“I never turn the ball over. Ever. This is not me. What the fuck is wrong with me?” I mumble to myself as I walk to the bench.
Darcy answers, not knowing that question wasn’t meant for her, “Fuck if I know, but you need to work it out because coach is pissed.”
It’s just practice, but that’s no excuse for coach. And I can’t tell him “I almost fucked my best friend and the only reason I didn’t was because the chick I did fuck walked in on us, gimme a break.” Coach whistles for stoppage of play and everyone on the court freezes. I realize I’m shaking a little bit.
Coach motions for those of us on the bench to come over, “What in the hell is wrong?” He scans the group and no one makes eye contact, “Anyone?” The tension in his voice makes me feel like the biggest disappointment in the history of disappointments. Judging by the looks on my team members’ faces, I’m not the only one. “This is ridiculous,” he turns to me and I swallow hard. “Where is your head? You haven’t completed a pass since we started and we’ve been here for an hour!” When I open my mouth to speak, he holds up his hand, “Rhetorical.”
He turns to Sam and Jesse, “And what the hell are you two doing mauling each other every chance you get? This is not wrestling!” Ashley’s next, “And you, Walker, are running around this court like your ass in on fire, which is good. But you couldn’t catch a cold right now if I dipped you in ice water and sent you to the North Pole!” Ashley winces and hangs her head. I feel sorry for her because, most likely, being left high and… not dry is the source of her problems.
Coach continues, “I am tempted to send you all back to your dorm rooms and send me back my team! Because, clearly, this is not the team who came in here yesterday. I want that team back! This one sucks! Cooper, Woods, if you so much as give the evil eye to each other, the next fight you have won’t be with each other, it’ll be with me! Walker, I don’t even know what to say to you. Do you need to meditate? Realign your chakras? Drink some holy water? Whatever will work, do it! Mayze, get your head in this or I’ll take your body out of it! Have I made myself crystal clear? Get back into your positions. Dixon, you’re going in for Woods. Cooper and Walker, you’re staying in. Mayze,” he pauses then sighs, “take a seat.”
Devastation tastes like blood in your mouth: sharp, tinny, and barely tolerable. For the first time in a long time I take a seat on the bench and feel like crying over basketball. I begin trying to comfort myself, “You’re fine. He’s just trying to get under your skin and slow you down a bit.”
Sam takes a seat next to me with a loud sigh and drapes a towel over her head, “This is kinda ironic, don’t you think? You and I having the same chick as our biggest problem.”
Something about her tone makes me cringe and I am instantly on edge. I take a breath before answering but it doesn’t hide the sarcasm, “The same woman is not our problem. You have a woman problem, I have a teammate problem.”
“Oh,” she turns to me now, the towel wadded in her hands, and an edge to her voice, “you aren’t really going to try and convince me that she’s just a team member, are you? Because I want to record this.”
Anger, like a fire, flicks through me, “I don’t have to convince you of anything, Sam. It’s none of your fucking business who she is to me.”
“You know, I’d agree if I thought you wouldn’t let it affect how you play. But, clearly, it has. So you need to decide, Mayze, if you’re going to let it go, keep it the same, or try and work out a compromise.” She stands and angrily spits, “Otherwise, not only will Cooper get a piece of ass, but she’ll walk outta here with your position, too.”
I take a deep breath and realize I was just handed a reality check by a freshman. I look down at the floor between my feet and feel the sting of tears. In my head a voice speaks softly, “Sara, are you really the number one player on this team? Or are you just the last player to be ranked the worst?”
Spurred into action, I approach Coach Mann, “Coach,” he turns to face me, “my head’s in the game. I got a little sidetracked, but I’m back now.” I set my jaw and boldly ask, “Will you put me back in?”
He eyes me for a few moments without saying a word. I feel as if my entire college career hinges on the next few words out of his mouth. If he says nothing to me, then I know I haven’t convinced him. If he gives me a second chance, I know it’ll be the last. I’m convinced he’s going to say no, but my heart flutters and my blood rushes through my veins so loudly that I almost don’t hear it when he blows his whistle.
He points to the team not lead by Jesse, “Take over there. Remember,” he looks me in the eye and his voice lowers, “you can fight for your heart right outside the double doors to this gym. And that girl may be your heart and soul out there. But in here, she’s one of the best point guards in this country. When you step in here, there is no such thing as love, because you are on the same team and are working for the same goal. That means, you want the same position. You are, on a daily basis, at war for that position on this team. War, Sara. And if your relationship can’t handle that, then you need to decide what’s more important.” He puts his hand on my shoulder and gives me a look only a father can, even though he’s not my own, “I support you in whatever decision you make,” his eyes twinkle as he finishes, “but you better make the right one.”
I nod fervently, “Yes, sir.”