It was a perfect shot.
I was standing across the driveway from the basketball hoop—just beyond where the three-point line would have been—and Matt, who was rebounding, gave me a nice crisp bounce pass. I bent my knees and sent the ball arching beautifully towards the basket. Everything about the shot was perfect—the timing, the follow-through, and the soft swish of the ball falling through the net.
And for once even Matt didn’t have any wisecracks to make. He just caught the ball and turned around to make a lay-up, which was about the highest compliment I could get from my older brother because I knew he would have tried the shot if he thought he had a chance at making it.
Just then Carla’s dad pulled his silver Saab into the driveway Matt tossed me the ball. “You’ll do great,” he said.
I hopped into the back seat of the car. Carla stopped listening to her MP3 player and said, “Nice shot.”
“Thanks.” I grinned. Carla knew how to give a compliment, how to make a casual remark into the most beautiful music. That was part of the reason I had talked her into trying out for basketball. She was my best friend, and I wanted her at the tryouts even if she didn’t make the team.
Carla and I were different. I was good at basketball and lacrosse; she was better at field hockey and soccer. I was tall, she was short. My skin was light, hers was tan. My hair was straight, hers was curly.
I was the quick one, specializing in steals and fast breaks. But Carla was the ideal team player in every sport. She had a natural instinct for passing and she made any group run smoothly.
Our main difference, though, was our personalities. I had friends but I wasn’t very outgoing. Carla knew everything about everyone in our grade and she seemed to be friends with all of them. Except . . .
“Lindsay Oxman will be there,” Carla said. “I hope we don’t get put in her group.”
“Yeah. And I hope we’re in the same group.”
Both of us were nervous —especially me, because I was really passionate about basketball. Carla enjoyed it, but it was just something to do for fun, not a big dream of hers. She didn’t shoot baskets in the cold November rain even when the ball slipped into the mud. Sometimes I envied her easygoing nature, her ability to take things so lightly.
As it turned out, Lindsay was in our group. Lindsay had hated Carla since preschool. They had been in the same class every year since they were three, and by the time Carla and I met in the first year of middle school, she and Lindsay were well-established enemies.
Lindsay seemed to have everything her way She was pretty, athletic, and popular. Logically, she should have been best friends with Carla, who also seemed to have everything her way But while Carla was always herself, Lindsay got her way by stepping over people, by lying, by pushing and shoving her way to the top of the social pyramid. She was the same way in basketball: a show-off and a ball hog.
First we warmed up with shooting. I enjoyed shooting— dribbling, turning, releasing, then darting to catch the ball as it fell through the net.
Next we did lay-ups. We were in two lines; one person made a lay-up and the other rebounded.
When Lindsay passed me the ball, it bounced off my foot. Maybe I was just nervous and distracted, or maybe she did it on purpose, but I could feel the heat rising to my cheeks as I chased after the ball. I couldn’t even concentrate enough to make the lay-up.
After lay-ups, we did one-on-one. I was good at that— that was how I practiced in the driveway with Matt. Dribble to the right, crossover, dribble left-handed, protect the ball with your body, turn, switch hands, go in for a lay-up. On offense everything was simple. And then on defense, quick little steps, hands out, watching the stomach in case they try to fake with the head, forcing them to their weak side, waiting for them to hesitate, and then reaching out to steal the ball.
It was going fine until Lindsay was my defender. I was dribbling around her when she stuck out her foot and tripped me. My knee slammed into the floor and scraped across it. The ball bounced off the wall and rolled to a stop.
“Are you all right?” she asked sweetly, reaching to help me up. We both knew that she was putting on an act for the coaches. “Loser,” she mouthed at me. At least I think that’s what she was trying to say I was too busy glaring at her and trying to pretend that I was perfectly fine to pay attention to the shape her mouth was making.
I went to the back of the line. My knee was throbbing painfully Carla caught my eye and shrugged.
We finished this part of the tryouts, and the coaches divided us into teams. Most of the tryouts would be small games, three-on-three, so they could see how we played.
Lindsay and I were on the same team. We were playing Carla’s team first. Lindsay brought the ball up, but wouldn’t pass to me even though I was open. She tried to make a three-point shot but it didn’t even reach the basket. I jumped, caught the ball, and passed it to the third member of our team, who made a basket.
But Lindsay just wouldn’t give me the ball. I spent the whole time running to shake off my defender, yelling that I was open, but not getting the ball. The few times I did get the ball I shot. I only missed once.
“What a jerk,” Carla muttered during our water break. “She could at least pretend to be a team player.”
I gulped down water and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. “I can’t really do anything about it,” I said.
“Yeah,” admitted Carla, “but look on the bright side. With her attitude, Lindsay’ll never make it.”
I nodded. That wasn’t what I was concerned about. I was worried that Ed never make it.
Our next game went on pretty much the same way until the last minute of it. We were losing by two points (the coaches say the scores don’t matter in tryouts, but I keep score in my head, and something in me wants to win).
I brought the ball up this time, and I dribbled right up the center, stopping right behind the three-point line. I bent my knees and sent the ball arching beautifully towards the basket.
I thought that Lindsay couldn’t do anything to ruin this for me. I could tell as soon as the ball left my hands that it would be another perfect shot.
But Lindsay was a good rebounder. She could jump higher than anyone. She leapt up to catch the ball. She snatched my perfect shot from right in front of my nose. She dribbled into the basket and turned around for a reverse lay-up.
Showoff, I thought furiously.
“Nice pass,” she remarked afterwards, as we were leaving. “A little high, though. I always prefer bounce passes myself .”
I clenched my fist as she walked away Carla didn’t say anything. Someone else might have told me to ignore Lindsay, but Carla understood, and she was probably as angry as I was.
* * *
The tryouts were on a Friday. The coaches would call you by the next Monday if you were on the team.
Ten long days of waiting began.
I spent the waiting time shooting hoops, three-point shot over and over, endless lay-ups, just hoping that somehow practicing now would get me on the team. Carla didn’t come over; she was busy Matt didn’t offer to practice with me. He had waited before, and he understood that waiting must be done alone.
Lindsay smiled smugly at me in the hallways. She thought she would make the team and I wouldn’t. But as the week wore on, the smiles grew less frequent and less smug; she was waiting, too, and she hadn’t received the phone call.
I waited. The call didn’t come.
“It doesn’t matter,” Carla said. “You’re still the best player in the school. It’s not your fault that Lindsay’s a jerk and coaches are blind.”
On Thursday they called Carla. She biked over to my house right away She had to tell me in person.
“That’s great,” I said when she told me. But I felt somehow cheated, betrayed, and my voice was hollow, my smile forced.
“It isn’t fair,” she said. “I only went because you wanted me to. I’ll talk to the coaches about Lindsay. It’ll be OK.”
I doubted it, but I didn’t say so.
The next day in school I arrived at first period and saw someone’s notebook on a desk. I recognized it immediately; it was Lindsay’s. “Where’s Lindsay?” I asked when the teacher came in.
“She went to get a book from the library,” he told me. “We have silent reading today.”
He left to stand in the hallway and yell at kids. I got out my book, but I kept looking at the notebook.
Suddenly I shut my book and reached for the notebook. Here was my chance to get even at last. My thoughts of revenge were vague, but this was a time for action and instinct, not for thought. I seized the notebook and flipped it open.
It was a spiral notebook, almost full by now, the pages filled up with orderly scribbles in blue ink, full of everything Lindsay had thought since September.
I could hear Lindsay talking to the teacher in the hallway. I scanned a page near the middle and tore it out. When Lindsay came in her notebook was sitting innocently on her desk, and I was reading almost as innocently at mine.
The folded paper sat like a lump of coal in my pocket all day. My conscience and curiosity nagged at me, causing me to be unusually quiet. Carla thought it was just because of the basketball team.
“Cheer up,” she told me. “They could still call in the next three days.”
I didn’t answer. I didn’t want her to know what I had done.
As soon as I got home I went to my room and shut the door. I tossed my backpack on the floor, sat down on my bed, and took the piece of paper out of my pocket.
It was crumpled up because I had jammed it into my pocket. I smoothed it out against my jeans, but for a moment I didn’t look at it. Instead I stared at my backpack on the floor, half thinking about how its bright blue stood out against my cream-colored rug, half thinking about the note.
I wasn’t sure what exactly I expected to find. I had seen Lindsay writing in her notebook many times, but I didn’t know what she wrote. I smoothed out the paper again and began to read:
Everyone else has a best friend—someone they talk to, someone they do everything with. Everyone has someone they can rely on, but I don’t. I hate having so many friends, because I think they all secretly hate me.
Best friends tell you what people say about you, but I can only guess about the things people whisper behind my back.
Brianna’s so lucky to have a best friend. I wish I had a best friend like she does. (Is it OK to be jealous of someone and terrified of them at the same time? It’s all so easy for her. I try so hard to say hello to her, to smile at her in the halls, but she just hates me so much.)
The tryouts are coming up. Brianna has a best friend to come to the tryouts with her. A lot of my friends are going, but they’ve already sorted themselves into their own little pairs. They’re not real friends. They sit with me at lunch and discuss fashion with me, but they don’t really care about me. I don’t think anyone does.
I really want to make the team. Basketball’s the only constant in my life. I want to shoot hoops forever. Maybe if I make enough baskets it will all go away.
* * *
I stared at the paper. What had I done? I felt sick with myself and with the world. There was an angry lump in my throat.
It was perfect material for ridicule and for blackmail. I had control over Lindsay now, and I could get even with her. Wasn’t that what I had wanted? I wasn’t sure anymore.
I wanted to show the paper to Carla and laugh at it. I wanted to not take it seriously, to make fun of it the way I made fun of the announcers’ voices on cheesy TV commercials.
But I couldn’t, because I knew this voice, and it was so similar to my own. I wanted to undo everything. If only there were some way to put the page back into the notebook, everything would be all right.
The phone rang, but I barely noticed it. All I heard was the crinkling of the paper as I crumpled it into a ball. I stared at it.
Maybe when Lindsay smiled at me she really wasn’t mocking me. Maybe she was just smiling, like everyone does. And maybe I should smile back at her.
Matt came running up the stairs and burst into my room. “It’s for you,” he said, holding out the phone.
I didn’t understand why he was grinning so broadly, but I swallowed painfully and muttered, “OK.” I sent the crumpled paper arching beautifully towards the trash can.
It was a perfect shot.