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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 - 3. Part 3

The rest of the week I felt a small bit of anticipation fluttering in my stomach about the feature. True to his word, Gabe didn’t bother me anymore. I looked for him between classes, through the faces I didn’t really know because I didn’t care to. I doubted I really gave him anything to use for the feature and when they hit the wire baskets in the hallway for us to pick up, I grimaced when I saw me in full uniform on the front cover. It was an official team picture, so I had my safety glasses on and I had a basketball cradled on my hip. I looked gawky, but I had filled out a little more this year. That picture had been taken for the Yearbook last spring right before we took our senior pictures. I had at least smiled, an awkwardly crooked one that kind of made me look like I was full of myself. I didn’t go any further after looking at the cover. I had no intention of reading it and nothing really changed my mind as people snatched it up to read as they went by.

There wasn’t any extra attention given to me in the hallways, at first. No more than usually given to me right before a game anyway. I was dressed in my practice uniform like everyone else, it was a requirement. As the day went on though, I couldn’t help noticing that people were sneaking to read the paper during classes. I wanted to think it was because it was fuller this year, a lot of the team were seniors. We wouldn’t have a team like this next year. There were small features on all of them. There was also a cheerleading competition last weekend, Cara had said they did well, it would have been in there. I was hoping there were enough self absorbed people to warrant the extra attention paid to this one. Still, I had a consistent warmth to my cheeks and elevated heart rate that I knew couldn’t be healthy, even for a kid my age.

It took one girl dramatically closing the paper and staring at me, to stand up and leave Senior English entirely. Mrs. Beatty tried to stop me, but I ignored her until she followed me out of the room.

“Mr. Brooks,” she said, her voice rising to true flamboyance that instantly grated on my nerves. “Just where do you think you’re going.”

“I have to pee,” I said, hoping to get away from her.

“You know the bathroom protocol,” she said, clicking her tongue against her front teeth. I didn’t feel like being ‘tsked’ like a grade school kid.

“Emergency,” I said, “please let me go.”

“Fine,” she said waving her hand at me as she darted back inside the room shaking her head.

Not really lying about having to pee, I did make my way to the first men’s bathroom on the main hallway. Entering I walked to the urinal and after I was finished I washed my hands and stared at myself in the mirror. I had gotten a haircut before the game tonight. It was too short to style, but not exactly completely buzzed. It made my hair look lighter than it usually did, but a soft sandy blond that matched Mom’s if she didn’t dye her hair was definitely more apparent now. My face was flushed so I ran some cool water over a paper towel and rubbed it across my face sliding my glasses askew. It was soothing though and as I let the paper towel drop back into the sink so that I could fix my glasses the bathroom door opened and I glanced at the little freshman that entered. Still looking shy about using the bathroom I watched as he ignored the urinals and went to the stall. Not wanting to be in the bathroom anymore I pulled the door open and left.

The main hallway was brighter, janitors never really rushed to replace burned out lights in bathrooms. I also remembered that I abandoned my things at my desk so I slowly made my way back to class just as the bell rang. It saved me from the silent attention people gave me, but I shouldered past some dumbass that held up his hand for a high-five. I probably should have known who they were, since we had class together, but I didn’t. I quickly gathered my books, accepted the packet of homework from Mrs. Beatty and darted back out of the room.

It was my last class and I was at least free until Cara got hold of me. I had nothing to do until the game tonight. All I had to worry about was arriving on time, the cheerleader that would escort me to the center of the gym, and handing my Mom a rose. I would undoubtedly have to endure a kiss on the cheek from her, but people loved her, I was the weird one.

Outside in the sunlight I looked around for Cara, but my phone buzzed and when I looked down and read that she was riding home with Kaitlyn to go to a hair appointment I sighed and started walking to my car. As I approached it though I noticed something slid in behind my windshield wiper. When I was close enough to see that it was the paper with a post-it note attached to it, I sped up my pace.

‘I know you didn’t read it, but I thought you might want one to show your Dad,’ I read, then glanced around at the people funneling out to the student parking lot. It was signed by Gabe. I couldn’t see his big assed truck from where I parked, but we were in alphabetical order so I was on the opposite side of the lot than him. A fleeting feeling that I should wait for him hit me as I grabbed the driver’s side door. Some of the lingering extra attention I got from people waving as they drove past me put a stop to that idea though and when I was safely in the quiet of my car I tossed the paper into the passenger seat face down.

The ride home was short and Mom wasn’t home. I half-expected her to be waiting in ambush. They publish an online paper for parents. I knew she read them, she told me as much the other night, but she had always made comments about what was in them then giving up after I told her I hadn’t read it that week. The lecture about being more present in school usually followed, but had lost the impact. I no longer felt guilty about not having the friends I once had or giving in to the attention people thought I should have wanted. I owed them nothing and I had given them all that I was going to, it was the promise I made that gave them that much.

When Mom finally did come home with Cara right behind her, they were both in a frenzy. Cara, after paying for her hair to be styled for homecoming, decided on the way home she didn’t like it. So she made a beeline for the bathroom. Mom went right to work on a snack for all of us before going down the hallway to her bedroom to start fussing over what dress she would wear when she escorted me out onto the gym floor. Knowing Dad wouldn’t be there, I scooted further into the couch not really wanting to eat what Mom put together. The thought hadn’t hit me until I saw Mom walk through the door, but the one person I was doing all this for wouldn’t even be there to see me one step closer to seeing it through.

“Why do you look so angry?” Cara asked after she rounded the corner, her hair in bouncy curls. She was in her cheerleading warm ups. Her hair looked the same as it did before, only with a big assed white bow crowning it now.

“No reason,” I answered, shrugging my shoulders.

“You’re not getting ready,” she said, cocking an eyebrow. Only her and Dad could really do it and when she did it, she looked a lot more like him.

“I am ready,” I countered looking down at what I wore to school.

“I guess you would need to change into the game uniform when we get there,” she said as she walked over and plopped herself down directly beside me. I was already on the end of the couch, so I had no space to give myself.

“How was the paper?” I asked, glancing over at her, my nose wrinkling as the smell of her perfume finally hit me.

“I was told not to tell you,” She answered, perking up. “His exact words were, I know your brother didn’t read it, so don’t tell him what’s in it.”

“Who said that?” I asked, but I already knew the damn answer.

“Gabe,” she said, squinting over at me. “Do you think I am his type?”

“I’m not talking about you being any guy’s type Cara,” I groaned, shaking my head. “It’s gross.”

“Fine,” she said, sighing as she looked over her freshly manicured fingernails. “Well anyway, so you haven’t read it?”

“No,” I answered, “so tell me how it was.”

“No,” she countered, smirking. “I made a promise.”

“Where is your damn loyalty?” I asked, shoving myself up off the couch.

“He paid me off,” she answered, still looking at her nails. “He somehow knew that was the way to go about it.”

“How much?” I asked, wondering if I could double it, but Mom didn’t want us working after school. She said we had plenty of time to do that after college. Instead she gave us money for good grades and chores around the house. Or whenever we asked for money really.

“Enough to get all this done today,” she answered, flashing me her fingernails. “You know this isn’t cheap.”

“Mom will tell me, I’m surprised she has managed not to this long,” I said as I walked around the couch.

“Well funny thing,” Cara said just as I was about to enter the kitchen and finally snack on the hummus and celery sticks still waiting on the kitchen table. “The school website has been down all day, she couldn’t read it.”

“Really?” I asked, turning to lean on the column that arched all the way around the entrance to the kitchen. “Do you think he had something to do with that?”

“He looks like a hot sort of nerd,” she answered shrugging. “So yeah, probably.”

“So you’re really not going to tell me?” I asked, but I already knew the answer from the look she gave me earlier.

“Nah,” she answered, rolling around to lean over the back of the couch with her elbows propping her up.

“I’ll remember this,” I countered as I rolled off the column I was leaned against and walked to the kitchen table.

It only took a few bites for me to realize that I hated what I was eating, but I didn’t feel like looking for anything else. Mom also managed to finally find a dress she liked and if we didn’t live in town and minutes from school, we would have ended up being late.

The school was already packed, even though the game wouldn’t be starting for another hour or so. I still had to be changed and stretched before Coach got around to us. The other guys would poke fun at him for wearing a suit and tie to this game instead of his tracksuit. His thinning hair and growing waistline would probably make this homecoming a little extra hilarious, but after arriving the only thing I felt was the nervous flutter returning from this morning. I kept pulling on the seatbelt to adjust it on the way over until Mom shot me a look and when we were parked I said a quick bye to both of them and jogged to the front entrance where the line was formed all the way out the doors and around the corner. Homecoming was always a sell out, even during the bad years when a win wasn’t guaranteed. Still wearing my practice jersey and a pair of shorts I was just recognizable enough for people to get out of my way. The front foyer smelled of buttered popcorn and there were too many people in here for the air conditioning to keep the place cool.

Entering the gym I saw the protective mat was already on the floor, it was red like a red carpet, that ended just before it covered the school emblem at center court. That is where I would endure the kiss from my Mom and wish Dad was here for his patented shoulder squeeze before a bear hug. I doubted he would be able to do that when he got back home to us, not for a long time and a lot more physical therapy at least.

Not wanting to look around too much at the crowd of people, I walked across the gym to the locker room and slid inside. Reed, Matt and the guys were already inside, all of them in different stages of undress. Liking the instant quiet, the block walls and the thick metal door provided from the loud hum coming from hundreds of voices talking all at once, I got to my spot and pulled my practice jersey over my head and the white tank top I wore under it.

“Rice really did a number on you,” Matt said as he sat down beside me. “Why couldn’t you have done that with Mari?”

“Leave him alone, Matt,” Reed said as he playfully cracked a rolled up towel against Matt’s lower back. “We need him to focus.”

“We’re playing cupcakes,” Matt groaned as he rubbed the spot. When he turned his back towards me I saw that it had already reddened and I wrinkled my nose knowing what those felt like, no one had been spared over the years.

I didn’t want to ask Matt Ashby about the paper, so I toed out of my shoes and pulled off my socks before I stood and grabbed my school bought and paid for Nike’s along with my compression shorts and a pair of socks. Stripping down to my underwear I grabbed my compression shorts and pulled them up over me and readjusted my junk and boxer briefs until everything felt better. Some of the guys opted for jocks under their compressions, but I didn’t care for them.

After I had my game jersey and sports glasses on I sat back down waiting for Coach to retrieve us to start our warmups. When he finally entered, the stragglers quickened their pace. Seeing him smooth out his suit I smirked and glanced around the locker room. No one wanted to be the first one, even if Coach expected it by now.

“Getting remarried, Coach?” Reed finally asked as he walked up and tugged on Coach’s tie. His hand was immediately swatted away, but he was fighting a smile.

“Sixth one, right?” Matt asked as he slid his jersey over his head. “Can we take bets on how long this one lasts?”

“You idiots done?” He asked, but waved his hands inviting more taunting over the cheap suit that he was already beginning to sweat through.

“The last one fed you a bit too good, I think,” Bryan Crawley said as he tried to pat Coach’s stomach, but kept getting his hand slapped away.

“I wouldn’t throw your playbook down, you might bust out of ol’ trusty this year,” Reed added just as the warm up horn sounded.

“Alright, alright,” Coach said, shaking his head. “One of these days all of you shits will be bald and fat like me. Maybe not Ridley, but the rest of you.”

“Coach,” Reed said, shaking his head.

“You all get on out there, don’t get around mid-court, don’t want you tripping on that damn mat,” he said as he took us all in. “Seniors, it’s been a pleasure coaching you all up to this point, don’t let that go all to hell.”

With that he opened the door and we followed Reed out to a booming roar from the crowd. The other team was already going through their drills. The noise completely drowned out the cheerleaders of both teams and I had to slow my jog to keep from running over Reed, Bryan, and Matt who all slowed to take it all in. It should have felt different, being our last homecoming. The one that was all about us. It probably did feel different for them, playing for these people since youth and junior leagues. I scanned the crowd of mulling parents and saw Mom standing with her hand over her mouth, her blond hair in wavy curls down her back. I could tell from here that she was crying and I gave her a short wave before I followed everyone else to the home side of the gym.

Stretching, I watched guys start doing lay-ups. The managers were getting the drinking station and our benches ready. The boosters were setting up a balloon arch in the school’s navy and silver with streamers hanging down. There was music playing, but I could only feel the bass thumping. We only had fifteen minutes to run drills and get warmed up, so when I felt stretched out enough I grabbed a basketball from the rack and fell in line for lay-ups. After a couple rounds of those I started on my jump shots.

This was the only time I really felt part of the team. I knew most of that was my fault over the years. The spot I stole was no longer an issue now that we were winning. The feature seemed forgotten as the ball I was using was chased down by the closest teammate and passed back to me with a smile. I could tell they all felt lighter in the way they held themselves. True focus had fallen to the wayside and on another night, Coach would have us back in the locker room giving us a verbal chewing that probably would’ve made his mother blush.

When the warm-up time expired the visiting team went to the bench to hydrate. The underclassmen on our side went to our bench. Coach ushered us to the mat as Principal Aiken tapped the microphone to test it and to knock the crowd’s roar down so he could be heard. In the line, I found Mom and stood beside her. Cara ended up being my cheerleader escort and she handed me the rose to hand to Mom after we were announced.

“I have a surprise for you,” Mom whispered and I watched as she struggled to pull her phone out of her tiny purse.

“What is it?” I asked and I glanced at Cara who already had tears in her eyes and my heart started to pick up speed in my chest.

After Mom swiped her finger across the screen, I tried to see what she was doing, but she hid it from me. When she finally smiled down at the screen she turned it towards me. At first it was blurry as the signal struggled, but when the screen cleared and I saw Dad’s face, his deep brown eyes that matched Cara’s looking back at me I shot Mom a brief look before I snatched the phone from her hands.

“Hey bud,” Dad said, his voice weak and gravely, but instantly familiar. Through the roar and the lame ass speech Aiken was giving, I had a hard time hearing him, but I didn’t want to hold the phone up to my ear.

“Hey Dad,” I greeted, my voice cracking.

“Hi Daddy,” Cara said over my shoulder standing on her tiptoes as she waved her hand in front of the screen.

“Hi Sweetheart,” he said as he smiled. There was a scar that pulled down the corner of his bottom lip that made his smile foreign to me. It continued down over his jawline, carving a line through his stubble. His hair was longer than it had ever been, his bangs moved to one side to keep from falling into his face. He had grayed around his temples.

I had so many questions that I wanted to ask him. I couldn’t form the words though so I stared at the screen. He was in a loose fitting light blue checkered hospital gown, his bed had been raised until he was in a sitting position with both of his arms resting at his sides. He had lost his basic training tan that stayed with him over the years and a lot of muscle and weight.

“They started weaning him off his sedatives a week and a half ago,” Mom said as she stood on my other side so that she could see him. When he saw her, I saw his smile widen and I felt a tear slide down my cheek. “He made me promise not to tell you, until he was strong enough to sit up and talk.”

“Don’t cry bud,” Dad said, but I could tell that he was fighting back tears. “You got a big game to play.”

“Yeah,” I offered, shaking my head. “Can I call you after?”

“This isn’t my phone,” he said and I saw him look past the phone to somewhere else in his room. Probably to the owner of the phone he was using. “Your Mom is coming up after the game, so we can call you soon.”

“Alright,” I said just as Ethan Reed was announced and the crowd came back to life. I glanced up to see him being escorted by his parents and a cheerleader to the archway. Turning back to Dad he offered me another smile.

“Give them hell tonight,” he said, “I love all of you and I’ll see you all soon, I promise.”

“I love you too,” I said as I gently handed Mom back her phone as Cara grabbed my elbow. We were next, but we hadn’t moved from our spot on the court so we had to rush forward with Mom trailing behind us. We probably looked like a trainwreck, but I didn’t care. For the first time in two years I felt like I was completely here again.

“Ridley Brooks, starting guard,” Principal Aiken announced. The crowd roar swelled again and Cara had to remind me about the rose for Mom, when we got to the end of the arch. I had squished it, but Mom took it with tears streaming down her face and when she kissed my cheek I didn’t groan or try to pull away. She held me longer than I thought she was supposed to and I let her. Cara ended up having to tug on her arm, people in the crowd laughed.

“She really loves her little man, doesn’t she,” Principal Aiken said as he laughed and announced Matthew Ashby and I jogged to my spot on the bench. A manager handed me a bottle with Gatorade in it. Knowing I had neglected my hydration, I took a few drinks before I sat it down under my chair.

After the seniors on the team were announced we huddled, did the school chant led by Reed. After we broke the huddle the whistle sounded I stepped out onto the court as Bryan squared up to jump for the ball. When the referee stood between them and tossed the ball into the air I watched Bryan swat it into the air. Reed ran it down and I was already sprinting down the floor towards the corner of the court just beyond the three point line. Seeing me he passed the ball and I shot the ball with soft hands, the way Dad taught me out on the cracked pavement and I smiled when I watched the ball slide gently through the net before I sprinted down to the other end of the court.

After the final buzzer Coach led us Seniors out onto midcourt. We had our picture taken, still red faced and sweaty for the county newspaper. We did play a cupcake team, to guarantee us a win. Standing beside Reed with the game ball cradled against my right side, he surprised me by draping his arm around my shoulders. We were more or less the same height, but he was a stockier build than I was.

“Take it all in, guys,” Coach said as he broke from the semi-circle and pulled the reporter away from us to give us some space. Most of the people who didn’t have a kid on the team or current students were already filing out to beat the traffic so the roar from the stands had become a lot more subdued. Our classmates were slowly making their way towards us, but I didn’t really want to be part of that.

“I’ll see you all later,” I said as I slid out from under Reed’s arm.

“There’s a party at my place tonight, Ridley,” he said, offering me a small smile. He already knew I would be a no show to that. The offer surprised me, I figured they were all past asking by now. Homecoming was different though, even I felt it now and when I broke from the growing crowd at the center of the court I slowed down and looked around the small and aged gym. The scoreboard still had the final score and the time clock reading the four zeroes. The newspaper reporter was taking pictures of it, so I turned away from them before they noticed me.

Like always I started my search for Mom, who I knew waited around for me. I hoped Dad still had a phone to use, so that I could talk to him before it got too late. Not seeing her or Cara though I turned and jogged across the court to the locker rooms still clutching the game ball. At least I would have something to give Dad when I got to see him next. There was a Dance tomorrow night, Cara had a dress and was probably already excited about it. She had a date, a dude in her class that I was sure she rattled on about, but I wasn’t paying much attention to her. I wasn’t really the protective big brother type, Cara put a stop to that not long after she hit thirteen and guys started taking notice.

The locker room was empty when I entered. Only one set of lights were on, so I flipped the other switches and made my way to my designated cubby. My name will be replaced in a couple of weeks. We already knew who would be replacing all of us, we had watched the tryouts a month or so ago.

After a quick, lukewarm shower to wash off the sweat and cool myself off a little, I stepped back out of the shower and shut it off as I grabbed a towel. The guys were slowly starting to funnel in, Matt was sitting on the bench wrapped in a towel, when he saw me turn the corner he shot me a half-hearted smirk then turned back to look at his own cubby with the clothes he wore to the game hanging just inside.

“You don’t even know that you broke the single game scoring record tonight, do you?” He asked as he reached up and ran his hand through his hair. It was a dark black that reflected light when it was wet. People thought he was Dad’s kid when the three of us would be out of town, people also mistakenly thought I was younger, always being smaller than him. I had just sat down on the bench a foot or so away, my own towel wrapped around my waist. I didn’t expect him to say anything remembering his outburst earlier in the week.

“Did I?” I asked, raising my eyebrows as I stared at my own cubby. I didn’t want to see the scowl I pictured on his face.

“By fifteen,” he answered, his voice falling to a sigh.

“What was the record?” I asked, finally turning to look at him. It surprised me to see that he had half-turned on the bench to give me his full attention.

“Thirty-three,” he answered, shaking his head. “They’ll retire your jersey number and hang it up in the rafters once we’re gone too, you know that.”

“I don’t really,” I said, feeling my face getting warm. I couldn’t picture a large replica of my jersey hanging up in the rafters and no one else ever wearing the number fourteen after I moved on and forgot the place. I didn’t want a legacy here and I didn’t think about what that would look like.

“I never understood why the hell you tried out,” he said without breaking eye contact with me. “You walking into the gym that afternoon didn’t make a lot of sense.”

“Yeah, it surprised me too,” I offered as I stood, not wanting to argue with Matt about basketball anymore.

Matt looked like he wanted to say more, but Bryan and Reed threw the door open half-wrestling with one another. I had turned to see what was happening and when I turned back to look at him he was grabbing his shampoo with his back to me. Not wanting my ass swatted with a towel or anything I quickly stood and dropped it to the ground and grabbed a clean pair of boxer briefs and my shorts and slid them up over my ass. After I pulled a t-shirt over my head, leaving my practice uniform in the cubby not really needing it right now I took a quick glance around the locker room smiling at my name on the cubby before I grabbed my bag after stuffing the game ball inside of it and walked up to the door and opened it.

“See ya later Ridley,” Bryan said as he struggled to keep a bare-assed Reed in a headlock.

“Bye,” I offered, shaking my head as I stepped through the door and let it fall shut behind me with a metallic click that echoed through the gym that was now mostly empty. Seeing that Mom and Cara were missing I walked across the gym floor, my regular sneakers squeaking against the waxed flooring. The security guards would be rounding everyone up soon and I hoped Mom remembered that she drove me to the game and didn’t leave me stranded.

When I entered the foyer that still smelled of popcorn and was slowly being cleaned up by the janitors I saw Mom standing at the entrance talking with Gabe. Cara was scrolling through something on her phone looking completely put out, still in her cheerleading uniform. She had let her down and it fell curly down her back.

“There he is, finally,” Mom said as the door closed behind me. “I was about to send Gabe in to look for you.”

“Yeah, you don’t know what you were really asking,” I said as I pictured the naked wrestling between Bryan and Reed escalating to a full on match by now.

“Are you ready to go Cara?” Mom asked, turning towards her.

“A half hour ago,” she said, shooting me a glare that quickly morphed into a dramatic eye roll. She likely would be pretending to stay the night with one of her friends and going over to Reed’s later and wanted plenty of time to get her plan lined up to trick Mom.

“See you later, Gabe,” I offered as I stepped up to where Mom stood.

“I was just asking your Mom if I could drive you home and if you wanted to hang out,” he said, turning to look at me.

“Why?” I asked and immediately felt the swat from Mom.

“Don’t be rude, Ridley,” she hissed and I looked up to see her smiling at Gabe.

“I have to be up early in the morning, right?” I asked not knowing what time it was. With the homecoming traditions before the game, we had a later start than usual. It had to be getting late and Dad was two states away waiting for us.

“Just go on and have a little fun,” she answered as she leaned in and kissed me on the cheek. “You played really great tonight.”

“Thanks,” I said, squinting at her change in tone. It was the tone she used when she didn’t want to answer a question or talk about something in front of a guest or stranger. Glancing at Cara she only shrugged and slid her phone into her bag.

“Can we go, Mom?” Cara asked as she pushed the door open and stepped outside not waiting for an answer.

“That girl is going to give me so many gray hairs,” Mom said as she offered Gabe another smile as she pushed the door open. “You two be careful.”

“We will,” he said as he stood there with his hands in his pants pockets. He was smiling and I wondered what he had planned. Gabe didn’t pay me any attention until the door closed, leaving us alone in the foyer. “You Ready?”

“I don’t really have a choice,” I answered as I pulled my bag up over my shoulder. He smirked and leaned his back against the door and opened it, holding it open for me to step through.

Being outside I looked around at the emptiness of the parking lot now and was thankful to feel the cooler air against my skin, no longer smelling the burned popcorn smell. Gabe slowly walked beside me until I realized I had no direction in mind, since I didn’t know where he had parked.

“I’m parked over there,” he said when I stopped walking. Glancing over to where he pointed I saw his truck parked just under a street light. “I have a surprise for you.”

“What is it?” I asked, glancing over at him as we started walking again.

“I’m not telling you,” he answered, pulling his keys out of his pocket. He hit the unlock button and I saw his headlights flash, then stay on as the doors unlocked. When we got to the truck he opened the back door of the extended cab. There I saw a cardboard box, but he held his hand out for my bag, half blocking my view. When I finally relented and gave it to him he smiled and slid it in next to the box.

“Is that it?” I asked just as he closed the back door.

“Yeah, get in,” he answered, “no peeking as I walk around the truck.”

“Alright,” I said as I stepped up onto the running board, grabbed hold of the door handle and climbed inside the passenger seat. The truck looked larger now that I was inside of it and as soon as I closed the door behind me I turned to look at the box, but Gabe almost broke into a sprint to get to the driver’s side and as I was reaching for the flaps of the cardboard box he shoved my hand away.

“You have a bad habit of not listening,” Gabe said as he pulled his door closed behind him.

“You should have known better,” I said, shrugging as the overhead light slowly dimmed until the only light in the truck was coming from the overhead street light. Gabe hadn’t made a move to start the truck and when I looked at him he was half turned to me with his hand still holding onto his keys.

“So how do you feel?” Gabe asked as he started moving again. I watched him slide his key into the ignition, but he held his hand over the keys, not turning it to bring the truck to life.

“Tired,” I answered leaning back into the seat, reaching for the seat belt until I found it and pulled it across my chest.

“Not what I was angling for, but not really a surprise either,” he said laughing as he turned the ignition then he let his hand fall to his lap. The headlights came back on and I looked out and saw that the rest of the guys were filing out of the gym, separating to go to their cars. None of them looked in our direction, still yelling at one another as the distance between them grew. I couldn’t hear what they were saying and both of us sat in silence and watched each of them burn off some rubber as they peeled out of their spots and down to the exit.

“Are you going to Ethan Reed’s?” I asked, breaking the silence as we sat in the parking lot. Gabe hadn’t made any move to put the truck into gear and actually start driving. It would be a short drive home for him to drop me off. Maybe the two street lights between here and there would stop us and make the drive a little longer.

“No,” he answered as he reached up and rested one of his hands on the steering wheel. “Are you?”

“No,” I answered, shaking my head. “I don’t go to parties.”

“Your sister does,” he said, smirking at me.

“I know,” I said shrugging. “I don’t worry about her, she has deadly accurate aim.”

“Yeah?” he asked, laughing and I smiled despite feeling a little nervous about us not actually being on the road.

“So what’s in the box?” I asked after his laughter died and the lights started going off in the gym and foyer. It didn’t darken the parking lot, since it was dotted with street lights that stayed on all night no matter what was going on at the school.

“Something me and the media club worked on, it wasn’t easy,” he said, sounding proud of himself. It only made me more nervous as he turned to look at me.

“Can I look at it now?” I asked half reaching for it, but he turned and leaned between the front seats as he grabbed the box and struggled to get it through the space as he came back with it. He sat the box on the console between us then reached up and pressed the button for his overhead light to come back on. I blinked a few times then watched him pull the box open. When I leaned over to look inside I saw a stack of film and a smaller box on top of them.

“It was a bitch transferring all those to digital,” he said and I finally understood what they were.

“Are these the game archives?” I asked, looking past the top of the box over to him. He had a smile playing on his lips and I felt my breath hitch in my lungs.

“Yeah, the originals and the digital, I have to take the originals back Monday,” he said, folding down one of the flaps of the box so he could look inside of it better. “So you and your Dad can watch them together.”

“Fucking hell,” I hissed leaning back against the seat.

“You said you didn’t think you could remember every game,” he continued as I turned and looked out the windshield. “Now you don’t have to, I saw that it worried you the other night.”

I knew he was waiting for me to say something, but every time I started to, the words died before my mouth started to form them. Swallowing, I felt the sting of unshed tears as I finally took a few steadying breaths before turning in the seat to look at him.

“Thank you,” I whispered and he reached inside and pulled out the smaller box and offered it to me. Reaching up I slowly took it from him and held it in my lap, looking down at it, my vision blurred. I didn’t want to fucking cry, but I didn’t expect something like this either.

“You just have to download them onto a computer. I have a couple extra copies of the paper too, I know you still haven't read it,” he said as he folded the box back closed and leaned between our seats to put it back. I heard him grunt and a paper ruffle as he reached for the papers. I turned to see his shirt riding up a little as he stretched and when he was most of the way back, but before he could lean into his seat I reached up and grabbed a fist full of the collar of his shirt and pulled him towards me. Letting go of the box in my lap, I reached up with my other hand and found the nape of his neck. His eyes were open in surprise as I closed the distance between us and when our lips met I felt him release a breath through his nose as his hand found the one of mine that still had hold of his shirt.

Copyright © 2021 Krista; All Rights Reserved.
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Thank God I was alone when I read this chapter!  When his dad said "Hey bud", there went the waterworks.  And, I am not one to shed tears easily, but this chapter got to me.   

I truly enjoy your writing Krista.  While waiting for a new chapter, I read one of your other stories and loved it and look forward to reading many more.  Thank you for sharing your gift of storytelling with us.

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Wow !!! Great story Krista. I do love Basketball and I have fond memories of playing with my sons and some times their friends similar to Ridley and his Dad. The part about how he got his name is epic and a testament to our armed forces. As you read between the lines you see the chemistry of the relationship developing hence the kiss. Gabe certainly went above and beyond in drawing Ridley out. I think there is another chapter at least to the story maybe more as the team makes it's way to the state championship and Dad is there to see. The relationship between Gabe and Ridley needs to grow. Plus we have to read the article in the paper.  

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Where did my box of tissues go?  Oh yeah...

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSGq8qwrmIlXVtjyVEt49i

The phone call left me stunned and grabbing tissues as I tried to recover.  

Next best part was The Kiss. I knew it was coming, I swear.  @Krista's well crafter use of details is amazing, and I focused on those a lot.  I wasn't expecting the kiss in this chapter, so I was surprised.  I don't think there will be any negative reaction to the kiss in the next chapter.  

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13 hours ago, raven1 said:

Where did my box of tissues go?  Oh yeah...

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSGq8qwrmIlXVtjyVEt49i

The phone call left me stunned and grabbing tissues as I tried to recover.  

Next best part was The Kiss. I knew it was coming, I swear.  @Krista's well crafter use of details is amazing, and I focused on those a lot.  I wasn't expecting the kiss in this chapter, so I was surprised.  I don't think there will be any negative reaction to the kiss in the next chapter.  

When I reread this story, I cry every time I get to that part. I cried when I wrote it, too. I think I'll always feel something for that part. I think the Kiss, was one of my rare attempts at writing a cliffhanger. This story was also written as 'one' large document/story and then I broke it down. So since it built up to a natural cliffhanger, it was tacked on to the end of this chapter for effect. :D Lol. So I guess it was a surprise to me as well when it was in this part. 

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