Far From Me Pt. 02

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This is Part Two of a three-part story.

The defense couldn’t stop Colby Jacobs. That was obvious to everyone in the gym, except Colby Jacobs. All they needed to do was swing the ball to the weak side, make the entry pass into him in the low post, and have Colby square up. The rest was low-hanging fruit.

But Cody wouldn’t square up — wouldn’t turn around. Instead, he passed the ball right back to whomever had gotten it to him within a second of catching it… five straight times! Christ, Colby, he thought to himself, turn around and shoot the damn ball! When Woodhull scored to take a two-point lead with under a minute to go in the first half, he called a timeout.

He tried to calm himself. Colby was a good kid, and, ironically, a pretty smart kid. But for some reason, there were an awful lot of times when it was virtually impossible to communicate even the simplest idea to him. The cause of these failures to communicate still escaped him.

He gathered the JV players around him and knelt in the middle of the circle with his dry erase board, facing Colby. “Guys, what is our best offensive option right now?”

“Colby!” Mark Smyth understood. Mark was the point guard and Colby’s best friend. Mark knew what he wanted, and he understood that Colby could be having the game of his life if he would only take advantage of the situations being presented.

“Exactly!” He paused. Looking up at the huge, blonde kid towering over the rest of the team, he spoke quietly, calmly. “Colby”, he held the board up for everyone to see. “In the 2-3 Zone, their middle defender has been slow to react when we swing it to the weak side, and the last few possessions, there hasn’t been anybody behind you when you catch it on the block.” He showed the ball movement — wing to point to wing to post — three passes, or, if possible, even simpler, wing to point to post — two passes. He also showed with big Xs the positions of the defensive players when the ball moved quickly from the left side to the right.

He stared directly at the big freshman. “All you have to do is square up to the basket. Just turn around! There’s nobody behind you, no one between you and the basket! You’ve got a layup almost every time! Even if the defender does react, we want you with the ball in the low post. You can shoot over the top of them. That’s a jump shot you can make 75% of the time!”

He thought he recognized understanding in the kid’s eyes. “Okay, we’re going to you again, Colby. Pivot to the basket and take what the defense is giving you. It’s either a layup or a short, jump shot. Either one is a better than the shots we’ve been taking.” He paused; then continued slowly, “Colby, we want you taking the shot. Understand?” The big kid shook his head and smiled.

He paused. “Okay, let’s get one right now. We’re not working for a last shot. We’ll take points when we can get them. If there’s any time left, just play good D — no fouls — and we go into halftime tied.” He put his right hand out, and 12 hands found the top of his. “All right, one… two… three”, 12 hands bounced up and down, as they chanted as one, “Missiles!”

The five starters returned to the floor. Steve Gruber inbounded the ball to Mark, and he brought it up the floor quickly, deliberately. Woodhull was playing their 2-3 Zone again, and when Craig Robey popped out to the left wing, Mark made the pass to him. The middle defender on the bottom of the zone predictably shifted to the left elbow behind Colby in the high post. “Swing it, swing it!” he yelled.

Craig sent the ball back to Mark and as he did, Colby pivoted, sealing off the defender, and then quickly slid across and down the lane to the right block. Mark didn’t even need to make the extra pass to Danny Withen on the right wing. Instead, he led Colby with a perfect, bounce pass.

Colby caught it; his back to the basket, right after Woodhull’s baseline defender had stepped out of the lane to the right to defend Danny. As he predicted, the middle defender was slow in shifting back to Colby. He was all by himself with the ball, not more than four feet from the basket.

But instead of turning around, Colby passed it right back to Mark, and by the time he did, the Woodhull guard had shifted. He knew exactly where the pass was headed because he’d seen that same pass on the last five defensive sets. He intercepted it in full stride, and before Mark or any of the other Missiles could react, he was already 20 feet up court past the center circle and gliding like an eagle toward the other basket.

The kid went in for the easy layup, and the hundred or so spectators in the Woodhull gym erupted in celebration. He looked up at the scoreboard: Eagles 27 — Visitors 23. The clock was ticking down: 26… 25… 24…

He was beside himself and, for an instant, lost his cool. “COLBY!” he screamed at the top of his lungs. The entire crowd heard him — how could they not? It was kurtuluş escort a tiny gym, not even one-quarter full. The big, blonde kid stopped near the Woodhull baseline, staring, absolutely baffled. “SHOOT… THE… BALL!” his voice boomed, as he glared with frustration at his freshman center.

And then he saw it, saw it before it happened, before Colby’s brain even registered what he’d said. Colby, he had come to learn, did everything he was told to do, exactly as he was told to do it. That is, when he understood what it was he was being told to do. He was perhaps the most obedient kid he’d ever met.

So, when Steve Gruber gathered up the ball under the Eagles’ basket and stepped out of bounds to make the inbounds pass, his attention, too, was drawn to the lumbering center being dressed down in front of everyone. The last person on the court that should have been receiving that inbounds pass was Colby, but Steve passed him the ball anyway.

Colby caught it, stopped, turned, and stared directly at him again, as if what his coach had said had finally made an impression on his tender, adolescent brain. And turning again to the basket 80 feet away on the opposite side of the gymnasium, he heaved a shot, like a quarterback throwing a post route to a non-existent wide receiver.

The ball flew, as if in slow motion, high above the gym floor, over the heads of all of the Missiles and Eagles players who were retreating to the Missiles’ end of the court. It landed harmlessly near the sideline, bounced two or three times, and went out of bounds in the corner near the Woodhull cheerleaders, perhaps 30 feet from the basket.

Even the official was puzzled. He blew his whistle to stop the clock, turned, sort of amused, pointed with his right arm in the direction of the Woodhull basket, and simultaneously announced, “Red ball.” The scoreboard clock was frozen at 16 seconds.

Everyone in the gym was looking at him, staring with their own brand of bewilderment. He wanted to scream again, wanted more than anything else to yell at the top of his lungs for the entire world (or only a single person) to hear — Why the fuck did you do that?

But he didn’t yell, because he already knew the answer. He knew exactly why Colby Jacobs had taken a last second, desperation shot from 80 feet away with 20 seconds to go before halftime. Colby was nothing if not a literalist, and two seconds before his coach had told him to “SHOOT… THE… BALL.” And so, that’s exactly what Colby had done!

It wasn’t even halftime, but that sequence pretty much decided the game. Woodhull made a three-pointer right before the buzzer to go up by seven, and though the Missiles kept battling back throughout the second half, the final score proved to be the closest they would come to the first-place Eagles, losing 58-56. Colby Jacobs finished with 3 points.

In retrospect, it was even more disappointing, because had they won that game, the Missiles would have been 3-1 and tied with Woodhull for first place in The Gorge Conference. A month and half later, instead of finishing conference play at 11-3, good enough for 2nd Place, they would have switched places with the Eagles and won the junior varsity championship with a 12-2 record.

On the bus ride back to Monteboro, he was inconsolable. Paul, on the other hand, was understandably a little giddy after the unbeaten varsity steamrolled Woodhull 73 — 45, and so, not more than five miles outside of town, the teasing began. “You know, he’s as literal as they come, and you did tell him to ‘shoot the ball’! Whadya expect?” Despite the darkness, he could see Paul’s sardonic grin.

Even though the rickety, old, Bluebird bus’s engine sounded like it had been pulled out of a Boeing 747, he whispered quietly. He didn’t want any of the kids to hear him. “I called a time out specifically to talk to him. I told him exactly what to do. Every kid on the team understood, and more than that, every person in the stands could see the problem. What good is it to be the biggest player on the floor if you always play with your back to the basket? You’re never going to score if you don’t turn around long enough to see the goal.”

“I’m just shittin’ ya! I know what you meant. Everybody did.”

“He didn’t!”

“Look, Tom, don’t beat yourself up. All you can do is put your players in the best position to win. You did that, and everyone who was watching that game knows it. After that, it’s up to them. They’re really young. Most of your best players, like Colby, are freshmen. They’ll be a lot better next year.”

“Thanks, but right now that isn’t much consolation. Maybe it will be later, but not right now.”

“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever told you this, but I coached Colby’s oldest brother Randy. Randy was an awful lot like Colby — smart, but just scatterbrained and hard to communicate with. He quit right in the middle of my first levent escort season — up and told me he couldn’t play for me anymore because nothing I said made any sense to him. He lives over by Collegeville now. He’s working as an engineer for Dow Chemical, pulling down a boatload of cash.”

“Anyway, whenever Randy comes home to see his family, he looks me up. We’re close friends now! He’s one of the nicer guys I know. Last year, when he graduated from Penn State, he invited me down there for the ceremony. Afterward, at his party, he pulled me aside and told me, ‘You were the best coach, I ever had — I just wasn’t mature enough to realize it at the time.’ I gotta say, that made me feel pretty good.”

“The point is you never know when it’s going to start clicking for them. But when it does, all of a sudden, you see progress, and it’s just amazing.” As the words quit Paul’s lips, Ingrid approached them from the back of the bus. Her face bore an expectant, longing look.

“Hi, Tom!” Her smile slowly disappeared, and compassion stole across her face. “Sorry about your game.”

They both turned to look. It was a cold night, only about a week and half before Christmas, and even though the bus was heated, the temperature inside was probably no warmer than the high 50s. Ingrid was sporting a tight-fitting, suede leather jacket with a hood fringed in fur, but from the waist down, she wore only her short, blue and white cheerleader’s skirt and white tennis shoes. She had amazing legs.

“Hi, Ingrid! How’re you doing?” He tried to smile, but he was so annoyed that the look probably came off as insincere. She held some things in her hand, and the moment he noticed them, she reached out and gave them to him — two, small envelopes.

“Goot. I vanted to invite you to my party — a veek from totay.” Paul smiled. In contrast to his own confusion, Paul clearly knew what Ingrid was talking about.

“A Christmas party? Where?”

“No, no”, she smiled sweetly, hopefully, “my birthtay party — I’m turning 19, and I hope you and Lara can come celebrate with me at Paul and Juliette’s. Those are invitations for both of you.”

“We don’t have a game next Friday?” he wondered out loud.

“Nope, we play Tuesday at home against New Madrid. Next Friday is the last day of school before the holiday break. The kids are off until January 7th. I decided not to schedule us into a holiday tournament this year, so we don’t play again until January 8th.” Paul had apparently memorized the schedule.

“What’s the date next Friday?”

“Tecember 21st. The vinter solstice is usually on my birthtay.” She smiled.

“Well, then I can come, and I’m pretty sure Lara can, too. We’re going to drive back home for Christmas that next day — that must be Saturday, the 22nd — for a week or so. Then, I’m bringing Lara back here so you two can go to New York together over New Years. At least, I think that’s still the plan, though we haven’t talked about it in a long time.” They hadn’t talked about anything in a long time, but that was better left unsaid.

“Goot. Vell, I just vanted to give you the invitations. I shoult go back vith the other girls.”

“Well, thanks. I look forward to the party.” He smiled.

“Me, too.” Ingrid, too, smiled, waved, and returned to her seat.

He looked at Paul with suspicion. “You obviously knew all about that, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I mean, we’re having it at my place. I sort of had to know, right?”

“Why didn’t you tell me she was going to invite me?”

“Because it’s her party, and it should be up to her to do the invitations. I didn’t want to spoil things for her. Besides, I kind of enjoyed seeing the look on her face when she asked you!”

“The whole thing is awkward. I mean, she’s friends with Lara — she’s going to New York with her, and all — but then she swoons all over me when the two of us are around her. Every time I see her, I end up paying a price for it with Lara. What am I supposed to do?”

“Heck if I know. I’m doing my best to stay out of it, and so is Juliette.”

“So, who’s going to be at this party? It’s not just the five of us, is it?”

“No, Ingrid invited all of her friends, as well as the girls on the cheer squad, and some of the basketball and football players, too. Oh, and I forgot, her sister is going to be here. She’s doing something in New York with Ingrid, so she’s coming here for Ingrid’s birthday, Christmas, and then the trip to the city with Ingrid and Lara over New Years.”

“Her sister, huh? Does Lara know about her sister going to New York with them?”

“I have no idea.”

“What’s her sister like?”

“She lives in Sweden, Tom. I’ve never met her. But if you’re asking if she’s as pretty as Ingrid, the answer is yes, maybe even prettier — I’ve seen some pictures. She’s a knockout.”

“What’s her name?”

“Erika. She’s three maçka escort years older than Ingrid. She’s in college right now. I think she’s about to graduate… from… Up… Uppsala… I think that’s right. I don’t really know where that is or anything about it.”

“Well, that means we’re going to have to curtail our usual antics if there are students around, right?”

“Yeah, I mean, in their presence, but there are plenty of secret places we can go. I’ll probably make the barn available to the kids for basketball, so we’ll have to use the garage. But don’t worry; we’ll have our chances to partake. We might have to take turns going out there. We can’t be too obvious.”

“Bottom line, though, it’s Ingrid’s party. I’m there to nominally chaperone the students — make sure they’re not drinking or whatever. But we’re adults, and it’s my house. So as for alcohol, I see no reason why the rest of us can’t have a beer or two in front of them. I would advise against getting drunk.”

“Okay. You know those kids better than I do. I guess I trust you to do the smart thing.” The next sentence was whispered. “By the way, thanks for getting Lara and me some of that Humboldt. I’m sure digging it! Fucking shit’s amazing.”

“No problem.”

The bus rumbled on through the chill darkness on the winding, wooded road. They got back about 11:15, and then he had to wait until every member of the two teams and the cheerleaders either left in their own cars or were picked up by their parents. He didn’t get home until midnight. It had been a long day.

He walked through the screened-in porch and opened the front door. Lara was sitting on the couch reading. A single lamp illuminated the still room. “What took you so long?” She sounded annoyed.

“It’s a long drive, at least an hour and a half, and then I had to wait until all of the parents came to pick up their kids.”

“Why did you have to do that?”

“It was my turn. Paul did it last game.”

“You shouldn’t have to wait for those little shits.”

“Maybe not, but it’s school policy. If some kid gets left outside without a ride, and has to walk home when it’s 14°, the school will probably get sued, so…” He wanted to change the subject anyway, and when he felt the envelopes in his coat pocket, he remembered he needed to give the invitation to her. He pulled them out. “Oh yeah, I almost forgot. We’re invited to a birthday party.” He handed her the envelope with her name on it.

“Whose party? Where?” She took it and without opening it set it down on the end table.

“Ingrid’s — at Paul and Juliette’s. She’s turning 19.”

“Oh great! So I can go over there and watch her drool all over you again? That’s a lot of fun for me!”

It struck him as patently absurd that for all of Lara’s suspicions about him and Ingrid, she’d spent far more time with her than he had. Except for basketball games when, for all intents and purposes, both he and Ingrid were doing their jobs, he had never been around Ingrid when Lara wasn’t there.

Lara, in contrast, had spent a lot of time alone with Ingrid — going to movies, shopping at thrift stores, even going to a concert by The Fall in Pittsburgh together in November that required an overnight stay. He had turned her on to The Fall, but she had invited Ingrid to go with her, instead of him, which pissed him off greatly. Ingrid didn’t even know that band.

Considering all that, why was she acting that way? Maybe it was the disappointing loss or maybe it was three months of sexual frustration, but suddenly, his emotions boiled over.

“Then, don’t go, for chrissakes! Jesus, would you fucking make up your mind once and for all! Are you friends with Ingrid, or are you archrivals? When you talk to me, she’s nothing more than a stupid, immature, little slut, but when you’re around her, you two are thick as thieves! You’re supposed to be going to New York with her in a few weeks — did you forget that? Of course, I’m not going, was never invited to go, but if things don’t go down in the Big Apple exactly as you expect them to, I’m certain it’ll be my fault!”

She was staring at him almost in disbelief, as if she never thought he would actually speak his mind on the subject. The look on her face made him even madder, and he doubled down on his anger. “You know, we need to make a new rule around here — when it comes to Ingrid, I don’t care to hear your insights!”

“You wanted to go New York with us?” The question surprised him, and the timidity of its delivery surprised him even more.

“Of course, I wanted to go, but it doesn’t matter, I can’t. I have to work, and I’ve got basketball, too.”

Lara quickly recovered her caustic tongue. “Yeah, we all know why you’re coaching basketball!” She said the word with such derision that it seemed as if he and the sport were interchangeable in her mind.

“I’m coaching basketball because Paul asked me to, and Paul’s my friend. Coaching basketball and spending time with him and Juliette are the only things that I’ve enjoyed doing since I came here. Besides, I’ve never done one fucking thing to encourage her, and you know it! So if you’ve got a problem with Ingrid, take it up with her!”

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