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Chapter Ten: Finals
“I don’t know, guys, I’m getting a little nervous back here,” Lucy said as Ruth drove to their first St. Bart’s basketball game with Beth and Gwennifer. “Hugh told me not to go to any of these. He didn’t, like, ask, he said, ‘Don’t go to the games yet,’ you know?”
“Meh,” Beth replied, “They told that to all of us. Besides, I want to see the circus.”
Various rings of the implied circus were easily recognized from their car as the girls pulled into the parking lot. Different masses of huddled onlookers watched and shielded activities and intermittently rose to a shout that penetrated the car’s closed windows. Mikey Johnderson was seen fleeting from one group to another in an apparent attempt to stoke their emotions as each mob would hoot as he left.
“This is insane,” Ruth said through a shaking head, “How many of the old players wanted to do this instead of play JV?”
“About all of them, I think,” Lucy confirmed.
“And they’re out here before every home game doing…what exactly?” Beth asked.
“Well,” Lucy looked at the different exhibitions as they made their way to the gym, “All of this, I guess…”
Different warm-up drills flanked the sidewalk as the cut and quit basketball players weaved, passed, dribbled and stretched with a flair that was typically seen on the professional wrestling circuit. After their relegation to the junior varsity basketball team, they decided they would converge on an extra-curricular endeavor and play their own games on the outdoor courts while the school-sanctioned team played indoors.
With alarming support from the community the playground games, or ‘Real Bearz’ as they had come to refer to themselves, had been a larger attraction than the actual St. Bart’s basketball team. Their marketing was simple word of mouth and intimidation by virtue of conducting their warm-up drills on the pathway toward the St. Bart’s gym. Anyone who intended to attend the St. Bart’s games would have to brave the scowling ball handlers and their supporters. It was proving effective as the sidewalk masses swelled while Ruth, Beth and Lucy made the walk toward the doors.
Since she had started hanging out with Hugh, it had to be said as mere hanging out since neither would confirm nor deny actual dating, but since it all started the other girls had come to appreciate Lucy for her insight into the St. Bart’s culture. Lucy’s simple logic based on profound experience had been as enlightening in moments as Meghan’s observations had been earlier in the semester. Additionally, Gwenn had proved to be excessively loyal and as true a friend as either Ruth or Beth had experienced.
And so the four friends, defiant of orders, went to support their three friends and take in the circus. Nerves grew short and knees gummy after their first step down the sidewalk to the gym. Lucy stood between the two new girls as Gwennifer was at Ruth’s right. The two St. Bart’s veterans sensed their friends’ unease and instinctively reached down and hooked arms around counterparts from Ruth and Beth. The two girls squeezed Lucy in appreciation for her reassurance and tried to mimic her poise as they walked between the helter skelter and hooting craziness. Their approach to the gym’s door demonstrated an entirely different spectacle than anything attempted during school hours was afoot. A mob stood at the beginning of the sidewalk at an awkward angle to best see the dribbling demonstration that raced the length of the sidewalk. After clearing those looks disapproval, the flurry of movement on their right and left combined with the competing pulse-pounding music to shorten breath and flicker Ruth’s and Beth’s eyes in as many simultaneous directions as physically possible. Their heads started to droop as the shaking heads and angry brows grew in number with each step. Each foot toward their destination increased the crowd’s discontent with the girls’ intentions. And each new look was uglier than the last.
No fewer than ten players at a time were dribbling up and down the sidewalk. Wildly arms and legs were flung in different directions as the basketballs at times seemed to be interrupting a solitary dance rather than preparation for an athletic competition. Another instance saw a player bounce the ball high into the air and shake and gyrate and make their appearances mimic even the most spiritual of big-tent revivals. Still other times the ball would be rolled to a non-participant as hand stands and break dancing would ensue.
“Oh NO they can’t do none of that in there,” someone would shout in reference to the more conventional basketball to be played in the gym as the crowd hooted in amazement and agreement.
“You gotta cut that, you can’t have none of that on your basketball team,” someone else called as the cheers continued.
“What’choo think, white girls?” an anonymous question was shouted toward Ruth and Beth as they neared the gym’s doors while weaving their way through the thick crowd. The four girls had been striving to remain squarely in the middle of the sidewalk to keep from contacting anyone or drawing any attention to themselves. With the spoken reference it was immediately obvious that they had failed in their pursuit as once they had gained mention from someone her former friends began singing a taunt of, “Lucy…loves…white meat…” It began closer to the gym to their right, and was quickly assumed by the mob on their left and served as a duck call to any of the bystanders who were interested in delivering a verbal cheap shot en masse.
As the crowd grew thicker the four tried to hasten toward the gym doors, but eventually their route was eliminated by the overwhelming mob. “Keep sellin’ out?” a fat girl with an enormous red tee-shirt that had ‘West Side’ scrawled across in giant Old-English lettering asked Lucy after forcing her way to the first row of outraged humanity.
“I know right! None of these guys don’t even have the junk to take a swing at me in front of most of the school! What’s my problem? Right? ‘Cuz your boy had that taken care of!”
“Girl, don’t go dancin’ with other people’s men! Then maybe nobody will have to send you back to your place!”
Lucy’s face flushed into a furious color best described as rust while her hands dropped to her side though were still intertwined with Ruth and Beth. She started a slow turn in the crowd’s direction with such strength that she moved both of her friends’ unwilling frames. An index finger grew erect while its opposing hand balled into a fist as both Ruth and Beth futilely fought to keep her hands at her side. Her hips and shoulders inched back and her chest and face jutted outward. Both of her eyes bugged out as her mouth opened wide and let loose a stirring string of vulgarities the likes of which neither Ruth nor Beth had encountered outside of a motion picture’s depiction of prison. They looked at each other with great horror. They turned and looked at the outraged Lucy with quiet admiration. Finally, they scanned the crowd that was not nearly as impressed with the diatribe. Rather, they met profanity in kind and began inching their way closer to the four of them with pointing fingers angrily jutted in their direction.
Beth and Ruth froze. Though the exchange had only been seconds long their mouths started to open wider while their expressions wore weariness’ equivalent of a long day of abuse. As her companions’ faculties failed them, Gwenn sprung into action. She reached around Lucy from behind Beth and gently hugged both of them away from the crowd. Lucy softened at the touch, allowed her finger and fist to descend and backed away, though continued hurling insults and obscenities. Ruth and Beth were happy to follow Gwenn’s direction away from harm as the crowd allowed them to pass while Lucy’s shoulders heaved in search of a clear path toward breathing. As they paid for admission, the crowd turned as if nothing had happened and resumed hooting at the ball handlers.
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