"I thought it was over,” I tell my brothers, “I thought we could finally be free of this shit. You know? Move on with our lives? Is that too much to ask? Is that too much of a fantasy?”
My brothers are standing around me. Rami, Yuri and Houston are all dressed in black. We are just staring at my father at Sydney’s funeral. She died a couple of weeks ago. They had no leads. They had no suspects. They didn’t even have a fucking finger print. They had no idea who killed Sydney and that was the scary part of all of this.
I look over at my Father. I feel bad for him. Sydney was young. That’s as clear as day. But he loved her none-the-less. I feel like there is nothing I can really say to comfort him. He’s standing over by the grave now. He isn’t crying. He’s silently watching as they lower her body.
“Any one of us can be next,” Houston says.
“Now isn’t the time for that,” Rami states.
I wonder if Rami is trying to save face and look a little braver. He’s braver than I am though. I’m scared as hell. My heart is racing. Whoever could do this to Sydney had no soul.
“When’s the time?” Houston said, “When we are all dead? Whoever killed her is pissed that April is locked up.”
Yuri nods, “Houston’s right. Who is that close to April though? Who would care?”
They look at me as if I should know the answer to it.
I cross my arms.
“I don’t know. I am the one with the fucked up memory, remember?” I ask.
“Maybe we should talk to Darryl. Maybe we should tell him we want to leave town or something,” Yuri suggests, “You know? Run away. Houston’s right. Someone is pissed about April and we aren’t safe here. Who knows who’s next?”
Rami shakes his head, “We should stick together. Like we always have. Our life is here. What will running away do.”
“Maybe it’ll save our lives,” Yuri says.
I can see Yuri getting a little loud with Rami. He’s scared. He has every right to be. He’d probably be screaming if we weren’t at a funeral. I want to scream. It’s funny how Rami is usually the one who is panicking. Since jail though he seems mature. I don’t know how hard it was for him in jail but he seems to have gone through a lot. He was gone for a minute. Now he seems mature, confident and a little more humble.
It’s at that point when we are discussing leaving the area that I’m reminded of something.
‘She knew…” I say.
“Knew what?” Houston asks me.
The three of them look over at me. I think about it for a second. The night that I set up April plays over and over in my head.
“She knew that I was there to set her up. Someone must have told her…”
I don’t know if it’s right to drop that bomb here in front of everyone. By the time I say it though it’s too late. All I hear is Yuri swallow his spit. Houston stops breathing. Rami breathes harder. My brothers and I look at each other. It’s an unspoken understanding now.
No one can be trusted…
A week has passed since Sydney’s death. I thought things would go back to normal when April was in jail. That was not the case. In school and on the basketball team people are treating us like we are made of glass. They don’t talk to us much and when they do it’s always with puppy dog eyes. I wonder if people think we are cursed. I wonder if people think bad luck just follows the Paynes wherever we go.
They may be right.
“You doing better?’ a voice says.
I turn to see Zion walking up to me. We are doing drills. We have a big game coming up against our rival school…Stapleton.
“My jump shot is getting better. I’m trying to work on my Fadeaway.”
“Your fadeaway?” Zion asks, “You sound like the Coach.”
“Boy, what?” I ask.
“I’m asking you how you are doing and you think I’m talking about basketball,” Zion explains, “You’re sweeping shit under the rug and hiding behind basketball. Just like your father is doing.”
Zion may be right. Hell. Come to think of it I’m sure he has a point. It’s hard to think about Sydney dying and someone being out there that is after us. It’s hard to think about that kind of shit. Right now it’s easy to bury myself in ball. My father has been doing the same thing. He doesn’t talk at all anymore unless it’s in regards to the big game coming up with Stapleton. My brothers are no better either.
I look over at Zion not sure on how to talk to him about this.
“What you want me to say?” I ask.
“Say how you feel…”
“I’m scared as fuck. I haven’t even had the chance to enjoy Rami being back. I’m back to being worried. I’m back to being upset.”
Zion nods, “I get it. But look. Think about it in basketball terms. You thought the game was over but all it is that you are in overtime now. That doesn’t mean you aren’t going to win. You’re James Payne aren’t you?”
Zion reaches over to me. He touches the back of my neck.
“You need to stop flirting with me…” I say.
“Is that what I’m doing?” he asks playing coy, “I thought I was helping to motivate you not to feel defeated…”
He’s rubbing on my neck harder and harder. We are sitting on the bench. The other ball players are still doing drills. I look down at his basketball shorts. He’s semi hard. It’s showing through his shorts. He continues to massage the back of my neck. He scoots over on the bench a little bit.
“Boy I’m trying to hold out with you,” I reply.
Zion shakes his head, “What if I told you…boy…I’m tired of waiting. I don’t want to hold out anymore. I’m trying to see what’s up.”
He leans close. That’s the thing about Zion. He was out. He was open. He wanted to kiss me and he was doing it right now. He didn’t need to hide in a broom closet to do it.
His tongue is down my throat. He’s still holding onto the back of my neck. He’s kissing me.
All of a sudden I hear Zion gasp a little bit.
A ball was just lodged at his head!
I turn to see Rami standing there. He has the ball in his hand.
“Yo what the fuck?” Zion says.
“My fault,” Rami said, “Lost control of the ball. You know. Butterfingers and shit.”
Zion gives him a look and then he looks over at me. I can tell what he is thinking. My face gets red all of a sudden out of embarrassment. Rami is acting crazy.
“Zion wait…I’m sorry,” I say knowing what he’s about to do.
It’s too late though. Zion walks away and storms into the dressing rooms. I can tell that he’s pissed off. He has every right to be.
He’s not the only one pissed though. I walk up to Rami and grab him by his collar.
“What the fuck was that about?”
“Bullshit Rami. You just threw the fucking ball at Zion!”
Rami shrugs and pulls me off to the side when he notices that a few of our teammates are looking over our way. That’s the thing about Rami. Everything has to be private with him. We are standing under the bleachers before I know it.
Rami is shaking his head, “I can’t take him touching you.”
I look over at Rami, “Listen. Rami. I know we have a past. But when I don’t think much more of my memory is coming back.”
“You don’t know that…”
“Even if it does come back, I’ll still remember the fact that I like Zion,” I state.
“More than me?”
Rami is attractive. He knows it. He’s raising his eyebrows. He squints at me. He leans in close. He knows that I’m attracted to him and he’s using this as my weakness. I can’t help but to be mesmerized by him. But even as I look at Rami, I still feel Zion’s lips on mine.
“I like him…differently,” I say.
That doesn’t seem to satisfy Rami.
“What do you know about that boy anyway?” Rami states, “You are really quick to trust when there is another killer on the loose.”
“Zion is not the killer.”
“How do you know?” he asks, “He knew about the plan to set April up right? Hell…didn’t he drive you over there in the first place? Didn’t he give you the recording device?”
There is suspicion in his tone.
For a moment I’m sitting there wondering. I didn’t know Zion. Rami is right about that. Zion knew that I was going over to April’s to set her up. But how would he have known April. What connection would he have to April?
“That shit doesn’t even add up.”
“Because you don’t want it to.”
“Zion saved me from April. Why would he want April released?”
“I don’t know why crazy people do the shit they do,” he replies.
I roll my eyes, “I’m done with this convo. If this is your argument, I am done with this convo. Zion and April don’t even fucking know each other.”
“You sure about that?”
I start walking away but he grabs me.
“You don’t know that boy. I’ve sat there and I thought about it so much,” Rami states, “You don’t know anything about him.”
“I know enough.”
“What is his last name?”
“It’s uh…Johnson,” I answer.
I’m thinking about the back of his jersey.
“Right. And what’s April’s last name. Her maiden name. Not her married name.”
“I don’t know.”
My heart stops at that moment. It can’t be.
“That doesn’t mean…”
“But it could mean something,” Rami responds, “Don’t trust that boy. I’m the one here for you. I’m the one that you can trust…”
Rami pulls me close. He hugs me. Could there be some sort of relation between Zion and April. I’m praying not but the truth is Rami is right. I don’t really know Zion.
I don’t really know much of anything about him…
It’s the Stapleton game. Time has gone so fast. I bury myself in preparing for the game but by the time the game comes my stomach is a mess. It’s the first time that I’ve seen Zion since it.
I can’t focus. I’m running up and down the court. I’m lagging behind everyone else. Zion and Houston keep passing me the ball. I keep missing. I’m supposed to be the best ball handler on court. I am supposed to be the best shooter.
Why am I missing?
“Get your head in the game!” I hear my father scream from the bench.
It’s the fourth quarter. Things are heating up. Luckily Zion has caught us back up. The score is 76 to 73. We have 73. We have seconds left on the clock before I know it. My heart is racing.
My father calls a time out.
My father pulls me in at that moment. Zion and the others are drenched with sweat looking on. He pulls me close.
“You see that guy sitting up there?” my father asks.
He points into the crowd.
There is a man sitting there with glasses on and a suit. He has a folder in his hands. He’s making notes.
“He’s from the NBA. He’s here trying to check you out. He’s trying to see how you are going to handle this game. You have to leave him something good. You hear me.”
I wish he had told me that before the game started. I wish he had told me that before I fucked up the entire game.
Leave him something good.
“Don’t worry. I got your back,” Zion says.
He pats me on the back at that moment. I look over at Rami. He is benched but I can feel his eyes staring at Zion. He doesn’t trust him a little bit and right now the more I think about it I don’t trust Zion either. Someone told April I was setting her up.
Someone betrayed me.
There is a chant from the sidelines. Wagner! Falcons! Wagner! Falcons.
The crowd is hype.
I’m down the court. It’s our ball. There are only seconds. Houston has the ball. He throws it in to Zion. Zion is running down the court. I watch as two people tag team him. They probably realize how good he had been in the game. They are more worried about him than anyone else on the team at this point. That leaves me free.
I’m down the court.
Zion launches the ball across the court at me.
I’m at the three-point line. I’m ready to shoot. I lean back. I take the shot!
The game is over and I’m in the locker room. My teammates are walking past me. They don’t speak.
“It’s ok,” Rami tells me.
“We’ll get them next year,” Yuri says.
Houston grunts as though trying his best to seem supportive. I know what they are thinking. Deep inside they are disappointed. The old James would have never had missed a wide open shot like that. After I lost my memory though I have never been the same. My game isn’t as strong.
“I’m about to head out,” Houston says, “You want a ride home?”
The pity routine.
I shake my head, “I’m going to stay around. Shoot some more.”
“You can’t stress yourself,” Rami states.
“Right, if you don’t have it anymore, you don’t have it anymore,” Houston agrees.
It burns when he says it. I just didn’t have it anymore. Zion was the star of the team now.
Speaking of Zion I see him walk up to me right now. It’s a rare thing to have him walk up to me with all my brothers around. As he approaches me they all stare at him like he’s a lamb walking into the wolf’s den.
“Can I talk to you for a minute?” Zion asks.
“About what?” Rami asks.
Yuri grabs his neck, “C`mon Rami. We’re about to head out…”
Luckily Yuri pulls Rami away. The locker room is clearing out slowly and quietly. Everyone is disappointed that we lost the game.
Zion looks down at me. I can tell he feels bad.
“There will be other games,” Zion tells me.
“I know you’re trying to make me feel better but that’s not the point,” I say.
“Then what is the point?” Zion asks.
“I was better back then,” I tell him, “Not just with basketball. I was better with life in general. From what I know I seemed happy.”
“You were sleeping with everyone and their mother. I don’t think that classifies you as being happy,” Zion argues and then stops a little bit, “Look. Things change. Regardless of what your father tells you. Basketball isn’t your life…”
“Then what is?” I ask.
I look over at Zion.
“What is my life? You don’t know me Zion. Before the accident we never talked. Let’s get one thing clear. You don’t know me or what my life really entails. And truth is…” I say thinking about what Rami said, “I don’t know you either…”
“Hey…I’m just trying to help…” Zion says.
“I DON’T NEED YOUR FUCKING HELP!”
I look at him hard. My face screws onto his. I’m pissed. Maybe I don’t mean to place my anger on Zion. Maybe I mean to place it somewhere else but it goes on Zion regardless. I’m talking to Zion but I’m really mad at myself.
“I guess I’ll leave you alone then. Is that what you want?” Zion asks.
“Yes…that’s what I want,” I tell him.
Zion nods and turns at that moment leaving me alone.
I don’t go home. I spend the rest of the night in the gym shooting around. Zion says basketball isn’t my life but basketball was the life of the old James. A part of me just wanted somewhere I belonged. If the court wasn’t home and if the Paynes household wasn’t home, then where was home? I still was feeling lost in this body.
And I was still missing my shots.
It is late before I give up and head to the locker rooms. I begin to shower at that moment in the showers. As I walk back I see the lights in the locker room click off.
“Hello?” I say.
Strange. The lights are manual in the locker room. Either they all went out at the same time or someone shut them off.
“Anyone there?” I ask.
There is no answer. I walk into the locker room. There are aisles and aisles of lockers. As I make my way down the aisles it’s almost pitch black down there. No one should be here this time of night. I should definitely be the last one.
I don’t hear anything but footsteps but all of a sudden I stop walking…
…but the footsteps continue!
“Who the FUCK is there?” I’m screaming at the top of my lungs.
All of a sudden I feel a heat in the darkness. Someone comes up from behind me! There is a plastic bag over my head! SOMEONE tightens the plastic bag from behind me! They start to strangle me. They start to choke me out.
I can feel my life leaving me as I suffocate with the plastic bag over my head.
I’m screaming out for help. I’m scream as loud as I can but no noise comes out and no one can hear me dying…/P>