Seconds Away Page 37

With my head down, I jogged toward the free basket in the corner.

The balls started bouncing again, and shots started clanking off the rim. This was what I’d always longed for—to be part of a school team—and I don’t think I’d ever felt so out of place. I took a few shots, got my own rebounds, took a few more. I had to wonder how Troy and Buck were reacting to my being there. I risked a glance toward them.

Troy was grinning at me in a way I didn’t like.

“Well, that’s weird,” someone behind me said.

I spun toward the voice. It was Brandon Foley, team captain. There weren’t many people in this school I had to look up to, but Brandon, at six foot eight, was one of them.

“What’s that?” I said.

“Troy looks happy,” Brandon said. “I figured he’d be furious to see you here.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. Brandon stuck his hand out. “I’m Brandon Foley.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m Mickey Bolitar.”



“Troy isn’t so bad.”

I figured that once again it would be best not to reply. Brandon took a shot. It swished through the basket, so I threw the ball back to him. We got into a nice rhythm and kept shooting. We didn’t talk much. We didn’t have to.


It was Coach Stashower.

“Coach Grady wants to see you in his office.”

He vanished. I looked at Brandon. Brandon shrugged. “Coach probably wants to introduce you to the team or something.”

“Yeah,” I said, hoping he was right. “Thanks for shooting around with me.”

“No problem.”

As I left the court, I saw Troy out of the corner of my eye. The grin looked even bigger.

I hurried to Coach Grady’s office.

“You wanted to see me, Coach?”

“Yes, Mickey, come in and close the door. Have a seat.”

I did as he asked. Coach Grady was wearing gray sweatpants and a polo shirt with the Kasselton Camel mascot as a logo. For a few moments, he said nothing. He had his head down, his eyes on the desk.

“Have you read this, Mickey?”

“Read what, Coach?”

With a heavy sigh, Coach Grady rose from his chair. He walked over to me and handed me the Kasselton High School student manual. I looked at it and then up at him.

“Have you read it?” he asked again.

“I’ve skimmed it, I guess.”

He moved back behind his desk and sat down. “How about the part on conduct?”

“I think so.”

“Last year, two seniors on the football team were caught drinking beers by the field. They were suspended for six games. One kid on the hockey team got into a fight at a movie theater—off school grounds. It didn’t matter. He was thrown off the team. We have a zero-tolerance policy. Do you understand?”

I nodded numbly. I thought about Troy’s grin. I thought that maybe now I understood its meaning.

“You were arrested last night, weren’t you, Mickey?”

“But I didn’t do it.”

“This isn’t a court of law. Those boys who got caught drinking—they weren’t put on trial. All charges were dropped on the hockey player who got in the fight. It didn’t matter. You understand that, right?”

“But the arrest was all a misunderstanding.”

“And your little tussle with Troy Taylor last week?”

I felt my heart sink. “We talked about that already,” I said, hearing the panic in my own voice.

“Correct, and I was able to give you the benefit of the doubt. But I spoke to Chief Taylor today. He told me that in the past week you’ve been involved in several incidents. He said you drove a car when you aren’t old enough to have a license. He said you used a fake ID to get into a club. Any of these things alone would get you thrown off the team.”

I felt the panic in my chest. “Please, Coach Grady, I can explain it all.”

“Did you do those things,” Coach Grady asked, “or is Chief Taylor lying?”

“It’s not that simple,” I said.

“I’m sorry, Mickey, but my hands are tied here.”

“Coach.” I could hear the begging in my voice. “Please don’t—”

“You’re off the team.”

I swallowed. “For how long?”

“For the season, son. I’m sorry.”

Chapter 31

I had to pass through the gym in order to get to the locker room. Troy was still grinning like an idiot, and it took all my willpower not to run up and clock him. I felt numb. How could this have happened? Basketball was my life. My parents quit the Abeona Shelter and returned to the United States just so I could have a chance to play high school basketball.

Now that, along with everything else in my life, was gone.

I heard a laugh and then Troy called out in a mocking tone, “See ya, Mickey.”

“Yeah,” Buck added, “see ya, Mickey.”

I felt my anger rise up, but I knew pummeling those two buffoons wouldn’t help. Right now I just needed to get as far away from here as possible. I quickly threw on my street clothes and sprinted toward the exit.

I welcomed the outside. I squeezed my eyes shut and gulped down the fresh air. I dropped to my knees. I felt as though I was drowning and lost. I know, I know—it’s just a sport. But basketball was more than that to me. It was my center, my core. It didn’t define me, but it was what I wanted to do more than anything else. To have it snatched away like that—the grounding constant still in my life—it made my world teeter one more time.

“You’re early.”

I looked up and saw Ema. When she saw my face, her eyes widened with concern.

“What’s wrong?”

“I was just thrown off the team.”

As I told her what happened, Ema sat next to me and watched me. When I looked at her eyes—and yes, I know how this will sound—I saw kindness and goodness. They were almost . . . angelic. I looked into them and saw so many things. I drew strength from them.

Earlier, Rachel accused me of not trusting her as much as I do Ema. The truth is somewhat more complex: I trust no one as much as I trust Ema. I didn’t hide how I felt from her. I didn’t pretend that I wasn’t angry and bitter and devastated. I didn’t care what I looked like or sounded like. I just ranted, and Ema just listened.

“You try to do the right thing,” Ema said, “and this is the thanks you get? It’s so wrong.”

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