couple. I had tried my hardest to make my basketball dreams come true, but unlike Carter, I just didn’t have it. After my sophomore year I retired from basketball and focused on degrees in coaching and social work. My love for basketball was always there, but the skill just didn’t seem to follow.
“That was a long time ago.” Grayson pointed out, snapping me out of my thoughts.
“I’m only 35,” I reminded him. “College was like, thirteen years ago.”
“That’s before I was born.” Grayson teased, finally starting to relax.“So you haven’t worn his jersey since before I was born.”
“I guess so.” I shrugged as I looked down at the one I was wearing. The age shown through the stained, red, bulls jersey, but it still looked just as perfect as the day I got it. “This one means more anyway.”
“Why?” Grayson asked, turning back and staring at it. “I know you wore that number in college, but who is Rose? Was he even actually a Bull?”
“Yes, he was a Bull.” I defended, as we made eye contact for the first time all day. “This is my first jersey from the first Bull’s game I went to.”
“Sounds a lot more meaningful than your husband’s jersey.” Grayson rolled his eyes.
“You really gotta watch that attitude. I don’t play that, and you know it.” I warned him as he quickly looked straight ahead once more. “Besides, Carter gave me this, that was basically our first date.”
Grayson glanced back and shot me another look as though he didn’t believe me. “Ask him yourself.” I shrugged. “Me or Carter have had to tell you that before.”
“Pop maybe, but you?” Grayson asked before remembering my warning. “You don’t talk about Pop much.”
“I do too.” I childishly defended.
“No, you talk about work, work, work.” Grayson continued, finally talking openly. “But Pop, he tells stories all the time.”
“What stories?” I asked, but knew he had a point. I just prefer to live in the present, while Carter, he loves to reminisce about the past.
“Just stories.” He shrugged unsure how to respond, but as my gaze stayed on him, he finally gave in. “Like when you guys first met, and you played a game of one on one or something.” Grayson began, trying to recall the story the best he could. “Pop said you kept fouling him hard to try and get him to quit.”
“I wasn’t trying to get him to quit.” I quickly defended. “I just wanted to see what he could take. He was talking a big game.” This time Grayson’s look turned to surprise as I expanded on the story. “He backed up his talk, then came right back at me.”
“He came at you?” Grayson asked, his surprise growing.
“Of course, you’ve seen us play basketball against one another before.” I explained, trying to help him connect the dots. “You know we get, competitive.”
“Yeah, but that’s different.” He quickly dismissed. “That’s now, you guys are married and old, but back then, you were,” He paused, thinking over his next words carefully. “Pop just makes it sound, different.”
“I was what?” I asked, but got no response. “What’s he make sound different?” I pressured as we worked our way through security.
“Nothing.” He shook his head, nervous he had said too much.
“It’s alright, you can say it. I won’t get mad at you, and you know I don’t get mad at Carter.” I pushed, trying my hardest to figure out what Grayson thought about the old me. “I was in a gang?” I filled the empty air for him as he refused to answer once more.
“I’m not sure how to answer that.” He anxiously let out, keeping his eyes on the crowd around us.
“However you want.” I shrugged. “We’re open to you about my past for a reason.”
“Yeah, because if you didn’t tell me I’d find out from your camp anyway.” He complained, before immediately looking back at me. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine,” I shook my head. “I just wish you’d stop avoiding this conversation.”
“I’m not avoiding it,” He insisted. “I just, I don’t know, you sounded scary, alright? It’s hard to imagine Pop playing rough with you.”
“Carter’s played against a lot scarier guys than me.” I pointed out, but could tell he didn’t believe it. “How could I have possibly been that scary, but wind up being the Dad that takes you to theater stuff?”
“People change.” He shrugged, reluctantly accepting the conversation. “Plus, it’s not like you love taking me to Theater.”
“I don’t hate theater. I actually think it’s great that,”
“It’s fine, I get it, just, don’t keep lying to me about it.” He interrupted, showing off the level of maturity he always keeps hidden.
I nodded but let the thoughts bounce around my head as we finally found our seats. Nearly front row at the center of the court, just like always. “You know you can ask me about who I was?” I said, finally finding the courage to speak once more.
“You and Pop tell me that all the time.” Grayson sighed, looking up and watching the stadium feed on the large LED screen.
“Because it feels like you keep some questions to yourself.” I explained, causing him to shake his head.
“Well I’m sorry it feels that way.” He cut off, keeping a blank look on his face. Just like that any progress I was making with him is halted. It feels like whenever I’m about to break through, he just pulls back. I’ve been trying day in and day out ever since I realized how far from me he had drifted, but that’s never made a difference to him.
Even worse, I watched his face light up as the players started to come out for warm ups. The second his other father stepped on the court, the blank look fell from his face. It no longer mattered that he didn’t want to be here, he was near Carter, and that was more than enough for him.
Not many people would refer to Carter as one of the greats, but he’s undoubtedly left his impact on this city. He hasn’t brought back a championship, but he’s been consistent and loyal at a time when not many basketball players are. The Bull’s took a chance when they signed him out of college as an undrafted shooting guard, but he paid them back and then some when he became a lethal sharp shooter. Even now, when he’s pushing thirty-six, he’s yet to start fading.
Carter gave us a subtle nod before focusing in on his practice shots. Just like in High School, he’s a workhorse. He’ll take shot after shot until he collapses if it means he’ll be ready for game time. Even when he’s home, well, he spends a lot of his time practicing.
The deeper the shots Carter began to take, the more attention he received from the crowd. Slowly but surely, he worked his way back from the 3-point line towards half court, making sure to take shots as often as he could. And when he finally reached half court, well he threw up a hail Mary that found nothing but net.
A proud smile grew on Grayson’s face as he heard all the shouts and hollers ring out from the crowd. Carter took a second to let everything calm down before quickly pointing over to us, then landing another deep shot. If Carter’s feeling any guilt from making Grayson come tonight, well he’s letting it out by putting on a show.
Carter let a few more flashy shots fly, before giving us one last quick waive and heading down the tunnel back to the locker room. The second Carter disappeared I noticed Grayson put his head right back into his phone.
“Wanna grab food before the game starts?” I asked, drawing a small nod from him. The closer we got to the crowded corridor the closer Grayson seem to get to me. I couldn’t help but laugh, the only time he seems to really pay any attention to me is when he’s scared.
“What?” He defensively let out, quickly looking up at me.
“Just Carter on that banner.” I lied, pointing to a team picture.
“Oh.” He exhaled, before cautiously leading me to the food stand he wanted.
“He put on a show, didn’t he?” I asked, once more trying to start up any conversation I could.
“Yeah.” Grayson answered as he thought it over. “If he did that more, maybe people would realize how good he actually is.”
“That’s not his style.” I reminded Grayson as he looked into my eyes then quickly away.
“I know, but it should be.” Grayson complained, drawing the attention of the kid in front of him.
“You’re talking about Carter Walker-Williams, right?” The boy no older than Grayson asked.
“Yeah.” Grayson hesitantly answered.
“He totally should get flashy!” The boy yelped. “He’s at the end of his career anyway, what does he have to lose?”
“Adrian!” The boy’s father quickly reprimanded. “What did I tell you about listening in on other people’s conversations?”
“Sorry.” The boy quickly apologized, looking up at me then quickly back down to Grayson.
“It’s fine.” I dismissed. The man went to say something, but as he looked at my face hesitated and looked back down at our boys. I noticed Grayson peer at me through the side of his eye as he observed the same thing as me. Yet it was nothing new to us. Even with the bionic eye I got years ago, people could never get past all the scars that decorated my face.
“Is he your favorite player?” Adrian asked Grayson, filling the awkward silence that had taken over.
“I guess so.” Grayson shrugged. “He, he’s my Dad.” The second the words left his tongue he glanced back to me, but received only a dissatisfied look.
“Whoa, really?!” Adrian shouted. “That’s awesome! I mean, he’s not my favorite, but he’s still really good. Are you that good?”
“I don’t play basketball.” Grayson uncomfortably answered.
“Oh, that’s still cool.” Adrian began once again. “You should try, it’s really fun. I’ve been playing since I could walk!” The boy exclaimed. “So, then what do you like to do?”
“I like theater.” Grayson answered, slowly starting to warm up to the conversation.
“My Mom loves theater stuff, she even takes me to musicals sometimes!” Adrian began to ramble once more, drawing a genuine smile from Grayson’s face. “Can you like, sing and dance?”
“Adrian, it’s our turn to order.” His father interrupted, reached out and ushering his son away.
“It was nice meeting you!” Adrian happily called out as he slowly moved away from us.
“You too.” Grayson smiled, happy with the small conversation they had had.
“Sorry again, he could talk the paint off the walls if we let him.” Adrian’s father apologized, this time as he spoke he forced himself to keep eye contact with me.
“All good.” I exhaled as he finally turned around and forced his son towards the waiting cashier.
“I know what you’re going to say.” Grayson quickly began, trying to anticipate my words before I could scold him.
“Not right now.” I discouraged as he nervously looked forward once more.
“Do you need help reading the menu?” He offered, trying to get back on my good side. “I know with the small font it can be hard. Sometimes I can’t even read it! Just tell me what part,”
“Stop talking.” I warned in a stern voice. “You’re rambling. Take a breath, and get control of yourself.”
“Sorry.” He exhaled, before falling silent and waiting for the next cashier to open up.
When we finally got our food, Grayson made sure to keep as quiet as possible, worried he would dig himself into an even deeper hole.
As we finally reached our seats I let out a deep breath and looked over to him. “What am I going to say to you?”
“I talk too much.” Grayson grumbled, keeping his focus on his food.
“No.” I quickly rejected. “You trust people too easily.”
“That’s a bad thing?” Grayson skeptically asked.
“Yes.” I answered, forcing eye contact with him. “You never know what somebody wants from you. You want to talk to the kid in front of us, that’s fine, but don’t tell anyone Carter’s your father until they earn it.”
He let out a small groan and kept his eyes on his food. “I’m serious.” I warned in a voice strict enough to force his head right back up. “You’re young and rich, people are going to try and manipulate you, don’t let them.”
“But that’s not what happened.” He tried to argue, before quickly catching himself.
“No, but I guarantee you it will.” I said, breaking eye contact and staring ahead at the court. “Blindly and naively trusting the world doesn’t sound like a smart way to live life, does it?”
“No, I’m sorry.” He backed down as he let my message bounce around in his head. “I’ll be better.”
I glanced over and gave him a nod of approval before I let him eat in peace. I don’t like having to be the strict Dad. I don’t like having to scold him on a daily basis. But someone needs too. He’s just too, naïve. We’ve sheltered him too much, and that needs to change.
When the game finally started Grayson watched Carter closely. He can complain about being forced to come all he wants, but deep down I know he loves watching his father play. To him it’s inspiring, the roar of the crowd when Carter sinks a shot, the competitive fire that flashes in his movements, and most importantly the way he stays calm through it all. It’s all given him a fantasized image of who Carter is, and to an extent, what a father should be.
He stayed quiet through most of the game, only speaking to ask a question or two about a rule he didn’t fully understand. Every now and again Carter would glance at us in the crowd and tap his chest three times, our hidden gesture to show he was thinking about us. Yet for the most part he was determined to make this game his best of the year. It seemed as though he made every look he got with the ball count. A lot of basketball analysts are reluctant to refer to Carter as a superstar, but they could never discredit his ability to take over a game when he got hot enough. And that’s exactly what he’s doing tonight.
When the last buzzer sounded the Bull’s had won 102 to 93. An excited Carter flashed us a quick three taps to the chest before getting pushed along by teammates in an effort to celebrate.
“Can I stay up until he gets home tonight?” Grayson asked before we could even leave our seats.
“We’ll talk about that later.” I dismissed, trying my hardest to guide him out of the row.
“But he never gets home that late.” He began to argue. “And it’s a Saturday so it’s not like I have to get up early.”
“Later.” I repeated in a booming voice. He let out a deep sigh and looked down at his feet before following me up the stairs and towards the lot. “Walk with your head up.” I warned as I tried my hardest to pull him along the arena traffic. He did as instructed but made sure to show off the angry look that was covering his face. As we reached the lot I noticed him looking anywhere but towards me or the car.
“If you’re already pouting like a child, then you’ve made the decision before we’ve talked about it.” I began as his anger grew.
“You made the decision before we even left the seats!” He insisted in a whine.
“Watch your temper.” I growled as we finally approached the car. “I don’t have a decision. I said we’d talk later.”
“Well when’s later?” He frustratedly asked, walking around the car and pulling the door open.
“When you’re mature and calm enough to handle it.” I replied as we both shut our doors. With a simple push of the button the engine roared awake, and we could finally head home.
“I’m calm.” He forced out in a sigh.
“Then why should I let you stay awake past your bedtime?” I provoked, waiting for him to give me a good enough reason.
“Well like I said he doesn’t get home that late.” Grayson began.
“That depends on interviews or team meetings.” I rejected, waiting for the next one.
“I don’t have school tomorrow.”
“That’s an excuse, not a reason.” I dismissed as he began to shoot me an angry stare. “Give me something I can’t say no to.”
“Because you’re a nice Dad.” He forced out, unable to come up with anything else.
“Compliments won’t work.” This time I could feel his anger growing as he stared me down. “Come up with something I can’t poke a hole through.”
He took a few seconds to think as he tried his hardest to keep his patience. “Because this is a family weekend for us, and I want to spend more time with Pop.”
“Good.” I remarked, putting my full focus back on the road.
“So I can stay up?” He excitedly asked as I nodded my head. “Pop is going to be so surprised! I, I won’t even sleep in tomorrow, you won’t regret this.”
I raised my eyebrows as his enthusiasm got the better of him, but stayed quiet and turned on the radio. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that he loves Carter so much, it’s just hard when he can do no wrong and I can do no right.
When we finally pulled up to our house in the Northside Grayson went one way and I went the other. Moments like this I wonder why Carter and I thought a mansion would be a good idea. Especially since it’s only the two of us most of the time. Its funny, people assume that would make us close, that we would be some inseparable team, but most of the time Grayson can’t even look at me.
It didn’t take long for Carter to get home, and the second Grayson heard the sound of the garage door he was downstairs waiting for Carter to walk through the door.
“Am I in trouble?” Carter teased as he pushed the door open to find us both waiting for him.
“No,” Grayson quickly answered. “Dad let me stay up until you got home.”
“He did?” Carter asked, shooting me a surprised look.
“Yup, and now he’s home.” I teased, looking over to Grayson.
“And I’ve already stayed up this late,” Grayson began to argue. “what’s a little while longer?”
“Riley?” Carter checked, looking back to me.
“If we can play a quick one on one?” I asked, as a smirk began on my face
“I just got back from a game.” Carter sighed. “I’m tired man, plus what if I get hurt?”
“I get it, you’re just too old.” I shrugged as I began to walk away.
“Yup, that’s it.” Carter sarcastically replied.
“Or you’re scared of losing.” I taunted, taking a seat at the nearby kitchen table. “I get it, it’s embarrassing for an NBA player to keep losing to his husband.”
“You’re such a pot stirrer.” Carter complained as he thought it over. “We play to twelve, but only if we get to watch a movie as a family after.”
“Yeah!” Grayson exclaimed as he looked from me to Carter.
“It’s already eleven-thirty,” I complained as I stood back up. “what do you want, Grayson to be up until two?”
“It’s the weekend.” Carter tried to argue.
“That’s an excuse, not a reason.” Grayson tried to mimic with a half-smile.
“What?” Carter asked, shooting him a look of confusion. “Do you not want to stay up?”
“He’s mocking me from before.” I rolled my eyes. “But yeah, let’s screw up his sleep cycle, that’ll be fun come Sunday night.”
“That’s your big concern?” Carter giggled. “Come on, since when are you such a hard-ass?”
“Since forever!” Grayson added in as his smile grew.
“Watch it.” I warned, making sure to shoot him another stern look before looking back up to Carter. “Fine, you’re home for the next few days, so if he can’t sleep you’re taking care of him.”
“Deal.” Carter quickly accepted, drawing an excited yelp from Grayson.
“I mean it.” I insisted as we began to walk towards our indoor basketball court. “I don’t wanna hear that you’ve got practice, training, a game or whatever. You’re the one making sure he’s in bed without his phone or laptop.”
“Alright, I got it.” Carter laughed as he shot me a cautious look. “What’s gotten into you today? You’re so grumpy.”
“I’m not grumpy, I’m just making sure there’s some kind of order around here.” I explained, as our eyes locked.
“You have always been the king of rules and order.” Carter mocked with a friendly smile. “Come on Riley, I get it, work’s stressing you out, just have some fun with me and Grayson.”
I let out a deep breath and shrugged my shoulders. “I’m gonna kick your ass first though.”
“Um, did you see me play tonight?” Carter teased with a laugh. “I’m hot tonight.”
“You’re hot every night.” I smirked as he pushed open the doors to the large gym attached to our home. A Bull’s logo decorated the center of the court, as our old basketball jerseys decorated the walls.
“EW!” Grayson groaned as my eyes locked in on a pair of old black and gold basketball jerseys.
“Thinking about back then?” Carter smirked as he followed my gaze.
“Never.” I shook my head. “The past is in the past.”
“Yeah, yeah, and you’re focused on moving forward.” Carter rolled his eyes. “But would it kill you to admit you had fun in High School? Do I have to remind you, you still coach there?!”
“I’ve never said I didn’t enjoy it.” I argued as he grabbed a ball off the rack. “I just like to think ahead.” Carter’s smile grew as he heard those words. “Stop.” I complained as I glanced over to Grayson. “You wanted to stay up for this?”
“It’s just so crazy how much you’ve grown up,” Carter started his usual spiel.
“Not this again.” I interrupted as Grayson took a seat on the sidelines.
“It’s the same speech every time.” Grayson sighed. “You’re so mature now, you’re like a different person from when we first started dating” He began to mimic. “you even speak properly and all.” He continued, drawing a short laugh from me.
“Since when do you two team up against me?” Carter smiled, shooting me a proud look.
“Since you started boring us both to death with the same speech.” I teased, just as surprised as Carter.
“Hey,” Grayson began, looking at me. “how did you speak before?” As Grayson grew closer to the end of his question, he quickly looked over to Carter.
“I don’t think it was that much different.” I lied, as Carter tossed me the basketball.
“It’s like night and day.” Carter insisted. “You know how him and Uncle Tak start talking when they both get excited?”
“When they use their street talk?” Grayson asked in a quiet voice.
“That’s offensive.” I provoked, as I began to dribble the ball.
“Yup.” Carter nodded, ignoring my words. “So like that, except all the time, and he wouldn’t even fully say words.”
“I did so, you just couldn’t hear me.” I lied, taking a shot that hit the rim and bounced out.
“You’re rusty.” Carter pestered. “But I heard you loud and clear.I’m pretty sure you spoke a made-up language. I always thought it was cute though.”
“Now you sound like Nancy.” I sighed as the ball came right back to me. “She wouldn’t leave me alone until I spoke how she wanted me to.”
“Like a well-educated human being?” Carter asked as our eyes connected once more. “Because believe it or not, that’s what you are.”
“We gonna play, or you just gonna stand there running your mouth?” I pressured, taking another practice shot that found its way into the hoop.
“You think you’re good?” He taunted, waiving me towards the ball. “I’ll let you start.”
“Nah, you go first.” I insisted, scooping up the ball and launching it towards him. “I’d hate to end it too quickly.”
“So that’s how you’re going to play it?” Carter asked, catching the ball and immediately starting to dribble.
“I hurt your feelings?” I asked as the smile fell from his face and his normal competitive look took over.
“We gonna play, or you gonna run your mouth?” He mimicked as we stood face to face.
“I’m ready when you are.” I offered, but the second I finished the sentence Carter pulled up and sank a shot.
“It can be losers’ ball,” Carter shrugged, keeping eye contact the whole time. “I’d hate to end it too quickly.”
“Ohhh!” Grayson yelped from the sidelines.
I shook my head and grabbed the ball before lining up in front of Carter. He gave me a nod as I tried my hardest to dribble around him. Finally, after forcing my way forward I slipped around him and found an easy layup.
“No easy buckets tonight.” Carter warned, as he let confidence flow through him. Even after playing a full game he’s still got the energy to go toe to toe with me.
It’s amazing, twenty years of playing each other and it’s still as heated as game one. We’ve never carried the anger or frustration off the court, but you better believe neither of us hold back. Even if we wanted to, I don’t think we could. We push each other to new levels, and that’s the way we like it.
“Grayson,” I called out as I tried to hold Carter off. “Grayson,” I repeated. “drive to the hoop and win this for me.”
“You can’t do that!” Carter argued as he tried his hardest to get a finger on the ball.
“You scared of our son?” I teased as Grayson watched us both closely.
“It’s not about that, you’re just trying to cheat.” He exhaled, blocked every attempt I took to get around him. “Not that you’d get the pass off anyway.”
“Alright, put your money where your mouth is.” I challenged before glancing over to Grayson. “Come on, don’t you wanna say you beat Pop?”
“Don’t do it.” Carter warned as Grayson rose to his feet. “I don’t want to beat you too.”
“Then don’t worry, because you’re not going to!” Grayson teased, coming off the sidelines and making a b-line towards the hoop.
I quickly took a step back and floated a ball over Carter’s head and to him. He had some trouble controlling the pass before managing to grab the ball and trying his hardest to go up with it. The ball soared high over the hoop as Grayson awkwardly fell to his feet and stumbled to the ground.
“Fuck.” I groaned as he grabbed his ankle in pain. Of course, the one time he wants to have fun with me, he get’s hurt! The one time he takes my side against Carter, and this is what he gets?
“What’s wrong?” Carter asked as we both rushed over to his side.
“I don’t know.” He whined, pulling up the right leg of his pajama pants to find a swelling ankle.
“I’ll go get ice.” I exhaled, quickly making my way out of the gym and to the kitchen. I tried my hardest to move as quickly as I could, but as I headed back to the gym I overheard a conversation that froze me in my tracks.
“Well I promise you he’s trying.” Carter insisted in a concerned voice.
“Doesn’t feel like it.” Grayson complained, trying his hardest to hide how difficult the conversation was on him. “He’s probably mad at me for missing an easy shot.”
“Don’t say that.” Carter quickly discouraged. “He’s not mad at you.”
“It’s not like you think it is when you’re not here.” Grayson sighed.
“I think that you’re strong willed when you want something, and he doesn’t give in easily.” Carter replied, nailing our day to day. “But at the end of the day he still loves you, and is proud of the young man you’re becoming.”
“Really?” Grayson sarcastically asked. “Maybe he’d be proud if I played basketball, but I can’t even make a layup!”
“It was an awkward pass.” Carter tried to comfort. “And even if you are bad at basketball, that doesn’t make him any less proud.”
“Why do you both have to lie about it? I know how he feels.” Grayson mumbled in a frustrated voice. “You know what he told me today? He didn’t know theater meant so much to me.”
“I’m sure he didn’t mean that.”
“No?” Grayson cut off as his frustrations reached their boiling point.“Then what did he mean?” Grayson asked, stunning Carter. “Exactly! He picks me up from rehearsals and practices, he even comes to shows! But he didn’t know how important it was to me? He just doesn’t pay attention.”
I heard Carter exhale a deep breath as it all sank in. “That’s not fair to him.” Carter began. “He has a lot on his plate, and I haven’t exactly helped that.” There was a moment of silence as the tension began to disperse. “Look, Riley, he can seem a bit, cold.”
“Mhm.” Grayson hummed.
“But that’s just how he is.” Carter clarified. “He’s got a lot of love, he just doesn’t always know how to show it. I know, he expects a lot of you, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t proud and it definitely doesn’t mean you’re not his number one focus.”
Things grew quiet once more as Carter let his words sink in. “Why can’t you just spend more time here?” Grayson finally spoke.
“You know I’m trying my hardest.” Carter argued, but his words only meant so much. “The season ends in a couple of weeks, then I’ll be home so long you get sick of me.
This time when silence took over I walked through the propped open door. “How you feeling?” I asked, trying my hardest to act like I hadn’t heard anything.
“It’s getting worse.” Grayson complained, hardly even looking up at me as I wrapped the icepack around his ankle.
“You didn’t bring any Advil for him?” Carter asked, forcing eye contact.
“You know how I feel about that.” I answered drawing an eye roll from Grayson. “It’s not good for you.”
“And pain is?” Carter argued.
“Yup.” I replied, looking down into Grayson’s eyes. “It’s a good teacher.” Grayson let out an annoyed sigh as he heard another one of my usual sayings.
“You’re a psychopath.” Carter argued, forcing me to look over at him. “His ankle is swollen.”
“And he’s got ice for that.” I shrugged, rising to my feet. “Now come on,” I encouraged, reaching out a hand for him. “games over, it’s time for bed.”
“So I don’t get any say in this?” Carter asked, starting to let his frustration from the earlier conversation show.
“You can say whatever you’d like.” I shrugged as Grayson grabbed my hand and struggled to rise to his good leg.
“Well I’m saying that we should give him something for the pain. You’re really just going to push him off to bed?” Carter asked, even more annoyed that Grayson was just going along with it.
“Yeah, he comes home with bruises all the time from dance.” I shrugged. “I meant ballet.” I corrected before Grayson could get on my case.
“What do you mean he comes home with bruises?” I noticed Grayson let out another sigh at Carter’s surprise.
“Ballets not easy Pop.” He grumbled as he tried his hardest to lean against me.
“I’m not saying it is, I’m just saying you’re twelve years old, they shouldn’t be pushing you that hard.” Carter argued as concern took over his irritation.
“They should, and we’re not getting in the way of that.” I defended, glancing over at Carter. “You were never pushed that hard at his age?”
“I didn’t come home with bruises.” Carter replied as the intensity in his eyes rose.
“Yeah? Well this one falls a lot.” I grumbled as we struggled to make it to the stairs. Grayson balled up a fist as he heard my words.
“Riley!” Carter shouted in a surprised voice.
“What? He does.” I insisted as Grayson’s eyes dropped to the floor. “And he always gets up. I’ll take one man who falls and gets up over ten who have never fallen.”
Grayson tried his hardest to fight off a smile as his fist came undone.
“I get what you’re trying to say,” Carter began as we slowly began to climb the steps.
“It’s fine Pop.” Grayson interrupted. “An icepack is good enough.”
Carter looked at me in disbelief, before quickly hiding his gaze from Grayson. “But what happens if the pain keeps you awake tonight?”
“He doesn’t want to be babied.” I answered for him. “Let’s respect that.”
“Alright.” Carter backed off as we finally made it to the top of the stairs and towards his bedroom.
“If you change your mind just send one of us a text, or call to wake us up.” Carter offered, pushing open the bedroom door. Different posters from the various plays we’ve taken him to lined his walls as a collection of playbills were proudly displayed on his dresser.
“I know.” Grayson nodded as I helped him into bed. Yet as I looked over at his nightstand I couldn’t help but stare at an old family picture, one from when we had first brought him home.
“That’s seven years ago tomorrow.” Carter happily reminded me as he followed my gaze.
“Crazy.” I remarked as I snapped back into the moment and began helping to remove the excess pillows and stuffed animals from his bed.
As Carter grabbed the last stuffed animal I noticed Grayson uncomfortably move in his bed. “Woh, you know he likes to sleep with that.”
“He stopped that months ago.” Carter corrected, holding onto the raggedy old stuffed lion.
“Well it’s been a long day.” I insisted, trying to get Carter to take the hint.
“Oh, yeah, it has been.” Carter nodded, offering it to Grayson.
“No, really, I, I haven’t slept with it all year.” He lied in an anxious voice. “Why start a bad habit back up?”
“Because it’s not a bad habit.” I clarified in a stern voice. “If it helps you feel safe then there’s no shame in keeping it with you from time to time.”
“Alright.” Grayson accepted, quickly taking it from Carter and putting it next to him.
“Good night, I love you.” I forced out before heading towards the door.
“Love you.” He repeated, running through our nightly routine.
“Sleep tight, okay?” Carter began from the side of his bed. “Don’t forget we’re right down the hall if you need anything.”
“Stop!” Grayson playfully giggled as Carter planted a kiss on his forehead. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” Carter replied as he joined me in the doorway. I ushered Carter out before quickly flipping the light switch and shutting the door before our son could try and stay awake any later.
“So much for not babying him.” Carter teased as we walked down the hall.
“Letting him sleep with a stuffed animal isn’t babying him.” I argued, pushing open the door to our master bedroom.
“No?” Carter asked as a smirk grew on his face.
“He’s a complicated kid.” I tried to defend. “We just gotta push at the right times with him.”
“Maybe he’s complicated because of all the mixed messages you give him.” Carter replied, turning the conversation serious. “He stopped sleeping with his lion because of your macho attitude, then you turn and tell him it’s alright. That’s confusing even for me.”
“If he stopped doing something because of the way I act, well I can’t control that.” I exhaled, taking a seat on my side of the bed. “But he never stopped sleeping with that thing. It’s always on his bed, and every time I check on him he’s got it with him.”
“Check on him? When he’s sleeping?” Carter asked in a surprised voice. “I’ve never seen you do that.”
“That cause it’s different when I know you’re home.” I began but stopped myself.
“You worry a lot more when I’m not?” He asked but got no answer. “Then get that dog you keep talking about.”
“And who’s going to take care of it?” I pointed out as our eyes locked. “It’s hard enough juggling coaching, camp and Grayson.”
“Yeah,” Carter dejectedly replied. “sorry I mentioned it.”
“You know I didn’t mean it like that.” I sighed “You’re doing the best you can.”
“I know.” He nodded, pretending to pay more attention to getting changed than my words.
“You retire early and I’ll kick your ass.” I teased, trying to help him lighten up.
“I just feel like I’m missing so much around here.” He finally opened up. “I mean, ballet is really pushing Grayson that hard?”
“He gets a little eaten up,” I swayed my head. “but that’s good for a kid his age.”
“Just like your stupid rule about painkillers?” Carter pressured.
“You don’t need to pop a pill every time you feel pain.” I warned as our eyes connected.
“You’re insane.” Carter sighed as he joined me in bed. “When I do retire, we’re going to fight a lot more, aren’t we?”
“Banking on it.” I smirked as he moved in closer. “I miss all that, I miss just getting to be with you.”
“You sure you don’t want me to retire early?” Carter asked, starting to grow serious once more.
“Nah, you got one more year left, finish it out for Chicago.” I forced a smile. “Besides, you’re living this dream for me too.”
“I have a feeling you would’ve done it a lot differently.” Carter teased.
“Well you’ve done it better.” I reminded him. “So stop thinking about quitting early.”
“It wouldn’t be quitting.” Carter argued. “Plus, I have to think about Grayson. It’s not fair to him that I’m not always here.”
“You’re here enough.” I nodded. “It’s just that when you’re here, you could make time for him.” I confessed, finally saying the words I had held back for so long.
“I don’t now?” Carter asked as my words started to hit him.
“No, not the little stuff.” I sighed. “The dropping him off and picking him up. Taking him to birthday parties. Hyping him up before auditions. That’s what he really wants from you.”
“You’re so good with him.” Carter shook his head, hooked on my words.
“I’m not.” I rejected as I began to fall into my own head. “He thinks I hate him.”
“Is this about what you overheard before?” Carter dug.
“Of course you knew.” I shook my head.
“Well I didn’t think it took you five minutes to grab him an icepack.” He pointed out. “You should’ve spoken to him about it.”
“And lose his trust too?” I replied, letting it grow quiet for a few moments. “Besides, if that’s how he feels, a conversation’s not changing it.”
“No, but it’s a start.” Carter pointed out. “Something has to break. I mean is this really what you want?”
“No.” I answered, thinking it over and over in my head just like I usually do.
“Good, because the change has to come from you.” He began to pressure. “I don’t know how, but you have to show more interest in theater or ballet. He has to know you’re proud of it.” I nodded but stayed quiet as my mind continued to race. “You are proud of it, right?”
“Yeah.” I quickly forced out, but could tell Carter didn’t fully believe me. “Seriously, it’s cool.”
“You sure?” Carter asked with raised eyebrows.
“It’s not the path I dreamed for him.” I admitted as I broke eye contact. “But it’s not like I got a problem with it.”
“Then what about it has you holding back?” Carter forced my eyes back up as he asked that question. “Because we can all tell there’s something. If this was basketball,”
“If this was basketball I’d be acting the same way.” I interrupted with a lie.
“If this was basketball you’d be practicing with him all night every night.” Carter corrected with a stern look. “You can be honest with me, it’s alright.”
“It’s just making him too soft, alright?” I confessed in an agitated voice. “What’s he gonna do if someone messes with him? It’s fine if he wants to dance and act, but fuck, he needs something else to round it out.”
“What about all those bruises you say he comes home with?” Carter pressured. “You said it yourself, he’s learned how to get right back up after falling down.”
“It’s different when you got someone beating on you.” I grumbled, starting to look away once more. “I know the shit he does now is hard, but it puts a target on his back.”
“So what do we do? Sign him up for boxing and have him hate us?” Carter asked, but once more I stayed quiet. “I get what you’re saying, but kids are a lot more accepting than when we were young. Plus, Grayson can handle himself. He fights with you, doesn’t he?”
“Way too often.” I complained in a sigh.
“Then there you go, if he fights with you, are you really worried about him being scared of some bully?” Carter asked but got nothing back. “You’ve been toughening him up since he came home, I just think you’re not ready to let go yet.”
“Oh, come on!” Carter groaned as I turned my back to him. “I’m not ready to let go either, but we have to let him grow up.”
“I’m fine with letting go.” I lied in a groan.
“No you’re not,” Carter teased, trying to help me ease up. “and that’s alright. He’s our baby.” Carter comforted as I felt him cuddle up against me. “But at some point soon you’re going to have to face the facts, he’s growing up.”
“I just didn’t want it to happen so soon.” I complained, letting him hold me close. “He’s going to be a teenager soon, and then going off to college and,”
“Let’s just worry about high school for now.” Carter cut off in a slight laugh. “Besides, after I retire, well maybe we can adopt another.”
“Maybe?” I repeated in a cautious voice.
“It’s not a maybe for you?” Carter asked, but got only silence back. “Then it’s not a maybe for me either.” He decided in a confident voice. “But our next kid might not like basketball either.” Carter teased as I pulled away and turned over to face him.
“He will.” I forced out as our eyes met.
Carter let out another laugh as a smile grew on his face. “You’re going to wind up with another theater kid.” He teased. “On the bright side, maybe we’ll have two gay sons.”
“Two?” I said, as confusion entered my eyes. “You think Grayson’s gay?”
“Riley,” Carter pressured, surprised I would even doubt it. “just take a look at him.”
“That’s a stereotype.” I dismissed causing Carter to roll his eyes. “Besides, he likes one of the girls from theater camp.”
“He’s young,” Carter began to argue.
“and one of the girls in his English class,” I interrupted. “and one of the girls in the play he’s doing now.”
“He tells you all of this?” Carter asked, not believing a word of it.
“I hear him talk to his friends when I drive them around.” I explained as Carter began to think it over. “And I’ve seen him try and talk to the one from theater camp.”
“How’d that go?” Carter prodded, this time with concern entering his voice.
“I don’t think we’ve gotta worry about him bringing home a girl anything soon.” I answered with a sigh.
“Well can’t you help him?” Carter suggested with a forced smile.
“He doesn’t listen to me as it is,” I dismissed. “so he sure as hell ain’t going to listen to his gay dad’s advice on how to pick up girls.”
“Just tell him you’re the one who gave Aaron and Noah girl advice.” Carter pleaded. “If it weren’t for you they probably wouldn’t even be married!”
“He’ll just wind up going to Tak anyway.” I rolled my eyes, and looked away from him.
“Please don’t let him go to Tak.” Carter quickly forced out. “Don’t get me wrong,” Carter nervously laughed. “I love your brother, but I don’t exactly want Grayson turning out like him.”
“Why not?” I pressured, taking the opportunity to make Carter squirm.
“It’s nothing personal or anything, he just,” Carter hesitated as he though over his next few words. “he’s a player. It’s like a new girl every other week with him. I don’t want that for Grayson.”
“Aren’t you pretentious.” I teased as Carter gave me a friendly shove. “I’ll tell Tak to keep advice to himself.”
“Or, you could just give advice to Grayson.” Carter began again.
“One step at a time.” I warned, done with the conversation.
“But you’re good with girls.” He continued, refusing to let up.
“How bout I show you how good I am with guys?” I smirked, leaning in for a kiss.
Carter connected lips with me, but pulled away before it could get serious. “Tomorrow morning you can show me.” He instructed as he put more space between us.
“Come on man,” I began to whine.
“I’m sore and tired Riley.” He dismissed, closing his eyes and pretending to try and sleep.
“I’ll do all the work.” I argued, but could tell I wasn’t getting anywhere. “Come on old man.”
“If I’m old, you’re old.” He grumbled as I finally hit a button.
“Younger than you.” I teased, happy to finally get some sort of reaction.
“Goodnight Riley.” Carter forced out as he turned his back on me. “I love you.”
“I love you too old man.” I laughed before cuddling up against him and closing my eyes. He resisted for a moment or two, but finally gave up and let himself comfortably lay into me. The closer we cuddled, the quicker sleep seemed to come for us.
Yet just like when I was a teenager, I found a few nights a week plagued by bad dreams. Sure, years of therapy have made them easier to process, but that only does so much, and tonight’s dream, well it was especially bad.
I found myself chained to my bed by some invisible force as I heard Grayson cry out for me. His screams grew louder and louder as I struggled to break free of the unseen restraints. I could feel tears coat my face, but as I opened my mouth nothing would come out. I tried with all I had, but I just couldn’t escape my bed. I just couldn’t save my son.
Suddenly a loud boom threw me out of my dream and into a cold sweat. As I opened my mouth I was finally able to let out a short scream, a comforting reminder that I was awake. Yet all that relief quickly faded as I saw the man next to me sit up.
“You alright Riley,” He began, slowly reaching out and placing a hand on my arm. “it’s just a bad dream and some thunder. You’re alright.” He attempted to comfort as his hand began to gently stroke my arm.
“Yeah.” I forced out, but the sweat only seemed to fall from my forehead faster. “I’m sorry.” I apologized as I shook my head.
“It’s alright.” He let out in a quiet voice. “It’s been a while since you’ve had one that bad.” I couldn’t see his face through the darkness, but I could tell he was forcing a smile. Forcing a brave face for the both of us. “At least on the nights I’m home.” He corrected as he attempted to pull me close.
“We really should get separate bedrooms.” I groaned as I refused his touch.
“How many times do I have to tell you to stop with that.” He exhaled in a disappointed tone. “You’ve been saying that since we bought this house.” He sighed. “I won’t leave you in the dark by yourself, at least, no more than I already have.” He spoke more to himself than to me.
“And how many times do I have to tell you to stop saying that.” I mimicked turning his words back on him. “Traveling is part of your job, and I can handle sleeping alone.”
“You sure about that?” Carter asked but I stayed quiet. He let a few more moments of silence pass before he reached out for me again. “I’ve always told you I’d be by your side no matter how bad things get, and I’ve always meant that.” He reassured as his arm began to find its way around my waist.
“I know.” I forced out, but once more broke free of his grasp. “You’re a fool for that.” I teased, trying to lighten the mood. “But I love you for it.” I exhaled before slowly rising to my feet. “Tomorrow’s a big day, get some more sleep.”
“Don’t go to the gym.” He groaned as he turned on the lamp on his side of the bed. “It’s not good for you to wake up, work out, then go back to sleep.”
“I take a rest period before I go back to bed.” I dismissed with a waive of my hand. “Besides, what am I supposed to do, just stay up thinking about this shit?”
“No.” He surrendered, knowing I had a point. “Can you at least tell me what this dream was?”
“It was more the thunder than the dream.” I lied as another loud crack sounded from the sky, causing me to lightly jump. “See?”
“You have God helping you lie or something?” He teased, seeing right through my words.
“Loud noises are one of my triggers, you know that.” I shrugged, quickly walking towards the door.
“Twenty minutes.” He called out as he shut his lamp off. “Then I want you right back in our bed.”
“Mhm.” I hummed, quietly opening and shutting our bedroom door behind me.
Just like when I usually have nightmares, I found myself in our indoor gym taking shots. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about my PTSD, its that physical activity is one of the only things that helps me manage it. It’s like I have to remind myself that I’m not some weak kid anymore, that I’m not helpless anymore. Besides, basketballs always helped me clear my head, and no matter how old I get, that’ll never change.
I felt myself falling into a quiet zone as I sank shot after shot from the three point line, until suddenly I heard the door slowly creak open. “Twenty minutes already?” I teased with a forced smile. “This was just a warm up, Imma need twenty more.”
“What?” I heard Grayson force out in a tired voice.
“Gray?” I called out as I quickly turned to him with a surprised look. “Did I wake you up?” I asked but got no response as he took the same seat he was sitting in before he got hurt. “I’m sorry, it was just a bad dream, you can go back to bed.”
“You didn’t wake me.” He shook his head. “I just can’t sleep.”
“Your ankle still bothering you?” I asked, dropping the basketball and starting to walk over to him.
“A little bit, but not really.” He rejected before letting out a sigh as I took a quick look at it.
“It’ll be better by the morning.” I nodded my head. “But you’ll need sleep for that to happen.” I hinted, hoping I wouldn’t have to force him back to bed.
“You’re not in bed.” He began to argue before quickly catching himself. “Sorry, I just, I can’t sleep in my bed, so why can’t I sit up with you for a while?”
Before I could say anything else another loud crack of thunder sounded out, causing us both to jump. “Alright.” I accepted, quickly piecing together the real reason he couldn’t sleep. “Loud noises scare me too.” I began, seeing how he would respond.
“I’m not scared of a thunderstorm.” He lied with a pout. “I just can’t sleep is all.”
“Alright,” I backed off as I began to walk back towards the rack of basketballs. “but I know I am.”
“Yeah, right.” He sarcastically muttered to himself.
“I am.” I couldn’t help but laugh. “What? I can’t be scared of thunder?”
“You’re just trying to make me feel better because you think I’m scared.” He replied, looking over to the hoop as I resumed shooting.
“That’s not true.” I shook my head. “Why do you think I’m down here and not up in bed?”
“Because you had another nightmare.” He quickly answered. “And this is just where you go when you have nightmares.” He shrugged his shoulders as though it was that simple.
“Yeah, but the thunder didn’t help.” I explained as I glanced over to him. “Loud noises make me jump, you know that.”
“But it’s not because you’re scared.” He spoke, still refusing eye contact. “Right?”
“Why else would I jump?” I laughed but found myself focusing more on my next shot as I quickly regained my momentum. Grayson finally looked over at me but quickly away as he refused to answer. “Go ahead.” I encouraged.
“Because you’re ready.” He managed out.
“Ready?” I repeated in a confused tone.
“You know,” He began once more. “for what it might be.” He hinted, trying his hardest to avoid further details.
“So you think that I think every loud noise is a gunshot?” I asked as a half-smile began on my face.
“I never said gunshot!” He whined as his face began to turn red. “Just, just a threat.”
“Maybe deep down that’s why.” I shrugged my shoulders, trying not to let him know just how right he was. “But my life hasn’t been like that in long time. We’re safe.”
“I know,” He quickly nodded his head. “but Pop said that you,” He began before quickly stopping himself.
“But Pop said that I,” I led, waiting for him to continue his sentence.
“Just that certain things from when you were younger still follow you.” He mumbled in a low voice.
“You mean that I have PTSD?” I asked but once more he looked away. “It’s alright, you can say it.” I tried to encourage. “Although I guess I lost that diagnosis a while ago, but I still get symptoms every now and then.” I explained, trying my hardest to be as transparent with him as possible.
As hard on him as I am, I never want him to think he doesn’t know the real me. I never want him to think he didn’t know his father.
“You’re being weird tonight.” He finally spoke, changing the subject.
“How am I being weird?” I asked, trying to hide my disappointment as he avoided yet another conversation about my past.
“You’re talking a lot.” He analyzed looking back up at me.
“Because you’re not.” I shrugged my shoulders. “You really want to sit here in silence?”
“Maybe.” He mimicked my shrug as he seemed to look over to Carters old high school jersey, yet as I followed his gaze, I realized it was my jersey he was staring at. “I mean, that’s what you like to do.”
“Not when you or Carter are around.” I offered but could tell he didn’t believe me. “I mean it.” I insisted as I turned to face him.
“Mhm.” He hummed as he finally made eye contact with me.
I let out a deep sigh as he began to stare me down. “Why don’t you believe me?” I asked, stunning us both. The second he heard my question he began to fidget in his seat as his eyes dropped to the floor. “You can tell me. I won’t get mad.” I offered but could tell he wasn’t budging. “I promise.” I said, but got nothing back. “If I get mad, I’ll take you to whatever play you want, even if we have to fly to Broadway.”
“Okay.” He played along with a roll of his eyes.
“Seriously” I insisted. “We can even stay at Uncle Eli’s place. I haven’t seen him in a month or two.”
“He was just here when the Devils played the Blackhawks.” He exhaled, but I could tell he was finally starting to believe me. “But we can really go to Broadway?”
“If I get mad at your answer.” I shrugged my shoulders. “But that doesn’t mean you can intentionally push my buttons.” I warned as he nodded his head. “So go ahead, why don’t you believe I want to talk to you?”
“Because you just don’t.” He answered, trying his hardest to find the right words. “We can sit in the car for an hour drive, and you don’t say anything.”
“I try,” I corrected. “but you just yes me to death and text your friends.”
“Because you talk about what you want to talk about.” He began but quickly caught himself.
“Continue.” I encouraged as our eyes connected once more. “You won’t get to Broadway by staying quiet.”
“Is it really that hard to ask me how I’m doing, or how my latest play is going?” He finally began to let me have it. “It’s always Grayson do this, or Grayson do that! It’s never what do you think Grayson? It’s never what’s your opinion Grayson? It’s never are you okay Grayson?” He ranted as his tone began to grow angry. “I get it!” His voice grew louder. “We like different things! But you don’t care about what I think, so why would I think you want to talk to me?”
I couldn’t help but let out a deep breath as his words began to sink in. I managed to close my mouth and gulp hard as my heart began to break. “I didn’t mean that,” He lied, trying his hardest to take back his words.
“It’s okay.” I interrupted before guilt could start to build in his mind. “You’re right.” I nodded my head. “I still treat you like you’re a child. I don’t consider what you have to say.” I exhaled. “I’m sorry. I, I’ll change that.”
He uncomfortably squirmed in his chair once more as he desperately tried to find the words to make things okay. “So what do you get for making me mad?” He teased in an attempt to lighten the mood.
I forced a smile at his joke and slowly nodded my head. “I want to hear what you think,” I began. “about my past.”
“I don’t think much about,” He began to lie.
“I know you ask Carter about it.” I interrupted as I threw my husband under the bus. “But I want you to ask me about it.”
“It’s getting late.” He replied, trying to find any excuse to get out of the conversation.
“Getting late?” I repeated. “It already is late, now come on, let me hear a few questions.”
“How old were you when you were adopted?” He asked as I rolled my eyes.
“I mean a real question Gray.” I shot down. “Now come on, neither of us is going to bed until I get a few.” He let out a deep sigh and shot me the same annoyed look Carter gives me when I push him too hard. “How about I ask you a question?” I offered, drawing a nod from him. “Why are you scared to ask me about it?” I asked. “I know you’re curious.” He shrugged his shoulders but stayed quiet. “Are you scared of me?”
“No.” He quickly shot down. “I mean sometimes when you’re mad.” He swayed his head. “But who isn’t scared of their Dad when he’s mad?” He rambled, trying his hardest to avoid the question.
“Alright.” I accepted with a defeated. “You can go to bed.” I dismissed. “We can talk more in the morning or something.”
At first he went to stand up, but as he saw the look on my face, let out a sigh. “I’ve seen your mugshot,” He finally forced out, keeping his eyes on my feet. “I found it online in some article from when you were a teenager, it listed off all your charges and I, I, I just don’t want to think that’s you.” He shook his head. “But if I hear you talk about it, then I know that was you. I know my Dad did those things.”
Once more I felt his words pierce through me. “What charges were they?” I asked, trying my hardest to draw his eye contact.
“Assault, armed robbery, possession of deadly weapons, selling and using drugs, and it said,” He hesitated as he took a deep gulp. “the article said the police thought you killed people, they just couldn’t prove it.”
At first I felt anger start to rise in me. I always knew this day would come, and I guess pushing him to ask questions, I should’ve expected it’d be soon, but I didn’t know he’d find something online! This is exactly why I wanted him to ask me the questions. This is exactly why I wanted to control how much he heard and when he heard it.
I let out another deep breath as I forced myself to stay on top of my emotions. “If I killed people, would they really have struck a deal with me?” I asked, trying to dispel whatever false rumors were started about me. Sure, I shot at people. Sure, maybe those shots hit people. But to my knowledge I never killed anyone. And maybe it’s wrong to stay ignorant, but I need things to stay that way. For my son’s sake.
“No.” He forced out. “But the other stuff, is, is it true?”
“Yeah.” I exhaled, slowly walking over and taking a seat next to him. “There’s no excuse for it, so I don’t want you to think I’m giving you one.” I explained as I prepared to go over the usual spiel I tell my campers or students. “But everything I did back then, I was doing to survive.” I said as I regained his eye contact. “I was only ten when I officially became a saint.”
“How come,” Grayson suddenly began. “How come you weren’t put in foster care like I was?” He asked, relating his past to mine for the first time since we adopted him. The truth is his past is just as heart breaking as mine. He was just another orphan from the southside no one seemed to care about. Just another forgotten child.
“Southside was a very different place back then.” I answered with a shake of my head. “Cops were a lot more worried about the crime going on than an orphan escaping foster care.”
“Then it’s their fault!” He exclaimed as my story began to rile him up. “If they would’ve just found you, if they would’ve protected you, then a gang wouldn’t’ve had to!” He shouted before catching himself and trying to settle back down.
“Maybe,” I swayed my head. “but I don’t think I would’ve let them. If you think I’m stubborn now, well I was a damn fool when I was a kid.” I explained, trying my hardest to help him understand. “I would’ve ruhyAQn away to join the saints, my destiny, it was set no matter what the police did.”
“But why?” He asked in a concerned voice. “Didn’t you know it was wrong?”
“I did, but I joined them anyway.” I slowly nodded. “I just, lost faith in the world.” I confessed, hoping he was mature enough to understand what I was saying. “I didn’t care about right and wrong anymore. I just wanted to be someone people spoke about, even if it was in a bad way.”
He sat in silence, slowly thinking everything over as my words began to sink in. “The mistakes I made, they’re nobodies fault but my own.” I said as my eyes began to drift from him.
“Did that many people really know about you?” He suddenly asked in an attempt to keep me talking.
“Yeah.” I let out in an almost laugh. “Most of the southside. There was a time I was an urban legend.” I bragged as a small smile began to replace the serious look on my face. “People knew who Cy Walker was, even some of the kids at Lake Michigan.”
“So that was actually your nickname?” He prodded with a raised eyebrow. “You were really okay with people calling you cyclops?”
“No one actually called me cyclops, it was usually just Cy.” I corrected, surprised by how interested he was in the minor details. “There were a few other nicknames too.” I shrugged. “It was just a way to escape being Riley walker. It was like I wasn’t that scared kid anymore.” I shook my head. “Suddenly I wasn’t just stealing food, I was stealing whatever I wanted.” I explained as I started to get carried away. “I was jumping rooftops and doing whatever I wanted.”
“Jumping rooftops?” Grayson repeated in disbelief. “No you weren’t!”
“Swear on my life.” I insisted without hesitation. “I’d climb fire escaped and jump from building to building, the only person who could ever keep up with me was Tak.”
“Weren’t you scared?” He poked as his eyes began to fill with concern. “What if you slipped?”
“Then I slipped.” I shrugged my shoulders. “When you live without meaning, you just, you don’t care about life and death.”
“Oh.” He exhaled as my words began to hit him harder than I intended. “You, you have meaning now, right?” He forced out in a shaky voice.
“I’ve got you and Carter.” I quickly answered. “That’s all the meaning I’ll ever need.”A flash of happiness began to spark in his eyes as he turned away from me to hide it. “The person I was back then is long gone, and he’s never coming back.”
“Then why, why are you so excited to talk about it?” He asked in a shaky voice.
I shrugged my shoulders as I thought over his question. “I’m just happy we could finally have this conversation.” I confessed, drawing his gaze back to me.
“So you didn’t like being in a gang?” He pressured but I could tell he knew the real answer.
“Honestly?” I asked, drawing a nod from him. “Part of me liked it. I felt like a king out there and I tricked myself into thinking I had it all.” I explained as my eyes drifted to Carter’s high school jersey. “But I had no idea what it meant to have it all.”
“Then what does having it all mean?”
“It means getting to come home to Carter almost every night,” I shook my head. “and getting to see a smile on your face.” I teased as I reached over and nudged him with my elbow. “It means getting to love someone, and getting to be loved.”
A small laugh escaped Grayson’s lips as he heard those words. “Sorry!” He exclaimed as he saw a blush form on my face.
“It’s corny I know.” I groaned as I slowly stood back up.
“Its’ not, well, maybe a little.” He swayed his head. “It’s just weird hearing you talk like that.” He said, once more looking anywhere but at me. “It’s like, like when the grinch falls in love with Christmas.”
“So I’m the grinch?” I muttered as I took a basketball off the rack and began to shoot around again.
“You’re right, I’m wrong, you’re never grumpy,” He sarcastically teased, taking a playful jab at me for the first time. “and you never yell at me.”
“Alright.” I surrendered as I saw his point. “I’m hard on you some of the time,”
“Some?” Grayson interrupted.
“Some.” I repeated before he could get carried away. “But I’m your Dad not your friend. That’s my job.”
“Yeah.” Grayson exhaled but I could tell he was holding back words.
“Say it.” I instructed as I let another basketball fly from my hands.
“Just, would it really be such a bad thing to be my friend sometimes?” He asked, this time it was his turn to blush. “I know you’re my Dad, and I know you have to be strict, but sometimes, sometimes I want to joke around with you and you just, you push me away.”
I nodded as once more his words began to break through my walls. “You’re Carter’s son, I think I forget that sometimes.” I shook my head.
“Oh.” He sighed, unsure how to take it.
“It’s not a bad thing,” I quickly corrected. “It just means you see right through my bullshit.” I forced a smile. “It means you’re smart.” I encouraged. “But you’re not fully right, I’m not, I don’t push you away I just, I don’t always know what to say.”
“Don’t know what to say?” He quietly repeated. “Because we’re different?” He guessed as I shot the last basketball on the rack. I could tell by his words that it bothered him just as much as it did me. So then he must notice it too? Does he struggle to talk to me like I do with him? Does he feel just as guilt as I do about it?
“I think so.” I slowly nodded, I opened my mouth to say something else but nothing came out. Come on Riley! Say something! I can’t end this conversation here! I can’t let our differences divide us, not when we’re making so much progress.
Yet before I could find the words he stood up and grabbed a basketball that had rolled near his feet. “Being different isn’t always a bad thing though, right?” He offered, picking up the ball and passing it over to me.
“No.” I agreed. A genuine smile crossed my face as I caught his pass and pulled up for another shot.
“I mean you and Pop are pretty different.” He spoke, grabbing another ball and passing it to me.
“You’re telling me.” I agreed with a laugh. “Sometimes that man doesn’t shut up.”
“So maybe it’s not so bad that we’re different.” He decided in a confident voice. I felt my smile grow as I saw just how comfortable he was while talking to me, how comfortable he was opening up to me.
“I’m sorry,” I suddenly began to apologize. “for saying I didn’t realize how much theater meant to you.” I shook my head. “I did realize I just, I was trying to justify making you skip rehearsal.”
“You got it right.” He smiled as he heard my words.
“You said rehearsal instead of practice.” He nodded his head as confusion grew on my face. “And I forgive you, but I, I really can’t miss any more rehearsals or they’ll recast my role and I, I won’t let that happen.”
“Don’t.” I encouraged as I saw passion begin to rise in his eyes. “You earned that spot Grayson. Don’t let anyone take it from you.”
“I won’t.” He nodded his head but suddenly the smile began to fade from his face. “I’m sorry too.” He began. “Before, before I told Pop that you, you don’t try.” He confessed as water began to pool in his eyes. “But I, I don’t always try.” He exhaled in a shaking breath. “I push you away sometimes too.” The more he spoke the more water seemed to gather in his eyes. “I just, I miss Pop so much sometimes.” He let out as tears finally began to stream down his face. “But you, you just keep working and working, it’s like you don’t even care he’s gone!” He yelped, struggling to process everything going on in his mind. “And it just, it makes me so mad at you!”
“Is that what you think?” I asked, shocked by his confession. “You think I don’t miss Carter?”
“You don’t show it.” He replied, trying his hardest to wipe the tears from his eyes.
“I miss your Pop every second we’re apart.” I explained, quickly walking over and embracing him. “Carter’s my best friend Grayson, but I, I try to be strong for him.” I spoke as his head rested against my shoulder. “Because if he ever found out how much I miss him when he’s away, he’d retire, he’d quit on his dream.” I shook my head. “And I don’t want to see his dream end until he’s ready to end it.”
“I’m sorry.” He whimpered as my words sank in. “I’m sorry.” He repeated, only crying harder. “I just want my Dads around more.” He let out as his grip around me grew even stronger.
As I heard his words, I couldn’t help but begin to grow teary eyed. “Why don’t we all go into the city next weekend?” I suggested, immediately trying to make it up to him. “Just you, me and Carter. We could go to lunch, and I heard there was a writers museum you might like, maybe we could check that out?”
“Yeah.” He sniffled, finally starting to calm down. “I’d like that.”
“Good.” I forced another smile as we let one another go. “But for now I think it’s time for both of us to get back to bed.”
“Okay.” He agreed but walked slowly as I led him to the door. “I, I just have one more question.” He began as he looked back up at me.
“Alright.” I accepted, giving him another nod as I stood in the doorway.
“Why don’t you like that I do plays or ballet?” He asked, keeping his eyes on mine the whole time. I could tell he was scared of my answer, but trying his hardest to come across as brave.
“You gotta stop saying I don’t like it.” I replied, trying my hardest not to show any hesitation. “I do like it, and I’m proud of you every time I see you on a stage.” I saw doubt fill his face as his eyes began to drop from mine. “I mean that.” I insisted but could tell I was starting to lose him again. “But when I was your age, that’s just not what boys did.” I finally confessed, hoping he was old enough to understand where I was coming from.
“And I saw, I just saw kids get hurt over it.” I spoke, unsure if he was even still listening. “It’s not that I don’t like it, and it’s not that I’m not proud.” I explained, reaching over and landing a hand on his shoulders. “It’s that I’m worried about you. I’m worried about how the other boys treat you.”
“They, they do tease me sometimes.” He confessed, looking back up at me. “They call me a pussy, or a faggot or gay, but I don’t care.” He spoke in a voice so confident I almost didn’t even recognize it as his. “Pop’s gay and he’s in the NBA, you’re gay and you’re, you’re the toughest person I know!” He exclaimed. “So they can call me gay or faggot all they want, they don’t know what those words mean.”
“But if it gets physical,” I began in an unsure voice.
“Then it gets physical.” He interrupted without any doubts. “I have my own friends who watch my back, and, and my ballet master said I should start working out.” He began to blush. “She said that boys that do ballet need to be really strong to do lifts and turns.”
“So you want to start training?” I asked, blindsided by his words.
“I need to.” He nodded his head. “The better I get at ballet, the more confident I am during plays and I,I want to be the best I can, just like you and Pop.”
“Who’s going to train you?” I asked, already beginning to build some ideas. “I could talk to some of the trainers I work with at school.”
He swayed his head as he took a closer look at me. “You go to the gym every day.” He softly began, scared to share the idea on his mind.
“You want to work out with me?” I let out as Grayson continued to surprise me more and more.
“Yeah.” He accepted with a nod. “But I want Pop’s muscles more than yours.”
“So you don’t want to actually be that strong?” I teased as I tried to lighten the mood. “More muscles make it easier to pick people up.” I joked around, reaching out and starting to lift him off the ground as he squirmed in my hands.
“No!” He yelped as he began to laugh. “Dad! No!” He shouted through laughter. “Stop!” He giggled as I finally put him back down.
“I just, I don’t want my arms to be so big.” He blushed as the smile stayed on his face. “Dancers just need to keep a certain look.”
“Alright,” I accepted with a nod. “We’ll speak with Pop in the morning and see about creating a plan that works for you.” I encouraged as the smile grew on his face. “But for now, it’s time for bed.”
“We could just pull an all nighter.” He teased, finally following me out of the gym and towards the stairs.
“The last thing I need is my Mom hearing you didn’t sleep last night.” I quickly rejected, reminding him of the company we were having tomorrow.
“Fine.” He surrendered as we finally began to make our way upstairs. “Can I at least sleep in a bit?”
“On the ride home from the game, you said you’d get up at your normal time.” I teased, watching the smile fade from his face. “But tomorrows your adoption day, so I think I can make an exception.”
“Thank you.” He forced a smile back on his face.
“Yeah, yeah.” I dismissed, following him into his bedroom. “You good if I go back to bed?” I checked as I watched him crawl back into his bed.
“Yeah,” He slowly nodded. “but, if, if you’re nightmares still keeping you up, you can lay here with me for a little bit.”
“I did promise Pop I’d rest between shooting around and going back to sleep.” I accepted as he made space for me. “Man,” I shook my head, laying back in his queen size bed. “when I was your age I slept on a couch or the floor, and you got this monster?”
“Guess I’m just lucky.” He shrugged as I finally got comfortable. “I, I’m sorry, for messing up that shot before.”
“What shot?” I had to asked, turning over to look at him.
“The last one against Pop.” He replied in a quiet voice. “It was easy, and I should’ve made it.”
“It’s not your fault.” I tried to dismiss. “I gave you a bad pass, if anything I should be saying sorry for messing up your ankle.”
“It doesn’t even hurt anymore.” He rejected. He went to say something else but before he could let out a big yawn. “Thank you for letting me stay up.” He began again. “I, I liked this.”
“I liked it too.” I smiled as I realized how close to falling asleep he actually was. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” He replied as I reached over and turned off the last lamp in his room. A few minutes of silence passed until finally I began to hear his breathing slow. Tonight wasn’t perfect, but somehow, someway, I finally got the breakthrough I was looking for. I don’t know what the future holds for us, but at least this time we both laid it all out for each other to see. At least this time we opened up to one another.
Before I knew it, I had fallen asleep in his bed too. It’s funny, I had no actual intentions of sleeping in his room, but I guess my body had a different idea!
“What’s going on here?” I heard Carter tease as morning finally rolled around. “A sleepover and I wasn’t invited?”
“Good morning Pop.” Grayson quietly spoke as he began to wake up.
“Good morning Grayson, happy adoption day!” Carter greeted. I could feel his eyes shift to me, but I kept mine closed, hoping he’d let me fall back asleep. “I know you’re awake Riley, don’t make me get ice water.”
“This is why I slept in here.” I muttered as I finally opened my eyes. “Grayson’s a lot easier to live with.”
“Mhm.” Carter hummed, but the second our eyes connected I could tell he was awaiting the real story.
“I’m going to shower before breakfast.” Grayson yawned once more.
“Breakfast?” Carter repeated in a laugh. “It’s almost eleven thirty! Everyone will be here by one!”
“Yeah,” I supported. “breakfast is for people who weren’t up at four in the morning.”
“Four in the morning!” Carter exclaimed as Grayson rose out of bed and began to get some clothes together.
“Dad let me!” Grayson yelped, quickly rushing out of the bedroom.
“I thought you were worried about his sleep schedule.” Carter teased, beginning to stare me down.
“The kid was scared of the thunderstorm. “I shrugged my shoulders as I finally sat up. “We only stayed up for an hour.”
“So he shot around with you?” Carter prodded, eager to hear what he had missed out on.
“Grayson, play basketball?” I asked in a laugh. “It was four in the morning, not the twilight zone.”
“That’s not very nice.” Carter warned, having second thoughts on how much progress had been made last night.
“I’m just kidding,” I dismissed as I slowly rose out of bed. “he wants me to joke around with him more.”
“Yeah?” Carter asked as I walked over and landed a kiss on his lips. “So what, you’re dad of the year now?”
I shrugged my shoulders and pushed past him as I walked towards the door. “Let’s just say you’ve got some competition for favorite parent now.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it.” Carter teased, following me out of his room and down to the kitchen. “Now are you going to actually tell me what happened, or not?”
“We just stayed up and talked is all.” I replied, trying to avoid the question the best I could. “If you want to know what happened, you should’ve been there.”
“So that’s how it is?” Carter asked with a smile.
“Guess so.” I shrugged my shoulders, matching his smile. Yet as I thought over my conversation with him, I felt my smile fade. “Actually,” I began once more. “we gotta talk but you, you can’t take it the wrong way.”
“Okay.” He cautiously nodded, suspicious of whether I was being serious or not.
“You gotta be more available to Grayson.” I began as Carter took a seat next to me.
“I am available.” Carter defensively replied before I could finish my point.
“I’m not trying to attack you here, but like I said last night, you gotta do the little things with him.” I continued, reaching out and holding onto his hand. “I know you’re a perfectionist and I know you need to get in your hundred shots a day along with your other training, but you gotta balance that with Grayson.”
“I don’t balance it well with him now?” Carter asked as he grew frustrated with my words.
“Not as well as you could.” I shook my head. “He wants more family time, alright?” I explained as I began to stroke his hand. “I told him next weekend we’d go into the city for lunch, then take him to a museum as a family.”
Carter let out a deep sigh as he heard my words. “You know I have practices on the Saturdays I don’t have games.”
“I know you have optional practices on Saturday mornings.” I shook my head. “Go in the morning, come back and I’ll drive us into the city, or, just opt out for once and make it a family day.”
“Riley.” Carter sucked his teeth as he tried to hide how annoyed he was.
“I get it, you have to always be there for your team because you’re one of the leaders.” I said before he had the chance to argue. “But what about this team?What about doing stuff with us?”
“We do stuff together all the time,” He argued, but I could tell he knew he was wrong. “and it’ll be the offseason soon. Plus we have that trip over the summer planned as a gift for today.”
“Grayson won’t be this young forever.” I warned in a sigh. “You said it yourself last night.”
Carter raised his spare hand to his head as he began to think it all over. “Maybe I should just retire after this year.”
“It doesn’t have to be like that.” I argued, beginning to hold his hand tighter. “It doesn’t have to be basketball or your family.”
“It sure feels that way.” He muttered as he began to rub his eyes.
“Cause your almost thirty-six and trying to play like you’re twenty-five.”I reminded him. “Getting old hasn’t been easy, but it doesn’t mean you’ve gotta stop basketball, it just means you’ve gotta start slowing down and making time for me and Grayson.”
“When did you become the voice of reason?” He sighed as he dropped his hand from his face and connected eyes with me.
“I always told you I was a genius.” I teased with a smirk.
“Alright, I’ll start opting out of every other optional practice.” He decided with a nod. “But that means those days are family days, and that includes you too.”
“No place I’d rather be.” I happily agreed but paused as I saw insecurities remaining in Carter’s eyes. “You know me and Grayson think you’re a great father right?”
“Yeah, this conversation is a great example of that.” He shook his head.
“It is.” I insisted as I leaned in closer to him. “We wouldn’t want to spend more time with you if you weren’t.”
He nodded his head before leaning forward himself and letting our foreheads connect. “Promise you’ll set me straight if I don’t make enough time for us.”
“Promise.” I accepted before connecting with his lips.
“I love you Riley walker.” He smiled as our lips disconnected.
“I love you too.” I replied, but as we heard the sound of Grayson coming downstairs quickly pulled away from one another.
I noticed Carters smile grow as he saw the shirt Grayson was wearing. The word Bulls sat on his chest with a number 8 just below it, on his back sat the name Walker-Williams with an 8 below that as the shirt mimicked the jersey he had worn yesterday.
“I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen you wear that,” Carter teased as he closely studied our son. “let alone any bulls shirt!”
“I figured today was a good day for it.” He shrugged his shoulders.
“Happy adoption day.” I cheered. As he grew closer, I grabbed onto him and pulled him in for a hug.
“Stop!” He laughed as I held onto him tightly.
“You know, our son wants to start working out?” I asked, looking back to see Carter trying to hide a surprise look from our hug.
“Yeah?” Carter asked as a smile grew on his face.
“He’s gotta be strong for ballet.” I encouraged, still holding onto him. “But he wants to be your size.” I explained, looking back at the shape Carter was in. Make no mistake, Carter isn’t small by any means, but he’s definitely more toned than muscular, while me, well I’d been fighting to put on as much bulk as my body would let me.
“What’s that mean?” Carter tilted his head as he faked offense.
“It means Dad’s stronger than you.” Grayson teased as I finally let him go.
“Is that so?” Carter asked with a smirk. “Then I guess I’ll be returning your adoption day gift.”
“You’re still strong.” He quickly insisted. “Stronger than all of my friend’s dads.”
“That’s what I thought.” Carter teased, but I could tell it surprised him that Grayson had taken my side.
“So,” Grayson began to hum as he took the seat across from us. “what is that gift?”
“It’s still early.” Carter continued to push his buttons. “What do you think Riley?”
“I think he can wait.” I played along as Grayson began to whine.
“Wouldn’t it be best to do it before everyone gets here?” Grayson began to plead. “That way it’s a family moment.”
“We do like family moments.” Carter nodded his head. “Why don’t you tell him Riley?”
“For adoption day, we’re getting you a week at my camp.” I teased as Grayson shot me an unamused look. “Not good enough for you?”
“Is that really the gift?” He asked, seeing right through my game.
“You don’t seem very excited, so I guess not.” I dismissed in a laugh. “Alright, for real, on the week of July 5th, we need you to look at the plays on Broadway and pick out the one you want to see most.”
“Really?!” He exclaimed in an excited voice. “Like we’re actually going!”
“We’re actually going.” Carter agreed with a nod.
“Yes!” Grayson exclaimed in a loud voice. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” He began to shout as he rushed over to hug us both. “Wait!” He yelped as he pulled away from me. “That’s what you bet last night!”
“Guess I could’ve killed two birds with one stone with this gift then.” I teased as he gave me a playful push.
“So how many days are we going?” Grayson asked, ignoring my joke.
“We’re going to spend three days there.” Carter nodded his head. “In a hotel.” He warned before I could say anything. “We’re not imposing on Eli.” He threatened as he saw me open my mouth.
“It’s not imposing, he loves when we visit.” I insisted as Carter shook his head.
“I’m sure he does.” Carter rolled his eyes.
“How would it look if we go to New York don’t visit?” I asked, finally making a good point. “How about we add another day and spend it at his place.”
“Dad wants a playdate with his friend.” Grayson began to tease, drawing a laugh from Carter.
“Alright, you can have your playdate.” Carter dismissed with a shake of his head.
“Does this mean I have to spend that day with E.J. and Matty?” Grayson groaned as he returned to his seat.
“Sanders-Taylor?” Carter asked as Grayson nodded. “Probably.” He shrugged. “But you like Matty.”
“Yeah, but E.J. is scary.” Grayson explained as he made a face.
“Eli Jr. isn’t scary, he’s just, disciplined.” Carter tried to explain. “He’s an MMA fighter, just like his father, you know that.”
“Disciplined is a nice way of saying scary.” I teased as Grayson began to laugh.
“That’s really nice to teach your son.” Carter shook his head.
“Well what kind of lunatic signs up their kid for MMA?” I asked with a grin.
“Like you wouldn’t sign up Grayson tomorrow if he wanted to.” Carter rolled his eyes.
“With all we know about concussions? Hell no.” I insisted as I rose to my feet. “I always told you Aidan Taylor was an insane brat.”
“You’re so full of it.” Carter couldn’t help but laugh. “Aidan’s a good guy, you just don’t like that he could kick your butt.”
“Yeah, well if I have my way it’ll just be us and Eli.” I warned, much to Grayson’s approval.
“Go shower.” Carter dismissed with a waive of his hand. “Your family is going to be here soon.”
“Yeah, yeah.” I grumbled, but followed his instructions anyway. Sure enough, the second I got out of the shower I could hear the chatter from company downstairs. I took in a deep breathe before getting dressed and joining everyone in the living room downstairs.
“It’s about time!” Aaron shouted as soon as he saw me. “But I guess it was time for your one shower a month.”
“Ha. Ha.” I sarcastically exhaled walking up and quickly hugging him.
“Hello Riley.” His wife greeted, giving me a hug as soon as I pulled away from her husband.
“Hey Emma.” I smiled, happily hugging her back. “You still find his bad jokes funny?”
“Some of them.” She swayed her head, causing me to laugh.
“Hey!” Aaron shouted as he looked over to her. I always thought Aaron would be alone forever, but somehow, he managed to meet Emma in college, then again, I guess they are a perfect match. Two extremely nerdy engineers from Chicago, I don’t know if fate could’ve worked out any better for him.
“Yo.” I heard Tak greet from across the room.
“Hey.” I quickly nodded before returning my attention to Aaron.
“No hug for me?” Tak teased with a smirk.
“I see you every day.” I dismissed with a waive. Before anyone could say anything else Carter walked into the room, followed by our parents.
“Happy adoption day Riley.” Mom began quickly walking over and hugging me.
“I’m not the one who got adopted.” I couldn’t help but laugh as she hugged me tightly.
“No, but it’s a big day for you too.” She supported, finally letting me go.
“He sees her every day, and he still got a hug.” Aaron instigated as Mom walked over and hugged him.
“I don’t see her every day.” I fought as Dad gave me a hello hug.
“Just every other day.” Dad teased, making sure to get in on the fun.
“Stop ganging up on Riley.” Mom began to warn. “Carter travels a lot, and sometime he needs help cooking.”
“You cook for them!” Aaron exclaimed as I flashed him a smile.
“And it’s delicious.” I teased, making sure to throw a jab at him.
“How do you guys still act like children?” Carter complained in a sigh.
“I think Riley and Aaron moved out too quickly.” She began, as she leaned against her youngest son. “They could’ve used another few years of living together at home with Tak.” She encouraged, hugging him once more.
“Me and Emma lived with Carter and Riley in the city before they got married.” Aaron reminded her.
“But that’s not home,” Mom shook her head. “and you didn’t let Tak visit enough.”
“Tak was over as much as he needed to be.” I rejected, before she could start up an old argument again.”
“For all the major holidays, like St. Patty’s day, the night before thanksgiving, what are the other days everyone goes bar crawling?” Aaron taunted drawing a laugh from me.
“And then the next morning we’d wake up and he’d bitch at us because he was hung over.” I encouraged as me and Aaron began to team up against him.
“That better not be true.” Mom warned him as she began to squeeze his arm.
“He once threw up on our coach from being so hungover.” I sold him out as Aaron let out a loud laugh.
“Man!” Tak yelped. “What’d I do to you?” He exclaimed. “Is this cause I beat you in basketball the other day?”
“You didn’t beat me.” I quickly shut down. “We ran out of time before I could get hot.”
“I’m sure that’s what it is.” He sarcastically agreed as he flashed me an annoyed smile.
“We could go finish that game right now, so I could show you.” I instigated as Grayson and Lilly walked into the room.
“You couldn’t beat my Dad in basketball Uncle Tak.” Grayson began as Lilly walked over to hug me hello.
“Hey Uncle Riley.” She happily greeted.
“Hey Lilly,” I replied as I gave her a tight hug. “you keeping Grayson out of trouble?”
“Trying my hardest.” She sighed as we both looked over to see him still arguing with his Uncle Tak.
“There’s no way you could beat my Dad!” Grayson insisted, enjoying how much he was getting under his uncle’s skin.
“Well why not?” Tak finally asked in a sigh.
“Because he’s just as good as my Pop, and my Pop’s the best basketball player in Chicago.” Grayson confidentially spoke.
“Just as good?” Aaron whispered to me, just as surprised by Grayson’s words as me. “What’s going on with him?”
“Don’t be nosy Dad.” Lilly warned. As I looked down to her I could tell Grayson had filled her in on the conversation we had last night.
“It’s his adoption day, he’ just in a good mood.” I lied with a shrug of my shoulders, but noticed my Mom watching Grayson closely as she noticed the same thing as me and Aaron.
“You sure about that?” Aaron prodded, looking for whatever answers he could get.
“Mind your own damn business.” I dismissed walking away from him and towards Carter.
“One day you’re going to get sick of telling me that!” Aaron shouted, but I ignored his words.
“You’re really the worlds number one dad today, aren’t you?” Carter teased with a smile.
“You tell me, Mr. best basketball player in Chicago.” I shot back with a smirk.
“He could’ve been in the NBA too, you know?” Grayson continued to argue with Tak. “He just had more important things to do.”
“Like work with me?” Tak asked in a sigh.
“You need the help.” Grayson shrugged his shoulders, done with the conversation.
“Tell ‘em Gray.” I encouraged with a proud smile.
“You can be just as thick headed as Riley sometimes.” Tak shook his head. “You know that right?”
“Good.” Grayson happily agreed as he took a quick glance over to me.
“Riley,” Mom suddenly began. “can you be a dear and help me warm up some food in the oven before it gets too cold.”
“Sure.” I cautiously nodded, knowing she was up to something.
The second we were alone in the kitchen, her eyes stayed fixed on me. “So you’re just as good at basketball as Carter?” She prodded with curious eyes.
“You’ve seen me play,” I teased. “don’t act so surprised.”
“I’m more surprised about who it came from,” She clarified keeping her eyes on me. “and don’t lie and say it’s just a good day with him.” She warned, seeing right through me. “Somethings up, I can just tell.”
“It’s nothing Ma,” I groaned as I started to preheat the oven. “Really.” I insisted.
“Would it really be such a bad thing to tell me?” She began to work me over. “Your own mother?” She continued to guilt trip me.
“We both just couldn’t sleep last night,” I began to cave. “and I don’t know, I guess we finally saw each other’s perspectives.”
“That’s wonderful!” She happily cheered. “Does that mean you two are going to fight a lot less?”
“I hope so,” I swayed my head. “but everything’s not going to get fixed overnight, this, it’s just the start.”
“I’m so proud to hear you say that.” She encouraged once more, walking over and giving me a tight hug. “Now go find him and ask if he wants the pot stickers with dinner or for appetizers.”
“Appetizers.” I answered for him without much thought.
“No!” She quickly shut down. “It’s not your day, you don’t get to decide!” She warned. “That’s his favorite food, and he’ll get it when he wants it.”
“He’s twelve,” I began to argue.
“Riley Walker-Williams,” She threatened in a strict voice. “I want this day to be perfect for your child, and I swear to God,”
“Alright, alright,” I interrupted before she could get too excited. “I’ll go ask him.” I sighed. “Damn, Aaron was right, you do get crazy over your favorite kid.”
“I love all my children and grandchildren the same.” She insisted, but I couldn’t help but smile at her words. She can say what she wants, but I know the truth. I know Grayson is her favorite. Afterall, how could my kid be anything but that!
“Where’s Grayson?” I sighed as I walked into the living room to only find adults.
“Movie room with Lilly, why?” Carter replied as he saw the fed up look on my face.
“Ma’s lost her mind again.” I shook my head. “She wants to make sure King Grayson gets his food how and when he wants it.”
“Does it hurt not to be the favorite anymore?” Aaron quickly teased, taking advantage of the moment.
“She’s just being thoughtful.” Carter tried to remind me, but I waived him off as I stayed focused on finding our son.
Yet, as I grew closer to the movie room, I couldn’t help but stop and listen to my son’s voice. “I mean you should’ve seen it,” Grayson explained to Lilly. “It was like, like my Dad was a completely different person!”
“Are you going to actually tell me what you guys spoke about, or just keep saying that?” Lilly whined, pressuring Grayson for more of his story.
“There’s just so much we spoke about,” Grayson dismissed, stepping around the question. “he just, he was trying, you know?”
“Hasn’t your Pop told you he’s been trying?” She asked in a curious voice.
“Yeah, but, but this times just felt different.” Grayson said, trying to think of the best way to explain it. “This time it felt like he was listening, it was like he cared about what I had to say.”
“And what about today?” Lilly pried.
“Everything different.” Grayson happily answered. “He’s joking around with me, and he’s letting me push his buttons, he even hugged me this morning!”
“Do you think it’ll stay this way?” Lilly asked as the curiosity in her voice turned to concern.
“I don’t know,” He sighed as he thought it over once more. “We’re still pretty different people.” He decided as he figured out his answer. “But as long as he keeps trying, so will I.”
I gave them a few more moments before walking into the room and trying my hardest to play it off like I hadn’t heard anything. “Your grandma wants to know if you want the pot stickers for appetizers or with dinner.”
“Are they vegetable or pork?” He asked as he thought it over.
“I don’t know.” I sighed turning around to go find out. “I’ll go ask.” I groaned, slightly amazed by how overcomplicated both Grayson and Nancy had made a small part of the meal.
“I’ll go with you.” He quickly agreed, jumping up and joining me in the hallway. “That’s my favorite food, you know?”
“I know.” I couldn’t help but laugh at his enthusiasm.
As we almost reached the living room, I felt him grab onto my arm. “Can we talk? Just for a minute?”
“Yeah.” I quickly nodded my head. “What’s the matter?”
He shrugged his shoulders before suddenly giving me a quick hug. “Thank you for letting me stay up last night.” He said, holding onto me tightly. “It, it meant a lot.”
“It meant a lot to me too.” I nodded my head. “You know there are times I’m still going to be hard on you, right?”
“I expect it.” He smiled as he pulled away from me. “I mean, our conversation last night was just the start, right?”
“Yeah.” I agreed with a smile of my own.
“I still have a lot to learn about you.” He encouraged, showing how much he had been thinking about it. “Like did you go to middle school? Were there other kids your age in your gang? Did you,”
“Another time.” I interrupted in another laugh. “Right now let’s just enjoy your day.”
“Okay.” He nodded before hesitating once more. “Yesterday, yesterday I said I didn’t know who this was a big weekend for, but, it’s a big weekend for me and I, I’m so happy you and Pop adopted me.”
“I couldn't ask for a better son.” I encouraged as he hugged me once more. “Now come on, your grandma’s waiting.”
“Mhm.” He hummed, finally letting me go and walking through the living room.
At first I had to wonder what’s gotten into him, but the second I saw my brothers, Emma, Dad and Carter goofing around with one another, I knew the answer. I know what it’s like to be an orphan, I know what it’s like to wonder if you’ll ever find your family. I know what it’s like to feel so disconnected with your dad, I thought over as I looked at Walter. More importantly, I know what it’s like for all those pieces to finally fall into place. I know the relief and happiness that fills your heart. I know the freedom love can give you.
If only Cy Walker could see me now, if only he could’ve understood that lesson.But if that’s what it took for me to get here, well I’d relive it again and again. I walked a broken road, with plenty of wrong turns along the way. It wasn’t easy, and sometimes, well it felt impossible, but I made it.
I have a mother, a father and brothers. I have a husband and I have a son. I have the life I’ve always dreamed of.