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    Krista
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Ridley - 1. Part 1

“Riddles,” a girl said as I heard a chair pulling away from the table where I sat. Her accent gave her away as soon as she called my name. Glancing over I saw Mari juggling her camera as she sat down at the circular table trying to keep her laptop bag from falling from her shoulder. She left a seat open beside me, despite the table being empty. I wondered if she saw my cringe in the reflection in the window’s glass, but it was bright in the cafeteria and I could barely see my reflection staring back at me as it was. “What were you looking at?”

“Nothing,” I answered and I watched her shift in her seat to look past me. The only thing out there was what was left of the old girl’s softball field. Severely overgrown, not even important enough to be mowed over anymore. The new field was at the sparkly new outdoor sports athletic center completely off campus.

“You do remember the email I sent,” she said as I turned back to her, her tone told me she wasn’t really asking. I hadn’t bothered to open the email. I knew what it was when I read the subject line. I hoped the lack of response would have led her in a different direction. Now that she was sitting one chair down from me, a forced smile threatening to fail at any second, I knew that tactic was a shitty one.

“It must’ve gone to my junk folder,” I answered shrugging. Mariana is a nice girl, so I knew I was being a bit of a dick to her. This was only the second semester of her being an exchange student from Spain. She didn’t really know how I felt about my nickname, how much I hated it. How easily it came to replace my name, no matter how many times I fought for it not to. Mostly I didn’t bat an eye now, if it were the typical people that called me by it. They had been calling me by ‘Riddles,’ since I was fourteen when all this started. Hearing it coming from new voices is what annoyed me, it only meant that I was still being talked about. I doubted she even knew my real first name, unless she bothered to read a team roster or something official.

I should have blamed my parents, but the story behind how I got my name was just too personal. Everything is personal when it comes to being an army brat. The guy that wore my name on his chest with honor was no longer here. I had the name before he died saving my Dad’s life, now I couldn’t even hate it and all the odd glances on the first day of school when roll-call gets to me in the alphabetical list. Ridley James Brooks. I never thought it was an odd name, not really. I’m sure there were people with the name out there somewhere, I wasn’t the only one. For here where there are five Saras and just as many Ethans and Matts the name stood out and I didn’t want to.

“Riddles?” She said, her smile completely faded as I had zoned out again.

“Don’t bother, Mari,” Matt said. I hadn’t heard him approaching as a second chair was pulled away from the table. I should have known Matt Ashby would be tailing after Mari, he wasted no time snatching up the pretty exchange student last fall when she started her first day. “He’s always daydreaming about shit.”

Matt Ashby was my best friend before hormones kicked into full gear. He grew facial hair and I got the pimples. I always wore glasses, not liking the feel of contacts against my eyes. He grew before I did too and had always been into basketball. Matt Ashby was the type of guy Mari should be doing an article on, but he only averaged around five points a game. It didn’t help that he knew it too and that his joke had the hidden venom that was only felt by me. Staring at him I saw the usual flash of history cross his face before he turned his attention back to Mari, who I noticed was able to smile again.

Basketball was Dad’s thing, we played it out front in the driveway, because that is what you do with your father when his time is limited. You pick up an unfinished pick up game when he comes home and you let him teach you ball handling and how to shoot with soft hands. When you didn’t know if the sight of him carrying a duffle bag wearing his army casuals would be the last you saw him, you played until you were too tired to move and it became too dark out to see.

Then when he calls you on your fourteenth birthday overseas and you can hear the strain of a tired man’s voice and he tells you to be brave and try out for the team, you try out. Matt didn’t know that was the reason I walked into the gym that day. I had told him that I just wanted to try out, that I didn’t expect to make it. When I made the team the guys that had been playing together since little league looked just as surprised as I did. It didn’t help that I took a spot away from one of them either.

The worst of it was, it wasn’t even Matt’s fault that we stopped being friends. After I made the team we were on even ground again. He tried, they all tried at first, but when the homemade bomb that took out James Ridley two years ago almost kills your father, it is too hard to feel or think about anything else. Dad was still in an intensive long term care facility. He lived two states away, not having a place here that could help him. He hasn’t been able to talk since that day and I hadn’t been in to see him much over the two years. He stayed heavily sedated and has endured dozens of surgeries. The squeeze of his hand when I called him Dad last Christmas was the only response I’ve ever gotten from him after he came home.

No one knew that part though, because I never let them in. I did this for Dad, I stayed because of him and his dreams for me. Every time I think about quitting I hear the pride in his voice. The light hearted, ‘I told you speech,’ and I remember his smile-bright face when we were able to video chat after my first game, sunburned and strained on the periphery and a little sad for having missed it. Just like my name, basketball was just too personal and for him I would try to remember the honor in this too.

“Riddles,” Mari said and I sighed, finally accepting the inevitable. If I refused to participate, I probably would be explaining the reasons to the assistant principal. Only in a place like this would a school paper be so important. It was for homecoming though, so at least I would have another reason for the rest of the guys to be annoyed with me. “Can we start?”

“Sure,” I said as I reached up and grabbed my fork. I waited for her first question as I smashed peas into the plastic tray.

“It says here that you are on pace to break three school records by the end of the season,” she said and I glanced up to see her reading over a piece of paper. I didn’t know that, I hadn’t really paid any attention to the banners in the gym or the trophy cases in the front foyer. Dad had a championship trophy with his name on it back in his hometown, but that was hundreds of miles away and before the military.

“I guess,” I answered, finishing off the peas, the green mush I created no longer holding my interest.

“Maybe we should do this after school,” Mari whispered as she looked over the top of the paper at me.

“Damn, Riddles,” Matt said leaning back in his chair throwing his hands up before letting them fall lazily at his sides. Mari had to dodge him, but I didn’t care about records. I didn’t care about the history of a place that would never amount to anything. If I broke the records by the end of the year, I would feel no different than I did when the season started.

“What?” I asked tossing my fork back onto my tray, “you want me to be proud of a stupid record that I don’t give a shit about?”

“See, that’s why nobody fucking likes you,” Matt hissed leaning forward as he brought his arms up. He crossed them on the table as he shot me a glare. “You’re doing all this shit and you don’t even care. Guys worked all year to hope for a feature during homecoming weekend and you’re pissing all over it.”

“Then take it,” I said standing up with enough force to tip my chair over. It got everyone’s attention, but I didn’t look around to see it. The sudden hush of the cafeteria told me everything I needed.

“Riddles,” Mari started as I grabbed my tray and my bag in the other.

“It’s Ridley, Mari,” I growled as I shouldered my bag and walked as cool as I could to the trashcan to dump my tray before leaving the cafeteria.

In a town this size, being the leading scorer on the basketball team should have won me friends. It should have gotten me dates and invitations to parties. At the start of it all, it did, despite my indifference to everything. I didn’t go to the dances or the parties. I went home and I waited for my talks with Dad, even if he always ended up encouraging me to accept a few invitations and go out more. I grew to six feet tall and found the right treatments for my acne. Everyone had noticed me again and I was just the guy that people wanted in some way. My indifference wasn’t odd anymore, they had accepted it and I had begun to allow a few of them in. That was before the phone call that changed everything came in the middle of the night. Now I was just Riddles again, the odd quiet guy that can shoot the hell out of a basketball. It didn’t take long for me to go back to being that guy in their eyes. I didn’t care if I walked out of this place after graduation still being that guy either. I didn’t owe the school a feature, if they wanted to write one, it would be without my story.

It didn’t surprise me when I was called to the guidance counselor's office during last period either. Mari made a second attempt to interview me during Spanish, where she was completely fluent and I had to actually pay attention. Matt didn’t have this class, he didn’t have the language requirements that I had since I was trying for an accelerated diploma. She made the effort to call me by my name, but all I could focus on was yelling at her at lunch and felt like shit. The blow up had spread through the entire school and Mrs. Botez, who normally would have made an effort to keep people on task, hadn’t paid Mari or me any attention. I had a secure A in here and I suspected Mari had an even better one, so that probably helped her cause. My stubbornness got the better of me though and she told Mr. Kraus the teacher heading the paper and he told the guidance counselor.

Our guidance counselor had one foot into retirement and the other in the grave. He was also a chain smoker that smelled of stale cigarettes and beer. He was a red faced, watery-eyed wreck. So sitting across from him in his room wasn’t something that anyone looked forward to. He didn’t give a shit about a school paper or temper tantrums. He was there to make sure people graduated and were enrolled in the right classes, anything else he just swept away with a threat to call parents.

“Mr. Brooks,” he said and I grimaced when his voice fell to a wheeze. “Just cooperate with Ms. Perez, don’t be what keeps her from the scholarship she is working on.”

“I didn’t know she was working on a scholarship,” I muttered sitting straighter in my chair. Mr. Pearcey was a stickler for that sort of thing and he was already eyeballing me with his bloodshot eyes after I slouched into the seat.

“You could do with a few extra curriculars in your file,” he grumbled as he shuffled through my file on his desk. “There’s more to high school than basketball.”

“Yeah,” I said, wrinkling my nose when he licked a trembling thumb to keep looking through my folder. It was probably the first time it had been opened since I stepped through the doors as a freshman.

“Are you going to cooperate with Ms. Perez?” He asked as he glanced past me and upward towards the wall clock that I knew was there, because I had been trying to find the opportune moment to glance over my shoulder at it myself.

“Yes,” I answered knowing if I said anything else he would just pucker his smoke stained leathery lips and glower at me.

“After school today, if you have the time,” he said and after I nodded he waved his hand and I slid out of the chair and bolted from the room. The final dismissal bell was about to ring so I just walked to my locker and put away the books I didn’t need for homework. Closing my locker I leaned against it and waited for the shrill noise and the immediate noise from everyone filtering out of the rooms. When it sounded I pushed myself off my locker and started towards the exit with no intention of honoring Pearcey’s demand that I stay after school. I only had an hour before I had to be back here for practice and I didn’t want to spend that time answering questions I didn’t want to answer.

“Hey Riddles,” someone yelled just before the exit. The voice was close behind me and when a hand landed on my shoulder I looked over to see Gabe Rice attached to the hand. When I shot him a glare he dropped it from my shoulder.

“Yeah?” I asked already knowing he was part of the journalism club with Mari.

“You’re trying to ditch on Mari and me,” he said with a smirk playing on his mouth.

“I was just going out to my car,” I said, glancing towards the exit, hating that I wasn’t already breathing fresh air and freedom.

“To haul ass down the road,” he countered as he half turned back towards the heart of the school. Being caught I didn’t have it in me to keep going so I turned with him and I saw his shoulders relax a little.

“Can’t you just interview Reed?” I asked as we shouldered through the last of the crowd heading out. Not being tall, at least in basketball standards I glanced over and saw that Gabe was slightly taller than I was. He had a camera bag draped over his shoulder and I frowned. I should have opened Mari’s email, at least then I would have prepared myself for what the feature actually was.

“We’ve already featured Ethan Reed,” Gabe answered shrugging. “You’re literally the only guy on the team we haven’t interviewed over the years.”

“It would make more sense to talk to the captain right before homecoming,” I argued, hoping to sway him, but I also didn’t know where Reed went after school. Probably where everyone went, to the diner to get a milkshake and talk shit about how lousy the town we lived in was.

“Why?” Gabe asked and I glanced over just in time to see him roll his eyes. “So he can just tell us the same shit everyone always says?”

“What does everyone say?” I asked as we turned the corner and I looked down the hallway to see Mari standing outside the media room.

“How excited they are to be playing for the school during homecoming,” Gabe mocked and I fought a smile when he squared his shoulders and attempted to walk with a strut. “How good and prepared the team is this year, all that shallow shit.”

“That’s probably all I’m gonna say,” I said as he fell back into his normal walk beside me.

“No you won’t,” Gabe said and I felt my heartrate pick up. “We’re not going to ask those types of questions.”

“Why can’t I just say that I don’t want to be interviewed for the paper,” I said, coming to a stop in the middle of the hallway. I looked at Mari just long enough to see her drop her hands to her sides and look towards the ceiling, her mouth moving rapidly. I could only guess at what she was saying and I doubted I ever learned those spanish words in class. “Why do we live in such a shithole that I don’t have that right?”

“Aren’t you tired of it all?” Gabe asked, his voice lower as he stood closer to me.

“No,” I answered, my stubbornness fighting to win out and get me home without doing the feature. The question caught me off guard and I only guessed at the full meaning behind it.

“I guess not,” he said and I looked away when his brown eyes found mine. “Well anyway, time to get started then.”

“Please,” I said, then swore under my breath hating that I begged. I could already hear Mom’s lecture about being more open and social. She was a former prom queen in a long line of them. Cara, my little sister, was looking forward to being eligible to run next year. She had already made a dent in this school. I knew she was sneaking out to parties, but I didn’t dare tell on her, because that would have ended up with Mom lecturing me about being a shut-in. Then the tears would follow when we would talk about Dad and how he wouldn’t want me cutting out all my friends and staying at home all the time.

Gabe seemed to decide to pretend not to hear me beg under my breath. Instead he nudged me with his shoulder and started walking again. He didn’t look back and I wondered, briefly, if he was giving me an out. That maybe if I just turned and started walking that he wouldn’t chase me down and drag me back to the media room. I watched him go until I realized I was looking slowly down his shoulders to the curve of his lower back just above his ass. He was wearing shorts, being a warm spring sort of day.

Looking past him I saw Mari still waiting and when we made eye contact she smiled so I started walking. I tried not to hold it against her when I saw the relief flash across her face as I closed the distance between them and me. She ushered me inside the room, it was a brightly lit room, mostly from the photography equipment. Gabe was already taking his camera out of the bag and looking over the lenses. When he pointed it towards me and I heard the click of the camera I grimaced, but he looked over it with a smile.

“Take a seat anywhere,” Mari said as she set up a laptop. Looking around the room briefly I took a seat just off the head of the table next to her. She offered me another smile as she waited for the laptop. Her smooth brown skin was lightly dotted with small moles and her dark brown eyes were warm enough. She didn’t wear a lot of make-up, not really needing to. Her hair flowed in soft loose curls down past her shoulders. When she reached up and tucked a strand behind her ear I looked away not wanting to be caught staring at her.

“Why did you try out for basketball anyway?” Gabe asked, breaking the silence in the room.

“I just wanted to,” I answered, glancing over at him. He was smirking like he completely expected that sort of answer from me. It annoyed me more than anything.

“This is going to go well,” he said and I smirked, leaning back in my chair.

“That is one of the questions I was going to ask,” Mari answered and I looked over to see that she was ready to start the interview. “Could you give us a little more of an answer to that?”

“What do you want from me?” I asked reaching up to rest my arms on the table. Looking around until I found something for me to fiddle with, I grabbed a paperclip. Running it through my fingers I slid it over one of them until it was secured on it and tapped it against the plastic topped table.

“Just some honesty,” Mari answered and I wrinkled my nose.

“I’m not lying to you,” I answered shrugging. “I just tried out because I wanted to.”

“Why did you want to?” She asked, her hands resting on the keyboard.

“Why does anyone try out for things?” I asked, studying the paperclip still clipped on my index finger. I slid it off and slid it onto my middle finger and back again.

“Because they like whatever it is,” Gabe answered and I glanced up to see him watching me playing with the paperclip. “You don’t really seem to like basketball.”

“I like basketball,” I countered, glaring at him. The nights out with Dad on uneven pavement was how I liked it. He would never get to play with me like that again, but I also wanted to finish this out for him. It was almost over, there were only a handful of games left after homecoming. Then I would have honored my Dad’s wishes for me and I would be finished. The thought made me sigh and slump down into my seat.

“You don’t really,” he said as he held his camera up to his chest. “Can I take a picture?”

“Go ahead,” I said without making a move to change my posture for the photo. When he hesitated I sighed sitting up straighter in my chair, letting the paperclip fall back to the table.

“Going to smile?” Gabe asked as he moved the camera to cover his face. Faking a smile I heard the click of the photo. “Thanks, that’s a test shot, we’re not done.”

“Okay,” I said watching him look down at the screen of the camera to review the photos of me he took so far.

“What’s your favorite memory from playing for our school?” Mari asked, attempting to sway my attention.

“Winning my first game,” I answered, shrugging my shoulders. I knew it was a dangerous answer. Winning my first game was my favorite memory, because of Dad’s enthusiasm and proud smile.

“That’s so sweet,” Mari responded and I felt my face getting warm. “How did you feel at that moment?”

“I don’t know,” I lied knowing exactly how I felt after I got home. I was impatient with having to wait for the call. I fumbled over my words at first and Dad had a hard time keeping up with my retelling. I had scored fifteen points, including the game winning shot just as time expired. We won by one point. I was given the ball to keep, but I let the air out of it and snuck it into Dad’s bag one day before he left. Mom secretly told me that he cried when he found it, that it embarrassed him since James had caught him. Dad’s things were with him in his room at the facility, I didn’t know if he still had the gameball or if it had been lost along the way.

“It did happen awhile ago,” Gabe offered and I glanced over at him just in time to see another smirk finishing its course on his face. He was fiddling with the camera and didn’t notice me looking at first, but when he did I looked away. I was quickly realizing that Gabe said whatever was on his mind and didn’t care if anyone heard him or not.

“Do you know how you got your nickname, Riddles?” Mari asked and I felt myself grow tense.

“It is just a play on my name,” I answered shrugging. “I don’t really like it, but people don’t really seem to care. Don’t put that in the feature.”

“Okay,” she said as she stopped typing. I watched her tapping the backspace key. “I’m sorry, I just always knew you by that nickname, I thought it was cute.”

“I like Ridley better,” Gabe offered and I looked towards the photography set up. The white umbrellas seemed to glow and there was a tripod set up waiting for Gabe’s camera. I knew I would end up standing opposite it for my picture. I wondered if they were going to make me change into my uniform by the time this was over. We only had an hour to do this interview and we were already halfway through that hour. Coach would be expecting me in the gym, changed and stretching out just as the clock hit five.

“Did your parents tell you why they chose that name?” Mari asked and I felt around for the paperclip again, already deciding that I wasn’t going to answer the question. I was supposed to feel honored to have this name, it wasn’t a name given to me lightly, not really. Dad held James Ridley close to his heart, he would have died for him. James had died for him. It could have very easily been my Dad. I didn’t want to give these people that side of me, because I felt it needed to be protected. A lie felt just as bad though and Dad told everyone the story behind my name, I had heard it hundreds of times, he was that proud of me, sharing the name with his best friend.

“My Dad lost at a card game, but I would have been given this name anyway,” I answered, trying not to smile. “His friend James Ridley challenged him to a poker game one night, the loser had to name their first child after the winner.”

“Why not James?” Gabe asked after I fell quiet, I was tiptoeing around the hard parts and I felt a tight knot forming in my throat and feared my voice would break.

“James is too common of a name,” I answered and I saw him smile as Mari’s fingers tapped the keys. “They were still in basic training, I wasn’t even in the planning yet. Dad banked on a rematch, but after he lost James never let himself be talked into it.”

“A lost card game, dude, really?” Gabe asked and I shrugged.

“You said you would have been named Ridley regardless of the outcome of that game,” Mari prompted as she paused her typing.

“They were best friends,” I answered. “James had a daughter, Brooke is a common enough name for a girl.”

“Were,” Gabe said and I swore at myself. Gabe wasn’t really asking, so he had already put the two together. I didn’t dare look at either of them. This had already gone farther than I wanted it to go. The weight of the name and the person I only met a handful of times and never got to see the same way Dad got to. None of us could unless we were there. It wasn’t that they were friends, they were brothers, they were the ones that kept each other sane and safe. If Dad could talk, I know he would ask for James, maybe even before he asked about me and I didn’t know when or how we would answer that question or what he remembers. I wouldn’t hold that against him either.

“You can’t use this in the feature either,” I said, glancing over at Mari. “I don’t think I want it in there.”

“We don’t have anything else,” she countered, offering me a smile. “It is a sweet story, please don’t have me delete it.”

“I need to get ready for practice,” I said, glancing at the clock on the wall.

“I need to take some pictures,” Gabe said as he stood holding his camera.

“Can I email you my list of questions and you can answer the ones you want to?” Mari asked, still seated in front of her laptop.

“Yes,” I answered as I stood and pushed my chair in. I walked around the table and around Gabe. I stepped onto the white mat covering the floor. The lights were brighter over here and I squinted until my eyes adjusted.

“I need them before Friday,” she said as she came to stand next to Gabe. They both looked shadowed as I blinked against the lighting in the room.

“Should we make him change into his uniform?” Gabe asked as I watched him place his camera onto the tripod.

“No we already have those on file,” Mari answered, tiptoeing to try to see into the camera just as the flashes blinded me and I forced another smile.

Copyright © 2021 Krista; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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What a great start!  It is the first story in a long time that stirred up my fatherly instincts, making me want to reach out and help and protect a character in a story.  My heart goes out to Ridley and all he is going through by himself (at least for now).

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Wow,  "Riddles"  is the first word of the story.  You seemed to brief us on the backstory, but  I'm suspicious  there are more riddles here than it appears.  

"I didn’t care about the history of a place that would never amount to anything"   Ridley is completely distinct from your other characters, but that line is a Krista-classic!  

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Loved the first chapter. I think Ridley is a great character and I can't wait to watch him unfold. 

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