The Barn by Cole Parker

Chapter 5

New town.  New life.  Opportunities afresh.  Only thing is, you’re still you.

The court, even in broad daylight, was fairly dark.  There were overhead lights, and when turned on, they gave plenty of light for us to play.  Not gymnasium brightness, but plenty.  The new kid either didn’t know where the light switch was or wasn’t sure he should turn them on, because he was shooting in semi-darkness.

I stood in the doorway and watched him.  He wasn’t aware I was there and so was entirely into himself.  No pretensions, no acts of any kind.  It isn’t often you can observe someone like that.  Someone so self-involved that you can almost read what they’re thinking.  There’s an innocence apparent, and you feel a little like you’re spying.  It’s kind of embarrassing, really.  Inappropriate, like you should turn away.

He was shorter than I was, but then that seemed proper as he was younger, too.  I was six feet even.  I guessed he was five ten.  I could easily see the age difference in his face, the face of a younger boy.  Not that much younger, and perhaps not as young as he looked.  I was 16.  He looked 14 to me, but the light was dim and he was concentrating on what he was doing.  That self-absorption made his youth seem more pronounced.

He’d move in after each shot and collect the ball, then holding it under one arm, walk back out to about what would be the three-point line if we had one.  We didn’t; we had no need.  All our baskets were worth the same—one point.  But he moved to that approximate distance from the basket.  Then he’d face the basket, dribble twice while moving sideways, then go up for a jump shot. 

I watched.  He looked so natural.  Nothing about his shot was forced.  Everything was in rhythm.  His form looked perfect to me.  I’d seen the videos of the shots of old guys who were known as great shooters, guys like Jerry West and Rick Mount, Larry Bird and Pete Maravich.  I’d seen modern shooters, too, like Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson.  This kid had that sort of grace, that elegance in his shot.  And he had it while being even younger than I was.

I wasn’t a shooter.  I loved playing the game but didn’t love shooting.  Scoring was incidental to me.  I more enjoyed making the perfect pass to someone so he could make a layup or shoot an open jump shot.  I loved playing defense and doing so well enough that I could completely shut down my man.  There is so much more to basketball than shooting.  But perhaps I felt that way because I wasn’t a very good shot.  And all the practicing I did hadn’t made much of a difference.  So I did the things in the game I enjoyed and did them pretty well.  Shooting, scoring—neither of those were my game, but I didn’t mind because I wasn’t one to revel in the attention being a scorer brought you.

However, most boys wanted to score.  Most boys wanted to be able to shoot.  Not many were really good at it, though, even with practice.  This kid—this kid could shoot.  Just watching him for five minutes made that so, so apparent.  He made it all look so easy.  When he took his two dribbles, not looking at the ball but at the basket as he slid sideways, the ball came back up to his fingers exactly where he expected it to.  For the bounce just before his shot, the ball came up harder, higher, and he caught it as he was going up for the shot.  It would be murder trying to stop that shot, to block it, even for someone taller.  About the only way to do it would be to jump before he even had the ball in his hands.  No one would do that, and if they waited until he did have it, he’d already be up in the air and the ball starting its arc toward the basket.

His jump was something special, too.  I jumped like most guys, just a few inches off the floor.  It looked to me like his jump took him over a foot up in the air.  Amazing.

I stayed quiet, just marveling at how he looked.  And then I realized something, something crazy.  I’d seen him take ten, twelve shots by then, all from at least 20 feet from the basket.  And I hadn’t seen him miss yet.  Most of the shots didn’t even touch the rim.

The kid could shoot!  WOW!  That was the best way I could describe him.

I heard something outside and looked at my watch.  It was 10; the others were arriving.  I stepped onto the court quietly and flicked on the lights.

He’d been ready to shoot again but stopped as the lights came on and turned around.

Oh, my god!  I was stunned.  Thinking about it later—and every time I did, I felt the little jolt of adrenaline I’d felt then—I knew why I reacted like I did.  He was a kid, that’s all.  Just another boy.  But to me, even at first glance, he was so much more.  Even now I have a hard time describing him, but the word that came to mind when I looked at him that first time . . .  The proper word wasn’t ‘cute’; it wasn’t ‘handsome’; the only fitting word was ‘beautiful’.  He was just incredibly beautiful.  Words couldn’t do him justice.

He had medium-long, dark brown hair.  It fell across his forehead, and while I was watching, he raised a hand and almost unconsciously flipped it back off his face.  I’d have the gesture memorized before the week was out.  His cheeks were a natural reddish color that was evident even through his summer tan.  Even though I spent a lot of time in the barn all summer long, I spent a lot outside, too, and I was tanned because of that.  This kid had an even darker tan, and I was reminded of what Jimmy had said, that every time he passed his house, this kid was outside, shooting a basketball.

I thought of that, then remembered how he was shooting in the dark in the barn while I’d watched.  I knew why he was making all those shots.  Shooting like that didn’t come naturally to anyone.   It came from hours of practice, hours this kid had been putting in all summer long.  And who knew whether it had been the same coming here?  How many years, how many summers, had he spent refining that shot?

I don’t know what it was: the set of his eyes, slightly wider than normal; their dark color that from my distance looked black but I was to learn were brown with a few speckles of gold; his full lips that now had a slight smile that could have meant so many things but right then was keeping whatever it was a secret; his slender build that somehow still looked sturdy; the casual slouch of his stance, so common in teens who haven’t adjusted to their lengthening bodies yet; his skinny arms that did have muscles, the long, sinewy kind rather than the bulky ones of a body builder—or all of these packaged together—but I felt my heart start to beat faster after that initial jolt I’d felt.  I’d seen lots of cute boys in my life.  They attracted me as much or more than cute girls.  This kid, on first appearance, was doing a number on me like no one I’d ever encountered before.

I have to admit that the cute boys I’d dreamed about in the past when I was always too full of thoughts of consequences to do anything but dream, the ones who looked like they needed someone to look after them, to protect them, to be their mentors or saviors—those were the ones I was interested in.  The ones who didn’t have all the answers, who were unsure just where they fit in; the cocky, sure-of-themselves kids, no matter how pretty they were—they did nothing for me.  This kid, well, I had no idea what his personality was like, but just the way he looked walking towards me, his diffidence, the cast of his eyes, the fact he hadn’t taken the initiative to turn on the lights, nothing about him was overbearing.  He wasn’t a wimp, nothing like a wimp, but what I saw was soft and gentle with no pretension.  He was the kind of boy that appealed to me.

“I’m sorry,” he said, coming closer to me, the ball securely under his arm again.  “Jimmy dropped me off and said it was okay if I went in and shot before the rest of you arrived.  I hope that was okay?”

My heart didn’t slow down.  Really cute boys, boys I couldn’t take my eyes off, made me nervous, the tongue-tied kind of nervous.  My brain often decided to take a vacation in situations like this.  Just when I’d have loved to be glib and impressive, I tended to come across like a village idiot, the type the word ‘blithering’ had been coined to describe.  This kid was beyond cute, and he was apologizing for something he’d been told was all right to do.

“Oh, I’m Chip.  Well, that’s what I’m called.”  He looked like he was blushing a little under his tan.  He stuck out his hand.  I had the presence of mind to shake with him, feeling how warm his hand was.  His handshake was gentle, though I sensed strength there being held in reserve.  Like his voice.  Soft, not timid; timid would give the wrong impression; soft like he was taking pains not to be presumptuous or offensive.  Like he didn’t want to cause any fuss for anyone.  That kind of kid.

His voice.  I loved his voice.  It was a fairly high-pitched tenor.  It had enough resonance in it that there was no doubt it had changed; it wasn’t a little kid’s voice.  But it had retained some of that childlike quality.   

So, here he was; we were shaking hands, and there was that blush.  He was unfortunate to have that tan where a blush was so obvious; the blush punctuated the natural ruddiness underlying his tan.  There was no way he could hide it.  He dropped his eyes soon after meeting mine.  Maybe by dropping them, he felt he’d get me not to look at him.  Maybe I wouldn’t notice he’d dropped them.  But I did notice and wondered why he should find this embarrassing, and thought I might know the answer, the most obvious one.  It’s amazing what disparate and illogical thoughts run through a 16-year-old’s head when meeting another boy his age.

I knew I should speak.  I’d waited too long already.  I couldn’t use being tongue-tied as an excuse; I’d be blushing as hard as he was. I dropped his hand and forced myself to say, clearly and easily, “Hi.  I’m Dave.”  Then, maybe to give him a reason to blush, which I hoped might give him some relief and help him recover, I said, “You have the most amazing jump shot I’ve ever seen.  You’re, you’re—well, I need to stop talking.  I’ve embarrassed you too much already.  Anyway, I’m really happy you’re joining us.  I think you’re going to fit in here just fine.”

I hadn’t dropped my eyes like he had.  I was still looking at him, still entranced by him.  Captivated.  Enchanted.  I saw his eyes come back up to meet mine and saw relief in them.  I guessed I’d said something right.

Footsteps could be heard stomping up the stairs.  The guys were coming up.  They weren’t as quiet as I’d been.

When we were all together I made all the introductions.  We quickly formed teams and started a game.  I was distracted.  I couldn’t seem to keep my eyes off Chip.  He was a decent player, but nothing great.  Probably on the same level as Carl and Phil, but probably a little worse on defense.

We played three games, and the day was getting really hot with high humidity.  Not the sort of day where we played many games.  Roger said he needed water, and we all tramped downstairs, sat in the shade and each went through an entire water bottle in no time flat.  Then we talked.

Chip didn’t say much, more or less what you’d expect from a new kid.  I was still watching him, being as covert as I could.  Eventually, the guys decided it was too hot to continue, and we set a time for tomorrow, then started breaking up.  Chip finally spoke without being asked a direct question first.  “Hey, guys, thanks for letting me join in.  I had a great time.  You guys are really good players.  Every one of you.”

Carl stood up, ready to leave, and said, “Blame Dave for that.  He climbed all over Phil and me, said we weren’t pulling our weight and forced us to practice and learn how to do things right.  We’re only better now because of him.  Stay away from him if you know what’s good for you.  He’ll mess you up something fierce.”

He laughed, and Phil did too.  Then Phil spoke.  “I don’t know whether we ever thanked you, Dave.”  And to Chip he said, “He’s the best teacher I ever had.”

Chip looked at me for a moment, then turned to Roger. “Roger, do you mind if I stick around to practice awhile?”

Roger shook his head.   “Come whenever you like, Chip.  We don’t lock the place.  You don’t need an invite.  You’re one of us now.”

With that, everyone wandered off.  Everyone except Chip and me.  Chip had stood up.  I was still on my butt, leaning against the wall.  Chip looked down at me, then came over and sat down next to me.  He didn’t say anything.  I guessed he knew I had something to say.  And I did.  But first I had to let myself settle.  His sitting next to me, smelling of sweaty boy, was doing a number on me.  I couldn’t have stood up then without dying of embarrassment.  Part of being 16, I guessed.

“What gives?” I said.

He looked at me, wrinkled his forehead to show his puzzlement, and asked, very innocently, “Huh?  What?”  Then, slowly, he began to smile.  I’d swear my heart did a little extra thump.

“You know just what I mean.  You didn’t take a single jump shot, not one, and we played all morning.  Not one in three games.  Why not?”

He wriggled against the side of the barn, scratching an itch on his back, which made me think of his sweaty back, and scratching it gently, and I had to change my thoughts really quickly.  I knew we’d have to stand up soon.  I was also looking at myself from within.  This wasn’t like me at all.  To be this taken by someone I’d just met?  It had never happened to this extent before. 

Chip took a quick glance at me, then looked off into the distance.  “I know I can shoot,” he said after a short time.  “I wouldn’t have learned anything by shooting, plus the game would have degenerated.  And Tim would have gotten pissed.”

“Wow!  You’ve figured Tim out already?”

He gave a sarcastic grunt.  “Like he’s difficult to read.  I think everyone has known a Tim—too proud to think of anyone but himself.  But that was only one reason for not shooting.  The other one is the main one.”

“What’s that?”

“You watched me play.  You saw how bad I was.  All I’ve got is a shot, nothing much else.  I watched you, too.  You’re great.  You do everything right.  And then Carl and Phil backed that up.  That’s what I want to be able to do, play like that.  Know what I’m doing like that.  That’s what I’m missing.  I don’t know what I’m doing out there.  I’ve never played the game with other kids much.  I’ve never learned to do anything but dribble and shoot.”

“You’re exceptional at both of those.”

“Thanks, but I can’t play basketball.  You could teach me.  You taught those guys.  Teach me.  Please.  I want to go out for the school team next year.  But I have to know how to do more than I do now.  I want to play offense so I’m part of a team effort rather than a lone man shooting.  I want to play defense so I’m actually defending someone.” 

He stopped, then said almost under his breath, “I need to get a scholarship to get into college.”

He wasn’t done.  I could see that, so waited, remaining silent.

“That’s why I didn’t shoot today.  I was trying to play the game, learn how to play the game.  And I quickly saw how all the rest of you guys knew what you were doing; you were all a lot better than me.  I was lost out there.  Everyone was a step ahead of me.  I want to get better.”

His voice was getting stronger as he spoke.  I was hearing words from his heart.  The impact he had on me was still there, still strong, and the sound of his voice, well, I could wax poetic about it, but I could do that about just about everything I saw in him when we were together.

“I figure you can help me, if you would.  I watched you, and I heard what Carl said.  Guys don’t talk like that if they don’t mean it.  So, will you?  Teach me?  Please?”


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This story is Copyright © 2018-2019by Cole Parker. The image is Copyright © 2018-2019by Colin Kelly. They cannot be reproduced without express written consent. The original image is from under the terms of Creative Commons License CC0. The Codey’s World web site has written permission to publish this story and the image. No other rights are granted.

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