~*~ Every last word of the pages to follow is from an author's vast imagination and is therefore not supported in true reality. Although the characters to be featured are prominently factual, the numerous scenarios, situations, and events they will encounter throughout the course of the tale are not! Its principal objective is that of enjoyment and entertainment to you, the reader.

~*~ Underage reading or any other illegalities is not condoned nor encouraged in any way by said author. He also will not tolerate any form of plagiarism towards any of the words to come as they are his and his alone. Neither the author nor the Nifty Organization makes a profit from this, or any story, posted on their site. He does it of his own freewill.

~*~ Address any type of question and/or feedback to jc71883@hotmail.com, making sure to add a relation to the story on the subject line of the e-mail as to guarantee its reception.



Chapter Twenty-Five

~*~ Replacing Pain to be Numb ~*~



He is extra cautious not to let Vanessa catch him the way Justin did. His needles are always put away when he is close to his girlfriend because no one else will know about his dark secret. They are always secured in a place no one but him could possibly know about. It will destroy more than one career if word ever gets out. Kobe lets out a sigh as water beats down on his skin in his own shower as he is thinking. He is alone because Vanessa is downstairs making dinner he hopes. Her cooking is too good and he does not feel like ordering out like he is forced to when he is on the road. He and Timberlake have not spoken in a few days mainly because of his girlfriend. They are always together and the Los Angeles Laker has not had the time he needs to talk to his boyfriend, wherever he may be right now. Bryant's dark skin is wet and moist and soap only makes his body slick before it is washed away.

Justin is a main staple in his mind and he cannot continue to live these two lives he is carving out for himself. It is frustrating and exhausting to keep up with and the lies will eventually come back to haunt and cause pain. It always does. Showers are not as satisfying as they used to be so the baller gets out and quickly dries his skin and slips some clothes on before exiting his room and walking down to the kitchen for some dinner. He has a game tomorrow and one of Vanessa's best friends is getting soon so she will be leaving for the airport later tonight. It is their last night together for a while because she will be heading to her mother's house to spend some time with her family after the wedding. Deep down, Kobe is glad he has a game tomorrow because the wedding is the last place he wants to be. He will basically be free to go wherever and do whatever he wants without watchful eyes. For a while.

"Hey babe," he announces himself in the kitchen and she turns around and smile.

"I can't believe I'll be leaving for so long."

"Do you have everything packed?" her boyfriend asks as he sits on a nearby stool and watches her finish up dinner.

"I think so. Are you sure you can't make it to the wedding sweetheart?" she asks once again. "It'll be so weird not having you there with me."

"Sorry Vanessa. I have a game tomorrow and some press events in the coming weeks. You know how busy I am during the season."

"I know---" Vanessa says, sounding depressed.

"I'm sorry honey. I wish I could go with you."

"I know. Let's eat. Everything's ready."

The couple has a quiet dinner at home for the last time and talks very sparingly because she is disappointed in the situation and he is wondering about a certain R&B singer who can never escape his mind. The mood around the dinner table is opposite for each person but neither lets the other know about their true feelings. Vanessa feels that if she guilts her boyfriend into going to the wedding and spending time with her family he will only end up resenting her and Kobe can never let her know what he is doing or how he feels about Justin. Their last dinner together is so much heavier that it is ever supposed to be. So many things are hidden behind layers and layers of built up protection. The basketballer's insides hurt because of all the lying he does to cover himself but it is a necessity to continue to have both relationships. They can coexist together as they know nothing about the other.

"I'll miss you baby," he says across the table.

"I'm going to miss you too Kobe. Do you like the food?"

"Of course. I love you."

As he says this, he extends his hand to the middle of the table and rests it there so she can take it in her own. There is no hesitation on her part as she reaches over and rests her soft palm in his strong one. Kobe looks down to where their hands are adjoined while she looks at him and smiles. This is the one she is meant to spend the rest of her life with and she will wait for him. Wait until he is ready to propose to her. Wait until he is ready to settle down with her and have children together. There is no doubt in Vanessa's mind that her boyfriend is the one. She just has to be patient and not push or pressure him too much to be together. They finish dinner together and finally prepare for her to leave. Bryant fetches the rest of his girlfriend's suitcases from upstairs and leaves them in the foyer as they wait for the limo to pull up. They are in the great room together sitting. She will be missed.

"I love you too," she replies as she holds on to her man tightly.

He embraces her and they share a sweet, yet passionate kiss while they wait for her to be taken away. Everything is darkened and quiet in the house as well as outside. The high-end neighborhood they live in is always safe and quiet. Her body is so small compared to his. Justin's is bigger though. Stop comparing! Even his lips feel better. This is dangerous. A knock on the door signifies his freedom because the limo is waiting to take her to the airport. Kobe kisses her one last time before he goes to open the door and she uses the last few minutes in the large mansion to gather up the rest of her things for the trip. A part of him wants to go with her so they can spend time together but another part loves the risk of being alone and the amount of trouble he can get into is outstanding in his mind. Not negative trouble of course but Bryant knows he will utilize this time to undertake some risky situations.

The limo pulls away and leaves Bryant in the driveway all by himself. The house is all his. He knows her eyes are on him as the car drives off so nothing will change until she is out of view completely. Vanessa becomes long gone in a very short while so the baller finally escorts himself back into his mansion. He wants her back here but he wants him here too. The house is lonely now and he heads into the living room to watch TV and maybe fall asleep. What is left of the rest of the day is his to do with whatever he pleases but there is only one thing that is required of him to do. But that will come later. Kobe shuts off the large television and walks out of the room and to a closet in a few rooms further in the large house. A large orange basketball sits on a high shelf but the star athlete reaches it with ease and holds it in between his hand and body as he walks around the house more.

Outside is showing the last remnants of sunlight of the day but it is uplifting as he steps out onto his covered balcony and the basketball court that is only a few feet away from the house. The best thing he can do for himself is to practice for his game tomorrow. Vanessa is gone and he will most definitely be calling Justin later tonight; the young singer has to be busy during the day. Kobe Bryant stretches his arms out and jogs in place for a few minutes to get his blood racing so he can be at the top of his game. The orange globe touches the rubber court as his long arms control it and he runs up to make a simple shot. It kisses the rim just barely before toppling in to claim uncounted points. This hoop has seen many of those. This basketballer is simply the best at what he does and there is no denying it. Maybe now he will see. Maybe now he will stop being so critical and finally be supportive for once.

It was always like that. He had to learn to stand on his own from a very young age because his parents were never there to hold him up and make him feel special like they were supposed to. He was never allowed to make mistakes or speak unless he was spoken to. It was a miserable excuse for a childhood that he could never get back. The future Laker legend was on a different court this time. The modest concrete one of his father's backyard in the house he grew up in as a child. The house was modest but comfortable but it rarely ever felt so to him. Pressure and pain and doubt lived here as well and a young Kobe Bryant was especially susceptible to it because all the negativity was directed to him. His father was a tyrant in his eyes and he hated him. The ten-year-old wanted to give anything he owned that meant anything to him to have a normal relationship with his parents. With his father.

Joe Bryant was everything he never wanted to be when he grew up. His words were always condescending and never encouraging. He had cried many times at the words of his father but had learned not to cry in front of him anymore. It was a grave mistake the young Bryant used to do and he got slapped and punched by his overbearing father for being so weak and showing any sign of emotion. Men never showed weakness. The physically and mentally abused ten-year-old cried in his room at night before bed for a long time until tears was not able to form in his eyes anymore. The tears ran out and all Kobe had was his hatred and the fuel to never treat anyone the way his father treated him. His mother was never abusive toward him but she did not dare stop her husband because he was always right and she stood by him throughout it all. She was old-fashioned in her thinking and supported him.

Basketball was forced upon him since he was old enough to talk and hold the large orange ball. Joe Bryant would never see his son in any other career but his former profession so there was no choice in the matter. Kobe has had his head drilled with basketball as far back as he can remember. He was the only one incurring the wrath of his mad father because he was the only child. The future hall of famer was hit for missing a basket or for bringing home anything less than an `A' grade-wise from school. He was hit for not doing his chores or talking back or leaving his room in a mess. The confused child was perfect because he was forced to be on every account and thus, he never gained the experience of being a child and making mistakes to learn from. Perfection came with no mistakes and Bryant wanted to scream his lungs out every time he was alone but he did not because someone could have heard.

The ten-year-old was on the paved half court of the backyard just daydreaming. He rested the ball in the middle of the court and sat on it and looked out at the lengthy river that ran freely past the backyard. He envied its freedom so much. Kobe just came from his room and he still felt the stinging hand as it struck his face hard. His father hit him again because of a `B'. He was sent to his room to finish his homework and then it was his routine two hours of basketball practice. Sometimes he hated the hoop. Or the stupid orange ball his fingers seemed to be attached to. He had friends but they always stayed at school. No one was allowed over to the house. He sat on the middle of the court and wiped back tears with the back of his hand. He wanted his parents' approval and love most of all but that satisfaction never came thus far. The future Los Angeles Laker was wrapped in his clouded head.

"Why aren't you shooting?" a voice calmly asked from only a few feet away.

"Huh---nothing father. I'm sorry---" his young son stumbled out of his head and quickly hopped up with the ball in his hand.

"Did you figure out what you did wrong on that test to get the grade you did?"

"Yes and I studied it extra hard---" Bryant replied with his eyes still on the ground.

"Look at me when you speak to me son."

"Yes sir," he says and looked up to face his father.

"So everything is good now?"


"Will I see another `B'?"

"No you won't father."

"Come here."

Kobe walked with the ball in his hand toward his father and waited before, "Yes father?"

The condescending Joe Bryant knelt down and became eye level with his one and only son but the boy's eyes were on the floor again. He utilized his long fingers to coerce the little face to look forward and then turned it to the side to where he slapped him not too long ago. Kobe's skin was dark but the redness was still there; it was a hard hit. He stayed frozen while his father continued to feel his face and look him in the eyes. That connection would not ever be severed between them. His crooked fingers stroked the youngster's red cheek and jaw line before they went back up to the sore cheek. Bryant could not feel his heart in his chest because he was scared to breathe for what could happen next might break him even further. In a move that shocked him, his father removed his fingers and inched closer and closer to his son before he kissed his cheek. The same one that was reddened by his hand.

Kobe felt shame and humiliation and hatred beyond what he was able to comprehend at his young age. Everything festered and boiled inside and threatened to erupt in an enormous act of carnage and rage. It was his father's way of keeping control over everything, including feelings. This was not the type of affection he wanted from his parents; this was just mocking and sick beyond belief. Blood fumed and bubbled thorough his young veins and his brain was telling him that tears was the only way to manifest this type of pain. Having his father's lips on him was far worse than the harsh comments and the physical abuse. His mind was slipping away from him and everything was being stripped raw. The ten-year-old dared not pull away though because it would only prove lethal. The tears went away because he forced them to with all his might. Crying was no longer an option now. Never.

"Now---go shoot some hoops. Your mother will have dinner ready soon," the elder Bryant said when his lips tore away from fresh skin.


"I have some business to take care of inside. I don't want to come out here and see you sitting. Am I clear?"

"Yes father," he respectfully came back with.

"Good---" the elder man patted his son on his butt and sent him off to continue his punishment.

He eyed his father harshly as he walked to the edge of the court and off before he disappeared inside the house. The house where Kobe never felt he belonged. When he was sure he was alone, the future basketballer used the back of his wrist to wipe off the kiss Joe Bryant just patronizingly placed on his cheek. It was embarrassing and humiliating and only added to his son's seething and unhealthy rage. He saw his mother looking at him through a window in the kitchen while she washed the dishes and prepared for dinner but he did not care or even bothered to look back at her. The ten-year-old instead got back to dribbling the large ball in his hands and shooting it to score unreal points. When a young Kobe Bryant missed retrieving the ball and it went out of bounds at the far end of the backyard, he ran to gain possession. In the corner of backyard the young child fell to the floor and started crying.

The Los Angeles Laker is sitting on the orange globe in the middle of the court just as he had done that day and is deep in thought. The only difference now is that the court is his and he does not have to worry about his father coming out of the house and catching him not shooting because it is his house as well. Those are the only minor differences. The emotional torment is still there and the scars Joe Bryant inflicted on his son will never be reversed or made okay. They have healed as best they could but it is still not good enough. Kobe's eyes drift off as far as they can go as a light layer of sweat on his dark skin makes him shine. There is also something else that shines; singular droplets of tears fall to the ground and sear away. It is still painful and manages to get the worst of him in one emotion. He wipes the weakness away from his eyes and shakes his head from side to side to get it out of the clouds.

A few hours later and in the dark, he finishes practicing and returns to his castle to firstly get a bottle of water to quench his thirst and to also catch his breath. The small bottle of liquid satisfaction proves to be no match for the tall man so another one attempts to soothe him and it finally does work. Tears are long gone and Bryant returns the basketball to the closet and drops to the floor to do a few sets of pushups. It will be his informal workout for the day since he did not have time to head to the gym for a proper one. Five sets strengthen his arms and upper body even more and he hops up and stretches out his long limbs. It is a good thing there is food remaining from what Vanessa made earlier because his stomach is growling; he burned so many calories on the court today that food is a necessity once again. Darkness begins to rise up over the house as he takes yet another bottle of water to drink.

In the bedroom he shares with his serious girlfriend Vanessa, Kobe strips off everything and grabs a large towel to head into the bathroom to take a shower and hopefully cool off completely. He had to wait for his body to cool down from its basketball playing and pushups before hitting the shower to avoid shock. He has to be fully focused for the game in only a few more hours. The tiled shower can easily fit up to five people but it is only him this time. The rotating showerheads spray cold water at him from all directions and he steps out of its range to adjust the temperature slightly before he can get back into the middle of it all. Lukewarm water becomes perfect and the shooting guard steps back into the watery barrage to clean his sweaty skin. The shower is lonely. He dunks his head under the sprayer to wet his hair and face before resurfacing for air. Hearing no sounds in the house is unnerving.

"My love---" he harmonizes to himself.

It is to Justin's song. Bryant smiles and almost laughs when he realizes what he just did and that is who he wants in the shower with him right now. But Timberlake's whereabouts are unknown to him but he will call to find out soon enough. An elegantly smooth soap caresses every inch of his shaded skin and keeps him moisturized and clean at the same time. It is Vanessa's. Another benefit of living with her. The pulsating jets knead his shoulder and back and chest to ensure tension relief and untangling muscle knots. Kobe shampoos and conditions his short hair before he feels relaxed enough to leave the makeshift spa. The huge towel from before is used to dry off his hair and skin before it covers his manhood. The basketballer steps away from the shower and to the sink and mirror. He looks at himself for a moment before heading out of the bathroom. He tries not to spend too much time in front of it.

Kobe Bryant almost ransacks his closet looking for his duffel bag because it is well hidden. It is a small bag that should not draw any attention to itself because it needs to be that way. After shifting around a few things to reveal a hiding spot, he finally finds what he is looking for and grabs it and walks out of their closet. His nipples are erect because he is cold seeing as he is still in the towel and parts of his flesh is still wet from the shower. Resting the navy blue bag on the bed, he unzips it carefully and pulls the flap back to peer inside to find what he needs. What he is looking for that will drown out the voice in his head to make the game go smooth. A little vial is the first thing to be grasped by his hand and it is followed by a second one. Both bottles are on the brink of emptiness but it will have to be enough. Kobe reaches in once again into another almost hidden pocket to find what else he needs.

Back in the bathroom and in front of the mirror, he rests everything on the marble countertop and adjusts the loosening towel around his waist before he begins. Bryant reaches for a sterile syringe and uncorks it so that the needle is exposed to air before flipping a jar of the clear liquid upside down and sticking the needle into the serrated cap. Everything that was once in the bottle is now in the skinny tube of the needle and he rests it nearby while he repeats the process with the other. The two tiny phials are empty now but they will not be thrown away. Kobe looks at himself intensely in the mirror for it is the only way he can go through with this act. Holding out his right arm and resting it on the cold counter, the star baller picks up the first full needle and rests the sharp point against his pigmented skin and looks back into the mirror before it sticks into flesh. Deep enough to feel it below the skin.

The cold liquid released by applying pressure to the syringe finds veins within the body and is already rapidly spreading through the bloodstream. One half of the performance enhancing drugs he takes to silence it all is done with for the next couple of days at least. Kobe easily and slowly withdraws the needle from his forearm and stays still in the moments to come before the second dose is applied. His eyes never leave the other pair in the mirror and somewhere deep inside, he knows he is letting himself down but his father's presence in his mind is far too overwhelming to ignore so he has to get rid of it. In any way he can to continue his sanity. In the next minute, Bryant picks up the other half of the pair and tries to stick himself in the same exact spot as before. It is where the vein is. The pain of injecting himself is nonexistent now but he has to continue to look in the mirror. It is his thing.

He securely stores his secret away and removes the towel from around his waist to dry off the rest of his skin and get some clothes on because he has to eat now. Darkness blankets outside now as he slips on a pair of boxers and a long pair of pajama bottoms but leaves the strings at his waist untied because they fit perfectly already. Kobe makes his way downstairs and into the kitchen to get some of his girlfriend's food in his stomach. She is a great cook. He takes out what he feels is enough and tosses it in the microwave to heat up while he goes into the nearby living room to turn on the TV to see if any basketball games are going on. There should be something interesting to watch. The miniature oven beeps and the superstar baller hops up to get his food and immediately comes back and settles into the sofa again with the warm plate and a bottle of water by his side to eat and relax.

It is late and the Los Angeles Laker should be sleeping but he is not tired. The steroids always give him an extra boost of energy but it does wear off so he just has to wait until then. The kitchen is cleaned and everywhere is locked up so he walks around on the first floor of his palace to shut all the lights off. Once in his room, Bryant brushes his perfectly white teeth in preparation for bed. Veins are popping out on his forearms and around his neck. They expand because of the foreign liquid in his body but this is a normal side effect and should subside before anyone has any chance of noticing; they always do. It adds definition. Kobe wipes his face on a towel and turns off the light to the bathroom and is ready for bed, and Justin. With the large plasma TV on in his room and on mute, he flicks through the channels while getting into bed and reaching over for his phone to call his boyfriend.

After three rings, a tired sounding Justin Timberlake picks up the phone and says, "Hey---"

"Hey you," Kobe cutely greets his man. "What's going on?"


"What's wrong? Are you okay?"

"Huh---yeah. I'm tired."

"Did I wake you up?"

The singer stays quiet for a while before, "Yeah---but I'm glad you did. I missed you."

"I do too. Where are you?"

"Louisiana for a couple of days. You have a game tomorrow don't you?"

"Yeah. How did you know?"

"It's my job to know---it's what being a good boyfriend is about," he sincerely teases and it is endearing.

No matter what type of day he has had or the internal conflicts and struggles that tug at him, talking to Justin always manages to make those things seem so much less significant and unimportant. Kobe twirls the two free strings of his pajama bottoms between his fingers as he watches the silent television and pays close attention to everything his boyfriend is saying. They are physically so far from one another right now but when they talk like this, it somehow feels like they are closer, in the same room even. Justin tells him about his day but the deeper they get into the conversation, the more the baller feels like something is wrong. Maybe it is because they are both tired but something in his voice seems off. Kobe traces the contours of his abs with his index and middle fingers as his attention is no longer on the TV but on the high ceiling above him. He knows his instincts are right about this.

"Justin, are you okay?" he asks.


"I don't know. You sound---different."

"No---I'm good. I just miss being with you," Timberlake comes back with but something else is bothering him of course.

"Good---because I'm missing you over here too."

"Did you practice today?"

"Yeah---I got a couple baskets in earlier."

"Oh," Justin replies and then becomes serious. "Did you---"

"Did I what?"


Kobe processes the question and, "Yes. I did. I needed to---"

"I don't know what to say anymore," the R&B songster sounds almost defeated and upset.

"I don't want to fight with you Justin. Not now okay---"

"Kobe I hate this baby. I fucking hate this!"

Justin's voice is tearing away at him because he has that ability and Kobe hates him for it. They really cannot be fighting right now because his body is drained and he is lonely. Especially since they have not been with each other in a while. He, of course, is right but the baller cannot even begin to force himself to open up and let his boyfriend know the reason he takes the steroids. The emotional scarring from his childhood is too much for him to bear alone; he has been doing it for too long now and failing at mending them or forgetting them. The steroids do not mend them but they give the illusion that his insides are being fixed miraculously. Timberlake will never understand this and Kobe is not even giving him a chance to understand any of it. He has to walk through life with this pain and anger towards his father; no one else can get involved because they will get hurt. Lashed out at.

"We can't keep having this same fight over and over. I don't want to fight with you," the shooting guard says when silence takes the line.

"What can I stay to get you to stop?" Justin's voice is wounded more than anything.

"---I---don't know."


"I don't want you to be upset with me. Justin?"

"What?" Timberlake is now stronger than before.

"I really like you. I'm never not thinking about you---what you're doing---where you are," Kobe expresses himself positively.

The words are powerful and although the singer says it back, each syllable riddles his mind and heart with guilt and anger at himself for allowing such a thing to happen. Chad does not mean anything to him in a relationship type of way; he is just his friend. Kobe is the one he wants to be with. The only one he has serious feelings for. Nothing can be said though because there are too many problems in between them already. Trust issues cannot ever surface in this relationship otherwise it will never survive. Justin will not destroy his relationship. He is overreacting but he is putting himself in his boyfriend's shoes. If someone else is kissing on the baller, he would more than be jealous and angry and hurt. It will not happen now. The pair talks for a while longer until Bryant forces himself to sleep so he can mentally and physically prepare for the game tomorrow. His body needs the rest to be at the top.


Vivid colors mend together in his eyes as he steps outside his mansion and immediately slips an expensive pair of sunglasses over the top portion of his face to protect himself from the intruding light. Bryant's duffel bag is hanging on his muscular shoulder with a pair of keys in his other hand to leave this place behind. He inhales the fresh morning air and slams the grand oak doors behind him shut before hopping into yet another one of his Lamborghinis to head to the stadium for his performance. It is actually the same car Justin so nervously drove that night they shared their first kiss. That night where there was good confusion and precise timing on both parts. It unfolded into everything that has happened to this day and Kobe is so glad he decided to push forward. Having Timberlake in his life makes him a better person, if only slightly. But only his boyfriend can see or experience it.

The basketballer revs the car up to hear her engine roar before he buckles up and reverses out of his large and long driveway to get into the California traffic. Touching the same gearshift he first held Justin's hand on brings back memories of the darkness outside and those soft lips on his. The frightened but willing look in his eyes for everything between them to continue onward. He almost feels close to his boyfriend simply by being in this car. It is now instantly his favorite; the others pale in comparison to Timberlake's lips and hand. Kobe finds himself within normal traffic and the map in his mind automatically plays in his head seeing as he has made this trip a least half a million times by now. Plays are running though his mind as well and movements are becoming second nature to him so he can bring his best game. It is not about the others; Bryant plays for himself because it is the only thing he has.

His Lamborghini pulls up to a quarantined parking lot that are full of expensive cars just like his and he recognizes some of them from his fellow teammates. The Los Angeles Laker parks by himself and retrieves his navy blue duffel bag before walking into the Staples Center via a secret back entrance only the players and a handful of others know about. It is a great aide to make quick exits after games for the players. There is already a buzz in the building and the atmosphere is there. He can feel it in the air as he steps into the large stadium. The pores of his skin feel it along with the tips of his fingers. Energy is flowing in and out and adrenaline is starting to be made and shot through blood vessels. Kobe walks by himself down a long corridor towards another game he hopes to win. It is almost to the point of being overconfident but not quite there yet. Vanessa is on his mind and then Justin.

The locker room is clamoring with activity and excitement as Bryant opens the door and passes through it, greeting his fellow teammates and friends in the process of making his way to a locker to call his own. Most of the team is in various states of undress walking around and getting prepared for their game. Kobe has seen many of his teammates naked as they have him but he can honestly admit that he is not attracted to any of them the way he is to Vanessa and Justin. Many of his them are attractive and have nice bodies but he has never been attracted to any one of them. It is just a guy thing and nothing more. It used to be fun to look before but now it is not even worth it. The baller strips away his casual shirt and stuffs it in his bag as he retrieves the familiar yellow and purple vest that is his basketball uniform. He strips away his jeans and those shorts come into view before he hears his name.

"Bryant!" one of his coaches bellows to him from somewhere deeper in the locker room. "A word---now!"

"Yes sir!" he hollers back.

Kobe quickly stuffs everything else in his duffel bag and laces up his Nikes for the game before throwing the bag in the locker in front of him and slamming it shut. He is a little on edge about what the meeting could mean but has to remain calm. The steroids he uses are top of the line and cannot be detected via urine. It would take more extensive testing for them to figure it out. But he is only getting ahead of himself now. The other guys seem to be oblivious to his summon as they are busily cracking jokes on each other or on their cell phones. Now that he looks, he realizes that he is the only one who got dressed by himself. Everyone else is either in pairs or huddled in groups playing around. It does not affect him though. The basketball star walks until he reaches his destination. A group of their coaches form a small group and are eagerly discussing plays and players, from both teams, as he approaches.

"You wanted to see me coach?" he announces himself.

A much shorter white man breaks away from the group and states, "Come with me."

"Okay---" Kobe is confused but follows until they are in a secluded corner. "What's up?"

"I need you to play your best out there kid."

"I always do coach."

"I've been noticing a pattern with you," he drums on.

"A pattern?"

"You don't pass the ball---even to open teammates."

"I do coach---"

"I don't have time to baby you Bryant," the older man temper flares as they stare at each other.

It has been this way always. He is a loner on the court and rarely passes the ball to any of his teammates because he can do it himself. It is not because he wants all the fame and glory like the media portrays him to be like. But, growing up and having no one to pass the ball to or practice plays with has affected him this way. He can score baskets himself and carry the team by himself. It is not like that though because it is a team effort and not just one man; he has to overcome the mentality. Kobe will never admit this but it is how he plays. It is the only way he knows how to. Yet another aspect of basketball he can thank his tyrant of a father for. He is not a team player and everyone is starting to notice it. The coach breathing down his neck and demanding he change his game is upsetting but he keeps it cool because he does not want a fine. Another one anyway. He listens but it is not new information.

"I know coach---" he states.

"Don't disappoint me. I'm looking for a championship this year."

"I know---"

"Pass the ball---you hear me?" the coach firmly demands.


The basketballer is about the walk away when he feels has arm being grabbed and they look at each other, "You're on a team. This isn't the Kobe Bryant show son---"

"I never said it was---"

"Then stop acting like it and start acting like you're on a team."

Kobe pulls his hand away from its grip and walks off to mentally prepare himself for the game. He has heard the gossip and all the negative talk about him but none of it bothers him because he does not care to listen to it. It is stuff made up to sell magazines and boost ratings of sports talk shows. He could have the best game of his career today and it would not get talked about as much as if he gets into a fight with a fellow teammate. His mood is slightly off now as he grabs a bottle of water and walks upstairs to the court by himself. Before he opens the door, he closes his eyes and says a little prayer for himself and his team before he starts gulping the water. The rest of the Lakers follow and they all enter the wooden court to a fairly full audience. There are even a lot of Memphis Grizzlies fans in the stands as well. It will be a great game; he will play the way he was taught and knows how to.

After the initial pregame formalities, the actual game is set to begin and the coaches and team owners are on their respective sides of the large court getting ready for it all. The fans cheer as the ball shoots up in the air and is instantly stolen by the away team for the first line drawn in the sand. Everyone follows the ball in order to stop a basket being made but it does not work and the first point is scored. Blood is drawn at the Staples Center and it is time to kick his body into overdrive to conquer this team. His heart is beating faster and the steroids are coming alive within his bloodstream to make him almost unstoppable. This will prove to be his best game yet and it will be forced if needed. Kobe stops the incoming ball from hitting his stomach and does not bother passing as he breaks through the Grizzlies defense to shoot the ball. It rebounds and is still in play. He does not eye the coach.

The extra boost of power and energy is there with him now and it is ironic than none of his teammates or anyone from the opposing team knows about his hidden capabilities. The game is being played but he remembers only bits and pieces because he is almost to the point of being gone. Defense is tight and offense is vicious for both teams because it is an important game for either of them. Kobe jumps higher and snags a rebound for himself as he dribbles it down the long court. His feet are planted firmly on the halfway line of the court and while he does see two of his teammates open under the hoop, his brain registers nothing but going for the three-point shot from his current position so this is what happens. The basketballer jumps up in the air and puts a great amount of force behind the ball to have it propel forward and into the circular hoop, after bouncing off the backboard and rim.

"Bryant! What the hell was that?" another coach yells at him from the sidelines. "Teamwork! Teamwork!"

He listens to it but cannot help but to ignore his coaches even though he will get chewed out for it after the game. It has become another cycle he is so used to already. The shooting guard continues to play his way because they are winning and he is being ignorant to facts. His teammates' eyes are on him but they keep passing him the ball so they obviously know that he is worthwhile to the team and gets the job done. Kobe feels their stares and the negative tension between him and the rest of them; it has been this way for a long time now. There are more yells and grunts from the sidelines but they are winning. Fans take notice of specific actions but they continue to cheer for their favorite team. Bryant knows the tension from the court will spill over into the locker room later but it is nothing new or unheard of. The best he can do is to concentrate on his game and try to carry his team to victory.

It is an unknown feeling but he wants someone there to tell him that he is on top of his game and that he should not listen or pay attention to anyone else. Justin would be in his corner and supportive. The validation is there but it is waning and it should not be. This is what the steroids give him; the false hope and promise that he is somehow appeasing his father and that justification of knowing he is worth enough. It fills the need that has consumed his life ever since he has been old enough to hold a basketball in his hands. All this fuel just drives him to focus on his game and not care about anything or anyone else. The basketballer retrieves the orange globe from under the Grizzlies' basket and solitarily runs it back to his respective side of the court. Kobe dodges and weaves in and around his fellow peers with precision speed and footwork all while never sacrificing the ball in his grasp.

Bryant jumps into the air to shoot it and score once more but is stopped in midair by the opposition. Their bodies collide and with a loud thud before they both are torn apart from each other and fall back to Earth with a shattering force. Two strong chests crashed together and knock the wind out of both men while they were still suspended in the middle of air. Kobe falls back to the hard wooden floor on his back but he lands on his right hand first. There was not time to react properly and he hears some crunches and feels tearing because it is his own. Pain shoots up from his wrist to his forearm and to his shoulders and brain ultimately. The other player lands on his back but it is nothing serious as he bounces back up and pats the dust away from his uniform. All the shooting guard hears is his yelling from the sidelines and he closes his eyes to try and cope with the pain. It is easily too much for him.

"Back off! Back off!" a medic screams as they all rush to the fallen basketball legend after the game is on timeout. "Everyone back up!"

"You heard the man---back off!" Kobe hears the familiar coach that reprimanded him earlier yell.

"Shit," he yelps as he tries to move his hand from behind his back.

"Relax---relax. Don't move. We got you. Everyone move back!"

"Fuck!" the baller screams as he does not heed the advice given to him.

"Stop! Stay still."

The Los Angeles Laker finally hears the words and remains still though his wrist is throbbing and he wants to move from the extremely uncomfortable position to free himself. It feels like he is in a tangled mess lying on the court he was just blazing by only mere moments ago. He keeps his eyes closed and wishes all the attention and cameras were not on him. This is what they all want to see though. Someone falling from grace. It is all they ever want to see. More medics surround him and began to carefully peel him off the cold wood and get his hand back into its proper place. He screams at the discomfort but then remembers his surroundings and remains silent throughout it all. Together, they get his arm away from the floor and his head rests back on the floor as they carefully place his right hand over his flat abdomen. Kobe keeps his eyes tightly closed as he feels like the whole world has stopped.

"Okay---easy," a new medic coaxes him to get up and holds on to his arm.

"I can do it---"

"Come on."

"Get off me!" Kobe frustrates and pulls his other hand free to help himself up. "I got it!"

The rest of the medical team backs off as the star basketballer helps himself to his feet with the applause of the crowd. He holds his injured wrist within his other hand and walks off the court to the sidelines and a barrage of other players, coaches, and worst of all, the media assault him there further. There is no way he can play the rest of this game but something is happening. His body is absorbing the pain and it is progressively becoming nonexistent. It has to be the steroids. No one can know this though so he keeps with it until he is alone and able to process everything that has happened. It is sucking the pain out of his body but his wrist still is limp. It is at the very least sprained, too damaged to continue the game. Coaches push members of the media away as well as other players so Kobe can have his space but even at that, all eyes are on him and this is one of the rare occasions that he hates it.

"Are you alright son?" another of the Los Angeles Lakers' coaches asks him.

"I can't play the rest of the game. It's sprained."

"Do you want someone to look at it?"


"You need it to be checked out."

"No!" Bryant demands again. "Can I go back to the locker room until the game's over?"

"Stay out here to support the team."

"We're not going to lose. Come on coach."

Each trainer looks from one to the next before one finally answers him with, "If it's what you want."

"It is!" he quickly snaps back.

Bryant gets up, with another round of applause from the crowd. They apparently think he is going to return to the game but it is not true. It is like an alternate universe because as soon as they all realize that he is leaving the court, and ultimately the game, the whole stadium becomes quiet and everyone cannot help but stare as the number twenty-four is slowly disappearing away. A small sound could disrupt the once noisy arena and the injured baller feels all the eyes on his body while he walks off and down the stairs to the locker room, which he hopes is empty. No press, no teammates, no one. Kobe pushes the door open in front of him and enters the locker room much sooner than originally anticipated. The pain in his hand comes and goes but it does not hurt nearly as much as it initially did. His skin is sweaty and uniform is wet as he sits on the cold metal bench that is so close to his locker.

He touches his wounded hand with the other and it is already swollen and tender. In a lapse of judgment, the basketball star squeezes his wrist with all his might. The pain is corked inside him because he will not appear weak. He searches for any broken bones in his hand but does not feel anything as far as his self-examination goes. There will be no doctors involved; and especially now. Bryant does this a total of three times, from different angles, before he finally diagnoses himself with simply having a heavily sprained wrist. It is not as bad as initially thought but he definitely cannot go back out there and touch that ball. The thought crosses his mind to simply go home because he is no good to anyone here, especially himself. Just when his hand is coming down from the assault, his phone breathes life in his locker. Kobe rifles through his duffel bag, hoping it is the only person he wants it to be.

The injured basketballer smiles when he retrieves the device and greets, "I'm okay."

"What happened?" Justin's concerned voice comes back and there is an abundance of loud noises in his background.

"I don't know---"

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah. Where are you?"

"Charity event. Talk to me---"

"I'm okay Justin---I'm not a baby," he almost snaps.

"I didn't say you were."

"How did you see what happened if you're at a charity event?"

Kobe hates when people tries to treat him like a baby but he feels something good inside knowing that Justin was watching his game today. Granted, he could not be on the sidelines; that may never happen without the proper consequences, but his eyes were on him and his body as he did what he does best. He rests his sprained hand on the cold bench below him and it is surprisingly soothing. Things are complicated inside him because he is happy that they are talking but he wants his boyfriend to stop babying him. Timberlake's innocence is what makes him come to his senses though because the he is only worried about him. Admittedly, if he were to see something like this happen to the R&B star, he would be worried as well. If the situation were in reverse the basketballer would be going crazy with worry and questions. It was only a small fall though. Bryant will pull through wholly unscathed.

"It's for the Boys and Girls Club. Some wanted to actually play basketball while others just wanted to watch the game. I didn't bring any other clothes so I decided to hang out with that group."

"I'm sorry J. You know how much I hate when people treat me like a kid," Bryant presses his elbow down on his knee and rests his head on his healthy hand while holding the phone against his ear.

"It's not what I'm doing Kobe. I'm just worried and scared."

"I know—I would feel the same way too if this was the other way around," he admits to his boyfriend.

"Is it broken?"

"Nah---just sprained really bad."

"I saw when you walked off---where are you now?"

"In the locker room. I think I'm about to leave."

It remains silent for a short while until, "Don't they fine you for that?"

"Yeah but I don't care about that right now. I have to get out of here Justin," the baller almost sounds desperate. "I can't be here and not be on the court playing. I can't watch knowing that I can't help---"


"When can I see you?"

"I don't know. I miss you," Justin watches what he says as well as to see how far the next closest person to him is.

The songster is in a place full of children of all ages and if one of them overhears anything even slightly incriminating he says it could spread like wildfire. Of course, most of them will not know the repercussions of their told words because they are innocent children but he cannot risk anything so the conversation has to end soon as not to draw suspicion. Kobe means too much to him for them to stop now or for Justin to forcibly give up on. The kiss with Chad was nothing. It was a great kiss but that was it. The emotion his boyfriend puts behind his kisses and touches puts Timberlake at ease and has him secure in himself and his sexuality. Not so secure to tell the whole world though; that would just be stupid career suicide. For them both. Keeping the secret is much harder and much more than the singing star thought it was going to be or he was going to have to deal with. The secrets are difficult.

"I miss you too. I'll call you later baby. I'm going to get me stuff and leave."

"Drive safe okay."

"I always do."

"---Right---" Timberlake taunts his man.

"Okay Justin. When are you getting out of that event?"

"A couple hours. Call me tonight."

"Maybe we can have phone sex---since we're not getting the real thing."

Justin laughs and replies, "Go take a cold shower buddy."

"I'll call you."


Sounds cease echoing off the white walls of the soundless room and Kobe Bryant gets up and tosses his phone back into the safety of his navy blue duffel back. He can care less about the fine and the earful he will receive saying that his wrist being bruised is his fault because he did not pass the ball. It will always come back to passing the ball. Carefully, the basketball legend straps on the duffel atop his left shoulder and slams the locker door shut before he exits the room the same way he came in. Vanessa is so busy with the wedding that she does not know what happened to her man. She is probably out spending all of his money in preparation but as long as she is happy, he is happy. Kobe walks through the long hallway until he exits the venue and searches his bag for his sunglasses. His skin is sweaty and he hates getting into any of his cars in this condition but it will have to suffice this time.

"Damn!" Bryant curses under his breath. "I guess I'm driving home with my left hand only," he muses to no one but himself.