I am late for class. My mother…or adopted mother had pulled off before I got a chance to tell her anything. I find myself looking through my phone.
My mother is saying that I called her in this phone but there is no phone record to an April or even a mother. Nothing like that. The last message I sent was a text unknown number that just says “headed out…see you soon.” There are a bunch of missed calls from people but I’m assuming that was after the car crash took place.
Houston says that I left my cellphone at home. So it would have been impossible for me to have been talking to my mother seconds before the accident.
I don’t know what to believe. Maybe she is crazy…or maybe she is really trying to warn me of something. I find myself texting Detective Logan and asking him if he was free sometime to discuss this.
I’m in the office at that moment.
“Hey. Hey can I get some help?” I’m asking.
I’m at the front desk at the school and I’m looking at someone’s back. The person is making copies at a machine. An office aid turns around.
“Omg…James Payne…” he says, “I’m a huge fan of yours.”
“Yeah I watched all your games,” he says shaking his head, “I almost cried when everyone thought you were um…”
The man shakes his head, “Sorry.”
“It’s cool. Look. I need my schedule printed out. I can’t remember any of my classes after the accident,” I tell the guy.
“Yes. Sir. Yes. Right away. Have a seat please.”
The fact that the guy working here is calling me sir blows my mind. I must really have been a big deal in this school.
I sit down at that moment not understanding. By the time I sit I turn to my right.
“Get used to it. You’re a big deal,” a voice says, “Wagner basketball star…”
I don’t notice anyone else sitting next to me in the main office until he speaks. My heart stops when I recognize who that boy is.
He turns and all of a sudden I recognize.
He looks at me and raises an eyebrow, “You know who I am?”
“I’m right? So your name is Zion?”
He seems confused. I don’t know how. It’s weird. Zion has brown hair. It’s a beautiful shade of brown. He has dimples. He looks sweet. Like the best way to describe him is like the boy next door. He’s handsome. He is muscular and innocent looking. Innocent would probably be the best way to describe him. He has big eyes that seem like he just came out of church or something. He has a smile that flashes. He looks like the type of guys who just would never hurt someone. It’s hard to explain. Maybe it’s the dimples or maybe it’s his deep brown eyes. I just feel this connection to him that I don’t understand.
“It is…” he responds.
“I’m sorry. I lost my memory. For some reason I remember your name. Were we close?” I ask.
He shakes his head, “That’s the weird thing. I didn’t know you at all. Just in passing. I mean. I’m a cheerleader so I know who you are. Hell. Everyone knows who you are.”
Strange. If I didn’t know him then why do I remember his name out of all of the people in this school.
“A male cheerleader?” I ask, “You don’t really seem like one…”
“Because I’m masculine?” he asks, “And I’m not your average gay boy…”
“I didn’t meant offend man.”
He laughs at that moment, “No offense. I am gay. I am a cheerleader. I am also masculine. I lift weights. I love sports. I am who I am. So no reason to apologize. I get it all the time from guys like you…”
“Guys like you.”
“Oh come on. You have to at least know now that this school has cliques. And you just so happen to be part of the popular clique.”
I find this conversation stranger and stranger, “If we aren’t around each other, did we talk at all? I mean, why did you come to my ‘welcome back’ thing.”
He shrugs, “Tanya. She’s captain of the cheerleading squad. She required all the cheerleaders to show up and cheer her boyfriend’s glorious return. Trust me. We never spoke. We don’t have the same friends. I have no idea why you’d know my name…especially with memory loss. Sorry man.”
He gets up at that moment. I’m confused. I’m lost.
I stop him. I grab onto his hand. There is this feeling that surges through me. I don’t know what the feeling is. I just feel a flash again.
A memory. It’s a memory of me driving my car. I’m scared I’m racing. I picked up my phone and I’m looking through my phone. I’m looking for my mother’s number.
“You ok?” a voice wakes me out of my memory.
“Yeah…yeah…um…just remembering something…”
“You told me to wait. Was there something else you wanted to tell me?” Zion asks at that moment.
“Naw…no…just…” I reply before ending it completely, “Nothing.”
My first day back at school seems weird. There are 8 periods. Each period is about 40 minutes each. I find myself in classes with my adopted brothers so I feel slightly happy about it. All my classes I’m in with at least one of my brothers. My first and last period class is homeroom. That is the class that I have with all of them. It’s not just them though. It’s also a class that I share with Tanya, the girl Shayla who can’t stop staring at me and Rami’s girlfriend.
We sit at the back of the class. At the front I notice someone else.
For some reason I expect us to be disruptive in the back of the class. I mean it’s homeroom so at this point we are just wasting time until the day ends really.
Yuri shakes his head at me, “Practice after school today.”
“Let me guess. Basketball?”
“Oh my god. Mindreader?” he says sarcastically.
Rami is shaking his head, “Welcome back to our boredom. All the fuckin nerds at the front of the class.”
His girlfriend laughs like he said the funniest thing in the world. That’s when Rami seems to want to entertain her even further. He rolls up a piece of paper and throws it to the front the class. I watch the paper fly across the room. It lands right on Zion’s lap.
Zion is talking to his friends. One looks like an extra feminine gay guy and the other one looks like some butchy lesbian. It’s clear his friends are all gay. When the paper hits Zion, Zion turns at that moment. Rami just stares back. He doesn’t apologize.
“Stop being a dick,” Houston says.
Rami seems to ignore our brother. He looks over at Zion and demands almost immediately, “Yo throw that shit back. I needed that.”
Zion takes a deep breath. He slides the paper across the floor to Rami. Almost like a bad movie Rami picks up the paper and flings it back at Zion’s head as soon as he sits back down. The paper hits Zion square in the back of his head. This time a majority of people are laughing not just his girlfriend Ashley. I look over at Zion. It’s funny but I have to admit I kind of feel bad. Zion actually seems like a really nice guy and it was clear he was just being nice.
“Can you not…do that…” Zion says.
I’m glad to see he has a little bit of backbone as he stands up to Rami. He literally stands up and says it in a loud way. I turn and watch Yuri roll up a piece of paper. He gives it to Rami.
“I dare you…” Yuri laughs.
It’s Houston who shakes his head, “Ya’ll keep fucking with him and thinking just because he’s gay he’s not going to fuck one of ya’ll up. Keep fucking with him. Rami you think everything’s funny. When he fucks you up I’m just going to watch…”
“Ain’t no one fucking me up…”
I think about saying something but I don’t know if Zion needs me to stand up for him. Why would I even care to stick up for someone who clearly confirmed that I was a stranger?
“Do it…” Tanya says laughing, “He ain’t gonna do shit. I know that fag. All those muscles are just good for him picking up cheerleaders.”
I look at her disgusted at how she uses the word fag like that.
It must be Rami’s need to joke around all the time or maybe the fact that he’s being dared to but for the third time Rami launches the paper across the room. I’m shocked. I can do nothing but put my head down slightly amused by how ignorant he could be and slightly embarrassed as well. I mean he was a bully but there was just something hilarious about how little Rami gave a fuck.
I pick up my head and see Zion staring back clearly upset.
“Give it back. I needed that…” Rami tells Zion.
At that moment Zion gets up. There is a look in his eyes and I know almost for sure that this boy may be gay…hell he may be a cheerleader but he was far from a pussy. His muscles are huge as he walks across the room. He isn’t a gangster or anything like that but he slams the paper on the table.
“I said stop fucking messing with me!” he’s saying.
That’s when I hit him.
I don’t know what goes over me. I just hit Zion for talking to Rami like that. I’m shocked that I do it. Hell I’m not the only one shocked at it. Before I know it Zion hits me back. His hit isn’t a regular hit either. He punches me hard. In the next few minutes I can see Zion pulling me across the floor.
We’re fighting. It’s more than just a fight. It’s a brawl!
I honestly don’t know why I hit Zion and I regret it immediately but it’s too late. He is fighting me punching me and hitting me. He gets a couple good hits before I manage to elbow him in the stomach and he has to get off of me.
As soon as he gets off me even a little bit Rami is tackling Zion to the ground.
The entire class seems to be trying to get into it now. I see Rami trying to jump in on my side fighting Zion as well. He isn’t doing too well against Zion honestly either. It takes Yuri to jump in before Zion completely goes down. By this time Zion is on the floor and he’s getting STOMPED out my brothers.
I feel so bad at that point that I’m attempting to pull Yuri and Rami off of Zion. Houston jumps in at the same time and grabs him attempting to pull them off too.
Before I know it we are all in the office. Rami has a black eye. He looks pissed. Luckily I didn’t come out with any scars. Zion looks a mess though. He has a busted lip. His face is bruised up at that moment. He is sitting across the room.
“I can’t believe that faggot fucked up my face like this…” Rami is saying, “My fucking FACE!”
He’s being dramatic.
“He looks worse…” I say, “Let’s just leave it alone.”
“Leave it alone?” Houston says at that moment completely shocked, “You fucking hit him? You attacked that dude for no reason.”
“He was coming at me,” Rami defends me, “James was defending me.”
I didn’t know what came over me. I just knew that the dude was coming at Rami and I needed to fight him off. It wasn’t even a thought. It was just an action. I just did it without thinking.
“Right like he always has. That’s why you think you’re so fucking untouchable,” Houston replies, “Fucking spoiled.”
Maybe Houston has a point. Maybe a part of my brain kicked in some sort of automatic motor skill that came to Rami’s defense. I look across the room at Zion.
“Maybe I should go apologize,” I suggest.
“Apologize?” Rami asks, “Fuck him…”
I roll my eyes at him. I don’t think Rami is just a spiteful person like that. I just think he was trying to be funny at someone else’s expense and Zion clearly wasn’t finding it funny. Either way Rami started it and I popped off right after. I’m no better than Rami in that situation. I have to apologize. I have to think of the right time.
It doesn’t take long before my father walks into the room.
“Are you four FUCKING joking me? We have a game this weekend. You should be at practice and you’re over here fighting. You fucking serious?” he asks.
Houston lifts his head, “ I was just trying to break it up….”
“I don’t want to hear it. Get the hell out.”
“We aren’t getting suspended?” I ask.
Rami elbows me a little bit and smiles like a kid who just got away with stealing candy. It’s clear that my father has pulled his weight and got us out of trouble.
We are in the gym after school. I meet the other guys on the team in the locker room as I’m getting dressed. Right now though I’m just not focused. All I keep thinking about is the fact that I just beat Zion the fuck up.
“You ok?” Yuri asks.
I turn to him to see him standing there.
“Just thinking about that kid man. I feel like shit.”
Yuri shakes his head, “Listen. We stick together. Wrong or right. We are Payne’s. That’s how it’s always gonna be. I don’t give a fuck if we are blood brothers or not. We stick together. You feel me…”
I nod. I want to believe that but it doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty about fighting Zion. With all the drama about someone attempting to kill me I just can’t even think about this basketball shit.
“Do a lot of people feel that bad about me?” I ask.
“What do you mean?”
I’m one of the last one in the locker rooms.
“I mean do we have a lot of enemies?” I ask at that moment, “I just saw an aggressive side of me today that I didn’t think I had. So…do I have a lot of enemies?”
Yuri shrugs, “A lot of haters. Yes. I mean…you’re James Payne. Number 22. As far as you being aggressive, you had to be. You went from foster home to foster home before Darryl adopted us.”
“And we just all happen to play ball.”
“Darryl always wanted his own personal little team.”
I shake my head, “Look. Yuri. Is there someone? Anyone who you could think would want to hurt me? From my past?”
Yuri shook his head, “There is one person…”
Just at that moment my father walks into the locker room.
“What the hell are you two doing in here?” He says, “Hustle. We guys have to play ball with the tryouts…”
It’s the wrong fucking time. I follow my father out of the locker rooms with Yuri but I can’t focus. I am too focused on what Yuri was trying to tell me before my father interrupted us. Yuri believed that there is someone who would want to hurt me. He’s believing that someone actually wanted to kill me. Who could it be though?
The school name is Wagner. The colors are yellow and blue. The team mascot is a falcon. Most of the players are already suited up but there is a group of would be-new people who are trying to try out for the team. It’s clear my brothers have already made the team. Houston and Rami are already on the court standing confidently. Houston has a ball in his hands and you would think he was born with it. He looks so confident. My father walks up to them. The other guys on the team stand behind them. It’s almost clear that my father is playing favorites on this team.
“You guys won’t believe whose trying out…” Rami says as we walk out at that moment.
I look across the court and see him.
Zion. His face is bruised up and he’s has on this bright orange jersey that all the other tryouts are wearing.
“Great,” Yuri says, “This is great…”
“I’ll talk to Dad. There’s no way in hell an openly gay cheerleader is about to join the squad,” Rami responds.
“He’ll have to quit cheerleading if he makes the team,” I say.
Rami shoots me a hard glare, “That’s not the point. The Falcons have a rep to maintain.”
I roll my eyes. So according to Rami, as long as we only do somersaults on dick in private we can be members of this elite boy group. I’m kind of surprised to see Zion though. I mean he has the look of an athlete…maybe even football but he clearly didn’t seem like a fan of us. The fact that he is here trying out to be a part of a team with a group of guys who just jumped him blows my mind.
“Ok…we’ll do it like this,” my father says, “Tryouts vs. the current team. I’ll be watching to see how you tryouts perform and I’ll let you know if you made the team.”
The game starts relatively fast.
It isn’t until I get the ball that it all fucking hits me. I have no---fucking---idea what I’m doing…
I pass the ball almost immediately to Rami who is next to me. He runs a little bit and then passes it back to me. What the fuck. I’m sloppy at dribbling the ball. I watch almost in shock as Zion comes out of no where and he steals the ball from me.
My mouth drops.
“C`mon baby bro…pick it up. You’re the ball handler. You’re the point guard,” Houston says running up from behind me.
Only thing is I have no idea what the fuck that means. I watch as Zion makes his way to the opposite side of the court. He shoots a three point and nails it. It’s our ball again. This time Houston has the ball. He’s dribbling up the court. Houston is big…the biggest person on the team. The word Center comes into my mind for some reason I’m sure that’s what he is.
Once again he passes the fucking ball to me!
What the fuck?
I find myself dribbling up the court. Zion is guarding me. Zion looks over to me. He’s defending against me and as I drive to the hoop I realize that he’s more aggressive than I thought he was going to be. I feel so uncomfortable with the ball. It isn’t until Rami comes and sets a pick that I finally shake this motherfucker.
I roll away from the pick towards the basket. I shoot.
Holy shit. My mouth drops at that moment. It continues on like this for almost ten minutes before my father finally pulls me off the court. The other guys on the team are looking at me. The embarrassment sets in. If I was good at one point it isn’t coming to me. I feel like this is my first time playing ball. I’m red in the face.
“It’s ok…it’ll come back to you,” My dad says.
I assume that’s some words of encouragement but I’m just embarrassed. I’m more embarrassed because Zion is out there straight killing it. I’m supposed to be the star and he was out there making me look like a fucking idiot.
The game is over before I know it. Our team wins no doubt. I find myself going over to Zion. I don’t know why. I still feel bad about what happened earlier.
“Man you could ball like that and you were a cheerleader?” I ask.
Zion looks over at me, “Just because I wasn’t balling doesn’t mean that I couldn’t. And just because I don’t like fighting doesn’t mean I can’t…”
It’s clear he’s talking about earlier.
“Listen… I apologize for earlier. I don’t know what came over me. I was just---“
“Hey…JAMES. Come on…” Yuri is saying.
I look over at Zion. He doesn’t say whether he accepts my apology or not but truthfully I want to talk to Yuri. Zion just stares at me without really saying anything.
I say it again, “I apologize man…”
Before I run off.
We hit the showers at that moment. I follow Yuri into the showers while the rest of the guys are chatting it up in the locker room. Maybe they are debating who my father will pick to make the team. I’m too embarrassed about my performance to talk to them. I know they’ll probably be talking about how I played. I’m hoping they’ll be understanding or at least fake some sort of understanding. I mean I just got into an accident. I wasn’t myself…
“It’ll come back to you,” Yuri says as soon as we get in the showers.
He doesn’t beat around the bush. I was trash. He knows it and I know it. I was fucking trash.
“Let’s just change the subject,” I respond, “To something a little bit more important.”
“What’s more important than basketball?”
He’s dead serious but I just shake my head.
“You said someone wants to hurt me?”
“April would be crazy enough to want to hurt you.”
He laughs, “Mom? You use that word real lightly. If you mean the crazy bitch who adopted us and then turned around to fuck you on the low...then yeah…”
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