“Yo, white boy! You just gonna stand there or you gonna play?”
Colar started. He’d been watching the black kids play a fluid, fast game of basketball, and kind of forgot where he was. The kid who hollered at him bounced the ball impatiently, waiting.
He knew he shouldn’t play. He didn’t know how, his wounds were still healing, and the surgeon had told him not to exert himself too much or he could pull stitches, or start bleeding again. He reminded Colar he had to take out his spleen, and Colar nodded, not even knowing what a spleen was. He nodded a lot since crossing the gordath.
But he knew more than anything that if he walked away from the basketball court, he’d end up walking away from everything. Soldier’s god, be by my side he thought, as he loped over.
The black kids cheered and laughed and waved him onto one side. He fell in with them, adopting their stance.
The kid who called him over blew past him like he was standing still and leaped into the air, palming the ball and plunging it into the basket. Colar figured out a couple of things – that had been for his benefit, and he wasn’t going to let it happen again.
Thirty minutes later, they stopped, panting, and flopped into the shade of some skinny trees beside the cement court.
“Damn, white boy, you suck,” said the kid who called him over. His name was Darius.
“Yeah,” Colar said ruefully. He was bruised and scraped, and his new jeans had a hole in the knee where he’d been knocked to the cement. He dripped with sweat, and his shirt stuck to his back, stinging his still-raw scars. Despite the cold spring air, he stripped off his shirt. At the sudden silence he looked up. He shrugged. “Long story.”
“Shit,” Darius said.
“You ready?” Colar said. They all looked at each other, and then Darius got to his feet and held out his hand to Colar, and helped him up. Another kid tossed the ball at him and he caught it, feeling the pebbled surface smack into his hands, in a good way. It had been a long time since he moved like this, free and easy, his muscles loose and tired and worked. He had been cautious for so long, recuperating for so long. He wanted to play hard, lose, then win.
He couldn’t go home to Terrick, but he could do this. He could play basketball.
Colar bounced the ball a few times and then dribbled, passed to a teammate and moved up the court, took the pass and shot.
The ball bounced off the rim, and sailed off course into the gravel outside the cement square.
He turned. They all turned. There were Kate and her mother near the community college entrance, with the papers they said they needed for Kate. He could tell they were staring. Darius nudged him.
“Your momma and sister?”
“Yeah,” Colar said. He looked around at everyone. “Gotta go.”
He got his shirt, knew better than to wave, and walked away, drawing the t-shirt painfully over his red scars and sweat-stung skin.
He turned around. Darius nodded.
“Work on your game or I’ll kick your ass twice as hard.”
Colar laughed. “Maybe, maybe not.”
Mr. and Mrs. Mossland scolded him in their own way, earnest and serious and talking of consequences. They also mentioned his spleen and skirted the subject of the kids, who seemed rough but fine to Colar but there was something maybe not right about them, the way Kate’s parents were not scolding him and even avoided mentioning them. He figured he’d ask Kate later.
“Well,” Mrs. Mossland said brightly, as she offered a yellow curry dish that reminded him of the spices of home. He took more. “We got Kate signed up for community college classes this summer. All she needs now are some volunteer hours to keep her busy.”
“Ah, volunteering,” said Mr. Mossland. “So what good do you want to do, Kate? Reading to little old ladies? Ladling soup at a food shelter? Candy striping?”
This was one of those conversations that Colar didn’t understand so he stopped listening and attended to his curry and noodles.
“Well,” Kate said with due deliberation. “I think, that I would like to apply myself to the janitorial arts.”
Her mother rolled her eyes and her father snorted.
“You cannot muck stalls for volunteer hours.”
“It’s not like the horses can do it themselves. Besides, I like mucking stalls.”
That made Colar look up at her. He hated stablework. Horses were fine, he was a good rider, but if her world had one thing that was better than home, it was cars. And airplanes. Especially planes. Her parents said they would find time in the summer to maybe take a plane trip. They mentioned the Grand Canyon.
“If they were disadvantaged horses, I’d say maybe. As it is, that place is like a country club for equines.”
“Fine,” Kate said. “I’ll candy stripe.”
Colar was back to having no idea what that meant.
“So, why were your mother and father angry?”
They sat in his bedroom. It had been Mr. Mossland’s office, hastily reconfigured for his arrival from the hospital. He had a bed, a dresser for his new clothes, a computer desk and chair, and a computer. He had no decorations, not like Kate’s room where she had lived forever. Her room was filled with books and ribbons and horse pictures, especially of her little horse, Mojo.
His closet held his weapons and his gear, all hanging neatly. Mr. Mossland had cleaned it for him, the man said proudly and a little hopefully. Colar had to ask Kate for materials to reclean it himself. At least the man had gotten most of the blood off.
Kate sat at the computer desk, and he sat on the bed, propped up by the pillow. He was aching again, and he knew it was because of the basketball game. He would have to take a pain pill. Two things, he thought, better than home. He wondered if he would lose count.
“Well,” Kate said frowning. “The community college is kind of in a bad part of town, and the kids might have been, well, not so good.”
“Bad, you mean.”
“Yeah. But, it’s not fair to stereotype just because they’re black. So my mom and dad are conflicted. And then there’s your–”
“Spleen. Yes, I know.” He thought about what she had told him. “I thought they were like me. Like they’d seen a lot, older than you and the other kids your age. But they weren’t dangerous. They just wanted to show me they could play better than I could.”
Kate rolled her eyes. “Boys are weird. Anyway, you looked like you were getting along with that one guy.”
“Darius. He reminded me of Skaylar, sort of. A good leader.”
She laughed. “Well, there you go. It’s in his name. Darius was a great king and he fathered an even greater one, named Alexander.”
Maybe that’s why they got along, but he didn’t say that to Kate. He and Darius, both named after kings.