Chris knocks on the door gently.
It opens. Alex’s little sister is behind it.
"You’re on Alex’s team, right?" she asks.
Chris nods, "It’s been a week since the game. We’ve all been worried. He’s not just skipping practice this time– he’s skipping school."
She shrugs, "My brother is a bit melodramatic. You can check on him if you want, but when Alex wants to be depressed, he will be depressed."
Chris thanks her and she shows him to Alex’s room.
"You don’t need to knock," she whispers, "He won’t care if it’s one of his teammates."
Chris stands in front of the door, bracing himself.
He opens the door and steps inside. The door creaks just barely, but it seems to be loud enough to disturb Alex, because, by the time Chris’s eyes adjust to the darkness of the room, Alex is sitting on his bed, staring at Chris.
"Hey," Chris says, waving. Alex looks like a mess. His clothes are wrinkled, and his hair is all over the place. There are visible bags underneath his eyes, and he looks physically and mentally weakened.
"What do you want?"
Chris replies jokingly, "You aren’t even going to say ‘hey’ back?"
When Alex doesn’t answer, Chris continues, "Alex, everyone’s worried. Even Jacob is postponing the post-game discussion with the team because you’re not showing up."
"What’s the point? We lost."
Chris groans, "Come on. I didn’t think you were this kind of person."
Alex responds in a low, threatening tone, "If you just came in here to insult me, then get out."
Chris retorts with the same low tone, "If you just played basketball just to win, then stop playing."
"Alex, please," Chris says, softening his voice, "You’re skipping classes! We already lost the Regionals, so are you planning on failing middle school, too?"
Alex says angrily, "We didn’t lose the Regionals. We won! I won! They cheated! They stole that point from me. It was my one chance, and they took it! Connor came into the game, and I didn’t even notice. I should be the king of the court, so . . . so why . . . ? They didn’t even . . . they didn’t even–" Alex’s complaints eventually die away, muffled by his sobbing.
Chris isn’t sure what to say. His captain is going through a hard time, and he’s not sure what to do.
"Well, we’ll be waiting for you in the gym," Chris finally says, slowly backing out of the room. Alex continues to sob, even as Chris leaves.
As Chris closes the door behind him, he can’t help but feel the tears about to come. Why did we have to lose? Everything was going so well!
. . .
Spencer sits cross-legged in the gym. It’s after practice hours, so he knows he should be leaving.
He stares at his hands, those same hands that reached the unreachable.
It all feels so unreal to him. Did I actually dunk?
Spencer can’t believe that he truly, actually slammed the ball through the hoop. At the moment, he felt super cool, but afterward, he wasn't able to follow through.
"Feels unreal, huh?"
Spencer turns around to see who the voice came from, and Colin’s standing there, staring at the basketball rim.
"Yeah," replies Spencer, his voice cracking, "I can’t believe all that happened. I can’t believe . . . I can’t believe we- . . . we lost."
"You know," says Colin, "I used to be a real nervous wreck."
Spencer grins despite himself, "We all knew."
"Haha," says Colin sarcastically, "Anyways, I think I honestly still am. Every time I do something, say something, or talk to someone, I always start thinking about these scenarios in my head. I just keep thinking, thinking, thinking. Then I start overthinking, and then I get nervous. Even right now, I’m trying to guess what you will say in response, and how I should respond depending on what you will say."
"I’m always trying to improve myself, to get to the point where I don’t need to do all this thinking to engage in normal conversation. But I can’t. Nothing that I’ve ever done cannot and will not change that. I think being nervous is something about myself that won’t change. If someday, I become a more relaxed, confident person, then I don’t think I’ll even be Colin Richards anymore."
"Even when I played in the Saint Helena game, I wasn’t confident in playing my way, so I just tried to copy players better than me, like Fernando."
"Just like the fact that I’m nervous cannot change, I think the fact that we lost might have been written in stone from the start. To be frank, we are not exactly a championship team. Most of us just rode the momentum and followed Alex along for the ride. He truly thought we were going to win, and that’s what drove him to greater heights, and it’s also what broke him to pieces."
Colin pauses, sitting down next to Spencer.
"So what are you trying to say?" asks Spencer.
"I’m trying to say that the fact that we lost is not important," says Colin, "Each and every one of us grew into better people throughout this season. Did you notice? Chris is a lot nicer now. I’m not as nervous now, at least that’s what I tell myself. And you– you even dunked! You didn’t even play basketball at the beginning of the year!"
Spencer remembers his predicament at the start of the year. He had no athletics to aim for, despite having great athletic ability. It was nothing short of a miracle that he got accepted into the basketball team. And now, he’s even a regular who frequently appears in games.
Spencer smiles, "Also, you may not think so, but I think you’re way less nervous than at the beginning of the year."
"Thanks," replies Colin sheepishly.
The two of them eventually get up and leave. It’s almost dark– no doubt their parents are getting worried. When they get outside, crickets are chirping and the sound of cars speeding down the nearby highway. It’s not humid enough for the mosquitoes to be out, so it’s a very comfortable time to be out in the evening.
"Still, though, I can’t believe I dunked!"
"Neither can I. That’s crazy."
"Think I might be able to dunk again in the future?"
. . .
"What are you doing here?" asks a voice from behind Alex. Alex turns around, and sees Dwayne, with a sad expression on his face. It’s early in the morning. Alex had decided to finally head to school, but now he’s already regretting it. If I have to see any more of my teammates, I think I might throw up.
"I just . . ." Alex backs away, "I’m just checking on something."
He turns tail and rushes into the school. He sprints as hard as he can, ridding his mind of every single thought. He hates himself for running, running, running. He knows he's just running from his problems, from every problem, but what else can he do?
Eventually, he’s in a secluded spot at the edge of the school, beneath the shade of a small grove of magnolia trees.
He leans against one of the trees.
"I’m so pathetic," he whispers to himself.
Alex turns around, and Dwayne is yet again, behind him. He’s red in the face from all the running.
"What makes you say that?"
Dwayne points at Alex angrily, "You’re the least pathetic person I know! In fact, you’re the strongest person I’ve ever met. Every time you’re near a basketball court, you have this look in your eye that tells everyone that you’re going to win."
"I don’t . . ."
"You’re skipping practice, and even skipping school? What are you, stupid?" Dwayne shouts, "How does one loss break you so much?"
Alex responds in a similarly angry tone, "I don’t need you to tell me this."
"Then who will tell you? You may be the strongest person I know, but right now, I think you’re right. Right now, you are pathetic. How can you call yourself an athlete if you skip a week of school for losing?"
"This is more important to me than anything else," Alex says, trembling, "You have no idea the lengths that I went through to do this."
"What lengths? All I’ve seen you do is coat yourself in self-pity!" Dwayne replies.
Alex says slowly and quietly, almost whispering, "I . . . stayed a grade . . ."
"I know that!"
". . . on . . . on purpose."
Dwayne is about to reply, but then he stops. He stares at Alex in horror.
"You . . . you stayed a grade on purpose?" he asks.
Alex nods, "Yes."
Dwayne gets even angrier, "Then you’re even stupider than I thought you were. What were you thinking?"
"It wasn’t a stupid decision," says Alex, "It was perfectly reasonable! I hadn’t won yet, so I decided to try again! I looked up, and I saw that victory just right out of my reach. So I jumped! What’s wrong with that?"
Dwayne clenches his fists, "No! You can’t look up!"
"That doesn’t make any sense-"
"Look forward!" Dwayne shouts, "The more you look up, the faster you’ll be crushed!"
Dwayne grabs Alex by the shirt, "Alex! Don’t get trapped."
"I’m not trapped!"
"If you stop moving, you’ll never get better," Dwayne says, "Please. Keep moving forward. I’m . . . I can’t move forward, but . . . but you can!"
Alex closes his eyes, remembering his haphazard decision to ruin his grades as much as possible so that he had to stay a grade. He remembers how he truly believed that it was the right thing to do.
"You're tall, you're fast, you're good. You will accomplish so much! Me? I'm already destined to fail. I'm no going to keep lying to myself. I chose this dead end for my path," Dwayne's voice starts to tremble, "I won't end up . . . end up being a- . . . a center."
Alex thinks back to Dwayne's passion-filled interjection at the beginning of the year. When he declared he'd be center, despite being so short. Dwayne has been trying so hard, and he didn't even get the results he wanted. But me? What have I done?
Alex looks back up at Dwayne, filled with resolve.
Alex wonders if this is the entire reason he ever existed. Perhaps he was created to experience, to live in this moment. He always wanted to experience a life-changing event, but now he knows that not all of these kinds of experiences have to be so special. Some may be in the rain, or in the snow. Some may be atop a mountain, or near the ocean. Some may have happened thousands of years in the past, in an ancient land, thousands of miles away. Some may happen a thousand years into the future, beneath a starry sky filled with lights from buildings that one can barely even see the tops of.
Some may even be happening at a secluded grove of magnolia trees, on a day with clear skies, where a boy who is too short to follow his dreams convinces a boy who is too confused to realize them to persevere.
Right here. Right now.
Alex knows that his life will only continue to change from here, but he will never forget this moment.
Today is the day.
Alex can almost feel a slightly heavy and curved object on his head. He can already imagine that it is a beautiful, shining gold, with dark purple jewels scattered around it. Purple: for the color of royalty.
Today is the beginning of my legend.
Alex can feel time stop. He can feel his heart beating in his chest. He can hear his breathing, and the wind blowing hard, but he won’t let that stop him. He won’t let anything stop him.
Today is the day that the King of the Court was crowned!