Let’s get right into it! Enjoy and please leave comments letting me know what you think of the storyline so far.
***MATURE CONTENT AHEAD
“Son, you gon’ lead… family now. Bree right. Be responsib… No mo’ ball. You did… best you ca-“ Pops couldn’t even finish his sentence.
By now, he could only speak to me in a whisper. He stared straight into my face, and his eyes looked like daggers. “Don’t neh do noth… you gon… shame of.”
He struggled to breathe, wheezing as tears squeezed out of his now laser-sharp eyes. “Pops, don’t do that. Just rest yourself,” I pleaded.
“Don’t se…” he huffed, running out of air. “Don sell ya… self.” He shook his head, still grabbing my arm, as if he were warning me about the end of the world. “Ain worth it.” His voice was so weak he mouthed the last word. But his eyes sharpened into knives as they scanned me. The way they did when he knew I had screwed something up and just hadn’t admitted it yet. He then loosened his grip, and his muscles relaxed against his hospital bed. But his eyes lingered on me.
Pops knew I wasn’t telling him something. I tried to smash my tears back into my eyes, and force them not to come out. Crying wouldn’t do shit. What did he mean? What the fuck did he mean?
I wasn’t sure what to do now. With Pops languishing in the hospital and Moms looking drained and tired, I tried to be as strong for them as I could. I moved the last things out of my Columbia apartment so I wouldn’t have to keep paying that rent. Back home in Kansas City, I hit the basketball courts again for the first time since we’d fallen out of the NCAA playoffs. I tried to develop some kind of routine, and get my mind ready for New York in August.
Rising at 5:00 a.m., I hit weights for an hour, got on the court for two hours. Then I holed up at my folks’ house and spent late mornings and afternoons watching my siblings while searching for a job. That in itself was a job— putting together a resume when I had no job experience, which my sixteen year-old sister Kelia had to help me with. Then, emailing resumes, calling around, and filling out all those annoying online resume forms, for hours on end, was enough to drive anybody crazy.
However, I refused to call any of my former coaches and ask for a handout or a hookup. I wanted to get something on my own, no favors. Call me prideful, but those dudes had left me in the cold and didn’t lift a finger to get me in front of agents during the winter and spring. Any agents who came to see me, did so because Bree, my moms or my high school coach had contacted them. I wouldn’t give my college coaches the satisfaction of me begging them to pull some strings.
At least my being home freed Moms up to spend more time with Pops. In the evening, I ran several miles, and helped with meals for my nine and twelve year-old siblings, or any errands Moms needed done to take some stress off of her back.
After about three days of applying to jobs, we all did a dance when I scored my first job interview at a marketing firm. It offered eight dollars per hour to be a Marketing Coordinator. Whatever the fuck that was.
As an athlete, I’d never worked and this was my first interview ever. Sitting in the waiting room of a cramped office, twiddling my thumbs for my name to be called, I moved the tip of my black Stacy Adams dress shoe around the cheap, unraveling carpet. Following the lady with bargain shoes, and a bigger bargain suit, through a small hallway to the back, I spent time answering the same type of invasive questions Fallon had asked. Why hadn’t I ever worked a job? Why wasn’t I drafted to the NBA? Name my three best qualities? Three worst qualities? What would my coach and teammates say about me? What kind of value could I bring to their company? Where did I see myself in five years?
Christ. I was struggling to simply get through the next five days.
I pictured myself walking through that door, and sitting in this tight little space every single day. For eight hours. Sometimes more. And actually having to care about whatever little piss work they gave me to do. Marketing charts. Graphs. Excel spreadsheets. Data entry. Reading mundane words on pieces of paper. There would be no huge adrenaline rush or opponent staring me down. Thousands of fans would not be singing, clapping and cheering me on. No cameras flashing. It would just be me, these four walls, the clock and a deadline.
The water cooler gurgled behind the woman who interviewed me. If I was lucky, I might get to eat at my desk rather than the break room when the manager was away.
Moms urged me to get away. But I didn’t want to with Pops holding on by a thread.
“Go,” Moms coaxed, hands on her hips and rolling her eyes. “There’s… not much you can do here. But you do need to go work on Bree, for how stupid you was.”
I flew to D.C., to see my girl. Since I didn’t have any money, Bree paid. (Let’s not get into how my manhood felt.)
Wearing my best happy face, I tried to pretend the NBA rejection hadn’t phased me, that I was moving on with regular life. She was still pissed and I didn’t blame her. Especially after that stunt with Haley offering to share. I chuckled at the thought. But damn, it had a dude a little piqued. To show Bree that I was serious about what came next in my life, I went on a couple of job interviews that she helped set up for me in Maryland.
Trying to get back to Bree’s temporary digs, I raced to catch subway trains, and searched the illuminated maps for her section of town— Northwest? Southwest? And which train was I to take next — red line, blue line, green, yellow…. My being lost and searching for directions on the streets reflected my new reality of being lost in life. Fighting not to tear up during the subway ride, I stared blankly into the passing stone gray walls.
Meeting up with Bree’s new co-workers, I yawned inside at these Washington, D.C., political and policy types. This new blood had just graduated college, and already spoke like they were taking over the world. From Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Howard, Stanford, you could smell the ego and cockiness all over them. And as they stared at me, sizing up my worth in the human race, the question was always the same: “So, where do you work? What do you do?”
At night, sharing the bed with Bree, we lay next to one another with the tension wedged between us.
“I don’t know why you would do that to me. I keep asking myself over and over. What did I do wrong?” Tears rolled across her eyes onto her pillow, and I could still see them glisten on her face in the dark room still barely lit from the streetlights.
“Sweetheart, you didn’t do anything. It’s all me. I wish I knew what to tell you. But this isn’t….” How did I explain it? “Your life isn’t my life. I need a life of my own. An identity that is mine.” I cried as well. And meant it. If only there wasn’t this longing in me for more. But I didn’t dare tell Bree I wanted both her and Haley.
“Did you find that in her?” she sobbed.
No matter what I said, my answer would not go over well. So I just did what any upstanding man would do. Lied. “No, Baby, I didn’t.”
Washington, D.C. — the Capitol, the White House, historic monuments, brownstone houses in Georgetown, all the incredible, educated black people doing their political power thing— was impressive and beautiful. But this was Bree’s dream. I had envisioned something different for myself. Not working in an office and simple being somebody’s man. And this just couldn’t be… it.
Once I got back home to Kansas City, I stayed at Pops’s bedside constantly now, struggling to be strong for my three younger siblings, turning my head to look out the window when the tears rushed up.
Emotion clogged my throat every time he coughed, or winced in pain. Nurses were making him comfortable now. Even though the doctor said maybe we had a few more weeks left with him, I wasn’t sure I wanted him to suffer even that long. Seeing my little sister Kelia’s face, red and puffy, I ached to think of what life she might have without money. With no Pops to guide her. She would probably be fine; that kid was tough, and sharp. But Kelia deserved to be set up like Bree. With no worries, and the world at her finger tips. Not putting up with somebody’s shit on crap jobs.
Riding through the streets I grew up on, I recalled how my parents hustled to keep us fed— mowing lawns, cleaning houses, fixing cars and selling off scrap metal to make ends meet. I remembered the time when I was eight and, it was my folks, Kelia and me. We didn’t have any place to go, and my grandfather— Pops’ dad, who we called Big Pops— wouldn’t let us in. So we had to sleep in the car. Only a few blocks over.
Several nights before, I had been chauffeured through those same streets in Fallon’s Bentley. Fallon’s lips, her voice, those eyes, kept echoing across my brain. Why keep allowing these teams here to insult you? Even if you did make an NBA team, how would it feel to always be second seed?Think of your father. Your family. The stability you could give them. If Fallon’s offer was a legit situation, we would never have to go without again.