You're Just a Benchwarmer
Alex dashed into the room, brimming with excitement. Another day meant another day of basketball practice, although the coach cancelled the last few ones for some reason.
No one was there except for Jackson, but Jackson always arrived at homeroom early.
"Morning!" Alex waved at Jackson. He nodded in reply, but didn't say anything. For the past few days, Jackson seemed very melancholy, as did the rest of the team. When Alex looked in at other classes, the familiar faces of his teammates were all deadpan and staring off into the distance, zoning out.
Alex knew they were definitely still bummed out from the game. It was pretty bad, of course, but Alex didn't understand why everyone had to mope around for half a week.
"How's it going?" Alex asked, poking Jackson, hoping to cheer him up.
It seemed to have the opposite effect on Jackson. He turned his head to the opposite direction.
"Fine," Jackson replied. Alex sighed.
"I think you're the worst of them, you know?" Alex blurts out.
Jackson turned back, glaring, "What?"
"I don't get you guys," Alex explained, "You guys are amazing at basketball, but once you come across a bad game, you give up."
"Take that back," Jackson said angrily.
"No!" Alex retorted, "I don't want to just watch you guys drift off to who knows where! Give me back my real basketball team!"
Jackson started shaking. Not shaking like he was cold. No, it was further than that. He was crying. It wasn't just crying from sadness, either. It was as if needles of frustration and uselessness and self-pity were stabbing him from all directions.
"We lost!" shouted Jackson, "We lost so bad that our coach wouldn't talk to us! We lost so bad that our freakin' opponents apologized! We lost so bad that . . . that . . . that . . ."
Alex was silent.
"Michael didn't come to school," Jackson stood up, clenching his fists, "He hasn't come to school at all since that day. He was hit the hardest last game."
Alex blinked. Michael was one of the most hard-working people Alex had ever met. He would have only skipped school if a meteor struck him and sent him to the hospital. Not only was he amazing academically, he was also the captain of the basketball team, a tall and muscular center that could command an entire team of idiots to play vaguely well.
During the game, Michael was intense. He was more into the game than ever before. Alex remembered seeing Michael cheer the team up at the last moment, and then get hurt, only to be subbed out for Alex.
"I was hit pretty hard, too!" Alex replied, "I had to take the last shot, only to miss."
Jackson slammed his fists on his desk, "Shut up! You didn't even have anything to do with the game! You didn't do anything. Period. You're just a benchwarmer!"
Tears were beginning to form on Jackson's eyes. He wasn't even mad anymore. He was just drowning in his self-pity, unbeknownst of his hurtful words.
"I went off the bench for long enough!" Alex shouted back, "I played some defense, helped the offense! We didn't score, but it wasn't a bad game!"
"It was a bad game!" Jackson roared, slapping Alex in the face. Alex gaped in surprise, but Jackson didn't even seem to care.
"I made a difference," Alex replied defiantly.
Jackson glared at him with hatred that could scare a lion. "Yeah right. You suck at basketball anyways. There's no way you could feel our pain, so shut up! You're just a freakin' benchwarmer!"
Alex knew that Jackson was just pent up with frustration, but it still hurt to hear someone say something like that. From someone he thought was his friend.
Jackson stormed out of the room, growling and cursing as if the world had ended.
For Jackson, it seemed, the world had ended long ago.
That day, no one came to practice. The coach had cancelled it, saying he had other things to do. Alex walked into the almost abandoned gym, saddened that it turned out like this.
Occasionally, on previous trips alone to the gym, Alex could imagine his teammates joking around and having fun in the gym. But that day, Alex couldn't see anything. No one was there. No one was smiling. It was just an empty gym.
An empty gym with almost no hope of seeing another team again.
Alex kneeled down and touched the floor. There was a very thin layer of dust. The team hadn't practiced here for a while.
Without warning, he began to cry, screaming and punching at the floor. Alex didn't understand why the team did that. Why they let something as small as one game destroy their love for basketball.
He thought about Jackson, devoured by his self pity.
"I can't end up like him," Alex said to himself, steeling his resolve. He stood up, and grabbed a basketball from the rack.
For the rest of that year, students often heard the sound of a single, lonely basketball bouncing in the gym from the end of school to sundown.
. . .
"Nine to zero?" Dwayne asks, "That doesn't seem so bad."
Chris nods in agreement, although visibly disgusted that he has to agree with Dwayne, "If both teams scored so little, then it must mean that they both played great defense."
"It was different from that," Alex says ruefully, "Yes, on the surface, it seemed like both teams played amazingly. However, if you were there at the actual game, as an actual player, you would understand."
Alex sits down on the floor, appearing weary and tired, as if the mere thought of that game is giving him fatigue.
"Every single point they tried to score was from behind the half-court line. We would get lined up for defense, and Pennel Creek would just shoot from all the way back there, grinning and laughing. Every time we went up on offense, they would steal, block, and demolish us like it was nothing. Then they would return to offense and start shooting half-court shots. They never got serious at all. No one on our side knew what to do, because when the gap in strength is so great, there was nothing we could do," Alex clenches his fists. His eyes are closed, and the rest of the team was starting to truly understand what it was like to be at that game.
"At the end of the game, the players that were on the bench apologized to us. But it wasn't sincere," Alex explains, "Obviously, that kind of game by itself was pretty bad, but then we looked at Pennel Creek's record, and the all of their scores."
"What did it say?" Colin asks, scared to hear the answer.
"That year, every single game they played, including their league and practice games, they won nine to zero," Alex says angrily, "Obviously, since they had nine people on their team.
"Then we'll beat them!" Dwayne shouts after a long silence, "Twenty-four to nine because I count as twenty people!"
Then he adds modestly, "Any extra points can go to someone else."
. . .
The wind rustles leaves off the rooftops as Fernando plucks his arrow out of the target.
"When is it?" he asks without turning around. His companions are there with him, although they are nowhere near as much of a sharpshooter as he is.
"In . . . about half an hour?" Luke replies quickly, not realizing his grave mistake.
Fernando swivels around coldly, "Care to repeat that?"
Luke shakes his head, swallowing hard. Everyone else averts their eyes. Fernando smiles and hands him a bow and arrow.
"Take a shot, Luke," Fernando gestures at the target, which had been shot straight in the middle many times in succession by himself, "If you can be careless enough to blatantly make a mistake in your speech, then certainly, you should be able to carelessly hit the target without any problem, correct?"
Luke starts to shake in fear, "Wh-wh-what happens if i-i-i miss?"
"I may want you to leave in . . . ah . . . 'about thirty minutes'," Fernando smirks. Luke, not knowing what to do, pulls the drawstring back and shoots with all his might. Instead of going anywhere near the target, the arrow drifts forward lazily, and plops into the ground with a miserable thud.
"Excellently terrible," Fernando nods at the arrow, waving a hand dismissively at Luke, "Now, can anyone tell me at what time it begins?"
Recently, the entire group had agreed to join Fernando at his family's private archery range after school. Fernando enjoys it, because it is a constant reminder that he is much better than the rest of the team.
Greyson speaks up, "Currently 23 minutes and 46 seconds until the game."
"Perfect," says Fernando, marching off to the bus, "Let's go play some basketball."