by Nathan Keonaona Chai
In the third to last row of the bus Jess Watkins sat slouched and shivering. Three miles past the Utah border, the bus’s heater had quit: a metallic clang, the slapping of the decelerating fan, then the driver cursing and hammering his fist against the already battered dash. As the temperature dropped in the bus, the cold whistling through the broken seals on the windows grew louder, or at least it seemed so to Jess. He unpacked his jacket⸺black with Montevista Junior College Basketball stitched in yellow across the chest⸺and put it on. Aaron Pampasi, huddled in the seat across the aisle, had long since put on both his jacket and his hat and was now muttering through chattering teeth that he could see his breath.
Taking his hand from his jacket pocket, Jess polished a circle onto the fogged window. Dirt-brown snow as hard as rock and as old as January lined the shoulder of the highway. A thick mist spun over the ground, obscuring the foothills of the Wasatch range, reducing the mountains to little more than black streaks that quickly faded into the grayness. It reminded Jess of some bitter-cold setting for an arctic novel⸺a novel in which at least one character would certainly die of exposure. Jess sighed and turned from the window.
Marvin Gimler, seated in the front row of the bus, suddenly turned around in his seat and looked back at the other passengers.
“Heads up, everyone,” he shouted. “All eyes on me, fellas.”
“Here we go again,” Aaron Pampasi whispered.
“I wonder if Marvin thinks about anything besides basketball,” Jess whispered back.
Aaron snorted. “Doubt it. He’ll be practicing until he’s eighty-five.”
Marvin focused his gaze on Aaron and Jess and waited patiently for attention. Light from the headlamps of passing cars flickered through the windows and lit the fog of his breath a cold blue.
“You all heard the word already this week,” Marvin began, “but just let me say this: we played a decent season⸺straight up!⸺and now we’re standing here at ten wins, ten losses. If we light it up tonight, Coach gets his first winning season at Montevista, and you know the man deserves it.”
Coach Heyward, sitting across the aisle from Marvin, waved a dismissive hand. “Nice, Marvin, but I don’t need any win-one-for-the-coach routines.”
“Whatever you say, Coach Hey,’ Marvin said, looking over at the Coach. “Maybe we’ll just get you a fancy tie or something. But the thing is, we’re not losing.”
He turned to face the team again. “You guys remember that Coach gave us the lowdown that some NCAA scouts are going to be manning the bleachers courtside tonight. Now I know their mission is to get the four-one-one on Fiji. But while they’re at it, they can’t help but see Marvin Gimler and anyone else who represents. So listen up, fellas. I’m telling you straight that I’m playing this one to impress those scouts and step up into a big-time program. And I’m asking every one of you to get up with me. They’re looking for big-time skills, and that’s what we’ve got.”
Marvin thumped his chest in an ape-like display of confidence. Pete Chung, an undersized, flashbulb quick player from Las Vegas, called back, “I always thought of you as a Stanford guy myself,”
“Right on!” Marvin shouted. “The Stanford Cardinal! Now one last thing. You guys got to remember that this is our last chance to dent a top team. Go out with a bang, you know. How many games South Valley lost this year anyway, Coach Hey? Three?”
“Two,” said Coach Heyward.
“Two games,” Marvin repeated. “They’re probably thinking right past us to the playoffs. But we can take this one. Everybody with me?”
Jess leaned across the aisle and whispered to Aaron Pampasi.
“Marvin should’ve been a street preacher.”
Aaron nodded and blew into his cupped hands. “Makes me nervous. I wish Coach Hey hadn’t said anything about the scouts, or Fiji.
“Jess, listen up. I’m talking to you, man.” Jess swivelled to face Marvin, who was staring wide-eyed down the aisle, a sort of delinquent defiance sketched across his face, something in the tight line of his lips and the slightly down-turned head.
“What?” Jess said.
“You ain’t afraid of Fiji…” He let Fiji hang in the air, accentuated, before he finished the question, “are you?”
“You already know the answer,” Jess called back.
“Good,” Marvin said, “because you got to guard him all night. We’re counting on you.”
With a sweep of his eyes, Marvin inspected the faces of the other players. ‘Anybody else afraid of Fiji?”
Four rows from the front, Josh Romero raised his hand.
“Romero!” Marvin spat. “No time to be clowning.”
Coach Heyward craned his bald head around just in time to see Josh’s hand drop. He squinted hawklike over his crooked boxer’s nose, just long enough to ensure discomfort, and then settled back into his seat. As if preparing to speak but thinking better of it, Marvin’s lips parted, then promptly joined again. He held a victory fist in the air, then he turned and sat.
“What a screw-up,” Aaron whispered.
“Something like that,” Jess said.
Jess settled into his seat and stared at the back of Marvin’s head, as though trying to see into Marvin’s thoughts and somehow make sense of his fanatical reality. Jess played basketball only because the scholarship paid for his schooling. He’d always been bothered by Marvin’s devotion to the game, his decisions to continue on long after Coach had ended practice, his stupid court slang, his tireless interest in the NBA and all its worthless merchandise. And after all that, Jess thought, he was still a mediocre player at best. Jess averaged more than twice as many points per game as Marvin. After a moment, Jess unzipped his duffel bag and foraged until he found his wool beanie cap. He stretched it down over his head and ears and tried to relax, to concentrate on the low hum of the engine, the rattle of loose bolts, the wisps of his breath dissipating into the air before him.
After a while, Jess let his head slump back against the seat. Soon his eyes closed; he did not see the snow begin to dot the windshield, or the driver’s expression of surprise when, after he turned a knob, the wipers actually began to sweep across the glass.
Cutting two black lines through the skin of fresh snow; the bus chugged through the parking lot and braked alongside the gymnasium as near the yellow double doors as possible. It sat there, sputtering soft waves of white smoke, while the players gathered their bags.
“This is football weather,” Jess mumbled, rising to his feet. “Those guys like this kind of thing.” His head bumped against the roof of the bus. He hunched over and rubbed it.
“I don’t think Marvin’s going to appreciate that attitude,” Aaron said, smiling, as he shouldered his bag.
After entering the school, Jess and the others waited in a long corridor while Coach Heyward went to find someone who could show them to the locker room. He returned with a janitor who led them down the corridor, past the gym, to the women’s locker room. He winked back at Coach Heyward, cracked open the door and then called in, “Anybody home?” When no answer came, he said, “All clear, boys. Make yourselves comfortable. I’ll get the visiting team sign and hang it out here so that we don’t have any incidents.”
Marvin Gimler was first into the locker room. “Not exactly first class,” he said, as he pushed open the door, “but it keeps us hungry.”
Jess Vatkins held the door for Aaron Pampasi and with raised eyebrows questioned the lodgings: “Girls’ locker room?”
“It’s an old school,” replied Aaron, with a casual shrug. “Just have to make do.”
The locker room was ordinary enough, the only real novelty being the private curtains around the showerheads. Jess tossed his duffel bag onto a bench, slipped off his clothes, and put on his uniform and warm-ups.
“Oh man,” Marvin moaned, as Jess cinched his drawstring. “I lost my dime. Anyone got an extra?”
Jess looked over. Marvin was rummaging through his bag, both socks on, shoes lying overturned on one side.
“Those stinking dimes don’t do anything,” Pete Chung heckled. “It’s all in your head, Marvin.” Pete had already donned his uniform and he was now hopping nimbly in the corner, arms whipping an imaginary jump-rope around his body.
Coach searched his pockets. “Two nickels and a quarter,” he said.
“Anyone else?” begged Marvin.
Jess searched his street clothes. He found a dime and four pennies. He held the coins in his hand for a moment, then put them back into the pocket of his pants.
“Sorry Marvin,” he said. “Just pennies.”
The others’ searches ended without finding a dime.
Marvin sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Can I borrow those nickels, Coach Hey?”
Coach tossed him the coins. Marvin pulled his sock away from his ankle and dropped them in, then maneuvered them with his thumb until they rested beneath the arch of his foot.
“I guess two nickels is as good as any dime,” he said, slipping on his shoes.
“Doesn’t that hurt your feet?” Jess asked.
“Nah,” said Marvin. “Hardly notice.”
When all the players had changed into uniforms and warmups, Coach Heyward escorted the team out of the locker room. On the outfacing side of the door, a paper reading “Visiting Team⸺Keep Out” had been taped directly beneath the women’s locker room sign.
“Somebody’s trying to be cute,” Marvin said loudly.
“You really think they did that on purpose?” asked Pete Chung.
“Who cares?” Jess offered.
“Me,” said Marvin. “I care. But it’s all just fuel for the fire.”
Almost game time, Jess Watkins sat on the bench and wiped a light sweat from his face. His teammates were all pushing through last minute warm-ups⸺except Marvin, who stood motionless at the top of the three-point arc, crouched, ball held loosely in both hands, eyes seeing only the basket. His lips moved, but Jess couldn’t hear the words. Jess drummed his fingers on the bench. He crossed his legs, then uncrossed them. He looked aimlessly about the gymnasium.
The gym was old and smelled like a sawmill. Thirty, maybe forty spectators had found seats in the bleachers, a very low number even for a junior college game, but to be expected considering the weather. The wood panels of the court floor were carved with light scratches that, in the glare of the spotlight, reminded Jess of so many grooves at an ice-skating rink. At the far end of the court, the South Valley players were warming up. Fiji stood to one side with his coach, watching his teammates and cracking jokes. He was as large as Coach Heyward had claimed: very tall, and muscled like a bison. Jess looked away and sighed. He wished that he had stayed in Nevada where it was warm, where there were no Fijis.
The horn sounded, startling Jess, signaling that the game was about to begin. He looked over at his teammates. Still standing at the top of the three-point arc, Marvin took a deep breath, then launched the ball toward the basket. His shooting hand hung limply at the end of his raised arm, forming a swan’s head and neck. Perfect form. The ball clunked off the rim and bounced to the far side of the court. Marvin stared after it; then he walked toward Jess and the other players already huddled at the sideline.
“It’s nothing,” he said, head held high. “Nothing at all. Gimler is here to play.”
“It’s on,” Pete Chung said, slapping Marvin’s hand.
The starters stripped off their warm-up pants and shirts, revealing bee-yellow uniforms beneath. Across their chests, written in black cursive, was Montevista. Coach Heyward called together the five starters⸺Jess, Marvin, Aaror, Pete, and Parker.
“Okay,” he barked. “Quick review. On defense we’re coming out playin⸺T”
“Um, Coach Hey,” Marvin said.
“What?” Coach Heyward said.
“I don’t see any scouts in the bleachers.”
Coach Heyward did not look at Marvin; instead he traced the grain of the wood floor with the toe of his shoe. “Marvin,” he said, very slowly, “Just play your game. If they’re here, they’re here.”
“Coach,” said Marvin, “it’s just that this is my last game, and if they don’t see me tonight⸺”
One of the three referees, standing near center court, blew his whistle. “One more minute, Coaches.”
Coach Heyward, his back to the near bleachers, clasped Marvin’s shoulders with both hands. Jess and the other starters stood around them in a half-circle.
“You see those two guys, top row, one talking on a cell phone?”
“Yeah, I see them,” Marvin said.
“They’re here to scout Fiji.”
Jess and the other starters looked up at the scouts. The man with the cell phone noticed the staring faces. He smiled and nudged his companion, who also turned to look down at the team. Jess looked quickly away.
“How do you know them, Coach?” Marvin asked, still staring Past Coach Heyward’s head, unconcerned that he had been noticed.
“Damnation, Marvin,” Coach said, suddenly flustered. “Is it ever enough with you?”
“Just a question,” Marvin said.
Coach snatched his hands from Marvin’s shoulders and took a quick step back. He looked around the half-circle at his five starters.
“I know those guys because I used to coach at one of their schools. And before you ask, Marvin, I got fired after one season. Worst season in school history. Anything else?”
Not even Marvin could think of anything to say.
“Let’s go gentleman,” the referee called, “It’s getting late.”
Coach Heyward walked to the bench and slumped down. Jess risked one final glance up at the bleachers, then strolled to center court, his teammates close behind. The South Valley coach gathered his players into a huddle and led a rough chanT: “One⸺ Two⸺ Three⸺ Game⸺ Time!” They broke up, and five players, uniformed in blue and white, walked confidently toward the court.
“Hey,” Marvin said, gesturing to the approaching opponents. “What’s up with this?”
Jess stood staring, not saying a word. Still dressed in his shiny blue warm-ups, Fiji had taken a seat on the bench. He was not going to start the game. For a moment Jess felt a surge of confusion, then suddenly he understood. South Valley had already made the playoffs. There was no reason for them to start their star player and risk an injury. A great sense of relief washed over Jess.
“Hey, Fiji, what’s your problem?” Marvin shouted. “You afraid we’ll embarrass you?”
“You guys ain’t embarrassed anybody but yourselves,” Fiji shouted back. He leaned back in his chair and chuckled.
Jess turned and stared at Marvin, hoping he would have enough sense to keep his mouth closed. Marvin’s face and shaved head reddened.
“Man,” Marvin shouted, “get your prima donna butt out here and I’ll school you like your first-grade teacher!”
“Playoffs, baby,” Fiji-said, a smile spreading across his wide face, “We got to think about the playoffs. But I guess you don’t have that problem.”
Marvin began walking toward Fiji. Jess stepped in front of him. “Knock it off, Marvin,” he said. “This is stupid.”
Marvin gave Fiji a cutthroat’s stare for a few long seconds, then he pulled away from Jess.
“Okay, gentlemen,” said the head referee, standing at center court with a ball held against his hip. “Now that we’ve got.that out of our systems, let’s play. I need two players for the jump. Let’s move.”
Jess stepped forward along with a slender player from the opposing team..Jess was taller by least an inch. The referee held the ball between them, then tossed it up into the air. Jess leapt up and slapped the ball back to Marvin.
Marvin brought the ball to the top of the three-point arc. He stared at his defender, then he took two steps backward, bouncing the ball under his leg, from one hand to the other, with each stride.
“What’s up?” Marvin said, staring without expression at his defender, dribbling the ball effortlessly. He held his body crouched, weight forward, feet apart. “I’ll bet you want my cookie,” Marvin said, dropping into his court slang. “A quickie is what you want.”
The defender made a quick lunge toward Marvin, a feint intended to raise Marvin’s guard or throw him off balance. Marvin, expecting the move, sidestepped and launched a shot from two feet behind the three point line. As the ball left his fingers and arced through space, rotating slowly backward, Jess shouted “No!” in frustration at the poor choice of shots and pivoted around his defender, trying to establish a good position for the rebound. The ball glanced off the back of the rim and fell through perfectly, catching in the net before falling to the floor.
“Yes!” Aaron Pampasi shouted.
Marvin skipped down the court backward, never taking his eyes off his startled defender. “You can’t play with this,” he said. “You can’t play with this.”
South Valley brought the ball down the floor and methodically began perimeter, cutting to the basket, setting picks. Montevista handled it well, rotating and calling out assignments, preventing any easy scores. Until suddenly Marvin stood straight up, staring off into space, completely unaware of the game taking place around him.
“Hey!” he yelled. The player he was defending darted past him, caught a pass, and drained an unchallenged ten foot jump shot.
“What the⸺Marvin?” Pete Chung wore the expression of a startled gambler.
Marvin did not look at Pete. Instead he cupped his hands and yelled up toward the bleachers. “Hey! You can’t leave!”
Jess, standing beneath the basket, followed Marvin’s gaze. The two university scouts were making their way down the steps of the aisle toward the exit. They stopped only for a moment as the one with the cell phone yelled over to Coach Heyward, “Something’s wrong with your boy, Matt,” and then they were through the exit and gone.
“Coach Hey,” Marvin wailed.
“Play the game,” Coach Hepvard yelled back. “Just play the stupid game.”
Marvin stood there, mouth open, arms limp at his sides. A sharp blast from a whistle ended the stupor on the court.
“Delay of game warning,” the ref shouted. “Next time it’s a technical foul.”
Jess cursed Marvin under his breath and walked over to inbound the ball.
Although Marvin played as hard as always, he did not score again in the first half. His concentration had been broken. Instead it was all Pete Chung. According to the karma of all sport, Pete had suddenly found the Zone. Almost every shot, no matter how ridiculous or ill advised, made its way directly to the bottom of the net. When the horn blasted out the end of the first half, Montevista had a ten point lead over the Fiji-less South Valley squad. Pete had sixteen points.
Following Coach Heyward’s lead, Jess and his teammates filed back to the women’s locker room. Pete Chung scampered to a seat at the far end of the bench, an outlier from the rest of the group.
“I wish someone had that on video,” he whispered, with intonation just as well suited for referring to a miracle.
“Pete’s on fire!” shouted one of the freshman.
“Nobody talk to me!” warned Pete. “Stay away. I don’t want to lose it.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Marvin slumped into the locker room, slouched onto a bench, and pulled a towel over his head. He looked very much like a defeated boxer abandoned after a match.
“It’s just a stupid⸺ ” Jess began.
Marvin cut him off, “Just shut up and leave me alone.”
About two minutes left in the game, Montevista clung to a four point lead. Despite the halftime seclusion, Pete Chung’s blazing heroics had cooled to his usual inconsistency. The second half had been marked by balanced attacks and solid strategies from both sides, although Montevista had steadily given ground. Even a somber Marvin had managed a few good plays⸺a steal here, a jumpshot there.
“Take your time. Work it around,” Coach Heyward called from the bench.
A few seconds later Jess Watkins set a back pick for Aaron Pampasi, who cut to the hoop, caught a rifled pass from Marvin, and pulled up for a fifteen footer. The ball sailed long, bouncing off the back of the rim and into the arms of a South Valley man, who promptly called for a time-out.
The team gathered around the sideline. Jess sipped water from a paper cup and toweled the stinging sweat from his eyes. Coach Heyward advised his team of the obvious: slow the pace, use the clock and the four point lead to put the pressure on South Valley.
As the referee called the teams back onto the floor Coach Heyward offered a final plea: “A minute and a half. Just hold on for that long and we get a win⸺a winning season. Don’t let this get away.”
As they walked back onto the floor, Jess saw him. “Hey,” he said to his teammates, voice barely more than a whisper. “Fiji.”
They all turned toward the scorer’s table. His warm-ups stripped off, Fiji was checking into the game. He stood there smiling, well over three hundred pounds of brawn. Jess tried to maintain an appearance of nonchalance.
Without warning, Marvin erupted. Before anyone could move to stop him, he was walking toward Fiji, shouting like an angry drunk. “You fat lazy⸺You benchwarm the whole game and then⸺ If you’d started this game, those scouts⸺”
Fiii, looming over Marvin like a small ridge, actually took a step back, startled by the volatility of Marvin’s rage. Shoving his body between the two players, the head referee bear-hugged Marvin and tried to pull him away.
“Get off me!” Marvin shouted, shoving free of the referee’s grip. The referee pointed toward Marvin and shouted, “Technical foul on number twenty-two yellow.” Coach Heyward sprang from the bench and strode toward Marvin as though he intended to walk right through him. He gripped the back of Marvin’s skull in his hands and whispered fiercely into Marvin’s ear.
As Coach raged back to the bench, muttering nearly every word befitting the occasion, Jess looked over at Marvin and shook his head. “What the hell are you thinking?”
Marvin stared down at his shoes, breathing harder than he had all night.
South Valley made the technical free throw. Three point lead for Montevista. Fiji inbounded the ball, setting the clock ticking. As the point guard jogged the ball up the floor, Fiji made his way down toward the basket. Jess hunkered down and tried to use his legs to muscle Fiji away. Feeling the resistance, Fiji shifted his weight back and plowed Jess even closer to the hoop. The pass came and Fiii slapped the soft leather benveen both his hands. He turned and faked a shot. Jess leapt into the air. Fiji bounced the ball on floor once, stepped past Jess, and slammed the ball through the rim with two hands.
Just under a minute left in the game, one point lead. Ever conscious of the seconds slipping away, Montevista passed the ball around in a game of keep-away. With five seconds left on the shot clock, Pete pulled up for a three point try. It missed and Fiii smothered the rebound. He turned and hurled the ball down the court to a sprinting South Valley man. Marvin raced to catch up to him. The ball sailed teasingly over Marvin’s outstretched hands. The South Valley man caught the ball in stride, lept off of one foot, and flipped the ball off his fingertips and into the net.
South Valley by one, fifteen seconds remaining. Aaron inbounded the ball to Marvin, who raced it down the court. His defender met him at the three point line. Marvin gave a head fake to the left, then spun to the right. It happened so quickly-a burst of spinning yellow-that even Marvin seemed surprised; he nearly lost his balance, catching himself with his left hand against the floor as he dribbled with his right, propelling himself toward the basket. Fiji shoved Jess away and blitzed Marvin, cutting off his approach. Marvin drove his shoulder hard into Fiii’s stomach. Fiji took the blow but gave no ground. Marvin pivoted toward the basket, then suddenly, shifting his weight back, he launched himself away from Fiji. Arms raised, Fiji leapt forward, angling over Marvin like a collapsing wall. At the apex of his bachvard flight, Marvin heaved the ball wildly toward the basket. The tip of Fiji’s finger brushed against the ball, sending it spinning hopelessly down.
Jess Watkins, no defenders near him, caught the ball and tossed it toward the hoop. Everything happened with surreal clarity: the ball rising toward the backboard; a sharp bang like a rock hitting the hardwood floor; the ball reflecting off the backboard and falling through the net; the horn signaling the end of the game; players shouting in celebration or disbelief. Then silence.
Fiji slowly lifted himself from the ground. Marvin Iay on the floor beneath Fiji’s shadow, convulsing in vicious seizures. His jaw was clenched, the muscles of his cheeks and forehead flexed and quivering. His eyes were slits of white and a slow glassy puddle of crimson slid out along the floorboards beneath his head. The players stood over him, as still and silent as a grove of winter trees. It was not until Coach Heyward crouched over Marvin and shouted for an ambulance that any of them remembered to move.
Marvin lay stretched over a narrow hospital bed. White bandaging had been taped to the side of his stubbly head just behind his ear, like a patch on a ball. He strained to raise his head off the pillow to better see his visitors. His eyes narrowed to pain-telling slits and he moaned slowly. He let gravity tow his head back to the pillow.
“Little bit of a headache,” he said, offering a weak smile.
Jess, Aaron, Pete, and Parker⸺the starters⸺still in uniform, formed a line of head-bowed mourners to one side of the room. Coach Heyward sat in a folding chair at Marvin’s side. It would have made for a nice Rockwell painting.
“How are you feeling?” Coach Heyward asked gravely.
“I’m good,” said Marvin. “I threw up a little while ago. Doc says I have a concussion, but he didn’t see any fractures on the X-ray.”
“I guess we’re lucky that’s all it is,” Coach Heyward said.
“Some luck,” said Marvin. “Where’s the rest of the boys?”
“Waiting in the lobby,” Coach Heyward said.
“Oh,” Marvin said. “You mind if I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” Coach Heward said.
“Actually two questions.”
“Well, first, what happened?”
Coach Heyward’s bald forehead wrinkled over the rising arches of his eyebrows. “What do you mean?”
“Just what I said. What happened?”
“You hit your head,” Pete offered.
Marvin rolled his head over his pillow as though it were a heavy rock. He was now facing Pete. “No offense, man, but don’t you think I know that? I ve got fifteen stitches sewn into the side of my dome.”
“I don’t think I understand, Marvin,” Coach said.
Marvin rolled his head back around. “I’m sitting on that antique of a bus. The heater goes out and the driver’s banging on the dash. Next thing I know, I’m in the hospital and some smiley dude is knitting my scalp.”
“You don’t remember?” asked Aaron , amazement raising him to a high tenor.
“What did I just say?” Marvin replied.
“We won,” Coach Heyward said.
“Straight up!” Marvin exclaimed. “I knew we could take those fools!” He smiled and pumped his fist weakly in the air. “So that answers my second question. Back to the original, what happened to me?”
“You got squashed by Fiji,” Aaron said with relish. “It was this amazing play. Time was almost out and you had the ball and we were down by one. Fiji was guarding you and you put up this shot⸺”
Marvin interrupted him. “I won the game?”
“Well⸺” Coach began.
Again Marvin interrupted. “I’ve never made a last second shot in my life.” Marvin spoke the words slowly, quietly, a prayer to himself.
Silence choked the small room. Marvin’s face turned pink, then crimson. His eyes blinked and his lower lip began to tremble.
“Are you okay, Marvin?” Coach Heyward asked.
“Breathe, Marvin,” Pete said quickly. “He’s not breathing, Coach Hey.”
At last Marvin sucked in a gulp of air. “’Aw, man,” he rasped. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “This is lame. Sorry, guys.”
“It’s okay, Marvin,” Parker said, looking baffled.
“Yeah,” echoed Aaron, also confounded. “We won’t tell anybody.”
Marvin sniffed. “It’s just that ever since I could hold a ball I’ve been dreaming about this. Now it finally happens and I can’t even remember.”
As though deflating, Coach Heyward slumped against the backrest and sighed. He rubbed his eyes with his thumb and finger. Marvin sniffed again and rolled his head back around to face his teammates.
“How many points did I have, guys? Anyone remember?”
No one spoke. Marvin waited with the expression of a man about to be told how much money he has inherited. Coach looked up, searching the faces of his four players.
“Anyone remember how many points Marvin had?” he asked.
After only a brief silence, Jess responded, his voice steady and deliberate. “Thirty-eight points,” he said. “You set a new school record.”
“Thirty-eight points!” repeated Coach Heyward, recoiling in surprise. Marvin did not move; he lay staring at the ceiling, oblivious to the dumbfounded stares of Pete and Parker. Aaron turned quickly toward Jess, away from Marvin, and mouthed, “What’re you doing? He’s going to find out.”
Jess looked past him at Marvin and said nothing.
“Coach Hey,” Marvin said quietly, eyes still on the ceiling.
“Did any scouts show?”
Coach Heyward shook his head. “No, Marvin. I’m sorry.”
Marvin closed his eyes. “You know what? It doesn’t even matter. Tonight’s the night that Marvin Gimler shined, and nothing’s taking that away from me. Right, fellas?”
Jess looked away. No one offered a response.