A/n: WOW this a long time. Apologies for the wait! I am really glad our little match with Saint Helena will be over, because DANG that was a lot of nights spent thinking about it haha. We'll be moving on, but before that, I might pop in a few in-betweeners! :D ENJOY
“We need to keep Alex from dying,” Dwayne whispers suddenly, as Spencer is sipping water, slowly and methodically, as Colin had taught him. Saint Helena had just called a timeout, since they had probably thought that Alex was the main point-scorer in Marble Creek. But after Spencer scored consecutively, three times, they must have been rattled.
“You heard me,” he replies. Dwayne cranes his head back and chugs the water, in a way that would definitely make Colin Cringe.
“You know Alex,” says Dwayne, “No matter how destroyed he is, he’ll keep on destroying himself further.”
“Yeah. That sounds a bit like Alex,” agrees Spencer, “But what do you mean we need to keep Alex from dying?”
“We had this little pattern going on where Alex attacked recklessly and I protected him from behind, but now that he’s exhausted, I’m a bit reluctant to do that little strategy,” replies Dwayne, “So you can be his substitute!”
“I can . . . what?” Spencer still isn’t following this conversation.
“Don’t pretend you don’t want to. You’ll be the star of the game, at least, right after me. I’ll be a . . . neutron star!” Dwayne puffs his chest and spreads his arms in a gesture that might have been supposed to look magnanimous and imposing, but because of his small stature, it isn’t nearly as grand as it should be.
“A neutron star? Is that supposed to mean something?” Spencer wondered.
“Nope. I heard it in science, though. The science teacher said they’re these blue stars!” Dwayne offered, “They look pretty cool.”
In fact, Spencer knows what neutron stars are. It’s an interesting analogy, because Spencer feels Dwayne is like a neutron star. They’re very small, but pack a serious punch, with temperatures that soar past one million degrees fahrenheit.
“All right then, neutron star,” Spencer laughs.
After the timeout is called to an end, Spencer charges onto the court along with Dwayne and the rest of the team. No one scores except for Spencer, which definitely angers Saint Helena. Dwayne and Spencer’s plan begins to actually work, but Alex’s mood seems to be more melancholy, since he can’t touch the ball.
By the end of the third quarter, it’s obvious that Dwayne and Spencer are a wonderful team, but Saint Helena still has the lead. And Spencer knows why. The balance of victory is tipping over to Saint Helena’s side, and without a heavyweight like Alex, Marble Creek won’t be able to win.
26-41. Marble Creek losing.
Spencer wants to cheer up the team, so when he finds Colin sighing, he points at him, “Don’t sigh! We’re going to win!”
“That’s the problem,” replies Colin.
Colin suddenly looks very serious, “Spencer, what would you feel if we lose today?”
“Terrible. I would want to end all existence,” replies Spencer, not understanding the sudden question.
“Then how do you think Saint Helena, with a truckload of fans and expectations, a huge team, and powerhouse players would feel about losing against a five-man team that’s never played in an actual tournament before?” The referee’s whistle blows right when Colin finishes.
Speechless, Spencer has nothing to do but follow Colin onto the court.
But then again, Spencer thinks to himself, It’s not like we have that great of a chance of winning anyways.
When the fourth quarter begins, it’s obvious that Marble Creek is more exhausted than Saint Helena is.
The fourth quarter starts off with a point from Saint Helena, scored by Copeland, who looks furious. Spencer knows it’s probably because he’d never expected Marble Creek to fight back, and now in the final quarter, Copeland is realizing that Marble Creek could still have a chance.
The ball starts off again, and Spencer passes it to Dwayne. However, Alex intercepts the ball. What?
His eyes are almost as furious as Copeland.
Alex stomps over to Dwayne and glares, “Have you been keeping the ball from me?”
Dwayne doesn’t deny it, and he says, “You’re going to kill yourself, idiot.”
“No I’m not!” shouts Alex, “I want to be able to decide where the victory lands! Why won’t you let me?”
“I already said it,” Dwayne says calmly, “You’re going to kill yourself.”
Alex finally says, “Fine then. Have it your way.”
The next time Spencer tries to pass to Dwayne, Alex intercepts and scores again. When Dwayne passes to Spencer, the same thing happens. In fact, any time anyone passes, Alex just intercepts it.
“He’s too good,” Spencer says to Dwayne ruefully, “We have to do something about it.”“Don’t pass,” says Dwayne, “That’s the reason why Alex keeps scoring. Our team is really bad at passing, so Alex can keep on intercepting them selfishly. If you just drive down the court, he won’t be able to intercept!”
“Perfect!” Spencer says, and so he attempts this. After a steal, Spencer launches down the court for a fast break. Alex is faster and his waving his arm for a pass, but Spencer knows he won’t pass to Alex, so he dribbles past him instead. Spencer enters the three-point line and leaps up, and the only thing he’s thinking is the terrifying face of Alex most likely behind him.
The ball falls into the hoop, and the crowd cheers.
Spencer suspects they cheered because it was the first time someone other than Alex had scored in a while.
Four minutes left, and Marble Creek is still losing 30-42.
Alex steals from both teams like a black hole, sucking in everything and anything for his own purposes.
Three minutes left, and Marble Creek is still losing 36-45.
Spencer and Dwayne attempt to stop him, but he won’t.
Two minutes left, and Marble Creek is still losing 40-46.
The game seems to be three-sided now. Alex versus Marble Creek versus Saint Helena. Spencer knows why Marble Creek is getting closer. Although Alex is currently rebelling against Marble Creek, he’s still scoring points. Slowly but surely, Marble Creek gets closer to victory.
One minute left, and Marble Creek is still losing 44-46.
Spencer nearly laughs. It’s almost like Marble Creek can win this. But what would be the cost? Alex is basically at the tipping point. If he sprints down the court one more time, there’s no telling what damage could be done to his body!
Again, Spencer gets a steal and dribbles down the court, wary of all of Saint Helena’s defenders. Suddenly, Alex hurls himself towards Spencer. Flustered, Spencer nearly loses control of the ball. Alex then grabs the ball and charges down the court, and Spencer sees the fatigue showing all over his face.
I hate talented players, Dwayne had once said, They don’t stop. They just fight and fight until their ‘talent’ devours them.
And although Spencer wants to do something, anything, to stop Alex, Alex is just too fast. Spencer stumbles onto the ground as Alex lands the ball into the hoop, crashing onto the ground.
Oh no, Spencer runs over to Alex, but Alex swats him away and gets up.
With thirty seconds left on the clock, Jacob immediately calls a timeout.
“Alex, if you score one more time, as the coach of this team, I am going to bench you for the rest of the season,” says Jacob, “Stop hurting yourself. You know you can’t handle this!”
“I’ll never know unless I try!” growls Alex, “I haven’t passed out yet! The game’s almost over, let me score!”
“Your talent has no point if you can't use it,” Colin blurts.
“Exactly!” Alex shouts.
“No, that’s not what I mean,” Colin replies, “If you waste it all today, you won’t be able to do anything in the future. Trust us, Alex.”
After a long pause, Alex says, “Fine, but don’t bench me if I score.”
“Whatever,” Jacob frowns, “I’ll still be mad.”
Saint Helena’s defense is more solid than it looks. Like a flail, except where Copeland is the mace and Ethan is the chain. Spencer immediately purges the horrid Copeland-Ethan flail from his mind.
They’re so familiar and comfortable, you’d almost think they're brothers, thinks Spencer, and then thinks that maybe the two of them are brothers. Both of them have very similar shades of brown hair, although Copeland’s is messy and Ethan’s is smooth. They have an indescribable barrier between them similar to Jacob and Chris, who aren’t exactly best friends.
Alex, of course, steals the ball immediately. Twenty seconds left.
Spencer sees Dwayne try to wrench the ball away from Alex. This isn’t the time for this!
Alex dodges Dwayne. Ten seconds left. There’s no time!
Like in the practice match against Pennel Creek, Alex weaves around defender after defender. Spencer sees Copeland and Ethan blocking the area near the hoop, preventing Alex from doing a lay-up.
But then, with five seconds left. Alex fakes right and stops, far away from the goal. What’s he doing?
And then Spencer realizes that although Alex is physically fatigued, his mind is running at full speed. Alex knows he’ll never be able to score a lay-up while Copeland and Ethan are defending.
And Alex releases the ball in a high arc three-pointer.
“No!” screams Spencer. Doesn’t Alex know the three-pointer is the least likeliest to score of all the shots?
Spencer frantically runs to the goal, in an attempt to do something, anything.
Spencer can’t reach the goal fast enough.
But Dwayne can.
The ball bounces off the rim, and in that split-second, Spencer feels like he might cry. But Dwayne jumps and lightly hits the ball mid-air. It sails up, back towards the rim.
The buzzer roars, sending a shockwave through Spencer.
And the ball falls through the hoop right into Spencer’s hands. He clutches the ball like a parent holding a child. He doesn’t want to ever let go.
They won! Marble creek won! It seemed impossible, but they finally won! Victory was theirs! They would advance to the next round in the tournament! They defeated Saint Helena!
"Hey,” the referee says, placing a hand on Spencer’s shoulder, “Can I have the ball?”
“Y-yes, sir,” Spener hands the ball to the referee and turns around.
And the absolute worst thing has happened.
Alex is sprawled on the ground with his eyes closed.
It’s much worse than Chris, because Chris got back up again. But this time, the one who fell didn't get up.
And as he turns around to see Alex on the ground, Spencer can feel the entire world spinning and collapsing.
“Alex!” Spencer and Dwayne simultaneously run towards Alex.
“Is he okay?” Dwayne asks.
“Move out of the way!” Jacob puts his head on Alex’s heart, “He might have hit his head or just passed out. We need to get him to the hospital.”
“A-Alex?” Colin’s lips are trembling. Spencer feels like he might break down, too. Nothing like this has ever happened before.
Marble Creek may have won the game, but at what cost? Because the last thing Spencer hears before the tears stream down his face is the distant sirens of an ambulance.