Tuesday morning as they all walked together to the school Justin said, “Hey Ernie, I forgot to ask you something yesterday. Could I borrow those notes I saw you taking? I didn’t think to bring paper and they went over so much, I’m not sure I remember it all.”
“No problem,” answered Ernie. “As a matter of fact, I typed it into my computer last night. I’ll just print you a copy. I can bring it tomorrow or you can stop by after camp today if you want.”
Just then they saw Matt’s cousin, Andy, approaching from the opposite direction.
Matt called out to her. “Hey, cuz, where are you going so early?”
Justin answered before she reached them. “She’s meeting Shannon. She was up early getting ready. What are you and my little sis getting into today?”
Andy looked surprised. “Didn’t she tell you? We have a job this summer. We’re babysitting an hour and a half every morning for Mrs. Michaels.”
Justin was incredulous. “What? You’re eleven and she’s ten! Mrs. Michaels is going to let you guys watch her kids while she’s gone? I don’t believe it! They’re babies!”
“Well, she is!” snapped Andy defensively. “And we’re perfectly capable, thank you very much. And they are toddlers, not babies. They are one and three years old.”
Matt’s reaction was calmer. “Really, Andy, are you sure you want to take that on? That’s a lot of responsibility.”
“Well,” continued Andy, “if ‘Mr. Big, twelve years old’ would have listened, I was about to explain. I never said Mrs. Michaels was going to leave them with us. She’s landscaping her front yard this summer, and we’re going to keep the girls in the backyard where they have a fence so that she can really work, uninterrupted. And we get to work an hour and a half every day until she gets it all finished. And we’re getting paid seventy cents an hour, that’s $1.05 per day. That’s $5.25 every week.”
Justin fidgeted from side to side and said, “Yeah, we can do the math. Look guys, we had better get going or we’ll be late.”
Andy had forgotten her aggravation at being thought too young in her excitement to tell the details of her job and completely missed Justin’s impatience. “Going to basketball camp?” she asked. “Shannon told me about that.”
Matt answered her. “Yeah, we all are. By the way do you know Ernie, here? He’s in our grade. Ernie, this is my cousin, and Justin’s sister’s best friend, Andrea, but we all call her Andy.”
Ernie noticed Justin beginning to look not only impatient, but also truly desperate to get away. And remembering from the day before how easily Matt could talk on without seeming to notice, he decided to help Justin out. “Very pleased to meet you, Andy. Hope to get to talk to you sometime. But, like Justin says, we had better move or we won’t be there when the summer maintenance crew unlocks the door. Wouldn’t want to miss that, you know.”
Justin gave a sporting laugh at Ernie’s little dig and looked very grateful for the chance to get away. “Well, we do only get two weeks of training and then we’re on our own ‘til tryouts in November. If we get there early, maybe some of those college guys could work with us a little extra.”
Matt caught the hint and agreed, “Good point. We’d better run. See ya, Andy. Good luck with the little people.”
The boys hurried on to the school and into the gym where Justin and Matt began practicing the drills they’d been taught the day before, and Ernie retired to the bleachers with a book he’d produced from his backpack.
Fifteen minutes later more boys began coming in and Justin and Matt joined Ernie on the bleachers. Brandon and Todd were among the last to arrive. Justin noticed that Brandon searched them out and then whispered to Todd while jerking his head in their direction. Todd then looked at them too and nodded laughing. Ernie was busy listening to Matt tell about something that had happened to him the summer before on an overnight fishing trip, and neither had noticed Brandon or Todd at all. Before Justin could break in and say something, the coaches walked in and began calling them onto the floor to position them for another drill. This one, they explained, would emphasize passing from the chest. Justin was immediately absorbed in the instruction, everything else forgotten.
Justin watched as two of the trainers demonstrated what to do. Both started near the center court line. While moving in a prescribed path on one half of the floor one dribbled a ball, pivoting, turning and changing hands at certain points on the floor. The other trainer followed a mirror image of the pattern on the other side of the floor executing some of the footwork drills as he moved past the signal points on the floor. When they had worked their way near the basket the trainer with the ball made a chest pass to the other and they crossed paths to continue, each doing now what the other had just done. The coach let them continue to run the drill as he explained it for a couple of moments giving the boys time to memorize what to do at each point on the floor. It wasn’t that hard because he had wisely kept the individual moves in the same order that he had taught them to the boys the day before, so that it was sort of like combining all the drills into a huge one. Then the coach and the assistant began adding the boys to the rotation at opposite corners of the gym. Justin was disappointed at first because they kept him and a few others out of the drill for a couple of extra minutes. Then, however, they began pulling guys out and replacing them with those they had reserved.
Only as they worked the drill did Justin realize the reason for this. The boys became familiar with each other’s faces and abilities, because with the way the coaches were moving them in and out, you eventually passed or received with every participant, before you encountered the same player again. Justin, enjoying the fast pace and already looking forward to tryouts, was evaluating the others in terms of better or worse than him. He was just getting a good rhythm going when Todd threw him a hard pass about a foot and half off center. Justin lunged, lost balance, and barely recovered after just managing to retrieve the aberrant ball. As he pivoted to move back into the drill formation he looked up, prepared to say, “That’s ok,” to Todd. When his eyes met Todd’s, however, he was confronted with an arrogant smirk instead of the look of apology he’d expected. Todd had apparently thrown the bad pass on purpose, just to aggravate him. Justin was furious. And then his anger took a suspicious turn. What if Todd had actually been trying to make him look bad to the coaches? So far his mind had been occupied only with doing his best in order to be good enough to make the team. Now it occurred to him that some might find it easier to make others look bad than to improve themselves. He was so worked up and distracted that he executed his next two dribbling exercises rather poorly. Then, realizing that if his suspicions proved true, that could be icing for Todd, he forced himself to calm down and concentrate. After a couple more turns his body was back in sync with the drill. His brain kept careful track of the drill, but in the back of his mind he contemplated the discovery of Todd’s possible treachery. He was obviously hostile toward Justin. Was it only personal dislike, or was he trying to blow Justin’s chances at making the team? Would Todd even make that distinction?
After a few more minutes of the drill the coaches taught them one more group drill and two more individual exercises. Justin became engrossed in the practice again, but also stayed aware of both Brandon and Todd and their locations. And although he watched them warily any time they were participating with him or in his vicinity, the rest of the morning passed without incident. The highlight of Justin’s day was when one of the college assistants worked with him individually for a few minutes and told him that he was really progressing well.
When they were dismissed the three friends started towards home together. They walked in silence for a few minutes, mostly to catch their breath. Practice had ended with a set of ‘killer drills’, which were just a time tested and not very inventive way of having basketball players spend several minutes running as hard as they could. Justin was also waiting until they were away from anyone else so that he could tell the other two what had happened with Todd and his suspicions.
When they were finally alone walking down School Street and all three were breathing comfortably again Justin said, “You guys aren’t going to believe this, but I think Todd was deliberately trying to make me look bad today.”
“What? What do you mean?” Matt asked in a calm but serious tone.
Justin related the entire incident while the other two listened intently.
Matt whistled lowly. “Are you sure, Justin? ‘Cause, that would be bad.”
Ernie didn’t seem to want to believe it either. “Yes, Justin, are you really certain? I mean it could have been an accident. And you may still be reacting to what happened yesterday.”
“I really wish I was,” Justin admitted. “But the look on his face left no doubt. Let’s all just be on our guard for the next couple of days and we’ll see.”
They walked on for a bit in silence and seemed to reach Ernie’s street more quickly than the day before, consumed as they were with their thoughts. The mood remained somber for the rest of the walk, and when they came to Matt’s street they had no more to say than a quick ‘see ya later’.
Only when Justin stepped through his own back door did he realize that he’d been so preoccupied with the problem with Todd that he’d forgotten to stop and get a copy of Ernie’s notes. And he really felt like practicing after lunch instead of going over to get them. He thought just moving and sweating for a while would make him feel better, and there was also the fact that he felt he hadn’t done as well at the gym as he could have because his attention had been divided. He really wanted to practice all afternoon. So when could he get the notes? He didn’t want to invite himself over in the evening when both Ernie’s parents were sure to be there. That seemed presumptuous. He decided he would wait until the next day to get them. He didn’t need any of the information for a few more days anyway. Still he thought he’d better at least call Ernie and remind him to bring them in the morning.
He poured himself a glass of juice and sat down at the kitchen table next to the phone on the wall. He took a deep breath, leaned back, closed his eyes, and exhaled slowly. Then he took a big mouthful of the cold apple juice and let it trickle slowly down his throat. When it was all gone he felt more relaxed, and he picked up the phone to dial Ernie. Then he realized he didn’t know the number. So he went to the bookshelf under the counter, found the phone book among his mom’s cookbooks and quickly looked up the number. Justin remembered Ernie mentioning that his dad’s first name was Matthew so finding the one on the correct street was easy. The first three numbers were the same as his of course; the last four numbers were 3179. He went back to the phone and looked at the keypad for a moment considering a way to memorize the number. Justin preferred having information in his head and not having to look things up more than once if possible. It only took him a minute to see that when he dialed it he would be describing the beginning of a capital E with his finger. E for Ernie. That taken care of, he dialed the number.
After two rings a woman answered, “Hello?”
“Hello, this is Justin Greene, a friend of Ernie’s from school and basketball camp. Is Ernie there?”
“Oh, yes. Just a minute, please.”
Justin heard Ernie’s mom put down the phone and walk away calling for him. In a moment the phone was picked up again and Ernie said, “Hi, Justin.”
“Hey, Ernie, I called because I forgot to stop in and get a copy of those notes from you. I was wondering if you would bring them in the morning like you suggested?”
“Sure, no problem. I’ll put them in my backpack as soon as I get off the phone so I won’t forget. Just a minute, Justin.” Justin could hear Ernie’s mom talking to him in the background. “Hey, Justin, my mom wants to know if you’d like to come and have dinner with us sometime.”
“Sure, I know my parents wouldn’t mind. When?”
“Let me check.” And after a short pause in which Justin could hear their muted voices, “How about Friday?”
“Sure, that will be fine as long as it’s OK with my parents. I’ll check with them tonight to be sure.”
“Sounds good. OK I guess I’ll see you in the morning then.”
“See you then.”
As Justin hung up the phone Shannon popped into the kitchen and started looking through the cabinets.
“What are you looking for?”
Pulling out an empty jelly jar, “I need something to keep my money in. Mrs. Michaels is going to pay us on a daily basis.”
“So how’s it going? How do you like your summer job?”
“It’s great. Those little girls are so sweet. You would have just melted if you had seen little Lydia trying to help us take care of tiny Anna. She said…”
“Ok, I didn’t ask for a second by second play. Just wondered how it’s going.”
“What’s the matter with you?”
“Oh, never mind. You wouldn’t understand anyway. It’s about basketball.”
“While I may not live and breathe basketball, I’m not exactly stupid, you know. There is the remotest chance that I might understand whatever’s wrong.”
“Oh, I know. Sorry, Shannon, I’m just in a crummy mood. But I really don’t feel like talking. I’m just going to go out and practice some. That’ll do more good right now.”
“Ok, but I’m here if you decide you want to tell me about it or anything.”
“Thanks, Shannon,” Justin said as he ruffled her hair, grabbed up his basketball and went out the back door. He did feel better after about an hour and a half of practice and slept well that night.