I'm fine. It's okay. I'm alive.
Alex wakes up with a gasp, staring at the ceiling with wide eyes. He looks around and finds that he's layed on a hospital bed. His head throbs slightly, and everything is blurry.
"Looks like I got my wish," murmurs Alex. He smirks; on the first day of school, he had wondered why he couldn't wake up dramatically.
"What wish?" asks someone familiar from the other side of Alex. He turns and sees Chris, sitting there with a book.
"Why are you here?" asks Alex.
"How hostile," Chris replies and then adds, "Dwayne and Spencer were being really loud, so I skipped practice."
Alex laughs, "Why don't you quiet them down?"
"I don't have patience like you," Chris then returns to his book after snapping at Alex. Alex doesn't mind Chris being snappy. In fact, if Chris wasn't being snappy, Alex would have been worried.
The window is opened, and Alex takes a deep breath. After waiting a few seconds, he lets that breath out. After repeating this ritual a few times, Alex notices Chris staring at him pensively.
Chris chuckles, "I guess a severe concussion changes a person drastically."
Alex blinks, "Wait . . . severe concussion? Why am I in a hospital bed?"
"You passed out after the game."
Alex is suddenly frantic, "Did we lose? Did we . . . did we . . . did I do good?"
"Slow down, man," Chris replies, "You know your speech is slurred, right?"
"It's not!" Alex shoots back. His speech isn't slurred. That makes no sense; Chris must be toying with him.
"Yeah . . . I don't think you can notice," says Chris drily. He flips another page in his book and continues reading.
"I'm perfectly fine," Alex growls, "Get me out of this bed!"
"Nope," Chris grins, "If you can't get out of it, then you're definitely not in good shape."
Alex somehow drags himself out of the bed, and Chris laughs. Alex doesn't respond, but he does start walking out of the room.
"If you want to leave, you can," says Chris, "I'll just follow you to make sure your weakling body doesn't collapse or anything."
Alex shoots him a dirty look and continues forward. The two of them navigate through the hospital and finally exit.
"Did they give me permission to leave?" Alex wonders. Chris nods in response.
The two of them walk towards the gym. Chris, surprisingly, doesn't attempt to argue about it.
On the way there, Chris and Alex decide to drop by the convenience store to grab a few snacks. To their surprise, Copeland, the crazy fast player from Saint Helena is sitting outside. He's wearing a black hoodie and his head is faced downward in a stereotypical depressed anime dude way, so it's hard for Alex to notice, but he recognizes Copeland's dirty blonde hair and medium stature.
"What are you doing here?" asks Chris.
Copeland glances up, and after seeing the two of them, he looks back down and says, "I could ask the same of you two."
"We're just grabbing a snack," says Alex.
"How coincidental. Me and Ethan were as well. He's just mad that our mom won't make food that tastes good," Copeland replies.
"Ah, so you are brothers," Chris says, nodding, "Also, why the long face?"
"We lost," Copeland says flatly.
Alex notices that Copeland is different in real life than when playing basketball. Alex had totally seen Copeland as a ruthless, sarcastic bully. From what he's seen so far, Alex thinks Copeland is maybe just a very sad child. Or maybe Copeland is just really good at hiding his intentions.
"I bet that isn't the only reason, Jeremy," Chris grins.
"So you know my name," Copeland doesn't seem very surprised, but frankly, Alex thinks the name 'Jeremy' is much too normal for a terrifying/depressed person like Copeland. Copeland should just be that kid's full name.
"I wanted to win for multiple reasons," Copeland finally says.
"Really?" Chris cocks his head to the side and has such a condescending look on his face that Alex wonders how Copeland can bear not punching Chris. Maybe he has experience not punching condescending faces.
"First, because I've only gone to the Ohio State Cup once and that was when I was still a bench warmer," Copeland says.
"Bench warmer? What's that?" Chris asks.
Copeland sniffs, "I tiny team like yours wouldn't understand."
"Bench warmers are players who usually don't play in the game," explains Alex, "So they 'warm' the bench."
"Second, Ethan hasn't ever been to the State Cup, since he just joined the team this year," says Copeland, "And next year he'll be in high school."
"Well, it's his fault that he didn't play in the last two years," says Chris.
"Exactly!" exclaims Copeland, "And he blames it on me that he didn't get to go to the State Cup!"
Alex is suddenly intimidated by the overwhelming sense of camaraderie between the two.
"And I'm sure he hates me now," Copeland sighs, scrunching up into a fetal position, which strangely makes it look like Chris and Alex are ganging up on him.
Chris nods, "Makes sense to think that way, but you know he actually doesn't hate you, right?"
Chris smiles warmly, "It may seem like your older brother is really unnecessarily strict, or extra mean to you, but really, he just wants you to be stronger. Your brother is the one who always has your back."
Copeland looks up and his eyes are shining. Alex smiles. Chris can sometimes be a really nice kid.
"Now, move out of the way, loser," Chris sneers, and strides into the convenience store. Alex cringes and thinks, Maybe not . . .
After a long silence, Copeland speaks up, "I'll beat you next year, I swear!"
"I won't be here next year," says Alex, smiling ruefully, "In fact, I stayed a grade."
Copeland sighs dramatically, "I guess I'll have to settle for vanquishing your teammates."
Alex laughs, thinking that maybe Copeland isn't that bad after all.
When Chris finally comes out, the two of them continue towards the gym, along with some chips. Alex realizes that maybe Chris' little chat with Copeland could have been beneficial to Chris as well. Jacob did often seem to be unnecessarily harsh to Chris all the time.
"I'm glad it's resolved," Alex smiles.
Chris raises an eyebrow, "What's resolved?"
"Your opinion about your brother," replies Alex.
Chris continues walking forward, "I have no idea what you're talking about."
Alex doesn't press on the topic like Chris did with Copeland, so they walk onward in silence.
When Alex opens the doors to the gym, he expects the kind of scene you'd see in a sports anime, where the entire team is practicing hard. That couldn't be further from the reality. Instead of practicing, Dwayne, Spencer, and Colin are seated, playing on their phones in the middle of the court.
"What," Alex growls, "are those idiots doing?"
Chris snickers and shouts, "Dwayne, someone's here to see you!"
Dwayne looks up and shrieks at the sight of Alex's eyes.
Spencer and Colin shriek as well, and the three of them quickly hide their phones in their pockets.
"Why are you three not practicing?" Alex can feel his anger sizzling up. He feels ready to punch the living daylights out of the three of them. Colin shrieks again.
Dwayne sighs, "We're sorry, but . . . uh . . . someone hid the basketballs."
Alex nearly laughs at first, "Someone hid . . . what!?"