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Amateur

A Wary Wingman

It was the last day of finals and Mick sat in the back of lecture hall at his usual seat reviewing his notes for the English Literature exam before it was to begin. He struggled to stay focused while studying as multiple distractions insisted on gnawing at the edges of his mind. Later that evening he was to board a flight back east to spend part of the winter break at his parents’ home. If Mick could have scheduled a root canal sans anesthetic while back home he would have happily done so because it would have meant that many fewer minutes he would have had to deal with his mother.

Mick’s friend Sean had volunteered to give him a lift to the airport but the offer had come with a stipulation attached. Before Sean was to deposit Mick for his flight he had asked Mick to accompany him on a side venture. Mick had serious reservations about the nature of this diversion believing it to be very ill advised, and his agreeing to do so was tenuous at best.

Then there was Whitney Harrington. Mick truly regretted what had happened and was hoping for an opportunity to apologize, but at the same time wanted desperately to avoid Whitney as he continued to struggle with the shame he bore due to his behavior. He wondered if she would sit next to him as usual to take the final or seek to evade him as well. Every minute or so Mick would look up from his notes and scan the room for her presence.

Requiring no official declaration to do so, the students quickly came to order when the professor walked into the classroom. “Good luck,” said Abby as she stowed her notes and text book underneath her seat. “Same to you,” answered Mick adding, “and thanks for helping me get through this class.” “Back at you for calculus,” she replied with a smile.

After giving the class some brief instructions and a few words of encouragement, the instructor distributed the tests to the students. Not quite an hour and a half into the allotted time, Abby stood up and whispered to her friend, “Catch up with you later,” before walking down to the front to turn in her exam. Mick took most of the two hours permitted to complete his final and when he got up there were only a handful of students still working. He placed his final exam on the professor’s table and walked out of the lecture hall having never having laid eyes on Whitney or her friend Lauren.

Back in his room, Mick went about the task of stuffing anything that still needed to be packed into his luggage. Except for the clothes he was wearing and those from the day before, Mick made sure to take home as little dirty laundry as possible because he knew what his mother’s reaction would be about that. Satisfied that he was ready for the trip, Mick headed over to the food court to spend some time with Abigail before departing, as both had agreed to do so earlier before the exam.

The moment Mick walked into the dining area Abigail spotted him and raised her hand beckoning him to her table. It came as no surprise to Mick that she was flanked by both her boyfriend Jimmy and roommate Zoe. “How’d you do?” she asked optimistically as he strode up to the table.

“I feel pretty good about it,” he said before asking, “How about you?”

“The same,” answered Abby.

Mick said hello to Zoe and Jimmy as he placed his belongings down alongside the table. He went and grabbed a Moroccan chicken salad and hummus plate from the food court then returned to the table and rejoined the group.

Abby asked, “So Sean is going to take you up to Denver?” With his mouth full of salad, Mick nodded affirmatively to his friend.

“Why didn’t you just fly out of Colorado Springs?” Jimmy inquired.

“Because,” said Mick, pausing to finish chewing his food, “it would have cost my mother forty-five more dollars.”

Mick’s flight itinerary had him departing from Denver just before midnight and laying-over in Boston for over an hour before getting him home around 9:30 a.m. It came as no surprise that his mother had booked him on a red-eye with an arrival that was not too early in the morning, as the only thing she disliked more than being personally inconvenienced was having her check book inconvenienced.

“Good thing you got a ride because it would have cost you more than forty-five dollars in gas and parking,” stated Abby.

“Even so,” Jimmy chimed in, “an hour and a half up and an hour and a half back… that’s a lot of inconvenience for forty-five bucks.”

“It’s still going to cost me fifty dollars for the return shuttle,” Mick informed the group. “And I assure you both,” he continued, “my wallet or my convenience was never a consideration for my mother.”

“Can I join you?” asked Kimberly as she suddenly appeared at the table. “Sure!” replied Abby motioning to the only empty seat.

As she sat down Kimberly inquired, “Is everyone as jazzed as I am for the semester to be over and to be going home for the holidays?” But before anyone could answer she quickly followed with, “Is anyone doing anything fun and exciting?”

Abby did not hesitate Çankaya Escort to volunteer, “After dropping Zoe off at the airport tomorrow morning to fly home, Jimmy and I are driving back to Albuquerque to spend the holidays with our families, and on the way back to school we are going to stop and go skiing for a week.”

“That’s awesome,” replied Kimberly before asking Zoe, “Where are you off to?” Zoe offered nothing more than, “Home… L.A.”

Kimberly turned and looked at Mick. “How about you,” she asked but before he could answer Abby interjected stating facetiously, “Mick and his parents are having a family portrait painted by Norman Rockwell.”

A look of annoyance spread across Mick’s face and he instructed Kimberly to, “Ignore her.”

“He isn’t too excited to be going back home,” Abby informed Kimberly.

“Oh,” Kimberly said, figuring it was probably best to not press for any more details.

“On a good day my parents and I don’t get along very well,” admitted Mick, “so I am not looking forward to the trip.”

“I told you, you are more than welcome to come to my house,” said Abby. Jimmy’s head turned ever so slightly in the direction of his girlfriend as he was caught totally off-guard by what was apparently a previously extended standing invitation, unbeknownst to him. “I know my mom would enjoy seeing you again,” Abigail told Mick, “and I think Victoria would too actually.” Jimmy peered out the corner of his eye at her and kicked Abby’s foot under the table prompting her to glare back at her boyfriend noticeably.

“I really appreciate you and your family offering to open your home to me again,” said Mick, and requested that his friend, “Tell the both of them hello for me please, and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”

“I’ll survive,” Mick insisted, adding, “It’s not even for a week and a half.”

Puzzled by his statement Kimberly asked curiously, “What will you be doing for the rest of the time during the break?”

“Thankfully I had already decided to take a January mini-mester class,” Mick told her, “so I’m coming back right after New Year’s.”

“Me too!” Kimberly vociferated. “What are you taking?” she asked.

“Economics, Principles and Practices,” he replied, “And you?” Kimberly answered, “Technical writing.”

“Well I guess I will see you around,” stated Mick which made Kimberly beam.

“I’m so happy that there will be at least one familiar, friendly face around,” she said. “I figured I’d be the only one in the dorm during break,” added Kimberly.

The group spent the better part of the next hour chatting about how their classes had gone, especially their finals, and what courses they had registered for during the upcoming spring semester. When Mick saw that is was nearing 5:30 p.m. he got up out of his chair as the time had come to say his goodbyes.

“Happy holidays everyone,” he told the group before continuing, “Safe travels and enjoy the break.” Abigail immediately stood up and came around the table to give him a hug, much to Jimmy’s disapproval.

“You too,” Abby said as she warmly embraced her friend. “Remember to take deep breaths,” she discreetly advised him.

“I will,” he told her, “and I’ll talk to you soon.”

* * *

“This is how people get shot you know?” said Mick.

He and Sean were about halfway to Denver and Mick had been virtually silent up to that point. Sean chuckled as he found his friend’s discomposure amusing, but he did not allow it to divert his focus away from the heavy traffic in front of him.

“Seriously man,” Mick continued soberly, “this is the kind of shit that can go south quickly.”

“Relax,” requested Sean calmly.

“I can’t believe you convinced me to do this,” stated Mick, but he had in fact agreed to the scheme Sean had proposed to him.

“By the time it’s said and done with,” Sean told him, “you’ll be back home two thousand miles away.”

“And what about you?” queried Mick.

“After we’re done I’m dropping you off at the airport then going home to my parents’ house in Centennial to spend Christmas with the family before heading to Breckenridge with them after the holiday,” answered Sean.

“That’s not what I meant,” said Mick. “You don’t have any concerns about this?” he asked his friend.

“Not enough to make me act like the Sally you’re being,” laughed Sean.

“Fuck you man,” snapped Mick.

“We’ve been over this,” said Sean emphatically.

“I know, it’s all taken care of,” replied Mick sounding dubious.

“That’s right, it is,” Sean assured him. “Anyone who hasn’t already left on break is either going to be at the game, or watching the game,” said Sean. “We are getting let in through the side entrance and taken right up the emergency stairwell,” he added. “Nobody is going to see us coming in or leaving,” Sean stated. Mick leaned his back against the headrest and shut his eyes and folded his arms, letting out a deep sigh.

Fifty minutes later Sean pulled into their destination, Keçiören Escort backed the car into a parking space and cut the engine. He picked up his phone and sent a quick text message. Less than a minute later Sean could see the door on the side of the building pop open slightly. Sean tapped Mick on the arm with the back of his hand and said, “Let’s go.”

Mick replied, “This is how people get shot you know?”

* * *

The Colorado Buffaloes continued to struggle as they had for the entire second half of the game. The team had turned the ball over several times on errant passes and shot an uncharacteristic 37% from the floor. They were visibly out of sync and lacked focus, except for Reggie Patterson who knew there were several pro scouts in attendance that night.

With less than two minutes remaining the Buffaloes found themselves down by six points when they allowed an easy put-back by not blocking-out. They were in danger of suffering an embarrassing defeat by losing on their home court to their in-state rival who by all measures was a much inferior team.

Frustrated, the head coach called his last thirty second time-out. He wanted to get his starting center back in the game who was currently on the bench due to foul trouble. The coach also needed to make sure the entire team understood the plays he wanted run down the stretch, and to hopefully motivate the team enough to turn the game around. “Get in here!” the coach yelled while waving his hands motioning the players to the sideline. “Hustle, let’s gather up,” he howled. Players signaled for towels and water bottles as they made their way over to the bench.

“This is about playing better fundamental basketball,” the coach lectured while those who had just come off the floor stood there with their hands on their hips trying to catch their breath. “We’ve got a minute fifty-two and we need to start executing,” he told the team. “On every trip bring the ball up the floor with a sense of urgency and watch for the trap,” the coach stated further and added, “Full court press on the opposite end.” The team was gassed but nodded their understanding. “Forwards!” he barked, “Set solid picks and help the center box-out and rebound and no more free gifts under the basket,” demanded the coach. “We have a foul to give them so play hard and challenge everything,” he instructed before insisting, “but no cheap trips to the line.”

The horn sounded signifying the end of the time out and for the players to come back out onto the court. An assistant coach reached through the circle of players and staff, jutting his hand into the center of the congregation while shouting, “Time to get it done gentlemen!” Every player and coach instinctively piled their hand atop the previous one building a stack. “Who are we?” the assistant coach bellowed. In unison the entire team roared in response — “C! U!”

The Buffaloes point guard tossed the ball inbounds to his teammate only to have it immediately returned to him to dribble up the floor. As the point guard neared half-court he spotted the trap but before it could effectively form he made a pass over the top of the defense to Reggie Patterson who saw the opposing center begin to rotate out towards him. Reggie put the ball on the floor and dribbled down towards the base line, bounce passing to his center for the easy lay-up. “There you go!” the coach shouted as the home crowd erupted excitedly with approval.

Expecting pressure, the opposing team immediately took the ball out and quickly inbounded to their point guard before the Buffaloes could set up their defense. Without too much difficulty the guard brought the ball down and stopped at the three-point line to call the play. Once the opposing team’s center had positioned himself for the pick the guard flashed down the lane rubbing off his defender. The Buffaloes center had drifted up to the top of the key with his man and was caught out of position as the guard made his move to the basket. Reggie quickly came off his assignment and as the guard went up and laid the ball against the glass, Reggie pinned it against the backboard. He calmly handed the basketball off to the point guard and as the team came down the floor the crowd was going crazy.

“High percentage shot! High percentage shot!” the coach shouted over the tumult as Colorado worked the ball around the arc and everyone moved about trying to shake free of their defenders to get open. “Ten seconds!” the coach yelled as the shot clock wound down.

Reggie broke along the baseline and under the basket to the opposite side of the court and the ball was immediately thrown to him. He raised the ball to shoot drawing the defender who was closing on him off his feet. Reggie quickly put the basketball on the floor and deked around his opponent, pulling up for a short jumper before the center could slide out and contest the shot. The ball passed through the hoop and suddenly the game was within two points.

Colorado immediately set Etimesgut Escort up in the full court press to defend after scoring. The Buffaloes inbounding defender shadowed the opposing team’s forward as he scrambled behind the base line searching for an unobstructed outlet to a teammate. A nifty bounce pass to their point guard brought the ball into play but as designed the defender for the Buffaloes forced the guard towards the sideline as he advanced down the court. Another Colorado defender moved up to set the trap at the mid-line. The guard tried to split the defenders but dribbled the ball off his foot turning it over.

Having no timeouts left, the coach of the Buffaloes waved his team back towards the offensive end of the floor with a frenzied motion as the clock continued to run. The Colorado point guard crossed into the frontcourt with the ball as the opposing team hustled back to defend. The point guard threw the ball over to the shooting guard who immediately passed to the center down in the low post. The center began dribbling and bumping against his defender to try and create separation between the two of them. As the center swiveled and put up a turnaround jump shot, Reggie instinctively rushed towards the basket. The ball rattled in and out of the rim but Reggie was in perfect position and executed a perfectly timed tip-in. The official could barely hear the visiting coach calling for the timeout over the cheering of home crowd after the bucket.

Once again the Buffaloes gathered at their bench, this time with the score now tied. “Thirty-one seconds on the clock,” yelled the Colorado coach. “Look for them to run it down as far as they can before taking the shot,” he advised the team. “No intentional foul and you do not foul the shooter,” he instructed the team. “Box-out, rebound, and we’ll get the last shot,” finished the coach as the buzzer sounded.

The Buffaloes positioned themselves to again defend with the press but this time their opponent did a much better job of breaking the defense and brought the ball over the half court line without issue. They worked the ball around the perimeter patiently taking time off the clock and when the shot clock had trickled down to the last few seconds they ran a screen play on the outside.

With the shot arching through the air, Reggie moved to the hoop and prepared to block-out and fight for any rebound. The ball skipped off the iron and caromed off the backboard. Several players leaped for the loose ball, some trying to pull down the rebound, others trying to tip it back into the basket. The ball bobbled back and forth between several outstretched hands and off fingertips before Reggie Patterson was able to corral it. As he came down with the ball he wrapped both of his arms tightly around it protectively like a running back taking a handoff. Immediately an opposing player reached in and intentionally fouled him to stop the clock and put the Buffaloes on the free throw line.

As Reggie stepped to the line he looked up at the game clock as saw that there was 3.7 seconds left in the game. It was still a one-and-one situation so it was critical that he make the first free throw. The crowed went silent as the referee handed him the basketball. Reggie bounced the ball three times before putting it through the hoop with a swish. The crowd went wild as his teammates came over and gently slapped hands with him. Reggie was given back the ball and he sank the second free throw cleanly yet again.

“No foul! No foul!” screamed Colorado’s coach as he team got in position to make one final defensive stand. The throw-in barely beat the clock and the Buffaloes quickly double-teamed the ball handler. The player was able to pivot and pass the basketball to another teammate who began scrambling down the floor. Just before time expired the player launched a Hail Mary from the center circle but there would be no buzzer beater to win the game.

Pandemonium ensued as the band struck up the university’s fight song and the opposing coaches shook hands. After a lackluster second half performance the Buffaloes had managed to claw their way to 61-59 victory in the final minutes of the game, thanks in large part to the solid effort of Reggie Patterson. He had scored twenty points during the contest, shot 60% from the floor and went five for five from the charity stripe. He had three assists, three rebounds and two blocks having collecting one of each in the final two minutes of the game including four of his twenty points.

With the game hanging in the balance, Reggie had resolved himself during the team’s final timeout that he was going to carry them on his back across the finish line, and he had done just that. To those in the stands who were there to reconnoiter for upcoming matches versus the Buffaloes or the possibility of a career after college, his abilities on the hardwood certainly had not gone unnoticed, nor had his leadership in the waning minutes of regulation when it mattered most.

* * *

The team shuttle dropped Reggie off at the front of his dormitory just before 10:30 p.m. He slung his duffel bag over his shoulder, exited the bus and walked through the front entrance of his dorm where he was immediately ran in to two guys heading out. “Killer game man!” said one of them, raising his hand to high-five Reggie. “Yeah,” said the other, “you really took it to them.”

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